A Daring Detective Duo (Preview)

Chapter One

Nick Childs charged the stagecoach from behind. It was cutting across the flattened desert plains of Arizona. The massive, winding breach which dominated the area a thousand feet above the Colorado River wasn’t far ahead of them. The Grand Canyon was a treacherous maze of drops and slopes, winding trails, predators, road agents, and the Seneca. But they were the last things on Nick’s mind.

The stagecoach looked like it was going to fall apart from sheer speed. The recent rains had made the ground soft and dangerous, gray skies looming above. Nick’s stallion galloped beneath him, and he was able to make progress on the heavy stagecoach.

The coach gave the gunman and the woman who was his hostage shelter. Neither Nick nor his partner, James Spalter, could afford to fire their weapons at the man or men inside, as they’d be almost certain to accidentally kill the Seaton girl. She was inside that carriage, Nick had seen her dragged into it with his own eyes, hands tied behind her back, gag in her mouth. She was helpless inside that speeding carriage, and it was up to Nick and James to get her out safely.

That vast chasm of a canyon loomed ahead of them, slowly getting closer, spreading out like some giant mouth ready to consume them all.

He neared the stagecoach, just as James did from the other side. Gunfire rang out from the carriage, but the fury of the jostling ride was throwing off their aim. But the closer they got, the less they’d miss. The shooting was intermittent from inside the coach, telling Nick that there might only be one person shooting, but alternating from side to side and missing on both accounts. A struggling young woman could do a lot to even the odds too, Nick knew. The girl had to be courageous to have gone through what she’d been through and still be willing to put up a fight.

Keep it up, Nick thought, but could not say, just a little longer.

Nick’s Stallion pulled him closer, weaving to dodge erratic gunfire. James disappeared on the other side of the speeding stagecoach, his efforts blind to Nick’s surveillance. James was capable, strong, and as good a partner as Nick could hope for. He’d do his best, that was certain.

Their enemies had taken flight quickly, many of their men killed in the assault. But they’d slipped out with the girl in tow while Nick and James had been embroiled in the fight, their own few men dying in the effort.

After taking flight, the men were ill-prepared and frantic, and that would be their undoing. Perhaps not theirs alone.

Just a little longer.

The gunfire ceased from inside the coach as Nick rode up, and the coach swerved away from him just before Nick was ready to breach it. Nick couldn’t be sure if the driver was trying to dodge him, or if he was struggling with James. From his vantage, with his focus on the stagecoach door, Nick could hardly tell.

It hardly mattered. He had to get into that coach, and he had to get the girl out before the whole thing toppled over the edge and into the canyon. Its lip was curved and misshapen, and the mammoth shape of it became bigger as they approached.

Nick knew he’d have to leave the stallion behind. He hoped James would be able to kill the driver and stop the coach while Nick took care of the girl’s captor. Nick prepared to jump off the horse, closer and then further, closer and then further. The coach seemed to swerve out of the way at every opportune moment. The desert ground sped by beneath him in a blur. To fall would mean death. It would cost Sally Seaton more than her life, perhaps his partner’s as well.

Nick finally jumped, grabbing the coach by the rails and holding on. He leaned back with the force of gravity, the coach tipping with his weight. Were it to topple over him, Nick knew he would be crushed and ground into a bloody pulp.

But the coach leveled off and Nick pulled the door open, finding just what he expected. The girl was kicking at him, her ankles unbound. Those long, strong limbs flexed as she battered him with the bruised soles of her bare feet. She was screaming through her gag, and her hapless captor could only swat at her to contain her flailing rage.

The man guarding her was known to Nick as Poplar Johns. He was an underling to Mad Dog Madison, but was dead. While the head of the serpent had been cut off, the body was still writhing and dangerous. Deadly even as it ran head first into gaping disaster.

The stagecoach shook around them, threatening to throw Nick out from sheer spite, or perhaps for his own good. If it did not, Poplar Johns was ready to finish the job. He seemed oblivious to his own peril, more fixed on aggression than survival.

Just a little longer.

Johns was big. His raggedy red beard tangled under his scarred, ugly face. He came at Nick with his massive hands, grabbing Nick and pulling him into the coach for a beating.

Pap! Pap! Pap! His punches came hard and sure, jangling Nick’s brain. Sally kept kicking at him, seeming to know anything she could do would help, and she was right.

