Never Too Late for Payback (Preview)


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Chapter One

The Pawnees readied the wagons with goods and supplies and hitched up the team of horses to go into Micah Falls, a town where they had traded with whites before.  Prairie Flower helped load although she never like traveling to a White town. She was always given the oddest, and sometimes the harshest looks. She stuck out like a sore thumb in a band of Pawnees. She didn’t like the stares, but she understood why so many whites stared at her, often with their mouths open.

She was obviously White in a party of red-skinned Natives.  She was medium height, with brown hair, blue eyes and, except when going into White towns, a ready smile. She had a melodious voice that was both gentle and strong.  A music teacher would have wanted to teach her how to sing because of her strong, yet tender, voice.

Another reason she preferred staying at the camp than traveling to any town was because a few people always asked her if she had been kidnapped, and did she need help escaping from the savages? The so-called “savages” had done very well by her, and she loved them and loved their way of life.  She also loved horses and she cared for many of the Indian mounts.  She had her own horse, a white mare she had named Sky River.  And she had become an accomplished horse woman. Even the Pawnee braves, who enjoyed showing others their riding proficiency, admitted Prairie Flower was one of the finest riders in the tribe.

Also, she felt a debt to the tribe.  Her own people had abandoned her. She was lost and hungry when they found her and took her in.  She was fortunate that several members of the tribe, including the woman who became her mother, spoke English.  Her new mother, Blue Valley, insisted the child maintain her native language and even traded for English books in a few towns. She had to study the books to teach herself more English.  That was one reason she could endure the trips to White towns. She usually found someone who would talk to her so she could practice her English and know what the whites were saying back to her.

Often, a dozen or more members of the tribe went into a town to trade.  There was peace between the whites and Indians but the Pawnee Chief, Brave Elk, figured safety was in numbers.  A group of alcohol-laden whites might like to pick on an individual brave, but a group of Pawnees in town would prevent that. And, for the most part, the different town officials, including the lawmen, did not want any trouble and prevent any liquored-up whites from starting any problems.

Running Fox climbed into the wagon and took the reins. She was one of the four Pawnees to ride following the wagon.  Prairie Flower almost left an impression on the townsfolk when riding Sky River. She was a beautiful woman on an eye-catching horse and, if she spoke, had a melodious voice. It was not easy to forget her, even if you wanted to.

She rode beside the wagon as Running Fox waved and smiled at her.  She smiled back.  Running Fox had indicated he would like her for a wife. He was a good man, but she didn’t feel anything special for him. She wondered if she should. Love was a concept the whites held dear but vaguer with the Pawnees.  She had read books in English that featured romance themes. The concept was at first foreign to her. It took a while for her to understand it. She saw nothing wrong with it, but the Indian concept of marriage was a bit more practical.

“If any White man bothers you, just let me know, and I will deal with him,” Running Fox said.

“Thank you. You are very brave and considerate man,” she said. “But let’s hope we have no trouble at all but instead have a successful day trading with the whites.”

“That is what I hope, but sometimes, that is not the case with whites. They like trouble and hate Indians.”

“That’s not true. We have known and traded with some good whites. Kind, considerate people.  But in a town, there are many people. Not all of them are admirable. There is always a bad one in the batch,” she said.

“With whites, there is always more than one bad one in the batch,” he said.

She smiled and the thought how happy she was that Chief Brave Elk always accompanied any party to a town. He, like the White lawmen, did not want any problems and would move swiftly to prevent any possible trouble.

However, the tribe had traded with folks in Micah Falls before, and there had never been any trouble, so Prairie Flower did not expect any trouble this trip. In the past, all relations had been cordial. One man, during the last trip, even traded what was called a harmonica to Bright Owl, one of the younger Pawnees.  Bright Owl was fascinated by the instrument but never learned to play it well, but he did irritate the tribe for months with his off-key abilities before he finally tossed the instrument away. That was one thing that intrigued Prairie Flower about the whites—their musical instruments and their singing.  She had seen a banjo and guitar, and enjoyed the music they created. Her tribe had drums of course, but the other musical instruments were new to her.  The guitar and banjo made wonderful sounds, this type of music she had never heard before and she liked.  Once, in a town where someone was playing a banjo, she had almost danced a step or two.  She halted herself immediately, not being sure it was good to dance to White man’s music. But she had grown more and more curious about the instrument.  She had sung in the forest, while alone, and people had told her she had a good voice. She wondered what it would be like to combine music with it.

