This story is the prequel for the other Frank Nagler books. There are events and aspects of Detective Frank Nagler’s life that must be set up. This is one:
“The cemetery hollowed out, the wind and echo of scratching road sounds faded, footsteps on stone paths, the voices, whispers, “be wells”, “So sorry,” “Praying for you.” even the silent random pat on the back, all gone, drifted away.
Frank Nagler had nodded, eyes wrinkled in a sadness, his face a clay mask, forehead creased, trying to cast a smile back to the well wishes, a face seeking a permanent expression between the joy of Martha’s life and the depthless pain of loneliness.
Only Sister Katherine knew.
The good Catholic sister in her wanted to hold Nagler’s hands, kiss the bruised knuckles and draw him toward the peace and forgiveness of God’s love. But as his friend and observer of his life, she knew that Nagler would nod in an empty gesture, accepting the words, but reject the message; knew that he would battle against the dreads of his world in his own way. Knew that only Martha had been able to penetrate his protective shell.
“Her love will be with you always, Francis,” she had whispered. “Always.”
Nagler had nodded, but as she walked away, Sister Katherine knew the withdrawal had begun. “I will watch out for you, Frank,” she said as she walked head bent away.
In the cemetery’s silence, he tried to rise from the grave.
He had smoothed the rough, pebbly soil, breaking up small clumps between his thumb and fingers, then brushing again the surface.
He tried to rise, but felt anchored.
His hand would not pull away from the grave, his knees and legs had no strength to push him upright.
“Why did you choose me?” his cracked voice said. “You could have done so much better than me. But there you were, beautiful girl, and I could not turn away, could not say no. So we ran, and laughed and loved and told the world to get out of the way. And all that was you.” He closed his eyes while tears gathered and dropped to the dark soil. “It was all you. I could barely keep up.”
With his free hand he brushed a finger along the letters of her name carved into the red headstone; then his hand trembled. His face closed, then opened, contorted through anger, and pain, and sorrow and settled on the question.
“Why?” he pleaded. Then silently, a voiceless word, drenched in pain as the weight of the day settled, said to closed fists curled at his mouth. Why?
Then he rose, and the coldness coalesced, the pain sealed.
“I will protect you by being hard,” he whispered. “The world hurt you enough. Rest, my sweet.”
Through the clanking, riotous rush hour streets. Walked through train whistles and shouts for cabs, walked past squealing trucks forcing left turns, past cackling crowds at street corners; stalked along Ironton’s cluttered sidewalks as if he was alone.
Walked as if the motion would grind away the pain; walked as if the pushed-aside shoulders would buff his grief to a hardened sheen.
Walked past the little troubles. Don’t care that you hurt. Don’t care what you want. I can’t fix it for you. Fix it yourself. We all have our problems and I don’t want yours.
Stumbled through the dark broken streets of the worker’s ghetto; walked past the misery that still hung on porches of sad houses, past his own life’s sad beginning, looking for that turn to sunlight and Martha.
Walked through the city’s pain of death and senseless killing, past wailing voices of families, the hollow eyes of victims, the hate filled darkness of a murderer, past the senselessness, past the killer’s mirthless laugh; walked to that point when they would meet.
Walked finally to the Old Iron Bog and breathed in the stinking hollowness of it all.
Nagler stumbled off Mount Pleasant to the narrow path that led to the flat, tree shaded landing where he and Martha first had come alone. Oh, those little tenuous kisses, dry, then longer, lingering. The moment with a wicked grin she leaned against the car and pulled off her t-shirt, said “yes” and he touched her; then her mouth so soft, and the lavender scent of her hair; her hands reaching into his pants, the relief.
His shriek rippled over the dark water. Loud and long, it drove nearby birds from hiding. He turned and slammed his open hand against a small tree. Then again. He leaned his forehead against the tree and pulled out the unwilling tears.
“I’ll not cry for myself,” he whispered. “There are only tears for Martha.”
“Don’t cry for me,” she had said on one of the last days. “Rejoice for me. I’ll love in your happiness, Frank. Not your grief.”
Oh, he wanted to believe that.
But not today.
Today, he sank.
Shadows slipped across the moody black bog, hollow in its depth, a place for his trembling soul.
As he returned to Mount Pleasant, his police radio chirped to life.
It was dispatcher Millie Washington.
“Sorry to bother you, Frank. We have another body.”
A cold smile. The target for his rage announced.”
The Frank Nagler books are available at the following New Jersey libraries:
Brick (Ocean County Library System) 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: