Next Nagler story: “A Game Called Dead” Chapter 1

I’ve been working on the next Frank Nagler story.  It involves a video game gone real life, murder, Nagler’s friend Leonard, a blind bookstore owner, and an old case from early in Nagler’s career that forces him to reveal a secret he  has carried for years.

Chapter 1

 

More dangerous than the noisy destruction was what came next.  More frightening than the bellowed cursing, the books slamming against the wall, the crashes and banging as tables and shelves were overturned, was it all ending. More deadly than the laughter and insults and taunts was what filled the room when they stopped.

Silence.

Then the floor creaked. The visitor pushed over one more table before the door slowly opened and whispered shut; Leonard didn’t move for twenty minutes.

He was raging when he arrived, alerted by the call from the local police dispatcher.

“Why didn’t they call me sooner,” Frank Nagler bellowed. “Look at this crap. I was just across town. I probably could have got here before our little friend left.”

As soon as he said it, Nagler knew it wasn’t true.   He was ten miles away at the police academy teaching a course on crime scene analysis.  “You alright, Leonard?” he asked , but didn’t wait for an answer.  Leonard would just tell him to calm down, that everything was fine. He had rolled his chair as close to the main window as possible; he said that sometimes the light seemed to stimulate his blind eyes and he thought that if he stared into the heat of the sun enough maybe he would be able to see a color or a shape, something other than the greyness.

 

Nagler closed his eyes and calmed himself. But inside he raged because there was little else to do.

“They were just better days, Leonard. Everything is changing.” Nagler’s raw voice cracked as he  stepped over and around the fallen books,  broken glass and shelves. Like stepping around dog shit in the park, Frank Nagler thought. They used to clean it up. Now it just sits there and gets covered by leaves. And I step in it, he said half-aloud.

“What was that, Frank?” Leonard hunched in the wheelchair out of Frank’s way, deep in the dark recesses of the damaged store. Leonard’s book store had been robbed and though  only a few dollars from the cash register had been taken, or maybe because of it, the thief trashed the store. Scattered everywhere were books, magazines, pamphlets, newspapers: knowledge and information in all forms rendered mute; volumes were bent open at the spine, cocked at odd angles like bodies after some terrible automobile crash, frozen in grotesque poses of death, or  pages had been torn out in crude fistful surgery.  Decapitated Playboy bunnies still smiled seductively as their perfect bronzed bodies were ground under dirty heels.  A chair hurled against a wall had shattered a glass case. Broken boards, twisted metal and torn display signs covered the floor.

“Just better times,” Nagler yelled out this time, angry at something but not exactly sure what. To his own ears his voice sounded pinched and narrow as he had felt his face become. He bent over to pick up a book that appeared to be undamaged, folded it carefully closed and brushed the cover with his coat sleeve. He looked for somewhere to place it but everything in the room was at angles, smashed, demolished. He tossed it back on the floor.

Leonard felt a new silence growing like dust in his throat, choking the breath from him. He followed Frank’s shuffling.

“Please, Frank,” Leonard heard his voice crack. “Your friends at the police station have done the best they can. They took fingerprints and recorded the damage. They even called  Dennis, my insurance agent for me. They had a new officer with them, Frank.”

Even in his gloom Leonard thought in incident was funny.  “He asked me to describe the thief, and I told him as much as I could, not having actually seen him. He then became frustrated with what he perceived as my ignorance or lack of cooperation and started shouting and slapping his book against his hands, saying, ‘Come on, come on,’ until another officer, I think it was John Doyle, told him I was blind. Then he started stammering and apologizing and I imagined his face glowing bright red.”

Frank had stopped pacing and listened to the story. Training, he thought. They just don’t train ’em right today.  That’s why I’m at the academy, Nagler thought, because I’m such a damn genius.

“What’d you tell them?”

