Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 40

‘Why are you laughing at me,’ I asked Zoe and Martha. I felt my cheeks go hot. Dang my changing body!

‘We figured out you was a gal months ago,’ said Zoe. 

‘Around Christmas time,’ added Martha.

‘You did?’

Martha nodded. ‘We were talking about you one day,’ she said. ‘I was saying how nice you looked in that pink dress you had last year and how you were awful purty for a boy, what with your big eyes and long eyelashes and smooth skin–’ 

‘And we just looked at each other and said together: “P.K. is a girl!”’ finished Zoe.

I felt a flood of relief. My eyes suddenly filled up with tears. Dang my body!

To hide my embarrassment I ate a forkful of chocolate cake. I was hungry and it was good. It revived my spirits. 

Between bites of cake & sips of lemon tea, I told them everything. 

I told them about the arrival in Virginia City of my Pinkerton pa & how he did not seem to know me at first but then realized I was his daughter. I told them how he dressed me like a girly-girl, and taught me to eat and dance and make Small Talk.  I told them about his plan to catch some Reb Road agents by putting a fortune in silver on a decoy stage and then using me in my lighthouse bonnet to put them off the scent of the real silver. I told how the plan ‘backfired’ when the Rebs held us up anyway & how Dizzy almost saved us but then my pa’s evil pard yanked Dizzy off the coach & how we crashed but I was saved by my sacque catching on a tree branch. I told them how I managed to find those Reb Road Agents & tie them up & recover the silver & then my pa arrived & shot them both dead.

‘Oh!’ cried Zoe & Martha together, and clapped their hands over their mouths.  

I told them how my pa & I found Reb Road Agents’ cave in Grizzly Gulch & about the Wells Fargo Strongbox full of gold & how the evil Ray G. Tempest ambushed us & shot my pa & loaded the silver & gold on the six stagecoach horses & left me for dead.

‘Oh P.K.’ Zoe big brown eyes were brimming with tears. ‘You have got to find another line of business.’

‘Ray G. Tempest?’ said Martha. ‘Is that a real name? Its sounds like a raging tempest.’

I nodded. ‘It was a sort of nom de plume. You guessed it straight away but I never did. Anyway, I stayed with my gut-shot pa all night fending off two grizzlies, and then he died at dawn.’ 

‘Oh, P.K.!’ they both cried. 

‘That ain’t the worst of it.’

‘What could be worse than that?’ Zoe exclaimed.

‘When I was fixing to bury him, I found some damning documents sewn into the seam of his greatcoat.  One of them was a letter to a man named Mr. Jonas Blezzard from a lady staying in the Occidental Hotel. The other was a telegram to a Mr. Chauncy Pridhaume about how he could pretend to be Robert Pinkerton, my pa.’

Once again they clapped their hands over their mouths. 

Then Zoe took her hands away and tilted her head to one side. ‘Do you mean that the man who died was not your pa after all?’

‘That is exactly what I mean to say. He was a bogus detective and a bogus pa.’

‘But why?’ cried Martha. ‘Why would they play such a trick on you?’

I said. ‘I think it has to do with the author of one of the letters – the lady in the Occidental hotel. She is my mortal enemy, Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville.’

Martha frowned. ‘Why mortal?’ she asked. ‘What does that mean?’

I said, ‘It means she is prepared to kill if necessary. She is a Black Widow. That means she marries men for their money and then kills them. I am sure she is behind this.’

‘Why is she your enemy?’ asked Zoe. 

‘Because I stopped her from marrying my friend Poker Face Jace.’

‘Oh!’ Zoe put her hand to the base of her throat. 

I said, ‘If only I still had those documents. Then I could prove my innocence and get the bulge on her.’

Martha said, ‘What is a doc-you-mints?’

I said. ‘I mean the letter and telegram and suchlike. The ones I found in my bogus pa’s greatcoat.’

‘What happened to them?’ asked Zoe.  

I said, ‘I put them in the pockets of my bogus pa’s greatcoat along with a full account of my misadventures in a ledger book. I was wearing that coat but someone snatched it from me at the Unitarian Church this morning. Now I have no proof. If only I could sneak into Violetta’s room at the Occidental Hotel and see if there are any more incriminating letters. She is in room two-oh-two but I don’t know how to get in there.’ I trailed off and rested my elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands. 

For a moment we were all quiet. Then Martha jumped up and clapped her hands.

‘I got an idea!’ she cried. ‘An idea of how you can get the bulge on that nasty Violetta!’  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 39

I looked around desperately for a place to hide. 

Could I crouch unseen behind that mirror leaning against the wall? 

No, it was not big enough. 

There was a pair of camp cots but you could easily see the wood plank floor beneath them. 

There were three wooden chairs & a stool & a sugar crate with a calico tablecloth over it & that expensive sewing machine in the center of the room. 

Then I spotted Zoe’s old travelling trunk near the dimmest corner of the room. On it were two hair-brushes & a comb & some folded towels & a pitcher & basin. It was her Toilette Trunk. Quick as a streak of chalk I nipped behind it, nearly kicking over a half-full chamber pot as I did so! 

My Injun ma once told me about the Bush Trick: if you crouch behind a bush and imagine real hard that you are that bush, you become invisible to your pursuers. I tried the Toilette Trunk Trick. I crouched behind that toilette trunk and imagined I was part of it. But I knew that being dressed like a giant daffodil in a pink poke bonnet would not help my ruse. 

My eyes were squinched shut but I heard Miz Zoe lift the latch and open the door. 

A man’s voice said, ‘You been hiding from me, Miss Zoe?’ 

‘Of course not,’ stammered Miz Zoe. ‘I always keep the bolt down against intruders.’

‘You got visitors? I told you I would not tolerate no gentlemen callers.’

‘I have not entertained a single gentleman caller since I arrived in this city,’ said Zoe. 

‘What about me?’ he said. 

‘You are my landlord.' 

That was when I realized the man was after her, not me. 

I opened my eyes and peeped over the edge of the trunk. 

‘Who is that in the corner?’ asked the fat & bald man standing in the doorway.

‘It is just my friend Pinky from Virginia City. Come out, Pinky,’ she added. ‘This is my landlord, Mr. Nasby. He will not hurt you.’

I stood up. Mr. Nasby was a fat man with a cigar stub in his mouth. He was not wearing a hat nor coat nor jacket and I could see sweat stains on the armpits of his shirt. His head was as bald & shiny as a billiard ball. 

Mr. Nasby pushed past Zoe & came over to me & looked me up and down. He licked his lips. They were kind of blubbery. 

‘Your name Pinky?’ he said. ‘It should be Buttercup: you dressed all in yellow like that.’ He turned back to Zoe. ‘You still have not paid me the last six weeks’ rent. Five dollars.’

