Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 11

After Bee slapped me, she turned & ran through the crowd back the way she had come. 

‘Why did she strike you?’ asked Affable, looking after her retreating bonnet. 

I stared at the boardwalk. ‘She had a bad habit of trying to kiss me,’ I said. ‘I reckon she is mortified to learn I am a girl.’

‘I will attempt to console her,’ said Affable. He touched his hat & turned & followed her. 

As my pa and I resumed our perambulation along the boardwalk I clenched my jaw. All my fears were coming to pass. My friends felt betrayed by my secret that was no longer a secret.

If my deception had caused a prim and proper girly-girl to strike me, how would my less demure friends react? 

I wished I could put on my beloved buckskin trowsers & pink flannel shirt. 

I stopped dead. ‘Where are my buckskin trowsers and flannel shirt?’ I asked my pa. ‘I took them off at Wassermann’s.’

‘Those greasy old things?’ said Pa. ‘Why, Ray and I tossed them on a bonfire out back of the livery stable while you were getting alterations.’

I was too stunned to reply. 

Then my pa stunned me some more: instead of crossing over to Almack’s, he turned right. He was taking me up steep & muddy Taylor Street.

‘Where are we going?’ I said. ‘Almack’s is right back there. It is kitty corner across C Street. Ain’t we going to supper?’

‘I thought it would be good for us to preserve this special moment with an ambrotype,’ he said. ‘Before the sun sets.’

He was taking me to Isaiah Coffin’s Ambrotype & Photographic Gallery right next door to my office! That meant Isaiah would find out I was a gal. So would Belle Donne. So would Ping, the person I most dreaded telling. 

‘No!’ I cried digging in my heels.

‘But I want to send photographic image to my brother, when I tell him about you,’ said my pa. 

Reluctantly, I undug my heels. 

The sun had not yet dropped behind Mount Davidson when we reached Isaiah Coffin’s Ambrotype & Photographic Gallery. The little bell over the door gave a familiar tinkle as we came into the empty studio. 

‘They ain’t here,’ I said, tugging his arm & backing up. ‘Let’s go. We can try tomorrow.’

‘Nonsense,’ said my pa. ‘The door was unlocked and the sign said OPEN. Hello?’ he cried. ‘Anybody here?’ 

There were some muffled noises from the store room where the proprietor has various costumes & also a small laboratory in a cupboard. After about a minute Mr. Isaiah Coffin emerged, putting on his frock coat. Despite a grim-sounding name he is a good-looking man with fair hair, symmetrical features and a billy-goat beard. I observed his cheeks were pinker than usual. 

‘Excuse my disarray,’ he said, ‘but I was developing – Zounds!’ He stopped with his arm half in one sleeve and stared at me open mouthed. Then he closed his mouth & resumed putting on his coat. 

‘That is to say: Good afternoon, sir! Good afternoon, little girlMay I help you?’

‘We’d like ye to ambrotype us,’ said my pa. ‘My name is Robert Pinkerton. I believe ye know my daughter, Prudence Kezia?’ 

Mr. Isaiah Coffin’s gray eyes opened wide in Expression No. 4 - surprise. ‘Prudence Kezia?’

I nodded. 

He narrowed his eyes. ‘Prudence Kezia?’ This time his face wore No. 5 – suspicious or thinking.

I sighed. ‘Yes.’

Finally his face showed No. 1 – a genuine smile. ‘Prudence Kezia?’ 

I sighed again. Deeply. ‘Yes.’

‘Sacray blur! You have confounded us all! For over half a year you have pulled the proverbial wool over our eyes.’

‘Who has pulled the wool over our eyes?’ said a feminine voice, and Miss Belle Donne came out of the same storeroom from which her husband had emerged. Yes, the prim & proper English photographer and the pistol-packing Soiled Dove were now man & wife, though she retained her stage name. 

She was prettily attired in a dark blue silk outfit with flounces & furbelows. Her cheeks were also pinker than usual and her bodice was buttoned wrong near the top. 

