Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 23


When I came out into the firelight with the double-barrelled shotgun, the two Reb Road Agents stopped and stared at me with Expression No. 4 – Surprise – across both their faces. 

‘Drop em. Now!’ I said in my most commanding voice. I held the gun beside my hip, my grip relaxed but not loose.

They looked at me & then they looked at each other & then they started to laugh. 

‘Lookee there! It is that strange little girl from the stagecoach!’ cried Kepi. ‘She is dressed up as a midget Marshal, you bet.’ 

‘I reckon if she pulls the trigger the kick will knock her off her feet,’ said Slouch. 

They were laughing so hard they did not even bother to draw their sidearms. 

I pointed the double-barrelled shotgun at the branch above their heads & pulled the trigger. There was a gargantuan explosion that echoed and re-echoed in the mountain night and sent pine needles drifting down into the clearing. The gun had indeed given a powerful kick, but I had been holding it slightly away from my body so it did me no harm at all apart from the ringing in my ears. When the gun smoke dispersed I saw their sidearms on the ground before them and their hands stretched high in the air. 

‘You,’ I said to Kepi. ‘Take off your pard’s belt and cinch up his hands real good behind his back. But first, back away from your guns.’

They backed away from their guns.

While Kepi was undoing Slouch’s belt, I walked over towards them and kicked their revolvers back towards where I had been hiding. Keeping the barrel of the shotgun trained on the two outlaws, I backed up. Then I used my left hand to pick up the biggest revolver. It was Slouch’s. One glance told me it was a Remington Army which takes a .44 caliber ball. I stuck it in my whang leather belt. 

After Kepi bound Slouch’s hands real good, I gestured at Slouch’s feet. ‘Take off his boots,’ I said. ‘Then take off yours.’ 

‘No!’ whimpered Kepi. ‘Not that!’

‘Take off your boots,’ I insisted. ‘Or I will blow you out of them.’

With much grunting and glaring, Kepi took off Slouch’s boots & then his own. 

‘Now, take those leather reins and use them to tie him to that tree trunk,’ I commanded. 

 ‘Listen,’ said Slouch, as he backed up to the tree in his stocking feet. ‘We got lots of silver here. We are happy to share it with you if you will just let us go.’ 

‘Nope,’ I said. ‘And stop talking.’

‘We were supposed to shoot her dead,’ muttered Kepi as he tied his pard to the tree. 

‘I did my best,’ said Slouch.

I only had one shot left in the scattergun so I took that big Remington revolver from my whang leather belt & cocked it & fired another warning shot into the tree trunk a few inches above Slouch’s head. 

BANG!

‘Dang!’ yelped Slouch, ducking down. 

‘Cheese it!’ I commanded. ‘Now, sit down with your back against the tree. Tie him up good,’ I said to Kepi.

Slouch sat at the foot of the tree & Kepi tied him to it real good. 

‘Now take off your belt,’ I said to Kepi. 

Kepi took off his belt. 

‘Use it to bind up your own ankles real good,’ I said. 

He bound up his ankles. I noticed he had a hole in his sock where his big toe poked through.  

‘Sit on the other side of the tree from your pard,’ I said. 

Kepi hopped over to the other side of the tree & sat down awkwardly, with his back to the leather-bound trunk and his belt-bound legs straight out before him. I stuck the revolver back in my belt, transferred the shotgun in my right hand & took the end of the leather traces in my left hand. I tied it to the strip of leather already wound around the tree. Then I made three circuits of the tree, wrapping them both up real tight. 

The fire had died down to a reddish glow so I threw a few more pieces of wood on the embers & stood with my back to it & examined my work. They could both see me if they turned their heads but they could not see one another. 

‘One word from either of you,’ I warned, ‘and I will take off your socks and stuff them in your mouths as a gag.’

‘You goddam blank!’ said Slouch. ‘You would not dare.’

I put down the double-barrelled shotgun & went over to him & tugged off his smelly socks and stuffed them both in his mouth. 

‘Try to spit them out and I will shoot you in the foot,’ I warned. 

Then I went round to do the same to Kepi. 

‘Please no,’ he whimpered. ‘I promise I will be quiet.’ 

But Ma Evangeline taught me never to make a threat unless you are prepared to carry it out. So I took off his threadbare socks and put them in his mouth, too.

I almost felt sorry for them until I remembered the .44 caliber bullet hole in my bonnet. 

It was now chilly, even with my velvet, fur-trimmed sacque. I went over to stand by the revived fire. I warmed my hands above it and pondered what to do. They had mentioned a stash of ‘booty’ at ‘Grizzly Gulch’. 

Then I remembered Slouch saying the ‘shebang’ was ‘less than a mile’.  

I reckoned they were talking about their camp. If I set out now with the silver-laden horses, I could get there before the moon set. I might even see another stage or rider on the road and send for the Law. Then they could put Slouch and Kepi in jail to await a trial. 

I glanced over at them. They sat barefoot & gagged & back-to-back with a big old pine trunk between them. They could not see each other but they both had their heads turned & were staring at me. With their socks poking out of their open mouths it looked like they were angrily sticking out their tongues at me. 

But even as I watched, I saw their expressions change. Their eyes got wider & their eyebrows went up. They were giving me Expression No. 4 – Surprise. 

Why were they looking at me like that?

Then I realized. They were not looking at me.

They were looking beyond me. 

Someone – or something – was coming up behind 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!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 22


I was outnumbered and outgunned. There were two Reb Road Agents & only one me. They each had a big revolver and at least one rifle. I only had a Muff Deringer.

But I had the advantage of not being dead like they probably thought I was.

And I had my Indian skills. Using these skills, I scanned the camp and spotted the Henry rifle leaning against the trunk of a pine tree not too far from the fire. Dizzy’s double-barrelled shotgun was there, too. Ray must have left it inside the coach when he climbed up to help me. 

I put my little four-shooter back in the inner pocket of my sacque & made my way carefully back into the darkness of the pine forest & circled round real stealthy & slow, so as not to alarm the horses. 

When I came up behind the leaning gun pine, I reached my hand around kind of groping-like & took first the Henry & then the double-barrelled shotgun. Tucking both guns under my arm, I melted back into the darkness of the forest and returned to my first vantage point. 

By now the Rebs were tipping letters out of the leather sacks and filling the empty bags with silver ingots. There were letters scattered everywhere but at least they had stopped burning them. 

I was about to step forward & throw down on them, when I remembered I was wearing a velvet sacque and a wig of swinging ringlets beneath a lighthouse bonnet. I would not make a very imposing figure thus attired. At least I could take of the danged wig & silly bonnet. 

I took off the danged wig & silly bonnet. 

As I was about to toss away those two hated objects, I saw something that made my blood run cold as snowmelt. 

There was a bullet hole in the sticking-up part of the bonnet! A hole made by a .44 caliber ball, I reckoned. I remembered how something had knocked my bonnet forward when they had been shooting at us. 

‘Dang!’ I said to myself. ‘They were shooting to kill.’

They were pretty drunk by now. I could tell because they were weaving around as they lugged leathern sacks full of silver bricks over to the horses. I reckoned I might as well wait until they finished loading the silver on the horses. Otherwise I would have to do a lot of heavy lifting myself. 

The moon was high now and I judged it to be around 10 pm. My stomach was growling but my last few pieces of jerky were in my yellow velvet purse which I had left hanging on the front rail of the stagecoach. I peered at the ruined coach and thought I saw something yellow in the moonlight. 

While they were busy loading the last of the silver onto the stage horses, I snuck over to the wrecked body of the stagecoach & got my yellow velvet bag and fished out a piece of jerky. Then I looked inside the coach. I saw Ray’s flat brimmed gray hat lying on top of a letter-sack that was half spilling out its letters. There were also some lengths of whang leather that had bound the mouths of the mail sacks. 

I lowered myself down through the open window of the door & I put on Ray’s hat. It was a mite too big so I stuffed a few loose letters in the crown to make it fit. But what to do about my puffy sacque with its bell-like outline? 

Then I had another idea. I took one of those strips of whang leather & tied it around my waist over the sacque. In the darkness they might take me for a short man in a belted coat. I also tied my yellow velvet purse to the belt of whang leather, but I made sure it was hanging down behind me. 

Quiet as a bug on burlap, I climbed out of the ruined stagecoach & lowered myself onto the moon-dappled ground & melted back into the inky shadows of the pines.

Over by the horses, Kepi stretched & yawned. ‘Toting those silver ingots has tuckered me out,’ he said to his pard. ‘Can’t we take a little kip?’

‘Nope,’ said Slouch. ‘We gotta put some distance between us and the wreck while the moon is still up. If Chauncy or Jonas find us slacking there will be h-ll to pay.’

‘They ain’t the boss of us,’ said Kepi.

‘No, but they promised us a good piece of the pie for our help,’ said Slouch. 

‘H-ll,’ said Kepi. ‘We got about seventy-five pieces of silver pie right here on these horses. We ought to keep the booty and skedaddle to Frisco. Or we could lay low in Angel’s Camp.’

‘Better not,’ said Slouch. ‘They would hunt us down and kill us dead if we betrayed em.’

‘Aw,’ said Kepi. ‘I could take em easy.’

‘You could maybe take Chauncy,’ said Slouch. ‘But not Jonas. He is as cold-blooded as a rattler.’

‘He is most likely dead of a busted neck,’ said Kepi.

‘Maybe,’ said Slouch. ‘Maybe not. You willing to take that chance?’

‘Nah,’ said Kepi, ‘I reckon not. Where was we supposed to meet em?’

‘Grizzly Gulch,’ said Slouch. ‘Where we stashed the booty. We can make it back to our shebang easy before the moon sets. I reckon it is less than a mile.’

‘Better mount up, then,’ said Kepi, starting towards their horses. 

My heart was pounding in my chest. It was now or never. I could not show any fear or they might throw down on me.

I picked up the double-barrelled shotgun & checked it was capped & loaded. 

It was. 

I took a deep breath & stepped out into the firelight. 

‘You ain’t going nowhere,’ I said, making my voice as deep as I could. ‘Throw down your sidearms and reach for the sky.’

Read on...

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 21



I must have passed out because everything went black for a time.

When I came to, I found myself still falling through the night.

Yes! I was still falling. 

But I did not splat.

This confused me.

Then I had a notion of what was happening. 

I was suspended between Glory and the Fiery Place! 

I had tried to be a Good Methodist but now all my sins came rushing back into my memory, viz: I had killed a man & told lies & played poker & tried whiskey once & a Pousse Lamour cocktail another time & ignored every single one of my foster ma’s dying wishes. Also I had pranked the people of Virginia City for over nine months, making them believe I was a boy not a gal. 

