Authors: Lee Harris
PRAISE FOR LEE HARRIS
AND HER MYSTERIES
“Inventive plotting and sharp, telling characterization make the Lee Harris novels pure pleasure to read.”
“Harris's holiday series . . . [is] a strong example of the suburban cozy.”
âEllery Queen's Mystery Magazine
“Her storytelling skill remains top quality.”
“A not-to-miss series.”
“Impeccable plotting, a poignant storyline, and a crime from the past are hallmarks of a Lee Harris storyâand some of the reasons she won an
Career Achievement Award.”
By Lee Harris
Published by Fawcett Books
The Christine Bennett Novels:
THE GOOD FRIDAY MURDER
THE YOM KIPPUR MURDER
THE CHRISTENING DAY MURDER
THE ST. PATRICK'S DAY MURDER
THE CHRISTMAS NIGHT MURDER
THE THANKSGIVING DAY MURDER
THE PASSOVER MURDER
THE VALENTINE'S DAY MURDER
THE NEW YEAR'S EVE MURDER
THE LABOR DAY MURDER
THE FATHER'S DAY MURDER
THE MOTHER'S DAY MURDER
THE APRIL FOOLS' DAY MURDER
THE HAPPY BIRTHDAY MURDER
MURDER IN HELL'S KITCHEN
Books published by The Random House Publishing Group are available at quantity discounts on bulk purchases for premium, educational, fund-raising, and special sales use. For details, please call 1â800â733â3000.
A Fawcett Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
Copyright Â© 2004 by Lee Harris
This book contains an excerpt from
Murder in Hell's Kitchen
by Lee Harris, published by The Random House Publishing Group. Copyright Â© 2003 by Lee Harris
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Fawcett and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
The Bar Mitzvah Murder
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
For my sister, Edith,
who is always there
The author wishes to thank Ana M. Soler, James L. V. Wegman, and Dr. Edith B. Frankel for their information, their ideas, and their hard work.
And a special thank you to Lea and Dr. Raffi Frankel
Today I am a man!
What every Bar Mitzvah boy says on his special day
I have more or less grown accustomed to change. While the biggest change in my life happened several years ago when I was thirty and was released from my vows as a Franciscan nun, the more recent changes have also had a great impact on me as well as on my family. When I met Jack, my husband of most of my secular years, he was a detective sergeant with NYPD, going to law school at night. Today he is both a lawyer and a recently appointed lieutenant, having passed his test with flying colors. He says that after law school everything else is easy. As I watched him study, I wasn't so sure that was true, but I'm glad he thinks so.
When Jack finished law school, he left the Sixty-fifth Precinct in Brooklyn, where he had worked for many years and where I had met him when I was researching a 1950 murder. At that point, he began the first of a couple of jobs at Police Headquarters, generally referred to as One PP for Police Plaza, more commonly known among cops as the Puzzle Palace. But once he passed the lieutenant's test and received his promotion, commemorated by a big ceremony at One PP followed by a smaller one for the family in his office, a familiar cycle began again. He was transferred to a precinct following the rule from the Personnel Bureau that “new bosses of all ranks have to return to a uniform field command, a precinct, for at least six months after promotion.” For various reasons Jack had thought he might get a pass on the rule, but it didn't happen and his life and therefore mine were turned upside down again. He began to work on rotating shifts. The chart, with its many changes and exceptions, can make family life very hectic.
I am a creature of habit and I like to sleep when it's dark and do everything else when it's light. Having a four-year-old just seemed to reinforce what I think of as a normal schedule. But crime doesn't adhere to any schedule and I suspect there's more of it in the dark hours than the light, so Jack psyched himself up and fell in step with four of these tours, then three of those followed by two days off, or was it three off? Talk about ships passing in the night.
A couple of days after Jack began the new assignment, someone called here at home and asked me if the boss was there. I was a little taken aback but realized he meant Jack. When Jack came home a little while later, I teased him about it.
“Yeah, I'm a boss,” he said.
“OK, boss. Just checking.”
I started calling him that now and then, and one afternoon Eddie asked when Daddy Boss was coming home. That really tickled Jack, and the name stuck for the duration of the assignment.
They were a tough six months for me and for Eddie, who couldn't figure out why Daddy was here one day but not the next, but I noticed something both interesting and amusing; Jack loved it. Yes, he complained about the shifts, but his spirits were high. He loves the action of a precinct, the interaction with the men and women on the job. He is really so well suited to that kind of life that I sometimes wonder what made him decide to get a law degree.
To add to his enjoyment, if you can call it that, he was assigned to what is officially Midtown South or MTS, as the cops in that precinct call it. It's over on West 35th Street and is billed as “the busiest police station house in the world.” That's no exaggeration. It's always buzzing.
I was almost afraid he'd ask to stay on, but happily, when the six months were almost over, something unexpected came up. Although the commanding officer of the precinct, a full inspector, wanted to keep Jack there, just last week word came “from on high,” as he told me, that he was wanted back in the Puzzle Palace. So he has begun the routine of cleaning out his desk and locker, something we've lived through twice before. What amazes me is the accumulation of stuff that finds its way home, only some of which is to be relocated in the new office. But coming from a family of pack rats, I'm the last one to voice criticism.
Tomorrow I'm going into the city to join the party at MTS and meet the cops Jack's been working with. And next week we all start sleeping through the night once again.
It was just at that point between the end of one assignment and the beginning of another when my friend across the street, Melanie Gross, called me somewhat breathlessly.
“Chris, you'll never believe what I'm going to tell you.”
I laughed. “I must be talking to Mel.”
“You are and I am. I just got home from school and took in the mail and found one of those quarter-inch-thick square envelopes on cream-colored paper hand-lettered by a calligrapher.”
“A wedding invitation?”
“That's what I thought, but I was wrong. It's from Hal's cousin Gabe, a real sweetie who's made a bundle and gives half of it to charity. He got very interested in Judaism a few years ago and felt he hadn't been given a proper religious background. So he's having a Bar Mitzvah.”
“His son is turning thirteen?” I said, recalling what I'd learned from Mel in a conversation some time ago.
“No, no, no.
having the Bar Mitzvah. It's for him.”
My head began swimming. “You told me a Bar Mitzvah was to mark a boy's passing to manhood at the age of thirteen.”
“And that's what's usually done. But some men who think they didn't do it right, or maybe didn't do it at all, have one when they're older. And that's what Gabe is doing.”
“So you get to go to a big party with lots of good food and all the relatives you haven't seen since the last Bar Mitzvah.”
“Right. But Gabe is having this one in Jerusalem.”
“Wow!” I said. “Will you and Hal go?”
“Gabe's flying us over and putting us up at a hotel.”
“That's why you're breathless.”
“That is exactly why I'm breathless. Can you believe it?”
“Honestly? No. That sounds like the extravagance to end all extravagances.”
“But that's Gabe. He's very generous and he can afford to be.”
“Mel, that is just stupendous. Are you taking the kids?”
“Chris, I haven't even called Hal yet to tell him. But why not? Even if they miss a couple of days of school, it'll be worth it for the experience. And I'll have to take off myself, won't I?” She said this last as though it had just occurred to her, which I guessed it had.
It was quite a story to tell Jack when he got home. He was as astounded as I at the expenditure involved but agreed it was a great opportunity for Mel and her family to visit the Holy Land.
Little did I know . . .
The party at Midtown South was a real pleasure for me. I had heard names and descriptions for six months, and now I matched them up with faces. One of the more artistically talented members of the precinct had written a short skit lampooning my husband, and when it was performed it had me rolling in the aisles. All in all, it was a fun afternoon and I was glad I'd been invited.
The following Monday, Jack got up at a normal hour, by which I mean the same one at which I normally arise, and had breakfast with us and went to his new office in the Legal Bureau at One PP, the car laden with cartons of stuff he could not live without. When he came home that evening he had some startling news.
“I found out today who it was that requested me for this new job,” he said when we were comfortably ensconced in our usual places in the family room with cups of coffee and cookies, the paper, the TV, and a fire in the fireplace.
“It wasn't just some committee thing?”
“It came right from the desk of the Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters and went directly to the PC's desk.”
“Jack, the commissioner?”
“Himself. And then came straight down like a rocket, ensuring that the transfer would take place ASAP. The blessing of the chief of personnel came later. This was a non-stop transfer.”
I put my cup down. “I'm not sure I understand.”
“I'm not sure I understand, either. The captain told me today. Seems they want me for something special, but frankly, I don't have the vaguest.”
“I hope it's interesting,” I said, still spinning a bit from the mention of the police commissioner. It certainly sounded as though Jack had been noticed by people high up in the administration.
“Yeah, me, too. I hope they don't want me to write proposals or anything like that. I'd lose my mind.”
Nothing happened for a week. Jack went to meetings, met people, found a chair that fit his bottom better than the first one, and that was it. In the meantime, I walked my new kindergartener to school each morning, finally agreeing to have him walk with Mel's children, who, although a few years older than he, are good friends.
Mel and Hal accepted their great invitation, and Mel and her mother went out looking for a perfect dress for the event. Mel was just thrilled. She had never been to Israel, although her husband had gone there on a teen tour twenty years earlier, during which he scared his parents to death by never writing a single letter. This time, he told us with a grin, his mother was coming along and she could write all the cards she wanted.
