Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 19

The sun had set in Genoa, but when we reached the top of the pass, why, there it was again, like an old friend. It was very low in the sky, lighting up some puffy clouds all red & purple & yellow. This fiery sunset was reflected in Lake Bigler, which some folk call Tahoe. It was so pretty it made my spirit want to fly up into those clouds like a hawk. 

Dizzy flipped a coin to a toll-gate keeper. A few moments later he guided the puffing team of horses off the road & onto a muddy patch of ground in front of a couple of raw-plank buildings. There was a smell of wood smoke & stables. 

‘Is this Friday’s Station?’ I asked.

‘Yup.’ Dizzy reined in the team and we rocked to a halt. ‘Wanna get down or can you last one more stage?’

‘I need the jakes,’ I said. 

While Dizzy was helping me down, two men came out of the shack. One had a little nose and a big mustache. The other had a big nose and a little mustache. Big Mustache went to get a fresh team and Little Mustache started undoing the whippletree. 

When I got back from using the outhouse, Big Mustache was telling Dizzy how another California-bound stage had changed teams an hour before and a rider came by not long after. 

‘Dang,’ said Dizzy. ‘They are now a whole hour ahead of us. We’d best not dilly-dally.’

It was chilly up here with a breeze coming off the lake. The pine-scented air came cold into my chest & made me feel light-headed. I pulled my pink shawl around my shoulders. Then I remembered the coat I had bought for the dummy to wear. I went towards the coach. 

Through the window, I saw that the dummy was leaning against the corner & her hat was down over her watermelon face, so it really did look like a lady was sleeping. That was good. 

I gave a soft knock on the door and opened it. 

Mr. Ray G. Tempest was lying on his back upon the bed of mailbags with his head back, his eyes closed and his mouth open. His hat & Dizzy’s shotgun lay nearby on one of the other mailbags. 

I took the coat off the dummy & gave her my shawl instead & restored her to her former position.

Ray snored on. 

I quietly closed the door of the stage and then put on the coat. It was a lot warmer than my shawl. Mrs. Wasserman had called that coat a ‘sacque’ & told me it was the girliest coat she had & that it was the latest fashion. It was like a cape only with sleeves, made of silk-lined purple velvet & white fur trim. When I put my gloved hands in the little slits at the front I discovered a hidden pocket. 

One of the things I hate about dresses is that there are no pockets so the only place to put things is in a purse or similar. But now I had found a pocket in this sacque. Hallelujah!  

I took my four-shooter out of my medicine bag & put it in the secret pocket along with a few spare cartridges. Then I let Dizzy help me back up into the box. He took the reins from Big Mustache, released the brake & we were on our way again!

My stomach growled so I opened my yellow drawstring purse which I had tied it to the rail of the driver’s box. I took out some beef jerky & shared it with Dizzy. 

I noticed a wooden sign down by the side of the road. It said, WELKOM TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNEE. We had left Nevada Territory behind and were now in California, a state I had not heretofore set foot in.

The sun had set for good & dusk was gathering fast. 

I said, ‘Do you think the Reb Road Agents have held up the decoy stage yet?’

‘I hope so,’ said Dizzy. ‘Soon it will be too dark to see. If they miss the decoy they might hold us up instead. We should of set out earlier.’

‘At least they are an hour ahead of us.’

‘Yup,’ said Dizzy. 

I said, ‘When Icy Blue and his agents catch them, what will they do with them?’

‘Why, clap ’em in irons and take em back to Virginee. Hopefully we will see them coming back this way, mission accomplished, at any moment.’

My spirits lifted. I might see my victorious pa soon & then he would turn around and ride to Sacramento with us and soon we would go to Chicago covered in glory.

‘Want to see something awful?’ said Dizzy, chomping his piece of jerky.

‘Sure,’ I said. 

‘See that bend we’re coming up to? Scoot on over to the left and look down.’

I scooted over to the edge and looked down. As we came to a curve in the road I saw a steep slope tumbling down to a rocky gorge far below. My sharp eyes saw a wheel on the jagged gray rocks & some broken crates & then the worst thing of all: a smashed up stagecoach and what might have been the bones of a horse. I could not be sure about the horse bones, for the light was fading fast. 

‘What happened?’ I asked.

‘Coach went off the road,’ said Dizzy. ‘Crashed on them rocks below. Happens more than people think.’

‘Stagecoaches going over the edge and crashing on the rocks below?’ 

‘Yup. That is why they never put glass in the windows. In case it breaks and cuts you to ribbons.’

‘Were the passengers killed?’ I asked. 

‘Only a couple,’ he said. ‘The others escaped with just a few broken bones and cracked heads.’ He chuckled. ‘Driver broke both arms. When they took the bandages off, he found one arm was an inch shorter than the other.’

I held out my arms. 

I tried to imagine having one arm shorter than the other. 

I could not do it.

We rode for a while without speaking. I tried to listen out for the sound of a pa and the decoy stage coming our way, covered in glory & with the Reb Road agents in irons. 

But it was hard above the noise of 24 thundering hooves and a creaky old stagecoach. 

Soon it was so dusky I could hardly see the road. 

I said, ‘How do you light the road when it gets dark?’

Dizzy said, ‘You don’t.’

I said, ‘Because there is an almost full moon tonight?’

He said, ‘Moon won’t rise for an hour or so. But we don’t use lights even when there ain’t a moon.’

I said, ‘How do you see in the dark?’

He said, ‘You don’t.’

I said, ‘You drive in the dark?’