Nick returned the punches with his own, feeling the power of the contact against Johns’ face, the bones of his cheeks cracking with every strike. But the big man could take it as well as he could dish it out, and he struck back even with Sally kicking at him and Nick fully engaged. In fact, the big man found one way to take care of them both. He roared as he threw Nick to the side, smashing him into Sally. Nick’s body blocked her kicking legs, neutralizing the threat as he got some distance and get ready to attack again.

That was another fatal mistake, giving Nick the position to draw and fire with Sally safe behind him. When big Poplar Johns saw Nick draw, Nick could tell the big man realized his miscalculation.

Bang!

Johns took it in the belly, a massive black and red hole opening up in his big torso. But he remained stunned, arms outstretched to keep him from tumbling out of the stagecoach. Another shot would kill him before he hit the ground.

Nick had to make other calculations now. The coach was speeding onward. The wood of the coach was creaking in front of him, and it was easy to imagine a death struggle engaged between his partner and the poor fool driving that stagecoach.

He called, “James? James!”

He couldn’t know for sure. But Nick did know that the coach wasn’t slowing down, and the big canyon was getting closer.

Nick knew Poplar Johns was an opportunity he could not afford to pass by. Without a word of explanation, Nick grabbed Sally’s arm, pulled her up, and charged their mutual enemy. Nick smashed into Johns and the three of them toppled out of the speeding stagecoach together.

They seemed suspended for a moment, then they flew fast and landed hard. The big man on the bottom took the brunt of it, and Nick could hear the man’s bones shatter, muffled under his fat as he absorbed most of the impact.

Their three bodies rolled until they finally came to a halt. Nick checked the girl. She seemed okay, and Poplar Johns stared up, beard bloodied, dead to the world.

Nick turned to see the stagecoach ahead of him. The wet ground didn’t kick up much dust, so Nick could make out James struggling with the driver as the coach raced toward the edge of the canyon.

Not much longer.

Jump, Nick thought, jump, partner, jump!

The two men remained locked in their struggle, the stagecoach getting smaller as it finally met the lip of the canyon.

“James? James!”

Nick thought he saw James glance back at his partner once more before the horses cried out and the stagecoach disappeared over the side of the canyon.

Nick felt his own stomach sink even as the coach did the same, unseen but no doubt plummeting to a terrible fate along with every living creature in its speeding, wooden grip. The horse cried out one last time. The crunching of the coach and the rolling of the rocks, quiet and getting more distant fast, told Nick everything about his partner’s sacrifice.

Nick turned back to the girl, quick to retrieve her. She writhed on the ground, moaning in pain. Nick pulled out his hunting knife and cut the ropes securing her wrists. Her arms fell to her sides and Nick took her into a secure embrace, reassuring. They’d never met face-to-face.

Nick looked her over. “Are you alright?”

But she was in a daze. She nodded, but she could hardly know the real answer. It would take time, and they had a long ride before reaching New Orleans. Nick looked out to see his stallion galloping up to him, faithful as a dog and much more powerful. At that moment, the horse was an absolute necessity.

It was there, and so were they. But James was not. That good and honorable man had died, along with every other man in their party, leaving Nick Childs and Sally Seaton alone to tell the terrible tale.

Chapter Two

Delia Harrow looked out the window at Fifth Avenue, the spring sun warming the city. The streets were paved, brick buildings replacing wooden at every turn. It was amazing how the city, how the entire country was growing. It was only ten years before the turn of the new century, and that would be another shifting point in the growth of the nation.

The Civil War was fast becoming ancient history. It had ended years before her birth in 1867. Twenty-three years later, railroads had replaced most of the coaches on the East Coast, and telephone lines were already going up to replace those of the telegraph.

Delia hardly had to look beyond the nearest mirror to see proof positive of the modernity which was coming in from every angle, from across the sea and from over every border. The idea that a woman could be a Pinkerton seemed fantastical when she was a child, though she’d never heard of the agency. But no road like it would have been open to a woman when she’d been a kid. Her mother had raised her single-handedly, scrubbing floors and doing laundry. Delia could still smell the soap, the sweat, see her mother’s posture become more stooped with every day, every week, every year.

But her hard work wouldn’t be in vain, and neither would Delia’s. She’d decided on that long before. Delia’s posture was straight. At twenty-three-years-old she was in the prime of life. And she was strong, stronger than her black-haired, blue-eyed appearance seemed to suggest to most people. But she’d been trained by other Pinkertons, and by the Chinese her mother came to know through her time cleaning the underwear of wealthier women.

Not that all her training didn’t seem to go to waste. She dusted the offices of the Pinkerton Agency’s New York Division, always aware of the glances and glares she attracted from the men around her. She was the only woman, the only female Pinkerton that she knew of. Nobody mentioned others, but she often assumed it was because they wanted her to feel alone, to feel like an aberration.

