The Frank Nagler Mysteries are set in a fictional city called Ironton, N.J.
It is based in the actual town of Dover, N.J., in Morris County. For nearly two centuries Dover was the center of an important iron manufacturing industry that generated thousands of jobs and millions of dollars for it owners. Dover’s fate is also closely tied to the creation of the Morris Canal and the growth of railroads across the region.
All of these aspects play a part in the Frank Nagler Mysteries.
Morris County readers of the series will recognize the street names – Blackwell, Warren, Sussex, Bassett Highway – and other sites, such as Barry’s Luncheonette, sadly lost to a fire a couple of years ago.
One place I use again and again is called the “stoveworks.” Located on Richboynton Road, it was the site of a large plant that manufactured stoves and furnaces. After laying vacant for a number of years, the site was renovated about 20 years ago.
I use the site before it was renovated, when it was dark, silent and creepy.
Here is a scene from the current Nagler WIP, “Dwell in the Places of our Horrors.”
Nagler parked in the power company lot, a half-mile from the stoveworks, his car tucked behind a couple rusted tanks. He thought about the chief’s comment about no more stunts.
Can’t promise anything.
Thousand workers filled these buildings, back then, he thought as he edged his way toward the main stoveworks building. The yard was littered with industrial detritus and he skulked from broken rusted trucks, to piles of stone and brick to stoves and doors and stovepipes dumped and crushed, all the while scanning the road, the rail line and the empty buildings for any signs that he was not alone. His father’s last job was shifting glowing metal parts hooked to chains and pulleys from the molding room to the cooling line; his father’s face had a permanent tan from the heat and his arms were laced with small burn scars and his clothes had a dozen burned-edged holes. All that work, Nagler thought, all those hours and it barely kept the house warm. It hollowed him out, just like these building shells. These places once glowed with a holy fire of commerce, men and metal the fuel for the progress that seemed always one dim corner ahead. A hundred years work left in cold, stark silence.
The afternoon sun shimmered in the west-facing windows of the two buildings that had been repaired years before awaiting occupancy that never arrived, while the rest shuddered in a long, shadowed canyon formed by the three-story stoveworks plant that lined both sides of the narrowing road.
A commuter train rattled by, sweeping sound with it through the last turn before downtown leaving a windy silence and a scattering of dry leaves.
Nagler stepped through the hole in the battered chain link fence, the metal signs that glared in scarred red paint CAUTION and NO TRESPASSING rattling like empty laughter.
Inside the fence, he paused and swept around in a full circle to sense the areas of shadow and light. So many places to hide.
The homeless camp was at the southern end of the cavernous, hollow complex. Nagler stopped his careful sole-sliding walk and strained to hear any voices, but he was too far away. A few more steps, another stop. There was only the vague echoed drip of unseen water and the metallic creaking of ancient iron beams.
A flutter of pigeons above his head captured his attention; a faint rattle, maybe a can, echoed. A place so still, he could hear his own breathing.
Del and me knew this place, he thought. As kids they scrambled in and under the parked train cars, crawled over the piles of discards and got yelled at by guards. It made sense later that Del in the throes of his addictions and poverty came here. Abandoned buildings, abandoned people.
In the dimness Nagler saw a worn pathway, the dust kicked aside by countless shoes.
Would they follow me here?
He varied his pace, at once quick, then slow with long strides. He slapped his leather soles on the cement floor in rhythm. Sometimes deliberately hard, then a sudden stop. Was that echo my step or someone behind that wall ahead?
Then, outside, the sound of a motor idling. But there was a wall without windows. Nagler quick-stepped to a partition near a window smeared with greasy dust, but it gave him no clear view of the road. He closed his eyes to concentrate: The engine sputtered to his distant right, the sound like smoke funneled through the concrete canyon. A slight grumble of acceleration, then silence.
He reached for his phone to call dispatch to send a patrol car along the highway looking for a white van but held off. Jesus, Frank. If they were here. they would have already shot you.
A voice shattered the silence. “Hey man, whatchu want?”
The sound caused Nagler to break into a cold sweat.
“Hey, Bennie, It’s me, Frank Nagler.” His throat was dry and his voice creaked like a broken hinge.
“Oh, man, Brother Nagler. Don’t be sneakin’.”
Bennie was bearded giant, his bulk swollen by layers of sweater and jackets. He had become leader of the homeless clan since Del’s death a year before.
“Wasn’t sneaking, Bennie.” Nagler coughed as the enormity of Bennie’s stink filled the space. “Was there a van at your end a few minutes ago?”
“Yah. The county health folks. Somethin’ about testing, but, shit, Frank, every time they want to test us, one of us ends up in lockup. So we sorta politely decline, get it?”
“I get it, but there is that thing going around.”
Bennie waved a hand. “There’s always a thing.”
Nagler pulled out Tony’s photo and held it at arms’ length. “Seen this guy?”
Bennie tipped the photo to the light, then nodded. “Off and on, last couple weeks. Said someone is looking for him.”
“That would be me.”
“Naw. Couple other guys. Here a week ago. Some Hispanic kid trying to act tough in his black hoodie over his head and reaching into his pants like he was packin’. The guy in charge was this old, shrunken Irish, black leather, scarred face. Tough guy, no bullshit. Said they was cash involved.”
McCarroll. Damn it. Dancer was right. Wonder if he left town.
“Anyone tell him anything?”
Bennie wiped a smile on his face. “Naw. We hang together. You know that.
We told Tony and he split.”
Nagler pulled out a twenty. “Pass the word. Tell Tony I’ll be at the Old Iron Bog. Two days. He’ll know where.”
The Nagler Mysteries are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.com