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!’

[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, 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!  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 13

‘Good morning, Miss Pinkerton!’ snapped Ping the next day. ‘You late.’

It was only a quarter past 9.00 but I let that pass. He was sitting in my chair behind my desk. I also let that pass. 

‘Happy May Day,’ I said. (It was Friday the 1st of May.)

Ping scowled at me. ‘That is stupid hat.’ 

I was wearing my new lighthouse bonnet with its silk flowers & sash & ruffles. And also my daffodil-yellow, merino-wool dress with only one petticoat so it was not too puffy. 

His words stung me but I pretended not to care.

‘I don’t care,’ I said. ‘This get-up is vital to a gallus plan of my pa’s devising.’ I held up my new adoption papers. ‘Also, I have just been down to the recorder’s office with my pa and I am now a genuine Pinkerton detective and no longer bogus.’

‘I think you very bogus.’ said Ping. He rose up from my chair & stood with folded arms. ‘You lie to me. All this time.’ 

He stood facing me with the desk between us as if he was the Detective and I was the Client. He wore his smart gray worsted suit with the white shirt & jade silk cravat & he smelled faintly of jasmine soap or hair tonic. His black hair was very clean & shiny. When he wore his suit he tucked his long pigtail in the jacket so it looked like short hair. 

For the first time it struck me that he was good-looking, even handsome.

He said, ‘Why is our account at Wells Fargo one thousand dollar emptier than two days ago?’

I said, ‘When I got home last night I found that Mrs. Matterhorn had heard about my being a gal and evicted me from my boarding house. I had to take a suite at a hotel.’

He said, ‘What hotel?’

‘The International.’

‘Why Suite?’ His black eyes almost sparked with fire. 

‘So pa and Ray can stay there, too, in their own rooms. They were lodging at a cheap boarding house down on D Street.’

He said, ‘Suite at International for how long?’

I said, ‘Only one night.’

He said, ‘That is not thousand dollar.’

I said, ‘I had to buy some new clothes.’ I felt my face grow hot. Dang my body for betraying me! 

‘Those clothes?’ He looked me up and down. His nose wrinkled on one side. Expression No. 3 - disgust. ‘Anything else?’

I said, ‘I had to pay a clerk upwards of two hundred dollars to get these adoption papers cleared extra quick.’

‘Anything else?’

I said, ‘Five-course dinner at a high-tone restaurant last night.’

He looked at me, his arms still folded across his chest. 

‘With champagne,’ I admitted.

He said, ‘Fool! Do you forget we are partners? I handle business side? You should have check with me first.’

‘I should have checked with you about getting adopted?’ I said. 

‘Yes!’ he said. ‘You are now his chattel.’

I did not know that word.

I said, ‘I do not know that word.’

He said,  ‘If anything happen to you then he get all your money.’

‘And if anything happens to him, I inherit a fifth of his wealth.’

‘He wealthy?’

I shrugged. ‘I reckon.’

‘Then why you pay for hotel, clothes, dinner, champagne and adoption bribe?’

‘Bribe? What do you mean ‘bribe’?’

‘You pay extra to rush something through, it is called “bribe”.’ 

I said, ‘It was not a bribe. I had to pay two hundred to the clerk to get these adoption papers cleared extra quick. My pa keeps the accounts for the Pinkerton Agency and he says they are very strict on expenses. But I know they are rich. They are a famous detective agency. They are world-renowned.’

‘That does not mean they have money in their coffers.’ Ping’s scowl deepened.

‘If we catch those Reb Road Agents,’ I said, there will be a big reward. ‘Two percent of whatever we recover. Pa said the stolen money might be as much as five hundred thousand. So our cut would be ten thousand dollars if we catch those Reb Road Agents.’

He said, ‘If.’

I said, ‘Did you see our shingle is up again? We are back in business.’

He said, ‘I not sure I want to be partner with liar.’

I said, ‘I ain’t a liar.’

He said, ‘You should have trust me. I do not care if you boy or girl. I only care about success of business.’

