I had been looking over the edge but now I turned to look ahead. Sure enough, there in the gloaming were two men standing either side of the road.
‘Halt!’ they cried, and both put up their hands, palms forward, in the universal gesture that means stop. They wore butternut-colored uniforms which meant they were Confederate soldiers, AKA Rebs.
I swore under my breath, using language unfit for publication.
Pa’s Plan had failed.
‘Don’t cuss!’ said Dizzy out of the corner of his mouth. ‘Remember, you are supposed to be a helpless little girl. It is our only chance.’
He was right! If I played a convincing girly-girl, they might take pity on us & let us go & we could get the silver to safety. Then we could alert Pa and the guards in the other stage of their whereabouts.
The team slowed and stopped. I noticed Dizzy did not push the footbrake forward.
‘Good evening, y’all,’ drawled one of the men. He held a Henry rifle and wore a small, round, slope-top hat with a visor. I think folk call it a ‘kepi’.
Kepi said, ‘I am gonna have to ask you not to make any sudden-like moves.’ His rifle was pointing at Dizzy.
‘Heck, you don’t want to bother with us.’ Dizzy’s voice cracked a little. ‘It is only me and my little girl here and some children back from a picnic. You can see their sleeping schoolmarm there in the window. Surely you will let us pass?’
The reins in his left hand were trembling but I felt strangely calm. Maybe it was because I could not see the Road Agents clearly. Or maybe it was because they sounded so polite.
I reckoned I should play the part of a little girly-girl.
‘Grandpa?’ I said in my high girly voice. ‘Are those men going to rob us?’
‘Not if you cow operate,’ said the other man. He wore a slouch hat & his voice was deeper than Kepi’s.
He cocked his piece and said, ‘My pard is just gonna have a little peek inside your coach while I cover you. Y’all seem to be riding pretty low, like you are maybe carrying a lot of silver.’
‘We ain’t got nothing of value,’ said Dizzy. ‘Just them kiddies, like I said.’
While they were talking, I had started to sneak my gloved right hand inside the secret pocket of my sacque to get at my Muff Deringer.
‘Hands where we can see them, Missy,’ said Kepi politely.
I froze. Then I took my (empty) hands out of my sacque.
‘Raise ’em high,’ said Slouch.
I could not believe this was happening. Did I not look girly enough?
I had to convince them! But how?
I reckoned a girly-girl would whimper.
‘Oh, grandpa,’ I quavered. ‘They are going to kill us!’
‘Cheese it, brat!’ growled Slouch Hat. He pointed his big revolver at me.
So much for the Reb Road Agents having a soft spot for little girls!
The one with the Kepi was about three paces from the stagecoach when Dizzy grabbed his black leather whip & yelled, ‘Hi-yi!’
Three things happened real quick.
No. 1 – With a report like that of a gun being fired, Dizzy’s whip knocked the Henry rifle right out of Kepi’s hands.
No. 2. – Our team of horses started moving.
No. 3. – The man wearing the Slouch Hat shot Dizzy with his big Army revolver.
Dizzy did not make a noise. He only slumped against me. The reins started to slide through his gloved fingers.
Quick as a streak of chalk, I grabbed the reins. ‘Hi-yi!’ I cried, and gave them a flick. ‘G’lang! G’lang, you sons of blanks!’
By the side of the road, Kepi looked up from where he was scrabbling to recover his rifle. He rolled out of the way just in time to avoid getting trampled.
The horses had to strain to get the heavy coach moving. They seemed to be wading through winter molasses.
‘Come on, you sons of blanks!’ I bellowed again. I was leaning way over to the left on account of Dizzy was slumped against my right side.
We had just passed the road agents when something batted my bonnet forward & Dizzy jerked against me & at the same time I heard three more loud reports.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
They had shot him again!
I flicked the reins & yelled, ‘Git!’
I forgot to say ‘G’lang!’ and ‘Hi-yi!’ but the horses were moving faster now. I reckon the shots had spooked them as much as my hollering and cussing. We finally crested the hump in the road and were heading downhill. Now the six steeds were running at top speed. It was almost dark and the tall black pine trees either side blotted out the purple sky. I have eyes about as sharp as a telescope but even a telescope cannot see at night. I could hardly make out the road ahead.
