Just as the second shot rang out, a black-clad arm knocked Violetta’s wrist from below, causing her ball to fly up into the rarefied air of that big ballroom.
If you should ever dine in the Lick House Hotel, look up at the fancy ceiling square they call a ‘coffer’ between two other coffers with chandeliers in them. If you have eyes as sharp as mine, or a pair of Opera Glasses, you might perceive a tiny hole in the gilded wood. That hole was meant for me, but Poker Face Jace saved my life.
‘Jacey!’ cried Violetta when she saw who had thwarted her shot. Then she swooned into his arms.
I reckoned she was play-acting for I know that nothing short of being sawed in half would make that lady faint.
Jace caught Violetta in his arms. Then he took the empty Deringer pistol from her limp hand and slipped it into his pocket.
‘You all right, P.K.?’ he asked me.
‘Yes, sir,’ I replied, and then looked away. He was probably going to be Violetta’s next husband, but at least he had not wanted me dead. That was some consolation.
From beside the big target, Affie cried, ‘Mr. Jonas Blezzard is all right, too! The bullet only creased his shoulder.’
The ball-goers applauded.
(Later, Affie told me it was their clapping that gave him a Brilliant Idea.)
Affie stepped forward. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you have enjoyed our presentation. Of course it was all “staged”. Nobody was ever in any real danger.’ He turned & helped Mr. Jonas Blezzard off the wheel & I saw him say something under his breath.
Jonas Blezzard was white as chalk, but he bowed and so did Affie.
Martha & Ping came out and they bowed, too.
I did not realize what they were doing. Affie slid me a sideways glance.
‘Bow!’ he hissed.
I bowed, too, just as the curtains closed.
Beyond the curtains, loud applause rose up and was lost in the cavernous ceiling.
I wondered if Violetta had been apprehended. But before I could go to the curtain and peep out, a man with a black beard like a big bib appeared through that tee-pee door at the back of the stage.
He went to Affie & shook his hand.
‘That was inspired, young man! You have turned a disaster into a triumph. I cannot thank you enough. This is Detective Rose. He is the best detective in this city.’
Behind him emerged the man in the rose-pink stovepipe hat and droopy gray mustache who had chased me from the Rev. Starr King’s Unitarian Church.
Two uniformed policemen came through the low door after him.
Detective Rose looked down at me. ‘You have played a dangerous hand, Miss Pinkerton,’ he said, ‘but it appears you got four aces.’
He nodded to his policemen and they each gripped an arm of Mr. Jonas Blezzard. Detective Rose turned to the man with a bib-like beard, ‘Mr. Lick, is there a private chamber where I might interview this man?’
‘My office,’ said the owner and proprietor of the Lick House Hotel.
As the band struck up again, we all repaired to a back room of the hotel to get the final pieces of the puzzle.
Everybody was clapping & cheering.
Earlier that day, Affie had told me there was nothing a man feared as much as being shamed in public. It appeared he was correct, for my mortal enemy was slowly putting his feet on little wooden footrests on the target. His face was white as chalk and made his bushy mustache and sideburns looked extra black.
‘Now sir,’ said Affie, ‘if you will just allow me to strap your arms and legs to this giant target…’
I watched with bated breath as Mr. Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard, allowed himself to be strapped to the giant target.
At last I had my mortal enemy where I wanted him, viz: spread-eagled on a giant target like a butterfly on a corkboard.
Strapped to the giant target, Blezzard cursed me under his breath.
I could tell you what he said, but decency forbids.
Affie turned to the crowd and said, ‘Please give our bold volunteer an enthusiastic round of applause.’
When the applause died down I stepped forward.
‘Mr. Jonas Blezzard,’ I said in a loud voice. ‘Chinese, Negroes and half-Indians like me cannot give testimony in a court of law. That is why me and my pards have called this informal hearing. You are the accused!’
The ball-goers laughed.
‘Please tell us how you murdered your pard and stole half a million dollars worth of gold and silver!’
The ball-goers gasped.
Then I picked up the first knife and poised it for a throw.
Once again, the ball-goers gasped.
I must confess I was nervous, too, for I had never done this before.
I had expected Jonas Blezzard to now be paralyzed with terror, so I was surprised when he gave me a smile. It was a No. 2 Smile – stiff and bogus – but still: a smile!
