Sunday, August 4, 2013

Millie's Treasure by Kathleen Y'Barbo

Millie's Treasure
Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2013)
Kathleen Y'Barbo

Chapter 1

December 24, 1888
Chicago, Illinois
"I'm a Pinkerton agent, not a treasure hunter.”

Agent Kyle Russell knew he had raised his voice far louder than was proper when speaking to a superior officer, but he didn’t care. In previous cases, pleading his passion for the topic might have been a sufficient excuse, but this time he offered no apology. He was a man accustomed to working cases that mattered, not a flunky being used to further another man’s political career.

Henry Smith ignored the breach of conduct to point in Kyle’s direction. “The president has requested I put my best man on this case, and, unfortunately, you are he.”

If this was Henry’s way of praising him, the compliment fell short. Nor did it matter that it was Christmas Eve, and he had agreed to a meeting in Chicago when his mother wished him home in New Orleans to celebrate the holidays with his family.

“March fourth.” Henry shrugged. “Your time on this case lasts only until inauguration day. When the president leaves office, you can leave this case behind.” He removed his spectacles and pinched the spot where they rested on his nose. “What if I allow you to return to the Will Tucker case after this is all over? Would that sweeten the pot for working this one until the first week of March?”

Will Tucker.

The name held memories of a case that had become personal. Of a man whose exploits had wounded hearts and caused losses beyond the jewels he stole from his victims. That he had escaped from Angola Prison in Louisiana had been a thorn in Kyle’s side for more than a year.

“Before I answer you, can I ask why a president who was voted out of office is suddenly interested in Confederate treasure that may or may not have existed?”

With a lift of one shoulder, Henry put on his spectacles once more. “I would only be guessing, but I think he is looking to add some money to the government’s coffers. To leave on a high note, as it were.”


“Meaning he is promising to be back in four years. To be responsible for adding a substantial deposit of gold to the Treasury without taxing the people might help him get there.”

“Confederate gold for reelection?” Kyle shook his head. “Not seeing the point in it.”

“We do not have to see the point. And who knows? Maybe it is not Cleveland himself who’s asking. It could be anyone who runs in his circles. A cabinet member, one of his political backers, anyone.”

Henry walked to the door and closed it. “The assignment comes from William Pinkerton himself, son, so I suggest you take it seriously and respond accordingly.”

Kyle accepted the folder his boss offered and then opened it to give the pages a cursory glance. Though William Pinkerton ran the Chicago office with an iron hand, he rarely intervened in individual cases to make specific requests. Despite his misgivings, Kyle nodded. “All right.”

“That’s it? Just ‘all right’? Nothing else?”

Kyle tucked the folder under his arm. “What else is there to say, sir?” He paused to offer the beginnings of a smile to the man he had worked under for the better part of ten years. “Unless Mr. Pinkerton would be willing to write a note to my mother explaining my absence during her holiday celebrations. Not that it would do much good.”

Henry chuckled. “No, if she is anything like my wife, I would imagine not.” His expression sobered. “The agency appreciates you, Kyle. You are the best we’ve got. Mr. Pinkerton said so, and I will echo the sentiment.”

A compliment neither man bestowed lightly. “Thank you, sir.”

“Look on the bright side,” he said. “Maybe you will come up with some sort of invention that will uncover buried treasure.” At Kyle’s grin, he continued. “You already have one?”

“Borrowing on the theory of induction balance put forth by Bell, I…” Kyle shook his head. “The short answer is yes, though it’s not yet ready to patent until we have done more research in the field. At least, that is the opinion of Mr. Toulmin.”


“Our patent attorney.”

“I see. Well, perhaps you will get your field research out of this assignment. See, a positive aspect to hunting treasure and calling it Pinkerton business.”

Henry returned to his chair. “Any chance you will ever leave us to work on those inventions of yours full time? I admit I am intrigued with the idea of the personal flying machine.”

“Ah, the flying machine,” Kyle echoed. Until recently, no one at the agency knew of his inventions beyond the rare mention of one in the reports he turned in after completion of his duties on any particular case.

Then came this particular project, and his cover as an inventor had been blown. One of the investors, an Ohio lawyer by the name of   Taft, was a close acquaintance of Henry’s and had shared his excitement in the invention without realizing he had breached propriety in the process. Henry had since been brought into the fold and was following each step with enthusiasm.

Kyle gave the question of his retirement only the briefest amount of thought. “As to when I will leave the agency? Not until the time is right.”

“And when will that be?”

“When the Lord says so, I suppose.”

“Fair enough.” Henry reached out to shake Kyle’s hand. “Just know I am going to be praying He remains silent on the job change for many years.”

They shared a laugh and then parted ways. A few hours later, Kyle was on a train heading south.

Unfortunately for Henry Smith and the Pinkerton agency, the Lord had already been making it quite plain to Kyle that his exit from the agency would come sooner rather than later. At least he hoped it was the Lord and not his own wishes that gave him hope he would soon spend all of his days and most of his nights working on the inventions that he and his best friend, Lucas McMinn, wished to patent.

Kyle wondered if he might pay a quick visit to Brimmfield Plantation, where Lucas, a retired Pinkerton agent, had settled with his wife, the former Flora Brimm. Perhaps Kyle could dig up a reason for the detour in the documents Henry had given him. After all, Natchez, Mississippi, was as likely a prime spot for hidden contraband gold as any other place in the Southern states.

Two months would not allow him time to delve into all the possibilities, nor could he visit all the locations where treasure had been claimed to exist. Somehow he must decide which were the stronger leads and follow them.

He dove into the file. Clipped to the second page was an envelope with his name written in Henry’s scrawling handwriting. Inside Kyle found a letter, a match, and a key.

While I cannot be absolved from keeping you away from family on Christmas Eve, I can at least make up for the fact by providing a brief respite before work on this case begins in earnest on January 2. Arrangements have been made for rooms at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis from tomorrow night through the aforementioned second day of the New Year. Should you find that your work on the missing gold case requires it, of course the agency will pay for as many nights past that as you deem necessary.

Our friend Taft suggested that the rooftop of the as-yet-unopened Cotton Exchange building on Second Street might prove just the venue for your test flight. To that end, he has secured access for you and assures me the three of us are the only ones who have knowledge of this. Thus, I hasten to warn that you must not be caught lest you alone will be forced to explain. And, per Mr. Taft, please remember to leave the key in the Weather Service office on the third floor before the service employee arrives at work after the holiday and realizes it is missing.

Consider this a small measure of thanks for your dedication to the agency. And no, I have not cleared this with Mr. Pinkerton, thus the need for the match. I am sure you will make good use of it, as always.

Best regards,

Kyle scanned the letter once more before folding the document in quarters and setting it alight. A quick toss out the open window and the flaming remainder of Henry’s correspondence was gone on the afternoon breeze.

Kyle leaned back against the seat in the sleeper car and grinned. So he would have time to make a stop at Brimmfield after all. And he would bring the flying machine to Memphis for its first official test of the steering mechanism they had been working on. In all, a good trade for taking on the ridiculous assignment of digging up Confederate gold more than two decades after the war had ended.

He arrived at Brimmfield Plantation in the dead of night to find the McMinn and Brimm families away for the week. That was a disappointment because he had hoped to convince Lucas to accompany him for the test flight.

Letting himself into the cottage Lucas had claimed as his workshop, Kyle packed a bag with the items he would need for the tests and then left a note before departing.

Come January 2 he might be chasing treasure, but he would be chasing the wind on New Year’s Eve.

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