Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Diana, a poem

Diana

Coins
Of golden sunlight,
Pools of green,
Dapple her skin like
A fawn's
As she runs
Through the glade.

Points
Of silver arrows
Flash in the quiver,
Rattle in their case like
The shards
Athenians scratched 
To vote.

Cries
Of startled birds 
Fly up into the blue;
Her arc
Is in her hand,
An arrow notched
And ready.

Pebbles
Scatter, wet and gleaming,
As her golden-sandalled foot
splashes in the brook,
A warning
To the prey
She seeks.

Tears
Sparkle on her cheeks
Like angry diamonds,
Splash onto sunburned arms 
And dusty knees;
Weary she returns
To her garden.

Stars
Begin to prick
The violet dusk;
Bathed and clean
She sits in the fragrance
Of evening jasmine, henna, myrrh,
Under a crescent moon.

And he comes
To her there
In the secret place,
Tiny brazen hooves and silver horn,
pushing his velvet nose
Into the hollow of her neck,
Bowed in prayer.

Caroline Lawrence 1998

Nothing is lost! This poem I wrote in 1998 bore a kind of fruit nearly 20 years later when I did a re-telling of an ancient Roman tale for Barrington Stoke. Virgil's tragic Camilla story is found scattered out of order in books 7 and 11 of The Aeneid. I tried to put it in order and fill in the blanks. Queen of the Silver Arrow is written in simple prose for reluctant or dyslexic teen readers. But although the vocabulary is easy enough for a 7-year-old to read, some of the themes and images are better suited to children 11+

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 50


A week later, I found myself standing on the stage of Minnehaha’s Medicine Show, listening to hearty applause. 


It was Sunday May 10th and we were all at the Willows Amusement Park celebrating the capture of the criminals & the recovery of the money & our reward. Minnie had invited me to help her with the final part of her act. It was her last day in the city as she was bound for Sac City and parts beyond. 

She was wearing her tight buckskin top and her puffy skirt with the stripes & zigzags on it. Her hair was wavy & glossy & black & fell down to her shoulders. She was not wearing war paint so you could see her freckles and pale skin. 

I was wearing my fringed buckskin trowsers & beaded moccasins & beaded buckskin gloves & my red, blue and yellow zigzag jacket. I was also wearing the wig of straight black hair. (I had bought it from Minnie.) I was using my bogus pa’s Smith & Wesson No. 2 with its 6in barrel and rosewood grip. I like it because it fits my hand real good and also because it takes the same .32 rimfire cartridges as my 4-shooter Deringer. That means I do not need to bother with cap & ball & powder. 

Minnie and I had been shooting tin cans. 

My ears were still ringing with the sound of gunfire and my nose was full of the pungent smell of gun smoke. We had hit every can!

I had also been using my fine new Henry Rifle which takes fourteen .44 caliber cartridges and makes a bang like a shout. It was engraved thus: To P.K. Pinkerton, with thanks from the Overland Stage Co

Mr. V.V. Bletchley had come all the way from Virginia City to present it to me, along with a generous reward of $2000. I had given $500 to Martha & Zoe & $500 to Ping & $500 to Minnehaha. (That was when she had invited me to be part of her show for just one afternoon.)

As the cloud of white gun smoke cleared on that fine May afternoon, I could see the people looking up at us and clapping. 

I saw Ping & Affie & Martha & Zoe. Mr. Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain, was there, too, with his friend The Unreliable and also Mrs. John D Winters who was smiling and not looking down her nose. I saw my new colleague Mr. Detective Rose & half a dozen of San Francisco’s finest. They were clapping as hard as anybody else. 

Mr. Icy Blue was there, too, all in black. And Dizzy, with his leg in plaster! He was making a good recovery. He had verified my side of the story & was now ‘Yee-Hawing’ on account of he could not clap as he had to use both his hands for his crutches.  

Best of all, Ping had got an indebted Virginia City client of his to ride Cheeya to Frisco in easy stages. So I was now reunited with my beloved pony. 

I was about to jump down off the stage to join them when a man with oval spectacles ran up. He pointed to me. ‘You! Stay up there!’ he commanded. ‘I am Mr. H. W. Corbyn. I am going to make photographic cards of you. I will sell them and make a fortune. It will only take a moment or two and I will give you half the proceeds,’ he added.

So while Minnehaha was going round and collecting tips in her quiver, I remained on the stage. 

Mr. H. W. Corbyn heaved his big black camera up onto the stage & drew the red velvet curtains so that the people in the audience would not disturb us. The sun was right overhead and it was shining for all it was worth. Mr. Corbyn made me stand with one foot up on Minnie’s ammunition box, like when a hunter stands over the prey he has just killed.  

While Mr. Corbyn was making adjustments, a dark figure stooped to enter through the tee-pee door at the back of the stage & then stood tall. 

It was Poker Face Jace.

I could not move because Mr. Corbyn was making adjustments. 

Jace stopped about two paces away from me. He had his hands behind his back.  

‘Go away,’ I said. ‘I am quit of you.’

‘Hear me out,’ said he.

I said nothing. 

He said, ‘Remember when you came to Steamboat Springs end of last month and I said how in the whole world, only you and I knew the secret of your initials?s’

I gave a curt nod.

