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...

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 43

When I got back to Martha and Zoe’s, I found they had company. 

‘Look who’s here!’ cried Martha, as I stepped through the door into their one room abode. ‘Look who done come to help you.’ 

The dim lamplight showed me a Chinese boy in a gabardine suit and a youth with blond hair & glinting wire-rimmed spectacles. It was Ping & Affable Fitzfimmons. 

‘P.K.?’ said Affie. ‘Is that you?’ 

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I am disguised as a chambermaid. I was trying to get the bulge on a suspect.’ I turned to Ping. ‘What are you doing here?’ I asked him. ‘I thought you had renounced me.’

Ping shrugged & scowled the floor. ‘Just when I finish sending reply to your telegram, another telegram comes in. Says you are wanted for robbery. I think maybe you need help so I go to office to get ready. Find Affie waiting there.’ 

Affie nodded. ‘I went to your office to warn you that I was uneasy about your father’s claim to be Scottish,’ he said. ‘There was something not quite right about his accent. When Ping told me you had telegraphed to say your father was a fake and that you were pursuing his double-crossing partner to Frisco. I offered to accompany Ping in order to help you,’ he added. 

I said, ‘You came all the way to Frisco just to help me?’

‘My parents are building a house there and in the meantime we have rented a suite at a hotel,’ said Affie. ‘I just convinced them to let me return a few days early. They were happy to let me travel on my own as Ping was going with me,’ he added.

‘We catch noon stage out of Virginia,’ said Ping. ‘Very bumpy. Very fast. Arrive Sac City around midnight. Get few hours sleep. Catch morning ferry. Arrive Frisco three o’clock today. Go to What Cheer House, but they no know you.’

‘They only take men,’ I said. ‘How did you find me?’

‘I remember you get letter from Zoe last Christmas. But don’t remember address.’

‘Jolly good luck you were in the directory,’ said Affie to Miz Zoe. ‘And that you still reside here.’

‘You did good detective work,’ I said to them. 

Ping said, ‘We also got info on Chauncy Pridhaume and Jonas Blezzard. They are Confidence Tricksters.’

I said, ‘Confidence Tricksters?’  

Affie said, ‘That is what they call people who play a “Confidence Game”. This is their modus operandi. First they find a rich Mark. Then they dangle some bait. They get you to come to them. That is how they gain your trust.’

I was confused. ‘Who is Mark?’ I asked.

‘The “mark”,’ explained Affie, ‘is what they call the victim, that is to say the person they want to trick. When the mark trusts them, they isolate him or her from friends and family.’

Ping nodded, ‘Like vaqueros separate calf from herd for branding.’

‘Once you are abandoned by friends and family,’ said Affie, ‘these Confidence Tricksters become your new friends. They get you to trust them and loan them money and leave them property in wills. It was easy for Pridhaume and Blezzard to separate you from your friends, and partner,’ he glanced at Ping. ‘All they had to do was show that you had been deceiving everybody.’ 

‘I warn’t deceiving,’ I said. ‘I was just dressing in trowsers and a flannel shirt.’

‘You pretend to be boy,’ said Ping. ‘That is big lie. That is like Chauncy Pridhaume personating your pa.’

‘I was not trying to be someone else,’ I protested. ‘I was just trying to be me.’

But I knew Ping was right. I was not much better than the man who had personated my pa. 

‘To thine own self be true,’ quoted Affie. Then he scratched his head. ‘What I cannot understand,’ he said, ‘is why they directed their deception at you. Ping tells me you have some valuable shares in a mine that might possibly be worth thirty thousand dollars. That is a good deal of money, but there are richer people in this region. Much richer.’

‘It is not just about money,’ I said. ‘It is about revenge.’

‘Why?’ said Ping. ‘What man could hate you so much?’

‘Not man,’ I said. ‘Woman.’

Ping’s eyes went wide. ‘Violetta!’ he said. ‘You stop her marry Jace last winter in Carson City. You send her back to Frisco with tail between legs.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘My mortal enemy, Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville. I reckon she wanted to take everything from me. My friends, my money, my livelihood and even my life.’ I looked at the floor. ‘The worst thing is that she convinced my mentor to betray me.’

‘Your mentor?’ said Affie. 

I nodded. ‘A gambler and rancher name of Poker Face Jace.’ 

‘No,’ cried Miz Zoe. ‘That cannot be!’ 

‘It is true,’ I said. ‘Jace told Violetta a fact about me that was the key to their success in tricking me.’

Ping stared, too. ‘You think Jace is in cahoots with them?’

I nodded and kept my eyes on the raw plank floor. ‘He is the only one apart from me who knew the secret of the P and the K. I reckon he decided to go back to Violetta.’

‘Oh, P.K.,’ cried Zoe. ‘I can’t believe he would knowingly harm you. He has been so good to you.’

‘I know,’ I said. ‘But I found him in her hotel room a few hours ago. I reckon he is the one she is going to wed.’

