Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 43

When I got back to Martha and Zoe’s, I found they had company. 

‘Look who’s here!’ cried Martha, as I stepped through the door into their one room abode. ‘Look who done come to help you.’ 

The dim lamplight showed me a Chinese boy in a gabardine suit and a youth with blond hair & glinting wire-rimmed spectacles. It was Ping & Affable Fitzfimmons. 

‘P.K.?’ said Affie. ‘Is that you?’ 

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I am disguised as a chambermaid. I was trying to get the bulge on a suspect.’ I turned to Ping. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked him. ‘I thought you had renounced me.’

Ping shrugged & scowled the floor. ‘Just when I finish sending reply to your telegram, another telegram comes in. Says you are wanted for robbery. I think maybe you need help so I go to office to get ready. Find Affie waiting there.’ 

Affie nodded. ‘I went to your office to warn you that I was uneasy about your father’s claim to be Scottish,’ he said. ‘There was something not quite right about his accent. When Ping told me you had telegraphed to say your father was a fake and that you were pursuing his double-crossing partner to Frisco. I offered to accompany Ping in order to help you,’ he added. 

I said, ‘You came all the way to Frisco just to help me?’

‘My parents are building a house there and in the meantime we have rented a suite at a hotel,’ said Affie. ‘I just convinced them to let me return a few days early. They were happy to let me travel on my own as Ping was going with me,’ he added.

‘We catch noon stage out of Virginia,’ said Ping. ‘Very bumpy. Very fast. Arrive Sac City around midnight. Get few hours sleep. Catch morning ferry. Arrive Frisco three o’clock today. Go to What Cheer House, but they no know you.’

‘They only take men,’ I said. ‘How did you find me?’

‘I remember you get letter from Zoe last Christmas. But don’t remember address.’

‘Jolly good luck you were in the directory,’ said Affie to Miz Zoe. ‘And that you still reside here.’

‘You did good detective work,’ I said to them. 

Ping said, ‘We also got info on Chauncy Pridhaume and Jonas Blezzard. They are Confidence Tricksters.’

I said, ‘Confidence Tricksters?’  

Affie said, ‘That is what they call people who play a “Confidence Game”. This is their modus operandi. First they find a rich Mark. Then they dangle some bait. They get you to come to them. That is how they gain your trust.’

I was confused. ‘Who is Mark?’ I asked.

‘The “mark”,’ explained Affie, ‘is what they call the victim, that is to say the person they want to trick. When the mark trusts them, they isolate him or her from friends and family.’

Ping nodded, ‘Like vaqueros separate calf from herd for branding.’

‘Once you are abandoned by friends and family,’ said Affie, ‘these Confidence Tricksters become your new friends. They get you to trust them and loan them money and leave them property in wills. It was easy for Pridhaume and Blezzard to separate you from your friends, and partner,’ he glanced at Ping. ‘All they had to do was show that you had been deceiving everybody.’ 

‘I warn’t deceiving,’ I said. ‘I was just dressing in trowsers and a flannel shirt.’

‘You pretend to be boy,’ said Ping. ‘That is big lie. That is like Chauncy Pridhaume personating your pa.’

‘I was not trying to be someone else,’ I protested. ‘I was just trying to be me.’

But I knew Ping was right. I was not much better than the man who had personated my pa. 

‘To thine own self be true,’ quoted Affie. Then he scratched his head. ‘What I cannot understand,’ he said, ‘is why they directed their deception at you. Ping tells me you have some valuable shares in a mine that might possibly be worth thirty thousand dollars. That is a good deal of money, but there are richer people in this region. Much richer.’

‘It is not just about money,’ I said. ‘It is about revenge.’

‘Why?’ said Ping. ‘What man could hate you so much?’

‘Not man,’ I said. ‘Woman.’

Ping’s eyes went wide. ‘Violetta!’ he said. ‘You stop her marry Jace last winter in Carson City. You send her back to Frisco with tail between legs.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘My mortal enemy, Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville. I reckon she wanted to take everything from me. My friends, my money, my livelihood and even my life.’ I looked at the floor. ‘The worst thing is that she convinced my mentor to betray me.’

‘Your mentor?’ said Affie. 

I nodded. ‘A gambler and rancher name of Poker Face Jace.’ 

‘No,’ cried Miz Zoe. ‘That cannot be!’ 

‘It is true,’ I said. ‘Jace told Violetta a fact about me that was the key to their success in tricking me.’

Ping stared, too. ‘You think Jace is in cahoots with them?’

I nodded and kept my eyes on the raw plank floor. ‘He is the only one apart from me who knew the secret of the P and the K. I reckon he decided to go back to Violetta.’

‘Oh, P.K.,’ cried Zoe. ‘I can’t believe he would knowingly harm you. He has been so good to you.’

‘I know,’ I said. ‘But I found him in her hotel room a few hours ago. I reckon he is the one she is going to wed.’

