Everybody was clapping & cheering.
Earlier that day, Affie had told me there was nothing a man feared as much as being shamed in public. It appeared he was correct, for my mortal enemy was slowly putting his feet on little wooden footrests on the target. His face was white as chalk and made his bushy mustache and sideburns looked extra black.
‘Now sir,’ said Affie, ‘if you will just allow me to strap your arms and legs to this giant target…’
I watched with bated breath as Mr. Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard, allowed himself to be strapped to the giant target.
At last I had my mortal enemy where I wanted him, viz: spread-eagled on a giant target like a butterfly on a corkboard.
Strapped to the giant target, Blezzard cursed me under his breath.
I could tell you what he said, but decency forbids.
Affie turned to the crowd and said, ‘Please give our bold volunteer an enthusiastic round of applause.’
When the applause died down I stepped forward.
‘Mr. Jonas Blezzard,’ I said in a loud voice. ‘Chinese, Negroes and half-Indians like me cannot give testimony in a court of law. That is why me and my pards have called this informal hearing. You are the accused!’
The ball-goers laughed.
‘Please tell us how you murdered your pard and stole half a million dollars worth of gold and silver!’
The ball-goers gasped.
Then I picked up the first knife and poised it for a throw.
Once again, the ball-goers gasped.
I must confess I was nervous, too, for I had never done this before.
I had expected Jonas Blezzard to now be paralyzed with terror, so I was surprised when he gave me a smile. It was a No. 2 Smile – stiff and bogus – but still: a smile!
I practiced my Snake Eyes glare on the man who had thrown poor unconscious Dizzy off the stagecoach and who had kilt my bogus pa.
I said, ‘You set out to trick me, didn’t you? You and your pards weren’t just after the Wells Fargo gold. You were after me and my feet. That is to say, my shares of the Chollar mine.’
He said, ‘I do not know what you are babbling about. Is this another conundrum?’
I pulled back my arm and ‘threw’ a knife like Minnie had taught me, pushing with my foot at the same time. Sure enough, the quivering knife appeared close to his shoulder.
For a third time, everybody in the ballroom gasped.
Mr. Jonas Blezzard did not even flinch. He said to the people, ‘Do not listen to this heathen savage. She is spouting nonsense.’
‘Spin the wheel,’ I commanded, and Affie spun the wheel.
To the slowly turning man I said. ‘You threw poor harmless Dizzy off the coach and he might never wake up.’
I ‘threw’ another knife and it struck beneath his upside down armpit.
The crowd gasped. This time there was a spatter of applause.
The still-turning Mr. Jonas Blezzard sneered. ‘Your music hall tricks hold no fear for me. I know them all. I used to be an actor.’
I said, ‘You stole a wagonload of silver and gold. Tell us where you have hid the loot and it will go easier for you.’
I ‘threw’ another knife & it struck between his legs near his crutch.
He only laughed. He said, ‘Those are not real knives you are throwing. It is just a Trick. It is a Frost on the Public.’
I ground my teeth. Dang it, he was right. My knife-throwing was a ‘frost on the public’. I was not throwing real knives but only pretended to throw them while bogus knives popped out at the flick of a lever operated by my foot.
I could not throw a real knife lest I kill him in front of a hundred witnesses. But I had an Ace up my sleeve.
I turned to Affie. ‘Jungle Explorer,’ I said. ‘Do you have the tarantula?’
Affie nodded and went behind the spinning wheel and emerged a moment later with a big hairy spider on his palm.
Women screamed and men cursed.
Affie reached out with his free hand & stopped the wheel from spinning so that Jonas was upright again. The actor-turned-murderer looked like Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvius Man whom Ma Evangeline had once shown me in an art book.
Affie brought the tarantula close to Jonas’s face.
‘Confess!’ I cried. ‘Confess your odious crime! You are a confidence trickster. You prey on the gullible and the innocent.’
At first Jonas looked scared, but as Affie brought the tarantula closer his eyes narrowed into expression No. 5 – suspicion.
‘Wait a minute,’ he said. ‘That is just the husk of a critter.’