‘Yup. Dark. Rain. Storm. Snow. You gotta remember that each team of six horses just goes back and forth over ten or twelve or fourteen miles at most. They know their stretch of road so well they could do it blindfolded. Why, some of the drivers just have a little sleep while they are holding the reins.’

‘You won’t sleep, will you?’ I asked.

‘Nosiree. Not with the chance of Reb Road Agents behind any pine and a crumbled road at any bend.’

‘The road crumbles some times?’

‘Yup,’ said Dizzy. ‘You got any more jerky?’ 

‘Yes,’ I said. 

‘Gimme,’ said Dizzy. 

He opened his mouth like a hungry bird and I gave him another piece of beef jerky. 

I was glad of my gloves and velvet sacque for it was now cold. 

We were going up a rising bend. Our fresh horses from Friday’s were working hard. I looked over the edge and saw what looked like a sheer drop. The granite rocks far below were almost as jagged as the hundred black pine trees that poked up like needles. I did not want to look, but I could not tear my eyes away.

‘Jumping Jesus!’ said Dizzy. 

‘Beg pardon?’

Dizzy swallowed hard & cussed. ‘Looks like we got ourselves company. Those Reb Road Agents must of let the decoy stage pass right on by. Here they are, all right: fixing to hold us up.’

[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!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 18

We reached Genoa about an hour after we set out from Carson, for we had been going at a fair clip through the sage-brushy desert and flat marshes. It felt satisfying to have control of six powerful beasts and a stage worth $50,000 dollars. 

‘I’d better take them there ribbons now,’ said Dizzy, ‘lessen someone sees a girl in black ringlets and a yaller bonnet driving.’

As we pulled in front of a Livery Stable, the door of an outhouse partly opened and a voice shouted. ‘Be right out!’ 

Dizzy pulled pushed the footbrake forward & tossed the reins to the ground. He stayed in his seat so I did, too. 

It was now about 5 in the afternoon. We were in the shadow of the mountains & it was chilly. I could hear the throaty coo of a dove from the Genoa oak trees and in the cottonwoods some birds were having a lively conversation. Some folk standing in front of the General Store were also conversing & they hardly even glanced at us. 

The hostler came out of the outhouse. 

‘Howdy, Dizzy!’ he called up to us. ‘I got a fresh team all ready for you. Little Ben?’ A towheaded boy came out, leading a fresh team of six horses, all harnessed and strapped to their pole. 

‘That there wooden stick is called a “whippletree”,’ said Dizzy, pointing down at a kind of plank the hostler was releasing from the front of the coach. ‘See there? The traces are all passed through and ready so you can be ready to go at a moment’s notice if’n you want.’ 

‘From what Icy said, I thought you would have been here sooner,’ said the stableman as led our starting team away from the coach. 

‘We was a mite delayed,’ said Dizzy. ‘How long ago did he come through?’ 

‘Half an hour maybe,’ said the hostler. He stopped to watch the boy fit the new team’s whippletree to the front of our coach. ‘No more than forty minutes.’

‘Dang!’ cursed Dizzy. He spat some tobacco juice onto the ground. ‘Any other travellers pass by?’ 

‘Just a man on a gray and three miners footing it,’ said the Stableman. ‘Carson City Stage is due in around an hour. Evenin’, ma’am,’ he said to the window. ‘Would you care to stretch your legs?’ 

When he got no response he shielded his mouth with his hand and whispered to Dizzy, ‘Something wrong with that lady in there? She don’t seem very friendly.’

‘Why, Al,’ said Dizzy. ‘That lady is real friendly. In fact, she is so friendly that you could give her a kiss and she would not object.’ He gave a wheezy laugh.

‘Don’t take no notice of Dizzy, ma’am,’ said Al, tipping his hat at the open window. ‘He can be rude and– Dang!’ he leaped back as if bit by a snake. ‘There is something wrong with her face. It looks like an unripe watermelon.’ 

‘Hee, hee,’ said Dizzy. ‘It is. She is a dummy with a watermelon head. She is meant to mislead those Reb Road Agents into thinking we have passengers,’ he added. 

‘You watch out for them,’ said Al. ‘Latest news is they was spotted between Yank’s Station and Strawberry. They tried to rob a passenger stage but O’Riley started blasting at them with his scattergun and they skedaddled.’

Little Ben had hitched the new team to our coach. He handed Al the hostler the reins of the fresh team and led off the old team. 

Dizzy spat a brown squirt of tobacco juice down onto the dirt. ‘That stiff lady ain’t the only one riding today,’ he said. ‘Got a Pinkerton Detective of our own in there, too. But I don’t think those bandits will bother with us. Not after Icy & his men have got hold of them.’

‘Well, God go with you!’ cried Al the hostler, holding the bunch of reins aloft. 

Dizzy took them and released the footbrake. ‘Amen,’ he said, and to the horses, ‘G’lang! G’lang there you sons of blanks!’ 

That fresh team pulled us along a flat, straight road at the foot of the mountains for a spell. 

We passed Van Sickles Station which is a white two-story wooden house with a grand porch and corrals & stables all on its lonesome with those barren mountain rearing up almost perpendicular behind it. 

I knew the road doubled back a few miles up ahead to become the Kingsbury Grade. I turned my head to search for Pa but I only saw a stagecoach coming down, not going up.  

I said, ‘I see a stagecoach coming down the mountain.’

Dizzy said, ‘That’ll be the Pioneer stage from Placerville on its way to Carson and Virginee.’

We came to that sharp switchback & started to climb up the side of the mountain. 