I had to trust the horses, like Dizzy had told me.
I kept hold of the ribbons but let them go slack.
Yes, I gave those horses free rein.
The team curved left, following the road, and the curve made Dizzy slump against me even more.
I could hardly breath & I was in danger of being crushed by his bulk so I gave him a little shove. But I must have pushed too hard for now he was slumped way over to the right, leaning over the side and in danger of tumbling out!
I held the reins in my left hand and grabbed at Dizzy’s sleeve with my right.
I caught the cuff of his jacket sleeve just in time!
I knew if his jacket cuff slipped out of my grasp he would tumble over the side of the stage and off the mountain!
I needed help.
‘Ray!’ I cried. ‘Help!’
I used all my lungs to holler, ‘RAY!’
‘Wha?’ came his slurred voice from down below. ‘Wha’s happening?’
‘The Reb Road Agents struck! They shot Dizzy. I think he might be dead.’
The horses were going fast now.
I reckon they were spooked.
There was a bend coming up with a three thousand foot drop on the right-hand side.
‘Help!’ I cried. ‘Ray! PA!’
(I do not know why I shouted for Pa as he was about an hour ahead of us.)
As we took the bend, the coach listed to the right. I reckon if we had not been carrying a ton of silver we would have been driving on two wheels.
Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw Dizzy twitch. Then his sleeve was jerked from my fingers.
He flew out of the driver’s box & went sailing into the thin air above that three thousand foot drop.
Then he was gone.
A moment later, Ray’s head appeared beside the coach! He was hatless and his red bandana was pulled down around his neck. He was clinging to the slender iron railing around the roof!
‘What happened to Dizzy?’ I cried.
‘Dead weight,’ he shouted back. ‘Thought it was better to ditch him.’
‘He might of still been alive!’
‘Whoa!’ cried Ray. ‘Slow her down!’
He was still hanging off the side of the coach. Even with all those silver bars as ballast I was pretty sure I felt the two left wheels lift off the ground for a moment!
‘Get up on top!’ I hollered. ‘You are throwing the stage off balance. It will fall over and we will be kilt!’
‘Stop the coach!’ he cried. ‘We cannot outrun them.’
He gave himself a heave & was suddenly up in the box beside me.
He tried to pull the reins from my hands but I held on tight.
‘Don’t!’ I cried. ‘They are spooked but they know this road.’
‘Let go, you d-mn blank!’ He called me a bad word and I was so astonished that I let him take the reins. But he was not expecting me to let go and he jerked them violently to the right.
I saw the horses thundering straight off the edge of the road towards a three thousand foot chasm.
It was my stagecoach-going-over-a-precipice nightmare coming true.
But this was no dream.
This was really happening.
Suddenly we were in the air & my stomach & lungs were all up in my throat & time slowed down & we were falling, falling, falling.
Then everything went darker than the inside of a black bear on a moonless night.
The sun had set in Genoa, but when we reached the top of the pass, why, there it was again, like an old friend. It was very low in the sky, lighting up some puffy clouds all red & purple & yellow. This fiery sunset was reflected in Lake Bigler, which some folk call Tahoe. It was so pretty it made my spirit want to fly up into those clouds like a hawk.
Dizzy flipped a coin to a toll-gate keeper. A few moments later he guided the puffing team of horses off the road & onto a muddy patch of ground in front of a couple of raw-plank buildings. There was a smell of wood smoke & stables.
‘Is this Friday’s Station?’ I asked.
‘Yup.’ Dizzy reined in the team and we rocked to a halt. ‘Wanna get down or can you last one more stage?’
‘I need the jakes,’ I said.
While Dizzy was helping me down, two men came out of the shack. One had a little nose and a big mustache. The other had a big nose and a little mustache. Big Mustache went to get a fresh team and Little Mustache started undoing the whippletree.
When I got back from using the outhouse, Big Mustache was telling Dizzy how another California-bound stage had changed teams an hour before and a rider came by not long after.
‘Dang,’ said Dizzy. ‘They are now a whole hour ahead of us. We’d best not dilly-dally.’
It was chilly up here with a breeze coming off the lake. The pine-scented air came cold into my chest & made me feel light-headed. I pulled my pink shawl around my shoulders. Then I remembered the coat I had bought for the dummy to wear. I went towards the coach.
