Pretty N' Pinkerton (Short Story No. 1)
This short story will likely be the first chapter of my new novel, which is a sequel to The Lady Who Loved Bones. That book ended with the steamboat Victoria being sunk on the Missouri River by a gang of road agents. On board the boat was several thousand dollars in gold and dinosaur and other fossils that may have been worth more. Also on board, besides the crew and guards responsible for the gold, were a beautiful blonde paleontologist, a beautiful Arapaho princess, and a handsome Irish dwarf.
Virginia City, Montana, 1867
The stunning redheaded stranger sidled up to the bar of the Bale of Hay Saloon. All eyes focused on the newcomer who came attired and painted much like the ladies who worked the place. A few catcalls pierced the smoky silence.
“Can I help you?” the bartender inquired pleasantly. “Are you lookin’ for a job? We can always use somebody that looks as bleepin’ good as you do.”
“I’m looking for information,” the woman responded, smiling.
A man at the bar interrupted, “Let me introduce myself. I’m Colonel Sanders. Nobody in Virginia City has more information than me.”
“Yup, that’s a fact,” the bartender agreed. “Enough information to get more than a dozen alleged outlaws hanged. Why, he even got a sheriff hanged.”
“You are Wilbur Fisk Sanders,” the woman stated matter-of-factly as she surveyed the dark and handsome fully bearded man. “You are the lawyer who prosecuted the road agents on behalf of the vigilantes. I read about you in the papers back east in Chicago.”
“That I did, my dear,” the colonel replied. “Over one hundred men had been ambushed and murdered for their gold in Virginia City. The thefts and murders have all but ceased since the hangings.”
“Some money on rope well spent, most would say,” the bartender interjected, “especially for that sheriff, Henry Plummer.”
Colonel Sanders picked up a bottle and two glasses, led the lady to a table in the back, and asked, “Now who are you, what were you doing in Chicago, and what are you doing here?”
“My name is James,” she answered as she handed him a business card.
“Helen James, you are a Pinkerton agent?” the colonel exclaimed incredulously.
“Yes indeed,” she said. “The Pinkerton Female Detective Bureau is in Chicago. It was formed in 1860 to worm out secrets by means unavailable to male detectives.”
The colonel said, “I’ve heard of two of your female detectives, Miss James, namely Kate Warne and Hattie Lawton. I understand that both played a role in thwarting an assassination attempt on President Lincoln.”
“That they did,” she concurred. “Another individual who played a role in that effort was Hex Hawkins, who was employed by Pinkerton for a spell. Do you know him?”
“Sure do,” the colonel replied, but seemed reluctant to elaborate.
Helen said, “Allan Pinkerton dispatched me to this Godforsaken Gomorrah to find out what happened to the steamboat Victoria.”
“It sank,” Colonel Sanders reported somberly.
“I know it sank!” Helen snapped. “After an explosion on board the ship. My boss and his clients are interested in the safe on board that contained several thousand dollars worth of gold. One person very interested in the apprehension of the perpetrators is Horace Trent, owner of the Victoria. His son, Brody Trent, was captain of the boat and he was killed in the incident.”
“Well,” the colonel responded, “it would be pointless to ask any of the half dozen armed guards provided by the Allen & Millard Bank here in Virginia City to protect the gold on board the Victoria. Those guards are in Virginia City, but they are down yonder in the cemetery. What remains that were able to be recovered, anyway.” Sanders snickered.
“Is that supposed to be some sort of joke?” Helen questioned quite sarcastically. “What do you know about Hex Hawkins? Have you seen him in Virginia City lately or heard anything about him?”
“No, I haven’t seen him since he was here a few months back recruiting people to go on that fossil-hunting expedition. He recruited a whore named Delilah who worked at this very saloon to go on that expedition. Hawkins sprung her from jail. He took another whore from here named Margaret, along with some men. I heard they loaded a bunch of bones they found on that steamboat, intending for them to go to St. Louis, and then further back East by train destined for some scientists and museums. Obviously the bones didn’t make it. I reckon they are at the bottom of the Missouri River.”
“What about the safe and the gold?” Helen inquired. “Where do you reckon they are? Have you seen this Delilah lately?”
“No, I’m afraid not,” the colonel answered. “I haven’t seen any of them, including a preacher and two girly boys, who left Virginia City to join that expedition. I bet some of them are takin’ dirt naps, Bad Injun country out there. Not to mention the grizzlies and snakes. And road agents that I didn’t hang, yet.”
Just at that moment, two men sauntered into the Bale of Hay Saloon and loudly ordered Locke’s Irish whiskey at the bar. Both men were short, very short.
Helen glanced at Colonel Sanders inquisitively.
