The self-named “Dragony” is a shadowy organization that may be behind the bombing of downtown Ironton, N.J. It also might be the reason that several of its suspected members keep dying. So who are they and what are they up to? (And what’s with the bread knife?) Detective Frank Nagler makes a list:
Nagler wrote the word “Dragony” at the top center of the white board.
So, who are you guys? And why are you all in Ironton at this exact moment?
What’d you forget to do, or is the question what are you planning to do, as if blowing up downtown was not enough.
McCarroll, Nagler wrote.
Said he was. Acts like the boss, but I doubt it.
Eduardo Tallem. Who’s he?
Depends on what state and year, records said.
Odd role; not at top of chain of command, but not a foot soldier. Facilitator. But of what?
Street punk, drug dealer. Bread knife victim.
“Trainee,” Nagler said.
Who was his boss who signed the fake passport?
Of course, Tallem was also a victim of a bread knife.
Does that make Tallem a traitor?
Well, he is dead.
“BLT,” from Dancer’s notes. Boonton Lieutenant Dan Thomson.
Foot soldier, for sure..
How many are there?
BL, from the notes.
T1 and T2, the Green twins, James and Rachel.
Drug stoolies in that raid fifteen years ago.
Everyone said they were dead. At least Dancer did.
Taylor Mangot II.
From a distance. Ink stained, not blood stained.
Taylor Mangot I.
Nagler pondered. More blood than ink.
The four dead in that warehouse 15 years ago.
Sacrificed. Fake IDs.
Someone on the roofs of downtown. On the other end of Tallem’s phone call.
Nagler wrote, “Roof guy.”
He stared at his list.
Dancer, he wrote.
Knows too much. Sudden reappearance. The scribbled notes recalled. Death and destruction.
Felt less bad about writing that name than he thought he would.
So, if Dancer, then Carlton Dixon.
Maybe his taking the rap for the drug deal was not what it seemed.
But, that one felt like a leap.
Still, if Carlton Dixon, then Mahala Dixon.
Schemer. Scared for some reason.
Then, if Taylor Mangot I, then Jock Newton, old iron mine knock-around.
If Jock Newton, then Howard Newton. Kept it in the family.
And Gabriel Richman, and Chris Foley. Howie Newton’s sidekicks.
Really? Why not?
Who else? McSally, mentioned by Dan Thomson. Confused with McCarroll? Descriptions didn’t match.
So who’s McSally?
“Friend’s list?” asked Maria Ramirez, as she leaned in the doorframe, then joined Nagler at the board.
“Anyone else?” he asked. “Could be a reach.”
“That reporter, Adam Kalinsky,” she said.
“He drove a ‘67 Barracuda. Those were his plates on the Impala stashed at Dubin Place.”
Nagler closed one eye, tipped his head and let out a long whistled breath. “Try anything. Okay.”
He wrote, “Adam Kalinsky.”
“And if Kalinsky, then Saul Rosen. His Impala was wearing Kalinsky’s license plates.”
“Yes, it was!”
Nagler added Saul Rosen to the list. Whoever he was.
What reviewers say about the Frank Nagler Mysteries:
I very much enjoyed The Red Hand. The story kept me engaged and there were plenty of thrills with lots of twists and turns. It was chilling and in many places twisted. The character dialogue was exquisite and made me relate to the characters. Well done.
I normally don’t gravitate to dark thrillers but a few stand out to me and a few are worth it. The Weight of Living is ominous in tone but the characters are compelling and the plot is well-developed. If you are a fan of The Girl in the Ice, then you will enjoy this mystery.
Detective Frank Nagler can join Sam Spade, Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen and all the rest of the crime fiction honor roll as an entertaining and compelling character! I think the author, Michael Daigle, a journalist by trade, is having a lot of fun here. It will be evident to the reader that Daigle has a command of the crime beat, the political beat, and the overall gritty city beat! Daigle’s prose is robust and keeps the reader hooked. If you can win over the reader with your own level of passion, then you’ve won as a writer. And the reader gets to reap the rewards. I’m sure Daigle has paced himself and plotted a fun course for this series. I look forward to more.
The ringing phone grabbed Detective Frank Nagler from the fitful sleep he had found crammed into an office chair like a discarded suit jacket. It was three a.m.
The phone rang again, buzzing like a swarm of flies. He rolled dizzily sideways, slammed his feet to the floor and sat in the chair, feeling his back clench. Crap, that hurt. The phone rang again. And again. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands and waited for one more ring, then picked up the receiver. “You’re kidding,” he replied wearily to the dispatcher’s request. “What’s next, locusts? Yeah, never mind. Thanks. Just what we need after all this. Be there soon.”
He wrapped himself in his long black raincoat that had become his shield against the wet and raging world, and leaned into the outer door as the hurricane winds slapped him awake.
He had not seen the sky for days, felt the heat of the sun, wore dry shoes or walked outside without that raincoat since the storm blew in and sealed the hills above the city with a dense smothering grayness, a swirling menace of thunder clouds and shrieking winds that pounded the city with an apocalyptic rain that sent the Baptist preachers howling to the hills about sin and damnation. It emptied the grocery store shelves of everything but a few cans of cream of mushroom soup, and locked the residents in the top floors of their homes as the river crashed its banks, flooded streets and rearranged the city landscape like a madman with an earth mover.
The placid, blue August sky had been replaced by rain that came and stayed. Rain with menace, rain that pulsed around corners dark with dislodged pieces of the earth as it ripped away every weak thing it could; rain that claimed, rain soulless and dark as evil; that challenged knowledge; rain that took possession.
The ancients knew what to do with rain like this, he thought wickedly, squinting into the horizontal blast of water.
Conjure an honest man with a ship and spin a parable about the wages of sin. Nagler laughed sourly. And then get out of town. Nagler plowed his car through the treacherous bumper-deep water that filled the downtown streets. Random spotlights, swinging loosely from dangling wires on damaged poles or hanging off ripped roof tops banged with the hollow, doomed echo of cathedral bells at the end of times and flashed a shifting and sinister light on flooded parking lots or intersections rippling with dark water. Store after store was dark, some with boards covering glass windows; others had jagged shards of glass that gleamed menacingly in the fractured light, hanging in dented window frames.