‘Oh,’ said Zoe. She had just stood up to boil more water, but now she sat down real sudden. 

‘I say!’ cried Affie. ‘We have a suite at the Lick House Hotel and there was a notice pushed under our door saying that there is to be a big wedding ball in the dining room tomorrow afternoon.’  

‘That’s it!’ cried Martha. ‘That’s the one!’ 

‘All the residents of the hotel are invited,’ added Affie. 

‘Who is the groom to be?’ I asked. 

‘I didn’t examine the details,’ said Affie. ‘Let’s all go back to my hotel and find out.’ He looked at me with twinkling spectacles. ‘For that is not all I have to show you.’ 

[Don't have a clue what's going on? Start with chapter one.]

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!

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 42

Mr. Jason Francis Montgomery smokes a high-tone Cuban cigar called Mascara, which means ‘mask’ in Spanish. 

I guess all this time he had been wearing a ‘mask’ of deception.

I thought, ‘I saved Jace from Violetta’s love snares last winter, but here is evidence of his presence in her hotel room.’

Then I thought, ‘She has got him under her spell again and recruited him into her army of lovers.’

And finally, ‘I bet he is the one she is about to marry.’

I almost got a bad case of the Mulligrubs as I stood there in that west-facing bedroom lit all gold in the light of late afternoon. But instead of going into a bad trance, I felt I might be sick instead, so I looked around for the jug & basin. I saw them sitting on a chest of drawers and started towards them. 

Then I heard an inner door open behind me. 

Someone was here in Violetta’s suite! 

I kept walking towards the chest of drawers but turned my head just a little. I had an impression of a tall man dressed all in black. 


I knew it was him by his smell & by the way he moved & by the way the whole room held its breath. 

I hoped my black & white outfit would make me no more noticeable than a chair or a spittoon. I hoped he would see a chambermaid who had come in to replace some towels. When I reached the chest of drawers I put the towels beside the jug & bowl. Then I turned & started for the door with my head down, willing him not to recognize me.

‘P.K.?’ he said in a low voice. ‘Is that you?’

I stopped. I could feel my cheeks burning. 

Then I took a breath and turned to face him. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It is me.’

His eyes got wider. ‘Dang!’ he said. ‘I almost did not recognize you.’ He trailed off & took his cigar from the ashtray & sucked on it. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I came to get the bulge on Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville AKA Mrs. von Vingschplint,’ I said. ‘And also on you, and on whoever else is in cahoots with her.’

‘You think I am in cahoots with her?’ said Jace. He blew smoke down. ‘Why, I have not laid eyes on her for nearly half a year!’

‘You are a lying, two-faced varmint,’ I said. I tried to make my voice calm but I could hear it was shaky. ‘You were the only other person on this earth who knew about my initials. You told Violetta so she could use that information against me. That is how a trickster convinced me he was my long-lost pa.’ 

‘D-mn!’ said Jace. He turned away and then turned back. ‘It ain’t like that, P.K.,’ he said, but he was rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. He himself had taught me that was a sign that someone was probably lying!

‘It ain’t like what?’ I said. ‘You swore you had not told anybody. Now I know you are a lying varmint. You being here in her room proves it!’

I went to the door & opened it.

‘Dang it, P.K.,’ he said. ‘Don’t go. Let me explain.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘I never want to see you again.’ 

My eyes were blurring up & I felt sick again so I went out fast & closed the door behind me hard. I ran to the service stairs & down & along a dark corridor & out into the streets of San Francisco all lit with sunshine like watered-down honey. 

I headed towards the setting sun and walked up hill and down. 

I was in a perverse state of mind. 

I was having a kind of Civil War in my head. 

Part of me was thinking, ‘Jace would not betray me. He has always been a friend to me.’

But another part said, ‘He was there in her hotel room. He is her lover!’

By and by I found myself at the fort they call Presidio. 

The sun had set & lit up a few clouds & I saw the vast sparkling bay & what I now know is the blue Pacific Ocean through a gap in dusky hills. 

Somewhere in the Presidio, a lone trumpet was playing taps, which is sad and beautiful at the same time.

That tune always makes me think of death.

I closed my eyes and said, ‘Dear Lord, why is it that everybody I care about either dies or betrays me? Will I ever find a place I can call home?’

Read on...

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 41

‘What is your idea?’ I asked Martha. ‘Do you know how can I get into Violetta’s hotel room?’

Martha nodded. ‘All the maids at all them big hotels on Montgomery Street have uniforms like mine. And we can go anywhere in the hotel and don’t nobody get suspicious.’ 

I sat up straight. ‘Martha, that is a bully idea! Would you really be willing to sneak into Violettas room at the Occidental Hotel and look for evidence?’

‘Oh lawd, no!’ she squealed. ‘Not me! I thought you could dress up in my outfit and sneak in. I had to help out a friend who works at the Occidental Hotel one time,’ she added, ‘so I knows my way around a little. What room did you say that Violetta lady is in?’