Dizzy was using his whip now, pulling it back & then flicking it forward to make it uncoil like a big black snake & crack like the report of a pistol right over the horses’ heads. But he did not have to do too much blacksnaking. Those horses knew it would be uphill now but downhill on their way home so they pulled bravely. 

As we got higher & higher I could see back the way we had come. Over to my right – to the east – I could see vast empty sky & far below a flat plain like a patchwork quilt of green & sage & buff & brown. The sight of that much sky and that far a drop made my stomach do a handspring and all the blood sank down to my toes. 

If I looked almost straight down I could see the ribbon of a road with Van Sickles House & Stables looking like a little pair of white and brown dice from that height. A humpy part of the mountain prevented me from seeing Carson City or even Genoa to the north. As we climbed it felt like my ears were getting fuller & fuller of cotton lint. Then something went pop and my head was empty & light. 

We were now so high that it made me feel queer to look over the side. So I kept my gaze straight ahead. 

Presently the Pioneer Stage from Placerville appeared around a bend. It was pulled by a strange-looking team of bays and grays. The three starboard horses (as Dizzy called them) were dark and the other three were light. Also, it had about six people riding up on top behind the Driver and his Conductor. 

As they came closer both coaches slowed down a little. The driver was a slight man with a flat-brimmed hat and billy-goat beard. 

‘Evening, Dizzy!’ he called.

‘Evening, Hank!’ Dizzy replied. ‘Any sign of them Reb Road Agents?’

‘Nope,’ said driver. ‘Like we told Mr. Blue, we ain’t seen em. Where’s your conductor?’

‘This little lady here is riding shotgun.’ Dizzy gave a wheezy chuckle. 

‘You must have got some weighty passengers in there today,’ called the driver over his shoulder. ‘Your team are struggling to pull it.’

‘Dang!’ swore Dizzy after the stage had gone past. ‘I hope those Reb Road Agents ain’t as perspicacious as that there Hank Monk.’ 

But as I will shortly relate, they were. 

Read on!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 17

Dizzy had put the heavy reins of a six-horse team in my gloved hands. I was so startled I nearly fell off the coach.

I said, ‘How can I drive a six-horse team if I am supposed to be personating a demure little girly-girl and fool the Reb Road agents?’

Dizzy said, ‘You can see they ain’t nobody on this here stretch of road. Besides, those Road Agents are lurking up in them thar mountains not down here on the high plains.’

‘Hey!’ protested Ray. ‘Ain’t that dangerous?’ He had been sipping tooth elixir from his flask and only just noticed I was holding the traces. 

‘Nah!’ said Dizzy. ‘It ain’t dangerous. These horses know the road so well they could do it blindfolded.’

But I reckoned it was dangerous. I could feel the life energy of those six steeds whizzing up through the leather straps into my fingers & arms & spirit.

I felt scared and powerful at the same time. It was like flying on a rocking, creaking boat. Dizzy was right: The coach might look old & battered but that thoroughbrace – or whatever it was called – worked real well. 

We hit a bump and all three of us flew about four inches up and came down bang!

‘Yee-haw!’ cried Dizzy. 

‘Dam!’ swore Ray, but he was laughing. 

Dizzy turned to me. ‘Let it out!’ he said. ‘It ain’t good to hold it in. It’ll make you queasy. Go on! If you can’t choke out a “yee-haw” then cuss like a miner or squeal like a gal.’

‘Yee-haw,’ I said. I was concentrating on driving & did not feel like yelling.  

Dizzy looked at the sky. ‘I thought I heard a squeak. Could it have been a bat?’ 

‘Yee-haw!’ I cried, a bit louder. 

‘Did you hear something, Mr. Ray?’ said Dizzy.

Ray shook his head. He was grinning despite his toothache. 

Using both my lungs I shouted, ‘YEE-HAW!’

It felt good. Everybody laughed. Even me. 

I only wished my pa had been there to share the moment. 

Dizzy took a fresh chaw of tobacco from his trowser pocket & bit off a corner & folded up the plug in its paper wrapper. I was paying attention to the horses but out of the corner of my eye I saw that it was Blue Star brand chewing tobacco. I try to be observant about such things. Identifying tobacco is one of my special detective skills. 

The road was running smooth through a flat marshy plain towards those great jagged snow-topped mountains called the ‘Sierra Nevada’ which means ‘Great Jagged Snow-topped Mountains’ in Spanish. There is a pretty little town called Genoa situated right at their foot with some oak trees & cottonwoods by a stream. We could see it a long time before we got there. Pa Emmet once told me that it used to be called Mormon Station until the Mormons all upped sticks and went to Salt Lake City. He said they named it after a town in Italy but they pronounce it different so people will not get confused.

‘Dam,’ said Ray. He took his flask from his pocket tipped it upside down to show us his Tooth Elixir was all gone.

‘You should get that tooth pulled,’ said Dizzy. ‘Any blacksmith will do it.’

Ray touched his cheek & winced. ‘You mind if I lie down inside the coach?’ he asked Dizzy.

‘Course not! But you will have to lie on them hard leather letter-sacks.’

‘I don’t mind.’  Ray tossed his empty Tooth Elixir bottle into the marsh on the left hand side of the road. ‘Pull up,’ he said, ‘so I can go down right now.’

I was still holding the ‘ribbons’, as they say. 

‘Pinky,’ said Dizzy. ‘You want to try slowing this rig? You just–’ he began, but I was already pulling back on the heavy reins. 

‘Whoa, you sons of blanks!’ I hollered. 

