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Authors: Rochelle Krich

Dream House

BOOK: Dream House
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D
REAM
H
OUSE

R
OCHELLE
K
RICH

BALLANTINE BOOKS • NEW YORK

C
ONTENTS

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgments

A Note on Pronunciation

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-two

Chapter Forty-three

Chapter Forty-four

Chapter Forty-five

Chapter Forty-six

Chapter Forty-seven

Chapter Forty-eight

Chapter Forty-nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-one

Chapter Fifty-two

Chapter Fifty-three

Chapter Fifty-four

Chapter Fifty-five

Chapter Fifty-six

Bubbie G's Challa

Glossary

About the Author

Also by Rochelle Krich

Copyright Page

In memory of my beloved father

Abraham Majer

He taught us about peace and courage
and the sweet, uplifting magic of song.

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

Dream House
wouldn't be standing without the nuts and bolts and other material graciously supplied by many people: Phil
Bacerra, Los Angeles City Planning Department, and Officer Jack Richter, L.A.P.D. Media Relations. Susan Keirm enlightened me about home health care. Lee Barocas, County Inspector, Parks and Recreation, Capital Projects, and Shemaya Mandelbaum, Mirage Construction, explained building procedures and ordinances, and Meg Chittenden gave me concrete facts about concrete. John Chadbourne, equity title sales representative; Agavni Sandaldzhyan, full service banking specialist; and Benjamin Westreich, attorney at law, unraveled the nuances of real estate and title law and banking procedures.
Mi amiga
and former colleague Kathleen Gongosy told me the “truth,” in Spanish; Maria Lima verified it. Paul Glasser, Associate Dean, Max Weinreich Center at the YIVO Institute, polished my Yiddish, and I hope he doesn't cringe too much at my regional spellings and pronunciations.

Detective Paul Bishop, West L.A., keeps my police procedure straight. Deputy District Attorney Mary Hanlon Stone keeps me legal. D. P. Lyle, M.D., author of the comprehensive and invaluable resource tool
Murder and Mayhem,
has all the answers to my forensics questions. For newspaper protocol I turned to Denise Hamilton, fellow mystery writer and journalist. Dr. Jonathan Hulkower, attending psychiatrist, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, shared his medical and pharmacological knowledge. On a personal note, my brother and I are grateful for the tenderness and patience Dr. Hulkower showed our ailing father. My son, David, was my biblical consultant; and in what has become
tradition, my daughter, Sabina, read the blueprints for
Dream House
and made suggestions that enhanced its framing.

I'm especially indebted to architect Michael Rosenberg. Michael was always available to answer my many questions about architecture and historical preservation in Los Angeles—its pros and cons. His passion about the subject fueled my interest, and his knowledge contributed to the background of the novel.

Many thanks to my wise and wonderful editors, Joe Blades and Patricia Peters; to my indefatigable agent, Sandra Dijkstra, and her staff, with special appreciation to Elisabeth James for “righting” my rights, and to Babette Sparr. Babette introduced Molly to Eileen Hutton (Brilliance Audio), who took Molly to a new audience, and to Liza Wachter, who took her to Hollywood. Thanks to Lisa Collins, who found several gaffes that would have kept
Dream House
from passing final inspection. To Ruth Blake and Margaret Winter and all the other Ballantine sales representatives who log thousands of miles to present my work to booksellers around the country. To Michelle Aielli, Marie Coolman, Kim Hovey, and Heather Smith for their creative efforts and the many long hours they spend to make sure I don't stay anonymous. To Carolyn Hessel of the Jewish Book Council, for taking me under her wing. To all the Jewish book fair chairpersons, booksellers, and readers who invite me to tell my stories.

I'm grateful to have people in my life who fill my days with meaning and joy. My Buds, my Monday night mah jonggs, my friends, and my extended family.

And finally, to my husband, Hershie, our children and their spouses, and our grandchildren: You are my foundation. Thank you for making our house a dream.

Rochelle Krich

A N
OTE ON
P
RONUNCIATION

Yiddish has certain consonant sounds that have no English equivalent—in particular the guttural
ch
(achieved by clearing one's throat) that sounds like the
ch
in
Bach
or in the German
ach.

Some Yiddish historians and linguists, including the Yiddish Scientific Institute (YIVO—Yidisher Visenshaftikhe Institut), spell this sound with a
kh
(
Khanukah, khalla
). Others use
ch
(Chanukah, challa). I've chosen to use
ch
.

To help the reader unfamiliar with Yiddish, I've also doubled some consonants (
chapp, gitte
).

