I was facing the biggest challenge of my career as a detective. To act like a convincing girly-girl.
It was vital to our Plan.
Even dressed in the girliest dress west of the Rockies I was not convincing.
Pa smiled at me through a cloud of his own pipe smoke. ‘Don’t ye worry,’ he said. ‘I will teach ye to walk and talk like a lassie in no time. It is still afternoon, but what do ye say to an early supper at Almack’s Liquor & Oyster Saloon? They tell me it is the best restaurant in town.’
My stomach growled for I had eaten nothing all day. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘But only oysters. No liquor.’
‘Of course no liquor!’ said Pa. ‘I am teetotal.’
‘Well, I ain’t teetotal,’ said Ray, ‘and I need a few stiff drinks. So I hope you don’t mind if I dine elsewhere. I will see you both tomorrow at the offices of the Overland Stage at ten o’clock sharp.’
He exited the shop while I paid Mrs. Wasserman what I owed her.
As my pa and I emerged into the late afternoon sunshine and set out south on the C Street boardwalk I felt kind of queasy in my stomach.
I had worn a girl’s disguise before but I always had a poke bonnet to hide my face. That lighthouse bonnet made me feel exposed, especially in the bright afternoon sunshine. Also a ruffle at the back itched my neck.
Pa took my left hand and tucked it firmly under his right elbow.
‘This is how a respectable lassie walks with her escort in Chicago,’ he explained. ‘That is to say, a wife with her husband, a sister with her brother, or a daughter with her pa.’
I nodded and dutifully hung on to the crook of his elbow.
There was a line of people waiting outside the office of the Cal Stage Company. I reckon they were waiting to buy tickets now that the stage would soon be running again. I noticed Mr. Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain, standing there with his friend Clement T. Rice AKA The Unreliable.
I did not want to be recognized so I hung my head.
‘Head up,’ whispered Pa. ‘Gracious expression.’
‘I only have one expression,’ I said. ‘Inscrutable.’
‘That will do at a pinch. But lift your head.’
We were past the line of people, so I lifted my head.
‘Don’t stomp,’ whispered Pa.
‘I cannot help it,’ I said. ‘These dam boots are so noisy.’
‘Walk on the balls of your feet,’ said Pa. ‘That is, the front part. Take two wee steps instead of one big one. And ne’er blaspheme.’
I tried walking on the boardwalk in little tappy steps without blaspheming.
I hated every step.
I missed my silent, butter-soft moccasins.
I missed my shielding slouch hat with the black felt brim I could pull down low against the slanting sun.
I missed my pockets, and the comforting weight of a gun in one of them.
Almack’s Oyster & Liquor Saloon was only two blocks south so I sent up an arrow prayer that I would not meet anyone known to me. If Sam Clemens and his friend were leaving town on account of a ‘delicate satire’, how would the townsfolk treat me when they discovered I had been pranking them all for over half a year?
Then I saw Bee Bloomfield and Affable Fitzsimmons walking arm in arm straight towards us.
I wanted to dive behind a nearby barrel.
I wanted to squeeze underneath the boardwalk.
I wanted to do anything to get me out of their path.
When I thought Pa wasn’t paying attention, I made a sudden lunge towards the swinging doors of the nearest saloon. I almost got away but Pa caught me & reeled me in & clamped my hand between his arm & his side. There was no escape.
I lowered my head as Affie and Bee approached, and tried to make my black ringlets hide my face.
We were almost past them when I heard Bee’s voice, ‘P.K.? Is that you?’
I made as if to keep walking but my pa stopped & turned to face them & touched the brim of his new brown hat made of beaver felt. ‘Good afternoon,’ he said in his Scottish burr. ‘Are ye friends of my daughter Prudence?’
‘Pinky,’ I mumbled, keeping my eyes firmly on their feet. ‘Please call me Pinky.’ Bee was wearing her little white button-up boots and Affable had exchanged his canvas shoes for sturdy brogues.
‘Daughter?’ cried Bee.
I took a deep breath and looked at her face. She was staring at me with Expression No. 4 – Surprise.
Then her face relaxed & she said, ‘Oh, you are in disguise!’
Abruptly she clapped both hands over her mouth.
Affable was staring at me, too. His eyes looked extra-big behind his spectacles. ‘You are the same P.K. Pinkerton who collects bugs and butterflies?’ he said.
‘Shhh!’ hissed Bee in a barely audible voice. ‘He is in disguise.’
‘Pinky is not in disguise,’ said my pa in a mild tone. ‘We thought it time to let the world know that Pinky is a lassie.’
‘A lassie?’ said Bee with a frown.
‘A lassie?’ said Affable, wide-eyed.
‘Aye! That is to say, a girl. She always has been and always will be. Only she has finally decided to admit the fact and “come clean”. By the way, I am her father, Robert Pinkerton.’ He gave a little bow.
‘Of the world-famous detective agency?’ Affie extended his hand. ‘Honored to meet you!’
My pa smiled & nodded & shook his hand.
‘You’re a girl?’ squeaked Bee. She was staring at me with eyes as round as banjos.
I nodded & felt heat rise up into my face. My throat was tight. I did not know what to say.
‘But I…’ said Bee. ‘I wanted to… I almost… Oh, you creature!’
I saw her nostrils flare, which usually means someone is going to wallop you. I reckoned I deserved it so I braced myself & closed my eyes.
Sure enough, Bee Bloomfield slapped my face.
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!