Everything happened real fast after that.
Within an hour we were standing in a dim livery stable, watching half a dozen heavily armed men climb into a sturdy stagecoach.
Once in, they pulled down the leather shades. Then Icy Blue & his driver climbed up into the box.
‘How does that look?’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley to us.
‘Looks good,’ said Dizzy. ‘Looks like we got something to hide.’
I agreed & looked at Pa to see whether he did, too, but he was busy adjusting the saddle on a big gray gelding.
‘Off you go then,’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley to the first stagecoach. ‘And good luck to you! You catch them Reb Road Agents.’
Icy Blue raised his shotgun and his driver flicked the reins & said, ‘Hee-yah!’
The decoy coach was away!
Pa swung up into the saddle of the gelding. ‘I hope to see ye pass us on the road,’ he said, ‘as we clap those bandits in irons.’
‘Pa!’ I cried. ‘Ain’t you riding shotgun with us?’
‘Not for the first wee stretch,’ he said. ‘Horses and Ray dinna get along so he’ll ride with ye. But don’t worry, me wee lassie. Once we’ve clapped those pesky Reb Road agents in irons I’ll ride with ye to Sacramento.’ His eyes were brimming with tears like he was sad to leave, & he could not meet my gaze.
I confess I was disappointed. I had been looking forward to working with my pa on our first case.
‘Fare thee well!’ He touched his finger to the brim of his new hat. Still without looking at me, he turned his horse & spurred it & trotted after the departing coach. The last I saw of him was his silhouette against the bright square of outside light coming in through the stable doors. Then the light kind of dissolved him & he was gone.
Mr. V.V. Bletchley, Dizzy and Ray were examining the second stagecoach.
I studied it, too. It was battered and old, with a faded vista of mountains painted on the door and gold trim that was almost chipped off.
Bletchley turned to me. ‘She may look old and battered,’ he said, ‘but she was recently fitted with a new thoroughbrace and she can hold tons of silver. Come look.’
He opened a door and showed me how they had covered the floor of the coach with 78 silver bricks of varying shapes & weights all laid neatly side-by-side. He told me the ‘ingots’ were worth over 50 thousand dollars! As I watched, they piled some letter-sacks inside the coach to cover up the silver. Then they pulled down all the leather window shades so you could not see inside.
‘What do you think?’ said Mr. Bletchley, standing back. ‘How does it look?’
‘Not too good,’ said Dizzy, scratching his belly. ‘With the shades down, it looks like we got something to hide. Folk generally like to look out.’
‘But if we open the shades then everybody will see we have no passengers.’ Bletchley looked at Ray. ‘You should have thought of that before.’
Dizzy scratched his armpit. ‘Maybe Miss Pinky can ride inside the coach so people will glimpse her in the window.’
Ray shook his head. ‘The whole point of her is to be conspicuous – that is, easily seen – so any lurking bandits will see a little girl and let you pass.’
I had an idea of how I could make a bogus passenger who would look real.
‘I have an idea of how I can make a bogus passenger who will look real.’ I said. ‘Wait here!’
I ran out of the stable & pelted up to Mrs. Matterhorn’s & plucked a head-sized unripe watermelon from her back garden & then hurried one block down to Wasserman’s Emporium’s & bought Mrs. Wasserman’s old papier-mâché dummy & also a velvet ladies’ coat & also the biggest straw sunhat I could find. Then I whizzed back to the Overland Stage Co. Livery Stable.
‘Where you been!’ they all cried. ‘It has been near half an hour.’
But when I wedged the dummy torso inside the stagecoach at the front & draped the purple velvet coat around her shoulders & stuck the watermelon on the dowel neck of her papier-mâché body & added that big sunhat to hide her green & yellow striped head they all said ‘Ah!’, for my construction appeared to be a fashionable lady sitting in the best seat with her back to the driver & looking out the window.
We stood back to judge the effect.
‘She is bully!’ said Dizzy. ‘Now it looks like a school marm, maybe with the other shades down to shield her napping pupils on their way back from a picnic.’
‘Much better,’ agreed Bletchley, puffing a cigar.
‘Good idea to use a watermelon for a head,’ said Ray. ‘Otherwise her hat would lie too low.’ Then he spotted something & frowned & went closer to inspect her. ‘Goll DANG it!’ he cried, making us all jump. ‘What is that on her hat?’
‘Flowers,’ I said. ‘Just some old silk flowers.’
‘No. That! Right there!’ He was white as chalk.