Arcadia is a spare land, heavy with silence and distance, a misfit place.
In that space author Christian Fennell places his tale, “The Fiddler in the Night,” a story that aches with loneliness, love and loss, but drips with blood.
The story is told in the sparest prose, descriptions and character emotions ground down to bare essentials. Things are, the land is and time stretches back through history and into a foggy uncertain future. The style allows each reader to alone assess motive and resolution.
In its barest form, “The Fiddler in the Night,” brings together separate searchers seeking a measure of peace, freedom or relief. In its fullest form, the story rubs hope and peace with evil.
Jonathan McClean, 16, is a scion of a family who has farmed a piece of Arcadia for generations. He leaves the farm one night after his terminally ill father chooses death, and his mother leaves, seeking solitude and perhaps her own death.
The search is triggered by the disappearance of Jonathan’s mother, and the theft of his father’s truck.
Jonathan crosses paths with a handful of colorful and disparate souls, including Holly, a girl held captive as a sex slave, and Rachel, a young girl whose mother is gone and her father is killed. She occupies a surprising place in the story.
Raging over the story is Leonard, a 17-year-old untethered killer who leaves a trail of butchery across the dark landscape. His murders grow in savagery and brutality as his blood lust grows, engorged by the thrill and his self-fulfillment.
Jonathan and Leonard cross paths, each with murder in their minds. In his heart, Jonathan wants to find an end to the trail of deaths he has tracked, all leading to Leonard.
Leonard simply kills, filled with his glorified senses of revenge and power.
The story reads a times like poetry and at others, like a fever dream, an enticing and imaginative combination that melds the heaviness of ancient mythmaking and the nervy edge of modern life.
The story concludes, but for Jonathan and Rachel, it does so with a measure of hopeful unease.
The search for the bombers who destroyed downtown Ironton takes on a new direction.
“Boonton Police. Captain Dan Thomson.
“Captain, hello. Frank Nagler from Ironton. Have a question about your cadet Mahala Dixon. How’d she get approved with her juvie record?”
A long silence.
“A favor,” Thomson said.
Figures. “Her father?”
“Hey, Nagler, don’t get me wrong. Mahala has a mind for this. She’s sharp and inquisitive.”
Thomson sounded nervous, Nagler thought.
“But she also was caught selling drugs in school. How’d you make that go away?”
“Christ, Nagler, did someone a favor. Happens all the time.”
“Except this favor was one step in a series that led to a major crime and Mahala’s father in jail.”
“That’s not how…” Voice a cross between anger and panic. “Why are you asking about it now?”
What’s that phrase we always use? Nagler thought. Oh yeah. “Came up as part of a new larger investigation. Don’t you have any records on this?”
The receiver filled with a long breath and a soft, “Fuck. It was undercover,” Thomson said. “You know that. No one wrote anything down back then. If anybody did, Langdon wrote it down. Hell, it was his show.” Said with irritation. “Bernie Langdon and what’s his name, Montgomery. Okay, Carlton Dixon caught his daughter with a stash in her bedroom. She was working with Ricardo, so-and-so-Ethan Ricardo.
“The kid who died in the explosion. Working with Mahala. His records said he was twenty.” “And you believe that? Come on, Nagler. Know how easy it is to get a forged passport, when your boss is the forger?
“His boss, Tallen, the restaurant owner.”
“No, some other guy.” A hesitation. “Some Irish punk.”
“McSalley,” Nagler said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Thomson said. “McSalley. Big guy, mustache, face looked like it met a wall or two close up.”
This is interesting. “So, is there a photo of this McSalley in the records you don’t have?” Nagler asked.
“What are you fishing for?”
“First time that name, McSalley, came up,” Nagler said. “Know what, heard there was a lot of cash in that warehouse when it was raided. Vanished, apparently.”
“Really? I heard the feds took it. Anything else, Nagler?”
“Naw, just pulling strings, trying to solve that bombing, you know.”
Thomson chuckled into the phone. “Good luck with that. Better you than me.”
“Yeah, well, thanks, Captain.” Nagler said. “Oh, last thing. We sent out bulletin on a ’89 white Ford van. Might be in your town.”
Nagler hung up the phone and rolled his eyes at Maria Ramirez.
“What was that?” she asked. “Isn’t that Irish hood named McCarroll?”
Nagler grinned. “Why, yes he is. And he’s a short, skinny beat-up looking guy. So who’s McSalley? Also interesting, that was the second time someone mentioned there was a lot of cash in that warehouse, the first being McCarroll. There’s no record of it. I wonder in whose basement wall it’s hiding?”
“Why that Boonton cop?” He nodded to her computer. “Pull up that video Dawson made. Go to the old photo of the drug bust. There, upper right. That’s Boonton Sergeant Dan Thomson, BDT in Dancer’s notes.”
“What’s a Boonton cop doing on an Ironton bust?”
“Normally I’d think task force, undercover. But this time, I’m thinking of something else.” He grinned. “The Dragony, she be a many tentacled thing. Wonder how fast he calls Bernie Langdon?”
Ramirez laughed. “You’re a sick man, Nagler.”
“Let’s see if we can put Thomson, Langdon and even Montgomery together.”
In the fifth book in the series, a WIP, Detective Frank Nagler is investigating a long-running real estate scam that has led to several deaths in Ironton, N.J, Here us part of how scam worked. Reporter Jimmy Dawson presents a video.
“One thing we love in Ironton is our food,” Dawson’s voiceover continued. “We have Grgeek food, Italian food in endless variety, Brazilian, Cuban, Chinese, steaks, subs, chow Mein, empanadas, fried chicken, Irish stew, hot dogs fancy and plain, and what about the pizza? So what makes Pete’s Pizza so special? Not the name, for sure. Maybe it’s the location, on the state highway across from the middle school. Kids eat a lot of pizza. But four times as much pizza as a larger place a half-mile away?