‘Vwa La!’ said Isaiah Coffin to his wife. He flourished his hand at me. ‘It transpires that P.K. Pinkerton is one of the weaker sex.’

‘Ha, ha!’ said Belle. ‘That is rich.’

‘Go on, Prudence,’ said my pa. ‘Tell her.’

I hung my head. ‘It is true,’ I confessed. ‘I am a gal.’ I shot a glare at Isaiah Coffin. ‘But I ain’t weaker, dam it!’

‘Prudence…’ said my pa with an admonishing tone. ‘Didn’t I tell ye not to blaspheme?’

‘I meant a mill dam,’ I said. 

‘Why you cunning little vixen!’ cried Belle, narrowing her eyes. 

She came close to me & circled round me & took my chin to turn my head this way & that. Finally she prodded my chest with a hard forefinger.

‘Outch!’ I cried. 

‘Dang!’ cried she. ‘You have been pulling the wool over our eyes. The merino wool!’ Then she laughed & clapped her hands. ‘Oh, but this is bully news! I must tell everybody I know and have ever met.’

‘No!’ I cried. ‘Don’t!’

Too late. She was out the door. 

By the time Isaiah had stood me and pa up against his new painted backdrop of a Greek Temple & put our heads in iron vise-like contraptions to keep us from moving – lest we make the image blurry – a whole passel of people had gathered outside the shop and were peering through the window at us. 

I stood there in humiliation – the back of my lighthouse bonnet gripped by iron pincers – and watched the townspeople of Virginia City watch me. 

I saw my lawyer, Mr. William Morris Stewart, a lofty man with a beard the size of a sagebrush whose office was right across the street. He had obviously been doing business with Joe Goodman, the young owner of the Daily Territorial Enterprise Newspaper, for he was there, too. Stewart and Goodman had both helped me in times past, but now they were staring at me with Expression No. 4. 

Doc Pinkerton (no relation) appeared beside them. He had once offered to adopt me. I wondered if he would have made that offer if he had known my sex. 

I noticed Titus Jepson, who had lost the tip of his pinky finger on account of me, but had promised to feed me in perpetuity. His Mexican waiter Gus was there, too, and several regular customers known to me by sight. They were all staring at me with banjo eyes & open mouths & shaking their heads in disbelief. 

I felt a dribble of sweat tickle my backbone as Isaiah Coffin made a few last adjustments to his camera. 

‘Compose your faces,’ he commanded, ‘look into the lens, and do not move! The sun will be gone in a moment.’ Then he took a black disc from the front of the camera. I kept my eyes on the front of the camera but that did not stop me spotting the person I dreaded seeing most: my partner Ping. 

Belle Donne was beside him, gesturing & talking in an animated fashion.  But he was taking no notice of her. He was glaring at me with his arms folded across his chest & the scowliest scowl I had ever seen. He was mouthing something, too. I am good at lip-reading but I could not tell what he was saying. I reckoned he was cussing in Chinese. 

Finally Ping turned and stalked off. 

I wanted to run out of the studio & go after him to explain, but my head was in the jaws of that vise & also I was too ashamed. Of all people, I should have told him sooner, for he was my business partner. 

I hoped he would not stay riled at me forever. 

More people had come and were jostling at the window to see. 

They had stopped staring & were now laughing & pointing & shaking their heads. I felt my cheeks go hot.  

When Isaiah released us from the gripping vises & said we could go, I wanted to climb out the back window & escape down that rotten ladder. But Pa said I must hold my head high and be seen as his daughter, so he made me go out the front door & hold his arm. 

As we pressed through the gawping & grinning throng I heard people say, ‘Is it true? Have you really been a gal all this time?’ 

I kept my head up but squinched my eyes shut. I clung onto Pa as he led me through the clamoring crowd. 

I knew it was vital to our Plan that I act like a girly-girl, but I hated it. 