He sighed. ‘Well, after you left, I got to thinking. I remembered when I was with Violetta in Carson.’ He paused & took a breath. ‘She was interrogating me about you and we had been drinking and I might have mentioned something to her. About you not knowing what the P and the K stood for, that is.’

He still had his hands behind his back & suddenly his pale cheeks were pinkish. I had to look at him to make sure I was really seeing this. It was the first time I had ever seen Jace discombobulated. He even remained cool & collected under fire. But danged if he wasn’t blushing or flushing or something.

‘Keep your head still,’ Mr. H. W. Corbyn told me. ‘I am almost ready.’

‘That was why I came here to Frisco,’ said Jace. He spoke quickly & without his usual drawl, like he wanted to get it out fast. ‘I wondered if Violetta might be scheming against you. I had just got into her hotel room and was about to search it when you showed up.’  

‘A likely story,’ said I. 

But part of me wanted him to convince me I was wrong.

‘P.K.?’ he said. His voice was kind of thick and he had to clear his throat and start again. ‘You are kind of like a daughter to me. Or a son. Or – I don’t know – maybe both of those combined. As you know, I lost my own… And I just wanted to say… I am sorry. I would like you to have this.’

From behind his back he brought out a straw hat of the kind they call ‘sombrero’. Only it was not as big as most sombreros. 

The photographer was fiddling with his camera again, and had his back to us, so I reached out my hand & took it. 

It was made of pale-gold straw and had a red hat-band and on that hat-band was a buckskin butterfly all embroidered with beads. 

It was like the hat in my dream. 

Had I told him about my dream? I could not recollect. 

I looked at him and he looked at me. 

I looked back down at the hat. I said, ‘It is a bully hat.’

‘Ain’t it?’ said Jace. ‘I saw it in on a Mexican gal near Sacramento on my way here and I thought it might suit you. She made me pay five dollars for it,’ he added. 

‘Put it on!’ cried Mr. H. W. Corbyn from his device. 

I put it on. 

‘Yes!’ Mr. H. W. Corbyn called out to me. ‘But further back on your head, so it don’t shade your face.’

‘Let me,’ said Jace. He stepped forward & set the small sombrero a bit further back on my head & then he folded the front brim up a mite. 

‘There,’ said Jace in a low voice. ‘That looks fine.’ For a moment he lingered to brush a strand of wig hair away from my face. 

Then he stepped back. 

‘Perfect!’ cried Mr. Corbyn once more. ‘That is the finishing touch we needed. Now put your left hand on top of the rifle barrel and put your right hand back so I can see your pistol and gun-belt.’ 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jace moving away. 

‘Don’t go,’ I said. 

He stopped moving away. 

‘Freeze!’ cried Mr. Corbyn. Then he took away the cover of the lens & I stood as still as a jackass rabbit even though I could see Jace out of the corner of my eye. I could see him taking a cigar out of his coat pocket & he had some trouble lighting it as his hands were shaky.

In front of me, Mr. H. W. Corbyn replaced the cover on the lens and cried ‘Got it! These are going to sell like glasses of iced lemonade in Hell!’ he exclaimed. Then he added, ‘Pardon my French.’ 

Mr. H. W. Corbyn took the photographic plate and hurried out the back exit, leaving us alone on the curtained stage.

I turned to Jace. ‘We are all going to have a picnic down by the duck-pond,’ I said. ‘The one by the emeu cage. Ping and Affie and Martha. Miz Zoe, too. Will you join us?’

‘I would be honored,’ he said. He puffed his cigar and blew smoke up. ‘Can Stonewall come, too?’

‘Sure.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Jace?’ 

‘Yeah?’

‘You know you said I was a bit like your son or your daughter or both?’

He nodded. 

I took a deep breath. ‘Would you maybe give me a bear hug like a pa gives his kid sometimes?’

Jace opened his mouth. Then he closed it. Then he tossed the cigar away & stepped forward & put his arms around me in a safe bear hug. 

I usually do not like being touched but sometimes a bear hug is necessary.

This one felt good. 

It felt safe. 

I thought, ‘I do not need to find out who my real pa is. No pa could be as good as Jace. He is true. And he likes me just as I am.’

My eyes filled up with tears & I felt a sob wanting to come up. Dang my changing body! 

Just in time, my new hat fell off & we laughed & I bent down to pick it up & put it on & when I looked at Jace danged if his eyes weren’t damp too!

‘Bit dusty today,’ he remarked, taking out a pristine handkerchief and dabbing his eyes. 

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I noticed that, too.’

‘Dang,’ he said, putting the handkerchief back in his coat pocket. ‘You look mighty fine in that getup. How does it feel?’ 

‘It feels good,’ I said. ‘It feels like me.’ 

Then I took out my pistol & cocked it & fired it into the blue San Francisco sky & shouted, ‘Yee-haw!’

The End


[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

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 49


Mr. Lick’s office was not plush like the other rooms in the Lick House Hotel, but simple. It had leather chairs & a workbench at the back with woodworking tools & sawdust on the floor. 

Two policeman helped Mr. Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard into one of the leather chairs. Detective Rose let me come in, and also Martha, Zoe, Affie & Ping. The five of us stood with our backs to the workbench. 

Two more policemen came in, along with Mr. Isaac ‘Icy’ Blue. They held some familiar-looking leather mailbags. 

A distinct smell of horse manure pervaded the room. 

