Fort Bragg Advocate-News

Community Library Notes: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macalliste­r

- By Priscilla Comen

“Girl in Disguise” by Greer Macalliste­r, who wrote the Arctic Fury is the love story between a woman and her job. It begins when Mrs. Kate Warne comes into Joe Mulligan’s Chicago tavern to find where Heck Venable has stashed the money he stole from a bank several weeks before. She’d been hired as the first woman detective at Pinkerton’s when she answered an ad for the agency and got her first case with astute answers. That night at the bar she recognizes one of the gangsters as a fellow Pinkerton agent. They go upstairs, pretending to be his prostitute, and hatch a plan. Kate plans to find the bank’s cash, and the next day Pinkerton himself welcomes her with a hearty laugh. Author Macalliste­r uses humor in large doses.

Next time Mrs. Warne is at Pinkerton’s, she meets two colleagues and listens to them through the closed door. She tells her housekeepe­r that someone thinks she’s involved with the boss.

She’s not, of course. Mrs. Borowoski leads her to an unopened room and,

from a box, gives her a pair of long elegant gloves, her first disguise. She later gets lessons from a colleague, DeForest, in the shooting. She hits the target center, and DeForest tells Pinkerton she’s ready.

The next day she dresses richly in her gloves and a bonnet. She sees Inspector Bellamy, who has no confidence in her and thinks women are too delicate to do what needs to be done. She’s given the case to find the thief of an expensive ring stored in a drawer in a fabric shop. Kate sees the ring and pockets it. But back at Pinkerton’s, she finds a slit cut in the fabric of her jacket, and the ring is gone. She must admit that Pinkerton calls her foolish.

Her colleague

Mortensen takes her to the morgue with all its dead bodies, and she shows her strength. Someone opens the safe at the office, and the ring is therein. She throws herself into learning everything she can; how to obtain poisons, how to shoot many types of guns, how to pick a lock with only a hairpin. She follows DeForest, dressed as a man in breeches and hat, into a bar. In a backroom, she finds him on a couch with another man. This is DeForest’s secret, and she can keep it. He was on her side, after all.

Kate moves to a different boarding house and changes her name to Miss Cora Harris. Bellamy comes to her room with a note that reads, ” To go right away, fatal case. She dresses and goes with him to a mansion. Pinkerton is there and takes her to a room with a woman’s body, dead, on a Persian rug. Kate notices that the woman had died by smothering, not suicide by hanging. Was it accidental murder? Another plan hatches: Kate dresses in the dead woman’s clothes and goes to the husband’s office. She calls to him, and he replies, “Sara dear.” Two desks over, a short fat man gasps and turns white. Closer, he sees it’s not Sara, and he tackles her to the floor, fingers around her neck. The woman’s husband saves her in time. Three accomplice­s had meant to find the husband’s money and pretend to hang her as a cover-up. After the wife’s funeral, she and Pinkerton return to the office, where they have a glass of whiskey. Her first year as a detective flies by. She meets her former landlady in a beer garden. Mrs. Borowski tells Warne to be patient and respectful to her colleagues.

Her next case is to find Catherine Maroney, and they become fast friends in Philadelph­ia. The Adams Express train company has lost (or was it stolen?) forty thousand dollars. Mrs. Maroney says she misses male companions­hip, and Kate telegraphs to DeForest, her handsome colleague. He wasn’t shocked at her plan. Mrs. Maroney will need money to run away with DeForest, and he’ll seduce her if necessary to get her to turn over the stolen money.

After the arrest, Kate returns alone to Chicago and goes to a party at Pinkerton’s mansion. Mortensen insults her as usual and DeForest brings her a drink. DeForest proposes marriage to her and she laughs; knowing he prefers men. But they are both lonely and matched in intelligen­ce. When Mrs. Pinkerton appears jealous, Kate wants to say yes to DeForest, but not yet. Pinkerton later hires Kate to head up his bureau of female detectives, to train and supervise them, and fire them if necessary.. “You’re in charge,” he tells her, music to her ears.

She hires Mrs. Borowski as an operative and the gorgeous woman and plans a month of training. Mrs. Borowski is too kind to the criminals, finding excuses for their behavior, so they find a different position for her, as the manager of a boarding house on the south side, an excellent place to lay low for the city’s criminals. She hears their stories and re-tells them to Pinkerton as invaluable informatio­n, even with their real names. She was perfect at this job.

Later in Washington Warne is disguised as

Mrs. Harrington and staying at the Barnum hotel. She’s a social butterfly with a thick Southern accent. Warne listens and watches closely, the barber in the basement urges every man to join a local militia and Warne tells Bellamy to get a haircut. She tells Hattie to watch the barber. Bellamy shows up in disguise as a rebel and salutes the air as he leaves on his dangerous mission. Warne is greeted in Lincoln’s suite at the hotel by Mr. Lamon, the bodyguard. She explains to Lincoln that the man who draws a paper with a red mark will stab him. They all draw red marks! She tells Lincoln how she plans to get him through Baltimore safely, and Lincoln agrees finally. She pushes him in a wheelchair to the next train. The conductor glances at her tickets and waves her to the empty railroad car at the back. A porter (DeForest) hands their bags into the sleeping car and Warne sits by the door with a shotgun on her knees for the night. Two days later, the five Pinkertons are re-united at the inaugurati­on where “their” Lincoln is sworn in as president of the U.S. Soon Kate and Bellamy are headed to Washington as pretend husband and wife. They attend a dinner party to pursue a Mrs. Greenhow as a person of interest. They think she’s a spy because at the battle of Bull Run the South somehow knew there would be reinforcem­ents delivered. How did they know? Was it Mrs. Greenhow? At a dinner party at Mrs. Greenhow’s house, Kate and Bellamy search the house but find no clues of Mrs. Greenhow’s spyingThey­ey write their notes to Pinkerton together in their shared room r and discover each other passionate­ly.

When Pinkerton finds out about their engagement, he sends Bellamy to Richmond, the most dangerous city. When

Kate sees Mrs. Greenhow pass a note to the servant who is clearing the dinner dishes, she knows and tells Pinkerton the clues to Mrs. Greenhow’s spying. Later Kate gets a telegram saying two friends were taken and hanged. Does Kate find out who was responsibl­e for the death of the only man she’s ever loved? Who really was Kate Warne? Does anyone know? Find this fascinatin­g real-life story on the new fiction shelf of your local library.

 ?? CHRIS PUGH — MENDOCINO BEACON ?? The Mendocino Community Library
CHRIS PUGH — MENDOCINO BEACON The Mendocino Community Library
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