That might have been the worst sin of all, for they were my friends.

I reckon I was in a place called Limbo. 

Methodists do not believe in that place, but Mr. Hazard O’Toole at the Shamrock Saloon across from my office is Catholic. He told me all about it. 

He told me that Limbo is where you go to wait while the angels plead your case and the imps of the Fiery Place accuse you. 

Gradually, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I perceived that I was not in Limbo. I was still in the high Sierras, surrounded by the looming black shapes of whispering pines. Why had I not splatted onto the ground? 

Was I dreaming? 

My arms were hanging limp. I moved my right hand over to pinch my left. 

I pinched hard. 

It hurt. 

That meant I was not dreaming. 

Then I realized that I was kind of tipped forward. I could feel something tugging my underarms & the seams of my coat sleeves straining tight. Someone was holding me up. 

Someone… or something!

I knew there were bears in these mountains. Was it a man-eating grizzly bear holding me aloft?

If a prey animal is in trouble, he does one of three things. 
No. 1 – He fights
No. 2 – He runs away
No. 3 – He freezes, so that he will not be seen or so that his enemy will think he is dead.

I could not fight. And I could not run away. So decided to use method No. 3 and ‘play possum’. Maybe the grizzly bear holding me up thought I was dead. Maybe he was not hungry enough to devour me in my velvet sacque & yellow-straw lighthouse bonnet with its silk flowers & ribbon & ruffles. 

I must have been dazed with terror to imagine such a foolish thing. By and by I realized it could not be a grizzly bear holding me so still. Or even a person.

It was one of them whispering pines.

Yes, I was caught by tree. 

My velvet and fur-trimmed sacque must have puffed out as I fell through the air and got caught on a branch. 

There was no sound except the wind in the pines and further off the jingling and snorting of horses. 

The horses! Had they survived? What about Ray, who had been up on the driver’s box with me?

If only I could see!

I reached my arms up over my head and after some groping I clasped on to the branch holding me. I could feel it through the satin-lined velvet fabric of the sacque which was straining under my weight.  

It felt brittle and prickly, like an old branch. A dead branch. 

Crack!

That was the sound I heard as I found myself tipped forward a little more. My efforts to free myself had caused the branch that was holding me to bounce up and down a little. It was going to break and send me hurtling to the rocky gorge three thousand feet below!
I considered yelling for help but then I reasoned that the only other people for miles around were two Road Agents and one Pinkerton detective, viz: Mr. Ray G. Tempest. The road agents might be nearby. And the Pinkerton detective was probably dead. 

So instead of yelling, I sent up an arrow prayer to the Lord. 

‘Dear Lord,’ I prayed, ‘please forgive me for pranking my friends and help me to be a good girly-girl, if that is your desire. Only save me in my moment of need! Amen.’

As if in answer to my prayer, some pearly white rays poked up through the inky black branches of a pine tree below me. Those rays were like the halo of a saint, all fanned out. A moment later a light shone in my face. It was the moon, rising in the east and shining up through the gulch. 

That blessed moonlight showed me that it was indeed the branch of a fir tree holding me. 

I looked down. 

Hallelujah! I was only about six feet off the ground. 

(But I still might have broke my neck if that branch had not caught me.) 

The next question was: how to get down? 

Crack!

I could use the weakness of the branch.

I flapped my arms to make the branch bob up and down. 

CRACK!

My plan worked. I fell the six feet but landed awkwardly on account of I was wearing those button-up boots and not my usual moccasins. The ground was padded with pine needles, which cushioned my fall, but it also sloped gently down so I rolled a few times. The prickly savior branch dug into my back but thankfully it did not pierce the daffodil-yellow frock nor break my skin. 

I got up on my hands & knees and straightened my wig & bonnet & pulled the branch out from under my sacque. 

Hallelujah! My little 4-shot Muff Deringer was still firmly in the hidden pocket. I took it out & cocked it & crept down towards the sound I had heard earlier, viz: the sound of horses snorting & voices in the pines. 

I am used to sneaking in the dark & when I put my mind to it I can go over crispy leaves & crunchy pine needles without making a sound. I crept forward, as silent as a cat on a velvet cushion. 

Presently I came to where I could see the flickering yellow light of a fire. 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. 

Here is the picture the golden firelight & the silvery moonlight showed me: 

One papier maché torso wearing a pink shawl & a flower-bedecked sunhat on her watermelon head & balanced on the ground as if sitting before the fire with her back to me.

Two Reb Road Agents sitting at the fire facing the dummy & also me & reading letters. 

Three wheels scattered in various places around them. 

Some pieces of a busted up old Concord Stage & a tangle of reins & a whippletree & some other tackle lying between me and the Reb Road Agents. 

Seven letter-sacks sitting near them. 

Eight horses standing whole and unharmed, loosely tethered a pine. 

Seventy-eight gleaming bricks of silver piled up beside the fire. 

This is what that picture told me:

The stagecoach had crashed but the whippletree had broke loose from the singletree & all the horses had survived. I could see the drop was not as steep as I had feared, though it was still enough to cause the coach to roll over a couple of times and break up, probably on account of the heavy silver bars inside. The Reb Road Agents had obviously come upon the site of the wreck as they pursued us. They had seized all the silver bars and were now relaxing. 

I could see no sign of Ray. 

I reckoned he was dead. 

The decoy stage full of guards and also my pa riding behind were probably ten miles further along the road. Maybe more.

