Secret Sleuth Book 3
No zen in sight as Sheila untangles a yoga instructor's murder.
Sheila Mackey’s settling into life in Haines Tavern, Kentucky. Sure, she has secrets to keep, but things are rolling along nicely.
Trips to the dog park with her rescue collie Gracie, meeting her friend Clara and Gracie’s friend LuLu. Preparing for more work on her house by another dog park acquaintance, former cop Teague O’Donnell. And regular, relaxing yoga classes at the Beguiling Way studio … until Sheila and Clara encounter a new twist when someone murders their instructor.
Law enforcement says the killer was a passing-through stranger now long gone. Sheila and Clara have their doubts.
~ ~ ~
This whodunit with humor is the third book in USA Today bestselling author Patricia McLinn’s new cozy mystery series, Secret Sleuth, which begins with a murder on a transatlantic cruise in Death on the Diversion. In Death on Torrid Ave. and later books, accidental investigator Sheila Mackey returns to dry land in the Midwest, where mysteries abound in her new small-town home.
Death on Beguiling Way is now available at all the major online retailers and at my ebookstore. The print version is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
It was the heart-soaring beginning with all things possible, it was the first step in a seven-thousand-mile walk through the desert without water.
It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
I had everything before me, I had nothing before me…
The everything before me was that it was nearly time to leave for my yin yoga class.
Our instructor, Liz, said we should feel at the end as if we’d had a cross between a structured nap and a massage. Who couldn’t use a nap and a massage?
Especially because I’d been wrestling with nothing before me for hours, producing a few pathetic words insufficient to make a reader try the next paragraph, never mind a novel.
Yes, I was trying to write a novel. Specifically, a romance novel.READ MORE
But, considering I just riffed off the opening of A Tale of Two Cities, I worried Charles Dickens had wormed his way deep into my subconscious and my ending might echo Sydney Carton’s trip to the guillotine.
No matter what Hollywood thinks (have you seen some of the things they call romance?), cutting off the hero’s head is not the route to a happy ending.
That much I knew.
Okay, okay, Carton wasn’t the romantic lead of A Tale of Two Cities. He still ended up a hero and lost his head. I’ve never forgiven Dickens.
I wasn’t going to do that to my readers.
If I ever had any, since I was trying to write a book for the first time.
Which would surprise the heck out of millions who considered me the author of the iconic megahit Abandon All.
The catch was, I didn’t write Abandon All.
My great-aunt Kit did.
She’d masterminded my playing the public persona of Abandon All, investing our earnings, then ending our arrangement. She’s a masterminding kind of person.
I’d happily left the Abandon All persona in Manhattan, re-emerging as Sheila Mackey in Haines Tavern, Kentucky, just over the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
Now I was trying to actually write.
How was it going?
Worst of times, desert marathon without water, winter of despair, nothing before me.
“What are you doing?”
I closed the laptop in front of me with extreme nonchalance.
“Nothing,” I told Teague O’Donnell in an even, reasonable tone despite his sneaking up on me in the dining room of my own home.
He was a friend — acquaintance, really — from the Torrid Avenue Dog Park.
It was our dogs who were truly best buds, my Gracie and his Murphy, along with a third dog, LuLu, and her owner Clara.
But that wasn’t why Teague was in my house on this early Monday evening.
He was here in his role as a carpenter.
When he’d finished building shelves for me a few months back, we’d agreed he would next reconfigure two bedroom’s closets in my post-World War II colonial.
He hadn’t been able to start on the project until now because he had another role — substitute teacher. Apparently, teachers developed as bad a case of spring fever as their students, so he was busy subbing right up until the school year ended.
Today was his first day on the closet job.
Based on previous experience with his methods, this day and a couple more would be devoted to measuring, planning, re-remeasuring, going over the plan, then checking his remeasurements, before, finally, writing a list of needed supplies.
“If you’re doing nothing, why did you slam the computer closed?” he asked.
“I didn’t slam it closed.” The man clearly didn’t recognize extreme nonchalance when it was right in front of him.
He leaned back against the door frame of my dining room and considered me.
Being considered by Teague O’Donnell was not the most comfortable experience. He had a way of turning his head, first one way, then the other, without shifting his gaze away, making me feel as if he were zeroing in an X-Ray machine to see below my surface. Did I mention he used to be a police detective?
And I have a few secrets I’d like to keep, starting with that Abandon All business.
To preserve Sheila Mackey’s laid-back privacy in Haines Tavern, she — I — could not be connected to Abandon All. Especially if I ever hoped to write and publish without a circus.