He commented, “Those two are with George Bartholomew’s Great Western Circus. The circus has been working the Montana Territory and performed here for several days.”
“What are they, lion tamers?” she jested.
“Oh no, no lions,” he replied. “The only animals are horses. So them two could be bareback riders, equestriennes, acrobats, tightrope walkers, or clowns.”
“They look like clowns to me,” Helen observed amusedly.
“What is the difference between a midget and a dwarf?” Colonel Sanders asked. “Very little,” he answered after a short period of silence on her part.
Helen said, “One of the members of that expedition was a dwarf, so they say. I’m going over to talk to those two.”
Helen rose from the table and strolled over to the bar, spoke briefly to the two dwarves, returned to the table and whispered to the colonel, “Their stage names are Wee Willie Wilson and Sammy Short. They are meeting me in my hotel room in an hour. I would like some privacy. It’s so much easier to get information.”
“Well, how about dinner tonight, Helen? We can have dinner at your hotel, the Fairweather. I’ll come by the hotel for you in three hours?”
Helen nodded in agreement.
* * *
A little over an hour later, Helen and Colonel Sanders sat in the dining room and engaged in light conversation after ordering steaks. Soon the conversation turned to the hangings due to the lady’s persistence.
Helen commented, “Reginald Baker, who works for Thomas Dinsdale, editor of The Montana Post down the street, claims there was little if any evidence against Plummer. But you hanged him anyway. Without a trial.”
The colonel responded defensively, “Plummer spent some time in San Quentin, you know. He shot and killed a man whose wife was Plummer’s mistress. He was implicated in several other murders after escaping from prison.”
Helen said, “Plummer was released from San Quentin after being pardoned.”
Colonel Sanders answered, “He was pardoned due to poor health, specifically on the grounds of ‘imminent dangers of death from Consumption.’ The hangman’s noose ended the poor man’s suffering from tuberculosis. He begged for his life and offered to tell me and the other vigilantes where $100,000 in gold was buried.”
“I’m surprised that Plummer’s comrade in crime, Boone Helm, the Kentucky Cannibal, didn’t make a meal of you for stringing up his pal.”
“Well Helen, we hanged Helm four days after Plummer. Now there was a despicable human being who definitely deserved the gallows, which I had built especially for his kind.”
“Did Helm really eat humans?” Helen asked.
“Oh yes,” the colonel replied, “and those were people he liked. Lord knows what he did to people he didn’t like. Too bad you can’t talk to Helm. He might have told you where the $100,000 in gold is that Plummer buried.”
“Yeah, and he might have invited me to dinner, with me on the menu,” Helen quipped.
“Well, what did you find out from your new little friends, Madam Detective?” the colonel finally asked.
Helen responded, “Timothy O’Leary was the dwarf on the steamboat. He had been with the Corwin Lee party that is building a new trading post where the Musselshell meets the Missouri, which was formerly Kerchival City. Lee and his men were returning from that location when they met up with Hex Hawkins, and Tiny Tim joined that group. Lee, a gunsmith from Diamond City, had been hired by the Montana Hide and Fur Company to build the new trading post. Tiny Tim quit Lee mostly because he became infatuated with an Arapaho princess named Sweet Water who was going back east with Hannah Monroe, the paleontologist who was leading this bunch. Sweet Water and the Monroe woman were on the ship.
“So what happened to this Tiny Tim and the two ladies after the ship blew up?” Colonel Sanders asked.
Helen said, “Tiny Tim wasn’t hurt much. He hid in the woods. Hannah Monroe and Sweet Water were injured and taken along by the gang that recovered the safe.”
“Where are Tiny Tim and the others now?” the colonel inquired.
“Wee Willie and Sammy didn’t know for sure, but they heard rumors that Tiny Tim had gone searching for Hex Hawkins. Find Hawkins and you’ll probably find Tiny Tim.”
“Did you learn anything else?” the colonel continued.
Helen replied, “The gang of road agents is being led by a very bad character named Captain Taz.
Colonel Sanders said, “I remember him from some of his exploits around here. The story goes he committed several murders in San Francisco, among other places. I heard from some of the professional ladies in town that Taz was strange, very strange, and had some peculiar requests when he engaged in business transactions. This Taz fancies exotic animals from foreign lands, like pythons, and he wears a snakeskin vest, hat, and boots. Helen, how did you manage to get all that information out of those two shrimps?”
Helen pulled the colonel’s hand under the table and guided it up her dress until he felt the gun in her garter.
“Oh, I see,” he muttered.
The woman pushed his hand further up her thigh until it couldn’t go any further.
“Oh my God!” he blurted.
“It was God who made me this way,” she stated firmly. “Incidentally, James isn’t my last name; it’s my first name.”