The YouTube trailer for ‘The Swamps of Jersey.’

Thanks to my publisher Imzadi Publishing and graphic artist Anita Dugan-Moore.

Posted in Fiction, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, http://www.sallyember.com, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Transitional scenes in ‘The Weight of Living’. The next Frank Nagler Mystery

I’m about half-way through writing “The Weight of Living,” the third Frank Nagler Mystery.  It has been a long haul, but to use a really  bad trucking metaphor (Here’s to you, Dee Fox) I have crested the mountaintop and have begun the long slide to the end.

Here are two transitional scenes.

The first concludes what has turned out to be the first part of the book, which I think I’ll call, “The Long Way.” The second scene opens the conclusion of the story, which I think will be called “The Chase and the Trap.”

Funny how this stuff goes. The story now has more structure than it had before I wrote the above paragraph.

Anyway, transitional scene one:

“It was the nun?”

Jimmy Dawson wiped the coffee from his chin, where it had dripped after Nagler’s announcement. “She orchestrated the whole thing?”

Lauren Fox covered her mouth to suppress her smile. She closed her eyes as a giggle surfaced. “I’m sorry, Frank. It’s just …”

“Absurd,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief, even then, two days later.

They sat in the half-empty Barry’s, the conversation buried beneath the clatter as Tony the cook removed the filters from the stove vents for cleaning. The job seemed to require that each filter had to be banged three times against the aluminum hood above the stove. Even Barry became irritated. “Yeah, Tony. The noise.”

Tony just yelled back. “I could leave this to you and go count tomatoes.”

Barry waved him off. “Ahh.”

He stopped to top off the trio’s coffees.

“Hey, Barry, you remember if a tall, big guy ever came in here wearing a  tweed hat?” Nagler asked.

“Like I remember hats. This whole place is hats. Nobody ever takes ‘em off.”

“I know. It looks like this.” He fumbled with his phone until he found he diagonal photo of the tweed hat that had been left in city hall. He showed the phone to Barry, who squinted at the picture.

“Oh, that hat. Naw, I ain’t seen it.”

“If you do, call me.  It’s a big deal,” Nagler said sternly. He shook his head. I never talk to Barry like that.  “Thanks.”

“A little on edge there, Frank?” Dawson asked.

Nagler swallowed some coffee. “It’s like everyone is in on some big joke and I’m the only one on the outside. We spent hours on the little girl and a nun I’ve known since” he waved a hand back and forth in frustration, “Since dinosaurs walked the earth, was hiding her the whole time.”

Lauren touched his hand, then raised to her lips and kissed it. “Maybe she had a reason.”

“That’s just it.  She said, and I think she is right, something worse is coming. Something tied to the girl somehow, and to the company that owns the Sisters Home. I just don’t know enough.” He glanced up at Dawson and Lauren. “And I don’t know who to trust.”

Lauren put on a fake shocked face. “Not even us?”

Nagler laughed, the tension broken. “Yeah, okay, you two.”

“The church doesn’t own the Sisters Home?” Dawson asked.

“They sold it and leased it back from some company,” Nagler said.  “Sister Katherine gave me a list, some holding company their lawyers are looking at.”  He pulled the list from his jacket’s inside pocket.  “Here it is.”

Dawson whistled.  “Lotta names.”

“Yeah, she…”

“Look at this one.” Dawson held up the paper and pointed at a name.  “Mine Hill Foundation.” He nodded to Nagler.  “That’s the company you suggested I look up.  And I did. It’s a mess.  Have a story set to go out tomorrow. Give me a copy of this. I’ll see if the church lawyers will talk and I’ll add them.”

