Book excerpt

Coffin Man

Charlie Moon Mysteries

James D. Doss

St. Martin's Press

CHAPTER ONE
 

CAN DEL ESPRITU
THURSDAY MORNING
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 nephews 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 Can del Espritu is named for and the dwarfish pitukupf who allegedly resides therein.
But enough about local geography and Daisys 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 Daisys 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 statues eyeball.
And thats not all.
In a matching black cast-iron cooking implement, fresh eggs, sharp cheddar cheese, presauted 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, Daisys 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, Daisys dining table is set only for four.
BREAKFAST IN DAISYS KITCHEN
After busying herself importantly around the stovewhere Sarah Frank was doing all the real work and graciously accepting sage advice from the tribal elderDaisy 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 cant 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 cant 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, Ill 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 Charliell have to tell this silly little half-Papago girl that he dont intend to marry her because hes 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 bettermaybe my mouth just needs more practice.
Scott Parris reached for a jar of Daisys 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.
Thats a pretty heavy load, Moon observed.
It keeps me busy. The slender little scholar shrugged under her blue polka-dot dress. In Social Studies, Ill 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. Dont 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 girls lips. Hes 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 hes talking about. He speared a quarter section with the tip of the blade. Some of those unfortunate folks are downright dangerous.
Ill be careful. Sarah flashed a pretty smile at Moon. Ill do all of my research in the middle of the day.
The lawmen grunted their approval; even Daisy seemed pleased with the girls 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 Perikas 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 mornings sweetest dream occasionally walks arm-in-arm with her sinister midnight sister.

 
Copyright 2011 by James D. Doss

JAMES D. DOSS is the author of fifteen previous Charlie Moon mysteries, two of which were among the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. Born in Kentucky, he divides his time between Los Alamos and Taos, New Mexico.