A week later, I found myself standing on the stage of Minnehaha’s Medicine Show, listening to hearty applause.
It was Sunday May 10th and we were all at the Willows Amusement Park celebrating the capture of the criminals & the recovery of the money & our reward. Minnie had invited me to help her with the final part of her act. It was her last day in the city as she was bound for Sac City and parts beyond.
She was wearing her tight buckskin top and her puffy skirt with the stripes & zigzags on it. Her hair was wavy & glossy & black & fell down to her shoulders. She was not wearing war paint so you could see her freckles and pale skin.
I was wearing my fringed buckskin trowsers & beaded moccasins & beaded buckskin gloves & my red, blue and yellow zigzag jacket. I was also wearing the wig of straight black hair. (I had bought it from Minnie.) I was using my bogus pa’s Smith & Wesson No. 2 with its 6in barrel and rosewood grip. I like it because it fits my hand real good and also because it takes the same .32 rimfire cartridges as my 4-shooter Deringer. That means I do not need to bother with cap & ball & powder.
Minnie and I had been shooting tin cans.
My ears were still ringing with the sound of gunfire and my nose was full of the pungent smell of gun smoke. We had hit every can!
I had also been using my fine new Henry Rifle which takes fourteen .44 caliber cartridges and makes a bang like a shout. It was engraved thus: To P.K. Pinkerton, with thanks from the Overland Stage Co.
Mr. V.V. Bletchley had come all the way from Virginia City to present it to me, along with a generous reward of $2000. I had given $500 to Martha & Zoe & $500 to Ping & $500 to Minnehaha. (That was when she had invited me to be part of her show for just one afternoon.)
As the cloud of white gun smoke cleared on that fine May afternoon, I could see the people looking up at us and clapping.
I saw Ping & Affie & Martha & Zoe. Mr. Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain, was there, too, with his friend The Unreliable and also Mrs. John D Winters who was smiling and not looking down her nose. I saw my new colleague Mr. Detective Rose & half a dozen of San Francisco’s finest. They were clapping as hard as anybody else.
Mr. Icy Blue was there, too, all in black. And Dizzy, with his leg in plaster! He was making a good recovery. He had verified my side of the story & was now ‘Yee-Hawing’ on account of he could not clap as he had to use both his hands for his crutches.
Best of all, Ping had got an indebted Virginia City client of his to ride Cheeya to Frisco in easy stages. So I was now reunited with my beloved pony.
I was about to jump down off the stage to join them when a man with oval spectacles ran up. He pointed to me. ‘You! Stay up there!’ he commanded. ‘I am Mr. H. W. Corbyn. I am going to make photographic cards of you. I will sell them and make a fortune. It will only take a moment or two and I will give you half the proceeds,’ he added.
So while Minnehaha was going round and collecting tips in her quiver, I remained on the stage.
Mr. H. W. Corbyn heaved his big black camera up onto the stage & drew the red velvet curtains so that the people in the audience would not disturb us. The sun was right overhead and it was shining for all it was worth. Mr. Corbyn made me stand with one foot up on Minnie’s ammunition box, like when a hunter stands over the prey he has just killed.
While Mr. Corbyn was making adjustments, a dark figure stooped to enter through the tee-pee door at the back of the stage & then stood tall.
It was Poker Face Jace.
I could not move because Mr. Corbyn was making adjustments.
Jace stopped about two paces away from me. He had his hands behind his back.
‘Go away,’ I said. ‘I am quit of you.’
‘Hear me out,’ said he.
I said nothing.
He said, ‘Remember when you came to Steamboat Springs end of last month and I said how in the whole world, only you and I knew the secret of your initials?s’
I gave a curt nod.
He sighed. ‘Well, after you left, I got to thinking. I remembered when I was with Violetta in Carson.’ He paused & took a breath. ‘She was interrogating me about you and we had been drinking and I might have mentioned something to her. About you not knowing what the P and the K stood for, that is.’
He still had his hands behind his back & suddenly his pale cheeks were pinkish. I had to look at him to make sure I was really seeing this. It was the first time I had ever seen Jace discombobulated. He even remained cool & collected under fire. But danged if he wasn’t blushing or flushing or something.
‘Keep your head still,’ Mr. H. W. Corbyn told me. ‘I am almost ready.’