I thought, Pa had better take me back to Chicago when we have solved this case for I will never be able to face the folk of Virginia City again.

Read on...

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. And you can read the rest of this one HERE. Or just check into this blog, where I will be posting chapters weekly!  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 10

I was facing the biggest challenge of my career as a detective. To act like a convincing girly-girl.

It was vital to our Plan. 

Even dressed in the girliest dress west of the Rockies I was not convincing.

Pa smiled at me through a cloud of his own pipe smoke. ‘Don’t ye worry,’ he said. ‘I will teach ye to walk and talk like a lassie in no time. It is still afternoon, but what do ye say to an early supper at Almack’s Liquor & Oyster Saloon? They tell me it is the best restaurant in town.’

My stomach growled for I had eaten nothing all day. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘But only oysters. No liquor.’

‘Of course no liquor!’ said Pa. ‘I am teetotal.’

‘Well, I ain’t teetotal,’ said Ray, ‘and I need a few stiff drinks. So I hope you don’t mind if I dine elsewhere. I will see you both tomorrow at the offices of the Overland Stage at ten o’clock sharp.’

He exited the shop while I paid Mrs. Wasserman what I owed her. 

As my pa and I emerged into the late afternoon sunshine and set out south on the C Street boardwalk I felt kind of queasy in my stomach. 

I had worn a girl’s disguise before but I always had a poke bonnet to hide my face. That lighthouse bonnet made me feel exposed, especially in the bright afternoon sunshine. Also a ruffle at the back itched my neck. 

Pa took my left hand and tucked it firmly under his right elbow. 

‘This is how a respectable lassie walks with her escort in Chicago,’ he explained. ‘That is to say, a wife with her husband, a sister with her brother, or a daughter with her pa.’ 

I nodded and dutifully hung on to the crook of his elbow.  

There was a line of people waiting outside the office of the Cal Stage Company. I reckon they were waiting to buy tickets now that the stage would soon be running again. I noticed Mr. Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain, standing there with his friend Clement T. Rice AKA The Unreliable. 

I did not want to be recognized so I hung my head. 

‘Head up,’ whispered Pa. ‘Gracious expression.’

‘I only have one expression,’ I said. ‘Inscrutable.’

‘That will do at a pinch. But lift your head.’

We were past the line of people, so I lifted my head. 

‘Don’t stomp,’ whispered Pa.

‘I cannot help it,’ I said. ‘These dam boots are so noisy.’

‘Walk on the balls of your feet,’ said Pa. ‘That is, the front part. Take two wee steps instead of one big one. And ne’er blaspheme.’

I tried walking on the boardwalk in little tappy steps without blaspheming. 

I hated every step. 

I missed my silent, butter-soft moccasins.

I missed my shielding slouch hat with the black felt brim I could pull down low against the slanting sun. 

I missed my pockets, and the comforting weight of a gun in one of them. 

Almack’s Oyster & Liquor Saloon was only two blocks south so I sent up an arrow prayer that I would not meet anyone known to me. If Sam Clemens and his friend were leaving town on account of a ‘delicate satire’, how would the townsfolk treat me when they discovered I had been pranking them all for over half a year?

Then I saw Bee Bloomfield and Affable Fitzsimmons walking arm in arm straight towards us. 

I wanted to dive behind a nearby barrel. 

I wanted to squeeze underneath the boardwalk. 

I wanted to do anything to get me out of their path. 

When I thought Pa wasn’t paying attention, I made a sudden lunge towards the swinging doors of the nearest saloon. I almost got away but Pa caught me & reeled me in & clamped my hand between his arm & his side. There was no escape.  

I lowered my head as Affie and Bee approached, and tried to make my black ringlets hide my face. 

We were almost past them when I heard Bee’s voice, ‘P.K.? Is that you?’ 

I made as if to keep walking but my pa stopped & turned to face them & touched the brim of his new brown hat made of beaver felt. ‘Good afternoon,’ he said in his Scottish burr. ‘Are ye friends of my daughter Prudence?’

