I was following the tracks of murdering Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard when I saw that something had happened.
A passel of wheel ruts & footprints & hoof prints on the muddy road told me that Ray & his nine horses had overtaken a big flatbed wagon pulled by two oxen. After some milling about, the horses had all gone down off the left hand side of the road in the pine trees & the wagon had carried on with just two oxen but much deeper wheel ruts.
I deduced that Ray had either threatened or bribed the driver to help him transfer the gold and silver to that wagon. Then he had set the incriminating horses free, to fend for themselves. Then the two of them had carried on west.
Ray had a good head start on me: at least four hours. But I reckoned I knew where he was headed.
I reckoned he was going to meet Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint in San Francisco!
A bend in the road brought me to Yank’s Station where the only person in sight was a woman pumping water outside the stage house. I asked her if she had seen a man with a beaver-felt brown hat riding in an ox-cart just after dawn.
She said yes there had been a man riding with ‘Dung’ O’Dowd. She told me Dung plied a flatbed ox-wagon from Placerville to Friday’s station. His habit was to fill that wagon with whiskey and head east, dropping whiskey off at all the stations. Then at Friday’s he would turn around and fill his wagon with manure so it was full when he got back to Placerville. She said she noticed the man because Dung usually travelled on his own.
I reckoned Ray had hidden the leather mailbags full of gold and silver in the manure where nobody would care to look for it!
I said, ‘Placerville is on the road to Sacramento, ain’t it?’
‘When is the next stage?’
‘Next stage to Sacto should be coming through in half an hour.’
‘Is there a telegraph office here at Yank’s Station?’ I said.
‘Course there is,’ she replied. ‘Three doors down. Little one-room shack beside the stables at the base of one of them telegraph poles.’
I went three doors down and found a raw-plank, one-room building beside the stables at the base of one of them telegraph poles. The telegraph operator was snoozing with a slouch hat over his face and his feet up on a desk. On this desk was the machine for sending messages & a sheaf of forms & a tin can with pencils & a green blotter & a little bell with a dinger.
I brought my gloved hand down on the dinger.
‘What?’ The man’s chair rocked back and almost tipped him out.
‘How much to send a telegram to Virginia City?’ I asked.
He pushed the hat back on his head. ‘Penny a word.’
I decided to save the $20 gold piece in my medicine pouch for the train and/or ferry to San Francisco. I fished around in my bogus pa’s greatcoat and pulled out 2 paper dollars & showed them to him.
‘Two pennies a word if you are payin in greenbacks,’ he said, and spat into a corner of the room.
He pushed a form forward. ‘Write the person’s address and fill it out,’ he said.
I paused for a moment to ponder. Whom should I wire for help?
My first thought was Mr. V.V. Bletchley, but I wanted to solve the mystery and recover the treasure myself.
My second thought was Jace, but a telegram might take a day or even two to reach Jace down in Steamboat Springs.
I finally decided to ask Ping, even though he had claimed to be quit of me.
I said, ‘Do you know of a good and cheap hotel in Frisco?’
The telegraph opened a drawer in his desk & handed me a cherry red slip of paper. It read as follows:
WHAT CHEER HOUSE,
San Francisco, Sacramento Street,
Between Montgomery & Sansome
B.B. WOODWARD, - - - - Proprietor.
This favorite and well-established House is now conducted on the Enterprise at New York Prices –
Guests paying for only what they order.
FIRST CLASS LODGING, 50 cts PER NIGHT,
and less Rates by the week
☞ An extensive Library, Museum & Reading Room free to all the Guests
☞ The OMNIBUS will take Guests & Baggage to the House Free of Charge
☞ Look to the name of the Omnibus to avoid imposition
Also, the CENTRAL RAILROAD CARS now connect with the Inland Steamers arriving at San Francisco, passing through Sansome Street, and crossing Sacramento Street, within half a block of the What Cheer House. Fare 5 cents.
BEWARE!! of a place adjoining the What Cheer House called the “Original House”. Said house is not in any way connected with this hotel.
‘May I keep this?’ I said.
He nodded & yawned. ‘Sure,’ he said, ‘I got a whole passel of em.’
I folded the cherry red slip of paper and put it in the pocket of my Pa’s greatcoat.
Then I wrote my telegram.
From: P.K. Pinkerton, Yank’s Station
To: Ping at the Pingerton (sic) Detective Agency,
South B Street, Virginia City
Need help. Rbt Pinkerton bogus. Real name Chauncy Pridhome? Shot & killed by bogus Pinkerton Det. Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard? Tempest left me for dead, took treasure. Come to Frisco. What Cheer House. Bring money & my trowsers. You said you were quit of me, but reward will bring you, as money all you care about. Yrs, P.K.
As I watched him tap out the message on the contraption before him, I imagined it whizzing along the wires to Virginia City in only moments.
My stomach growled. I was ravenous for I had only tasted a little honey that morning. ‘I will be back in a quarter of an hour to see if there is a reply,’ I said.
He nodded & leaned back & put his feet on the desk & tipped his hat over his eyes.
I went to the stage house.
It was empty as the stage had not yet arrived.
I sat at the end of a long table & an old man brought me a bowl of stew. It was about the worst stew I had ever tasted but I forced myself to eat it because I did not know how long it would be until my next meal.
I was wiping my bowl with a piece of stale bread when a young man came running in.
‘They’s struck again!’ he cried. ‘Them danged Reb Road Agents!’
I froze in the act of wiping my bowl with a piece of stale bread.
‘What?’ The old man who had served me stew looked up from laying out spoons & cups on the table next to me.
‘They found Dizzy a few miles out of Friday’s Station,’ cried the youth. ‘He had a ball in his chest and a busted up leg. He said it was them Reb Road Agents. He was babbling about a stage full of silver and bull-whippings and two men and a little girl and being thrown off the stage into a gorge. He lost consciousness and they do not expect him to live.’
‘Two men and a little girl?’ said the man who served the stew.
‘Yup. She was in cahoots with them Reb Road agents!’
I was tempted to sprint for the door but I knew that would give me away.
‘I got some WANTED notices here,’ said the youth.
‘Dang!’ I thought. ‘I should have wired Mr. V.V. Bletchley. Now I am a fugitive on a WANTED notice.’
Then I thought, ‘I wonder how much I am worth?’
And finally, ‘I wonder if they want me “dead or alive”?’