Dusting, she thought, looking over the books and file cabinets and other things she was restricted from looking at or dealing with. All that training, all my effort, everything the nation’s going through and I’m still just a glorified housemaid! It won’t be long before women can vote in this country, and then what? What will we be voting for, the best brand of linseed oil?

Delia couldn’t help but feel like a bird in a cage, unable to get out and fly as she thought she might have. She’d been so excited to have the chance to become a Pinkerton. She’d pushed herself in front of everybody she had to, climbed over the others, and all so she could dust a shelf.

“Harrow.” Delia turned to see Lazarus Bekins walk into the office, his balding head encircled by a ring of graying brown hair. “Not snooping around the files, I hope.”

“What would I find if I did?” He chuckled a bit, but she knew there was no mirth in it. “I was just seeing to that important work you needed me for. But I can’t help but wonder if I can’t be of greater service to the agency, Agent Bekins.”

“Well, you could be,” he said with a little smile, raising his hand to Delia’s cheek. “If you’d like to call me Laz.”

Delia turned to avoid his fingers as he raised his hand to touch her cheek. “I don’t think so, Agent Bekins.”

He huffed. “I know, I know. Well, you can’t ever say you weren’t given a chance, right?”

“Is that all I am,” Delia said, “a… a trollop to be passed around from man to man? Is that what the Pinkerton name stands for?”

“Most certainly not,” Laz said.

“Whatever expectations any of you have –”

“None at all.”

“Maybe you don’t know that I… my mother knew the Chinese.”

“I’ve heard,” Laz said. “But you look more like black Irish to me.” That ugly smile cracked again.

“I’d rather be dusting,” Delia finally said. “And I suppose you’re hoping I’ll just quit, right? Either I walk away or I lie down, is that it?”

Laz looked around and shrugged. “You’re new to the agency, hon.”

“Who?”

He rolled his eyes. “Agent Harrow.”

“That’s right.”

“All right, all right.” Laz held his hands up, palms flat to calm her. “Look, I’ve actually got a project for you… if you think you’re up to it.”

“I am,” Delia said.

“You sure?” Her thrust chin was all the answer Delia offered. Laz said, “You… your mother knew the Chinese, is that right?”

“And so did I.”

“Then you won’t mind running to the laundry down the street.”

“No, I… wait, the laundry? Is it human trafficking? White slavery?”

“Worse. My full dress needs to be picked up.” Clearly reading Delia’s glare, the man simply shrugged, as if that were the answer to every question in life. “It needed cleaning.”

Delia knew there was nothing she could do or say. They were going to keep riding her until she balked, and she knew that. But she wasn’t about to balk. Instead, she pushed her shoulders back, set down her duster, and picked up her parasol, black and lean to match her own appearance in that dark, well-fitting suit. It was a bit too tight to be functional, but she knew her male associates insisted on the tighter cut for their obvious enjoyment. Her years of training and youthful age put her body at the peak of her physical strength and health, a fact the men didn’t seem ready to ignore.

She asked, “Anything else on your list that I’m behind on?”

Laz looked Delia over and gave her a little wink. “I’ll let you know.”

Exasperated, Delia turned to walk out of the office, aware that he was watching her leave.

Most of me, anyway. She couldn’t help but think. Men! Is this what it’s going to be for the rest of my career? The rest of my life?

She walked down the stairs and to the street, parasol over her shoulder. The times were fast becoming modern. But in some ways, they seemed every bit as gritty as it might have been in the stories she’d heard from her mother. With her father dead, she only had her mother to raise her and school her in the ways of the city. She told terrible stories of her childhood, of decrepit buildings and whole camps consumed by fire, of men without laws to guide them and who were all the gladder for it.

But the times were certainly advancing, and Delia felt all the more a part of that change. She wanted to be. She had to be.

And her training was well-tuned to the attention of men. Since before Delia even understood what that look meant, she’d been getting it. They came from monstrous men, but not all dressed in rags or who were toothless and grizzled. Men in fine waistcoats and an evolving series of fashionable hats smiled at her too, in ways which had sent a chill up her spine.

It still did, and she felt a chill even then. The sidewalks were crowded, the streets filled, but Delia was certain that eyes were upon her. And she knew just how to tell that she was right.

Dropping a handkerchief and pausing to pick it up, it was easy to glance around and see that three men in the crowd stopped at just the same time. And they were each glancing at her. Delia pretended not to notice them as she picked up her handkerchief and cut down a smaller street, the crowd more scattered.

