Clayce Talcott and Luther Twoshoes Story
Black Tom Cahoon—not to be confused
with his twin brother Red Tom Cahoon—leaned against a front porch post staring down
at Clayce Talcott and Luther Twoshoes who stood in the snow-covered yard at the bottom
of the steps. Cahoon cradled a 12-gauge pump
shotgun in the crook of his arm and it was common knowledge that he kept a holstered pistol
in the small of his back and a hunting knife in his boot.
His gabardine work clothes were worn, but clean,
and the brim of his slouch hat shadowed his eyes.
“What can I do for
you, Talcott?” he asked in a neutral tone, neither hostile or friendly.
scratched the side of his nose and said, “Joe-Boy Puckett is dead.”
seem surprised. “Couldn’t happen
to a nicer fella. Can’t say I’ll lose
any sleep over that news.”
“We need to talk to Vanda. Thought she might be here.”
spat tobacco juice into the yard and nodded his head. “Showed up last
night after supper with a black eye and a busted lip.”
“She didn’t say and I didn’t ask. You lay down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”
Puckett was a dog?”
“Worse. He was a no-account,
nickel-plated sonovabitch. But they say love will not be denied nor
sometimes even explained, and Vanda’s a grown woman.”
“There is that. The
missus patched her up and put her to bed. She’s
“We need to talk to her.
For the record, Tom, where were you last night—after supper?”
here,” Cahoon said. “Never left the
place. You and your Injun c’mon in for
coffee. I’ll go wake Vanda.”
the way, Tom, aren’t you curious how Puckett died?”
just being dead suits me to a tee.”
in case you get curious later, it looks like he answered the front door and somebody blew
him in half with a shotgun.”
----- / ----- / -----
Luther asked, “what do we know, hoss?”
He and Clayce sat across
from each other in the last booth in the Coffee Cup Café.
They were sharing a Miner’s Special breakfast—eating sausage, eggs,
biscuits and gravy, cheese grits, hash browns, and fried apples from communal plates.
pushed his hat back and a cowlick of sandy blonde hair fell across his forehead. “Well, we know Joe-Boy Puckett is dead and, thanks to yesterday’s
snowfall, we know whoever killed him was wearing brand-new hunting boots.”
lot of new boots around this time of year. They
make good Christmas presents. Black Tom
was wearing a pair.”
“You noticed that, did you?”
did.” Luther’s grin was starkly-white
against his dark cherry complexion. His eyes
were the color of ripe blackberries. “You
believe Vanda when she said Puckett was alive when she left the house?”
reason not to. She said it had just started
snowing when she took off. That explains
why there’s only one set of tracks from the street to the house and back again. The weather folks say the snow stopped about 9:00pm,
so the killing took place sometime after that.”
reckon we can match the tracks in the snow to the size and tread of Black Tom’s boots?”
many pair of size-10 Wood n’ Streams do you figure are being worn around town even
as we speak?”
“Longenacre’s Sporting Goods sells ‘em like hotcakes,
though not all size 10.”
Hank or one of his clerks will remember who bought what. After we finish here,
we’ll go ask.”
“Speaking of finishing here, are you gonna eat that last biscuit
or do I have to force myself?”
/ ----- / -----
Dixie Cahoon was eating a bowl of chili when Clayce paused to kick
the snow off his boots before entering the Café.
He took an adjacent counter stool and ordered coffee, then turned to the girl and
said, “Cold out this morning.”
agreement, but didn’t speak with her mouth full. She was dressed
in corduroy pants and a flannel shirt over faded red long johns. Barely thirteen, she still had a smattering of freckles across the
bridge of her nose and a gap-toothed smile. Her carrot-colored hair was pulled
back into a makeshift ponytail. Her trapper’s
hat had the ear-flaps down and there was a winter coat across her lap. A single shot 16-gauge shotgun was propped
against the counter beside her.
“You still running rabbit traps,
“Every morning, Chief.
Only it’s boxes, not traps. They’re worth more alive than dead.”
“Four,” she said between bites. “Two bucks, two does.”
are one industrious girl. Tell me what happened
out at your place day before yesterday.”
Dixie sighed before adding another package
of saltines to her chili bowl. “Joe-Boy
came home half-drunk while Mom was fixing supper.
He accused her of smoking his last joint and they started yelling at each other. I’ve got enough drama in my life without
them fighting, so I left and spent the night at my cousin’s.”