That’s what bank records show. Sizeable deposits twice a week, then smaller withdrawals the following week – makes it look like cash flow, payroll, supplies, taxes, things regular businesses pay. One name stood out. Dragon Wholesalers. Supposed to be a grocery supply outfit, except none of the larger companies that make or import restaurant supplies — flour, oil, olives, pepperoni, cheese, pizza boxes — have any record of selling anything to Dragon Wholesalers.”
Three photos overlaid filled the computer screen.
“These buildings, according to tax records, are owned by Dragon Wholesalers. The corporation is licensed in Delaware. The address is a law office where no one answers the phone. According to the records of incorporation, the owner is one Taylor Mangot I. They’re empty.”
A new photo entered the screen. It was a gray, old newspaper photo showing a brick building with a crowd of people in front. Four of them, three men and a woman, were in handcuffs.
“The is one of the Dragon Wholesalers buildings, the one on Dubin Place. It was in the news fifteen years ago because authorities made four arrests there. Inside was a drug processing operation, which police determined was selling millions of dollars of drugs across the region. Police also found four bodies in the warehouse.”
A photo of several newspaper headlines filled the screen.
“Eventually state and federal cops tracked down the suppliers in two states and overseas. Fifty arrests were made, including a few customs inspectors and cops. One person who escaped apprehension was the building owner, Taylor Mangot I. Some police even wondered if he existed. Anyone can create a signature, right?”
Then a series of photos of buildings flowed across the screen.
“These are the properties of a series of companies that share some version of the name Dragon. They are scattered throughout Ironton and North Jersey. A few, like these three small offices building in Morristown, have rent-paying tenants.
A few other, somewhat larger warehouses, have a single tenants occupying a tiny office. Many –many – other are vacant, yet income has been reported for each of them.”
All of those buildings matter because of this.”
Four new photos filled the screen. The first was the block on Warren Street that housed apartments and businesses. Next was the same block collapsed into a dusty and burning pile of rubble. Then there was the same block stripped back to naked walls, some supported by a series of wooden cross beams. The last photo was the same block hidden behind a large billboard draped with a black plastic sheet.
“All those other buildings matter because of this one. Twelve weeks ago it blew up and the Ironton community was worried about the fates of perhaps a hundred people who it was thought lived there. That’s according to city and utility company records which indicated the upper floors of those four buildings were fully occupied. Actually, only three apartments were filled. Records listed the names of tenants for all the thirty-five apartments. They were ghosts. Yet company records, the company being one of those entities with a Dragon name, showed rental income for all the units.
That only matters because in a couple, days, Ironton Mayor Jesus Ollivar will announce a huge tax break for the owner of the site, Dragon Associates, to build a new giant glass-faced complex on the site of the explosion and neighboring properties that will be suddenly deemed in need or redevelopment. A plan on file the city planning department indicates that everything from Warren Street to the old theater will be demolished. The theater is a registered historic site, and apparently the developers are in too much of a hurry to try to change that.”
A new video filled the screen. Mayor Ollivar and a tall man in black suit and dark glasses walked along the edge of the site, stopping at the billboard. They turned, apparently in response to a voice, and then took up positions at the side of the billboard and smiled.
“The person behind this plan is Taylor Mangot II, the gentlemen on the right. At least, he seems to exist.”
Dawson struck a key and froze that photo on the screen.
Took a chance on a genre I usually don’t read, steampunk. An entertaining and at times adventurous story.
“The Vitruvian Heir, Book One: The Unraveling, ” by L.S. Kilroy is a story as old as history and as new as the post-punk Neo-Victorian setting that reveals a world ruined by narrow and corrupt patriarchal rule and the revolution that hopes to over throw it.
Vitruvia is the former United States, a festering society ruled by a male-dominated dictatorship that uses social and military power and religion to terrorize its citizens. The rulers threaten anyone who opposes its decrees by using technology that seems like magic to make murderous examples of those they suspect of distrust. They hold “trials” whose results are predetermined.
The modern concerns about women’s rights, sexual freedom, economic equality and racial justice are woven into the tale, as are a bubbling revolution that seeks to over throw the powerful. Virtuvia could exist in any time in human history.
The story focuses on the life of Lorelei Fetherston, the daughter of privilege, who rebels against the tradition of an arranged marriage. The rebellion leads her to a subterranean world of dangerous happenings and then to another country where parts of her past gain clarity. Is she the “Vitruvian heir” of the title?
The plot is as intricate as the many of the postpunk devices used for apparent magic or torture. All the characters have secrets and long histories they hide behind. To the author’s credit no character is without layers, although some, even in complicated dress, seem caricatures.
At times Kilroy’s writing lifts the characters and the story along in a thrilling, brilliant prose that is a wonder to read. At other times the story is weighted down by long italicized backstories of newly introduced characters, which while important, blunt the story by draining energy from the telling.
The Frank Nagler Mysteries are set in a fictional city called Ironton, N.J.
It is based in the actual town of Dover, N.J., in Morris County. For nearly two centuries Dover was the center of an important iron manufacturing industry that generated thousands of jobs and millions of dollars for it owners. Dover’s fate is also closely tied to the creation of the Morris Canal and the growth of railroads across the region.
All of these aspects play a part in the Frank Nagler Mysteries.
Morris County readers of the series will recognize the street names – Blackwell, Warren, Sussex, Bassett Highway – and other sites, such as Barry’s Luncheonette, sadly lost to a fire a couple of years ago.
One place I use again and again is called the “stoveworks.” Located on Richboynton Road, it was the site of a large plant that manufactured stoves and furnaces. After laying vacant for a number of years, the site was renovated about 20 years ago.
I use the site before it was renovated, when it was dark, silent and creepy.
Here is a scene from the current Nagler WIP, “Dwell in the Places of our Horrors.”
Nagler parked in the power company lot, a half-mile from the stoveworks, his car tucked behind a couple rusted tanks. He thought about the chief’s comment about no more stunts.
Can’t promise anything.