The team of six bay horses slowed & stopped right there in the road. They stood snorting & tossing their heads. 

‘Why, missy,’ said Dizzy with his brown-toothed smile, ‘you are a natural.’

Ray started to climb down. 

Dizzy put a hand on his arm. ‘Hold on, mister.’ Dizzy looked at me. ‘Now that we’ve stopped, what’s the first thing you gotta do?’

‘Foot brake?’ I said. 

‘You got it!’ He was nearest the brake so he used his foot to push the lever forward. I felt the coach turn from a living thing to a solid, unmoving object. 

Once again, I wished it had been my pa sitting there beside me to be impressed by my skill at handling a six-horse team. But it was only Ray & he did not even seem to notice. He just climbed down off the box. I felt the coach rock a little as he opened the door & climbed inside. 

‘Shotgun?’ came Ray’s voice.

Dizzy and I both leaned to the right to see Ray’s hand sticking out of the front window. 

Dizzy took the double-barreled shotgun from its leather sheath beside the driver’s box & handed it down. Ray’s hand & the shotgun both disappeared back inside the coach.

‘OK.’ Dizzy released the brake & turned to me, ‘To start up again you just give the reins a little flick and say “G’lang!” real firm-like.’ 

 ‘G’lang! G’lang there, you sons of blanks!’ I said, imitating Dizzy, and we were off again. 

Little did I think I would be taking the reins in earnest and riding for my life in less than two hours. 

Read on...

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!

Sunday, July 03, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 16

Everything happened real fast after that. 

Within an hour we were standing in a dim livery stable, watching half a dozen heavily armed men climb into a sturdy stagecoach. 

Once in, they pulled down the leather shades. Then Icy Blue & his driver climbed up into the box.  

‘How does that look?’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley to us.

‘Looks good,’ said Dizzy. ‘Looks like we got something to hide.’

I agreed & looked at Pa to see whether he did, too, but he was busy adjusting the  saddle on a big gray gelding.

‘Off you go then,’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley to the first stagecoach. ‘And good luck to you! You catch them Reb Road Agents.’

Icy Blue raised his shotgun and his driver flicked the reins & said, ‘Hee-yah!’ 

The decoy coach was away! 

Pa swung up into the saddle of the gelding. ‘I hope to see ye pass us on the road,’ he said, ‘as we clap those bandits in irons.’

‘Pa!’ I cried. ‘Ain’t you riding shotgun with us?’ 

‘Not for the first wee stretch,’ he said. ‘Horses and Ray dinna get along so he’ll ride with ye. But don’t worry, me wee lassie. Once we’ve clapped those pesky Reb Road agents in irons I’ll ride with ye to Sacramento.’ His eyes were brimming with tears like he was sad to leave, & he could not meet my gaze.

I confess I was disappointed. I had been looking forward to working with my pa on our first case. 

‘Fare thee well!’ He touched his finger to the brim of his new hat. Still without looking at me, he turned his horse & spurred it & trotted after the departing coach. The last I saw of him was his silhouette against the bright square of outside light coming in through the stable doors. Then the light kind of dissolved him & he was gone. 

Mr. V.V. Bletchley, Dizzy and Ray were examining the second stagecoach. 

I studied it, too.  It was battered and old, with a faded vista of mountains painted on the door and gold trim that was almost chipped off.  

Bletchley turned to me. ‘She may look old and battered,’ he said, ‘but she was recently fitted with a new thoroughbrace and she can hold tons of silver. Come look.’ 

He opened a door and showed me how they had covered the floor of the coach with 78 silver bricks of varying shapes & weights all laid neatly side-by-side. He told me the ‘ingots’ were worth over 50 thousand dollars! As I watched, they piled some letter-sacks inside the coach to cover up the silver. Then they pulled down all the leather window shades so you could not see inside. 

‘What do you think?’ said Mr. Bletchley, standing back. ‘How does it look?’

‘Not too good,’ said Dizzy, scratching his belly. ‘With the shades down, it looks like we got something to hide. Folk generally like to look out.’

‘But if we open the shades then everybody will see we have no passengers.’ Bletchley looked at Ray. ‘You should have thought of that before.’

Dizzy scratched his armpit. ‘Maybe Miss Pinky can ride inside the coach so people will glimpse her in the window.’

Ray shook his head. ‘The whole point of her is to be conspicuous – that is, easily seen – so any lurking bandits will see a little girl and let you pass.’

I had an idea of how I could make a bogus passenger who would look real. 

‘I have an idea of how I can make a bogus passenger who will look real.’ I said. ‘Wait here!’

I ran out of the stable & pelted up to Mrs. Matterhorn’s & plucked a head-sized unripe watermelon from her back garden & then hurried one block down to Wasserman’s Emporium’s & bought Mrs. Wasserman’s old papier-mâché dummy & also a velvet ladies’ coat & also the biggest straw sunhat I could find. Then I whizzed back to the Overland Stage Co. Livery Stable. 

‘Where you been!’ they all cried. ‘It has been near half an hour.’

But when I wedged the dummy torso inside the stagecoach at the front & draped the purple velvet coat around her shoulders & stuck the watermelon on the dowel neck of her papier-mâché body & added that big sunhat to hide her green & yellow striped head they all said ‘Ah!’, for my construction appeared to be a fashionable lady sitting in the best seat with her back to the driver & looking out the window. 

We stood back to judge the effect.

‘She is bully!’ said Dizzy. ‘Now it looks like a school marm, maybe with the other shades down to shield her napping pupils on their way back from a picnic.’