Through the window, I saw that the dummy was leaning against the corner & her hat was down over her watermelon face, so it really did look like a lady was sleeping. That was good.
I gave a soft knock on the door and opened it.
Mr. Ray G. Tempest was lying on his back upon the bed of mailbags with his head back, his eyes closed and his mouth open. His hat & Dizzy’s shotgun lay nearby on one of the other mailbags.
I took the coat off the dummy & gave her my shawl instead & restored her to her former position.
Ray snored on.
I quietly closed the door of the stage and then put on the coat. It was a lot warmer than my shawl. Mrs. Wasserman had called that coat a ‘sacque’ & told me it was the girliest coat she had & that it was the latest fashion. It was like a cape only with sleeves, made of silk-lined purple velvet & white fur trim. When I put my gloved hands in the little slits at the front I discovered a hidden pocket.
One of the things I hate about dresses is that there are no pockets so the only place to put things is in a purse or similar. But now I had found a pocket in this sacque. Hallelujah!
I took my four-shooter out of my medicine bag & put it in the secret pocket along with a few spare cartridges. Then I let Dizzy help me back up into the box. He took the reins from Big Mustache, released the brake & we were on our way again!
My stomach growled so I opened my yellow drawstring purse which I had tied it to the rail of the driver’s box. I took out some beef jerky & shared it with Dizzy.
I noticed a wooden sign down by the side of the road. It said, WELKOM TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNEE. We had left Nevada Territory behind and were now in California, a state I had not heretofore set foot in.
The sun had set for good & dusk was gathering fast.
I said, ‘Do you think the Reb Road Agents have held up the decoy stage yet?’
‘I hope so,’ said Dizzy. ‘Soon it will be too dark to see. If they miss the decoy they might hold us up instead. We should of set out earlier.’
‘At least they are an hour ahead of us.’
‘Yup,’ said Dizzy.
I said, ‘When Icy Blue and his agents catch them, what will they do with them?’
‘Why, clap ’em in irons and take em back to Virginee. Hopefully we will see them coming back this way, mission accomplished, at any moment.’
My spirits lifted. I might see my victorious pa soon & then he would turn around and ride to Sacramento with us and soon we would go to Chicago covered in glory.
‘Want to see something awful?’ said Dizzy, chomping his piece of jerky.
‘Sure,’ I said.
‘See that bend we’re coming up to? Scoot on over to the left and look down.’
I scooted over to the edge and looked down. As we came to a curve in the road I saw a steep slope tumbling down to a rocky gorge far below. My sharp eyes saw a wheel on the jagged gray rocks & some broken crates & then the worst thing of all: a smashed up stagecoach and what might have been the bones of a horse. I could not be sure about the horse bones, for the light was fading fast.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘Coach went off the road,’ said Dizzy. ‘Crashed on them rocks below. Happens more than people think.’
‘Stagecoaches going over the edge and crashing on the rocks below?’
‘Yup. That is why they never put glass in the windows. In case it breaks and cuts you to ribbons.’
‘Were the passengers killed?’ I asked.
‘Only a couple,’ he said. ‘The others escaped with just a few broken bones and cracked heads.’ He chuckled. ‘Driver broke both arms. When they took the bandages off, he found one arm was an inch shorter than the other.’
I held out my arms.
I tried to imagine having one arm shorter than the other.
I could not do it.
We rode for a while without speaking. I tried to listen out for the sound of a pa and the decoy stage coming our way, covered in glory & with the Reb Road agents in irons.
But it was hard above the noise of 24 thundering hooves and a creaky old stagecoach.
Soon it was so dusky I could hardly see the road.
I said, ‘How do you light the road when it gets dark?’
Dizzy said, ‘You don’t.’
I said, ‘Because there is an almost full moon tonight?’
He said, ‘Moon won’t rise for an hour or so. But we don’t use lights even when there ain’t a moon.’
I said, ‘How do you see in the dark?’
He said, ‘You don’t.’
I said, ‘You drive in the dark?’
‘Yup. Dark. Rain. Storm. Snow. You gotta remember that each team of six horses just goes back and forth over ten or twelve or fourteen miles at most. They know their stretch of road so well they could do it blindfolded. Why, some of the drivers just have a little sleep while they are holding the reins.’