They would follow her, Delia had no doubt.

She was counting on it.

Delia listened for the sounds of their footsteps, quick to follow but slowing as they seemed certain that there was no more reason to run. They had her; they seemed to assume it. And she knew just what they wanted.

Her.

“We seen you ‘round,” one of them said, “you, Irish.”

Delia turned. “And what rock are your people out from under?”

The three men chuckled as they approached. They were young, one bigger, another smaller, the other bearded and pocked. The bearded one said, “Grab her, Zeek!”

“Sure will, big brother!”

Delia swung her parasol at the charging man, the biggest of the three. He grabbed it under his arm and laughed at her and with the others.

“This little thing ain’t gonna do you no good!”

Delia pulled back, withdrawing the long, slender blade concealed in the parasol. The man stumbled back and Delia raised the long sword above her head, legs splayed and ready to attack. But she didn’t seem as ready as the others, who charged her from two directions at once.

Delia swung the sword, the blade swooshing around her in a blinding blur of quick silver. She felt it cut through the neck of the littlest one, close enough to be her unfortunate victim of the day. The man stumbled back, blood pouring down his chest and belly.

Delia was all instinct, her muscles and hands and eyes and arms and legs all working together as she spun around and swung the sword again. The bigger man’s hand disappeared from his left arm, a font of blood spewing. He looked at his own injury in terror, holding his wrist with his free hand as he screamed, loud and high-pitched. He turned to run away, stumbling in the street but managing to retain his footing.

Delia turned to face the bearded one. She stabbed the bigger man’s hand with the tip of her sword and raised it. “Won’t you give this back to your brother?” She flicked it at him, and the bearded thug turned to run away, leaving Delia standing next to one dead man and the pool of another’s blood. She picked up the parasol, wiped the blade on the dead man’s pant leg, and sheathed it before returning to the street.

There was still Laz’s uniform to retriev‌e and real work to be done.

Chapter Three

Nick knew General George Amistad wasn’t going to be pleased. He rarely was. The blustery old man still wore his Civil War glory on his sleeve, with every puff of his chest, every huff of his throaty baritone as it wheezed through his gray mustache and pointed beard.

“Five men dead,” Amistad said, pacing around the little Chicago office of the Pinkerton Agency. “Your own partner among them.”

Nick knew there was nothing he could say to calm the old man, his direct superior. And there was nothing he could say to bring his friend and partner back from the bottom of that canyon.

“At least I got the girl back to her father,” Nick finally said, standing upright with his shoulders back.

“Just barely,” Amistad said, shaking his head. “She a wreck, I hear tell.”

“That’s not my fault.”

“No, nothing is your fault. But if you weren’t such a hothead –”

“Then that girl would be dead,” Nick said. “Then I’d be dead.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t break her neck!”

“Sounds like she’s the lucky one.”

The general combed his fingers through his thinning, gray hair. “It’s not good, Nick, not good.”

“Again, General, I brought the girl back safely. That was the job. If I were sitting here and she were at the bottom of the canyon, I’d see your point.”

“You’ll see my point, whatever is the case,” the general barked. “In the military, we didn’t tolerate this kind of whip-smart attitude.”

“We’re not in the military.”

“No, my young friend, you’re a Pinkerton… and you better start acting like it!”

“And what does that mean, General? Look, nobody is more upset about James’ death than I am! He was my partner, my friend. But he knew what the job was, so did I. I made it, he didn’t.”

“Or the other men.”

Nick had to nod, the recollection of each man’s death clear in his memory. “That’s right. If you’d like me to seek employment elsewhere, I’ll be happy to find it.”

“All right, now, take it easy. There’s that temper of yours. I know you’re an asset, Nick, I… I’m glad to have you on board. Good fighter, good shot, just… thirty, isn’t it?”

“That’s right,” Nick said, “and you’ll have a lot of good years left in me… if you play your cards right.”

The general sighed, shaking his head. “We just… we have to keep things in an orderly fashion, Nick, you understand.”

“No, actually, I don’t.” Nick turned to walk toward the window to look out over the massive city of Chicago. “Out there, and beyond… there’s no … no orderly fashion.” He repeated it with marked disgust. “You hire me and men like me, men like James, to risk our lives to do what other men can’t do, what you can’t do.”

The older man huffed and hemmed and hawed, but Nick wasn’t about to be interrupted. “The fact is, you don’t go out where I go, you don’t have to go where I have to go or see the things I have to see, your partner’s body bashed to a pulp –”

“All right –”

“Dragging him up for a decent Christian burial –”

“Okay, Nick, enough.”

