Authors: Rochelle Krich
Table of Contents
To my Monday night mah jongg partners—
Anna, Arlene, Ellen, Frieda, Judy, Mimi B,
and Mimi M—
It’s more than the game.
Many thanks to those who were generous with their time and expertise for this work of fiction:
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Chair, Jewish Law and Ethics, Loyola Law School, was my sounding board for discussions about teens at risk. Dan Kline of CM Meiers Auto Insurance provided information that stumped Molly. (I thank Dan—Molly doesn’t.) D. P. Lyle is the author of two invaluable resource books that I keep on my bookshelf:
Murder and Mayhem
Forensics for Dummies.
Doug is my CSI and makes science intelligible and fun. Debbie Shrier, General Studies Principal of Yeshiva of Los Angeles High Schools, helped me plot my first mystery (
Till Death Do Us Part
) and, for this novel, gave me insight into the challenges students and teachers face today. Mary Hanlon Stone, Deputy District Attorney, made the law fit my story and promises that we’ll get together as soon as our schedules permit.
For his keen eye, steadfast faith and support (and the crème brûlée), I thank my editor, Joe Blades. I’m indebted to my wonderful agent, Sandra Dijkstra, and her staff; to Eileen Hutton and everyone at Brilliance Audio; to Marie Coolman, Gilly Hailparn, Heather Smith, and Margaret Winter and all my other friends and supporters at Ballantine; to Daisy Maryles; to Carolyn Hessel of the Jewish Book Council and all the book fair chairpersons who have invited me to participate in their programs; to Theda Zuckerman of Hadassah Women; and to my film agent, Liza Wachter, who is determined to bring Molly Blume into your homes or to a theater near you.
My “aunt” Regina Rechnitz, and my mother, of blessed memory, met in a labor camp during the Holocaust and forged a lasting friendship. Regina shared many stories with me, including her poignant reunion with her husband, my “uncle” Henry—a story in which my mother played a part. I thank Regina and Henry for allowing me to tell their story through the voice of Molly’s grandmother, Bubbie G.
I am blessed to share my life with my husband, Hershie, our children and their spouses, and our grandchildren. Special thanks to Chani, who taught Molly a few things; to Daniel and Meira and her Daniel, for giving me a reason to visit New York; to Eli, for the uplifting humor; to David, who always finds the right biblical chapter and verse, and Michelle, who makes the best potato kugel in the world; to Josh, my computer go-to guy; and to Sabina, who literally allowed me to push her around, over and over, so that I could construct one of the final scenes in the novel.
A Note on Pronunciations
Yiddish has certain consonant sounds that have no English equivalencies—in particular the guttural “ch” (achieved by clearing one’s throat) that sounds like the “ch” in Bach or in the German “Ach.”
Some Yiddish historians and linguists, including the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO— Yidisher Visenshaftikhe Institut), spell this sound with a “kh” (Khanukah, khalla). Others use “ch” (Chanukah, challa). I’ve chosen to use “ch.”
To help the reader unfamiliar with Yiddish, I’ve also doubled some consonants (“chapp,” “gitte”).
“Zh” is pronounced like the “s” in
“Tsh” is pronounced like the “ch” in
“Dzh” is pronounced like the “g” in
Here are the YIVO guidelines for vowel pronunciations, which I’ve followed in most cases, except for those in which the regional pronunciations vary (
pronounced even when it’s the final letter in the word
With a little practice, you’ll sound just like Molly’s Bubbie G.
—Rochelle Krich (“ch”as in birch,
but that’s another story)
Now Dinah—the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob—went out to look over the daughters of the land. Schechem, son of Hamor the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her. He took her, and he lay with her, and violated her. He became deeply attached to Dinah, daughter of Jacob. He loved the maiden and spoke to the maiden’s heart.
On a Sunday morning in November, a day before the Monday Hadassah Bailor never came home, her alarm rang at five-fifty. She shut off the alarm within seconds, but her older sister, Aliza, who had returned late from a date, groaned, “C’mon, Dass,” even before she saw the clock radio’s green liquid crystal numbers, eerily bright in the dark room. Like cat’s eyes, Aliza would say, though that was probably an afterthought inspired by the Harry Potter novel lying on the nightstand between the two beds.