‘Room 202,’ I said. 

‘Then it is easy,’ said Martha. ‘All you have to do is go into the side entrance of the Occidental Hotel – it is on Bush Street – then go in the second door on the right or is it left? Anyways, it is a white door. In there you will find lots of folded towels. Get two of them clean towels and go up some narrow stairs to the second floor and ask any chambermaid passing by if she could open the door to room 202 as the lady has requested fresh towels and you have left your pass key downstairs. They will let you in. If someone is in the room, then just say Excuse Me and leave the towels and go.’

I said, ‘What if the people in the hotel recognize me from this morning when I was dressed in my pa’s greatcoat?’

‘You probably will not see those people from the lobby,’ said Martha. She tipped her head on one side. ‘Also, when I wear my uniform folk look right through me. It is like I ain’t even there. Like I am a piece of furniture.’ She stood up. ‘If you wear this I reckon they won’t see you neither.’

‘Will I have to put on black face?’

‘Lawd, no! We got all colors of skin. There is even a half Indian maid like you.’

I nodded and looked at the uniform she was wearing. ‘Will it fit me?’

‘I think so,’ said Zoe. ‘I made it with room for Martha to grow.’

‘But what about the cap?’ I said. ‘It ain’t much more than a handkerchief and it will not cover my short hair. I don’t have a girl’s wig anymore– wait! Yes, I do!’ I went to my buckskin bundle & undid the twine & showed them the beautiful buckskin trowsers & the beaded moccasins & the wig of straight black hair.

‘Why, this is just like your own hair’ said Martha, taking the wig. ‘Only long.’

Zoe said, ‘I can pin this hair up and then we can put on Martha’s handkerchief cap.’

Martha was taking off the white pinafore that went over her black dress. ‘I feel sure this uniform will help you get the bulge on Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville!’

I nodded. ‘Only she ain’t called Mrs. de Baskerville anymore. Now she is going by the name of Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint. 

Martha stopped unpinning her white handkerchief cap. ‘What did you say her new name was?’

‘Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint,’ said I. ‘Why do you ask?’

Martha frowned. ‘I ain’t sure.’ Then her face lit up. ‘I know!’ she cried. ‘She is getting married tomorrow afternoon and they is having a big dance at my hotel around 4 o’clock. I know because it is all happening at Short Notice and they have to clear out the dining room to make it a ballroom. Everybody is talking about it,’ she added. ‘They say the Cream of San Francisco society will be there.’

I said. ‘That figures. She is always marrying and burying. What is the name of the man she is to wed?

Martha shrugged. ‘Ain’t nobody talking about him. They are all talking about her and about what she will wear.’

‘Well, I ain’t wearing this thing ever again,’ I said as I took off the daffodil-yellow frock. ‘You can have it!’

Miz Zoe added hot water from the kettle to the cold water in the pitcher on the Toilette Trunk and I washed myself while Martha changed into a dress of the same red calico they had used for their curtains and tablecloth. 

Martha loaned me a pair of clean bloomers and a chemise and then helped me put on her black shift. It had a white collar & also white cuffs at the end of long black sleeves. It was a little tight around my bosom even though I do not have much there yet, but the pinafore covered up what little I got. Miz Zoe put my new wig on me & coiled up the straight black hair & pinned that little white handkerchief cap on top. 

‘Black and white suits you better than daffodil yellow,’ said Miz Zoe with a nod. 

Martha clapped her hands. ‘You look fine dressed as Prudence the chambermaid.’ 

‘Never call me Prudence,’ I said. ‘I am almost one hundred per cent certain that is not my Christian name.’ 

When I spoke those words, I suddenly got a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and a kind of niggle at the back of my head, like I should be putting two and two together. But I could not think what the 2 + 2 might equal. 

It was niggling me as I went out of Martha and Zoes apartment and onto wooden-plank Sansome Street. It was niggling me as I turned south along wide Montgomery Street in the late afternoon sunshine, past stock-brokers with their walking sticks & women in their bonnets with the slanting sun lighting up their parasols. 

It niggled me as I went into the side entrance of the Occidental Hotel & picked up two fluffy towels from a room with a white door & went up the service stairs to the second floor & asked a passing chambermaid if she could open 202 as the lady had requested fresh towels and I had left my pass key downstairs. 

But when I entered the spacious hotel room and smelled Jace’s cigar, I suddenly put two and two together and knew why I felt queasy. 

I remembered a line from the letter in my bogus pa’s pocket, viz:  She herself does not know what the initials P and K signify.

How had Violetta found out about my not knowing the P and the K?

It could only be from the one person apart from me who was privy to that fact: Poker Face Jace. 

He had betrayed me.  

That was the awful 2 + 2 it had taken me so long to put together.

Read on...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 40

‘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.

‘You did?’

