The following is an excerpt from Neal Pollack’s Open Your Heart (A Matt Bolster Yoga Mystery), a serialized yoga detective murder mystery novel available exclusively on Amazon.com, and his second work in the genre after Downward-Facing Death.
At sunrise on Monday, Rogelio Suarez found the millionaire’s head wrapped in a yoga mat.
Rogelio, the gardener, had come early to trim the palms, which was much easier in the morning than in the afternoon. He didn’t enjoy the dawn patrol more than anyone else, but he was used to getting up at 5 a.m. for work. Besides, even this close to the coast, it got hot above the frond line around mid-day, so it was better to get going, especially given the relatively high quality of the job. Rogelio had friends who, by now, were already blowing dust around the parking lot of their day’s second Gardena minimall. By comparison, Rogelio felt like a yachtsman. At least it was quiet and private here in lawn-land. He could stop to drink a Red Bull on ice if he wanted and no one would bother him. He could even have a Monster Energy, which, when he drank it, made his heart feel like it was going to blow out of his chest. It felt like freedom.
As Rogelio dragged along his ladder and machete, he saw the mat in the middle of the back lawn, like a soft, oblong bright-purple egg left by the Yoga Bunny. That was curious. Sometimes he’d find a plastic champagne glass left over from a weekend fund-raiser or Bat Mitzvah party, but usually the owners kept their lawn as immaculate as a Beverly Hills cemetery. Which, Rogelio was about to find out, the lawn now somewhat resembled.
Rogelio had a lot of survival rules in his life, which was why he’d been relatively successful for so long in such a brutal city, but one of his most steadfast was: Never touch the gabachos’ exercise equipment. In particular, he’d learned to walk a wide path around anything yoga-related, like mats, blocks, or blankets. The gabachos took that shit seriously, like they were religious artifacts. They often placed them next to statues of the Buddha and that weird Indian monkey god. Rogelio didn’t practice yoga himself—by the end of the workday, he was too tired to do anything but drink a beer and watch Los Doyers—and he wasn’t particularly interested in it or curious about it. But he respected spiritual beliefs, even those he didn’t understand. If someone had come into his house and messed with his wife’s Virgin of Guadalupe altar, either on purpose or by accident, they’d be walking funny the next day.
But on this day, Rogelio needed it out of the way. The gabachos didn’t like their stupid rubber mats sullied by lawn trimmings, and he was worried that his severed palm fronds would float down. Rogelio dropped his work gear, went to the mat, and touched it. There was a bulge in the middle, and a few sticky red droplets along the edge. Rogelio knew then there was trouble, and should have called the police immediately. Instead, he flipped the mat open.
His boss’s head tumbled out. It had been chopped at the neck, poorly. Bits of gristle and trachea hung down like so much exposed wall cable. The bald head, which had been as shiny and blemish-free as a custom-polished wooden bedknob when Rodrigo had last seen it, now looked gray and puffy. The mouth was barely open, and the eyes had rolled back in a death-moan. No amount of detox-spa scalp exfoliation was going to save him now.
Rogelio shrieked, loudly, como una niña.
The day had begun.
Six hours later, LAPD homicide detective Esmail Martinez stood in the yoga room of that same Beverly Hills mansion. Martinez had dismissed the gardener, innocence determined, to drown his morning terrors in a lunchtime michelada. Inside the yoga room, responding officers had found three other mats holding equally gruesome parcels. One enveloped a bloated, hairy naked torso; another held two arms and two legs bound together with yoga straps like corded wood. The third and vilest contained a variety pack of viscera, a horrible rubber burrito of guts and bile that made a huge stinky mess when the mat unrolled. At least one officer blew his breakfast.
“A yoga room,” Martinez said. “A goddamn yoga room.”
Such houses used to have billiard rooms, indoor swimming pools, bowling alleys, or even a second living area. But now that extra leisure space was all waxed bamboo flooring, red flowing silk, and Hindu iconography. You weren’t a proper West Side doyenne unless you kept a handcrafted harmonium in the corner under an imported Krishna tapestry.
Martinez had done yoga. It was hard to avoid yoga in LA. He’d felt pretty mellow for hours afterward, too, but he’d soon decided that his evenings were better spent drinking tequila and beer, and watching Gladiator. Having Russell Crowe at full volume on his custom-installed home-theater system made him seriously feel like a man.
Still, even with his limited experience, Martinez knew something had gone sour here. Wasn’t yoga supposed to be about calming down the mind and loving your fellow humans? For a discipline that preached peace, love, and relaxation, it sure seemed like yoga made a lot of people who practiced it totally crazy. And sometimes dead.
The dismembered man wrapped in the yoga mat had used his considerable Hollywood power to bring a couple of Kate Hudson comedies into the world, which in turn had paid for his wife’s Eastern-tinted spiritual fetish. And now look at him. His head had been sealed in a bag and taken somewhere cold, to rot more slowly.
Martinez didn’t quite understand. But he knew someone who claimed to.
That someone, Matt Bolster, entered the room.
Neal Pollack’s first book, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, was published in 2000, becoming an (almost) instant cult classic. His debut novel, Never Mind the Pollacks, hit shelves in 2003, and was shamelessly promoted by his band, The Neal Pollack Invasion. In 2007, he published Alternadad, a best-selling memoir. In 2010, Pollack became a certified yoga teacher and published Stretch, a nonfiction account of his adventures in American yoga culture. He has contributed to The New York Times, Wired, Slate, Yoga Journal, and Vanity Fair, among many other publications. Thomas & Mercer published his historical noir novel Jewball in March 2012, and his first Matt Bolster novel, Downward-Facing Death, in January 2013. He and his wife, the painter Regina Allen, live with their son in Austin, Texas.