I practiced my Snake Eyes glare on the man who had thrown poor unconscious Dizzy off the stagecoach and who had kilt my bogus pa.
I said, ‘You set out to trick me, didn’t you? You and your pards weren’t just after the Wells Fargo gold. You were after me and my feet. That is to say, my shares of the Chollar mine.’
He said, ‘I do not know what you are babbling about. Is this another conundrum?’
I pulled back my arm and ‘threw’ a knife like Minnie had taught me, pushing with my foot at the same time. Sure enough, the quivering knife appeared close to his shoulder.
For a third time, everybody in the ballroom gasped.
Mr. Jonas Blezzard did not even flinch. He said to the people, ‘Do not listen to this heathen savage. She is spouting nonsense.’
‘Spin the wheel,’ I commanded, and Affie spun the wheel.
To the slowly turning man I said. ‘You threw poor harmless Dizzy off the coach and he might never wake up.’
I ‘threw’ another knife and it struck beneath his upside down armpit.
The crowd gasped. This time there was a spatter of applause.
The still-turning Mr. Jonas Blezzard sneered. ‘Your music hall tricks hold no fear for me. I know them all. I used to be an actor.’
I said, ‘You stole a wagonload of silver and gold. Tell us where you have hid the loot and it will go easier for you.’
I ‘threw’ another knife & it struck between his legs near his crutch.
He only laughed. He said, ‘Those are not real knives you are throwing. It is just a Trick. It is a Frost on the Public.’
I ground my teeth. Dang it, he was right. My knife-throwing was a ‘frost on the public’. I was not throwing real knives but only pretended to throw them while bogus knives popped out at the flick of a lever operated by my foot.
I could not throw a real knife lest I kill him in front of a hundred witnesses. But I had an Ace up my sleeve.
I turned to Affie. ‘Jungle Explorer,’ I said. ‘Do you have the tarantula?’
Affie nodded and went behind the spinning wheel and emerged a moment later with a big hairy spider on his palm.
Women screamed and men cursed.
Affie reached out with his free hand & stopped the wheel from spinning so that Jonas was upright again. The actor-turned-murderer looked like Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvius Man whom Ma Evangeline had once shown me in an art book.
Affie brought the tarantula close to Jonas’s face.
‘Confess!’ I cried. ‘Confess your odious crime! You are a confidence trickster. You prey on the gullible and the innocent.’
At first Jonas looked scared, but as Affie brought the tarantula closer his eyes narrowed into expression No. 5 – suspicion.
‘Wait a minute,’ he said. ‘That is just the husk of a critter.’
(He was correct: it was not Mouse but his husk.)
‘I know that trick, too!’ cried Jonas. ‘Now let me go or I will call the authorities.’
‘The authorities are already here!’ I said, for I had spotted gray-mustached man in the rose-pink stovepipe hat with his two uniformed policemen. They were standing nearby & had not tried to arrest me, so I reckoned they want to hear the truth as much as all these people. I said, ‘Where have you hidden the silver and gold?’
‘This is preposterous!’ said Jonas in his carrying actor’s voice. ‘I have done nothing wrong!’
I heard angry mutterings among the Cream of San Francisco Society. I was losing their sympathy.
But I had another ‘Ace’ up my sleeve.
I turned to Affie. ‘Jungle Explorer,’ I said. ‘Do you have the fritillaries?’
‘What do you mean “fritillaries”?’ asked Mr. Jonas Blezzard in a higher voice than normal.
‘She means “butterflies”,’ said Affie, and from behind the target he produced a tray covered by a net dome and full of fluttering fritillaries. All my butterflies had hatched and they were crowding the inside of the net, ready to burst forth in flight!
‘Yes!’ I cried. ‘Hundreds of butterflies with their “wee feelers and flapping wings”! Now tell us where you stashed the spondulicks or I will set them upon you!’
‘I… I don’t know what you are talking about!’
I turned to Affie. ‘Release the fritillaries!’
‘No!’ cried Jonas Blezzard. ‘Please, no!’
Some people were laughing now and I glanced over to see that Violetta’s face was as pale as alkali powder. She had not known that her new husband was afraid of butterflies.
