Inn the Spirit of Legends
Sisters, Texas Mystery Series and Forgotten
Boxes, comes an intriguing new book series, the Spirits
of Texas Cozy Mysteries.
Humming along with the music streaming from her phone, Hannah studied the ledgers scattered in front of her. Fortunately for her, Miss Wilhelmina kept excellent documentation through the years, even though it was all done by hand. With nothing recorded electronically, Hannah had to search through each ledger, one by one. It was a slow process, but she was making progress.
She was buoyed by the totals in the margins. The Spirits of Texas Inn was, indeed, a profitable business, just as Walker reported that first day. It helped that a substantial deposit was made in late 1970, and again the following year. Smaller but still significant amounts followed for the next five years. With a healthy bank account to fall back on, the inn could afford a few lean times.
Most interesting of all was the fact that Miss Wilhelmina, like the innkeepers before her, made side notes throughout the ledgers. In many ways, the notes read like journals.
Some notes were brief and to the point: Raining. Or, Construction on the new highway.
Others gave a brief recap of guests, and events in the area. Sweet couple, here for first anniversary. Or, Trail ride and reunion for Bottoms Family. And, Lecture at library over hidden treasure. Should get their facts straight.
“Hidden treasure!” Hannah read aloud. “Knowing JoeJoe, that’s the whole reason he bid on this crazy place.” She blew away a tendril of dark hair that kept falling into her face. There was a bit of a draft in the room. “As if the man needs any more money,” she grumbled. “He just loves the thrill of the hunt.”
Despite his crazy, impulsive ways, she adored her uncle. He was the only family she had.
True, her mother was still living, but their relationship was hardly described as that of ‘family.’ They were more like polite strangers, exchanging Christmas cards and occasional texts. When was the last time she had heard from her mother in person, anyway? Sometime around husband number five, she thought. The producer who claimed he could revive her career and get her the type of leading roles she deserved. No more achy joint commercials and dowdy grandmotherly-type roles for the talented actress; she was a star, and he would help her shine. When that same husband and producer polished off her bank account a few months later, Jacqueline called her daughter. “Just to talk,” her mother claimed, but Hannah knew the drill. Her mother only called when she needed something.
Back then, Hannah was in a position to help her mother when times got rough. With no one else to spend her hard-earned money on other than herself, Hannah could afford to be generous, in more ways than one. She would graciously overlook her mother’s lack of parenting skills and send a note of encouragement after each hard-luck phone call. She always tucked a check in along with it, something to tide her mother over until her next big break came along.
Jacqueline called Hannah’s father the dreamer, but it was she who lived in a fantasy world. Life in rural East Texas never suited the voluptuous brunette. She wanted something bigger, something better, than a wildcatter husband who worked in the oil fields. Even when it meant leaving her only child behind, Jacqueline could no longer resist the lure of fame and fortune. Terrell could chase his dreams of finding oil; Jacqueline had dreams of her own, and they led her to Hollywood.
Oddly enough, both realized their dreams, at the same exact time. Duncan Drilling hit a huge vein of oil, launching them into the big time, on the very day that Jacqueline landed the roll of Rhonda in Doctors’ General, the most popular soap opera on television. With both of their careers spinning out of control, neither had time for an inquisitive little girl. Hannah bounced between the two of them like a ping-pong game that neither wanted to play. JoeJoe became the bright spot in little Hannah’s life, the only person who ever seemed to have time for her.
Her uncle was just an overgrown kid, himself. Technically, he was a partner in Duncan Drilling, a business the two brothers inherited from their father. Terrell ran the company while JoeJoe finished his education and squandered his share of the profits on things like cheap women and expensive birthday presents for his only niece. By the time Terrell died in a rig explosion, the company was almost broke. Hannah inherited her father’s share, but promptly sold it to her uncle. She wanted no part of the business, blaming it for taking her father’s life and for driving her mother away, all those years ago. One year later, her uncle was daring enough—or foolish enough—to throw in with an innovative new oilfield product coming out of Dubai. It made him an instant millionaire, several times over.
Now her uncle was a very rich overgrown kid, still buying extravagant gifts for his only niece.
Hence, here she sat, queen of her own little sad kingdom, reading over ledgers recorded in longhand.
The music began to cut in and out. Hannah picked up her phone and checked the signal. Something was playing havoc with the connection, causing interference.
Too bad, because the music kept the strange noises at bay.
A building as old and rambling as the inn made all sorts of odd and unexpected sounds. Nights were the worst, when silence settled in, broken only by the creak and groan of shifting seams and aging beams. And when Walker was away, and the house was empty save for her and Leroy, the noises came again, reminding Hannah of her isolation and her vulnerability. It was best to drown out the sounds with the radio, or Leroy’s shuddering snores, or by whatever means she could find.
Television, unfortunately, was not an option. The subscription to the satellite service had lapsed, and new equipment was required before the system could be restored. A technician wasn’t scheduled until early next week.
Curious about the mention of a hidden treasure, Hannah typed it into her phone’s search engine. The slow connection was excruciating. Deciding it was time for a break, she went upstairs to use her laptop. The inn’s computer was password protected, and until the elusive Sadie and Fred returned, there was no getting in.
Hannah was surprised to read that, according to local legend, there was a hidden treasure buried somewhere in the nearby hills. In the late eighteen seventies, notorious outlaw Sam Bass and a ragtag team of bandits perfected their robbery skills, targeting stage coaches before moving on to the more modern—and lucrative—steam-powered locomotive. Most of their hits were smalltime efforts, executed more for experience than for wealth. However, legend had it that one of the stages carried covert cargo: two huge crates of gold and silver.
