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?