A Playdate With Death

( 3 )

Overview

Public defender turned stay-at-home mom Juliet Applebaum is back in top form, investigating the mysterious death of her personal trainer...in-between taming tantrums, planning playdates, and playing dress-up with her two rowdy kids.

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A Playdate With Death

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Overview

Public defender turned stay-at-home mom Juliet Applebaum is back in top form, investigating the mysterious death of her personal trainer...in-between taming tantrums, planning playdates, and playing dress-up with her two rowdy kids.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The challenges of motherhood don't hold a candle to the challenge of sleuthing for Juliet Applebaum, the heroine of Waldman's third sparkling "mommy-track" mystery (Nursery Crimes; The Big Nap). Once an L.A. assistant district attorney, now a "somewhat unwilling stay-at-home mom," Juliet uses her legal skills to look into the death of Bobby Katz, her personal trainer. The police write it off as a suicide, but no one close to Bobby, including his fianc e, Betsy, a recovering (barely) drug addict, and his uptight parents, believes that theory. Juliet juggles investigating the case with parenting her two small children, the still-breast-feeding Isaac and his older sister, Ruby. The swift and engaging plot revolves around questions of heredity and genetics. Juliet's palpable, refreshingly honest dislike for the mundane realities of parenting should resonate with many. Juliet is more mom than detective, but there's a sense she wishes it were the other way around. If much of the author's spin on the "joys" of motherhood is familiar, in one interesting thread Juliet tries to fathom her son's desire for a toy gun. Later there's a neat contradiction when Juliet goes to a range and discovers she likes shooting. This witty and well-constructed novel probably won't satisfy serious crime fans who expect passion and intensity (though some minor characters display plenty), but those with a taste for lighter mystery fare are sure to relish the adventures of this contemporary, married, mother-of-two Nancy Drew. Agent, Mary Evans. (June 4) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Why would buff personal trainer Bobby Katz commit suicide when he was happily in love with Betsy, the fiancee he'd met through Narcotics Anonymous, saving for their wedding, bidding on a set of golf clubs on the Internet, and awaiting delivery of a new Palm Pilot? Former public defender turned full-time mom Juliet Applebaum (The Big Nap, 2001, etc.), who counted herself lucky to be one of his clients, decides he might have been murdered. Her snooping puts her in touch with his e-mail buddy "Louise," who'd been helping Bobby track his birth parents-to the dismay of his adoptive family, who'd kept his adoption a secret from him until their other son blurted out the truth. With help from p.i. and gun enthusiast Al Hockey, Juliet locates Bobby's birth mom, a virulently anti-Semitic married woman, whose affair long years ago with a Jew passed the Tay-Sachs gene on to Bobby. Or did it? Could a Gentile be a Tay-Sachs carrier? As Juliet learns more about the disease, and delves more deeply into Bobby's birth and adoptive families and NA friends, she endangers not only her own kids, but slow-to-react Al, before the LAPD comes to agree that Bobby was emphatically not a suicide. Funny tidbits about bringing up toddlers and the liberal mom's dilemma over giving her kids toy guns to play with. Juliet's got charm, spunk, and-given her new partnership with Al-a reason to get out of the house.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425191040
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/1/2003
  • Series: Mommy-track Series, #3
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 970,083
  • Product dimensions: 4.34 (w) x 6.86 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman currently lives with her writer-husband Michael Chabon and four children.

Biography

Some writers make it all look too easy. Take Ayelet Waldman, for example. The first novel she ever wrote -- heck, the first piece of creative writing she ever attempted -- was not only published, but it launched the successful Mommy-Track mystery series. Six years and eight novels later, Waldman is still wowing fans and critics alike while occasionally moving into more serious territory.

Waldman is most famous for her witty Mommy-Track mysteries, which follow the adventures of Juliet Applebaum. Like her creator, Juliet Applebaum is a former-public defender now playing the role of stay-at-home mom Unlike Waldman, Juliet breaks up her days of parenting with a little amateur sleuthing on the side. Waldman explained the origin of her beloved series during an interview at UC Berkley in 2004. "They grew out of this period in my life when I had left the public defender's office and I was staying home; I started writing them to keep myself entertained."