I said, ‘You do too care if I am a girl. Would you have worked with me if you’d known?’ 

‘Yes,’ he said. But for the first time his gaze slid away. 

I said, ‘You only care about money.’ 

He said, ‘A business with no money will not last long. Look.’ He opened a ledger book on the desk. It was a proper ledger book with numbers and dates meticulously recorded. It had all our income from the past seven months we had been doing business. 

‘Before you take out that thousand dollar,’ he said. ‘Our balance was good. Nearly four thousand. Now it is only this.’ 

He pointed at a column on the ledger book & I looked. 

I saw the remaining balance in the Pinkerton strongbox was $2,784.20

He said, ‘I want fifty percent.’

I said, ‘Beg pardon?’

He said, ‘I do not want to work with lying female.’

‘You just said it didn’t matter if I was female.’

‘Female does not matter. Lying does.’

I was flummoxed. I did not know what to say. I had not thought Ping would be this riled at me for deceiving him.

His re-folded his arms across his chest. ‘You soon go back to Chicago with your pa, correct?’

When he said that, I felt a mite queasy, like when I stand too close to the edge of a precipice. I would be abandoning my life as I knew it. But Chicago was my dream. I had to make that leap of faith sometime.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I will be going to Chicago.’

‘Then split business assets fifty-fifty,’ he said. 

The whole room seemed to swell and then shrink back again, as if it had taken a deep breath, not me. 

He said, ‘You still have those feet of Chollar Mine which bring you about one fifty a month. They are yours. Good income. Do not sell them.’

‘All right,’ I said. ‘We will go to the bank right now, and I will give you your half of the money.’ 

He said, ‘I could also ask you to pay back thousand dollar you just spend, so we could split that, too. But if you sign over deed of this office to me, we will call it even.’

‘You want this office?’

‘Yes, I want this office. After you go, I rename business Pingerton Detective Agency.’

‘Pingerton? As in Ping?’

He nodded curtly. 

‘That is clever.’ I looked around the narrow room with its shelves & desk & chairs & sky window & wood-burning stove & the branch with butterfly chrysalises & the hat-tree & the counter at the back & the door to the little storeroom-bedroom where I had lived for a month or two before moving to Mrs. Matterhorn’s. I felt a bunch in my throat but I swallowed it down. 

‘All right,’ I said. 

I do not usually like to be touched but this was important so I spat on the palm of my right hand and held it out. 

He spat on the palm of his right hand and we shook. 

Then we went down to Wells Fargo & Co. and apart from necessary yesses and noes required to get a clerk to withdraw $1,392.10 in gold from my strongbox and hand it over to him, we did not speak another word to each other. 

I left the bank without saying goodbye, for it was almost ten o’clock. 

I had somewhere to be. 

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 05, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 12

My spirits revived a little when Pa took me to Almack’s Oyster and Liquor Saloon down on C Street. We were shown to a high-tone dining room in back. 

It had tables around a polished square of wooden floor with a big chandelier overhead. It was now dusk and there were candles giving a soft, golden light. 

The tables had heavy white tablecloths & silverware & crystal goblets. 

A high-tone waiter in black and white led us to a table for two. He pulled out a velvet chair for me.

When I slumped down on it, Pa rolled his eyes. 

He showed me how to sit with ankles crossed and Good Posture. 

He told me to take off the little white gloves he had made me buy. 

Then he ordered a bottle of Best Champagne. (Ma Evangeline had made me promise never to drink liquor but my Pinkerton pa said the bubbles meant it didn’t count as liquor, and he was teetotal so he should know.)

The bottle of Best Champagne made a pop when the waiter opened it & it spurted out some white foam. Pa tried to catch it in one of the glasses and he laughed when it soaked his new shirt cuff. (I had bought him a new shirt to go with his hat.) The waiter dabbed Pa’s damp cuff with his waiter-napkin & then poured the champagne into special glasses that were flat & round & shallow. I was entranced by the pale-gold liquid. It had about a hundred tiny silver bubbles all swimming up in strings that never ran out.