She turned Sky River and decided to let her run while they were still a ways from town.  She liked to run. Sky River was made for racing, she thought.

“Prairie Flower, come back!” Running Fox yelled. “You’ll get lost.”

“I’ll be back,” she yelled. “Don’t worry.”

But she wanted to roam free for a while. And, she knew, Sky River did too.  To be free from all the problems in the world. To just be able to ride endlessly across plains, and see the mountains and the lakes of such a beautiful land.

She did wonder at times what had happened to her. The story the tribe told her was that they found her in a clearing in forest, near the town of Plattville, a good-sized community about twenty miles away. There was no one with her and she had sat down under a tree and was crying.  They took her in and, ever since, she had been Prairie Flower, a Shawnee woman who could ride with the wind and whose beauty could shame the roses. She loved the tribe and deeply appreciated what they had done for her, but she did also appreciate some items about the White man’s culture—like the guitars and banjos, for instance. She also liked some of the dresses. They were very pretty and colorful.  She wondered if one could blend the cultures and appreciate the good in both the White and the Indian worlds.

She turned Sky River around and raced back to the buckboard.  Running Fox still drove but he was looking around at the land, obviously looking for her.  She gave a friendly wave as she returned and slowed Sky River down to a trot beside the wagon.

“You shouldn’t ride off like that. There is no one to protect you,” Running Fox said.

“I don’t think I will run into any trouble this close to town. The land isn’t desolate.  We get riders traveling this area all the time.”

“But you should be cautious. With whites around, you should always be careful.”

“We should always be careful even when whites are not around,” she said.

He nodded.  The buckboard rolled even closer to the town. Usually, the driver stopped on the outside of town. Any potential customer walked to the edge of the city and browsed the goods the Pawnee were offering.  Some members of the tribe were known in the town, and they roamed the streets. The chief often went to say hello to Sheriff Elroy Longstreet. The two had become friends, which was one reason why no whites wanted to really start any trouble with the Pawnee.

As she walked Sky River toward the Plattville welcome sign, she saw the sheriff walk toward the wagon. He was a man who walked straight and narrow, and that was also his interpretation of the law. He was rather a handsome man with rugged good looks. He might have been intimidating, but he also flashed a ready smile, showing he was friendly.  And he also didn’t tolerate any lawbreakers or troublemakers in the town. It was known he could shoot straight and fast.  He also had a knack of bringing his gun out, not to shoot, but to smack it against a rowdy troublemaker’s head.  It never did permanent injury, but many a would-be troublemaker woke up in the jail the next day with a terrible headache.

Longstreet was a distant relative of the Confederate General James Longstreet, whose reputation was somewhat tarnished in the South because, after the war, he helped and served with his friend, President Ulysses S. Grant.  His reputation in the South further suffered when he led an African American militia against the anti-Reconstruction White League in an 1874 battle.  But Sheriff Longstreet was very proud of his relative, and often told stories about him.

He tipped his hat as he walked up to Prairie Flower and the Pawnee buckboard.

“Good to see you again, ma’am,” he said.

“Thank you, sheriff,” she said. “You are always so kind.”

“Thank you. That’s my southern heritage, ma’am. Always be courteous to women. That’s a man’s duty.”

“Even Indian women, sheriff?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Prairie Flower  smiled. “We do appreciate your work.”

Brave Elk rode up on a black stallion and nodded to the sheriff. “Good to see you again, Sheriff. I see you are still keeping the peace.”

“Yes, but that’s much easier when there good, peaceful people in the town, Thankfully, this is not like Dodge City or Tombstone. Most of the time, I keep my gun in my holster.  We don’t have much trouble here.”

“We don’t bring you any trouble either. Just items for trade.”

The sheriff nodded. “That’s fine. We like business. If anyone gives you trouble, let me know.”  He tipped his hat to Prairie Flower as he left, which made her smile again.

When he saw his deputy walk down the street, he gestured to him.  Clay Bodine walked over. He was young, with blond hair and had a big smile.

“Need something, Sheriff?” he said.

“Yes, I want you to stick around here and make sure no one bothers the Pawnee. I know we’re not in the midst of an Indian War, but we have a few men who wouldn’t mind starting a bit of trouble. They have lost relatives in one of the many conflicts between Indians and whites, and they are still not in a forgiving mood. I want people here to be buying, selling, negotiating, and talking, not fighting or shooting.”