‘The stolen silver ingots and gold coins,’ I cried. ‘You found them!’

‘Where were they?’ asked Detective Rose. 

‘In two big travelling trunks,’ said one of the policemen. ‘Just like he said.’

‘There were tags on the trunks,’ said the other. ‘It appears the two of them had tickets on a cruise to the Sandwich Islands departing this very evening.’

No wonder everything had been done in such a rush. They were going to take that gold and silver with them, you bet!

‘I will get you for this!’ gasped Blezzard. He was looking at me. 

‘If you confess now,’ said Detective Rose to Blezzard. ‘In will go easier for you. You might not swing.’ 

‘Swing?’ said Blezzard, his face blanching. ‘Do you mean at the end of a rope?’

I fished in my medicine bag for my silk butterfly but Mr. Jonas Blezzard was already co-operating. 

The double threat of death by hanging and butterflies made him Spill the Beans, as they say. 

Right there in that sawdust-scented workroom he told us how he had come up with the plan. 

‘It all started with that half-Injun,’ he said, glaring at me. ‘She riled Violetta who became intent on revenge.’

‘Start from the beginning,’ said Detective Rose. 

‘Just after Christmas last year,’ said Blezzard. ‘Chance and I were playing poker in the Bella Union saloon here in Frisco. There was a new lady in town, a shapely widow named Violetta De Baskerville. We got ourselves places on her table. She was drinking Pousse Lamour cocktails and by the end of the night it was only the three of us. We got to talking about how much gold and silver was pouring out of those Comstock mines. She was tipsy, and told us about a scheme she had once devised. She and a lawman friend of hers in Virginia City had planned to hire a couple of roughs to rob the stages. He would “capture and arrest” the desperados and split the takings with them, allowing them to “escape” on the way to custody. The traitorous lawman would then tell the authorities that the robbers got away without revealing the location of the stash. 

‘Deputy Marshal Jack Williams,’ I said to Affie under my breath. ‘Violetta shot and killed him.’ 

Blezzard continued, ‘Violetta told us her lawman pard had been killed in a shooting affray. She did not know anyone stupid enough to play the dangerous parts of Reb Road Agents. I told her we knew a couple of bit-part actors who would pretend to be brigands for a spell. I said me and Chauncy could play lawmen. You got any whiskey?’ He asked Detective Rose.

‘When you finish telling us.’

Blezzard took a deep breath. ‘Violetta said she would fund us if we promised to exact revenge upon a brat in Virginia City. Violetta told us the kid was training to be a detective in order to join her pa’s agency. Well, I have a friend in Chicago, owns a jewelry store near the Pinkerton Agency. I asked him to tell me everything he could about them. He sent me a letter full of useful information about Robert and Allan Pinkerton. Chauncy was good with accents so he decided to play the kid’s pa.’ 

Jonas Blezzard shot me a glare. ‘We had briefed Johnny and Jimmy to stop a stage with a little girl riding on top. That was how they would know the one with the silver.’

‘How?’ said Detective Rose. ‘You could not telegraph a couple of Reb Road Agents hiding out in the high Sierras.’ 

‘It was our plan from the beginning,’ said Blezzard. ‘Violetta thought if we could get her to admit she was a girl it would serve three purposes; it would hurt her friends and help mark out that stagecoach.’

‘And the third purpose?’

Blezzard shrugged. ‘It would be easy to shoot her dead.’ 

I thought, Dang! that Violetta is a clever one.

‘What happened to Chauncy?’ said Detective Rose.

‘He threw down on me,’ said Jonas. ‘I shot back in self-defense. It was justified.’

‘That is a bald-faced lie!’ I cried. ‘You killed him in cold blood and with no warning. You tried to shoot me, too.’

Detective Rose turned to me. ‘Where is Chauncy Pridhaume now?’ he asked. 

I said, ‘You will find the body of my bogus pa in a shallow grave near a cave in a place called Grizzly Gulch a few miles west of Friday’s Station. ‘I had my account all written out,’ I added. ‘But it was in the pocket of my greatcoat and I lost that.’

Detective Rose smiled. ‘We got your greatcoat,’ he said. ‘With all the incriminating documents and also a ledger book and a fine pair of buckskin gauntlets.’  

At that moment the door opened and in came Violetta de Baskerville AKA Mrs. von Vingschplint AKA Mrs. Jonas Blezzard. 

Her bosom was heaving and her violet eyes were flashing sparks. She looked mighty pretty. I heard all the men in the room exhale & even Ping & Affie were staring with their mouths open. Violetta was in the custody of another uniformed policeman. Jace was behind them. 

It was now fairly crowded in that room. 


All eyes were on Violetta. She looked around at us all & her gaze fell on me. 

‘I wish I had let you die up in the mountains last year,’ she snarled. 

I said, ‘If you had not sought revenge you would now be living in peace and prosperity. I hope you have learned your lesson.’ 

‘Why, you sanctimonious little blank!’ she spat out. (Only she did not say ‘blank’.)

‘Ladies, ladies! That is enough,’ said Detective Rose. ‘I believe I see the way of it.’ To the policemen he said, ‘Take Mr. Blezzard and his wife and lock them up. In separate cells,’ he added. 

‘Jacey, help me!’ pleaded Violetta. Once again she swooned.

However, this time he made no move to catch her & she fell to the floor with a thud. One of the policemen helped her up and escorted her – now writhing and cursing – from the premises. 