The Army was transferring a sizable fortune from Fort Worth to San Antonio. The plan was to send a decoy troop of soldiers by rail, armed to the hilt but in fact guarding empty crates. While attention was drawn to the pomp and circumstance of army pageantry, the real gold traveled by stage, protected only by three undercover officers and the usual stage driver. The plan worked so well that two separate teams of bandits held up the train, fifty miles apart, and were taken into custody with minimal loss of life.
All went well until the stage neared the Hannah stop. As the vehicle neared South Grape Creek, a lone rider came up from the south and attempted to flag down the stage. Behind him, the Bass gang rode into view at the top of the hill, intent on overtaking that very same stage.
No one knew exactly what happened next. The only eyewitness left to tell the story was one of the officers, and he was in little shape to tell his tale. Best as anyone knew, fate played a cruel trick upon the men that day. When the officer grabbed his chest during the beginning stages of a heart attack, his fellow officers thought he had been shot. In the confusion, they over-reacted and assumed it was a robbery. Before Sam Bass and his gang made it down the hill and toward the crossing, two officers and the driver were dead, the third officer was mistaken as such, and the lone rider was injured. The crates spilled out on the ground, revealing their fortune.
No one knew for certain how much money was at stake. The Army refused to give details. Some denied the freight was even on the stage to begin with; a blunder such as this did not look good for their reputation. Bass and his gang, now plus one, were smart enough to keep their good fortune quiet. Right there at the creek crossing, they decided to hide the money and lay low. No need in spending a sudden unexplained fortune. When the time was right, they would return to the area and claim their booty.
Sam had success with a similar plan the year before, when he and the Collins Gang robbed a train in South Dakota and got away with sixty thousand dollars in newly minted gold. After that heist, the men broke off in pairs, each with their share of the money. The poor fools who spent their money openly were now dead, while Sam, on the other hand, still rode free.
The lone rider from the stagecoach, injured and in need of care, entrusted his share to Sam. Even a poor farm boy from Kansas had heard of the great Sam Bass. He was known as a fair outlaw, if such a thing existed. To prove his trustworthiness, Bass drew a map, gave the only copy to the injured fellow, and took him to the nearest farmhouse, which just happened to be the stage stop. They concocted a story about the fellow being on the stage and injured when an outlaw rode up and robbed them, single-handed.
It was weeks before anyone knew the real story, or parts of it, at best. The surviving officer tried to set the record straight, but his speech was weak and slurred. He had difficulty relaying the conversation he overheard that day, about a band of outlaws hiding the gold. Eventually, it was determined that the injured man recuperating in Hannah was actually the lone outlaw. Before they could take him into custody, however, he somehow managed to escape. Most believed he had an accomplice, and some thought it was the young girl from the stagecoach stop, young Lina.
According to legend, the treasure was never recovered. While the lone rider recovered from his injuries, too weak to retrieve the gold, Bass and his gang rode into Round Rock, intent on robbing the bank there. The notorious outlaw was injured in a gunfight and died. People spoke of Bass’s other hidden treasure, the money from the Dakota train robbery, but no one knew about the stagecoach heist. Not until the officer told his garbled story and the lone rider escaped in the night, never to be seen again.
Hannah read the story with a sense of mild amusement. Funny, how rumors and legends came into being. If there was ever any hidden gold to begin with, the lone rider probably took it with him when he left the country. She supposed it was more interesting, however, to imagine that it still hid somewhere in the hills, just waiting to be discovered. It was one of those stories people told their kids, in random moments when they had nothing else to talk about, or those times when they wanted to distract them and pull their minds away from current circumstances. It was something to tell visitors to the area, when there was little else to hold their attention. A fun tale to recite around a campfire, or when you ran out of ghost stories.
Hannah could definitely see her uncle falling for such a ruse, caught up in the thrill and romance of the old-west legend.
“So much for that,” she said, closing down the website with a click of her tongue. “If you ask me, legends of hidden treasure just never seem to pan out. Stories like that are for dreamers.” A wicked thought occurred to her, and she giggled aloud. “And if hell freezes over and my mother ever comes to visit, I’ll share the story with her. That might just be her best shot of getting any money out of me these days. Alas, my well—therefore, her well—runneth dry.”
As Hannah descended the stairs, her mind went back to the ledgers. She had spent the past few days studying them. Mention of hidden treasures aside, the books for the old inn boasted a healthy bottom line. If staying captive for the full thirty days meant a generous bonus for improvements and remodeling, she might very well be sitting atop a hidden treasure of a different kind. The sort that required a little imagination, a lot of hard work, and an investment of time and energy. The kind that paid off in the long run.
Was she up to the challenge? Hannah pondered the enormity of the question as her foot hit the last step. This meant making a commitment. This meant no wiggling out of the contract terms. This meant no quitting in a year, even after she earned the second bonus.
And that sound she heard meant someone was in the kitchen…
Hannah picked up the pace.
and Forgotten Boxes, always dreamed of being an author. In November
of '13, that dream became a reality. Since that time, she has
published eleven books, won first place honors for Best Mystery
Series, Best Suspense Fiction and Best Audio Book, and has introduced
her imaginary friends to readers around the world.
about the past. Other addictions include reading, writing, junking,
unraveling a good mystery, and coffee. She loves to travel, but
believes coming home to her family and her Texas ranch is the best
part of any trip. Becki is a member of the Association of Texas
Authors, the National Association of Professional Women, and the
Brazos Writers organization. She attended Texas A&M University
and majored in Journalism.
the tour HERE
for exclusive excerpts, guest posts and a giveaway!