“That’s the company that owns the old theater, Frank. Remember?”  Lauren said.  “I looked up their tax records and permits.  It’s in Jimmy’s story.  They have flipped that building back and forth half a dozen times in a decade.  There’s about thirty code and health violations, ten of which are serious. A history of late tax payments. A whole basketful of stuff. But no one can find them. The city must have send fifty letters and conducted a dozen inspections. Let me see the list.” She scanned the names. “Oh, yeah, damn, here’s one of the companies. And… here’s another, aaanndd… oh wait, here’s the one that sent that foreclosure letter to my mother. Son of a bitch!”  She looked up at Dawson, who was grinning and over at Barry, who smiled and returned to wiping the counter. “What?”

“These guys are first-class crooks, Frank. First class,” Dawson said. “No wonder the sister warned you. Watch your six.”

“Yeah, you too,” Nagler said.  “I’d image that having their names plastered all over the Internet might piss ‘em off.”

Transitional scene two:

Del hunched near the wall, holding his head; a low moan, the puzzle in his eyes wrapped in a torn face, wet with tears.

“I knowed these men,” he said softly, “From my time on the railroad.  Not these particular men, but their type, the showy I’m-richer-than-God men, swilling they drinks, yelling out, Hey waiter, Hey boy, another round; taking, taking what they wanted, everything they saw, telling the world and all us little folks to get outta they way.  And I saw them when I was on the street, mind all jumbled, veins on fire. Stepping over me. I been spit on, kicked, pushed aside and ya just want to be recognized as a human being. Is that asking too much?  Then you see what’s in them boxes, you see how deep the poison goes, how strong is the wrong in what they doin’ and your soul cries out for justice and you just wanna bring ‘em down.”

He wiped the tears from his face, replacing the sorrow with anger and determination. “I heard you sayin’ there’s more like them today, doing the same thing. You gonna bring ‘em down, Frank?”

Add Del’s voice to the chorus. Sister Katherine’s righteousness, Calista’s fear and deep pain, Lauren’s sorrow, the cries of the community center kids, pushing back against the weight of the world, even Bruno Hapworth’s twisted self-pity; and the ancient silent pain of Sarah Lawton, the voiceless faces of those girls in the photos. Bring them down, Del? I want rip open their smug world, find the key that brings back the voice to that little girl we found on the street, soothe the wounded souls, end the pain in one, loud exalted scream: No more! Maybe in that we are made whole, maybe in that smiles return; maybe I heal.

Nagler reached over to Del and pulled him to his feet. He wrapped one arm around his friend’s shoulder

“Yeah, Del. I’m gonna bring ‘em down.”

 

 

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Up close with a Nazarath, Pa., book club

The plastic gloves filled with popcorn with a ring on one finger hanging from the fireplace was the sign that I was in the right place.

So all I can say is THANK YOU to Cindy Dauscher and the other members of the book club that meets monthly in the Nazareth, Pa. area.

And I hate to pull a Sally Fields here, but you really liked it, the book, that is, “The Swamps of Jersey,” the first Frank Nagler mystery.

?????????????????????????????????????????????These woman read the book carefully, came to the meeting with notes and questions and a list of characters … and Cindy even said the buffet was like eating at Barry’s, the coffee shop where Detective Frank Nagler and reporter Jimmy Dawson hang out.

Talk about positive feedback!

I was  questioned repeatedly about why such a character did this or that, how the story was developed, details of what was the source of information used in the story, and what was the inspiration for shopworn Ironton, N.J., the setting for the book.

It was gratifying to hear them react to Frank Nagler, the central character. He is presented at a grumpy, lonely middle-aged man who was once the most famous cop in Ironton, a stature he disliked.

The lofty statue resulted from Nagler’s efforts to capture serial killer Charlie Adams. But as Nagler said often it was also the work of Detective Chris Foley who helped capture Adams.

What I appreciated was that they  questioned Foley actions and motives in “Swamps” right from the start, seeing the tension that was established when the two men met at 3 a.m. in the rain in the Old Iron Bog to investigate the opening crime of the story.

They didn’t like Chris Foley, and know what, you’re not supposed to.

I was pleased to see that they liked reporter Jimmy Dawson, Nagler’s long time friend and nemesis, and who acts as an in-story commentator, and especially Bartholomew Harrington.

Bart was a character of necessity. I needed someone to carry the subplot of economic desperation seen in Ironton. Bart became a fun, larger-than-life addition.

When I presented them with copies of the second book in the series, “A Game Called Dead,” they demanded to know if Lauren Fox reappeared.

DEADCOVER715Lauren is Nagler’s girlfriend. In “Swamps” she lingers at the edge of the story. They weren’t  happy when I told them that she was as much a plot devise as a character, but they appreciated that it was Jimmy Dawson who tells Nagler to “go find her.” And they were happy that the end of the book presented the chance that Frank and Lauren would get together.

But it was the popcorn hand that was the topper.

The plot in “Swamps” is complicated and at times deliberately murky. I wanted  readers to follow Nagler’s thought and processes as he investigates.  But one has to drop some hints.

The discovery of the hand in the bog by police divers is one such moment.

I’m glad that moment stuck in their minds.

I don’t write this to say, hey look at me.

It’s written from the perspective that writers don’t often get such detailed, important feedback from readers, especially in  person.

I am gratified they took such care reading the book, and yes, it is some validation of my attempt to write a story with solid characters and other trappings.

Writers try to create an emotional and intellectual hook for readers.

The book club members in this case told me it worked. THANK YOU.

I am humbled.

 

“The Swamps of Jersey” was published in 2014 by Imzadi Publishing. The sequel “A Game Called Dead”  was published  in 2016.

 

Available at:

Amazon: http://goo.gl/hVQIII

Kobo: https://goo.gl/bgLH6v

NOOK: http://goo.gl/WnQjtr

 

Bobby’s News and Gifts, 618 Main Street, Boonton.

The Clinton Book Shop, 12 E. Main Street, Clinton. http://www.clintonbookshop.com/

Sparta Books, 29 Theatre Center, Sparta. http://www.spartabooks.com/

For information on independent book sellers visit, http://www.indiebound.org/

 

The books are also available at the at the following libraries: Morris County Library; Somerset County Library System; Bernardsville Public Library; Hunterdon County Public Library; Parsippany-Troy Hills Public Library; Mount Olive Public Library;  Phillipsburg; Warren County, Franklin branch; Mount Arlington; Wharton; Dover; Hackettstown;  Clark, and the Ramsey library, as part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System.

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Where did all that pain go, Jimmy? Why does it weigh so much?

In the next Frank Nagler mystery, “The Weight of Living,” the detective faces events that eat at his soul. The story is about turning that darkness into lighDEADCOVER715t.

Here is some of the darkness:

The city hall parking lot was dark except for the sporadic light coming from the single street lamp still in operation — The light flickered to life, blinked three times and then went dark, only to repeat the sequence. The other six lights had been taken out of service to be rewired five years after the flood had turned the downtown into a temporary lake. The lot was a mess of rocks, poles, wire spools and equipment.

Nagler walked cautiously to his car, head swiveling, scanning whatever he could see in the temporary light. He illuminated each tire with a flashlight, then the trunk and the hood and peered into the vehicle. It was awareness not just bred by the black SUV that was recently following him, but a lesson learned after Tom Miller a couple years back tried to kill him by blowing up his patrol car.

That event had changed him, Nagler realized later, not so much because the attempt on his life, but the understanding how vulnerable all those in his circle were because of his job. Besides, the sneakiness of it had just pissed him off.

The shudder had grabbed his spine about a year ago the day he was investigating the murder of a wife by her husband.  The man had plundered their meager savings and pledged their home to bookies to settle gambling debts, but when the vig became greater than his ability to pay, he blew her up in her car for the life insurance.

?????????????????????????????????????????????In memory that day Nagler felt the concussive blast caused by Miller’s bomb, felt the smoke fill his lungs as he rolled on the asphalt of the city hall parking lot to escape the next shock; and then at the new scene he sucked in the dirty taste of burning rubber and plastic, felt the adhesive smell cling to his nostrils and  throat, the acid haze cover his skin like grease and watched as the cooling metal of the car’s roof transformed to a muddy rainbow.