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!’  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 39

I looked around desperately for a place to hide. 

Could I crouch unseen behind that mirror leaning against the wall? 

No, it was not big enough. 

There was a pair of camp cots but you could easily see the wood plank floor beneath them. 

There were three wooden chairs & a stool & a sugar crate with a calico tablecloth over it & that expensive sewing machine in the center of the room. 

Then I spotted Zoe’s old travelling trunk near the dimmest corner of the room. On it were two hair-brushes & a comb & some folded towels & a pitcher & basin. It was her Toilette Trunk. Quick as a streak of chalk I nipped behind it, nearly kicking over a half-full chamber pot as I did so! 

My Injun ma once told me about the Bush Trick: if you crouch behind a bush and imagine real hard that you are that bush, you become invisible to your pursuers. I tried the Toilette Trunk Trick. I crouched behind that toilette trunk and imagined I was part of it. But I knew that being dressed like a giant daffodil in a pink poke bonnet would not help my ruse. 

My eyes were squinched shut but I heard Miz Zoe lift the latch and open the door. 

A man’s voice said, ‘You been hiding from me, Miss Zoe?’ 

‘Of course not,’ stammered Miz Zoe. ‘I always keep the bolt down against intruders.’

‘You got visitors? I told you I would not tolerate no gentlemen callers.’

‘I have not entertained a single gentleman caller since I arrived in this city,’ said Zoe. 

‘What about me?’ he said. 

‘You are my landlord.' 

That was when I realized the man was after her, not me. 

I opened my eyes and peeped over the edge of the trunk. 

‘Who is that in the corner?’ asked the fat & bald man standing in the doorway.

‘It is just my friend Pinky from Virginia City. Come out, Pinky,’ she added. ‘This is my landlord, Mr. Nasby. He will not hurt you.’

I stood up. Mr. Nasby was a fat man with a cigar stub in his mouth. He was not wearing a hat nor coat nor jacket and I could see sweat stains on the armpits of his shirt. His head was as bald & shiny as a billiard ball. 

Mr. Nasby pushed past Zoe & came over to me & looked me up and down. He licked his lips. They were kind of blubbery. 

‘Your name Pinky?’ he said. ‘It should be Buttercup: you dressed all in yellow like that.’ He turned back to Zoe. ‘You still have not paid me the last six weeks’ rent. Five dollars.’

‘I can pay you tomorrow,’ said Zoe, her hand covering the base of her throat. 

‘You will pay me today, one way or the other.’ He gave her Expression No. 2 – a fake smile.

I stepped forward & said, ‘I got five dollars,’ I pulled out my medicine pouch & fished around in it. My fingers froze as they touched my four-shot Deringer. For a moment I was sorely tempted to pull it out & draw down on him & tell him to vamoose, but that would accomplish nothing so I resisted that wicked impulse. I dug deeper and brought out fifteen paper dollars. 

‘I don’t much like them greenbacks.’ Mr. Nasby wrinkled the side of his nose to make Expression No. 3 - disgust. He looked me up & down in a way that made my skin prickle like when my pet tarantula Mouse perambulates on my arm. 

Then he said, ‘But I will make an exception for you.’

He took the fifteen ‘greenbacks’ & licked his fingers & carefully counted them. 

Then he took them over to the window and held each one up against the light. 

Finally he stuffed them in his trowser pocket & wiped his nose with his forefinger. 

He did not thank me but turned to look at Zoe with heavy-lidded eyes. He said, ‘Next time, make sure your rent is on time or I will have to take my payment in other ways.’

When he had gone, Zoe kind of slumped down on one of the wooden chairs. She was a bit trembly. 

‘Oh, P.K.,’ she said. ‘I feel so bad that you had to pay our rent.’

I tipped the remaining coins in my medicine bag out onto into my hand. There were 3 silver dollars and 25cts. ‘Here,’ I said. ‘Take it. It is not much but it is enough for food and coffee.’

‘Oh, P.K.!’ she cried. ‘Only give me a dollar.’ She handed back the quarter & two of the silver dollars & kissed the coin in her hand. ‘This is enough for a feast. We will celebrate. You wait here. I will be right back.’ 

But Martha was back first. I thought it was an old woman coming to visit by the sound of her slow stumping up the stairs but then she appeared in the doorway. Dressed in a long black shift with a white pinafore, collar and cuffs, she looked tired & thin. But there was no mistaking her. 

She recognized me, too, and her dark face lit up with Expression No. 1  - a genuine smile. ‘P.K.!’ she cried. ‘You have come to see us at last!’ 

She ran to me & then stopped. I reckon she remembered I do not like to be touched. Instead of hugging me, she looked me up & down. ‘What on earth is you wearing?’ 

‘I know,’ I said ruefully. ‘I got some buckskin trowsers in there.’ I pointed at the parcel Minnehaha had given me. ‘But I need to get a shirt to wear with them. I don’t suppose you have any spare shirts around here?’