‘Much better,’ agreed Bletchley, puffing a cigar. 

‘Good idea to use a watermelon for a head,’ said Ray. ‘Otherwise her hat would lie too low.’ Then he spotted something & frowned & went closer to inspect her. ‘Goll DANG it!’ he cried, making us all jump. ‘What is that on her hat?’

‘Flowers,’ I said. ‘Just some old silk flowers.’

‘No. That! Right there!’ He was white as chalk. 

I went closer and saw a silk butterfly among the flowers. 

I said, ‘That is a silk butterfly among the flowers.’

‘Take the dam thing off!’

‘It is not genuine. It is bogus.’

‘I don’t care! I told you before. Those things give me the fantods.’ 

I pulled the bogus butterfly off the hat-band & stuck it out of sight in my medicine bag. 

‘You best be going,’ said Mr. Bletchley, looking at his pocket watch. ‘Otherwise you will not have the protection of Icy and all those agents if anything goes wrong. They are nearly an hour ahead of you.’ 

Dizzy quickly clambered up into the driver’s box & so did Ray. 

I was about to scramble up after them but then I remembered to be a girly-girl. I accepted Dizzy’s hand and let him help me up via the wheel onto the lofty box seat. I took my place in the middle, with Dizzy on my right and Ray on my left.

‘Ready?’ Dizzy asked me. 

I nodded. 

Dizzy hooked his right foot around the lever beside the driver’s box & pulled it back to release the brake. Then he flicked the reins & cried, ‘G’lang! G’lang there you sons of blanks!’ To me he said, ‘Pardon my cussing. Those critters won’t pay me no mind lessen I blaspheme.’ 

‘Good luck!’ called Bletchley after us. 

We emerged from the livery stable into the bright day. It was the first day of May. I was wearing my wig with its swinging black ringlets and my lighthouse bonnet with its silk flowers & sash & itchy ruffle at the back. It was warm so I only needed a light pink shawl over my daffodil yellow dress. I had my black button-up boots & a yellow velvet drawstring purse around my left wrist. Pa had made me buy some little white cotton gloves but I had replaced them with my beaded buckskin gauntlets. They were my lucky gloves. 

As we went over the Divide – a kind of hump in the road between Virginia City and Gold Hill – I could feel the horses straining to pull the coach full of heavy silver ingots and letter-sacks. But as soon as they started heading downhill towards Silver City, the coach fairly flew along. I had to retie the yellow ribbon under my chin or my yellow lighthouse bonnet would have flown off into the atmosphere. 

‘Dang!’ wheezed Dizzy. ‘That silver is pushing them hard.’ 

I nodded and gripped the edges of the bench. The road was steep and curvy with precipitous drops onto jagged orange rocks. It was scary like my nightmare but also thrilling. My heart was pounding hard. 

I wished Pa could be sitting beside me instead of Ray G. Tempest who kept taking secret swigs from his small flask. 

Dizzy concentrated hard as we drove through Gold Hill & Devil’s Gate & Silver City. The road was crowded but everybody made way for our thundering stagecoach. Ray flipped the toll booth operators their coins and we fairly raced through. When the mountain finished and the road leveled out on its way to Carson, Dizzy kind of breathed a sigh and wiped his forehead with his faded bandana. 

He glanced at me. ‘You’re awful quiet. You scared?’

I shook my head. ‘I just wish my pa could have seen my clever ruse of using a dummy as a dummy.’

‘I’ll make sure he hears about it,’ said Ray. He took a swig from his flask and then saw us looking. ‘Tooth elixir,’ he explained. ‘My dam tooth is still paining me.’ 

We rode for a while without conversing. I strained my eyes to see pa but he was too far ahead. 

I noticed that Dizzy had a double-barrel shotgun in a kind of leather scabbard beside him. 

‘You ever been robbed?’ I asked.

‘Nope,’ said Dizzy. ‘Most local robbers know the boss don’t trust me with big payloads so they let me alone.’

‘That is why you are the perfect choice for this job,’ said Ray. 

We changed teams at Curry’s Warm Springs Hotel where I had once stayed but I did not see anyone known to me. Ray got himself a red bandana with a few drops of strong-smelling creosote on it and some ice chippings and he tied this around his head with the knot on top and his hat hiding it. This gave him some relief but made it hard for him to talk. 

Our fresh team of six bay horses sped us through Carson City without stopping and my haunts of the previous winter flashed past. Soon we were out of town and racing along the flat road to Genoa with sage-brush and greasewood dotted plains either side and those barren, high-rising mountains to the southwest. 

‘Nice gloves,’ said Dizzy.

He was admiring my buckskin gloves with the beaded zigzags that Jace had given me for Christmas.

‘These are my lucky gloves,’ I said. 

‘Lucky gloves, eh?’ chuckled Dizzy. ‘Then why don’t you take the ribbons?’

‘Beg pardon?’

‘The ribbons. The traces. The reins. Go on! Take em!’ 

And before I knew what had happened hed put the control of six powerful horses & $50,000-worth of silver into my hands. 

Read on here...

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, June 25, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 15

Mr. V.V. Bletchley had squashed my pa’s plan of using me to convince Reb Road Agents that our stagecoach could not be transporting silver. It was too ‘gallus’. 

But Pa did not give up. He tried a ‘flanking manoeuver’.

‘Sir,’ he said, ‘Have ye heard of a certain P.K. Pinkerton, a private eye operating on B Street?’ 

‘Everybody’s heard of him,’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley. ‘He exposed a murderer last year and vanquished a bothersome outlaw name of Whittlin Walt back in September, even though he is just a kid.’

