Monday, September 18, 2017

Roman Londoners from the Bloomberg Tablets

by Caroline Lawrence

It is a cool grey Saturday morning in mid-September I am on my way to a London square near St Paul’s cathedral. A writer in search of inspiration, I am hoping to meet some ancient residents of Roman London or Londinium, as it was called. 

fragment of Samian ware with archer now at MOLA
For many centuries it was believed that St Paul’s cathedral was built on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to the Roman goddess Diana. After the great fire in 1666 when the architect Christopher Wren was digging the foundations for his new St Paul’s, he kept a sharp lookout for evidence of Roman occupation. Although he found no trace of a Temple of Diana, he did find other Roman artefacts including fragments of popular Samian ware, a type of imported, glossy orange pottery beloved by rich Romans in Britain. 

Over three hundred years after the new St Pauls rose from ashes, the multi-national company Bloomberg were digging the foundations for their new European headquarters in the City of London. Like Wren they also found Roman artefacts; not just a few, but over fifteen thousand. These were preserved in the waterlogged soil of the Walbrook, one of several streams that feeds into the Thames. The Roman goodies included leather shoes, pottery, brooches, hairpins, rings and – most exciting of all – over four hundred writing tablets. 

Unlike the famous Vindolanda tablets, most of the so-called Bloomberg tablets are not postcard-thin wafers of limewood designed to be inscribed with ink, but stylus tablets made of silver fir reclaimed from imported wine barrels. Also known as wax tablets, these were slim tiles of wood with a shallow depression for a layer of wax. This wax was scratched away with a sharp stylus to reveal the wood underneath. The London tablets were mainly covered with soot-blackened wax, which contrasted with the pale wood underneath. 

As a Classicist, Londoner and writer of historical fiction for kids, I was thrilled when MOLA, the Museum of London Archaeology department, invited me to be one of their ambassadors of archaeologyI jumped at the chance and was rewarded with a copy of the first of several volumes about the Bloomberg finds and also a private tour of the MOLA repository in Hackney. At Mortimer Wheeler House I saw some of the tablets and artefacts up close. The ancient combs, shoes and brooches were fun, but Ive seen plenty of those before in museums. 

What I hadnt seen were items like the wonderful iron stylus from Rome (left) with an inscription on its hexagonal sides declaring: I have come from the City. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point so that you may remember me. I hope I bring you good fortune when the way is long and the money sack is empty. As archaeologist Michael Marshall (above) remarked, this is the ancient equivalent of My Parents Went to Rome and all I got was this lousy T-shirt. 

And then there were the famous tablets. Most would have about the size of a small paperback book (140 cm x 110 cm), but with with the thickness of a smartphone. A few are the size of an iPad and a few are tags. Some have a central depression for the impression of signet rings. Roman wills had to be witnessed by no fewer than seven men and they were always recorded on sturdy wax tablets. 

When you look at the tablets you are amazed that anyone can make sense of the faint chicken scratchings left by the stylus as it pushed through the wax nearly two thousand years ago. But a combination of ultra-modern technology and old-fashioned genius makes this possible. 

Genius photographer Andy Chopping records the traces of scratches left by the stylus and gives them to genius epigraphist Roger Tomlin (above). A kind of code-breaker of ancient Latin cursive, Tomlin has been able to decipher parts of 80 of these tablets. (See how they do it HERE.)

From the archaeological context and a few dates on some of the tablets, we know these documents go right back to the very first years of London’s existence as a Roman town and cover a period of about twenty years, from roughly AD 60 to about AD 80. They give us an extraordinary glimpse into the life of Roman Londoners, naming merchants, craftsmen, soldiers and politicians who lived in the new outpost of the Roman Empire. 

Fittingly for London, almost all the legible tablets have something to do with business and commerce. Each tablet is given a label with a code including the letters WT which stands for Writing Tablet

One thrilling tablet, WT44, was written when Nero was emperor and is dated to 8 Jan AD 57. In it, a freedman named Tibullus notes that he owes another freedman named Gratus 105 denarii for some merchandise which was sold and delivered. 

This tablet sent a chill down my spine when I remembered that Boudica burnt Colchester, St Albans and London only three years later during her brief but violent rebellion. It is claimed that she killed over 70,000 people. Did Tibullus and Gratus survive? 

Tablet WT45 shows how quickly London rose from the ashes and St Albans, too. It is business as usual as Marcus Rennius Venustus agrees to bring twenty loads of provisions from Verulamium to London. It is dated 21 October AD 62, within two years of Boudica’s rebellion.