‘I can pay you tomorrow,’ said Zoe, her hand covering the base of her throat. 

‘You will pay me today, one way or the other.’ He gave her Expression No. 2 – a fake smile.

I stepped forward & said, ‘I got five dollars,’ I pulled out my medicine pouch & fished around in it. My fingers froze as they touched my four-shot Deringer. For a moment I was sorely tempted to pull it out & draw down on him & tell him to vamoose, but that would accomplish nothing so I resisted that wicked impulse. I dug deeper and brought out fifteen paper dollars. 

‘I don’t much like them greenbacks.’ Mr. Nasby wrinkled the side of his nose to make Expression No. 3 - disgust. He looked me up & down in a way that made my skin prickle like when my pet tarantula Mouse perambulates on my arm. 

Then he said, ‘But I will make an exception for you.’

He took the fifteen ‘greenbacks’ & licked his fingers & carefully counted them. 

Then he took them over to the window and held each one up against the light. 

Finally he stuffed them in his trowser pocket & wiped his nose with his forefinger. 

He did not thank me but turned to look at Zoe with heavy-lidded eyes. He said, ‘Next time, make sure your rent is on time or I will have to take my payment in other ways.’

When he had gone, Zoe kind of slumped down on one of the wooden chairs. She was a bit trembly. 

‘Oh, P.K.,’ she said. ‘I feel so bad that you had to pay our rent.’

I tipped the remaining coins in my medicine bag out onto into my hand. There were 3 silver dollars and 25cts. ‘Here,’ I said. ‘Take it. It is not much but it is enough for food and coffee.’

‘Oh, P.K.!’ she cried. ‘Only give me a dollar.’ She handed back the quarter & two of the silver dollars & kissed the coin in her hand. ‘This is enough for a feast. We will celebrate. You wait here. I will be right back.’ 

But Martha was back first. I thought it was an old woman coming to visit by the sound of her slow stumping up the stairs but then she appeared in the doorway. Dressed in a long black shift with a white pinafore, collar and cuffs, she looked tired & thin. But there was no mistaking her. 

She recognized me, too, and her dark face lit up with Expression No. 1  - a genuine smile. ‘P.K.!’ she cried. ‘You have come to see us at last!’ 

She ran to me & then stopped. I reckon she remembered I do not like to be touched. Instead of hugging me, she looked me up & down. ‘What on earth is you wearing?’ 

‘I know,’ I said ruefully. ‘I got some buckskin trowsers in there.’ I pointed at the parcel Minnehaha had given me. ‘But I need to get a shirt to wear with them. I don’t suppose you have any spare shirts around here?’

‘We sometimes mend men’s’ shirts,’ said she. ‘But today we only got dresses.’

‘Oh,’ I said. And then, ‘Is that your uniform?’

She nodded. ‘I am a chamber maid at the finest hotel in Frisco.’

I said, ‘The Occidental Hotel?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘The Lick House Hotel.’

When she said that, I thought of a giant leaning down out of the sky and licking a house. (My mind is peculiar like that sometimes.) 

Martha had a drawstring calico bag and she put it on the table. ‘I got some fruit and cold bacon. A rich lady left them on her breakfast tray. She hardly touched them at all. Where is Miz Zoe?’

‘She has gone shopping,’ I said. ‘I paid your rent and gave her a dollar for food.’

‘Oh, P.K.,’ she cried, and this time she did throw her skinny arms around me. ‘You always been so good to us.’ 

I stood still & endured her embrace & after a spell she let me go. She went smiling to the little camp stove & commenced to brewing the pot of tea. She poured me some and dropped in a slice of lemon. It looked like a little yellow wagon wheel floating on top of a brackish pond. She also gave me a cinnamon roll on a saucer. 

‘Ain’t you having one?’ I said. 

‘I ain’t hungry,’ said Martha brightly. ‘This lemon tea is enough for me.’ I looked carefully at her face. I was almost certain it was Expression No. 2 – a fake smile. 

Then I noticed there was only one roll left on the plate. 

Some detective I am. I had not even realized they were so poor they could only afford one day-old cinnamon roll apiece! 

‘Shall we split this one?’ I said. 

‘No need!’ cried Mrs. Zoe Brown, coming through the door with a brown paper bag. ‘I got fresh ones! And a whole chocolate layer cake because I know it is your favorite, Pinky. And a nice plump lemon for you, Martha! It is her passion,’ she said to me. 

‘Did P.K. really pay our rent?’ Martha asked Zoe. 

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Zoe. She was cutting the chocolate layer cake. ‘So we are safe for another month or two. Anyways, I expect Mrs. Prendergast will pay me soon for that fine ball gown I made her.’ Zoe pointed to a pale blue ball gown hanging on the flour-sack-covered wall of the room. 

Martha shook her head. ‘She should have paid you by now. What if she wears it and then returns it for alterations like she did last time?’

‘Hush, Martha,’ said Zoe. ‘We do not want to burden P.K. with our troubles.’

As I sipped my lemon tea, I realized I would have to come clean with Miz Zoe and Martha and tell them I was a gal. Would they be mad when they discovered I had been pranking them? Would they tell me to skedaddle?

I did not know how to begin, so I tried to make Small Talk.

‘This lemon tea is mighty fine,’ I said. ‘My friend Stonewall likes lemons. Have you met him?’

‘No,’ said Martha. ‘I don’t believe I have.’

But Miz Zoe flushed prettily. ‘Is he a friend of your handsome gambler friend, Mr. Jason Francis Montgomery?’ she asked. 

‘Yes, that is the one,’ I said. ‘He calls himself Stonewall on account of he idolizes General Stonewall Jackson. Jace does not gamble so much these days,’ I added. ‘He and Stonewall bought themselves a little ranch in Steamboat Springs. They raise mustang horses and have some beef cattle, too.’

‘It sounds lovely,’ said Mrs. Zoe Brown. She gave a sigh and a smile.

The talk of mustang ponies made me think of Cheeya, my own mustang. I felt my throat go tight. Would I ever see my beloved pony again?

Miz Zoe handed me a plate of chocolate layer cake and a fork. ‘You said you were in trouble and needed a place to lay low?’

I said, ‘Yes. I am in trouble and need a place to lay low. I was lured into a scheme to help stagecoach robbers and now I am on the run. I have got to get proof of my innocence before the authorities get me.’

‘Will you tell us all about it?’ said Martha. ‘Maybe we can help.’ 

‘I will tell you everything,’ I said, ‘but first I have a confession to make. It might make you angry at me.’ 

‘Confession?’ Martha cried. ‘Like folk do after they commit a crime?’

I nodded. 

Miz Zoe said, ‘You are a dear friend and nothing you can say will change that.’