Bodine nodded.  “I will make sure all the negotiations go smooth, Sheriff.”

“Thank you.”

As he walked toward the buckboard, he tipped his hat to Prairie Flower.

“Beautiful horse, ma’am,” he said.

“Thank you, deputy,” Prairie Flower said, petting her. “Sky River is one of the best horses in the state, at least that’s what I think.”

“I think you’re probably right. Haven’t seen one as beautiful as her in a long time.”

She watched as settlers and the Pawnees talked, debated prices, and even laughed. Running Fox eyes all whites with suspicion and looked at them with a hostile air.   One or two whites returned the angry frown but others, both Pawnees and whites had fun with the talking and trading. Brave Elk spoke with two whites from the community.  Both men wore business suits but seemed very comfortable chatting with the Pawnee chief. Swift Deer, another member of the tribe got buyers for the knives he crafted.

She was so interested in the transactions, she didn’t notice a White cowboy had slipped next to her.

“Hello, ma’am,” he said. “A lovely horse with an equally lovely rider. I couldn’t help but notice you are not a Pawnee.”

There was an abusive tone in her voice when she answered,  “I was not born a Pawnee but now I am a member of the tribe, even though I’m White.”

“Would you mind me asking how you became a member?”

She could have taken offense at the question, but the young stranger was so polite, she didn’t.   Even though he was White, she found herself liking him. He was tall and sturdy, nicely dressed, with blue eyes and brown hair that was slightly wavy.  He had a distinctive voice, a deep alto, almost a bass. But once he spoke, the man tended to get and hold your attention.

Usually, she was edgy with whites and their demeaning questions. Often, she thought their faces and tones were ugly. But this man was respectful and had merely asked a polite question.

“The Pawnees found me when someone had left me to die.  I don’t know if it was the parents or someone who kidnapped me. But I was about ten years old, alone, and sitting under a tree crying when they saved my life and took me in. Why do you ask?  And, by the way, what’s your name.”

“Jason Culp.  About eighteen years ago there was a war going on between the red man and the whites. My home was attacked, and my parents killed. I received a blow to the head that knocked me out. My little sister, who was only about a year old was not killed, but was missing. I’ve never found her, but I keep looking.”

She sighed. The story had touched her heart.

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Culp. I hope someday you find your sister. But I was not kidnapped as a child. As I said, the Pawnees found me crying when someone had thrown me away.”

“Very sorry, ma’am.  But thank you for talking with me. You have a beautiful horse.”

She nudged Sky River and she walked away from the cowboy. Culp watched them go, clearly deep in thought.

Prairie Flower cast one last glance at the young man.  He obviously had a good heart. His situation was almost the exact opposite of hers.  She wished him well and hoped that one day he would find his sister.

She spent the next hours talking and trading and even exchanging pleasantries with a few whites. Overall, it was a good trip. But she never forgot the young man.

Chapter Two

Wade Hampton walked into the Pinkerton Office exactly at eight o’clock, which was his normal time. He believed in being punctual. He sat down at his desk and prepared for the day. He was a muscular young man, with black hair and black eyes. He suspected that other Pinkerton agents thought Hampton was a bit too officious but gave him credit for a sense of humor and a sense of justice.

His desk showed he was officious. Everything was arranged neatly and property, without a speck of dust. His desk was spotless. A professional man during a profession job should be such high standards, he thought.  But he was not stand-offish in any way. His colleagues liked him and knew, if they needed a favor, or perhaps a small loan, that Hampton was a soft touch. He had stern work habits but a kind heart.

But he did not like the note on his desk this morning.  It was from Adam Mason, the head of the office, and asked Hampton to come to his office when he arrived. Usually, such notes meant there was a difficult case the agency had agreed to handle, and he was going to be stuck with it.

He knocked on the door and heard Mason said, “Come in.”

Hampton walked in and sat down in a chair in front of the last desk. Mason was a large man with a protruding stomach and a bushy mustache.  He held a moderate thick file and dropped it on the desk.

“Wade, I have good news and bad news for you.  The good news is this file gives you the details of your next case.  The bad news is this is the Harding case,” said Mason.

Hampton gave a grunt of acknowledge.   The Harding case—a case of a missing child—has been given to a new agent almost every year without being solved. About ten years ago, the ten-year old daughter of wealthy businessman Cyrus Harding was kidnapped—or rather she was believed kidnapped.  She was never seen or heard from again.  But every year, at the request of Harding, the agency launched a new investigation, although the top Pinkerton operatives doubted any new clues could be found. But Harding was a good client, and they didn’t want to alienate him, so they kept passing the case to one of their agents.  This year, it was apparently Hampton’s turn.