The novel that Waldman essentially wrote on a self-entertaining lark -- Nursery Crimes -- became the first in a series of lighthearted mysteries that clearly struck a chord among the writer's peers. "I think they kind of hit the market at a time that there were a lot of women like me," Waldman explained. "A lot of ex-lawyers, ex-doctors, ex-CEOs of companies who were finding themselves straight from the boardroom to the sandbox and kind of going crazy, so there was a ready audience for people who were not necessarily all that fulfilled by making homemade play-dough, but nonetheless realized where they were gonna be for the next couple of years."

After the initial four books in the Mommy-Track series (which included such tongue-in-cheek titles as The Big Nap and A Playdate With Death), Waldman decided to use her newfound literary success as an opportunity to try her hand at a non-series novel. "The more I wrote," she said, "the more I realized that [writing] was something that I really loved to do and I wanted to do more with it. I wanted to grow as a writer and I wanted to start writing more serious fiction." Daughter's Keeper, a tale that sheds some critical light on the War on Drugs, revealed that she was more than capable of handling heavier subject matter. As Publishers Weekly noted: "Waldman's passion and affection for her characters shines through."

Having broken into a new realm of writing, Waldman then delivered two more installments in the Juliet Applebaum adventures before penning her second non-series novel. Like all of her previous works, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits addresses Waldman's favorite subject, motherhood, but this time around she also touches on the grittier issues of grief and death. Once again, Waldman's foray outside of her popular series has proved a resounding success. In Chelsea Cain's laudatory review in The New York Times, she described Love and Other Impossible Pursuits as "a romantic, shocking and sometimes painful page-turner does the unthinkable: it actually says something new and interesting about women, families and love."

While more Mommy-Track mysteries are likely on the way from the prolific Waldman, the side roads she has taken thus far confirm that she is a writer willing to defy expectations.

In addition...
Waldman is also noted for the controversy that followed the publication of her 2005 essay "Motherlove." The essay, first published in the anthology Because I Said So: 33 Mothers Write About Children, Sex, Men, Aging, Faith, Race and Themselves, sparked a heated national debate about the nature of love, marriage, and motherhood.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Waldman:

"My children are my inspiration. I write about mothers, and about maternal ambivalence. No matter what I set out to do, it seems, I end up writing about that. My four kids have veto power on anything I write about them, but the only time it's ever been exercised is when my eight-year-old told me never to write about breastfeeding him ever again, as long as he and I both walked the earth."

"My husband and I both edit one another's work. Nothing leaves the house that the other hasn't gone over with a fine-toothed comb.

"Nursery Crimes, my first murder mystery, was the first piece of fiction -- the first piece of creative writing -- I ever did.

"I have no hobbies, other than reading. I love to read, and on my web site I keep a log of every book I read, along with a few words about the book and about what I thought. Check it out at www.ayeletwaldman.com

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    1. Hometown:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 11, 1964
    2. Place of Birth:
      Jerusalem, Israel
    1. Education:
      Wesleyan University, 1986; Harvard Law School, 1991
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

Praise for the Mommy-Track Mysteries . . .

A PLAYDATE WITH DEATH

“Waldman is a master of smart, snappy repartee . . . funny tidbits about bringing up toddlers and the liberal mom’s dilemma over giving her kids toy guns to play with. Juliet’s got charm, spunk, and . . . a reason to get out of the house.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Witty and well-constructed . . . those with a taste for lighter mystery fare are sure to relish the adventures of this contemporary, married, mother-of-two Nancy Drew.”

Publishers Weekly

“[A] deft portrayal of Los Angeles’s upper crust and of the dilemma facing women who want it all.”

Booklist

THE BIG NAP

“Waldman treats the Los Angeles scene with humor, offers a revealing glimpse of Hasidic life, and provides a surprise ending . . . An entertaining mystery with a satirical tone.”

Booklist

“Amusing but poignant . . . Waldman has given her heroine a compelling story befitting her intelligent, witty voice.”

Publishers Weekly

“Juliet Applebaum is smart, fearless, and completely candid about life as a full-time mom with a penchant for part-time detective work. Kinsey Millhone would approve.”

—Sue Grafton

“Juliet is a modern heroine refusing to quit or take another snooze until she feels justice is properly served.”

BookBrowser

NURSERY CRIMES

“[Juliet is] a lot like Elizabeth Peters’s warm and humorous Amelia Peabody—a brassy, funny, quick-witted protagonist.”

