When Colorado rancher and part-time tribal investigator Charlie Moon gets a call from Wanda Naranjo, she's panicked. Not only is her sink leaking, which Moon graciously fixes, but her sixteen-year-old daughter, Betty, has gone missing. For how long? Only a few hours, but she's pregnant. So what about the father-to-be? It's a good question and anybody's guess. Betty has kept her lips sealed on the subject.
And that's not all. Betty claimed to be going to see a school counselor on what turned out to be his day off. So was she running away or was she abducted? Moon's best friend, Granite Creek Chief of Police Scott Parris, doesn't believe any of it and suspects that Wanda tricked them into doing a little emergency plumbing. While it's enough to make Parris's blood boil, Moon can't shake the feeling that some other foul play might be at work.
James D. Doss's Coffin Man is a witty ride through the Wild West that's chock-full of tall tales, wide-open spaces, and Doss's signature homespun wit.
About the Author
James D. Doss is the author of the fifteen previous Charlie Moon mysteries, including A Dead Man's Tale. Two of the Moon books were named among 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.
Read an Excerpt
By James D. Doss
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 James D. Doss
All rights reserved.
CAÑÓN DEL ESPÍRITU
Daisy Perika has resided at the mouth of Spirit Canyon for more bone-chilling winters than she cares to remember. Since the tribal elder now spends about nine days out of ten at her nephew's vast cattle ranch northwest of Granite Creek, her home has become a place to spend a day or two in now and then. During these occasional visits, Miss Daisy begins by making sure that nothing is amiss, such as an odorous skunk that has taken up residence under the hardwood floor, a pair of frisky squirrels raising a family in the attic, or a broken window where the dry west wind blows dust in. Charlie Moon can be counted on to deal with such problems forthwith, and when all has been made right, Daisy enjoys sleeping away a peaceful night in her own bed, cooking breakfast on her six-burner propane range, and taking long, soul-satisfying walks in her canyon.
Yes, her canyon.
It matters little that the shadowy space between miles-long Three Sisters Mesa and the lesser promontory known as Dogleg is owned by the tribe. As long as Daisy Perika has lived in this remote location, hardly anyone besides herself ever sets foot inside Spirit Canyon but those lonely haunts that Cañón del Espíritu is named for and the dwarfish pitukupf who allegedly resides therein.
But enough about local geography and Daisy's thousand-year-old neighbor, who will make his presence known if and when he is "of a mind to." What currently commands our attention (and excites our olfactory senses) are the tantalizing aromas drifting out of Daisy's kitchen. Ahhh ... sniff a whiff of that!
(Nothing smells quite so appetizing as burning animal fat.)
On the left half of a massive Tennessee Forge skillet, plump pork sausages are sizzling deliciously. On the opposite side, strips of bacon pop grease hot enough to put out a bronze statue's eyeball.
And that's not all.
In a matching black cast-iron cooking implement, fresh eggs, sharp cheddar cheese, presautéed Vidalia onions, and Hatch green chili are being stirred by Sarah Frank into an exceedingly tasty scramble.
In a blue enameled pot, tar-black coffee percolates with seductive plickity-plocks. This high-octane concoction is guaranteed to knock off your socks.
In the top of the oven, Daisy's secret-recipe, made-from-scratch biscuits are slowly baking to a golden-brown perfection. On the shelf below that, a tray of delicious cinnamon-bun confections are swelling with justifiable pride.
One is tempted to drop in and tuck a napkin under the chin. Sadly, Daisy's dining table is set only for four.
BREAKFAST IN DAISY'S KITCHEN
After busying herself importantly around the stove — where Sarah Frank was doing all the real work and graciously accepting sage advice from the tribal elder — Daisy Perika decided that her assistant was doing a fairly competent job for someone who was only half Ute. The senior cook took the coffeepot to the table and filled all four cups with steaming brew. This done, the lady of the house seated herself and waited for the girl to bring on the victuals. Daisy knew precisely what Sarah would put onto her plate: two strips of crispy bacon, one patty of sausage, one biscuit, and a just-so helping of scrambled eggs.
As the hungry fellows bellied up to the table, Sarah began to deliver the food on preheated stoneware platters.
Charlie Moon offered a heartfelt cowboy compliment: "That looks good enough to eat."
Nodding his agreement, Scott Parris upped the ante: "That and then some."