I was on my own. 

I focused all my attention on the Reb Road Agents. The one with the slouch hat was older. He was smoking a pipe & reading a letter. The one with the kepi was younger. He was swigging from a bottle of champagne & reading a letter. I noticed they had an open letter-sack beside them.

I wormed forward to the trunk of the tree closest to their fire. 

I was close enough to hear them talking. 

‘Hey, darlin,’ said Kepi to the dressmaker’s dummy. ‘Listen to this: Dear Ma, It is Bonanza here on the Comstock. They struck it rich in the front ledge in Gold Hill the other day. Tell little Pete and Edward they must come and join me. I have got a job working for the Yellow Jacket mine. It is hot and tiring but I get four dollars a day and I have feet. Give Betty my love and tell her she will not have to wait much longer.’ He took a swig of champagne & then he tossed the letter into the flames.

‘Hey!’ I got a good one, said Slouch. ‘It is a love letter from a gal to her betrothed: Oh Roderick I count the hours until I see you again.’ He was making his voice all high like a lady’s. ‘I have not heard from you in three weeks and I fear you have stopped caring for your sweet Elspeth. Are the girls prettier in Frisco? Please write to me, dear one!’ 

He also tossed his letter in the fire. 

I was outraged. They were burning letters from sons to their mothers & lonely gals to their sweethearts!

Silver could be replaced, but not letters. 

I had to stop them! 

But how?

Read on! 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 20


I had been looking over the edge but now I turned to look ahead. Sure enough, there in the gloaming were two men standing either side of the road. 

‘Halt!’ they cried, and both put up their hands, palms forward, in the universal gesture that means stop. They wore butternut-colored uniforms which meant they were Confederate soldiers, AKA Rebs. 

I swore under my breath, using language unfit for publication. 

Pa’s Plan had failed.

‘Don’t cuss!’ said Dizzy out of the corner of his mouth. ‘Remember, you are supposed to be a helpless little girl. It is our only chance.’ 

He was right! If I played a convincing girly-girl, they might take pity on us & let us go & we could get the silver to safety. Then we could alert Pa and the guards in the other stage of their whereabouts. 

The team slowed and stopped. I noticed Dizzy did not push the footbrake forward. 

‘Good evening, y’all,’ drawled one of the men. He held a Henry rifle and wore a small, round, slope-top hat with a visor. I think folk call it a ‘kepi’. 

Kepi said, ‘I am gonna have to ask you not to make any sudden-like moves.’ His rifle was pointing at Dizzy. 

‘Heck, you don’t want to bother with us.’ Dizzy’s voice cracked a little. ‘It is only me and my little girl here and some children back from a picnic. You can see their sleeping schoolmarm there in the window. Surely you will let us pass?’

The reins in his left hand were trembling but I felt strangely calm. Maybe it was because I could not see the Road Agents clearly. Or maybe it was because they sounded so polite.

I reckoned I should play the part of a little girly-girl.

‘Grandpa?’ I said in my high girly voice. ‘Are those men going to rob us?’

‘Not if you cow operate,’ said the other man. He wore a slouch hat & his voice was deeper than Kepi’s. 

He cocked his piece and said, ‘My pard is just gonna have a little peek inside your coach while I cover you. Y’all seem to be riding pretty low, like you are maybe carrying a lot of silver.’

‘We ain’t got nothing of value,’ said Dizzy. ‘Just them kiddies, like I said.’ 

While they were talking, I had started to sneak my gloved right hand inside the secret pocket of my sacque to get at my Muff Deringer. 

‘Hands where we can see them, Missy,’ said Kepi politely. 

I froze. Then I took my (empty) hands out of my sacque. 

‘Raise em high,’ said Slouch. 

I could not believe this was happening. Did I not look girly enough? 

I had to convince them! But how?

I reckoned a girly-girl would whimper. 

‘Oh, grandpa,’ I quavered. ‘They are going to kill us!’ 

‘Cheese it, brat!’ growled Slouch Hat. He pointed his big revolver at me. 

So much for the Reb Road Agents having a soft spot for little girls! 

The one with the Kepi was about three paces from the stagecoach when Dizzy grabbed his black leather whip & yelled, ‘Hi-yi!’ 

Three things happened real quick. 

No. 1 – With a report like that of a gun being fired, Dizzy’s whip knocked the Henry rifle right out of Kepi’s hands. 
No. 2. – Our team of horses started moving. 
No. 3. – The man wearing the Slouch Hat shot Dizzy with his big Army revolver.

BANG!

Dizzy did not make a noise. He only slumped against me. The reins started to slide through his gloved fingers. 

Quick as a streak of chalk, I grabbed the reins. ‘Hi-yi!’ I cried, and gave them a flick. ‘G’lang! G’lang, you sons of blanks!’ 

By the side of the road, Kepi looked up from where he was scrabbling to recover his rifle. He rolled out of the way just in time to avoid getting trampled. 

The horses had to strain to get the heavy coach moving. They seemed to be wading through winter molasses. 

‘Come on, you sons of blanks!’ I bellowed again. I was leaning way over to the left on account of Dizzy was slumped against my right side. 

We had just passed the road agents when something batted my bonnet forward & Dizzy jerked against me & at the same time I heard three more loud reports. 

BANG! BANG! BANG!

They had shot him again! 

I flicked the reins & yelled, ‘Git!’ 

