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Snake Dreams (Charlie Moon Series #13)

Snake Dreams (Charlie Moon Series #13)

by James D. Doss
Snake Dreams (Charlie Moon Series #13)

Snake Dreams (Charlie Moon Series #13)

by James D. Doss

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Overview

With his Southwestern series, bestselling author James D. Doss and his dryly humorous, no-nonsense Native American sleuth, Charlie Moon, have brought law and what's going to have to pass for order to Charlie's Columbine Ranch and the nearby Ute reservation.

Now the seven-foot rancher and part-time tribal investigator wants to carve out a little more space for himself alongside FBI Special Agent Lila Mae McTeague. That's right: Charlie has it in his head that he's going to get hitched. That is, unless Charlie's irascible aunt, her sixteen-year-old niece, and their visions of a dead woman—her throat slit from ear to ear—have anything to say about it.

With a bit of romance and full measure of murder, Snake Dreams, the thirteenth in James D. Doss's widely loved Charlie Moon series, is a haunting tale best told under a full moon and beside a crackling fire.



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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429922302
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/08/2010
Series: Charlie Moon Series , #13
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 159,571
File size: 415 KB

About the Author

JAMES D. DOSS is the author of twelve previous Charlie Moon mysteries, two of which were named one of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Doss was born in Kentucky, and now 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

Snake Dreams


By James D. Doss

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 James D. Doss
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-2230-2


CHAPTER 1

When and Where


All these big brouhahas have to get started sometime and someplace and this one commenced two summers back, about midway between Pecos and El Paso.

It was a few owl-hoots past sundown when a brand-new moon floated up to shine a fine, silvery sheen on the favored side of the mountains. Very nice. And it should've stopped right then and there, but no — like some folks you know, that two-faced satellite has a dark side, and just as it was brightening up the eastern slopes, it flooded that big dusty trough between the Delaware peaks and the Sierra Diablos with shadows, and we're not talking about a widow's veil of night shade that wouldn't keep you from seeing what o'clock it was on your granddaddy's dollar pocket watch. Nosiree, this was sure-enough mucky stuff, black as Texas Tea, too thick to churn and firm enough to slice with Mr. Bowie's knife.

If we were to wait around until that pockmarked face gets about four hours high, the murky lake would start to drain and dry and any poor soul who happened to happen by and got blinded and drowned in it would be able to see and breathe again. But this is right now and that'll be then and it's not night-meandering pilgrims we're interested in, so let's mosey on over to where the trouble's about to begin.

Watch your step, now. Don't put your foot on them prickly pears. Or that feisty little sidewinder.

See that tattered old tent over yonder?

Aim your eyeball a tad more to the left.

They're camped right beside the rusted-out pickup that's hitched to the horse trailer that's empty because just this morning the rider swapped his piebald pony for a shiny Mexican trumpet and three bottles of Patrón Reposado tequila. The feller still has the brass horn, but he's too high to toot on it and too far under to have the least notion of the serious Bad News that's about to bite him in the neck.


* * *

THE FORTY-FOUR-YEAR-OLD woman (married, mother of one) is entwined in the arms of a broken-down old rodeo cowboy who never asked her name. Oblivious to his indifferent embrace, Chiquita Yazzi has drifted away into a twilight place. While she watches a splendid black swan glide upon a mirrored pond, a bright-eyed little girl runs along the grassy bank to hug Momma's neck. How do mother and daughter while away these blissful hours? They laugh at fluttering butterflies, sing happy songs, pick pretty flowers. In even this feeble facsimile of paradise, only the sublime should be called to mind — ugly memories should not be permitted entry. Sadly, it is not to be. The bright vision takes a dark turn into a vermin-infested alley. The mother — as only mothers can — senses danger close at hand. She instinctively reaches out to pull her child close. The little girl, a moment ago so warm — is cold to Momma's embrace.

An unhappy turn of events. But it is merely a dream, which will quickly fade from memory. What we desire is a change of scenery, so let us return to the world of flesh and blood and see what is afoot there.

