Iron Angels – Snippet 18

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Iron Angels – Snippet 18 Chapter 11 Jasper dropped into the chair opposite Agent Temple Black, and slumped. For some reason, someone insisted on having all the chairs in the conference room at the maximum height. He released the chair … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 18

Chapter 11

Jasper dropped into the chair opposite Agent Temple Black, and slumped. For some reason, someone insisted on having all the chairs in the conference room at the maximum height. He released the chair from the extreme height down to an appropriate level. Temple had kept hers at maximum height, and no doubt her feet dangled. Perhaps she needed to feel as if she were in control and wanted the height.

The conference room itself wasn’t large, seating perhaps twenty people — more than enough for this little meeting. He wondered when his boss, the Agent in charge of the Merrillville office, would arrive with the ASAC from the main office.

“Pssst.”

Jasper glanced at Temple. “Yes?”

“How do you lower the chair?”

“The little lever on the side?” Jasper raised an eyebrow.

“I’m lifting it,” Temple said, and laughed.

“Really?” Jasper shook his head, trying not to laugh at the absurdity. “When you lift the lever, plop down on the chair.”

“Here goes.” Temple plopped down hard, sending the chair to its bottom-most position.

The conference door swung open and in walked SSA Johnson and ASAC Masters.

Jasper stood, and felt a little more loosened up at Temple’s chair height shenanigans. “SSA Black, I’d like you to meet ASAC Masters and SSA Johnson.”

She grinned. “Masters and Johnson, won’t forget those names.”

ASAC Masters sported his usual nonplussed countenance.

“Never mind,” Johnson said. He obviously understood the reference, but the ASAC’s obtuseness remained true to Jasper’s memory. “All right, none of us wants to be here on a weekend evening.”

He took a seat at the head of the table, Masters next to him. Both wore suits — a rarity for Johnson. He must be trying to either impress or gauge the headquarters Agent and ASAC Masters.

“No need for formality here.” So Temple decided taking charge of the meeting was a strategy for success. That wasn’t surprising, given the brassy nature she’d displayed during their interactions. “Jasper and I have reached an understanding.”

“We have? That is how you see it?” Jasper adjusted himself in his chair.

“Yes. SAG is taking over the investigations.” Temple’s tone was matter-of-fact.

“Hold on.” Masters ran his fingers through slicked back hair. “What is SAG?”

Jasper opened his mouth —

Temple pointed a chiding finger at him. “Scientific Anomalies Group.”

“And what is this group exactly? Never heard of it.” Masters glanced back and forth between Jasper and Temple.

“Neither had I, sir,” Jasper said.

“We investigate matters the field won’t touch and the locals ignore.”

“Who runs the group? You?” Johnson asked, cutting in.

“I’m the supervisor — ”

“She has one person who works with her, Special Agent Vance Ravel. He’s here too,” Jasper said, “but I think he’s attempting to analyze a few samples they collected today.”

“I’ll show you.” Temple stood and walked over to a dry erase board, which snapped on — surprising Jasper. “We were stood up to investigate matters of national security. Watch.” She gestured at the screen and dimmed the lights.

“Huh,” Jasper said, “I didn’t know dry erase boards were capable of such a feat. Fascinating.”

“It’s a SMART Board,” Temple said. “They’re installed in most of the field offices.”

“I don’t need a presentation,” Masters said. “Tell me what’s going on here, but first, who do you report to?”

Temple’s shoulders slumped and her head lolled backward, clearly exasperated. She took a deep breath. “Fine.” She raised the lights. “I’m going to run the slideshow as I speak.”

Behind Temple, slides whisked by displaying formulas and high-resolution photos of objects Jasper couldn’t make heads or tails of.

“We’re part of the Critical Incident Response Group,” Temple continued, “you know, CIRG — ”

“Yes, we’re all well aware of the Division — ”

Temple coughed. “We were conceived to handle counter terrorism leads believed to be nonsense. We quickly evolved beyond dull CT leads and now investigate matters falling in the cracks and outside normal FBI guidelines and protocols.”

“I don’t understand how the kidnapping of a child and subsequent double suicide are nonsensical or fell through the cracks,” Masters said.

Perhaps the ASAC wasn’t so obtuse after all, but Temple wasn’t telling him the whole story, either. Jasper wanted her to keep going, because it would quickly become too fantastical for both Masters and Johnson to accept.

“The crimes are serious.” Temple paced in front of the screen. “Think about their nature though.”

“But the missing girl has been found and the men are dead,” Johnson said. “And the other case, a straight up homicide, has no Bureau nexus.”

“A pile of meat with protruding bones doesn’t strike you as extraordinary?”

“You’re wasting our time, why are we even talking?” Masters asked.

“Exactly,” Temple said. “My group has already been granted concurrence to operate in Indianapolis’s AOR by your SAC. And your man here, Agent Wilde, seems intent on watching us which is why we’re talking. I simply can’t have him hampering our investigations, especially since he doesn’t believe we belong here.”

“Fine,” Masters said, “go about your business, but have this wrapped up by tomorrow. The SAC says yes a little too easily if you ask me. I don’t want you and your group, what was it, SIG?”

“SAG, sir — ”

Jasper hid a grin.

“Whatever, I don’t want you ruining the relationships with the locals we’ve worked so hard to develop. I don’t believe for a moment any of what you’re investigating will make a difference to the Bureau. We’re overstepping our mandate, and remember, we do not typically investigate murders and suicides.” There was a pause, and he drove home one more point: “And do with this as you will, but your group sounds like another pointless headquarters initiative the field not only disdains, but despises.” Masters ended the tirade red-faced.

Wow. Perhaps Masters was pissed for driving up to Merrillville on a weekend, and missing little Johnny’s ballgame or something. Jasper suppressed a grin. He respected him a little more for having a pair — most executive management didn’t — but he’d been hard on Temple and even though she’d tossed Jasper under the bus, he thought Masters had gone a little too far. One thing was clear, Temple believed in what she was doing. She believed in the work and the mission she’d been given by FBI HQ. She wasn’t just going through the motions. Jasper had to respect that.

He cleared his throat. “Sir, I don’t think Agents Black and Ravel can wrap the investigations up in a day.”

“Are you for real?” Johnson asked. “All right, I’ve had enough of this.” He spun his chair. “ASAC Masters?”

“Hold on a minute. How did HQ even find out about the investigations out here?”

“Agent Wilde’s report itself,” said Temple. “There were certain anomalies in the report responsible for triggering an alert. You see, Agent Ravel created a list of key words.”

Johnson cut in. “What was in the report capable of triggering the alert?”

“Oh, let’s see,” Temple said. “Suicide by thermite, stone slabs, possible ritual killing, cults — ”

“I said nothing about a cult,” Jasper protested.

“Fine, I added the cult bit, but the other evidence in the report as well as at the scene suggested cult-like activity. You get the point.”

“We need Agent Wilde here assigned temporarily to this SAG thing,” Johnson said.