‘Pinky,’ I mumbled, keeping my eyes firmly on their feet. ‘Please call me Pinky.’ Bee was wearing her little white button-up boots and Affable had exchanged his canvas shoes for sturdy brogues. 

‘Daughter?’ cried Bee. 

I took a deep breath and looked at her face. She was staring at me with Expression No. 4 – Surprise. 

Then her face relaxed & she said, ‘Oh, you are in disguise!’

Abruptly she clapped both hands over her mouth. 

Affable was staring at me, too. His eyes looked extra-big behind his spectacles. ‘You are the same P.K. Pinkerton who collects bugs and butterflies?’ he said. 

‘Shhh!’ hissed Bee in a barely audible voice. ‘He is in disguise.

‘Pinky is not in disguise,’ said my pa in a mild tone. ‘We thought it time to let the world know that Pinky is a lassie.’

‘A lassie?’ said Bee with a frown.

‘A lassie?’ said Affable, wide-eyed.

‘Aye! That is to say, a girl.  She always has been and always will be. Only she has finally decided to admit the fact and “come clean”. By the way, I am her father, Robert Pinkerton.’ He gave a little bow. 

‘Of the world-famous detective agency?’ Affie extended his hand. ‘Honored to meet you!’ 

My pa smiled & nodded & shook his hand.

‘You’re a girl?’ squeaked Bee. She was staring at me with eyes as round as banjos.  

I nodded & felt heat rise up into my face. My throat was tight. I did not know what to say. 

‘But I…’ said Bee. ‘I wanted to… I almost… Oh, you creature!’

I saw her nostrils flare, which usually means someone is going to wallop you. I reckoned I deserved it so I braced myself & closed my eyes. 

Sure enough, Bee Bloomfield slapped my face. 

Read on...

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. And you can read the rest of this one HERE. Or just check into this blog, where I will be posting chapters weekly!  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 9

Two hours later, at 4 o’clock, I was standing in front of a full-length mirror in Wasserman’s Emporium wearing a balloon-sleeved, puffy-skirted merino-wool dress of a vivid yellow color. 

Pa had told Ray G. Tempest our ‘gallus’ plan & Ray had liked it so much that he had gone to get us an appointment to meet with the owner of the Overland Stage Company as soon as possible. We had to act quickly as the road out of Virginia would soon be passable for stagecoaches and the first silver shipments would be double-sized. 

Mrs. Wasserman had shown us three made-up dresses in the store. The one I now wore was the closest to my size & also the most girly. 

It was mainly yellow, but had a kind of bib & cuffs & a waistband & pleated hem all in grass green. There were some green tongue-shaped flaps hanging down from the waist that the storekeeper called ‘flounces’. I was also wearing my black wig with ringlets and my pink poke bonnet that I use for my ‘Prim Girl Disguise.’

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

‘Oh pshaw!’ said my pa. ‘It ain’t that bad.’ 

‘Try smiling,’ said Mrs. Wasserman, who had just returned with some girly undergarments.  

I turned to them & bared my newly-whitened teeth. 

They both took a step back. 

‘Ach! That is mare a grimace than a smile,’ said my pa. 

‘You look like a wolf trapped in a hole,’ said Mrs. Wasserman. 

I stopped smiling.

Mrs. Wasserman said, ‘I believe part of problem is that bonnet. You can’t really see her face. Just those glittering black eyes and gleaming teeth.’ 

‘Ye’re right,’ said Pa. ‘We need to see that bonny wee face.’

Mrs. Wasserman reached up to a shelf & brought down a bonnet. It was tall rather than deep, and made of yellow straw. It had two yellow flowers on top and a kind of yellow sash that poked through the straw to tie under your chin. 

‘This is the new style Skyscraper Bonnet for May,’ she said. ‘Some folk call it a “lighthouse bonnet”. It is all the fashion. Go on. Try it.’

