‘What is your idea?’ I asked Martha. ‘Do you know how can I get into Violetta’s hotel room?’
Martha nodded. ‘All the maids at all them big hotels on Montgomery Street have uniforms like mine. And we can go anywhere in the hotel and don’t nobody get suspicious.’
I sat up straight. ‘Martha, that is a bully idea! Would you really be willing to sneak into Violetta’s room at the Occidental Hotel and look for evidence?’
‘Oh lawd, no!’ she squealed. ‘Not me! I thought you could dress up in my outfit and sneak in. I had to help out a friend who works at the Occidental Hotel one time,’ she added, ‘so I knows my way around a little. What room did you say that Violetta lady is in?’
‘Room 202,’ I said.
‘Then it is easy,’ said Martha. ‘All you have to do is go into the side entrance of the Occidental Hotel – it is on Bush Street – then go in the second door on the right or is it left? Anyways, it is a white door. In there you will find lots of folded towels. Get two of them clean towels and go up some narrow stairs to the second floor and ask any chambermaid passing by if she could open the door to room 202 as the lady has requested fresh towels and you have left your pass key downstairs. They will let you in. If someone is in the room, then just say Excuse Me and leave the towels and go.’
I said, ‘What if the people in the hotel recognize me from this morning when I was dressed in my pa’s greatcoat?’
‘You probably will not see those people from the lobby,’ said Martha. She tipped her head on one side. ‘Also, when I wear my uniform folk look right through me. It is like I ain’t even there. Like I am a piece of furniture.’ She stood up. ‘If you wear this I reckon they won’t see you neither.’
‘Will I have to put on black face?’
‘Lawd, no! We got all colors of skin. There is even a half Indian maid like you.’
I nodded and looked at the uniform she was wearing. ‘Will it fit me?’
‘I think so,’ said Zoe. ‘I made it with room for Martha to grow.’
‘But what about the cap?’ I said. ‘It ain’t much more than a handkerchief and it will not cover my short hair. I don’t have a girl’s wig anymore– wait! Yes, I do!’ I went to my buckskin bundle & undid the twine & showed them the beautiful buckskin trowsers & the beaded moccasins & the wig of straight black hair.
‘Why, this is just like your own hair’ said Martha, taking the wig. ‘Only long.’
Zoe said, ‘I can pin this hair up and then we can put on Martha’s handkerchief cap.’
Martha was taking off the white pinafore that went over her black dress. ‘I feel sure this uniform will help you get the bulge on Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville!’
I nodded. ‘Only she ain’t called Mrs. de Baskerville anymore. Now she is going by the name of Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint.
Martha stopped unpinning her white handkerchief cap. ‘What did you say her new name was?’
‘Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint,’ said I. ‘Why do you ask?’
Martha frowned. ‘I ain’t sure.’ Then her face lit up. ‘I know!’ she cried. ‘She is getting married tomorrow afternoon and they is having a big dance at my hotel around 4 o’clock. I know because it is all happening at Short Notice and they have to clear out the dining room to make it a ballroom. Everybody is talking about it,’ she added. ‘They say the Cream of San Francisco society will be there.’
I said. ‘That figures. She is always marrying and burying. What is the name of the man she is to wed?’
Martha shrugged. ‘Ain’t nobody talking about him. They are all talking about her and about what she will wear.’
‘Well, I ain’t wearing this thing ever again,’ I said as I took off the daffodil-yellow frock. ‘You can have it!’
Miz Zoe added hot water from the kettle to the cold water in the pitcher on the Toilette Trunk and I washed myself while Martha changed into a dress of the same red calico they had used for their curtains and tablecloth.
Martha loaned me a pair of clean bloomers and a chemise and then helped me put on her black shift. It had a white collar & also white cuffs at the end of long black sleeves. It was a little tight around my bosom even though I do not have much there yet, but the pinafore covered up what little I got. Miz Zoe put my new wig on me & coiled up the straight black hair & pinned that little white handkerchief cap on top.
‘Black and white suits you better than daffodil yellow,’ said Miz Zoe with a nod.
Martha clapped her hands. ‘You look fine dressed as Prudence the chambermaid.’
‘Never call me Prudence,’ I said. ‘I am almost one hundred per cent certain that is not my Christian name.’
When I spoke those words, I suddenly got a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and a kind of niggle at the back of my head, like I should be putting two and two together. But I could not think what the 2 + 2 might equal.
It was niggling me as I went out of Martha and Zoe’s apartment and onto wooden-plank Sansome Street. It was niggling me as I turned south along wide Montgomery Street in the late afternoon sunshine, past stock-brokers with their walking sticks & women in their bonnets with the slanting sun lighting up their parasols.
It niggled me as I went into the side entrance of the Occidental Hotel & picked up two fluffy towels from a room with a white door & went up the service stairs to the second floor & asked a passing chambermaid if she could open 202 as the lady had requested fresh towels and I had left my pass key downstairs.
But when I entered the spacious hotel room and smelled Jace’s cigar, I suddenly put two and two together and knew why I felt queasy.
I remembered a line from the letter in my bogus pa’s pocket, viz: She herself does not know what the initials P and K signify.
How had Violetta found out about my not knowing the P and the K?
It could only be from the one person apart from me who was privy to that fact: Poker Face Jace.
He had betrayed me.
That was the awful 2 + 2 it had taken me so long to put together.
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