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Eight

Murder On The Eightfold Path

Yes?

They were hurtling down Interstate 80 back toward Stillbrook, Elysia driving pedal-to-the-metal as though the combined law enforcement agencies of New Jersey were in hot pursuit.

She answered absently, Yes what?

Who is she? A.J. demanded.

Medea Sutherland.

A.J. lowered her car seat trying to find some relief for her throbbing back. Why is that name familiar?

You remember Maddie. Shes an old mate of mine. Elysia sighed reminiscently. I remember once when she made a guest appearance on 221B Baker Street to help us solve the murder at the Peking Opera-

Oh my God, A.J. exclaimed. Maddie Sutherland. I remember now. Shes the one who used to make those Hammer Horror films.

Yes. Among other things.

The crazy one.

Elysia made a disapproving sound.

Mother, she invited the National Enquirer into her home to interview the ghosts she thought lived there. Thats pretty crazy by any definition.

You do have such a long memory for other peoples foibles. Anyway, Maddie believed the house was haunted.

A.J. decided to overlook the foibles crack although her tone was crisp as she responded, Then she should have called an exorcist or whatever theyre called. Because it looked like either a publicity stunt or that she was stark, raving bonkers. Or both. She examined Elysias uncommunicative profile. What makes you think this Medea is your Medea?

When was the last time you met someone named Medea?

There must be women around named Medea. Especially in Greek communities.

Be serious, pumpkin. Anyway, I recall Medea writing me a few years back to tell me she was getting married. And she does rather fit the profile of the kind of woman Dicky used to romance.

Crazy old ladies?

So amusing, Anna, Elysia murmured, sounding not the least amused.

A.J. considered the ceiling of the Land Rover as they raced along. Maybe Medea knocked Dicky off when she found out he was two-timing her?

The Land Rover suddenly reduced speed. Its hard to imagine a less violent soul.

Even so, the spouse or lover is usually the prime suspect. And your old mate Medea certainly always seemed a little unpredictable.

But I dont think they were still married. Elysias eyes were in the rearview as a police cruiser drew behind. Try to act natural, pet, she said out of the side of her mouth.

Why?

The coppers are after us.

A.J. gulped. How much more natural can I act than sitting here? She did her best to appear to be innocently and leisurely enjoying the spring landscape as it slid by at a much more sedate pace.

She couldnt help worrying. Had there been some development in the case? Was there now an APB out on Elysias car?

Neither had much to say for the next few miles, and then the cruiser suddenly put on his lights and zoomed ahead of them.

Elysia relaxed. Bloody coppers, she muttered as the cruiser disappeared in the distance.

This is such a disaster. Because we were in that apartment illegally I cant even tell Jake about the other intruders searching it.

You could. Hell probably throw you in the hoosegow, but if you feel its your civic duty

Dont you see that if Jake knew about those two it would take some of the heat off you?

I wish that were true. But the fact of the matter is that, given Dickys occupation, its no surprise that people are attempting to search his apartment. The only surprise is we didnt run into more people searching it.

She had a point. A.J. reflected how alarming it would be to find out that someone with access to your deepest, darkest secrets had died-perhaps leaving those secrets where anyone might stumble over them.

She watched unseeing as trees and barns and road signs flashed by. A sign for a winery, a sign for Yards Creek Soaring glider rides, a sign for Yoga Meridian.

Do you mind? A.J. said on impulse. I want to check something out.

Elysia threw her a curious look but nodded. They drove down Blairstowns Main Street. Though a little larger than Stillbrook, Blairstown had the same quaint, old-fashioned vibe to it-which wasnt surprising given that the area had been settled all the way back in the 1700s.

Did you know they filmed scenes from Friday the 13th in Blairstown? A.J. murmured as they passed the bright blue historic building Roys Hall. They always pick peaceful places like this for horror movies, dont they?

Still waters run deep.

As the Bard said? A.J.s attention was caught by another sign advertising the yoga studio and she said quickly, Turn here!

Yoga Meridian was housed in what had once been a huge old Greek Orthodox church. The white stone building featured a large blue domed roof surrounded by three golden cupolas and several enormous stained glass windows. The large parking lot was packed.

Its gorgeous, Elysia murmured.

It was, though A.J. couldnt bring herself to admit it.

Remind me what were doing here, Elysia inquired as A.J. got out of the Land Rover.

Reconnoitering.

Elysia raised her eyebrows but said no more.

Inside the lobby-formerly the church nave-A.J. took in a series of slogans in bright, cheerful colors:

Come On, Stretch Yourself!

Yoga for Every Body!

Real Yoga for Real People!

What did that last one even mean?

She glanced at the list of offered classes. It was a smorgasbord of traditional and trendy: everything from Hatha Yoga to Laughter Yoga.