‘You won’t sleep, will you?’ I asked.
‘Nosiree. Not with the chance of Reb Road Agents behind any pine and a crumbled road at any bend.’
‘The road crumbles some times?’
‘Yup,’ said Dizzy. ‘You got any more jerky?’
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Gimme,’ said Dizzy.
He opened his mouth like a hungry bird and I gave him another piece of beef jerky.
I was glad of my gloves and velvet sacque for it was now cold.
We were going up a rising bend. Our fresh horses from Friday’s were working hard. I looked over the edge and saw what looked like a sheer drop. The granite rocks far below were almost as jagged as the hundred black pine trees that poked up like needles. I did not want to look, but I could not tear my eyes away.
‘Jumping Jesus!’ said Dizzy.
Dizzy swallowed hard & cussed. ‘Looks like we got ourselves company. Those Reb Road Agents must of let the decoy stage pass right on by. Here they are, all right: fixing to hold us up.’
We reached Genoa about an hour after we set out from Carson, for we had been going at a fair clip through the sage-brushy desert and flat marshes. It felt satisfying to have control of six powerful beasts and a stage worth $50,000 dollars.
‘I’d better take them there ribbons now,’ said Dizzy, ‘lessen someone sees a girl in black ringlets and a yaller bonnet driving.’
As we pulled in front of a Livery Stable, the door of an outhouse partly opened and a voice shouted. ‘Be right out!’
Dizzy pulled pushed the footbrake forward & tossed the reins to the ground. He stayed in his seat so I did, too.
It was now about 5 in the afternoon. We were in the shadow of the mountains & it was chilly. I could hear the throaty coo of a dove from the Genoa oak trees and in the cottonwoods some birds were having a lively conversation. Some folk standing in front of the General Store were also conversing & they hardly even glanced at us.
The hostler came out of the outhouse.
‘Howdy, Dizzy!’ he called up to us. ‘I got a fresh team all ready for you. Little Ben?’ A towheaded boy came out, leading a fresh team of six horses, all harnessed and strapped to their pole.
‘That there wooden stick is called a “whippletree”,’ said Dizzy, pointing down at a kind of plank the hostler was releasing from the front of the coach. ‘See there? The traces are all passed through and ready so you can be ready to go at a moment’s notice if’n you want.’
‘From what Icy said, I thought you would have been here sooner,’ said the stableman as led our starting team away from the coach.
‘We was a mite delayed,’ said Dizzy. ‘How long ago did he come through?’
‘Half an hour maybe,’ said the hostler. He stopped to watch the boy fit the new team’s whippletree to the front of our coach. ‘No more than forty minutes.’
‘Dang!’ cursed Dizzy. He spat some tobacco juice onto the ground. ‘Any other travellers pass by?’
‘Just a man on a gray and three miners footing it,’ said the Stableman. ‘Carson City Stage is due in around an hour. Evenin’, ma’am,’ he said to the window. ‘Would you care to stretch your legs?’
When he got no response he shielded his mouth with his hand and whispered to Dizzy, ‘Something wrong with that lady in there? She don’t seem very friendly.’
‘Why, Al,’ said Dizzy. ‘That lady is real friendly. In fact, she is so friendly that you could give her a kiss and she would not object.’ He gave a wheezy laugh.
‘Don’t take no notice of Dizzy, ma’am,’ said Al, tipping his hat at the open window. ‘He can be rude and– Dang!’ he leaped back as if bit by a snake. ‘There is something wrong with her face. It looks like an unripe watermelon.’
‘Hee, hee,’ said Dizzy. ‘It is. She is a dummy with a watermelon head. She is meant to mislead those Reb Road Agents into thinking we have passengers,’ he added.
‘You watch out for them,’ said Al. ‘Latest news is they was spotted between Yank’s Station and Strawberry. They tried to rob a passenger stage but O’Riley started blasting at them with his scattergun and they skedaddled.’
Little Ben had hitched the new team to our coach. He handed Al the hostler the reins of the fresh team and led off the old team.
