Undercover Caper (Short Story No. 46)
These short stories will be part of the sequel to my novel The Lady Who Loved Bones. Any suggestions for improvement or for future stories are welcome.
The circus is in town
An extremely frustrated Pinkerton agent Helen James decided to explore another approach. So far she had been unsuccessful in apprehending the sadistic serial killer known as Captain Taz. The murderous rampage continued unabated, including the massacre of school children and the kidnapping and rape of the schoolmarm.
Helen reminisced about Kate Warne, Alan Pinkerton’s first female private investigator who became superintendent of the female bureau of the Chicago branch and Helen’s immediate supervisor, although Alan Pinkerton himself personally took Helen under his wing. Until he discovered her secret in an intimate moment. Kate Warne also learned of her secret but was mostly ecstatic over it and laughed until she cried every time she referred to Helen as a “private dick.” Helen recalled some of Kate’s favorite investigative techniques and the time she disguised herself as an eccentric fortune teller.
Helen had made the trip to Cripple Creek by herself, wanting to be alone with her thoughts after she had killed the outlaw Fast Jerry in that last gunfight. Others she knew now began to arrive, including circus performers from the Great Western Circus, who Helen had become acquainted with previously. Several performances by the circus were scheduled for that weekend. She was worried that Captain Taz would immediately recognize her due to their previous chance but somewhat intimate meeting.
Circus bearded lady Anne Hope and dwarf and circus clown Wee Willie Wilson had just showed up, along with other performers and the paraplegic dwarf Tiny Tim and the rescued schoolmarm Priscilla Wilson in tow.
“I see you still got that stinking camel,” Anne Hope greeted, nodding toward the animal.
“Yes, indeed,” Helen responded. “Who are these new faces?” She nodded toward Tim and Priscilla.
Anne introduced them. “This is Timothy Leary, known to his friends as Tiny Tim. He was a member of Lady Hannah Monroe’s expedition and was on the steamboat Victoria when it exploded with Hannah, Sweet Water, the gold, and the fossils on board. Unfortunately, the explosion blew poor Timmy’s legs off. The right leg and left leg, anyway. The lady is schoolmarm Miss Wilson. We just rescued her from Butch Baker, Captain Taz’ right-hand loco son-of-a-bitch.” They all murmured greetings, and Tiny Tim inquired regarding the current whereabouts of Hannah Monroe and Sweet Water.
Anne responded, “Hannah discovered some more dinosaur bones. She returned to Helena briefly to send a telegram to her associate Joseph Leidy in Philadelphia requesting that he send a team of scientists to recover the fossil of the ancient giant creature. She took part of the head and an egg with her. Hannah should be here soon. That dog of hers that she intends to enter in the dogfights is here, along with Shorty. You all know him, right?”
They all nodded and Tiny Tim snarled, “Where is that fool, Shorty? And the lovely Arapaho princess, Sweet Water?”
“Shorty is drinking his lunch under that tent over yonder,” Anne said. “Sweet Water took off for parts unknown and took a head in a bag with her. She looked angry, very angry.”
They all headed over to the make-shift saloon that had the sign “Whiskey, Beer, and Wild Wimmin” over the entry flap. Besides the tent, the establishment consisted mostly of poorly constructed wooden benches. Scantily clad women flitted from table to table and the place had been advertised as the Wild West’s first saloon featuring exotic dancers.
# # #
Captain Taz had compromised the telegraph operator at Helena. All it took was a threat to reveal the telegraph operator’s homosexual proclivities to the man’s wife. Thus Taz learned about Hannah’s discovery of the dinosaur fossil and that she currently possessed the jaw and an egg.
Taz hired several thugs in Virginia City who were known to be highwaymen and grave robbers. They agreed, for a substantial payment, to rob Hannah of the fossils. “Don’t kill her,” Taz ordered. “I have plans for her. She got away from me once. She’ll be my bitch soon.”
Hannah had waited in Helena for a reply telegram from her mentor Joseph Leidy in Philadelphia. Not only did she receive a reply from him that he was sending a team to the Hell Creek area to recover the fossil, but she also received a telegram from Othniel Charles Marsh, a young paleontologist affiliated with the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University. Marsh expressed great interest in purchasing the fossil. He indicated he would have a representative contact her personally in the Montana Territory to negotiate. Hannah surmised that Professor Leidy must have mentioned the fossil discovery to Marsh.
# # #
“You ugly buzzard!” Shorty greeted Tiny Tim as the latter struggled into the make-shift saloon on his artificial legs with the help of crutches. They embraced warmly. “Sorry to hear about yer legs, pardner.”
Shorty sat at a wooden table sharing a bottle with Robert Barnes, editor of the Helena Herald and dime novel author, bounty hunter Thomas Tate Tobin, Chinese prostitute May Ling, and her bodyguard and uncle Ming Ling.
“It even got bigger,” Anne Hope mentioned smugly.
“She’s a size queen,” Shorty said sarcastically. “Her fiancé was nicknamed Anaconda. He was in cahoots with that Captain Taz and got captured during a bank robbery. He got burned alive while in a jail cell in Helena. Some say Taz himself was responsible.”
Priscilla Wilson began to sob miserably.
Shorty complimented, “Miss Wilson, yer purely pretty, but the look on yer face would pucker a hog’s butt.”
Anne snapped, “Let her be. She was gang-raped by Taz and his men, Butch Baker and the others. They murdered her school children.”
Teaching the trick
Tiny Tim added, “Anne blew Butch’s balls off with the Colt Navy revolver I had hidden under my kilt.”
“Yer ace-high,” Shorty said to Anne.
Ming Ling wore his usual scarlet garment on which dragons had been embroidered in gold. “I call him Ding Ling,” Shorty snorted. Ming Ling brandished his curved, double-edged sword that Hannah had referred to as a scimitar. He said, “This curved design allows the horse rider to slash the enemy and keep on riding. Straight swords get stuck in bodies, but straight swords are better for swallowing.” He also had a straight sword and did a brief demonstration.
“How the hell did you do that?” Helen James questioned.
“Carefully,” Ming replied. “One wrong move and you can poke a hole in your throat and/or damage internal organs.” Ming explained, “The sword has to pass through the upper esophageal sphincter. Those are the muscles at the top of the esophagus that you use when burping, and eating, and vomiting. You have to bend your body so that the blade passes around your heart. The sword has to move through the lower esophageal sphincter, the entrance to the stomach. You must use intense concentration to relax these muscles. Lean your head back and hyper-extend your neck and relax your upper esophageal sphincter. You must not retch when the sword goes past the pharynx. Then the sword will pass swiftly, aided by gravity, through the stomach and cardiac opening.”
“Let me try,” Helen demanded. “Down the hatch.” She made Ming Ling’s sword disappear quite easily. “I’m going to be a circus sword swallower. That’s my disguise. And when Taz makes me swallow his pork sword, I’ll put the handcuffs on him.”
Anne Hope the circus bearded lady said, “Yes indeed, a sword swallower fits right in with the rest of these freaks.”
Tiny Tim suggested to Helen, “Before you bring Taz in, you should blow his balls off like Anne did to Butch.”
Helen responded imitating Shorty’s manner of speech, “Pshew, ‘taint no trouble ‘tall. Anyways, I’m feelin’ onery as a mama bear with a sore teat.”
Shorty complained, “Well, git to work instead of jawin’ me to death.”