Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 47

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. 

[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!

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...

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 45

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?’

Zoe nodded. 

‘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!’  

Read on... 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 44

Ping & Affie & Martha & Miz Zoe & I set off through the warm San Francisco night towards the Lick House Hotel. 

As we walked, I looked at Ping & Affie. ‘How did the two of you find out so much about those Confidence Tricksters?’

Affie gave me a genuine smile. ‘Teamwork! Ping and I did some research and found damning evidence against them. It is not hard when you have access to a hundred newspapers, magazines and telegrams.’

‘Where do you have access to a hundred newspapers, magazines and telegrams?’ I asked him as we crossed Montgomery Street.

‘Right here!’ he said pointing to the gas-lit entryway of The Lick House Hotel. ‘All the best hotels have reading rooms with books, magazines and newspapers. This one even has a desk where you can send and receive telegrams. That’s where Ping found the article about two Confidence Tricksters named Chauncy Pridhaume and Jonas Hurricane.’ 

‘Jonas Hurricane?’ I said. ‘Not Blezzard?’ 

‘Probably another pseudonym,’ said Affie, and added, ‘A storm by any other name…’ He looked at me. ‘Would you like to see the Reading Room here?’ 

‘I would rather see the notice about tomorrow’s wedding ball,’ I said. ‘I want to know who that Black Widow has caught in her net.’ 

‘Then I’ll take you to our suite. It’s only one floor up.’ 

As Affie led the way through a lobby even more high-tone than the lobby of the Occidental Hotel, Ping fell into step beside me. 

I glanced over at him. ‘I am sorry I pulled the wool over your eyes for so long,’ I said. ‘It is just that I hate dressing like a girly-girl. And I did not rightly know how to tell you.’

Ping did not look at me. He said, ‘I am not very good detective if I cannot tell difference between girl and boy.’

‘You are a good detective,’ I said. ‘Also a danged good bookkeeper. And a good pard,’ I added. 

He grunted. But I saw his eyes flick towards me and then quickly away

Upstairs, Affie used a key to open a door & we all followed him in to a room softly lit by gaslight.

‘I’ll be right back,’ said Affie, and disappeared through another door. 

Ping & Zoe & Martha & I looked around the room while we waited for him. It had Turkey carpets and wooden bookcases and a four poster bed just for Affie. There were books and specimen cases on just about every surface. 

On one of the tables was a tray with a small gauze pyramid stretched over bent strips of cane. I had once seen someone put a similar net dome over a platter of food at a church picnic in Virginia City. It was for keeping the bugs off. But this one held bugs in. It contained my butterfly branch!

‘Look!’ I said. ‘My butterfly branch.’

‘Affie brought it,’ said Ping. ‘We took turns holding it on the stagecoach.’

‘Look!’ said Martha. ‘One of them has hatched. It is all crumply.’

I looked closer. ‘It is drying its wings,’ I said. ‘I cannot tell what species it is yet.’

Then I spotted something else in a glass case on a polished mahogany table. 

‘Mouse!’ I cried. I stepped forward & sure enough, there was my pet tarantula in his little glass case. No: two tarantulas. Looking closer I saw that one tarantula was the husk of the new one! 

‘Clever Mouse,’ I said. ‘You cast off your old skin.’ 

Ping scowled down at my tarantula and its husk. ‘Both look the same,’ he observed. ‘What good is shed your husk if you are the same inside?’ 

‘Eureka!’ cried Affie, coming back in with a piece of cream cardboard in his hand. ‘Here is the notice. Mrs. V.F. von Vingschplint is marrying Jonas Blezzard!’

‘Jonas Blezzard,’ said Ping. ‘AKA Ray G. Tempest.’

‘Of course!’ I cried. ‘The man who killed my bogus pa is the one in cahoots with her. But how did he get here so fast? He was travelling in an ox-cart.’

‘Maybe he got a faster carriage,’ suggested Affie. 

‘Maybe he is not yet here, but sends telegram,’ offered Ping. 

‘When did you hear about the wedding?’ I asked Martha. 

‘Late yesterday afternoon,’ she said. 

‘Do you know what this means?’ cried Zoe.

I nodded. ‘That it all makes sense.’ 

‘Also,’ said Zoe. ‘It means Jace did not betray you.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘He betrayed me all right. He just ain’t the one marrying her.’ 

‘We have to tell the police about Violetta and Blezzard!’ cried Affie. To me he said, ‘You have got to testify against them in a court of law.’

‘I cannot testify against nobody,’ I said. ‘I am a half Indian and WANTED by the Law. No jury will listen to me nor will any judge accept my testimony.’

‘But that ain’t fair!’ said Martha. She was standing by the single crumpled butterfly in its gauze prison. It was night & it was sleeping. But in the morning when light streamed through the east-facing window all his fellows would emerge & dry their wings & the net would soon be full of trapped creatures. 

‘Eureka!’ I cried. ‘I have just had an idea of how to trap Mr. Jonas Blezzard like a butterfly in a net.’ I looked around at them all and said. ‘Will you help me implement a bold and dangerous plan? It involves us putting on a music hall type show.’ 

‘You bet!’ cried Martha. ‘Especially if it means I get to disguise myself or dance a jig.’

‘Yes,’ said Zoe. ‘Especially if you need costumes.’

‘Yes,’ said Ping. ‘I have been practicing magic tricks.’

I looked at Affie. ‘You would have the biggest part to play,’ I said. 

He grinned & saluted & I reckoned my plan might just work, for by chance he quoted the same verse I had heard in church earlier that morning, viz: ‘We are your troops and we will be willing on the day of your battle.’ 

Read on...

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.’ 

Read on...

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...