Dizzy spat a brown squirt of tobacco juice down onto the dirt. ‘That stiff lady ain’t the only one riding today,’ he said. ‘Got a Pinkerton Detective of our own in there, too. But I don’t think those bandits will bother with us. Not after Icy & his men have got hold of them.’
‘Well, God go with you!’ cried Al the hostler, holding the bunch of reins aloft.
Dizzy took them and released the footbrake. ‘Amen,’ he said, and to the horses, ‘G’lang! G’lang there you sons of blanks!’
That fresh team pulled us along a flat, straight road at the foot of the mountains for a spell.
We passed Van Sickles Station which is a white two-story wooden house with a grand porch and corrals & stables all on its lonesome with those barren mountain rearing up almost perpendicular behind it.
I knew the road doubled back a few miles up ahead to become the Kingsbury Grade. I turned my head to search for Pa but I only saw a stagecoach coming down, not going up.
I said, ‘I see a stagecoach coming down the mountain.’
Dizzy said, ‘That’ll be the Pioneer stage from Placerville on its way to Carson and Virginee.’
We came to that sharp switchback & started to climb up the side of the mountain.
Dizzy was using his whip now, pulling it back & then flicking it forward to make it uncoil like a big black snake & crack like the report of a pistol right over the horses’ heads. But he did not have to do too much blacksnaking. Those horses knew it would be uphill now but downhill on their way home so they pulled bravely.
As we got higher & higher I could see back the way we had come. Over to my right – to the east – I could see vast empty sky & far below a flat plain like a patchwork quilt of green & sage & buff & brown. The sight of that much sky and that far a drop made my stomach do a handspring and all the blood sank down to my toes.
If I looked almost straight down I could see the ribbon of a road with Van Sickles House & Stables looking like a little pair of white and brown dice from that height. A humpy part of the mountain prevented me from seeing Carson City or even Genoa to the north. As we climbed it felt like my ears were getting fuller & fuller of cotton lint. Then something went pop and my head was empty & light.
We were now so high that it made me feel queer to look over the side. So I kept my gaze straight ahead.
Presently the Pioneer Stage from Placerville appeared around a bend. It was pulled by a strange-looking team of bays and grays. The three starboard horses (as Dizzy called them) were dark and the other three were light. Also, it had about six people riding up on top behind the Driver and his Conductor.
As they came closer both coaches slowed down a little. The driver was a slight man with a flat-brimmed hat and billy-goat beard.
‘Evening, Dizzy!’ he called.
‘Evening, Hank!’ Dizzy replied. ‘Any sign of them Reb Road Agents?’
‘Nope,’ said driver. ‘Like we told Mr. Blue, we ain’t seen ’em. Where’s your conductor?’
‘This little lady here is riding shotgun.’ Dizzy gave a wheezy chuckle.
‘You must have got some weighty passengers in there today,’ called the driver over his shoulder. ‘Your team are struggling to pull it.’
‘Dang!’ swore Dizzy after the stage had gone past. ‘I hope those Reb Road Agents ain’t as perspicacious as that there Hank Monk.’
But as I will shortly relate, they were.
Dizzy had put the heavy reins of a six-horse team in my gloved hands. I was so startled I nearly fell off the coach.
I said, ‘How can I drive a six-horse team if I am supposed to be personating a demure little girly-girl and fool the Reb Road agents?’
Dizzy said, ‘You can see they ain’t nobody on this here stretch of road. Besides, those Road Agents are lurking up in them thar mountains not down here on the high plains.’
‘Hey!’ protested Ray. ‘Ain’t that dangerous?’ He had been sipping tooth elixir from his flask and only just noticed I was holding the traces.
‘Nah!’ said Dizzy. ‘It ain’t dangerous. These horses know the road so well they could do it blindfolded.’
But I reckoned it was dangerous. I could feel the life energy of those six steeds whizzing up through the leather straps into my fingers & arms & spirit.
I felt scared and powerful at the same time. It was like flying on a rocking, creaking boat. Dizzy was right: The coach might look old & battered but that thoroughbrace – or whatever it was called – worked real well.
We hit a bump and all three of us flew about four inches up and came down bang!
‘Yee-haw!’ cried Dizzy.
‘Dam!’ swore Ray, but he was laughing.