I could not face them, so I stared at the piece of cake on my lap. I took a deep breath and said, ‘Here is my confession. I am not a boy. I am a girl.’

There was an awful moment of silence. 

Then Miz Zoe and Martha burst out laughing.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 38

‘What brought you to San Francisco?’ Minnie O’Malley asked me a short time later. 

I was standing behind her in the moving wagon & looking over her shoulder as she drove north up Valencia Street.

I told her my story and concluded with these words, ‘I have got to find evidence proving that those two bogus detectives were using me. Otherwise I will be WANTED till the end of time.’ 

‘And you are hoping to find it at the Occidental Hotel?’

‘Yes. My mortal enemy Violetta de Baskerville is involved and she resides there.’

‘Crouch down!’ she hissed. ‘I think I see some policemen up ahead.’ 

I retreated into the dim & rocking interior of the Medicine Wagon. 

‘All clear,’ she said presently, ‘but you better lay low. You can use my bed.’

She had a kind of padded shelf along one side of the cluttered space of her wagon. I stretched out on it. 

I must have dozed off for I was suddenly awoken by the juddering noise of iron-rimmed wheels on a corduroy road. 

‘Whoa!’ said Minnehaha, and put her head into the wagon. ‘We have arrived.’ 

‘Already?’ I said. 

She grinned. ‘I am guessing you had forty winks!’ 

I sat up & stretched & yawned. Then I tucked my bundle of new clothes under my left arm & went down the back steps of the wagon & stood blinking in the bright sun. I judged it was about 2 and a half o’clock. When my eyes adjusted, I saw a wood plank street lined with the backs of some nice buildings and the fronts of some crowded-together buildings. 

Minnie had stopped the cart outside one of the crowded-together buildings. I saw a chalk number 88 scrawled on the wall beside a door. 

‘Will you wait to see if they are in?’ I asked. 

‘Surely,’ said she. 

I knocked on the door and then took a step back.

It was a warm day. I could smell a kind of swampy smell coming up from beneath the wooden road & fresh baked bread. I could hear hammering & sawing somewhere & also tinkly piano music from a saloon. I could see the same hill that had loomed behind the Occidental Hotel.

‘Are we near the Occidental Hotel?’ I asked. 

She nodded and tipped her head. ‘Montgomery is the next street along. And the Broadway Wharf where the inland steamers dock is only a few blocks the other way,’ she said.  

I knocked again. Louder this time. 

No reply. 

I called out. ‘Martha? Miz Zoe?’ (That was what Martha called Mrs. Zoe Brown.)

Then I heard a feminine voice from on high.

‘What do you want?’ 

I looked up to see the pretty head of Mrs. Zoe Brown sticking out of a raised sash-window of an upper floor. 

I said, ‘I want you, Miz Zoe. It is me: P.K. Pinkerton.’ I lifted up my pink poke bonnet to show my short dark hair. ‘I am in disguise.’

‘P.K.?’ The head retreated & presently I heard feet on stairs & a moment later the door flew open. 

‘Oh, P.K.!’ She rushed forward & hugged me to her frilly bosom. ‘It is wonderful to see you!’

Miz Zoe Brown is a quadroon, which means she has a dash of Negro blood. This makes her skin the color of caramel. She is shapely with big brown eyes & long eyelashes & a smell of honeysuckle.

I squirmed out of her embrace. ‘Miz Zoe,’ I said, ‘I am in trouble and need a place to lay low. Can you shelter me for a day or two?’

‘Why of course!’ she cried. ‘Martha and I have been hoping for a visit!’

I turned & waved to Minnehaha. She gave me a thumbs-up. ‘Don’t be a stranger!’ she cried. ‘You know where to find me.’ Then she flicked the reins & carried on down Sansome Street. 

‘Oh, P.K.,’ said Zoe, again. ‘Martha will be overjoyed.’

‘She ain’t here?’

‘No,’ said Zoe. ‘She works as a chambermaid.’

‘Even on the Sabbath?’ 

Mrs. Zoe Brown nodded. ‘Even on the Sabbath. It is harder than I thought it would be to make ends meet.’ She gave a sigh and a smile and then looked me up and down. ‘That is some disguise. I cannot wait to hear why you are here in Frisco dressed like that.’

She led the way up dark & narrow stairs and said over her shoulder. ‘Martha will be home soon. I am just making a pot of tea. Do you like tea? Martha is partial to China tea with a slice of lemon and I have got a taste for it, too.’

I said, ‘I have never tried China tea with slice of lemon.’

‘Please excuse the disarray,’ said Miz Zoe as she went into a large room. The sun shining through red calico curtains gave it a roseate glow. She pulled opened the curtains and a strong flood of afternoon light showed a wrought iron table with one of those newfangled sewing machines like the one Mrs. Wasserman had used to alter my dress. 

‘This is my Singer sewing machine,’ said Zoe. ‘I had to sell Sassy to buy it. All the ladies here in Frisco want machine-sewn seams on their dresses,’ she explained. ‘Now how about that cup of tea? We do not have a kitchen but I have a little camp stove and there is a baker downstairs who gives us day-old rolls for a fraction of the price. I have got cinnamon rolls today.’ 

‘You had to sell Sassy?’ I asked. (Sassy and Sissy were the names of the two white horses that had pulled Zoe and Martha over the Sierra Nevada.)

Miz Zoe nodded. ‘Sissy, too. And the lacquered buggy. Since I wrote to you our fortunes have dipped a mite. This city is a lot like Virginia, only bigger. And the weather is perverse.’

I did not reply, for there was a full-length mirror leaning against one wall & I had just caught a glimpse of myself in it. 

I said, ‘I look like an Indian brave who had just massacred a little white girl and dressed in her frock for a hideous jest!’

Miz Zoe giggled. ‘Well, let us just say that color and style don’t flatter you much. Whatever possessed you to wear such a thing?’

I was about to tell her everything when I heard footsteps on the stairs. Was it Martha? 

No. These steps were heavy & menacing. Zoe must have thought so, too, for she ran to the door & bolted it with a wooden bolt. Then she stepped back a few paces & put her hand over the base of her throat like some women do when they are upset or scared.

The footsteps on the stairs got closer & closer & closer.

They stopped right outside.

For a moment there was silence.

Then the latch slowly moved but the bolt was down and the door stayed shut. 

A sudden heavy pounding on the door made my heart leap up into my throat.

‘Dang it! You come out now!’ a man’s voice shouted. (Only he did not say ‘dang.’) ‘I know you are in there!’ 

My heart was beating like a rabbit’s. Somehow my pursuers had found me.

I looked at Zoe. ‘Is there any way out of here?’ I said in a low tone.

