Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 33

Riding in the back of that stagecoach, I fell into a deep & dreamless sleep. Sometimes I half woke up when we reached a station & they opened the mail boot, but it was always to put something in. Nobody saw me burrowed in my nest. I slept through Placerville which used to be called Hangtown. I slept through Diamond Springs & Mud Springs & Buckeye Flat & Shingle Springs & Durock’s & Mormon Tavern & Folsom where there is a big prison full of desperados. I slept for about 7 or 8 hours and when I was woken by the letter-sacks being lifted up & out, it was like a resurrection. I suddenly felt damp & shivery & exposed, like a butterfly whose chrysalis has been peeled off too soon. 

I blinked up into the face of a big, black-skinned man who had been hefting out the mail-bags. 

Behind his head I saw the pale purple sky of dusk. 

He was making Expression No. 4 – Surprise. 

I said, ‘I am half Indian so they made me ride in the mail boot.’ 

Before he could question this statement, I said, ‘Is this the right place to catch a steamer to Frisco?’

‘Yeh,’ he said. 

‘Do any of the steamboats travel by night?’

‘Not usually,’ he said slowly. ‘But the Antelope, she be delayed by boiler problems. They had to fix the machinery. She just about to embark now. She be right over there.’

I tried to move but my legs were full of pins and needles. 

‘Will you help me get out?’ I asked. ‘My legs are full of pins and needles.’

He helped me get out. 

‘Thank you, sir,’ I said. ‘May the Lord bless you for your kindness.’

As I hurried in the direction he pointed, a sudden Thought came to me. If the steamship to Frisco had been delayed, maybe I was not too late to catch that murdering Ray G. Tempest. He might be on board with his dung-smelling booty!

I was bare-headed but double-coated & still wearing button-up boots. I ran tippy-tappy across the levee dodging people & pack animals & piles of suitcases, etc. 

I saw a line of people shuffling onto a big steamboat: the Antelope

In the dusky half-light it looked like a white hotel with a big smokestack rising up out of it & a big wheel on the side. I could not even see the river, though I could smell it. 

As I went across the wooden wharf, I saw a sign: 

$2.00 Cabin
50 cts Steerage

‘Excuse me, sir,’ I asked a man in the line. ‘Where do you buy tickets?’ 

‘Get away, Injun!’ He raised his cane to strike me. ‘I know your type: beggars and pickpockets!’

I backed away, but a woman pointed. ‘Over there,’ she said. ‘But this steamer is full and the ticket office closed for the day.’ 

The woman was dressed all in black. She had three children with her: two hatless little boys and a girl in a tattered bonnet. I reckoned she was a widow so I thanked her but stayed close. I shuffled along behind them in the evening gloom & hung my own hatless head like her twin boys. I hoped the ticket man would think I was with them, and he did, for he let me pass. Hallelujah! I sent up a silent thank you to the Lord. 

I followed the widow woman & her family into the ‘steerage’ section. It was like a wide wooden corridor with wooden chairs all ranked in rows. 

There were no empty chairs left, so the woman sat on the hard floor by a wall and gathered her children around her. The little girl started to cry. 

‘Shush, Eunice,’ said the woman. ‘Crying never did nobody no good.’

I sat nearby. 

I hoped she would not notice but she did. 

‘Did you follow me?’ she asked me in a low voice. ‘What do you want?’ Her face, half hidden by a black poke bonnet, was pale. 

‘Please, ma’am,’ I said. ‘My name is P.K. Pinkerton. I am a private eye in disguise.’

‘You do not look like a private eye in disguise. You look like a desperate half Indian pickpocket. I am in half a mind to summon a steward.’

‘Please ma’am,’ I said. ‘Do not give me away–’

I was interrupted by a terrible grinding that started low but got louder & louder & then ended in a shriek. I had heard of boilers exploding on steamboats and sending scalding bodies flying a mile high into the air. But nobody else seemed to mind so I guessed it was normal. 

‘Go along now,’ said the widow lady. ‘You cannot stay here with me. I used the last of my money to buy this ticket and I can not fend for another child.’ 

‘Please,’ I said above the noise of the throbbing engines. ‘You do not have to fend for me. Just let me stay here with you until we get to Frisco. Then I will leave you alone forever. But I need you to pretend I am your kid, if anyone should come by.’

I could see she was wavering. 

Or maybe shivering. 

I stood up & unbelted my greatcoat. Without removing it, I took my arms out of the sleeves & shrugged off the velvet sacque from underneath & put my arms back in the coat sleeves & stepped out of sacque which was now on the floor. I picked it up & held it out to her. 