Detective Rose turned to me. ‘Thanks to your resourcefulness and bravery we have apprehended two possible murderers and nearly half a million in stolen gold and silver. Ever thought of setting up a branch of your detective agency here in San Francisco? I could use some operatives like you and your friends. That is, resourceful kids with a knack for disguise.’ 

‘Ping, too?’ I said. 

‘Of course,’ said he. ‘We have a big Celestial population and not enough good men to help us there.’

‘Martha and Zoe, too?’ I said. ‘And Affable?’

‘You bet. You are all good detectives.’ 

I nodded happily. It looked like I was going to remain a Private Eye after all. 

Read on...


Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 48



Bang!

Just as the second shot rang out, a black-clad arm knocked Violetta’s wrist from below, causing her ball to fly up into the rarefied air of that big ballroom. 

If you should ever dine in the Lick House Hotel, look up at the fancy ceiling square they call a ‘coffer’ between two other coffers with chandeliers in them. If you have eyes as sharp as mine, or a pair of Opera Glasses, you might perceive a tiny hole in the gilded wood. That hole was meant for me, but Poker Face Jace saved my life. 

‘Jacey!’ cried Violetta when she saw who had thwarted her shot. Then she swooned into his arms. 

I reckoned she was play-acting for I know that nothing short of being sawed in half would make that lady faint. 

Jace caught Violetta in his arms. Then he took the empty Deringer pistol from her limp hand and slipped it into his pocket.

‘You all right, P.K.?’ he asked me. 

‘Yes, sir,’ I replied, and then looked away. He was probably going to be Violetta’s next husband, but at least he had not wanted me dead. That was some consolation.

From beside the big target, Affie cried, ‘Mr. Jonas Blezzard is all right, too! The bullet only creased his shoulder.’

The ball-goers applauded. 

(Later, Affie told me it was their clapping that gave him a Brilliant Idea.) 

Affie stepped forward. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you have enjoyed our presentation. Of course it was all “staged”. Nobody was ever in any real danger.’ He turned & helped Mr. Jonas Blezzard off the wheel & I saw him say something under his breath. 

Jonas Blezzard was white as chalk, but he bowed and so did Affie. 

Martha & Ping came out and they bowed, too.

I did not realize what they were doing. Affie slid me a sideways glance. 

‘Bow!’ he hissed. 

I bowed, too, just as the curtains closed. 

Beyond the curtains, loud applause rose up and was lost in the cavernous ceiling. 

I wondered if Violetta had been apprehended. But before I could go to the curtain and peep out, a man with a black beard like a big bib appeared through that tee-pee door at the back of the stage. 

He went to Affie & shook his hand. 

‘That was inspired, young man! You have turned a disaster into a triumph. I cannot thank you enough. This is Detective Rose. He is the best detective in this city.’ 

Behind him emerged the man in the rose-pink stovepipe hat and droopy gray mustache who had chased me from the Rev. Starr King’s Unitarian Church.

Two uniformed policemen came through the low door after him. 
Detective Rose looked down at me. ‘You have played a dangerous hand, Miss Pinkerton,’ he said, ‘but it appears you got four aces.’ 

He nodded to his policemen and they each gripped an arm of Mr. Jonas Blezzard. Detective Rose turned to the man with a bib-like beard, ‘Mr. Lick, is there a private chamber where I might interview this man?’

‘My office,’ said the owner and proprietor of the Lick House Hotel.  
As the band struck up again, we all repaired to a back room of the hotel to get the final pieces of the puzzle.


Read on...

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 47


Everybody was clapping & cheering. 

Earlier that day, Affie had told me there was nothing a man feared as much as being shamed in public. It appeared he was correct, for my mortal enemy was slowly putting his feet on little wooden footrests on the target. His face was white as chalk and made his bushy mustache and sideburns looked extra black.  

‘Now sir,’ said Affie, ‘if you will just allow me to strap your arms and legs to this giant target…’ 

I watched with bated breath as Mr. Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard, allowed himself to be strapped to the giant target. 

At last I had my mortal enemy where I wanted him, viz: spread-eagled on a giant target like a butterfly on a corkboard. 

Strapped to the giant target, Blezzard cursed me under his breath. 

I could tell you what he said, but decency forbids. 

Affie turned to the crowd and said, ‘Please give our bold volunteer an enthusiastic round of applause.’

When the applause died down I stepped forward. 

‘Mr. Jonas Blezzard,’ I said in a loud voice. ‘Chinese, Negroes and half-Indians like me cannot give testimony in a court of law. That is why me and my pards have called this informal hearing. You are the accused!’

The ball-goers laughed.

‘Please tell us how you murdered your pard and stole half a million dollars worth of gold and silver!’

The ball-goers gasped. 

Then I picked up the first knife and poised it for a throw.

Once again, the ball-goers gasped. 

I must confess I was nervous, too, for I had never done this before. 

I had expected Jonas Blezzard to now be paralyzed with terror, so I was surprised when he gave me a smile. It was a No. 2 Smile – stiff and bogus – but still: a smile!  

I practiced my Snake Eyes glare on the man who had thrown poor unconscious Dizzy off the stagecoach and who had kilt my bogus pa. 

I said, ‘You set out to trick me, didn’t you? You and your pards weren’t just after the Wells Fargo gold. You were after me and my feet. That is to say, my shares of the Chollar mine.’