‘That was why I came here to Frisco,’ said Jace. He spoke quickly & without his usual drawl, like he wanted to get it out fast. ‘I wondered if Violetta might be scheming against you. I had just got into her hotel room and was about to search it when you showed up.’
‘A likely story,’ said I.
But part of me wanted him to convince me I was wrong.
‘P.K.?’ he said. His voice was kind of thick and he had to clear his throat and start again. ‘You are kind of like a daughter to me. Or a son. Or – I don’t know – maybe both of those combined. As you know, I lost my own… And I just wanted to say… I am sorry. I would like you to have this.’
From behind his back he brought out a straw hat of the kind they call ‘sombrero’. Only it was not as big as most sombreros.
The photographer was fiddling with his camera again, and had his back to us, so I reached out my hand & took it.
It was made of pale-gold straw and had a red hat-band and on that hat-band was a buckskin butterfly all embroidered with beads.
It was like the hat in my dream.
Had I told him about my dream? I could not recollect.
I looked at him and he looked at me.
I looked back down at the hat. I said, ‘It is a bully hat.’
‘Ain’t it?’ said Jace. ‘I saw it in on a Mexican gal near Sacramento on my way here and I thought it might suit you. She made me pay five dollars for it,’ he added.
‘Put it on!’ cried Mr. H. W. Corbyn from his device.
I put it on.
‘Yes!’ Mr. H. W. Corbyn called out to me. ‘But further back on your head, so it don’t shade your face.’
‘Let me,’ said Jace. He stepped forward & set the small sombrero a bit further back on my head & then he folded the front brim up a mite.
‘There,’ said Jace in a low voice. ‘That looks fine.’ For a moment he lingered to brush a strand of wig hair away from my face.
Then he stepped back.
‘Perfect!’ cried Mr. Corbyn once more. ‘That is the finishing touch we needed. Now put your left hand on top of the rifle barrel and put your right hand back so I can see your pistol and gun-belt.’
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jace moving away.
‘Don’t go,’ I said.
He stopped moving away.
‘Freeze!’ cried Mr. Corbyn. Then he took away the cover of the lens & I stood as still as a jackass rabbit even though I could see Jace out of the corner of my eye. I could see him taking a cigar out of his coat pocket & he had some trouble lighting it as his hands were shaky.
In front of me, Mr. H. W. Corbyn replaced the cover on the lens and cried ‘Got it! These are going to sell like glasses of iced lemonade in Hell!’ he exclaimed. Then he added, ‘Pardon my French.’
Mr. H. W. Corbyn took the photographic plate and hurried out the back exit, leaving us alone on the curtained stage.
I turned to Jace. ‘We are all going to have a picnic down by the duck-pond,’ I said. ‘The one by the emeu cage. Ping and Affie and Martha. Miz Zoe, too. Will you join us?’
‘I would be honored,’ he said. He puffed his cigar and blew smoke up. ‘Can Stonewall come, too?’
‘Sure.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Jace?’
‘You know you said I was a bit like your son or your daughter or both?’
I took a deep breath. ‘Would you maybe give me a bear hug like a pa gives his kid sometimes?’
Jace opened his mouth. Then he closed it. Then he tossed the cigar away & stepped forward & put his arms around me in a safe bear hug.
I usually do not like being touched but sometimes a bear hug is necessary.
This one felt good.
It felt safe.
I thought, ‘I do not need to find out who my real pa is. No pa could be as good as Jace. He is true. And he likes me just as I am.’
My eyes filled up with tears & I felt a sob wanting to come up. Dang my changing body!
Just in time, my new hat fell off & we laughed & I bent down to pick it up & put it on & when I looked at Jace danged if his eyes weren’t damp too!
‘Bit dusty today,’ he remarked, taking out a pristine handkerchief and dabbing his eyes.
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I noticed that, too.’
‘Dang,’ he said, putting the handkerchief back in his coat pocket. ‘You look mighty fine in that getup. How does it feel?’
‘It feels good,’ I said. ‘It feels like me.’
Then I took out my pistol & cocked it & fired it into the blue San Francisco sky & shouted, ‘Yee-haw!’
[Don't have a clue what's going on? Start with chapter one.]
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.