Stone Butterfly (Charlie Moon Series #11)by James D. Doss
Ute shaman Daisy Perika is no stranger to eerie dreams, but when she has a nightmare, lives could be at stake. Convinced that her visions of a wisp-thin girl with blood dripping from her hands are omens, the old woman calls on her nephew, Charlie Moon. Moon, a part-time tribal investigator and full-time Colorado rancher, is skeptical, but he knows better than to
Ute shaman Daisy Perika is no stranger to eerie dreams, but when she has a nightmare, lives could be at stake. Convinced that her visions of a wisp-thin girl with blood dripping from her hands are omens, the old woman calls on her nephew, Charlie Moon. Moon, a part-time tribal investigator and full-time Colorado rancher, is skeptical, but he knows better than to dismiss his quarrelsome aunt too quickly. After all, she has been right before. But what can he do? Although Daisy can see what's left of a dying man's face, she can't get a clear look at the girl's. Without that, Moon doesn't have anything to go on.
Then he gets a call about a very real murder. Sarah Frank, an Ute-Papago orphan and daughter of Moon's childhood friend, was spotted standing over the battered body with blood on her hands. Moon and FBI Special Agent Lila Mae McTeague cross the border to investigate, but they're too late. Not only has little Sarah vanished with a one-of-a-kind family heirloom, but Moon and McTeague aren't the only ones on her trail.
Off the reservation and across states lines, James D. Doss's clever mystery finds Moon on the law enforcement side of the investigation and his aunt Daisy decidedly on the other.
She is 14 years old, small, thin, desperately poor, always cold, and always hungry. Her name is Sarah Frank, and she's a Ute-Papago orphan living in Tonapah Flats, UT, "on the lonely side of Big Lizard Ridge." Casually cared for with little love by her older cousin and with much disdain by her cousin's universally despised boyfriend, the teen barely registers any notice in the adult world outside of her dismal household-until she is accused of murder, assault, and theft. Then, despite considerable odds, little Sarah manages to vanish with a one-of-a-kind family heirloom. The richest and most sinister person in that part of Utah wants it, and wants it badly. The law is after the girl, and at least some of "the law" are operating outside of the parameters of their sworn duty. Although Sarah proves surprisingly resourceful, the cards are heavily stacked against her. Also looking for her are Charlie Moon, a part-time tribal investigator and full-time rancher; Moon's girlfriend, FBI Special Agent Lila Mae McTeague; and Moon's aunt, Ute shaman Daisy Perika. The latter's search is conducted more through dreams and visions than by more conventional means. In this 11th mystery in the series, Doss skillfully weaves a story full of suspense, humor, greed, and local color, with a few touches of mysticism. Teens will appreciate the fast pace and mounting tension, and are likely to identify with Sarah's struggles against an adult-dominated world.
Robert SaundersonCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
“The chill of Michigan's Upper Peninsula doesn't cool the action in Edgar-winner Hamilton's expertly paced seventh Alex McNight novel…Plot turnarounds and double-crosses ensure a startling conclusion.” Publishers Weekly
“Style, pathos, enthusiasm, and humor to spare.” Mystery Scene
“A clever plot…will keep readers turning the pages.” Publishers Weekly
“A potent brew of crime and Native American spirituality.” Booklist
Read an Excerpt
By James D. Doss
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 James D. Doss
All rights reserved.
Colorado, Southern Ute Reservation
In the Shadow of Three Sisters Mesa
This being his weekly visit to his aged relative, Daisy Perika's long, lean nephew was seated at her kitchen table. It was evident that his entire attention was focused on the tribe's weekly newspaper, more particularly a column by a Granite Creek astrologer-psychic, wherein the seer predicted that (following an earthquake of unprecedented magnitude) the Lost Civilization of Atlantis would surface in the South Pacific! Though it was absolutely certain that the calamity would occur on February 10 at 9:15 A.M. Mountain Standard Time, the stars and planets were somewhat foggy on the precise year of the event — which might be 2007, or perhaps 2077 — depending upon whether or not Saturn decided to visit the House of Uranus whilst that latter planet was in diametric juxtaposition to the Twenty-sixth Planet, which had not yet been discovered. The whole thing was a sham, of course.
(Clarifying note: Reference is not made to the astrologer's immodest prophecy — but rather to the more unpretentious sham currently being committed by Charlie Moon, whose apparent interest in the newspaper was a pretense.)