Nagler remembered how he had felt himself withdraw, as if he was watching the whole scene on film. The weeping husband had already confessed, sitting in the back of a patrol car banging his head against the driver’s headrest. He had already told Nagler how he had watched from the front steps as his wife entered the car, adjusted her seat belt, blew him a kiss and started the engine, and as the car exploded, stared in her last seconds of life at her husband with tear-filled horror just before she was engulfed screaming in flames. This the husband related to Nagler in a twisted-face, hair-pulling drama, the plea I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I wish I hadn’t done it delivered with cold, hard eyes; elaborate fakery. And Nagler coldly thinking, what an asshole.

And then later with Jimmy Dawson at Barry’s staring at a coagulating cheeseburger and asking Dawson, “When do you reach the limit, Jimmy? Haven’t you ever asked yourself that question? Maybe sitting in one more courtroom watching a sad sack confess to a crime he can’t recall committing because he was so high he thought he was flying; standing there, shrugging in agreement with his public defender, and then with a yeah, okay accepting the judge’s word  that two years  at the county lockup was about right for stealing that forty of pig-swill beer and a pack of smokes from the liquor store. Or that last time you sat in a city council meeting watching them pass some rule that you knew was so wrong you could feel the damage to the city happening while they were voting on it?  Haven’t you ever just said, ‘Fuck it, I’m done.’ “

“When?” Dawson had asked.

Nagler had smiled sourly.  “This afternoon at that car explosion. I wanted to grab that little jerk by his collar and smack his head against the front door three or four times. He walked into that bookie’s back room with the word Sucker tattooed on his forehead and they took him for everything he was worth and his wife paid for it. And, know what, it doesn’t mean a damn thing.”

He picked up the cheeseburger, contemplated the cold meat, stiff cheese and dropped it back on the plate.

“The state will send him to prison for life, and the relatives will stop visiting her grave and say it’s good they didn’t have kids, and rain will wash it all way. No one will learn anything because even while we are speaking one more clown is sitting at his computer on one of those sports sites convincing himself some rookie shortstop hitting a buck-twenty is going to become Derek Jeter overnight and save his happy home.” Nagler had sighed and pushed the cheeseburger way. “I just get so sick of it, want it to be more than it is, but it never turns out to be anything more. That woman died horribly for no reason  and all I can do is call in a crew to sweep up the mess.”

Dawson had left it at this: “You’ve always made it matter, Frank. Always. Calmed the victims’ families. Took away part of their pain. More people appreciate that than you know.”

In the dark parking lot, Nagler smiled at the  comment. Dawson always said stuff like that, for public consumption.

And now Dawson’s being followed, Nagler thought. Is that my fault?

All because of a little girl found in a Dumpster.

Nagler paused  by his car, the air still, the city in his immediate area, tranquil. His sore left foot, stung by a half-stumble off the dark curb, ached with each new step.

Was that a sound? The broken streetlight flashed three times. What was that?  Nagler scanned the darkness with his flashlight.

Was that the muffled rumble of a car engine idling? Or the crack of a broken heart?

Where did all that pain go, Jimmy? Why does it weigh so much?

 

 

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‘A Game Called Dead’ entered in contest

I just submitted “A Game Called Dead” to the Shelf Unbound Best Indie/Self-Published Book Competition for self-published books or those published by small, independent publishers. My publisher is Imzadi Publishing of Tulsa. The winners are chosen by the editors.

DEADCOVER715 “A Game Called Dead”  is the second  Frank Nagler mystery.  The first book in the series was “The Swamps of Jersey.”

The stories follow the crime-fighting efforts of lonely, world-weary detective Frank Nagler of Ironton, N.J., itself a world-weary industrial city.

The books are also available at the at the following libraries: Morris County Library; Somerset County Library System; Bernardsville Public Library; Hunterdon County Public Library; Mount Olive Public Library;  Phillipsburg; Warren County, Franklin branch; Mount Arlington; Wharton; Dover; Hackettstown;  Clark, Parsippany and the Ramsey library, as part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System.

