Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 46

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. 

Everybody gasped.  

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!’

Read on...

No comments:

Post a Comment