‘Here,’ I said. ‘You can keep this purple velvet silk-lined, ermine-trimmed cape as proof of my good will.’

She made Expression No. 4 (Surprise) and then Expression No. 1 (a genuine smile). 

She took off her own thin shawl & wrapped it thrice around the narrow shoulders of her little girl & put on my velvet sacque. 

Then she began to weep. 

‘Oh,’ she said, stroking it. ‘I never felt nothing so beautiful and warm. Children, feel the fur!’ 

Eunice and her twin brothers all snuggled up to their ma & stroked the velvet cloth & white ermine trim of the sacque. Without exchanging a word or glace, the twin boys burrowed under the sacque, one on each side, so that the mother looked like a big purple hen sheltering chicks beneath her wings. 

Eunice curled up on her ma’s lap & fell asleep sucking her thumb. 

‘Come sit here,’ said the woman to me, as the boat started to move. 
I sat down on the floor with my back against the wooden wall. I could feel the whole boat pulsing. 

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the ticket-taker coming. 

What if he asked me for my ticket and found I did not have one? Would he toss me in the river? 

‘Lean your head on my shoulder,’ urged the widow lady. ‘Pretend you are asleep.’

I leaned my head against the widow lady’s shoulder & pretended to be asleep. In the golden light of oil-lamps would he notice my skin did not match her other children’s? His footsteps went past so I guessed he had not noticed. 

Soon they dimmed the oil-lamps and most everybody slept, including the widow lady. 

But I had just woken from my 8 hours good sleep the depths of the stagecoach so I was now wide awake. I reckoned it was time to see if my enemy was aboard. 

I crept up and down steerage and sniffed the keyhole of each cabins. Mr. Ray G. Tempest and his dung-smelling gold & silver sacks were not there.

I went downstairs to the engine room which was like the Fiery Place with its heat & noise & its diabolical pounding pistons & half-naked men all glistening with sweat as they shoveled wood into a gaping mouth of fire. Mr. Ray G. Tempest was not there.

I went outside into cool damp night air but found only a narrow walkway ending in the starboard paddle-wheel on one side and the port paddle-wheel on the other. The turning wheels slapped the black water into pale foam that glowed for a moment & then melted into darkness behind us. The sight of it and the swishy noise almost entranced me but I was brought to my senses by a shower of sparks falling around me.  I looked up and saw they had come down from the towering smokestack. 

While I was looking up, I saw another deck up there. I followed the pointing finger up stairs to the HURRICANE DECK at the top of the boat. 

Mr. Ray G. Tempest was not up there.

I saw a lone man, smoking a pipe in the moonlight.

The man was leaning on a rail, looking out at sedge & tule reeds poking up from black sheets of standing water. 

I went over and leaned on the rail beside him. 

‘Howdy,’ he said. 

‘Howdy,’ I replied. 

He was smoking St. James Blend, the same tobacco my photographer friend Isaiah Coffin smokes. The smell of it made me pang for Virginia City. But I had Burned My Bridges and would not be returning there any time soon. 

The man with the pipe introduced himself as Mr. Alfred Doten. He told me the Antelope was the best steamer of them all. 

‘She is a hundred and fifty feet long,’ he informed me. ‘And she carries up to three hundred passengers. There is a special reinforced room right in her middle,’ he added. ‘It is called the Gold Room.’ 

I said, ‘Gold Room?’

He nodded. ‘It has got an extra strong floor so the gold does not fall through and sink the boat.’

‘Do you reckon it is strong enough to hold an ox-cart full of dung-smelling gold and silver?’

‘You bet!’ 

I was about to ask him to show me where it was. Then I had a thought. 

‘How long would it take a stagecoach to get from Friday’s Station to Sac City?’ 

He puffed his pipe for a moment. ‘About eight hours, I reckon.’ 

‘And what about an ox-cart?’

‘Day or two,’ he puffed. 

I thought, Dang! Ray was in a slow-but-steady ox-cart while I had been flying along on a stagecoach that changed teams of horses every 15 miles. Even though he had a four-hour start, I probably overtook him somewhere on the road while I was curled up asleep in the mail boot! 

At first my spirits sank. Then I had another idea. 

I turned to Mr. Alfred Doten. ‘Have you heard of the Occidental Hotel?’

‘Why surely,’ he replied. ‘It is one of those fancy new hotels on Montgomery Street.’

I pulled out the cherry red slip in my pocket and showed it to him.

‘Is it near the What Cheer House?’

‘It surely is,’ he said. ‘Only a block or two away.’

Hallelujah! I said to myself. If Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint is still at the Occidental Hotel then I can find out what role she played in all this & solve the mystery & clear my name.

Read on... 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 32

‘I said sit!’ 