As Affie lifted the gauzy dome, a dozen butterflies fluttered out onto the stage.
They were all the same.
They were pale golden-brown with black dots and zigzags.
They were Buckskin Fritillaries, the only kind of butterfly my foster pa had never been able to catch!
When they saw Jonas on the target, I reckon they thought it was a big flower for they fluttered straight towards him in a zigzag fashion.
‘Oh!’ cried the crowd and clapped their hands.
‘Aiee!’ screamed Jonas Blezzard and writhed on his wheel.
As the butterflies zigzagged closer and closer, he squinched his eyes closed.
‘Not the butterflies!’ he moaned. ‘Not the butterflies!’
But then the butterflies must have caught sight of those high up windows with the late sunlight slanting through, for they started to flutter up into the lofty atmosphere above the ballroom.
What would happen when Jonas opened his eyes and realized he was not in danger?
Thinking quickly, I fished out my medicine bag & opened it & brought out the little silk butterfly I had pulled off the stage-dummy’s straw sunhat back in Virginia City.
People were still laughing as I held it up before the face of my writhing enemy. He opened one eye & saw my silk butterfly looming.
‘I confess,’ screamed Mr. Jonas Blezzard AKA Ray G. Tempest, squinching his eyes shut again. ‘Yes! I did it! Me and my friend Chance hatched a plot to rob the Nevada Stage. But we did not act alone. We had a partner. Violetta was in it with us!’
‘No!’ cried Violetta, her previously ashen face was now flushed & pink. ‘It ain’t true.’ She glanced around her. But the Cream of San Francisco Society had stopped laughing. They were now backing away from her as if she had a catching disease.
‘It is true!’ cried the man who had styled himself as ‘Raging’ Tempest. He was writhing on his wheel. ‘You will find the gold and silver in her bedroom over at the Occidental Hotel. I just had it delivered in a couple of fine leather travelling chests as my wedding present to her.’
‘You traitor!’ screeched Violetta in an unladylike voice. ‘You vile creeping thing. You coward!’
She pulled a double-barrel Deringer out from between her bosoms & cocked it & aimed at him & fired.
Then she turned her little piece on me.
In the Lick House Hotel, a dining room the size of a cathedral had been transformed into a ballroom the size of a cathedral. According to Affie, the room was modeled on the banquet hall of a famous French palace.
Violetta and Blezzard were holding their wedding reception here on account of this hotel was even grander than the Occidental and quickly becoming all the fashion because of this splendid ballroom, the finest in the state of California. The room was made of cream-colored marble with gold trim & columns & the biggest mirrors I had ever seen that doubled and tripled the other walls so that it seemed there were about ten more cathedral-sized rooms giving off of this one.
If you looked up, the ceiling was so high it made you dizzy. There were little arched alcoves on the walls up high, with circular windows at their backs and rails at their front. That was where the musicians went. There were three fiddlers and a cello up in one of those alcoves and they were already playing waltzes & polkas.
All around the sides of the dining room stood linen-covered tables laden with sugared fruits & candied nuts & blancmanges & suchlike. Turkey carpets had been rolled up to reveal a wooden parquet floor specially built for dancing.
On the north side of the ballroom, set between two fancy paintings of pine-clad mountains and hiding a door leading to the kitchens, stood Minnehaha’s stage. She and Affie had directed hotel staff and they had set it up real good.
It looked like a miniature music hall, with a stage, curtains and side bits. You could get to the back of stage by a nondescript door leading to a corridor used by waiters to take away dirty dishes & suchlike. Miz Zoe was in a room back there with my troops, viz: Martha, Ping and Affie.
Without Affie I never could have done it, but he had spoken to the hotel owner and said it was a wedding present from his pa, Sir Fitzhugh Fitzsimmons, who was not only a famous naturalist and jungle explorer, but also distantly related to Queen Victoria.
It was not yet 4 o’clock but people had started arriving & were already dancing. The men wore black & white. The women sported puffy silks & satins & foulards & suchlike. Their ball gowns matched the colors of the sugared fruits & candied nuts.
I was peeping out from between the closed curtains of the stage to see if my mortal enemies had arrived yet.
