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WolfSinger Publications

Don't Write What You Know;

Write What You Care About -- Passionately!

Murder Most Howl
- Margaret H Bonham

Dog Mushing Can Be Murder  

For Stephanie Keyes, noted sled dog racer in Colorado, sled dog racing can  be dangerous enough. But when a fellow musher and rival is found murdered and she's a prime suspect, Stephanie races to find the killer before he can strike again.  

Missing sled dogs and deadly goals surround this super sleuth tale -- or is it a tail?


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Chapter One

The  wind at 10,000 feet is mind numbing, especially in February in  Colorado. Unprotected from the ravaging wind as it scoured the  fourteen-thousand foot peaks and the great mountain, Silverheels, I  wanted my parka and my gloves. My hat lay in the truck far away, leaving  my head exposed and unprotected. The snowmobile was dead—empty gas  tank. I was stuck in the wilderness—the nearest help was miles away. But  of all the things I wished I had, I wanted my .44 magnum even more.

I  leaned against the snowmobile, barely able to stand. My leg ached from  the .22 caliber bullet Matt Rayburn’s murderer had fired as I tried to  escape. Alone, cold, and desperate—the murderer was coming for me.

It  wouldn’t take long. The murderer had good sled dogs. Harness them up  and go—they don’t know a killer from a cop. That’s one of the reasons  why so many people own dogs—dogs don’t care if you’re rich or poor,  sophisticated or uncouth—they’re the ultimate in positive regard. Dogs  don’t suffer from the foibles of the human condition—they don’t cheat,  lie, or betray one’s trust. If they steal, there’s a straightforward  reason—they’re hungry or they like the scent on the item. And they don’t  suffer from greed.

My  name is Stephanie Keyes and I’m a musher. That’s the term sled dog  drivers call ourselves. It comes from the slaughter of the French word marche,  which means to go forward. The English settlers who heard the French  order their dogs must have thought the French said, “Mush!” But, I was  not thinking of mushing or marching at this moment—I could barely walk. I  was wondering how I was going to get out of here.

I  was maybe a mile into National Forest when the snowmobile coughed and  sputtered. I sat down again and tried giving it more throttle, but to no  avail and it coughed twice before expiring. I hit the electric start,  but the machine stayed defiantly dead. For some reason, the image of an  old miner’s burro popped into my mind. I wondered if this was how the  old gold prospectors felt when their mules wouldn’t budge. Only, they  could shoot the mule to end it. I didn’t even have a gun.

I  stood up and looked frantically around. I had stopped at the crossroads  between the main forest service road and a narrow jeep/snowmobile road  that went across Beaver Creek. The creek was more or less frozen now to a  slushy consistency. Aspen, fire willows and other scrub grew in the  creek’s bed making a ten-foot tall maze throughout the gulch. Giant  ruts, a foot or two deep and several feet long crisscrossed the area as  though somebody had taken their Labrador Retriever up for a romp in the  snow. I hadn’t seen any dog tracks off the main road, so I didn’t know  what they were.

I  swore and tried to start the snowmobile again. Nothing. I sat there for  a moment or two to consider my options. I couldn’t wait here for the  murderer to come and find me and I couldn’t walk to Fairplay.

I  stood up and my thigh cramped again. Gripping my leg, I dragged myself  towards the dense thicket that grew around the creek. I walked with a  weird jerky motion, almost as though my leg had fallen asleep. I  stumbled to the creek and put a foot on the ice. It crackled and I  pulled my leg back. The cold water rushed deeply here. I couldn’t walk  across.

I  turned left and walked onto the frozen marshy grass between the fire  willows. The uneven ground made it tricky to move and I stumbled a few  times. Once or twice sharp pains shot through my leg and I nearly  screamed. Instead, I collapsed into a whimpering ball of jelly until the  pain subsided enough for me to go on.

That’s  when I found the moose. I was so focused on the pain that I wasn’t  looking where I was going and I nearly stumbled into her. By Alaskan  standards, she wasn’t a very big moose—maybe about the size of a  horse—but by Colorado standards, she was plenty big enough. She was dark  brown with the goofy Bullwinkle head and huge knobby knees. She looked  up from browsing and eyed me suspiciously. I froze. Now I realized the  giant ruts were moose tracks. They were made when the moose’s legs cut  through the snow.

Moose  have three modes: charge, stand, or flight. I was probably too close  for flight, so I hoped the moose would settle for stand. Never mind the  killer, the cow moose would finish me off. Since she hadn’t attacked  yet, I prayed for stand. I said nothing and slowly backed off, hoping my  jerky movements wouldn’t upset her further. The cow moose lowered her  head and took another bite of roots, still watching me. I retraced my  steps and got out of sight. I took another direction through the brush.

I  didn’t realize how much I’d been shaking until I stopped when I thought  I was safe. The cold wind chilled my sweat-drenched skin and I shivered  violently. My fingers were numb. I crouched and wondered what had  possessed me to get involved in Matt Rayburn’s murder. It wasn’t as if I  liked him. In fact, Matt would laugh if he saw me now. Stupid girl, he would say. You stuck your nose in something you had no business in.

He  would be right, of course, but I wouldn’t admit that to his face. He  was a Grade-A jerk. He treated everyone like trash—everyone, except his  dogs, perhaps. But even they were commodities to be used to his  advantage. We can pick our dogs, but unfortunately, they don’t get much  of a choice. He took good care of them and maybe they should have said  that in his eulogy. Not that I cared right now. Not that anyone really  cared.

It all started a week ago in Frisco, Colorado at the Gold Dust race…

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