Thousand workers filled these buildings, back then, he thought as he edged his way toward the main stoveworks building. The yard was littered with industrial detritus and he skulked from broken rusted trucks, to piles of stone and brick to stoves and doors and stovepipes dumped and crushed, all the while scanning the road, the rail line and the empty buildings for any signs that he was not alone. His father’s last job was shifting glowing metal parts hooked to chains and pulleys from the molding room to the cooling line; his father’s face had a permanent tan from the heat and his arms were laced with small burn scars and his clothes had a dozen burned-edged holes. All that work, Nagler thought, all those hours and it barely kept the house warm. It hollowed him out, just like these building shells. These places once glowed with a holy fire of commerce, men and metal the fuel for the progress that seemed always one dim corner ahead. A hundred years work left in cold, stark silence.
The afternoon sun shimmered in the west-facing windows of the two buildings that had been repaired years before awaiting occupancy that never arrived, while the rest shuddered in a long, shadowed canyon formed by the three-story stoveworks plant that lined both sides of the narrowing road.
A commuter train rattled by, sweeping sound with it through the last turn before downtown leaving a windy silence and a scattering of dry leaves.
Nagler stepped through the hole in the battered chain link fence, the metal signs that glared in scarred red paint CAUTION and NO TRESPASSING rattling like empty laughter.
Inside the fence, he paused and swept around in a full circle to sense the areas of shadow and light. So many places to hide.
The homeless camp was at the southern end of the cavernous, hollow complex. Nagler stopped his careful sole-sliding walk and strained to hear any voices, but he was too far away. A few more steps, another stop. There was only the vague echoed drip of unseen water and the metallic creaking of ancient iron beams.
A flutter of pigeons above his head captured his attention; a faint rattle, maybe a can, echoed. A place so still, he could hear his own breathing.
Del and me knew this place, he thought. As kids they scrambled in and under the parked train cars, crawled over the piles of discards and got yelled at by guards. It made sense later that Del in the throes of his addictions and poverty came here. Abandoned buildings, abandoned people.
In the dimness Nagler saw a worn pathway, the dust kicked aside by countless shoes.
Would they follow me here?
He varied his pace, at once quick, then slow with long strides. He slapped his leather soles on the cement floor in rhythm. Sometimes deliberately hard, then a sudden stop. Was that echo my step or someone behind that wall ahead?
Then, outside, the sound of a motor idling. But there was a wall without windows. Nagler quick-stepped to a partition near a window smeared with greasy dust, but it gave him no clear view of the road. He closed his eyes to concentrate: The engine sputtered to his distant right, the sound like smoke funneled through the concrete canyon. A slight grumble of acceleration, then silence.
He reached for his phone to call dispatch to send a patrol car along the highway looking for a white van but held off. Jesus, Frank. If they were here. they would have already shot you.
A voice shattered the silence. “Hey man, whatchu want?”
The sound caused Nagler to break into a cold sweat.
“Hey, Bennie, It’s me, Frank Nagler.” His throat was dry and his voice creaked like a broken hinge.
“Oh, man, Brother Nagler. Don’t be sneakin’.”
Bennie was bearded giant, his bulk swollen by layers of sweater and jackets. He had become leader of the homeless clan since Del’s death a year before.
“Wasn’t sneaking, Bennie.” Nagler coughed as the enormity of Bennie’s stink filled the space. “Was there a van at your end a few minutes ago?”
“Yah. The county health folks. Somethin’ about testing, but, shit, Frank, every time they want to test us, one of us ends up in lockup. So we sorta politely decline, get it?”
“I get it, but there is that thing going around.”
Bennie waved a hand. “There’s always a thing.”
Nagler pulled out Tony’s photo and held it at arms’ length. “Seen this guy?”
Bennie tipped the photo to the light, then nodded. “Off and on, last couple weeks. Said someone is looking for him.”
“That would be me.”
“Naw. Couple other guys. Here a week ago. Some Hispanic kid trying to act tough in his black hoodie over his head and reaching into his pants like he was packin’. The guy in charge was this old, shrunken Irish, black leather, scarred face. Tough guy, no bullshit. Said they was cash involved.”
McCarroll. Damn it. Dancer was right. Wonder if he left town.
“Anyone tell him anything?”
Bennie wiped a smile on his face. “Naw. We hang together. You know that.
We told Tony and he split.”
Nagler pulled out a twenty. “Pass the word. Tell Tony I’ll be at the Old Iron Bog. Two days. He’ll know where.”
The Nagler Mysteries are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.com
Heads in the bank lobby rose and then quickly fell eyes nailed to the floor as Lauren Fox chose not to kick the piles of paper at her feet across the room.
Instead, she fell to her knees, grabbed her head and muttered, “Fuck.”
Not a fuck of anger, not a fuck of disappointment or defeat. But a fuck of tired recognition.
It had been there all along, the trail. The money, the properties, the players, one by one, year by year, deal by deal.
“And we couldn’t connect it.”
She scooped up a handful of papers, stood, and crossed to the white board at the rear of the office. Until now.
Just as she began, Frank Nagler entered the office and she nodded him to wait off to the side.
On the board she wrote DRAGON.
“This is them, guys.” She tapped the board. “And this is also them.”
She began to write: DRAG.ON, DRAG, DRAG-ON, DRAGN, D.RAGON, D.R.AGON, DRA-GOON, DGN, DRA.N, and then a dozen more.
“Then add associates, institute, company, corporation, LLC, any version of a corporate name. Danny, run a program to determine how many anagrams can be made from Dragon. Then we search. They are in those boxes of paper files, in hidden corners of electronic files, on agendas, resolutions, bank statements. They’ve been coming before the city with plans for decades. Let’s find them.”
“Who are they,” Danny asked.
“The owners of the block that went blooey,” Lauren replied.
“I thought they were called Leviton, Inc.,” Danny said. “That what tax record indicated.”
“That’s right. Leviton. Leviathan. Dragon,” Lauren said. “They own nearly twenty percent of Ironton right now, and over the years have owned almost sixty percent of the real estate in this city through dummy corporations. They’re clever, so we need to be.”
“So someone targeted their holdings,” Danny said.
