The story so far: An explosion destroyed a couple blocks of Downtown Ironton, N.J. Detective Frank Nagler, newly reinstated, checks in with Lt. Maria Ramirez. Then they find a white van.
“For weeks downtown had been filled with the clanking, metallic crashing and thumping of heavy machinery and debris being moved and dumped, a clatter so persistent it left no space for other sounds, or silence.
And now all the noise was gone; the eerie quiet was not soothing, Nagler thought, but dangerous.
Thick clouds draped the surrounding hills, announcing the arrival of the
Fat drops opened craters of dust on empty sidewalks and a wash of water wiped across windows and walls, a crescendo of drumming rain that blurred the horizon.
Inside his car, Nagler swiped his hand across his head a couple times and shook off the wetness. The car vibrated with the pounding rain. He leaned back in the seat, glanced at the rearview mirror and wondered why his eyes seemed so tired. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, for a moment content to be inside the car in an empty parking lot, hoping the heavy rain would give him a few moments of peace.
That wish was dismissed by the ping of his phone, a text from Ramirez: “Where U? Must C this.”
He exhaled deeply and glanced through the rain smeared side window before shouldering the door open and stepping into a face full of rain. Halfway across the lot his left foot slipped on a puddle and the pain doubled him over. “Oh, fuck,” he gritted his teeth and limped to the rear door of the police department where he leaned against a wall and slowed his breathing to dispel the pain in his throbbing left foot. “One of these days,” he shook his head and opened the inner door.
“Why are you limping” Ramirez asked Nagler without turning to face him. “Never mind, look at this.”
On the center computer screen was a blurry image of a light-colored van.
“Two days before the explosion,” she said.
“Bassett.” She opened another screen. “Then here.” She opened a third screen. “And here. Two days, A week before, two weeks before.”
Nagler dragged over a chair and squinted at the images. They were recorded on cameras some distance from where the van was parked. “Any sign of a driver?”
Ramirez opened a new camera view of Blackwell, east of the explosion site. “Hold on. Here’s the van again, about four o’clock, day before. Look at the side panel. That’s where a company would have a name and logo. Seems to have been scraped off.”
“What year you think that is?”
“Best guess, late 80s Ford Econoline.”
Nagler chuckled. “So, one of several thousand.”
“Ah, Frank. Such a pessimist. One of sixty-two in Morris County. I’ve sent out an alert including the photo.”
“What does that tell us? One of the seventeen business in that strip got deliveries from a company with an old Ford van.”
Ramirez patted Nagler’s cheek twice.
“Tells us more than that.” She reached for a file on the desk and pulled out a photograph of what appeared to be the same van parked on an alley near old industrial buildings.
“Six months ago, east side. Remember that fire?”
“Shit, yes. Duval was just telling me what they found there. Gas cans and fertilizer. What the hell.”
In a mock seductive voice Ramirez said, “Oh my man, there is more.”
She extracted two more photos of the van from the folder.
“Traffic was doing parking enforcement in that area – for the life of me I can’t figure out why. Probably a cover operation for something else. It’s mostly empty buildings – and saw this van at least twice more. “Guess who it is registered to?”
Nagler laughing. “Oh, come on. Why are you dragging this out?”
Ramirez shared the laugh “What fun would it be if I just flat out told you?”
Then seriously, “Carlton Dixon.”
“The cop, who’s in jail.”
“Yeah, look. Here’s the reg,” and she showed him a print out of a vehicle registration.
He closed his eyes, scrunched up his forehead and shook his head.
“That was fifteen years ago and he’s been in jail that long. The files said they used empty warehouses as drug stashes and transfer sites. Didn’t we close it down?”
“Loose ends, maybe?”
“That’s some loose end. Who’s driving it?”
Ramirez shrugged. “No clue. Doesn’t his daughter live in Boonton? Maybe they’ve seen it.”
“That’s all we need.” He stretched out his left foot to fight off a cramp and grimaced.
“What’d you do?” Ramirez asked.
“Slipped on the wet parking lot. Jammed my foot. Anyway, did those bomb scene cameras catch anything that looks like a driver of the van or a suspect, or is that asking too much?”
“We got a couple somebodies.” Ramirez opened two new views on the screen. “This one is on Blackwell at the Cuban place. Night before. Skinny kid, probably that kid who was killed.”
“You know he was murdered, right? Mulligan says stabbed.” Nagler tapped the screen. “With a bread knife.”
Ramirez scratched her forehead. “So I need to be looking for someone else.”
“I guess,” Nagler said. “What time was that camera shot?”
Ramirez strained to read the time stamp. “Looks like nine-thirty, nine twenty.”
“Mulligan said he was killed about ten. So if the timing is right, he was walking into his death and the killer might have been waiting for him? Jesus. What else?”
“Sorry to add on, but there’s this guy?” The screen displayed a figure of a hefty male leaving the alley. He was wearing ball cap and a shirt with wide vertical stripes. “Three a.m. the day of. On Bassett near the service alley.” Ramirez opened another file. “So, the restaurant kid was killed at ten, the place blew up at five the next morning, and this guy is leaving at three.”
“Can you print that out for me? Mulligan said the kid’s body was moved after he was killed. We’ve got no one else to look at. Who the hell are you?”
When Ramirez handed Nagler the photo of the second person, he did a double take. “I know that shirt. God damn it.”
“Tony. Barry’s cook. He’s been missing since the explosion.”
The award winning Frank Nagler Mysteries are available in ebook, paperback and audible book formats HERE: https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Stephen-Daigle/e/B00P5WBOQC