is a centuries-old tradition, gleaned from the arcane pages
of the Kabbalah and supported by stories too numerous to dismiss
as myth, about a red thread whose mystical power wards off the
evil eye lurking behind envy and arrests its malignant reach.
Women yearning to conceive hope the thread will work where nature
and science have failed. Pregnant women wear it to ensure a
safe delivery and a sound child. Those who are ill or face adversity
wear it to reclaim their health or find better fortune, and
those who are fortunate wear it to hold on to their blessings.
I've seen the thread circling a person's neck or entwined around
the band of a watch. I've seen it looped through the slats of
a newborn's crib or peeking out from the doughy folds of a tiny
ankle. Mostly I've seen it worn as a bracelet, usually on the
left wrist, tightly knotted and left in place until the fibers
are frayed by water and soap and body oils, and time.
The thread looks thin and ordinary. What makes it special, and
potent, if you believe the stories, as I do, is the larger skein
from which it has been snipped, a length of red wound seven
times around the tomb in what is now the center of Bethlehem
and that, centuries ago, was the desolate spot where Jacob buried
his true love, Rachel.
Rachel, who died while giving life to her second son.
Rachel, who cries for all her children, those who emerged from
her womb and those of future generations, and intercedes on
Ten years ago, when I was nineteen and about to return home
after a year's study in an all-girl Orthodox Jewish seminary
in the hills of Jerusalem, I took a cab to Rachel's Tomb on
a June day so hot that the air baked my face and dried the perspiration
before I could lick it off my lips. Ten years ago Bethlehem
was free of sniper attacks and consequently safer to visit,
though even then my parents had warned me to be careful. Ten
years ago the tomb wasn't surrounded, as I hear it is now, by
tall walls and guard towers that offer protection to the many
who, despite the danger, travel in bulletproof Eged buses to
pray at the side of Rachel's resting place.
There were throngs of people when I arrived that day. Bareheaded
men in slacks or shorts; men wearing yarmulkes, some of them
with beards. Some of the women, their hair covered with wigs
or scarves or berets, wore modest clothing and stockings that
defied the heat. Others defied strict rules of modesty with
short sleeves and with skirts that revealed tanned bare legs
and brightly polished toenails. More than a few of the women
were big with child, their hands resting on swollen bellies
that strained against the cotton of their blouses.
After dropping coins into the cupped palms of several hunched
elderly turbaned women who formed a queue near the entrance
to the white stone building, I passed through the anteroom into
the cool interior of the domed edifice and, with more than a
little awe and reverence, I approached the black-velvet-draped
sepulcher. My eyes quickly adjusted from the sun's glare to
the soft dim light of the chandeliers, and my low voice joined
the hum of the other supplicants. Then, with the help of a middle-aged
woman who held on to the end of a spool of red thread I'd purchased
a few days before, I walked around the sepulcher, reciting a
special psalm as I pressed the thread against the velvet while
the woman, smiling and nodding approval, counted each circuit
aloud until I had completed the seven.
Outside, I snipped a length of my red thread and asked someone
to tie it around my wrist. Days later, back home in Los Angeles,
I gave lengths of the thread to friends and family. My father,
my mother, my three sisters and three brothers, my grandmother
and grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins.
My grandfather, Zeidie Irving, wore the thread around his thin
wrist, but it didn't avert the heart attack that took his life
a few months later.
And it didn't protect my best friend, Aggie Lasher, from the
person who killed her almost six years ago.
that the one?" Detective Andrew Connors asked now, pointing
to the rectangular silver locket he'd taken out of a brown evidence
bag and set on the table in front of me.
He was watching me, and I was staring at the locket. Its face
was embossed with the image of Rachel's Tomb, just like the
face of the locket I'd bought in a Pico Boulevard store that
sells Judaica. There are thousands of similar lockets, I told
myself, sold in hundreds of similar stores all over the country
I turn it over?" I wanted to pick it up, dreaded touching it.
I'd arrived at my apartment only minutes before Connors, and
the heater had just begun to battle the chill of the February
day, but my lips were as parched as they had been that summer
day ten years ago.
ahead." He nodded. "It's been printed."
Still, I didn't rush. For nearly six long years I'd hounded
the Wilshire division detectives, phoning the station every
few months, sometimes more often, asking whether any leads about
Aggie's murder had surfaced, knowing I was making a nuisance
of myself but not giving a damn. For nearly six years there
had been nothing.
Then around eight-thirty this Thursday morning Connors had phoned.
Something he wanted to show me, he'd said. Could I come to the
it wait till tomorrow, Andy?" I'd asked. "I have a wedding gown
fitting in half an hour, then tons of errands, and a six o'clock
tasting at the caterer's. In that order, or they'd have to let
out a few seams." I was prepared for a wisecrack-Connors and
I do lots of friendly verbal jousting--but it didn't come.
about between the fitting and one, Molly? I can come to your
place if that makes things easier. Unless your errands are with
wish." My rabbi, formerly the high school heartthrob who dumped
me, is my fiancÚ, a fact that my family and many of my friends
find humorous, and I do, too, at times. "Zack has meetings all
day at the shul. This is a switch, you calling me."
I write books about true crimes under my pen name, Morgan Blake.
I'm also a freelance journalist and I collect data from detectives
in police stations all over the city for my weekly Crime Sheet
column that appears in the local tabloids. That's how I met
eleven?" he asked.
is fine." His solemnity was making me uneasy. "What's this about?
Did I step on any departmental toes?" Not everyone in the LAPD
appreciates my inquisitiveness and persistence.
you when I see you," Connors said, and hung up before I could
He showed up early. I was still in my powder blue wool suit
but had kicked off my four-inch BCBG stiletto heels, so the
gap between my five feet five and his lanky six two seemed greater.
I was about to make a quip, but the somber look in his hazel
eyes stopped me. That and the absence of his usual slouch, and
the brown paper bag in his hand.
up?" My heart did a little flip, even though I'd talked to my
mom minutes ago and knew my family was fine. I wasn't thinking
Aggie. Connors is with Hollywood Division, and Aggie's case
belonged to Wilshire.
we sit down, Molly?" he asked.
I scowled at him. "You're making me nervous. Just tell me why
you're here." I pointed to the bag. "What's in that? Leftovers?"
He hesitated. "Something that may have belonged to your friend."
He spoke gently, but the words rocked me as though I'd been
slammed against a wall. My legs were wobbly, my chest was hollow.
I felt his hand steadying my elbow, and a minute later we were
sitting across from each other at the breakfast room table,
the space between us occupied by twin towers of the wedding
gifts that had arrived yesterday, still wrapped in bright-colored
floral papers and ribbons that looked obscenely cheerful.
Connors pushed aside a stack of boxes, slipped the locket out
of the bag, and placed it in front of me.
did you find this?" I'd described the locket to Connors years
ago. I'd described it to the Wilshire detectives, too. I never
thought I'd see it again.
a guy named Roland Creeley. Does the name ring a bell?" I shook
my head. My heart pounding, I picked up the locket and read
the inscription on the back:
Hebrew, right?" Connors said. "What does it say?"
Aggie. My Best Friend."
Saying the words filled my eyes with tears. I unsnapped the
tiny latch. There was the coiled red thread I'd tucked inside
the locket I'd given Aggie a year before she died, the locket
that she wore daily but that was missing when the police found
her body in a Dumpster.
it's hers?" Connors asked.
I clicked the locket shut. "But you knew that," I said with
a prickling of resentment.
had to make sure. I know this is tough for you, Molly. I'm sorry."
In my mind I was sitting cross-legged on the daybed in Aggie's
bedroom, watching her pry the locket open with her long slim
fingers, taking pleasure in the delight that warmed her dark
brown eyes and the smile that widened as she pulled her curly
black hair to one side and fastened the silver chain around
her neck. Oh, Molly, this is perfect.
At some point I realized Connors was talking. I wiped my eyes
and looked at him. "Sorry. What did you say?"
need it back, Molly."
He sounded awkward and apologetic, which is rare for him, and
now I felt awkward, too, as though I'd been caught taking something
to which I had no right. My face flushed, I dropped the locket
into his outstretched hand and watched it disappear into the
evidence, Molly. When we close the case . . . Maybe her parents
won't mind. . . ." His voice trailed off.
think this guy Raymond killed her?" I asked after an uncomfortable
silence broken only by the clanking of the heater.
Randy. He has a long sheet." Connors relaxed against the chair
back and stretched out his long, jeans-clad legs. He was on
easier turf now. "Apparently he's been stealing to support a
drug addiction since he was a teenager. A busy guy, Randy."
Aggie died for a thirty-dollar locket and the contents of her
wallet," I said, the words leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
It's what the police had speculated. I'd had almost six years
to come to terms with the fact, but the outrageousness and banality--that
Aggie's life, full of promise, had been snuffed out so a drug
addict could shoot up--shook me as though I'd just learned of
you tell her parents yet?" I asked.
going there right after I leave you. I wanted confirmation on
the locket. When was the last time you saw her wearing it, Molly?"
need to establish a time frame."
I curled my lips. "I told you before, but I guess you weren't
me again," Connors said, countering my surliness with annoying
I was being unfair, making him the butt of the anger I felt
toward Creeley and the Wilshire detectives who hadn't found
Aggie's killer all these years. At the moment I didn't care.
I wanted to punch someone.
week or so before she was killed. I gave her the locket seven
years ago. She'd just started working at Rachel's Tent, and
I thought it was the perfect gift. Rachel's Tomb, Rachel's Tent?
Aggie thought so, too. She wore it every day." I was back in
her bedroom. I blinked away the image and the tears that stung
Rachel's Tent? I know you told me, but remind me."
are you here, not Wilshire?" The fact had just registered. "Or
did they send you to do their dirty work?"
we found Creeley and the locket. About Rachel's Tent?"
a women's social services agency." I uncurled my fingers, which
had formed fists. "Wilshire knows all this. It's in Aggie's
file. Maybe you should read it."
it or not, the thought occurred to me."
you can find it, that is. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that
they misplaced it."
sorry," I said after another uncomfortable silence. "This isn't
your fault. It's just . . ." I bit my lips. "Thanks for not
telling me when you phoned before."
He reached over and covered my hand with his. "This must hurt
like hell, Molly. But at least now you know."
There was something to that. "And I'm glad it was you, not Wilshire,
is Wilshire." He flashed me a wry smile. "Want me to stick around
awhile? You can show me the loot you got." He nodded at the
stacks of gifts.
I shook my head. "But I appreciate your asking."
He repeated the offer when I walked him to the door. "You're
sure?" he asked, raising the collar of his cowhide jacket. "I'm
sure." I needed to be alone. "Can I see him, Andy?"
won't make a scene. I want to tell him what she was like, Andy.
I want him to know." My fists were clenched again. Hate for
Roland "Randy" Creeley twisted in my stomach.
Connors put a hand on my shoulder. "Creeley was dead when we
found him, Molly. He overdosed last night."
My grandmother, Bubbie G, says that anger is like a thorn in
the heart. I felt a surge of satisfaction that disappeared by
the time I shut the door. With Creeley dead, I'd never achieve
the closure I'd been seeking all these years.
The thorn was still there.
I imagined Aggie's parents would feel the same when Connors