A 1935 hurricane in the Florida Keys destroyed the East Coast Railway, killed five-hundred people and blew away the town of Islamorada. Lost in that storm was Mathew Kriegel, a finance director for the railroad, and one and a quarter million dollars in gold. Now newly minted private investigators Skip More and James Lessor, of More Or Less Investigations have been hired to find that lost treasure. Fighting off competitors, scuba diving, digging in a spooky cemetery and almost getting killed is only part of their job. Skip and James have stumbled onto the biggest most dangerous adventure of their lives.
About the Author
Don Bruns is an award-winning novelist, songwriter, musician and advertising executive, who lives in South Florida. He is also the author of Stuff to Spy For, Stuff Dreams Are Made Of, Stuff To Die For, Bahama Burnout, St. Barts Breakdown, South Beach Shakedown, Barbados Heat and Jamaica Blue.
Read an Excerpt
Too Much Stuff
By Don Bruns
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2011 Don Bruns
All rights reserved.
It took six years for Henry Flagler to build his railroad to Key West. It took two-hundred-mile-an-hour winds and an eighteen-foot tidal wave about sixty seconds to bring it down. Give or take a dozen or so people, five hundred souls were lost in that horrific storm. And even though James and I had studied that event in eighth grade Florida history, I'd never read about the Florida East Coast Railway finance director, Matthew Kriegel, and the ten crates of gold bullion that he supposedly loaded onto Old 447's baggage car that fateful September 2, 1935.
I'd learned about the treasure from Mary Trueblood, Kriegel's great-granddaughter, when my girlfriend Emily gave her one of my business cards, More or Less Investigations. And I also learned that the gold, $1.2 million worth back then, had never been found.
What Mary Trueblood failed to tell me at the time was that the last investigation team she hired to find the gold had disappeared and not been heard from in over six months. Of course, my partner James Lessor would have taken the job anyway. Even though we were simply offered expenses.
"Expenses, and a percentage, Skip. Do you know what that gold is worth today? Over thirty-four thousand ounces? More than forty-four million dollars, amigo. And she's willing to give us a half percent. That's two hundred and twenty thousand dollars, dude."
James pulled one of my beers from our tiny refrigerator, popped the top, and took a long swallow.
"She'll give us half a percent if we find this phantom gold. And who's to say it's hers to claim, James?" James always thinks we're going to strike it rich. A fortune is just around the corner.
"Listen, pally, the company doesn't exist anymore. Flagler's railway company went under after the hurricane. That means the gold is finder's keepers. Like Mel Fisher's shipwreck treasure."
I seemed to remember that the state of Florida claimed at least 25 percent of any treasure that was discovered. That was already diluting our find by fifty-five thousand dollars.
"What about our jobs?" This private investigating company wasn't exactly a full-time gig.
"Skip, my man, do we really care about these dead-end jobs?"
He had a point. As college grads we had bottomed out in grades and our job search. James was a line cook at a fast-food place called Cap'n Crab in Carol City, Florida, and I sold security systems to people in the same town — a town where no one had any money, any prospects, or anything they needed to secure. We needed a change and the far-off chance of making one hundred sixty-five thousand dollars did sound tempting.
"So maybe we ask for leaves of absence." A couple of weeks to see if we could locate this fortune in lost gold. "At least we've got something to come back to."
James shook his head and took another swallow of my Yuengling beer. He was slouched on the stained sofa, feet propped up on the scarred coffee table in our tiny Carol City apartment.
"Jobs? We don't need no stinking jobs."
I smiled. James was a wiz with the movie quotes, but he had this one wrong.
"It's badges. We don't need no stinkin' badges. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Humphrey Bogart, nineteen forty-seven."
"Forty-eight, but it's kind of fitting don't you think?"
"I'll tell you what's fitting, my friend. It's another quote from that same movie."
I concentrated for a few seconds. "Gold itself ain't good for nothing except —"
"I'm working on it." I channeled the movie. "Gold itself ain't good for nothing except making jewelry with and gold teeth."
"Good one, mate." James was genuinely impressed.
I can't explain it. The two of us remember a lot of trivial, useless crap.
We both finished our beers and it got real quiet.
"Skip, this Mary Trueblood, she's got the treasure map."
"Well, she's got an idea of where this stuff may have gone."
"Dude, we'll get leaves of absence. We'll get some expense money up front and take two weeks off. If we find the gold, we're each rolling in it. If we don't, it's an adventure, right?"
