Don Bruns

Too Much Stuff


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-”

“Except what?”

“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.


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

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