Zh
is pronounced like the
s
in
treasure.

Tsh
is pronounced like the
ch
in
lurch.

Dzh
is pronounced like the
g
in
passage.

Here are the YIVO guidelines for vowel pronunciation, which I've followed in most cases, except for those where regional pronunciations vary (
kliegeh
instead of
klugeh, gitte
instead of
gutte
):

a
as in
father
or
bother
(
a dank
—thanks)

ay
as in
try
(
shrayt
—yells)

e
as in
bed
, pronounced even when it's the final letter in the word (
naye
—new)

ey
as in
hay
(
beheyme
—animal)

i
as in
hid
, or in
me
(
Yid
—Jew)

o
as between
aw
in
pawn
and
u
in
lunch
(
hot
—has)

oy
as in
joy
(
loyfen
—to run)

u
as in
rule
(
hunt
—dog)

With a little practice, you'll sound just like Molly's Bubbie G.

—Rochelle Krich (
ch
as in
birch,
but that's another story)

For the pronunciation and definitions of Hebrew and Yiddish words used in
Dream House,
please see the glossary at the back. And while you're there, check out Bubbie G's recipe for challa.

C
HAPTER
O
NE

I
F YOU HAD ASKED ME BEFORE I HEARD OF MAGGIE
Reston whether a house could be a magnet for murder, I would have automatically thought of The Dungeon, which is what we've always called the coal-gray house on Martel. As it turned out, I would have been wrong, but I would have been in good company. For as long as I can remember, everyone in the neighborhood has hated the three-story cube that hogs sky and sunlight and its gloomy facade, and has speculated about its reclusive owners.

The house has become the stuff of dark legend. As kids, my friends and I, intimidated by its brooding countenance, shivered as we whispered deliciously gruesome stories about occupants we never saw, men who kidnapped children and kept them in a Chateau D'If–like basement. Years have passed. The flowers along the walk, beheaded regularly like Henry the Eighth's wives, have been replaced by threatening junglelike shrubs. But the house's charcoal walls are still decorated from time to time with bright-colored graffiti, probably by a new generation of kids who whisper about the bad guys inside.

I have learned that bad men have become brazen in the sunlight. I have learned that, as Tennyson says, “Woods have tongues/As walls have ears,” and that dark houses are not necessarily those with dark secrets. But on that Monday morning I assumed the police report was about The Dungeon:

Friday, October 31. 9:37
P.M.
100 block of South Martel Avenue. A vandal threw a pumpkin through the front window of a house and several eggs at the front door.

It was probably another Halloween prank, I thought, all trick and no treat, a nasty, petty act. According to the police reports I'd read on my rounds of the stations, there had been Halloween vandalisms all over the city of angels—disheartening, but not surprising.

I copied the data from the Wilshire Division board for my weekly
Crime Sheet
column, the one that appears in the rubber-banded, sprinkler-soaked, sun-bleached independent tabloids you find on your lawn next to the Kmart and Target flyers. Several hours later, back in my apartment, I phoned my sister Mindy.

“It was The Dungeon, right?” I asked after I told her what I'd read. The house is across the street from hers.

“You'd think, huh?” Her sentence blossomed into a yawn. “No, it's the one-story taupe Tudor down the block. It looks awful, but they have someone repairing the damage right now.” She yawned again.

Whoever said yawns are contagious was right. Mindy's three-month-old son is the reason for hers. Mine are the result of another late-nighter with (Rabbi) Zack Abrams, the man in my life, although you'd think by now my body would have adjusted to sleep deprivation.

Not that I'm complaining. “Did you or Norm hear or see anything?”

Mindy laughed. “Are you serious, Molly? At nine-thirty on Friday Norm and the girls were sleeping, and I was trying to stay awake while nursing Yitz. We weren't exactly out trick-or-treating.”

My family—my mom and dad and seven of us Blume kids (Mindy is second, I'm third)—is Orthodox Jewish and we observe the Sabbath. Even if Halloween hadn't fallen on Friday night, Mindy and Norm wouldn't have taken their two girls trick-or-treating (despite its commercialization and allure, the holiday has its origins in religious ritual), though they always stock up on Hershey's Kisses and Reese's Pieces for the children who come to their door. And for me.

Thinking of chocolate made me long for some, but I'd had my quota for the day. “Who lives in that house?”

“Walter Fennel. He thinks he owns the neighborhood.”

Every neighborhood has a Walter Fennel. I scribbled his name on a pad, though the
Crime Sheet
doesn't identify victims. “I take it you don't like him.”