Her pretty eyes were round with fear. ‘No,’ she said. ‘There is no way out. I will have to open the door.’

I stared at my erstwhile friend in dismay. 

I thought I had found a person I could trust in this strange city. 

But Mrs. Zoe Brown was about to hand me over to my pursuers!

Read on...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 37

I left the Emeu’s cage and went racing back the way I had come. I whizzed down crowded paths, across bowling greens & through the fronds of willow branches. As I rounded the carousel of ‘flying horses’, I slipped in those danged girly boots and twisted my ankle. 

My limpy run would not get me away. I must hide!

Then I saw a wagon such as peddlers use to sell notions and potions. On the side it said Minnehaha’s Medicine Show. There were wooden steps going up the back and before I knew it I was up those four wooden steps & through a kind of curtain. 

Imagine my surprise when I saw Minnehaha herself, sitting in front of a table with a mirror. She was smearing white cream on her face. She whirled round on her seat & gave me Expression No. 4 – surprise. 

I was breathing hard. ‘Please can you hide me?’ I asked her in gasping Lakota. ‘Some men want to arrest me for something I did not do.’ 

‘What are you doing in my wagon, at all?’ she asked in English. 

She did not appear to understand Lakota. 

‘Please can you hide me?’ I asked her in gasping English. ‘Some men want to arrest me for something I did not do.’

Close up, I could see she was taking off face paint with the white cream. She was a bogus Indian! 

‘Why are they after you?’ she asked. Her eyes were wide which meant she was surprised not angry.

‘They think I killed a stagecoach driver and that I stole some silver ingots and gold coins.’ I pulled off my pink poke bonnet and laid it over my heart. ‘But I am innocent.’ 

‘Bejeezus!’ she cried. ‘You have short hair. Are you a boy or a girl?’ Her eyes were wide. 

‘I am a girl,’ I confessed, surprised at how easy it was to tell her. ‘Only I hate dressing like one.’

The sound of men’s voices reached us. They were outside!

She chewed her lower lip for a moment and her eyes darted here and there, looking for a place where I might hide. 

From outside came the sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs and a man’s voice. ‘Minnehaha? You in there?’

‘Yes?’ she replied. ‘Why?’ 

‘I got a representative of the Overland Stage Company and a policeman with me. They are looking for a Wanted Person. They would like to question you. May I send em in?’

Minnehaha lifted the flounce of the table at which she was sitting & looked at me & pointed underneath.  

I did not wait to be asked twice. I jumped under & scrouched down like a mouse in the pantry. 

‘Enter!’ Minnehaha said. 

I felt the wagon rock and heard it creak as they came aboard.  

‘My name is Isaac Blue,’ growled a familiar voice. ‘I am looking for a dangerous fugitive.’ I heard the rustle of paper. ‘You seen this girl?’ he asked. Then he added. ‘Or maybe it is a boy. Folk are not decided.’ 

‘Miss Prudence Pinkerton,’ said Minnehaha. I could tell from her halting speech that she was reading it. ‘Aged 12. Half Sioux Indian. Wearing a fur-trimmed purple cape, a yellow dress & a lighthouse bonnet.’ 

‘She changed her lighthouse bonnet for a narrow pink one,’ he added. ‘And she prob’ly ditched the cape.’

‘They are offering one hundred dollars?’ cried Minnehaha.  

‘Actually,’ growled Icy Blue, ‘it is two hundred. They have just doubled the reward money.’

I held my breath. All Minnehaha had to do was jump up & pull back the flounce. My crouching form would be exposed & she would be $200 richer. There was nothing preventing her, not even loyalty among Lakota: for she was a bogus Indian. 

‘Well,’ she said at last. ‘I do remember a girl in a green and yellow dress and a pink poke bonnet was watching my twelve o’clock show. She put a greenback in my quiver. And just now, on my way in here I thought I saw that same girl running past.’

‘When was that?’ said another male voice. It was probably the policeman’s. 

‘Two or three minutes ago,’ said Minnehaha. ‘Maybe less. She was heading towards the main exit.’

Blue swore in language unfit for publication & I felt the wagon rock as they hurried back down the steps. 

‘If you hurry,’ cried Minnehaha, ‘you might catch her!’ 

A moment later she whispered. ‘You can come out now. The coast is clear.’ 

I came out from beneath the table. 

‘Thank you for not giving me away,’ I said in a low tone. ‘I will make it up to you when I find the real robbers and get the reward.’

‘That would be bully,’ she said, and added, ‘We tomboys have to stick together.’

I said, ‘Tomboys? What is a tomboy?’

She said. ‘Why someone like you and me! Girls who like to dress like boys and play with guns and knives and such like.’

I said, ‘There is a word for us?’ 

‘Why sure! That word is Tomboy.’ She draped her bare white arm around my shoulders; I could feel it firm & cool & round through the merino-wool fabric of my dress. ‘Did you think you were alone in the world?’

I nodded. ‘I feel a bit like that Emeu in his cage. Like a giant plucked chicken. I used to dress a bit like you. Then my bogus pa burned my buckskins and flannel shirt. I surely do miss them.’

She stood up & went over to a box & opened it & pulled out a pair of buckskin trowsers with beads on them and fringe, too. 

‘I have outgrown these trowsers,’ she said. ‘I bet they will fit you. And these moccasins, too. Take them!’ 

I felt prickly-eyed all of a sudden and there was a bunch in my throat. ‘Thank you,’ I said. It seemed the least thing made me want to blub these days. 

Minnehaha’s face showed Expression No. 1 – a genuine smile. ‘As I am feeling generous,’ she said, ‘you may borrow one of my wigs until you are safe. This one has hair like yours would be if you let it grow. It came from a real Cheyenne squaw, they say.’

The hair of the wig was beautiful: straight & black, long & shiny.

‘Let me pay you for the clothes,’ I said. ‘I do not like to owe people.’ 

I pulled my medicine bag out from the neck of my daffodil-yellow dress and took out the coins & greenbacks. 

‘There,’ I put the money on her dressing table. ‘Eighteen dollars and twenty-five cents. It ain’t much but it is all I have left.’

She gathered up the money and pressed it back into my hand. ‘I will not take all the spondulicks you have left. But if you get a reward, you can share it with me like you said.’ She winked at me. Her eyes were sparkly green and she had freckles on her nose. She rolled up the wig and moccasins in the trowsers to make a kind of parcel. Then she tied it all with a piece of twine. 

Once again I had to swallow a lump in my throat. 

‘What is your real name?’ I asked. 

‘Bridget,’ said she. ‘Bridget O’Malley. But you can call me Minnie.’ She held out her hand & I shook it. Her hand was small, but her grip as firm as a man’s. ‘I take it you are Prudence?’