?????????????????????????????????????????????Also at:  Bobby’s News and Gifts, 618 Main Street, Boonton.

The Clinton Book Shop, 12 E. Main Street, Clinton. http://www.clintonbookshop.com/

Sparta Books, 29 Theatre Center, Sparta. http://www.spartabooks.com/

For information on independent book sellers visit, http://www.indiebound.org/

Available at:

Amazon: http://goo.gl/hVQIII

Kobo: https://goo.gl/bgLH6v

NOOK: http://goo.gl/WnQjtr

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Add Frank Nagler mysteries to summer reading list

 DEADCOVER715 Need something to red at the beach or in the backyard?

Add the Frank Nagler mysteries: “The Swamps of Jersey,” And “A Game Called Dead.”

The books are also available at the at the following libraries: Morris County Library; Somerset County Library System; Bernardsville Public Library; Hunterdon County Public Library; Mount Olive Public Library;  Phillipsburg; Warren County, Franklin branch; Mount Arlington; Wharton; Dover; Hackettstown;  Clark, Parsippany and the Ramsey library, as part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System.

?????????????????????????????????????????????Also at:  Bobby’s News and Gifts, 618 Main Street, Boonton.

The Clinton Book Shop, 12 E. Main Street, Clinton. http://www.clintonbookshop.com/

Sparta Books, 29 Theatre Center, Sparta. http://www.spartabooks.com/

For information on independent book sellers visit, http://www.indiebound.org/

Available at:

Amazon: http://goo.gl/hVQIII

Kobo: https://goo.gl/bgLH6v

NOOK: http://goo.gl/WnQjtr

Posted in Fiction, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, http://wwwmichaelstephendaigle.com, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Mystery Writers of America | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The moment before

The most frightening thing is not the end, but the moment before.

Not the fall stopping, but those impossible seconds filled with life; the instant before.

 

The instant before when there is time to change what will happen in the end, the instant before when all the voices cry and laugh at once;

the before before the silence. 

That before: Some mathematician in glasses and a white long coat facing a green board recording fractions and numerals and letters, the data of lives, added, divided, all the threes make sixes and nines, and the twos four and four thousand; all the scribbling, the side calculations, the crossouts, all boiled down, line by line, column by column across the board and back to the start, then across again, to conclude what comes after the equal sign: Us. 

And us, having lived all that, say no. It is not that easy.

Because of that silence: It contains the echoes, the fullness of hearts, the things that hold the shimmer of eyes and the taste of tongues and your dewy wet skin; the last time the old dog turns a slow circle and knowing, rests; the last time before the breath leaves, the eyes darken, the fingers fall limp.

Oh, that last, unmeasurable thing, the fullness of loving, the rattle of pain, all the world’s feelings, compressed; the faces rise, the voices, all the knowledge of air now seen; the crust of language broken.

Yes, the broken thing that spills out the heart’s secrets, the crack that opens those hidden wounds, the words unspoken, sterile desire, the grunt of us unexpressed;

The emptiest thing not the end, but the possibility that fades, not the fingers unlinking, but the soft slide as they pull away seeking traction, finding none.

Not the walking away, but the turn, the wisp of your hair held aloft by the brief motion of your shoulder, eyes dark and cold with hurt, the weight of leaving coming, the doom of walking away descending.

The most frightening thing is not the crack left in souls and time and what spills out, but the crack closing, contents undeclared;

Not the end and the stillness, not the darkness, but the helplessness of standing as the shadow falls, the hollow of living unfilled.

 

 

 

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Introducing Nola Jensen

In one of the stories resting comfortably in a computer file (and backed up on a hard drive) is “Oswald’s War.”  It’s about the homecoming of Nola Jensen to Mt. Jensen, Maine, named for her ancestors. She is seeking a peaceful place to raise her teen-aged daughter Emma.