As it happened, Moon had heard the tramp's shuffle-footed approach when the intruder was a good hundred yards away, and the full-time rancher, part-time tribal investigator thought it would be entertaining to see how his aunt would deal with this unwelcome guest. In happy anticipation of the fireworks to come, he turned another page of the Southern Ute Drum and waited for the fun to begin. In about six seconds, he estimated. And began to count them off. One thousand and one. One thousand and two.
If Daisy had not been concentrating all her attention on the preparation of a morning meal for herself and her nephew, she might have been aware of Yadkin Dixon's arrival. Or perhaps not — the hungry man was intentionally making a stealthy approach.
One thousand and three. One thousand and four.
The way Mr. Dixon saw it, a hard-hearted old woman who kicked at chipmunks and heaved stones at pretty, flitting bluebirds could not be expected to deal kindly with a self-educated economist who firmly believed in the concept of a free lunch. Or free breakfast, as the case might be.
One thousand and five. One thousand and six.
The first evidence of his unwanted presence was the tap-tap of a knuckle on the kitchen window — and his long, horsy face gawking at her through the glass. After a startled twitch, the Ute woman quickly turned away. In Daisy's Book of Bad Things, this particular pestilence fell into that same insufferable category as the dull ache that plagued her left hip on a rainy day. Her remedy was: Ignore the hateful thing, it would eventually go away.
Her attempt to pretend that Dixon did not exist was wasted on the thick-skinned beggar who camped out somewhere in the vicinity of her home. The persistent fellow was not about to leave without some nourishment to occupy that hollow space betwixt the Coors pewter belt buckle and his spine.
Shamming on unashamedly, Moon pretended to be engrossed in an article entitled "Treating Hemorrhoids with Acupuncture."Ouch.
After ignoring the beggar for a full two seconds, Daisy gave up the game. Like death and taxes that were here to stay, Mr. Dixon was not going away. She wiped her hands on a polka-dot apron, jerked the back door open.
Before she had a chance to say something uncivil, Dixon tipped a tattered slouch hat. "Good morning, ma'am — and God bless you." Though a greeting of this sort tended to disarm his ordinary marks, he might as well have expected a cheerful "Howdy-do" to charm a grinning-skull tattoo off the hairy hide of a whiskey-soaked Hell's Angel.
Daisy marched outside, wagged a finger in his face. "Don't you start ma'am-ing me, you two-legged coyote." Ugh — he smells like last week's fish. She glared at the filthy white man. "What d'you want this time?" As if I don't know.
Charlie Moon also knew. And unseen by those outside, he had made his way to the cookstove, plopped several fat sausage links into a cast-iron skillet.
Mr. Dixon assumed a pitiful tone. "I wondered if you could spare a poor, homeless person a few leftovers from your table." His hopeful smile exposed yellowed teeth that resembled hard little kernels of un-popped corn. "Some cold, pasty oatmeal — or a few potato peels?"
"I gave you something to eat just last week." Daisy tried to recall the details and did. "It was a cheese sandwich, big enough to choke a bull moose." Though somewhat rusty from lack of use, Daisy's conscience gently reminded her that the months-old cheese was fuzzy with blue mold and on top of that the bread was hard enough to break a brass monkey's teeth and — Being one who did not accept criticism gracefully, she interrupted the inner voice: I scraped the fur off that cheese. And even if the sliced bread was a little stale, you can't expect a dirt-poor widow woman to give her last slice of fresh bread to a man who hasn't used a toothbrush since that goober-pea farmer from Georgia was president.
Blissfully unaware of Daisy's internal dialogue, the hungry man rubbed his stomach. "Alas, I have long since digested that delectable delicacy." Dixon assumed a saintly expression he had recently seen on a stained-glass window at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Durango, where he had also tapped the Rector's Emergency Discretionary Fund for bus fare to Topeka so that he might attend his dear old mother's funeral (while Dear Old Mother was on a Caribbean cruise with her latest husband). "I would be grateful for some broken soda crackers. Or a shriveled-up apple core."
Moon cracked three brown-shell eggs on the edge of the skillet, smiled appreciatively at the man's line of talk. It was always a pleasure to witness a highly skilled professional going about his work.
Daisy was not about to leave the subject of the white vagrant's last visit. "And after I fed you that sandwich, what did you do?" Like a well-rehearsed attorney, the prosecutor-persecutor answered her own question. "You thanked me by stealing a brand-new ax from my pile of piñon wood!"