The telegraph operator at Yank’s Station was aiming a cocked Colt’s Navy Revolver at me and his tone was firm. 

But I did not sit down to ‘wait for the Law’ as he suggested. 

Instead, I feinted to the left, dodged to the right, grabbed the rickety straight-backed chair on my side of the desk & swung at the Telegraph Operator with what I hoped was a blood-curdling Lakota war cry. ‘Aiiieeee!’ 

Normally you should not attack someone who is pointing a loaded firearm at you. 

But I was riled. 

I was riled at Ping.

I was riled at my dead & bogus Pa.

I was riled at Mr. Ray G. Tempest. 

I would search out the Truth and have my Revenge. 

And I was d-mned if anybody was going to get in my way. 

THUMP! I knocked the gun out of his hand. 

CLONK! It hit the raw plank wall and rebounded back onto the floor my side of the desk. 

CRASH! I smashed his telegraph machine with the chair. 

The gun was still spinning on the floor at my feet. I threw down the broken chair and had the revolver in my hand before he could react.

‘God d-mn,’ he said. ‘You busted my machine.’ 

‘Tear out the rest of those wires,’ I commanded. ‘And use them to tie your feet to the chair.’

He opened his mouth to protest. 

‘Do it!’ Using both hands, I cocked the pistol & raised it & pointed it at his heart. 

He tore out the wires & tied his ankles to the chair legs with trembling fingers. 

‘Take off your belt,’ I commanded. 

‘Stick your arms through the back slats of the chair,’ I added. 

And finally, ‘Wedge them in real good.’ 

When he had wedged his arms in real good, I went around behind him. Once I was out of his sight, I quickly uncocked the Colt’s Navy & stuck it in a pocket of my bogus pa’s greatcoat & used his own belt to tie his already wedged arms to the back of the chair. Then I came round to the front of the desk again & pulled the revolver out of my pocket. 

‘Close your eyes and count to one hundred,’ I commanded. 

Outside I heard the sound of a cavalry bugle sounding charge. 

‘What is that noise?’ I said, re-cocking the Navy. ‘Is it the cavalry come to rescue you?’

‘No,’ he said, his eyes still closed. ‘That is the 10 o’clock stage on its way to Virginia City. Major Micky is the driver. He always blows his trumpet when he is about to arrive or depart.’

‘Will they stop for lunch?’ 

‘They will stop for coffee, and stew if any passengers want it. Shall I carry on or start again?’

‘Carry on what?’

‘Counting to one hundred.’

‘Start again,’ I said. ‘And keep your eyes shut. I am going to stand right here. I will shoot you if you open your eyes before you reach one hundred.’

But as soon as he started counting again, I backed outside & dropped the revolver into a rain-barrel so he would not find it in a hurry. 

I glanced around to make sure nobody had seen me. Then I ran for the pine-woods. Once again I heard the blare of the bugle & also the jingle of harness & clop of hooves & knew the Virginia-bound Stage was pulling up in front of Yank’s Station. 

Soon they would all know about the half Injun fugitive, viz: ME

I went into the silent & dappled pine forest & circled west, going where the pine needles were thickest in case there were any trackers on my trail. I found a hiding place behind some big pine trees near the top of a rise in the road near where any Sacramento-bound coach would have to slow down on account of the steep grade. 

My plan was to jump onto the back of a stagecoach while it was going slow, and then slip inside the rear boot which is a big pouch of waterproof leather where they carry parcels & mail. I reckoned I was small enough to fit in. Unless I wanted to foot it one hundred miles or steal a horse, it was the only way I could get to Sacramento now that I was a WANTED desperado with a price on my head. 

The pine forest was still chilly in the shadows, but it was real quiet with no noise apart from the echoing knocks of woodpeckers deep in the forest and the occasional squitter of chickadees. I put up the collar of my bogus pa’s coat and took stock of my position. 

From my skin out, I was dressed in bloomers & chemise & 1 petticoat, and over that a gaudy yellow & green dress, and over that a purple velvet sacque trimmed with white ermine & cinched by a whang leather belt with a yellow velvet reticule tied to it, and over all that my bogus pa’s greatcoat, with the cuffs folded back & the hem pinned up so it did not drag on the ground. I had two guns that both took .32 caliber rimfire cartridges. In the pockets of my bogus pa’s greatcoat was his Smith & Wesson No. 2, a few coins, some greenbacks, a lion-head meerschaum pipe, tobacco, matches, this ledger book & a couple of pencils. In the medicine bag around my neck were my Muff Deringer, 5 spare rimfire cartridges, 3 Lucifers, my original ma’s flint knife, a silk butterfly, a $20 gold coin & my genuine pa’s Detective Button. 