“No.” Lauren took a breath and shook her head several times. “They did it to themselves. What we don’t know is why.” She turned to face her staff. “It’s a desperate act to blow up you own property. We need to find out how desperate so we can anticipate what they will do next. Let’s go.”
Nagler greeted her with a smile.
Lauren used her foot to pull out a chair from under the adjacent desk, sat and dropped the papers in a messy pile. “Pick one: Taxes, bad investments, loss of tenants, death of a company principal. Those would be normal. But this is fraud, just like we thought. Remember all those empty apartments? It has taken tremendous skill and luck to hold all this together. Did their luck run out? Stuff you wouldn’t have to worry about now that you’re a YouTube star.”
“You saw it?”
“Hard to avoid.”
Lauren just smiled.
“Anyway,” Nagler said, “I remember you on your hands and knees yelling at a map of downtown Ironton.”
“Well, it’s worse that than,” she said. “I ran into Jack Williams, a gas company VP. He was on a commission a few years back that set up new rules for apartment inspections and occupancy. Each vacancy triggered an inspection. Jack said there had been a lot of paperwork filed for new tenants in those buildings in the past couple years, so a lot of inspections.”
“Would the new tenants be there?”
“No. Just the property owner or a representative.”
“I get it. They can fake their way through it.”
“But who’s paying the taxes and if the apartments are empty where does the money come from? Not from empty apartments That’s what we don’t know. But worse? I don’t know who among all these fine people will tip them off. You recall our conversation about leaks. Well, I’m just waiting, ”
“I know. Me, too.” Nagler stared at the white board with all the DRAGON names.
“Hey, isn’t the owner of that workers ghetto housing complex called Dragon Associates, Dragon something?”
She laid back in the chair and propped her feet on the desk and rolled her head back to stare at the ceiling. “Yeah, now that you mention it. God, I’ll have to find that paperwork. One more thing. We’ll figure it out, Frank. What brings you here, Unless you’re wondering why I’m stretched out like this before you.”
They shared a long, deep stare.
“We’ve answered that question before,” he said, and then smiled. “Been looking for Tony, the cook, and stopped by to tell you that McCarroll is in town.”
Lauren slipped her feet to the floor and rocked forward. “And he’s…?”
“The hit man from that old Carlton Dixon case. If he didn’t take those shots at Dawson, he knows who did, same for the explosion. I think Tony disappeared because he saw the bomber. I’ve got to find him and get him safe. And you, don’t run around town without an escort and text where you are. McCarroll is ruthless.
“So this is all connected.”
“Seems to be.” Nagler scanned the room. “Where’s Dan Yang? Had a question for him.”
Lauren stepped over and leaned her head in his chest. “He went back to the college for a couple of days. Said he had to set up the new semester.” She frowned comically, but her eyes held the worry. “So okay, I’ll become friend with my babysitter. Can I ask a favor? One of the young guys, a workout freak who looks like a young Brad Pitt would be cool. Can you arrange that?” She reached up and touched his face, grinning. “Never mind. You’ll do.”
“We’ll discuss that later,” he laughed.
“You do know where to find me, don’t you?”
“Yup. And I’ll bring the body lotion.” He kissed her hair. “Gotta run.”
“Hey, you. Wouldn’t McCarroll be after you, too?”
He wanted to reassure her, to say it would be okay. Instead, “Probably.”
The story so far: An explosion destroyed a couple blocks of Downtown Ironton, N.J. Detective Frank Nagler, newly reinstated, checks in with Lt. Maria Ramirez. Then they find a white van.
“For weeks downtown had been filled with the clanking, metallic crashing and thumping of heavy machinery and debris being moved and dumped, a clatter so persistent it left no space for other sounds, or silence.
And now all the noise was gone; the eerie quiet was not soothing, Nagler thought, but dangerous.
Inside his car, Nagler swiped his hand across his head a couple times and shook off the wetness. The car vibrated with the pounding rain. He leaned back in the seat, glanced at the rearview mirror and wondered why his eyes seemed so tired. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, for a moment content to be inside the car in an empty parking lot, hoping the heavy rain would give him a few moments of peace.
That wish was dismissed by the ping of his phone, a text from Ramirez: “Where U? Must C this.”
He exhaled deeply and glanced through the rain smeared side window before shouldering the door open and stepping into a face full of rain. Halfway across the lot his left foot slipped on a puddle and the pain doubled him over. “Oh, fuck,” he gritted his teeth and limped to the rear door of the police department where he leaned against a wall and slowed his breathing to dispel the pain in his throbbing left foot. “One of these days,” he shook his head and opened the inner door.
“Why are you limping” Ramirez asked Nagler without turning to face him. “Never mind, look at this.”
On the center computer screen was a blurry image of a light-colored van.
“Two days before the explosion,” she said.
“Bassett.” She opened another screen. “Then here.” She opened a third screen. “And here. Two days, A week before, two weeks before.”
Nagler dragged over a chair and squinted at the images. They were recorded on cameras some distance from where the van was parked. “Any sign of a driver?”
Ramirez opened a new camera view of Blackwell, east of the explosion site. “Hold on. Here’s the van again, about four o’clock, day before. Look at the side panel. That’s where a company would have a name and logo. Seems to have been scraped off.”
“What year you think that is?”
“Best guess, late 80s Ford Econoline.” Nagler chuckled. “So, one of several thousand.”
“Ah, Frank. Such a pessimist. One of sixty-two in Morris County. I’ve sent out an alert including the photo.”
“What does that tell us? One of the seventeen business in that strip got deliveries from a company with an old Ford van.”
Ramirez patted Nagler’s cheek twice.
“Tells us more than that.” She reached for a file on the desk and pulled out a photograph of what appeared to be the same van parked on an alley near old industrial buildings.
“Six months ago, east side. Remember that fire?”
“Shit, yes. Duval was just telling me what they found there. Gas cans and fertilizer. What the hell.”
In a mock seductive voice Ramirez said, “Oh my man, there is more.”
She extracted two more photos of the van from the folder.