I was hiding as I did not want to let Violetta or her evil husband know I was in Frisco and ‘onto them’. But by and by I got impatient and ventured out onto the dance floor.
I was wearing my wig with the long black hair and a hawk feather for bravery in it & my zigzag Zouave jacket & my fringed deerskin trousers & butter-soft moccasins.
I was not prepared for people’s reactions when they saw me in my Indian gal getup. Some of the women uttered little cries & fanned their fans whereas several of the men swore under their breath & raised their eyebrows.
Suddenly Jace stood before me, tall & slim & dressed in black, smelling of musky pomade and Mascara cigars.
‘P.K.?’ he said. ‘Is that you? D-mn me! Ain’t you a vision?’
I did not reply but walked around him & carried on through the twirly, swirly couples. He was not marrying Violetta, but he had betrayed my secret to her. It was his fault I had been made the target of a cruel Confidence Game designed to ruin and kill me.
Then the musicians struck up a different song & the couples stopped dancing & turned to the main doorway of the ballroom & began to applaud.
Dang! The bride and groom had arrived! All might be lost if they spotted me.
Quick as a whip-crack, I skedaddled back to the curtained stage. I slipped between the red muslin curtains to find Affie and Zoe just setting up the man-sized knife-catching wheel target.
‘Blezzard’s a comin!’ I cried. ‘Violetta and her new husband are here!’
‘Good!’ said Affie. He draped a dust sheet over the target.
Zoe went to the doorway at the back of the stage and called out softly, ‘Martha, are you ready?’
Martha emerged from the door leading to the kitchens and mounted the two steps to the back of the stage. She was wearing my daffodil-yellow frock! But it looked bully on her.
‘Martha, you look bully,’ I said.
‘I know!’ she replied. ‘I am frightened and happy all mixed together.’
‘Stage-fright,’ said Affie. ‘Every good performer experiences it.’ He glanced up at the little orchestra in their lofty alcove halfway up the wall & gave them a little wave. Immediately they stopped their waltz & they began to play a jaunty Irish Jig.
Miz Zoe pulled the curtain from one side (and stayed hidden behind it) & I pulled the curtain from the other (being careful to stay hidden, too). We each had tiny crack to spy on the audience.
The crowd said ‘Oh!’ as Martha danced out onto the stage. She danced a capering little jig. Her yellow skirt spun & the green flounces flounced & her feet twinkled & her teeth beamed. I was so astonished that I stood there with my mouth hanging open, you bet!
Martha finished her jig and the room erupted in thundering applause.
Affie stepped forward. Did I mention he was wearing his jungle explorer outfit of palm-leaf sunhat & beige linen knickerbockers?
‘Welcome to the Lick House Music Hall,’ he said in his English accent, ‘a wedding present from my father, the famous naturalist and jungle explorer Sir Fitzhugh Fitzfimmons in honor of the newlywed couple Mr. and Mrs. Blezzard.’ Affie gestured towards Martha. ‘Please express your appreciation for Miss Martha May and her energetic jig.’
Everybody expressed his or her appreciation.
I saw Violetta and her groom exchange smiles.
‘And now,’ cried Affie in a carrying voice, ‘straight from the Spice Courts of China, I bring you Ping the Wizard and his “magic rings”!’
‘Ping?’ I said to myself. ‘The Wizard?’
The musicians started playing oriental-type music as Ping came up the steps onto the stage. He was dressed in jade green silk pajamas and a skullcap. He had three silvery metal hoops about the size of big dinner plates. He could put them together in a chain and then pull them apart unbroken! He bowed! He smiled! I was amazed and so were the people.
The crowd said, ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Ah!’
Once again I saw Violetta and Jonas Blezzard look at each other. They had each raised an eyebrow. I think that was Quizzical or maybe Ironikle but I could not be sure as my Christian ma had not taught me those Expressions.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ cried Affie. ‘Express your appreciation for Ping the Wizard and his “magic rings”!’
Ping bowed and everyone clapped.
‘Before our finale,’ said Affie, ‘I would like to pose some conundrums.’
There was a happy murmur. San Franciscans obviously liked conundrums.
‘How is matrimony like a game of cards?’ Affie gestured towards Violetta and Blezzard and then answered his own question: ‘The woman has a heart, the man takes it with his diamonds, and then her hand is his!’