Finally, I had my black button-up boots & a flat-crowned gray hat that had belonged to that murdering varmint Ray G. Tempest.  
It was a useful hat, but it had been described in the WANTED poster. That meant people might be on the lookout for a hat like that. Without a hat, my short hair would make me look like a boy. So I spun the hat up into a pine tree and watched it stick in some of the high branches above me. 

Then I sat still to wait for a lift to Sacto. 

I must have dozed for I woke with a start to the sound of whip cracks coming from the east and a rough voice yelling ‘Come on you beauties!’ Up the hill came six fine horses pulling a Concord Stage. 

They were heading the right direction, but I was dismayed to see not only a driver & conductor but about half a dozen people sitting on top. Some of them were facing out and two were facing back! Also, the mail boot at the rear was crammed full to bursting. 

A few moments later I heard another stage-coach. This one was coming from the west. It was the original Decoy Stage that had set out 24 hours before, with Icy riding shotgun but a new driver and a team of horses I did not recognize. They must have heard the telegraphed news that Dizzy was hurt & the silver stage wrecked. I reckoned they were heading back to investigate the scene of the crime. 

I caught a glimpse of Icy on his conductor’s seat as the stage raced downhill. His hat & little blue goggles hid his eyes but the rest of his face was ‘set like flint’. 

I thought As soon as they find the wreck and/or those horses they will come back this way. They will be looking for me!

I was about to have a bad case of the Mulligrubs when I heard another whip crack.


This stagecoach was going my way and it was not as crowded as the previous one. 

The conductor was dozing in the noontime sunshine and so were the two skull-capped, pigtailed Chinamen sitting on top among the luggage. I gathered myself and as it rumbled past I jumped onto the back like a tick on a deer. There was a gap in the fastening of the leather ‘boot’ and I wormed my way through just as the team topped the rise & we started to speed down the next hill. 

The inside of the mail boot smelled strongly of leather & faintly of ink. It was dark & warm. I spent the next half hour burrowing behind all the letter-sacks & canvas bags of printed matter. Some of the canvas bags were a bit spiky where corners of books & magazines were poking, but I had four layers of clothes including my bogus pa’s woolen greatcoat to protect me. I took a strange pleasure in being squished tight between the weight of the mailbags and the leather at the back of the stagecoach. I felt like a mole in its burrow: snug and safe. 

It must have been one of them new Concord coaches for the thoroughbrace made it rock like a cradle. I reckoned I had found the best place to ride in a stagecoach, viz: the hidden depths of the mail boot! 

I settled back & closed my eyes & offered up a prayer to the Good Lord. 

‘Lord,’ I said. ‘If you help me get to Frisco so I catch Mr. Ray G. Tempest and find out why he and Chauncy Pridhaume involved me in this crime, I promise I will not kill the lying varmint myself but will hand him over to the Law so that he can be hanged by the neck until dead. Amen.’ 

Read on...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 31

I needed to see the WANTED notice to find out what it said about me so I could make myself look different. 

‘I have posted one of these outside your front door,’ said the young messenger, ‘and I will leave you this one. Make sure you tell all the stage drivers and passengers. I’m off to Strawberry to tell them, too!’

I heard the crinkle of paper as he passed over one of the WANTED notices to the old man. Then I heard the door of the stage house slam. Then I heard the sound of a horse’s hooves galloping west. 

I put the last piece of bread in my mouth but it was as dry a pine knot and I felt the lump of it go all the way down and sit like a pebble in my stomach. 

‘What did Toby want?’ asked the old woman who had been drawing water earlier. She had appeared from a back room. She wore a stained apron & was drying her hands on a towel. 

‘Them Reb Road Agents struck again,’ said the old man. ‘But this time they had helpers. Two men and a little girl.’ 

I heard the WANTED notice crinkle as he showed it to her.

‘A little girl?’ said the old lady. ‘Oh, Pshaw!’

‘Says it right here,’ said the man. ‘So it must be true. Prudence Pinkerton, aged 12.’

I winced at the mention of my girly name. 

‘Fur-trimmed purple cape?’ said the woman. ‘Yellow dress?  Lighthouse bonnet?’

I breathed a small sigh of relief. I was wearing Ray’s flat-topped gray hat and my bogus pa’s greatcoat buttoned over my dress and sacque. Yes, I was wearing girly-girl boots, but they were black and in that long coat only the toes were visible so they could be mistaken for a boy’s shoes. 

The lady’s voice went higher. ‘It says she is half Sioux Injun and of a sallow complexion.’ 

Dang! That was bad. There was nothing I could do about my skin. I stood up & mumbled my thanks & turned for the door. 

