I grabbed the shotgun & whirled to see what was coming into the firelight. I was kind of crouched and my scattergun was cocked and ready for action.
It was my Pinkerton Pa.
He was aiming a small pistol at my heart.
I remembered I was wearing my disguise of Ray’s hat and a belt around my sacque.
‘Don’t shoot, pa!’ I put down the shotgun & stretched out my hands. ‘It is me! Pinky!’
‘Prudence!’ cried my Pa. He dropped his piece back into the pocket of his overcoat. ‘You’re alive!’ He ran forward & shmooshed me in his pa’s bear hug for a long time.
At last he held me out at arm’s length. ‘I canna believe it!’ he said. ‘Are ye really all right?’
I nodded. I suddenly felt like crying.
‘Praise the Lord,’ he said. ‘I heard gunshots and rode back as fast as I could. Then I saw firelight, but when I saw ye from behind – wearing that hat – I dinnae recognize ye. Where’s yer own wee hat with the daffodils? Why are ye dressed like that?’
I said, ‘I am dressed like this so those Reb Road Agents would take me seriously and not try to escape nor kill me.’
‘Reb Road Agents?’ he cried. ‘What Reb Road Agents?’
I pointed to the foot of the pine tree.
The moon had made the tree’s thick branches cast an inky black shadow on Slouch and Kepi. They had seen Pa, but he was only just now noticing them.
His face looked white in the moonlight. Now he was the one wearing Expression No. 4 – his mouth & eyes open wide in surprise.
He looked down at me. ‘This was your doing?’
‘What did they say?’
‘Not much,’ I said. ‘I gagged them with their own smelly socks.’
My pa gave a crooked smile & shook his head. ‘Dang! You are a one. What happened?’
I said, ‘We were about five miles out of Friday’s Station and it was getting dark when they jumped out of the gloaming and told Dizzy to stop the stage. But Dizzy bullwhipped the one in the kepi and got the team moving again. We almost got away. Then the one in the slouch hat shot Dizzy. I took over the reins. We were going downhill when–’
‘Where was Ray all this time?’
‘He was inside the coach sleeping on the mailbags. He had drunk a lot of Tooth Elixir. But then he climbed out of the window and pulled poor Dizzy right off the driver’s box even though he might have still been alive.’
‘By Dizzy, d’ye mean the driver?’ asked my pa.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘Ray climbed up to the box even though we were still going a mile a minute. He told me to stop & surrender to the Reb Road Agents as we would never get away. I was all for driving the team on to Yank’s Station but he tried to wrassle the reins from my grip and then it happened, just like in my nightmare. We went off the cliff and down into this gorge.’
‘That dam fool,’ said Pa. ‘Where is he?’
‘Dead, most likely.’
Pa shook his head. ‘It is a miracle ye’re still alive.’
I said, ‘Yes. It was a miracle. A branch caught my sacque –’
‘This velvet cape. I reckon it’s the only thing that kept me from breaking my neck. Ray was not wearing a sacque,’ I added. ‘So his neck is probably broke.’
‘I never should have suggested this plan,’ said Pa. ‘Ye could have got kilt.’
I said, ‘Never mind, Pa. It would have been a good plan if it had worked.’
‘But it did work!’ he said. ‘Thanks to you. Look at that. You captured them single-handed.’
‘Where is the decoy stage full of agents?’ I asked. ‘Did you bring them back with you?’
‘They are probably halfway to Sac City by now,’ he said. ‘I was hanging back to see where ye were and they got well ahead of me. I don’t understand why these rascals did not try to stop them.’ He narrowed his eyes at the bound & gagged Reb Road Agents.
I nodded. ‘It is almost as if they were expecting us,’ I said. Then I thought of something. ‘Pa, do you know what a “shebang” is?’
He nodded. ‘It’s like a rough shelter or hut.’
I said, ‘Then I know where they are keeping the rest of the stolen money.’
I nodded. ‘They were talking about it before I threw down on them,’ I said. ‘They have stashed some booty at a place called Grizzly Gulch which I think it is less than a mile from here.’
He said, ‘We had better find it quick.’
I nodded. ‘We still have a few hours of moonlight. If we start now with the horses and the silver, we could get there before the moon sets. Once we have found their shebang we can turn in these two and get the reward. Then I can go back to Chicago with you and be a detective,’ I added.
Pa looked at me with a strange expression. I could not read it. He picked up the champagne bottle that Kepi had been swigging from and took a suck. Then he held it out to me.
‘Here!’ he said. ‘Dutch courage.’
I said, ‘I got my own courage.’
‘Then drink a toast to us: Pinkerton and Daughter!’
‘Go on!’ he said with a wink. ‘Remember? The bubbles mean it ain’t spirituous.’
I lifted the heavy bottle to my mouth and took a sip. It was warm & sweet & fizzy. It reminded me of the previous night when we had dined & drunk champagne & then danced the Schottische.
I drank another swallow, then held it out to him.
‘To Pinkerton and daughter!’ said my Pa, holding the bottle aloft and then taking a drink. ‘Now you say it, too.’
I said, ‘To Pinkerton and daughter!’ I took another sip, but I swallowed wrong and it fizzed hotly all the way down to my chest and made me cough.
He patted me on the back, laughing.
Suddenly everything felt fine. I was with my pa. We had saved the silver & vanquished the Reb Road Agents & would soon find their stash. Best of all, I was going back to Chicago with Robert Pinkerton as his savior & legally adopted child.
I held out the bottle to Pa. He swigged the last of the champagne & tossed the bottle into the trees.
‘Yee-haw!’ he cried.
‘Yee-haw!’ I agreed.
Then he stood up & grabbed me & waltzed me round the campfire among the scattered letters. He was humming the tune of the Schottische we had danced to the night before.
We must have seemed a strange sight to those two Reb Road Agents tied up to their pine tree. A humming Pinkerton Detective aged about 45 dancing with a 12-year-old half-Indian girl in a too-big, flat-brimmed hat & button-up boots & a fur-trimmed velvet sacque belted with a piece of whang leather with a Remington Revolver stuck in the front & a yellow velvet purse dangling from the back.
The almost-full moon was directly above. It seemed to smile down on us. The golden sparks from the fire hurried up to join the wobbling stars.
I felt bubbles of happiness rising up in me, too, like a thousand tiny hot air balloons. My pa & I were dancing together in a silent glade beneath a million stars.
But as my pa spun me around I caught a flash of a something emerging from the shadows into the flickering firelight. It was Kepi. Somehow he had got free.
‘Watch out, pa!’ I cried. ‘Behind you!’