I downed mine in one, like I have seen folk do with whiskey in a saloon, but I had a bad coughing fit on account of the bubbles & coldness. 

‘Sip, for the love of God,’ hissed my pa, as he refilled my glass. ‘Sip!’

I sipped.

It was sweet & fizzy & made my heart rise up in my chest like a little hot air balloon in the blue sky. 

It was the bulliest beverage I had ever tried. 

There were 3 forks & 2 knives & a passel of little spoons on my place mat. Pa told me to start with the outside utensils and work my way in. 

Pa ordered a fancy five-course meal. It was tasty food but I would have enjoyed it more if Pa had not kept telling me what not to do.  

He told me not to hunker down like a vulture over its prey, but to sit up straight.

He told me not to slurp my soup, but make my spoon like a boat.

He told me not to tip the oysters out of their half-shells straight down my open throat, but to use a special fork. 

He told me not to use the horseradish to glue the peas to my knife. 

He told me not to lick the last of the strawberry blancmange off my plate.

After all five courses, the waiter brought two china cups of black coffee and a plate of fancy little marzipan cakes called petits fours which are pronounced Putty For. Pa taught me to crook my little finger while sipping coffee and he challenged me to eat one of the marzipan cakes in ten tiny mouthfuls. I just about managed to do both those things. 

About this time two men with fiddles started playing toe-tapping music. A few couples got up & began swirling around the little bare space which was a dance floor. The music was bully & it might have entranced me but Pa wanted to teach me how to make Small Talk. 

Small Talk is where you talk about the weather & other genteel things but never about how a Methodist preacher & his wife found you on the Great Plains by the grave of your massacred Injun ma or how they adopted you & taught you reading & writing & scripture and brought you to Nevada Territory before they too got massacred. 

By and by Pa allowed me to tell my story but he made me do it without the cussing or scalpings. 

Then he let me tell him about some of the crimes I had solved. By now he had stopped telling me not to cuss nor mention blood. He just listened with his mouth half open. I reckon he was entranced. 

I was telling Pa how I had vanquished a beautiful but murderous widow named Violetta de Baskerville when he stood up sudden-like and offered his hand. 

‘What are you doing?’ I asked.

‘I am going to teach ye to dance,’ he replied. 

‘Do I have to learn how to dance?’

‘Aye,’ he said. ‘A young lady needs to know how to dance. If ye are to be a Pinkerton operative, ye might have to do lots of it. Put on yer wee gloves and hold up yer right hand,’ he said. ‘Like ye’re taking an oath in court.’

Part-Indians like me cannot take oaths in court but I held up my right hand anyways. He took it & pulled me to my feet & put his arm around my waist. I usually do not like to be touched but I did not mind it too much as he was my pa. He showed me how to move my feet by moving his own. 

I could not do it. 

‘Keep trying,’ he said. He smelled of Lucy Hinton tobacco & coffee & musky hair balm. It was a nice smell. I kept trying. 

I could not master it. 

‘They are playing a dance called a Schottische,’ he said. ‘It is from Scotland. It is our slower version of a polka.’ He was smiling & not getting impatient with my clumsiness & stupidity. 

Concentrating on the steps prevented me from slipping into a music trance but I found my pa looked like a friendly otter again. I did not mind dancing with a friendly otter. 

I kept trying to get it. 

I almost had it. 

I finally got it! 

One moment I was stepping on my pa’s new shoes & the next we were dancing! I could do it. Even in my silly button-up boots, I could do it! 

We were spinning & trying not to barge the 2 other couples & our feet were twinkling & the fiddlers’ faces whirled past wearing No. 1 smiles. Finally the music stopped & everyone laughed & clapped & fanned their faces. 

When my Pa went out back to use the outhouse, I almost plonked down at our table but remembered just in time and sat with ankles crossed and Good Posture. 

I finished the champagne in my glass. I felt like all the little bubbles were lifting me up from inside. 

Suddenly Jace was sitting opposite me. 

‘P.K.,’ he said. ‘What do you think you are doing?’