Aliza jammed a pillow over her head. Later, with some prodding, when insignificant details assumed urgency, she remembered hearing the splash of water as Hadassah, using the white plastic tub and two-handled laver that she’d kept at her bedside for most of her eighteen years, rinsed her hands and eyes before she murmured her waking prayers. Also with some prodding, Aliza was able to recall the hum of the computer and the staccato clicking of Hadassah’s fingernails on the keyboard, and the muffled drone behind the closed door of the bathroom, where Hadassah dried her long curly strawberry-blond hair, which she liked to wear loose but had secured with a black velvet scrunchy.
At seven-forty Hadassah roused her three younger brothers. She helped Yonatan, the seven-year-old, find a tennis shoe and a yarmulke, both wedged between the bunk bed and the wall. While they dressed, she put snacks into brown paper bags (she almost forgot to decorate Yonatan’s with a smiley face) and handed the bags to the boys as they tore out the side door to their waiting carpool.
Hadassah put on a buttery yellow, cable-knit hooded sweater and a gray wool skirt that revealed a few inches of slim legs encased in gray tights too warm for what promised to be an unseasonably balmy day. After prayers and breakfast (two rice cakes, sliced red pepper, a glass of nonfat milk), she returned to her computer, muting the volume in deference to her sister’s restless tossing.
Two hours later she shut the computer and went downstairs. She had slipped her black backpack, heavy with books, over her black quilted jacket and was hoisting the strap of her overnight bag, which, if anyone had checked, was packed with more than her school uniform and a change of underwear, when her mother, one hand stifling a yawn, padded into the kitchen.
Nechama Bailor didn’t think her daughter had seemed different that morning. “In a rush, maybe,” she said on reflection, “but teenage girls are always like that, aren’t they?” Nechama was almost certain Hadassah had kissed her good-bye.
kisses me before she leaves,” the mother said, using the present tense from habit and hope and touching her cheek gingerly, as though she didn’t want to disturb the airy brush of her daughter’s lips.
Wednesday, November 17, 7:42 p.m. Melrose Avenue
near Spaulding. A man approached a 14-year-old
boy and grabbed his left shoulder from behind. The
suspect said, “Do you want to die of AIDS?” before
producing a syringe with a long needle. He then fled
“The face,” my grandmother likes to say, “tells a secret.” It’s an old Yiddish proverb that I have found to be true more often than not. But you have to really
a face to read its secrets. And some faces are like masks, hardened by misery or guile to reveal nothing, or like mirrors, reflecting what you expect or want to see.
If you had looked at my face that Wednesday, you might have detected loneliness. I was on an overnight book tour, and a tour, even one that’s only a two-hour drive from home, can have lonesome moments. Not during the reading, when you’re caught up in the thrill of sharing your words with people who know your name even if you don’t know theirs. And not immediately afterward, when you may cherish the solitude and anonymity. But at some point—when the euphoria has evaporated, when the people who came to hear you are in their homes, chatting with family or friends about the day’s happenings, and you’re in your hotel or in a restaurant and everyone around you seems to be part of a couple or a group, sharing drinks or laughter—at some point you’re filled with melancholy, with a sense of being disconnected, invisible.
I was in San Diego that night, in a hotel room that, though not the Del Coronado, was more than adequate, but I missed Los Angeles and the comforts and contours of my house and my bed. Mostly, I missed my husband of eight months, especially since this was the first night we’d been apart since our wedding. So when I saw a familiar face in the lobby of my hotel, my spirits lifted.
He was sitting on a sofa opposite the elevator I’d just exited. I smiled, ready to greet him, unable to place him. His eyes were lowered toward the magazine on his lap, and he was wearing gunmetal-framed bifocals and a black cap that obscured his forehead.
him. Where did I . . . ?
It took a moment for his identity to register (the other times, I realized, he’d worn a yarmulke and no glasses), another for surprise to twist into shock, then alarm.
He was following me.