Everyone laughed and some people clapped.
Through my spyhole I noticed that Violetta & Blezzard were not among those clapping.
‘What four letters of the alphabet would frighten a thief?’ Affie pointed at Blezzard, ‘O I C U!’
The crowd groaned and there was a smattering of applause.
Violetta and her groom were no longer smiling.
‘And now for our grand finale!’ cried Affie. He glanced to where I was waiting behind one of the curtains. I nodded.
‘Before we start, I require a volunteer!’ cried Affable. ‘A man of exceptional bravery and fortitude. I need a fearless hero to show he wife he will always protect her.’
From my spyhole I saw several men raise their hands. Mr. Jonas Blezzard was not one of them. He was still too busy giving Affie Expression No. 5 – Anger and/or Suspicion.
‘You sir!’ cried Affie, pointing at Blezzard. ‘Yes, you! Ladies and Gentlemen, the happy groom has volunteered to put himself in the hands of a lovely savage! Please applaud Mr. Jonas Blezzard!’
To the universal sound of clapping, Mr. Jonas Blezzard AKA Ray G. Tempest slowly made his way forward. He wore an expression which I could not read.
‘And now the lovely savage,’ cried Affie, ‘all the way from the Black Hills of Dakota: Kimimila!’
I stared at him for a moment in surprise. He had used the Lakota word for ‘butterfly’! He had given me a new Indian name!
I took a breath, stepped out onto the stage and faced the dancers.
Then I heard a nearby woman clap her hands and say, ‘Ain’t she pretty!’
Another lady said, ‘I wish I could wear trowsers!’
A man said, ‘Look at that bully pistol belt!
I looked at Violetta. I could tell she recognized me, for her long-lashed eyes were as round as blue poker chips and her mouth resembled a red O. Then her pretty face went from Expression No. 4 – Surprise, to Expression No. 5 – Anger.
But my other mortal enemy did not seem to recognize me. The face of Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard showed a strange commixture of a genuine smile & surprise. He was only two feet away but he did not recognize me!
Behind us, Affie removed the dust sheet from Minnehaha’s wheel with a flourish.
People gasped at the sight of the giant target with its rings of blue & red & its yellow disc in the middle & also those leather straps. Some knew what it was and began whispering to their partners. Others were asking what it could be.
Nobody asked for the dance to resume.
Blezzard AKA Tempest turned and saw it and his face went white. Then he looked at me and I saw understanding dawn.
‘Thank you for volunteering, brave sir!’ cried Affie. ‘Please step up upon the target!’
The next morning I woke to the smell of coffee and doughnuts.
‘Have you finished it?’ I heard Martha whisper.
‘Just this very moment,’ said Zoe, and then I heard her give a big yawn.
I sat up to find I was on one of the camp cots, covered in a soft blanket. I had stayed up late talking to Miz Zoe and Martha about woman things. Then Zoe had let me take her cot as she had an ‘All Night Job’.
‘Look what Miz Zoe done made you last night,’ said Martha. She held up a beautiful quilted jacket. It looked like a soldier’s padded jacket if the soldier had been a gal.
‘Martha helped,’ said Zoe. ‘We did it together.’
I blinked at them. ‘What is it?’
Zoe said, ‘It is a Zouave jacket, named after a famous infantry regiment from New York. Such jackets are all the fashion for ladies this season.’
I said, ‘That was your All Night Job?’
‘I got some sleep,’ said Martha, ‘but Zoe was up all night.’
I pushed away the cover & got up off the camp cot. My legs were stiff from all the hill walking I had done the day before. I splashed some water on my cheeks from the basin & dried my face using one of the towels on Miz Zoe’s Toilette Trunk. Then went over to where Martha stood holding my new jacket. It was made from different scraps of cloth. Most Zouave shirts have curlicues but this one had zigzags.
I said, ‘I like this a lot. I am partial to zigzags.’
‘The zigzags were Martha’s idea,’ said Zoe. She was over at the camp stove, brewing a pot of coffee.
I took it in my hands and felt it. ‘How did you make it so soft?’
‘We used old scraps,’ Zoe said. ‘But they are clean,’ she added hastily.
