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Murder On The Eightfold Path

A.J. woke to sunshine and birdsong. Despite the disturbed night shed spent, she felt refreshed, energized-and brave enough to try the Marjariasana again. That particular asana, the Cat Stretch, was especially good for easing and preventing back pain.

She knelt on her hands and knees, forcing herself to breathe normally, to stay relaxed, and to keep her spine straight. She looked straight ahead, focusing on her breathing, her muscles.

Crouching inward, she exhaled and arched her spine upward like a frightened cat. She held the pose for a few seconds, breathing softly and evenly.

Her back twinged, but it seemed to be the stiffness that came from disuse rather than actual pain. She moved very carefully, very slowly as she returned to her original position and exhaled.

A.J. knelt for a second or two simply listening to what her body was telling her, and what her body seemed to be saying was, it was okay to move forward into the next asana.

Still on her hands and knees, A.J. dropped her back and raised her head as high as she could, extending her neck like a curious cow.

Both these asanas were very popular with the young students in the Yoga for Kids and Itsy Bitsy Yoga courses she taught-though they were usually performed accompanied by appropriate sound effects. However she could imagine what her mother would make of her mooing next door.

A.J. returned to her original position, relaxed with slow, even breaths, then lowered herself to the floor to lie in Corpse Pose.

Her patience and care were paying off. Her back was definitely improving.

As A.J. studied the artfully draped cobwebs overhead, she thought about the talk shed had with her mother the previous evening and the disturbing news that her father had apparently had an affair with Stella Borin.

Apparently being a key word. As far as A.J. was concerned there was still some doubt that any affair had taken place since the two offending parties had never admitted their guilt. But maybe it was more comfortable, safer, for her to believe that?

Still it was hard to give credence to such an idea when she vividly remembered how very much her father had loved her mother.

Men tended to do that: love Elysia. A.J. thought of Bradley Meagher. If half the things Medea and Elysia had said last night at dinner were true, poor Mr. Meagher had been waiting loyally, patiently, in the wings all these years only for Elysia to turn around and have an affair with an unprincipled young man half her age.

A.J. had a sudden, unpleasant notion. What if the investigation into Dickys death was not so much about Dickys romances as Elysias relationships with the men in her life?

After showering and dressing, A.J. tapped softly on the door of Elysias bedroom. There was no answer. She poked her head inside, but the room was empty.

She went downstairs, following the sound of voices to the kitchen.

There you are, sleepyhead, Elysia greeted her. She and Medea sat at the oval table drinking coffee and eating slices of frosted pound cake. Maddie was telling me about her prowler. Its a good thing we didnt call the police.

Och, the puir man is harmless. His name is Bill Zemda. He lives with his parents. He was in a car crash a few years ago. Medea touched the side of her head to indicate non compos mentis. He uses the gate at the back of the garden to visit the statues at night.

Elysia was looking unbearably smug. A.J. contented herself with a crisp, Well, we didnt know he was harmless at the time, did we? She took the cup Medea handed her and fixed herself coffee.

Someone seems to have woken up on the wrong side of the bed, Elysia remarked.

A.J. jumped as the ferret, Morag, suddenly poked her head around a canister of tea. The other two women laughed heartily at this sign of nerves.

A.J. began to long heartily for her own home and hearth.

Carrying her coffee cup to the table, she took a place across the table from her mother. Medea cut a thick slice of cake, ignoring A.J.s request for a sliver.

A.J. resigned herself to her fate and sampled the cake. It was very good: lemon flavored with a hint of thyme.

Maddie and Ive been chatting about old times, Elysia remarked.

What else? A.J. managed a polite, Oh yes?

And for more than long enough, Medea said briskly. We dont want to waste the entire weekend chin-wagging. What shall we do? I wouldnt mind a wee game of golf, myself.

A.J. bit her lip to keep from grinning at Elysias expression as her plans for further interrogation were gently thwarted. Not that she was thrilled at the idea of golf herself; her back was better, but a round or two of golf seemed like pushing her luck even if she liked golf, which, frankly, she didnt. Shed always left the golf course deal making to Andy.