Houston Chronicle

“Funny, clever, touching, original, wacky and wildly successful.”

—Carolyn G. Hart

“A delightful debut filled with quirky, engaging characters, sharp wit, and vivid prose. I predict a successful future for this unique, highly likable sleuth.”

—Judith Kelman, author of After the Fall

“A humorous tale . . . Juliet’s voice is strong and appealing, and the Hollywood satire is dead on.”

Publishers Weekly

“Told with warmth and wicked humor, Nursery Crimes is a rollicking first mystery that will leave you clamoring for more. Ruby’s adorable and Juliet is the sort of outspoken and funny woman we’d all like as a best friend.”

Romantic Times

“[Waldman] derives humorous mileage from Juliet’s ‘epicurean’ cravings, wardrobe dilemmas, night-owl husband, and obvious delight in adventure.”

Library Journal

“Unique . . . will intrigue anyone who values a good mystery novel.”

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“[Waldman is] a welcome voice . . . well-written . . . this charming young family has a real-life feel to it.”

Contra Costa Times

A PLAYDATE
WITH DEATH

Ayelet Waldman

Acknowledgments

MANY thanks go to Susanna Praetzel who gave me critical information about Tay-Sachs disease; to Julie Barroukh, Sandra Braverman, Lauren Cuthbert, Ginny Dorris, Clare Duffy, Allison Kaplan Sommer, Carlie Masters William, Saundra Schwartz, and Karen Zivan for being ever-present companions and ever-useful sources of information; to Mary Evans, Jeff Frankel, and Sylvie Rabineau for working so tirelessly on my behalf; to Sue Grafton, an inspiration and a role model; and to Michael, my best friend.

Table of Contents

One

ISAAC shot me two times in the chest. With his toast.

“You’re dead,” my two-and-a-half-year-old son said, biting off a chunk of his Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol.

“Mama doesn’t like that game, Isaac. You know that. Mama doesn’t like guns.” I ruffled his hair with my hand, planted a kiss on the top of his older sister’s head, and turned to my husband. “Don’t cut his bread on the diagonal anymore.”

“Why not?” Peter asked over the top of his coffee mug. His hair stuck out in wiry spikes and his gray eyes were bleary with exhaustion.

“Because he chews out the middle and turns the crust into a gun.”

“Maybe if he had a toy gun, he wouldn’t need to fashion weapons out of his breakfast.

I gave my husband a baleful glare and poured my own coffee. I leaned against the kitchen table and slurped. Ruby turned to me with a conspiratorial air made only slightly ridiculous by the fact that her uncombed curls stood up all over her head. She looked like a dandelion puff.

“Isaac has been playing guns all morning, Mama. And Daddy let him.”

“Oh really?” I said.

“Don’t be a tattletale, Ruby,” Peter said.

He was right. Telling tales is a dreadful habit. Nonetheless, I was glad of an ally. I was becoming heartily sick of Isaac’s never-ending game of “bang bang you’re dead.” Honestly, what is it with boys? Before I had one of my own, I would have sworn up and down that gender differences were cultural constructs and that it was possible to raise a boy who defied stereotypes by being more interested in dolls than trucks and in arts and crafts than weapons. Then Isaac was born. And he was interested in dolls: Superman dolls. Batman dolls. And he loved painting and sculpture; they were wonderful tools with which to make the weapons I wouldn’t buy for him.

I took away the Play-Doh, the modeling clay, and all cylindrical objects. We stopped eating food that could be easily chewed into the shape of artillery. I banned all remotely aggressive videos and television, including most of the Disney movies the kids liked; Peter Pan spends way too much time sword-fighting and that Sea Witch would inspire anyone to violence. I refused to be swayed by the fact that Isaac was chafing under a diet of Teletubbies and Barney. Mindless pap was better than warfare any day. I bought him a succession of gender-neutral toys and videos, played house with him, changed his dolls’ diapers, and taught him every single Pete Seeger song I could remember. So far, my efforts had borne exactly no fruit.

My mother attributed Isaac’s gun obsession to the fact that I’d been shot the day I gave birth to him, but that’s just blaming the victim, as far as I’m concerned.

“What fabulous thing are you guys going to do today?” I asked. I’m afraid I didn’t do a terribly good job of concealing my glee at the thought of being excluded from my family’s plans for the morning. Peter, a screenwriter, had just finished two long months of shooting on his latest work of art, The Cannibal’s Vacation. The director had demanded his presence on the set, apparently worried that without Peter there to rewrite various exclamations of horror, the film would never wrap. To compensate me for having been alone with the kids while he lounged away the days and nights on Lomboc, a lesser-known tropical island in Indonesia, my husband had been doing solo kid duty for a week or so.

“We’re going fishing for dinosaurs,” Isaac announced.

“Really?” I asked.

“We are not going fishing.” Ruby reached across the table and pinched her brother, who squealed in protest. I inserted myself between them and frowned at her.

“Ruby, watch it, or you won’t be going anywhere,” I said.

“Yes I will. Because Daddy promised to take us to the La Brea Tar Pits, and you’re going to the gym, so I am too going.”

The mouth on that kid. But you couldn’t argue with her logic.

I didn’t bother answering her, just picked Isaac up and buzzed him with my lips. “I’m going to miss you guys today,” I lied.

“You could come if you want.” Peter’s voice was a hopeful squawk.

“No thanks. Ruby’s right, I’m going to the gym.”

I plopped Isaac on the floor and finished my coffee with a gulp. I took a Powerbar out of my stash hidden in the back of the pantry, waved gaily at my family, and headed out the door.

“I’m taking your car!” I shouted, all too happy to leave Peter with my station wagon bursting with car seats, baby wipes and broken toys, and haunted by a mysterious odor whose origin lay in some long-lost tube of fluorescent yogurt. I slipped into his pristine, orange, vintage BMW 2002, popped the car into gear, and zipped off down the street, reveling in my hard-won freedom.

I’m the first to admit that I’m a somewhat unwilling stay-at-home mom. Not that I didn’t choose the role. I did. Before I’d had my kids, I’d been a public defender representing indigent criminals in federal court. My particular specialties had been drug dealers and bank robbers, but I’d happily handled white-collar cases and even the odd assault on a national park ranger. I had never expected to leave work. I’d planned for a three-month maternity leave, imagining that I’d toss Peter the baby to take care of while I happily continued my twelve-hour-a-day schedule. I even tried it after Ruby was born. I went back to work when she was four months old, skipping off with my breast pump in one hand and my briefcase in the other. Ten months later, I was back home. I couldn’t stand being away from her for so much of the time. By the time I realized that I wasn’t any happier at home all day than I’d been at work all day, I was already pregnant with Isaac. That pretty much put the nails into my professional coffin. The past couple of years had passed in something of a blur, punctuated by car pool, endless loads of very small laundry, and the occasional murder.

I pulled into the parking lot of my gym and slipped into a spot. For my last birthday, Peter had given me a series of training sessions at a glitzy Hollywood health club. I had decided to view the gift not as a passive-aggressive comment on the magnitude of my ass but rather as the expression of a good-hearted wish to see me fit and healthy. I’d been having a terrific time, despite my usual loathing of all things physically active. There is something remarkably pleasurable about having your very own personal trainer hovering over you, expressing apparently sincere interest in your food intake and exercise concerns. I, like the majority of women I know, am certain that the rest of the world finds every detail of my calorie neuroses and body image obsession as scintillating as I do myself. I skipped into the gym, ready to confess to Bobby Katz the grim tale of the four Girl Scout cookies and half pound of saltwater taffy I’d eaten the night before.

Instead of the collection of almost familiar Hollywood faces in brightly colored Lycra, straining under Cybex machines and hefting free weights, I found an empty gym. There were no trainers shouting encouragement, no beautifully sculpted and perfectly made-up starlets grunting and groaning. The machines glinted forlornly in the sun shining through the windows, and the place echoed with a silence made all the eerier because I’d never before walked in without being subject to a blaring retro-disco beat.

It took me a few minutes to track down the denizens of my snazzy workout studio. They were huddled around the juice bar behind the locker rooms. The trainers, deltoids shining with carefully applied moisturizer and abdominal six-packs peeking from skintight tops cropped at the midriff, wept noisily. The clientele, a bit more concerned with the exigencies of eye makeup and foundation, dabbed their eyes with Kleenex. The owner of the gym, an oversized Vietnamese bodybuilder named Laurence, opened his arms to me and pressed me to his sweaty chest.

“Oh darling. You poor darling. You don’t even know, do you? You just came here to see him, and you don’t even know,” he wailed.