“Walter's okay. He's kind of cute sometimes. But he's an eighty-year-old busybody with way too much time on his hands. He's Mister HARP. H-A-R-P? We call him Harpy.”

I crinkled my nose at an image of the predatory bird. “Not a great name for an organization.”

“They were thinking the musical instrument. That's their Web site logo. Community harmony and all that. Fennel headed our area board until a month ago. He still patrols the neighborhood daily looking for violators.”

“One of whom may have lobbed the pumpkin and eggs?” I'd heard Mindy and others complain about the Historic Architectural Restoration and Preservation board in their Miracle Mile North area. The members decide what you can do to your property's exterior—which, according to Mindy et al., isn't much.

“I'd hate to think it's a neighbor.” There was a
but
in Mindy's voice. “Walter was harassing a homeowner on South Formosa about a new exterior light fixture, demanded to know whether he'd received HARP board approval. The homeowner, Ed Strom, told Walter to mind his own business.”

“Strom?” I mentally scanned South Formosa and came up blank. Until five years ago, when I was twenty-four and left home to marry the philandering charmer who is now my ex, I'd grown up in the neighborhood, which has a large population of Orthodox Jews, many of whom I know.

“You wouldn't know him, Molly. He and his wife just moved here from New York. They bought the Gluckmans' house. Anyway, someone reported Strom to the board, and the city fined him. He refused to take down the fixture and swore he wouldn't pay the fine. Wednesday somebody ripped the fixture off the wall.”

“Fennel.”

“Fennel swears he doesn't know anything about it.”

“I assume the police questioned Strom.”

“He and his wife were with friends Friday night.”

“He could've paid someone to do it,” I said, pointing out the obvious. It's one of my failings.

“He
could
have. But a lot of the area homeowners are angry at HARP, Molly. They sympathize with Strom. Of course, Walter has his allies.” Mindy sighed. “I'm all for preserving the neighborhood's character, but some HARP rulings are egregious, not to mention expensive. I don't think people realized how intrusive and controlling HARP could be. And it's all because of that damn house.”

The Dungeon, I knew, had prompted area homeowners, anxious to prevent the construction of similarly oversize structures, to request HARP status. As my grandmother Bubbie G says, you have to be careful what you ask for.

“What's the makeup of the board?” I drained the last of my coffee and, with the cordless phone at my ear, padded barefoot to the kitchen for a refill.

“Five people, all appointed, so there's no neighborhood input. There's going to be an opening soon. I'm tempted to try to get on the board to add a little sanity, but until Yitz sleeps through the night, I'm too tired to commit to anything. I'm not even working full-time yet.” She yawned again, as if to emphasize her point.

I yawned, too. Pavlov would have loved me. “When do they meet?”

“Once a month, seven
P.M.
on Thursdays. Unless there's an emergency. Why, are you planning on going?”

“Maybe. Sounds like good material for a feature.”

In addition to penning my weekly
Crime Sheet
column, I'm a freelance reporter and I write books about true crime under my pseudonym, Morgan Blake. I also have income from a substantial divorce settlement I invested in property. I think I earned every penny, and if you met my ex-husband, Ron, you'd agree.

Right now I was between projects, as they say in Hollywood. I'd just pitched a piece to the L.A.
Times
on the latest outrage in the health care industry. This was prompted by my parents' insurer advising my mom that mammograms and ultrasounds are covered “in network” at the facilities she'd selected, those within reasonable driving distance of her home, but the radiologist's reading of the films isn't, if you can believe that.

I was also awaiting the galleys of my second book,
Sins of the Father
, and I'd completed the second draft of my newest true crime,
The Lady from Twentynine Palms
. I needed a few weeks to achieve objectivity and distance before I reread the manuscript, made changes, agonized about the book's worthiness, and FedExed it to my editor and agent. A HARP story sounded like the perfect filler.

“It's been done,” Mindy said. “There was an article in the L.A.
Times
magazine a couple of years ago on another HARP. Whitley Heights, I think.”

At least I hadn't spent hours on the piece. “I must have missed that.”

“You can try a different angle. Some Hancock Park homeowners are pushing for HARP status. They got the city to commission a historical survey, which is a major step. Wednesday night they're presenting the survey and getting neighborhood reaction. Should be interesting.”

“How do you know all this? From a client?” Mindy is a tax attorney, and many of her clients deal in real estate.

“From Edie. She's with the opposition.”

Edie is the oldest Blume sibling. She's organized and determined and formidable once she's committed to a cause. “I see fireworks ahead.”

“You see a story.”

“Here's hoping,” I said, ignoring Bubbie G's advice, and we both laughed.

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