“Traffic was doing parking enforcement in that area – for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Probably a cover operation for something else. It’s mostly empty buildings – and saw this van at least twice more. “Guess who it is registered to?”
Nagler laughing. “Oh, come on. Why are you dragging this out?”
Ramirez shared the laugh “What fun would it be if I just flat out told you?”
Then seriously, “Carlton Dixon.”
“The cop, who’s in jail.”
“Yeah, look. Here’s the reg,” and she showed him a print out of a vehicle registration.
He closed his eyes, scrunched up his forehead and shook his head. “That was fifteen years ago and he’s been in jail that long. The files said they used empty warehouses as drug stashes and transfer sites. Didn’t we close it down?”
“Loose ends, maybe?”
“That’s some loose end. Who’s driving it?”
Ramirez shrugged. “No clue. Doesn’t his daughter live in Boonton? Maybe they’ve seen it.”
“That’s all we need.” He stretched out his left foot to fight off a cramp and grimaced.
“What’d you do?” Ramirez asked.
“Slipped on the wet parking lot. Jammed my foot. Anyway, did those bomb scene cameras catch anything that looks like a driver of the van or a suspect, or is that asking too much?”
“We got a couple somebodies.” Ramirez opened two new views on the screen. “This one is on Blackwell at the Cuban place. Night before. Skinny kid, probably that kid who was killed.”
“You know he was murdered, right? Mulligan says stabbed.” Nagler tapped the screen. “With a bread knife.”
Ramirez scratched her forehead. “So I need to be looking for someone else.”
“I guess,” Nagler said. “What time was that camera shot?”
Ramirez strained to read the time stamp. “Looks like nine-thirty, nine twenty.”
“Mulligan said he was killed about ten. So if the timing is right, he was walking into his death and the killer might have been waiting for him? Jesus. What else?”
“Sorry to add on, but there’s this guy?” The screen displayed a figure of a hefty male leaving the alley. He was wearing ball cap and a shirt with wide vertical stripes. “Three a.m. the day of. On Bassett near the service alley.” Ramirez opened another file. “So, the restaurant kid was killed at ten, the place blew up at five the next morning, and this guy is leaving at three.”
“Can you print that out for me? Mulligan said the kid’s body was moved after he was killed. We’ve got no one else to look at. Who the hell are you?”
When Ramirez handed Nagler the photo of the second person, he did a double take. “I know that shirt. God damn it.”
“Tony. Barry’s cook. He’s been missing since the explosion.”
We want to live meaningful lives, times filled with love, joy and fulfillment.
But a meaningful life does not mean that it’s a life without sorrow, trouble or pain.
Such is the life presented by author Sarajane Giere in her memoir, “My Pilot: A story of War, Love and ALS.”
Giere relates the deep, important, nearly impossible and full life she shared with her husband of 52 years, Bernard Giere.
College sweethearts, they became a military family during the Vietnam War, in which Bernard flew 214 combat missions. He was shot down and survived a harrowing rescue. Later, his skill landed him a job as a commercial pilot, and eventually as a commander of a National Guard air rescue team.
This is simply told tale, but with deceptive depth. A grand and flowery telling would have diminished its meaning and impact.
The story is not just about Bernard.
It is about a national at war and the lasting changes generated by the decades of conflict.
It is also Sarajane’s story as she transforms from an uncertain military wife with two young children whose father is thousands of miles away at war, the terrible fear that he might not return exampled in the lives of friends and neighbors lost.
Bernard’s military service and his support of comrades after the war, his bravery and leadership, his love for Sarajane is ageless, to be sure.
There are also quiet heroes, family members and friends upon whom both Bernard and Sarajane rely.
But the central hero is Sarajane herself. From her time as a girl in love she pushed through obstacles, both social, military and personal, to emerge face-to-face with herself to tell the tale of her love, her pilot, hero and husband.
She would probably not agree with this assessment, seeing herself as a companion and lover of a meaningful man.
But to call her a hero is not to diminish Bernard’s life, but to celebrate and understand it.
The title is the key: “My Pilot.”
My pilot: my hero, my guiding light, my teacher. Sarajane’s life reflects and celebrates what she learned.
The result is a life worth living and a story worth telling.
A note of transparency: This book was published by Imzadi Publishing, which is also my publisher. The cover was designed by Anita-Dugan-Moore, who has also designed my book covers, and I am a former newspaper colleague of Lorraine Ash, the editor of this book.
Some of the plot issues in the new Frank Nagler story come together.
It was always gray, the ghetto was; dim, shadowed by the rocky face of Swedes Hill whose eastern ridge marked the spot in Ironton where the coal smoke from the stoveworks slammed into the eastern sunlight and then filtered down to coat the roofs of the workers’ shacks, the dusty, cobbled streets, and the dreams of kids like Frank Nagler.
That was the life he saw as he examined the mural being painted by Destiny
Wonder on the expansive wall that filled one side of the lobby of the public housing complex. Nagler’s soft, “Wow” caught her attention, and she stopped painting.
“You’re Frank, right?”
He turned to greet the voice. Destiny was a short, thin woman with blonde hair spangled with streaks of blue and green. One strap of her black bib coveralls slipped from her bare, muscular shoulder.
“I’m Destiny. LT said you were coming.”
“I’m supposed to meet Lauren and…LT?”
“Yeah, Maria. You know, Lieutenant Maria Ramirez. LT. I’m her partner.”
Nagler tipped his head trying not be embarrassed. “I’m, I’m, sorry.. all the time we have worked together… I never asked or even thought…”
“Hey, Okay. She has to be cool about it. She wants to be chief, and this place ain’t ready for a queer police chief.” Destiny’s voice took on a dismissive tone.
“Wait, that’s not what I meant,” Nagler said. “Maria should have been named captain while I was out. I’m going to take that up after we get this bombing settled. She’s qualified. That’s all that matters. It’s not a question I ask, not because I don’t care or understand the implications, but because it doesn’t matter to me.” His glance softened. “Do your job. That’s all I care about.”
A half smile. Destiny said, “She said you’d say that.”
Nagler touched the mural.