‘Hey, you!’ cried the old man. 

I froze. 

‘That will be four bits,’ he said. 

Fifty cents was a lot of money for rancid stew and stale bread and cup of water, but I did not object. I fished in the pocket of the greatcoat and found 2 quarters & put them on the table & went out as casually as I dared. 

On the outside wall of the stage house were half a dozen notices. I saw the newest handwritten one at once. It read as follows. 

for Robbery & possibly Murder!
Mr. Ray G. Tempest, aged around 30.
Tall and dark with mustache, sideburns & a bad tooth.
Last seen wearing gray flat-topped hat.  
Mr. Robert Pinkerton, aged around 35. Medium height, brown hair, mustache, speaks in a Scottish accent.
Last seen wearing a brown greatcoat & brown beaver-felt hat.
Miss Prudence Pinkerton, his daughter, aged 12, last seen wearing a fur-trimmed purple cape, a yellow dress & a lighthouse bonnet. She is half Sioux Indian with dark hair & eyes 
& of a Sallow complexion.
Reward: $100 each for their capture.

I felt queasy. Now all the stage drivers & passengers & pedestrians & riders travelling this road would be on the lookout for me.

The sleeves of my greatcoat were folded back and the pinned-up hem nearly touched the ground. This was not normal attire for a child. All a person had to do was imagine a 12-yr-old half Sioux girl in a man’s greatcoat and flat-topped gray hat, and they would have a mental picture of me. 

I had to get out to out of there. 

I had to get to Frisco to solve the mystery and prove my innocence.

But how? This was the only road in or out of the mountains. 
Standing there in the sunshine outside the stage stop, I looked around to get my bearings. Rising up behind the stables and a few other buildings stood thick ranks of pine trees all dense and dark. That gave me an idea of how to get to Frisco unseen. 

But first I had to find out if Ping had replied to my telegraphed plea for help. 

I sauntered towards the telegraph building, all careless-like.
As I neared the shack, my footsteps slowed down. 

My telegraphic message to Ping had named all three people on the WANTED poster, viz: Robert Pinkerton, Ray G. Tempest & me, P.K. Pinkerton.

Had the telegraph operator seen the poster yet? Or heard about the robbery? 

I went to the office & peeked into the doorway, ready to skedaddle. 

‘Your reply just came through,’ said the man, with only a cursory glance. He finished tapping something on his telegraph machine & held up a slip of paper with his free hand. 

‘Here it is,’ he said. He did not even look at me.

I breathed a sigh of relief. 

He had not heard the news. 

Or, if he had, he had not put two and two together, as they say.

I stepped forward and took the paper from him & read these words:

From: Hong Ping, proprietor Pingerton Detective Agency
To: P.K. Pinkerton, Yank’s Station
It is not true that I only care about money. I care about other things than money. But I think you only care about yourself. So I will NOT help you. We are no longer pards. You can go to the fiery place. Yrs, Ping

This surprised me in three ways: 

No. 1 – I did not know Ping’s other name was Hong.
No. 2 – I did not realize that Ping cared about other things than money. 
No. 3 – I had not thought Ping would hate me enough to want me to go to H-ll.  

Then I got a 4th surprise. 

I heard the sound of a gun being cocked & looked up to see the telegraph man on his feet. He had a Colt’s Navy in his hand & a glint in his eye. ‘Miss Prudence Pinkerton, I presume?’

The revolver was pointed at my heart. 

‘You didn’t think they would tell me first?’ he said. 

Inwardly I was cursing my stupidity, but I said nothing. 

‘I have just been telegraphing every stage station on both sides of the border that you are here,’ he added, ‘so you may as well sit down to wait for the Law.’ 

Read on...

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 30

I was following the tracks of murdering Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard when I saw that something had happened. 

A passel of wheel ruts & footprints & hoof prints on the muddy road told me that Ray & his nine horses had overtaken a big flatbed wagon pulled by two oxen. After some milling about, the horses had all gone down off the left hand side of the road in the pine trees & the wagon had carried on with just two oxen but much deeper wheel ruts. 

I deduced that Ray had either threatened or bribed the driver to help him transfer the gold and silver to that wagon. Then he had set the incriminating horses free, to fend for themselves. Then the two of them had carried on west. 

Ray had a good head start on me: at least four hours. But I reckoned I knew where he was headed. 

I reckoned he was going to meet Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint in San Francisco! 

A bend in the road brought me to Yank’s Station where the only person in sight was a woman pumping water outside the stage house. I asked her if she had seen a man with a beaver-felt brown hat riding in an ox-cart just after dawn. 