He said, ‘I do not know what you are babbling about. Is this another conundrum?’

I pulled back my arm and ‘threw’ a knife like Minnie had taught me, pushing with my foot at the same time. Sure enough, the quivering knife appeared close to his shoulder. 

For a third time, everybody in the ballroom gasped. 

Mr. Jonas Blezzard did not even flinch. He said to the people, ‘Do not listen to this heathen savage. She is spouting nonsense.’

‘Spin the wheel,’ I commanded, and Affie spun the wheel. 

To the slowly turning man I said. ‘You threw poor harmless Dizzy off the coach and he might never wake up.’

I ‘threw’ another knife and it struck beneath his upside down armpit. 

The crowd gasped. This time there was a spatter of applause. 

The still-turning Mr. Jonas Blezzard sneered. ‘Your music hall tricks hold no fear for me. I know them all. I used to be an actor.’ 

I said, ‘You stole a wagonload of silver and gold. Tell us where you have hid the loot and it will go easier for you.’

I ‘threw’ another knife & it struck between his legs near his crutch. 

He only laughed. He said, ‘Those are not real knives you are throwing. It is just a Trick. It is a Frost on the Public.’ 

I ground my teeth. Dang it, he was right. My knife-throwing was a ‘frost on the public’. I was not throwing real knives but only pretended to throw them while bogus knives popped out at the flick of a lever operated by my foot. 

I could not throw a real knife lest I kill him in front of a hundred witnesses. But I had an Ace up my sleeve.

I turned to Affie. ‘Jungle Explorer,’ I said. ‘Do you have the tarantula?’

Affie nodded and went behind the spinning wheel and emerged a moment later with a big hairy spider on his palm. 

Women screamed and men cursed. 

Affie reached out with his free hand & stopped the wheel from spinning so that Jonas was upright again. The actor-turned-murderer looked like Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvius Man whom Ma Evangeline had once shown me in an art book. 

Affie brought the tarantula close to Jonas’s face. 

‘Confess!’ I cried. ‘Confess your odious crime! You are a confidence trickster. You prey on the gullible and the innocent.’

At first Jonas looked scared, but as Affie brought the tarantula closer his eyes narrowed into expression No. 5 – suspicion. 

‘Wait a minute,’ he said. ‘That is just the husk of a critter.’

(He was correct: it was not Mouse but his husk.) 

‘I know that trick, too!’ cried Jonas. ‘Now let me go or I will call the authorities.’

‘The authorities are already here!’ I said, for I had spotted gray-mustached man in the rose-pink stovepipe hat with his two uniformed policemen. They were standing nearby & had not tried to arrest me, so I reckoned they want to hear the truth as much as all these people. I said, ‘Where have you hidden the silver and gold?’

‘This is preposterous!’ said Jonas in his carrying actor’s voice. ‘I have done nothing wrong!’

I heard angry mutterings among the Cream of San Francisco Society. I was losing their sympathy. 

But I had another ‘Ace’ up my sleeve. 

I turned to Affie. ‘Jungle Explorer,’ I said. ‘Do you have the fritillaries?’

‘What do you mean “fritillaries”?’ asked Mr. Jonas Blezzard in a higher voice than normal. 

‘She means “butterflies”,’ said Affie, and from behind the target he produced a tray covered by a net dome and full of fluttering fritillaries. All my butterflies had hatched and they were crowding the inside of the net, ready to burst forth in flight!

‘Yes!’ I cried. ‘Hundreds of butterflies with their “wee feelers and flapping wings”! Now tell us where you stashed the spondulicks or I will set them upon you!’

‘I… I don’t know what you are talking about!’ 

I turned to Affie. ‘Release the fritillaries!’

‘No!’ cried Jonas Blezzard. ‘Please, no!’  

Some people were laughing now and I glanced over to see that Violetta’s face was as pale as alkali powder. She had not known that her new husband was afraid of butterflies. 

As Affie lifted the gauzy dome, a dozen butterflies fluttered out onto the stage. 

They were all the same. 

They were pale golden-brown with black dots and zigzags. 

They were Buckskin Fritillaries, the only kind of butterfly my foster pa had never been able to catch! 

When they saw Jonas on the target, I reckon they thought it was a big flower for they fluttered straight towards him in a zigzag fashion.

‘Oh!’ cried the crowd and clapped their hands.  

‘Aiee!’ screamed Jonas Blezzard and writhed on his wheel. 

As the butterflies zigzagged closer and closer, he squinched his eyes closed. 

‘Not the butterflies!’ he moaned. ‘Not the butterflies!’ 

But then the butterflies must have caught sight of those high up windows with the late sunlight slanting through, for they started to flutter up into the lofty atmosphere above the ballroom. 

What would happen when Jonas opened his eyes and realized he was not in danger?

Thinking quickly, I fished out my medicine bag & opened it & brought out the little silk butterfly I had pulled off the stage-dummy’s straw sunhat back in Virginia City. 

People were still laughing as I held it up before the face of my writhing enemy. He opened one eye & saw my silk butterfly looming.

‘I confess,’ screamed Mr. Jonas Blezzard AKA Ray G. Tempest, squinching his eyes shut again. ‘Yes! I did it! Me and my friend Chance hatched a plot to rob the Nevada Stage. But we did not act alone. We had a partner. Violetta was in it with us!’ 