“I grew up here.” His voice was suddenly heavy and moist. He reached for a shadowed face, squared jawed with dark, brooding eyes. “That could be my grandfather. His face was always hard, except when he looked at my grandmother. Eyes between anger and sadness.”
“It could be,” Destiny said, as she tapped another face with the wooden bush handle. “This one my grandfather, and this one his brother.” She tapped another, incomplete face. “I’m basing the faces and scenes on photos from the historical society.”
Destiny smiled. “That partner of yours, Lauren Fox, is one smart lady. She knew when this complex was proposed, she could not stop it for a bunch of governmental reasons, but she fought for some changes, more efficient heating and cooling systems, better sound proofing, a neighborhood playground, and this, to mark the history of the ghetto which was being plowed under. The developer was not pleased.”
“Sounds like her. Who’s the developer?”
“Over here.” Destiny stepped over to a pencil drawing that looked like a dragon. “It’s not done yet. I think I’ll do it in red, for the dragon, and for the blood that was spilled by the workers that made the company all that money.”
“Why a dragon?” “That’s the company’s name, Dragon Associates. Why?”
Nagler squinted at the drawing and then at the floor. “I’ve heard that name before, or something like it.” He waved hand at the mural. “Wonderful work. It’ll come to me.”
“You know what they will never get?” Destiny asked with a smirk. “How subversive this mural will be. Their corporate dragon logo is benign, almost cartoonish, symbolizing tradition and leadership. Mine will be angry, domineering with a trace of evil in its eyes. The company men will see it as a symbol of power, but the power I will draw will be in the faces of the workers. Their eyes will be both hard and yearning, fists clenched around tools, not symbols of progress, but of defiance, the torches they carry not signs of safety, but a rising.”
Nagler smiled with appreciation. “That’s a big goal.”
“The trick,” she said, “Is that on the face, it will seem a work celebrating the company that built this center, because we like simple stories and want to believe that all is good. But in detail it will be anti-establishment, celebrating not the masters, but those they thought they mastered.” She stepped along the wall, brushing her fingers across painted faces and pencil sketches of others. “Celebrating not the end, because there is no end, but the struggle for what continues, for dignity, family and love. It will celebrate you and your family and that of Del Williams…” she touched a dark face that Nagler recognized in that instant as that of his old friend. “And my family and Maria’s, and everyone who came before to build this city and fill these unnumbered streets with life.” Destiny leaned her back against the wall, tipped her head back, her face composed. “And if they miss the point, which they will,” she twirled and slapped her hand at a spot on the wall, “Right there will be me and Maria, arms enwrapped, lips pressed together, wearing brightest rainbow t-shirts I can create.” She turned to face Nagler, her left shoulder pressed against the wall. “Because we all belong.”
The cheering voices of Maria Ramirez and Lauren Fox echoed across the vacant space, their heels slapping on the bare concrete floor.
“She gave you the nickel tour, I guess,” Ramirez said as she hugged Destiny. “Ain’t she something?”
Lauren wrapped an arm around Nagler as he asked. “How did you pull this off?”
“The builder had a deadline to tap into a federal loan program. I had a choice. I could have dragged out the approval for months, which would have forced them to pull out of the development, or I could have handed them a list of, shall we say, needs, including this mural.”
“Of course you did,” he said. “Did they approve the artist?”
“I gave them no choice. I did offer a theme, ‘the triumph of progress,’ or some horseshit. I gave the project to Destiny, and look what we got.”
Nagler kissed her hair. “Yeah, but I don’t think you wanted to meet me here for an art appreciation class.”
“Yeah, we got a problem, Frank,” Ramirez said, tipping her head toward a distant corner of the room. “That’s why we’re here. No prying eyes or ears.”
Once there, Nagler said, “I know. We have a leak in the department. Remember that kid, Mahala Dixon? She said someone in Boonton was talking about that white van. I told her she needed to stop talking about it. How the hell would they know?
The two women shared a look. “More than one, Frank,” Lauren said.
“We set a trap,” Ramirez said, and pointed to Lauren to continue.
“After the flood five years ago we got a federal grant to replace the computers in all city departments. We got new computers and a load of new software, especially for system security and intrusion defense. We announced that. What we didn’t say is that we also installed in some of the most advanced anti-hacking software available from an unknown source as a pilot program. Stuff that was not available on the common marketplace. What no one knows is that our source upgrades the software constantly. A little trade-off.”
“I never knew that,” he said with appreciation. Then he chuckled. “I thought we didn’t keep secrets.”
Lauren patted his chest. “If I told you who gave it to use, I’d have to kill you.” She smiled, teasing. “Actually, now that you know this, they may kill you anyway.”
“Oh, good. I’ll just go step in front of a truck to save them the trouble. Do we know who the spies are?”
“Not yet,” Maria said. “They’ve used multiple names and hotspots. “But we know that they are looking at the financial files that Lauren has gathered, and this is odd, the files from the old Carlton Dixon case, like photos of the white truck.”
Nagler held up a hand to stop her. “This is beyond me. I can barely answer my phone, which you both know. “
Lauren shared a wink with Maria.
“Told you he’d say that,” she said. “We’re counting that our opponents also know that,” she said to Nagler. “So we set up a dummy Frank Nagler online.”
“What’s that mean?”
“In the real world not a thing,” Ramirez said. “Virtually, online that is, and there is no way to say this politely, you are bait.”
The gray edge of dusk chased the sunlight across the grassy expanse of the Locust Street Cemetery, a burning streak of light between. Silence, windless, settled.
Frank Nagler knelt to adjust the flower vase at his wife’s grave, his shoulders slumping in the renewed sorrow. He reached to brush imaginary dust from the top of her red granite marker, his hand seemingly powerless to move. Finally, he stood and touched the front of Del Williams’ nearby marker. Peace, he thought, peace for both of you. He closed his eyes and felt again that last ambulance trip as the cancer claimed Martha, the pain that had edged her fine face finally gone. And Del, gunned down.
“All of this, here.”
The flicker of an occasional eternal flame candle caught his eye, the tiniest lights in growing darkness. Are they enough?