“Laurence, calm down. Tell me what’s happened,” I said as I attempted to extricate myself from his damp embrace. His nipple ring was poking me in the cheek.

“It’s Bobby. He’s dead. They found him this morning in his car. He shot himself.”

I gasped, and now leaned against Laurence despite myself. “What? What are you talking about?”

“Betsy just called. He didn’t come home last night, so she called the cops. They found his car parked on the PCH, just north of Santa Monica. Bobby was inside. Dead. He shot himself in the head.”

I led Laurence over to a stool and sat him down. Then I asked him, “How’s Betsy?”

“She’s a mess, of course. Oh my God, I can’t stand this, I can’t stand this,” Laurence wailed, burying his face in his hands.

“Oh for God’s sake, Laurence. Quit crying. This is not your opera, girlfriend.” I turned to Jamal Watson, one of the other trainers. He was dressed, as usual, in a vibrant shade of pink. His dark-brown leg muscles strained at his micromini shorts, and his top stopped a good six inches above his bellybutton. He looked back at me and said somewhat abashedly, “I mean, really, Bobby was my friend, too. Laurence here is acting like he’s the only one who’s devastated. We all are.”

I turned back to the weeping gym owner. “Laurence, honey. You’re upset. You should close up shop for the day.” The other trainers and clients began to protest. They were sad, very sad, but not quite sad enough to sacrifice a morning’s worth of crunches and leg lifts.

“No. No.” Laurence heaved himself off his stool with a sigh. “The show must go on. Back to work, all of you. Back to work. That’s what Bobby would have wanted.” He waved everyone onto the gym floor and turned back to me. “Shall I give you a referral? Luzette’s got some free slots, I think.”

“No, no, that’s okay. Maybe later. Can you give me Betsy’s address? I want to see if she needs some help or if she could use a shoulder to cry on.”

I could have used one myself. I’d been working out with Bobby Katz only for about six months, but in that short period of time, we’d gotten strangely close. Or maybe it wasn’t so strange, considering the fact that we spent three hours a week together, most of that time filled with intimate conversations about our lives, loves, and the shape of my thighs. As a teenager, Bobby had made the thirty-mile leap from Thousand Oaks in the Valley to Hollywood, convinced that his sparkling azure eyes, flaxen hair, and laser-whitened teeth would garner him instant fame. It hadn’t taken him long to realize that there were at least 7,200 other kids who looked just like him auditioning for all the same parts. He’d had some success. He’d gotten a couple of fast-food commercials and even a role in an Andrew Dice Clay movie. Unfortunately, his part in that work of cinematic genius was so small it could only be appreciated using the frame-by-frame viewing feature of a VCR.

He’d become a personal trainer as a way to supplement his acting income; it had soon become his career. And if I’m anything to go by, Bobby was good at what he did. I’d gained over sixty pounds with my second pregnancy, and despite the fact that Isaac was now well over two years old, before I met Bobby, I hadn’t managed to lose more than half of it. He’d put me on a kooky diet that involved eating a lot of egg-white omelets and set me on a workout program that was having remarkable results. I could actually see my feet if I looked down. And craned my neck. And leaned a bit forward. Anyway, it was working for me. But that’s not why I kept coming back. Before Bobby, I’d quit every exercise regime I’d ever begun, despite the fact that they all showed at least some results. I kept seeing Bobby because I liked him. He was a sweet, gentle man with a ready hug and an arsenal of delightfully dishy Hollywood gossip. He remembered everything I told him and seemed genuinely to care about what I’d done over the weekend or how Isaac’s potty training was progressing. He was interested and attentive without being remotely on the make. He gave me utterly platonic and absolutely focused male attention.

A few months before that horrible morning, Bobby had asked for my advice as a criminal defense lawyer. He was a recovered drug user and an active member of Narcotics Anonymous, where he’d met his fiancée Betsy, and he’d asked me for help on her behalf. She’d fallen off the wagon and tried to make a buy from an undercover cop. The good news was that she never actually got the drugs. The bad news was that she found herself in county jail. I was thrilled at the opportunity to help Bobby after all he’d done for me, and I’d gotten them in touch with a good friend of mine from the federal public defender’s office who had recently hung out her own shingle. Last I’d heard, Betsy’s case had been referred to the diversion program. If she remained clean for a year and kept up with NA, it would disappear from her record.