‘Jace! What are you doing here?’ I said. My words came out a mite slurry. 

He looked at me through a cloud of cigar smoke. ‘News reached me a couple of hours ago. People ain’t happy that you have been pranking them for seven months. Why are you dressed like that? Folk will think you are mocking them.’

‘What is wrong with this?’ I said, looking down at my yellow and green frock. I could hear my voice was too loud. The room was tilting a little. 

‘Well, that color don’t suit you for one thing,’ he said. 

‘You think Magenta would be better?’ I said. ‘Or maybe Solferino? Like what Violetta wears?’

(Violetta de Baskerville was the beautiful but deadly widow I had been telling my pa about. She was partial to fashionable shades of purple. She had tried to get her claws into Jace a few months earlier, but I had saved him from unholy matrimony & sent her packing to Frisco.)

He turned his head to blow smoke away from me. ‘I ain’t saying you should dress like Violetta,’ he said. ‘Though any dress in her closet would suit you better than what you are wearing now.’

It stung me when he said that but I was sure my face showed no emotion. 

‘This is the way my Pa likes me to dress,’ I said, lifting my chin. 

‘Yeah,’ said Jace. ‘I been watching you and your pa.’

‘Well he is going take me to Chicago and I don’t care what you think.’

Jace stubbed out his cigar even though it was only half-smoked. ‘All right then. I didn’t come to talk ladies’ fashions. I just came to try to help. But it looks like you don’t need advice. Good luck in Chicago.’ 

‘Who was that?’ said Pa, coming up to the table. 

I looked at Jace’s retreating back. ‘Just an old client,’ I said. 

‘I have had a wee notion,’ said my pa. 

‘What?’ The champagne in my stomach had gone sour. 

‘I have decided to adopt ye.’

‘What?’ I said again. There was a high-pitched ringing inside my head. 

‘I’m going to adopt ye. Tomorrow morning first thing, if ye will let me.’

‘But,’ I said, ‘what about your wife?’

He shrugged. ‘I’ll tell Caroline that ye’re an orphan. I know she’ll learn to love ye. And ye’ll be a bone fide Pinkerton. Now gissa hug.’ 

I stood up and let him embrace me in a strong, firm bear hug. 

Through the muffling sleeves of his jacket against my ears I heard a lady say, ‘Aw, ain’t that sweet. A pa hugging his daughter.’

I knew I should have felt happy, for my dearest dream was about to come true. 

But for some reason I only wanted to blub. 

Dang my changing body!

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!  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 11

After Bee slapped me, she turned & ran through the crowd back the way she had come. 

‘Why did she strike you?’ asked Affable, looking after her retreating bonnet. 

I stared at the boardwalk. ‘She had a bad habit of trying to kiss me,’ I said. ‘I reckon she is mortified to learn I am a girl.’

‘I will attempt to console her,’ said Affable. He touched his hat & turned & followed her. 

As my pa and I resumed our perambulation along the boardwalk I clenched my jaw. All my fears were coming to pass. My friends felt betrayed by my secret that was no longer a secret.

If my deception had caused a prim and proper girly-girl to strike me, how would my less demure friends react? 

I wished I could put on my beloved buckskin trowsers & pink flannel shirt. 

I stopped dead. ‘Where are my buckskin trowsers and flannel shirt?’ I asked my pa. ‘I took them off at Wassermann’s.’

‘Those greasy old things?’ said Pa. ‘Why, Ray and I tossed them on a bonfire out back of the livery stable while you were getting alterations.’

I was too stunned to reply. 

Then my pa stunned me some more: instead of crossing over to Almack’s, he turned right. He was taking me up steep & muddy Taylor Street.

‘Where are we going?’ I said. ‘Almack’s is right back there. It is kitty corner across C Street. Ain’t we going to supper?’

‘I thought it would be good for us to preserve this special moment with an ambrotype,’ he said. ‘Before the sun sets.’