Another extraordinary label, WT6,  gives us the first historical mention of London. Dated between AD 65 – 70, it is addressed to a certain Mogontius. We don’t know who he was but the name is a Celtic one, linked to the god Mogons who was worshipped in Britain and Gaul and might have been extra-popular with soldiers. 

The tablets are written according to certain conventions. Although the messages themselves are often scrawled in a hard-to-decipher type of writing called cursive, the addresses are usually written in easy to read capital letters. They are either in the dative case or have the Latin word dabis – the verb to give in the second person singular future tense – ‘you will give’ . This was considered more polite than the imperative da! Give! And might be translated ‘Please give...

So we have tablets addressed thus:

Please give this to Bassus

To Atticus, son of [name lost]

To Sabinus, son of Pirinus

Please give this to Junius the cooper, opposite Catullus’ place

One tablet is addressed to Tertius the Brewer, who might be Domitius Tertius, a brewer mentioned in a tablet from Carlisle. Maybe he sourced his barrels from Junius the Cooper.  

Other Romans named include Julius, Florus, Jucundus son of Flavius and the merchant Optatus. 

My favourite name is Namatobogius; I hope to meet him and find out who he was. 

When I finally arrive at Paternoster Square I am greeted by MOLA development and community project officer Magnus Copps (his real name) who introduces me to four members of The Vicus re-enactment group: Matt the baker, Simon the saddler, Chris the merchant and a lady scribe who wants to remain anonymous. When I ask them which Bloomberg Roman Londoners they are, they say they aren’t specific Londoners mentioned in the Bloomberg tablets, just generic Roman Britons. 

After a flash of disappointment, I take the initiative and assign them possible roles. 

Simon is wearing a fetching Celtic style tunic so I provisionally give him the name Namatobogius. When he does other events with The Vicus – for example at Fishbourne Roman villa or Caerleon legionary fortress – he plays the part of an auxiliary with the Hamian archers, co-incidentally the cohort that appears in my second Roman Quest bookHe tells me you can use hair from a horse’s tail as a bowstring, and how the Romans used tannin-rich oak, apple or chestnut to dye leather.

With his bright blue eyes, long yellow hair and torque, Chris from Cambridge is obviously Belgic. But hes wearing a Roman style toga. This fits his persona of an injured auxiliary from Germania who took early retirement and set up as a merchant. At first I dub him Optatus, a merchant mentioned in the tablets. But when he mentions that he is a micro-brewer, I give him a new persona: Tertius the Brewer. Appropriately, he is holding a beaker. His handmade socks and new shoes are totally authentic. He also confirms what I have always suspected, that it is impossible to run in a toga. 

Matt Hoskins, a cub scout leader from Poplar, a district of Southeast London, is a genial baker in his mid-twenties. With his pale skin, dark hair and tattooed arms he could be Celtic, so I might dub him Mogontius. He is a font of information about sourdough mixture, different types of flour and bugs in honey. He shows me a libum, a type of honey cake made with cheese and decorated with bay leaves. He also demonstrates Locatellis theory of how Roman bakers wrapped twine around their round loaves before baking so the customers could easily carry them away when hot. And possibly to keep them out of reach of vermin. 

But what about women?

Vindolanda gave us the famous birthday invitation sent by Sulpicia Lepidina to her friend Claudia Severa, but of all 92 persons named in the 80 legible Bloomberg tablets, not one is female. So I can make the elegant lady scribe anybody I want her to be. But it would be nice to have an authentic name, so I hop over to the online site of RIB, Roman Inscriptions in Britain, and immediately find two possible candidates.

She could be Tullia Numidia, commemorated in the epitaph of a now lost tombstone from London. Or how about Tretia Maria, named in a curse tablet (right) found near Moorgate? The author of the tablet (a lead one in this case, not from Bloomberg) is afraid of Tretia blurting out a secret. He or she writesI curse Tretia Maria and her life and mind and memory and liver and lungs mixed up together, and her words, thoughts, and memory; thus may she be unable to speak what things are concealed...

Liver and lungs mixed up together? That’s a bit nasty. But wait! Writers have to be nasty. We have to give our characters interesting opponents and force them to undergo tests and trials. Otherwise the reader will be bored. So Tretia Maria it is. And even as I write it I wonder: Could Tretia be a misspelling of Tertia? In which case, she could be related to Tertius the Brewer: his beautiful daughter perhaps or younger sister. Perhaps Mogontius the baker and Namatobogius the cobbler are both vying for her affections. But what is the secret she knows and who wants to stop her blurting it out?