One thing that was no laughing matter was the prices. How could Mara Allen afford to stay in business? Especially with a staff this size?

She muttered, We couldnt keep the doors open at these prices. That wasnt exactly true, but it was a source of pride to A.J. that Sacred Balance pay for itself without her needing to dip into the cash reserves of Aunt Dianthas other investments.

If they bring in enough new customers it will be worth it, I suppose.

A.J. nodded. Perhaps that was Mara Allens gamble. Or maybe Yoga Meridian was simply beating the prana pants off them.

Followed by Elysia, she walked through to the salon and spa center located in the former narthex of the church.

Its nice, I have to admit, A.J. said grudgingly. In fact its more than nice. Its really well laid out, and the prices are more than competitive.

Very. Elysia, watching her, asked, Whats wrong?

Thats Michael Batz.

Elysia followed her gaze to where a young, athletic man with a head of hair like a Renaissance angel was working on the mat. And?

He resigned his Sacred Balance membership about a month ago. He said he was taking a break from yoga.

I wouldnt take it personally. No place is right for every person, after all. Sacred Balance probably had too many painful memories for Michael.

Remembering the role Batz had played in her aunts murder investigation, A.J. nodded, but she was still unconvinced. That made three Sacred Balance clients that she knew of who had defected to Yoga Meridian in the past five weeks. If the exodus continued at this rate, theyd be out of clients before Christmas.

A.J. Alexander, a carefully modulated voice remarked from behind them. Welcome to Yoga Meridian.

A.J. turned. Mara Allen, tall and willowy in a white leotard, came to greet them. Mara had striking blue eyes and a long, curly, prematurely silver mane made famous by her TV spots.

Hello, Mara.

Namaste, A.J. Mara put her palms briefly together, prayer fashion. This is an unexpected pleasure.

Er, we were in the neighborhood. Truly.

Mara smiled graciously. May I show you around our facilities?

That would be lovely. A.J. hoped she didnt sound as lukewarm as she felt. She suspected, given the little glint of amusement in Maras eyes, that she wasnt fooling anyone.

Youve been so often on my mind, A.J. Mara led them through a bright airy atrium where students rested quietly on their mats amidst the forest of potted trees.

Oh, really? A.J. replied.

Your determination and enthusiasm to carry on for Diantha, despite your lack of training or experience is really heartwarming.

Thank you, but Ive worked hard to get the training and experience I need.

Of course you have.

Mara flashed her professional smile and led them past the steam room and then up the graceful staircase to the Meditation Arbor.

Its my greatest joy to share the gift of yoga with my students so that we can bring our lives, bodies, and minds into balance.

A.J. smiled politely.

Of course, you know that, Mara said. I love the Sacred Balance philosophy. Just do it. Its so succinct.

Thats Nike, A.J. said. Sacred Balances slogan is It could happen.

Of course it could, Mara said encouragingly. And here is the massage lab. If we werent already booked into next week, Id offer you both a complimentary Thai yoga massage.

By the time the gently condescending Mara had finished giving A.J. and Elysia their quick tour of the fabulous spa facilities, A.J. was struggling against uncharacteristic depression.

Pretentious cow, Elysia said when they were once again outside the building and the soothing sound of flutes and running water had died away with the closing of the painted doors. Remind me why we needed to subject ourselves to the sight of that many middle-aged bodies in leotards?

I dont know, A.J. admitted. I just thought maybe I should scope out the competition.

Youre not worrying about Suzes mystery phone calls?

No. Yes. Its too soon to know for sure. If Mara really was calling Sacred Balance to set up something like a charity benefit, why didnt she mention talking to Lily?

Because Lily has already taken care of whatever the matter was?

Youre probably right.

Probably. Watching her, Elysia added shrewdly, But never ignore your instincts, pet.

Yes, but is it my instinct kicking in or my rampant paranoia?

Paranoia is useful, too. Ms. Allen did seem a bit smug.

A.J. smiled faintly at Elysias dead-on mockery of Maras deliberately timed digs. She did, didnt she?

They drove back to Starlight Farm and picked up Monster.

Elysia wanted A.J. to stay overnight again. A.J. felt a little guilty about not keeping Elysia company, but as much as she loved her mother, it was not easy for them to be in each others company for long stretches without butting heads. Elysias legal woes were liable to continue for some time, and A.J. could not put her life on hold indefinitely. She would have to find a way to continue helping her mother while she got back to running her own life.

What you really mean is you want to see Jake, Elysia said shortly.

I cant not ever speak to him again, Mother.

I dont see why not.

A.J. said patiently, Because I care for him.

