Authors: Ayelet Waldman
“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
“Told with warmth and wicked humor,
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.”
“[Waldman] derives humorous mileage from Juliet’s ‘epicurean’ cravings, wardrobe dilemmas, night-owl husband, and obvious delight in adventure.”
“Unique . . . will intrigue anyone who values a good mystery novel.”
“[Waldman is] a welcome voice . . . well-written . . . this charming young family has a real-life feel to it.”
Contra Costa Times
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Prime Crime hardcover edition / June 2000
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / July 2001
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2000 by Ayelet Waldman.
This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission. For information address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
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The name BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the BERKLEY PRIME CRIME design are trademarks belonging to Penguin Putnam Inc.
not sure whose fault it was, Ruby’s or mine, that we didn’t get in. Let’s just say neither of us aced the admissions interview. I knew we were in trouble as soon as Ruby woke me up, at 6:00
, with a scowl as black as the cowboy boots she had insisted on wearing to bed the night before. She refused to let me comb the left half of her hair, so I ended up walking out of the house holding the hand of a tiny little carny sideshow attraction: a half adorable, beribboned angel, half street urchin from hell. The effect was dramatized further by her chosen attire: Superman T-shirt, magenta miniskirt, and bright yellow clogs. She was impervious to my pleas, and seemed uninterested in my explanation of how not going to the right preschool would preclude Harvard, Swarthmore, or any other decent college. She’d end up at Slippery Rock State, like her dad. Even if she hadn’t been two and a half years old, this would likely have made little impression on her. Her un-Ivied father made about ten times as much
money as her thickly Ivied mother, and had an infinitely more satisfying career as a screenwriter than mine had been as a public defender.
By the time we got into the car, we were all three, Mama, Daddy, and Baby, in matching moods. Bad. Really, really bad. Peter was irritated because he’d had to get up before eleven. Ruby was irritated because I had turned off
The Big Comfy Couch
and forced her to eat some Cheerios and get out of the house. I was irritated at Ruby for being such a stubborn little brat, at Peter for failing to help me get her ready for the interview, and at myself for having gained fifty-five pounds in the first thirty-two weeks of my second pregnancy. I’d already outgrown most of my maternity clothes, and the only thing I could fit into was an old, dusty-black smock that I had worn to shreds when I was pregnant with the tiny Hell’s Angel herself.
As we drove up Santa Monica Boulevard I desperately tried to give Ruby some last-minute admissions hints.
“Listen, Peach Fuzz, it’s really important that you try to be sweet today, okay?”
“Yes. Yes. It is. You have to try to share with other kids. Don’t grab toys or fight. Okay?”
“Yes. Hey, I have an idea! You can tell some of your funny stories. How about that story about the crazy kitty? Want to practice that now? That’s such a great story.”
I sighed. Peter looked over at me and raised his eyebrows.
“She’ll be fine,” I said. “As soon as she’s around the other kids, she’ll be her sweet, agreeable self.”
I glanced into the backseat. Ruby was grimly picking
her nose and wiping it on the armrest of her car seat. When she saw me looking at her, she covered her eyes with her hands.
Heart’s Song School was widely considered the best preschool in the city of Los Angeles. The competition for the seventeen spots that opened each fall in the Billy Goat room was cutthroat. It was probably easier to qualify for the Olympic gymnastics team. It was certainly easier to get into medical school. Everyone who was anyone in Hollywood had a little Billy Goat. The school’s spring fund-raiser, a talent show, had boasted original songs by Alan Menken, dance numbers by Bette Midler, and one legendary reenactment of Romeo and Juliet’s balcony scene starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Whoopi Goldberg.
Our interview at the preschool took place with two other families. We perched on miniature chairs, covertly sizing each other up while waiting for the school principal. One family seemed pleasant enough. The parents were exhibiting the same slightly manic good cheer as Peter and I. The father had a kind of artistic look, with longish, tousled hair. I decided he was probably a cinematographer or a moderately successful film director. He wore the same dress-up uniform as Peter, chinos and a slightly wrinkled oxford shirt. The mother was an attractive, dark-haired woman about my age, thirty-two or -three, wearing a long sweater over leggings and pretty brown boots. When she caught me looking at her, I smiled ruefully and rolled my eyes. She smiled back. Their son sat quietly in his father’s lap and buried his head in his father’s shirt whenever anyone looked at him.
The other couple was a whole different kettle of fish.
First of all, he was wearing a suit, a double-breasted sharkskin. Definitely Italian. He was substantially older than the rest of us, at least forty-five or fifty, but trying real hard to look thirty-five. He sported an expression that managed to look tense and bored at the same time. Skinny wasn’t the word to describe his trophy wife. Emaciated more like. Her very young, twiglike body was wrapped in an elaborate slinky skirt with a Lycra top that revealed a strip of bare midriff. She sported a diamond the size of a small puppy on one finger. She had a gash of bloodred lipstick in an otherwise alabaster-white face, and her petulant pout precisely matched that of her daughter. I discreetly snuck a tongue out over my lips to see if I had remembered to put makeup on. Of course not. I rummaged in my purse for a lipstick, but had to satisfy myself with a tube of Little Mermaid Junior Lip Gloss.
The hyperelegant couple’s daughter wore black velvet leggings and a red tunic with shiny black cuffs and pockets. Ruby was transfixed by her red patent-leather boots. She pointed at them and said, “Mama, buy me that”—