‘Never call me Prudence,’ I said. ‘That is a bogus name. My name is P.K. Pinkerton, Private Eye. You can call me Pinky if “P.K.” seems too strange.’

‘You are a private eye?’ Her eyes glittered. ‘That sounds exciting.’

‘Yup,’ I said. ‘It is exciting, all right. Dangerous, too.’ 

She said, ‘Well, P.K., I was just going to drive into the city to attend Mass. May I take you anywhere? Where are you staying?’

I said, ‘I have heard the What Cheer House is only fifty cents a night.’

She laughed. ‘The What Cheer House is for men only. And they pack lots of them in each room.’

‘Oh,’ I said. That part had not been on my cherry red slip of paper. 

She said, ‘You got any family or friends here in Frisco?’ 

‘My newspaper friend Mark Twain is here,’ I said. ‘But he is more an acquaintance than a friend and I don’t reckon it would be proper for me to stay with a bachelor, anyways.’

‘Anybody else? Any lady friends?’

At first I thought of Mrs. John D. Winters. But then I remembered how she had looked down her nose at me. 

Then it came to me. Of course I had gal friends! They had even written to invite me to stay with them any time I was in Frisco. 

‘Yes!’ I said. ‘I know a ten-year-old Negro girl named Martha. She was my first client. After she witnessed the murder of a Soiled Dove, the man who done it tried to kill her. She came to me for protection.’

‘Did you protect her?’ Minnehaha’s green eyes were round.  

I nodded. ‘After I vanquished the killer, Martha left Virginia City for Frisco with a pretty seamstress named Zoe Brown. They invited me to stay with them any time I was in Frisco.’

‘Well there you are, then! Do you know where they live?’

I nodded. ‘88 Sansome Street was the return address on the letter they sent me.’

‘I know that street,’ said Minnie. ‘It should be easy to find them. If they are still there.’ 

Read on...

Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 36

Mr. Isaac ‘Icy’ Blue was about to spot me, so I crept off the train and plunged into the crowd of people entering the Willows. I do not like seething masses of people but I let myself be carried along with the shuffling & laughing throng. I had to find somewhere to hide out until he had gone. 

At a ticket booth beside the gate, they were asking a quarter a person for admittance to the grounds and theater. I had to use the emergency coin in my medicine bag to make 25 cts for the entry fee. I thought they might baulk at the sight of a $20 gold eagle but the ticket-man accepted it without comment and made change for me at once, partly in coins, partly in dollar bills. 

I put the change back in my medicine bag and slipped it back into the neck of my yellow dress. I was surely glad I carried it around my neck. Otherwise I would be ‘broke’. 

As soon as I got through the gate I looked for a hiding place. I saw several weeping willow trees near a big white house. I ran past a sign saying the Troupe from Gilberts Melodeon was Performing 2 Shows Daily & parted the curtain of green fronds of the second nearest willow & went inside & then peeped out to see if Icy Blue was still on my tail. 

I could not see Icy, but I could see that the Willows Amusement Park was aptly named. It had lots of weeping willow trees giving cool shade on this hot Sunday noontime. I counted six pathways & two duck ponds & various grassy expanses all laid out with stalls and cages. I saw colorful throngs of people dressed in their Sunday best, including ladies in hoopskirts & parasols with children in boots & bonnets. 

Over by the white house, a little boy of about 8 years old was walking up and down the line, calling out in a piping voice. ‘Get em here! All your favorite entertainers. Lotta Crabtree! Minnehaha! Martin the Wizard! Little Jennie Worrell, with or without her sisters! The California Pet! Dressed as a boy or dressed as a girl!’

This last statement caught my ear. A girl dressed as a boy sounded even more interesting than a Giant Chicken. 

I waited about 10 minutes, and when I was sure Icy Blue had not entered the Willows Amusement Park, I parted the draping green willow branches & ventured across the grass to where the boy stood with a various photographic cards hung around his neck.  

‘Help you, Miss?’ he said. 

‘Is that the California Pet a girl dressed as a boy?’ I asked, pointing to one of the photographic cards on his board. 

‘Yup, that is the California Pet,’ he said. ‘That one shows her blacked up as a minstrel singer,’ he added.

I examined the two cards showing the ‘California Pet’. I could not believe it: here in Frisco a girl could wear trowsers & get paid to do it! Then I saw a card of an Indian girl. She wore a tight buckskin top & puffy embroidered skirt with leggings & moccasins & she had long wavy black hair with an eagle feather in it. On the border underneath, someone had written Minnehaha.

I pulled out two quarters they had given me as change and bought a photographic card of the California Pet dressed as a young man and also a photographic card of Minnehaha.

‘Where can I see this California Pet?’ I asked the boy. ‘Is she performing with Gilbert’s Melodeon in that white house?’

‘She was here last week but she has gone to Sac City,’ he said. ‘But you can see Minnehaha. She is right over there on the other side of the pond. Look for her Medicine Show wagon.’

I looked where he was pointing & saw something colorful showing between the willows on the other side of a duck pond. It was a small yellow and blue platform like the outdoor stage of a music hall. It had red curtains. Behind it I could see a wagon and a dun horse tethered nearby. I put my 2 photographic cards in my neck pouch and started towards Minnehaha’s show. I kept a sharp lookout in case Mr. Icy Blue had come in by another entrance, but I saw only ladies rolling tenpins on a smooth grassy pitch & men popping pistols at a shooting gallery & children riding ‘Flying Horses’ round & round a carousel. 

At last I found myself standing in on green grass in front of a small stage with a wooden frame & the words Minnehaha’s Famous Indian Medicine Show above & red velvet curtains either side. On the stage was the girl from the photographic card wearing exactly the same outfit of tight buckskin top & puffy embroidered skirt & an eagle feather in her glossy, wavy hair. Minnehaha had a gun belt slung around her hips with cartridge holders and holsters containing a pair of Smith & Wesson’s No. 2 with ivory grips. And she kept reaching into a leather shoulder bag making a throwing motion with her arm. 

She was throwing knives! 

She was facing a big wheel like a giant target with a spread-eagled man strapped to it. The wheel was revolving & the crowd was cheering as she threw those knives at him. Some of them were striking only inches from his head & limbs! 

I was impressed. So was the crowd. They clapped & cheered.

When the Indian girl had thrown all her knives, she turned the disc so the spread-eagled man was right side up & she unstrapped him and helped him down & she curtsied to him & he laughed & wiped his forehead with his handkerchief & bowed to the applauding crowd. Minnehaha presented him with a hawk feather for bravery & a signed photographic card of herself as everybody cheered again. 

For her next act, she got people to throw tin cans up into the air & she shot holes in them with her pistols & never missed once. 

