A Single Eye: A Darcy Lott Mystery

A Single Eye: A Darcy Lott Mystery

by Susan Dunlap

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A stuntwoman hunts down a killer at a Buddhist retreat in this “engaging” mystery by the Anthony Award–winning author of the Jill Smith series (Booklist).

Darcy Lott can stare down any risky physical feat—until a stunt gone awry leaves the daredevil vulnerable to her phobias. With a crisis in confidence, Darcy calls upon her Buddhist beliefs, and heads to a monastery in the California redwoods for a soothing two–week getaway. What she finds is anything but soul–centering. Not long after she arrives, an attempt is made on the roshi’s life, and Darcy herself is threatened.

It seems the remote haven is brimming with secrets, and still shadowed by a mystery someone wants to keep buried—that of a Zen student who disappeared six years before. As harsh weather prevents anyone from leaving, Darcy finds herself in an increasingly dangerous trap. Someone is meditating about murder. Now, to find a killer among the followers she must face her own fears if she wants to make it out of this sanctuary alive.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781619022706
Publisher: Catapult
Publication date: 09/14/2013
Series: The Darcy Lott Mysteries , #1
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 436 KB

About the Author

Susan Dunlap is the author of nineteen novels and a collection of short stories, and editor of an anthology. She has won Anthony and Macavity Awards and has been president of Sisters in Crime. Her day jobs have ranged from teaching Hatha yoga to working on a death penalty defense team. She and her husband live near San Francisco.

Read an Excerpt


It was the perfect day for the gag. Ten minutes from now was going to be the perfect moment; the sun would gush over the east wall to create a golden backlight for Kelly Rustin and me as we did leaps from high mesa to high mesa, across the canyon. This was her first stunt; the one she'd always remember.

The far side was a broad ledge of rock, a no-brainer landing. Our take-off point, a wind-baked peninsula, stuck out over the wooded canyon like a pointed foot. "Just for you, Kel," I'd said, "in case you need a little kick." She was nervous, of course, but no way would she admit it, and I was working triple-time to keep her from letting worry eat into her concentration. In the stunt business double-checking the wire and the carabiner is your life; distraction will kill you. But this was an easy gag; no one was going to die here. It was a stylish stunt that would show Kelly's great lines in the air and my "yikes" landings. We only had time for one practice run, then one shot. That one shot had to be perfect, for the movie, for me, but most of all for Kelly.

Almost covering the take-off mesa was a giant yellow crane with a hundred-foot arm holding our wires. Hoisting the crane up here had taken twenty guys and hadn't done the forest trails any good. Its feet were so close to the edge that the cameramen were hanging off the side in a basket to give Kelly and me room for the run-up to the leap.

"Eight minutes," the second unit director called. "Last run-through."

We moved to the start marks. Kelly attached her wire and checked it just as I had taught her. I hooked mine. We double-checked each other. "Break a tooth," I said. Her father was a dentist. She shot me a smile, but never took her eyes off the leap point. I couldn't help but be proud of her.


Kelly ran, kicking up scree with each step. A fan blew her long blond hair out straight behind her. When she hit the leap point I started after her. I hit the edge and pushed off into a glide out over the abyss. I didn't look down, not because of the two-hundred-foot drop — heights aren't my fear — but to focus on camouflaging the "hold" moment when the wire took my weight. I sailed feet up, arms out, flying onto the wire with no telltale jerk, holding the pose till I could make out individual pebbles on the far mesa. I pulled up knees to chest, swung my feet hard forward onto the dump spot, windmilled my arms, did a lurch- and-sit, and pushed off into a lope across the mesa.


I skidded. The wire jerked me back.

"Great job, everyone. Get back to the start marks. Two minutes till sunrise."

I walked back to the edge of the shelf. I'd hit the dump spot perfectly; my lurch-and-sit was the best I'd ever done, I could feel it. I looked at Kelly; she was rerunning the gag in her mind just as she should be, but the corners of her mouth twitched. She knew she'd been on mark. She was holding off her smile till the final take was in the can, but I couldn't resist grinning for her. She'd been a wad of terror coated with a crust of bravado two weeks ago when she auditioned; only I had been sure she had it in her to be a great stunt double. In a quarter of an hour everyone on the set would be patting her back and insisting they knew all along.

The cable jerked me up like a crate on a container ship and swung me back to the start side. Kelly landed next to me, rechecked her wire, then stuck her hand in the goo pot and fingered the stuff through her hair.

"On marks," the director called.

I checked my wire again, then Kelly's. On my next job I'd be the second unit director.

"Break another tooth?" She almost managed to hide the quaver in her voice.

"A bicuspid."


A thread of sun broke over the eastern wall.


Kelly ran, scree shooting from her feet, hair straight out behind her.

The front crane foot slipped over the edge.

She hit the edge and leapt into the air.

I poised to go.

The crane swayed. The arm jerked Kelly off trajectory. Behind me the director gasped. Kelly had momentum. She could still pull it out. We had to get the shoot now.

The sun flooded over the mountaintop; its searing light threw the world into slo-mo. Sparks shot out from the top of the crane arm; the wire snapped. Kelly's wire. Slowly, as if sailing, Kelly hit the side of the canyon wall and bounced. And bounced. And bounced. Like a wad of paper, opening more with each hit. Stunt doubles know how to curl and roll. Kelly wasn't curled, wasn't rolling; she was flayed out.

Noise shot up, people screaming, metal grinding.

I skidded to a stop at the mesa edge, still on my wire. "Lower me down."

"The crane won't hold."

"I only need a minute. Send me down fast. Now!"

I didn't wait for an answer. I leapt into the canyon. The wire spun out. I eyed the wall for holds.

Below, branches snapped. Kelly screamed.

The wire jerked hard, smacking me headfirst into the rocky wall. Blood dripped in my eyes. I kicked off. "Faster!"

For an instant I hung in air, then fell free seventy, eighty feet before the wire caught hold. There was no sound from Kelly below, no scream, no moan, no "I'm okay." Shrubs and trees poked out toward me from the walls.

"Trees," a guy yelled from above. "Kelly's in the trees below!"

The wire jerked, spinning me around. For the first time, I chanced a glance down — I'm not afraid of heights — into the top of the thick woods on the canyon floor.

The wire ran loose again. Before I could react, I shot down through a canopy of leaves and branches into a forest. The leaves blocked out the light. I couldn't get my breath.

"Help me!" Kelly moaned. "Oh, God, I can't move my legs!"

Panic cut through me.

I grabbed the wire and yanked hard three times. "Pull me up." I tried to yell, but no sound came out.

The wire snapped to a stop and then slowly lifted me up through the branches. The fronds grabbed for my head and arms. Sweat covered my face, poured down my back. Bile filled my mouth. I was going to wretch.

"Darcy?" Kelly moaned. "Darcy, I can't move. Help me!"

The muted light hit my face again. I was out of the canopy. I stared straight up, to avoid catching sight of the tree-covered walls. I swallowed hard to push down the bile. "Kelly's at the bottom," I yelled. "Send the medics." I swung myself into the wall, grabbed onto an outcropping, unhooked, and gave three yanks.

Kelly shrieked.

I went stiff. "The medics are coming, Kel. Hang on!"

"Darcy!" she wailed. "Don't leave me down here!"

"I gave the medics my wire."


I clung to the outcropping above the tree line and didn't move, didn't look down. Sweat poured down my face, my back, my legs. My hands shook. My heart slammed against my ribs. Kelly's screams reverberated, filling the canyon.

I looked down, into the trees. The green swam. I couldn't breath. I shut my eyes and clung.

I didn't dare look down again, into the trees where I could not make myself go.

* * *

Two weeks later the air was cool in the Ninth Street Zen Center, still, and so silent it hushed my own jumble of thoughts. In the white-walled meditation hall, round black cushions perched atop black rectangular mats. Two students bowed to each other before settling on their cushions and pivoting to face the walls. My shoulders relaxed, my breath flowed more easily, and, as always, I felt, in a way I couldn't explain, at home.

But before I could enter the hall, a finger tapped my shoulder, a head nodded toward the dokusan — interview — room. Inside, the Roshi — esteemed teacher — waited.

His summoning bell rang. I opened his door.

Yamana-roshi sat perfectly still, a small Japanese man in brown robes, on a brown mat in the small white room. On the altar beside him lay offerings to the Buddha: flowers, incense, and candle light. The candlewick had been trimmed too short and the flame threatened to fail, but Yamana-roshi did not turn toward it. It would last or it would die.

I bowed to the Buddha. I bowed to Yamana-roshi, and to my black cushion before sitting cross-legged on it and swiveling to face him. The ritual was like a soft hand on my shoulder. The two-foot by three-foot mats under our cushions almost touched, symbolizing the spiritual intimacy of the dokusan interview. My knees were inches from his; his face was calm. Normally, he would wait for me to pose my question. Then he would sit silently till the right reply, perhaps a koan, arose in his mind. To us Americans, koans are paradoxical tales from another time and another culture. But Yamana-roshi would choose one that paralleled my life, perhaps one like You are on the top of a hundred-foot pole. How do you advance? Carrying the riddle in the back of my mind, I might see my next step differently. I might see differently.

Buddhism is a religion; Zen is the practice of looking into yourself, peeling off layers till you find your essential emptiness. I had entered here before and held out my life like a ball of string and, each time, he'd found a strand to pull so I could begin the unraveling. Now he sat in front of me, legs crossed, hands together.

"Roshi, I hope —"

"You hope. When is hope?" he asked, reminding me that our goal is to experience the present, not create pictures of a future. The Japanese language is without inflection and Yamana-Roshi had transferred that even-weighting to his English. There was no rise of the voice to hint that he questioned my assumptions, to demand I explain how my life could be anchored in a future reality I had just made up.

Word was that he had once been stern and I could imagine him years ago as a middle-aged man, his eyes narrowed in irritation at bowing done carelessly, rituals ill-performed by students who bristled at the discipline. His square face and prominent cheekbones would have given him the look of a taskmaster and his beginner's English left listeners to their own judgments. But time had loosened the skin over those bones and transformed his frustrated grimace into an accepting half smile. Despite his age his forehead was smooth, and no squint lines bracketed his eyes. He wasn't searching outside to spot answers.

From the altar, curls of incense rose, widened, and vanished between us.

I smiled. "Roshi, my hope is about two weeks of zazen. I'm going to a sesshin!" The words tumbled out; I hadn't realized how desperate I was to tell him. "The sesshin, it's in the woods, back in California. Two weeks long. I just got the acceptance letter. I leave on the red-eye — at the crack of dawn tomorrow!" I was leaning forward, to spot his approval a millisecond sooner.

A little smile brightened his face. He didn't speak, as if to let us both savor this moment. Zen practice is to be present in the present, and I was particularly glad of it now. Yamana-roshi wouldn't mention how long he had been encouraging me to do a multiday sitting at some other Zen center where I wouldn't be the work leader or the head server like I was here, where I couldn't spend my meditation time thinking about assigning tasks or allotting serving pots, all the while convincing myself I was sitting zazen. Nor would he bring up the excuses I had raised every time there had been a notice of a suitable sesshin: there was a call for stunt doubles who could do high-fall gags; I had just landed a job; I'd just finished a job; my apartment was being painted; it was winter; it was summer. In a long sesshin I was afraid I'd see myself for what I was, or worse yet, that I wouldn't.

Still smiling, he looked up, caught my eye and said, "Ah, jumping in with both feet!" Jumping in with both feet was one of the quaint Americanisms that amused him, the making of a great coup out of the easiest way. "Harder than jumping in with only one foot?" he had demanded in delight the first time he'd heard it. "Than with no foot?"

"You mean belly flopping?" I'd said, and he had laughed openmouthed.

I smiled now, basking in our shared amusement.

But Zen masters don't speak frivolously.