Dizzy turned to me. ‘Let it out!’ he said. ‘It ain’t good to hold it in. It’ll make you queasy. Go on! If you can’t choke out a “yee-haw” then cuss like a miner or squeal like a gal.’
‘Yee-haw,’ I said. I was concentrating on driving & did not feel like yelling.
Dizzy looked at the sky. ‘I thought I heard a squeak. Could it have been a bat?’
‘Yee-haw!’ I cried, a bit louder.
‘Did you hear something, Mr. Ray?’ said Dizzy.
Ray shook his head. He was grinning despite his toothache.
Using both my lungs I shouted, ‘YEE-HAW!’
It felt good. Everybody laughed. Even me.
I only wished my pa had been there to share the moment.
Dizzy took a fresh chaw of tobacco from his trowser pocket & bit off a corner & folded up the plug in its paper wrapper. I was paying attention to the horses but out of the corner of my eye I saw that it was Blue Star brand chewing tobacco. I try to be observant about such things. Identifying tobacco is one of my special detective skills.
The road was running smooth through a flat marshy plain towards those great jagged snow-topped mountains called the ‘Sierra Nevada’ which means ‘Great Jagged Snow-topped Mountains’ in Spanish. There is a pretty little town called Genoa situated right at their foot with some oak trees & cottonwoods by a stream. We could see it a long time before we got there. Pa Emmet once told me that it used to be called Mormon Station until the Mormons all upped sticks and went to Salt Lake City. He said they named it after a town in Italy but they pronounce it different so people will not get confused.
‘Dam,’ said Ray. He took his flask from his pocket tipped it upside down to show us his Tooth Elixir was all gone.
‘You should get that tooth pulled,’ said Dizzy. ‘Any blacksmith will do it.’
Ray touched his cheek & winced. ‘You mind if I lie down inside the coach?’ he asked Dizzy.
‘Course not! But you will have to lie on them hard leather letter-sacks.’
‘I don’t mind.’ Ray tossed his empty Tooth Elixir bottle into the marsh on the left hand side of the road. ‘Pull up,’ he said, ‘so I can go down right now.’
I was still holding the ‘ribbons’, as they say.
‘Pinky,’ said Dizzy. ‘You want to try slowing this rig? You just–’ he began, but I was already pulling back on the heavy reins.
‘Whoa, you sons of blanks!’ I hollered.
The team of six bay horses slowed & stopped right there in the road. They stood snorting & tossing their heads.
‘Why, missy,’ said Dizzy with his brown-toothed smile, ‘you are a natural.’
Ray started to climb down.
Dizzy put a hand on his arm. ‘Hold on, mister.’ Dizzy looked at me. ‘Now that we’ve stopped, what’s the first thing you gotta do?’
‘Foot brake?’ I said.
‘You got it!’ He was nearest the brake so he used his foot to push the lever forward. I felt the coach turn from a living thing to a solid, unmoving object.
Once again, I wished it had been my pa sitting there beside me to be impressed by my skill at handling a six-horse team. But it was only Ray & he did not even seem to notice. He just climbed down off the box. I felt the coach rock a little as he opened the door & climbed inside.
‘Shotgun?’ came Ray’s voice.
Dizzy and I both leaned to the right to see Ray’s hand sticking out of the front window.
Dizzy took the double-barreled shotgun from its leather sheath beside the driver’s box & handed it down. Ray’s hand & the shotgun both disappeared back inside the coach.
‘OK.’ Dizzy released the brake & turned to me, ‘To start up again you just give the reins a little flick and say “G’lang!” real firm-like.’
‘G’lang! G’lang there, you sons of blanks!’ I said, imitating Dizzy, and we were off again.
Little did I think I would be taking the reins in earnest and riding for my life in less than two hours.
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!
Everything happened real fast after that.
Within an hour we were standing in a dim livery stable, watching half a dozen heavily armed men climb into a sturdy stagecoach.
Once in, they pulled down the leather shades. Then Icy Blue & his driver climbed up into the box.
‘How does that look?’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley to us.
‘Looks good,’ said Dizzy. ‘Looks like we got something to hide.’
I agreed & looked at Pa to see whether he did, too, but he was busy adjusting the saddle on a big gray gelding.
‘Off you go then,’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley to the first stagecoach. ‘And good luck to you! You catch them Reb Road Agents.’
