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THE RED HAND
The Frank Nagler Mysteries Book 4
BY MICHEL STEPHEN DAIGLE
Rookie detective Frank Nagler barely has time to arrange his desk when a new homicide case is assigned to him. Could a serial killer be stalking his hometown of Ironton N.J.?
One by one the bodies begin to pile up. Nine victims re killed over several months, all from different walks of life and different parts of Ironton. Each killed in a different way, forming no clear pattern, as might be expected from a single killer.
THE RED HAND is the prequel to THE SWAMPS OF JERSEY, the book that launched the Frank Nageler Mysteries.
The investigation takes place long before the economic hard times, political corruption and government money scandal hit the formerly booming industrial town of Ironton, N.J.
The story is atmospheric, moody and thrilling.”
THE RED HAND
The Frank Nagler Mysteries Book 4
BY MICHEL STEPHEN DAIGLE
Jimmy Dawson hunched in the back, far corner table at Mario’s.
The place was empty except for a couple of beer drinkers at the bar staring like zombies at the TV replay of a Yankees game; music tinkled in the air, leaking from hidden speakers.
Given the reputation of the person who had asked to meet with him, Dawson thought the red velvet bar with polyester seats might not have been the best spot.
He wanted a boilermaker to knock down the jitter; he sighed and ordered a Coke.
Ironton seemed like it was going to snap.
It wasn’t just the murders. They were happening at an almost casual pace. The city recoiled in horror when police announced each new one, just as it had with the last murder, the one when the victim was found in Smelly Flats. A loud scream of horror, then back to life as usual, an accepting civic shrug which said that’s how life is, brutal and deadly, but it’s someone else’s problem.
It was something subterranean, continents grinding, an oozing, deadly pressure seeking release; no one would want to be there when it popped.
It was like the heat had sucked out all the wrong that had once cooled and coalesced in the hidden corners of the city and spread it around; the wrong that rose up on a bad Saturday night when the dice rolled sideways, when the beer tasted a little sour, when the glint in an eye across the room was a threat, and when a wink to the wrong woman led to bodies on the floor; when a teenaged girl in a dark room said no and got smacked then pinned crying; when knives were sharp and swift; the wrong that had kids robbing the little corner stores, the moms-and-pops and the bodegas, fights at the high school over girls and cars; gay kids being bushwhacked, back alley turf wars between the upturned leather collar crowd and the headband, unlaced Jordans gangs.
There was nothing to hide in, no gray fog of forgiveness, no cooling mist that hung on dry faces, just the shadeless heat, laser beams bouncing off hot glass, the needle-eye reflection, a city blinded, sweating, dulled and beaten to indifference.
And Dawson was its witness staring unblinking into the fury. On the sidewalk with blood leaking into dry sand, at the bar with the shattered front door, a face missing teeth like a broken beer bottle; asking why there were red hands painted on walls, why there were dead women, and why no one could find the killer.
He wanted — needed — that shot of whiskey. But it would smudge all those images with their garish colors, the kaleidoscopic, dripping wash of Ironton’s streets, dull the chemical taste of destruction. He drained the Coke, and apologetically ordered another. The caffeine sugar rush would have to suffice.
The bar door opened and the sunlight glowed around the tall man, who slowly scanned the room, and nodded when he spotted Dawson.
He stopped at the bar and Dawson heard him say, “Seltzer.”
When the drink arrived, he picked it up and sipped off the top, and then sidled past a few scattered chairs and tables and sat down.
“Call me Jimmy.”
“Bartholomew Harrington.” He paused. “Bart.”
Dawson knew him by reputation as the sharp-elbowed, world-stage Ironton lawyer with a soft spot for the little guy. He had been before more state courts, including the Supreme Court, than anyone had a right to expect. He won his cases with ironclad knowledge of the law and a flamboyance that at times wore down his legal opponents.
The seltzer surprised Dawson.
Harrington’s side reputation was that he hadn’t met a drink he couldn’t name.
“Surprised you, didn’t it?” Harrington asked, and nodded at the glass. “The soda water.”
“I’d heard.” Dawson shrugged.
“An act, Mister Dawson, sorry, Jimmy. “I’m as sober as…um, no, since I know those gentlemen, more sober than a judge.” He grinned, absorbed in his own cleverness. “I return home to read Shakespeare and law journals, watch soap operas, and water my flowers. I have the loveliest orchids.” Harrington chuckled. “I sometimes appear in court with my tie askew, jacket sleeves pushed to my elbows, and scuffed shoes. You’d be surprised how disarming that appearance is to my friends in the other chair.”
All well and good, Dawson thought.
“Why are we here?” he asked. “Not, I presume, to discuss your winning ways in court.”
“Do you know what is going on in this city, Jimmy? Well, besides the obvious?”
“People are dying. And it’s hot as hell. What more do you need?”
Harrington pursed his lips and waved a hand.
“They are being sold down the river, block by block, empty building by empty building,” he said, squinting and leaning over the table.
Harrington laughed, throwing his head back. “Whom? Good one. I thought for an old sports hack you’d ask, ‘Whatcha mean, buddy?’”
Dawson leaned in as well and scowled. Sourly, and suddenly, out of patience: “I’m not stupid, Harrington. What’s on your mind?”
“The mayor, mostly. Howard Newton, the vegetable seller. Has everybody fooled, or he thinks he does. That Coupe de Ville. On a” —he wagged his hooked fingers in the air— “‘loan’ from a car dealer, mostly likely a payoff. The white Panama, a South American gangster hat, the dark glasses. The man of mystery. Ha! As much an act as my disheveled court attire. And the cigars, the Cubans. Do you know why he smokes Cuban cigars, Jimmy?”
Dawson, once a cigarette smoker, had turned to an occasional cigar for comfort. He’d never had a Cuban.
“Because they’re illegal,” Harrington said. “Ill-legal. Unlawful. Against the law. Banned, and not just in Boston….”
So full of himself, Dawson thought, shaking his head.
“Makes him look like a big shot, waving that six-inch Cuban in the air. He should care about them because they are finely crafted by traditionalists from tobacco grown and dried with exquisite care and smoke with sweet, almost orgasmic pleasure.” Harrington bit his lower lip and chuckled. “I enjoyed some when I worked as a law student on a land-use case in Havana. Oh, so secret, the case. But the cigars, heavenly.” He scowled. “Howie Newton likes Cuban cigars because he can buy them off a truck in Newark, stashed under a load of bananas or romaine lettuce. If he was a cigarette smoker, his Winstons would not have a tax stamp.”
Dawson looked this watch and scratched his head. He didn’t know whether to believe Harrington or not. Very entertaining, but so far, pointless. Dawson knew Newton was shady. He wore that same scent given off by coaches who were skirting the rules, hiding a nineteen-year-old, six-eight ringer behind a phony birth certificate and an aunt who suddenly moved into the district. Being the big guy, out front and cheering, smiling and winking at the same time. Play the kid for a year, get him to a college, get some tickets to the NCAAs, or maybe a little bonus, and a tryout for that one good guard.
He had seen it, Jimmy Dawson had. The games, the crooks, the messed-up lives. “That’s a big charge, Harrington.”
Harrington downed his seltzer.
“Someone in the local government is using City Hall departments to launder money to buy Ironton buildings for themselves with city funds. I have come across some disturbing paperwork that I am still examining. The books, as is the phrase, are being cooked.”
Harrington rubbed his neck and placed his elbows on the table. “Once this gets embedded, it will be worth millions, and the city might never know what hit it.”
Dawson screwed up his face.
“Okay, got an example?”
“The hosiery mill.” Harrington tapped the table with his index finger. “You know how to read legal ads, Jimmy?”
