Leonard is Detective Frank Nagler oldest friend, a blind man who runs a bookstore. He has been central to three of the previous Frank Nagler Mysteries.
In the quiet times sitting alone near the front window, Leonard would see them in his mind – Bobby, Del Williams, Dominique – unpacking the boxes of used books, shaking off dust, laughing at the titles and the old stylized drawings on the covers, occasionally finding a Braille text in a box from a school, and Dom asking him to teach the system to him. “I can learn this, boss. Be more use to you,” Dom would say, his voice so full of enthusiasm and hope, Leonard could feel the boy’s beaming smile. Leonard would run his fingers across the Braille text. Sometimes Shakespeare, sometimes a math text, once a Bible, and Leonard would call after Dom’s retreating steps, “Don’t call me boss.”
Dom’s laughing reply every time was, “Yes, boss.”
And then they were gone. That day. Killed in the hail of bullets that also put Leonard in the hospital for surgeries that tried to save his mobility and his sense of feeling, but did little to fill the hollow of isolation that surrounded him. There were days since when not even the friendly arrival of Frank Nagler’s familiar tapping foot steps could pull Leonard from the darkness.
And now the clatter of dishes at Barry’s diner counter in the far corner of the bookstore, the hum of voices, the fat aroma of bacon, fried potatoes, the sharp coffee smell, softly bitter, pushed Leonard deeper into his isolated opposite corner. The first time it happened, Leonard felt he was trapped inside a growing clear bubble that resisted his finger’s soft touch, a sensation that had not faded even when Barry’s steady, heavy footsteps would cross the wooden floor from the counter to Leonard’s wheelchair bringing lunch or a beverage, or just conversation.
Why today? he wondered as he felt the bubble thicken, the voices soften to a blur of sound like an unfocused light on a white screen. Why today, of all days, had the gloom resettled?
There had been good news from Lauren Fox. Her office had secured approval from the governor for a grant and loan package. They could renovate the two empty warehouses he owned for housing, and remodel the adjacent factory where his used book business was located into a street-level space for a new Barry’s, a additional second-floor space for the used books and offices on the third floor.
Maybe it was the change in the weather. The summer had been cooler, but dry, and walking with Calista, even if he had to use the wheelchair, were days of freedom. September arrived wet and angry. Drenching storms followed by sluggish, gray days of northeast winds that often pinned him, like now, at a front window in that damned chair.
Sighing, he reached over and touched the glass, hoping to feel its smooth coolness, hoping, really, to feel anything.
The motorized wheelchair had been dragged out of storage and the battery replaced; he had hoped that after two years of walking and the loss of all that weight, he would never need it again.
Leonard shifted and wiggled his hips as the mesh of the chair’s sides chafed against his fat and useless thighs. I want to move, he thought, to cross the park and find a cold seat on a bench and feel the wind and hear the pigeons cooing, to feel the brush of their wings as they rested briefly at my feet, pecking at broken peanut shells, to feel the rumble of truck traffic through the cement, the scolding of a jay, the scuffle of kids fresh from school, yelling to one another as they passed. To dwell again in the swirl of life.
He shifted away from the window and the view of the park and bitterly knew again that the space would never remind him of cheerful times. Each time he closed his eyes he would see the strike of the first bullet into the wooden podium, hear the shouted instructions to run and duck and above that, the urgent cry from Del. “Take my arm,” and then the grunt as Del was struck by a bullet and the pain and blackness that followed as he, too, was struck; then falling. Then the silence.
The door near him swished open.,
“Hey, Barry, gimme a lunch special, and coffee, black,” the unseen customer yelled even before the front door closed. Then a firm hand on his arm, “Hey, Len. “How ya doing?”
The touch and the voice, shocked Leonard from his reverie. “Good. I’m, I’m good. Thanks.”
“No problem,” said the happy voice. “Glad to see ya up and about.”
Leonard smiled and blinked away a sudden tear.
That had been part of the adjustment, Leonard knew. His own customers were reserved, almost meek, in comparison to Barry’s, who blustered into the shop, shouting life into the staid, dry air of the bookstore.
In that instant, through that voice, by that touch, the world returned.
Find the Nagler Mysteries online here: