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By A Spider's Thread

Chapter One


They were in one of the "I" states when Zeke told Isaac he had to
ride in the trunk for a little while. Zeke announced this new plan
in what Isaac thought of as his fakey voice, big and hollow, with
too much air in it. This was the voice Zeke used whenever Isaac's
mother was nearby. He used a very different one when she couldn't

"You brought this on yourself, buckaroo," Zeke said, securing the
suitcases to the roof of the car, then making a nest in the center
of the trunk. When Isaac just stared at the space that had been
created, not sure what Zeke wanted him to do, Zeke picked him up
under the arms, swinging him into the hole as if Isaac weighed
nothing at all. "See, plenty of room."

"Put down a blanket," Isaac's mother said, but she didn't object to
the trunk idea, didn't say it was wrong or that she wouldn't allow
it. She didn't even mind that Zeke had stolen the blanket from the
motel room. She just stood there with Penina and Efraim huddled
close to her, looking disappointed. That was the last thing Isaac
saw before Zeke closed the trunk: his mother's face, sad and stern,
as if Isaac were the bad one, as if he had caused all the trouble.
So unfair. He was the one who was trying to do the right

The trunk was bigger than Isaac expected, and he was not as
frightened as he thought he would be. It was too bad it was such an
old car. A new one, like his father's, might have an emergency
light inside, or even a way to spring the lock. His father had
shown him these features in his car after he found Isaac playing
with the buttons on his key ring -- popping the trunk, locking and
unlocking the Cadillac's doors. Isaac's mother had yelled, saying
the key ring wasn't a toy, that he would break it or burn out the
batteries, but Isaac's father had shown Isaac everything about his
new car, even under the hood. That was his father's way. "Curiosity
didn't kill the cat," his father said. "Not getting answers to his
questions was what got the cat in trouble." His father had even
shut himself in the trunk and shown Isaac how to get out

But this car was old, very old, the oldest car Isaac had ever
known, probably older than Isaac. It didn't have airbags, or enough
seat belts in the backseat. Isaac kept hoping a policeman might
pull them over one day because of the seat belts. Or maybe a toll
taker would report his mother for holding one of the twins in her
lap in the front seat, which she did when they fussed. But there
were no tolls here, not on the roads that Zeke drove. Isaac was
trying so hard to keep track -- they had started out in Indiana,
and then they went to Illinois, but Isaac was pretty sure that they
had come back to Indiana in the past week. Or they could still be
in Illinois, or even as far west as Iowa. It was hard to see
differences here in the middle of the country, where everything was
yellow and the towns had strange names that were hard to

It was hard to tell time, too, without school marking the days off,
without a calendar on the kitchen wall, without Shabbat reminding
you that another week had ended. Would God understand about missing
Shabbat? If God knew everything, did he know it wasn't Isaac's
fault that he wasn't going to yeshiva? Or was it up to Isaac to
find a way to pray no matter what, the way his father did when he
traveled for business? Now, this was the kind of conversation his
father loved. He would have started pulling books from the shelves
in his study, looking for various rabbis' opinions. And, whatever
the answer was, his father would have made Isaac feel okay, would
have assured him that he was doing his best, which was all God
expected. That was his father's way, to answer Isaac's questions
and make him feel better.

His father knew everything, or close enough. He knew history and
the Torah, math and science. He knew lots of terrific old war
movies and westerns, and the names of all the Orioles, past and
present. Best of all, he could talk about the night sky as if it
were a story in a book, telling the stories that the Greeks and
Indians had told themselves when they looked at the same

"Does Orion ever catch the bull?" Isaac had asked his father once.
Of course, that had been when he was little, six or seven. He was
nine now, going into the fourth grade, or supposed to be. He
wouldn't ask such a question now.

"Not yet," his father had said, "but you never know. After all, if
the universe is really shrinking, he may catch up with him

That had scared Isaac, the part about the universe shrinking, but
his father had said it wasn't something he needed to worry about.
But Isaac worried about everything, especially now. He worried
about Lyme disease and West Nile virus and whether Washington,
D.C., would get a baseball team, which his dad said might not be so
good for the Orioles. He worried about the twins, who had started
talking this weird not-quite-English to each other.

Mostly, though, he worried about Zeke and how to get away from

Despite being locked in the trunk, bouncing and bumping down the
road, Isaac wasn't sorry that he had tried to talk to the guard
man. His only mistake was letting his mother see him do it. If the
line in the bank had been longer, if it hadn't moved so fast, he
might have had time to explain himself. Why did lines move fast
only when you didn't want them to?

The foregoing is excerpted from By a Spider's Thread by Laura
Lippman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or
reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins
Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

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By A Spider's Thread
by by Laura Lippman

  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Orion
  • ISBN-10: 0752866621
  • ISBN-13: 9780060858445