“Good. Watch for foreclosures, tax sales, and special planning board meetings. It’s all out in the open, but you have to know how to read the tea leaves, so to speak. They are moving quickly on that one.” He paused and leaned over the table. “And then look at past city budgets. This is a long-term scheme that began with systemic disinvestment in the city’s streets, sewers and water lines. Drives down the value of those old industrial properties and makes them easier to steal. Someone says. ‘eh, get rid of it of it,’ and it happens.”
Okay, Dawson thought. “Why now?”
“The murders provide cover.”
Dawson felt his face flush. “No,” he protested. Then: “Really? That’s damn cynical, isn’t it?”
Harrington smiled a crooked, knowing smile.
“Despite your protest, you don’t sound surprised, Jimmy. It’s more than cynical, it’s brilliant. Stolen in the light of day. And no one saw it because they were distracted.”
“I must go.”
“Wait a minute. How do you know this? Sounds like you’re saying the police have a suspect, but are, what, playing out the string, so they can steal millions while more people die?” Dawson asked. “How are you going prove it?
“Jimmy, I’ve defended guilty people all my life. I’ve learned from the best. They can be remarkably clever when they need to be. But they always leave a trail. I’ll be in touch.” He turned toward the door then paused. “They are also setting up a fall guy, in case it goes south.” He left, a tall shadow in the dark room, then a shadowy form in the sunlight as the door opened.
Dawson sat in the cool dark of the bar and wiped his face with both hands. What to believe. He reached for his Coke, now all gray-brown ice water. He nodded to the bartender. Money and murder, he thought. Lifelong companions.
Michael Stephen Daigle grew up in the Northeast U.S. from the snowbelt shores of Upstate N.Y. to the woods of Maine and the piers of New Bedford, Mass., all the while writing. He and his family now live in New Jersey. His first job was picking blueberries in Maine and his last job was a 33-year career as a newspaper writer and editor. He wrote his first novel at 22, and a second at 24. The second one years later became the first book of his Frank Nagler Mystery series: “The Swamps of Jersey” (2014); “A Game Called Dead” (2016); “The Weight of Living” (2017); and “The Red Hand” (2019).
The award-winning Frank Nagler series follows the story of Ironton N.J. Detective Frank Nagler as he solves crimes and tries to sort out his troubled life.
“I like creating messy mysteries with lots of moving parts and layers of story. It lets my detective hero Frank Nagler lead the reader through the twists and turns.”
He is listed in Contemporary Authors, a reference series that includes 112,000 writers and artists.
Author of the Frank Nagler mystery series. “The Swamps of Jersey,” “A Game Called Dead,” “The Weight of Living,” and “The Red Hand.”
“One of moden fiction’s expertly drawn detectives:” Kirkus Reviews
“A Game Called Dead” was named a Runner-Up in the Shelf Unbound 2016 Best Indie Book contest.
“The Weight of Living” was awarded First Place for mysteries in the 2017 Royal Dragonfly Book Award contest;
Named A Notable 100 Book, Shelf Unbound 2018 Indie Book Awards;
Named a Distinguished Favorite, 2018 Independent Press Awards.
Named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2018 Big NYC Book Contest.
Named a Finalist in the 2019 Book Excellence Awards.
“The Red Hand” was named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2019 Big NYC Book Contest
Named Second Place winner for mysteries in the 2019 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards
Named a Notable 100 Book in the 2019 Shelf Unbound Indie Book Awards
Named a Distinguished Favorite in the 2020 Independent Press Awards
A Nominee in the 2020 TopShelf Book Awards
Listed in Contemporary Authors. www.gale.com.
Kirkus Pro Page: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/r/my-pro/
Links to Michael’s website, blog, books, etc.:
Kirkus Pro Page:
**Special Giveaway** Michael will give away signed paperback copies to the first four books in the Frank Nagler Mysteries to one lucky reader who comments on his Karen’s Killer Book Bench blog. Happy Reading!
Thanks, Michael, for sharing your book with us!
Don’t miss the chance to read this book!