For as long as I could remember I had thought my Pinkerton Railroad Detective pa was dead and gone.
My Indian ma told me he died bravely, defending a train against robbers. Later, I heard he died of being frozen to death in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Finally, I learned he was not dead after all, but alive and well and living in Chicago. That was why I had decided to become a detective: so I could join him in that far-off city.
And now here he was, standing before me & trying to shut down the agency I had established so I could become a detective worthy of his approval!
The folk here in Virginia have a word for that: ironikle.
‘Come on, Robert,’ said his partner. ‘We’ll get the sheriff to deal with this pygmy bogus detective.’
Ray G. Tempest turned to go and so did Robert Pinkerton.
My long-lost pa was about to walk out of my life again!
‘Wait!’ I jumped up out of my chair. ‘Stop! I will burn my shingle. Only tell me: what are you doing in Virginia City? Maybe I can help!’
‘None of your business what we’re doing,’ growled Ray. His hand was already on the door. ‘You are no more important to us than a bug on a rug.’ As if to demonstrate my insignificance, he spat on the floor of my office even though he was not chewing tobacco.
Jace had once told me not to ride straight at people with my questions, but to use a flanking manoeuver. I reckoned I had rid at them too straight.
Once again I cried, ‘Wait! Please.’ I looked desperately around my narrow office. On the potbelly stove the coffeepot was steaming. I could smell its aroma. ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’
The two hesitated & looked at each other.
‘It is fresh ground and fresh brewed,’ I said, ‘using water from a Patent Moulded Ceramic Carbon Filter made by F.H. Atkinson of London which they keep in the saloon across the street. The water here in Virginia is full of arsenic, plumbago and copperas,’ I explained.
‘Full of what?’ said Ray.
‘And cookies!’ I held up the waxed-paper parcel. ‘I have cookies! Fresh-baked oatmeal cookies.’
My long-lost pa took off the small plug hat he had been wearing. ‘I willna say no to a wee cup of java,’ he said. ‘It smells mighty good.’ He looked at his partner.
‘Sure,’ growled Ray. ‘I reckon a fresh-baked cookie and a cup of brew is the least you can do for causing trouble.’
He closed the door & they both came back & sat down in front of my desk.
Hallelujah! Ping’s theory was right. Fresh coffee did encourage people to linger.
Bee’s oatmeal cookies probably helped, too.
As I poured their coffee, I secretly studied Robert Pinkerton.
I had always imagined my pa would be tall, dark and good-looking, like Poker Face Jace. But the short man sitting before me was ordinary-looking. With his slightly bulging brown eyes & slicked back brown hair & little mustache, he reminded me of an otter.
But I know that appearances can be deceptive.
He was a famous detective. Probably the best in the world.
Any moment he would deduce I was his long-lost daughter.
I saw my detective sign on the desk & nudged it forward a little to help him with his deductions.
I said, ‘What brings you all the way from Chicago to Virginia City? You did not come just to shut me down, did you?’
‘Course not,’ said Mr. Ray G. Tempest, munching a cookie & looking around.
My pa sipped his coffee, which he took black with no sugar like me. He said, ‘We got reports of a pair of Confederate soldiers in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Their plan is to rob silver-carrying stagecoaches and send the money to General Robert E. Lee.’
I said, ‘Are they the ones who robbed the Wells Fargo stagecoach a few days ago?’
‘A Wells Fargo stagecoach was robbed?’ said Ray, sitting forward.
I nodded. ‘Up by Strawberry, according to yesterday’s newspaper. The Sierras ain’t snowed in like us,’ I added. ‘Our blizzard was localized.’
‘I dinna think it could have been them.’ My pa glanced at Ray.
Ray shrugged. ‘It might have been them,’ he said. ‘You got a description? Or a newspaper?’
‘Yup,’ I said. I fished around in my big oyster tin which I use for waste paper & found yesterday’s Daily Territorial Enterprise. ‘Page three,’ I said, as they both scanned it. ‘But it only says they were wearing butternut-colored uniforms and bandanas over their faces.
‘Goll dang, it was them!’ cried Ray.
I said, ‘So they are like Confederate Robin Hoods?’