Masters’ eyes narrowed and he spread his hands, palm up. “What for?”

“Look, if it’s going to take Agent Black and her assistant Ravel more than a day, I’d rather have someone from the Merrillville office tag along so those ‘relationships’ you mentioned don’t get burned.”

“Thank you, sir,” Temple held up a hand, “but Agent Wilde’s help won’t be necessary — ”

“Oh, but it is, and it’s happening. If you don’t like it, go back to the Hoover building with all the other zombies.”

“I don’t work out of the Hoover building,” Temple said, a bit stiffly.

“I agree,” Masters thumped the table top, “I’ll square it with the SAC and make a call to the Assistant Director at CIRG. But consider yourself TDY’d to this SIG or whatever it is.”

“Sir, it’s SAG,” Jasper stood, “but I’d rather not — ”

“Nope,” Johnson said, “it’s too late. I need you to watch over the HQ personnel so they don’t run amok here. That’s all.”

“For how long?” Jasper didn’t want to whine, but it must have come across like one.

“If there are more of these men out there, and these investigations are somehow linked, a Bureau nexus may exist after all. Just don’t piss off the local cops, okay? Lord knows, Agent Wilde, you have a unique ability.”

“Pissing people off?” Temple asked.

 


Iron Angels – Snippet 17

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Iron Angels – Snippet 17 Chapter 10 Carlos Ochoa’s meeting with the police had gone as well as expected. The only problem he foresaw was the waitress, Lali. She kind of understood what he did and where he went, but … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 17

Chapter 10

Carlos Ochoa’s meeting with the police had gone as well as expected. The only problem he foresaw was the waitress, Lali. She kind of understood what he did and where he went, but wouldn’t be able to provide any real details. But why would the police bother asking her anything? He was probably worried over nothing.

Even though today was Saturday and few of the guild members would be hanging around the machine shop, he was expected to report in after the contact with law enforcement.

He headed south and east from the diner, working his way across multiple sets of tracks. He’d been lucky so far, missing every train and hitting little traffic. Carlos drove with his windows down, enjoying the warm and sticky air mingled with the sharp scent of gasoline and slightly acrid scent of metal working. The mix of abandoned buildings standing alongside operating businesses had been the reason the guild took up residence on Summer Street, running a business called Wayland Precision.

He pulled up to the main gate, and waited. A few seconds later, the gate retracted, allowing him entrance. He drove around back and parked alongside Steve Stahlberg’s extended cab Ford pickup. He desired a vehicle as sweet as Steve’s, with the heavy-duty suspension. He could practically live in the precious hunk of machinery if he had no choice. On the other side of Steve’s pickup was a beater, a worn out Ford Ranger.

“Great, she’s here as well,” Carlos muttered as he thumped his Toyota pickup’s door shut. He had no desire to deal with Steve’s daughter Penny, but no other choice existed unless he wanted to quit. Ever since her father’s stroke, she’d practically taken over the day-to-day operations of Wayland Precision as well as the guild. Penny wasn’t doing a bad job, but Carlos believed she influenced her old man a bit too easily, and a bit too often.

The back of the Wayland Precision building appeared much the same as the front — red brick and frosted glass windows all around. He trotted up the steps and punched his code into the keypad. A buzz sounded and he let himself in.

The building’s eerie weekend stillness unnerved him a little. Only two people in the guild knew where he’d been today, meeting with the FBI and the police — and they were both here and would have plenty of questions. The machine shop itself was dark today. Steve ran a tight ship, keeping the place spotless, at least by machine shop standards. There was hardly a sliver of metal anywhere on the floor or on the machinery. It helped, of course, that they only worked with high-grade steel alloys. If they were cutting stuff like cast iron or bronze, it’d be impossible to keep the shop this clean.

Carlos walked the length of the machine shop, pushed through a swinging door into the warehouse, and descended a flight of stairs off to the side. A vegetal scent filled his nose as he proceeded deeper into the recesses of the building. Warm, damp air hung thick in the wide bench-lined corridor. Mushroom-filled boxes rested atop the benches. The public never saw any of this, only employees and guild members who were one and the same.

“I like the Wizard of Oz,” a female voice echoed from a speaker over his head. That was Penny.

A light flickered on as he approached a solid white door, its edges coated with greasy fingerprints and dirt, as if no one used the doorknob. On the other side of the peephole, he knew, Penny was staring at him.

“It’s me,” Carlos said — he hated this password crap she’d instituted.

“Come on,” Penny said, “what’s the response?”

Penny had obviously gorged herself on too many movies, probably James Bond or the old spy show, Mission Impossible, but this nonsense came from some Christmas movie.

“Fine.” Carlos took a deep breath, and blew out the air with a sigh. “I like the Tin Man.”

“Thank you,” Penny said.

The door buzzed and sprung open. Carlos entered the so-called inner sanctum.

Penny grinned. “See? That wasn’t so bad.”

“Why do you insist on these silly spy antics?” Carlos asked. “I’ve never even seen the movie we’re quoting.”

“We’re quoting A Christmas Story.” Penny shot Carlos a reproving glare. “One of the funniest movies ever.”

“What Christmas story?”

“I feel like we’re Abbott and Costello here doing who’s on first.”

“What?” Carlos asked.

“What’s on second,” Steve chimed in, yanking ripped and faded overalls up.

“You people are insane.” Carlos smacked his forehead. “I don’t know what you’re — ”

Penny’s face turned red, she laughed so hard.

“What?” Carlos was truly perplexed.

“Never mind. Thank you for playing though,” Penny said.

Steve grinned and rubbed his white whiskers with rough hands, like they’d been chewed on like a dog toy.

Carlos grabbed a coffee-stained mug off a shelf and filled it with water from the cooler. “Why use any lines from any movies? Gates, locked doors, and cameras aren’t enough?”

“Let her have some fun,” Steve said. “I don’t quite understand either, but using passwords certainly doesn’t hurt.”

“If you two haven’t noticed, people aren’t beating down the door to uncover what happens in a machine shop. No one cares. Hell, I doubt if more than one percent of the people who drive by — don’t nobody walk on this street — even notices we’re here.”

“Enough,” Steve said.

“So tell us what happened.” Penny grabbed another mug, dropped a bag of black tea in, and drew hot water from the cooler.

Carlos worked his way around and behind a battered old three-drawer filing cabinet, and sat in a chair resembling refugee furniture from the mid-seventies. If the basement had been finished with the dark, wood-grained paneling so prevalent back then, this could have been any house built back in the odd seventies. He was a little too young to truly remember plaid and all the crazy exploitation movies, which made a comeback a few years ago.

“They want to continue meeting me.”

“And?” Penny motioned with her hand as if trying to pull the information out of him.

“So I’m in,” Carlos said, “what more do you want?”

Penny smacked the top of the filing cabinet. “You know damn well what kind of information we’re seeking.”