Yeah, definitely needed to keep that secret from Teague O’Donnell, former detective.
He continued to regard me as he said, “You going to tell me next it’s not your laptop?”
“Why on earth would I say it’s not my laptop?”
“When I was on patrol, we’d find drugs in somebody’s pants pocket and they’d say it wasn’t theirs because the pants they were wearing weren’t theirs. The Not-My-Pants excuse also applied to purses and underwear — men’s and women’s.”
“Ewww. They were wearing someone else’s underwear? Sure hope—”
“They were saying they were wearing someone else’s underwear.”
“—it was clean.”
“It wasn’t clean. It had drugs in it.”
“Different definition of clean. I wonder how dirty and clean came to be applied to drugs.”
“No idea. And a different subject from slamming your laptop closed. Anyway, why aren’t you using your office? Afraid I’d see what you were doing on the computer?”
I mentioned the guy had been a police detective, right? He must have been a pretty good one.
What he was not, at the moment, was a good shaver. He had scruff on his chin. Possibly a symptom of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out for Summer/School’s Out Forever” fever.
“Of course not.” I’d thought the stairs would give me warning of his approach that I wouldn’t have in the office … and then I’d missed his approach anyway. “I thought you’d be making lots of noise upstairs.”
He turned his head, adjusting the angle of his considering look.
Not an improvement, from my point of view.
“Told you I’d take a couple days to get the scope of the job since you’ve been changing what you want. So you knew—”
“—you could have worked in the office today. But if you don’t want to tell me what you’re doing on the laptop, say you don’t want to tell me. Unless it’s something to do with changing these closets. Again. That you have to tell me.”
A few little design alterations, all improvements, and he hadn’t even started work, so what was he complaining about?
This project started when I realized two bedroom closets sat side by side, making them deep, but too narrow for adequate hanging space.
We were going to trade depth for width by taking out the side wall dividing the closets, then building a long wall to make them back to back. In each bedroom, double doors would open to hanging space twice as wide as provided now.
“No changes — no major changes. I did find a better register for the vent. It’s flush with the floor and matches the wood.”
I pretended not to notice. I also changed the subject.
“Tomorrow, Clara and I are taking the dogs to the park after yoga class. Want me to take Murphy when I swing by here for Gracie? Should be early afternoon.”
Two sets of dog ears perked up at the word park. And, again, at each of their names.
Two, because I’d told Teague to bring Murphy whenever he came to work here. No sense leaving the poor dog alone in an apartment. Besides, Murphy visiting was like giving Gracie the best toy ever.
At the moment, Gracie and Murphy were lying side by side on the rug in front of the front door, chewing on opposite ends of a rawhide, watching the humans, and looking adorable.
Gracie has an edge in the adorable stakes, being a beautiful sable and white collie with more than a passing resemblance to Lassie. And being mine, adopted from the regional collie rescue group.
Murphy, a sweet-natured lab mix, was also far above average on the cuteness scale. He just had the handicap of lying next to Gracie.
“I thought you had class this evening — the contortionist yoga you guys do.”
“It’s yin. Not contortionist. You should try it.”
He ignored that. “Besides, Clara told me you two were taking the dogs to the park before class to get in the habit of going earlier for when the real heat of summer hits.”
“That was on Tuesdays. We tried, but it didn’t work out.” It didn’t work out because we arrived at yoga hot, sweaty, and smelling of dogs. After getting a lot of side looks for one class, we dumped the plan.
“Not at all. Classes are Monday nights, Tuesdays lunchtime.”
“Same thing two days in a row? Why not take a different class?”
“We like yin. We’re discussing adding another kind, but need to figure out which one.” I checked my watch. “I better go or I’ll be late picking up Clara.”
“I’ll wait until tomorrow about having you two take Murph to the park. Your schedules will change seven times before then.”
He wasn’t far off. You’d think, since neither Clara nor I had a job — Clara temporarily and me permanently — scheduling would not be an issue. But it got surprisingly complicated.
“Lock up, okay?” I instructed him as I picked up my yoga bag.
“Sure. Break a leg.”
He thought he was so funny.
We weren’t late for class.
In fact, we were the first ones there. Just the way we liked.
It let us secure our favorite corner spots and provided a few extra minutes on our mats, letting the real world dissipate. Or, in my case, the fictional world stuck at a few words old.
But tonight, we couldn’t get inside. The door was locked.
This was strange.
Our instructor, Liz, faithfully came early and opened the door for students to stretch, meditate, chat, snooze, or otherwise settle in before class.
