was the nightgown that hooked me:
Sunday, July 8. 1:46 A.M. Near Lookout Mountain and Laurel Canyon.
An unidentified woman in her mid to late twenties, wearing a
nightgown, was the victim of a hit-and-run accident that left
her unconscious and seriously injured. There were no witnesses.
how my copy would read in next Tuesday's edition of the Crime
Sheet. We're not talking Chandler or Hammett -- just the facts,
ma'am. There would be no speculation about the nightgown mentioned
in the police report, or about the woman wearing it.
she been in distress? I wondered. Desperate, maybe, her hair
flying behind her like a banner as she dashed across the serpentine
road, oblivious of the oncoming car? Had she been running for
help, or away from something or someone? Had she been looking
behind her in that final moment before the car slammed into
her, several tons of metal crushing muscle and delicate bone,
or paralyzed by the headlights, feral eyes gleaming menace in
the dark, moonless night?
editor, who constantly carps about lack of space, would probably
cut the nightgown. People don't care what she was wearing, Molly,
he'd argue. For me, the nightgown was key. And in my opinion,
it's details like this that give the Crime Sheet its quirky
a free-lance reporter and collect data from the Los Angeles
Police Department for a section in the local independent throwaways
people read to find out what crime is taking place in their
neighborhoods and figure out how nervous they should be. I also
write books about true crime under the pseudonym Morgan Blake.
I've always been inquisitive ("Excellent grades marred by interrupting
class with too many questions"), and ever since I can remember,
I've been drawn to crime stories, true and fictional. So with
a journalism degree from UCLA, I set about channeling my curiosity
into a career.
to my love of crime fiction, I inherited that from my maternal
grandmother, Bubbie G (the gee is for Genendel, a name Bubbie
has forbidden any of us to mention although I think it's cute).
Bubbie, who immigrated to Los Angeles from Europe after the
war with my late grandfather in 1951, taught herself English
and cut her teeth on Erle Stanley Gardner. Soon she was devouring
four or five mysteries a week - cozies, hard-boiled, Agatha
Christie to Elmore Leonard - and whenever she baby-sat us kids,
she'd read to us from Dr. Seuss and a few chapters from the
latest mystery she'd picked up from the bargain table at the
library. Of course, she skipped some of the choice words, something
I didn't discover until I became addicted myself.
of my siblings (there are seven kids in the Blume mishpacha;
I'm number three) share Bubbie G's love of mystery, which gives
Bubbie and me a special bond. The mystery gene skipped over
my mom, Celia, who, aside from teaching high school English,
has published one romance novel under the pen name of Charlotte
D'Anjou, my father's favorite pear (Bartlett came in second).
suppose it's funny that we both use pseudonyms, though our motives
are different, and there's nothing funny about mine. My mom
does it because it fits her romantic sensibilities, and I suspect
she's not ready to test the reactions of her students and principal.
I do it to protect myself from the criminals I write about,
people for whom I have a healthy fear and from whom I'd like
to keep my identity and address secret.
mystery fiction is different from true crime. There are experiences
Bubbie won't talk about, ever. There are events I choose not
to remember that worm their way into my consciousness despite
my efforts to keep them out. It's those events and Bubbie's
unspoken past, not curiosity, that compel me to try to find
out the why of the horrible things people do to each other.
And there are moments when the sadness of the fractured lives
I'm investigating makes me wonder whether my mother doesn't
have the right idea.
Mountain, the spot where the woman was hit, is about half a
mile south of Mulholland, which is halfway between the city
and the San Fernando Valley. I added the information to my HOLLYWOOD
computer file and, with a stack of note-filled pages and several
photocopies of police reports in front of me (some divisions
will give me photocopies, others will allow me to take notes
"under scrutiny"), I proceeded to enter the details of other
misdemeanors and felonies in the Hollywood area:
July 8. 3:37 A.M. 8400 block of Fountain. A man broke into a
woman's home and raped her.
July 8. 8:08 A.M. 8500 block of Beverly Boulevard. A suspect,
angry about his cellular phone service, threatened his service
consultant, saying, "I'm going over there to shoot and kill
July 9. 9:58 p.m. 5700 block of San Vicente Boulevard. Sometime
during the morning a thief removed money from a woman's artificial
You get the picture.
had finished inputting half the police data and was returning
to my office with a refilled coffee mug when the phone rang.
