Dizzy had put the heavy reins of a six-horse team in my gloved hands. I was so startled I nearly fell off the coach.
I said, ‘How can I drive a six-horse team if I am supposed to be personating a demure little girly-girl and fool the Reb Road agents?’
Dizzy said, ‘You can see they ain’t nobody on this here stretch of road. Besides, those Road Agents are lurking up in them thar mountains not down here on the high plains.’
‘Hey!’ protested Ray. ‘Ain’t that dangerous?’ He had been sipping tooth elixir from his flask and only just noticed I was holding the traces.
‘Nah!’ said Dizzy. ‘It ain’t dangerous. These horses know the road so well they could do it blindfolded.’
But I reckoned it was dangerous. I could feel the life energy of those six steeds whizzing up through the leather straps into my fingers & arms & spirit.
I felt scared and powerful at the same time. It was like flying on a rocking, creaking boat. Dizzy was right: The coach might look old & battered but that thoroughbrace – or whatever it was called – worked real well.
We hit a bump and all three of us flew about four inches up and came down bang!
‘Yee-haw!’ cried Dizzy.
‘Dam!’ swore Ray, but he was laughing.
Dizzy turned to me. ‘Let it out!’ he said. ‘It ain’t good to hold it in. It’ll make you queasy. Go on! If you can’t choke out a “yee-haw” then cuss like a miner or squeal like a gal.’
‘Yee-haw,’ I said. I was concentrating on driving & did not feel like yelling.
Dizzy looked at the sky. ‘I thought I heard a squeak. Could it have been a bat?’
‘Yee-haw!’ I cried, a bit louder.
‘Did you hear something, Mr. Ray?’ said Dizzy.
Ray shook his head. He was grinning despite his toothache.
Using both my lungs I shouted, ‘YEE-HAW!’
It felt good. Everybody laughed. Even me.
I only wished my pa had been there to share the moment.
Dizzy took a fresh chaw of tobacco from his trowser pocket & bit off a corner & folded up the plug in its paper wrapper. I was paying attention to the horses but out of the corner of my eye I saw that it was Blue Star brand chewing tobacco. I try to be observant about such things. Identifying tobacco is one of my special detective skills.
The road was running smooth through a flat marshy plain towards those great jagged snow-topped mountains called the ‘Sierra Nevada’ which means ‘Great Jagged Snow-topped Mountains’ in Spanish. There is a pretty little town called Genoa situated right at their foot with some oak trees & cottonwoods by a stream. We could see it a long time before we got there. Pa Emmet once told me that it used to be called Mormon Station until the Mormons all upped sticks and went to Salt Lake City. He said they named it after a town in Italy but they pronounce it different so people will not get confused.
‘Dam,’ said Ray. He took his flask from his pocket tipped it upside down to show us his Tooth Elixir was all gone.
‘You should get that tooth pulled,’ said Dizzy. ‘Any blacksmith will do it.’
Ray touched his cheek & winced. ‘You mind if I lie down inside the coach?’ he asked Dizzy.
‘Course not! But you will have to lie on them hard leather letter-sacks.’
‘I don’t mind.’ Ray tossed his empty Tooth Elixir bottle into the marsh on the left hand side of the road. ‘Pull up,’ he said, ‘so I can go down right now.’
I was still holding the ‘ribbons’, as they say.
‘Pinky,’ said Dizzy. ‘You want to try slowing this rig? You just–’ he began, but I was already pulling back on the heavy reins.
‘Whoa, you sons of blanks!’ I hollered.
The team of six bay horses slowed & stopped right there in the road. They stood snorting & tossing their heads.
‘Why, missy,’ said Dizzy with his brown-toothed smile, ‘you are a natural.’
Ray started to climb down.
Dizzy put a hand on his arm. ‘Hold on, mister.’ Dizzy looked at me. ‘Now that we’ve stopped, what’s the first thing you gotta do?’
‘Foot brake?’ I said.
‘You got it!’ He was nearest the brake so he used his foot to push the lever forward. I felt the coach turn from a living thing to a solid, unmoving object.
Once again, I wished it had been my pa sitting there beside me to be impressed by my skill at handling a six-horse team. But it was only Ray & he did not even seem to notice. He just climbed down off the box. I felt the coach rock a little as he opened the door & climbed inside.
‘Shotgun?’ came Ray’s voice.
Dizzy and I both leaned to the right to see Ray’s hand sticking out of the front window.
Dizzy took the double-barreled shotgun from its leather sheath beside the driver’s box & handed it down. Ray’s hand & the shotgun both disappeared back inside the coach.
‘OK.’ Dizzy released the brake & turned to me, ‘To start up again you just give the reins a little flick and say “G’lang!” real firm-like.’
‘G’lang! G’lang there, you sons of blanks!’ I said, imitating Dizzy, and we were off again.
Little did I think I would be taking the reins in earnest and riding for my life in less than two hours.
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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