So much for original conversation when breaking fast; the taciturn menfolk got right at it with knife and fork.
Daisy buttered her biscuit, added a dab of Kroger strawberry preserves, and took a bite. I can't hardly taste that. But even an old body needed nourishment and ... I have to keep my strength up. This being so, she chewed and dutifully choked it down. Being of an analytic and morbid inclination, the old soul reviewed the highlights of her decline. First it was my hearing. A second dab of jam on the biscuit. Then my eyes started to get cloudy. Another halfhearted bite, followed by feeble mastication. Now I can't hardly taste anything I put in my mouth. She supposed that aged people were much like rusty old pickup trucks or antique sewing machines: sooner or later, various parts were bound to wear out. Daisy figured her brain would go next. Some morning soon, I'll wake up and wonder what my name is. In search of something more pleasant to think about, she looked across the table at Sarah, who was gazing at Moon with big cow eyes. Sooner or later Charlie'll have to tell this silly little half-Papago girl that he don't intend to marry her because he's old enough to be her daddy. The senior member of the gathering helped herself to another mouthful of buttered biscuit and jam. That tastes a little better — maybe my mouth just needs more practice.
Scott Parris reached for a jar of Daisy's homemade damson-plum preserves. While spooning a generous helping of the fruity treat onto his second biscuit, he cast a glance at Sarah. "What classes are you taking at Rocky Mountain Polytechnic?"
"Computer Science, History of Western Civilization, and Statistical Analysis." The young woman, who had avoided both meats and the bread, pecked at her modest portion of scrambled eggs. "Oh, and Social Studies."
"That's a pretty heavy load," Moon observed.
"It keeps me busy." The slender little scholar shrugged under her blue polka-dot dress. "In Social Studies, I'll be doing a research project on indigent persons in Granite Creek."
His mouth full, Parris was obliged to suppress a snort. After swallowing, the stocky white cop offered this observation: "We got plenty of those characters hanging around town."
Sarah Frank took a sip of coffee. "My professor suggested that I find my subjects in U.S. Grant Park."
Taking on the role of a concerned uncle, the chief of police eyed the orphan sternly. "Don't you get caught in the park after dark. Most of those so-called 'indigent' folks are wild-eyed dope addicts, whiskey-soaked alcoholics, or flat-out howling-at-the-moon lunatics." He took a hard look at his biscuit. "Some are all three."
A smile played at the edges of the girl's lips. He's so sweet.
"Pay attention, Sarah." Charlie Moon used his Buck sheath knife to deftly slice a pork patty into four equal pieces. "Scott knows what he's talking about." He speared a quarter section with the tip of the blade. "Some of those unfortunate folks are downright dangerous."
"I'll be careful." Sarah flashed a pretty smile at Moon. "I'll do all of my research in the middle of the day."
The lawmen grunted their approval; even Daisy seemed pleased with the girl's prudence. And so it went. A delightful breakfast.
No one present could have imagined what was about to happen.
When the morning meal was completed, the eldest of the diners opened her mouth to let out a long, satisfying yawn. I feel a nice nap coming on. The tribal elder withdrew to her parlor without a word to her guests or the least concern about who would clean off the table, wash dishes, and so on and so forth. The sleepy woman wedged herself into a creaky old rocking chair and settled in there with her feet on the bricked hearth. A second yawn began to slip between Daisy Perika's lips. She was asleep before her mouth had time to close.
A brief siesta is generally beneficial after a meal, especially for those citizens who are older than eighty-foot-tall pink-barked ponderosas. This was not an appropriate time for a nightmare, but the morning's sweetest dream occasionally walks arm-in-arm with her sinister midnight sister.CHAPTER 2
THE OLD WOMAN'S VISION
As with so many misadventures, Daisy Perika's nap-dream began innocently enough.
Like a tender brown bean shelled from its dry hull, something forever young was set free from the prison of her old, tired body. As it slipped away into a velvety-soft twilight, this essence of her soul (or so it seemed) prepared to take flight. Her spirit floated effortlessly up from the rocking chair to pass through the beamed ceiling and into the attic. Daisy was intensely aware of every detail in that musty, dusty space. She counted eleven spiders on eleven webs, examined every knot in every pine two-by-six, frowned at a nail that an inept carpenter had bent, and spotted a hickory-handled Ace claw hammer the careless fellow had left behind. But the dreamer did not tarry there; she penetrated the roof as if that sturdy assembly of planks, plywood, and shiny red Pro-Panel was merely a misty figment of her Lower World imagination.
