My spirits revived a little when Pa took me to Almack’s Oyster and Liquor Saloon down on C Street. We were shown to a high-tone dining room in back.
It had tables around a polished square of wooden floor with a big chandelier overhead. It was now dusk and there were candles giving a soft, golden light.
The tables had heavy white tablecloths & silverware & crystal goblets.
A high-tone waiter in black and white led us to a table for two. He pulled out a velvet chair for me.
When I slumped down on it, Pa rolled his eyes.
He showed me how to sit with ankles crossed and Good Posture.
He told me to take off the little white gloves he had made me buy.
Then he ordered a bottle of Best Champagne. (Ma Evangeline had made me promise never to drink liquor but my Pinkerton pa said the bubbles meant it didn’t count as liquor, and he was teetotal so he should know.)
The bottle of Best Champagne made a pop when the waiter opened it & it spurted out some white foam. Pa tried to catch it in one of the glasses and he laughed when it soaked his new shirt cuff. (I had bought him a new shirt to go with his hat.) The waiter dabbed Pa’s damp cuff with his waiter-napkin & then poured the champagne into special glasses that were flat & round & shallow. I was entranced by the pale-gold liquid. It had about a hundred tiny silver bubbles all swimming up in strings that never ran out.
I downed mine in one, like I have seen folk do with whiskey in a saloon, but I had a bad coughing fit on account of the bubbles & coldness.
‘Sip, for the love of God,’ hissed my pa, as he refilled my glass. ‘Sip!’
It was sweet & fizzy & made my heart rise up in my chest like a little hot air balloon in the blue sky.
It was the bulliest beverage I had ever tried.
There were 3 forks & 2 knives & a passel of little spoons on my place mat. Pa told me to start with the outside utensils and work my way in.
Pa ordered a fancy five-course meal. It was tasty food but I would have enjoyed it more if Pa had not kept telling me what not to do.
He told me not to hunker down like a vulture over its prey, but to sit up straight.
He told me not to slurp my soup, but make my spoon like a boat.
He told me not to tip the oysters out of their half-shells straight down my open throat, but to use a special fork.
He told me not to use the horseradish to glue the peas to my knife.
He told me not to lick the last of the strawberry blancmange off my plate.
After all five courses, the waiter brought two china cups of black coffee and a plate of fancy little marzipan cakes called petits fours which are pronounced Putty For. Pa taught me to crook my little finger while sipping coffee and he challenged me to eat one of the marzipan cakes in ten tiny mouthfuls. I just about managed to do both those things.
About this time two men with fiddles started playing toe-tapping music. A few couples got up & began swirling around the little bare space which was a dance floor. The music was bully & it might have entranced me but Pa wanted to teach me how to make Small Talk.
Small Talk is where you talk about the weather & other genteel things but never about how a Methodist preacher & his wife found you on the Great Plains by the grave of your massacred Injun ma or how they adopted you & taught you reading & writing & scripture and brought you to Nevada Territory before they too got massacred.
By and by Pa allowed me to tell my story but he made me do it without the cussing or scalpings.
Then he let me tell him about some of the crimes I had solved. By now he had stopped telling me not to cuss nor mention blood. He just listened with his mouth half open. I reckon he was entranced.
I was telling Pa how I had vanquished a beautiful but murderous widow named Violetta de Baskerville when he stood up sudden-like and offered his hand.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘I am going to teach ye to dance,’ he replied.
‘Do I have to learn how to dance?’
‘Aye,’ he said. ‘A young lady needs to know how to dance. If ye are to be a Pinkerton operative, ye might have to do lots of it. Put on yer wee gloves and hold up yer right hand,’ he said. ‘Like ye’re taking an oath in court.’
Part-Indians like me cannot take oaths in court but I held up my right hand anyways. He took it & pulled me to my feet & put his arm around my waist. I usually do not like to be touched but I did not mind it too much as he was my pa. He showed me how to move my feet by moving his own.
I could not do it.
‘Keep trying,’ he said. He smelled of Lucy Hinton tobacco & coffee & musky hair balm. It was a nice smell. I kept trying.
I could not master it.
‘They are playing a dance called a Schottische,’ he said. ‘It is from Scotland. It is our slower version of a polka.’ He was smiling & not getting impatient with my clumsiness & stupidity.
Concentrating on the steps prevented me from slipping into a music trance but I found my pa looked like a friendly otter again. I did not mind dancing with a friendly otter.
I kept trying to get it.
I almost had it.
I finally got it!
One moment I was stepping on my pa’s new shoes & the next we were dancing! I could do it. Even in my silly button-up boots, I could do it!
We were spinning & trying not to barge the 2 other couples & our feet were twinkling & the fiddlers’ faces whirled past wearing No. 1 smiles. Finally the music stopped & everyone laughed & clapped & fanned their faces.
When my Pa went out back to use the outhouse, I almost plonked down at our table but remembered just in time and sat with ankles crossed and Good Posture.
I finished the champagne in my glass. I felt like all the little bubbles were lifting me up from inside.
Suddenly Jace was sitting opposite me.
‘P.K.,’ he said. ‘What do you think you are doing?’
‘Jace! What are you doing here?’ I said. My words came out a mite slurry.
He looked at me through a cloud of cigar smoke. ‘News reached me a couple of hours ago. People ain’t happy that you have been pranking them for seven months. Why are you dressed like that? Folk will think you are mocking them.’
‘What is wrong with this?’ I said, looking down at my yellow and green frock. I could hear my voice was too loud. The room was tilting a little.
‘Well, that color don’t suit you for one thing,’ he said.
‘You think Magenta would be better?’ I said. ‘Or maybe Solferino? Like what Violetta wears?’
(Violetta de Baskerville was the beautiful but deadly widow I had been telling my pa about. She was partial to fashionable shades of purple. She had tried to get her claws into Jace a few months earlier, but I had saved him from unholy matrimony & sent her packing to Frisco.)
He turned his head to blow smoke away from me. ‘I ain’t saying you should dress like Violetta,’ he said. ‘Though any dress in her closet would suit you better than what you are wearing now.’
It stung me when he said that but I was sure my face showed no emotion.
‘This is the way my Pa likes me to dress,’ I said, lifting my chin.
‘Yeah,’ said Jace. ‘I been watching you and your pa.’
‘Well he is going take me to Chicago and I don’t care what you think.’
Jace stubbed out his cigar even though it was only half-smoked. ‘All right then. I didn’t come to talk ladies’ fashions. I just came to try to help. But it looks like you don’t need advice. Good luck in Chicago.’
‘Who was that?’ said Pa, coming up to the table.
I looked at Jace’s retreating back. ‘Just an old client,’ I said.
‘I have had a wee notion,’ said my pa.
‘What?’ The champagne in my stomach had gone sour.
‘I have decided to adopt ye.’
‘What?’ I said again. There was a high-pitched ringing inside my head.
‘I’m going to adopt ye. Tomorrow morning first thing, if ye will let me.’
‘But,’ I said, ‘what about your wife?’
He shrugged. ‘I’ll tell Caroline that ye’re an orphan. I know she’ll learn to love ye. And ye’ll be a bone fide Pinkerton. Now gissa hug.’
I stood up and let him embrace me in a strong, firm bear hug.
Through the muffling sleeves of his jacket against my ears I heard a lady say, ‘Aw, ain’t that sweet. A pa hugging his daughter.’
I knew I should have felt happy, for my dearest dream was about to come true.
But for some reason I only wanted to blub.
Dang my changing body!
Read on HERE...
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!