Her return sets off conflicts between her long-time friends, who are caught in the middle of a feud between old time residents and a crop of newcomers who want to transform the sleepy village into a suburban-style enclave.

One of the conflicts is with Oswald, a farmer whose family arrived when Nola’s did, but while her family prospered over the centuries, Oswald’s did not. He is a little cranky, and perhaps, unbalanced.

In this scene, Nola has tried to open talks with Oswald:

Oswald stepped to the edge of the cliff, the town dark and settled into dusk below.

“You think it’s all about peace, love and understanding,” he spat a black gob of tobacco juice over the rocks. “It ain’t, you know.”

IMG_2202Sitting on rocks opposite Oswald, Nola shook her head repeatedly.

 “There is no ideal, Oswald. There are only ideas, and hopes and dreams. Thoughts.  This nation was a thought.  When our ancestors came up the Kennebec, and with a deep breath picked a trail northwest and landed here, the nation they were a part of was just an idea conceived, not even completed, just hatched that if we as a people declare some of us are free of past restrictions, then we create the possibility that we all will be free of them.  The definition and practice of freedom over centuries has changed, but it has become wider and deeper at each turn.”

Oswald spat again.

“Them that’s gots, and them that ain’t. Always was and always will be. And them that ain’t will take it from them that’s gots. That’s freedom, Nola-Girl. Then we all be the same.”

“Now who is living in a fantasy?” Nola asked. “It is all about the chance that something will come of good efforts. When our families stopped on this lakefront a couple hundred years ago they believed that with hard work and luck they could carve out a life, get through the winter alive. Each family had its land, bought sight unseen from a sketchy map. That map was the dream, just as the Constitution was the dream of the nation. It was up to the citizens to make the dream real. Still is.”

Oswald turned back to face Nola, squinting, his profile craggy and unmoved as an old mountain top. “The dream ain’t even,” he said low, nearly a whisper.

“Didn’t say it was,” she replied. “Doesn’t mean it’s not worth dreaming. That’s how you make it even. People straggle sometimes. It doesn’t mean the rest don’t help them out. Makes us all stronger. That’s why this village survived.”

“Ain’t even a dream,” he yelled. “Nothing peaceful, just the winning of conflict, the powerful squashing the weak. It don’t end until them that ain’t, gots. It’s all about…” he let the thought drop, not wanting to give a hint.  Fire, he thought; it’s all about fire. And as he stared out over the town settled in to dark, he envisioned a yellow turning orange burst in the church steeple, windows blown red from the hotel annex, embers windblown to the grocery roof, where black smoke rose and reflected the yellow flame, the shoreline roaring in glittering destruction, the black waters of the lake rippled in hellish gold.

“Naw, Nola-girl,” Oswald choked out, “It ain’t about dreams, and peace, just about war until the end.” He spat out another dark gob.  “Gets time to pick a side.”

 

Posted in Fiction, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, Mystery Writers of America, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

‘A Game Called Dead:’ Harriet’s heroism

In the first drafts of my Frank Nagler mystery, “A Game Called Dead,” college administrator Harriet Waddley-Jones was a self-centered critic of Nagler’s police efforts whose sole angle it seemed was to gain publicity for herself. Gladly, and importantly, in  rewrites, she changed.

She is one of the story’s important and quiet heroes.

 

“A Game Called Dead” is the second Frank Nagler Mystery, following “The Swamps of Jersey.” (2014), both published by Imzadi Publishing of Tulsa.

Available at:

Amazon: http://goo.gl/hVQIII

Kobo: https://goo.gl/bgLH6v

NOOK: http://goo.gl/WnQjtr

 

DEADCOVER715Bobby’s News and Gifts, 618 Main Street, Boonton.