Up — up — up she rose, ever faster — and spread her strong young arms to soar among those proud hawks and eagles who ruled this airy underbelly of the earthly heavens. As if hours were minutes in this singular dimension, the cerulean sky began to darken with a ferocious rapidity. Roiling blue-black clouds inflated with explosive intent; thunder began to rumble over those big-shouldered mountains that would not be named after San Juan for centuries. Lifted by the sighing winds, Daisy drifted effortlessly over Three Sisters Mesa, gazing down at the sandstone remnants of those Pueblo women who had fled to escape the horror of a marauding band of painted-face, filed-tooth cannibal terrorists from the south. Though the atrocities had occurred more than a millennium ago, Daisy's dream-eyes witnessed the slaughter of the remnants of the Sisters' tribe — those unfortunates who had attempted to hide in the shadowy depths of Spirit Canyon.
But like her feathered comrades who drifted over the scene with serene indifference to the problems of wingless human beings, Daisy's heart was likewise hardened to the suffering and death unfolding below. Her experience was like watching a moving-picture show about the horrors of some long-ago calamity where nameless innocents were slain. The dreamer was so far removed from the carnage that it seemed more like lurid fiction than tragic history.
But, as so often happens with those of us who have no empathy for the suffering of others, the shaman's experience was about to become extremely personal — and take a sudden turn for the worse.
Though Daisy did not fall from the sky like a stone, her majestic, soaring form was abruptly diminished to something resembling a tiny, wing-flapping sparrow. No longer the peer of bald eagles and red-tailed hawks, the shaman darted a few yards over the floor of Cañón del Espíritu — pursued by a rapacious predator. The fleeing dreamer did not see the creature that was intent upon eating her alive, but her spirit eyes did perceive a huge owl shadow slipping quickly along the canyon's sandy bottom.
DAISY'S JARRING AWAKENING
The kitchen now shipshape and squeaky clean, the menfolk and the Ute-Papago girl were almost ready to leave Aunt Daisy at home alone.
After taking a final swipe at the shining dining table, Sarah Frank withdrew to the guest bedroom that she used when staying overnight with Daisy Perika. She opened the closet door to take her dark-blue coat off a plastic hanger, reached up to a shelf for her nifty cowgirl hat — and during the process knocked off a shoe box, which fell to spill its contents onto the floor. The girl knelt to gather odd bits of this and that, which included the chubby snow-white leg of an antique china doll (a brown shoe was painted onto the tiny foot), a jet-black 1940s-era Sheaffer fountain pen with the nib broken off, a red plastic flower, and — something else that was folded in a piece of gauzy tissue paper.
Sarah picked it up, her smooth brow furrowing as she unwrapped it. What's this?
Hers was a rhetorical question.
The thing she held between finger and thumb was quite obviously a feather. And not a particularly distinguished member of that category of covering that had first sprouted on the nimble limbs of smallish proto-dinosaurs. Perhaps three inches long, its sorry excuse for color resided somewhere in that dreary neighborhood between mouse brown and slate gray. The tip of the feather appeared to have been scorched, and a hint of odor remained that was similar to the unpleasant scent of burned hair. Sarah wrinkled her nose. I wonder why Aunt Daisy is keeping this old thing? She immediately smiled at her silly question. One might as well ask why the old woman had stashed away a doll's leg, a broken fountain pen, and a plastic rose. They all mean something to her, I suppose. Still, the girl was curious about the feather. I'll ask her about it. If there was not a good story behind this unlikely artifact, the tribal elder would feel obliged to make one up.
After restoring the other objects to the shoe box and returning it to the closet shelf, Sarah donned her coat and wide-brimmed hat. Entering the parlor, she gazed at the old woman who slept in the rocking chair. It seems like a shame to wake her up. She twirled the feather between finger and thumb. But we can't just leave her here all alone and asleep without saying goodbye. Not wanting to awaken the sleeper too abruptly, she whispered, "Aunt Daisy?"