Martha said, ‘We have a special way of sewing seams so they do not rub. Put it on.’
I put my new Zouave Jacket on over the fresh cotton chemise and bloomers. Then I put on the things Minnehaha had given me the day before: the fringed buckskin trowsers & beaded moccasins. Oh, how good they felt! Finally I put on the wig. The shiny black hair was not pinned up but flowing down.
‘Oh, Pinky!’ said Martha.
And Zoe said, ‘How does it feel?’
‘It feels bully,’ I said. I swallowed hard. ‘But how do I look?’
‘See for yourself,’ said Zoe. She said it with a kind of hush in her voice as she turned me to face the mirror leaning against the wall.
I could not believe my eyes.
I saw a girl with fringed buckskin trowsers and a zigzag Zouave jacket & long silky black hair. She had slightly slanting black eyes & toffee-colored skin & symmetrical features.
She was beautiful.
I said, ‘She is beautiful.’
Zoe said, ‘No, you are beautiful.’
Martha said, ‘You look like a buckskin butterfly.’
When she said that, I remembered something. A few months ago in Eagle Valley, I had dreamed of a beautiful half-Indian girl. And now there she stood reflected in the full-length mirror. Almost.
‘I need a sombrero hat and some firearms,’ I murmured.
‘What?’ said Zoe.
‘Nothing,’ I said. And then, ‘Do you think I will attract much attention walking down Montgomery or Market Street dressed like this?’
‘I should say so!’ laughed Zoe.
‘You will attract forty kinds of attention!’ Martha giggled.
‘Then do you have something I could wear that will help me not attract attention?’ I asked.
Martha nodded. ‘I can adjust one of Miz Zoe’s old frocks,’ she said. ‘They are still a mite big for me but one of them might fit you.’
‘Red calico?’ I asked.
‘How did you guess?’ asked Miz Zoe with a yawning smile.
I said, ‘I have got to go to the Willows and see if Minnehaha will help us in our plan to trap Jonas Blezzard. Will you come with me?’
Martha sighed. ‘I would love to go and watch them jig-dancers,’ she said. ‘Miz Zoe and I saw Little Jennie Worrell at the Melodeon one time. But I got to go in to work this morning on account of us getting ready for the big wedding dance.’
‘And I have got to catch forty winks before this afternoon,’ said Miz Zoe.
After a breakfast of black coffee and chocolate layer cake, I put on the disguise of a red calico dress and a straw bonnet & went outside to find it foggy and cool. I caught the Mission Railroad Cars to the Willows. I stayed downstairs in a corner where nobody would notice me.
It was still early on a Monday morning and I found the Willows open but almost deserted and no shows starting until noon. It was foggy there too, and I was glad of it, for it offered a kind of protection. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found Minnie relaxing in her Medicine Show Wagon. She was reading the paper and smoking a pipe. A pipe!
I told her my plan and asked if she could help.
She said she was meeting an important Event Manager that evening for dinner but as it was very quiet on Mondays, I could use her equipment. She said her knife-throwing trick was easy & that she would show me how to do it.
She took me outside to her portable stage and showed me how to do it.
‘Can you pack up this stage and move it?’ I asked.
‘Sure. I do it every time I move on,’ she said.
‘Can you let me borrow the actual stage for the afternoon?
‘Sure,’ she said, ‘Where shall I bring it?’
‘Lick House Hotel,’ I said. ‘About 2pm if you can. I will be waiting.’
The fog was just burning off when I got back to Montgomery Street and the Lick House Hotel. The lobby and dining room were a hive of activity and nobody stopped me or even looked at me as I went inside and up to Affie’s room.
Ping and Affie were discussing the final arrangements over lunch in Affie’s suite and at 2pm we were downstairs as Minnie pulled up with her medicine wagon full of stage equipment. Affie had recruited some hotel staff to help us.
When I got back to Sansome Street to change my attire, I found a lady coming downstairs carrying a pale blue ball gown.
‘That was Mrs. Prendergast,’ said Zoe when I came in. ‘She just paid me for this job and two others! We are now flush not bust. Here are the sixteen dollars I owe you, Pinky. How are the arrangements going for our music hall?’ she added.
‘Everything is all set up,’ I said. ‘Let us go and mete out some justice!’