He was taking me to Isaiah Coffin’s Ambrotype & Photographic Gallery right next door to my office! That meant Isaiah would find out I was a gal. So would Belle Donne. So would Ping, the person I most dreaded telling. 

‘No!’ I cried digging in my heels.

‘But I want to send photographic image to my brother, when I tell him about you,’ said my pa. 

Reluctantly, I undug my heels. 

The sun had not yet dropped behind Mount Davidson when we reached Isaiah Coffin’s Ambrotype & Photographic Gallery. The little bell over the door gave a familiar tinkle as we came into the empty studio. 

‘They ain’t here,’ I said, tugging his arm & backing up. ‘Let’s go. We can try tomorrow.’

‘Nonsense,’ said my pa. ‘The door was unlocked and the sign said OPEN. Hello?’ he cried. ‘Anybody here?’ 

There were some muffled noises from the store room where the proprietor has various costumes & also a small laboratory in a cupboard. After about a minute Mr. Isaiah Coffin emerged, putting on his frock coat. Despite a grim-sounding name he is a good-looking man with fair hair, symmetrical features and a billy-goat beard. I observed his cheeks were pinker than usual. 

‘Excuse my disarray,’ he said, ‘but I was developing – Zounds!’ He stopped with his arm half in one sleeve and stared at me open mouthed. Then he closed his mouth & resumed putting on his coat. 

‘That is to say: Good afternoon, sir! Good afternoon, little girlMay I help you?’

‘We’d like ye to ambrotype us,’ said my pa. ‘My name is Robert Pinkerton. I believe ye know my daughter, Prudence Kezia?’ 

Mr. Isaiah Coffin’s gray eyes opened wide in Expression No. 4 - surprise. ‘Prudence Kezia?’

I nodded. 

He narrowed his eyes. ‘Prudence Kezia?’ This time his face wore No. 5 – suspicious or thinking.

I sighed. ‘Yes.’

Finally his face showed No. 1 – a genuine smile. ‘Prudence Kezia?’ 

I sighed again. Deeply. ‘Yes.’

‘Sacray blur! You have confounded us all! For over half a year you have pulled the proverbial wool over our eyes.’

‘Who has pulled the wool over our eyes?’ said a feminine voice, and Miss Belle Donne came out of the same storeroom from which her husband had emerged. Yes, the prim & proper English photographer and the pistol-packing Soiled Dove were now man & wife, though she retained her stage name. 

She was prettily attired in a dark blue silk outfit with flounces & furbelows. Her cheeks were also pinker than usual and her bodice was buttoned wrong near the top. 

‘Vwa La!’ said Isaiah Coffin to his wife. He flourished his hand at me. ‘It transpires that P.K. Pinkerton is one of the weaker sex.’

‘Ha, ha!’ said Belle. ‘That is rich.’

‘Go on, Prudence,’ said my pa. ‘Tell her.’

I hung my head. ‘It is true,’ I confessed. ‘I am a gal.’ I shot a glare at Isaiah Coffin. ‘But I ain’t weaker, dam it!’

‘Prudence…’ said my pa with an admonishing tone. ‘Didn’t I tell ye not to blaspheme?’

‘I meant a mill dam,’ I said. 

‘Why you cunning little vixen!’ cried Belle, narrowing her eyes. 

She came close to me & circled round me & took my chin to turn my head this way & that. Finally she prodded my chest with a hard forefinger.

‘Outch!’ I cried. 

‘Dang!’ cried she. ‘You have been pulling the wool over our eyes. The merino wool!’ Then she laughed & clapped her hands. ‘Oh, but this is bully news! I must tell everybody I know and have ever met.’

‘No!’ I cried. ‘Don’t!’

Too late. She was out the door. 

By the time Isaiah had stood me and pa up against his new painted backdrop of a Greek Temple & put our heads in iron vise-like contraptions to keep us from moving – lest we make the image blurry – a whole passel of people had gathered outside the shop and were peering through the window at us. 

I stood there in humiliation – the back of my lighthouse bonnet gripped by iron pincers – and watched the townspeople of Virginia City watch me. 