I forgot to say ‘G’lang!’ and ‘Hi-yi!’ but the horses were moving faster now. I reckon the shots had spooked them as much as my hollering and cussing. We finally crested the hump in the road and were heading downhill. Now the six steeds were running at top speed. It was almost dark and the tall black pine trees either side blotted out the purple sky. I have eyes about as sharp as a telescope but even a telescope cannot see at night. I could hardly make out the road ahead. 

I had to trust the horses, like Dizzy had told me.

I kept hold of the ribbons but let them go slack.

Yes, I gave those horses free rein. 

The team curved left, following the road, and the curve made Dizzy slump against me even more. 

I could hardly breath & I was in danger of being crushed by his bulk so I gave him a little shove. But I must have pushed too hard for now he was slumped way over to the right, leaning over the side and in danger of tumbling out! 

I held the reins in my left hand and grabbed at Dizzy’s sleeve with my right. 

I caught the cuff of his jacket sleeve just in time!

I knew if his jacket cuff slipped out of my grasp he would tumble over the side of the stage and off the mountain!

I needed help.

‘Ray!’ I cried. ‘Help!’

No answer. 

I used all my lungs to holler, ‘RAY!’ 

‘Wha?’ came his slurred voice from down below. ‘Wha’s happening?’

‘The Reb Road Agents struck! They shot Dizzy. I think he might be dead.’

The horses were going fast now. 

Too fast. 

I reckon they were spooked. 

There was a bend coming up with a three thousand foot drop on the right-hand side. 

‘Help!’ I cried. ‘Ray! PA!

(I do not know why I shouted for Pa as he was about an hour ahead of us.)

As we took the bend, the coach listed to the right. I reckon if we had not been carrying a ton of silver we would have been driving on two wheels. 

Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw Dizzy twitch. Then his sleeve was jerked from my fingers.

He flew out of the driver’s box & went sailing into the thin air above that three thousand foot drop.

Then he was gone.

A moment later, Ray’s head appeared beside the coach! He was hatless and his red bandana was pulled down around his neck. He was clinging to the slender iron railing around the roof! 

‘What happened to Dizzy?’ I cried. 

‘Dead weight,’ he shouted back. ‘Thought it was better to ditch him.’

‘He might of still been alive!’ 

‘Whoa!’ cried Ray. ‘Slow her down!’

He was still hanging off the side of the coach. Even with all those silver bars as ballast I was pretty sure I felt the two left wheels lift off the ground for a moment! 

‘Get up on top!’ I hollered. ‘You are throwing the stage off balance. It will fall over and we will be kilt!’

‘Stop the coach!’ he cried. ‘We cannot outrun them.’ 

He gave himself a heave & was suddenly up in the box beside me. 

He tried to pull the reins from my hands but I held on tight. 

‘Don’t!’ I cried. ‘They are spooked but they know this road.’

‘Let go, you d-mn blank!’ He called me a bad word and I was so astonished that I let him take the reins. But he was not expecting me to let go and he jerked them violently to the right. 

Too violently. 

I saw the horses thundering straight off the edge of the road towards a three thousand foot chasm. 

It was my stagecoach-going-over-a-precipice nightmare coming true. 

But this was no dream.

This was really happening.

Suddenly we were in the air & my stomach & lungs were all up in my throat & time slowed down & we were falling, falling, falling.

Then everything went darker than the inside of a black bear on a moonless night. 

Read on...

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 19


The sun had set in Genoa, but when we reached the top of the pass, why, there it was again, like an old friend. It was very low in the sky, lighting up some puffy clouds all red & purple & yellow. This fiery sunset was reflected in Lake Bigler, which some folk call Tahoe. It was so pretty it made my spirit want to fly up into those clouds like a hawk. 

Dizzy flipped a coin to a toll-gate keeper. A few moments later he guided the puffing team of horses off the road & onto a muddy patch of ground in front of a couple of raw-plank buildings. There was a smell of wood smoke & stables. 

‘Is this Friday’s Station?’ I asked.

‘Yup.’ Dizzy reined in the team and we rocked to a halt. ‘Wanna get down or can you last one more stage?’

‘I need the jakes,’ I said. 

While Dizzy was helping me down, two men came out of the shack. One had a little nose and a big mustache. The other had a big nose and a little mustache. Big Mustache went to get a fresh team and Little Mustache started undoing the whippletree. 

When I got back from using the outhouse, Big Mustache was telling Dizzy how another California-bound stage had changed teams an hour before and a rider came by not long after. 

‘Dang,’ said Dizzy. ‘They are now a whole hour ahead of us. We’d best not dilly-dally.’

It was chilly up here with a breeze coming off the lake. The pine-scented air came cold into my chest & made me feel light-headed. I pulled my pink shawl around my shoulders. Then I remembered the coat I had bought for the dummy to wear. I went towards the coach. 

Through the window, I saw that the dummy was leaning against the corner & her hat was down over her watermelon face, so it really did look like a lady was sleeping. That was good. 

I gave a soft knock on the door and opened it. 

Mr. Ray G. Tempest was lying on his back upon the bed of mailbags with his head back, his eyes closed and his mouth open. His hat & Dizzy’s shotgun lay nearby on one of the other mailbags. 

I took the coat off the dummy & gave her my shawl instead & restored her to her former position.

Ray snored on. 

I quietly closed the door of the stage and then put on the coat. It was a lot warmer than my shawl. Mrs. Wasserman had called that coat a ‘sacque’ & told me it was the girliest coat she had & that it was the latest fashion. It was like a cape only with sleeves, made of silk-lined purple velvet & white fur trim. When I put my gloved hands in the little slits at the front I discovered a hidden pocket. 

One of the things I hate about dresses is that there are no pockets so the only place to put things is in a purse or similar. But now I had found a pocket in this sacque. Hallelujah!  

I took my four-shooter out of my medicine bag & put it in the secret pocket along with a few spare cartridges. Then I let Dizzy help me back up into the box. He took the reins from Big Mustache, released the brake & we were on our way again!

My stomach growled so I opened my yellow drawstring purse which I had tied it to the rail of the driver’s box. I took out some beef jerky & shared it with Dizzy. 

I noticed a wooden sign down by the side of the road. It said, WELKOM TO THE STATE OF CALIFORNEE. We had left Nevada Territory behind and were now in California, a state I had not heretofore set foot in.

The sun had set for good & dusk was gathering fast. 

I said, ‘Do you think the Reb Road Agents have held up the decoy stage yet?’

‘I hope so,’ said Dizzy. ‘Soon it will be too dark to see. If they miss the decoy they might hold us up instead. We should of set out earlier.’

‘At least they are an hour ahead of us.’

‘Yup,’ said Dizzy. 

I said, ‘When Icy Blue and his agents catch them, what will they do with them?’

‘Why, clap ’em in irons and take em back to Virginee. Hopefully we will see them coming back this way, mission accomplished, at any moment.’

My spirits lifted. I might see my victorious pa soon & then he would turn around and ride to Sacramento with us and soon we would go to Chicago covered in glory.

‘Want to see something awful?’ said Dizzy, chomping his piece of jerky.

‘Sure,’ I said. 

‘See that bend we’re coming up to? Scoot on over to the left and look down.’

I scooted over to the edge and looked down. As we came to a curve in the road I saw a steep slope tumbling down to a rocky gorge far below. My sharp eyes saw a wheel on the jagged gray rocks & some broken crates & then the worst thing of all: a smashed up stagecoach and what might have been the bones of a horse. I could not be sure about the horse bones, for the light was fading fast. 

‘What happened?’ I asked.

‘Coach went off the road,’ said Dizzy. ‘Crashed on them rocks below. Happens more than people think.’

‘Stagecoaches going over the edge and crashing on the rocks below?’ 

‘Yup. That is why they never put glass in the windows. In case it breaks and cuts you to ribbons.’

‘Were the passengers killed?’ I asked. 

‘Only a couple,’ he said. ‘The others escaped with just a few broken bones and cracked heads.’ He chuckled. ‘Driver broke both arms. When they took the bandages off, he found one arm was an inch shorter than the other.’

I held out my arms. 

I tried to imagine having one arm shorter than the other. 

I could not do it.

We rode for a while without speaking. I tried to listen out for the sound of a pa and the decoy stage coming our way, covered in glory & with the Reb Road agents in irons. 

But it was hard above the noise of 24 thundering hooves and a creaky old stagecoach. 

Soon it was so dusky I could hardly see the road. 

I said, ‘How do you light the road when it gets dark?’

Dizzy said, ‘You don’t.’

I said, ‘Because there is an almost full moon tonight?’

He said, ‘Moon won’t rise for an hour or so. But we don’t use lights even when there ain’t a moon.’

I said, ‘How do you see in the dark?’

He said, ‘You don’t.’

I said, ‘You drive in the dark?’

‘Yup. Dark. Rain. Storm. Snow. You gotta remember that each team of six horses just goes back and forth over ten or twelve or fourteen miles at most. They know their stretch of road so well they could do it blindfolded. Why, some of the drivers just have a little sleep while they are holding the reins.’

‘You won’t sleep, will you?’ I asked.

‘Nosiree. Not with the chance of Reb Road Agents behind any pine and a crumbled road at any bend.’

‘The road crumbles some times?’

‘Yup,’ said Dizzy. ‘You got any more jerky?’ 

‘Yes,’ I said. 

‘Gimme,’ said Dizzy. 

He opened his mouth like a hungry bird and I gave him another piece of beef jerky. 

I was glad of my gloves and velvet sacque for it was now cold. 

We were going up a rising bend. Our fresh horses from Friday’s were working hard. I looked over the edge and saw what looked like a sheer drop. The granite rocks far below were almost as jagged as the hundred black pine trees that poked up like needles. I did not want to look, but I could not tear my eyes away.

‘Jumping Jesus!’ said Dizzy. 

‘Beg pardon?’

Dizzy swallowed hard & cussed. ‘Looks like we got ourselves company. Those Reb Road Agents must of let the decoy stage pass right on by. Here they are, all right: fixing to hold us up.’

Read on...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 18


We reached Genoa about an hour after we set out from Carson, for we had been going at a fair clip through the sage-brushy desert and flat marshes. It felt satisfying to have control of six powerful beasts and a stage worth $50,000 dollars. 


‘I’d better take them there ribbons now,’ said Dizzy, ‘lessen someone sees a girl in black ringlets and a yaller bonnet driving.’

As we pulled in front of a Livery Stable, the door of an outhouse partly opened and a voice shouted. ‘Be right out!’ 

Dizzy pulled pushed the footbrake forward & tossed the reins to the ground. He stayed in his seat so I did, too. 

