This is another piece for the new Frank Nagler story, a work in progress.
This might be the end of the book, but then again it might not be.
The thing about a work in progress is that things change.
For example, I thought I knew how the third book in the series, “The Weight of Living,” would end. I knew the last line. It would said by Detective Frank Nagler.
And then it wasn’t.
That shift changed the ending of the story, and added weight (no pun intended)
to create what Kirkus Reviews called, “a satisfying but melancholy ending.”
So, here is a new piece. The question is how much will it change?
“The fall brought rain.
The closed cauldron that had for months been Ironton cracked; a communal sigh like steam escaping, rose.
The Charlie Adams killing spree had ended. He sat snarling and smirking in a jail cell.
As he walked the streets again filled with shoppers and citizens, Detective Frank Nagler saw a few more smiles, a few more friendly greetings, clusters of people on sidewalks talking, testing the air for the acid that for months had been present.
They nodded to him, reached to shake his hand, to thank him for his role in ending the madness.
He would smile back, then dip his head and walk on.
Not all had been cleansed.
The mayor’s financial schemes lurked, hidden under layers of paper that Nagler suspected would take years to unraveled and expose, and whatever actions taken by officials including cops to perpetuate the killings and the financings were being buried even while the celebrations were on-going. New narratives were being crafted, polish applied to lies.
He sought solitude.
So he walked.
The dark back alleys provided cover for his grief, the light leaking from behind curtained windows signals to the paths to avoid as he sought silence and darkness.
The homeless had again been moved from the old stoveworks; he prowled the empty spaces, kicked over piles of junk, stared sorrowfully at the torn pants, and shirts, broken whiskey bottles, needles and burned tin foil, as if the sad detritus of that life would offer him a place to bury his pain.
Not even the Locust Street Cemetery, where he ended many of his walks, offered peace. He spoke kind words to Martha, and brushed away stray leaves, pulled weeds and left fresh flowers each time.
What can I give you now? he would ask her. How did my love fail you?
Then returning home, he would draw from her pillow the faint scent of lavender. He had sat on the end of their bed for several nights after she had died, wrapped the pillow to his chest and absorbing what life of her it contained.
He would sleep on the couch, the emptiness of their bed more than he could bear.
Finally Leonard would stumble across the room and take Nagler’s hand.
“Walk with me, Frank. I once sat as you do now, wallowing in self pity because I had lost my sight.”
“No, Leonard,” Nagler said. “It’s not the same.”
“Oh, my friend, it is,” Leonard said. “I lost the only thing that mattered to me, my ability to see. You lost Martha, her companionship, but you did not lose her love. Did you not know what she was telling you at the end: Love is not something you keep, but give away. You gave it to her, and she gave hers to you. She would want you to share that.”
Nagler would smile at his friend’s entreaties, smile and walk; he wanted to feel weightless.
After Adams’ arrest, and the flurry of police activity needed to secure the evidence and present the case, Nagler brought several boxes to the office to store the piles of reports, the photographs, the maps, the drawings and all the wall decorations the case had generated.
He slipped each victim’s photo into a glassine envelope.
We couldn’t save any of you, he thought; we could only catch him and that seems inadequate.
The hands remained. Red, perfectly framed in Robbie Karpinsky’s photos. Nagler pulled them off the wall and slapped them into a manila folder, face down.
“I don’t want to look at you again,” he said aloud. “Not now.”
He paused before he pulled off the last one, a photo of the hand left on the shed across from his house. He held his own hand to the photo, his own adult hand dwarfing Adam’s smaller, teen-age fingers. Nagler wanted to crumple that photo, wad it into a ball and toss it away.
He recalled the fear in Martha’s eyes when from their bedroom she spied that red hand, so bright and obvious on the shed wall, felt again the tremble in her shoulder as he embraced her, heard the wrinkle in her voice as he told her it would be alright.
The shock of that moment returned, and as it did Nagler knew that he had sidestepped the rage that red hand so close to his wife and their life had generated. He had swallowed it for the good of the investigation. Pondered its meaning calmly with LaStrada, professionally directed Karpinsky’s photo efforts, checked a list of things that needed more information before they could draw conclusions.
“I put them first,” Nagler said to the vacant wall. “I put Martha second.”
He turned his back to the wall and dropped his chin to his chest; breath by breath he felt the anger rise. He balled his fists and slammed them on to wall; Never again. Never again.
It only took a few sledge hammer blows to loosen the panel with the red hand from the shed.
Nagler picked it up and propped it against a rock and smashed the hammer into the dry brittle wood. He swung again, and again, breaking the panel into smaller and smaller bits until the red hand was indistinguishable from dirt.
Nagler wanted that to be satisfying.
But he ached.
He swung the sledge and broke the shed window, and again and crashed the door frame, then the wall, then the corner framing. Three blows later the underpinning collapsed and the shed leaned. He smashed the bracing again and the corner collapsed, the slamming of the hammer and his grunts filling the air.
Blow after blow and the shed leaned, then fell; blow after blow his hands raw, his voice grabbing in his throat, eyes wet with tears.
He wanted to be filled with rage and power as if that would purge his pain, as if everything in the end would be equal and that Martha’s death was not just some sad eventuality.
The shed settled into a dusty pile.
He wanted to feel whole.
He felt hollow.”
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