Betsy and Bobby’s place was in Hollywood, not too far from my own duplex in Hancock Park. I gave a little shudder as I climbed the rickety outdoor staircase up to their apartment. The building was made of crumbling stucco held together with rotted metal braces. The doors of each unit were dented metal, spray painted puce. The floor tile in the hallway was cracked, and large chunks were missing. Given the Los Angeles real estate market, they probably paid at least fifteen hundred a month to live in this dump.

Betsy opened the door and fell into my arms, a somewhat awkward endeavor since she was at least six inches taller than I. I led her inside and found myself face-to-face with two police officers. The cops took up much more space than it seemed they should have. The instruments hooked on to their black leather belts—the guns, billy clubs, radios, and other accoutrements of the LAPD—seemed to blow them up all out of human proportion. They were planted on the electric green carpet like a couple of bulls in a too-small pasture. I squeezed by one of the pneumatically enlarged officers and lowered Betsy onto the light beige leather couch, where she folded in on herself like a crumpled tissue.

I turned back to the men. “I’m Juliet Applebaum. I’m a friend of Betsy and Bobby’s.”

One of the officers, a man in his late twenties with a buzz cut so short and so new that his ears and neck looked raw, nodded curtly. “We’re here to escort Betsy on down to the station so she can give a statement.”

I turned to the weeping girl. “Betsy, honey? Do you want to go with the officers?”

She shook her head, buried her face in her hands, and slumped over on the couch.

“I don’t think Betsy’s quite ready for that,” I said in a firm voice.

The officer shook his head and, ignoring me, leaned over Betsy’s prone form. “It’ll just take a few minutes. The detectives are waiting for you.” He managed to sound both menacing and polite at the same time.

Betsy just cried harder and jerked her arm away from the officer’s extended hand. I sat down next to her and slipped an arm around her shoulders.

“Officer, why don’t you let the detectives know that Betsy’s just too distraught right now.” The cop started to shake his head, but I interrupted him. “Am I to understand that you are placing her under arrest?” I asked. I felt Betsy quiver under my arm, and I gave her back a reassuring pat.

“No, no, nothing like that,” the other officer spoke up. He looked a bit older than the one trying to get Betsy up off the couch. “We just need her to give a statement to the detectives.”

“Unless you’re planning on arresting her, Betsy’s going to stay home for now. You can let the detectives know that they can contact her here. And if there’s nothing further, I think Betsy would like to be left alone.”

The police officers looked at each other for a moment, and then the older one shrugged his shoulders. They walked out the door, leaving behind a room that suddenly seemed to quadruple in size.

I patted Betsy on the back for a while, and then got up to make some tea. Bobby had introduced me to the wonders of green tea, and I could think of no time when I’d needed a restorative cup of Silver Needle Jasmine more than at this moment. I opened the fridge in the little galley kitchen off the living room and sorted through the jars of protein powder and murky green bottles of wheat grass juice until I found a little black canister of tea. I dug up a teapot and ran the faucet until it was hot. I poured some water over the leaves and let them steep for a moment. By the time I came back out to the living room holding two small cups of tea, Betsy had gathered herself together and was wiping her eyes and blowing her nose.

“Thanks,” she said. “You still know how to be a lawyer.”

“What? Making tea?”

“No, no.” She smiled through her tears. “Getting rid of the cops.”

“Don’t mention it. Pissing off cops is my specialty. Are Bobby’s parents on their way?”

Betsy shook her head.

“Do they know?”

She nodded and said, “The police called them this morning and told them. I tried to call, too, but they aren’t answering the phone. I just keep getting the machine.”

That surprised me. “You mean you haven’t talked to them at all?”

“I haven’t talked to them in months. Ever since . . . ever since that whole thing happened. When they found out about it, they tried to get Bobby to break up with me. They told him that I was a bad influence and that I’d drag him down. Which I guess I did.” The last was said in a sort of moan, and more tears dripped down her cheeks.

I wrapped my arm around her and handed her a tissue and the cup of tea. “Drink,” I said. “It’ll make you feel better.” She took a few sips and then blew her nose loudly.

“You weren’t a bad influence on Bobby,” I said, although I have to admit that at the time of her arrest, I’d taken the same line as Bobby’s parents, albeit a bit more delicately. I’d just suggested to Bobby that since he had worked so hard to kick his addiction, he might want to put a little distance between himself and Betsy, just until she got her act together. Bobby had thanked me for my advice and gently informed me that he loved Betsy and planned to stand by her. I’d been chastened and never mentioned my reservations again. I had still had them, though. Bobby was the poster child for twelve-step programs. He’d stopped using methamphetamine five years before and hadn’t missed a weekly meeting since. Before he’d gotten sober, his addiction was so bad that it was costing him hundreds of dollars a week, just to stay awake. He’d turned his athlete’s body into a husk of its former self. The damage he’d caused to his heart from years of drug abuse was permanent. Despite the great shape he’d managed to return himself to, he still had an enlarged heart and a severe arrhythmia. Bobby had once told me that methamphetamine was so toxic to him nowadays that even holding the stuff and having it absorb through his fingers could trigger a heart attack. The risks to him of falling off the wagon were astronomical. I’d been terribly worried that Betsy’s weakness would be contagious. But, in the end, he’d proven me wrong. He’d gotten her back on the program and never fallen off himself. So I had believed, until that morning.

“Betsy, why were the police here? Did they tell you why they need you to make a statement?”

“No. They just said I have to.”

“But it’s a suicide, right? Bobby killed himself?”

“I don’t know. I mean, that’s what they told me this morning. They said they found him in the car with a gun in his hand, and that he’d shot himself in the head.”

“Was it his gun?”

She shook her head. “I don’t think so. I mean, he doesn’t have a gun. At least I don’t think he does.”

“And just now, when the cops were here, did they tell you they were considering other things? Like maybe that someone had killed him?”

She sniffed loudly and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “They didn’t tell me anything.”

“Betsy, do you think Bobby killed himself?” I asked flat out.

She shook her head and wailed, “I don’t know. None of this makes any sense. I mean, why would he kill himself?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But then, I don’t know him as well as you do. Had anything happened between you two? Had you guys been getting along?” The truth was, I didn’t expect Betsy to confide in me. I didn’t know her that well, and for all I knew, Bobby had told her that, like his parents, I’d encouraged him to break up with her.

“Things were great. Great,” she said firmly, rubbing the tears away from her eyes. “We’d set a date for the wedding; we’d even picked a rabbi.”

“A rabbi? But you’re not Jewish, are you?”

“Bobby’s parents really wanted us to have a rabbi. Their guy said that he’d do it, if we went to premarital counseling and if Bobby did all the tests and stuff.”

“Tests?”

“Yeah, you know. Genetic testing for Tay-Sachs. The rabbi says he makes all Jews who he marries get Tay-Sachs testing. Just in case.”

Tay-Sachs disease is a birth defect that is carried by something like one in thirty Jews of European descent. If two carriers have children together, they have a one in four chance of giving birth to a baby who will die of Tay-Sachs. Tay-Sachs is always fatal; generally, children die by age five after being desperately ill for most of their lives. Nowadays, there’s a simple blood test to determine if you are a carrier. Most Jewish couples automatically gets tested, but Peter and I hadn’t bothered, since Peter wasn’t Jewish. Both of us would have had to be carriers for there to be any danger, so we’d never even considered it.

“Bobby had it,” Betsy said.

“Had it? You mean Tay-Sachs? He was a carrier?”

“Yeah. We found out a few months ago, right before my . . . my arrest. I mean, it’s no big deal that he had it, because of course I don’t have it since I’m not Jewish. I mean, it wasn’t a big deal.” She sniffed. “I guess none of that matters anymore.”

I didn’t answer.

“What am I going to do?” she asked, turning to me and peering into my eyes.

I shook my head helplessly. “I don’t know, Betsy. Get through every day, one day at a time, I guess.”

“One day at a time? You sound like my goddamn sponsor,” she said. “You sound like Bobby.”

I sat with Betsy for a while longer, leaving only when her Narcotics Anonymous sponsor and a few other friends from the group arrived.

Two

WHEN I got home from Betsy’s, I found my kids and my husband hurling themselves around the living room wearing pink tutus; Peter’s was around his neck. Ruby had a collection of tulle, lace, and ribbon that rivaled that of the Joffrey Ballet. From the moment she was able to make her sartorial preferences known, she’d begun lobbying for frills and ruffles. If she’d had her own way, she’d have had a pastel-colored confirmation gown for every day of the week. We compromised on cute little patterned cotton dresses and a costume box fit for a drag queen.

As soon as Isaac was born, she’d begun stuffing him into leotards and draping feather boas around his neck. He was only too glad to oblige his idolized older sister and happily participated in her endless stage productions and ballet recitals. Lately, he’d begun adding his own accessories, and it was not uncommon to find him, as I did that day, wearing a pink tutu, a purple ostrich feather tucked behind his ear, and a sword and scabbard belted around his waist.

“Mama! I’m a Princess Knight,” he announced. Then he whipped out his sword and clocked his sister on the head with it.

“Damn it, Peter, I put that sword away for this very reason. Why did you take it out?” I said.

“Because you can’t be a Princess Knight without a sword.”

“Why does he have to be a Princess Knight? Why can’t he just be a princess? Or a prince? A nice prince. Who kisses the princess instead of hacking off her head.”

Peter sighed dramatically and reached out his hand. “Okay, sport. Hand over the sword. Mama says no more fencing.”

Isaac began to wail and didn’t stop until I’d popped a video into the VCR. The child development experts can shake their heads all they want. TV is an essential tool of the modern parent. How else can two adults have a conversation during the day? I’m all for stimulating my children’s tiny little developing brains, but sometimes you just need them to sit in one place and be quiet. My kids are going to have to be couch potatoes when I have something I absolutely must do. Like tell their father that I’d stumbled across yet another suspicious death.

“He killed himself?” Peter asked.

“I guess so. I mean, it looks that way with the gun and everything, but it seems so unlikely. He was such an upbeat kind of guy.”

“Aren’t methamphetamine addicts sort of by definition upbeat? It’s called speed for a reason.”

“He wasn’t an addict. I mean, he was, but he wasn’t using anymore. He’d been in recovery forever.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“What? That he wasn’t using?”

“It’s not like he’d necessarily admit it to you if he was using. And you did always talk about how hyper he was.”

“Hyper in a good way. Like a trainer is supposed to be. Not like some whacked-out speed freak. I think I’d know the difference,” I said. I certainly should know the difference. In my career as a federal public defender, I’d spent plenty of time with people addicted to all different sorts of substances. I’d had heroin-addict clients to whom I’d needed to give at least twenty-four hours’ notice that I was planning to drop by the Metropolitan Detention Center if I didn’t want them to be completely stoned when I had them brought down to the visiting room. As a young lawyer, it had taken me a while to figure out that they were wasted, not because they weren’t acting high, but just because I was so naive that it never occurred to me that the federal jail would be such an easy place to score. It turns out you can get pretty much anything at the MDC, and the prices aren’t much more than out on the street. Don’t ask me how they get the drugs into the jail. I suppose a cynical person might suggest taking a look at the fine display of automotive splendor in the prison guards parking lot.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2002

    Good Book

    This is a suprising example of an author of whom I had never read before. Very short but keeps you guessing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2002

    Don't Judge a Book by it's Cover

    When I first saw this book I thought that it was probably going to be really cheesy. The title just made it sound dumb. I took the book home anyway and just started reading it. I could not put it down! I read it cover-to cover in only a few hours. This is an excellent story that is easy to relate to. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story that is easy to read. A definite page-turner!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2002

    intricate cozy

    She is on indefinite leave from her job as a public defender but Juliet Applebaum isn¿t satisfied being a stay at home mom to her two children. The only time she is truly happy is when she can fit a murder investigation into her hectic schedule. When her friend and trainer is found dead the police rule it a suicide but Juliet¿s instincts go into overdrive. <P> In Juliet¿s expert opinion, Bobby was a laid back, easygoing guy with no apparent reason to kill himself. She convinces his girlfriend to give her Bobby¿s computer to see if there is anything on it that would give a clue to her trainer¿s state of mind before he died. She discovers that Bobby was searching for his biological parents and when Juliet starts questioning those involved in the search, somebody reacts by threatening her family. <P> A PLAYDATE WITH DEATH is an intricate cozy that stars a protagonist that is impossible to dislike. Her frustrations and troubles with being a stay at home parent add comic relief to a very serious and believable story line. Ayelet Waldman is a natural storyteller who has created such an intricate mystery that readers will want to finish the book in one sitting while obtaining other Mommy-Track novels. <P>Harriet Klausner

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