One of the heroes of the Frank Nagler Mystery series is Leonard, Detective Frank Nagler’s blind, bookstore owning friend. In the WIP prequel, Leonard is a street kid. After being rescued from a gang attack, Leonard comes to live at the Naglers’ home and he becomes a companion for Martha, Frank’s wife.
In this scene, Frank had asked Leonard for help identifying where the gang hung out:
“Leonard insisted on walking.
“I was on the streets a long time, Frank. I know the intersections by sound,” he said.
“But what about…”
“We’re at Bergen and Blackwell,” Leonard interrupted. “The train station is behind us to the right and the traffic light at the park is to the left.” He breathed deeply. “And if I’m right, Marcella’s Bakery has cinnamon rolls in the oven.”
Nagler laughed, mostly at his own embarrassment. “How…?”
Leonard pointed to the left. “They have an exhaust fan from the kitchen.” He dipped his head. “I could never stand at this corner long because of that smell, especially on the days that I had not eaten.” He tapped the curb. “Let’s move on.”
Leonard led Nagler nimbly down Blackwell and through several narrow alleys, stopping at broken doors that opened on musty, dark cellars, or at the back opening to empty mills. All places he had lived.
After the fourth or fifth stop, Nagler leaned on a doorframe and weakly asked, “How did you survive?”
Leonard tapped the stone steps with his cane. “We took care of each other, Frank. I’ve heard you speak of your friend Delvin and your concern for him.” He glanced up. “There’s a network, like in all societies, an underground pipeline for information. We needed to stick together for safety and survival. But we mostly needed to protect ourselves from the gang Charlie Adams ran. Thieves and thugs.” He tapped the path and walked on. “Why do you need to find him?”
The question pulled Nagler from the sadness he felt.
“He may know something about our murder suspect,” Nagler said. “Maybe saw him somewhere.”
Leonard stopped and pointed toward a small brick shed thirty yards away.
“That was their meeting point,” he said. “We’re behind that old car repair shop. They used to break in there.”
Nagler just shook his head and smiled. “How do you know this?”
Leonard smiled back. “I’d follow them, after they beat me up. In my mind I would charge into that shed and forcefully take my belongings back.” He laughed bitterly. “In my mind.” He sighed. “Truth is I would trail their laughter and crude remarks. I learned they often failed to lock up the shed. I’d wait and watch.”
“No one expects much from a blind boy, Frank. Worked to my advantage.”
“Did you get your stuff back?”
“Much of it,” Leonard replied, a hint of pride in his voice. “What are you going to do now?”
Nagler scratched his arm, and then smiled. “Wait and watch, Leonard. Wait and watch.”
Back on Blackwell, Leonard stopped walking and turned to face Nagler.
“Martha’s dying, isn’t she, Frank, not just sick?” It was a soft question, delivered with reluctance.
The question. That question. Right in front of him, the whole time. Surely, Leonard was just concerned. Nagler felt his chest tighten, and he released a breathy sigh.
Leonard listened a moment. “I’m sorry, Frank. I can tell I upset you. I…I just see her at the house. I know she is in the bathroom staring at her face and pulling at her hair because she talks to it, like a friend who has betrayed her. It must have been so beautiful. Probably still is.” Then with sorrow: “I wouldn’t know. It brings me such sorrow and fear, Frank. I want to reach out to her, but what would I say? I hear her crying and I think she gasps in pain at times. And she asks, ‘How will I tell Frank? A few more days, please?’”
Leonard heard Nagler’s coughing cry.
Nagler touched Leonard’s arm. “Don’t apologize. You’ve been more comfort to Martha than I can be. I am grateful.” A deep breath, his voice stronger. “Yes, she’s dying. I just tell myself that it’s not true, not yet, even though I know it is. She deserves a long and wonderful life. She would open the world.”
He bowed his head and wiped his eyes.
“I’m trained as a cop to find answers. But for this, I have no answer. I don’t want it to be about me, my loss. I thought that after she got sick at nineteen and then got better, I knew how to handle it.”
His face collapsed, wet eyes closed; when they opened, he stared into the hollow future.
“But you don’t learn from it, Leonard, you can’t. We always want to be hopeful, pray for the sunny day. But, it’s a sneak attack every time. I try to imagine how the families of our murder victims handle the pain and loss, and I can’t. I can’t reach down that far.”
He released Leonard’s arm. A whisper: “I don’t know what to do.” ”
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