The Beguiling Way Yoga Studio is — not surprisingly — on Beguiling Way, an alley until town leaders turned it into a no-cars pedestrian passage and loftily renamed it years ago.
It’s west of the town square (which, it delights me to report, is not square but rectangular.)
The post office, library, and a hardware store occupy the first block west of one of the narrower ends of the town square. Behind them comes Tanner Street, with various historic storefronts and a café.
Next is Beguiling Way, with its no-vehicles policy. For some reason, Clara and I habitually park where aromas from the café and a nearby bakery waft around us so strongly that we almost always succumb after class.
Being at the back of a historic structure, and therefore not as regulated as the front, the studio has a large picture window and glass door. Both sport shades, allowing filtered light inside while obscuring the view of potential gawkers. A good thing, since more than a few yoga poses qualify as “Not flattering positions for photos or other viewing.”
Clara peered into the window, focusing on the crack where two screens met. “This is weird.”
“Liz’s just running late.” I set my bag, holding my rolled-up mat, towel, water, and hair clips on the sidewalk and studied a list of upcoming classes posted on the inside of the door’s glass.
This yin class wasn’t what you might associate with yoga if your mental images center on whippet thin bodies in perfect Warrior One, Two, Three and up, reverently pronouncing Sanskrit, completing pretzel-making maneuvers, all while demonstrating supreme spirituality, allowing no wrinkles in their high-fashion yoga attire, and displaying killer pedicures.
I haven’t taken every offering at Beguiling Way Yoga Studio, so I couldn’t say there weren’t any such classes, but so far, so good.
Plus, yin itself is different.
Aunt Kit introduced me to it in New York. She said it reached the seat of authors’ aches — sitting too many hours in a row, for too many years. It involves getting into positions with deliberation, supporting yourself with props, then remaining for minutes, with the goal of releasing connective tissue called fascia and easing seldom-stretched muscles.
“Let gravity and time do the work,” Liz often said.
I’m good with that, especially with the nap and massage elements added in.
Clara twisted her neck to alter the angle of her view through the crack.
“There’s somebody inside. It’s not Liz,” she reported. “Do you think she’s sick? She acted a little strange last time.”
Our instructor, Liz, was a tall, solid young woman who exuded calm. I could imagine the character of Ma Walton from the old TV series The Waltons being a lot like Liz in her younger days. Pleasant, but no-nonsense. Perhaps a little shy.
During last week’s class, Clara had poked me while I was relaxing into a pose called Sleeping Swan that sort of feels like the splits with one knee bent.
It feels better than it sounds. At least for me. I understand other people hate the pose. Sort of the way I feel about Dragon, which should be against the Geneva Conventions.
After Clara’s poke, I’d looked up at this blatant break in yoga protocol.
She whispered, “Look.” Her head tip directed my focus.
Tears slid down Liz’s cheeks as she listened to the soft words of the soundtrack she played at every class. The song was about a guy saying he’d always loved this girl. But, it turns out, he’d let her go. Now she’d found someone new and was happy, and here he came, back into her life, saying, “Oopsie, let’s have do-overs.” And he’s all heartbroken the girl won’t dump the good guy who’s treating her well for his self-centered ass.
Not my favorite on her play list, in case you can’t tell.
If it made Liz cry, maybe not her favorite, either.
But after those mid-class tears, she’d seemed to bounce back.
After class, Clara and I commented to each other about her tears, but it was otherwise forgotten in the days since.
“You think her crying last week—?”
My question ended as the door swung open abruptly.
“Hello! We have early birds! Welcome! Wonderful to have eager beavers. I’m so looking forward to this class. A rare opportunity to spread my yin wings and lead you all in a practice embracing calm and restoration. I’m Xanthe. I’ll be your instructor tonight for this hour of spiritual and meditative movement.”
“Is Liz okay?”
“Nothing serious from what I understand, but not attuned enough to the universe at the moment to guide you all on your journeys this evening. She needs to become realigned herself first. And your names are?”
I clenched my muscles to keep from looking at Clara.
Among Liz’s positives as a yoga instructor, we’d often listed not talking spiritual among the top. We respect people being spiritual, but talking it all over the place? No, thank you.
There was also something faintly … salesy about Xanthe’s delivery, the verbal highs and lows artificially placed for impact.
On top of that, this instructor had frazzled my rhythm.
There’s a pulse-slowing, breath-deepening rhythm to yin. In the first few months, I’d found it during classes, then gradually learned to extend it after class. Recently, I’d found myself slipping into it on the way to class.
Even with today’s futile writing attempt, I’d found it on the way here today.