“It is enough,” Nick said. “More than enough!”

“Would you rather find employment elsewhere? What are you going to do? Bounty hunter? Cowboy? That’s the old way, Nick, that’s yesterday. The Pinkertons, Chicago, New York, Washington, that’s the future… we’re the future. And we have to start acting like it, not running roughshod like Wild Bill Hickok!”

Nick had heard the same things before, and there was little arguing about it. And he knew the general was right. Both men were like relics of a wild past that was soon to become tamed by modernity. Machines would replace men, and peace would replace war, at least until the next war broke out.

“Anyway, I’m sending you to Philadelphia immediately.”

“Philadelphia? Why?”

“Man needs an escort, Commodore, actually.”

“Who?”

“Does that make a difference whether you’re finally willing to follow orders?”

Nick scratched the back of his head, fingers combing through his thick, blond hair. “As long as it’s not Boothe, I suppose.”

“It’s not,” Amistad said. “He wants bodyguards on a trip to New Orleans, and hired us.”

“He doesn’t have bodyguards?”

“What do I know? He’s paying top dollar, and he wants the best, and that’s us.”

Nick thought it out. What his analysis was revealing was too miserable to consider. “General, I can handle myself.”

“Then you can handle some old man,” Amistad said. “Also…”

“Also… what?”

“Well, you know I can’t send you to escort the Commodore alone.”

Nick didn’t have to think long to jump to the natural conclusion. “Another partner?”

“Only one.” Nick sighed, but the general went on, “it’s a must, and you know it.”

“You sure you’re willing to risk another man’s life being around me?”

The general cleared his throat. “Yes, well, you’ll be given information on where to go and when to be there.”

Nick said, “Maybe I should go alone.”

“Out of the question.”

“General Amistad, I’ll be a lot more effective if I’m not bogged down by some… some wisenheimer.”

“It’s an easy escort,” the general said. “What better way for a rookie detective to learn the ropes?”

“A… a rookie? Oh no, General, no –”

“You’ve got a lot to share,” Amistad said. “We all feel that you’d be better in a mentor role.”

“Mentor? That’s… you might as well as retire me!”

“Nonsense, Nick, you’ve still got a lot to offer.”

“Until I’m all used up?”

After a tense silence, the elder man answered, “That will be up to you, my friend.”

Nick knew the ramifications. Just the damage to his reputation within the agency would be destroyed. But at least he’d still be in the agency. That was going to be enough for Nick. It would have to be.

Still, Nick clung to the notion that he could avoid such drudgery, such humiliation. Finally, he asked his boss, “You don’t have somebody more… local?”

The general leaned forward just a bit. “Sure I do. Then I can line somebody up to dust the cabinets around here. How would you like that?”

“No more than you would,” Nick said, his voice steady and strong, just the impression he wanted even the great Gen. Amistad to understand.

“Okay then,” the general said, “I have some people more… local. Should I have them handle it?” Nick knew what the old man was getting at. Babysitting some old man on a train trip was an insult, a way to punish Nick for the loss of his partner and his men, just barely getting Sally Seaton safely back to her home.

And it was other things too, too many rogue moves and too much rebellious attitude. If Nick wanted to keep his job, he had no choice.

“Philly to New Orleans, eh?” Nick nodded. “Nice, quiet train trip. Sounds nice.”

General Amistad put his hand on Nick’s shoulder, giving him a reassuring little squeeze. “Sure it does, Nick, sure it does.”


“A Daring Detective Duo” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Nick Childs is a Pinkerton detective with a troubled past. Little did he know that his future would also be shadowy… In the course of escorting an elderly man on a perilous train journey, a rookie detective joins him, and she is at once captivating and intimidating. Romance is out of the question, though, as a diabolical plot threatens to send them all to an early grave.

It’s time to show everyone what he is made of…

Delia Harrow is determined to prove her worth in the male-dominated world of the Pinkerton agency, and in Nick she finally finds a man as gutsy as she is. When they arrive in the city of New Orleans, though, she discovers something far more sinister than they ever expected…

As the mystery simmers just beneath the surface, will Delia save or be saved?

Nick and Delia must put their pride aside and trust one another to survive the unknown, which may hold powers beyond their comprehension. With their lives on the line, can they save each other, or will evil consume them before they can uncover the truth? This captivating and suspenseful adventure is full of mystery, betrayal, and romance, and will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end!

“A Daring Detective Duo” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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