I feel a story coming on… 

To learn more about the tablets, and the ancient stories they reveal, check out Voices from Roman London. And you can follow MOLA on Twitter: @MOLArchaeology

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Did Aeneas Invent Pizza?

When most people think of Italy, they also think of pizza.

The residents of Naples claim to have invented it and they boast that theirs is the best in the world. Although you can put everything from pepperoni to pineapple on a pizza these days, purists maintain that there are only two types of pizza, the two original ones: Marinara and Margherita.

Neapolitan fishermen with Mount Vesuvius at dawn
The first and most basic kind of pizza is simply a thin circle of hand-kneaded dough covered with garlic-infused tomato sauce, garnished with a little oregano and put in a very hot oven for about a minute. Legend has it that Neapolitan fisherman ate this for breakfast. Thats why its called Marinara which means fisherman (or boatman) in Italian. 

The second type of pizza for purists is the so-called Margherita. Buffalo mozzarella is added to the simplest version to create a pizza the same three colours as the Italian flag: red tomato sauce, green basil and white cheese. Guide books will tell you this tricolore (three-coloured) version was created in honour of Queen Margherita’s visit to Naples in the late 1800s, but that story may be apocryphal.

The Petrella mozzarella factory in Aversa near Naples
One of the centres of production of buffalo mozzarella is the town of Aversa near Naples. In 2015, my husband and I were visiting friends and took a tour of the spotless Petrella factory to see how this creamy white cheese is made. Their fresh mozzarella was like ambrosia. That’s another reason Naples claims to have the best pizza: they have the best mozzarella. 

Once, while reading Virgil’s Aeneid, I came across a passage that made me wonder if the concept of the pizza might not go back much further than the 19th century. According to the Latin poet Virgil, after the Greeks sacked Troy and ended the Trojan War the hero Aeneas sailed off to look for a new home. When he and his fellow refugees finally arrived in Italy at the place they were meant to settle, they found they were almost out of food. They only had some stale round loaves of bread to eat. In order to stretch this fare, they collected some fruits of the field’, perhaps berries and herbs, put them on top and devoured the result. 

Tweaked fresco of Aeneas from Pompeii
Because the bread was so stale Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, joked, ‘Hey! We’re actually eating our tables! 
(Aeneid VII.116)

At that moment, Aeneas remembered a prophecy given earlier in their adventures: When you arrive at a place so tired and hungry that you eat your tables, you will know you have reached your promised land. (Aeneid VII. 124-127)

The berries certainly werent tomatoes, which come from the New World, and the herbs probably didnt include oregano, garlic or basil, but this passage from a two-thousand year old epic is a lovely link between modern Italian cuisine and its ancient legends.

Caroline Lawrence has written over thirty books for kids set in Ancient Roman times. Two of these, The Night Raid and Queen of the Silver Arrow, are re-tellings of stories from Virgil’s Aeneid.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Caroline's Autobiography

18 May 2017

Dear Caroline

We are learning about you and your life story we are writing a biography and i was wondering if you could give me any information about your life as an Author. I know you studied Latin at Cambridge University but our main points are

- Life as a child
- Studying
- Author Life 
- Life now

Thank you, James (aged 9)

Dear James, Here it is! 

- Life as a child

Caroline with brother Dan & sister Jennifer c. 1960
Caroline Lawrence was born in London, England in 1954. Her American parents returned to the United States shortly afterwards and she grew up in Bakersfield, California with her younger brother Dan and her little sister Jennifer. (Her surname was Weiss which means her sister is NOT Jennifer Lawrence but Jennifer Weiss.) Caroline's father taught English, French and drama in a local high school and her mother was a stay-at-home mum and a talented artist.

During the long hot summers, Caroline and her brother and sister would go swimming in one of Bakersfield's several public pools or play in prickly golden fields under a desert sun. Caroline's parents made a conscious decision NOT to have a TV, but some nights as a treat they would all pile in the car – Caroline and her siblings in their pyjamas – and go to a Drive-In movie. (A Drive-In movie is where you stay in your car and watch a film on a big outdoor screen. Here is a LIFE report about Drive-Ins.) This is where Caroline first fell in love with movies. 

- Education 

Hoover Tower at Stanford University, California
When Caroline was twelve, her family moved to Stanford University in northern California so that her father could study Linguistics there. Stanford is now famous as being part of Silicon Valley. At the age of 18, Caroline fell in love with the world of Ancient Greece and Rome after reading a book that changed her life: The Last of the Wine, by Mary Renault. Because of that book she decided to study Classics at Berkeley. (Classics is the study of Greek and Latin and the culture of Ancient Greece and Rome). She enjoyed decoding Greek and Latin so much that she managed to win a Marshall scholarship to study at Cambridge University. In 1977 she was flown to England and began studying Classical Art and Archaeology at Newnham College, Cambridge.

She has been in England ever since, with short trips home to California or to the places where her books are set.   

- Life in England

Caroline & Simon in 1982
After taking a first class degree from Cambridge, Caroline moved down to London to work as a trainee stockbroker. This was NOT a success but she met her first husband at that job. They got married, moved to a village in Essex and had a little boy named Simon. Sadly the marriage did not last. Caroline returned to London when her son was five years old and lived as a single mum for five years. When Simon was ten, Caroline married a graphic designer she met through her church, Holy Trinity Brompton. His name is Richard Lawrence and he is English. Their wedding was at the Chelsea Registry office with a blessing afterwards at St Paul's church in Onslow Square. They will celebrate their 25th anniversary in October 2017. 

- Becoming a Author 

For a few years, Caroline helped out at her son’s school, first as a volunteer, later as a paid teacher. Her subjects were Latin, French and art. After she had been teaching for about ten years, she decided it might be fun to be a writer. She started getting up an hour early every day to write before she went to school to teach. 

Caroline's original goal was to write screenplays for movies, but in August of 1999 on one of her visits home to California her sister Jennifer said, ‘Why don’t you write a book for kids set in Pompeii?’ At that moment Caroline had what she calls a lightbulb moment. (In old-fashioned cartoons whenever a character had a good idea a lightbulb appeared over their head: BING!

Nubia, Flavia, Lupus & Jonathan in a chariot
This was Caroline's idea: Nancy Drew in Ancient Rome. That month she wrote the first draft of the Thieves of Ostia, which was accepted by Orion almost immediately but not published until September 2001. The stories follow the adventures of clever Roman girl named Flavia Gemina and the three friends who help her solve mysteries: her next-door-neighbour Jonathan ben Mordecai, a beautiful slave-girl named Nubia and Lupus, a half-wild beggar boy with no tongue. Over the following ten years Caroline wrote sixteen more Roman Mysteries, some of which were televised by the BBC in 2007 and 2008. You can see pictures from the filming of the Roman Mysteries TV series HERE.  

Since finishing the Roman Mysteries Caroline has written 17 more books, including four books set in America’s Wild West, The P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries. She is now working on The Roman Quests, a series set in Roman Britain about three children who must flee Rome. In Britannia they meet grownup Flavia, Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus. 

- Life now

Caroline and grandsons December 2016
Caroline loves being a writer of historical fiction for kids because it combines her love of art history, ancient languages and travel. She lives by the river in London with her husband Richard, who helps her with ideas and illustrations, and who feeds her. Caroline’s son Simon is now grown up, living in Los Angeles California and working in the film industry. He has an Australian wife named Brooke and four sons. Caroline’s favourite thing is still going to the movies, and she still hopes to write the screenplay for a successful film one day. 

P.S. You can also see a long blog about How I Write and lots more info about me and the Roman Mysteries on my FAQS page.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Diana, a poem


Of golden sunlight,
Pools of green,
Dapple her skin like
A fawn's
As she runs
Through the glade.

Of silver arrows
Flash in the quiver,
Rattle in their case like
The shards
Athenians scratched 
To vote.

Of startled birds 
Fly up into the blue;
Her arc
Is in her hand,
An arrow notched
And ready.

Scatter, wet and gleaming,
As her golden-sandalled foot
splashes in the brook,
A warning
To the prey
She seeks.

Sparkle on her cheeks
Like angry diamonds,
Splash onto sunburned arms 
And dusty knees;
Weary she returns
To her garden.

Begin to prick
The violet dusk;
Bathed and clean
She sits in the fragrance
Of evening jasmine, henna, myrrh,
Under a crescent moon.

And he comes
To her there
In the secret place,
Tiny brazen hooves and silver horn,
pushing his velvet nose
Into the hollow of her neck,
Bowed in prayer.

Caroline Lawrence 1998

Nothing is lost! This poem I wrote in 1998 bore a kind of fruit nearly 20 years later when I did a re-telling of an ancient Roman tale for Barrington Stoke. Virgil's tragic Camilla story is found scattered out of order in books 7 and 11 of The Aeneid. I tried to put it in order and fill in the blanks. Queen of the Silver Arrow is written in simple prose for reluctant or dyslexic teen readers. But although the vocabulary is easy enough for a 7-year-old to read, some of the themes and images are better suited to children 11+

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 50

A week later, I found myself standing on the stage of Minnehaha’s Medicine Show, listening to hearty applause. 