She said yes there had been a man riding with ‘Dung’ O’Dowd. She told me Dung plied a flatbed ox-wagon from Placerville to Friday’s station. His habit was to fill that wagon with whiskey and head east, dropping whiskey off at all the stations. Then at Friday’s he would turn around and fill his wagon with manure so it was full when he got back to Placerville. She said she noticed the man because Dung usually travelled on his own. 

I reckoned Ray had hidden the leather mailbags full of gold and silver in the manure where nobody would care to look for it! 

I said, ‘Placerville is on the road to Sacramento, ain’t it?’

‘You bet.’

‘When is the next stage?’

‘Next stage to Sacto should be coming through in half an hour.’

‘Is there a telegraph office here at Yank’s Station?’ I said. 

‘Course there is,’ she replied. ‘Three doors down. Little one-room shack beside the stables at the base of one of them telegraph poles.’

I went three doors down and found a raw-plank, one-room building beside the stables at the base of one of them telegraph poles. The telegraph operator was snoozing with a slouch hat over his face and his feet up on a desk. On this desk was the machine for sending messages & a sheaf of forms & a tin can with pencils & a green blotter & a little bell with a dinger. 

I brought my gloved hand down on the dinger.


‘What?’ The man’s chair rocked back and almost tipped him out. 

‘How much to send a telegram to Virginia City?’ I asked. 

He pushed the hat back on his head. ‘Penny a word.’

I decided to save the $20 gold piece in my medicine pouch for the train and/or ferry to San Francisco. I fished around in my bogus pa’s greatcoat and pulled out 2 paper dollars & showed them to him. 

‘Two pennies a word if you are payin in greenbacks,’ he said, and spat into a corner of the room. 

He pushed a form forward. ‘Write the person’s address and fill it out,’ he said.

I paused for a moment to ponder. Whom should I wire for help? 

My first thought was Mr. V.V. Bletchley, but I wanted to solve the mystery and recover the treasure myself. 

My second thought was Jace, but a telegram might take a day or even two to reach Jace down in Steamboat Springs. 

I finally decided to ask Ping, even though he had claimed to be quit of me.

I said, ‘Do you know of a good and cheap hotel in Frisco?’ 

The telegraph opened a drawer in his desk & handed me a cherry red slip of paper. It read as follows:

San Francisco, Sacramento Street,
Between Montgomery & Sansome

B.B. WOODWARD, - - - - Proprietor.
This favorite and well-established House is now conducted on the Enterprise at New York Prices –
Guests paying for only what they order. 

and less Rates by the week

☞ An extensive Library, Museum & Reading Room free to all the Guests
☞ The OMNIBUS will take Guests & Baggage to the House Free of Charge
☞ Look to the name of the Omnibus to avoid imposition

Also, the CENTRAL RAILROAD CARS now connect with the Inland Steamers arriving at San Francisco, passing through Sansome Street, and crossing Sacramento Street, within half a block of the What Cheer House. Fare 5 cents.

BEWARE!! of a place adjoining the What Cheer House called the “Original House”. Said house is not in any way connected with this hotel. 

‘May I keep this?’ I said.

He nodded & yawned. ‘Sure,’ he said, ‘I got a whole passel of em.’

I folded the cherry red slip of paper and put it in the pocket of my Pa’s greatcoat.

Then I wrote my telegram.

From: P.K. Pinkerton, Yank’s Station
To:  Ping at the Pingerton (sic) Detective Agency,
South B Street, Virginia City

Need help. Rbt Pinkerton bogus. Real name Chauncy Pridhome? Shot & killed by bogus Pinkerton Det. Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard? Tempest left me for dead, took treasure. Come to Frisco. What Cheer House. Bring money & my trowsers. You said you were quit of me, but reward will bring you, as money all you care about. Yrs, P.K.

As I watched him tap out the message on the contraption before him, I imagined it whizzing along the wires to Virginia City in only moments. 

My stomach growled. I was ravenous for I had only tasted a little honey that morning. ‘I will be back in a quarter of an hour to see if there is a reply,’ I said. 

He nodded & leaned back & put his feet on the desk & tipped his hat over his eyes.

I went to the stage house.

It was empty as the stage had not yet arrived. 

I sat at the end of a long table & an old man brought me a bowl of stew. It was about the worst stew I had ever tasted but I forced myself to eat it because I did not know how long it would be until my next meal. 

I was wiping my bowl with a piece of stale bread when a young man came running in. 

‘They’s struck again!’ he cried. ‘Them danged Reb Road Agents!’

I froze in the act of wiping my bowl with a piece of stale bread.

‘What?’ The old man who had served me stew looked up from laying out spoons & cups on the table next to me. 