Finally, in the second week of his assignment, Jack called in the afternoon. “You're not gonna believe this,” he said.
I had heard that before. “Tell me.”
“I just heardâoops, gotta go.” And the phone slammed, leaving me in the dark.
I spent the rest of the day wondering what was going on. Had he learned what the Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters had in mind for him or had his sister, the caterer, invented a mouthwatering new dish that would arrive by overnight mail at our doorstep? There was, of course, no way to find out till he came home, so I got dinner going at the usual time, handing out cookies and pretzels to Eddie and the friend he had brought home from kindergarten. Around five, Toby's mother came to collect her son and we chatted for only a few minutes, as we both had things to get done at this busy time of day.
Jack pulled into the driveway after six, came inside, and lifted his eager son off the floor. “How would you like to take a trip, my boy?” he asked with unusual excitement.
“Farther than that. How would you like to fly in an airplane?”
“Can we, Daddy? A real airplane?”
“Jack,” I said, feeling as though I might be missing something here.
“Into the wild blue yonder, as my dad calls it. We are going on a big trip, folks.”
The timer on my stove sounded urgently and I dashed to the kitchen to avert a disaster. What was that husband of mine talking about?
The husband in question came into the kitchen, kissed the side of my neck as I stirred my pasta, and said, “Eddie's gonna tell you.”
“Tell me what?” I turned away from the stove and looked at a beaming Eddie.
“We're going to Grusalem,” he said proudly, as though he really knew what he was saying.
“We're what? Jack, what is going on?”
“I'll explain it all later. Eddie and I need some apple juice. Mind if I squeeze by you and get a couple of glasses?”
“Apple juice, glasses. What's going on here?”
Grinning like an idiot, he calmly removed two glasses from the cabinet, opened the refrigerator, took out the bottle of apple juice, and began pouring while I restrained myself from doing or saying something I would regret. It was clear he was relishing the moment.
“Dear wife, I have been handed the assignment to end all assignments. I am going to Jerusalem for two weeks.”
“Jerusalem? NYPD is sending you to Israel? Have they lost their minds?”
He burst out laughing, nearly spilling apple juice on my reasonably clean floor, which would not have pleased me. Then he calmed himself and said, “I can't say anything too specific right now, but a decision was made to use a detective with a legal background instead of someone from a federal organization. This involves criminals that both the U.S. and Israel have an interest in bringing to justice. I'm not going out and hunting down these guys; I'll be working on setting up a database that both countries will use to track the criminals. They think I can do this in about two weeks.”
I stared at him, catching my breath. Behind me, my pasta was going beyond al dente and on its way to mush, so I turned, took care of it, and looked back at Jack. “You're serious about this.”
“Very serious. But you haven't heard the whole thing.”
“There's more? They're sending you on a chartered plane?”
“I am taking my family with me.”
“Us? You're taking Eddie and me?”
“When was our last vacation? If you can't remember, neither can I. This is perfect, Chris. They're putting me up in a hotel and it's OK if my wife stays with me.”
“Don't say anything. Just take it in and we'll talk about it later.”
He knows me too well. He knew that I would be thinking of the complications of taking off from my job teaching a course in female mystery writers at a local college, that I would be thinking that Eddie shouldn't miss two weeks of kindergarten, thatâ He was right. I had to take it in and talk about it later.
“They're paying for the hotel?” I said, thinking that would be a huge expense.
“And all my meals. And some other things.”
“I can't believe it.”
“You look like you're about to cry.”
“No, no, not at all. I'm just overwhelmed. We're going to the Holy Land. I can't believe this is happening.”
“Well, believe it. It's a done deal.”
The pasta was fine, the sauce was greatâit's Mel's recipe, so it has to be greatâand I had even learned to buy Parmesan cheese in a small block from a good cheese store and grate it fresh over the pasta. Eddie was a colorful mess when he had finished eating, so I got him bathed and off to bed, looking forward to the quiet time that Jack and I have learned to spend together in the evenings.
“How did this happen?” I asked finally. “Why you and why Israel?”
“I'm apolitical. I have no ax to grind. I have the right backgroundâinvestigativeâand I'm a lawyer. I've done a ton of criminal investigations and I know how to keep my mouth shut. I'm a natural for this.”
“And you have a sparkling record that anyone on the job would envy.”
He gave me a kiss. “Yeah, that, too.”
“I notice you haven't told me much about the project.”
“When I know what I can say, I'll tell you. For the time being, let's just say I'll have plenty of work to do and a couple of weekends free when we can tour the country.”
“Oh, Jack, it sounds just wonderful.”
