BY: SUE OWENS WRIGHT

A Beanie and Cruiser Mystery

Trouble crops up in Native American Elsie “Beanie” MacBean’s neck of the woods during Lake Tahoe’s worst drought of the century. Beanie already has her hands full, dog-sitting Calamity, her daughter Nona’s rescued basset hound, and is feeling overwhelmed, dealing with her crazy new boarder’s behavioral issues and chronic ear infections, while juggling writing deadlines and caring for her own dog, Cruiser.

Then things turn deadly.

While on a woodland hike with Cruiser and Calamity, Beanie lets the dogs off their leashes. As the two canines rush off, she questions the wisdom of letting them run free. But when the dogs start baying, she knows they’ve found trouble. Sure enough, the animals have sniffed out a lumberjack’s corpse, hugging a tree, with an arrow piercing his neck.

Did the killer object to the lumberjack clear-cutting the old-growth forest, or was his motive more personal? As the bodies pile up and the suspects mount, Beanie realizes that her serene forest home is no longer as safe and peaceful as before. Now danger lurks in the forest—man, beast, and nature—and they all seem determined to kill her…

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Ears for Murder by Sue Owens Wright, Elsie “Beanie” MacBean is a Native American author living in the forest of Lake Tahoe. With her dogs, Cruiser and Calamity, Beanie goes walking in the woods the morning after a logger comes through with a big machine, clear-cutting the forest. Appalled at the devastation of the once-beautiful landscape, Beanie is even more devastated when she comes upon a murdered man with an arrow in his neck. As the bodies pile up, Beanie, and her two adorable assistants, get drawn further and further into the web of lies and betrayal until she doesn’t know who to trust. Suspects are plentiful, but clues are not. As she gets closer to the truth, Beanie realizes too late what some people will do to get revenge.

This cozy mystery is filled with delightful characters, an intriguing mystery, a number of twists and turns, and flashes of humor in just the right places.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Ears for Murder by Sue Owens Wright is the fifth in this talented author’s Beanie and Cruiser Mystery series. Beanie is dog-sitting her daughter’s dog, Calamity, who has a number of behavioral problems. One day, walking in the woods of Lake Tahoe with Calamity and her own dog Cruiser, she discovers a body. Then, a few days later, another victim is murdered. Beanie, a freelance investigative reporter, is determined to find out who the killer is before more bodies turn up. With more suspects than solid clues, she has her work cut out for her. But this killer is clever, and Beanie may just have met her match.

Ears for Murder is fun, clever, and riveting. With a solid plot, marvelous characters, and more than a few surprises, this is one you won’t want to miss.

CHAPTER 1

“What on earth is that awful racket?”

If dogs could talk, Cruiser and Calamity would have answered, Brace yourself, Beanie! Sounds like more trouble is headed our way.

What we heard wasn’t another earthquake disrupting the serenity of my forest hideaway as I sat typing on my laptop one September eve. It wasn’t thunderclaps from another dry lightning storm threatening to ignite a parched Sierra during the worst drought of the century. Nor was it the sound of a basset hound’s scratching at infected ears. Cruiser and Calamity had already proved to me that they have keen noses for sniffing out killers and corpses in South Lake Tahoe. Turns out they also have ears for murder.

The hound doing all that scratching was a certain bothersome, long-eared basset my daughter had asked me to care for while she was away on another photo shoot at some exotic locale. Of course, I agreed to watch Calamity for her. I owed Nona in kind for all the dog sitting she’s done with Cruiser in the past when I’m out on the newsbeat for the Tahoe Tattler or investigating a crime scene with my good friend, Sheriff Skip Cassidy. Pet sitting with crazy Calamity is not for the faint of heart, even for an ardent dog lover like I am, and Nona’s timing on this occasion couldn’t have been worse. Besides dealing with Calamity’s assortment of medical and behavioral issues, I was stressed with pressures of meeting the looming deadline for one of the wag mags I freelance for. I’d rather have been working on my next novel, but someone has to keep the cupboard stocked with kibble and biscuits for these hungry hounds. This latest feature was on the controversy about cropping ears of certain dog breeds, but those weren’t the only problems cropping up on my side of the mountain. At least my dog-sitting troubles promised to be temporary, unlike troubles of the deadly kind that seem to occur all too often in my neck of the woods.

Between typing and deleting words on my outdated Macbook, I glanced at the latest issue of the Tattler lying beside the computer. The newspaper’s feature story grabbed my attention, especially since I noticed my editor had assigned it to a younger writer. The article was all about an impending rare lunar eclipse called a “Blood Moon,” but I’d have to finish reading it later. I wasn’t making much headway on this article I was supposed to be writing. There were too many distractions–namely, my basset boarder.

“What’s the matter, Calamity? Are those ears bothering you again?” When she shook her head, pendulous flews and ears slapped in concert. At least there was less drool being flung than with Cruiser’s shakedowns. The flapping of those absurdly long basset ears accounted, in part, for the unusual commotion at Beanie’s mountaintop resort.

The world has become such a discordant place, even here at Tahoe. With maturity, I have grown more appreciative of silence. I seem to crave quietude in a way I never did when I was younger. Perhaps that’s because it has become such a rarity in the twenty-first century. You’ll never see me walking around with iPods poked into my ears. Nature has always provided all the music I ever need or want, at least in the days before jackhammers replaced the woodpecker’s woodland percussion, and the wail of a fire engine’s siren drowned out the coyote’s howl. Peace of mind is far too precious a commodity, and there is so little of it to be had anymore. No matter where you go, there is someone or something making some sort of noise. At least we don’t need leaf blowers in the Sierra with all our evergreens.

