WolfSinger Publications

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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 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…