Feeling more than a little whimsical — very nearly mischievous — Sarah thought: I ought to use the feather to tickle her nose. But for whatever reason, that was not precisely what she did. The girl stroked the feather ever so lightly over the old woman's left eyelid, the bridge of her nose, and across the other closed eye.
The sleeper shuddered; both eyes popped open to glare at Sarah. "What'd you do?"
Startled by the suddenness of the awakening, Sarah stuttered. "I ... tick-tickled your ..." By way of explanation, she showed the old woman the feather.
"Silly girl." Daisy snorted. "If you want to wake me up, just let out a big war whoop and tell me the 'Paches are riding in to massacre us all — or shoot off a big pistol by my ear!"
Relieved, the nervous youth giggled. "I'm sorry. It's just that we're about to leave, and —"
"We're about to leave?" Disoriented by her awakening, the old woman blinked. "Where're we going?"
Sarah Frank was saved from the pain of explaining when Charlie Moon and Scott Parris stomped into the parlor to announce their imminent departure.
Sarah offered the face tickler to Daisy, who waved it aside. "What would I want with that!"
Not knowing what else to do with the offending feather, Sarah stuck it into her hatband. "When do you want me to come back?"
The old woman frowned. "Come back for what?"
"To take you back to the Columbine."
"Oh ... sometime next week, I guess." Rubbing the residue of sleep from her eyes, Daisy got a grip on her oak staff and pushed herself up from the rocking chair. "I'll call you when I'm ready." She followed Sarah and the men outside, where her small family commenced with the standard rituals of departure.
The old woman received a big hug from Charlie Moon and the usual suggestion that she should stay close to her house until Sarah returned. Which was Moon's way of advising his reckless relative to resist any temptation to stray alone into Cañón del Espíritu. A lot of good such advice from her nephew would do.
Scott Parris bear-hugged Daisy, too, and warned, "There's always black bears and hungry cougars and a few two-legged varmints roaming about, so you'd best be on the lookout." Breathless from these manly embraces, Daisy was unable to respond with her usual tart remark that if any furry varmints or wild-eyed outlaws came skulking around her place, it'd be them that'd need to be on the lookout because she had a double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun in the closet that was loaded with buckshot and she knew how to use it. But the white cop knew what Daisy was thinking and she knew that he knew and that Charlie Moon did too.
The final hug, a light embrace such as might be made by a fairy queen in a little girl's dream, was administered by Sarah Frank. This expression of affection was accompanied by a pair of surprises that quite took the old woman's breath away — two tender expressions that Charlie Moon's aunt had not experienced in decades.
The sweet girl whispered in Daisy's ear, "You're like a grandmother to me."
This was more than sufficient to strike the old woman dumb.
Sarah whispered again, "I love you." And kissed Daisy's wrinkled cheek.
If Daisy Perika was not literally bowled over by these tender endearments, they created a peculiar sense of disorientation. The woman with the barbed tongue and quick wit had not even the urge to make a sarcastic reply. Indeed, a salty tear appeared in the corner of her left eye. Daisy promptly blinked it away. Now what did Sarah do that for?
Excerpted from Coffin Man by James D. Doss. Copyright © 2011 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
All Charlie Moon fans need to read. Daisy is getting pretty old...
This is the latest (16th) in a long series of books by James Doss. So, if you are already a James Doss fan, read no further, just buy the book and enjoy another tail spun around Aunt Daisy, Charlie, Sara, and Scott Paris. If you haven't read a James Doss book before and you like a good mistry novel set in the Southwest, (Southwestern Colorado, Nowthwestern New Mexico) and you appreciate a brilliant sense of humor, then by all means buy one of his books and get ready for a good read. I would recommend that you start earlier in the series than this book. The Shaman Sings was his first novel and showcases the unique sense of humor offered by Doss, and serves to introduce the main characters, Charlie Moon, a Ute Indian cop, Aunt Daisy, an old Ute shaman, who talks to ghosts (maybe) to help solve the mistry. If you don't want to go all the way back to the first book, you could start with Grandmother's Spider, where we meet Sara Frank and have an adventure with a hot air balloon. So if you want to laugh, cry a little, and get the bad guys, all with a little Southwestern lore mixed in, then read a James Doss book.
Excellent mystery....also like the laugh out loud humor Mr doss adds to his stories. I have only one more Charlie moon series book and will have completed the series. Sorry to see Charlie and Aunt Daisy go.
A wonderful storyteller.