The beggar — who was short of everything but pride — stiffened his back and lied: "I did no such thing."
Her nostrils flared dangerously. "Don't tell me that, you snake-eyed sneak-thief — I was watching you from that window." To identify the physical evidence that supported her accusation, the witness for the prosecution pointed to indicate the aforesaid window.
Little wheels turned in his head, tiny ratchets clicked and clacked, and so on and so forth. Figuratively, of course. "I might have picked up your ax." Dixon's highly plastic features effortlessly assumed the injured expression of one who — though painfully wounded by a malicious and false accusation — would not take offense. "But even if I did — all I ever intended was to borrow it for a few hours."
The hard-faced woman had a ready answer for that. "Then why didn't you bring it back?"
Having fended off many serious allegations over the years, Dixon did not miss a beat. "It is my faulty memory." He leaned forward, fixed his feisty accuser with an earnest gaze. "Ever since I was struck north of Clarksville, Tennessee, by that speeding L&N freight train that was pulling eighteen boxcars and a green caboose, I can hardly remember anything — even my name." He paused for a moment, evidently involved in an intense mental effort to recall what the initials Y-D stood for, only to be defeated by the arduous task. "But be assured that as soon as I return to my modest encampment, I shall search for your — uh — dear me, you see — it has slipped away from me already." A cherubic smile. "Tell me again — what it was that is missing — a hammer from your toolshed?"
The old teakettle was approaching a boil; she hissed at him: "You took my new ax — and it was on my woodpile!"
Dixon stared at the neat stack of split piñon. "Hmmm." He nodded as if the light was beginning to dawn. "An ax, you say. Well if I should find such an implement among my meager belongings, I shall bring it to you directly."
"Well I won't hold my breath." Daisy exhaled. "And there's another thing." Inhaled. "You've got no right to be squatting on the Southern Ute reservation." She pointed at her house. "My nephew's inside, and he's a tribal policeman and —"
"Is that a fact?" Dixon's poor memory had made a remarkable recovery. "I was under the impression that Mr. Moon had retired from the Ute police department several years ago, to manage his cattle ranch."
"Charlie is a tribal investigator, and if I just snap my fingers —" she displayed a finger and thumb, all cocked to snap, "— he'll trot out here and arrest you right on the spot and —"
Following Dixon's gaze, Daisy turned to see her nephew's lanky form in the doorway. Moon had brought with him a platter of scrambled eggs and pork sausage. These victuals were tastefully accompanied by a pair oven-hot biscuits.
Yadkin Dixon fixed a hopeful gaze on the food. "It is good to see you, sir. I have continued to follow your career for some time now — and if I may say so, I am to be counted among your many admirers."
Moon chuckled at the blatant flattery, offered the plate to his ardent fan.
The gift was gratefully accepted by the famished man.
Daisy shook her head, turned to mutter misgivings to her overly generous relative: "Now that good-for-nothing bum'll be back every day, begging food, stealing anything that ain't nailed down." Knowing her words were wasted, she elbowed him aside, huffed and grumbled her way back into the kitchen.
Charlie Moon waited patiently while the enthusiastic diner devoured the hearty breakfast. After Dixon had wiped his mouth on his sleeve and burped, the tribal investigator gave him a look that would have shaken a more sensible man. This was accompanied by an order. "You bring that ax back today." As the sly fellow was opening his mouth to protest, the Ute cut him off: "And if you so much as steal a look at any of my aunt's property, I'll give Chief of Police Whitehorse a call. The very least he'll do is run you off the res. More likely, he'll put you up in the tribe's modern correctional facility for ninety days."
Normally such a threat would have caused Dixon to protest, or at least raise an eyebrow, but a full stomach has a calming effect on a man. He picked a pointy juniper needle off a convenient branch, thoughtfully picked his teeth, pondered the offer of a free room and three meals a day. Concluded that it would place too many restrictions on his cherished freedom of movement. "I will certainly return the lady's ax." He tossed the toothpick aside. "And henceforth, I promise not to — uh — borrow any property that belongs to your charming aunt." He raised his right hand to show Moon a soiled palm. "You have my word of honor, sir."