“It seemed the thief was very tall, well over six feet, because his voice seemed to float over my head and never descended to my level at all. It was a husky voice, but young-sounding, like a teen-ager with a heavy cold. He told me to stay put. I started chuckling and asked him where he thought I was going. But he was not humored. He must have been very strong, Frank, because I could hear the squealing of the nails and the sound of the wood shattering and the plaster falling.”  He fell silent as a chill brought on by his story crawled up his back and tightened his throat. He let out a whispered, nervous laugh. “Don’t move,” he said, recovering.  “Seriously, Frank, these youngsters watch too much television.”

Frank stared at the blind man as he told of the robbery. As usual Leonard was staring off into a direction opposite where he was standing, the old troubled eyes fluttering open and shut as he talked, and the man’s hands nervously clasping and releasing the rails of his chair, his body pitched forward as if looking for nickels in the sand.  He knew Leonard would never really speak of the terror he must have felt. Frank lifted one leg to step over the smashed remains of some shelving and only then did he notice how the warm air had become heavy with dust raised by his pacing; his shoes were covered with a fine powder.

“Frank.” Leonard’s voice was weary and small. “I’ll make some tea. Come sit a while.”

But for a few minutes the shuffling continued, and Leonard took comfort in the friendly sounds that replaced for now the crashing and pounding that for those few minutes  had filled his ears.

If Frank’s voice served as Leonard’s eyes, it was the steady, shuffling walk — that old policeman’s walk, Frank called it — that soothed Leonard greatly. It was that walk, a deliberate step, the grinding of small bits of sand shifting from one foot to the other and a swift scuffle as a heel caught on a crack of the sidewalk, a pace sure and slow as the alternate tick tock of a pendulum clock:  right, left, right, left, that Leonard forever understood as safety. It was that walk that would approach as the tough boys grabbed him as he sat on the corner or would take his few coins and bump him into the street as he would hear the clatter of their swift shoes running down the street; and then he would feel a strong hand at his elbow, a second one brushing the dirt from his pants and jacket and a voice saying, It’s all right, son.

And later, after Leonard opened the book store, that shuffling would arrive each day near four o’clock and Frank’s voice would review the day’s events.

Nagler was stationed just around the corner then, at the old Tribune Street police station. When he started out, his beat included these old dark streets along the river bank to the south, the railroad yard to the east and ran a crazy trail though the winding narrow streets of Ironton, New Jersey up to the ballpark on the north side.

It was an immigrant’s ward. Streets were lined with rows of narrow buildings whose single front doors never opened and successive rear doors, piled on top of each other like open crates — like sewer holes, Nagler thought sometimes after cleaning up one more knife fight –they opened suspiciously. But the wash hung like angels off strings on creaky wheels nailed to porch posts, the white sheets and Papa’s work pants rippling in the smelly breeze rising off the green river, swinging in the shadow of the mill that gave them life.  A journey that began in the old country when they all packed themselves like rats into the dark, wet hold of a steamer ended here when a man in a brown coat greeting the ships in New York City handed them fare for the  railroad, a dollar for a meal and a slip of paper telling the conductor where to throw them off the train. And in the rocking, loud railcars, each of them studied another piece of paper and mouthed carefully the words the man in the brown coat said would get them a job.

And they filled the shops and iron mill with the pounding of hammers and the bars with shouted chatter, the bakeries with warm bread and the narrow houses with children as they marched into the future with their friend, the industrialist, as a guide. When the times were good, the wine flowed freely. But when the crashes came and went, the bitterness grew with each leaving, and the ironmakers’ children saw walls where their fathers had seen doors. Under the layers of industrial haze the darkness never seemed to end.

Frank Nagler was a son of that city when Irish wakes and Polish polkas competed for space on the west side and Italians on Richard’s Street made strong wine in the cellar and young men in stiff collars waited nervously in the dark sitting room while Mamma and Papa argued about his worthiness to escort their sweet Maria to the high school prom; days of dirty streets, dirty politics and mean, tough men standing on the street corners smoking, tucked inside their great, black coats.