Like the invasive cancer that claimed my mother’s life, greedy developers continue to encroach upon Lake Tahoe’s once-pristine beauty to make their fortunes. Tourists converge on her shores and foul her waters. When Wa She Shu could still call Tahoe our own, my people only summered at the lake, and we left no footprint behind. Winters belonged to the many wild creatures that once inhabited this place. Any writer would trade the red ink flowing in her veins to inhabit this retreat of mine in the Tahoe National Forest, but no matter how far away you go, the discord of progress always seems to find you. Now it had found me.

The disturbance outside my cabin scattered any creative musings like a startled flock of geese from the lake’s calm surface. I was compelled to find out what the heck was going on. I ceased pecking at the keyboard, closed my laptop, and stepped to the kitchen window that overlooks the forest. The horror I witnessed out there defied description, but I’d soon be describing it to faithful readers of the Tahoe Tattler.

CHAPTER 2

The monster I heard roaring out in the forest was more hideous and frightening to me than any creature in the Washoe tribe’s Tahoe lore I’d heard at the campfires of my youth. I remember huddling closer to the firelight when Grandfather told of Water Babies’ eerie mewling cries or the giant, man-eating Ong bird. I worried that the powerful winged Ong might swoop down, snatch me up, and carry me to its nest in the middle of the lake. Our people’s primitive tales of terror and destruction could never compare with the realities of modern man, though. Here was proof positive in the woods surrounding my cozy mountain cabin.

I watched dumbstruck as “The Masticator” uprooted hundred-year-old Jeffrey pines from the forest floor as effortlessly as one plucks tender lupine stalks from a mountain meadow in springtime. During the relentless razing of Tahoe’s remaining wilderness, I’d seen and heard plenty of backhoes and bulldozers, but this was beyond any method of destruction I ever could have imagined. With stunning speed and efficiency, a rotating mechanical claw stripped the tree trunks bare of their branches and bark, dropping them back to their ravaged soil bed with an earth-shuddering thud. Thick clouds of dust choked the air, obliterating my view of a cobalt sky. Cruiser and Calamity flinched each time a naked timber crashed to the ground. I flinched right along with them. My verdant forest home, the cradle of my ancestors, was vanishing before my eyes.

The machine lumbered through the thick woods, growling and shrieking like some fearful leviathan, devouring everything in its path as it steadily approached my defenseless sanctum. The unbearable din must have been assaulting Calamity’s sensitive, painful ears because she made tracks from the kitchen for the asylum of my bedroom. Either that or she was reading my mind. I’d swear dogs do. She and I both knew I’d have to clean and medicate her ears again soon. It was a procedure neither of us relished and had begun to involve some serious basset wrangling to succeed at the task.

Meanwhile, I hoped I hadn’t left anything unattended in the bedroom that a naughty dog like her could get into, such as a stray chocolate candy bar. If anything edible were within easy reach, Calamity would certainly get into it. She’d already had one visit to Doc Heaton at the veterinary clinic for accidental chocolate poisoning. What might be next? It seemed like this dog was always going to the vet for some emergency or other. I expected that still more medical expenses would be incurred because of her chronic ear troubles.

Calamity seemed to have a real talent for trouble of one kind or another. If it wasn’t of a physical nature, then it was behavioral, as I’d already discovered on previous occasions. Cursed backyard breeders! How many more inbred Calamities would they be permitted to inflict on unsuspecting pet owners? Fortunately for Calamity, she has her good points, though I still wasn’t sure exactly what those were, other than the one atop her head, a pronounced occipital protuberance, which was one desirable basset trait she possessed in terms of breed conformation.

I trusted that Nona could be expected to make good on Calamity’s vet bills when she returned. In fact, my daughter could probably afford them better than I could. Her modeling career was really flourishing. She didn’t talk much about money, but I knew she was earning megabucks in photo shoots with top designers. I, on the other hand, hadn’t yet won the lottery and wasn’t getting rich stringing for the Tattler.

I hadn’t earned back the advance on my debut novel. Soon, though, I hoped. If not, I might be taking out a loan from Nona to keep bread on the table and Cruiser and Calamity well stocked in biscuits and Beggin’ Strips.

Speak of the devil, I was about to go check on Calamity to see what fresh hell she was into when the phone jingled. I barely heard it ring with all the noise outside.

“Hello.”

Nothing.

“Anyone there?”

“Elsie? Carla…Tattler.”

“I can’t hear you,” I yelled into the receiver. “You’ll have to speak louder. There’s too much noise here.”

Just as I spoke those words, the noise stopped. Finally! Peace and quiet. I hoped it was quitting time for The Masticator. The abrupt silence was startling after all that commotion. Kind of like when I’m busy writing at Alpen Sierra Café and the espresso machine stops hissing. Or when you come to Lake Tahoe from the city and encounter all the tranquility surrounding you. It’s a shock to your ears. You don’t quite know what to make of the unfamiliar silence. It’s like being immersed in water or inside the womb. Unfortunately, the main source of that blessed silence, our forest, is in imminent danger of extinction.

Cruiser seemed glad, too, when the clamor abated. Sighing his relief in unison with my own, he waddled over to his favorite hairy pillow on my living room sofa to indulge in some quality Zs. My poor ears were still ringing, as if my head was inside the Liberty Bell, but I could at least discern that my editor was offering me an assignment to write about an issue that was about as close to home as I ever wanted it to be.

© 2017 by Sue Owens Wright