“Ease up, Penny,” Steve said. “No need to get angry.”

Penny rolled her eyes.

Carlos grinned. “Fine. They had plenty of questions, and for a moment I thought they had caught on to the scene over at animal control, but for now, they aren’t sure what’s going on and haven’t connected the two events.”

“They aren’t sure, huh?” Steve rubbed his chin. “The cops or the FBI still investigating the matter?”

“I don’t know,” Carlos said.

Penny frowned.

“Look,” Carlos folded his arms, “I couldn’t ask too many questions, right? I mean, I had to kind of work with what they tossed at me. If you want my opinion, the local cop, this Pedro, isn’t interested. The FBI guy did most of the asking and appears more eager to use me as an informant.”

“Interesting,” Steve said. “We’ll keep tabs on them as best as we can to be sure they aren’t getting too close.”

“And you want me to continue meeting and figuring out if they’re learning too much?” Carlos asked.

“Yes.” Penny picked up the phone.

“It’s starting up again, the demon universe leaking into ours, right?” Carlos gazed at Steve.

Steve shrugged. “Let’s just call it the ‘other’ universe. We don’t really know for sure what we’re dealing with. But, yes, we think so. There’ve been too many horrific coincidences lately.”

“Speaking of a coincidence,” Carlos drummed his fingers atop the cabinet, “did we have anyone over at animal control today? Once the police arrived?”

Steve shook his head and glanced at Penny who now had the phone up to her ear. She frowned. “No, not that I’m aware of,” she said to Steve and Carlos, then spoke into the receiver: “Hey, John. Be here first thing in the morning. We need to be cutting stainless all day. Let Danny and Ian know also. Right.” A second later she hung up.

“Our old enemy has returned, I’m afraid.” Steve said. “They’re up to something. The two men who died in the hotel weren’t an anomaly or wannabes. No way. The Câ Tsang is back.”

“Great,” Penny said. “We’ll be dodging the law, the Câ Tsang, and Nephilim from another world.”

“Maybe Nephilim,” Steve cautioned. “We don’t really know what they are. We’ve never known, as far back as our records go.”

 


Iron Angels – Snippet 16

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Iron Angels – Snippet 16 “Wait a moment, please,” Vance said. “I didn’t complete my explanation and analysis. What is not ordinary is men using thermite on themselves, and also using such an interesting chemical as a means of catalyzing.” … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 16

“Wait a moment, please,” Vance said. “I didn’t complete my explanation and analysis. What is not ordinary is men using thermite on themselves, and also using such an interesting chemical as a means of catalyzing.”

“The mats,” Jasper said. “They stood on the mats, coated their feet with a liquid, and hopped into the basins.”

“Yes,” Vance said, “sulfuric acid. Remember, I read your report.”

“How could I forget? You called me at some crazy hour to talk about it.”

Vance coughed. “Now, this sort of suicide pact –”

Jasper opened his mouth, but Vance raised a hand —

“This sort of suicide pact is common with cults.”

“But there were only two men, wouldn’t there be more cult members crowding around for a peek?”

“A good point, but I still believe we’re dealing with a group of men engaged in heinous –”

“So you’re saying this wasn’t some fucked up kiddie porn type thing, but some sort of ritual killing? A sacrifice?”

“Perhaps,” Temple interjected. “We’re entertaining a few theories, but we’re still forming a more complete picture.”

“But you figured you had enough so that your little group — your guild or whatever you call it — could roll into Indiana and take over what is essentially a crimes against children case.”

“There has been more than one death,” Temple said.

“Yeah, two men killed themselves. Two utterly despicable men.”

“But three deaths over all,” said Temple.

“What?” Jasper stepped closer to Temple — uncomfortably so for him and hopefully for her, but she stood her ground. “Are you trying to tell me the pile of meat and bones over at animal control is somehow related to this?”

“Possibly. Vance?”

Jasper turned his attention toward Vance, and felt Temple take a step backward.

“I found markings near the site of the uh, pile of meat and –”

“Yeah, yeah, go on. I get it.”

“– uh, similar to the striations and distortions on the floor and wall here at the hotel.”

Jasper dragged his hand down his face in frustration.

“But how could they possibly be connected? A cult? The mess over near animal control was no suicide.” Jasper tried to keep the incredulity out of his voice, but failed. “The pile of meat? No way.”

“No,” Temple said, “but perhaps the pile of meat, as you so eloquently put it, had been witness to the cult’s activities and paid the price.”

“I’m sorry, but the idea a person could mangle a body in such a way is ludicrous. Are you two about finished here? You were supposed to wait for me, remember? I was going to escort you through the crime scene –”

“Oh, I wasn’t aware of any arrangement.” Temple stepped into Jasper’s space now. Her glossy lips pursed and her eyebrows arched in a go ahead, make my day sort of way. “Remember, we’ve taken over the investigations.”

“Wait. This one and the murder? The locals, the East Chicago Police, will never agree –”

“They already have.” She turned her attention on Vance whose head was down studying some smudge on the floor. “How much more time do you need?”

“A few more minutes. I need to collect samples from the basins.”

“Ten-four,” Temple said. “Now, Jasper, tell me, has the rest of the building been checked?”

“Yes, but this is unacceptable. I can’t have you two blundering all over Lake County. Don’t screw around too much with this place, the Evidence Response Team is going to give this place another going over –”

“Afraid not.”

“Are you trying to be a pain in the ass?” Jasper huffed. Out of nowhere, a chill crept up his legs and worked into the core of his body, as if emanating from deep within the earth. His shoulders shook, despite his attempt to tamp down the urge.

“Look, why do you care so much?” Temple shook her head, the tight curls wiggling. “You said yourself this was a clear case of suicide and the other a murder and they weren’t connected. The girl was rescued, right? You’re off the hook.”

Yeah, why was he so interested in all this? Why did he care so much about the turf war? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply go back to busting lowlifes? Black was right, after all. Suicides, murder, and a rescued girl. Why stay involved?

He realized it was because a part of him believed what she was saying. Both the suicides and the murder were fantastic in nature. He’d never witnessed human bodies devoured by thermite and had never seen a human corpse rearranged into a pile of meat.

Vance looked up. He’d donned thick spectacled glasses that reminded Jasper of some nutty scientist examining bugs or something. “Hey, this is interesting.”

“What?” Jasper and Temple asked in unison.

“I can’t be certain out here in the field, but a sample I took from the murder scene and another from here match. This is big, we’ve never seen anything like this.” Vance grinned. “Once I can get the samples to a real lab, I’ll go to town.”

“Can you give me a hint as to what you’re talking about?” Jasper asked Vance, but never took his eyes off Temple. Damn, she was good. Her eyes hadn’t left his either, and he wasn’t sure if she’d even blinked yet.

“You don’t have to answer, Vance.” Temple arched an eyebrow, as if once again relaying a go ahead and try me look.

“All right, I guess we’ll be straightening this out over at the Merrillville office. My boss, SSA Johnson has agreed to meet me, and he requested your presence.” Johnson hadn’t requested her presence, but Temple didn’t need to know he lied.

“I’ll do you one better,” Temple said. “Your Assistant Special Agent in Charge is going to be there as well.”

“Great.” Jasper hadn’t ingratiated himself to ASAC Masters any more than he had the ERT leader. A minor insight hit him: perhaps the other person wasn’t always the problem. A slim chance existed that on occasion he caused the problems. He laughed.

Temple’s eyes widened. “What is so funny? Care to let me in?”

“Not at this moment,” Jasper said. “I was simply detecting an emerging pattern, is all.”

“With the investigations?”

“No. Not at all.” Jasper took his eyes from Temple’s. “Fine, I’ll meet you over at the office. When is ASAC Masters supposedly arriving at the RA?” She’d gone above and beyond to shoehorn her little group into places they didn’t belong and then had likely gotten him in hot water. As if he needed help in the hot water department.

Temple glanced at her watch — a slender non-digital piece — a Tag Heuer. Perhaps this woman had some class after all, or perhaps it’d been a gift from a lover jilted by her cherubic demeanor.

“If we leave in fifteen minutes,” she said, “that should give you plenty of time.”

“Fine, I’m leaving now.”

“Okay. Bye now.” She fluttered her fingers, shooing him from the hotel.

He spun and made for the stairs. What a total bitch —

“I know what you’re thinking.”

“That’s good, but do I get to zap you with electricity if you’re wrong?”

She laughed, the first genuine one he’d heard out of her. “That a Ghostbusters reference?”

“Something like that, kind of obscure I’d imagine,” he said, still pissed and managing his anger poorly. “Bill Murray at the beginning when he’s zapping the guy, but not the girl when they’re guessing what patterns are on the cards he’s holding. So, yes.”

“I’m good,” Temple said. “Relax, Agent Wilde, maybe you’re not so bad after all.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“And maybe I’ll allow you to tag along.”

“Too many maybes for me.” That had done it. “See you later.” He wanted to salute her with a finger, but buried his hands in his pockets like he was some little kid being run off the playground by a bully.

 


Iron Angels – Snippet 15

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Iron Angels – Snippet 15 Chapter 9 Jasper pulled up to the Euclid Hotel, the scene of Teresa Ramirez’s rescue as well as the site of the bizarre thermite deaths of the two still unidentified men. And likely to remain … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 15

Chapter 9

Jasper pulled up to the Euclid Hotel, the scene of Teresa Ramirez’s rescue as well as the site of the bizarre thermite deaths of the two still unidentified men. And likely to remain unidentified unless Temple’s assistant Vance hid some magic divining powers within the recesses of the case he dragged around.

Under the glaring sun, the Euclid Hotel appeared benign. The dilapidated exterior was like the other abandoned buildings in the area, but he’d never view the hotel in that way again. Now that he sat parked curbside, he found it difficult to muster up any enthusiasm to enter.

Jasper squeezed the Charger’s steering wheel as if he were choking the life out of the car until his fingers ached. He took a breath and realized he’d been clenching his jaw the entire time.

“Fine, I’ll go in,” he muttered to himself. “They’re probably back there annoying the police standing guard duty.”

He went around back and found two East Chicago police standing guard.

“Evening,” Jasper said.

Both men straightened a bit at his approach.

“Pete called you?”

“Yes,” said the man on the right.

“You see two other Bureau Agents come around here? I’m supposed to –”

The man on the right held up a hand. “They’re already down there, sir.”

“What?”

“Yeah, they arrived fifteen minutes ago.”

They must have parked around the corner. Jasper sighed. “May I enter the hotel?”

“Sure, knock yourself out. We’re not even sure why we’re guarding this dump.”

“You boys are brilliant conversationalists.” Jasper sighed and his shoulders slumped. “Damn it. I’m sorry. But you understand how it is when muckety-mucks and uninvited guests crash a party, right?”

Both men smiled and relaxed their postures a bit.

SAG. Wasn’t that the name of the silly group Temple had tossed about?  The fault didn’t rest with the two officers standing guard — Temple had probably assaulted them with a huge chunk of her mind. He couldn’t believe she had the nerve to enter the hotel without him. She’d overstepped her mandate. Surely SAC Weber couldn’t have known this would happen, that two headquarters Agents would be traipsing throughout Indianapolis field office’s area of responsibility. Now he couldn’t wait for the meeting with his boss later on today.

“She gave you fellas quite a go around, I’d wager, and left an impression, huh?”

The man on the left rolled his eyes, and the man on the right snorted. “You could say that.”

“Thank you, gentlemen, if I’m not back by dawn, well, you know –”

The man on the right winked. “Copy that.”

He entered through the same door Pete and he had used the previous evening. Chills coursed through him as they had then. This time, however, someone had flicked on what appeared to be every light source still functioning in the hotel. Illuminated such as it was now, the building’s years of neglect were obvious.

The heavy incense aroma from the previous evening had dissipated somewhat, but the acrid chemical odor of the thermite reaction remained as if the stench had permeated the building’s old, porous bones. Jasper descended the stairs, not looking forward to his next interaction with Temple Black, despite having left her on somewhat good terms a few hours earlier near animal control.

He eased into the doorway at the bottom of the stairs.

“Agent Wilde held back on his reporting,” a male voice said. From the accent, that had to be Vance.

“How so?” a female asked. That was Black.

“The samples I’m collecting here are quite fascinating,” Vance said.

Jasper strode into the basement, the scene of the thermite suicides and the little girl’s captivity. “Which samples?”

Vance and Temple jumped. Temple’s lips pursed, rolled her eyes, and shook her head. “You’re lucky you didn’t get shot.”

“By who?” Jasper placed his hands on his hips. “You? Him?” He nodded toward Vance.

“I’ll have you know I’m an excellent shot.” Vance frowned and kneeled before a scorch mark on the floor.

“Hey, the mark you’re examining wasn’t there last night,” Jasper said.

“What wasn’t?” Temple’s brow furrowed.

“The scorch mark.” Jasper walked over to where Vance kneeled and studied the black streak. “I wonder if someone else has been down here? I mean, we cleared the building last night and posted guards, but is it possible someone got in here? Another man associated with the two who offed themselves?”

“Look here,” Vance said. “You see this?” His dark brown fingers traced a wavy pattern in the floor coinciding with the scorch mark.

“Strange.” Jasper stood, and motioned for Vance to follow. “I noticed similar markings back there.”

He moved toward the back room where the kidnapped girl had been tied to a stone slab. Vance followed and scraped the wall. Soot and dirt covered a piece of paper he held. He opened a vial, folded the paper and allowed the debris to fall in.

“What do you make of the substance you’re scraping off the wall, Vance?” Temple entered the back room behind them.

Vance shrugged. “Until I can perform a detailed analysis, I can only venture a guess.”