But the ballpark’s gone now, Nagler thought, taken down for the interstate highway. And some of the old tenements fell when the state built a new bridge. Then blocks of old storefronts fell to the battalions of steel and cement as promenades replaced homes, plazas replaced bakeries and a whole way of life was deserted brick by brick and now is buried under a shimmer of sodium-vapor lights whose golden-hued glow can not disguise the emptiness.

 

 

For Leonard it seemed that the only friendly sounds left were the shuffling of Frank’s slow walk and the soft assurance of his voice. There seemed to be no dimension to the world anymore,  Leonard thought, no way to tell from where the squealing car had come, no way of knowing whether the door that just slammed was his or half a block away. (How high is the ceiling? How high above my head? How large is this world we inhabit? So often it seems no bigger than the empty space that reaches out to grab my hand as I seek the wall for balance. So far; I pray for one moment of light.)

“Leonard.” Frank’s voice was closer than Leonard had guessed and he was startled by the sound.  “How long has this been going on?  This is not the first break-in, I take it.”  Leonard cringed. “Why didn’t you tell me about it?”

Leonard shifted in his chair, listening as the wheels crunched over glass on the floor.  “You’re right, Frank. There have been others, maybe four or five.”  He waved his hand in the air; he wanted to touch Frank’s arm to say he was not harmed.

“Four or five?” Frank’s voice rose in anger.  “Four or five? You could have been killed. You could…”

“Oh, Frank.”  Now it was Leonard’s turn for sarcasm. The blind man found his friend’s arm and pulled it toward him, trying to get Nagler  to sit, although on what he was uncertain. “Am I supposed to bother you with every little incident? They usually occur in the morning. And I’d hardly call them break-ins. The shop is opened and the unlocked. Whoever it is pushes the door open, fumbles through the shelves a moment or two, drops a couple of books on the floor and takes the change I leave on the front counter for the paper boy.  I’m hardly in danger. I suspect it’s some youngster on his way to school.  Maybe it’s even someone from the handicapped school down the street.”

Frank cleared his throat in disgust. “Well, you don’t know that for sure, Leonard. Look, I’ll just come around in the morning from now on and we’ll see if we can’t catch that little sneak thief.” Leonard heard the pleasure in Frank’s voice — the pleasure of being needed again–and was relieved; what he could not see was the devilish grin on his face.

Leonard threw out one more tease.  “But, Frank, you have things to do.”

“What things?” The old man’s voice was light. “I’m a cop working for  a pension. My schedule consists of walking around the streets like an old fool, sitting in the park on busted benches waiting for people who never show up, stopping in bars to see if any more of my friends have died or trying to teach a bunch of wanna-be cops about procedure.”  Frank Nagler laughed at the condition of his life. “Leonard, I can probably fit you in.”

Leonard said nothing as he heard Frank get out of the seat next to him and walk toward the front of the store. Well, Leonard thought, at least I moved him off that point. Then Nagler paused near the front door of the shop and inspected the frame for any signs of forced entry. He swung the door open and peered at the lock. He shut the door again, and then quickly opened it and was puzzled that something seemed to be missing. He did it again: Swung open the door and let it slam shut. He looked up.

The bell was gone.

He had hung a small bell on a metal hook so that it would ring each time the door was opened, announcing the act to Leonard. Nagler was stumped: Who would want that damn bell?

“Leonard, how long has that bell been missing?” Frank’s voice boomed across the shattered room.

Leonard jumped. He was tired, weary of the inquisition; he had felt oddly settled when the voice slammed into his reverie. The bell. It had become so much a part of the environment he hardly ever heard it anymore. But he couldn’t tell Frank that. How long had it been missing, he mused. In the dark it was to tell how long was long.

“I can’t really say, Frank.”

“Well, I don’t like it.”  The voice was beside the chair.  “I can’t have you sitting here in the dark with no way of knowing when someone enters the front door. The neighborhood’s changed. And since they moved city hall, the nearest police station is eight blocks away. I’ve been thinking about this for sometime and now is the time to do it.”

“Do what?” Leonard was unsettled by the odd cheeriness in Frank’s voice.

“A new security system.”