The Clinton Book Shop, 12 E. Main Street, Clinton. http://www.clintonbookshop.com/

Sparta Books, 29 Theatre Center, Sparta. http://www.spartabooks.com/

For information on independent book sellers visit, http://www.indiebound.org/

The books are also available at the at the following libraries: Morris County Library; Somerset County Library System; Bernardsville Public Library; Hunterdon County Public Library; Parsippany-Troy Hills Public Library; Mount Olive Public Library;  Phillipsburg; Warren County, Franklin branch; Mount Arlington; Wharton; Dover; Hackettstown;  Clark, and the Ramsey library, as part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System.

This is Harriet’s moment:

Waddley-Jones scanned the faces, some anxious, some smiling bravely; others like the administrators standing with folded arms, grim; athletes in the back corner, laughing.

“Thank you for coming,” she began. “I don’t want to dwell on the obvious, but these are currently hard, dangerous times. Two murders on our campus, a city facing terrorism – yes, it is terrorism when stores and community centers are being destroyed – and a police officer who escaped from an attempt on his life.

“Cowards hide behind such acts. But cowards fail, as will this one.

“But nearly twenty years ago on this campus, such cowards were in charge. When faced with allegations of rampant crimes at this school, they could not admit they fostered and even participated in the crimes.  They drove the victims away and rewarded the criminals. Reports were made and hidden. Even a lawsuit could not bring these crimes into the open.

“This is a shameful past, and I am here today because I was part of it, here today because I allowed the silence to descend.”

She paused and breathed deeply.  Some of the students, trapped in their seats by the size of the crowd were texting more than paying attention. The administrators stared at the floor or cast sideways glances at one another.

“You may have read a news story about the old lawsuit, and maybe you doubted its veracity,” she began again. “Don’t. It all happened, and perhaps more that eluded the investigators. But I know it was true.” She paused, having planned the impact, having waited for seventeen years, nearly half her life, to declare her identity.

“I am Student A.”

Harriet Waddley-Jones dipped her head, closed her eyes and gripped the sides of the podium. She was shaking, crying, trying to hold her emotions in check but wanting them to soar; wanting the words she had just spoken to grab ahold of the pain and guilt and wrench it from her soul. She wanted to be weightless, but instead was anchored. Free me, she thought. Please free me.

Some in the room gasped; some stood and applauded. Many sat in surprise, stunned a moment before they began to furiously text out the message.  The administrators unfolded their arms, and quietly begging pardon, sidestepped out of the rear door, where Jimmy Dawson caught Harriet’s eye before he pursued them for a comment.

“How does this occur?” Harriet continued.  “It happens when those in authority feel they have all the rights to act, and everyone else only has the right to be acted upon.”

A voice from the back: “Ah, lady, you asked for it. Getting nailed by some top professor probably helped your career.”

“Would you want to be raped, sir?” she shot back. “To be held down while something hard was shoved up your ass?   Or maybe watch as your girlfriend was pinned on a bed and your friends took turns?  Did I ask for that, sir?”

The crowd stirred by her challenge.

In that moment she chose to talk about the one thing she had never discussed. It is time to be free if this.

Dawson slipped into the room just before she started. Behind him Frank Nagler emerged.

Wordlessly, Dawson nodded, pursed his lips and then smiled briefly.

Nagler grinned weakly and said, “Thanks.” He tipped his head toward Waddley-Jones. “What’s going on?”

“She’s about to burn a hole in the universe,” Dawson said.

Nagler leaned over to Dawson. “She told me she’d been raped as a teen ager.”

“It’s a lie, a story she told to hide the truth,” Dawson said.  He looked up at Nagler and tipped his head toward Waddley-Jones.  “She’s Student A.”

Nagler looked Dawson, and then cast a long gaze at Harriet Waddley-Jones. He thought for a moment about the conversation outside the home of Michelle Hansen, Adams’ last victim, the jokes, the causal chatter about naked girls, then previously, the “sister” who had been raped; then her own rape by the friend of her father, the desperate lies; how hard that must have been for her and how he missed the pain disguised by humor and sarcasm. “Oh my god.”