It was now about 5 in the afternoon. We were in the shadow of the mountains & it was chilly. I could hear the throaty coo of a dove from the Genoa oak trees and in the cottonwoods some birds were having a lively conversation. Some folk standing in front of the General Store were also conversing & they hardly even glanced at us. 

The hostler came out of the outhouse. 

‘Howdy, Dizzy!’ he called up to us. ‘I got a fresh team all ready for you. Little Ben?’ A towheaded boy came out, leading a fresh team of six horses, all harnessed and strapped to their pole. 

‘That there wooden stick is called a “whippletree”,’ said Dizzy, pointing down at a kind of plank the hostler was releasing from the front of the coach. ‘See there? The traces are all passed through and ready so you can be ready to go at a moment’s notice if’n you want.’ 

‘From what Icy said, I thought you would have been here sooner,’ said the stableman as led our starting team away from the coach. 

‘We was a mite delayed,’ said Dizzy. ‘How long ago did he come through?’ 

‘Half an hour maybe,’ said the hostler. He stopped to watch the boy fit the new team’s whippletree to the front of our coach. ‘No more than forty minutes.’

‘Dang!’ cursed Dizzy. He spat some tobacco juice onto the ground. ‘Any other travellers pass by?’ 

‘Just a man on a gray and three miners footing it,’ said the Stableman. ‘Carson City Stage is due in around an hour. Evenin’, ma’am,’ he said to the window. ‘Would you care to stretch your legs?’ 

When he got no response he shielded his mouth with his hand and whispered to Dizzy, ‘Something wrong with that lady in there? She don’t seem very friendly.’

‘Why, Al,’ said Dizzy. ‘That lady is real friendly. In fact, she is so friendly that you could give her a kiss and she would not object.’ He gave a wheezy laugh.

‘Don’t take no notice of Dizzy, ma’am,’ said Al, tipping his hat at the open window. ‘He can be rude and– Dang!’ he leaped back as if bit by a snake. ‘There is something wrong with her face. It looks like an unripe watermelon.’ 

‘Hee, hee,’ said Dizzy. ‘It is. She is a dummy with a watermelon head. She is meant to mislead those Reb Road Agents into thinking we have passengers,’ he added. 

‘You watch out for them,’ said Al. ‘Latest news is they was spotted between Yank’s Station and Strawberry. They tried to rob a passenger stage but O’Riley started blasting at them with his scattergun and they skedaddled.’

Little Ben had hitched the new team to our coach. He handed Al the hostler the reins of the fresh team and led off the old team. 

Dizzy spat a brown squirt of tobacco juice down onto the dirt. ‘That stiff lady ain’t the only one riding today,’ he said. ‘Got a Pinkerton Detective of our own in there, too. But I don’t think those bandits will bother with us. Not after Icy & his men have got hold of them.’

‘Well, God go with you!’ cried Al the hostler, holding the bunch of reins aloft. 

Dizzy took them and released the footbrake. ‘Amen,’ he said, and to the horses, ‘G’lang! G’lang there you sons of blanks!’ 

That fresh team pulled us along a flat, straight road at the foot of the mountains for a spell. 

We passed Van Sickles Station which is a white two-story wooden house with a grand porch and corrals & stables all on its lonesome with those barren mountain rearing up almost perpendicular behind it. 

I knew the road doubled back a few miles up ahead to become the Kingsbury Grade. I turned my head to search for Pa but I only saw a stagecoach coming down, not going up.  

I said, ‘I see a stagecoach coming down the mountain.’

Dizzy said, ‘That’ll be the Pioneer stage from Placerville on its way to Carson and Virginee.’

We came to that sharp switchback & started to climb up the side of the mountain. 

Dizzy was using his whip now, pulling it back & then flicking it forward to make it uncoil like a big black snake & crack like the report of a pistol right over the horses’ heads. But he did not have to do too much blacksnaking. Those horses knew it would be uphill now but downhill on their way home so they pulled bravely. 

As we got higher & higher I could see back the way we had come. Over to my right – to the east – I could see vast empty sky & far below a flat plain like a patchwork quilt of green & sage & buff & brown. The sight of that much sky and that far a drop made my stomach do a handspring and all the blood sank down to my toes. 

If I looked almost straight down I could see the ribbon of a road with Van Sickles House & Stables looking like a little pair of white and brown dice from that height. A humpy part of the mountain prevented me from seeing Carson City or even Genoa to the north. As we climbed it felt like my ears were getting fuller & fuller of cotton lint. Then something went pop and my head was empty & light. 

We were now so high that it made me feel queer to look over the side. So I kept my gaze straight ahead. 

Presently the Pioneer Stage from Placerville appeared around a bend. It was pulled by a strange-looking team of bays and grays. The three starboard horses (as Dizzy called them) were dark and the other three were light. Also, it had about six people riding up on top behind the Driver and his Conductor. 

As they came closer both coaches slowed down a little. The driver was a slight man with a flat-brimmed hat and billy-goat beard. 

‘Evening, Dizzy!’ he called.

‘Evening, Hank!’ Dizzy replied. ‘Any sign of them Reb Road Agents?’

‘Nope,’ said driver. ‘Like we told Mr. Blue, we ain’t seen em. Where’s your conductor?’

‘This little lady here is riding shotgun.’ Dizzy gave a wheezy chuckle. 

‘You must have got some weighty passengers in there today,’ called the driver over his shoulder. ‘Your team are struggling to pull it.’