‘We sometimes mend men’s’ shirts,’ said she. ‘But today we only got dresses.’

‘Oh,’ I said. And then, ‘Is that your uniform?’

She nodded. ‘I am a chamber maid at the finest hotel in Frisco.’

I said, ‘The Occidental Hotel?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘The Lick House Hotel.’

When she said that, I thought of a giant leaning down out of the sky and licking a house. (My mind is peculiar like that sometimes.) 

Martha had a drawstring calico bag and she put it on the table. ‘I got some fruit and cold bacon. A rich lady left them on her breakfast tray. She hardly touched them at all. Where is Miz Zoe?’

‘She has gone shopping,’ I said. ‘I paid your rent and gave her a dollar for food.’

‘Oh, P.K.,’ she cried, and this time she did throw her skinny arms around me. ‘You always been so good to us.’ 

I stood still & endured her embrace & after a spell she let me go. She went smiling to the little camp stove & commenced to brewing the pot of tea. She poured me some and dropped in a slice of lemon. It looked like a little yellow wagon wheel floating on top of a brackish pond. She also gave me a cinnamon roll on a saucer. 

‘Ain’t you having one?’ I said. 

‘I ain’t hungry,’ said Martha brightly. ‘This lemon tea is enough for me.’ I looked carefully at her face. I was almost certain it was Expression No. 2 – a fake smile. 

Then I noticed there was only one roll left on the plate. 

Some detective I am. I had not even realized they were so poor they could only afford one day-old cinnamon roll apiece! 

‘Shall we split this one?’ I said. 

‘No need!’ cried Mrs. Zoe Brown, coming through the door with a brown paper bag. ‘I got fresh ones! And a whole chocolate layer cake because I know it is your favorite, Pinky. And a nice plump lemon for you, Martha! It is her passion,’ she said to me. 

‘Did P.K. really pay our rent?’ Martha asked Zoe. 

‘Yes, indeed,’ said Zoe. She was cutting the chocolate layer cake. ‘So we are safe for another month or two. Anyways, I expect Mrs. Prendergast will pay me soon for that fine ball gown I made her.’ Zoe pointed to a pale blue ball gown hanging on the flour-sack-covered wall of the room. 

Martha shook her head. ‘She should have paid you by now. What if she wears it and then returns it for alterations like she did last time?’

‘Hush, Martha,’ said Zoe. ‘We do not want to burden P.K. with our troubles.’

As I sipped my lemon tea, I realized I would have to come clean with Miz Zoe and Martha and tell them I was a gal. Would they be mad when they discovered I had been pranking them? Would they tell me to skedaddle?

I did not know how to begin, so I tried to make Small Talk.

‘This lemon tea is mighty fine,’ I said. ‘My friend Stonewall likes lemons. Have you met him?’

‘No,’ said Martha. ‘I don’t believe I have.’

But Miz Zoe flushed prettily. ‘Is he a friend of your handsome gambler friend, Mr. Jason Francis Montgomery?’ she asked. 

‘Yes, that is the one,’ I said. ‘He calls himself Stonewall on account of he idolizes General Stonewall Jackson. Jace does not gamble so much these days,’ I added. ‘He and Stonewall bought themselves a little ranch in Steamboat Springs. They raise mustang horses and have some beef cattle, too.’

‘It sounds lovely,’ said Mrs. Zoe Brown. She gave a sigh and a smile.

The talk of mustang ponies made me think of Cheeya, my own mustang. I felt my throat go tight. Would I ever see my beloved pony again?

Miz Zoe handed me a plate of chocolate layer cake and a fork. ‘You said you were in trouble and needed a place to lay low?’

I said, ‘Yes. I am in trouble and need a place to lay low. I was lured into a scheme to help stagecoach robbers and now I am on the run. I have got to get proof of my innocence before the authorities get me.’

‘Will you tell us all about it?’ said Martha. ‘Maybe we can help.’ 

‘I will tell you everything,’ I said, ‘but first I have a confession to make. It might make you angry at me.’ 

‘Confession?’ Martha cried. ‘Like folk do after they commit a crime?’

I nodded. 

Miz Zoe said, ‘You are a dear friend and nothing you can say will change that.’

I could not face them, so I stared at the piece of cake on my lap. I took a deep breath and said, ‘Here is my confession. I am not a boy. I am a girl.’

There was an awful moment of silence. 

Then Miz Zoe and Martha burst out laughing.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 38

‘What brought you to San Francisco?’ Minnie O’Malley asked me a short time later. 

I was standing behind her in the moving wagon & looking over her shoulder as she drove north up Valencia Street.

I told her my story and concluded with these words, ‘I have got to find evidence proving that those two bogus detectives were using me. Otherwise I will be WANTED till the end of time.’ 

‘And you are hoping to find it at the Occidental Hotel?’