A few agents, knowing the futility of the case, didn’t investigate at all. They merely took the file home. In two weeks, they scribbled a few notes saying no new clues had been found, and the case remained open.

“How long are we going to stay on this case, sir,” Hampton said.

“At least one more year,” his boss said gruffly.  He sighed and softened his tone.

“I knew it has become something of looking for a needle in a haystack, but the agency doesn’t like to leave cases open. But this will probably be the last year we re-open. So I am asking you, Wade, not just as your boss but as a personal favor, would you read the notes very carefully and see if you can spot something we missed and find clues that will lead to a solution. It may be the child is dead, or she may be living five hundred miles from here.  But the agency would like to solve this case, once and for all. It’s been a thorn in our side and, if you can pick that thorn out, it would be a great advantage to your career.” He lowered his tone and looked at the file. “And, after all these years, I would like to know what happened to this child.”

“I will do my best, sir,” Hampton said, taking the file.

‘You can take as long as you need,” his boss said. “But once you turn the case back in, it goes into the dead file. That’s the last of it. So, give it your best.”

“I will, sir. I will read every line in the file and see if there is any chance we can find out what happened to the girl.”

“Thank you, Wade. I appreciate it.”

He took the file with him when he left the office, and went back to his desk. He flipped open the large folder and sighed.  He was going to do his best, but he had little optimism in the case. If a half dozen other investigators had failed to find the solution—although he had faith in his skills and abilities—he didn’t think he could find the answer either.  The case was too cold and there were no eyewitnesses.

He sat down and picked up the first page. He gave a wry grin when he remembered the old saying about, ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” That was true, but it was also true that the walker still had 999.9 miles to still go. He shrugged.  The journey through a case file begins with the first page. He picked it up.  At least he was a fast reader. And with no other cases, he had plenty of time for this one. Perhaps another investigator had missed something, He would make sure that he missed nothing, and then the agency could put the case to bed.

But first thing’s first. He got a cup of coffee and returned to his desk. He wished he could put a dollop of bourbon in it, but his bosses did not like drinking on the job.  After reading the initial brief, he thought the case was basically cut and dried.  Cyrus Harding owned a number of businesses in the state, but lived in the town of Plattville on a rather large estate.  He had two children, a boy and a girl, with the boy being two years older than his daughter. The kidnapping took place about nine years ago. The parents and the servants suddenly discovered the girl, whose name was Hildy, was missing.  The family became frantic and called police.  A short time later, the parents received a letter detailing where the child could be found.  The parents rushed to the stated location, but the child was not there. They searched but did not find her.

And no one found her.

Hampton frowned.  If the girl was kidnapped, and it appeared she was, the criminal never asked for money to return the child. Instead, he sent a note telling how to find her. Did the man intend to kidnap the child and hold her for ransom…but then changed his mind, possibly due to guilt?  Was it a rash action and then the criminal thought seriously about his action and felt guilty about putting a child in danger?  Did he have some grudge against the parents and became so angry that he kidnapped the child, but later came to his decent senses and sent the second note, explaining where the girl was?

Then, why wasn’t she there?

Hampton sipped come coffee and one finger patted his chin. The consensus of investigators was the second note was merely written to confuse the parents and police.  It was to get them off on a wild goose chase while the kidnapper found a place to hide. But if that were true, the parents should have expected another note demanding the ransom. So, why didn’t they get it?

That made no sense. Why kidnap someone and not ask for a ransom? The Hardings were rich. If a kidnapper was looking for a family to extort money from, the Hardings were a good target. They were one of the richest families in this part of the state.

He sipped more coffee, looked around and, when he realized no one was looking, sneaked another drop of bourbon in the cup. The agency did not like drinking on the job, but some rules were flexible. Employees know which rules could be bent.  The Harding case had made more than one employee bend the rules.

Hampton knew that, sometimes if you are puzzled by a case, you need to turn it over and examine from an entirely different prospective.  It can at times be a benefit in seeing insights into the case.