He bowed his head and tried to still the turmoil.
When his left ankle cramped from standing, he turned to climb the hill back to the road. Parked behind his own car was a black SUV.
“Jerome,” Nagler said to the smiling driver who held open the rear door.
“Frank.” Jerome raised his eyebrows and grinned.
In the car, Sister Katherine adjusted the nose piece to her oxygen unit.
“Come sit, Frank. It’s been too long.”
It had been weeks since the announcement of her illness. She seemed smaller than usual, shrunken into withered, blue-veined skin. Light from the open window infused her thinning hair with a translucent glow. Nagler felt his heart clutch at her appearance. “Sister, I…”
“No, Francis, not yet. Not now.” She reached for his hand. “I have arranged with Father Alonzo to hold a simple ceremony,” she said, her voice thin. “I do not want the church leaders to stand before a congregation and praise my work when they schemed so hard to end or discredit it.” She turned her head to gaze out the window and then looked back with a smile. “I would not want them to blaspheme.”
“The work you did mattered to so many. I, well Martha and I…”
“I have watched you grow from a scrawny, poor worker’s ghetto child into a man, a leader. I saw you and Martha face those challenges with love and bravery. That was my life. And now this is my life.”
She reached to her side and handled Nagler a manila envelope.
“I understand you have crossed paths with Mahala Dixon. She is not what she seems, which you will see as you read this.”
“How do you…?”
He had seen that smile before. “I might have chosen a way outside the main flow of life, but I not totally apart. Besides, an old nun sitting at a table during a festival will not turn down the offer of a cup of tea and conversation.” She coughed out a soft laugh. “It’s something, I believe, about the garb. Anyway I met Mahala and her mother Janelle during the time Carlton Dixon, Mahala’s father, was involved in that case of which you have become familiar.”
“She seems like an angry kid.”
Sister Katherine nodded to the envelope. “It is more than anger. Read this.” After a silence, she said. “This is not a place of just peace. And, no, I don’t come here to examine which plot will be mine. It is already chosen, next to my sister. This is where we face the conflicts and trials, ask the hard questions of our lives. All these souls writhing, questions never answered. No, I don’t come here to sample the supposed peace of life, but to confront again its inequities, its pains and injustices. My sister was murdered for greed and depravity. Del, much the same. I come here to battle for the lives who were tarnished, diminished and forgotten. Before we pass, we must revisit the places of our horrors. Mine are here.”
Nagler wanted to respond, but she cut him off.
“My horrors are here. Yours are not. Walk again the streets of the ghetto, the damaged, dirty streets of industry. Those are your places of sadness.That’s where you are, Francis, where you have always been. Ask why. And as you ask, you may see why Mahala Dixon has done the things she has done.”
She reached for his hand and kissed it with dry lips. “I must go.”
From the roadside as the SUV pulled away, Nagler wondered if he might ever see the sister again. Before he could open the envelope, his phone rang. It was Mulligan, the medical examiner. “Got it, on my way.”
You should buy this book. Even though it’s the fourth in the series, it’s the first in the chronology of the story, so it’s a good place to start. The texture in Daigle’s writing is quite unusual. When they find a victim’s bracelet, you learn about the entire family of the jeweler who made it. When the detective walks down the street you see every leaf, every puddle, every paper blown against a chain-link fence. Pure imagery. When you read this book you will see it play on a TV screen in your head. There’s a level of dramatic tension that’s maintained throughout the book. But it’s not the same throughout. Each sub-plot or sub-story has its own feeling of wtf is about to happen? When Nagler leaves a crime scene to go to this wife, the tension is different and maybe greater. The detective is not a super smart, super sleuth. He’s an ordinary guy who could have ended up in a homeless shelter except for a wife that fell in love with him when they were seven years old. He’s new on the job, slightly over his head, and consumed by the crimes. I often read mysteries in a single sitting. I couldn’t do that with this book. There’s too much going on. And that’s a good thing.
Previous Frank Nagler Mysteries:
THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY:
A GAME CALLED DEAD: . A Runner-Up in the Shelf Unbound 2016 Best Indie Book contest.
THE WEIGHT OF LIVING: First Place for Mysteries in the 2017 Royal Dragonfly Book Award contest; Notable 100 Book, Shelf Unbound 2018 Indie Book Awards; Named a Distinguished Favorite, 2018 Independent Press Awards; Distinguished Favorite in the 2018 Big NYC Book Contest; Finalist in the 2019 Book Excellence Awards. Gold Award Winner, 2020 Elite Choice Awards.
THE RED HAND: Distinguished Favorite in the 2019 Big NYC Book Contest; Second Place winner for mysteries in the 2019 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards; Notable 100 Book in the 2019 Shelf Unbound Indie Book Awards; Distinguished Favorite in the 2020 Independent Press Awards; Nominee in the 2020 TopShelf Book Award; Gold Award Winner, 2020 Elite Choice Awards.
The Red Hand: “A winning origin story for one of modern fiction’s expertly drawn detectives.” — Kirkus Reviews https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Stephen-Daigle/e/B00P5WBOQC
“The Red Hand” was named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2019 Big NYC Book Contest
Named Second Place winner for mysteries in the 2019 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards
Named a Notable 100 Book in the 2019 Shelf Unbound Indie Book Awards
Named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2020 Independent Press Awards
A Nominee in the 2020 TopShelf Book Awards
Named A Gold Star Award winner in the 2020 Elite Choice Book Awards
The Frank Nagler Mysteries An Anthology https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1793859523/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i4
“A Game Called Dead” was named a Runner-Up in the Shelf Unbound 2016 Best Indie Book contest.
“The Weight of Living” was awarded First Place for mysteries in the 2017 Royal Dragonfly Book Award contest;
Named A Notable 100 Book, Shelf Unbound 2018 Indie Book Awards;
Named a Distinguished Favorite, 2018 Independent Press Awards.
Named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2018 Big NYC Book Contest.
Named a Finalist in the 2019 Book Excellence Awards.
Named A Gold Star Award winner in the 2020 Elite Choice Book Awards