‘No!’ cried Violetta, her previously ashen face was now flushed & pink. ‘It ain’t true.’ She glanced around her. But the Cream of San Francisco Society had stopped laughing. They were now backing away from her as if she had a catching disease. 

‘It is true!’ cried the man who had styled himself as ‘Raging’ Tempest. He was writhing on his wheel. ‘You will find the gold and silver in her bedroom over at the Occidental Hotel. I just had it delivered in a couple of fine leather travelling chests as my wedding present to her.’ 

‘You traitor!’ screeched Violetta in an unladylike voice. ‘You vile creeping thing. You coward!’ 

She pulled a double-barrel Deringer out from between her bosoms & cocked it & aimed at him & fired. 

Bang! 

Then she turned her little piece on me. 

Read on...

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 46


In the Lick House Hotel, a dining room the size of a cathedral had been transformed into a ballroom the size of a cathedral. According to Affie, the room was modeled on the banquet hall of a famous French palace.

Violetta and Blezzard were holding their wedding reception here on account of this hotel was even grander than the Occidental and quickly becoming all the fashion because of this splendid ballroom, the finest in the state of California. The room was made of cream-colored marble with gold trim & columns & the biggest mirrors I had ever seen that doubled and tripled the other walls so that it seemed there were about ten more cathedral-sized rooms giving off of this one. 

If you looked up, the ceiling was so high it made you dizzy. There were little arched alcoves on the walls up high, with circular windows at their backs and rails at their front. That was where the musicians went. There were three fiddlers and a cello up in one of those alcoves and they were already playing waltzes & polkas. 

All around the sides of the dining room stood linen-covered tables laden with sugared fruits & candied nuts & blancmanges & suchlike. Turkey carpets had been rolled up to reveal a wooden parquet floor specially built for dancing. 

On the north side of the ballroom, set between two fancy paintings of pine-clad mountains and hiding a door leading to the kitchens, stood Minnehaha’s stage. She and Affie had directed hotel staff and they had set it up real good.  

It looked like a miniature music hall, with a stage, curtains and side bits. You could get to the back of stage by a nondescript door leading to a corridor used by waiters to take away dirty dishes & suchlike. Miz Zoe was in a room back there with my troops, viz: Martha, Ping and Affie.

Without Affie I never could have done it, but he had spoken to the hotel owner and said it was a wedding present from his pa, Sir Fitzhugh Fitzsimmons, who was not only a famous naturalist and jungle explorer, but also distantly related to Queen Victoria. 

It was not yet 4 o’clock but people had started arriving & were already dancing. The men wore black & white. The women sported puffy silks & satins & foulards & suchlike. Their ball gowns matched the colors of the sugared fruits & candied nuts. 

I was peeping out from between the closed curtains of the stage to see if my mortal enemies had arrived yet. 

I was hiding as I did not want to let Violetta or her evil husband know I was in Frisco and ‘onto them’. But by and by I got impatient and ventured out onto the dance floor.  

I was wearing my wig with the long black hair and a hawk feather for bravery in it & my zigzag Zouave jacket & my fringed deerskin trousers & butter-soft moccasins. 

I was not prepared for people’s reactions when they saw me in my Indian gal getup. Some of the women uttered little cries & fanned their fans whereas several of the men swore under their breath & raised their eyebrows. 

Suddenly Jace stood before me, tall & slim & dressed in black, smelling of musky pomade and Mascara cigars. 

‘P.K.?’ he said. ‘Is that you? D-mn me! Ain’t you a vision?’

I did not reply but walked around him & carried on through the twirly, swirly couples. He was not marrying Violetta, but he had betrayed my secret to her. It was his fault I had been made the target of a cruel Confidence Game designed to ruin and kill me.

Then the musicians struck up a different song & the couples stopped dancing & turned to the main doorway of the ballroom & began to applaud. 

Dang! The bride and groom had arrived! All might be lost if they spotted me. 

Quick as a whip-crack, I skedaddled back to the curtained stage. I slipped between the red muslin curtains to find Affie and Zoe just setting up the man-sized knife-catching wheel target. 

‘Blezzard’s a comin!’ I cried. ‘Violetta and her new husband are here!’

‘Good!’ said Affie. He draped a dust sheet over the target. 

Zoe went to the doorway at the back of the stage and called out softly, ‘Martha, are you ready?’

Martha emerged from the door leading to the kitchens and mounted the two steps to the back of the stage. She was wearing my daffodil-yellow frock! But it looked bully on her. 

‘Martha, you look bully,’ I said. 

‘I know!’ she replied. ‘I am frightened and happy all mixed together.’ 

‘Stage-fright,’ said Affie. ‘Every good performer experiences it.’ He glanced up at the little orchestra in their lofty alcove halfway up the wall & gave them a little wave. Immediately they stopped their waltz & they began to play a jaunty Irish Jig. 

Miz Zoe pulled the curtain from one side (and stayed hidden behind it) & I pulled the curtain from the other (being careful to stay hidden, too). We each had tiny crack to spy on the audience.  

The crowd said ‘Oh!’ as Martha danced out onto the stage. She danced a capering little jig. Her yellow skirt spun & the green flounces flounced & her feet twinkled & her teeth beamed. I was so astonished that I stood there with my mouth hanging open, you bet!

