I think this is the opening to the next Frank Nagler book, the one after “The Weight of Living.”
I’ve been struggling with how to get into the next one, and after some false starts, this seems to work.
Things change, but this has the elements that are needed: A link to the older stories and a place to jump into a new one? Who is Mahala Dixon, and what does she really want from Frank Nagler?
“Don’t close your eyes.
Don’t close your eyes and the wooden podium on the stage in front of Leonard’s store does not shatter. There is no screaming crowd. No running and diving. Bodies do not fall hurt and bleeding. The banner on the stage does not open with rips caused by bullets fired from a block away. Sirens do not wail and hearts do not break and people do not die.
If you don’t close your eyes.
Detective Frank Nagler covered his face with his hands and sighed.
Until he could close his eyes and not relive the deaths of Del Williams, Bobby and Dominque, not recall the horror on Lauren Fox’s face when Leonard was wounded; until the anger that blocked his grief was released, the closest he would get to another crime was this police academy class on investigative procedure.
Maybe the chief was right, Nagler thought as the students entered the auditorium and all sat in the back.
“You need time,” the chief had said. “Take it.” It was not an option.
He took the time. “And, Frank,” the chief added as he handed Nagler a slip of paper. “See this shrink.”
The time: He walked the streets of Ironton, N.J., brooding in their still darkness, absorbing the silence of the shadowed alleys and the soft stone faces of the shattered industrial shells, hollow of sound. Leaned in to hear the faint traces of the clattering life they once contained. All this walking, he thought. Why do I end up at the cemetery, in the cavern of the stoveworks, outside Leonard’s store, dark at three a.m.? All this walking and I end up staring calmly at the world while my head is roiling and my heart raging. When do I scream?
Don’t close your eyes until the gyre has calmed.
The young woman’s voice dragged him back to the auditorium filling with his students.
“Yes?” he said. “Just a second. Hey, guys. Down front. I tell you every class. Sit down front. It’s not that hard.” He watched for a moment as the students dragged themselves out of rear-row seats and shuffled to the front rows.
“I’m sorry.” He turned back to the young woman, um, Dixon, he thought. “How can I help you, Miss Dixon, right?”
She smiled. “Mahala Dixon. I’m probationary in Boonton.”
“I know all about you, sir,” she said. “Your career. Charlie Adams, the death of your wife, Martha. Tom Miller and Harriet Waddley-Jones, then the whole Tank Garrettson case. That’s why I took this class. I wanted to learn from you.”
Nagler squinted at her a moment and let his head clear. Should I be concerned?
“I’m flattered, Miss Dixon, but I’m just a cop, doing a job.”
“It’s more than that, sir,” she said, standing. “It’s about helping people. I saw that, saw you do it.” She hesitated. “It’s about things like this,” and she handed him a thick folder wrapped in several elastics; the top right corner of the smudged folder was worn soft from repeated openings. “This is my father’s case. He’s been in jail since I was a baby for a crime he didn’t commit. Fifteen years. Maybe you can help.”
This always happens. A father, an uncle, brother, sister, wife…How to say no, politely.
“Maybe just read the file,” Dixon said, as she read Nagler’s blank face. “Maybe just that.” Her face folded shut, eyes clenched, leaking tears, mouth, lipless, a line. “He’s my father…sir.”
“Okay, no promises,” Nagler said as he took the file from her hands. It came slowly, her grip more firm than he had expected as if she was passing not just a collection of papers, but the link to her life.
“This means a lot to you doesn’t it?”
There was no relief in the deep darkness of her eyes as she said, “Yes.” The pain replaced by just fire. She held his stare. “There is more here than meets the eye.”
The books are available at the following New Jersey libraries:
Mountainside; Morris County Library; Somerset County Library System; Bernardsville Public Library; Hunterdon County Public Library; Mount Olive Public Library; Phillipsburg; Warren County, Franklin branch; Mount Arlington; Wharton; Dover; Hackettstown; Clark, Parsippany and the Ramsey library, as part of the Bergen County Cooperative Library System; The Palmer (Pa.) Branch of the Easton Public Library; Deptford Free Public Library and Franklin Township Library (Gloucester Co.), New Providence Memorial Library.
The Frank Nagler mysteries are available online at: