“Guru Bones”: New Excerpt

“Guru Bones” by Carolyn Haines is a Sarah Booth Delaney short mystery.

Southern-belle-turned-PI Sarah Booth Delaney is unenthusiastic at best when her friends rope her into attending a health food and lifestyle seminar. Priya Karsan, an internationally known activist, is in Zinnia for a lecture. But the lecture takes a turn for the deadly when there's a body discovered in the venue's kitchen. As Sarah Booth and her partner at the Delaney Detective Agency, Tinkie Richmond, tackle the case, Sarah Booth quickly realizes there's a lot more to Priya and her activism than meets the eye.


“Dah-link! You must come with Tinkie and me! We’ll get the toxins pulled from our bodies through a cleansing ritual on the soles of our feet. I’m told it’s better than sex, and you know how good that is! And we’ll have massages and facials. Maybe even a bikini wax. I’ve signed up for tantric sex classes as a Christmas present to Jaytee and myself.”

Cece Dee Falcon, society editor for the Zinnia Dispatch, babbled on about the upcoming activities and approaching holidays. At the phrase “cleansing ritual,” I balked. I wasn’t about to be caught up in the Black Hole of Healthy Living that was all the rage.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” I said. “You and Tinkie have at it.”

My partner in the Delaney Detective Agency, Tinkie Bellcase Richmond, had already signed on to Cece’s health agenda. Recruiting me wasn’t going to happen. I liked my chemical-laden chips and flavonoid-filled cookies. I kicked back on the front porch of Dahlia House, my family home, the telephone to my ear, listening to Cece and sipping Jack Daniel’s on the rocks.

Earlier, I’d ridden Miss Scrapiron, then consumed a big bowl of tortilla chips and salsa, chased with cheese and crackers. Jamaica Almond Fudge ice cream would be the dessert course. If I had all the toxins pulled out of my body through my feet, my head would collapse.

“Sarah Booth, you are registered! You can’t back out now.”

Delay through conversation was my tactic. “I thought you were covering a story on the Food Guru.”

Cece had been wildly excited about international celebrity Priya Karsan coming to Sunflower County to lecture on the dangers of food additives, pesticides, chemicals, and genetically modified organisms, better known as GMOs. Cece was a recent convert to GMO-free and organic foods. She’d lost ten pounds and seemed to have an inner glow—which lit the fuse of my envy bomb, but not enough to mend my bad-food ways.

“Oh, I wouldn’t miss the lecture for the world,” Cece assured me. “And I have an interview with Ms. Karsan afterward. I can’t wait to hear what she has to tell. She has single-handedly brought three food giants to their knees, and her campaign against the herbicide NoRoots has almost put Gyndrex Chemical Corporation in the red. But before we sign on as soldiers against poisons, we must purify the flesh. You know Dorinda Beauchamp has worked tirelessly to bring this event to Sunflower County. I promised her I’d be there with all my friends.”

Dorinda was a mover-and-shaker in Mississippi Delta society. I didn’t want to get on her bad side, but I still resisted. “I think I’ll pass on the spa day, Cece. But I’ll attend the lecture.”

“None of that, Sarah Booth. Tinkie paid for your spa treatment. Dorinda converted The Club into an Arabian Nights theme with mani-pedis, massages, mud baths, the whole works, all done by these incredibly handsome men she rounded up in Los Angeles.”

“I only said I’d attend the lecture.” If I didn’t hold to my guns, I’d be sweated, pummeled, exercised, and detoxed to within an inch of my life.

“Oh, you’ll love spa day. By the way, who are you bringing to the lecture as your date?”

“Bringing?” I sat up. I should have known better than to believe Cece’s manless menu. She was head-over-stilettos in love with Jaytee, the harmonica player in the blues band Bad to the Bone. She could barely go to the restroom without Jaytee.

“You know my hair is just growing back.” I’d gotten too close to the flame in my last case and my chestnut locks had been sacrificed. “I look like Woodstock. I’m not bringing anyone. This was supposed to be a girls’ night out.”

“I sent a text three days ago saying I’d secured the extra tickets for each of us to bring a date. I have Jaytee, and Tinkie has Oscar. So who are you inviting? That handsome blues player Scott Hampton? Or maybe Sheriff Coleman Peters will bring some law and order to the day. What about Harold? He loves to try new things and he can always get away from the bank. Or is there a new man?”

