When I got back to Martha and Zoe’s, I found they had company.
‘Look who’s here!’ cried Martha, as I stepped through the door into their one room abode. ‘Look who done come to help you.’
The dim lamplight showed me a Chinese boy in a gabardine suit and a youth with blond hair & glinting wire-rimmed spectacles. It was Ping & Affable Fitzfimmons.
‘P.K.?’ said Affie. ‘Is that you?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I am disguised as a chambermaid. I was trying to get the bulge on a suspect.’ I turned to Ping. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked him. ‘I thought you had renounced me.’
Ping shrugged & scowled the floor. ‘Just when I finish sending reply to your telegram, another telegram comes in. Says you are wanted for robbery. I think maybe you need help so I go to office to get ready. Find Affie waiting there.’
Affie nodded. ‘I went to your office to warn you that I was uneasy about your father’s claim to be Scottish,’ he said. ‘There was something not quite right about his accent. When Ping told me you had telegraphed to say your father was a fake and that you were pursuing his double-crossing partner to Frisco. I offered to accompany Ping in order to help you,’ he added.
I said, ‘You came all the way to Frisco just to help me?’
‘My parents are building a house there and in the meantime we have rented a suite at a hotel,’ said Affie. ‘I just convinced them to let me return a few days early. They were happy to let me travel on my own as Ping was going with me,’ he added.
‘We catch noon stage out of Virginia,’ said Ping. ‘Very bumpy. Very fast. Arrive Sac City around midnight. Get few hours sleep. Catch morning ferry. Arrive Frisco three o’clock today. Go to What Cheer House, but they no know you.’
‘They only take men,’ I said. ‘How did you find me?’
‘I remember you get letter from Zoe last Christmas. But don’t remember address.’
‘Jolly good luck you were in the directory,’ said Affie to Miz Zoe. ‘And that you still reside here.’
‘You did good detective work,’ I said to them.
Ping said, ‘We also got info on Chauncy Pridhaume and Jonas Blezzard. They are Confidence Tricksters.’
I said, ‘Confidence Tricksters?’
Affie said, ‘That is what they call people who play a “Confidence Game”. This is their modus operandi. First they find a rich Mark. Then they dangle some bait. They get you to come to them. That is how they gain your trust.’
I was confused. ‘Who is Mark?’ I asked.
‘The “mark”,’ explained Affie, ‘is what they call the victim, that is to say the person they want to trick. When the mark trusts them, they isolate him or her from friends and family.’
Ping nodded, ‘Like vaqueros separate calf from herd for branding.’
‘Once you are abandoned by friends and family,’ said Affie, ‘these Confidence Tricksters become your new friends. They get you to trust them and loan them money and leave them property in wills. It was easy for Pridhaume and Blezzard to separate you from your friends, and partner,’ he glanced at Ping. ‘All they had to do was show that you had been deceiving everybody.’
‘I warn’t deceiving,’ I said. ‘I was just dressing in trowsers and a flannel shirt.’
‘You pretend to be boy,’ said Ping. ‘That is big lie. That is like Chauncy Pridhaume personating your pa.’
‘I was not trying to be someone else,’ I protested. ‘I was just trying to be me.’
But I knew Ping was right. I was not much better than the man who had personated my pa.
‘To thine own self be true,’ quoted Affie. Then he scratched his head. ‘What I cannot understand,’ he said, ‘is why they directed their deception at you. Ping tells me you have some valuable shares in a mine that might possibly be worth thirty thousand dollars. That is a good deal of money, but there are richer people in this region. Much richer.’
‘It is not just about money,’ I said. ‘It is about revenge.’
‘Why?’ said Ping. ‘What man could hate you so much?’
‘Not man,’ I said. ‘Woman.’
Ping’s eyes went wide. ‘Violetta!’ he said. ‘You stop her marry Jace last winter in Carson City. You send her back to Frisco with tail between legs.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘My mortal enemy, Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville. I reckon she wanted to take everything from me. My friends, my money, my livelihood and even my life.’ I looked at the floor. ‘The worst thing is that she convinced my mentor to betray me.’
‘Your mentor?’ said Affie.
I nodded. ‘A gambler and rancher name of Poker Face Jace.’
‘No,’ cried Miz Zoe. ‘That cannot be!’
‘It is true,’ I said. ‘Jace told Violetta a fact about me that was the key to their success in tricking me.’
Ping stared, too. ‘You think Jace is in cahoots with them?’
I nodded and kept my eyes on the raw plank floor. ‘He is the only one apart from me who knew the secret of the P and the K. I reckon he decided to go back to Violetta.’
‘Oh, P.K.,’ cried Zoe. ‘I can’t believe he would knowingly harm you. He has been so good to you.’
‘I know,’ I said. ‘But I found him in her hotel room a few hours ago. I reckon he is the one she is going to wed.’
‘Oh,’ said Zoe. She had just stood up to boil more water, but now she sat down real sudden.
‘I say!’ cried Affie. ‘We have a suite at the Lick House Hotel and there was a notice pushed under our door saying that there is to be a big wedding ball in the dining room tomorrow afternoon.’
‘That’s it!’ cried Martha. ‘That’s the one!’
‘All the residents of the hotel are invited,’ added Affie.
‘Who is the groom to be?’ I asked.
‘I didn’t examine the details,’ said Affie. ‘Let’s all go back to my hotel and find out.’ He looked at me with twinkling spectacles. ‘For that is not all I have to show you.’