Nagler 5: Lauren Fox, the dragon and Brad Pitt

“Damn it!”

Heads in the bank lobby rose and then quickly fell eyes nailed to the floor as Lauren Fox chose not to kick the piles of paper at her feet across the room.

Instead, she fell to her knees, grabbed her head and muttered, “Fuck.”

Not a fuck of anger, not a fuck of disappointment or defeat.  But a fuck of tired recognition.

It had been there all along, the trail. The money, the properties, the players, one by one, year by year, deal by deal.

“And we couldn’t connect it.”

She scooped up a handful of papers, stood, and crossed to the white board at the rear of the office. Until now.

Just as she began, Frank Nagler entered the office and she nodded him to wait off to the side.

On the board she wrote DRAGON.

“This is them, guys.” She tapped the board. “And this is also them.”

She began to write: DRAG.ON, DRAG, DRAG-ON, DRAGN, D.RAGON, D.R.AGON, DRA-GOON, DGN, DRA.N,  and then a dozen more.

“Then add  associates, institute, company, corporation, LLC, any version of a corporate name. Danny, run a program to determine how many anagrams can be made from Dragon. Then we search. They are in those boxes of paper files, in hidden corners of electronic files, on agendas, resolutions, bank statements. They’ve been coming before the city with plans for decades. Let’s find them.”

“Who are they,” Danny asked.

“The owners of the block that went blooey,” Lauren replied.

“I thought they were called Leviton, Inc.,” Danny said. “That what tax record indicated.”

“That’s right. Leviton. Leviathan. Dragon,” Lauren said. “They own nearly twenty percent of Ironton right now, and over the years have owned almost sixty percent of the real estate in this city through dummy corporations. They’re clever, so we need to be.”

“So someone targeted their holdings,” Danny said.

“No.” Lauren took a  breath and shook her head several times. “They did it to themselves. What we don’t know is why.” She turned to face her staff. “It’s a desperate act to blow up you own property. We need to find out how desperate so we can anticipate what they will do next. Let’s go.”

Nagler greeted her with a smile.

“So why?”

Lauren used her foot to pull out a chair from under the adjacent desk, sat and dropped the papers in a messy pile. “Pick one: Taxes, bad investments, loss of tenants, death of a company principal. Those would be normal. But this is fraud, just like we thought. Remember all those empty apartments?  It has taken tremendous skill and luck to hold all this together. Did their luck run out? Stuff you wouldn’t have to worry about now that you’re a YouTube star.”

“You saw it?”

“Hard to avoid.”

“Convincing enough?”

Lauren just smiled.

“Anyway,” Nagler said, “I remember you on your hands and knees yelling at a map of downtown Ironton.”

“Well, it’s worse that than,” she said. “I ran into Jack Williams, a gas company VP. He was on a commission a few years back that set up new rules for apartment inspections and occupancy. Each vacancy  triggered an inspection. Jack said there had been  a lot of paperwork filed for new tenants in those buildings in the past couple years, so a lot of inspections.”

“Would the new tenants be there?”

“No. Just the property owner or a representative.”

“I get it. They can fake their way through it.”

“But who’s paying the taxes and if the apartments are empty where does the money come from? Not from empty apartments That’s what we don’t know. But worse? I don’t know who among all these fine people will tip them off. You recall our conversation about leaks. Well, I’m just waiting, ”

“I know. Me, too.” Nagler stared at the white board with all the DRAGON names.

“Hey, isn’t the owner of that workers ghetto housing complex called Dragon Associates, Dragon something?”

She laid back in the chair and propped her feet on the desk and rolled her head back to stare at the ceiling. “Yeah, now that you mention it. God, I’ll have to find that paperwork. One more thing. We’ll figure it out, Frank. What brings you here, Unless you’re wondering why I’m stretched out like this before you.”

They shared a long, deep stare.

“We’ve answered that question before,” he said, and then smiled. “Been looking for Tony, the cook, and stopped by to tell you that McCarroll is in town.”

Lauren slipped her feet to the floor and rocked forward. “And he’s…?”

“The hit man from that old Carlton Dixon case.  If he didn’t  take those shots at Dawson, he knows who did, same for the explosion. I think Tony disappeared because he saw the bomber. I’ve got to find him and get him safe. And you, don’t run around town without an escort and text where you are. McCarroll is ruthless.

“So this is all connected.”

“Seems to be.” Nagler scanned the room. “Where’s Dan Yang? Had a question  for him.”

Lauren stepped over and leaned her head in his chest. “He went back to the college for a couple of days. Said he had to set up the new semester.” She frowned comically, but her eyes held the worry. “So okay, I’ll become friend with my babysitter. Can I ask a favor? One of the young guys, a workout freak who looks like  a young  Brad Pitt would be cool. Can you arrange that?”  She reached up and touched his face, grinning.  “Never mind. You’ll do.”

“We’ll discuss that later,” he laughed.

“You do know where to find me, don’t you?”

“Yup. And I’ll bring the body lotion.” He kissed her hair. “Gotta run.”

“Hey, you. Wouldn’t McCarroll be after you, too?”

He wanted to reassure her, to say it would be okay. Instead, “Probably.”

About michaelstephendaigle

I have been writing most of my life. I am the author of the award-winning Frank Nagler Mystery series. "The Swamps of Jersey (2014); "A Game Called Dead" (2016) -- a Runner-Up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Indie Author Contest; and "The Weight of Living" (2017) -- First Place winner for Mysteries in the Royal Dragonfly Book Awards Contest.
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