“Which is?” asked Temple.

“This isn’t from the thermite reaction.”

“So?”

“I’d say from the fading on the marks back here that they are older than the thermite scars in the other room as well as the identical scorch marks,” Vance said.

“But what is it?” Jasper asked. “I understand the thermite and how that’d jack up not only a person, but anything the intense heat touched. My confusion is over the odd distortions rippling throughout the wall and spots on the floor as well. What can you tell me about those?” He knelt near the stone slab where the little girl had been tied down, studying for odd marks like those appearing on the wall and the floor.

“My question exactly,” Temple said.

“Patience.” Vance scraped more samples from the wall, and joined Jasper by the slab. “What are you seeing here?”

“Nothing. Well, nothing but another image I’ll never eradicate from my mind.”

Vance raised an eyebrow.

“He’s talking about the little girl,” Temple said, “you know, the one we’re going to go speak with? The victim?”

“Oh, of course,” Vance said.

“You’re gonna speak with the victim?” Jasper shot to his feet.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’ve taken over the investigation out here, remember?”

“Now wait a minute,” Jasper said, “this is Indianapolis territory, and –”

“Remember, your SAC, the one who is checked out and would say yes to anything, agreed to our presence here.” Temple raised a fancy camera to her eye and began snapping photos.

“Yeah, but his concurrence didn’t include taking over investigations, and what’s your nexus here, anyway? We solved the case — Pete and I.” Jasper’s ears were red and hot. This woman understood how he worked, what riled him up, and how to push his buttons. Shoot, even Lucy, his ex-wife, hadn’t ever got to him this fast.

“Don’t be so sure, cowboy,” Temple said, continuing to take photos of the room.

Cowboy? Did she think he hailed from Oklahoma or Texas? His home was Tennessee, although he’d ditched most of the accent between his time at college, the Marines, and now the Bureau.

“Calm yourself. It isn’t the end of the world. Our nexus is clear, my group investigates this sort of thing.”

“What, this SAG of yours?”

“Yep. Scientific anomalies, remember?”

“Oh, I remember, but explain to me how this is an anomaly.” Jasper folded his arms.

“Vance?”

The Indian man with a small potbelly resting on an otherwise spindly frame stood and pulled a notebook out of an inside jacket pocket and flipped it open. “So, you reported the thermite, which in and of itself is not out of the ordinary –”

“Excuse me? Are you serious?” Jasper’s hands went to his hips.

“Completely.” Hurt crept into Vance’s deep brown eyes, as if Jasper had wounded him. “Now, if you’ll –”

“Look, in the Marine Corps we dismantled huge chunks of machinery with the stuff. The temperatures involved in a thermite reaction are capable of taking almost anything down to parade rest. And you’re saying the presence of thermite isn’t out of the ordinary? I disagree.”

 


Iron Angels – Snippet 14

Posted on Categories Collaborators, Snippets

Iron Angels – Snippet 14 “How about a missing person? An abandoned vehicle along Gary Avenue over near the animal control center? Doesn’t mean anything to you?” Pete leaned on the table with both elbows. The approach wasn’t quite as … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 14

“How about a missing person? An abandoned vehicle along Gary Avenue over near the animal control center? Doesn’t mean anything to you?” Pete leaned on the table with both elbows. The approach wasn’t quite as effective when sitting next to a person you were questioning, even if the proximity of Pete to Carlos should have been uncomfortable. There was nothing like sitting across from someone and staring at them while leaning forward and knowing the answers to the questions posed, or at least pretending. This wasn’t an interrogation, but a simple extraction of information in the furtherance of a homicide — a disturbing homicide. Jasper hoped Pete wouldn’t provide details, not in such a public place with food being served.

Jasper had picked up another dripping fry but he dropped it back on the plate. The image of the pink mound with bone poking through the one-time flesh of a man overwhelmed his hunger.

Pete and Carlos hadn’t noticed Jasper’s action, and hopefully not the sick expression, nose kinked up replacing his attempted stoicism. In fact, Carlos’s body language and attitude was that of a person who retained more information than he provided. Was he afraid to talk about the homicide because he feared the person who had perpetrated the heinous crime? He did have a family — a daughter — to protect, after all.

The clinking of silverware on plates, and clunking of glasses on table worked forward into his mind. The sounds had been there the entire time, but surfaced when the conversation chilled. Motion from the left caught in his periphery. Jasper turned and saw the waitress coming toward them. He opened his eyes wide, alerting Pete so he’d cease the current line of questions.

“You having anything else?” The waitress stood with her hip cocked to the left with a hand resting upon the ample curve.

“We’re good.” Jasper considered a fresh cup of coffee, but would hold out for a cappuccino at Starbucks once they finished with Carlos. The waitress slapped the check down on the table and walked off, shaking her head. “What’s with her?”

“You’re cops and she doesn’t particularly care for me.”

“That bother you?”

“Should it? I’m not doing anything wrong. She’s been busted before, though, so I’m sure she has a beef with you guys.”

“Pfft, not me,” Jasper said. “Probably Pete, he’s into hate crimes.”

“Ay.” Pete dropped his head into his hands.

“Kidding. Totally kidding. Sheesh.” Jasper picked at the fries, just from reflex. His appetite was quite gone, for the moment. “She think you’re a narc or something?”

Carlos shook his head. “No — besides, she never got into the drug scene.”

“A few more questions and I’ll let you get back to your weekend, okay?”

“Sure thing.”

“What do you do for a living, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Metal working. You know, a machine shop and other various odds and ends.”

“Like a handyman?” Jasper asked.

“Only during my off hours, fixing stuff around the neighborhood.”

“You must hear quite a bit about what goes on around town, right?”

Carlos shrugged. “It’s talking to people, being friendly. You know how it is.”

Jasper did indeed. The main job of a Special Agent involved talking to people and obtaining information in the prevention of crime and in the furtherance of investigations in the hopes of locking up criminals.

“Yeah, I understand,” Jasper said. “We understand.” He glanced at Pete.

“The machine shop,” Pete cut in, “what sort of shop is it?”

“We do specialty work. Stainless steel, mostly, and other alloys. Some of them are pretty exotic.”

“You work that stuff?” Pete asked. “Impressive.”

“I’m more of a helper. Sweeping, odds and ends mostly.” Carlos broke eye contact briefly.

“Fair enough,” Jasper said, wedging himself back into the conversation. He had the impression Carlos held back information on them, but no source ever gave up the whole enchilada during a first meeting. No need to press the man now, he’d get more information from him later. “I can contact you at the number you provided to the station?”

“Sure, that’s a private number.”

“Good, I was hoping I didn’t need to provide a drop phone. The budget for operational items is kind of in the crapper right now.”

Carlos arched an eyebrow. Perhaps Jasper shouldn’t have discussed budget issues with a prospective source, but the government’s financial woes were well known throughout the world.

“But if you ever needed a drop phone, that’s doable. Getting one depends on the sort of information you’re providing and the need to keep your identity secret.”