I took off my poke bonnet and put on the lighthouse bonnet.

‘Why, there!’ said Mrs. Wasserman, adjusting one of the flowers on top. ‘It suits you down to the ground.’

Instead of hiding my face, it framed it. 

‘There’s me bonny wee lassie!’ said Pa. 

But I could not bear to look & had to avert my eyes. Pa was nodding happily & turning his putty-colored plug hat in his hands. 

Among some other men’s hats on a shelf, I saw a hat with a flat top and a flat brim like Jace’s only it was brown not black. ‘How much is that hat?’ I asked Mrs. Wasserman. 

‘That one is ten dollars,’ she said, ‘on account of it is real beaver felt.’

It looked like a regular hat to me, but when Pa tried it on it made him look fine, and not a bit silly.

‘It makes you look fine, and not a bit silly,’ I said. ‘I will buy it for you.’ 

‘Ach, nay. I cannae let ye do that.’

‘Sure you can. I have plenty of money at Wells Fargo & Co just across the street.’ I pulled out my medicine bag and took out some gold eagles. Because the dress was already made up and store bought, it was more expensive than I thought it would be. So was that lighthouse bonnet. What with buying those things & new undergarments & my pa’s new beaver felt hat, I would have to pay another visit to Wells Fargo & Co. in the near future. But if it could help me catch those Reb Road Agents and earn me a place in Pa’s Agency, then it was worth it. 

‘Let me just alter your frock,’ said Mrs. Wasserman. ‘Come with me. It will only take five minutes on my new Singer Sewing Machine.’

I went into a back room with her. She had one of them new Singer Sewing Machines that looks like a giant black ant with a wheel on its backside. She also had two dressmaker’s dummies in there: one was wood & the other was papier maché. She made me stand still while she put pins in my dress & made me take it off & stand in chemise & bloomers. 

She put the dress under the metal ant’s nose & used her feet to make it take little sips of the cloth with its needle tongue. When she brought back it out, why there was a new seam! Now the dress fit perfect. 

When I came back into the shop, I saw Ray standing by a window with my pa. They were at the far end of the shop smoking & talking. They had their backs to me, but I have excellent hearing. 

I heard Ray say, ‘It a perfect plan; better than we could have imagined.’

They must have heard my tippy-tappy boots for they turned to look at me. 

‘There’s me wee bonny lassie!’ said Pa. ‘Guess what? Ray is just back from the Overland Stage Company. We have a meeting with the owner tomorrow morning at ten o’clock. Come closer.’

I went over to them, feeling awkward in my yellow balloon sleeves & puffy skirt & flounces & furbelows & lighthouse bonnet. 

‘Her walk ain’t quite right,’ said Ray, blowing smoke down. 

To me, Pa said, ‘Try to walk like a lady and not stride forth like an angry teamster.’ 

I took little tripping steps & held my arms straight down by my sides with wrists bent so my palms faced the floor. 

Ray shook his head & blew more smoke down. ‘You have come up with a bully plan,’ he said. ‘But she has got to be a dam sight more convincing than that, or the owner of the Overland Stage Company will never buy it.’

Read more HERE...

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. And you can read the rest of this one HERE. Or just check into this blog, where I will be posting chapters weekly!  

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 8

I was ‘over the moon’, or at least ‘over Virginia City’. 

I had explained to Ping that the man hugging me was my long-lost pa.

Ping had apologized & had put away his piece. Now my pa and I were climbing Mount Davidson on account of Virginia is awful crowded & he thought a hike up that barren mountain would afford us a chance to talk without being interrupted and/or overheard.  

As we ascended, my long-lost pa told me his life story. 

He told me how he had been shipwrecked off Newfoundland on his way from Glasgow, Scotland to Chicago, Illinois. 

He told how in the early days he had first established an agency to protect stagecoaches and then trains. But later he wanted to help the Poor & Oppressed.

