The Tail of the Tip-Off

A Mrs. Murphy Mystery

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The Tail of the Tip-Off

When winter hits Crozet, Virginia, it hits hard--and hangs on for months. That’s nothing new to postmistress Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen and her friends, who keep warm with hard work, hot toddies, and rabid rooting for the University of Virginia’s women’s basketball team at the old stadium affectionately dubbed “The Clam.” But the usual postgame high spirits are laid low when contractor H. H. Donaldson drops dead in the parking lot. And pretty soon word has spread that it wasn’t a heart attack that did him in. It just doesn’t sit right with Harry that one of her fellow fans--perhaps even an acquaintance or neighbor sitting close by in the stands--is a murderer. And as tiger cat Mrs. Murphy is all too aware, things that don’t sit right with Harry make her restless, curious, and prone to poking her not-very-sensitive human nose into dangerous places. So the animals start paying closer attention to what the people around them are doing--and they’re the first ones to realize when the next murder occurs.

It seems obvious to Harry that the deaths are connected--and she intends to find out exactly how. There’s no shortage of suspects, considering that H.H. was a ladies’ man who’d left a trail of broken hearts all over town--the most recent belonging to his wife-- and that the second murder victim was not very popular in Crozet.As the police launch their investigation, Harry picks up clues through savvy questioning of everyone she knows. But it’s the critters who are most attuned to trouble--they scent something wicked wafting Harry’s way on the tail of the next snowstorm. And as Harry draws closer to the truth about a brutal killer, Mrs. Murphy and her friends realize it’s up to them to make sure their intrepid mom lands on her feet.


Chapter 1

A gray sleety drizzle rattled against the handblown windowpanes in the rectory at St. Luke's Lutheran Church. As if in counterpoint, a fire crackled in the large but simple fireplace, the mantel adorned by a strip of dentil carving. The hands of that carver had turned to dust in 1797.

The members of the Parish Guild were seated in a semicircle around the fireplace, at a graceful coffee table in the middle. As anyone knows, serving on a board or a committee is a dubious honor. Most people recognize their duty in time to avoid it. However, the work must be done and some good folks bow their heads to the yoke.

Mary Minor Haristeen had succumbed to the thrill of being elected, of being considered responsible, by the congregation. This thrill thinned as the tangle of tasks presented themselves in meeting after meeting. She liked the physical problems better than the people problems. Fixing a fallen drainspout was within her compass of expertise. Fixing a broken heart, offering succor to the ill, well, she was learning.

The good pastor of St. Luke's, the Reverend Herbert C. Jones, excelled at both the people problems and teaching. He gladly gave of himself to any board member, any parishioner. As he'd baptized Mrs. Haristeen, nicknamed Harry, he felt a special affection for the good-looking woman in her late thirties. It was an affection bounteously returned for Harry loved the Rev, as she called him, with all her heart.

Although the guild was bickering at this exact moment, it'd be fair to say that every member loved the Reverend Jones. It would be also fair to say that most of them liked--if not loved--Harry. The one exception being BoomBoom Craycroft who sort of liked her and sort of didn't. The feeling was mutual.

Like large white confetti, papers rested on the coffee table along with mugs. The aroma of coffee and hot chocolate somewhat dissipated the tension.

"We just can't go off half-cocked here and authorize an expenditure of twelve thousand dollars." Tazio Chappars crossed her arms over her chest. She was an architect and a young, attractive woman of color, with an Italian mother and an African-American father.

"Well, we have to do something," Herb said in his resonant, hypnotic voice.

"Why?" Tazio, combative, shifted in her seat.

"Because the place looks like hell," Harry blurted out. "Sorry, Rev."

"Quite all right. It does." Herb laughed.

Hayden McIntyre, the town's general practitioner, was a fleshy man with an air of command if not a touch of arrogance. He slipped his pencil out from behind his ear and began scribbling on the budget papers which had been handed out at the beginning of the meeting. "Let's try this. I am not arguing replacing the carpet in the rectory. We've put this off for four years now. I remember hearing arguments pro and con when I first came on board. This is one of the loveliest, most graceful churches in the Piedmont and it should reflect that." An appreciative murmur accompanied this statement. "I've broken this down into three areas of immediate need. First the sacristy: must be done." He held up his hand as Tazio opened her mouth. "It must. I know what you're going to say."

"No you don't." Her hazel eyes brightened. "Well, okay, maybe you do. Pick up the carpet and sand the floors."

