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Authors: Billie Letts

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Shoot the Moon

BOOK: Shoot the Moon
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Copyright © 2004 by Billie Letts

“This Place” music and lyrics by Shawn Letts. Copyright © 1992. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Copyright © 1975 by Loring Conant, Jr., Executor of the Estate of Anne Sexton. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

All rights reserved.

Warner Books

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com
.

The Warner Books name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

ISBN: 978-0-7595-1171-2

First eBook Edition: July 2004

Contents

Copyright

Acknowledgments

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Epilogue

A Note About the Type

A
LSO BY
B
ILLIE
L
ETTS

Where the Heart Is

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon

This one is for my sons, Shawn and Tracy, who bring me joy—
even on the darkest days.

Acknowledgments

GRATEFUL APPRECIATION GOES TO:

Elaine Markson, my agent, who found me three books ago wandering around a writers’ conference hoping someone would look at my work; Jamie Raab, my editor, who must feel much like a midwife after helping me deliver this one; Lisa Callamaro, who gave me the gift of seeing my first story on the big screen; also double thanks to Ben Greenberg for going beyond the call of duty;

Robert W. Allen, Ph.D., Harold Battenfield, D.O., Glen Burke, Katrina Farr, Shari Finik, George Haralson, Chief Deputy, and Wesley E. Johnson, J.D., for their technical advice;

Wilma Shires, whose extraordinary patience and expertise wrestled all these words onto a computer disk;

Mary Battenfield, Brad Cushman, Molly Griffis, Arlene Johnson, Teresa Miller and Georgann “Sister” Vineyard, a great group of friends who kept me going;

Dana Letts, my stepson, who found information for me when I couldn’t;

And Dennis, my husband, lover, friend . . . my first reader, my toughest critic and my biggest fan.

I thank you all!

Prologue

B
ack when it happened, back in 1972, there wasn’t an adult in the county who didn’t know every detail of the crime.

Lige Haney, editor of the
DeClare Democrat
, kept the story on the front page for months. Of course, other news made the headlines now and then—a spring flood washed out the Post Road Bridge; two local boys, the Standingdeer brothers, were wounded in Vietnam on the same day; and a fire downtown gutted TenPenny Hardware and the Hungry Hawk Café.

But none of the news had the staying power of murder and abduction—a young mother stabbed to death, her ten-month-old son missing—the worst crime ever committed in DeClare, Oklahoma.

Television news teams came in from all over the state, their trucks and vans lining the town square, where most of the reporters used the courthouse as a backdrop for their broadcasts.

Lantana Mitchell, a twenty-one-year-old rookie with KWTV in Tulsa, wasn’t the brightest of the bunch, but she was the most eager and certainly the best looking, which gave her an edge over the older, more experienced reporters. At least with Oliver Boyd Daniels.

Daniels, deputy sheriff of DeClare, was a mean drunk; a tough-talking, tough-looking guy; a man’s man who appealed to women despite missing part of one ear and three teeth, the gap in his mouth covered by an ill-fitting bridge. He was also husband to a wife much younger than him; and father of an eight-year-old boy with Down syndrome. He lost the teeth and the piece of ear in a bar fight in Baton Rouge. He found the wife, his third, when she was leading cheers at a DeClare High School football game.

But Lantana Mitchell was looking for her big break in the news business, so she welcomed the deputy into her room at the Riverfront Motel every night for the ten days she was in town covering the story.

Daniels promised to feed her inside information about the crime; she promised him she wouldn’t use his nickname, “O Boy,” on the air.

In the end, they both lied . . . he because Lantana wouldn’t do everything he wanted her to do in bed; she because Daniels didn’t tell her about the missing boy’s pajama bottoms he found on the bank of Willow Creek.

Instead, he leaked that news to Arthur McFadden, his half-brother, in exchange for a used bass boat. Because they had different fathers, their likeness was not striking; Arthur was shorter, thinner and less robust than O Boy.

But both had inherited the cold blue eyes of their mother, eyes that could veil all emotions except one—anger. And like her, drunk or sober, they could be intimidating and cruel. The major difference in the brothers’ personalities, though, was that Arthur could come across as charming when a situation demanded it, an ability O Boy neither possessed nor understood.

Arthur owned and operated the local daytime radio station, KSET, which was on the air from sunup until sundown, seven days a week.

Arthur loved the station, rarely regretting the sacrifices he’d made to own it, even though his work was never-ending. He read the news, weather and farm reports; prerecorded all the commercials; conducted live interviews regarding every event in the county; read the public service announcements; did all the billing and bookkeeping; answered the phone; paid the bills; and hosted
Swap Shop,
a local favorite on which listeners called in to buy, sell or trade fresh eggs, car parts, hunting dogs, baby beds, hand-stitched quilts, lawn mowers and junk of all descriptions—new or used.