Adventures with my best friend James have almost gotten us killed. Several times. I should remember that a lot more than I do.CHAPTER 2
The Chevy box truck was low on gas and two quarts low on oil as James pulled into the Exxon station. He shoved the prepaid credit card into the slot and was pumping fuel in fifteen seconds.
One thousand dollars. That's what Mrs. Trueblood had put on the card. If we needed more, all we had to do was ask her. If she thought we were being frugal with her funds, she would supply more. On the chance that I could make forty-four million dollars, I know that I would advance more.
"Take the card, buy a case of oil, and we should be set, amigo."
I studied the truck. The magnetic signs on the side were nothing but reminders to me that we'd had one investigating job. More or Less Investigations. Yes, we were licensed by the state of Florida. But that didn't mean that everyone who needed a PI firm called us.
It didn't mean that anyone called us. I'd started a Facebook page for More or Less Investigations, and the only response I got was from kids who graduated from our high school. They were laughing at our endeavor, letting us know that if we were the same two guys they remembered from six years ago, we weren't qualified to be dogcatchers.
I'm not sure that they were wrong.
I started a Twitter account, but only heard from people who wanted to know where our next "gig" was. I didn't get that. And LinkedIn tended to be people who wanted business advice or wanted to sell something.
The business advice I had for them was: You need a private investigating firm. And for those who wanted to sell me something, I had no money to buy it.
So much for social networking. Mark Zuckerberg made billions by inventing Facebook. I was making squat.
I walked out with the case of oil and James drained two quarts into the engine. That process would be repeated many times during our trip.
"We could buy a brand-new truck if this deal comes through, Skip."
"We could." It was more of a mutter than a solid statement.
The drive into the Keys is not this adventurous, Third World country experience that some people imagine. They picture a jungle-like atmosphere, with thick mangrove trees and flocks of ospreys, forgotten outposts scattered by the water on each side of what is laughingly called a highway, and mysterious waterfront bars with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart drinking rum, smoking cigars, and planning nefarious deeds.
No, it's nothing like that. It's two lanes of traffic, occasionally broken by the excitement of four lanes for fifteen seconds where everyone floors the gas pedal to pass all the really slow drivers.
And when your Chevy box truck only goes fifty-eight miles per hour at its top end, you really can't make up a lot of time. I had to face it. We were one of the really slow drivers.
Nonetheless, James kept on course. There is no other solution. If you want to get to Islamorada, you just keep it pointing south.
Occasionally, there are some breaks, like a diver's supply shop that put up a billboard, Last Chance For Alcohol, 34 miles. People certainly didn't want to drive to the Keys sober.
And in the middle of scrub pine and scrawny bushes, on this narrow strip of land that extends to Key West, there's a sign saying: 7 Acres. $175,000. What would you do with it? Put up a liquor store and sell alcohol?
"Remember D. B. Cooper?" James was smoking a cigarette, blowing most of his product out the window at some cheap shell shops and a roadside cigar store.
"The guy hijacked a plane, right?"
He nodded. "Nineteen seventy-one, Portland to Seattle, this mysterious stranger grabs a flight attendant and tells her he has a bomb in his briefcase. When they land in Seattle, he asks for two hundred thousand dollars and a couple of parachutes."
The story was that D.B. jumped somewhere over Washington State and was never found. Five or six thousand dollars were recovered years later by some hikers, and the FBI figure to this day that he died in the jump, but it's the only unsolved airline hijacking case in history.
"I know the story, James."
"Never found the money, Tonto. Never found the body."
"And your point is?"
"Well, we need to do some research on the Kriegel guy. He had the gold, and when the hurricane hit, he could have used that as an excuse to split and take the bullion with him."
I shook my head. "Do you know how much that stuff would have weighed? You don't just split with ten cases of gold. That would be —"
"Over two thousand pounds of the yellow stuff. I figured it out."
James kept his eyes on the road, and we passed a place called the Caribbean Club. A big billboard there announced that this was where the movie Key Largo was filmed. So there were some bars where Bogey and Edward G. Robinson had hung out.
The faded letters also announced that the Caribbean Club featured karaoke every Wednesday. Too bad it was Thursday.
"Are you thieves or what?" James glanced at me with a sly grin on his face. "You want money, is this a robbery?"
We'd spent too many hours watching the old movies during college, when we should have been studying, and this one with Bogart and Edward G. was a classic. I knew the answer.
