Cover by Kristi Ryder of for the author

The Wicked Affair of the Golden Emperor

A Charles Goodfoote Mystery in Old San Francisco

Tom Hanratty
Mar 28 · 6 min read



Deep in the San Mateo Mountains of the Territory of New Mexico, the Apache warrior woman, Kaya-Te-Nse, of the Red Paint band, poured more water on the red-hot rocks to bring up the heat and steam of the sweat lodge. She inhaled through her nose to keep the burning sweetgrass and sage from making her cough, then forced the air out through her mouth. A long, soft sound accompanied each exhalation, as Kaya bent her naked body forward, close to the coals.

As she prayed for a vision, a sign that would help all the People, she closed her eyes and opened her mind.

Outside the blanket flap door, her friend Dashante was worried. Kaya had fasted for four days and now was inside the tiny hut alone. The Woman of Knowledge sat just outside the door, ready to fling the blanket aside should her friend call. But all she heard from the sweat lodge was the sound of Kaya’s voice chanting a prayer.

Inside the hut, Kaya felt her sweating body become weak and she began to sway. A sound penetrated her consciousness. It was the flapping of wings inside the lodge, going around behind the woman, then in front of her. The wings of a hawk. Her prayers had been heard and her Power had come. But the vision her Power brought, strong and clear, was one Kaya had not sought, had not expected, and it struck her heart with a jolt.

A great sea stretched in the distance, bigger than anything Kaya had ever seen. And a yellow mountain rose to one side of a road. A man, wounded by many guns, was huddled behind a rock, bullets bouncing close around him. Many White-Eyes hid among high boulders firing at the man with rifles and handguns

With a start, she clearly recognized the man behind the rock. It was her great friend, the mixed-blood warrior known to the Apache as “Travels-Far”.

To the Whites, he was called Charles Goodfoote.

San Francisco, California

“Mr. Goodfoote,” Sam Clemens said to me, “I believe someone in this charming city wants me dead.” He took a pull of his watered down beer and wiped his bushy red mustache with the back of his hand.

“Probably a whole passel of outraged readers of your columns,” I replied. “And most likely, an editor or two.”

We were seated at a table in The Board of Enterprise saloon on Pacific Street in San Francisco. The watering hole was close to the docks and favored by seafarers of all color and stripe, and therefore a fit place for both a crime reporter and a Pinkerton detective. I was waiting for a gimp-eyed sneak thief named Skaggs to show up with some information he described as “…murder, Mr. Goodfoote. Murder, I tell ya’, of an important person.” He had slunk away without revealing any particulars, but had agreed to meet me tonight, “…and have your money purse with you, Mr. Goodfoote.”

As no one of even middling caliber had been dispatched recently, it appeared Skaggs was referring to a future event, one in which I, as a Pinkerton as well as a proper citizen, had more than a casual interest. Clemens, smartly dressed in a broadcloth suit and vest, was apparently making his nightly rounds of the Barbary Coast drinkeries, and I believed our meeting was mere happenstance.

Clemens chuckled. “I agree about the editors, but my readers find my literature commensurate with the Bard. I can turn the report of a somber Baptist Revival meeting into a star-spangled Fourth of July event, complete with fireworks.”

“That should earn you a guerdon from your newspaper,” I said. I had to raise my voice above the din of the dancers and shouters.

I glanced at the door as it swung open to admit three Aussie sailors probably off a windjammer I had seen earlier berthed in the harbor. They were already riding “a beam sea with no steerage,” as my secretary Henry Tarbert would describe men globbered-up drunk. San Francisco fog followed them in, adding to the murkiness of the barroom, and the slight breeze that accompanied the open door did nothing to lessen the Board’s bouquet of spilled beer and rancid sweat.

“Guerdon? I took you for an honest primitive savage, Charles. But here you are speaking down your nose like a rock-hard Calvinist born to the manor. Guerdon?”

I put down my mug of beer. “I apologize, Sam. I lasted two years at Harvard before they tossed my young ass out onto the street. Sometimes all that learning slips its chain and comes leaking out.”

“Harvard. I met a man from Harvard some time back when I was piloting on the Mississippi. He was one of the Eastern Cabbots. Bluest Blood that ever lived. Had a daughter with him, name of…oh, let me think…Prunella. Yes, that was her name, Prunella Cabbot. Face like a horse. I don’t suppose you ever met the Cabbots. Being of Puritan stock, they would have had nothing to do with a heathen, even a Harvard heathen.” He took another draught of his beer.

“No,” I responded, as I shook my head. “Never met the Cabbots.” By a strange coincidence, I did know Prunella Cabbot, but had never met her parents. With Prunella, religion was the farthest thing from our minds. No need for Sam to know that.

The sawdust-covered plank floor was being pounded by the feet of maybe twenty sailors, about half of them dancing with trollops wearing more face paint than Ghost Dancers. The other half was gamboling solo, all flapping arms and kicking feet. It was only a matter of time before a brawl commenced.

“Did that august academy give a reason for giving you the heave-ho, or did they decide your hair was too dark?”

Just then, one of the Aussie seadogs dumped a mug of ale down the bodice of a serving girl which lead to a chorus of loud hoohawing.

“Something a little more than that,” I bellowed above the clamor. “It happened I was caught improving the education of the daughter of the Dean of Letters amidst the book stacks in the library.”

“And those pillars of higher learning objected?” I could smell the hops on his breath as he leaned closer, nearly shouting.

“The curriculum we chose to follow was somewhat advanced for Harvard,” I explained. “And the library had been officially closed for hours.”

He gave a snort. “Harvard aside, Charles. This afternoon I had a shock…”

And that’s as far as he got. A loud disagreement erupted among three longshoremen over the favors of one of the painted strumpets and became a fist-flying, belaying pin swinging donnybrook. I ducked a gabboon hurled by a Lascar wearing a colorful headscarf and jumped to my feet to avoid a knot of six merchantmen barreling into our table. Joining in the fun, the banjo and fiddle players struck up a livelier tune with the piano artiste pounding along. The trollops, not to be outdone, set up a wail that would have deafened a choir master.

I searched through the melee and spotted Clemens duck out the door just as Skaggs slipped in. It was a close call, but I managed to fight my way to the skinny thief by using a chair as a shield and, on occasion, a battering ram. By the time I got to him, he was slumped on the floor against the far wall, his one good eye glassy. A stream of blood ran down his face soaking into his vest. Caught in the swarm of brawling mariners, it was no wonder he had been contused. His body was limp as I grabbed him by the back of his coat and hauled him into the cold night air. When I laid him out on the sidewalk beneath a street lamp where I could get a good look at him, I saw his wounds were of a mortal nature.

It was no go. One-Eyed Jack Skaggs, by chance or design, had hopped aboard the glory train.


Chapters from published books in story format

Tom Hanratty

Written by Forensic Investigator, writer of mysteries, lover of words


Submit your book chapters in story format

Tom Hanratty

Written by Forensic Investigator, writer of mysteries, lover of words


Submit your book chapters in story format

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