My name is P.K. Pinkerton and I will soon be breakfast for a couple of grizzly bears.
I am trapped in a mountain cave with my dying pa. I have a small fire but not much wood left to keep it going and only 1 bullet left in my Henry Rifle.
I can hear those grizzlies a-prowling & a-growling, and I can smell them, too. I reckon I only have a few hours to record how I came to be in this sad predicament. When my fire goes out they will gobble me up. And my dying pa, too.
You may say, ‘Why are you wasting the final hours of your life scribbling in a Ledger Book?’
Here is my reply:
If I write an account, people will know who done it and they can avenge me.
You may also say, ‘Being half Sioux, why don’t you use your Indian skills to sneak past those bears and at least save yourself?’
My answer is this:
I will not abandon my dying pa.
It all started when two strangers rode into town. I was sitting at my desk in my Detective Agency on B Street in Virginia City. I was ordering the Butterfly part of my Bug Collection. Detective business had been slow on account of a localized snowstorm. But now a strong sun was out.
The scent of melting snow swirled in as the door of my detective office opened.
It was my 14-yr-old partner Ping, with a bag of sugar & a coffee pot. He had filled the pot with pure water from the new filter in the Shamrock Saloon across the street. I could hear someone playing Camptown Races on a piano.
‘Road dang muddy,’ Ping said. ‘Traffic should be running again soon.’ He put the coffee pot on our new stove & the bag of sugar on one of the shelves.
Ping does not drink coffee, but he says the smell entices people in & encourages them to linger.
‘You want game of poker?’ he asked, as he turned the handle of the little wooden coffee grinder. ‘While we wait for clients?’
‘H-ll, yeah,’ I replied.
I try to keep up my skill, because sometimes I help a gambler named Poker Face Jace play cards for money. Jace is my friend & mentor.
I put my Butterfly Tray on one of the shelves on the wall. When my office was a Tobacco Emporium those shelves held tins of tobacco.
Now they hold my collections, viz: my Bug Collection, my Button Collection & my Big Tobacco Collection. I also had a branch with butterflies waiting to hatch out.
I opened a drawer in my desk and got out some strings of black licorice, some lemon drops & a pack of cards.
I tore off a piece of the stretchy licorice and put it between my cheek and gum, like people do with chewing tobacco.
Ping left the coffee pot on the stove to brew. He pulled up one of the chairs where clients usually sit. The door was still ajar so you could hear boots on the boardwalk & the curses of the first riders trying out the snowy thoroughfare.
I divided the licorice strings and lemon drops between us. Then I shuffled the deck and we played a few hands of ‘five card draw’.
Even when I get dealt bad cards I usually win because I have learned to tell when people are bluffing. Ping’s natural expression is a scowl, even when he has a good hand, but my pal Poker Face Jace says the face is the lyingest part of the body.
So I ignored Ping’s scowly face & scooted my chair back a little & kind of slouched down so I could see his feet.
Everybody has their own ‘tell’ and Ping’s is a common one. Whenever he has a good hand his toes point up and when he has a bad one he pulls his feet back under his chair.
If the Face is the lyingest part of the body, the Feet are the most truthful.
I spat some black licorice juice into a spittoon. I had tried proper chaw tobacco once but it made me feel queasy so I had taken to chewing licorice to make me look older & tougher.
Ping’s nose wrinkled and his lip curled a little. My dead foster ma Evangeline had taught me how to identify five expressions.
No. 1 - If someone’s mouth curves up & their eyes crinkle, that is a Genuine Smile.
No. 2 - If their mouth stretches sideways & their eyes are not crinkled, that is a Fake Smile.
No. 3 - If a person turns down their mouth & crinkles up their nose, they are Disgusted.
No. 4 - If their eyes open real wide, they are probably surprised or scared.
No. 5 - If they make their eyes narrow, they are either mad at you or thinking or suspicious.
Ping’s face was making Expression No. 3 – Disgust.
I felt something tickle my arm. It was my pet, Mouse, crawling on my pink flannel shirt.
Ping’s expression No. 3 got stronger. ‘I don’t like that critter. I afraid I step on him. Make him go crunch.’
‘That would be unpleasant,’ I agreed. ‘But he is usually in his tank when I ain’t letting him perambulate on me.’
Ping shifted his gaze from Mouse to my face. His eyes were narrowed. It was no longer Expression No. 3 – Disgust. It was now Expression No. 5, which meant he was either Mad or Thinking or Suspicious. Or all three.
‘You can stare all you like,’ I said to Ping. ‘I am inscrutable. I can neither understand nor express emotions well. It is a Thorn in my Side. But it is useful for playing poker,’ I added. ‘People can not tell if I am holding a good hand or a bad one.’
‘I am not trying to tell if you have good or bad hand,’ said Ping, his scowl deepening.
‘Then why are you staring at me?’ I asked him.
‘Something bogus about you.’ He tipped his head to one side. ‘I can’t think what.’
I pressed my lips together, wondering if he had finally guessed my secret. To throw him off the track, I wiped my nose with my finger.
Then I spat some more licorice-tinted spit to make me look more like a tough detective.
Ping scowled at me.
I scratched my armpit & burped.
Then I farted, just for good measure.
The Case of the Bogus Detective by Caroline Lawrence is the fourth P.K. Pinkerton Mystery. You can buy the first 3 real cheap HERE. And you can read the rest of this one HERE. Or just check into this blog, where I will be posting chapters weekly!