“Oh, Frank, don’t trouble…”

“No trouble at all, my boy.” Frank clapped his hands. It’s an electronic system, you see. It’s wired into the door so that each time it opens it trips a buzzer and announces your visitor. I’m surprised your insurance company didn’t  insist on one before.”

“Like the bell did.” Leonard brightened. If he hadn’t, Frank’s cheer would have washed him out of the room. “Why don’t we get another bell?”

“Because someone stole the bell, Leonard.” The voice was as cold as December. “Besides we can have this system tied into a security company that will notify the police if there’s trouble. How’s that?”

Leonard felt himself withdrawing again, pulling back to that cold place in his heart, to be surrounded by its ice walls. He despised the talk about safety, as if he was ever safe. How safe can you be when you can’t see? But more, he felt helpless when favors were done for him. It was because he was blind, he knew. Even Frank did them. Small, mindless things — handing him his coffee cup, speaking louder as if volume would make his eyes see, hovering — what others might call courtesies, but what he called pity. As often as he understood his blindness there were times he wished it away. “It sounds wonderful, Frank.” His voice was flat and cold.   At least Frank was happy.

“Frank, would you please take me out for a walk?” Leonard asked.

 

Nagler pushed the blind man along the broken sidewalk of Main Street. Leonard felt the cool breeze on his face and forgot his earlier gloom as Frank filled his ears with descriptions of all that passed before his eyes. Leonard knew it was true, though Frank would never admit that he enjoyed these walks more than Leonard ever did. It gave Frank a chance to retell the old stories — and to a captive audience.  They’d pass a boarded up store and Leonard would feel the chair slow and in a minute Frank would begin, his voice filled with cheer: “Leonard, did I ever tell you about Francine, the hooker. The woman had a heart of gold…”

Leonard breathed deep and coughed out the sourness of the air. He remembered when he was in school and the class would take a trip to (he was told) the western part of the city across the river to a large open park along the riverbank. He remembered how the river smelled clean, then, like the freshest day of spring. The teachers would leave him on the grass as the other children played baseball. Their shouts filled the air with joy as he imagined them running and jumping as they tried to catch the ball. He felt the ball once. It was a smooth sphere with a lumpy seam  running around and around; he delighted in holding it and running his small fingers along that seam or feeling the nicks and gouges caused by the rocks and the bat. “What color is the ball?” he would ask the teacher in his (then) sweet child voice. He would feel her warm smile. “It’s white, Leonard,” she would say in breath-soft tones, “Except this one is a little dirty with brown and green stains from the grass.” He liked the feeling of the ball: The white and green and brown felt like a tiny world he could hold in his hands. He understood. But all that was soon gone, ended in an unexplained crash of horns and angry shouts as he tried to make his way on the busy, throbbing sidewalk. No one ever explained what happened. The sweet-voiced teacher was just a hollow echo ringing alone somewhere.

From behind the chair Frank Nagler understood Leonard’s silence as a jag of brooding. He’d been doing a lot of that lately; in fact it seemed to Frank that over the past couple of years Leonard had been slowly withdrawing, hiding behind his blindness and becoming the type of handicapped person he said he despised: self-centered, brooding, fatalistic. In other words a burden to their friends who had to be extraordinarily careful about what they had to say as not to offend the blind man with an inflection. In other words, a pain in the ass. The bookstore had been a great idea, keeping him in contact with a steady flow of friends, shoppers and salesmen,  all of whom brightened his days and were in turn brightened by Leonard’s quick wit and knowledge of their needs and reading habits. But as the city recovered from its last bout of economic retreat and the streets became again noisy and bright, Leonard seemed to be slipping into a darkness that had nothing to do with his blindness, unless it was blindness of the soul.

Last Wednesday when Frank went he found the door locked, the lights off and Leonard parked in his chair deep in the dark recesses of the shop, sitting in shadow, not reading or sleeping, but just sitting, staring, and, it appeared, talking to himself. If Martha were here, Frank began the thought, but stopped himself. She’s not here, he scolded himself. She’ll never be here again. She’s dead. Oh, dear Martha, he prayed.