Pete smiled, as if saying “nice recovery.”

“No need. I’ll be fine, but do feel free to contact me if you come up with more questions.”

“Thank you,” Jasper said and slid from the booth.

Carlos stood and Jasper thrust a hand out to shake. Carlos shook, hardly gripping Jasper’s hand, nodded, and walked off. Jasper slid back into the booth, frowning.

“What?” Pete asked.

“His hand’s not as calloused as I would have thought from a metal worker and handyman.”

“So what? Maybe he wears gloves and uses hand lotion.”

“Nobody in their right mind wears gloves around moving equipment. Sure as hell not machine tools. Good way to lose a hand.” Jasper shrugged. “I had the impression he held back on us a bit. He knows more than he’s admitting, or at least he’s not admitting to how he knows so much. The waitress angle interests me — they obviously know each other fairly well.”

“He said they were once friends,” Pete said. “For a first meeting, I’d say Carlos acted like any other source. He did provide the information leading us right to those bastards at the hotel yesterday.”

“That he did, but there’s something off about the whole thing.”

“A feeling you have, perhaps?”

“You’re funny. No, I can’t figure his mannerisms and odd answers.”

“Sounded straightforward to me,” Pete said.

“Before I can open him as a Bureau source, I’m gonna have to run a few background checks and vet him a bit.”

“Do what you have to do, it’s no skin off my nose.” Pete finished off his water.

“You two ready?” The waitress had walked up on them without either of them noticing.

“Yeah,” Jasper said, and dropped a ten on the table. “Keep the change.”

The waitress picked up the money and sauntered off.

The diner had grown quiet and had entered the lull before the dinner rush.

“I need to meet those Agents in a bit.” Jasper slid from the booth. “You’re ready, right?”

Pete chuckled. “I only had water.”

They exited the diner and stood near their vehicles. Pete shoved a toothpick between his lips, but then grasped it between his thumb and forefinger. “Where are you meeting those Agents? You’re talking about the black woman and that little Indian man?”

“Yep, those are the ones. I’m meeting them over at the hotel. They’re interested in examining the scene.”

“What for?” Pete asked.

Jasper released a protracted sigh and dragged his hand down his face. “They’re out from headquarters, some unit I’ve never heard of, SAG or something. They’re interested in the crime scene and the M.O. for some reason.”

“You mind if I sit this one out?”

Jasper raised an eyebrow. “You’re gonna leave me with those two?”

“I’d rather hang with you, but I can’t go back in the hotel, or anywhere near the place.” Pete glanced away from him. “And I don’t know why.”

“But you stared at a lump of meat, a mangled human corpse, over at animal control, eh? That was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen.”

Pete tilted his head back, squinting against the sun. “Look,” he said, dropping his gaze back on Jasper, “I can’t explain. Cut me slack on this one, will you?”

Jasper rested a hand on the man’s shoulder, “Sure thing. You know, it’d probably be better anyway if you aren’t involved much with the headquarters folk. I’ll call you if I need anything. You do the same.”

“Sounds fine by me.” Pete nodded and dropped into his Crown Vic.

“Hey, I won’t have any problems getting into the hotel, will I?”

“I’ll call over for you and tell the officers standing guard to allow you entrance.”

“Great, talk to you later.”

Pete waved, started the engine, and drove off.

Jasper did likewise. The afternoon sun had baked the interior of the black vehicle, but within a minute the air conditioning caught up to the heat.

By the time he reached the Euclid Hotel, the headquarters Agents Temple and Vance would likely already be waiting for him. He didn’t speed, though. If he got caught on the wrong side of the tracks waiting for a train to pass and the HQ zombies had to wait, so be it.

 


Iron Angels – Snippet 13

Posted on Categories Collaborators, Snippets

Iron Angels – Snippet 13 “Carlos Ochoa,” the short man offered. “Thank you for meeting us today.” Jasper dumped a few drops of cream into the pitch-like coffee, as thick and viscous as ninety weight oil, and probably as tasty. … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 13

“Carlos Ochoa,” the short man offered.

“Thank you for meeting us today.” Jasper dumped a few drops of cream into the pitch-like coffee, as thick and viscous as ninety weight oil, and probably as tasty.

“I gave you what you needed, so why are we talking now? Am I in trouble?”

The waitress interrupted. “A drink? Some food? What’ll you have?” For some reason she was frowning at Carlos.

“Water.”

“That it?” She placed a hand on her hip.

“Si.”

“Food for you two?” Her eyebrows rose, hopeful.

“No food for me.” Pete shook his head. “But I’ll have a water –”

She cocked her head. “Water.”

“And,” Jasper said in a drawn out manner, trying to get across that he hadn’t finished his sentence, “I’ll have an order of wet fries, you know, fries with gravy?”

She walked off, muttering something under her breath.

“A friendly girl,” Pete said.

“She isn’t too bad,” Carlos said.

“You know her?”

“Once a friend of mine, now more of an acquaintance. So, again, why are we here?”

Pete coughed. His hands encircled the mug, still drawing warmth despite the heat outside now in full force in mid-afternoon. “Tell us more about the missing girl, and how you knew what you knew.”

“My daughter saw Teresa’s kidnapping happen.” Carlos stared at the tabletop. It was a dark wood-grained veneer, like the wood paneling so prevalent in the seventies, and reminded Jasper of his childhood home. “She was really scared by it.”

“Explain the entire event if you’re able.” Pete sipped his water. Jasper relinquished the lead to Pete, happily, even if Pete sitting next to Carlos created an awkward environment for a source recruitment and debrief.

“The abduction?”

“Yes, run the scenario by us,” Pete said. “We’re trying to figure out if more people are involved, maybe a gang or a human trafficking ring operating under the radar.”

“The stolen van belonged to a friend of a friend.”

Jasper tamped down his irritation. “Go deeper, please, we need more information than you’re giving us.” He took a sip of the thick, bitter coffee, which turned out not to be as bad as he’d thought it would be.

“My daughter hangs around with Teresa quite a bit.”

“What’s your daughter’s name?”

“Isabella.”

“A pretty name,” Jasper said.

“A pretty girl,” Carlos replied. “So, they often walk together, along with a few other girls to a friend’s house on the other side of the railroad tracks.”

“Which tracks? At what street and near which intersection?” That was an important piece of information since railroad tracks crisscrossed northwestern Indiana more than perhaps anywhere else in the United States. The exact location might help pinpoint where the kidnappers had operated out of, and would also provide a few more leads in the form of other eyewitnesses.

“The tracks just north of Chicago Avenue, a block west of Indianapolis Boulevard. The girls were heading north on Magoun, after leaving their friend’s house a few blocks south. All of them crossed the tracks except for Teresa.”

“Why? The guys in the van grab her?”

Carlos shook his head. “Not yet.”

“A train, right?” Jasper asked.