‘Those Reb Road Agents ain’t no dang Robin Hoods,’ said Ray G. Tempest. ‘They– Goll DANG!’ he jumped up so fast that his chair toppled backwards. ‘What is that?’
He was pointing at my shelf. Mouse was walking near my glass-fronted butterfly tray.’
I said, ‘That there is Mouse, my pet tarantula.’
‘No, not that. THAT.’
I said, ‘My butterfly tray?’
‘Yes!’ He took a step back. ‘I hate them things. Get it away!’
I stood up & scooted my butterfly tray right down to the end of the shelf.
‘Further away,’ he said. ‘Those things give me the fantods.’ He was wiping his forehead with his handkerchief. His face had gone pale.
I carried my glass-fronted butterfly tray to the back of my shop & put it out of sight behind the counter.
When I got back to my desk, Ray G. Tempest was standing behind the chair, putting it upright. I could see his hands shaking.
‘Why don’t you like butterflies?’ I asked.
‘He doesna like the wee beasties’ feelers and flapping wings,’ said my pa. ‘Nor their zigzag manner of flying.’
‘Had a bad experience when I was little,’ muttered Ray. He took his flask from his coat pocket and drank from it. ‘Tooth elixir,’ he said by way of explanation. ‘My tooth is panging me something awful.’
‘Would you like another cup of coffee?’ I said.
‘Nah,’ he said, putting away his flask. ‘I’m gonna ride on down to find a livery stable and a hotel. And maybe some clove oil for my tooth.’ He wrinkled his nose. ‘Besides, something stinks in here.’
‘Which hotel are you staying at?’ I said quickly. ‘The International?’
‘Is that a good one?’
‘Best in town,’ I said. ‘The Flora Temple Livery Stable is just a few doors along from it. If you turn right out my door and go three blocks north you can go in the B Street entrance of the International.’
Mr. Ray G. Tempest snorted. ‘Only if my boss here deems a room there worth the expense. He is a notorious skinflint. See you at the livery stable, Robbie?’ he said to my pa.
‘I’ll be there directly,’ said my pa. ‘Just finishing my brew.’
Mr. Ray G. Tempest exited the premises, taking my Detective shingle with him.
Heart thumping, I turned to my pa.
Should I reveal my true identity?
But he was a Detective. Probably the best in the world.
I reckoned I should give him a few more clews & let him deduce it himself.
He had opened his greatcoat & fishing around in his jacket. I noticed a little brass button on the lapel of his jacket. It said PINKERTON RAILROAD DETECTIVE in bumpy letters.
‘I have a button just like that,’ I said. ‘Just like the one on your lapel.’
‘Do ye?’ He took a match out of the jacket and sparked it on the bottom of his boot.
I thought I should give him another clue. ‘My Indian ma gave it to me,’ I added. My heart was thumping hard. ‘She was Lakota Sioux.’
‘I guessed ye had a wee drop of Injun blood,’ he remarked, holding the lit match to the bowl of his pipe.
I thought How is it possible he does not recognize me? I’d best give him a real big clew.
I said, ‘My pa was a Pinkerton Railroad Detective, too.’
This last statement seemed to startle Robert Pinkerton to his feet. He had Expression No 4 on his face: Surprise.
I stood up, too, my heart thumping. I thought He has finally put two and two together. At last he has realized that I am his long-lost daughter.
But I was wrong.
‘Dang!’ he said. ‘That java has done the trick. I need the jakes!’
I stared at him. ‘You what?’
‘I need an outhouse!’ he said. ‘My bowels have been out-of-fix and I have been bunged-up for a week. But now I am ready, willing and able. Can ye tell me where is the nearest wee privy?’
‘Behind this building down the slope,’ I said.
‘Much obliged,’ he said, touching the brim of his silly putty-colored plug hat.
And with that he ran out of my office.
As I watched the door shut behind him I tried to swallow, but my throat felt too tight.
I thought, ‘My long-lost pa was sitting less than a yard away from me with my name right there on the shingle. I gave him three big clews but he failed to recognize his own flesh-and-blood, viz: ME. He must be the worst detective in the world.’
Then I thought, ‘Maybe my original ma just met him once or saw him from afar and told me a big story.’
And finally, ‘That would mean that Robert Pinkerton is not, and never was, my pa.’
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!