Pa put his hand on my shoulder. ‘This, sir, is P.K. Pinkerton!’

‘What?’ said Mr. Bletchley. ‘You are claiming your half Mexican daughter is the half-Injun Private Eye who has been working in this town for the past seven months?’

‘Aye,’ said my pa. ‘The P.K. stands for Prudence Kezia.’

‘And I ain’t half Mexican,’ I said in my normal voice. ‘I am half Sioux Indian.’

Bletchley shook his head slowly, like a boxer who has been punched one time too many. Then he looked at me. 

You are P.K. Pinkerton?’

‘Yes, sir! You can call me Pinky.’

‘Pinky is a master of disguise,’ said my pa, ‘and skilled with all kinds of firearms. She will be perfectly safe, else we would not have suggested it. Her visible presence virtually guarantees the safety of the silver-coach.’

Mr. Bletchley looked at me. ‘Ain’t you afraid?’

I must confess I was a little afraid on account of my stagecoach-going-over-a-precipice nightmare, but I knew my inscrutable features would not betray me. 

I sat a little straighter. ‘No, sir! I have been shot at, chased down a mine, sucked at by quicksand, almost buzzed in half and nearly froze, too, but I was never scared. I can shoot a gun and I can make a fire. I can ride a pony with or without a saddle.’

‘Although of course she won’t be riding a pony,’ said my pa. ‘She will be sitting up on top of the stagecoach for all to see.’

‘You sure you want to do that?’ Dizzy asked me. ‘You know those stages can be awful jouncy. I would hate anything to happen to a purty li’l thing like you.’

‘I am sure,’ said I. 

Dizzy shrugged & nodded, but Bletchley was looking at me with lips like a trout. Poker Face Jace said if someone purses their lips it means they are pondering something & have not yet made up their mind. 

Through the open window of the stage office came the smell sage brush & the sound of some quail. They were urging me to go to, ‘Chicago! Chicago!’ 

I could also see an outhouse.

‘Well, Mr. Pinkerton,’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley at last. ‘I concede it is a bold plan, but I am afraid I cannot allow it. I will not risk harming a hair of this dear little girl’s head!’

‘H-ll!’ I said. ‘It ain’t even my hair! It is a _______ wig.’ (Here I used a strong adjective). I pulled off my lighthouse bonnet & wig in one swift motion and plunked them on the desk before Mr. V.V. Bletchley. 

Then I snatched up his freshly-loaded Pocket Navy and – before anyone could object – I cocked it, aimed & fired five shots in quick succession through the open window. 

Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! 

Through the cloud of white gun smoke we all saw the door of the outhouse fly open. A miner dashed out. He was gripping a copy of the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in one hand and the waistband of his trowsers in the other. 

‘Why, lookee there,’ wheezed Dizzy, as the gun smoke cleared. ‘That little gal made that crescent moon into a full one!’ 

I nodded with satisfaction & blew away a coil of gun smoke issuing from the barrel. I had used the five shots to make the semi-circular moon-shaped vent into a circle. 

‘Goll darn!’ exclaimed Mr. V.V. Bletchley. ‘You sure can shoot. Well, that puts a whole new light on the matter.’ 

Here I noticed that Mr. Icy Blue had pulled the goggles up on his forehead so he could see better. Now he was watching me with his arms folded across his chest and his pale eyes narrowed. 

It was like he was waiting for me to do something more. 

I quickly set about re-loading the five-shooter. They were all watching me but I was not nervous. Everything I needed was right there on Bletchley’s blotter. I used his powder flask to drop a measure of black powder into each chamber & then added a piece of lint & then dropped in a .36 caliber ball & used the built-in rammer to jam it in real good. Finally I put caps on the nipples at the back of the cylinder.

When I finished reloading, I handed the revolver back to Bletchley, butt first. 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Mr. Icy Blue give a little nod and replace his goggles over his eyes. I felt I had passed a test. 

‘Well,’ said Bletchley. ‘I do believe I have changed my opinion of your daughter!’ He put the pistol in his drawer & looked at Pa. ‘I think your plan might work after all.’

Dizzy scratched his belly and frowned. ‘I don’t rightly understand the Plan,’ he said. ‘Can you splain it again?’

Bletchley turned to him. ‘As I see it, these detectives are suggesting that you let the little girl and one of them ride up on top with you in shotgun position. The silver will be inside your coach. We will hide it under mailbags, as we got so many of those still left to deliver. But a decoy coach will set out first. It will appear to be carrying silver, but when the Reb Road Agents hold it up, half a dozen of my men will jump out and arrest them. Then you and the silver will ride on past to Sacramento in perfect safety.’

‘What is the point of that li’l gal, again?’ asked Dizzy.

‘To make your coach look harmless and ambling.’

‘All right, then,’ said Dizzy after a moment. ‘If you are sure you want to entrust so much silver to my care, I reckon I will do it.’ 

That is what he said, but I could tell from his feet pointing towards the door that he was not happy.

‘Blue?’ said Mr. Bletchley. ‘You all right with our plan? Can you rustle up five or six men for the decoy stage?’ 

‘Dam right,’ he growled. 

‘And you, Miss Pinkerton?’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley, turning to me. ‘Are you absolutely, positively certain you want to do this?’

I set my wig & hat back on my head, looked at my beaming Pa & nodded firmly. ‘You bet!’

Read on...