I had first noticed him Monday at my publication party for
a true account of a man who had injected his son with the AIDS virus. More than half of the people at the Dutton’s Brentwood event were friends and family and, like me, Orthodox Jews, so his black suede yarmulke had been one of many. He was in his midforties, I’d guessed, judging from the dusting of gray in his thinning light brown hair. He had kept his distance while I greeted guests and steered them to the chocolates and wine I’d set out in the courtyard. Inside the store, he listened intently while I read from the first chapter of
his dark brown eyes narrowed in concentration, his nods punctuating my sentences and making me flush with pleasure at his approval—or maybe it was the wine. Later, he joined the advancing queue of people holding books for me to sign. I was certain he would comment on the book or my reading, but he set a copy of
in front of me, said, “Signature only” in a low voice, and slipped away before I could ask his name.
Tuesday afternoon he was in the back row of chairs in a Thousand Oaks mystery bookstore. He listened with that same flattering concentration while I spoke about the research I’d done for the book, about the people I’d interviewed, the conclusions I’d reached. After my talk he was the first to approach me, a copy of
in his hand.
Maybe he was a collector, I’d thought. Collectors often buy two copies of a hardcover—one for their collection, another to read— though they generally buy both at the same time. Or maybe he was picking up a copy for a friend.
“It’s nice to see you again,” I said, smiling warmly as he handed me the book. “Do you live in the city or the Valley?” I continued when he didn’t reply. His was the only yarmulke in the room, and I admit I felt a kinship.
“City.” His curt tone didn’t invite conversation.
So much for “kinship.” Uncapping my pen, I turned to the title page. “What’s your name?”
“Signature only, please.”
With someone else I might have quipped that it was an odd name, but I didn’t think he’d appreciate the humor. He sounded somber. Nervous, too, now that I look back.
“Would you like me to write the date?” I asked.
I wrote “Morgan Blake” (my pseudonym for my true crime books), “November 16,” and the year. In my byline—I’m a freelance reporter and pen a weekly “Crime Sheet” column for the local tabloids—I use my real name, Molly Blume. (Molly Blume
since I married Zack, my former high school sweetheart, who is now a pulpit rabbi.)
He showed up that night at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. From my stool behind the tall black desk at the rear of the store, I saw him hovering near a front table, leafing through books and darting glances in my direction. On some level I was flattered, but I kept my eye on him while I chatted with people and signed copies of
Minutes later he was standing in front of me.
“Signature and date only, right?” I opened the book he handed me. “I take it you’re a collector?”
He seemed surprised by my question. “No.”
“Then you really
a fan. I wish I had dozens like you.” I wondered if he was giving the copies as gifts for Chanukah, which was only weeks away, or for Christmas.
“I admire your work. Your passion for truth, your determination, your integrity. It all comes through in the book.”
“Thank you.” It was the most he’d said since we’d met—practically a speech—and I was struck again by the gravity of his tone. “What’s your name, by the way?”
“Reuben.” He stepped closer and leaned over the desk. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee when you’re done?”
I assumed he wanted advice about getting published, or a critique of his work, or both. I try to repay the kindness others have shown me on my road to publication, but the man’s intensity made me cautious.
“I wish I could, but my husband is waiting for me,” I said, grateful for the excuse and the man who provided it.
“What about tomorrow morning?” he said with an urgency that confirmed my wariness. “I need to discuss something with you. It’s important.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t. My schedule is
hectic.” I smiled to soften the rejection.
“I know, but—” He stopped, then scribbled a phone number on a slip of paper that he pushed toward me. “In case you change your mind,” he said, and turned to leave.
“You forgot your book.” I held it out to him.
His third copy.
I love devoted fans, but I read
and saw the movie. So in spite of the yarmulke—no guarantee of character, and for all I knew it was camouflage; anyone could buy one—I asked the store manager to accompany me to my car, and I didn’t fully relax until I was home.
“Three signings in two days, and two on the same day?” Zack said after I’d told him about my new fan.
“He probably wanted writing advice, or a referral to my agent. Or a blurb.” My caution seemed silly now that I was nestled in the crook of Zack’s arm, a position that after eight months had lost its novelty but not its appeal.
“Did you keep the phone number he gave you?”
I found the scrap of paper in my purse and handed it to Zack. He dialed the number, listened, and hung up a moment later.
“No name, just a recorded message. Three books, huh?” The expression in his gray-blue eyes had turned pensive.
“I think he was trying to butter me up.”
“Maybe. So are you going to call the guy?”
“No.” Zack was trying to sound casual, but I could hear his concern. My ex-husband, Ron, would have told me what to do—or, in this case,
do. “Now if he’d bought
books,” I said, and we both laughed.