‘They found Dizzy a few miles out of Friday’s Station,’ cried the youth. ‘He had a ball in his chest and a busted up leg. He said it was them Reb Road Agents. He was babbling about a stage full of silver and bull-whippings and two men and a little girl and being thrown off the stage into a gorge. He lost consciousness and they do not expect him to live.’

‘Two men and a little girl?’ said the man who served the stew. 

‘Yup. She was in cahoots with them Reb Road agents!’

I was tempted to sprint for the door but I knew that would give me away. 

‘I got some WANTED notices here,’ said the youth. 

‘Dang!’ I thought. ‘I should have wired Mr. V.V. Bletchley. Now I am a fugitive on a WANTED notice.’

Then I thought, ‘I wonder how much I am worth?’

And finally, ‘I wonder if they want me “dead or alive”?’

Read on...

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 29

What if a few sheets of paper could change the way you see the world? What if a Letter made your brain do a handspring, so that topsy became turvy and everything looked wrong? 

I had been patting my dead pa’s coat to see if there were any hidden pockets when something pricked my finger. It was a straight pin in the seam on the left front of the coat. Not just one pin, but six of them.

As I removed the 6 pins, the seam opened. An envelope fell out. It was folded lengthwise. It contained 3 things:
No. 1 - a newspaper clipping
No. 2 - a telegram
No. 3 - a page torn from a notebook

I looked at the newspaper clipping first. As I scanned it, I saw the names Pinkerton and Lincoln. It was an article about how my uncle Allan had thwarted an assassination attempt on Lincoln 2 ½ yrs ago. I remembered my Ma Evangeline reading me that very article. 

We wrote to Allan Pinkerton at that time, but never got a reply. 

Next I turned my attention to the telegram.  

It read as follows: 

From J.C. Harris, Chicago, to Chauncy Pridhaume, c/o Occidental Hotel, San Francisco. 

Dear Chauncy, You asked for facts about Robert Pinkerton of the Detective Agency here in Chicago. Have not been able to find many. The following are general knowledge: Robert started agency, not Allan. Robert resents his brother’s political ambitions. Angry when Allan accepted IOUs from Gen McClellan in return for spying out Reb positions and numbers. Robert still supervises some rail and stage protection operations, but is mainly concerned with Agency accounts. Works behind a desk. Wife named Bella (short for Isabella), four children all boys. Robert suffers poor health after taking bad chill during efforts to help slaves escape on the ‘Underground Railway’. Smokes Lucy Hinton, is teetotal, speaks with noticeable brogue. 

Finally I studied the page torn from the notebook. The notes were as follows:

Born 1815 in Glasgow, supported Chartist movement, involved in riots, warrant for arrest, hastily married Isabella AKA Bella, fled Scotland for America, survived shipwreck off Newfoundland and made way to Chicago. Worked as canal digger then est. Pinkerton & Co. in ’43; partnered w/ bro in ’50 to form Det Agency; resents younger bro’s fame & fortune; disapproves of his spying for McClellan as only being paid in IOUs. 

I did not understand what I was reading. 

Why would my pa have a telegram addressed to a man named Chauncy Pridhaume?

Why would he have a page of notes about himself? 

Had he caught someone trying to personate him and had he kept these documents as evidence?

I felt the seams on the other side of the coat in case there might be an answer there. 

There was.

I found no pins, but as I worked over the seams with my forefinger and thumb something crinkled in the lining of the right-hand side.
I used my Indian ma’s flint knife to cut some big uneven stitches and take it out. 

It was another envelope, also folded twice lengthwise. In purple ink & what appeared to be a feminine hand, it was addressed to a certain Jonas Blezzard, Esq. 

There was no address. 

A single sheet of stationery lay within. On the top it read: From the escritoire of Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint, Occidental Hotel, Corner of Montgomery & Bush Streets, San Francisco

Dearest – You have asked me to jot down a few facts about the background of the person we were discussing at cards last night. Very well. Your three “trump cards” are these. Firstly: “he” is really a “she” a fact known to only one or two people. Secondly: she herself does not know what the initials P and K signify. Thirdly: she is worth a deal of money. She has three feet of the Chollar mine which people are clamoring to buy. I heard of a man who paid ten thousand for one foot! Other facts? She is twelve years old, born in the autumn of ’50 if I am not mistaken. She claims her father was Robert Pinkerton, older brother of the celebrated detective, and she longs to go to Chicago and work with him. They say her mother was a Sioux Indian. This must be true, for her sallow complexion, black hair and cold eyes betray savage blood. The mother was obviously wild and wayward, even for a heathen. Although the daughter is stoical of expression I believe she has inherited much of this savagery, so beware! Other facts? She drinks black coffee and is partial to layer cake. She carries two talismanic objects in a greasy leather neck-pouch: a flint knife and a small brass button with the words Pinkerton Railroad Detective on it. She has an extraordinary visual memory, yet she often forgets faces. If you–

I turned the page over but there was nothing on the back. If there had been more pages, they were missing. 