Most of the investigators gave little credence to the note telling where the girl was. It was obviously fake. The girl wasn’t there.   But what if the remorse was real? The kidnapper was perhaps angered by something the Hardings did. Maybe he got burned on a business deal. Or something Harding did cost him money and maybe his house and job.  In anger, he kidnapped the girl, but he felt guilty. So, he left the girl in safety, and sent the letter to the family.  He quickly rampaged through the documents and information. Until he found what he was looking for…

The letter did not come through the mail. It was found on the steps of the Harding home.

Hampton nodded to himself.  If the kidnapper had felt guilty, he wouldn’t have mailed the note. It would take at least a day to get to the house.  He had taken a risk getting to the Harding home and leaving it on the steps. What if someone had seen him? If he was an employee of Hardings, he could have been recognized and the police would have pulled him in for questioning.  But he took the risk of going to the house. Why?   Because he felt guilty and wanted to get the note to the Hardings as soon as possible.  When they saw the note, the parents would rush immediately to the spot.  Hampton checked, and discovered the spot wasn’t far from the house.

So, what had happened? Did someone else find the girl?  If so, would she not have told him who she was, and where she lived? Besides, if it was a citizen of the town, everybody knew the Hardings.  All the girl had to do was tell them her name, and he or she would have made sure the girl got home. So, what had happened that day?

The girl was about ten, maybe eleven, but at the Harding house, she would have had a good education. She could have told people what happened and, even if a stranger found her, they would have alerted police immediately.

So, what went wrong? He needed to see the note again.  He skipped some papers in the folder to find it.   And, without bothering to see if anyone was watching, he added a little more bourbon to his coffee.  Then, refreshed the coffee cup. He thought he might be onto something.  Although he didn’t know quite what yet.

He found the note. It was aged and the handwriting had faded a bit. It was about a half page long. He thought whoever wrote it did so hurriedly, at times it was difficult to read.  But made sense.  The writer felt guilty. He wanted to write the note as soon as possible and get it to the Harding home as soon as possible so the girl could be rescued as quickly as possible. So, he wrote hurriedly. He named a number of landmarks and other objects in the letter. But the writer had bad handwriting…that stuck with him. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. It must have some significance, he thought.

The paragraph expressed the writer’s guilt at kidnapping the girl. And then the letter said she could be found in the Cougar Forest, which was not far from the Harding ranch. The sentences gave several of the paths that would lead to the girl. He didn’t read them because they were so badly scrawled.

Okay, assume the girl was there.  The kidnapper left her there, and left a note at the Harding house, fully intending that the girl would be reunited with her parents. But she wasn’t there. Could she have been frightened and run away?  Run into the forest to completely escape from the kidnapper?  Possibly. But the first man or woman she found, she would have told them of the kidnapping. So…how to resolve that problem? Besides, most the people of the town may have known the young lady. She was, after all, the only daughter of the Hardings. Did she ever go into town with her older brother? If so, wouldn’t the citizens know both of the Harding children? Or even if they didn’t know her, they would have taken her to the police and someone at the police department would have recognized her, especially when she told them their name.  What if…

He returned to the letter with directions to the kidnapped child. The writer noted some twists and turns in the path to her. He should have made it just a straight line, but he was nervous and anxious and, probably, figured if the townsfolk found him—a man who had kidnapped a child—they would not wait for a trial, but just string him up immediately.  So, he wrote fast and, for whatever reason, gave the rescuers some twists and turns on the path.

“Never Too Late for Payback” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

A decade ago, Hildy Harding, the 10-year-old daughter of a millionaire businessman, was mysteriously kidnapped by an evil man. Despite a note that seemed to express regret and directions regarding where she could be located, the child was never found. The Pinkerton Agency will try to solve the case once more ten years later, but no one is holding out much hope…

Will the agent assigned to the case have what it takes to uncover the true cause behind Hildy’s enigmatic disappearance?

While nearly everyone has abandoned hope, the lionhearted agent Wade Hampton reaches a different, yet tentative, conclusion. To everyone’s shock, Hampton discovers that Hildy was kidnapped by a ruthless rival businessman who hated her father. No one ever truly expected that she was still alive, let alone that she was among the Pawnee tribe.

If Hampton only knew that this was just the beginning of a deadly quest…

After meeting for the first time, Hildy and Hampton choose to band together and seek revenge against the merciless kidnapper who robbed her of her childhood. However, their growing feelings for each other, as well as shocking revelations about the case, pose a challenge to the endless search. Even though it seems as though their fate will have them die young, will their skills help them survive this spiral of violence and vengeance?

“Never Too Late for Payback” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Legends of the Lawless Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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