She was high speed, when I wanted mellow.
Xanthe had dashed behind the minimalist desk and had her fingers poised expectantly over a laptop keyboard.
The desk stood directly in front of us. On the wall to our right was a bulletin board. On the opposite end wall of this vestibule area, stacked cubes waited for students to leave accoutrements of the outside world, like phones, shoes, and wallets. To the right of the cubes and across from the front window, double glass doors opened into the studio itself.
We gave Xanthe our names, with Clara smiling back with her blazing smile.
Her smile-o-rama multiplied as Xanthe greeted the next pair of students, a harried looking young woman and one several years older who’d taken thin to extremes.
I was happy to enter the studio area through the double glass doors.
An open rectangular space stretched before us, with raw brick covered by mirrors on the long wall to our right and white-painted drywall with a barre on our left. Another mosaic of cubbies in the corner diagonally from the doors held studio-provided equipment — bolsters, blocks, straps, weights, balls, and more.
We headed straight ahead. We favored this corner formed by the barre wall and a wall to the restroom. It was no coincidence it was one of the rare areas not captured in the mirrors.
While Clara selected a bolster, block, and blanket from the cubbies, I left my bag in my usual spot in the corner, next to her mat, and went to the restroom.
In this utilitarian space, not only was the one wall left as original brick, but someone had taken the time and effort to center the sink in front of a bricked-in archway. It was as if the brickwork had been made to frame sink and mirror. Nice touch.
I came out a moment later to find Clara, holding an armload of props and staring at two women I didn’t recognize, who were in the act of pushing my bag and Clara’s things from where we’d left them into the aisle between the back and front rows.
Clara, clearly, was rendered speechless by such rudeness.
“Excuse me—” and if my tone said there was no excuse for them, I’d live with it. “—you’ve taken our spots.”
They continued busily spreading their mats where our gear had been a moment ago.
“Oh, no. We couldn’t have, because no one was here,” said the blonde woman who was several years younger than her dark-haired companion.
“Our belongings were here. You know that, because you moved them.”
The dark-haired woman cast an aren’t-we-naughty look at the blonde. “Oh, are those yours? We thought someone left them from a previous class.”
Lying to me is one thing. Not even trying to hide you are lying is another.
I took hold of my bag’s straps and swung it forward, into the space where I’d left it, stepping in behind it.
The blonde woman tackled me.
Really, there’s no other term for it.
It wasn’t a nudge or a push or a hip check. She got her shoulder into the side of my rib cage and shoved me back. I quick-stepped to keep my balance, reaching for the support of the props’ cubbies.
By the time I had caught myself, the bag swinging wildly from my gyrations, Clara was at my side, reaching out a helpful hand, and the two women were sitting side-by-side on their mats.
In our spots.
“Those are our spots. What do you—?”
“Did you put a deposit down? Have a lease? Hold the deed? I didn’t think so. Besides, we’re here now. Quit making a fuss,” the blonde said, then turned to her companion. “You were telling me about your daughter’s wedding plans…”
The dark-haired woman tittered, but cut it short to accept the implicit invitation. “Oh, yes. I’ve been working so hard on it. If other people would cooperate, I’d be much further along with our wedding.”
“They can’t do this,” Clara said to me.
“They have done it.”
My time in North Bend County had left me out of practice. I’d gotten soft. I hadn’t reacted fast enough.
If Liz had been teaching, I might have asked her to arbitrate. Or asked her to kick them out. Certainly out of our spots, probably out of the class, maybe out of the county.
But this unknown, cheerful, spiritual instructor, being as much a stranger to us as we were to her, would have no idea if Clara and I were justifiably irked or whiny crybabies. Chances were, she’d default to the latter.
I said to Clara, loudly enough to be overheard, “We’ll be the grown-ups and take those spots.” I nodded to the two spaces next to the spot-stealers.
Mostly grown up, anyway.
The one drawback to the corner was the security system panel on the wall of the furnace room across from the restroom, flickering bright colors that could distract someone not entirely concentrated on the practice of yin.
I hoped they’d drive the tackler crazy.
We settled in.
Now in Paperback!
Just in time for the holidays, a choice for Secret Sleuth readers. You can get Death on Beguiling Way in any digital format at your favorite ebookstore or buy the print version, a 6 x 9 paperback book.
No yoga instructors of my acquaintance were hurt in the writing of this book …or used as models for characters. I had to seek out others’ experiences to research less positive experiences than I’ve had. Like all the characters in my books, these are not based on real people, but are the product of my fevered imagination. I confess, some of that imagining happens during yoga class.