There was no new man and I didn’t want there to be. I was still recovering from a lost love, and my feelings for the above-mentioned men were complicated. “I’m coming stag. And don’t push it. I’m not all that charged up to hear someone tell me everything I love to eat and drink is bad. I refuse to have my diet analyzed while I’m on a date. How romantic to hear my arteries are clogged and my brain’s under the influence of food chemicals that act like cocaine to turn me into a potato chip addict. That’s a real turn-on to a guy.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to invite a date?”

“I’m sure.”

“Then I’ll use the extra ticket to invite who I want.” Mischief dripped from her voice. “I’ll surprise you.”

“Oh, Maleficent, I bow to your darkness.”

“Dah-link, you don’t know the half of it. I’ll pick you up at eight in the morning. By the time Dorinda’s Hollywood hotties finish with you, you’ll be toxin-free and filled with so much sunshine, you’ll fart flowers.”

“Why does that sound like a threat?” I asked.

“Because it is. Ta-ta!”

I clicked off the phone, and turned to my red tick hound, Sweetie Pie Delaney, for consolation. “She’s going to do something awful to me.”

Sweetie let out a low moan in the best Delta blues tradition. Pluto, the black cat I’d inherited from an heiress on a prior case, came down the stairs with the grace of a god descending Mount Olympus. He sauntered up to me, tail straight in the air, reached up, and dug his claws into my thighs.

I marched inside to my bedroom. There was no sympathy for my plight in Pluto’s black little kitty heart. He reminded me an awful lot of Jitty, the nearly two-hundred-year-old haint who tormented me night and day.

As if my thoughts had conjured her, Jitty appeared at the foot of my bed. She had the wardrobe department of the Great Beyond at her disposal, and I’d never seen her wear the same outfit twice. She was beautiful, young, thin, and never aged or gained a pound, but today she looked hot and constrained. The high collar of her severe black dress would choke me to death. The skirt had a pinched waist, and the hem swept the carpet.

“What gives with the widow’s weeds?” I asked.

“Tell the farmers to raise less corn and more hell!” She shook a fist. Her hairdo’s little topknot quivered with her passion.

Oh, I knew that quote. It came from Mary Elizabeth Lease, the populist female orator, who campaigned for workers’ rights in the late 1800s. She’d been an icon of my mother’s. I’d been so taken with Ms. Lease’s bravery and good sense that I’d written a paper on her in a high school social studies class.

Obviously, Jitty had caught a whiff of my proposed visit with Priya Karsan, the Food Guru, who was also a populist revolutionary, defending the masses’ right to know what was in the food supply. Jitty had decided to put a historical slant on women who fought for change and equality. My mama would be proud of her.

“Did the farmers listen to you?” I asked, pretending I conversed with the ghost of Mary Elizabeth, instead of Jitty. My first encounter with the Dahlia House haint had scared me witless, but I’d adjusted to Jitty’s pranks and sometimes sage advice.

“The farmers listened, and so did the government. We made progress. We marched forward. But all we worked for has come undone. I said in many of my speeches that Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. Now we’re back there again.”

Mary Elizabeth had had a powerful gift of oration, and Jitty could emulate her perfectly. As best I could tell, Americans had little ability to learn from history. We were doomed to repeat the past, again and again.

My slender visitor’s arm swept the room. “Big Ag has all but wiped out the family farmers. Since corporations are people, maybe they should let tractors vote.”

Mary Elizabeth’s pale complexion gave way to the mocha tones of my ghost. The populist orator’s proper diction dissolved into the soft drawl I associated with my heritage and my haint. It was Jitty who said, “The past has a fine list of female rabble-rousers to learn from. You try to stay above it all, but that Priya Karsan is the real deal, too.”

“I don’t want to be a rabble-rouser, and I don’t want to give up salt and sugar.” I went into the bathroom and turned on the shower. The day had fled and I was dirty, stinky, tired, and . . . hungry. “Can we pick up this debate tomorrow?”

“If you had a man to occupy your nocturnal thoughts, I wouldn’t be worried about farmers and such. I’d have the pitter-patter of little baby feets to keep me busy.”

I slammed the bathroom door and stepped beneath the wonderful spray of hot water.


Copyright © 2017 Carolyn Haines.

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Carolyn Haines is the author of eighteen novels, including the acclaimed Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series. She was honored with the prestigious 2009 Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. Haines was also 2010 recipient of the Harper Lee Award. Born and raised in Mississippi, she now lives in Alabama on a farm with more dogs, cats, and horses than she can possibly keep track of!

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