Frank Nagler straightened his shoulders and shook his head. Enough.  “Brooding again, hey, Leonard,” he said in a rising, comic voice. He scanned the street for something to pin a tale on and spied the old high school, now closed and waiting conversion to condominiums. A large sign perched on the front lawn announced, “Coming Soon! Riverside Condominiums! In town luxury living! Starting at $525,000!” The sign saddened Nagler. This was his high school. Four years of straight backed chairs and English teachers with blue hair rapping his knuckles when his grammar slipped; four years of dreaming about Martha Shannon and having babies and growing old in their love. Now the kids are driven in squadrons of yellow buses to the south side where a three school campus sits in the middle of acres of parking lots and playing fields. Out of sight, out of mind, Nagler thought.

“Leonard, did I ever tell you about that dance in 1948 when Benny Goodman brought his band to town?” He didn’t wait for an answer; he wanted to fill that old shell of a school with music and laughter one more time before they ripped its guts out.

“Well, I tell you that was a hard ticket to get. I mean that old gym barely held the senior class at graduation and the agency that was handling the concert sold about a thousand tickets. That hustler could have sold about a thousand more, but they couldn’t squeeze anybody else in the building. So they opened all the windows and you danced on the sidewalk elbow to elbow with half a dozen other couples; we danced and bopped all over the lawn and out into the street. Cops came to clear the street three times. But, you know, it was after the war and things were pretty good in town. There was a lot of work and people were busting out, running at double speed to put those hard war years behind them. And oh how Martha could dance. She wore me out on that floor and then when things got too crowded we just wormed our way to a corner near the bandstand and I hoisted her on my shoulders and we clapped and stamped out feet for the rest of the night. Damn near killed me. I tell you, Leonard, I was lame for a week. But I would’ta missed it for anything. Sweated clean through a new suit and Martha’s dress was ruined and our feet hurt so bad we could hardly walk home.” But we walked on air, so what could hurt? Nagler thought. My boy, we could have danced all night.

Nagler stopped pushing the chair and stepped out around it. He clapped his a couple of times and for no reason he could think of, began to dance.  “You shoulda seen us, Leonard, my friend,” and he kicked his left foot out. “Bop, bop!” He sang out. “Boogie woogie, boogie woogie, boogie woogie, bop bop!” And for a moment Frank Nagler’s vision was filled with the sight of an old school building standing dark against the night sky except for tunnels of light pouring like silver from the windows. Light like you’ve never seen, pure, bright, as if streaming from a powerful cell buried beneath the earth, not diffused, but a solid beam, like love.  And around the old school a crowd of gaily dressed people swung from side to side and called out each others’ names or dipped their heads all in a beat that never matched but had the same source jazzing around as if from an alter; dancing as if nothing in the world mattered except that moment and that it would never end or change. And on the sidewalks pairs swung in crazy high-handed dance, twirled around trees and jitterbugged on the hoods and seats of jalopies strung out along the street like chariots of the in-tune and with-it gathered for the last best boogie.

“Bop, bop,” sang out Frank Nagler as he soloed on the sidewalk. “Oh, yah!” And finally when he went into a solo Charleston, when the grimace on his face reflected the pain in his arms as he nearly put his shoulders out of joint waving, did Leonard manage a smile.

And only then did his friend collapse on the grass gulping air as if he had been  underwater. The euphoria swiveled into pain and Nagler’s face twisted with each breath. “It’s a good thing you can dance, Frank,” Leonard shouted above Frank’s wheezing. (I’m  nearly having a heart attack, Leonard. Get that simple grin off your face.)

“Because you certainly can’t sing.”

“Damn it, Leonard,” Frank coughed as he groped for a patch of grass over which to sprawl. “If I had to do that any longer, you’d be wheeling me home.”

He lay back on the grass and felt the wetness soak his head and shirt and was glad for it. He was sweating like he recalled sweating that night in the gym. It was like being alive again. Or fainting, he suddenly thought as his head went light. He sucked in great mouthfuls of air and tried to slow his racing heart. “If you tell my doctor about this I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Leonard was recovering from his own laughter. “But he told you to get more exercise.”