"Tazio, we've been over that. We can't do that because the floorboards are so thin they can't take it." Matthew Crickenberger, head of Charlottesville's largest construction firm, clapped his hands together softly for emphasis. "Those floorboards are chestnut. They've been doing their job since 1797 and frankly they're tired and we can't really replace them. If you think the bill for new carpeting is high, wait until you see the bill for chestnut flooring even if we could find it. Mountain Lumber up there off Route 29 might be able to scare some up and give us a preacher's price, but we're still talking about thousands and thousands of dollars. Chestnut is as rare as hen's teeth and we'd need a great deal of it." He glanced down at his notes. "Six thousand square feet if we were to replace everything now under carpet and this doesn't factor in the other areas currently in use but not quite ready for recarpeting."

Tazio exhaled, flopping back in her chair. She wanted everything just so but she didn't have to foot the bill. Still, it rankled to have a vision amputated because of a small pocketbook. Such was an architect's fate.

"Hayden, you had a plan?" Herb pushed the meeting along. No one wanted to be late to the basketball game and this discussion was eating up time.

"Yes," he smiled, "what people see first is the sacristy. If we can't come to an arrangement among us, can we at least agree to go ahead with that? The cost would be about four thousand."

"If we are going to have the place ripped up, then let's just get it over with. We know we have to do this." BoomBoom, gorgeous as always, shimmered in her teal suede dress.

"I agree. We'll find the money someplace."

"We'd better find the money first or we'll have to answer to the congregation in the church, in the supermarket, and"--Matthew winked at Harry--"in the post office."

Harry, the postmistress, sheepishly smiled. "And you know my partner in crime, Miranda, is a member of the Church of the Holy Light, so she won't bail me out."

The little gathering laughed. Miranda Hogendobber, who was a good thirty years older than Harry, quoted Scriptures with more ease than the Reverend Jones and while she tolerated other faiths she felt the charismatic church to which she belonged truly had the best path to Jesus.

As the humans batted around the cost, the need, and the choice of color for the carpeting, Harry's three dear friends lurked in the hallway outside the large room.

Mrs. Murphy, a most intelligent tiger cat, listened to the intensifying sleet. Her sidekick, a large round gray cat named Pewter, was getting fidgety waiting for the meeting to end. Tucker, the corgi, patient and steady as only a good dog can be, was happy to be inside and not outside.

The Christ cats--as Herb's two cats were called by the other animals--had escorted Murphy, Pewter, and Tucker around. They'd gossiped about every animal in the small Virginia town of Crozet, but as the meeting was entering its second hour, they'd finally exhausted that topic.

Cazenovia, the elder of the two cats, nestled down, her fluffy tail around her nose. A large calico, she had aged gracefully. The young foundling which Herb had taken in a few years ago, Elocution, had grown into a sleek pretty cat. A touch of Siamese in her, she never stopped talking.

"--tuna breath!" Elocution uttered this insult. "How can you stand it?"

"She doesn't," Mrs. Murphy giggled.

They'd been discussing the blue jay who tormented Pewter. He also tormented Mrs. Murphy but with less enthusiasm, probably because he couldn't get a rise out of the tiger.

"Oh, I will snap his neck like a toothpick someday. You take my word for it," Pewter promised.

"How thrilling," Cazenovia purred.

"And un-Christian," Tucker chuckled.

"Well, we are cats," Pewter sniffed.

"That's right. Our job is to rid the world of vermin," Elocution agreed. "Blue jays are beyond vermin. They're avian criminals. Picking up stones and dropping them on neighbors' eggs. Dropping you-know-what on freshly waxed cars. Do it on purpose. They'll sit in a tree and wait until the job is finished and then swoosh." Elocution glanced up at the rat-ta-tat on the window. "Not today."

"Why don't blue jays go south in the winter?" Pewter mused. "Robins do."

"Life in our barn is too good, that's why. Harry puts out birdhouses and gourds and then she plants South American maize for the ground birds, cowpeas, and bipolar lespedeza. The winter might be cold but she serves up all kinds of seeds for those dumb birds."

"Birds are descended from flying reptiles," Elocution announced with vigor. "That alone should warn us off."

"What in the world is going on in there?" Tucker listened as Matthew Crickenberger raised his voice about labor costs.

"Say, have I shown you how I can open the closet where Herb stores the communion wafers?" Elocution puffed out her chest.

