In the space of one weekend in Morgantown, West Virginia, private investigator Big Jim Foote finds himself at the center of two murder investigations. Suspected of one killing at a local festival, he locates the body of a missing person immediately after. The cops are watching him, and Big Jim has a secret he dares not reveal: he is a bigfoot living in plain sight, charged with keeping his people in the surrounding hills from being discovered.
Coming August 1 from WVU Press, Tom Bredehoft’s Foote: A Mystery Novel has been called “a tale about humanity wrapped in the garment of an excellent hard-boiled thriller.” Jordan Farmer adds: “Part mystery, part fable but all original, Jim Foote is sure to be one of your favorite literary detectives—cryptid or otherwise.” We’re pleased to share an excerpt here.
It was a drizzly morning in April, and all I knew was that someone was standing outside the door. That was all right. Sometimes folks need a few minutes to get their courage up, to really convince themselves that they need my kind of help. My office, to tell the truth, isn’t exactly inviting from the outside: it’s just a plain metal door, bracketed by a couple of windows with the blinds closed. And the door itself stands in a little blackened brick building crouched beneath the PRT tracks, not too far from the downtown stop. That also makes it not too far from the county courthouse, as a matter of fact.
The sign on the door says “Big Jim Foote: Private Investigator,” and I know well enough that that doesn’t always encourage the curious to come in, either. Even the mailman rarely says hello. If someone really needs me, they open the door. They come in.
And, eventually, this one did.
It’s a little-known fact that a small, but significant, community of bigfoot live, more or less in the open, in and around Morgantown, West Virginia. They are, some might say, passing for humans, though the truth is that most of them don’t mix very much with the humans around them. It’s a small enough step from hiding in the woods and wild to hiding in plain sight. So if you’re in Morgantown, and you see a lumbering great figure pushing a buggy through the grocery store, with a heavy coat and unruly hair, and with two or more bags of cheese puffs but no beer, there’s a good chance it’s a bigfoot. There’s a good chance it’s me.
Most of the Morgantown bigfoot live a little way out of town: they do their share of hunting and fishing (not all of it in season, naturally), and they know all the best places to find ramps and morels and pawpaws and serviceberries. Their ability to track something—human or otherwise—through the woods is second to none. But a few of us bigfoot live right in town, playing a part in the human community, and yet we are always at least a little apart from it, living in secret. I suppose that’s why being a private investigator always seemed like a natural-enough career choice for me. It’s all about secrets.
“It’s just a nickname,” I said about the name on the door, when the prospective client finally came in and sat down across from me. They don’t always ask first off, but unless they know me already, they do always ask. She was a human female, and she looked like she might be a college student, or maybe a year or two older than that. Pale hair; not very tall, even for a human; blue-gray eyes: probably the average human male would find her attractive, but I wasn’t much of a judge. She said her name was Emily Smart.
“It seemed like you couldn’t make up your mind about coming in here,” I said to her. “What made you decide?”
“I don’t really know,” she answered uncertainly. “Hobo Joe said you were a good guy.”
I had to laugh. I hardly ever said more than two words to Hobo Joe, but we’ve both been around a long time, and Morgantown isn’t that big a place once you get away from the university. I’ll never forget seeing him at the post office one time; he was telling some other customer about being a hobo (not a homeless man, no), and about his various travels. “I’m writin’ a book,” he had said to this guy. “Yeah, I know him,” I said now to Emily Smart. “Old school hat, great big backpack.”
“Yeah, that’s him.”
I knew I just needed to wait: at this point, she’d either tell me what she needed to tell me, or she’d duck back out the door. It didn’t look much like she’d be able to pay the fee, so I didn’t see why I needed to do much to encourage her. She wasn’t exactly squirming as she sat in the hard wooden chair across my desk, but she was close.
“It’s my mom. I haven’t heard from her in over a month.”
“I talked to them, but they haven’t found her. They haven’t found anything, and they don’t act like they’re going to.”
Well, it wasn’t unusual for the police to fail to find a missing person. Already this sounded a lot more interesting than anything else on my plate. As a rule, I tried to take on as little work as possible, but a missing mother? I wasn’t coldhearted enough to refuse.
“Husband, boyfriend?” I asked, though surely the cops had already asked.
“My dad lives in Texas,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anyone else. But maybe.”
“Any brothers or sisters?”
“No, just me.”
“What’s she do for a living?”
“She’s a surveyor,” came the answer, and I immediately had a kind of foreboding. Surveying probably sounds innocent enough to most people, but measuring the land has gotten folks into trouble before.
“The fee is fifty bucks an hour, plus incidentals.” It wasn’t really enough to pay the bills, but I wasn’t exactly working for the money anyhow.
Read more in Foote: A Mystery Novel.