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!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 14

The Virginia City office of the Overland Stage Company was noisy & crowded. It smelled of spittoons & sweat & cigars. Pa and Mr. Ray G. Tempest were standing behind a counter and I was standing behind them. It was just past ten o’clock. We were waiting to see the owner so we could tell him our clever Plan.

Behind me, a woman’s hoop skirt nudged me up against pa so that his brown woolen greatcoat tickled my nose. Now that the road out of Virginia was passable, there were a lot of folk wanting tickets for the stagecoach. 

‘We have an appointment with Mr. V.V. Bletchley,’ said Ray to someone on the other side of the counter. ‘We are Pinkerton detectives.’

‘I will see if he is ready for you,’ said an Irish Accent.  

I could not see over the counter, so while we were waiting, I read a sign on the wall:

Overland Company Rules for Stagecoach Passengers

1. Do not to jab people with your elbows or jostle them with your knees.
2. Do not talk to other passengers if you have not been introduced. 
3. Do not discuss Politics or Religion.
4. Do not wear strong-smelling toilette water or pomade.
5. Do not smoke a strong-smelling pipe or cigar.
6. If you must spit or vomit, do so out of the window. (On the leeward side.) 
7. Do not stare fixedly at the other people in the stagecoach.
8. Do not drink whiskey or other spirituous beverages.
9. Do not lean upon your neighbors when sleeping.
10. Do not point out where murders, robberies and/or grisly stagecoach crashes have occurred. 
11. Do not discharge firearms. The noise might upset the passengers & spook the horses. 
12. If the team runs away, sit still and take your chances. If you jump, nine out of ten times you will get hurt.

It was that last rule that worried me the most on account of my stagecoach-going-over-a-precipice nightmare. If Mr. V.V. Bletchley liked pa’s idea, I would soon be sitting atop a stagecoach. I wondered, if something spooked the team would I be better off jumping or sitting still?

An Irish accent broke into my thoughts. ‘Mr. V.V. Bletchley will see you now. Please follow me.’ 

‘Remember, Pinky,’ whispered my pa, ‘It is important ye act like a girly-girl.’

I followed Pa and Ray around the counter. I practiced taking dainty half-steps. We went past some desks and along an echoing corridor. The clerk opened a door and stood back to let us enter. 

I followed pa in & was about to close the door with a backward kick but remembered just in time & gently closed it with my gloved hand instead. 

‘Please be seated, gentlemen,’ said a plump man behind a desk without looking up. He had some .36 caliber balls & powder & lint & caps laid out on the blotter of his desk & he was loading a revolver. I observed it was a Colt Pocket Navy. It is like the Normal Navy only it has a shorter barrel and the cylinder holds five balls, not six. 

There were two chairs in front of the big maple desk and a small red velvet stool over by the window. My pa brought the stool and set it between the chairs and we all sat down with me in the middle. 

The man still had his head down as he concentrated on putting little brass caps on nipples. I could see he had a few strands of black hair pasted over his bald head.

At last he finished loading his five-shooter & looked up.

I sometimes find it hard to remember people’s faces and names, which can be a handicap when you are a detective, but Mr. V.V. Bletchley’s face and name would be easy to remember. His cheeks were blotchy, which sounds like Bletchley. 

‘Who is this?’ he said when he saw me sitting between the two operatives. His voice sounded clotted & thick, like porridge.

‘This is me wee lassie,’ said Pa. ‘Say hello, Prudence.’

‘How do you do?’ I said in my little girl voice. I half rose from my stool to make a curtsy.

‘Charming,’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley. ‘Her mother must have been quite lovely. Mexican, I’d guess, like my wife. And who are you?’

‘I am Robert Pinkerton, founder of the world-renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. This here is Ray G. Tempest, one of our finest operatives.’

They both opened their greatcoats to show the detective buttons on their coat lapels. Mr. V.V. Bletchley’s eyebrows went up.  

‘Pinkertons!’ he exclaimed. ‘What are you doing this far west?’ 

Ray said, ‘We are on the trail of some “Reb Road Agents” who have been robbing stagecoaches in Utah Territory. They have recently moved their base west to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.’

‘I’ve heard of them,’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley. 

Ray said, ‘We believe they will be lying in wait for your next silver shipment to Sacramento.’ 

‘Where did you get this information, sir?’ Bletchley’s blotchy face had gone a shade lighter. 

‘We cannot reveal our source as it might endanger the life of one of our undercover operatives,’ continued Ray. ‘But we have an idea of how to safeguard the silver and hopefully catch those bandits.’

‘Gentlemen,’ said Bletchley, ‘you have my full attention.’

‘A stagecoach leaving Salt Lake City was robbed last month and a female passenger gave us valuable information about these so-called Reb Road Agents,’ continued Ray. ‘She said the only thing they stole from her was a kiss on account of they do not rob stages with women nor children, but only those carrying gold and silver and Fat Cats. The woman’s little girl was on the stage with her and one of the Reb Road agents bounced her on his knee. He said they would not harm a hair of her head as they both had a little girls of their own.’

‘I was not aware of that incident,’ said Bletchley. ‘Nor of their fondness for women and children.’

‘This is our plan,’ continued Ray. ‘We suggest a trap. Put your best driver and your fiercest-looking conductor on top of a vehicle well-suited for transporting valuables. However, instead of silver it will hold your bravest guards. The bandits will see that heavy-laden coach and naturally assume it carries the big silver shipment. When they tell you to “stand and deliver”, your guards will spring forth and apprehend them. No passengers will be hurt, no silver stolen. As those Reb Road Agents are being clapped in irons,’ he concluded, ‘the genuine silver shipment will pass by on a second stagecoach, which will appear to be a harmless passenger stage.’ 