I didn’t feel like laughing now. Less than a minute had passed since I’d stepped out of the elevator, and the man still wasn’t aware of my presence. Common sense told me to return to my room and contact security, but anger and the safety net of potential rescuers propelled me across the marble floor.
The clacking of my heels echoed loudly in the high-ceilinged lobby. His head whipped up from the magazine, and he jumped to his feet, smoothing his startled expression and his navy sports coat. He was about four inches taller than my five-six, but my Jimmy Choos erased the difference.
My heart was thumping. “You’re stalking me,” I said, raising my voice to attract the attention of the guests in the next bay of sofas. “I want to know why.”
Color worked up his neck like a spider’s web. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you, Miss Blume. As I told you last night, I need to talk to you. It’s urgent.”
frighten me.” I wasn’t surprised that he knew my real name—practically everyone at the Dutton’s signing had called me Molly. But I wasn’t thrilled. “Since you know
name, what’s yours?”
“Show me some ID, Reuben Jastrow.”
Tucking the magazine under his arm, he removed a wallet from the pocket of his gray wool slacks and handed it to me. I examined his driver’s license. Same name, same face, a little less gray in the hair. He was forty-eight, several years older than I’d guessed.
I fished a pen and pad out of my purse and made a show of writing down his name, driver’s license number, and an address in Beverlywood, an upscale neighborhood near Beverly Hills.
“Why are you stalking me?” I repeated after I returned his wallet.
“I wasn’t—” He glanced around. “Can we talk somewhere private?”
My heart was still racing. My stomach muscles were knotted. “I don’t think so. Right now I find crowds really appealing. Why the disguise, Reuben?”
He looked confused. “The disguise?”
I pointed to his head. “A hat instead of the yarmulke. The glasses. You weren’t wearing them the other times.”
He lifted his cap and revealed a black suede yarmulke. “My contact lenses are monovision. One is for reading, the other for distance,” he said, replacing the cap. “They’re okay, but not perfect, especially at night, when I’d be on my way back to L.A.”
His explanation rang true—my mother wears monovision contacts and complains about their limitations. But that didn’t mean it
do you go to, Reuben?”
He named an Orthodox synagogue in Beverlywood.
“Who’s the rabbi?” I asked, testing him.
He told me that, too. “You can ask around about me, although I’d prefer you didn’t. We don’t want talk.”
The word had a vaguely conspiratorial sound.
“My family. This is a delicate matter.”
I raised a brow. “Stalking me is delicate?”
A beefy man standing nearby had been watching us. Now he approached and folded his arms. “Is this guy bothering you?” he asked me, glowering at Jastrow and the magazine, which Jastrow had twisted into a tight roll.
Hardly a lethal weapon, even if words
kill. “No, I’m fine,” I told my defender. “Thanks, though.”
“Okay, then.” He seemed disappointed and gave Jastrow a long warning look before he walked away.
“I read your book,” Jastrow said. “I came to your signings to hear you, to see if you’re the right one.”
“Three L.A. events didn’t do it for you?”
was sure, but—” He broke off. “It’s complicated.”
complicated, huh?” In spite of my annoyance, I was intrigued. Then I frowned. “How did you know I’d be at this hotel?”
“I looked up your schedule on your website and followed you here from the book signing.”
“You were there?” The fact that I hadn’t known made me feel vulnerable again.
“In my car. There were so many people in the store—I knew I wouldn’t have a chance to talk to you. So I followed you. I figured you’d come down eventually to get dinner.”
I studied him. “So you drove two hours to talk to me?”
“I’m in insurance. Some of my clients live in the area. I made appointments.” Unfurling the magazine, Jastrow slipped it into a black briefcase and took out a business card that he handed me. “I was out of these last night. This isn’t something I wanted to discuss on the phone.”
I glanced at the card before dropping it into my purse. “Which clients did you see?”
He named two. “You can call them. They’ll verify that I met with them today.” He looked around again. “Can we sit somewhere? Give me five minutes. If you’re not interested in what I have to say, I won’t bother you again.”
I chewed on my lip. “What’s delicate and complicated, Reuben?”
“My daughter ran away three days ago. We want you to find her and bring her home.”