My hopes had been raised to the high heavens and then dashed to earth. I felt mighty low & needed to think. Also, I needed advice.
When I am low & need to think, I ride my mustang pony, Cheeya.
When I am low & need to think, I ride my mustang pony, Cheeya.
When I want advice, I go to Poker Face Jace. He is the only person in Virginia City who guessed I was a girl. Jace knows people better than anybody I ever met.
I found Cheeya in his stall down at the Flora Temple Livery Stable on C Street. He greeted me happily for I had not had the opportunity to take him for any rides during the blizzard.
It was about 11 o’clock when I saddled him & set out on muddy C Street towards Geiger Grade & Steamboat Valley. The warm sun was making everything steam and sparkle but it still had not dried that bog of a road. Just outside of town by the toll gate, a quartz wagon was stuck in the mud and had caused a log jam of wheeled traffic. But the side of the road was fine for horses so Cheeya & I carried on down beside gurgling rivulets of snowmelt. We soon had the road to ourselves.
I reached Jace’s ranch at the foot of the mountain about an hour later, at noon. I saw him right away. He was standing by the fence of his corral with one foot up on a rail & smoking a cigar. He was wearing a long black duster coat & watching his pal Stonewall break a mustang mare.
When he saw me riding up, he turned and touched his flat-brimmed black hat with a gloved forefinger. Jace always wears black.
‘Howdy, P.K.,’ he said. ‘Road from Virginia open?’
‘Just horse traffic,’ I said. ‘I reckon stages and wagons tomorrow.’
Jace nodded & turned to face the cookhouse. ‘Tim!’ he called. ‘Bring two cups of black coffee?’
A Celestial appeared in the cookhouse door. ‘Yes, boss!’ he said and waved at me.
I waved back & swung down off Cheeya & left him near the water trough with his reins dangling. I walked past a few pecking chickens to the corral & I climbed up to the third beam of the fence so my head was level with Jace’s.
‘Howdy, P.K.!’ called Stonewall from inside the corral. He is a big, scary-looking man with a soft heart.
‘Howdy, Stonewall,’ I replied.
The noonday sun was warm enough to make water drip from the eaves of the barn & cookhouse & ranch house. The air smelled of wood smoke & horses & hay & Jace’s cigar & fresh coffee as Tim Yung came out & handed me a cup.
The enamel tin cup was hot, but I was wearing my butter-soft buckskin gloves that Jace had bought me for Christmas. They had a ‘zigzag’ design on them in red & blue beads.
Four months ago I spent Christmas with Jace and Stonewall. On Christmas Eve, we sat in the parlor by the fire and Jace read A Christmas Carol by Mr. Charles Dickens & Stonewall cried.
The next morning we exchanged presents and that was when Jace gave me the buckskin gloves. I am partial to zigzags & I love those gloves.
‘What brings you here today?’ said Jace, sipping his coffee. ‘not that I ain’t glad to see you,’ he added.
I said, ‘About two hours ago a couple of Pinkerton Detectives came into my office. They are after those Reb Road Agents who have started robbing silver-laden stagecoaches to help fund the rebellion. One of the Detectives was Allan Pinkerton’s older brother, Robert.’
Jace turned so quickly that he slopped some coffee from the cup. ‘Your pa,’ he said. ‘He found you.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Only he did not recognize me.’
‘Did you tell him who you are?’
‘Nope. Him being a detective, I thought he should recognize his own child sitting two feet away.’
‘Maybe he does not know you are alive.’ Jace blew cigar smoke down. ‘Maybe you are the last person he expects to find out here. You sure it is the right Robert Pinkerton? I seem to recall reading that Allan has a son called Robert. Maybe it is the son you met, not the brother. Or maybe it is another Robert Pinkerton altogether.’
‘He is the right one,’ I said. ‘But I am thinking maybe my original ma lied to me. Maybe she found that button and made up a big story.’
Jace smoked in silence for a few moments. Then he said, ‘There is one sure way to find out. If he is your pa, then he will know what P.K. stands for.’
‘Dang!’ I said. ‘You are right. I did not think of that.’
I had always called myself P.K., but even I did not know what those two initials stood for on account of my indian ma could not remember the Christian names my pa had given me. I had confessed that secret to Jace one night last year when we were playing cribbage.
The only person in the whole world who knew what those initials stood for was the man who gave me my Christian names: my Pinkerton pa.
Something occurred to me.
I said, ‘A person could pretend to know what the P and K stood for and invent two names and I would be none the wiser.’
Jace puffed for a spell & then said, ‘But a person would not make up two names because nobody knows that you don’t know what the P and the K stand for. In the whole world, only you and I know that fact. Unless you have told someone else,’ he added.
‘I ain’t told nobody but you,’ I said.
He sucked in smoke & blew it down. ‘Course, there is another explanation for why he did not recognize you.’
‘What would that be?’
Jace turned to face me. ‘Your hair is greasy, your skin is grimy and your teeth are black. You stink to high heaven and I would not be surprised if you are lousy, too. If I had a long-lost daughter, I would not expect her to look and smell like you.’
‘I ain’t that bad.’
‘Yes, you are. And you ain’t getting better.’ Jace used his cigar to point towards the line of hazy green trees that marked the course of a brook.
‘See that steam puffing up from behind those cottonwoods? That there is Steamboat Hot Springs. There is a hotel and bath house there. For a dollar you can get a private room with a tub and soak in hot mineral water.’ He reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver dollar. ‘There is a good barber named Fritz who will trim your hair and your nails.’
I turned away from him. ‘I don’t need your money. I got plenty.’
‘Then take this.’ He reached into his coat pocket and brought out a round porcelain box. It said CHERRY TOOTH PASTE on it. ‘Buy a tooth brush when you get back to Virginia,’ he said, ‘and use a little dab to polish your teeth after you eat. It might not be too late to get the black off. I reckon it is only licorice. Then go pay your pa a visit and see if he don’t figure out who you are.’
A passel of emotions all jumbled in a bunch in my throat, the strongest of which was anger.
‘I do not want to dress like a dam girl,’ I said from between gritted teeth. ‘I goddam despise dressing like a goddam girly-girl.’
‘Nobody says you have to dress like a girl,’ he said. ‘Just clean yourself up. And it wouldn’t hurt to modify your cussing, neither.’
I shoved the tooth-paste box in the pocket of my blue woolen coat & jumped down off the corral fence. Then I stalked over to Cheeya & swung up into the saddle.
‘P.K.?’ said Jace as I rode by.
I reined in Cheeya and looked over at him.
‘You are becoming a woman,’ he said, ‘whether you like it or not.’
‘Well, I goddam hate it!’ I said, and galloped off without another word.