Great. With that and six bits I could buy me a seventy-five-cent cup of coffee. Moon looked up to watch a golden eagle float by. By the time he lowered his gaze, the scruffy-looking white man had ambled over to the Columbine Expedition.
The visitor caressed the Ford Motor Company product. "This is quite a spiffy motorcar."
Moon winced at the greasy streaks Dixon's grubby fingers were tracing on the glistening fender. "I just waxed it."
"And you did a fairly decent job." Mr. Dixon got that faraway look in his eye, also cleared his throat. Which is a double warning that whether the unwary listener likes it or not, he is about to share a favorite memory. "Back in Michigan, when I was just a young lad, my daddy owned a cherry-red 1963 Jaguar XKE 3.8 coupe. Pop kept it garaged, except on Sundays, when he'd roll it out and take me for a ride into Lansing." His sigh was scented with nostalgia-blossom perfume. "Talk about your fine automobiles — there is absolutely nothing like a Jag."
Aunt Daisy's Very Bad Dream
Daisy was busy at the propane range, putting the final touches on her nephew's breakfast. This amounted to one skillet filled with sizzling sausage and fried potatoes, another of fluffy scrambled eggs, plus a simmering pot of green chili stew. Work, work, work — that's all I ever do. As a gray mist slipped out of Spirit Canyon and settled over her mind, the cook sighed. I bet that thieving white man'll be back here tomorrow, licking his lips and asking for any prime rib and baked potatoes that's left over from my lunch. Recalling his whining request for an apple core, her wrinkled face crinkled into a crooked little smile. I ought to give him a big, shiny red apple with enough pickleweed poison in it to kill a dozen smelly moochers — that'd teach him a lesson he wouldn't forget! In Daisy's version of the heartwarming tale, this was how Snow White had dispensed with the witch, who should have known better than to trust a silly white girl who had run away from home to hang out with a truckload of dwarves. From the shaman's experience, one pitukupf in the neighborhood was sufficient.
Fortunately for Mr. Dixon, the cook had dismissed him from her malevolent thoughts. But Charlie Moon was not so lucky. As the broth began to froth and bubble, Daisy sensed the time was ripe to make some trouble — and commenced to stir the pot. "Charlie, there's something that's been bothering me."
Moon turned another page of the Southern Ute Drum. No sham this time.
"I've been having this same bad dream, over and over." No response. She turned up the volume. "Last night, I had it again. It was so scary I woke up with the sweats."
He frowned at a full-page listing of Upcoming Events, had a great notion. I should take Lila Mae McTeague to the dance. No two ways about it — the long-legged FBI agent would be the best-looking woman there.
The Ute elder turned to scowl at her nephew. "Did you hear what I said?"
"Sure." I wonder if Lila Mae's ever been to a Bear Dance. Probably not.
"Plop, plop, plop."
Moon shook a wrinkle out of the newspaper. "What?"
"That was the sound it made."
He stared at her hunched back. "The sound what made?"
She brought him a man-sized platter of eggs, sausage, and potatoes. "The blood dropping onto that dead man's face!"
"Oh. Right." He reached for a paper napkin, considered tucking it over his new white linen shirt with the mother-of-pearl buttons, decided to put it in his lap.
She hurried back to the stove. "You don't have the least idea what I've been talking about."
"Sure I do."
"Then tell me."
"The blood. It was going ... uh ... drip-drip."
"It was going plop-plop-plop." She turned down the ring of blue flame under the pot, tossed him another challenge. "And how was it that I happened to hear that blood going plop-plop-plop?"
With Aunt Daisy it was nine-to-one for a nightmare, so he played the odds. "You was having one of them weird dreams."
"I knew you wasn't paying no attention." She banged the wooden spoon on the stove. "What I said was — I've been having the same bad dream, over and over."
Might as well get this over with. "Tell me all about it."
She sniffed. "Oh, you don't really want to know."
"Yes I do. And if you keep me in suspense, I won't be able to eat a bite of breakfast."
That'll be a day to remember. Daisy brought the stew pot to the table. "I dreamed about a skinny little girl."
He watched her ladle a generous helping of green chili stew onto the mound of scrambled eggs. That looks good enough to eat. He took a taste. It could use some salt.
She reached out to tweak his ear. "You're supposed to ask me: 'Who was this skinny little girl?'"
"Consider yourself asked." He reached for the shaker.
She slapped his hand. "Don't do that — I've got it seasoned just right. I don't know who she is."
