January 8 is the official launch day for my third Downward Dog Mystery, Karma's a Killer, but I can't wait until then to share the book with you. So now, for your reading pleasure, I present to you--the first chapter of Karma's a Killer!
“I can’t believe I let Michael talk me into this. The man is obviously nuts.”
I reached out my arms and slowly turned a complete circle, trying to fully take in the deafening chaos around me.
Under different circumstances, I probably would have been the one referred to as crazy. I was, after all, muttering to myself while spinning like a slow-motion top. But today, nobody seemed to notice. The soccer fields of Seattle’s Green Lake Park undulated with a buzzing, beehive-like swarm of people.
And their dogs.
Lots and lots of dogs.
All blocking the path to my destination.
A golden retriever pulled toward me from the front, practically dislocating the shoulder of an acne-scarred teenager. Behind me, a yapping Chihuahua flashed piranha-like teeth at the backs of my ankles. To my right, a geriatric woman tried, unsuccessfully, to restrain an adolescent bull mastiff that was seemingly intent on saying hello to, well, to everyone.
And that was just the start.
Each time a potential path opened, it was quickly obscured by a new member of the dense canine stew. I almost squeezed between two roughhousing pit bulls, but I got distracted by a huge Rottweiler head attached to six-inch-long wiener dog legs. A Rott-wiener? Was that even physically possible?
By the time I shook off the image, the momentary opening had disappeared.
The closely packed crowd shouldn’t have surprised me. Over two thousand people had registered for Paws Around Green Lake, today’s 5K dog “fun” walk. Twice as many as my boyfriend, Michael, had anticipated when he agreed to organize the fundraising event. I should have been happy for Michael, and I was. I was even happier for DogMa, the no-kill animal shelter that would receive the day’s proceeds. Or I would have been, if those same two thousand bodies hadn’t stood between me and my destination.
If only I’d brought my 100-pound German shepherd, Bella, with me. My treat-motivated tracker-dog would have bee-lined it straight for the food vendors, parting the crowd with me flying like a kite behind her. But Bella still didn’t like other dogs, or most bearded men, for that matter. I could never insert her into this canine carnival—not without risking a multiple-dog homicide—and it was too warm on this uncharacteristically sunny spring day to leave her in the car, even if I parked in the shade.
So here I was, on my own.
I took a step back and assessed the event’s layout, trying to simultaneously decipher an entrance and plot my escape. The normally empty field had been marked off in sectors. The northernmost end held a multicolored assortment of receptacles marked garbage, recycle, pet waste, and compost. Where the trash cans left off, a golden line of stacked straw bales began, outlining the fenced area allocated to Dale’s goat petting farm.
To the south stood a stage, a registration desk, several food vendors, and the roped-off area I would later use as makeshift yoga studio. The rest of the perimeter was lined with about two dozen tent-covered booths. My goal, should I choose to accept it, was to find the one assigned to my yoga studio, Serenity Yoga.
Okay, Kate. You can do this.
I plugged my ears to block out the din, lifted my heels, and stood on my toes in a tennis-shoed Tadasana, trying to see over the masses.
Maybe if I jag to the right, dive under that banner and—
The Chihuahua sank his teeth into my pant leg and yanked. I flailed my arms and tried—unsuccessfully—to stay balanced. My left foot got tangled in the fur-covered piranha’s leash; my right hand connected solidly with his owner’s coffee cup. The lid flew across the field. Hot, dark brown liquid spilled down my shirt.
“Hey!” she snapped. “What are you, drunk?”
I opened my mouth to apologize, but the supermodel-thin woman didn’t give me a chance. She snatched her dog off my pant leg, ignored the hot liquid soaking my chest, and pierced me with an ice pick-sharp glare.
“Watch where you’re going, you big oaf. You could have hurt Precious.”
My ears zipped right past the word “oaf” and landed solidly on “big.” Who was she calling big? I’d lost almost twenty pounds in the six months since my misadventures on Orcas. Even I had to admit that my five-foot-three-inch body had finally landed on the thin side of normal.
But that didn’t stop me from feeling insulted.
My body reacted much faster than my mind could control it. Anger-laced adrenaline zapped down my spine. My fingers curled into tight fists. My teeth clenched together so hard I was afraid I might shatter a molar.