“Si. A train had been bearing down on them, and poor Teresa had been too afraid to cross according to my daughter. And as the train crawled past, the van pulled up right next to Teresa as if waiting to cross the tracks. My daughter said that a passing freight car blocked their view and when it passed Teresa was gone. In that moment, they must have grabbed her.”

“You said, ‘they.’ How do you know more than one man participated in the kidnapping?”

“The news –”

“Damn it.” The media had somehow gotten wind of certain details. The fact there were two men was leaked probably didn’t matter, but media problems annoyed Jasper. “Go on, my apologies.”

The waitress dropped off the rest of their drinks and food. Jasper pushed his coffee aside in favor of plain old water to have with the fries and gravy.

Carlos took a sip of water, wiped his lips, and continued: “One of my daughter’s other friends even tried to crawl beneath the slowly moving train, but the other girls pulled her back. All of the girls are so upset by this.” He stared into his water.

“Any other details? Something you’re leaving out?”

“Are you saying I’m purposely withholding something?” Carlos kept his eyes averted, but his clenched fist and white knuckles betrayed his anger at possibly being called a liar.

“Not at all, I’m trying to get as much information as possible.” Jasper had both hands up in a placating gesture.

“I’m not sure I understand,” Carlos said, finally raising his gaze. “You rescued the girl, what else is there to understand?”

Pete placed a hand on Carlos’s shoulder. “What if more girls go missing because there were more than two men?”

“Of course.” Carlos sipped his water, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You’re right. The girls saw the van, an older make, and white. But you know this.”

“We do,” Jasper said. “But the details are quite a bit for a bunch of young and excited and scared girls to recite, don’t you think, Carlos?” He extricated an fry from the pile and plopped it in his mouth.

“Fine.” Carlos sighed. “No point in hiding this.” He paused.

“Go on,” Pete said. “You can tell us. You’re not in trouble, unless you were in on the crime.”

Carlos stiffened and made to slide from the booth.

“Hold on.” Jasper wiped off his hands and motioned for Carlos to remain in the booth. “I don’t think you were involved. That doesn’t make any sense to me. But tell me, if the van belonged to a friend of a friend, would you really know the specifics so well?”

Carlos stared at Pete, and reluctantly eased onto the bench seat of the booth. So much for Pete building rapport.

“I drove around the area and spotted the van. I got out and felt the hood and so forth — warm metal. And the engine ticked, you know, like it was cooling off.”

“So you had a woman report the activity at the hotel. A woman phoned in the hotel tip, an Hispanic woman.”

“I did,” Carlos said. “My wife. I told her what I’d seen and said they had to be in the abandoned hotel. I noticed the door had been used recently.”

“But you didn’t witness the men take the girl inside, did you?” Jasper bit into another fry, this one soaked with gravy.

Carlos shook his head. “A guess, but it was the only place that made sense.”

“Fine, anything else?”

“No.”

“Could we speak with your daughter at some point?” Pete asked.

“I’d prefer not, but if you must.” Carlos allowed the final word to hang.

“Probably won’t be necessary,” Jasper said, and Pete frowned at him. “Let me ask you, would you be available to meet with us from time to time?” Jasper grabbed a couple more of the less saturated fries and stuffed them into his mouth. He hadn’t realized how hungry he’d been.

“I already told you all I can about this nasty business.”

“Understood, but what I mean is for other goings-on in the community. Someone with your sense of duty to the neighborhood and so willing to put yourself in harm’s way, well, I’d enjoy working with you again. Would that be okay? If you need money or something, I’m sure we could –”

“No. No money.” Carlos frowned, and disgust crept onto his face. “Some coffee or lunch perhaps, but no money, I can’t accept money. I was simply doing my duty and helping the community. For my daughter.”

“I didn’t mean to insult you,” Jasper said. “Again, my apologies. Can you tell us anything else about Teresa’s kidnapping, and the men who died?”

Carlos shook his head.

Pete glanced at Jasper, appearing antsy to pursue a different line of questioning. Jasper raised his eyebrows and tipped his head to the side in a quick gesture.

Pete took over. “We discovered a body today –”

“In the abandoned hotel? Another man?” Carlos asked. “Not a little girl, I pray.” He glanced up at the ceiling and crossed himself.

“No, nothing like that,” Pete said, “but it’s a strange death.”

“Strange? In what way?”

“How about we say strange, all right? The body had been mutilated.”

Carlos took a sip of water. “I heard nothing about a mutilated body.”

 


Iron Angels – Snippet 12

Posted on Categories Collaborators, Snippets

Iron Angels – Snippet 12 Chapter 7 Temple and Vance stayed at the animal control scene long enough to see the coroner’s van arrive followed by a black SUV. A grumpy looking man with round spectacles exited the van while … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 12

Chapter 7

Temple and Vance stayed at the animal control scene long enough to see the coroner’s van arrive followed by a black SUV. A grumpy looking man with round spectacles exited the van while two women wearing cargo pants and dark blue shirts emblazoned with FBI and ERT exited the SUV and marched purposefully over to Jasper and his cop friend, Pete.

“Hold on a moment,” Jasper said to the two women and focused on Temple and Vance. “I’ll see you later?”

“Fine,” Temple said. “But don’t be late — we have work to do.”

Jasper rolled his eyes. “Yeah, sure.”

“Let’s go.” Temple motioned for Vance to get in their rental. She started the car but kept the air conditioning off and lowered the windows. Jasper was pointing and gesticulating like a madman as he appeared to lecture the two women who were Evidence Response Team members. The rental was far enough away that she couldn’t make out the words but she imagined what the man was thinking and could probably guess what he was saying. Agent Jasper Wilde was probably thinking the women loved their “chick SWAT.” Bureau women didn’t typically join the tactically-minded and typically knuckle-dragging group known as SWAT — Special Weapons and Tactics — but preferred the more cerebral ERT, the Evidence Response Team, known as “chick SWAT” by a few women Temple had known on ERT.

“Hey boss –”

Temple’s grip on the steering wheel tightened and her head snapped toward Vance. “What?” she demanded. Then she took a deep breath and relaxed. “I’m sorry. It’s just that –”

Temple nodded toward Jasper. “That annoying man out there is going to be trouble. He’s already gotten under my skin and we were with him for what, five minutes?”

“I don’t know, he’s probably all right.” Vance stared through the windshield and not at Temple. “When you were in the field didn’t you resent having HQ show up?”

“HQ never showed up in the field, except for maybe meetings at the office, but –”

“Exactly.”

“No, you’re right,” Temple conceded. “The field hates it when HQ butts in. But if he’s the agent we have to deal with out here, Lord do I hope it’s only for a day or two.”

She swung the car around and headed for the Euclid Hotel.

“So, Temple, what’s the plan? Where are we going, not our hotel, right?”

“No. It’s too early to check in, but we are going to drive by another hotel, the Euclid, maybe we can sweet talk the police they left there into allowing us in, and then we’ll head over to Merrillville and the hotel, see if we can get an early check-in.”

