I’m about half-way through writing “The Weight of Living,” the third Frank Nagler Mystery. It has been a long haul, but to use a really bad trucking metaphor (Here’s to you, Dee Fox) I have crested the mountaintop and have begun the long slide to the end.
Here are two transitional scenes.
The first concludes what has turned out to be the first part of the book, which I think I’ll call, “The Long Way.” The second scene opens the conclusion of the story, which I think will be called “The Chase and the Trap.”
Funny how this stuff goes. The story now has more structure than it had before I wrote the above paragraph.
Anyway, transitional scene one:
“It was the nun?”
Jimmy Dawson wiped the coffee from his chin, where it had dripped after Nagler’s announcement. “She orchestrated the whole thing?”
Lauren Fox covered her mouth to suppress her smile. She closed her eyes as a giggle surfaced. “I’m sorry, Frank. It’s just …”
“Absurd,” he said, shaking his head in disbelief, even then, two days later.
They sat in the half-empty Barry’s, the conversation buried beneath the clatter as Tony the cook removed the filters from the stove vents for cleaning. The job seemed to require that each filter had to be banged three times against the aluminum hood above the stove. Even Barry became irritated. “Yeah, Tony. The noise.”
Tony just yelled back. “I could leave this to you and go count tomatoes.”
Barry waved him off. “Ahh.”
He stopped to top off the trio’s coffees.
“Hey, Barry, you remember if a tall, big guy ever came in here wearing a tweed hat?” Nagler asked.
“Like I remember hats. This whole place is hats. Nobody ever takes ‘em off.”
“I know. It looks like this.” He fumbled with his phone until he found he diagonal photo of the tweed hat that had been left in city hall. He showed the phone to Barry, who squinted at the picture.
“Oh, that hat. Naw, I ain’t seen it.”
“If you do, call me. It’s a big deal,” Nagler said sternly. He shook his head. I never talk to Barry like that. “Thanks.”
“A little on edge there, Frank?” Dawson asked.
Nagler swallowed some coffee. “It’s like everyone is in on some big joke and I’m the only one on the outside. We spent hours on the little girl and a nun I’ve known since” he waved a hand back and forth in frustration, “Since dinosaurs walked the earth, was hiding her the whole time.”
Lauren touched his hand, then raised to her lips and kissed it. “Maybe she had a reason.”
“That’s just it. She said, and I think she is right, something worse is coming. Something tied to the girl somehow, and to the company that owns the Sisters Home. I just don’t know enough.” He glanced up at Dawson and Lauren. “And I don’t know who to trust.”
Lauren put on a fake shocked face. “Not even us?”
Nagler laughed, the tension broken. “Yeah, okay, you two.”
“The church doesn’t own the Sisters Home?” Dawson asked.
“They sold it and leased it back from some company,” Nagler said. “Sister Katherine gave me a list, some holding company their lawyers are looking at.” He pulled the list from his jacket’s inside pocket. “Here it is.”
Dawson whistled. “Lotta names.”
“Look at this one.” Dawson held up the paper and pointed at a name. “Mine Hill Foundation.” He nodded to Nagler. “That’s the company you suggested I look up. And I did. It’s a mess. Have a story set to go out tomorrow. Give me a copy of this. I’ll see if the church lawyers will talk and I’ll add them.”
“That’s the company that owns the old theater, Frank. Remember?” Lauren said. “I looked up their tax records and permits. It’s in Jimmy’s story. They have flipped that building back and forth half a dozen times in a decade. There’s about thirty code and health violations, ten of which are serious. A history of late tax payments. A whole basketful of stuff. But no one can find them. The city must have send fifty letters and conducted a dozen inspections. Let me see the list.” She scanned the names. “Oh, yeah, damn, here’s one of the companies. And… here’s another, aaanndd… oh wait, here’s the one that sent that foreclosure letter to my mother. Son of a bitch!” She looked up at Dawson, who was grinning and over at Barry, who smiled and returned to wiping the counter. “What?”
“These guys are first-class crooks, Frank. First class,” Dawson said. “No wonder the sister warned you. Watch your six.”
“Yeah, you too,” Nagler said. “I’d image that having their names plastered all over the Internet might piss ‘em off.”
Transitional scene two:
Del hunched near the wall, holding his head; a low moan, the puzzle in his eyes wrapped in a torn face, wet with tears.
“I knowed these men,” he said softly, “From my time on the railroad. Not these particular men, but their type, the showy I’m-richer-than-God men, swilling they drinks, yelling out, Hey waiter, Hey boy, another round; taking, taking what they wanted, everything they saw, telling the world and all us little folks to get outta they way. And I saw them when I was on the street, mind all jumbled, veins on fire. Stepping over me. I been spit on, kicked, pushed aside and ya just want to be recognized as a human being. Is that asking too much? Then you see what’s in them boxes, you see how deep the poison goes, how strong is the wrong in what they doin’ and your soul cries out for justice and you just wanna bring ‘em down.”
He wiped the tears from his face, replacing the sorrow with anger and determination. “I heard you sayin’ there’s more like them today, doing the same thing. You gonna bring ‘em down, Frank?”
Add Del’s voice to the chorus. Sister Katherine’s righteousness, Calista’s fear and deep pain, Lauren’s sorrow, the cries of the community center kids, pushing back against the weight of the world, even Bruno Hapworth’s twisted self-pity; and the ancient silent pain of Sarah Lawton, the voiceless faces of those girls in the photos. Bring them down, Del? I want rip open their smug world, find the key that brings back the voice to that little girl we found on the street, soothe the wounded souls, end the pain in one, loud exalted scream: No more! Maybe in that we are made whole, maybe in that smiles return; maybe I heal.
Nagler reached over to Del and pulled him to his feet. He wrapped one arm around his friend’s shoulder
“Yeah, Del. I’m gonna bring ‘em down.”