It was Sunday May 10th and we were all at the Willows Amusement Park celebrating the capture of the criminals & the recovery of the money & our reward. Minnie had invited me to help her with the final part of her act. It was her last day in the city as she was bound for Sac City and parts beyond. 

She was wearing her tight buckskin top and her puffy skirt with the stripes & zigzags on it. Her hair was wavy & glossy & black & fell down to her shoulders. She was not wearing war paint so you could see her freckles and pale skin. 

I was wearing my fringed buckskin trowsers & beaded moccasins & beaded buckskin gloves & my red, blue and yellow zigzag jacket. I was also wearing the wig of straight black hair. (I had bought it from Minnie.) I was using my bogus pa’s Smith & Wesson No. 2 with its 6in barrel and rosewood grip. I like it because it fits my hand real good and also because it takes the same .32 rimfire cartridges as my 4-shooter Deringer. That means I do not need to bother with cap & ball & powder. 

Minnie and I had been shooting tin cans. 

My ears were still ringing with the sound of gunfire and my nose was full of the pungent smell of gun smoke. We had hit every can!

I had also been using my fine new Henry Rifle which takes fourteen .44 caliber cartridges and makes a bang like a shout. It was engraved thus: To P.K. Pinkerton, with thanks from the Overland Stage Co

Mr. V.V. Bletchley had come all the way from Virginia City to present it to me, along with a generous reward of $2000. I had given $500 to Martha & Zoe & $500 to Ping & $500 to Minnehaha. (That was when she had invited me to be part of her show for just one afternoon.)

As the cloud of white gun smoke cleared on that fine May afternoon, I could see the people looking up at us and clapping. 

I saw Ping & Affie & Martha & Zoe. Mr. Sam Clemens AKA Mark Twain, was there, too, with his friend The Unreliable and also Mrs. John D Winters who was smiling and not looking down her nose. I saw my new colleague Mr. Detective Rose & half a dozen of San Francisco’s finest. They were clapping as hard as anybody else. 

Mr. Icy Blue was there, too, all in black. And Dizzy, with his leg in plaster! He was making a good recovery. He had verified my side of the story & was now ‘Yee-Hawing’ on account of he could not clap as he had to use both his hands for his crutches.  

Best of all, Ping had got an indebted Virginia City client of his to ride Cheeya to Frisco in easy stages. So I was now reunited with my beloved pony. 

I was about to jump down off the stage to join them when a man with oval spectacles ran up. He pointed to me. ‘You! Stay up there!’ he commanded. ‘I am Mr. H. W. Corbyn. I am going to make photographic cards of you. I will sell them and make a fortune. It will only take a moment or two and I will give you half the proceeds,’ he added.

So while Minnehaha was going round and collecting tips in her quiver, I remained on the stage. 

Mr. H. W. Corbyn heaved his big black camera up onto the stage & drew the red velvet curtains so that the people in the audience would not disturb us. The sun was right overhead and it was shining for all it was worth. Mr. Corbyn made me stand with one foot up on Minnie’s ammunition box, like when a hunter stands over the prey he has just killed.  

While Mr. Corbyn was making adjustments, a dark figure stooped to enter through the tee-pee door at the back of the stage & then stood tall. 

It was Poker Face Jace.

I could not move because Mr. Corbyn was making adjustments. 

Jace stopped about two paces away from me. He had his hands behind his back.  

‘Go away,’ I said. ‘I am quit of you.’

‘Hear me out,’ said he.

I said nothing. 

He said, ‘Remember when you came to Steamboat Springs end of last month and I said how in the whole world, only you and I knew the secret of your initials?s’

I gave a curt nod.

He sighed. ‘Well, after you left, I got to thinking. I remembered when I was with Violetta in Carson.’ He paused & took a breath. ‘She was interrogating me about you and we had been drinking and I might have mentioned something to her. About you not knowing what the P and the K stood for, that is.’

He still had his hands behind his back & suddenly his pale cheeks were pinkish. I had to look at him to make sure I was really seeing this. It was the first time I had ever seen Jace discombobulated. He even remained cool & collected under fire. But danged if he wasn’t blushing or flushing or something.

‘Keep your head still,’ Mr. H. W. Corbyn told me. ‘I am almost ready.’

‘That was why I came here to Frisco,’ said Jace. He spoke quickly & without his usual drawl, like he wanted to get it out fast. ‘I wondered if Violetta might be scheming against you. I had just got into her hotel room and was about to search it when you showed up.’  