I was entranced & watched until the end of her show. When she had taken her ‘curtain calls’ she jumped down off the stage & passed through the crowd with an empty quiver instead of a hat. I saw people dropping coins in. When she got to me she winked. 

Danged if I did not put in a whole greenback, willy-nilly! 

I wandered off in a kind of daze. 

My ears were still ringing from the gunshots & my mind was spinning with the revelation that here in California, gals could wear buckskin and/or trowsers in public! I looked up at the blue sky, which was softer than the hard desert sky of Virginia City. The sun warmed me all over, neither too hot nor too cold. I could smell flowers & grass & I even saw a butterfly flutter by. 

I thought, ‘Maybe Frisco is the place for me.’

Then I thought, ‘If I lived here, I could dress like a boy. Or an Indian. Or both!’

And finally, ‘I could set up a detective agency here, now that I have burned my bridges back in Virginia City.’

That reminded me of my mission. I needed to make my way back to the Occidental hotel and search Violetta’s room for evidence that would get me off the hook.

I had almost reached the western exit of The Willows when I saw a cage full of monkeys and next to it what appeared to be a giant chicken in his own cage! He had long grayish brown feathers & a black neck & orange eyes. There were some women & children tossing it pieces of bread pulled from a fine white loaf. 

I pushed forward to have a better look. 

I looked at the Emeu and the Emeu looked at me. He seemed to be smiling. 

I thought, ‘You are a Misfit like me. But you seem to like it here, too. Maybe Frisco is the place for Misfits.’

Then I got that prickly feeling I get when someone is spying on me. I looked past the giant emeu chicken through the bars of the cage & the pale green willow branches, and I saw two figures. One of them was in black and one in a blue uniform. The one in black wore a pair of round blue goggles beneath a black bowler hat. 

It was Icy Blue, and he had found a policeman.

They were heading my way with purpose & intent!

Read on...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 35

I had just spotted my mortal enemy, Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville from Carson City. 

My head was spinning with questions & my heart was full of exclamation points!!!

But I did not have time to ponder the implications for I suddenly realized what the commotion was at the back of the church. 

It was a man in a rose-pink stovepipe hat and droopy gray mustache. He was flanked by two uniformed policemen. 

The gray-mustached man was pointing at me with a silver-tipped walking stick.

‘Seize that kid in the brown greatcoat!’ cried the man. ‘He is wanted for theft and possibly murder!’ 

Everyone turned to look at me, including Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville. 

My lightning-quick reflexes made me flip up the collar of my greatcoat & pull my head into it like a turtle in his shell: I did not want her to identify me. 

Men were shouting & women were screaming & hands were reaching out to grab me.

I did not hesitate. 

I took the only way out I could. I ran forward at a crouch & leapt up onto the stage & nipped between the open-mouthed hymn singer & wide-eyed Rev. Starr King & found a door near the organ at the back. It led into a little back room that Methodists would have called a ‘vestry’. (I do not know what Unitarians called their little back rooms.)

I looked around the small dim space for some means of escape. 

Then I spotted it: a door in a corner. 

I ran to it & opened it & saw a sunlit churchyard promising Freedom! 

But just as I was starting through that door, I was pulled up sharp by a fist grasping the turned up collar of my greatcoat.  

‘Got you!’ cried a man’s voice. 

I did not wait to see if it was the man in the rose-pink stovepipe hat or one of the policemen or the Reverend Starr King himself. 

I writhed out of my greatcoat like that certain young man in Mark chapter 14 and verse 52, who left his garment in the hands of the soldiers at Gethsemane. 

Bareheaded, and clad only in that danged daffodil-yellow dress and my girly-girl button-up boots, I burst into the brilliant Sunday morning. I whizzed across the green grass of the churchyard & I lifted up my yellow skirts & vaulted a low, wrought-iron fence. Out on the street now, I ran like a boy. My arms were pumping and my knees almost touching my chin as I pelted through the streets of San Francisco. Without even stopping to get my bearings, I swerved south & raced along the sidewalk, then veered west down a shaded alley between two lofty brick buildings. 

I modified my run to a fast walk so as not to attract attention. 

About a block on, I passed a girl who had removed her pink poke bonnet to fiddle with the ribbon. I am sorry to confess I snatched it from her fumbling fingers. I needed to cover up my short & boyish hair, which was a dead giveaway. 

(The glimpse I got of her startled face and round gray eyes has now been imprinted on my memory like an ambrotype.)

‘Sorry!’ I called as I tied the ribbon under my chin & burst into a fresh sprint. Now that I was bonnetted, I tried running like a girl, with my arms clamped to my sides & my hands bent at the wrists with fingers splayed out & palms facing the ground. The green flounces sewn to my waistband were flapping like half a dozen dog tongues.

Tip-tap, tip-tap, tip-tap! went my button-up boots on the sidewalk. 

By and by I found myself on a wide & crowded street that cut across the normal grid of city streets. I reckoned it was one of the main thoroughfares of San Francisco. 

Once again, I forced myself to walk, not run; I did not want to turn heads and thus draw attention to myself. Straight ahead, I saw the rear end of an omnibus just moving off. There were people inside & also up on top. 

I did a fast walk to catch up & was now glad of my tippy-tap boots for they went with my girly outfit. I hopped up onto the back of the omnibus just as it was gathering speed. 

A man in a uniform was selling tickets. I had pulled out my medicine bag & was fishing in it for my book of tickets, when the ticket-taker pushed me through the door.

‘Better get inside, Missy,’ he said, patting my pink poke bonnet. ‘Your folks will be wondering where you got to.’ 

Gratefully, I plunged into the crowded carriage & squished past people in their Sunday Best. The omnibus seemed longer than normal ones and there were stairs to the roof in the middle. When I reached the far end I was surprised to find another carriage hooked to mine!

I took a big step over to the next car & pushed through the throng & went up the stairs of the second omnibus & found more people sitting on the roof. I was astonished to see big puffs of white steam rising up from the black smoke stack. 

I was not riding an omnibus. 

I was riding a steam-powered railroad car disguised as an omnibus! 

As a cloud of steam dispersed, I looked back to see if I was still being pursued. 

From my lofty vantage point atop the train, I saw a group of four men standing a few blocks back by the alley from which I had emerged only moments before. They were gesturing & looking around. I was glad of the stolen bonnet, for it hid my face. I could see the man with the rose-pink stovepipe hat & the 2 uniformed policemen. Then I spotted someone else, viz. – a white-faced man in black with little round blue goggles. 

My heart jumped like a jackass rabbit. It was Icy Blue, stagecoach conductor for the Overland stage! 

As I sat down in the last free seat up there on the top deck of the street train, I thought I saw him turn his little blue goggles in my direction. 

Had he spotted me?