Icy Blue raised his shotgun and his driver flicked the reins & said, ‘Hee-yah!’
The decoy coach was away!
Pa swung up into the saddle of the gelding. ‘I hope to see ye pass us on the road,’ he said, ‘as we clap those bandits in irons.’
‘Pa!’ I cried. ‘Ain’t you riding shotgun with us?’
‘Not for the first wee stretch,’ he said. ‘Horses and Ray dinna get along so he’ll ride with ye. But don’t worry, me wee lassie. Once we’ve clapped those pesky Reb Road agents in irons I’ll ride with ye to Sacramento.’ His eyes were brimming with tears like he was sad to leave, & he could not meet my gaze.
I confess I was disappointed. I had been looking forward to working with my pa on our first case.
‘Fare thee well!’ He touched his finger to the brim of his new hat. Still without looking at me, he turned his horse & spurred it & trotted after the departing coach. The last I saw of him was his silhouette against the bright square of outside light coming in through the stable doors. Then the light kind of dissolved him & he was gone.
Mr. V.V. Bletchley, Dizzy and Ray were examining the second stagecoach.
I studied it, too. It was battered and old, with a faded vista of mountains painted on the door and gold trim that was almost chipped off.
Bletchley turned to me. ‘She may look old and battered,’ he said, ‘but she was recently fitted with a new thoroughbrace and she can hold tons of silver. Come look.’
He opened a door and showed me how they had covered the floor of the coach with 78 silver bricks of varying shapes & weights all laid neatly side-by-side. He told me the ‘ingots’ were worth over 50 thousand dollars! As I watched, they piled some letter-sacks inside the coach to cover up the silver. Then they pulled down all the leather window shades so you could not see inside.
‘What do you think?’ said Mr. Bletchley, standing back. ‘How does it look?’
‘Not too good,’ said Dizzy, scratching his belly. ‘With the shades down, it looks like we got something to hide. Folk generally like to look out.’
‘But if we open the shades then everybody will see we have no passengers.’ Bletchley looked at Ray. ‘You should have thought of that before.’
Dizzy scratched his armpit. ‘Maybe Miss Pinky can ride inside the coach so people will glimpse her in the window.’
Ray shook his head. ‘The whole point of her is to be conspicuous – that is, easily seen – so any lurking bandits will see a little girl and let you pass.’
I had an idea of how I could make a bogus passenger who would look real.
‘I have an idea of how I can make a bogus passenger who will look real.’ I said. ‘Wait here!’
I ran out of the stable & pelted up to Mrs. Matterhorn’s & plucked a head-sized unripe watermelon from her back garden & then hurried one block down to Wasserman’s Emporium’s & bought Mrs. Wasserman’s old papier-mâché dummy & also a velvet ladies’ coat & also the biggest straw sunhat I could find. Then I whizzed back to the Overland Stage Co. Livery Stable.
‘Where you been!’ they all cried. ‘It has been near half an hour.’
But when I wedged the dummy torso inside the stagecoach at the front & draped the purple velvet coat around her shoulders & stuck the watermelon on the dowel neck of her papier-mâché body & added that big sunhat to hide her green & yellow striped head they all said ‘Ah!’, for my construction appeared to be a fashionable lady sitting in the best seat with her back to the driver & looking out the window.
We stood back to judge the effect.
‘She is bully!’ said Dizzy. ‘Now it looks like a school marm, maybe with the other shades down to shield her napping pupils on their way back from a picnic.’
‘Much better,’ agreed Bletchley, puffing a cigar.
‘Good idea to use a watermelon for a head,’ said Ray. ‘Otherwise her hat would lie too low.’ Then he spotted something & frowned & went closer to inspect her. ‘Goll DANG it!’ he cried, making us all jump. ‘What is that on her hat?’
‘Flowers,’ I said. ‘Just some old silk flowers.’
‘No. That! Right there!’ He was white as chalk.
I went closer and saw a silk butterfly among the flowers.
I said, ‘That is a silk butterfly among the flowers.’
‘Take the dam thing off!’
‘It is not genuine. It is bogus.’
‘I don’t care! I told you before. Those things give me the fantods.’