My stomach felt like a cold rock. 

I looked at the dead man lying by the shallow grave I had dug. 

He was not my father. He had never been my father. He was a man personating my father. 

I felt numb, like I did the time Doc Pinkerton dosed me with laudanum so he could remove a bullet from my arm. 

In the forest around me, woodpeckers were still tapping & the chickadees were still conversing & the early morning sunbeams were still slanting green-gold through pine boughs. 

But the whole world had changed. I had been looking at it wrong. I had been looking at the world as if ‘through a glass, darkly’. 

I thought, Of all the detectives in the whole wide world, I must be the worst.

The man lying at my feet was not my pa; he was a clever impostor.  
Or maybe not so clever, as he was now dead. 

My real pa – that is, the real Robert Pinkerton – was still in Chicago. 

You would have thought that discovering my pa was bogus might have dashed my spirits. But instead it lifted them on account of it made me mad. Real mad. 

I looked down at the man who had pretended to be my pa. 

I had all the clews right there in front of my eyes:

No. 1 – he was too young to be my pa. I knew the famous detective Allan Pinkerton was born in 1818 and so he was 45 yrs old which meant his older brother had to be at least 46 but the man lying at my feet was probably 36 at most. How had I not seen it?
No. 2 – I remembered how his Scottish accent had come and gone. Sometimes he said ‘ye’ and othertimes ‘you’. Sometimes ‘wee’ and other times ‘little’. It especially went when he was excited or not paying attention.
No. 3 – He had claimed to be ‘teetotal’ but had drunk champagne and asked for whiskey in his final hours.
No. 4 – Kepi had called him something like ‘Chance’ and I had not thought that strange. 
No.5 – he had a handkerchief with the initials C.P. on it. It was not a woman’s handkerchief, but a man’s. The initials were his. 

He was Chauncy Pridhaume. 

What fooled me was he knew facts only my pa could have known. And that he had pretended not to recognize me at first, which made me try to convince him, not the other way around. 

That made me even madder. I looked at the grave I had dug him. 

Then I yelled, ‘Come back, Bears! You can come eat this one. He is a piece of tasty carrion!’

My teeth were chattering & I was shivering hard.

My bogus pa was still wearing that warm woolen greatcoat. 

I bent down & I yanked it off his cold, stiff body. 

I rolled back the cuffs of the sleeves & pinned up the hem with the straight pins. Then I put it on over my velvet sacque & buttoned it up. 

Immediately I felt warmer. 

I would gladly have changed out of my yellow dress and put on some of his other clothes, but his trousers & jacket were too big and his shirt was stiff with blood.

I had been planning to leave his body lying there, but I remembered how he had asked me to forgive him with tears trickling down his face so I pushed his body into the hole I had dug & shoveled some of the earth back over the corpse & tramped it down.

‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ I said. ‘Amen.’

Up on the main road the early morning sun clearly showed me the hoof prints of nine horses, six of them deeper, as if carrying a heavy load. Ray G. Tempest and the booty-laden horses were heading west. 

As I followed those clear tracks, I thought about those documents, especially the letter. 

Who was Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint? Why was she writing to a Jonas Blezzard? What did she have to do with my bogus pa & Mr. Ray G. Tempest? 

Walking always helps me think and after a mile or so when I remembered my bogus pa’s dying words. ‘Blizzard’s a coming.’

Suddenly I realized: it wasn’t ‘blizzard’. It was ‘Blezzard’. 

But it was an easy mistake to make on account of Blezzard sounds like blizzard and a blizzard is a kind of storm or tempest. Tempest! 

Also, the Reb Road Agents had spoken of someone named Jonas, who was meaner than a rattlesnake.

I stopped in my tracks. In the pine woods the woodpeckers stopped pecking, like they had realized it, too. 

How had I been so stupid? 

Just as Chauncy Pridhaume had taken the name Robert Pinkerton, Jonas Blezzard must have taken the name Ray G. Tempest. 

It was a pseudonym

I guess my bogus pa been struck by a spasm of conscience, for with his dying breath he had tried to tell me that Ray G. Tempest was really Jonas Blezzard. 

But who were those two men? Why had they plotted to deceive me? Were the Reb Road Agents involved in the scheme? And how were they all linked to Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint?

I had to know.

Read on...