‘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.
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!’