Martha finished her jig and the room erupted in thundering applause. 

Affie stepped forward. Did I mention he was wearing his jungle explorer outfit of palm-leaf sunhat & beige linen knickerbockers? 

‘Welcome to the Lick House Music Hall,’ he said in his English accent, ‘a wedding present from my father, the famous naturalist and jungle explorer Sir Fitzhugh Fitzfimmons in honor of the newlywed couple Mr. and Mrs. Blezzard.’ Affie gestured towards Martha. ‘Please express your appreciation for Miss Martha May and her energetic jig.’

Everybody expressed his or her appreciation.

I saw Violetta and her groom exchange smiles. 

‘And now,’ cried Affie in a carrying voice, ‘straight from the Spice Courts of China, I bring you Ping the Wizard and his “magic rings”!’

‘Ping?’ I said to myself. ‘The Wizard?’

The musicians started playing oriental-type music as Ping came up the steps onto the stage. He was dressed in jade green silk pajamas and a skullcap. He had three silvery metal hoops about the size of big dinner plates. He could put them together in a chain and then pull them apart unbroken! He bowed! He smiled! I was amazed and so were the people. 

The crowd said, ‘Ooh!’ and ‘Ah!’

Once again I saw Violetta and Jonas Blezzard look at each other. They had each raised an eyebrow. I think that was Quizzical or maybe Ironikle but I could not be sure as my Christian ma had not taught me those Expressions. 

‘Ladies and Gentlemen,’ cried Affie. ‘Express your appreciation for Ping the Wizard and his “magic rings”!’ 

Ping bowed and everyone clapped. 

‘Before our finale,’ said Affie, ‘I would like to pose some conundrums.’ 

There was a happy murmur. San Franciscans obviously liked conundrums.

‘How is matrimony like a game of cards?’ Affie gestured towards Violetta and Blezzard and then answered his own question: ‘The woman has a heart, the man takes it with his diamonds, and then her hand is his!’

Everyone laughed and some people clapped. 

Through my spyhole I noticed that Violetta & Blezzard were not among those clapping. 

‘What four letters of the alphabet would frighten a thief?’ Affie pointed at Blezzard, ‘O I C U!’

The crowd groaned and there was a smattering of applause. 

Violetta and her groom were no longer smiling. 

‘And now for our grand finale!’ cried Affie. He glanced to where I was waiting behind one of the curtains. I nodded. 

‘Before we start, I require a volunteer!’ cried Affable. ‘A man of exceptional bravery and fortitude. I need a fearless hero to show he wife he will always protect her.’ 

From my spyhole I saw several men raise their hands. Mr. Jonas Blezzard was not one of them. He was still too busy giving Affie Expression No. 5 – Anger and/or Suspicion.

‘You sir!’ cried Affie, pointing at Blezzard. ‘Yes, you! Ladies and Gentlemen, the happy groom has volunteered to put himself in the hands of a lovely savage! Please applaud Mr. Jonas Blezzard!’

To the universal sound of clapping, Mr. Jonas Blezzard AKA Ray G. Tempest slowly made his way forward. He wore an expression which I could not read. 

‘And now the lovely savage,’ cried Affie, ‘all the way from the Black Hills of Dakota: Kimimila!’

I stared at him for a moment in surprise. He had used the Lakota word for ‘butterfly’! He had given me a new Indian name! 

I took a breath, stepped out onto the stage and faced the dancers. 

Everybody gasped.  

Then I heard a nearby woman clap her hands and say, ‘Ain’t she pretty!’

Another lady said, ‘I wish I could wear trowsers!’

A man said, ‘Look at that bully pistol belt!

I looked at Violetta. I could tell she recognized me, for her long-lashed eyes were as round as blue poker chips and her mouth resembled a red O. Then her pretty face went from Expression No. 4 – Surprise, to Expression No. 5 – Anger. 

But my other mortal enemy did not seem to recognize me. The face of Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard showed a strange commixture of a genuine smile & surprise. He was only two feet away but he did not recognize me! 

Behind us, Affie removed the dust sheet from Minnehaha’s wheel with a flourish. 

People gasped at the sight of the giant target with its rings of blue & red & its yellow disc in the middle & also those leather straps. Some knew what it was and began whispering to their partners. Others were asking what it could be.

Nobody asked for the dance to resume. 

Blezzard AKA Tempest turned and saw it and his face went white. Then he looked at me and I saw understanding dawn. 

‘Thank you for volunteering, brave sir!’ cried Affie. ‘Please step up upon the target!’

Read on...

Saturday, February 04, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 45


The next morning I woke to the smell of coffee and doughnuts. 

‘Have you finished it?’ I heard Martha whisper.  

‘Just this very moment,’ said Zoe, and then I heard her give a big yawn.

I sat up to find I was on one of the camp cots, covered in a soft blanket. I had stayed up late talking to Miz Zoe and Martha about woman things. Then Zoe had let me take her cot as she had an ‘All Night Job’.

‘Look what Miz Zoe done made you last night,’ said Martha. She held up a beautiful quilted jacket. It looked like a soldier’s padded jacket if the soldier had been a gal. 

‘Martha helped,’ said Zoe. ‘We did it together.’

I blinked at them. ‘What is it?’

Zoe said, ‘It is a Zouave jacket, named after a famous infantry regiment from New York. Such jackets are all the fashion for ladies this season.’