“But not all at once.” With that Frank Nagler took another huge breath. “Whoo-eeee!” He yelled.

But later when alone, Leonard returned to his brooding. He thought of Frank. And he thought of Martha. He hadn’t thought much about her recent weeks. That is what’s wrong, he decided. Martha was always the center; without her Frank — and I, he thought — are spinning out of control and with each turn farther and farther away from all that we knew, all that kept us together. Martha and Frank, he thought. The young cop and his beautiful wife. Frank talked incessantly on their walks about her, relating each street and building to something the pair of them did together. He had doted on her, filling their home with the finest goods, the most up-to-date appliances, as if things could compensate for the fact he was forced to spend most of his time away from her; as if the things were a replacement for himself.

And then she died. Cancer took her at twenty-four and all the kindness Frank showed his fellow man was seemingly buried along with her. He sold their  belongings, for they were never his, and took a tiny apartment over a hardware store. He began to live as he did before he married Martha, like a convict on the run, like a hermit. With Martha alive Frank was an ambassador of good will and smiled easily. But without her it was as if he and life eyed each other uneasily across a line of demarcation like border guards of neighboring, unfriendly nations.

And as Frank Nagler softly closed the door to the blind man’s back entrance and stepped into the barren street he thought once Martha and I walked these streets in love; once we stopped to kiss beneath a tree. But the tree’s gone. Once we danced on the lawn. Once. They were just better times, Leonard.

After dropping Leonard off, Nagler walked the eight blocks to the district police station. The brightly illuminated silence of the streets now unsettled him. He more enjoyed the gloom and darkness of old. And the noise. On patrol he never liked the nights when all the streets and houses were silent, closed like a fist. Things happened in the silence. He preferred to hear the shouts, wanted to hear the old Mammas howling at their kids, bellowing at the lazy old fools their husbands had become. There was safety in sound, Nagler knew. Death in silence.

Once there was noise. This was the old newspaper row, a wedge of land formed by the meeting of the two rivers that sloshed through town. Once there were four papers, The  News, The Bulletin, The Press and The Tribune. Now only The News was published, and that from a plant in the suburbs. Moved to the suburbs, Nagler cursed, and took the noise and life with them. For a second the clatter of trucks and the shouts of men filled the air; for a moment Nagler stood in a sea of thick armed men with their sleeves rolled tight against their bulging biceps and they reached overhead to grab a stack of inky, fresh newspapers and tossed them on the back of a truck that roared off clanking and shaking against the tattered cobblestones.  And in that moment Frank Nagler saw himself as he used to be: Open-faced and loud even in that loud crowd. Friendly to all, on top of the world instead of being shoved aside, trapped under its wheels. He saw his reflection in the dark, hollow glass of a shop window. The face was long and drawn, the eyes vague, lost in mists. He shook his head and looked away. Got to make a change, he told himself. But it all just slipped away, and he didn’t know why. He pulled his collar tighter.

“Frank, it’s good to see ya.” Bob Hanrahan, the desk officer, shouted a greeting as he bundled himself out from behind the desk. Nagler was standing in the doorway framed by the arch, blinking into the bright lights of the station house.

“Hello, Bob,” Nagler said as he had his hand grasped and shaken off at the wrist. “How’s life around the beat these days?”

“A lot quieter since you went up to the academy, Frank. Can I get you some coffee?” But Hanrahan was off before Nagler could answer.

Nagler smiled and his mood shifted as the old scenes and smells returned. They could move a police station, but a city building still smelled like a city building. The lingering scent of ammonia and cigarettes hung like a curtain in the lobby, like they managed to package it in one of those little pop-up deodorizers.

“Here ya go, Frank. Black, just the way you like it.” Hanrahan passed Nagler a plastic cup filled with dark coffee and with a sip he knew that some things never change. The coffee was still terrible, thick as tar and so black that it didn’t change color when you added  cream; black death.  “How old is this stuff?” Nagler poked the officer in the ribs with an elbow and they both chuckled. And old joke. A very old joke.

