OLD GRAY WOLF
James D. Doss
In James D. Doss's final entry in his wild and witty mystery series, Colorado rancher and tribal investigator Charlie Moon faces his most challenging caseand enemyto date.
Former police officer, sometime tribal investigator, and current rancher Charlie Moon was enjoying a relaxing vacation day in a nearby town with his friend, Police Chief Scott Parris. They weren't looking for any trouble, and they would have been more than happy to just mind their own business. But then a lady's purse is snatchedand things start to get seriously out of hand…
When the thief, LeRoy Hooten,makes a run for it, Charlie and Parris have no choice but to stop him with the only weapon they have on-hand: a can of black-eyed peas.Hooten dies and his grieving motherwho happens to be a brutal mobster's widowwastes no time in settling the score.With an assassin (code name: Cowboy) on the way, the FBI close behind, and the ominous visions of his shaman Aunt Daisy influencing his every move, Charlie's going to need all the help he can get to restore law and order on the Ute reservation. And time is running out…
About the Author
JAMES D. DOSS, a long-time resident of the Southwest, is the author of sixteen previous Charlie Moon mysteries. Two of the Moon books were named among the best books of the year by Publishers Weekly. He died in 2012, shortly after completing The Old Gray Wolf, the final novel in the series.
Read an Excerpt
The Old Gray Wolf
By James D. Doss
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 James D. Doss
All rights reserved.
THE UTE ELDER'S WILDERNESS HIDEAWAY
Imagine yourself miles from the nearest human settlement, hiking along a dusty trail. All cares forgotten, you are whiling away a balmy autumn day in a wilderness which is both picturesque and forbidding. To the north, a slight blue haze shimmers over round-shouldered mountains. From those ancient peaks, miles-long brown mesas stretch out like a fallen giant's fingers, clutching at crumbling earth. Between the steep sandstone cliffs of those flattened heights, the patient forces of nature have worked for hundreds of millennia to shape the landscape that you see today. Gurgling little springtime streams, gray winter rains freezing in sandstone cracks, and howling grit-laden winds — all those relentless forces have combined to carve out deep canyons, wherein are multitudes of secluded, shady glades where direct sunlight has never beamed an incandescent ray on lichen, moss, or fern, nor shall it ever. Away to the south, beyond the mesa's grasping fingertips, the sun-drenched topography is gradually transformed into a jumble of rugged hills, isolated buttes, rolling arid prairie, and huge patches of nasty badlands that provide suitable habitat for those scaly, slithering serpents who will (when they are of a mind to) hiss, rattle — and then fang you.
But let us not be overly concerned about where we are stepping. (That coiled object half concealed in the dead grass is probably a discarded hank of manila rope. Or so we hope.)
This image is etched indelibly on your consciousness? Good.
While distracted by the panoramic Big Picture, you have passed right by the most important feature of this remote landscape. We refer to the well-known residence of that notable citizen who — excepting a few fleshless exceptions to be described in a moment — is the only human soul who has a settled homestead within the vast neighborhood already described, which comprises approximately forty-four square miles of the Southern Ute reservation.
But do not fault yourself for this understandable oversight. But just so you'll know where to look should you ever pass this way again, Aunt Daisy's home is situated right over there. Yes, on the sunny side of that low ridge and near (very nearly in) the yawning mouth of Cañón del Espíritu, wherein (so the tribal elder assures us) dozens of ghostly presences lurk. (We refer to the aforementioned "few fleshless exceptions.") Not only do these spirits lurk, they also (so Daisy claims) often appear to her in a more or less bodily form. Why are they drawn to the cantankerous old woman? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. As each year of our lives is recalled by unique events and distinguishable seasons, so the spirits have their various and sundry reasons for rubbing elbows with Daisy. But, that said, the lonely souls of the long dead reveal themselves to the Ute shaman primarily for the purpose of conversing with a warm-blooded human being. And the oftentimes cold-blooded Daisy Perika is, in a somewhat twisted sense, what a roving poker player might call "the only game in town." Way out here at the mouth of Spirit Canyon, the Southern Ute tribal elder is simply the only person around.