Momentarily deprived of salt, the Ute warrior raised his fork, expertly speared a sausage. "Then why should I have asked?"
"To show proper respect to a tribal elder."
"Right." He opened a steaming biscuit, inserted a generous helping of butter.
"I don't know who the girl is, because in these dreams, I don't ever see her face." She hobbled over to the stove. Back and forth, back and forth — it's a wonder I don't wear a path ankle-deep into the floor. "But I know she's in trouble. Serious trouble."
Behind her back, Moon snatched the shaker, added several dashes of sodium chloride, tasted the result. That's some better.
While preparing a plate for herself, Daisy paused to stare through the window at a diaphanous fluff of cloud floating over the big mesa. She watched it snag itself on the tallest of the Three Sisters. "In these dreams, the girl is standing over the dead man."
He took a sip of black coffee. I forgot to put sugar in it. He remedied this error with six heaping spoonfuls.
Daisy was silent for a long moment, watching the cloud that had become a misty wisp of gray hair on the petrified Pueblo woman's head. "And what makes it so awful is that her little hands is soaked in blood."
As chance would have it, he had just poured tomato ketchup onto a heap of fried potatoes.
Excerpted from Stone Butterfly by James D. Doss. Copyright © 2006 James D. Doss. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
James D. Doss is the author of ten previous Charlie Moon mysteries, two of which were named one of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Originally from Kentucky, he divides his time between Los Alamos and Taos, New Mexico.
James D. Doss is the author of the Charlie Moon mysteries, including A Dead Man’s Tale and The Widow’s Revenge. Two of the Moon books were named one of the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly.
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On the Southern Ute Reservation in Colorado, tribal Ute shaman Daisy Perika is concerned with what this nightmare has shown her as she feels she has seen a vision of the future, but cannot tie her dream to a date and time and the place is vague. Still she is worried about the young female waif whose hands are dripping blood while a man lies dying nearby. She informs her nephew, tribal investigator and rancher Charlie Moon, on his weekly visit what she envisioned. Charlie knows how accurate his beloved Aunt Daisy is, but does not have enough information to do anything. --- Raymond Oates introduces himself to Sarah Frank as a half brother of a friend before giving her a book as a present. Not long afterward Sheriff Popper sees Sarah holding a Louisville Slugger with blood on her hands as psychic Ben Silver lies nearby dying. Before Popper can act, someone else hits him with a bat. Charlie and FBI Special Agent Lila Mae McTeague investigate, but Sarah has vanished with someone else besides the cops trying to find her for the book she carries is a valuable heirloom. --- The intriguing investigation in the latest Charlie Moon mystery starts a bit later than usual as James D. Doss sets in motion the key players and the significant (to this tale) Ute mysticism before Ben is killed. At that venture, the story line switches into more of a rescue Sarah saga than a murder investigation though the two scenarios are linked and converge in a delightful climax. Though lacking the humor of SHADOW MAN, fans of the series will enjoy Charlie¿s¿ current caper as Aunt Daisy avoids I told you so, but makes it clear he is to rescue Sarah or face her wrath. --- Harriet Klausner
The Charlie moon series by James doss are excellent. I had to read them all. They have everything in them that a good book needs. There is always a good mystery and keeps you guessing. Charlie's aunt daily is 1 of the best truly 1 of my favorite characters in the book. James doss makes you feel like you know all the charters and he teaches you about the beliefs that modern day native American utes. Aunt daily will have you laughing so hard you have tears running down your face. All the books are great. only one thing, it would have been a good thing to read them in order. Regardless I read them all and they where a really good read. I can't say enough about this series. I rate it 5 stars!!¿¿
When I picked up Stone Butterfly I had never heard of the author or his leading character, Charlie Moon. The novel was an engaging and fun introduction. Moon is a Ute Indian and a lawman for the Southern Ute Tribe in SW Colorado, where he also owns a big ranch. His Aunt Daisy is an elder tribal shaman whose dreams are prescient but vague. When a distant cousin is accused of burglary and murder in a Utah town, and then disappears into thin air, Daisy knows things she can't tell and Charlie suspects things he cannot prove. Bribes, corruption, lies, and greed precipitate more deaths. But still the cousin is missing, along with a valuable heirloom. The characters are interesting and unique, and presented with dry wit. There were surprising plot twists, glimpses of romance, chase scenes, and suspense. I liked this book.