For the most part, ordinary events common to the night-time desert.

In a shallow arroyo, a scaly something glides silently by.

A melancholy breeze heaves a wistful sigh.

Inside the tent?

Already stinking of beer and sweat, the has-been bull rider adds urine to the pungent brew. Thus relieved, he sinks ever deeper in his drunken stupor.

And the woman is ... But what is this?

No. Don't look.

A tarantula strides oh-so-deliberately along the lady's forehead. Before moving on to explore other parts of her anatomy, the fascinated arachnid pauses — extends a bristly foreleg ... strokes her dark eyebrow.

Altogether too dreadful? Then let us depart from the canvas shelter.

On the way out, we shall encounter the third member of this ill-fated trio.


Snake Dreams

But do they, really?

This is a highly controversial subject, hotly debated among distinguished zoologists and eminent herpetologists — which shall be settled here and now. The answer is: Yes.

They most certainly do.

The more fascinating, and not quite settled, issue is — what do slithery-slimy serpents dream about?

We are about to find out.


The Serpent's Nightmare

Underneath a shadowy sea, unseen by the rusty red moon-face hanging high in the dusty West Texas sky, the night crawler watches. Waits.

Is this entity a human being? By the most generous definition — yes.

A he or a she? Moonlight has not yet illuminated the subject sufficiently. We must wait and see. What do we know with certainty?

That the assassin is cold sober, wide awake, recently bathed — and near enough to hear the woman's raspy breaths, the boyfriend's intermittent snores.

The time has come to settle scores.

Inching along on its belly, the sinister pseudoviper wriggles into the tent, rises above the intended victims. A crooked grin splits the hate-twisted face — a silvery straight razor glistens in a pale hand.

Flickity-flash!

Snickety-slash!

CHAPTER 2

Central Colorado


When the high prairie stretched between the Misery and Buckhorn Ranges transforms from snowy white to bright green, and wildflowers start sprouting up like this was a sweet little girl's happy dream, you know for sure it's Springtime in the Rockies.

But is it time to start picking a bouquet of posies for the favorite lady, perhaps making plans for an alpine picnic? Let's put it this way: Don't put your long underwear in the cedar chest just yet. The weather at these altitudes doesn't care a whit about hardware-store calendars or showy spring blossoms. And genuine, gold-plated summer (if it doesn't pass by altogether) might tarry for a week or two.

At this very minute, huge, rumbling thunderheads are boiling up over the blue granite peaks and you can hear that icy wind come a-roaring down the mountain like ten thousand runaway freight trains. It's been huffing and puffing all night, whipping spruce and cottonwoods left and right.

Pete Bushman, a crusty old stockman who's been with the outfit since way back then when men were men and women were mighty glad of it, has seen all kinds of weather, so when he chomps down on a big chaw of Red Man and spits and declares, "That wasn't nothin' but a cool little breeze," not one of the hired hands will argue with him. Not to his face. That might be partly because the old-timer's the foreman of the Columbine Ranch.

As might be expected, your regular cowboy who rides the wide-open spaces and mends fences tends to experience Pete's "little breezes" from a different perspective. Here's a f'r instance: "When that there wind came awhistlin' over Pine Knob, it had a edge like a brand-new butcher knife and it was whacking off stalks of buffalo grass and when it took a slice at the bunkhouse, it shaved the frost right off the winda glass!" Now that's what Six-Toes claims, and ol' Six never tells a bare-faced lie unless he has his mouth open. And even if he is touching the weather report up just a mite, that norther did rip a few shingles off the bunkhouse roof and almost shook the door off its hinges. The cold winds also kept most of the day-shift cowboys hunkered down in their bunks with the blankets pulled up to their bloodshot eyeballs.

Shameful behavior for fellows who pack six-guns, strut around like bowlegged peacocks, and generally act like they're just itching to strap a saddle on the worst Texas tornado you ever saw, and spur Mr. Twister all the way from here to Laredo.