‘A likely story,’ said I. 

But part of me wanted him to convince me I was wrong.

‘P.K.?’ he said. His voice was kind of thick and he had to clear his throat and start again. ‘You are kind of like a daughter to me. Or a son. Or – I don’t know – maybe both of those combined. As you know, I lost my own… And I just wanted to say… I am sorry. I would like you to have this.’

From behind his back he brought out a straw hat of the kind they call ‘sombrero’. Only it was not as big as most sombreros. 

The photographer was fiddling with his camera again, and had his back to us, so I reached out my hand & took it. 

It was made of pale-gold straw and had a red hat-band and on that hat-band was a buckskin butterfly all embroidered with beads. 

It was like the hat in my dream. 

Had I told him about my dream? I could not recollect. 

I looked at him and he looked at me. 

I looked back down at the hat. I said, ‘It is a bully hat.’

‘Ain’t it?’ said Jace. ‘I saw it in on a Mexican gal near Sacramento on my way here and I thought it might suit you. She made me pay five dollars for it,’ he added. 

‘Put it on!’ cried Mr. H. W. Corbyn from his device. 

I put it on. 

‘Yes!’ Mr. H. W. Corbyn called out to me. ‘But further back on your head, so it don’t shade your face.’

‘Let me,’ said Jace. He stepped forward & set the small sombrero a bit further back on my head & then he folded the front brim up a mite. 

‘There,’ said Jace in a low voice. ‘That looks fine.’ For a moment he lingered to brush a strand of wig hair away from my face. 

Then he stepped back. 

‘Perfect!’ cried Mr. Corbyn once more. ‘That is the finishing touch we needed. Now put your left hand on top of the rifle barrel and put your right hand back so I can see your pistol and gun-belt.’ 

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Jace moving away. 

‘Don’t go,’ I said. 

He stopped moving away. 

‘Freeze!’ cried Mr. Corbyn. Then he took away the cover of the lens & I stood as still as a jackass rabbit even though I could see Jace out of the corner of my eye. I could see him taking a cigar out of his coat pocket & he had some trouble lighting it as his hands were shaky.

In front of me, Mr. H. W. Corbyn replaced the cover on the lens and cried ‘Got it! These are going to sell like glasses of iced lemonade in Hell!’ he exclaimed. Then he added, ‘Pardon my French.’ 

Mr. H. W. Corbyn took the photographic plate and hurried out the back exit, leaving us alone on the curtained stage.

I turned to Jace. ‘We are all going to have a picnic down by the duck-pond,’ I said. ‘The one by the emeu cage. Ping and Affie and Martha. Miz Zoe, too. Will you join us?’

‘I would be honored,’ he said. He puffed his cigar and blew smoke up. ‘Can Stonewall come, too?’

‘Sure.’ I took a deep breath. ‘Jace?’ 


‘You know you said I was a bit like your son or your daughter or both?’

He nodded. 

I took a deep breath. ‘Would you maybe give me a bear hug like a pa gives his kid sometimes?’

Jace opened his mouth. Then he closed it. Then he tossed the cigar away & stepped forward & put his arms around me in a safe bear hug. 

I usually do not like being touched but sometimes a bear hug is necessary.

This one felt good. 

It felt safe. 

I thought, ‘I do not need to find out who my real pa is. No pa could be as good as Jace. He is true. And he likes me just as I am.’

My eyes filled up with tears & I felt a sob wanting to come up. Dang my changing body! 

Just in time, my new hat fell off & we laughed & I bent down to pick it up & put it on & when I looked at Jace danged if his eyes weren’t damp too!

‘Bit dusty today,’ he remarked, taking out a pristine handkerchief and dabbing his eyes. 

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I noticed that, too.’

‘Dang,’ he said, putting the handkerchief back in his coat pocket. ‘You look mighty fine in that getup. How does it feel?’ 

‘It feels good,’ I said. ‘It feels like me.’ 

Then I took out my pistol & cocked it & fired it into the blue San Francisco sky & shouted, ‘Yee-haw!’

The End

[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

Saturday, March 04, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 49

Mr. Lick’s office was not plush like the other rooms in the Lick House Hotel, but simple. It had leather chairs & a workbench at the back with woodworking tools & sawdust on the floor. 

Two policeman helped Mr. Ray G. Tempest AKA Jonas Blezzard into one of the leather chairs. Detective Rose let me come in, and also Martha, Zoe, Affie & Ping. The five of us stood with our backs to the workbench. 

Two more policemen came in, along with Mr. Isaac ‘Icy’ Blue. They held some familiar-looking leather mailbags. 

A distinct smell of horse manure pervaded the room. 

‘The stolen silver ingots and gold coins,’ I cried. ‘You found them!’

‘Where were they?’ asked Detective Rose. 

‘In two big travelling trunks,’ said one of the policemen. ‘Just like he said.’

‘There were tags on the trunks,’ said the other. ‘It appears the two of them had tickets on a cruise to the Sandwich Islands departing this very evening.’

No wonder everything had been done in such a rush. They were going to take that gold and silver with them, you bet!

‘I will get you for this!’ gasped Blezzard. He was looking at me. 

‘If you confess now,’ said Detective Rose to Blezzard. ‘In will go easier for you. You might not swing.’ 

‘Swing?’ said Blezzard, his face blanching. ‘Do you mean at the end of a rope?’

I fished in my medicine bag for my silk butterfly but Mr. Jonas Blezzard was already co-operating. 

The double threat of death by hanging and butterflies made him Spill the Beans, as they say. 

Right there in that sawdust-scented workroom he told us how he had come up with the plan. 

‘It all started with that half-Injun,’ he said, glaring at me. ‘She riled Violetta who became intent on revenge.’

‘Start from the beginning,’ said Detective Rose. 

‘Just after Christmas last year,’ said Blezzard. ‘Chance and I were playing poker in the Bella Union saloon here in Frisco. There was a new lady in town, a shapely widow named Violetta De Baskerville. We got ourselves places on her table. She was drinking Pousse Lamour cocktails and by the end of the night it was only the three of us. We got to talking about how much gold and silver was pouring out of those Comstock mines. She was tipsy, and told us about a scheme she had once devised. She and a lawman friend of hers in Virginia City had planned to hire a couple of roughs to rob the stages. He would “capture and arrest” the desperados and split the takings with them, allowing them to “escape” on the way to custody. The traitorous lawman would then tell the authorities that the robbers got away without revealing the location of the stash. 

‘Deputy Marshal Jack Williams,’ I said to Affie under my breath. ‘Violetta shot and killed him.’ 

Blezzard continued, ‘Violetta told us her lawman pard had been killed in a shooting affray. She did not know anyone stupid enough to play the dangerous parts of Reb Road Agents. I told her we knew a couple of bit-part actors who would pretend to be brigands for a spell. I said me and Chauncy could play lawmen. You got any whiskey?’ He asked Detective Rose.

‘When you finish telling us.’

Blezzard took a deep breath. ‘Violetta said she would fund us if we promised to exact revenge upon a brat in Virginia City. Violetta told us the kid was training to be a detective in order to join her pa’s agency. Well, I have a friend in Chicago, owns a jewelry store near the Pinkerton Agency. I asked him to tell me everything he could about them. He sent me a letter full of useful information about Robert and Allan Pinkerton. Chauncy was good with accents so he decided to play the kid’s pa.’ 

Jonas Blezzard shot me a glare. ‘We had briefed Johnny and Jimmy to stop a stage with a little girl riding on top. That was how they would know the one with the silver.’

‘How?’ said Detective Rose. ‘You could not telegraph a couple of Reb Road Agents hiding out in the high Sierras.’ 

‘It was our plan from the beginning,’ said Blezzard. ‘Violetta thought if we could get her to admit she was a girl it would serve three purposes; it would hurt her friends and help mark out that stagecoach.’

‘And the third purpose?’

Blezzard shrugged. ‘It would be easy to shoot her dead.’ 

I thought, Dang! that Violetta is a clever one.

‘What happened to Chauncy?’ said Detective Rose.

‘He threw down on me,’ said Jonas. ‘I shot back in self-defense. It was justified.’

‘That is a bald-faced lie!’ I cried. ‘You killed him in cold blood and with no warning. You tried to shoot me, too.’

Detective Rose turned to me. ‘Where is Chauncy Pridhaume now?’ he asked. 

I said, ‘You will find the body of my bogus pa in a shallow grave near a cave in a place called Grizzly Gulch a few miles west of Friday’s Station. ‘I had my account all written out,’ I added. ‘But it was in the pocket of my greatcoat and I lost that.’

Detective Rose smiled. ‘We got your greatcoat,’ he said. ‘With all the incriminating documents and also a ledger book and a fine pair of buckskin gauntlets.’  

At that moment the door opened and in came Violetta de Baskerville AKA Mrs. von Vingschplint AKA Mrs. Jonas Blezzard. 