Except when she has company.
Which Daisy does at the moment. Which fortuitous circumstance enables us to focus our attention on three more of the four primary participants in the forthcoming adventure — which has already begun (only they don't know it). Namely ...
CHARLIE MOON, SCOTT PARRIS, AND SARAH FRANK
By way of introduction to those who have not yet been formally introduced to the citizens listed above, they are, respectively:
The amiable nephew of the notoriously cranky Southern Ute tribal elder. Charlie is that long, lean, lanky fellow who is toting Daisy's circa-1935 leather suitcase from her front door to his Ford Expedition. Mr. Moon is a former SUPD officer, a part-time tribal investigator, current owner of the Columbine Ranch in Granite Creek County — and sometimes deputy to Scott Parris, a tough ex-Chicago cop who is chief of the Granite Creek Police.
The aforesaid tough cop has opened the rear hatch of the SUV and is pushing a cardboard box in between a heavy toolbox and a gallon jug of well water. What's in the cardboard box? Four quarts of Daisy's homemade peach preserves, two loaves of m'lady's baked-in-her-oven rye bread, three pints of green-tomato relish, some leftover walnut fudge, and miscellaneous other delectables to spice up the meals at Charlie's ranch. Parris has the enviable distinction of being one of the few Caucasians (matukach) whom Daisy Perika is fond of, which means that she does not spit in his eye just for the fun of it. Speaking of eyes and distinctions, the blue-eyed lawman is also the only paleface who has seen physical evidence of that legendary dwarf who presumably resides in the shadowy inner sanctum of Spirit Canyon. (Several years ago, the white man spied some tiny footprints in the snow.) Gently suggest to Daisy that these might have been the paw prints of an adult raccoon and she will very likely knock your block off and then kick it down the road a furlong or two.
Sarah Frank is that lissome youth who has just locked the front door of Daisy's house and is now approaching the automobile to help the tribal elder into her customary seat behind the driver, i.e. Charlie Moon. Speaking of whom, the twenty-one-year-old Ute-Papago orphan (Sarah) lives in the continual distress of being deeply and passionately in love with Mr. Moon, who — when he bothers to reflect on the pretty, willowy young lady at all — thinks of Miss Frank as his semiadopted daughter.
These cursory introductions complete, we return to the action already under way — which has to do with Hester "Toadie" Tillman's designated messenger, who is on his way to deliver the alleged witch's threat to Aunt Daisy. Will Officer Bignight arrive after they are long gone? Hard to say. We hope not. If Danny doesn't take care of business today, there's no telling what the consequences might be. (The tension is almost palpable.)
But wait a minute ... About a quarter mile away to the east-northeast, isn't that a puff of dust on the lane? Yes, it is.CHAPTER 2
SUPD OFFICER DANNY BIGNIGHT ARRIVES AT DAISY PERIKA'S DOMICILE
Which visit was, in itself, sufficient to annoy the edgy old woman — who was eager to depart with Charlie Moon, Scott Parris, and Sarah Frank for a month-long stay at the Columbine Ranch. Daisy was, in fact, already settled into the backseat of Charlie's Expedition beside the Ute-Papago girl and waiting impatiently for the men to get in, close the front doors, and "Get this big bucket of bolts rolling north!" when Bignight's SUPD unit pulled up and lurched to a neck-jerking stop.
Daisy scowled with understandable suspicion. This'll be about some kind of trouble. In her long experience, sworn officers of the law rarely came calling to bring the glad tidings that a penny-pinching old woman who'd bought a one-dollar ticket in Someone or Other's Annual Fund-Raiser Raffle had won First Prize (a brand-new, dark blue F150 pickup). Or even Twentieth Prize (a two-pound box of old-fashioned cherry chocolates, which you hardly ever saw in the store anymore and which sugary treats Daisy's mouth fairly watered for).
Officer Bignight emerged from the official tribal vehicle, hitched up his heavy black leather gun belt under his slightly bulging belly, and waved a fond salute at his former Southern Ute Police Department comrade.