“Why didn’t you go to your grandparents?”
I knew that’s where Mom would end up going and, like I said, I’ve got enough
drama what with algebra and puberty.”
Clayce sipped his coffee then remarked,
“Life’s hard when your folks are dopers.”
to hard. I’ve been taking care of myself
since I was nine.”
“How did you and Joe-Boy get along?”
didn’t. I hardly ever saw him.
I stayed in my room or went out when he was around.”
they fight much?”
“Just about always.
Mom’s buzzed most of the time and he was, too.
Plus, he drank like a fish.”
ever lay a hand on you?”
Dixie gave Clayce a you-must-be-kidding
look. “Joe-Boy was stupid, Chief,
Clayce laughed at that then glanced down. “You’ve got pretty big feet for such a skinny girl. New boots?”
“Uh huh. I buy ‘em big so I can wear two pair of socks to keep warm in
“And Joe-Boy was alive when you left the house?”
sir, he was. The two of them were about to
start throwing dishes, so I went to Uncle Red’s. My cousin Callie and
me did our homework and watched TV.”
you didn’t go back to the house?”
“No, sir. I called Grandma to make sure Mom was okay, but I stayed in on account
of the snow.”
“You haven’t seen your Mom since you left?”
shook her head and took a deep breath. “I
went back to the house yesterday after school and cleaned up the mess. There was a hole in the front screen door the size of a dinner plate
and a lot of blood and stuff. Mom will come
home when she gets tired of Grandpa’s preaching and Grandma’s sympathy.
you have any idea who might’ve killed Joe-Boy?”
“Somebody with a
shotgun, though that don’t narrow it down much.” Nodding
to weapon beside her she added, “Even I’ve got one.”
took another sip of coffee and said, “Yes, you do, Dixie. Yes, you do.”
/ ----- / -----
Clayce was having supper at Luther’s house; fried squirrel,
mashed potatoes, tomato gravy, home-canned string beans, and cat-head biscuits. Seven of the Twoshoes’ brood crowded around
the table while a toddler sat in a high chair and Patsy cradled the baby in the crook of
“Vanda pretty much ran off the rails after her husband died
in that mine accident,” Clayce said. “Got
involved with the wrong crowd, started doing drugs, lost her job.”
woman,” Patsy said after handing the toddler a buttered biscuit to gum. “Losing
her man and left with an eight-year-old girl to raise.
I always liked Vanda. She was a few
years behind me in school, you know.”
then she hooked up with Joe-Boy.”
“Who was worthless as tits on a boar,”
Luther said. “All he ever did was
deal drugs, and they say he used as much as he sold.
The word is he only married Vanda to get at the insurance money.”
said ‘tits’, Mama,” one of the twins offered with a giggle.
tattle,” Patsy said then asked Clayce, “Do you really think Tom Cahoon shot
“Well, somebody surely did, and Cahoon’s a prime suspect. Maybe he got tired of Joe-Boy knocking Vanda
“Or maybe Dixie got tired of it,” Luther added.
Patsy frowned. “You don’t really think
that child killed her step-father, do you?”
the fact that she’s only thirteen cloud your judgement, honey. She’s
had a hard upbringing. I’m not saying she did it, but I wouldn’t
be all that surprised if she did.”
would I,” Clayce added while spooning more mashed potatoes onto his plate. “Somebody
pass me the gravy, please.”
----- / ----- / -----
/ ----- / -----
The weather had warmed a bit, enough so that Clayce and Luther were
standing in puddles of slush just off the porch.
looking for Tom, Miz Cahoon.”
With a nod of her head, Sarah Cahoon indicated
the woods behind the house. “He’s
up on the mountain.”
“Making moonshine, is he?” Luther asked conversationally.
wouldn’t know. I tend to my own knitting
when it comes to what Tom does to provide for his family.”
ATF’s problem if he is,” Clayce said. “I’ve no issue
with a man taking a drink now and then or oftener—or with a fella who supplies the
booze. When Tom gets home please tell him
to come see me at the office. Tell him I’m
holding Dixie in connection with Joe-Boy Puckett’s murder.”
eyes widened in disbelief. “Dixie?
Our granddaughter Dixie? Our barely teenaged granddaughter? You’ve arrested her?”
say she’s in protective custody until Tom and I talk.” Tipping
his hat deferentially, he added, “Tell him the sooner he comes in, the better.”
/ ----- / -----
“Luther, if you shot a man with a pump shotgun, what’s
the first thing you’d do?”