"Yeah, Pop, we're gonna steal all your towels."
And then we passed Craig's, with an even bigger sign that touted: Home of the World-Famous Fish Sandwich. We were "crackers." Florida natives. You'd think we would have heard of this. It being world famous and all.
Suddenly all the brake lights in front of us lit up at once.
Red as far as the eye could see.
"Shit. Probably some accident up ahead."
The Keys were legendary for traffic jams that could last all day. Or, in some cases, days.
"We've got four cases of beer."
My roommate nodded. "Two big jars of peanut butter, a couple of jars of strawberry jam, and four loaves of bread." We did. In the back of the truck. Just in case the money ran out.
"So, if there's a traffic stop, we're good for —"
"Oh, hell, at least two days."CHAPTER 3
We met Mary Trueblood at Pelican Cove. The place is a neat little waterside resort very close to where the train went off the track. You can rent a motel-type room that can be expanded to have a kitchenette, or expanded further to a two- or three-bedroom suite with living room, Jacuzzi, and kitchen if you had the keys to open the proper connecting doors. Heck, you could own the entire place. If you had enough money. We had all kinds of money. Expense money. If we could prove that we needed that money. To be honest, we'd already spent four hundred dollars on a laptop computer. That and the fill-up and a case of oil. And the beer and peanut butter. So we were already watching our pennies. We had to have a computer with us, didn't we?
As we stared at the sparkling water from her balcony, Mrs. T. passed out margaritas. "Boys, there's a fortune out there. Are you up to finding it?"
I had a coach in high school who pushed the cross-country team the same way. "Boys, are you ready for an adventure? Are you up to running hundreds of miles each and every week?"
I wasn't and I quit the team four days into the season.
Glory and honor do not compare to thousands of dollars, so in this case I put up with Mrs. Trueblood's little speech.
"Matthew Kriegel had ten containers of gold on that train."
Who loads ten crates of gold onto a train?
"Fair question," she responded. "The Flagler enterprise, by now called the Florida East Coast Railway, consisted of railroads, hotels, restaurants, whorehouses, gambling casinos —"
"Slow down." She had James's attention.
"Did I say something that you didn't understand?"
"Whorehouses?" He gulped at his drink.
She gave him a stern, schoolmarm look.
"Whorehouses." She pointed back to where the two-lane highway ran. "Brothels. There had been thousands of people out there working on the railroad. Thousands. Almost one hundred percent of those people were men."
"Do I have to spell it out for you? The men worked better — more productively — if they had some release. Mr. Flagler was against it. Very much opposed to the floating party boats, the gambling, the girls, and the booze, but his company quietly funded some of those more seamy ventures."
"Ah." James absorbed it.
"And even after Henry Flagler died, the enterprise kept producing. There were always camps of men working on maintaining the railroad. There was property that needed to be purchased. The federal highway construction crews were building a road to paradise and there were existing Flagler businesses that needed cash infusions."
"Lots of places to spend money." I got it. I assumed that James did too.
"There had to be places to go if the railroad was to get riders. There had to be destinations."
The lady sipped her margarita and gazed outside at the azure-blue water where two lodgers kayaked in bright yellow skiffs. Inside, Mrs. T. had the bright kitchenette, the seductive Jacuzzi, and all the other amenities. We had one room and a bath.
I noticed James checking her out in her black one-piece. She'd been on the beach sunning herself and she'd come directly to her suite. This lady probably could have been James's mother, but it didn't stop him from looking. Dark hair, great figure, a smooth tan. I had to admit, for an older lady she was hot.
"So the assumption is that they needed the gold to support activities in the Keys. Gold was used a lot back then."
"But this was a rescue train. They threw it together at the last minute, didn't they? I thought its purpose was strictly to bring camps of highway workers back up to Miami. I mean, these guys were going to be in the middle of this hurricane and they were housed in tents." I remembered the story well.
She smiled, standing up and stretching herself. James never took his eyes off of her body. "Boys, no one had a clue how strong that storm would be. My great-grandfather was going to leave for Islamorada the next day and his boss decided to send him down early. It's as simple as that. The Flagler system wanted him to spend the gold on the various enterprises that the system owned and enterprises they wanted to own.
"He and a security guard were going to be dropped off, with the gold, and spend a week in Islamorada and points south. They had a car waiting for him, a driver, a room that was reserved at the Coral Belle Hotel, but there is no record of exactly what the expenditures would be used for. There was speculation that he was going to purchase another hotel, and possibly a fishing camp located nearby. He would purchase more places for tourists to travel when they took the train."