"Elo, don't do that," Cazenovia warned.

"I'm just going to prove that I can do it."

"They'll believe you. They don't need a demonstration."

"I wouldn't mind," Pewter laconically replied.

"Thanks, Pewter." Cazenovia cast her a cold golden eye.

"Come on." Elocution, tail held high, bounded down the hall.

The others followed, Cazenovia bringing up the rear. "I know I'll get in trouble for this," the old girl grumbled.

Elocution skidded at the turn in the hall where it intersected with another hall traversing the width of the rectory, itself an old building constructed in 1834.

Pewter whispered to Mrs. Murphy, "I'm hungry."

"You're always hungry."

"I know, but you'd think the Rev would put a bowl of crunchies out somewhere. And I don't smell anything edible."

"Me neither," the mighty but small dog whispered, "and I have the best nose."

"Here." Elocution stopped in front of a closet under the stairwell which ascended to the second story. "You all stay here."

"Elocution, this really isn't necessary," Cazenovia sighed.

Ignoring her, the shiny cat hopped up the stairs then slipped halfway through the banisters. Lying on her side she could reach the old-fashioned long key which protruded from the keyhole. She batted at it then grabbed it with both paws, expertly turning the key until the lock popped.

"Oh, that is impressive." Pewter's eyes widened.

"The best part is, Herbie will flay Charlotte for leaving it unlocked." Elocution laughed.

Charlotte was Herb's secretary, second in command.

As the lock opened, Elocution gave a tug and Pewter, quick to assist, pulled at the bottom of the door with her paw. The door swung open revealing bottles of red wine and a shelf full of communion wafers in cracker boxes with cellophane wrappers. Elocution knocked one on the floor then squeezed her slender body all the way through the banisters, dropping to the floor. Within a second she'd sliced the cellophane off the box, and using one extended claw, she opened the tucked-in end.

The odor of wafers, not unlike water crackers, enticed Pewter.

"Elocution, I knew you were going to do this," Cazenovia fretted.

"Well, the box is open. We can't let it go to waste." The bad kitty grabbed a wafer and gobbled it down.

Temptation. Temptation. Pewter gave in.

Cazenovia suffered a moment. "They're ruined now. The humans can't eat them." She, too, flicked out wafers.

Tucker, being a canine after all, rarely worried about the propriety of eating anything. Her nose was already in the wafer box.

Mrs. Murphy allowed herself the luxury of a nibble. "Kind of tasteless."

"If you eat enough of them you get a bready taste, but they are bland." Cazenovia's statement revealed she'd been in the communion wafers more than once.

"Does this mean we're communicants?" Pewter paused.

"Yes," Mrs. Murphy answered. "We're communicats."

"What if I'm not a Lutheran? What if I'm a Moslem cat?"

"If you were a Moslem cat you wouldn't be living in Crozet." Tucker laughed.

"You don't know. This is America. We have everything," Pewter rejoined.

"Not in Crozet." Cazenovia wiped her mouth with her paw. "You've got Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Catholics. More or less the same thing and I know Herb would have a fit, a total fit, if he knew I'd said that, but fortunately he doesn't know what I or any other cat in this universe has to say." She took a deep breath. "Then you've got the Baptists busily fighting among themselves these days and then the charismatic churches and that's it."

"Let's open a Buddhist shrine. Shake 'em up a little." Elocution hiccuped. She'd eaten too many wafers too quickly.

"No. We build a huge statue of a cat with earrings like in ancient Egypt. Oh, I can hear the squeals now about paganism." Mrs. Murphy laughed as the others laughed with her.

Tucker swiveled her ears. "Hey gang, meeting's breaking up. Let's get out of here."

"Help me push this back in the closet and close the door," Elocution said with urgency.

Cazenovia knocked the box in as though it were a hockey puck. Tucker, larger than the cats, pushed against the door. It closed in an instant. They scrambled out of there. Luckily for them, the doors to the meeting room weren't yet open. They made it back in the nick of time.

"--tomorrow afternoon," Matthew told Tazio.

"I'll be in the office."

"I know you're disappointed about the chestnut flooring but, well." Matthew shrugged.

"I guess I'm a perfectionist. That's what they say back at the office and on the sites, only they say it a lot more directly there." She smiled.

"You've got a lot on your plate, young lady." Hayden McIntyre joined them. "Your design for the new sports complex is just the most ingenious thing. Is that the right word?"

"As long as it's a good word." Tazio picked up her coat hanging in the hall.