She began again. “I was nineteen, thrilled to have been chosen for a big project in Washington, D.C.  I had never been there before. The Capital, the monuments, museums, the helter-skelter traffic, the excitement and noise and life.  What an experience. And then to be working on a minority voting project with the leading educator in the field. Imagine my excitement.”

She glared at the athlete who had challenged her. Her voice grew stronger.

“Yes, imagine my excitement when my professor came to my room with a bottle of wine and told me it was time to celebrate.  And first we cheered with wine the work and the community response. Then we toasted the program. Then he told me how beautiful I was, and drank to it, and how all the young volunteers were drawn to me because I was such a leader and so beautiful.  Then we drank. A song came on the radio and he pulled me to my feet and said, ‘Dance with me,’ and I said I was tired. And he said, ‘One dance,’ and then held me tightly.”

Her voice softened with fear and confusion and became childlike, and her eyes filled with pain as if she was shedding the years between and taking on the persona of the woman she was at nineteen.

“And I said, ‘One dance,’ and we swirled around the room, my head dizzy, and he kissed my neck and I said, ‘No,’ and he unzipped my dress and I said, ‘no, no,’ and then it fell to the floor, and then he unhooked my bra and thrust his tongue in my mouth and put one hand between my legs, and then I was naked and he was inside me and I was crying, eyes closed. Then he pulled out, fumbled with his pants, finished the wine from the bottle, threw it on the floor and left me there.”

Waddley-Jones stared at the floor and when she looked up her eyes were fierce and her face hard.

In a voice like a hiss: “Everything I was died at that moment in the dirty little hotel room. Ev-er-y-thing,” cutting the world into four parts.  “But what was worse, everything that I wanted to be also died.  I’ve lived my life as a lie because I could not forget when I signed the agreement with this college when I was twenty that they took away my right to speak. Well, I’m taking it back. Can you give that all back to me, Mister Critic?  All the love I could have given, but didn’t trust enough to give; all the love that others felt for me and I could not receive? Can you give me back all the time I have hated myself, all the hours I felt the shame of that moment like a rash that would not heal? All the time I’ve spend locked in this emotionless box; all those things I have missed?  Can you give them back to me?  Never,” she said bitterly.

“And then this broken-hearted city, scarred by events in the past it cannot put to rest.  And today someone is using those events to terrorize.  Using those events for revenge, because it is the only emotion they can feel.  I say to that person, please stop.  There is time to heal.  That is what I say to Ironton.  Come together.

“Free your soul as I have freed mine. Stop, I say. For the love…” she paused, “Just for love. Please stop.” Her voice was a whisper.

 

 

Posted in Fiction, Hot in Hunterdon; Georjean Trinkle, Imzadi Publishing LLC, Michael Stephen Daigle, www.michaelstephendaigle.com | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The universal soldier

You put me on this hill at 19 with a weapon and said defend you.

And I did.

You put me in a jet plane at 25 armed with rockets that kill from miles away.

And I used them.

At 27 from a bomber miles high and I dropped the weapons; from a console buried underground watching a screen and a grey explosion as my drone attacked.

Do you feel safe?

Felt the blood spurt from my leg, fell now unbalanced as the mine beneath me ripped the earth and left me in pieces.

What do you say to my lover now?

How much more do you want from me after I have given you my time, my expertise and my life?

 

The parades continue, bands loud and brassy march on.

Don’t praise me for my service or my courage that I had no choice to display, or die; don’t use me as a reason to declare that enemies exist; they say the same about us.

Don’t praise me for protecting our freedoms when, if it suits you, you’d take them away.

I did not survive for you, but for my brothers, for the sweet kiss that lingered on dark nights, for the touch of your hand and the sweet music of your voice.

 

I did not survive so that you can make another war; I did not survive so that you could send the children holding the balloons along the parade route to fight against other unseen children.

I did not survive so that hatred reigns or to hear you say there  is no choice; someone must be the first.

 

Wars end, exhausted; the conflicts retreat, simmering.

I did not survive to only do it again.

I did not survive.

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