A couple of years ago I wrote SCORPIO RISING, the first book in my New Age Noir mystery series. In Scorpio Rising, criminal profiler Axel Crowe investigates the killing of a New York heiress, and discovers her death is linked to two other murders on the same day: a dot-com millionaire in San Francisco, and the team leader of a counter-terrorist project in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
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To continue introducing the series, here is excerpt #2. It’s taken from Chapter 4, in which my hero Axel Crowe, after giving a lecture on fingerprint interpretation to a Criminology class at the University of Toronto, drops by to see his guru:
Axel Crowe whistled a lively blues tune as he approached an apartment building in the Parkdale neighborhood. Lately he’d learned to play Little Girl from one of the early John Mayall albums on which Eric ‘Slowhand’ Clapton had established himself as a guitar god. Now the tune was stuck in his mind day and night.
Crowe entered the lobby and pressed a button on a mailbox. The door buzzed open and he walked inside. He took the elevator to the seventh floor and arrived at a door with a brass OM symbol mounted above the peephole. He knocked lightly, opened the door and entered. He slipped his shoes off and walked into the living room.
The place was an incredible clutter. A take-out pizza carton lay on the coffee table. Newspapers littered the floor; stacks of books covered two-thirds of a sofa. Small brass statues of the elephant-headed god Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles, and other Hindu deities stood atop the TV, on window ledges and bookcase shelves. Across the mantel of a fake fireplace, monkey god Hanuman and other deities competed for space, reminiscent of battle scenes from the epic Ramayana.
Guruji sat in a reclining chair watching the news on TV. He was East Indian, Bengali to be exact, seventy years old but looking ten years younger. His head was shaven and he wore a kurta, a long check-patterned shirt that came to his knees.
Crowe bent and touched both hands to Guruji’s bare feet, then touched the top of his own head.
Guruji used his remote to mute the TV. He gestured toward the pizza carton. “Are you hungry?”
“No, thanks. I ate earlier.” Crowe pushed some books aside to make room on the sofa.
“What did you eat?”
Guruji gave him a canny look. “Something hot and spicy? Something that satisfied your appetite, or left you hungry for more?”
Crowe looked at the floor. There was no right answer to these rhetorical questions. Guruji had the uncanny ability to discern virtually anything about anyone. What color underwear were you wearing? What did you dream of last night? How much money in your wallet? These were parlor tricks Crowe had seen Guruji perform so many times that he’d long ago ceased to be astonished. You could hide no secrets from Guruji. If you’d spent a couple of hours with a woman, you might as well have tattooed all the details right there on your forehead for him to read.
“What a program! Constant eating is going on. What the eyes see, the eyes want, and then the belly cannot digest. Better that you should turn your eyes inward before you devour the world.”
“You would make me a blind man, Guruji?”
“If you had ears to hear, I could give you eyes to see.”
“Listening is not enough. Invite five hundred people to a lecture, only two hundred will come. Of those two hundred, only fifty will listen. Of those fifty, only ten will remember. Of those ten, only one will practice. Where are you?”
Crowe descended from the sofa and sat cross-legged on the floor. “Right here, Guruji.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, Guruji.”
“You are not sorry. You are an omnivore. You just want to eat everything on the table – sound, touch, color, taste and smell.”
“I am here to learn.”
“You have learned all you can from me. We are finished with this program.”
“But there’s so much more. You said you would teach me…”
“Stop it. You sound like a little kid whose eyes are bigger than his stomach.”
Crowe looked at the floor. Guruji had told him many times that he was an infomaniac, obsessively collecting concepts and techniques. Crowe acknowledged this truth but at the same time excused it because he was fascinated by the rich spectrum of Vedic thought. But Guruji had said it was all too easy to mistake information for knowledge, that long periods of reflection were necessary to let the big mind catch up to the little mind.
“We have spent fourteen years together. In that time you have learned many useful tricks. I trust they serve you well.”
“It would take me another seven years just to empty your head so we could start a new program. You would learn nothing new. You would have to deny yourself your usual pleasures. Only by letting go of everything coarse could you make yourself pure enough to let the light shine through. Are you ready for that?”
“I believe I am.”
Guruji stared at him. “A man says to his parrot, ‘Are you ready to discuss the Bhagavad Gita?’ And the parrot says, ‘I believe I am.’ What do you think?”
“That’s one smart parrot.”
“Just because the bird speaks the language doesn’t mean it knows the subject.”
“You think I’m a parrot, Guruji?”
“It would be simpler if you were. I’d keep you in a cage away from the female parrots and you’d have eyes and ears only for me.”
“What do you want of me, Guruji?”
“Nothing more. We have done our best but now it’s time to go our separate ways.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s time for you to fly away. You need to be with the other parrots.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yes, you do. And you know that’s why you have to go.”
Crowe stared at the floor. He’d always known this day would come but he hadn’t known it would come this soon. Perhaps that’s just the way it was, you were never quite as ready as you thought you ought to be. It was all part of the endless ebb and flow, the cycle of seeking, getting and letting go. But to be reborn, you first had to die… Crowe cleared the corner of his eyes with a finger.
“Don’t cry,” Guruji said. “There was a time when that worked on me, but I have no sympathy for you now. You were a man before you met me, you will be a man once again.”
“May I have your blessing?”
“You are already blessed. You need nothing more from me.”
Guruji laid his hand on Crowe’s head. Crowe sat motionless at Guruji’s feet. Hanuman looked down from the mantelpiece with a magnificent scowl. Even the gods agreed, it was time for him to move on.