Every fiber of my being wanted to lash back, which wasn’t surprising. I’d struggled with my Hulk-like alter ego since my first two-year-old temper tantrum. But I was trying to change—to better embody the yoga principles I believed in.
My father’s voice echoed inside my head.
Don’t do it, Kate. Not today. You don’t want to create a scene today.
Three years after his death, Dad was still right. Today’s event was important to Michael—too important to risk ruining. Besides, I had vowed not to lose my temper anymore. If I’d learned anything on Orcas, it was that bad things sometimes happened when I got angry. Sometimes people got hurt.
I couldn’t let myself think about that.
Instead, I took a deep breath, consciously relaxed my jaw, and forced my lips into a smile.
The Chihuahua’s owner thrust her empty cup in my face. “You owe me a new mocha.”
Honorable intentions be damned. I seriously wanted to punch her.
My only alternative was to retreat.
I tossed her a five-dollar bill, took three large steps back, and bumped into the teenager. “I’m sorry.” I turned right and tripped over the mastiff. “Excuse me.” I stumbled and “excused me’d” and “I’m so sorry’d” my way through the crowd, toward the water. I burst onto the path and bolted past the Green Lake Community Center to my new destination: a large, T-shaped wooden dock. The clamor faded to silence.
Empty. Thank goodness.
The scarred wooden dock was normally occupied by local fishermen, but for the moment, it was mine. The crowds, noise, and limited parking kept everyone but the dog walkers away from Green Lake today.
I stood at the dock’s southernmost end, as far away from the pandemonium as possible. For several long, lunacy-free moments, I found peace. I stared at the lake, smelled the crisp, clean scent of the water, and took slow, soothing breaths. Hypnotizing light jewels rippled off the lake’s surface. The boards underneath my feet gently swayed. My nervous system rebalanced, forcing my inner demon back into her lair.
When I finally felt ready, I touched my palms together in the prayer-like Anjali Mudra, bowed my head to reconnect with my center, and turned back toward the soccer fields.
If anything, they looked more chaotic. I couldn’t deal with all of those people. Not yet.
Perhaps a short visualization practice would help.
I sat cross-legged on a relatively goose-dung-free spot, closed my eyes, and touched my fingertips to the wood’s warm, rough surface. The sun melted my shoulders; a cool breeze pinked my cheeks.
I mentally transported myself to the beach near the soccer fields. Soft, white energy floated above the water and spilled over the lake’s borders. The fog-like mist expanded, filling the grassy area. It stilled the crowd, creating more space. In my mind’s eye, I reached out my hand. The field still wasn’t empty, but at least it was permeable. I could sift through the crowd, untouched. I took a deep breath, lifted my right foot and—
Angry whispers interrupted my meditation.
“No one asked for your opinion.”
I opened my eyes and turned toward the sound. Two quarreling women huddled near the shore, hidden behind a half-dozen bright yellow paddle boats. Their hushed voices carried across the water as clearly as if they were using a megaphone.
I considered ignoring them, and frankly, I should have. The Yoga Sutras might not explicitly condemn eavesdropping, but I was pretty sure it was considered bad karma. Still, I was curiously drawn to their conversation. Something about them felt oddly familiar …
I shaded my eyes from the sun and tried to make out their faces. Both women dressed completely in black: black long-sleeved T-shirts, deep black jeans, black tennis shoes. The only touches of color were the bright orange flames embroidered above each woman’s left breast.
The woman speaking was about my age—early to mid-thirties. She cradled a stack of picket signs in one arm and gesticulated wildly with the other. The sign on the top said “Apply the HEAT” in bold red letters. Her fingernails matched her deep black outfit, except for the middle fingernail of each hand, which was painted blood burgundy. Long, curly dark hair bounced off her shoulders with every emphatic shake of her head.
“You have to choose, Dharma. Either you’re one hundred percent on board, or you’re out. Which will it be?”
The second woman, obviously named Dharma, didn’t answer immediately. She was small—about my height and maybe five pounds heavier—and at least ten years older than her friend. She wore black, wire-rimmed glasses, and her gray-streaked brown hair was tied back from her shoulders in a single long braid. When she spoke, she sounded exasperated, as if she had repeated this argument many times before.
“You’ve clearly lost all perspective, Raven. This protest doesn’t make any sense. We have more important issues to deal with. Why don’t we go after factory farming? How about animal experimentation? Heck, I’d rather go back to Brazil and try to preserve what’s left of the rain forest. Why beat up innocent, sensible pet owners?”