I went closer and saw a silk butterfly among the flowers.
I said, ‘That is a silk butterfly among the flowers.’
‘Take the dam thing off!’
‘It is not genuine. It is bogus.’
‘I don’t care! I told you before. Those things give me the fantods.’
I pulled the bogus butterfly off the hat-band & stuck it out of sight in my medicine bag.
‘You best be going,’ said Mr. Bletchley, looking at his pocket watch. ‘Otherwise you will not have the protection of Icy and all those agents if anything goes wrong. They are nearly an hour ahead of you.’
Dizzy quickly clambered up into the driver’s box & so did Ray.
I was about to scramble up after them but then I remembered to be a girly-girl. I accepted Dizzy’s hand and let him help me up via the wheel onto the lofty box seat. I took my place in the middle, with Dizzy on my right and Ray on my left.
‘Ready?’ Dizzy asked me.
Dizzy hooked his right foot around the lever beside the driver’s box & pulled it back to release the brake. Then he flicked the reins & cried, ‘G’lang! G’lang there you sons of blanks!’ To me he said, ‘Pardon my cussing. Those critters won’t pay me no mind lessen I blaspheme.’
‘Good luck!’ called Bletchley after us.
We emerged from the livery stable into the bright day. It was the first day of May. I was wearing my wig with its swinging black ringlets and my lighthouse bonnet with its silk flowers & sash & itchy ruffle at the back. It was warm so I only needed a light pink shawl over my daffodil yellow dress. I had my black button-up boots & a yellow velvet drawstring purse around my left wrist. Pa had made me buy some little white cotton gloves but I had replaced them with my beaded buckskin gauntlets. They were my lucky gloves.
As we went over the Divide – a kind of hump in the road between Virginia City and Gold Hill – I could feel the horses straining to pull the coach full of heavy silver ingots and letter-sacks. But as soon as they started heading downhill towards Silver City, the coach fairly flew along. I had to retie the yellow ribbon under my chin or my yellow lighthouse bonnet would have flown off into the atmosphere.
‘Dang!’ wheezed Dizzy. ‘That silver is pushing them hard.’
I nodded and gripped the edges of the bench. The road was steep and curvy with precipitous drops onto jagged orange rocks. It was scary like my nightmare but also thrilling. My heart was pounding hard.
I wished Pa could be sitting beside me instead of Ray G. Tempest who kept taking secret swigs from his small flask.
Dizzy concentrated hard as we drove through Gold Hill & Devil’s Gate & Silver City. The road was crowded but everybody made way for our thundering stagecoach. Ray flipped the toll booth operators their coins and we fairly raced through. When the mountain finished and the road leveled out on its way to Carson, Dizzy kind of breathed a sigh and wiped his forehead with his faded bandana.
He glanced at me. ‘You’re awful quiet. You scared?’
I shook my head. ‘I just wish my pa could have seen my clever ruse of using a dummy as a dummy.’
‘I’ll make sure he hears about it,’ said Ray. He took a swig from his flask and then saw us looking. ‘Tooth elixir,’ he explained. ‘My dam tooth is still paining me.’
We rode for a while without conversing. I strained my eyes to see pa but he was too far ahead.
I noticed that Dizzy had a double-barrel shotgun in a kind of leather scabbard beside him.
‘You ever been robbed?’ I asked.
‘Nope,’ said Dizzy. ‘Most local robbers know the boss don’t trust me with big payloads so they let me alone.’
‘That is why you are the perfect choice for this job,’ said Ray.
We changed teams at Curry’s Warm Springs Hotel where I had once stayed but I did not see anyone known to me. Ray got himself a red bandana with a few drops of strong-smelling creosote on it and some ice chippings and he tied this around his head with the knot on top and his hat hiding it. This gave him some relief but made it hard for him to talk.
Our fresh team of six bay horses sped us through Carson City without stopping and my haunts of the previous winter flashed past. Soon we were out of town and racing along the flat road to Genoa with sage-brush and greasewood dotted plains either side and those barren, high-rising mountains to the southwest.
‘Nice gloves,’ said Dizzy.
He was admiring my buckskin gloves with the beaded zigzags that Jace had given me for Christmas.
‘These are my lucky gloves,’ I said.
‘Lucky gloves, eh?’ chuckled Dizzy. ‘Then why don’t you take the ribbons?’
‘The ribbons. The traces. The reins. Go on! Take ’em!’
And before I knew what had happened he’d put the control of six powerful horses & $50,000-worth of silver into my hands.
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!
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