"I know H.H. has none for me." Matthew shrugged.

"He'll get his shot." Hayden shrugged right back.

Tazio pointedly did not comment on the animosity between Matthew and H. H. Donaldson, head of a rival construction firm. The bad blood had been made worse when Matthew won the bid to construct Tazio's new stadium. She had hoped H.H. would win the bid because she especially liked him, but she could work just fine with Matthew.

Herb walked out with Harry and BoomBoom. "I sure appreciate you girls coming on over here. You're a welcome addition to the guild."

Both women had just begun their first terms, which lasted three years.

"I'm learning a lot," Harry said.

"Me, too."

"Look at these little angels." Harry knelt down to pet all the cats and Tucker.

"If she only knew." Elocution giggled.

"Don't be so smug," Cazenovia chided her. "Humans don't know what we're talking about but they know smug."

"I don't know what I'd do without those two." Herb smiled benevolently. "They help write the sermons, they keep an eye on the parishioners, they leave little pawprints on the furniture."

"I'm sure they've left them on the carpets, too." BoomBoom liked cats.

"Well, that they have but I can hardly blame them for wearing those carpets out. Fortunately we are a well-attended church, but it does put wear and tear on the building." Herb checked his watch. "Game's in an hour. You all going?"

"Yes," the two women said in unison.

"Well, I'll see you there. I'd better go through the building and shut some of the doors. On these cold nights it saves on the heat bill. Gotta save it where I can."

Q & A

BRC: You co-wrote WHISKER OF EVIL, a Mrs. Murphy Mystery, with Sneaky Pie Brown, your feline companion. You have said that this series began because you had no intention of writing mysteries, but Sneaky Pie wanted to. How has the collaboration evolved? What has Sneaky Pie taught you about writing --- specifically dialogue?

RMB: The collaboration evolved because The Writers’ Guild struck for nine long months in 1988. The money from Hollywood dried up but the bills flowed regularly. Sneaky Pie informed me that we should work together. She wanted to do mysteries but I was horrified considering genre fiction the suburbs of literature. I have come to repent my original evaluation because both Sneaky Pie and the mystery structure have taught me a great deal about driving forward plot. Those lessons now carry-over into my own novels.

The collaboration hasn’t evolved. I just do what Sneaky Pie tells me.

What she has taught me about writing is that everything is easier for cats seeing as how they are smarter than humans. Should you doubt this, I ask you: Have you found someone to put a roof over your head, allow you to commandeer the best seat in the house, feed you on time and tell you ad nauseum how beautiful and wonderful you are?

Regarding dialogue, Sneaky can’t teach me a thing. You may interpret this response as my recognition that I have a great gift for idiosyncratic speech or that I am too arrogant to learn.

BRC: Mary Minor Haristeen, or "Harry," is your protagonist and an amateur sleuth. In this book, she's at a turning point, in more ways than one. Anything you can tell us about her future direction(s)?

RMB: Harry’s future direction forces her to resolve her financial crisis which is allied to her emotional crisis over her ex-husband, Fair Haristeen. She’s forgiven him, finally but can she forgive herself? Then, too, does she really want to be married again? There’s a lot to be said for a woman remaining single.

BRC: WHISKER OF EVIL involves a lot of information about the world of thoroughbreds, which is fascinating. How, when and why did you first start learning about thoroughbreds? What, if anything, did you need to learn for this book?

RBM: I grew up with horses, Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and Percherons for farm work. My mother, Julia Ellen Buckingham Brown, adored racing whether flat, harness or steeplechasing so I spent a lot of time at the tracks as a child. In those days no one thought the prospect of seeing adults gamble would harm our young minds. Today, children are prevented from the backstretch, the gaming windows, etc. but are found strong enough to withstand the daily onslaught of violence and crudity supplied by television and film.

Obviously, hanging around with Mom at the tracks did not emotionally bruise me. She knew a good horse, having a keen eye for conformation and she spent some time on pedigrees. To her credit, she won more than she lost.

I didn’t have to do any research for the horse part of the novel except to say that I still study pedigrees, I make it a habit to go to sales at Keeneland or Saratoga if I can get away. I visit Lexington, Kentucky, usually two or three times a year just so I can see the horses in the back pastures as well as observe the stallions. I’ve been helped tremendously by Joan Hamilton of Kalarama Farm (Saddlebreds) and also the proprietor of Rose Haven Farm. Joan and Mrs. Paula Cline (Rose Haven) have been known to run a Thoroughbred or two.