Besides, as she had been showering that morning, A.J. had discovered her own clue, which she wanted to follow up. She suggested, I was sort of hoping I could work in getting my hair cut this weekend, if I can squeeze in somewhere.

Elysia opened her mouth in protest, and A.J. added, And maybe we could have lunch out? That would kill two birds with one stone and still allow her mother the opportunity to question Medea.

Elysia, catching A.J.s gaze, subsided, saying mildly, I suppose I could use a trim myself. We could make an afternoon of it. Girls Day Out?

I could see if theyll take you at the place I go, Medea remarked, clearly a little puzzled by all this urgently required grooming.

A.J. and Elysia gave this idea a thumbs up and Medea went to phone her hairdresser. The minute she was out of the room, Elysia leaned forward and said softly, What are you up to? Whats this sudden desire for a haircut? You usually wait till the birds abandon their nest to fly south for the winter.

Ha. I do need a haircut, A.J. said. But when I was taking my shower this morning I happened to notice that all the soaps and shampoos in the bathroom are from The Salon.

We all spend too much on hair product, Elysia conceded, disappointed. I thought perhaps you were on to something. You had that gleam in your eye.

Youre not following me. Im not talking about salon products, Im talking about products from The Salon. Thats where you go, right? And those are the products you use?

Elysia assented, cutting herself another slice of cake.

Isnt everything geared to women over fifty?

I believe so, pumpkin. No need to rub it in.

Its probably just a coincidence, but Dicky had products from The Salon at his town house.

Elysia looked up-and now there was a gleam in her eye.

A.J. asked, Were they yours? Did you ever spend the night over there?

Elysia said gently, Are you sure you want to hear this? You didnt enjoy last nights show-and-tell session, I know.

A.J. thought she had hidden her reaction better than she seemingly must have. She said sturdily, Im a big girl, Mother. I can handle the fact that you have a social life.

Can you? Elysia seemed amused at some thought she didnt share. In any case, you can relax. I never spent the night at Dickys, and I certainly never brought my own grooming products.

Then Dicky was definitely entertaining another lady guest; someone about your age and probably in your income bracket. Were narrowing in on her. The Salon isnt a national company. You dont find its products in every beauty parlor or in grocery stores or even on the web except through their own website. I know because I tried to find some of that royal jelly skin cream I borrowed from you. You have to purchase directly from The Salon or from their website.

Elysia considered this without comment.

And The Salon is locally based, which means its likely that so is this woman-whoever she is.

Elysia said reluctantly, It does look that way.

It has to be that. There is no other explanation. Unless Maddie is lying-and neither of us thinks she is-Dicky was seeing someone else. And this woman is probably the woman who killed him.

The shampoo could have been left by an earlier girlfriend, Elysia pointed out. Someone no longer in his life.

I suppose so A.J. put her fork down. No. No, that wont fly because The Salons packaging changed recently. Thats something I noticed when I was searching their website for the royal jelly. I couldnt remember exactly what it was called and I kept looking for bottles and jars that resembled yours. The bottles that I saw had the new packaging and logo.

Elysia said unhappily, Maddie could be lying about the last time she saw Dicky.

A.J. didnt want to believe that; she really did like Medea and didnt want to believe she was a murderer. I think its more likely there was a third woman. Madame X.

Or, Elysia said suddenly, Dicky was using the products himself.

A.J. blinked. It wasnt impossible. True, The Salon products were not geared toward the twenty-something male demographic, but that didnt mean a twenty-something male might not use them. Although she had only seen him briefly, Dicky appeared to be very well-groomed. Nearly as well-groomed as Andy, A.J.s ex.

Perhaps one of Dickys lady friends had introduced him to the products?

I guess thats possible, she admitted, reluctantly. I dont think its likely, but Im not sure how to rule it out.

Elysia ran a thoughtful hand through her dark waves. We could always ask.

Its possible someone might remember him. I doubt if they have a lot of young men buying blue rinse conditioner.

Medea returned to the kitchen and announced that they had appointments at The Salon for after lunch. Since golf was now out, she seemed less enthusiastic about leaving her mausoleum and suggested A.J. and Elysia drive into Newton on their own, browse the shops, have lunch, and then head over to have their hair done.

