I was the only customer at the Yank’s Station stage house in the high Sierras, where passengers were fed and watered on their way to Carson City or Sacramento. A local youth had just come in with a WANTED notice bearing my description. I needed to see it 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 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.
‘Purple coat trimmed with white fur?’ said the woman. ‘Yellow dress? Skyscraper bonnet with flowers?’
I breathed a small sigh of relief. I was wearing Ray’s flat-topped gray hat and his 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 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.
‘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 my bogus pa’s 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.
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.
As casually as I dared, I sauntered towards the telegraph building.
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.’
[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!
Fun facts, research, news & topics linked to the children’s books of Caroline Lawrence: The Roman Mysteries and The Western Mysteries.