I prayed not!

The seats on that street train did not face forward. They faced sideways so you could watch buildings slide by & see right into the upstairs windows. I sat there facing the buildings and not daring to move. By and by the buildings got smaller & sparser & there were more sand dunes and trees. As we went up hill and down, I pondered my revelation and my predicament. 

My revelation was this: Mrs. V.F. von Vingschplint was my mortal enemy, Violetta de Baskerville. 

My predicament was this: I was a fugitive in black button-up boots, a daffodil-yellow dress & pink poke-bonnet. Most of my money & my bogus pa’s revolver & his Meerschaum pipe & my ledger book & pencil stubs had been in the pockets of my abandoned greatcoat. I feared I would never get them back. Thank goodness I had the medicine bag which I always wear around my neck. I patted myself below the neck and felt the reassuring bulge. It contained my Muff Deringer, 5 spare rimfire cartridges, 3 Lucifers, my original ma’s flint knife, a silk butterfly, a $20 gold coin & my real pa’s Detective Button. 

‘You going to see the emeu?’ said the man sitting next to me. 

‘Emeu?’ I said. 

‘Why, yes!’ he said. It is an exotic bird. It looks like a chicken but is as big as a man. 

He recited, ‘Oh, say, have you seen at the Willows so green, so charming and rurally true, A singular bird, with a manner absurd, which they call the Australian Emeu?

‘No,’ I said. ‘I have never seen this Australian Emeu nor even heard of one until today.’ 

When the steam train disguised as an omnibus reached the end of the line about 10 minutes later, everybody piled off and headed for a gate by a white picket fence with a big sign above it that read: 

The Willows Amusement Park

Although I was intrigued by the prospect of a Giant Australian Chicken, I decided to stay on the street train for its return journey. I needed to get back to the Occidental Hotel & search room 202 for evidence to prove Violetta had plotted against me. 

But then I saw a sight that gave me the fantods. 

It was an albino man dressed all in black and wearing little round blue goggles. He was riding a big roan gelding up the street. 

Had Mr. ‘Icy’ Blue spotted me atop the street train? Or was he just acting on instinct? 

Either way, I had to get away from him! 

Read on...

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 34

Dawn broke as San Francisco came into view across a sheet of pearly water. The rising sun lit up its forest of ship masts & made the city beyond look fresh & roseate. 

My dear departed foster pa, the Rev. Emmet Jones – may he rest in peace – once told me that San Francisco was the Devil’s Playground. As if to prove my pa wrong, the church bells of Frisco started pealing in a joyous fashion the moment I stepped off the steamer Antelope and onto the wooden jetty. It was as if the town was saying ‘This ain’t the Devil’s Playground; this is a God-fearing place!’

Then I remembered it was Sunday and the bells were merely announcing early morning church services. I saw that the ‘Broadway Wharf’ was full of people & baggage & traps & drays & omnibuses. Beyond the wharf lay a hilly town with scattered buildings & houses & even a windmill or two up on the highest points. The sky was blue and the air was mild and the sun had a kind of sparkle to it. 

I saw a 2-horse omnibus waiting on the wharf. It had an advertisement for the What Cheer House on it! Because I was the only person not waiting for baggage to be unloaded, I got the best place: right at the front where I could see the driver & horses & the city. It only cost 5 cts for a ticket. I got a book of 6 tickets for a quarter, thus saving 5 cts.

Soon the omnibus was filled up with people. The conductor pulled a cord which made a ding-ding

He said, ‘Hold on!’ so I held on to a green-painted metal bar at the front. The driver flicked the horses’ reins & we were off. We clopped south over boards at first & then onto a wooden street called ‘Davis’ between brick warehouses. By and by we turned west on a wide street called ‘Washington’ which had two story buildings made of stone, and when the conductor dinged the bell and told us ‘Montgomery!’ I got off. 

This was the biggest street yet with fancy white buildings & street-level shop signs in gold paint on wood & awnings as colorful as the people who strolled on the sidewalks below them. 

I found the Occidental Hotel with no problems as it was about a block long and four stories tall with each window like a little Greek temple and also some statues of naked ladies above the entrance. I saw some high-tone men & women coming out. 

The women had big hats & little parasols. The men had silver-headed walking sticks & shiny black stovepipe hats. But then I saw a man in a plug hat going in. He did not look as high-tone as the others and this gave me courage. I took a deep breath and followed him in. I found myself in a luxurious lobby with chandeliers & ferns in brass pots & big leather chairs to sit in.  

The man in the plug hat was striding purposefully across a Turkey carpet towards a big mahogany counter with a man in a Magenta-colored uniform standing behind. I hurried to catch up and then listened hard, to hear how it was done. 

‘Is Mr. Potts residing here?’ asked the man in the Plug Hat. 

‘Yes, sir,’ said Mr. Uniform. ‘He is in room three oh five.’

After Plug Hat left I stepped up to the desk & stood on tiptoe to make myself look as tall as possible.  

I said in a high-tone English accent, ‘Excuse me, sir. Can you tell me is Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint residing here?’

Mr. Magenta Uniform wrinkled his nose to make Expression No. 3 – Disgust – and said, ‘What business is it of yours, boy?’ 

I said, ‘I have an important message for her.’ 

He said, ‘You may give it to me.’ 

I said, ‘I have been instructed to place it in her hands only.’

He came out from behind the tall counter & looked me up and down, taking in my short black hair & muddy complexion & oversized greatcoat which almost reached ground & thus hid most of my girly-girl button-up boots from his view.

‘A likely story!’ he said. ‘As if a savage like you would have anything to do with Mrs. von Vingschplint.’ He grasped my arm so hard it hurt and started to haul me through the lobby towards the glass & brass double doors. 

I was trying to think what to do when my sharp nose caught the unmistakable scent. It was the ‘pipe of a thousand smells’! 

Digging the heels of my button-up boots into the Turkey carpet of the Occidental Hotel, I looked around for its owner.

Sure enough, I saw two clean-shaven men, one slightly plump with a ‘hangdog’ expression, the other good-looking with fox brown hair and a slim figure. 

I recognized them both and cried out, ‘Mr. Clemens! I mean, Mr. Twain! Please help me! Tell this man I am not bogus!’

The man with fox-brown hair stopped & turned & peered over at me with blood-shot eyes. 

‘Why P.K.!’ he slurred. ‘Imagine seeing you here in Frisco. Ain’t it fine? And ain’t this hotel the bulliest thing? It is like heaven on the half shell.’

Help me!’ I repeated. ‘I am on a detective job and they do not believe me.’

Magenta Uniform said, ‘Do you know this boy, Mr. Twain?’

‘Sure,’ drawled Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain. ‘He is a famous personage in Virginia City. He is a miniature Pinkerton Detective.’