Well aware that his aunt was eager to get on the road, Charlie Moon ambled over to meet and greet his old friend. "Hello, Danny."
"Hey, Charlie." Having noticed the old woman hunched in the backseat of Moon's big SUV, Bignight recognized a welcome opportunity for passing the well-known buck. "Uh, I can see you folks are about to leave, so I'll just let you deliver a message from Hester Tillman to Aunt Daisy." He cleared his throat. "It was Hester's last words before she ... passed on."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Danny." The devout Catholic Christian closed his eyes, crossed himself, and murmured a prayer for the sad old woman's soul. This done, Moon made the standard inquiry: "How'd she die?"
The SUPD cop described the pickup accident.
The world-class poker player had no difficulty reading the fear in Bignight's eyes. "What was Mrs. Tillman's message to Aunt Daisy?" Some kind last words to terminate their lifelong feud, Charlie hoped.
Bignight provided Moon with a brief summary.
Having no intention of passing on such a silly threat to his elderly relative, a disappointed Charlie Moon passed the buck right back to its rightful owner. "I think you'd better tell Daisy yourself." One of the few Southern Utes who didn't believe in witchcraft explained without even the hint of a smile, "Hester might not like it if you used me as an intermediary."
This reminder had the hoped-for effect. Charlie's right — that old witch told me to tell Daisy myself. Danny Bignight inhaled a deep breath that swelled his barrel chest. I might as well get this over with. Hitching up his sagging gun belt again, he approached the Columbine SUV with a tip of his hat at the open window where Daisy sat, and mumbled the perfunctory greeting: "How are you?"
"I'm fine as frog's hair," Daisy snapped back. "Now tell me what's on your so-called mind so I can get away from here."
This coincidental amphibian reference served only to elevate Bignight's anxiety. I'd better get this right — ol' Toadie is probably floating around somewhere close-by, listening to every word I say. Leaning close to the open car window, the reluctant messenger enlarged on what he'd told Charlie Moon about Hester Tillman's untimely death. "Then, she said, 'Now listen to me, Danny — you pass what I've got to say on to Daisy Perika word for word, or my curse'll fall on you and all of your family down at Taos Pueblo. You tell that mean old Indian woman that if she don't show up at my funeral and shed some salty tears on my account — I'll come back and haunt her to death!'"
Expecting a vile expletive or at least a throaty oath, the bearer of bad news backed away from the Expedition. "I'm sorry, Daisy — you know I don't think you're mean, but I felt like it was my bounden duty to come out here and tell you exactly what Toad — what Hester had to say."
The old woman waved off this apology as if it were a black housefly buzzing about her wrinkled ear. "Don't worry about it, Danny — Toadie always was a big windbag, and one who had to get the last word in."
Oh, I hope she didn't hear that! After glancing right and left, Bignight shifted nervously from one booted foot to the other. "So ... are you gonna go to Mrs. Tillman's funeral?"
"Maybe. If I have the time." Charlie Moon's aunt shrugged. "I might go to her burial too, and hang around till after both of the hired mourners are gone and the workmen have shoved dirt over the six-foot-deep hole in the ground and made a nice, smooth mound."
The worried cop sighed with relief. "That'd be awfully nice of you."
"Yes it would." Daisy grinned wickedly. "And it'd be fun."
Officer Bignight knew that he shouldn't ask. She'll say something awful. Without a doubt. But, like a hungry trout presented with a plump cricket, Danny Bignight could not resist the clever old angler's bait. "Fun?"
"Sure." Daisy Perika's black eyes sparkled wickedly at the cop. "It'd be great fun to spit on Toadie's grave."
* * *
An optimistic citizen might assume that the irascible old soul was merely making a tasteless jest. (The same optimist might also draw an inside straight.) But whether Daisy's vulgar threat is to be taken literally — or is merely an attempt to tweak an already nervous Officer Bignight — only time and opportunity will tell.