The only other person involved in the day-to-day operation of KSET was Kyle Leander, Arthur’s twenty-five-year-old stepson. Kyle, who had discovered psychedelic drugs the year he flunked out of Yale, deejayed an afternoon show he called
Catharsis,
during which he played acid rock, read excerpts from Carlos Castaneda and quoted Timothy Leary.

Arthur hated
Catharsis
just a little more than he hated Kyle, but it was Kyle’s mother, Anne, a wealthy widow from Atlanta and Arthur’s current wife, who had put up the money to buy KSET. And Kyle’s job, which paid him twenty-five hundred a month, was part of the bargain.

But Arthur didn’t have to deal with Kyle on the day he broke the news of the discovery of the kidnapped child’s pajama bottoms because Kyle was in rehab, shipped off to a high-dollar clinic called Restoration in North Carolina to dry out again. And that suited Arthur just fine. He had the station all to himself and filled the
Catharsis
time slot with a live interview with O Boy Daniels, who predicted the case would be solved within days, if not within hours.

Until then, there’d been no real break in the crime—no fingerprints or tire tracks, no murder weapon, no strangers in town that anyone could remember. No clues at all as to who had killed the young woman and taken her little boy.

But now, with something to go on—a pair of blue pajama pants with yellow ducks—the community roared into action.

Hap Duchamp, president of the First National Bank, offered a reward for information leading to a conviction. Of course, no one ever claimed the money because the man arrested and jailed on suspicion never made it to the courtroom.

Most folks, though, especially the locals, were less interested in the money than they were in helping to find the missing child.

Matthew Donaldson, the fire chief, put out a call for volunteers, and for the next ten days, firemen, policemen and too many civilians poured into DeClare from all over the country. Four major search teams were formed, and by the end of the week, the hunt was going on twenty-four hours a day.

Swanson’s Funeral Home provided a tent under which the DeClare Ladies’ Auxiliary set up tables, where they made sure food and drinks were always available to those involved in the search. Teeve Harjo, whose husband, Navy, owned the local pool hall and booked sports bets, put herself in charge, making sure the ham sandwiches were fresh and the coffeepot was never empty.

The DAR, not to be outdone by the Auxiliary, whom they regarded as a rough bunch lacking social grace and breeding, contributed enough Purina Dog Chow to feed all the tracking dogs being brought in by their handlers. The suggestion came from Martha Bernard Duchamp, the club historian, whose great-grandfather had been killed at Gettysburg; whose grandfather had made a fortune in cotton; whose father had started the First National Bank; whose son was now its president.

John Majors, owner of Majors’ Office Supply, printed a thousand flyers with the missing boy’s picture, which the Boy Scouts tacked to every telephone pole in town and taped in the windows of all the businesses on Main Street.

The Young Democrats bought several hundred yards of yellow ribbon, which the high school choir kids cut up and tied to every tree in DeClare except for the half-dozen Chinese elms in Raymond Cruddup’s front lawn.

Raymond claimed that the trees were too delicate to be disturbed. Raymond Cruddup was the town grump.

The churches of DeClare organized round-the-clock prayer circles, where prayers were offered up for the little boy’s safe return. Many of the circles continued their supplications for weeks, long after most doubted there would be a return—safe or not.

Even so, preachers used the tragedy of the crime as the theme for Sunday sermons, and for months afterward baptizings increased, as did church memberships, especially at Goodwill Baptist, the largest church in town.

Patti Frazier, the organist at Goodwill Baptist, wrote a song about the kidnapping, a tune she called “Gone Missing.” Encouraged by the response of the congregation when she sang her composition at a Wednesday night service, Patti recorded “Gone Missing” on her tape recorder and gave a copy to Arthur McFadden, who played it every hour on KSET.

But 1972, the year little Nicky Jack Harjo disappeared, was a long time ago. Over a quarter of a century. And much had changed since then.

TenPenny Hardware was rebuilt soon after the fire that destroyed it, but business fell off after Wal-Mart came to town, and the TenPenny closed its doors in 1984.

The Hungry Hawk Café, razed in the same blaze that took the hardware store, was never rebuilt, but six years later a McDonald’s opened on the same site.

Lige Haney continued to edit the
Democrat
until diabetes began to rob him of his sight. Finally, in 1986, he sold the paper to a news conglomerate buying up small-town weeklies all over the country, and he and his wife, Clara, retired to Florida. Four years later, having endured two hurricanes, they gave up on the Sunshine State and returned to DeClare. But just two weeks after they’d moved back, a tornado swept through the eastern edge of town, destroying their new home. Fortunately, Lige, Clara and Phantom, Lige’s Seeing Eye Dog, a sturdy blond Lab, survived unharmed in their basement.