I saw my lawyer, Mr. William Morris Stewart, a lofty man with a beard the size of a sagebrush whose office was right across the street. He had obviously been doing business with Joe Goodman, the young owner of the Daily Territorial Enterprise Newspaper, for he was there, too. Stewart and Goodman had both helped me in times past, but now they were staring at me with Expression No. 4. 

Doc Pinkerton (no relation) appeared beside them. He had once offered to adopt me. I wondered if he would have made that offer if he had known my sex. 

I noticed Titus Jepson, who had lost the tip of his pinky finger on account of me, but had promised to feed me in perpetuity. His Mexican waiter Gus was there, too, and several regular customers known to me by sight. They were all staring at me with banjo eyes & open mouths & shaking their heads in disbelief. 

I felt a dribble of sweat tickle my backbone as Isaiah Coffin made a few last adjustments to his camera. 

‘Compose your faces,’ he commanded, ‘look into the lens, and do not move! The sun will be gone in a moment.’ Then he took a black disc from the front of the camera. I kept my eyes on the front of the camera but that did not stop me spotting the person I dreaded seeing most: my partner Ping. 

Belle Donne was beside him, gesturing & talking in an animated fashion.  But he was taking no notice of her. He was glaring at me with his arms folded across his chest & the scowliest scowl I had ever seen. He was mouthing something, too. I am good at lip-reading but I could not tell what he was saying. I reckoned he was cussing in Chinese. 

Finally Ping turned and stalked off. 

I wanted to run out of the studio & go after him to explain, but my head was in the jaws of that vise & also I was too ashamed. Of all people, I should have told him sooner, for he was my business partner. 

I hoped he would not stay riled at me forever. 

More people had come and were jostling at the window to see. 

They had stopped staring & were now laughing & pointing & shaking their heads. I felt my cheeks go hot.  

When Isaiah released us from the gripping vises & said we could go, I wanted to climb out the back window & escape down that rotten ladder. But Pa said I must hold my head high and be seen as his daughter, so he made me go out the front door & hold his arm. 

As we pressed through the gawping & grinning throng I heard people say, ‘Is it true? Have you really been a gal all this time?’ 

I kept my head up but squinched my eyes shut. I clung onto Pa as he led me through the clamoring crowd. 

I knew it was vital to our Plan that I act like a girly-girl, but I hated it. 

I thought, Pa had better take me back to Chicago when we have solved this case for I will never be able to face the folk of Virginia City again.

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, May 22, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 10

A "lighthouse bonnet"         

I was facing the biggest challenge of my career as a detective. To act like a convincing girly-girl.

It was vital to our Plan. 

Even dressed in the girliest dress west of the Rockies I was not convincing.

Pa smiled at me through a cloud of his own pipe smoke. ‘Don’t ye worry,’ he said. ‘I will teach ye to walk and talk like a lassie in no time. It is still afternoon, but what do ye say to an early supper at Almack’s Liquor & Oyster Saloon? They tell me it is the best restaurant in town.’

My stomach growled for I had eaten nothing all day. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘But only oysters. No liquor.’

‘Of course no liquor!’ said Pa. ‘I am teetotal.’

‘Well, I ain’t teetotal,’ said Ray, ‘and I need a few stiff drinks. So I hope you don’t mind if I dine elsewhere. I will see you both tomorrow at the offices of the Overland Stage at ten o’clock sharp.’

He exited the shop while I paid Mrs. Wasserman what I owed her. 

As my pa and I emerged into the late afternoon sunshine and set out south on the C Street boardwalk I felt kind of queasy in my stomach. 

I had worn a girl’s disguise before but I always had a poke bonnet to hide my face. That lighthouse bonnet made me feel exposed, especially in the bright afternoon sunshine. Also a ruffle at the back itched my neck. 

Pa took my left hand and tucked it firmly under his right elbow. 

‘This is how a respectable lassie walks with her escort in Chicago,’ he explained. ‘That is to say, a wife with her husband, a sister with her brother, or a daughter with her pa.’ 