Elysia sniffed. You could do so much better than that flatfoot, Anna. I know that your experience with Andrew undermined your confidence, but theres no need to throw yourself away on the first man who shows an interest.

And here it was. A perfect example of why she and her mother could not share airspace long without a collision. My feelings for Jake have nothing to do with Andy. Things were going perfectly well between us before this murder charge cropped up. In fact- A.J. stopped, realizing that admitting to Elysia her hopes for her relationship with Jake was tantamount to placing a loaded gun in her mothers hands.

Elysia looked unconvinced. Well, I cant help but feel its a little disloyal to keep seeing the man whos determined to put me behind bars.

Dont do this, A.J. said. Despite Elysias light tone, it was obvious that she was serious. Jake is just doing his job. Hes already said he doesnt believe you killed anyone.

He has a funny way of showing it.

Arresting you was not his choice.

Thats easy to say.

A.J. took a deep breath and released it slowly. I dont want to argue with you about this. Youre my mother and I love you-and you obviously have my support or I wouldnt have risked my neck breaking and entering Dicky Massris apartment with you today.

Just entering. Elysia corrected.

Its not funny, Mother. I also care for Jake. A lot. So dont ask me to choose because that is not a fair or loving thing to do to me.

Elysia made an exasperated sound. Very well. But dont be surprised if he tries to force the issue.

The rest of the drive to Deer Hollow was completed in silence filled only by Tom Joness 24 Hours.

A cottontail rabbit darted out from the lush flower bed as A.J. let Monster out of the Land Rover, and the dog took off after it with unexpected energy. A.J. walked up the porch steps. A graceful statue of Kwan Yin stood amidst the purple and yellow irises lining the house. The sweet smells of evening drifted across the sunset-gilded meadow.

Inside the house A.J. played her messages while Elysia put the kettle on, but there was nothing from Jake. Nothing on A.J.s cell either.

Well, he would be busy with the investigation, after all. And she was the one who had said it was an impossible situation and that they should take things slowly.

Her and her big mouth.

Elysia, watching her, said suddenly, Ive been thinking that perhaps I ought to contact Maddie.

For a moment A.J. couldnt remember who Maddie was, her own problems temporarily outweighing her mothers. Then it came back to her: Medea Sutherland. Her mothers wacko friend who was apparently up to her bushy eyebrows in this murder investigation. It was indeed a small world.

She sighed. I think we should try to find a way to tell the police exactly what we discovered in Dickys apartment and leave it to them from here on out.

Oh, Im sure the police already know about Maddie.

Then whats the point of contacting her?

Elysia looked vague. This must be a distressing time for her. As her friend-

You dont even know for sure that shes Dickys Medea.

Trust me, pumpkin. Ive one of my hunches on this.

One of her hunches? Next she was going to be referring to her little gray cells and twirling her imaginary mustache. A.J. managed to swallow several unproductive comments without choking, and said, Mother, my relationship with Jake is complicated enough without this.

I didnt say you had to be involved, Elysia said tartly. I said I would contact my old friend and offer my condolences.

A.J.s back was hurting. She was tired and she was disappointed that Jake had not called her-yes, despite the way they had left things the evening before. She missed him. A lot.

If you think thats a wise idea, she managed to say evenly. She was proud of herself for not saying what she thought of the idea.

Are you going to be all right?

A.J. nodded. I can manage. The shot helped. It would probably have helped a lot more if she hadnt tried diving out a window, but she managed to bite that comment back, too. Her mother hadnt kidnapped her; A.J. had been a willing-if not enthusiastic-party to the insanity.

Elysia patted her cheek sharply. Ill call you in the morning, lovie. Dont worry about anything. And she was gone in a waft of mingled cigarette and Opium scent. The Land Rover roared into life in the front yard and then silence fell.

A.J. fixed dinner for herself and Monster. Its just you and me tonight, big boy, she said.

Monster wagged his tail.

After dinner A.J. sat down with her aunts manuscript.

What would Diantha have thought about the choices A.J. had met since inheriting Sacred Balance and the new life that had come with it?

Safe to say many of her choices would not have been her aunts.

Life is loss. If we allow ourselves to care, to love, we must accept the pain that inevitably follows. Nothing lasts forever however much we wish otherwise. Yoga teaches us to concentrate on the here and now, on living within the moment. We focus on each breath we draw, and as we focus we become present and grounded in our bodies. Breath is the bridge between what is now and what is not. Grief is part of what is not, and when we are truly living in the moment we are releasing our grief and concentrating only what is now.

A.J. undressed and washed, climbing into the bed that had once been her aunts. She listened to the sounds of the house settling down for the night, the crickets outside the window, the owl in the peach tree out back inquiring after his supper.

She wondered what Jake was doing.


Seven | Murder On The Eightfold Path | c