“One more thing. I called Mom this afternoon and told her. You know, the folks have wanted to visit the Holy Land for as long as I can remember. They're thinking of coming the same two weeks we're there and Mom offered to keep Eddie in their hotel room, so you'll be pretty free.”
“Oh, my.” I shook my head. “It's all too much. What are the dates?”
“They're not fixed yet. As soon as they know, I'll know.”
“And to think I woke up this morning and thought it was just another day.”
I must have spent the next two days calling everyone I knew to tell them our good news. Mel was as ecstatic as I and said she hoped our trips would overlap, but I had no dates to give her. The second person I called was Sister Joseph, my dearest friend and the General Superior of St. Stephen's Convent, where I spent fifteen years of my life, many of them as a nun. It turned out she had a couple of friends who were in Israel studying or working and she promised to get their addresses and phone numbers in case I had time to talk to them.
It was a most propitious time to be traveling to Israel. Peace reigned in the region, tourists went back and forth with ease. Quite a while later, although I could not know it at the time, the intifada would start and we would not have considered such a trip. But at that moment in our lives and in the life of Israel, it was the perfect time to visit.
I could feel the excitement build. I lay awake the first night after Jack told me, just thinking of how lucky we were. I started to check the weather in Jerusalem each morning in the
New York Times
, finding that it was a good deal milder than here in New York State. Mel told me the people tended toward casual dress and recommended I take sandals and sneakers for everyday and maybe one pair of low heels for going out to dinner. Her parents have visited Israel several times and I value her mother's judgment on things like this, especially where clothes are concerned. I'm still not a fashion plate and despair of ever being one and I'm convinced I would never have bought myself a wedding gown without Mrs. Margulies's expert assistance.
Although it felt like weeks as the pressure built, it was only a few days till Jack came home with dates and information on where we were going to stay. He had let his parents know immediately so that they could book a flight. Ours was being handled by NYPD. We would leave on a Saturday in November, arriving on Sunday, and stay for two workweeks, with an option to spend an extra few days at the end on vacation.
I called Mel, whose dates I couldn't remember, and found that her cousin's Bar Mitzvah was scheduled for the day before our arrival. We would definitely share a week or more in Jerusalem.
The Grosses were staying in a large modern hotel in the central part of the city, while we were staying in an old hotel of some note, the American Colony Hotel. It was situated not far from the American consulate in its own little compound, Jack said, and it was a short drive from the main police station, where he would be working daily. NYPD was renting a car for us. I think my heart nearly stopped beating when I heard that. It would be ours evenings and weekends for personal use.
Although it was still a month or more till our departure, I became very busy. We applied for passports right away, including one for Eddie, who was joyous at the prospect of flying in a plane and seeing Grandma and Grandpa. I had to arrange for a substitute to take over my classes. Happily, I teach one long morning a week and, having done it before, I had lesson plans and assignments already made. I found a remarkable teacher in the English department who said he would really enjoy doing it, and that made me feel better about leaving my students.
Eddie's school was unhappy that he would miss two weeks of work, but they agreed it would be a good experience for him and we left it at that. When I was sure everything was set, I went out and bought a suitcase for Eddie of his very own, so he could stay with his grandparents without difficulty. He was so pleased to own his own suitcase, I was afraid he would take it to school.
Jack was somewhat reluctant to talk much about the project he would be involved in, but he told me a little. Apparently, there were fugitives hiding out in Israel whom we, the United States, wanted back for prosecution and whom the Israelis would be happy to get rid of. They were primarily Russian Jews who held joint nationality status, were part of the “Russian Mafia,” and had enough money to buy substantial legal representation. Jack said his experience as a detective sergeant in Brooklyn had provided graphic evidence that these people were dangerous, ruthless, and smart. The interests of both the U.S. and Israeli law enforcement agencies would be served by sharing closely held information on these fugitives' activities. It surprised me that in such a small country this could be a problem, but apparently it was. Now, in the days before we left, Jack was researching these people in files in New York. The Israelis, he said, also had files with additional information that he would see when he got there.
The time finally passed and our suitcases got packed. The Grosses left two days before we did on a plane with about forty other people, including the Bar Mitzvah man himself. They would arrive a couple of days before the event and have time to acclimate themselves to the difference in time, about seven hours, before the weekend of festivities.
We ordered a limo to take us to JFK, and Eddie's eyes opened wide when it came. We drive fairly modest cars and this was bigger than anything he'd ever been in. At the airport, we checked our luggage, showed our passports, and passed easily through the security checkpoint after Jack had a ten-minute conversation with a short dark-haired man who seemed to be waiting for us. We met up with my in-laws and eventually boarded the plane. My heart was pounding. This was really happening; we were on our way to the Holy Land.