For the record, I breed Thoroughbreds and TB/Quarter horses crosses which we then raise and train for foxhunting. Not many people do that anymore because it takes so much time to make a reliable hunting horse. People can’t make any money on it. I break even which I consider a great victory. Last year I even nudged into the black a little bit.

BRC: In this book, you describe the Southern tradition as one that seeks to draw people together, to create community. Certainly the interaction of your characters supports that --- they're constantly bringing each other baskets of food and tempting each other with libations both alcoholic and non. How do you keep track of how your series characters have grown, changed, etc., especially in their dealings with each other?

RBM: That’s an interesting question because I don’t keep track of the characters. I don’t really think about them, they’re just there in the manner that my friends are there. I’m not an author who manipulates characters to serve the plot. For me, character is plot even in a mystery.

BRC: Some of your characters (Miranda, for example) are able to quote appropriate Scripture verses at will. You are a Christian, but you also have strong views about the church and about how others read the Bible. Could you comment on why it's so important for these characters to bring in Scripture. Is it part of their culture or done for your plot purposes?

RMB: In the South, regardless of whether we’re high church or not, we’re raised with the King James Version of the Bible. This is the English language at its richest, it’s the language of Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlow. Plus, we had to memorize a lot which was good mental training and it’s amazing how that stays with you, not just what you memorized i.e. The Twentythird Psalm but the music of the language. The biggest scaligwag can quote a little bit of Scripture in this part of the world. Some of them even wind up on television, ah yes, the electronic church. You’ve heard of the Church of Christ Scientist. Good old Mary Baker Eddy. Hey, we’ve got the Church of Christ Television. So it goes.

BRC: Although most of your books have been set in the South and are steeped in its mores and manners, at one point in this book you have a character allude to some of the South's problems (i.e., the bad old ways of the bad old days). Please talk about what Southern ways mean to you, and what, if anything, you reject about them.

RBM: Even if I wanted to reject the Southern ways, how could I? It comes in with your mother’s milk. Racism has been hung about our necks but that’s awfully convenient. My definition of being black is of fighting on both sides of The Civil War and still losing. Racism is a national problem. For instance, whenever I’m in San Francisco, I’m brought up short by what the attitudes of some are concerning Asian Americans. You go to the Southwest and Mexicans come in for a fair share of nastiness. Head up to upstate New York and you hear jokes about French Canadians or Newfoundland residents or immigrants.

For whatever reason, humans desperately need to look down on other humans based on irrational criteria. Were the criteria rational, they’d have to face competition from the “out” group.

Sneaky Pie has no time for any of this. Humans are beneath the salt and that’s the end of it.

BRC: In the South, as you point out, appearances matter. Could you talk about this in terms of the mystery --- both as a Southern woman who has chosen to write about things beneath the surface, and as a novelist whose characters often need to delve deep in order to save themselves?

RMB: How you dress, how you address, are forms of respect. The South is an honor culture and this is something people from other parts (except the true West) don’t get and probably never will. The outward forms reflect the inner organization. After awhile, those good manners become a kind of ethics. I wouldn’t change it for the world. In fact, I think all Southerners should take a solemn vow when they turn eighteen: Go forth now and civilize Yankees.

BRC: Do you consider yourself a Southern writer? If not, why not --- what does being a Southern writer mean, if anything?

RMB: I don’t identify myself by my work. That’s what I do. It’s not what I am. But for those who read my books it seems natural they’d want some kind of label so they can find the novels in the bookstore. They can call me anything they want but they’d better be careful about how they address (that word again) Sneaky Pie. “Her Highness” will do nicely.

BRC: Polo plays a large role in your own life; will you have any Mrs. Murphy books revolve around polo? If not, why not?

RMB: Polo is an addiction if ever there was one. I haven’t played in three years because my ponies got so old I retired them and I haven’t scratched up enough money to buy another string. Also, my polo seat (forgive the term) has improved so I need a much quicker, faster pony than before which, of course, means more money.