I swallowed the sour drink and absorbed the information. That's what good PIs do. They absorb information.
"The Florida East Coast Railway looked at this last train ride more as goodwill than as a means to divert a catastrophe. I believe the managers and the owners thought this hurricane was going to pass them by, but they would look like heroes coming down on a white horse and saving these six hundred fifty plus workers."
"And this money, this gold, was going to be used to buy property and support whorehouses and casinos throughout the Keys?"
James couldn't leave that alone.
I got off the edge of my chair and approached the lady.
"I apologize for my friend. As you've noticed, he can be a little immature."
"But I'm charming, Skip. I've got my charm going for me."
Mary Trueblood smiled. "Gentlemen, Florida was born with graft, corruption, whorehouses, and gambling saloons. Like the Old West, this was cattle country and railroad country. Cowboys and construction workers are the same wherever you go."
"So the gold was never found."
"It disappeared. There were those who thought it washed out to sea, but I would think that the sheer weight of it would have prevented that."
I had a vision of James and me diving for sunken treasure, swimming back up with a gold bar clutched in my hand.
Excerpted from Too Much Stuff by Don Bruns. Copyright © 2011 Don Bruns. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Too Much Stuff is part of the Stuff Series by Don Bruns published by Oceanview Publishing, an independent publishing company who is putting out some interesting mysteries and thrillers. I have read one other book in this particular series. Skip Moore and his best friend, James Lessor, once more are trying to get rich quick. They have had many dead-end jobs in the past but now they are trying their hands at private investigation. They are hired by Mrs. T to find gold. Her great grandfather had loaded one and a quarter million dollars of gold bars on a train that disappeared when a storm in 1935 killed 500 people and destroyed much property. No has found the gold and Skip and James want to try their hand at it. As usual, these two are broke so they jump in with both feet without thinking everything through. And once again they find themselves in over their heads. Thankfully, Skip’s girlfriend, Em is around to help them but James' girl is married and that causes issues for Skip and Em. With other folks also searching, a dead body showing up and a mysterious boat carrying folks ashore there is a lot going on for these two private investigators. Bruns has written a humorous series with likeable characters. I found myself rooting for these two quirky guys who manage to bumble along solving mysteries and along the way they find out a little more about who they really are. I recommend this book especially for those who enjoy a lighthearted adventure story.
What I like most about Florida mysteries is how much I learn about the state and its history. There is always so much more going on than the Disney World and Miami Vice memories I have of the sunshine state. Don Bruns' Too Much Stuff is a perfect mix of fact and fiction. The story is fun and funny but the research and setting is bang on. Bruns has obviously spent a lot of time combing over stories from the past to meld with his often zany modern-day characters. He is a master at setting and has captured the feel of the Keys on his pages. This time out, Skip and James are searching for gold that was lost in the hurricane of '35 that wiped out Flagler's railroad. The two bumbling, fledgling detectives uncover much more than just treasure. They stumble upon murder, too. This was a fun, fast-paced read in which I learned a great deal about my favorite state. I'm looking forward to Bruns' next foray with Skip and Lestor Victoria Allman author of: SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Captain
4 STARS This mystery case is solved by two P.I.s who are not the most on the balls. James Lessor and Skip started More or Less Investigations after collage. They graduated at the bottom half of their class. They watched a lot of old movies instead of studing. They are always quoting old movies and the other one is g uessing. They have been hired to go to KeyWest and try to find 10 boxes of gold that was on a train in 1937 that was destroyed by a hurricane that killed over 500. The Flager railroad took 6 years to build but destroyed by hurricane. Mary Trueblood had hired 6 months ago other P.I.s that had vanished their number disconnected and internet site down. She found a letter that her grandfather had sent in code that he survived the hurricane. Where he might stash the gold for his company he would leave a clue their. He was afraid he might not be able to get back each box weighed around 200lbs worth around 44 millions dollars in todays market. James & Skip before they get too far in the investigations find a dead body in thier hotel room. Emily Skip's girl friend back home recieved a death threat to James, Skip and Mrs. Trueblood. So Emily comes down to join the boys. James has found a couple of girls in the mean time. They keep running into danger and making not the smartest moves especially James. I was given this ebook to read in exchange of honest review from Netgalley.