‘Dang!’ swore Dizzy after the stage had gone past. ‘I hope those Reb Road Agents ain’t as perspicacious as that there Hank Monk.’ 

But as I will shortly relate, they were. 

Read on!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Case of the Bogus Detective 17


Dizzy had put the heavy reins of a six-horse team in my gloved hands. I was so startled I nearly fell off the coach.

I said, ‘How can I drive a six-horse team if I am supposed to be personating a demure little girly-girl and fool the Reb Road agents?’

Dizzy said, ‘You can see they ain’t nobody on this here stretch of road. Besides, those Road Agents are lurking up in them thar mountains not down here on the high plains.’

‘Hey!’ protested Ray. ‘Ain’t that dangerous?’ He had been sipping tooth elixir from his flask and only just noticed I was holding the traces. 

‘Nah!’ said Dizzy. ‘It ain’t dangerous. These horses know the road so well they could do it blindfolded.’

But I reckoned it was dangerous. I could feel the life energy of those six steeds whizzing up through the leather straps into my fingers & arms & spirit.

I felt scared and powerful at the same time. It was like flying on a rocking, creaking boat. Dizzy was right: The coach might look old & battered but that thoroughbrace – or whatever it was called – worked real well. 

We hit a bump and all three of us flew about four inches up and came down bang!

‘Yee-haw!’ cried Dizzy. 

‘Dam!’ swore Ray, but he was laughing. 

Dizzy turned to me. ‘Let it out!’ he said. ‘It ain’t good to hold it in. It’ll make you queasy. Go on! If you can’t choke out a “yee-haw” then cuss like a miner or squeal like a gal.’

‘Yee-haw,’ I said. I was concentrating on driving & did not feel like yelling.  

Dizzy looked at the sky. ‘I thought I heard a squeak. Could it have been a bat?’ 

‘Yee-haw!’ I cried, a bit louder. 

‘Did you hear something, Mr. Ray?’ said Dizzy.

Ray shook his head. He was grinning despite his toothache. 

Using both my lungs I shouted, ‘YEE-HAW!’

It felt good. Everybody laughed. Even me. 

I only wished my pa had been there to share the moment. 

Dizzy took a fresh chaw of tobacco from his trowser pocket & bit off a corner & folded up the plug in its paper wrapper. I was paying attention to the horses but out of the corner of my eye I saw that it was Blue Star brand chewing tobacco. I try to be observant about such things. Identifying tobacco is one of my special detective skills. 

The road was running smooth through a flat marshy plain towards those great jagged snow-topped mountains called the ‘Sierra Nevada’ which means ‘Great Jagged Snow-topped Mountains’ in Spanish. There is a pretty little town called Genoa situated right at their foot with some oak trees & cottonwoods by a stream. We could see it a long time before we got there. Pa Emmet once told me that it used to be called Mormon Station until the Mormons all upped sticks and went to Salt Lake City. He said they named it after a town in Italy but they pronounce it different so people will not get confused.

‘Dam,’ said Ray. He took his flask from his pocket tipped it upside down to show us his Tooth Elixir was all gone.

‘You should get that tooth pulled,’ said Dizzy. ‘Any blacksmith will do it.’

Ray touched his cheek & winced. ‘You mind if I lie down inside the coach?’ he asked Dizzy.

‘Course not! But you will have to lie on them hard leather letter-sacks.’

‘I don’t mind.’  Ray tossed his empty Tooth Elixir bottle into the marsh on the left hand side of the road. ‘Pull up,’ he said, ‘so I can go down right now.’

I was still holding the ‘ribbons’, as they say. 

‘Pinky,’ said Dizzy. ‘You want to try slowing this rig? You just–’ he began, but I was already pulling back on the heavy reins. 

‘Whoa, you sons of blanks!’ I hollered. 

The team of six bay horses slowed & stopped right there in the road. They stood snorting & tossing their heads. 

‘Why, missy,’ said Dizzy with his brown-toothed smile, ‘you are a natural.’

Ray started to climb down. 

Dizzy put a hand on his arm. ‘Hold on, mister.’ Dizzy looked at me. ‘Now that we’ve stopped, what’s the first thing you gotta do?’

‘Foot brake?’ I said. 

‘You got it!’ He was nearest the brake so he used his foot to push the lever forward. I felt the coach turn from a living thing to a solid, unmoving object. 

Once again, I wished it had been my pa sitting there beside me to be impressed by my skill at handling a six-horse team. But it was only Ray & he did not even seem to notice. He just climbed down off the box. I felt the coach rock a little as he opened the door & climbed inside. 

‘Shotgun?’ came Ray’s voice.

Dizzy and I both leaned to the right to see Ray’s hand sticking out of the front window. 

Dizzy took the double-barreled shotgun from its leather sheath beside the driver’s box & handed it down. Ray’s hand & the shotgun both disappeared back inside the coach.

‘OK.’ Dizzy released the brake & turned to me, ‘To start up again you just give the reins a little flick and say “G’lang!” real firm-like.’ 

 ‘G’lang! G’lang there, you sons of blanks!’ I said, imitating Dizzy, and we were off again. 

Little did I think I would be taking the reins in earnest and riding for my life in less than two hours. 

Read on...

The Case of the Bogus Detective by Caroline Lawrence is the fourth P.K. Pinkerton Mystery. You can buy the first 3 real cheap HERE. And you can read the rest of this one HERE. Or just check into this blog, where I will be posting chapters weekly!