Pete Bushman has something to say on any subject and will be glad to inform you that "today's cowhands ain't what they used to be." To hear the foreman tell it, there's only two sure-enough cowboys in this outfit — himself (naturally) and that Ute Indian by the name of Charlie Moon, who happens to be the owner of the Columbine Ranch, which makes him the big chief hereabouts.

Fact is, there are at least a dozen top hands on the Columbine who can perform any chore from shoeing a fractious quarter horse to overhauling a sixty-year-old Farmall tractor. But there is a reason for the foreman's confidence in the boss: Charlie Moon can outwork and outfight the best of his employees. And there is also this: The hardy fellow is not bothered by any kind of weather. He likes mornings that're brisk, don't you know — and brisk for Mr. Moon is ten below.

Which is most likely why the Ute came out onto the ranch-headquarters porch while the wind was still whipping up a fuss, sat down on a redwood bench with an old banjo, and began to pluck all five strings. Is he good? Honest reporting compels one to admit that Charlie Moon is no Earl Scruggs, but he has been working at it for months, and if practice does not always make one perfect, it generally leads to marked improvement. And as Grandpa Jones or Stringbean (bless their souls) might have observed: That long tall drink a water sure does make that banjer ring!

Moon could also sing. Loudly.

Which did not please everyone.

The porch where he picks taut banjo strings and croons lively bluegrass ballads is only about two stone throws from the bunkhouse down by the river, which is where a bunkhouse should be, because water rolling over rocks has a fine way of lullabying a tired man off to sleep. On the contrary, Moon's instrumental and vocal efforts have a way of waking that same fellow up. Him and all his bunkhouse buddies did not appreciate it.

Didn't matter. The sun was about to explode over the Buckhorns and it was by-gosh time to be up and at 'em.

Among those residents who did not share the Indian cowboy's brand of sunrise enthusiasm, the twanging and singing particularly annoyed Sidewinder, who, in case you two have not been properly introduced, is the official Columbine hound. At the beginning of the impromptu recital, the long-eared, sad-eyed canine was stretched out under the porch, dreaming about a mighty fine lady hound who was following him around, licking at his face. Now the dog was awake, and mightily ticked off. The Ute's booming baritone also startled a skittish little mare, who kicked a board loose in her stall.

Even way out here in the wide-open spaces, there is no shortage of critics.

The performer accepted it all in good humor. Mr. Moon was feeling good.

You want to know why?

We will tell you.

This final frigid blast of winter, which drifts down from the Never Summer Mountains every year about this time, is potent stuff for a fellow who enjoys invigorating weather — especially on top of a breakfast of three fried eggs, a slab of Virginia ham thick as a boot sole, a heap of crispy home-fried potatoes and a quart of steaming black coffee fortified with a generous helping of Tule Creek honey. The potent combination is sufficient to persuade a pessimist that good times are just around the corner and convince a man like Charlie Moon that he is alive on one of those golden days when life is fine and dandy and that he can accomplish anything. Anything.

Such as persuade Lila Mae McTeague (aka Sweet Thing) to accept a diamond engagement ring.

And why not? Here on the high plains stretched between two snow-capped mountain ranges, where a rolling river rollicks and chuckles its uproarious way to the western sea, anything is possible.

Almost anything.

One hates to be heard saying a discouraging word at Moon's home on the range, but despite a hardworking fellow's best efforts, his plans will occasionally go awry. Putting it another way, the Ute has plenty of the right stuff but sometimes his best effort is not quite up to snuff.

The full-time rancher and part-time tribal investigator knows how to handle hardcase cowboys, high-spirited horses, cranky internal-combustion engines, leaky plumbing, and — when absolutely necessary — deadly weapons. Sadly, Moon's expertise does not extend to an understanding of the daughters of Eve.

Case in point — the diamond engagement ring. It is not brand new. On the other hand, the ornament has never encircled a lady's finger and so cannot be categorized as used merchandise.