I said, ‘That was your All Night Job?’

Zoe nodded. 

‘I got some sleep,’ said Martha, ‘but Zoe was up all night.’

I pushed away the cover & got up off the camp cot. My legs were stiff from all the hill walking I had done the day before. I splashed some water on my cheeks from the basin & dried my face using one of the towels on Miz Zoe’s Toilette Trunk. Then went over to where Martha stood holding my new jacket. It was made from different scraps of cloth. Most Zouave shirts have curlicues but this one had zigzags. 

I said, ‘I like this a lot. I am partial to zigzags.’

‘The zigzags were Martha’s idea,’ said Zoe. She was over at the camp stove, brewing a pot of coffee. 

I took it in my hands and felt it. ‘How did you make it so soft?’

‘We used old scraps,’ Zoe said. But they are clean,’ she added hastily. 

Martha said, ‘We have a special way of sewing seams so they do not rub. Put it on.’

I put my new Zouave Jacket on over the fresh cotton chemise and bloomers. Then I put on the things Minnehaha had given me the day before: the fringed buckskin trowsers & beaded moccasins. Oh, how good they felt! Finally I put on the wig. The shiny black hair was not pinned up but flowing down. 

‘Oh, Pinky!’ said Martha. 

And Zoe said, ‘How does it feel?’

‘It feels bully,’ I said. I swallowed hard. ‘But how do I look?’

‘See for yourself,’ said Zoe. She said it with a kind of hush in her voice as she turned me to face the mirror leaning against the wall. 

I could not believe my eyes. 

I saw a girl with fringed buckskin trowsers and a zigzag Zouave jacket & long silky black hair. She had slightly slanting black eyes & toffee-colored skin & symmetrical features. 

She was beautiful.

I said, ‘She is beautiful.’

Zoe said, ‘No, you are beautiful.’ 

Martha said, ‘You look like a buckskin butterfly.’

When she said that, I remembered something. A few months ago in Eagle Valley, I had dreamed of a beautiful half-Indian girl. And now there she stood reflected in the full-length mirror. Almost. 

‘I need a sombrero hat and some firearms,’ I murmured. 

‘What?’ said Zoe. 

‘Nothing,’ I said. And then, ‘Do you think I will attract much attention walking down Montgomery or Market Street dressed like this?’

‘I should say so!’ laughed Zoe.

‘You will attract forty kinds of attention!’ Martha giggled. 

‘Then do you have something I could wear that will help me not attract attention?’ I asked. 

Martha nodded. ‘I can adjust one of Miz Zoe’s old frocks,’ she said. ‘They are still a mite big for me but one of them might fit you.’ 

‘Red calico?’ I asked. 

‘How did you guess?’ asked Miz Zoe with a yawning smile.

I said, ‘I have got to go to the Willows and see if Minnehaha will help us in our plan to trap Jonas Blezzard. Will you come with me?’ 

Martha sighed. ‘I would love to go and watch them jig-dancers,’ she said. ‘Miz Zoe and I saw Little Jennie Worrell at the Melodeon one time. But I got to go in to work this morning on account of us getting ready for the big wedding dance.’

‘And I have got to catch forty winks before this afternoon,’ said Miz Zoe. 

After a breakfast of black coffee and chocolate layer cake, I put on the disguise of a red calico dress and a straw bonnet & went outside to find it foggy and cool. I caught the Mission Railroad Cars to the Willows. I stayed downstairs in a corner where nobody would notice me.

It was still early on a Monday morning and I found the Willows open but almost deserted and no shows starting until noon. It was foggy there too, and I was glad of it, for it offered a kind of protection. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found Minnie relaxing in her Medicine Show Wagon. She was reading the paper and smoking a pipe. A pipe! 

I told her my plan and asked if she could help. 

She said she was meeting an important Event Manager that evening for dinner but as it was very quiet on Mondays, I could use her equipment. She said her knife-throwing trick was easy & that she would show me how to do it.

She took me outside to her portable stage and showed me how to do it. 

‘Can you pack up this stage and move it?’ I asked. 

‘Sure. I do it every time I move on,’ she said. 

‘Can you let me borrow the actual stage for the afternoon?

‘Sure,’ she said, ‘Where shall I bring it?’ 

‘Lick House Hotel,’ I said. ‘About 2pm if you can. I will be waiting.’

The fog was just burning off when I got back to Montgomery Street and the Lick House Hotel. The lobby and dining room were a hive of activity and nobody stopped me or even looked at me as I went inside and up to Affie’s room. 

Ping and Affie were discussing the final arrangements over lunch in Affie’s suite and at 2pm we were downstairs as Minnie pulled up with her medicine wagon full of stage equipment. Affie had recruited some hotel staff to help us. 

When I got back to Sansome Street to change my attire, I found a lady coming downstairs carrying a pale blue ball gown. 

‘That was Mrs. Prendergast,’ said Zoe when I came in. ‘She just paid me for this job and two others! We are now flush not bust. Here are the sixteen dollars I owe you, Pinky. How are the arrangements going for our music hall?’ she added. 

‘Everything is all set up,’ I said. ‘Let us go and mete out some justice!’  

Read on... 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 44


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Late yesterday afternoon,’ she said. 

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

I nodded. ‘That it all makes sense.’ 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on...