“Innocent? What’s innocent about slavery? Do you have any idea how many of these so-called innocent slime bags abandon or euthanize their pets every year?”
Dharma leaned forward earnestly. “Which is precisely why we shouldn’t go after a low-kill shelter like this one.”
Go after a shelter? Were they planning to protest DogMa? Today? I kept listening, hoping that I’d misunderstood.
“Don’t be fooled by all of their pretty promises,” Raven scoffed. “These people are frauds, and I’m going to expose them.”
I couldn’t make out Dharma’s grumbled reply, but her tone didn’t sound friendly.
Raven held up her hands. “Back off, Dharma. I don’t need your help, but I won’t stand for your insolence. I’m taking this place down with or without you. Trust me; these hypocrites at DogMa are going to burn.” Her voice turned low and threatening. “And if you get in my way, I might have to fry you, too.”
Dharma flinched and glanced warily over her shoulder. “Watch what you say, Raven. Someone might take you seriously.”
Raven snorted. “Yeah, well, maybe they should.”
Dharma’s mouth opened, but she didn’t respond, at least not at first. After several long, tense moments, she shook her head, almost sadly. “I’m sorry, Raven, but this has gone far enough. Eduardo talked me into coming on this ill-conceived road trip, but we never agreed to violence. I’m out.” She turned and started walking away. “We both are.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about Eduardo.”
Dharma froze. Her entire body stiffened. When she slowly turned around, her expression was tight, as if her thinned lips and hardened eyes had been carved out of stone.
Raven’s lips lifted in a cruel-looking grin. She crossed her arms and leaned back against the paddleboats. “Sweetheart, you can leave any time. The sooner the better. I never wanted you here to begin with. But trust me, Eduardo’s not going anywhere. By the time I get done with him, he’ll be finished with you, too.”
The older woman exploded.
She howled and shoved Raven into the boats, using significantly more force than I would have expected from someone ideologically opposed to violence. Raven’s face hit the edge and she fell, splitting open her lower lip. Picket signs scattered in every direction.
Dharma scooped up a sign, snapped its wooden handle in two, and waved the jagged edges at her friend.
“I’m warning you, leave Eduardo alone, or you’ll be the one who burns.” She jabbed the wooden stake at Raven’s chest for emphasis. “In Hell.”
Raven’s response seemed more amused than frightened. She licked the blood from her lower lip, stood, and slowly clapped.
“Well done, Dharma. Well done. We’ll make an anarchist out of you yet.”
Dharma gaped at her hands, as if surprised to see them grasping a weapon. A strangled cry escaped from her throat. She took two large steps back, threw the broken sign to the ground, and stumbled away, sobbing. A moment later, she disappeared into the crowd.
Raven mumbled several words I couldn’t decipher, gathered the rest of the signs, and sauntered off in the opposite direction. I lost sight of her midway through the parking lot.
I stared after her, torn. Whatever Raven was up to, it couldn’t be good. Part of me wanted to stop her. But how, exactly, was I supposed to do that? Commandeer her picket signs? Tie her to a bicycle rack with my shoelaces? Yell the word “cat” and hope the dogs took care of the rest? I considered trying to find one of Green Lake’s bicycle patrol officers, but what could the police do? The fight was already over and picketing, though disruptive, wasn’t illegal.
A confident female voice called out over the loudspeaker. “Dog walkers, welcome to Paws Around Green Lake, DogMa’s first annual furry 5K fun walk. Pick up your leashes and gather your treat pouches. Let the walk begin!”
I glanced at my watch. Ten o’clock. I should have opened my booth an hour ago. The crowd’s human-canine duos trickled toward the trail and started jogging, walking, sniffing, and marking their way around the lake. If the two women I’d witnessed were planning to protest, they’d likely do it during the post-walk celebration. I still had plenty of time to find Michael and help him plan for the threat.
Thanks for reading!
PS--Purchase Karma's a Killer before January 8 and e-mail me at Tracy@WholeLifeYoga.com to receive an autographed bookplate!
Purchase my newest mystery, KARMA'S A KILLER, now at Amazon Barnes and Noble or a bookstore near you!
Check out Tracy Weber’s author page for information about the Downward Dog Mysteries series. A KILLER RETREAT and MURDER STRIKES A POSE are available at book sellers everywhere