It happened like this. Quite some time ago, and at considerable expense for a man of his means, Charlie Moon purchased the ornament for another charming lady. It is a melancholy story that he would just as soon forget. He particularly prefers to disremember the stunning finale, where (after refusing the ring) the potential fiancée roared away in a shiny Mercedes-Benz — spraying dust and grit in his face.

Why bring up such a disagreeable event? Surely, Charlie Moon does well to forget the bitter disappointment and move on. But, unless we are badly mistaken, the residue of that unhappy romance will come back to haunt him.

And we are not.

CHAPTER 3

Charlie Moon's Aunt


For as many hard winters as she can remember, Daisy Perika has lived in the eastern wilderness of the Southern Ute reservation where long, brown mesa fingers stretch out from the San Juan Mountains to grasp at the arid prairie. Her home, situated near the mouth of Spirit Canyon, is miles from her nearest neighbors — an arrangement best for all concerned. Unlike so many little old ladies whom we hear about, Daisy is not burdened by a sweet disposition. As we shall shortly see, neither is patience to be counted among the tribal elder's virtues, which list (so her detractors say) could be inscribed upon the nail of Daisy's little toe. With space left over for the Preamble to the Constitution and St. Paul's Epistle to Philemon. This is an uncharitable and wholly unwarranted exaggeration. There might be room for either the Preamble or the Epistle, but certainly not both.


Regarding Those Mechanical Contraptions That Aggravate Us

Daisy Perika had things to do. As she stood watching the school bus that Sarah Frank had just boarded, the tribal elder fidgeted and fumed. Her steely gaze was not directed at the driver, who was vainly attempting to restart the engine. She knew her thick-skinned third cousin to be unresponsive to helpful advice, angry threats, and scorpion stings. The shaman used her left thumb to draw an invisible spiral in the air, spat twice in the yellow dust, and muttered a guttural instruction to the recalcitrant motor vehicle: "Start up!" The flooded engine coughed. Sputtered. Coughed again.

Daisy rolled her eyes at a pale turquoise sky. I might as well be talking to a brick. But this caster of spells knew another trick. Switching to the Ute tongue, she whispered a thirteen-word incantation that almost never failed, the gist of which was that a subject that did not respond to her subsequent order would immediately be infested with lice, cockroaches, and various other vermin. She followed this awful threat with: Now start running and get a move on, you rusty old bucket of bolts!

Instantaneously, cylinders sparked to life, gears meshed, clutch connected engine to transmission, and big rubber tires began to rotate. Thus empowered, the small yellow bus jerked and jolted away to transport Sarah Frank to Ignacio for the final day of school before summer vacation commenced.

Gratified by this victory, Daisy returned a cheerful wave to the Ute-Papago girl who shared her home.


The Shaman's Secret Mission

The moment the boxy vehicle was out of sight, Daisy slung a hemp bag over her shoulder, got her sturdy oak walking stick firmly in hand, and set her leathery face toward the mouth of Cañón del Espíritu. It was a short, easy walk past Cougar Tail Ridge and she made good time for one of her years. About a hundred yards into the canyon, she paused to gaze at her lofty objective on the cliff wall, which loomed almost two hundred feet above the canyon floor — just short of the crest of Three Sisters Mesa. As she made her way slowly up the steep path, taking care not to stumble and tumble down the crumbling talus slope, her ascent came at a painful price. She gasped for every breath.

Just as Daisy thought she could not go another step, she arrived at the end of the trail, where a brownish red sandstone shelf jutted from the sandstone wall to hang over the abyss. Leaning on her walking stick and wheezing like an overworked mule, she surveyed the floor of Cañón del Espíritu, where tall ponderosas and spruces looked small enough to slip into her apron pocket. The tribal elder had not made this climb for the view. Daisy expected to find the object of her tiring trek concealed in a small cavern, which was behind her. She was not yet ready to peer into that darkness. Indeed, she would have preferred to be at home, in her comfortable parlor. But last night, when a sliver of silver moon sailed through the starry sky, the shaman had heard his raspy voice.

Not with her ears.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Snake Dreams by James D. Doss. Copyright © 2008 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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