I was thankful he had left Virginia before the news about my being a gal got out.

The man gave Mr. Mark Twain Expression No. 5 – suspicion. And with good reason: the newspaper reporter was a known prankster and brazen liar. 

‘You on the trail of a desperado, P.K.?’ Mark Twain winked at me.

I nodded, and tugged my arm free of the clerk’s grasp. ‘I have to find a Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint and I think she is staying here. It is a matter of life or death!’

Mark Twain turned to Magenta Uniform. ‘Please assist this young Pinkerton Detective,’ he slurred. 

The clerk heaved a deep sigh. ‘Very well, sir,’ he said. ‘If you are certain you can vouch for this person.’ 

‘I am certain,’ said Mr. Twain. ‘Is Mr. Shplingvint residing here?’ It was clear from his bloodshot eyes and languorous drawl and whiskey breath that he had not yet been to bed. 

Mrs. von Vingschplint is in room two oh two,’ said Magenta Clerk. ‘But she is not here at present. She departed a few minutes ago, on her way to church.’

‘Which church?’ I said. 

‘Why, the Unitarian Church of course,’ he replied. ‘Mr. Starr King is preaching this morning. He is small in stature but big of heart and all the ladies swoon for him.’ 

‘Dang my buttons!’ exclaimed Mark Twain. ‘Is it Sunday? I promised John D. Winters I would escort his wife to church. I said I would meet her here at ten to eleven.’ 

‘Here she comes now,’ said his friend, Mr. Clement T. Rice. ‘Perhaps I should nip upstairs and attend to my toilette.’ 

‘No!’ cried Sam. ‘Last Sunday you drenched yourself with so much cologne and bergamot that you smelled like the owner of drug store and barber shop combined. Why hello, Miz Winters,’ he drawled as a lady in gray swept up. ‘We have been waiting for you.’

Mrs. John D. Winters was wearing a gray silk gown with puffy sleeves and a lighthouse bonnet with little sprigs of gray-green sagebrush on it. I had seen her once or twice last November when I was working on a case in Carson City. Her husband was one of the legislators who had hammered out new laws for Nevada Territory. (He was a hot-tempered man who had also hammered another legislator with a piece of firewood.)

Mark Twain gestured towards us. ‘You remember Clement T. Rice AKA The Unreliable? And this here is our young friend Pinky,’ he added. ‘AKA P.K. Pinkerton, Private Eye.’

Mrs. John D. Winters greeted The Unreliable with a smile but only looked down her nose at me. I allow I must have looked like a half-Sioux street-urchin in that oversized coat and with no hat. 

‘Let us all waltz down to the Unitarian church,’ said Sam. ‘I understand the Reverend Starr King is packing them to the rafters.’

Mrs. Winters smiled & nodded graciously & took his arm.  

The four of us exited the hotel & soon found ourselves amongst a passel of finely dressed men and women all heading west on Sutter Street. At Stockton Street everybody turned south & so did we. On the other side of grassy plaza stood a squat & spiky stone church with a round window of colored glass. 

Mrs. John D. Winters had taken Sam’s arm so Mr. Clement T. Rice was walking beside me. 

‘Do you happen to know what Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint looks like?’ I asked him, as we joined log-jam of people shuffling into the church. 

Mr. Clement T. Rice AKA The Unreliable nodded, ‘I have seen her in the hotel a couple of times. She is shapely and beautiful.’

That surprised me as the name Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint made me think of a stout German lady of about 50 yrs.

‘She will be near the front if I am not mistaken,’ said Mr. Clement T. Rice. Then he lowered his voice. ‘They say she is climbing the Social Ladder, and that she has buried three or four husbands. She gets richer with every marriage.’

I nodded. I had met such women before. One of them was my mortal enemy: Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville. She had also made a career of marrying and then burying. I had only narrowly succeeded in preventing my mentor Poker Face Jace from falling into her deadly web of deceit. In fact, my little silver-plated Muff Deringer had once been hers. I patted the medicine bag hanging from my neck to make sure it was still there. It was. 

It was not quite 11 o’clock. The fine May morning was already hot, but inside the church it was cool & airy & full of deep organ music. I noticed the front pews were reserved for the most fashionably dressed. The usher took one look at my hatless head and oversized coat and shooed us towards the back. 

Mr. Mark Twain found us a pew in the middle. We had to squish in real good. I made sure I was on the end of the row with an exit in sight. (I always like to have an exit in sight as I do not like feeling trapped.) By the time the last surge of the organ died away, I reckon there were about a thousand people packed into that church. 

A shapely lady in a lighthouse bonnet went up & stood by the pulpit & faced the front. 

I turned to Mr. Clement T. Rice, who was sitting next to me. ‘Is that her?’ I asked. ‘Is that Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘That is a famous opera-singer. She is going to sing a Religious Song.’

Sure enough, the lady started to trill and warble in some foreign language.

I had never heard such singing in a church before & when she finished, I half expected everyone to stamp and applaud as they did at Topliffe’s Theatre in Virginia, but of course this was Church and not a Music Hall. 

Then a man of about 35 rose up from behind the pulpit & read from the Bible in a voice that seemed too big for his slight frame. He was clean-shaven with flat dark hair that covered his ears & almost reached his collar.

The Unreliable nudged me. ‘That is Starr King. There in the pulpit.’ 

I said, ‘That little nondescript man with flat hair?’

‘Yup,’ said the Unreliable. ‘Despite his youth, he is one of the most famous preachers in the world.’

This made me eager to hear him speak, but as the lady singer launched into a second hymn, Mr. Rice bent down & whispered in my ear. 

‘Do you see the lady in the front pew with the violet-colored skyscraper bonnet?’

I nodded. 

That is Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint!

‘Are you sure?’ 

‘I am positive. She always wears that color.’

Heart thumping, I slipped out of the pew & started down the side aisle. The opera singer was still trilling and the organ was still groaning. 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw a black-clad usher scowl & shake his head at me, but he was way over yonder on the other side of the church so I reckoned I could make it. The music drowned out my tippy-tappy boots as I clamped my arms to my side and broke into a fast walk. (How I longed for my butter-soft moccasins!)

I was almost at the front when the opera-singer ceased her song & sat down. 

Mr. Starr King stood up, rising in his pulpit. ‘Today’s lesson,’ he said, ‘will be taken from Psalm one hundred ten and verse three, Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Please be seated.’

He was interrupted by shouting from the back of the church. Many people looked to see what was causing the commotion, including Mrs. von Vingschplint. She turned her skyscraper-bonneted head to glance back. 

At last I saw her lovely face.

My stomach did a somersault. 

Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint was not like Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville. 

She was Violetta de Baskerville. 

Read on...