‘Yes. My mortal enemy Violetta de Baskerville is involved and she resides there.’

‘Crouch down!’ she hissed. ‘I think I see some policemen up ahead.’ 

I retreated into the dim & rocking interior of the Medicine Wagon. 

‘All clear,’ she said presently, ‘but you better lay low. You can use my bed.’

She had a kind of padded shelf along one side of the cluttered space of her wagon. I stretched out on it. 

I must have dozed off for I was suddenly awoken by the juddering noise of iron-rimmed wheels on a corduroy road. 

‘Whoa!’ said Minnehaha, and put her head into the wagon. ‘We have arrived.’ 

‘Already?’ I said. 

She grinned. ‘I am guessing you had forty winks!’ 

I sat up & stretched & yawned. Then I tucked my bundle of new clothes under my left arm & went down the back steps of the wagon & stood blinking in the bright sun. I judged it was about 2 and a half o’clock. When my eyes adjusted, I saw a wood plank street lined with the backs of some nice buildings and the fronts of some crowded-together buildings. 

Minnie had stopped the cart outside one of the crowded-together buildings. I saw a chalk number 88 scrawled on the wall beside a door. 

‘Will you wait to see if they are in?’ I asked. 

‘Surely,’ said she. 

I knocked on the door and then took a step back.

It was a warm day. I could smell a kind of swampy smell coming up from beneath the wooden road & fresh baked bread. I could hear hammering & sawing somewhere & also tinkly piano music from a saloon. I could see the same hill that had loomed behind the Occidental Hotel.

‘Are we near the Occidental Hotel?’ I asked. 

She nodded and tipped her head. ‘Montgomery is the next street along. And the Broadway Wharf where the inland steamers dock is only a few blocks the other way,’ she said.  

I knocked again. Louder this time. 

No reply. 

I called out. ‘Martha? Miz Zoe?’ (That was what Martha called Mrs. Zoe Brown.)

Then I heard a feminine voice from on high.

‘What do you want?’ 

I looked up to see the pretty head of Mrs. Zoe Brown sticking out of a raised sash-window of an upper floor. 

I said, ‘I want you, Miz Zoe. It is me: P.K. Pinkerton.’ I lifted up my pink poke bonnet to show my short dark hair. ‘I am in disguise.’

‘P.K.?’ The head retreated & presently I heard feet on stairs & a moment later the door flew open. 

‘Oh, P.K.!’ She rushed forward & hugged me to her frilly bosom. ‘It is wonderful to see you!’

Miz Zoe Brown is a quadroon, which means she has a dash of Negro blood. This makes her skin the color of caramel. She is shapely with big brown eyes & long eyelashes & a smell of honeysuckle.

I squirmed out of her embrace. ‘Miz Zoe,’ I said, ‘I am in trouble and need a place to lay low. Can you shelter me for a day or two?’

‘Why of course!’ she cried. ‘Martha and I have been hoping for a visit!’

I turned & waved to Minnehaha. She gave me a thumbs-up. ‘Don’t be a stranger!’ she cried. ‘You know where to find me.’ Then she flicked the reins & carried on down Sansome Street. 

‘Oh, P.K.,’ said Zoe, again. ‘Martha will be overjoyed.’

‘She ain’t here?’

‘No,’ said Zoe. ‘She works as a chambermaid.’

‘Even on the Sabbath?’ 

Mrs. Zoe Brown nodded. ‘Even on the Sabbath. It is harder than I thought it would be to make ends meet.’ She gave a sigh and a smile and then looked me up and down. ‘That is some disguise. I cannot wait to hear why you are here in Frisco dressed like that.’

She led the way up dark & narrow stairs and said over her shoulder. ‘Martha will be home soon. I am just making a pot of tea. Do you like tea? Martha is partial to China tea with a slice of lemon and I have got a taste for it, too.’

I said, ‘I have never tried China tea with slice of lemon.’

‘Please excuse the disarray,’ said Miz Zoe as she went into a large room. The sun shining through red calico curtains gave it a roseate glow. She pulled opened the curtains and a strong flood of afternoon light showed a wrought iron table with one of those newfangled sewing machines like the one Mrs. Wasserman had used to alter my dress. 

‘This is my Singer sewing machine,’ said Zoe. ‘I had to sell Sassy to buy it. All the ladies here in Frisco want machine-sewn seams on their dresses,’ she explained. ‘Now how about that cup of tea? We do not have a kitchen but I have a little camp stove and there is a baker downstairs who gives us day-old rolls for a fraction of the price. I have got cinnamon rolls today.’ 

‘You had to sell Sassy?’ I asked. (Sassy and Sissy were the names of the two white horses that had pulled Zoe and Martha over the Sierra Nevada.)

Miz Zoe nodded. ‘Sissy, too. And the lacquered buggy. Since I wrote to you our fortunes have dipped a mite. This city is a lot like Virginia, only bigger. And the weather is perverse.’