 

 

Hanrahan was a steady cop, Nagler knew. A stocky, middle-aged Irishman, his red hair gone gray. But he had a policeman’s face: open,  friendly, and now beefy from too many nights behind a desk and too few trips to the city gym. How long had he been here, Nagler wondered. Too long, probably. Then he thought, I used to know stuff like that, and drifted away into vague thought.

“What brings you here at this time of night, Frank?” Hanrahan asked and then filled his mouth with coffee.

Nagler had his eye on that coffee cup as the liquid sloshed around as the cop waved his hands, as if to keep the conversation going. The Hanrahan coughed and the coffee spilled over the edge and splattered on the floor just as Nagler jumped out of the way.

Hanrahan held the empty cup at arms length as if he carried a snake. They both watched the last few drops of coffee drip to the floor in fascination. “Well, I certainly made a mess of that!” Hanrahan shouted. “Hee, hee, hee.”

“Leonard’s had another break-in, Bob.” Nagler spoke in a wheeze and chuckled at his suddenly weak voice. “That’s not funny,” he said shaking his head. “That’s a very serious matter.”

Hanrahan returned and wiped the coffee from the floor with a paper towel. Frank was always like that, always seeming to have an inside joke he could never share. “That’s too bad.”

“I’m a little worried about the place,” Nagler said. “I was wondering if the morning patrol could take a minute and look in on him for a few days. This is about the fifth one.”

“I’ll post it for tomorrow’s shift,” Hanrahan said. “It’s funny only Leonard is having a problem. We cleaned out a gang of kids at the end of the summer that was involved in a series of breaks. They hit stores at night. Got some  jewelry, cameras, stereos. Once they got a wide screen TV.”

Nagler just shook his head. Never changes.

For a moment the two men stood in silence, not yet uncomfortable with nothing to say. Then a smirk caught Hanrahan’s cheek and his face opened into a laugh. “Damn, it’s good to have you around, Frank. Some of these younger guys seem like they had their sense of humor surgically removed as a child. Nothing makes ’em laugh.”

“We had some good times, didn’t we, Bob?”

Hanrahan just smiled as he picked up the coffee cups and turned for the coffee machine. “Oh, Frank, did ya hear what happened at the college last night?”

“Can’t say I did.” But Frank Nagler felt the old feeling, his stomach turning over once, like dropping over a cliff. Just like the old days.

Hanrahan’s face filled with worry. “Someone busted into a dorm and beat up a couple of young girls. One of them looks like she’ll be OK, just some broken bones. But the other one, is in real trouble. She’s in intensive care, possibly brain damage, a broken neck. She’s on a respirator. Got thumped pretty good.”

Nagler felt his face go cold as the blood drained away. My God, he thought. “No, I didn’t hear.”

“And they don’t have a suspect.” Hanrahan had returned to his desk and sat with his hands folded on a stack of papers and manila folders. “Neither girl is well enough to be interviewed, so they don’t have a description, if they can give one.  All they have for evidence is a bloody shirt from one of the girls, and a footprint in a spot of dried blood. I guess there was blood all over the place.”  He shook his head to clear away the details he had read again and again. “They said it was just a mess. The guy used a pipe or a bat or something.”

Nagler said nothing, but watched his friend work out what he was going to say next; the thought squirmed across his brow and down the florid nose in a wrinkle and turned the soft, pleasant mouth to a scowl.

“It’s drugs, Frank.” He spat the word out like bad coffee, even worse than usual. “Oh, what a world today. Young kids using cocaine like it was candy. Twelve-year-olds with needle tracks running up their arms like freckles. Drugs. my friend. That’s what it’ll be this time.”

 

About michaelstephendaigle

I have been writing most of my life. I have written at least three complete novels, have three others started and on my website michaelstephendaigle.com is the draft chapter of the latest effort,"The Swamps of Jersey."
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