In the meantime, more-urgent matters demand our attention. Indeed, the malignant seed of the oncoming calamity is about to be planted in one of those salt-of-the-earth Rocky Mountain municipalities where the thin air is so wonderfully exhilarating and downright nutritious that a hardworking man who breathes it can live on nine hundred calories of beef and beans per day, and a lean longhorn can get along on about two dozen mouthfuls of alfalfa hay. (Or so they say.) Yes, we'd all like to go there and stay. Directions? Well, this particular all-American high-altitude community is positioned along the final fifty-mile lap of the drive from Aunt Daisy's wilderness home on the Southern Ute reservation to Charlie Moon's vast cattle ranch.
If you're not sure that you can navigate your way there, do not fret — we'll take you to this fine example of a wholesome western cow town, and show up just as the unseemly hostilities are about to commence.CHAPTER 3
1322 COPPER STREET GRANITE CREEK, COLORADO
Which is where personal correspondence to Bertha's Saloon & Pool Room should be addressed. But no junk mail, please; be advised that this is a strictly first-class joint.
First of all, there is the matter of firearms restrictions — pistols with sissy mother-of-pearl handles may not be brought onto the premises, and permissible (manufactured in the USA) sidearms must be holstered and in plain view. Carbines and shotguns are to be checked at the door.
Violence which might lead to destruction of Bertha's property is looked upon with disfavor. The use of pool cues, billiard balls, or heavy beer mugs as weapons is forbidden and a large sign suspended over the bar advises customers that FISTFIGHTS MUST TAKE PLACE IN THE ALLEY. Even outside, there are unwritten rules of decorum: eye-gouging and groin-kneeing are discouraged unless a combatant is severely provoked.
Moreover, Bertha's Saloon & Pool Room enforces strict rules to ensure proper hygiene. Customers are not permitted to spit on the barroom floor, and the brass spittoons are emptied once every month or more frequently if they're full.
Impressed? Of course you are.
And you will be pleased to know that the establishment caters to uppity professors from Rocky Mountain Polytechnic University, armed-and-ready GCPD police officers, cheerful county-government officials, clear-eyed cowboys, honest truck drivers, and local entrepreneurs of all stripes. The proprietor does not welcome shifty-eyed grifters, high-plains drifters, whining panhandlers, slithery pickpockets, loudmouthed louts, or any other sort of disreputable riffraff you can think of. (Take careful note of this management bias, which is relevant to what is about to transpire.)
The owner, general manager, and chief bartender is (as you would expect) Bertha herself — and this teetotaler runs her profitable establishment with all the keen attention to detail of a certified public accountant. To flesh out this 240-pound character (who lifts weights on her coffee breaks), we shall specify that she is known as Big Bad Bertha Bronkowski, or "B-to-the-Fourth-Power" to her mathematically inclined customers from the university, who generally abbreviate that imposing appellation as B or simply The Power. You begin to get the picture.
One final brushstroke: the lady is not entirely dedicated to making a buck — all work and no play tends to make Bertha lethargic and moody. For the benefit of occasional amusement, B4 pinch-hits as bouncer. Sadly, her rep being widely known hereabouts, the lady has few opportunities to demonstrate her efficient technique. Which is why the artiste secretly pines for the appearance of an offensive out-of-towner.
As it happens, the pined-for subject is about to appear — the fun about to begin.
Enter one LeRoy Hooten.
Literally. He has just passed through the same sort of swinging doors that adorned Miss Kitty's world-famous Dodge City saloon. (Recollect Matt Dillon, who shot the same gunslinger dead at the beginning of every episode. Also recall his limping deputy, Chester, and ol' Doc what's-his-name.) But we must return our attention to Mr. Hooten, who is about to initiate a small disturbance. B has spotted the fellow right away and decided that the scruffy-looking citizen is definitely a member of that class of seedy entrepreneurs who are not welcome in her place of business. She has a remedy in mind, but such enjoyments are to be savored. The proprietor bides her time.
Excerpted from The Old Gray Wolf by James D. Doss. Copyright © 2012 James D. Doss. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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