“What do you mean, hoss?”
a hunter, think about it. You pull the trigger
and then what?”
“Hmmmm. I rack another
round just in case. There’s nothing more useless than an empty
“Bingo. Did we find an
empty shell out at Vanda’s place?”
did not, and there was no disturbance in the snow other than the boot tracks.
if you shot him with a single barrel, non-pump, what would you do?”
same thing, I suppose—open the breech and put in a new round.”
the empty shell casing, you’d drop it on the ground?”
put it in my pocket.”
you saying that Dixie shot Joe-Boy, hoss?”
“I’m not saying anything, Luther. I’m
just thinking out loud.”
----- / ----- / -----
the hell is the matter with you, Talcott?”
Clayce looked up from
behind his desk. “Lower your voice
and sit down, Tom. Luther, pour Tom a cup
“I don’t want coffee,” Black Tom said, the blood-suffused
darkness of his features more than living up to his name.
“What I want is Dixie and I want her now.
Where is she?”
“Back in one of
the cells drinking hot chocolate and playing checkers with Bob Oliver. Don’t worry, Tom, the cell’s not locked.”
you gone daft, man? Are you out of your mind? She’s only a girl!”
wears size 10 boots,” Clayce said mildly.
“Now sit down and let’s talk.”
Tom sat. Luther poured him a cup of coffee and added a jolt of whiskey to ward
off the chill. He topped off his and Clayce’s
cups before resuming his chair beside the stove.
Cahoon locked eyes with Clayce and huffed out a lungful of pent-up breath.
“What’s this guff about Dixie’s
“They’re size 10,” Clayce repeated. “Same size as the tracks found at the crime scene.”
looked down at Cahoon’s feet. “What size
boots do you wear?” he asked softly.
“Size 10, same as Dixie,” Black
“They look brand new.”
are. I got ‘em for Christmas. Same
“How convenient,” Clayce mused, then placed his hands
on the desk top. “Tom, just between
the three of us, did you kill Joe-Boy?”
did not. And even if I did, you can’t
“I’m not talking about what can be proved. I’m talking about what happened.
If you didn’t kill him, Dixie did.”
of your mind, Talcott. She’s just a
girl. You’ve got nothing to show either
of us did it.”
“Maybe not, but I know what I know.”
Tom shrugged to show he didn’t much care what Clayce thought he knew. Placing
his cup on the edge of the desk, he folded his hands together. His voice was quiet and level.
“You’re not welcome out to my place anymore, Chief. Next time you come, bring a warrant.”
stared at each other for a moment then Clayce sipped at his coffee and said, “Luther?
Please go fetch Miss Dixie so Tom can take her home.”
/ ----- / -----
Luther poured two fresh cups of coffee and doctored them with whiskey
before placing one in front of Clayce then taking his chair beside the stove and sipping
from the other.
“How long are we
gonna chase this fox around the tree, hoss?”
Clayce flashed a smile
that never quite reached his eyes. “Until one or the other
of us gets tired, I reckon. You tired yet,
“More confused than tired.
What’re we going to do?”
not much we can do. Without a shell
casing at the scene there’s no way to tie a particular shotgun to the killing. Only two suspects, both with brand new, size
10 boots. No witnesses. No
confession and not likely to be one. The DA says we don’t have enough
evidence to arrest someone, much less take them to trial.
Besides which—to coin a phrase—Joe-Boy Puckett was a no account,
nickel-plated sonuvabitch who dealt drugs and beat his common-law wife. I doubt he’ll be missed.”
riddance to bad rubbish?”
“Yes, to coin another phrase.”
what do we do next?”
“There’s not much we can do. Unless something changes, this is going down as unsolved.”
by party or parties unknown?”
we know one of them killed Puckett.”
we do,” Clayce agreed mildly.
“The question, hoss,
is which one?”
“The answer to which is we don’t have the faintest idea. Just out of curiosity, take your pick.”
sucked at a back tooth to show both his displeasure and lack of certainty.
“That’d be a heap
easier if they wore different sized boots.”
Born and raised in the mountains of West Virginia,
Jim has lived in ten states and three foreign countries. Currently retired somewhere
in the Ozarks, he has a passion for his wife, blended (not sour mash) bourbon, Hawaiian
shirts, anything fried in bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet, stray dogs, and whatever
vegetables are in season, with the exception of Brussels sprouts and eggplant.