‘Oh,’ said Zoe. She had just stood up to boil more water, but now she sat down real sudden. 

‘I say!’ cried Affie. ‘We have a suite at the Lick House Hotel and there was a notice pushed under our door saying that there is to be a big wedding ball in the dining room tomorrow afternoon.’  

‘That’s it!’ cried Martha. ‘That’s the one!’ 

‘All the residents of the hotel are invited,’ added Affie. 

‘Who is the groom to be?’ I asked. 

‘I didn’t examine the details,’ said Affie. ‘Let’s all go back to my hotel and find out.’ He looked at me with twinkling spectacles. ‘For that is not all I have to show you.’ 

Read on...

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 42

Mr. Jason Francis Montgomery smokes a high-tone Cuban cigar called Mascara, which means ‘mask’ in Spanish. 

I guess all this time he had been wearing a ‘mask’ of deception.

I thought, ‘I saved Jace from Violetta’s love snares last winter, but here is evidence of his presence in her hotel room.’

Then I thought, ‘She has got him under her spell again and recruited him into her army of lovers.’

And finally, ‘I bet he is the one she is about to marry.’

I almost got a bad case of the Mulligrubs as I stood there in that west-facing bedroom lit all gold in the light of late afternoon. But instead of going into a bad trance, I felt I might be sick instead, so I looked around for the jug & basin. I saw them sitting on a chest of drawers and started towards them. 

Then I heard an inner door open behind me. 

Someone was here in Violetta’s suite! 

I kept walking towards the chest of drawers but turned my head just a little. I had an impression of a tall man dressed all in black. 


I knew it was him by his smell & by the way he moved & by the way the whole room held its breath. 

I hoped my black & white outfit would make me no more noticeable than a chair or a spittoon. I hoped he would see a chambermaid who had come in to replace some towels. When I reached the chest of drawers I put the towels beside the jug & bowl. Then I turned & started for the door with my head down, willing him not to recognize me.

‘P.K.?’ he said in a low voice. ‘Is that you?’

I stopped. I could feel my cheeks burning. 

Then I took a breath and turned to face him. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It is me.’

His eyes got wider. ‘Dang!’ he said. ‘I almost did not recognize you.’ He trailed off & took his cigar from the ashtray & sucked on it. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I came to get the bulge on Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville AKA Mrs. von Vingschplint,’ I said. ‘And also on you, and on whoever else is in cahoots with her.’

‘You think I am in cahoots with her?’ said Jace. He blew smoke down. ‘Why, I have not laid eyes on her for nearly half a year!’

‘You are a lying, two-faced varmint,’ I said. I tried to make my voice calm but I could hear it was shaky. ‘You were the only other person on this earth who knew about my initials. You told Violetta so she could use that information against me. That is how a trickster convinced me he was my long-lost pa.’ 

‘D-mn!’ said Jace. He turned away and then turned back. ‘It ain’t like that, P.K.,’ he said, but he was rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. He himself had taught me that was a sign that someone was probably lying!

‘It ain’t like what?’ I said. ‘You swore you had not told anybody. Now I know you are a lying varmint. You being here in her room proves it!’

I went to the door & opened it.

‘Dang it, P.K.,’ he said. ‘Don’t go. Let me explain.’

‘No,’ I said. ‘I never want to see you again.’ 

My eyes were blurring up & I felt sick again so I went out fast & closed the door behind me hard. I ran to the service stairs & down & along a dark corridor & out into the streets of San Francisco all lit with sunshine like watered-down honey. 

I headed towards the setting sun and walked up hill and down. 

I was in a perverse state of mind. 

I was having a kind of Civil War in my head. 

Part of me was thinking, ‘Jace would not betray me. He has always been a friend to me.’

But another part said, ‘He was there in her hotel room. He is her lover!’

By and by I found myself at the fort they call Presidio. 

The sun had set & lit up a few clouds & I saw the vast sparkling bay & what I now know is the blue Pacific Ocean through a gap in dusky hills. 

Somewhere in the Presidio, a lone trumpet was playing taps, which is sad and beautiful at the same time.

That tune always makes me think of death.

I closed my eyes and said, ‘Dear Lord, why is it that everybody I care about either dies or betrays me? Will I ever find a place I can call home?’

Read on...

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 41

‘What is your idea?’ I asked Martha. ‘Do you know how can I get into Violetta’s hotel room?’

Martha nodded. ‘All the maids at all them big hotels on Montgomery Street have uniforms like mine. And we can go anywhere in the hotel and don’t nobody get suspicious.’ 

I sat up straight. ‘Martha, that is a bully idea! Would you really be willing to sneak into Violettas room at the Occidental Hotel and look for evidence?’

‘Oh lawd, no!’ she squealed. ‘Not me! I thought you could dress up in my outfit and sneak in. I had to help out a friend who works at the Occidental Hotel one time,’ she added, ‘so I knows my way around a little. What room did you say that Violetta lady is in?’

‘Room 202,’ I said. 

‘Then it is easy,’ said Martha. ‘All you have to do is go into the side entrance of the Occidental Hotel – it is on Bush Street – then go in the second door on the right or is it left? Anyways, it is a white door. In there you will find lots of folded towels. Get two of them clean towels and go up some narrow stairs to the second floor and ask any chambermaid passing by if she could open the door to room 202 as the lady has requested fresh towels and you have left your pass key downstairs. They will let you in. If someone is in the room, then just say Excuse Me and leave the towels and go.’

I said, ‘What if the people in the hotel recognize me from this morning when I was dressed in my pa’s greatcoat?’

‘You probably will not see those people from the lobby,’ said Martha. She tipped her head on one side. ‘Also, when I wear my uniform folk look right through me. It is like I ain’t even there. Like I am a piece of furniture.’ She stood up. ‘If you wear this I reckon they won’t see you neither.’

‘Will I have to put on black face?’

‘Lawd, no! We got all colors of skin. There is even a half Indian maid like you.’

I nodded and looked at the uniform she was wearing. ‘Will it fit me?’

‘I think so,’ said Zoe. ‘I made it with room for Martha to grow.’

‘But what about the cap?’ I said. ‘It ain’t much more than a handkerchief and it will not cover my short hair. I don’t have a girl’s wig anymore– wait! Yes, I do!’ I went to my buckskin bundle & undid the twine & showed them the beautiful buckskin trowsers & the beaded moccasins & the wig of straight black hair.

‘Why, this is just like your own hair’ said Martha, taking the wig. ‘Only long.’

Zoe said, ‘I can pin this hair up and then we can put on Martha’s handkerchief cap.’

Martha was taking off the white pinafore that went over her black dress. ‘I feel sure this uniform will help you get the bulge on Mrs. Violetta de Baskerville!’

I nodded. ‘Only she ain’t called Mrs. de Baskerville anymore. Now she is going by the name of Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint. 

Martha stopped unpinning her white handkerchief cap. ‘What did you say her new name was?’

‘Mrs. V. F. von Vingschplint,’ said I. ‘Why do you ask?’

Martha frowned. ‘I ain’t sure.’ Then her face lit up. ‘I know!’ she cried. ‘She is getting married tomorrow afternoon and they is having a big dance at my hotel around 4 o’clock. I know because it is all happening at Short Notice and they have to clear out the dining room to make it a ballroom. Everybody is talking about it,’ she added. ‘They say the Cream of San Francisco society will be there.’

I said. ‘That figures. She is always marrying and burying. What is the name of the man she is to wed?

Martha shrugged. ‘Ain’t nobody talking about him. They are all talking about her and about what she will wear.’

‘Well, I ain’t wearing this thing ever again,’ I said as I took off the daffodil-yellow frock. ‘You can have it!’

Miz Zoe added hot water from the kettle to the cold water in the pitcher on the Toilette Trunk and I washed myself while Martha changed into a dress of the same red calico they had used for their curtains and tablecloth. 

Martha loaned me a pair of clean bloomers and a chemise and then helped me put on her black shift. It had a white collar & also white cuffs at the end of long black sleeves. It was a little tight around my bosom even though I do not have much there yet, but the pinafore covered up what little I got. Miz Zoe put my new wig on me & coiled up the straight black hair & pinned that little white handkerchief cap on top. 

‘Black and white suits you better than daffodil yellow,’ said Miz Zoe with a nod. 

Martha clapped her hands. ‘You look fine dressed as Prudence the chambermaid.’ 

‘Never call me Prudence,’ I said. ‘I am almost one hundred per cent certain that is not my Christian name.’ 

When I spoke those words, I suddenly got a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach and a kind of niggle at the back of my head, like I should be putting two and two together. But I could not think what the 2 + 2 might equal. 

It was niggling me as I went out of Martha and Zoes apartment and onto wooden-plank Sansome Street. It was niggling me as I turned south along wide Montgomery Street in the late afternoon sunshine, past stock-brokers with their walking sticks & women in their bonnets with the slanting sun lighting up their parasols. 

It niggled me as I went into the side entrance of the Occidental Hotel & picked up two fluffy towels from a room with a white door & went up the service stairs to the second floor & asked a passing chambermaid if she could open 202 as the lady had requested fresh towels and I had left my pass key downstairs. 

But when I entered the spacious hotel room and smelled Jace’s cigar, I suddenly put two and two together and knew why I felt queasy. 

I remembered a line from the letter in my bogus pa’s pocket, viz:  She herself does not know what the initials P and K signify.

How had Violetta found out about my not knowing the P and the K?

It could only be from the one person apart from me who was privy to that fact: Poker Face Jace. 

He had betrayed me.  

That was the awful 2 + 2 it had taken me so long to put together.

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