I did not reply, for there was a full-length mirror leaning against one wall & I had just caught a glimpse of myself in it. 

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

Miz Zoe giggled. ‘Well, let us just say that color and style don’t flatter you much. Whatever possessed you to wear such a thing?’

I was about to tell her everything when I heard footsteps on the stairs. Was it Martha? 

No. These steps were heavy & menacing. Zoe must have thought so, too, for she ran to the door & bolted it with a wooden bolt. Then she stepped back a few paces & put her hand over the base of her throat like some women do when they are upset or scared.

The footsteps on the stairs got closer & closer & closer.

They stopped right outside.

For a moment there was silence.

Then the latch slowly moved but the bolt was down and the door stayed shut. 

A sudden heavy pounding on the door made my heart leap up into my throat.

‘Dang it! You come out now!’ a man’s voice shouted. (Only he did not say ‘dang.’) ‘I know you are in there!’ 

My heart was beating like a rabbit’s. Somehow my pursuers had found me.

I looked at Zoe. ‘Is there any way out of here?’ I said in a low tone.

Her pretty eyes were round with fear. ‘No,’ she said. ‘There is no way out. I will have to open the door.’

I stared at my erstwhile friend in dismay. 

I thought I had found a person I could trust in this strange city. 

But Mrs. Zoe Brown was about to hand me over to my pursuers!

Read on...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 37

I left the Emeu’s cage and went racing back the way I had come. I whizzed down crowded paths, across bowling greens & through the fronds of willow branches. As I rounded the carousel of ‘flying horses’, I slipped in those danged girly boots and twisted my ankle. 

My limpy run would not get me away. I must hide!

Then I saw a wagon such as peddlers use to sell notions and potions. On the side it said Minnehaha’s Medicine Show. There were wooden steps going up the back and before I knew it I was up those four wooden steps & through a kind of curtain. 

Imagine my surprise when I saw Minnehaha herself, sitting in front of a table with a mirror. She was smearing white cream on her face. She whirled round on her seat & gave me Expression No. 4 – surprise. 

I was breathing hard. ‘Please can you hide me?’ I asked her in gasping Lakota. ‘Some men want to arrest me for something I did not do.’ 

‘What are you doing in my wagon, at all?’ she asked in English. 

She did not appear to understand Lakota. 

‘Please can you hide me?’ I asked her in gasping English. ‘Some men want to arrest me for something I did not do.’

Close up, I could see she was taking off face paint with the white cream. She was a bogus Indian! 

‘Why are they after you?’ she asked. Her eyes were wide which meant she was surprised not angry.

‘They think I killed a stagecoach driver and that I stole some silver ingots and gold coins.’ I pulled off my pink poke bonnet and laid it over my heart. ‘But I am innocent.’ 

‘Bejeezus!’ she cried. ‘You have short hair. Are you a boy or a girl?’ Her eyes were wide. 

‘I am a girl,’ I confessed, surprised at how easy it was to tell her. ‘Only I hate dressing like one.’

The sound of men’s voices reached us. They were outside!

She chewed her lower lip for a moment and her eyes darted here and there, looking for a place where I might hide. 

From outside came the sound of footsteps on the wooden stairs and a man’s voice. ‘Minnehaha? You in there?’

‘Yes?’ she replied. ‘Why?’ 

‘I got a representative of the Overland Stage Company and a policeman with me. They are looking for a Wanted Person. They would like to question you. May I send em in?’

Minnehaha lifted the flounce of the table at which she was sitting & looked at me & pointed underneath.  

I did not wait to be asked twice. I jumped under & scrouched down like a mouse in the pantry. 

‘Enter!’ Minnehaha said. 

I felt the wagon rock and heard it creak as they came aboard.  

‘My name is Isaac Blue,’ growled a familiar voice. ‘I am looking for a dangerous fugitive.’ I heard the rustle of paper. ‘You seen this girl?’ he asked. Then he added. ‘Or maybe it is a boy. Folk are not decided.’ 

‘Miss Prudence Pinkerton,’ said Minnehaha. I could tell from her halting speech that she was reading it. ‘Aged 12. Half Sioux Indian. Wearing a fur-trimmed purple cape, a yellow dress & a lighthouse bonnet.’ 

‘She changed her lighthouse bonnet for a narrow pink one,’ he added. ‘And she prob’ly ditched the cape.’

‘They are offering one hundred dollars?’ cried Minnehaha.  

‘Actually,’ growled Icy Blue, ‘it is two hundred. They have just doubled the reward money.’

I held my breath. All Minnehaha had to do was jump up & pull back the flounce. My crouching form would be exposed & she would be $200 richer. There was nothing preventing her, not even loyalty among Lakota: for she was a bogus Indian. 

‘Well,’ she said at last. ‘I do remember a girl in a green and yellow dress and a pink poke bonnet was watching my twelve o’clock show. She put a greenback in my quiver. And just now, on my way in here I thought I saw that same girl running past.’