A.J. and Elysia quickly vetoed this. It will do you good to get out, petal, Elysia said cheerfully. No point hanging about brooding about the long-lost past or where to find replacements for brass keyhole covers.

I suppose youre right, Medea muttered, clearly unconvinced of any such thing. Now if we were going for a game of golf-

But Elysia ruthlessly overrode any possibility of golf, and in the end Medea allowed herself to be persuaded. Leaving Morag to guard the house, they drove into the town of Newton in Medeas giant old black Bentley.

The historic town of Newton, or the Pearl of Kittatinny, was a lovely old town located in the Northwest Skylands. Granted, it was a little limited as far as arts and entertainment day-tripping went. There was the Snow-mobile Barn Museum, which all three women agreed to give a wide miss to, and the Newton Fire Museum. The town boasted no fewer than four terrific golf courses. A.J. and Elysia again had to overrule Medea, who opted they skip the hair appointments for a few rounds. There were a number of cute shops and boutiques, and some charming caf'es and restaurants.

After a leisurely lunch at Andres Restaurant and Wine Boutique, they drove to The Salon, a large white building with ionic pillars lining the front like a Greek temple. It wasnt an ugly building, but it stuck out like a sore thumb amidst the historic architecture of Newton.

Medea and Elysia were greeted like old friends by the salon owner, Gloria Sunday.

Elysia, darling. Gloria was so exquisite she could have been made out of porcelain. Her makeup was flawless and her champagne-colored hair was so shiny and perfect it could have been a wig. Maybe it was. No concession had been made to her age, which was probably in her seventies. So lovely to see you.

Elysia and Gloria air-kissed and then Gloria turned to Medea.

Medea, darling. Glorias smile faltered, but then recovered. At least you havent gone to a competitor. Thats a mercy. Tim awaits you. She gestured to a slim young man with a goatee and a gold earring.

Och, Medea said, I wasnae going to-

She was whisked away, still feebly protesting. Gloria smiled a tiny, satisfied smile.

My daughter, Anna, Elysia said.

Anna. Sherry-colored eyes flicked over A.J. appraisingly, lingering on her hair. Glorias smile stayed firmly in place, but it seemed to require effort.

Elysia added, She inherited my late sisters studio.

The sherry-colored gaze sharpened. Ah. Of course, of course. Welcome, my dear. We have you down for the Athenian.

Hopefully the Athenian was a what and not a who. A.J. said, I just wanted a trim, really.

Elysia and Gloria laughed gaily at the very idea. Gloria appeared to consider and then she gestured like a sorceress summoning a genie. Alessandro, I think.

Alessandro turned out to be a very handsome young Latino from Brooklyn. He had a sultry smile and a short ponytail. When he shook A.J.s hand he clasped it warmly in both of his.

This is a treat for me, he told A.J. as he settled her in the reclining chair next to a shampoo basin shaped like a golden shell. I cant think of the last time I worked with someone who wasnt suffering hot flashes.

A.J. couldnt help wondering what charming lies he told the menopausal someones. That it was a relief to work with someone mature?

You dont have many male clients?

We dont have any. Alessandro sounded definite. A.J. glanced around the salon. All the patrons were indeed female. And all the stylists were male. Young, handsome males. Gloria seemed to have isolated and identified her target market, and, judging by appearances, business was booming.

Alessandro certainly seemed worth his weight in gold. He had magical fingers, and as he skillfully massaged A.J.s neck and scalp, she began to toy with the notion of hiring a masseuse for Sacred Balance. They had recently hired a physician for their Sitka Yoga program, so why not a masseuse? Especially since Mara Allen had one for Yoga Meridian.

Not that A.J. wanted to fall into her old competitive mind-set. Yoga wasnt just about stretching the body; surely she had managed to stretch her mind a little over the last year? Still, she had no intention of lying there in Corpse Pose while Mara Allen took over her business.

After the shampoo, Alessandro painted a purple glaze on A.J.s hair and left her browsing a copy of Vogue under a dryer. She turned the magazine pages and surreptitiously studied the busy salon. Nearly every chair was full this Saturday afternoon. And every chair was manned-no pun intended-by an enthusiastic young sir chatting and charming his client. Alessandro was correct. With the exception of herself, none of the clients looked under forty-five.

A.J. spotted Medea beneath a veil of black hair. A few stations down she spied her mother; recognized the expression and the moving lips: Elysia was interrogating her smiling stylist.

Over by the elegant front desk-seemingly designed to look like a marble and gold sacrificial altar-Gloria was speaking earnestly to a tall, thin, courtly-looking older man.

Alessandro returned and escorted A.J. to the styling pavilion. Here A.J. was given a flute glass of champagne to sip while Alessandro asked her a variety of questions about her job, morning routine, and exercise habits in order to determine the best possible haircut for her.

Back when A.J. had been an up-and-coming freelance marketing consultant she had paid major dollars to have her long, chestnut hair highlighted at the John Barrett Salon on Fifth Avenue. She really hadnt taken time to get a serious cut and color since shed moved to New Jersey. Maybe it was time for a new look.

Alessandro certainly seemed to think so and made numerous suggestions-most of them good. One thing for sure, he wasnt just a pretty face. He did know his craft, and in between the amiable third degree he snipped and trimmed, eyes narrowed as he measured one side of A.J.s hair against the other.

So youre just having a girls day out, Anna?

Yes. Call me A.J. She watched the silver flash of scissors. How long have you worked at the salon?

Just about a year. And your mom used to be a movie star?

In Britain, yes. A.J. preferred not to go there. Elysia had a startlingly large cult following among young males. Her gaze fell on Gloria who was still talking to the handsome, but increasingly restive-looking, older man. Who is Gloria talking to?

Thats her partner Stewie Cabot. Are you married, A.J.?

Nope. Not anymore. She smilingly batted the ball back in Alessandros court. Are Gloria and Stewie involved?

Nah. No way. Stewies gay. Alessandro chuckled. Youre engaged, I bet?

And so it went. Alessandro was charming and attentive and never shut up. No, that wasnt true. He listened very carefully to all of A.J.s answers to his questions-and he had many questions. Somehow his interrogation managed to skirt the line of actually being intrusive; Alessandro seemed merely young and guileless. Maybe A.J. was conscious of how many questions he was asking because she was doing her best to question him.

While they fenced, Alessandro snipped and styled. At the end of two and a half hours A.J. had a short, feathery cut that was stylish but wouldnt require too much work with her active lifestyle.

Its lovely, she admitted, holding a hand mirror to examine the close cropped back of her head.

Alessandro handed her his card. My pleasure. I would love to see you again, A.J. Anytime.

A.J. thanked him. When they shook hands, Alessandro gently, meaningfully squeezed her hand.

Elysia stood at the front waiting for her. Her eyes widened at A.J.s approach. You look absolutely fabulous, pet. She bade A.J. turn, which A.J. did.

The rolling eyes make you look a bit unhinged, but otherwise, a truly lovely job.

A.J. noticed that Stewie, Glorias business partner according to Alessandro, was smiling as he observed them.

Gorgeous, he agreed, joining in the conversation. Of course, it helps when we have such lovely raw material to work with. He turned to Elysia and expertly delivered the finishing stroke. Your baby sister?

They chatted with the smooth and personable Stewie for a few minutes and then he excused himself to speak to a customer on the phone. Shortly after, Medea joined them.

One glance at the older womans face told A.J. something was very wrong. Medea was visibly shaken, her face white and her eyes red-rimmed.

Whats wrong? Elysia demanded. Youre not happy with the cut?

Medea shook her head. Paying the cupid-cute male receptionist for her cut with shaking hands, she pushed out through the amber crackle-glass doors. Elysia and A.J. had to hurry to keep up with her.

What is it? Whats happened? Elysia persisted.

Medea gave another swift shake of her head. They reached the underground parking garage, Medea walking so swiftly the other two had to trot to keep up.

They found the Bentley amidst the rows of shining, silent cars. Medea unlocked the doors and they got in.

Slumped behind the wheel, Medea took deep, unsteady breaths.

Elysia put a hand on her shoulder and Medeas face twisted up.

Maddie, petal, tell me whats wrong,

Medea let out a long, shaky sigh. Peggy Graham is dead.

Eleven | Murder On The Eightfold Path | Thirteen