"You're right: once I make up my mind to do something, I'm in whole hog." Whole hog was another of his favorites. "But I had to this time. Two weeks ago the wire snapped in a stunt. My friend, the girl I had lobbied for and trained, broke her leg and three ribs and punctured her lung. She fell into woods. She was terrified, and the pain ..." I had to stop to breathe. "I was thirty yards above her. She was screaming. And I couldn't make myself go down into the woods for her. Suddenly everything turned strange; top was bottom and I was in a whole other place, black, airless, no way out. All I could do was panic!" My back was clammy. I swallowed hard. "Roshi, that's happened before, the sweat, the panic, the other place ... but it is never going to happen again. So, I'm jumping in with both feet. I hunted around for a sesshin in the woods, and redwoods are as big as woods come, right?" I blurted the last before my bravado failed.

On the altar the candle sputtered, sending a wave of dark across his face. He said, "This is not why we sit zazen."

"I know, Roshi. But I have to do this. I hope —"

"Hope is not now. Hope is —"

I thought he would say hope is throwing yourself into a future that you've made up and ignoring the reality of the present. But he didn't. He said, "Hope is a trap. Be aware of that when you enter sesshin. 'Do not judge by any standards.' Do not set standards to judge yourself before you begin; do not hope. Even when you jump with both feet." He nodded, as if to acknowledge my propensities, and said, "Fear will arise. Feel it in your body, observe your thoughts. Nothing more."

Many times he had told me that fear was nothing more than thoughts and sensations. "Nothing more." Many times I had repeated those words in the safety of the city and been too panicked in the woods to even recall them. But this time was different. I believed him. I was ready to test it out.

There was a small teacup on his right. He lifted it with both hands, drank, and put it back. "Who is the teacher?"

"Garson-roshi, your former student!"

"Ah, Garson," he said, brightening. "He is a deep teacher. A man of big heart, like you, Darcy. Very good for you." He nodded slowly, as if to acknowledge a deeper connection. "Garson is like you. He keeps hidden from himself. He will help you see what you do not want to see, perhaps what you do not expect. It is a great chance for you."

His hand reached for the brass bell beside him, and hovered above it. In a moment he would lift it. Outside the door, the waiting student would poise to move at hearing the soft rub of tongue against metal. He would hope for the firm ring calling him, just as I was intent on forestalling it, in solidifying Yamana's approval.

I said, "I heard that Garson was leaving the monastery. This'll be his last sesshin. All his students must have heard; I was lucky they left any room for me."

"Leaving?" His question hung, the word uncolored by anything behind it. And yet, I knew him so well, my beloved teacher, that I tensed.

"In my acceptance letter Garson said he was leaving at the end of sesshin. The sesshin will be in honor of a student named Aeneas. That will be a focus different than what I'm looking for, but it'll still be valuable for me to do the sesshin in the woods and ..."

I stopped. Yamana-roshi was sitting still as before, but he wasn't listening. In dokusan, the teacher gives the student his full attention. He listens not merely to the words, but to everything behind them. I had never seen his attention waver at all. Even when I ran into him on the street his mind never wandered. For him to be distracted here, in dokusan ...

Yamana-Roshi raised his head, looked at me in a way I couldn't assess. His hand, still poised above the bell, didn't move. No sound broke the stillness. When he spoke, his voice, always soft, seemed like words in a dream. "This sesshin may not be for you. You —"

"Roshi, I have to go!"

"There could be difficulties —"

"You said this was a great chance for me. Garson is leaving. Roshi, this is my only chance!"

No reaction was evident on his face or in his body. He sat utterly still, eyes downward, face impassive. He wasn't toting up pluses and minuses; I didn't know what his process was. Nor could I understand his sudden balking about my going to the event he had urged me toward, in the place I would have to face my fears, with a teacher even he had said would be good for me. The only sound in the room was my own breath. I tried to sit as still as he and failed. My jacket rustled as I shifted, strands of my curly hair tickled my neck. A waft of incense — dry, acrid — passed over my face.

"The student at the monastery, Aeneas, disappeared," he said.


"No one reported seeing him since, since six years."

"Do you think he's ... dead?"


Excerpted from "A Single Eye"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Susan Dunlap.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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