He told me how his younger brother Allan had become his partner after exposing a counterfeiting ring at a place called ‘Bogus Island’ near Chicago, Illinois.

‘Bogus island?’ I echoed. ‘Was it not a real island?’

‘No, it was a real island. They called the island “Bogus” on account of the fake money produced thereon. Wee Allan is a good detective. Maybe even better than me, who didnae even recognize me own wee lassie.’

My Pinkerton pa was good at telling about his many & varied adventures. He was good at mimicking other people’s accents & voices. I was entranced by his tales of helping the Poor & Oppressed & fighting Grizzlies & catching Desperados & taking Slaves to Freedom on the ‘Underground Railway’ just like in Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. 

My pa told me how he caught a bad chill when coming back from Canada after one such trip & how it took the stuffing out of him. After that his ‘wee brother Allan’ took over the day-to-day running of the business and my pa mostly sat behind a desk. 

Even though he was not tall and handsome like Poker Face Jace but short and otter-looking, I was proud of my Pinkerton pa, now that I knew of his exploits. 

I thought, 
If I could go back to Chicago with him to be a proper Pinkerton Detective, then I would be happy.

We had just reached the summit of Mount Davidson where a tattered flag fluttered bravely on a 20-foot flagpole. 

Pa was breathing hard and sweating a little. He took out his handkerchief and pressed it to his forehead. I observed it had the initials C.P. on the corner. 

I pointed at the handkerchief, ‘Who is C.P.? 

He looked at the handkerchief & frowned. Then his brow grew smooth again & he nodded. ‘Ye will make a good detective,’ he said. ‘Ye are mighty observant.’ He looked west towards the jagged snow-tipped mountains called Sierra Nevada. ‘C.P. stands for Caroline Pinkerton,’ he said. ‘My wife.’

‘You are married?’ I asked. He had not mentioned that once in our 2-hour hike up the mountain.

He nodded. ‘We married young, in Glasgow, Scotland. She sailed with me. She has been my wife nearly thirty years.’ 

I swallowed hard. ‘Then you never married my original ma?’

He was concentrating on folding up his handkerchief again. He shook his head. 

I felt the heat rising right up from my feet until my face felt like it was on fire. ‘Do you have children?’ 

‘Aye,’ he said. ‘Four big laddies.’

I swallowed again, but could not get rid of the bunch of emotions in my throat.

‘So I could probably never go back to Chicago with you, could I?’

He shook his head. ‘I dinna see how.’

We both stared out at the mountains. 

Although I stood on a peak nearly 8000 feet high, I felt lower than I had ever felt. 

As I looked down, I saw a tiny stagecoach far below. It was heading north on the road from Steamboat Valley to Marysville via the Henness Pass. 

I said, ‘There is a stagecoach on the road from Steamboat Valley to Marysville via the Henness Pass.’

He said, ‘By God, I have just had a gallus plan! If it succeeds I might be able to take ye to back to Chicago with me! As an operative, mind ye, not me daughter.’

Hope leapt into my throat. I said, ‘What is a gallus?’ 

He said, ‘Gallus means “bold”. Would ye be willing to help me and Ray catch those Reb Road Agents?’

I said, ‘You bet!’

He told me his Plan. 

It was a good one, full of danger & excitement & a trip across the Sierra Nevada. If it succeeded, I would be able to go back to Chicago with him and work as an operative for the world famous Pinkerton Detective Agency. 

There was only one problem. Pa told me that it was absolutely necessary that from that moment on, I dress like a girly-girl. 

I scuffed at the ground with my moccasin. The last thing I wanted to be was a girly-girl. But going to Chicago with my real pa was my dream. 

Somewhere in the sagebrush behind me, a quail called out ‘Chicago! Chicago!’

That clinched it. 

I took a deep breath & nodded. 

‘All right, Pa,’ I said. ‘For you, I will try to be a girly-girl.’

Read on...

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. And you can read the rest of this one HERE. Or just check into this blog, where I will be posting chapters weekly!