‘When was that?’ said another male voice. It was probably the policeman’s. 

‘Two or three minutes ago,’ said Minnehaha. ‘Maybe less. She was heading towards the main exit.’

Blue swore in language unfit for publication & I felt the wagon rock as they hurried back down the steps. 

‘If you hurry,’ cried Minnehaha, ‘you might catch her!’ 

A moment later she whispered. ‘You can come out now. The coast is clear.’ 

I came out from beneath the table. 

‘Thank you for not giving me away,’ I said in a low tone. ‘I will make it up to you when I find the real robbers and get the reward.’

‘That would be bully,’ she said, and added, ‘We tomboys have to stick together.’

I said, ‘Tomboys? What is a tomboy?’

She said. ‘Why someone like you and me! Girls who like to dress like boys and play with guns and knives and such like.’

I said, ‘There is a word for us?’ 

‘Why sure! That word is Tomboy.’ She draped her bare white arm around my shoulders; I could feel it firm & cool & round through the merino-wool fabric of my dress. ‘Did you think you were alone in the world?’

I nodded. ‘I feel a bit like that Emeu in his cage. Like a giant plucked chicken. I used to dress a bit like you. Then my bogus pa burned my buckskins and flannel shirt. I surely do miss them.’

She stood up & went over to a box & opened it & pulled out a pair of buckskin trowsers with beads on them and fringe, too. 

‘I have outgrown these trowsers,’ she said. ‘I bet they will fit you. And these moccasins, too. Take them!’ 

I felt prickly-eyed all of a sudden and there was a bunch in my throat. ‘Thank you,’ I said. It seemed the least thing made me want to blub these days. 

Minnehaha’s face showed Expression No. 1 – a genuine smile. ‘As I am feeling generous,’ she said, ‘you may borrow one of my wigs until you are safe. This one has hair like yours would be if you let it grow. It came from a real Cheyenne squaw, they say.’

The hair of the wig was beautiful: straight & black, long & shiny.

‘Let me pay you for the clothes,’ I said. ‘I do not like to owe people.’ 

I pulled my medicine bag out from the neck of my daffodil-yellow dress and took out the coins & greenbacks. 

‘There,’ I put the money on her dressing table. ‘Eighteen dollars and twenty-five cents. It ain’t much but it is all I have left.’

She gathered up the money and pressed it back into my hand. ‘I will not take all the spondulicks you have left. But if you get a reward, you can share it with me like you said.’ She winked at me. Her eyes were sparkly green and she had freckles on her nose. She rolled up the wig and moccasins in the trowsers to make a kind of parcel. Then she tied it all with a piece of twine. 

Once again I had to swallow a lump in my throat. 

‘What is your real name?’ I asked. 

‘Bridget,’ said she. ‘Bridget O’Malley. But you can call me Minnie.’ She held out her hand & I shook it. Her hand was small, but her grip as firm as a man’s. ‘I take it you are Prudence?’

‘Never call me Prudence,’ I said. ‘That is a bogus name. My name is P.K. Pinkerton, Private Eye. You can call me Pinky if “P.K.” seems too strange.’

‘You are a private eye?’ Her eyes glittered. ‘That sounds exciting.’

‘Yup,’ I said. ‘It is exciting, all right. Dangerous, too.’ 

She said, ‘Well, P.K., I was just going to drive into the city to attend Mass. May I take you anywhere? Where are you staying?’

I said, ‘I have heard the What Cheer House is only fifty cents a night.’

She laughed. ‘The What Cheer House is for men only. And they pack lots of them in each room.’

‘Oh,’ I said. That part had not been on my cherry red slip of paper. 

She said, ‘You got any family or friends here in Frisco?’ 

‘My newspaper friend Mark Twain is here,’ I said. ‘But he is more an acquaintance than a friend and I don’t reckon it would be proper for me to stay with a bachelor, anyways.’

‘Anybody else? Any lady friends?’

At first I thought of Mrs. John D. Winters. But then I remembered how she had looked down her nose at me. 

Then it came to me. Of course I had gal friends! They had even written to invite me to stay with them any time I was in Frisco. 

‘Yes!’ I said. ‘I know a ten-year-old Negro girl named Martha. She was my first client. After she witnessed the murder of a Soiled Dove, the man who done it tried to kill her. She came to me for protection.’

‘Did you protect her?’ Minnehaha’s green eyes were round.  

I nodded. ‘After I vanquished the killer, Martha left Virginia City for Frisco with a pretty seamstress named Zoe Brown. They invited me to stay with them any time I was in Frisco.’

‘Well there you are, then! Do you know where they live?’

I nodded. ‘88 Sansome Street was the return address on the letter they sent me.’

‘I know that street,’ said Minnie. ‘It should be easy to find them. If they are still there.’ 

Read on...