Mr. V.V. Bletchley pursed his lips. Then he nodded. ‘That is a bully idea,’ he said. ‘Simple yet effective. Let me put it to one of my drivers and one of my conductors.’ He struck a little brass hand bell on his desk: Ding!

The clerk came in. 

Bletchley said, ‘What drivers and conductors have we got available at the moment?’ 

‘Almost all of em,’ said the clerk. ‘Blue, Calloway, Prince and Burns. Oh, and Dizzy just came in.’

‘Send in Blue and Dizzy.’ 

While we waited, Bletchley turned to me. ‘I would offer you coffee but it is cold and black.’

I was going to say that was my preferred method of drinking it but I remembered I was supposed to be a girly-girl so I replied, ‘I will be grateful for it, however it comes.’

Bletchley stood up, went to a sideboard, poured black coffee into a china cup with matching saucer & put it on the desk before me.

I lifted the cup to my lips, careful to keep my little finger crooked as I took a dainty sip. 

Mr. V.V. Bletchley went back to the sideboard. ‘Whiskey, gentlemen?’ he said, lifting a cut glass decanter half full of amber liquid. 

‘I dinna drink,’ said my pa. 

But Ray nodded. ‘I ain’t teetotal. I will have one.’ 

As Bletchley was pouring whiskey the door opened and two men came in. One of them was known to me on account of he was an albino with skin as white as a corpse’s & stubbly snow-white beard & little round dark-blue goggles. Folk hereabouts called him ‘Icy’ because of his icy skin color and his initials, which are I.C.

I like people with such distinctive looks; I do not forget them like I do with ordinary people. 

The man who followed Mr. Icy Blue into the office was unknown to me. He was short & tubby with a snub nose and stubble on his chin. He wore a floppy gray slouch hat with the front brim folded back & pinned to its dented crown. His faded flannel shirt showed me a glimpse of his undergarments where some buttons were missing at the belly. 

When he saw me sitting there he snatched off his hat & sucked in his gut. ‘Beg pardon, Miss,’ he said. ‘I do not mean to exhibit my unmentionables but my dinner done popped the buttons of my shirt.’

Mr. V.V. Bletchley pointed to the man with blue goggles. ‘Mr. Isaac C. Blue here is a conductor.’ To me he said, ‘The “conductor” is what you might call the captain of the stagecoach, for he takes charge of the passengers & goods and protects them with his shotgun. For that reason the conductor is often called the “Shotgun”.’ 

I knew all this but I was pretending to be a girly-girl so I just nodded politely and tried to make my eyes big & round. 

He smiled at me and then pointed to the tubby man. ‘Mr. Davey Scrubbs there goes by the name of “Dizzy”. He is one of our best drivers. Sometimes we call the driver the “Whip” because of the big black whip they hold.’ 

‘They call the whip a “black snake”,’ explained Dizzy. ‘And whipping the horses is called “black-snaking”.’ 

I covered my mouth with both hands, the way I had seen Bee do sometimes. ‘Does it hurt the horses?’ I asked in my girly-girl voice. 

‘Nah!’ chuckled Dizzy. ‘It only makes a loud crack, like a gunshot. That is what gets em running. A good “Whip” will not even touch them horses,’ he added. 

‘Dizzy,’ said Mr. V.V. Bletchley, ‘What would you say if I asked you to take the big silver shipment over the mountains to Sacramento this very afternoon and put it on the steamboat to Frisco?’

Dizzy was so surprised that he swallowed his chaw of tobacco. He coughed & then stood up a little straighter. ‘You never asked me to do that before, boss,’ he said. ‘I would not like to be responsible for that much silver. You know I cannot shoot worth beans.’ 

‘You don’t have to worry,’ said Ray. ‘One of us will be your conductor and ride shotgun with you, and the other will ride close by for extra protection, just in case. But you probably won’t even see the Reb Road Agents as the decoy stage will be a few miles ahead of you.’

‘Decoy stage?’ said the albino with blue goggles.

‘Just so,’ said Bletchley, turning to him. ‘Would you be willing to take a coach full of armed men in order to apprehend those robbers lurking up in the Sierra Nevada?’

Icy nodded. ‘I would relish the chance to meet those varmints,’ he growled. ‘I am ready to send those goddam road agents to h-ll.’

‘I thought as much,’ said Bletchley. He smiled at Dizzy. ‘So you see? There should be no danger. Icy here will be the bait so you can drive your coach full of silver right on past those Reb Road agents as he is clapping them in irons.’

‘But what if they miss spotting that decoy coach and spy me in a low-slung coach all groaning with silver,’ said Dizzy. 

Pa said, ‘We have thought of that. We have an ace in the hand: my wee daughter Prudence!’

Mr. Bletchley looked at Pa and then at me. ‘What do you mean?’

Ray said, ‘Like we told you, we know that those Reb Road agents have a soft spot for little girls.’ He turned to Dizzy. ‘Therefore, we intend to get Prudence here to pretend to be your young niece and ride atop the stagecoach in a prominent position.’ 

‘What, sir?’ cried Bletchley. ‘You would put your own child at risk for the sake of a little silver? Why, that is monstrous! I could not live with myself if a hair of this sweet little girl should be harmed and I cannot believe you would be willing to put her in danger.’

I looked at Pa and he looked at me. 

I was not sure exactly what had just happened but I think it was this: I had girly-girled myself right out of a job!

Read on...

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!