Soon after rebuilding, Lige went back to the work he had always loved by writing a weekly column called “Statecraft” that he dictated to Clara, who typed the pieces on Lige’s old Smith-Corona. “Statecraft” focused on Oklahoma politics and reflected Lige’s “yellow dog” Democratic viewpoints, which did not set well with the Republican ownership but was a favorite with locals.

Television news teams returned to DeClare occasionally in the intervening years, but only twice for major stories. They came back when an ice storm on the interstate caused a pileup of thirteen cars that killed four teenagers on their way to a basketball game; then again to cover a triple homicide on Bois D’Arc Road, the result of a drug deal gone bad.

But neither event brought Lantana Mitchell back to the community. After the O Boy Daniels’ fiasco, which left her with a pregnancy she terminated with an abortion in Kansas City, she learned to use her looks and ambition with more discretion.

Two years following her stint in DeClare, she attended a media convention in Chicago, where she met and charmed an executive with ABC—a man with both ears, all his teeth and no wife. After Lantana nudged him into marriage, he made her anchor of the evening news in Los Angeles.

The marriage didn’t last, nor did the job, but a hefty divorce settlement allowed her to return to Tulsa, where she wrote four nonfiction crime books, one of which was published.

O Boy Daniels hit a rough patch in the early eighties when he nearly beat to death a county prisoner suspected by many in the community to be a pedophile but who was most certainly going to get out of a conviction because of a legal technicality.

O Boy claimed the prisoner was trying to escape, but the jury, even though they believed the child molester deserved a good beating, couldn’t buy the lie because of the restrictions placed on them by the presiding judge.

After serving two years at the state penitentiary, O Boy returned to DeClare, opened a bait shop near the river and moved back in with his wife, Carrie, the former cheerleader, and their disabled son, Kippy.

Five years later, O Boy ran for sheriff and won, even though the law prohibited him, a convicted felon, from carrying a firearm. Apparently, the voters of DeClare figured O Boy was tough enough that he didn’t need a weapon.

Arthur McFadden continued to operate the radio station after his wife divorced him and moved back to Atlanta. Arthur’s only regret about the split was that the terms of the divorce left him stuck with Kyle Leander for as long as Kyle wanted to keep his job at the station. And Kyle had no intention of leaving.

Hap Duchamp served as president of the First National Bank until 1980, when rumors began to circulate that he was a homosexual. He resigned before he was removed by the board of directors, and with the law degree he’d earned from Tulsa University twenty years earlier, he started his own small practice. Then, relieved of the pretense of being straight, he and his lover, Matthew Donaldson, former fire chief, moved in together in an elegant A-frame they built in a wooded area near the river.

Teeve Harjo was still active in the Ladies’ Auxiliary but had less time to devote to the organization than she had years earlier. Her husband, Navy, had sneaked out of town one night, taking his new Buick, on which he’d made only three payments, and over twenty thousand dollars he’d taken in wagers on a Cowboys’ game. In addition to Teeve, he left behind his young daughter, a second mortgage on the house and a lot of angry gamblers.

But the pool hall was paid for, so, with no other income and limited job skills, Teeve took over the operation the day after Navy left. Instead of being the disaster that most predicted, Teeve turned out to have a good head for business. She added a couple of video games, stopped booking bets and selling beer so teenagers could come in to play and turned the storage area into a tiny lunchroom, where she served sandwiches and her popular peanut-butter pies made from a secret family recipe. Five years after Navy left, Teeve’s Place was thriving.

Martha Bernard Duchamp, DAR historian, took up drink-ing soon after her son’s “coming out.” In the beginning, she was able to conceal her newly acquired taste, but by the time she fell and broke her hip in 1985, everyone in DeClare knew she had her Jack Daniel’s delivered by the case from Ritzy’s Liquor Store.

Raymond Cruddup died in 1987, his Chinese elms in an ice storm the following winter.

Patti Frazier’s song “Gone Missing” was recorded by a gospel quartet on an album titled “In God’s Hands.” When the album did well on the Christian music charts, Patti sold three more of her songs and made enough money to buy the Riverfront Motel when the owner put it on the market.

By 1999, the population of DeClare, Oklahoma, had risen to seven thousand, about a thousand more than what it was in 1972. The business district downtown had spilled over from Main Street to State Street three blocks away, and two small industries had relocated to the county.

Crime across the country had grown to such frightening levels that TV and newspaper accounts of mass murders, school killings, rape and child abuse had become routine.

But the old-timers, the ones who had lived through the murder of Gaylene Harjo and the abduction of her son, would occasionally rehash the crime as if it had happened only the day before.

Now, twenty-seven years after the boy’s disappearance, the hundreds of yellow ribbons tied to trees by the high school choir had rotted and dropped away. And the flyers posted everywhere the Boy Scouts could make them stick were gone.

BOOK: Shoot the Moon
12.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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