One of the many important woman in the Frank Nagler Mysteries is Lauren Fox.
In THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY, the first in the series, she provided key information to Detective Frank Nagler, even though she never physically appears in the story.
She is such a presence, though, that at a book club to discuss the second book in the series, A GAME CALLED DEAD, the first question I was asked was, “Is Lauren Fox in this book?”
These scenes from A GAME CALLED DEAD, show who Lauren is and why she is important to the series. Just for you.
Frank visits a parking lot for which Lauren designed a park, that was never built:
In front of him a block away, the wrecked chain-link fence separated the river from the unfinished park project envisioned by Lauren Fox. That work — a grassy bank and benches, trees and paths — like others, had been started with great fanfare, but was never finished. Instead of an attractive entrance into the new downtown, visitors were greeted by a pile of stones, another of asphalt that had been scoured from the parking lot but never removed, and a twisted, rusted fence.
You had big dreams for this place, didn’t you, kid? Big dreams for the two of us.
She never came back. Did you think she would?
Vindicated by the guilt of Richman and the others, Lauren Fox had chosen to stay away from Ironton. Nagler understood — there was nothing here for her, and coming back would have been no triumph.
The photo she sent him, the one placed in the box that had contained the evidence in the corruption case, was tucked between salt and pepper shakers on his kitchen table.
Her face was still serene, the wisp of hair still blew across her cheek, and her soft eyes were still looking away from him. Two years later, it carried more irony than he wanted to think about.
Nagler had picked it up many times to throw it away, or at least store it in a drawer, someplace where it would be lost like an odd sock. But it never moved, locked between the condiments like a lottery ticket he meant to redeem or a bill he needed to pay.
It hovered like a crack in time, a thing that never was, always was, and would be maybe only in dreams; a glance and smile frozen, a wound unhealing.
For both of us, perhaps.
Frank and Lauren visit his old house and determine the call to go there was a set-up:
“I found it in the court papers that Bruno Hapworth filed to get the latest court hearing. It was Foley. He was working with Adams all alone. Not committing the murders, but feeding Charlie Adams all the ego-boosting bullshit he needed to create a killer. They decided it would be fun to create Victim Z just so we cops would chase our tails, but then wanted to make it personal and hinted in phony records that made it into the archive that Martha was a potential victim. Foley would have known she liked lavender. I was always stopping at drug stores and other places to get lavender soap or perfume while we were on patrol.” He put arm around Lauren and pulled her close. “You can’t talk to anyone about this. It would make you even more of a target than you already are.”
“Oh, come on, you’ve already put a target on my back. Who is it?” She kissed him. “Come on.” And kissed him again. “Who?”
He touched her face. “You have always had a target on your back, Lauren, whether you were in Ironton or not,” he whispered. “That’s how the Game Called Dead works. Get The Hunter’s friends, then get The Hunter. They would have come after you no matter where you were.”
“So bringing me here…”
He smiled wearily. “I thought I could keep an eye on you here, maybe protect you.”
Lauren pulled back, put her elbows on her knees and stared into the street.
“I was always coming back, Frank,” she said softly. “It just took longer than I planned. It was hard the other day at Barry’s not to run across the room and throw my arms around your neck and kiss you and kiss you and kiss you. But I understand.” She leaned her head on his shoulder. “I ran because I was afraid. You have to think about what Howard Newton gave me. All his records, his entire criminal enterprise on paper. Names, dates, pay-offs, bank accounts. Everything. I didn’t want it, and certainly didn’t want to be carrying it around. That’s why I buried it in the park. In my head I figured that someone would make a repair to the equipment and they’d find this box and bring it to you because I had placed an envelope there with your name on it. But then when I saw Debbie Glance in Easton, I realized I had to do more. I wasn’t afraid anymore, but angry because they would have hurt me and my family, and then you. That’s when I left the note and told my mother to give you the key to the Easton apartment.” She gazed up at Nagler. “There’s more here than meets the eye,” she said and smiled. That was the clue she had given him two years ago to find Newton’s records in the city park.
He kissed her hair. “That is certainly true.”
She stood up, took his hands and pulled Nagler to his feet. “And now they are at it again. It has to stop, Frank. It has to stop now, or we’ll never have any peace.”
“Yes, we. You know that. You knew it then. I wouldn’t have come back for anyone else. You and Martha had a love for the ages, and it will always be right here,” she said tapping his heart. “That is why we are here, at her house talking about lavender.”
She reached up and hugged his neck and kissed him. “I’m not running this time, Frank. Let’s get them together.”
She pushed him back so that he sat on the top step and then straddled his hips. She tugged off his jacket, unbuttoned his shirt and peeled it away, then forced him to lie back on the porch as she pulled off her sweatshirt. He touched her shoulders with his fingers and then ran them down her arms and brushed her breasts, her skin rippling in the chilled air. He encircled her back and pulled her down, their mouths locking and probing; he accepted her warmth.
After the cop drama stuff ends with the good cops winning, Lauren lets Frank know where she stands:
“Broken people in a broken town,” he had written. “Broken people, broken town dancing, broken no longer.”
His phone buzzed with a message. Lauren: “Saving u a dance. Hurry.”
Before he started his solo walk, and after Dawson left, she had come back to the bench at Leonard’s. She touched his weary face.
“I’m going to go to the party at the community center and dance with Del and his hunky crew of helpers. I’m gonna drink some beer and eat some barbeque and dance and sing and shed all this terror, swap out the bad for good. And you are going to take one of your grumpy solo walks and with each step a piece of this will fall off and wash away. There’s nothing here to fix, Frank, no apologies to offer. There is just you and me. Just like there was you and Martha. She was your great love. I am your sweet girl. There is room for both of us. You are my sweet man, Frank Nagler.” Then she kissed him.
At the community center, the wild sounds grew denser and louder. The air sizzled and the ground rolled with rhythm. The drummers played before a chorus of wordless joy; sound as revelation, as revolution; air concussive and cleansing. And in the center, Lauren Fox, head back, eyes wide and mouth open in a scream as Del twirled her off his hip, let her go and caught her hand just as she tipped down.
What reviewers say about A GAME CALLED DEAD:
“I chose this book because I love a good mystery and it certainly lived up to its billing. Michael Stephen Daigle creates beautiful descriptive sequences and does an amazing job bringing gritty and damaged characters to life in the eerie industrial setting of Ironton.”
“I loved the blending of the old and the new – the hard nosed detective of yesteryear, Frank Naglar, trying to weave his way through the 21st century reality of computer games, websites and social media. Think Dashiell Hammett meets twitter. Intriguing twist on a classic tale of a who-done-it, coupled with a LITRPG. Great writing. Will read more from this author.”