Read The Bar Mitzvah Murder Online
Authors: Lee Harris
Mel looked at me. “Which they could have stolen from Gabe after they kidnapped him. And flown back to the States with. My God, this could really have happened.”
“You take the key off his key ring,” I said, working out the details. “You get on a planeâyou've made the reservation a long time in advanceâand fly to New York. It doesn't really matter whether Gabe's alive or dead. Marnie isn't thinking about protecting their house five thousand miles away. Everyone's so concerned about what's happened right here. There was something in that safe, Mel. I bet they got the combination out of poor Gabe. What could they have been after?” I said it more to myself than to Mel, but she said, “Just what I'm thinking.”
“Well, we had a nice day. I'm really glad we got to see the Citadel.”
“So what's next?”
“I have to find out more about Gabe. Somewhere in his life or his marriages or his work there's something that should set off an alarm. When it rings, I'll hear it.”
I drove back to the hotel thinking about the possibility of looking into people's pasts from a distance of five thousand miles. I wished desperately that Joseph were here, but it would be futile to imagine she could make the trip. She had a convent to run and a college to oversee, not to mention a budget that was scarcely enough to take care of the nuns and the buildings.
I had about half an hour or a little more before I had to pick up Jack, and I decided to look into the lovely shop across from the hotel within the compound. It was run by a tall dark-haired Arab who greeted me graciously as I entered. He sat behind his counter, a pair of tiny white ceramic cups on a small matching tray before him. The cups were empty but stained with recent coffee. I supposed he had a friend, perhaps in a nearby store, who came and joined him for coffee and talk.
The shop, which also had a downstairs filled with rugs, was almost overflowing with interesting Middle Eastern goods, most of them handmade. There were things made of brass, glass, leather, wood, and combinations of all four. I could have bought a little table inset with mother-of-pearl or necklaces with appealing beads or a rug to put beside our bed at home in Oakwood.
The owner remained unobtrusive, which pleased me. I don't react well to hard sells, and I really enjoyed looking at all the things he had accumulated. What attracted my attention the most was a mirror with mother-of-pearl designs inset in the wood frame. Telling myself I was absolutely not buying anything, I asked the owner what the price was.
He came over, looked at it, and said, “That's a Druse mirror made of lemonwood.”
“Really?” I ran my fingers on the smooth wood.
“It's sixty-five dollars.”
“Thank you,” I said, rather glad that it was more than I was willing to pay. “When my husband is free, I'll ask him to come in and look around. I think he'll enjoy it.”
The owner smiled and said he would be happy to have my husband visit the store.
I went back to the hotel to read the paper for a while before picking up Jack.
“You think Marnie could be lying to you?” Jack asked as he drove back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.
“Why would she lie if something was stolen? Wouldn't she want it back?”
“Sometimes the reasons why people lie are elusive. Maybe she had stolen goods in the safe and she can't report them stolen because she'd end up being arrested for theft.”
“Come on, Jack. Marnie didn't steal anything. She's a wealthy woman.”
“Just giving you a for instance.”
“I just can't believe the security company didn't take it seriously when the system went off.”
“Let me tell you about security companies,” Jack said, and I knew I would now get a lesson. “When a client's system goes off-line temporarily and they pick it up on their screen, it's a very low-level priority of theirs. It could be weather. Maybe a rat gnawed a wire.” I felt my skin crawl. “All the security company has to go on is the screen indication, which could say âline trouble.' That could be a downed telephone line but no real alarm. They give the local cops a call when they get around to it. Eventually, a cop'll drive out to the house, rattle the doors, give the place a walk-around, see that nothing's wrong, and he'll get back in his car and continue his rounds. The only way he's going to react is if he finds evidence of a break-in or an unlocked door.”
“So what you're telling me is that neither the cops nor the security company is very interested in following up on something like this.”
“Remember, no one called in that there was a problem. The cops may or may not know that the owner of the house is away.”
“They might not,” I agreed. “Marnie has a housekeeper that lives in the house, but Marnie told her to take as much time off as she wanted. The Grosses didn't really know when someone would be in the house and when they wouldn't.”
“So the Grosses probably didn't bother mentioning that they would be five thousand miles away for a week or so.”
“Did you get a list of Gabe's personal effects?” I asked. “I'm interested in the house key.”
“In fact, I did. I'm not connected to the case so I'm on nobody's list, but I got hold of an inventory today. It's in my briefcase, but don't bother opening it. The key ring is there and what is probably his house key is there, too. He probably left all his unnecessary keys home, maybe in that safe of his. There are a couple of car keys on the ring and what looks to be a key to a house. If Marnie were here, we could have her identify it.”
“Then how did they do it, Jack? I figured someone flew back to the States with Gabe's key and they waited to dump his body till after they got into the house.”
“They didn't have to fly anywhere.” Jack turned into the street where the hotel was and then into the compound. I loved the greenery. “Is that a space?”
“Looks like it.”
“Glad I'm not driving a big American car.”
“We could never afford the gas here.” I had blanched when this little car with its economical stick shift had had its small tank filled to the tune of twenty-four dollars.
“Glad to see you're not getting corrupted.”
He got out and we went upstairs, Jack pulling off his shirt as we got in the room. “Maybe I'll start dressing down like everyone else in this country.”
I looked at him in shock.
He laughed. “Just kidding. But it's a nice idea and no one seems to care around here.”
“You said they didn't have to fly anywhere,” I prompted him. “The key.”
“The key. Right.” He sat down and pulled his shoes off. “Here's how these guys do it. You take a key off the ring, lay it down on a piece of foil, and fold the foil carefully over the irregular side of the key, making a foil duplicate. Then you Xerox the foil and fax it back to the States.
“If they had a locksmith involved, it would be very easy. The locksmith looks at the key, notes the brand and the âcuts,' the little hills and valleys, and simply uses a blank to cut a duplicate. If this âdupe' was a little off, it could be dressed up with a Swiss file as they tried it in the door. Most locksmiths are honest guys, but hey, money talks.”
“And you put the key back on the ring, put it in the victim's pocket, and it's there when the body is found.”
“Exactly. Meanwhile, your fax arrives at its destination and is used to make the new key. Back in the old days, keys were duplicated from wax impressions. No more. The new key works in the lock and no one ever took the key anywhere.”
“Technology,” Jack said offhandedly. “The good guys develop it and the bad guys use it to their advantage.”
“So they didn't even have to take Gabe's key to a fax machine and rush to get it back. They could dump his body any time they wanted and the key was in his pocket, just as it was when he was kidnapped.”
“You got it.”
“Wow,” I said.
“But none of this tells us whether anyone made a key and got into the house and, if they did, whether they opened, or tried to open, the safe.”
“Because if they used a key they made the way you described, we can't prove it, and if Marnie doesn't find anything missing, how do we know it happened?”
“And it's just possible that the security system went down because of a fluke like bad weather or telephone line trouble.”
But I was more convinced than ever that it wasn't a fluke, and I suspected Jack was, too, and that someone had gotten into Gabe Gross's house as he lay dying five thousand miles away.
“Why did they beat him, Jack?”
“Good question. I'd guess to find something out. The other possibility is that someone really hated him and wanted him to suffer.”
“They wanted the combination,” I said. “And they kept him alive until they got word from the States that someone had gotten into the safe.”
“Which means they got into the safeâif that's what they didâthe day after Gabe was kidnapped, or maybe even that Sunday night.”
And then they finished him off and dumped his body, I thought. “A very well coordinated operation,” I said.
“So how come Marnie says nothing's missing?”
He ducked into the bathroom, leaving me to ponder the question. And ponder I did. One of the things I've learned in the years I've been looking into homicides is that you can't automatically exempt a person from suspicion because he's such a nice guy or, in this case, such a nice woman. How would any of us know what Marnie found or didn't find in that safe? Even assuming there was a list of the contents of the safe, she could easily rewrite it before she showed it to anyone. If she was hiding a theft, how could I figure out what was missing without, for example, talking to her insurance company? And perhaps she hadn't bothered to insure things that were in the safe, considering them immune from theft.