The Caller ID on my desk phone told me it was my mother, who
knows I generally don't take calls when I'm writing. It's so
easy to destroy the gossamer filaments of creative thought,
so hard to spin them.
an excellent worrier, and my mind ran through several dire possibilities
as I picked up the receiver. "Is
everything okay, Mom?"
fine," she said, panting. "I hate to interrupt you, Molly, but
Edie wanted me to call right away."
my sister Edie, everything has "right away" significance. "You're
not interrupting, Mom. Why are you so out of breath?"
gave us a five-minute break from class," she said, referring
to the weekly Israeli dance lessons my sister instructs. "She
wants to set you up with someone. He's very special. Brilliant,
funny, sensitive, handsome."
of Bubbie G's favorite jokes is about a shadchan (matchmaker)
who raves to a young man's parents about a girl who has everything:
beauty, intelligence, a sterling character, wealth.
doesn't she have? ask the skeptical parents.
long pause before the shadchan replies: Teeth.
It's even better in Yiddish.
"What's the hitch?" I asked now, sandwiching the cordless phone
receiver between my head and shoulder as I stirred artificial
sweetener in the coffee.
"There's no hitch. He's thirty, just a year older than you are.
does he do?"
My mother hesitated. Teeth, I thought, and then I heard her
say, "He's a rabbi."
laughed out loud. "I don't date rabbis. I don't even
like most of them." An exaggeration, but the idea was
too ridiculous. "What was Edie thinking?"
says he's a real catch, Molly. She wants to set this up quickly,
before someone else grabs him."
them grab." Ever since my divorce two years ago, my sister Edie
has made it her mission to find my true bashert - my
destined love. It's probably easier to find a Kate Spade bag
on a clearance table.
date can't hurt. Edie says you know him, by the way."
probably booked the Century Plaza for the wedding and ordered
the flowers for the chuppa." The wedding canopy. "What's his
name?" I took a long sip.
coughed violently, spraying mocha droplets over my laptop and
the papers on my desk. "I went out with Zack Abrams my junior
year in high school, Mom. Don't you remember? He French kissed
me." All of which Edie knew. No wonder she hadn't called me
more than I care to know," my mother, the romance writer, said
a rabbi? You're sure?" I was back in his parents' gray Pontiac,
steaming up the windows with stuff that would be rated G today,
and the memory was quite pleasant, to tell you the truth.
"The rabbi at B'nai Yeshurun is retiring," my mom said, referring
to a modern Orthodox synagogue about half a mile from my parents'
home. "Zachary Abrams is his replacement. Edie's friend Harriet
is a member. She thought of you and phoned Edie this morning."
know that's the Hoffman's shul." The Hoffmans are my
ex-in-laws. Since the divorce I've bumped into them several
times -- the Orthodox Jewish world in L.A is small - and the
encounters have been polite but strained.
can see that it might be awkward, Molly. But you shouldn't let
that get in the way."
"Get in the way of what?" Way too small, I decided.
mother sighed. "So should I tell Edie no?"
her yes," I said, surprising myself and my mother, whose "Really?"
conveyed the relief of a hostage negotiator braced for failure.
"Just for old time's sake."
had no intention of hooking up with a rabbi, or with Zack, with
whom I had unsettled business, but I was curious to see what
twelve years had done to him. They had added the hint of a few
lines around my brown eyes, an inch to my five feet four, and
five or six pounds that, like the tide, ebb and flow but make
no discernible change to my topography.
mopping up the coffee from my keyboard and papers, I refastened
my unruly blond hair with a banana clip and tackled the rest
of the police reports. An hour later I was done, and after stretching
my cramped neck and back muscles and flexing my fingers, I sat
down again and accessed the piece I was writing, an update on
the chromium six some of us Angelenos are apparently sipping
with our lattes. Yes, just like "Erin Brokovich"--life imitating
art based on life-but I guess the city council members hadn't
seen the movie, because they were planning to study the effects
of the chromium for five years before deciding what to do, if
you can believe it.
I took out my notes and started writing, but the young hit-and-run
victim kept calling to me, saying she had a story to tell. No,
I don't hear voices, but sometimes I have a sense about things.
I think I get that from Bubbie G, too.
I wondered if the woman had died.