Her bosom was heaving and her violet eyes were flashing sparks. She looked mighty pretty. I heard all the men in the room exhale & even Ping & Affie were staring with their mouths open. Violetta was in the custody of another uniformed policeman. Jace was behind them. 

It was now fairly crowded in that room. 

All eyes were on Violetta. She looked around at us all & her gaze fell on me. 

‘I wish I had let you die up in the mountains last year,’ she snarled. 

I said, ‘If you had not sought revenge you would now be living in peace and prosperity. I hope you have learned your lesson.’ 

‘Why, you sanctimonious little blank!’ she spat out. (Only she did not say ‘blank’.)

‘Ladies, ladies! That is enough,’ said Detective Rose. ‘I believe I see the way of it.’ To the policemen he said, ‘Take Mr. Blezzard and his wife and lock them up. In separate cells,’ he added. 

‘Jacey, help me!’ pleaded Violetta. Once again she swooned.

However, this time he made no move to catch her & she fell to the floor with a thud. One of the policemen helped her up and escorted her – now writhing and cursing – from the premises. 

Detective Rose turned to me. ‘Thanks to your resourcefulness and bravery we have apprehended two possible murderers and nearly half a million in stolen gold and silver. Ever thought of setting up a branch of your detective agency here in San Francisco? I could use some operatives like you and your friends. That is, resourceful kids with a knack for disguise.’ 

‘Ping, too?’ I said. 

‘Of course,’ said he. ‘We have a big Celestial population and not enough good men to help us there.’

‘Martha and Zoe, too?’ I said. ‘And Affable?’

‘You bet. You are all good detectives.’ 

I nodded happily. It looked like I was going to remain a Private Eye after all. 

Read on...

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Case of the Bogus Detective 48


Just as the second shot rang out, a black-clad arm knocked Violetta’s wrist from below, causing her ball to fly up into the rarefied air of that big ballroom. 

If you should ever dine in the Lick House Hotel, look up at the fancy ceiling square they call a ‘coffer’ between two other coffers with chandeliers in them. If you have eyes as sharp as mine, or a pair of Opera Glasses, you might perceive a tiny hole in the gilded wood. That hole was meant for me, but Poker Face Jace saved my life. 

‘Jacey!’ cried Violetta when she saw who had thwarted her shot. Then she swooned into his arms. 

I reckoned she was play-acting for I know that nothing short of being sawed in half would make that lady faint. 

Jace caught Violetta in his arms. Then he took the empty Deringer pistol from her limp hand and slipped it into his pocket.

‘You all right, P.K.?’ he asked me. 

‘Yes, sir,’ I replied, and then looked away. He was probably going to be Violetta’s next husband, but at least he had not wanted me dead. That was some consolation.

From beside the big target, Affie cried, ‘Mr. Jonas Blezzard is all right, too! The bullet only creased his shoulder.’

The ball-goers applauded. 

(Later, Affie told me it was their clapping that gave him a Brilliant Idea.) 

Affie stepped forward. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you have enjoyed our presentation. Of course it was all “staged”. Nobody was ever in any real danger.’ He turned & helped Mr. Jonas Blezzard off the wheel & I saw him say something under his breath. 

Jonas Blezzard was white as chalk, but he bowed and so did Affie. 

Martha & Ping came out and they bowed, too.

I did not realize what they were doing. Affie slid me a sideways glance. 

‘Bow!’ he hissed. 

I bowed, too, just as the curtains closed. 

Beyond the curtains, loud applause rose up and was lost in the cavernous ceiling. 

I wondered if Violetta had been apprehended. But before I could go to the curtain and peep out, a man with a black beard like a big bib appeared through that tee-pee door at the back of the stage. 

He went to Affie & shook his hand. 

‘That was inspired, young man! You have turned a disaster into a triumph. I cannot thank you enough. This is Detective Rose. He is the best detective in this city.’ 

Behind him emerged the man in the rose-pink stovepipe hat and droopy gray mustache who had chased me from the Rev. Starr King’s Unitarian Church.

Two uniformed policemen came through the low door after him. 
Detective Rose looked down at me. ‘You have played a dangerous hand, Miss Pinkerton,’ he said, ‘but it appears you got four aces.’ 

He nodded to his policemen and they each gripped an arm of Mr. Jonas Blezzard. Detective Rose turned to the man with a bib-like beard, ‘Mr. Lick, is there a private chamber where I might interview this man?’

‘My office,’ said the owner and proprietor of the Lick House Hotel.  
As the band struck up again, we all repaired to a back room of the hotel to get the final pieces of the puzzle.

Read on...