I nodded and dutifully hung on to the crook of his elbow.  

There was a line of people waiting outside the office of the Cal Stage Company. I reckon they were waiting to buy tickets now that the stage would soon be running again. I noticed Mr. Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain, standing there with his friend Clement T. Rice AKA The Unreliable. 

I did not want to be recognized so I hung my head. 

‘Head up,’ whispered Pa. ‘Gracious expression.’

‘I only have one expression,’ I said. ‘Inscrutable.’

‘That will do at a pinch. But lift your head.’

We were past the line of people, so I lifted my head. 

‘Don’t stomp,’ whispered Pa.

‘I cannot help it,’ I said. ‘These dam boots are so noisy.’

‘Walk on the balls of your feet,’ said Pa. ‘That is, the front part. Take two wee steps instead of one big one. And ne’er blaspheme.’

I tried walking on the boardwalk in little tappy steps without blaspheming. 

I hated every step. 

I missed my silent, butter-soft moccasins.

I missed my shielding slouch hat with the black felt brim I could pull down low against the slanting sun. 

I missed my pockets, and the comforting weight of a gun in one of them. 

Almack’s Oyster & Liquor Saloon was only two blocks south so I sent up an arrow prayer that I would not meet anyone known to me. If Sam Clemens and his friend were leaving town on account of a ‘delicate satire’, how would the townsfolk treat me when they discovered I had been pranking them all for over half a year?

Then I saw Bee Bloomfield and Affable Fitzsimmons walking arm in arm straight towards us. 

I wanted to dive behind a nearby barrel. 

I wanted to squeeze underneath the boardwalk. 

I wanted to do anything to get me out of their path. 

When I thought Pa wasn’t paying attention, I made a sudden lunge towards the swinging doors of the nearest saloon. I almost got away but Pa caught me & reeled me in & clamped my hand between his arm & his side. There was no escape.  

I lowered my head as Affie and Bee approached, and tried to make my black ringlets hide my face. 

We were almost past them when I heard Bee’s voice, ‘P.K.? Is that you?’ 

I made as if to keep walking but my pa stopped & turned to face them & touched the brim of his new brown hat made of beaver felt. ‘Good afternoon,’ he said in his Scottish burr. ‘Are ye friends of my daughter Prudence?’

‘Pinky,’ I mumbled, keeping my eyes firmly on their feet. ‘Please call me Pinky.’ Bee was wearing her little white button-up boots and Affable had exchanged his canvas shoes for sturdy brogues. 

‘Daughter?’ cried Bee. 

I took a deep breath and looked at her face. She was staring at me with Expression No. 4 – Surprise. 

Then her face relaxed & she said, ‘Oh, you are in disguise!’

Abruptly she clapped both hands over her mouth. 

Affable was staring at me, too. His eyes looked extra-big behind his spectacles. ‘You are the same P.K. Pinkerton who collects bugs and butterflies?’ he said. 

‘Shhh!’ hissed Bee in a barely audible voice. ‘He is in disguise.

‘Pinky is not in disguise,’ said my pa in a mild tone. ‘We thought it time to let the world know that Pinky is a lassie.’

‘A lassie?’ said Bee with a frown.

‘A lassie?’ said Affable, wide-eyed.

‘Aye! That is to say, a girl.  She always has been and always will be. Only she has finally decided to admit the fact and “come clean”. By the way, I am her father, Robert Pinkerton.’ He gave a little bow. 

‘Of the world-famous detective agency?’ Affie extended his hand. ‘Honored to meet you!’ 

My pa smiled & nodded & shook his hand.

‘You’re a girl?’ squeaked Bee. She was staring at me with eyes as round as banjos.  

I nodded & felt heat rise up into my face. My throat was tight. I did not know what to say. 

‘But I…’ said Bee. ‘I wanted to… I almost… Oh, you creature!’

I saw her nostrils flare, which usually means someone is going to wallop you. I reckoned I deserved it so I braced myself & closed my eyes. 

Sure enough, Bee Bloomfield slapped my face. 

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!