Obviously, I needed to find out more about Marnie, but I didn't think that her husband's family would be privy to the kinds of details that would be useful to me. I started to change my clothes and saw a folder on top of Jack's attachÃ© case. It was marked “Inventory” and I opened it to find a sheet of paper with a list. They were Gabe's possessions on the last day of his life.
All the clothes he was wearing were listed. There was also a gold watch and a gold wedding band, both engraved. A linen handkerchief, monogrammed. A leather folding case containing an American passport, American money and Israeli money, photographs of unnamed people, a medical insurance card, a driver's license, several credit cards, and a membership card in an organization I had never heard of.
I could think of several things that an American man would be likely to have in his wallet that were not listed. One of them would be the registration to his car. Another might be a library card. Possibly a number of membership cards to professional organizations and the kinds of clubs Jack and I don't belong to. What that meant was that Gabe had weeded out the things he needed on the trip and left the rest of the contents of his wallet at home. Where had he left them? Probably in his safe, since he had one. And probably he had never recorded those items on the inventory.
In his pocket were coins from Israel and the U.S. And then there was the key ring. The keys were enumerated in the inventory. One was assumed to be a house key, two were car keys, another a key to a suitcase or small lockbox. Two keys were unidentified. I had to be right that he had taken only keys he would need on his trip and on his return. I walked over to the dresser and looked at the ring of keys Jack had taken with him. He had left nothing home and he had so many, I teased that they weighed him down. Gabe, of course, was a more experienced traveler than we were and knew better than to carry what was unnecessary.
I picked up the phone and called Mel, catching her in her room before they left for dinner. Mel,” I said, “were any of Marnie's relatives invited to the Bar Mitzvah?”
“No. We were mostly Gabe's relatives and a couple of his old friends. Children weren't counted, by the way. There were actually more than the forty I told you about because several of us brought our kids, and Gabe reserved a room for them, but he didn't invite his in-laws.”
“I think he felt this was a family thing. Why?”
“I really need to know more about Marnie, and I guess I'd learn more from one of her relatives than from one of Gabe's.”
“You're probably right. She kind of walked into the family as his wife. They didn't have a big splashy wedding, just parents, brothers, and sisters. She didn't dress up in a fancy white dress.”
“Who are her closest relatives?”
“Let's see. She has a sister who's younger and a brother who's older.”
“Both living, I think.”
“She doesn't have any kids, by any chance, does she?”
“Not that she's made public.”
“I did hear she had a miscarriage, so they may have wanted to have one child together.”
“Do you know anything about her brother and sister?”
“Oh, gosh. I really don't. I'm not sure I've ever even met them.”
“OK. If you think of anyone who's here that might know about her, let me know.”
“I'll tell you, it's getting tougher and tougher. Everybody's leaving. Maybe you'll just have to wait till we all get back.”
“That's what I'm thinking. The answers don't seem to be here. Whoever orchestrated this plan just wanted to make sure Gabe and Marnie would be far from home and couldn't get back quickly. I don't know how we'll ever figure out what was in that safe when they left and what, if anything, was stolen.”
“I'm sure Marnie knows.”
“I'm not so sure, Mel. Maybe Gabe had something he didn't tell her about. If it's gone, she won't be aware. And maybe she knows and doesn't want to tell.”
“That's an interesting thought.”
“I'll talk to you tomorrow. I've got to dress for dinner.”
At dinner I related the story of Mel and the taxi drivers to my rapt family. My mother-in-law, who is no shrinking violet, was surprised and rather delighted by the tale.
“She sounds like a spunky person, your friend.”
“She is. I really admired her for the way she stood up for our rights. I don't think I'd be able to do it myself.”
“Well, now I see why the cabdrivers are always trying to make deals with us,” my father-in-law said. “I thought they were being nice to strangers.”
We all laughed.
When Jack and I got back to the hotel, he said, “Have you reached the point yet where you want to talk to Sister Joseph?”