(He was correct: it was not Mouse but his husk.)
‘I know that trick, too!’ cried Jonas. ‘Now let me go or I will call the authorities.’
‘The authorities are already here!’ I said, for I had spotted gray-mustached man in the rose-pink stovepipe hat with his two uniformed policemen. They were standing nearby & had not tried to arrest me, so I reckoned they want to hear the truth as much as all these people. I said, ‘Where have you hidden the silver and gold?’
‘This is preposterous!’ said Jonas in his carrying actor’s voice. ‘I have done nothing wrong!’
I heard angry mutterings among the Cream of San Francisco Society. I was losing their sympathy.
But I had another ‘Ace’ up my sleeve.
I turned to Affie. ‘Jungle Explorer,’ I said. ‘Do you have the fritillaries?’
‘What do you mean “fritillaries”?’ asked Mr. Jonas Blezzard in a higher voice than normal.
‘She means “butterflies”,’ said Affie, and from behind the target he produced a tray covered by a net dome and full of fluttering fritillaries. All my butterflies had hatched and they were crowding the inside of the net, ready to burst forth in flight!
‘Yes!’ I cried. ‘Hundreds of butterflies with their “wee feelers and flapping wings”! Now tell us where you stashed the spondulicks or I will set them upon you!’
‘I… I don’t know what you are talking about!’
I turned to Affie. ‘Release the fritillaries!’
‘No!’ cried Jonas Blezzard. ‘Please, no!’
Some people were laughing now and I glanced over to see that Violetta’s face was as pale as alkali powder. She had not known that her new husband was afraid of butterflies.
As Affie lifted the gauzy dome, a dozen butterflies fluttered out onto the stage.
They were all the same.
They were pale golden-brown with black dots and zigzags.
They were Buckskin Fritillaries, the only kind of butterfly my foster pa had never been able to catch!
When they saw Jonas on the target, I reckon they thought it was a big flower for they fluttered straight towards him in a zigzag fashion.
‘Oh!’ cried the crowd and clapped their hands.
‘Aiee!’ screamed Jonas Blezzard and writhed on his wheel.
As the butterflies zigzagged closer and closer, he squinched his eyes closed.
‘Not the butterflies!’ he moaned. ‘Not the butterflies!’
But then the butterflies must have caught sight of those high up windows with the late sunlight slanting through, for they started to flutter up into the lofty atmosphere above the ballroom.
What would happen when Jonas opened his eyes and realized he was not in danger?
Thinking quickly, I fished out my medicine bag & opened it & brought out the little silk butterfly I had pulled off the stage-dummy’s straw sunhat back in Virginia City.
People were still laughing as I held it up before the face of my writhing enemy. He opened one eye & saw my silk butterfly looming.
‘I confess,’ screamed Mr. Jonas Blezzard AKA Ray G. Tempest, squinching his eyes shut again. ‘Yes! I did it! Me and my friend Chance hatched a plot to rob the Nevada Stage. But we did not act alone. We had a partner. Violetta was in it with us!’
‘No!’ cried Violetta, her previously ashen face was now flushed & pink. ‘It ain’t true.’ She glanced around her. But the Cream of San Francisco Society had stopped laughing. They were now backing away from her as if she had a catching disease.
‘It is true!’ cried the man who had styled himself as ‘Raging’ Tempest. He was writhing on his wheel. ‘You will find the gold and silver in her bedroom over at the Occidental Hotel. I just had it delivered in a couple of fine leather travelling chests as my wedding present to her.’
‘You traitor!’ screeched Violetta in an unladylike voice. ‘You vile creeping thing. You coward!’
She pulled a double-barrel Deringer out from between her bosoms & cocked it & aimed at him & fired.
Then she turned her little piece on me.
[Don't have a clue what's going on? Start with chapter one.]
The Case of the Bogus Detective by Caroline Lawrence is the fourth P.K. Pinkerton Mystery. You can buy the first 3 real cheap HERE. And you can read the rest of this one HERE. Or just check into this blog, where I will be posting chapters weekly!