You may ask, well, if you make foxhunters why not polo ponies? I want to make the best foxhunters out there. That’s where the time and energy goes. I don’t want to make okay polo ponies. I want to buy polo ponies from someone who takes their training as seriously as I take bringing along foxhunters. Robert Lyn Kee Chow still brings them along correctly as do some others. But again, thanks to a tax structure that favors service industries, corporations and punishes agriculture, most people in the horse business have to turn over the horses quickly. You get a lot of bad horses that way and a lot of breakdowns. I can’t fault people fore needing to make a living. I can only fault them if they don’t tell the truth about the horse. But what I do fault is the fact that the city now holds the country hostage and I fear this far more than I fear terrorism because in the long run, the ignorance of the city dweller will destroy everything I love.

BRC: We know you have a cat (Sneaky Pie), and a Corgi (Tucker) but where did you learn so much about the other animals, domestic and wild, in this book --- whom do you call on for research?

RMB: My first memory of life is Mickey, a long-haired tabby in my crib. We were inseparable until I was seven and he passed away of old age. My grandfather kept foxhounds in his house (not unusual for his time, he was a WWI vet, learning hunting in the 1980’s) and I played on the floor with them and slept with them when I visited him.

In fact, I can’t live without animals most especially cats, horses, hounds and regular dogs. I even love my chickens and I had them as a child.

I can’t say that I research them. I just know them and in many ways, I feel closer to them than humans.

I do however research medical advancements, i.e. retinal atrophy in certain breeds.

The hardest thing for me when I’m on tour is not the lack of sleep (you’re lucky if you get four hours because of travel time to and from airports plus the search and delay once there), not even the lack of food because few things bore me more than having to sit down and eat anyway, what drags me down and makes me blue is I’m apart from my American foxhounds, my cats, my horses and all the rescue dogs currently sprawled on the sofa.

If there aren’t animals in heaven, I’m not going.

BRC: In all of these books you introduce the world of Charlottesville, Crozet, and their environs. You grew up there, moved back, lived through the 80s celebrity "invasion" and have stayed long past that as both a local and a national celebrity yourself. What is the best thing about the area? The worst?

RMB: The best thing about central Virginia is the people. They’re funny, eccentric, even, always ready for a good time and deeply compassionate. Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.

Also, it’s so beautiful here no matter the season that every day is a prayer of thanks.

The worst thing is the influx of new people who love the beauty, think we’re charming and then bitch and moan if your hound crosses their five acres upon which sits a $750,000 mansion. You have to realize no true Southerner can understand why someone would put all that money in a house instead of buying more land. The other thing is the comeheres want everything new, new, new. Even their Georgian revivals are new. The idea of a Chinese carpet that’s from 1870 and has some threadbare areas is anathema to them.

I can pretty much get along with anyone but if you’re coming to the South and especially Virginia, you’d better get used to hounds crossing your land.

BRC: You're obviously passionate about animal rights, and that includes animal understanding, if you will. What one thing you wish people understood about animals that they don't?

RMB: I’m passionate about animal welfare not animal rights. Animal rights calls up the spectre of groups like PETA who engage in violence against others and smear campaigns against those who don’t agree with them. These people do animals more harm than good.

As to animal welfare I believe every house pet should be neutered. I am opposed to puppy mills and the pet stores who sell those unfortunate specimens. I believe in No-kill animal shelters, the exception being made for a dangerous animal or one terminally ill. I believe the penalties for animal abuse should equal those for human abuse and here’s why: very often those who torture and kill begin with animals. Let’s identify them early and hit them hard.

What I wish that people understood about animals that many don’t is that all the higher vertebrates are quite sophisticated structurally, mentally and emotionally. The balance and gifts vary with the species but since the dawn of patriarchy (about 10,000 years ago) the intelligence and emotive gifts of animals have been downgraded or outright denied. This is what humans do when they seek to enslave or kill. One has only to read and see how the Al Qaeda fanatics have cast us as The Great Satan to see this full blown.

Depending on the species and the individual, I believe that many animals have a greater and deeper capacity to love than we do.

We left Eden, they didn’t.

BRC: You've long been known as a lesbian, an activist, an activist writer, and by oh so many other labels, however, many of your novels, such as this one, has a balanced view of life. Have you mellowed? Or do you simply feel you're calling it as you see it?

RMB: Not only have I not mellowed, I have more fire than when I was young. The trick is, I better know how to direct it.

Pretty much I call it as I see it but I am a Virginian so I might call a spade a delving instrument in the interest of preserving harmony and a more productive conversation.

BRC: What's next in the Mrs. Murphy series? Are there other book projects that you are working on?

RMB: Sneaky Pie says she never divulges her ideas. I should also tell you that as I write this she has just dragged in a large field mouse so there’s no living with her.

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