I pulled the bogus butterfly off the hat-band & stuck it out of sight in my medicine bag.
‘You best be going,’ said Mr. Bletchley, looking at his pocket watch. ‘Otherwise you will not have the protection of Icy and all those agents if anything goes wrong. They are nearly an hour ahead of you.’
Dizzy quickly clambered up into the driver’s box & so did Ray.
I was about to scramble up after them but then I remembered to be a girly-girl. I accepted Dizzy’s hand and let him help me up via the wheel onto the lofty box seat. I took my place in the middle, with Dizzy on my right and Ray on my left.
‘Ready?’ Dizzy asked me.
Dizzy hooked his right foot around the lever beside the driver’s box & pulled it back to release the brake. Then he flicked the reins & cried, ‘G’lang! G’lang there you sons of blanks!’ To me he said, ‘Pardon my cussing. Those critters won’t pay me no mind lessen I blaspheme.’
‘Good luck!’ called Bletchley after us.
We emerged from the livery stable into the bright day. It was the first day of May. I was wearing my wig with its swinging black ringlets and my lighthouse bonnet with its silk flowers & sash & itchy ruffle at the back. It was warm so I only needed a light pink shawl over my daffodil yellow dress. I had my black button-up boots & a yellow velvet drawstring purse around my left wrist. Pa had made me buy some little white cotton gloves but I had replaced them with my beaded buckskin gauntlets. They were my lucky gloves.
As we went over the Divide – a kind of hump in the road between Virginia City and Gold Hill – I could feel the horses straining to pull the coach full of heavy silver ingots and letter-sacks. But as soon as they started heading downhill towards Silver City, the coach fairly flew along. I had to retie the yellow ribbon under my chin or my yellow lighthouse bonnet would have flown off into the atmosphere.
‘Dang!’ wheezed Dizzy. ‘That silver is pushing them hard.’
I nodded and gripped the edges of the bench. The road was steep and curvy with precipitous drops onto jagged orange rocks. It was scary like my nightmare but also thrilling. My heart was pounding hard.
I wished Pa could be sitting beside me instead of Ray G. Tempest who kept taking secret swigs from his small flask.
Dizzy concentrated hard as we drove through Gold Hill & Devil’s Gate & Silver City. The road was crowded but everybody made way for our thundering stagecoach. Ray flipped the toll booth operators their coins and we fairly raced through. When the mountain finished and the road leveled out on its way to Carson, Dizzy kind of breathed a sigh and wiped his forehead with his faded bandana.
He glanced at me. ‘You’re awful quiet. You scared?’
I shook my head. ‘I just wish my pa could have seen my clever ruse of using a dummy as a dummy.’
‘I’ll make sure he hears about it,’ said Ray. He took a swig from his flask and then saw us looking. ‘Tooth elixir,’ he explained. ‘My dam tooth is still paining me.’
We rode for a while without conversing. I strained my eyes to see pa but he was too far ahead.
I noticed that Dizzy had a double-barrel shotgun in a kind of leather scabbard beside him.
‘You ever been robbed?’ I asked.
‘Nope,’ said Dizzy. ‘Most local robbers know the boss don’t trust me with big payloads so they let me alone.’
‘That is why you are the perfect choice for this job,’ said Ray.
We changed teams at Curry’s Warm Springs Hotel where I had once stayed but I did not see anyone known to me. Ray got himself a red bandana with a few drops of strong-smelling creosote on it and some ice chippings and he tied this around his head with the knot on top and his hat hiding it. This gave him some relief but made it hard for him to talk.
Our fresh team of six bay horses sped us through Carson City without stopping and my haunts of the previous winter flashed past. Soon we were out of town and racing along the flat road to Genoa with sage-brush and greasewood dotted plains either side and those barren, high-rising mountains to the southwest.
‘Nice gloves,’ said Dizzy.
He was admiring my buckskin gloves with the beaded zigzags that Jace had given me for Christmas.
‘These are my lucky gloves,’ I said.
‘Lucky gloves, eh?’ chuckled Dizzy. ‘Then why don’t you take the ribbons?’
‘The ribbons. The traces. The reins. Go on! Take ’em!’
And before I knew what had happened he’d put the control of six powerful horses & $50,000-worth of silver into my hands.
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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!