All Signs Point to Murder Excerpt

There are no other people.

That’s one theory at least. The souls we meet on our path are those whom we can perceive, who reflect us, who vibrate at our level. Heraclitus, an ancient Greek, said that character is destiny. If so, we must look to ourselves alone when things go wrong. We must look inward to discover our fatal flaw, the one that led to ruin, the evil we perceive only when it is too late. We ask ourselves, why was I so blind? What is my Achilles heel that I was unconscious to such danger?

My name is Julia Bonatti, Julia Elizabeth Bonatti, and I’m an astrologer. In my practice, I struggle to keep an open mind, to not judge, or at least not too harshly. To remind myself of my own failings and forgive those in others. So it was that I did not see.

I once believed that no one is born evil – that evil is a learned talent. That there is no such thing as a dark sun. But I was wrong. There are those whose actions defy logic and the heart. In those cases, judgment is warranted, judgment and retribution.

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The door to the dressing room flew open with such force the mirror rattled against the wall. “Where the hell did she get to? We’re almost ready to start.” Brooke’s voice hovered on the edge of hysteria.

I paused with a mascara wand halfway to my lashes. “Have you checked the ladies room?” Brooke’s nervousness was contagious.

“Yes. I checked,” she groaned. “Julia,” she whispered, “I think Moira’s been drinking . . .” She turned back to the corridor, her mauve train catching on the threshold. “Damn,” she twisted, tugged on her skirt and stormed off.
Geneva Leary, my best friend from college, my friend who had seen me through the darkest time of my life, was getting married in just a few moments in the courtyard of the Inn of the Seven Horses in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco. Her sisters, Brooke and Moira, and I were serving as bridesmaids.

The door flew open a second time. Sally Stark, our wedding coordinator, charged in with the same question. “Where is Moira Leary?” she hissed.

I glanced up at Sally’s reflection in the mirror. “Brooke is looking for her now.” I sighed and replaced the cover on my mascara. Why does everyone get so tense at weddings? It’s hardly a Broadway opening.

“I can’t have this. I just can’t have this. I have never had a bridesmaid who behaved in such an irresponsible manner.” Sally, wearing a severe black suit, was painfully thin, her jaw permanently clenched. The tendons in her neck bulged like ropes as she spoke.

Brooke halted at the door to the dressing room. Sally turned to face her. “Mrs. Ramer, this is absolutely unacceptable. I have never seen such cavalier behavior. I assure you, the Inn will never allow you to plan an event here again. That’s if I have anything to say about it.”

Brooke’s face was flushed. I was waiting for her to explode, but instead she took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment to regain her poise. “I understand how you must feel.”

“No,” Sally bit back, “I don’t think you do. This reflects badly on me. In all the years I have been coordinating weddings, I have never had anyone – bride, groom, or bridesmaid, simply disappear moments before the ceremony is to begin!”

Brooke and I had spent the afternoon supervising the preparations. We had run up and down the stairway to the courtyard wiring yards of white tulle to each banister with bunches of baby roses to outline the bridal path. The flowers had arrived, the DJ was early, and one hundred white helium balloons with trailing ribbons had been released under the canopy covering the dance floor. Everything had, up until now, gone smoothly. Unfortunately, Geneva’s sister Moira had shown little interest in the festivities. Now, with the ceremony about to start, and more than a hundred guests waiting in the heat, she was nowhere to be found.

“We can’t delay any longer,” Brooke surrendered to Sally’s anger.

Sally sniffed dismissively. “Fine. I will signal the harpist.” She left the dressing room, slamming the door behind her.

Brooke stared at me and silently mouthed the word ‘bitch.’ “Let’s go, Julia.”

I stood and followed Brooke out of the dressing room. Clutching my small bouquet of lavender roses and purple iris, chosen to coordinate with my mauve gown , I took my place at the top of the stairway behind her. Geneva, sheltered in her private dressing room, had been able to ignore the hubbub and remain calm. I reached behind me to squeeze her hand. She smiled in response and we started our slow descent to the courtyard accompanied by the liquid strains of a harp.

We were a wedding party of eight, seven now with Moira’s disappearance, Geneva and David, her groom, her sister Brooke and myself. Their brother Dan, his friend Andy who was also dating Moira, and the groom’s friend Matt, waited at the altar next to David. When we reached the courtyard, Andy, Moira’s partner, looked at us questioningly, confused that Moira was not in our procession. I raised my eyebrows and shrugged my shoulders imperceptibly to indicate I had no idea where she was. After a few moments of shuffling, he chose to remain standing with the wedding party.

The courtyard was bathed in a shifting dappled light, the last sunlight of the day. Rising levels of brick planters surrounded us, forming an amphitheater of cultivated and wild blooms. The scent of jasmine, poppies, roses and larkspur filled the air with an intoxicating scent. Brooke’s seven-year old daughter Ashley, was taking her job as flower girl very seriously, scattering rose petals around the patio. Mary Leary, the bride’s mother, sat in the front row, tears glistening in her eyes.

Weddings always bring out the best and the worst in me. On one hand, I become embarrassingly teary-eyed and sentimental, sometimes given to outright bawling. On the other hand, a cynical part of me separates and steps back, like an astral body, watching, and wondering about all those ‘till death do us part’ vows. Do the participants realize what they’re promising? If all marriages end in death or divorce, why the rush to the altar? I often reflect on the karmic connections between two unique individuals, those connections that propel us to ‘own’ each other in a marital sense. As an astrologer, this stuff interests me. I know long term relationships must have a Saturn connection, otherwise they tend to be fun and short, or short and not so fun as the case may be, but Saturn connections can be difficult, restraining, and sometimes even, let’s admit it, oppressive.

Today Geneva wore a simple ivory floor length sheath. She carried a bouquet of white roses and delicate stephanotis. She appeared doll-like standing next to David, her groom. David is tall and fair and today he had put aside his wire-rim glasses that normally give him a scholarly look. A hush descended as the ceremony began, broken only by the sound of water splashing against the rocks in the creek below the courtyard. This was the tough part for me. The intimate moments. Two and a half years earlier, my fiancé Michael had been killed in a hit and run accident. Since his death, I’ve done my best to avoid weddings, baby showers and holiday events. But where Geneva was concerned, it was different. She had been a true friend during that time. I couldn’t say no to being supportive on her wedding day. Most of all, I couldn’t let her know how difficult this was for me.

Brooke pulled a small tissue from an unseen hiding place to mop her brow. A trickle of perspiration rolled down my back and I prayed the June heat wave would abate after sunset. It was no surprise the weather was brutal. No one had bothered to ask my astrological advice when the date was chosen. No one ever calls an astrologer when things are going well. I wasn’t at all happy about the Moon-Mars-Pluto connection in the heavens on the chosen day, but I never for a second thought death was hovering with beating wings.