Vance yanked his neck to the right, then the left, cupped his chin in his right hand and shoved to the right and then to the left, filling the car with pops and snaps and cracks. Temple’s stomach grumbled — now she wanted some cereal, Rice Crispies.

“You done? If so, how does that plan sound to you?” Temple asked.

“I’m hungry, but yes, that sounds good.”

As they drove by the Euclid, they spotted two police still watching over the abandoned hotel, so they didn’t bother stopping or even slowing up much for that matter. Temple swung into the first greasy spoon she spotted, hoping to soak up some local color, or perhaps overhear some gossip about what happened the evening before. But the place was close to empty and the few people who were in there kept to themselves, so they just ate and left.

They drove by the FBI office in Merrillville and farther down the road found their hotel. It was a decent looking place, part of a major chain but certainly no Hilton or Marriott. She was glad Vance hadn’t chosen the Express, since he’d be cracking that silly joke about knowing how to do everything since they had stayed there. Temple smiled. Vance wasn’t perfect, but he was easy to work with and willing to put in crazy hours in the name of science.

Chapter 8

Jasper phoned his boss, Supervisory Special Agent Johnson, the senior Agent of the Merrillville office, requesting a meeting for around seventeen hundred. Johnson met his request with a sigh. His excuses all sounded the same — something about his kids, but Jasper read between the lines. Johnson simply didn’t want to come in on a Saturday, especially when he discovered no crisis existed. After hearing about the headquarters people and the mangled body on Gary Avenue, he capitulated and promised he’d meet Jasper at the office, but that whatever this problem was better not take long.

Pete had already arrived at the diner in Hessville where they’d directed the informant to meet them. Pete’s Crown Vic was empty, and Jasper spied Pete through the window, seated alone at a booth.

Jasper found meeting an informant such as this one in a public place safer, and the odds of a successful recruitment higher. The locations for gang informants mattered, since a bad one could result in the death of the informant. But with this type of person, someone who’d simply reported the whereabouts of a missing girl, the diner was a decent place to break the ice. It was well-known in the area and had been in business for years.

This particular diner was located outside of East Chicago, since Hessville was one of the neighborhoods in nearby Hammond, but it was close enough that straying into another local department’s jurisdiction wouldn’t be an issue for Pete. They weren’t actively working a case, anyway; the meeting was for informational and recruitment purposes. And meeting in the middle of the afternoon meant the three men wouldn’t be hassled to finish and get out.

The diner’s exterior demanded a new paint job. The fake luster reminiscent of so many diners had tarnished, the railing was pocked with rust, and the concrete steps cracked. Often with diners like this, though, the food was a lot better than the rundown appearance. Jasper hadn’t eaten here in quite a while, but as he recalled the meal had been good if not outstanding.

A middle-aged hostess greeted Jasper, but he nodded toward the dining room and she gestured for him to head on in. All neighborhood diners like this featured the same sort of smell — fried food laced with coffee followed by a tinge of sweetness. A few even claimed wet dog as a featured scent, but not this one.

“Glad you could make it.” Pete grasped a mug with both hands, as if warming them.

“I had to call my boss.”

“About those headquarters people?”

“Yep.”

A waitress appeared, wearing black and white attire and holding a little pad in one finely manicured hand and a pencil in the other. She had a tattoo on her neck and a spike protruding from beneath her bottom lip.

“Something to drink?”

“I don’t suppose you’d be able to make a cappuccino?” Jasper asked.

“Sorry, hon,” she splayed her hands, “don’t do those here. But the coffee is drinkable.”

“A coffee then, cream only.”

“Something to eat?”

“We’re waiting on someone else,” Pete said, glancing past Jasper toward the entrance.

She nodded and walked off.

“Kids.”

Pete grinned. “You’re probably not much older, my friend. You go for her type?”

“What do you think?”

“How should I know? You don’t date anyone. Just askin’,” Pete said. “Ah, there he is — has to be him.”

Jasper turned in his seat for a glimpse and spun back around. A short Hispanic male, glancing about nervously, stood inside the door. He wore a short-sleeved, black and white checkered button-down shirt and faded but intact jeans. On his feet were work boots, steel-toed. A factory worker most likely, but Jasper’d been wrong before on his attempts at profiling. He’d been wrong about his wife, Lucy, after all. He reminded himself that there was no point in allowing his personal life and divorce to take up residence once again in his head.

“I’ll go get him,” Pete said.

“He can sit next to me, you think that’ll work?”

“That’d be better.”

The waitress returned with Jasper’s coffee as Pete and the informant arrived. After an awkward moment of jockeying for seats, Pete and the informant sat across from Jasper, with Pete scooted all the way to the window.

Jasper tilted his head and Pete flashed a quick grin in return. There were always plans, and they usually never worked out the way they were drawn. The seating arrangements were less than optimal, but acceptable. Jasper believed having Pete sit across from the informant better because he figured they’d do most of the talking, leaving Jasper to his coffee.

 


Iron Angels – Snippet 11

Posted on Categories Collaborators, Snippets

Iron Angels – Snippet 11 “Scientific Anomalies Group,” Black said, staring straight ahead as if embarrassed by the name, or not wanting to go into detail. “SAG?” Jasper asked, pronouncing it as an acronym rather than a string of initials. … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 11

“Scientific Anomalies Group,” Black said, staring straight ahead as if embarrassed by the name, or not wanting to go into detail.

“SAG?” Jasper asked, pronouncing it as an acronym rather than a string of initials. He couldn’t help but laugh. “Really?”

Black’s jaw tightened. “Look, I didn’t come up with that one. I had some other ideas.”

Jasper wasn’t surprised. Government bureaucrats could come up with the silliest acronyms, sometimes, because they didn’t stop to think that the proverbial man-in-the-street wasn’t likely to be properly respectful if the acronym spelled out something stupid or offensive. Probably the all-time champion Idiot Acronym had been before his time, during the Nixon administration — the campaign staff morons who came up with Committee to Re-Elect the President. CREEP. But he’d seen some doozies.

There was no point in ribbing these two agents over it any further, though. So he just said “never heard of it” in as neutral a tone of voice as he could manage.

“You wouldn’t have,” Ravel said, wiping his mouth with a handkerchief. “It’s new and… ah, we don’t publicize it.”

“How did you find me?”

“The cops over at the Euclid Hotel told us you responded to an abandoned vehicle over here,” Black said. “We need to go back over to the hotel.”

“The little girl was rescued and the investigation is over,” Jasper said, but that was a lie. He just didn’t want headquarters pukes stomping around the crime scene. “By me and my partner over there.” They’d come within sight of Gary Avenue. He pointed toward Pete, who stood by two uniformed cops and was engaged in an animated discussion.

Black opened her mouth but Jasper held up a cautioning finger.

“Pete!” he said loudly. “You need to get over here and take a look at what I found down there. It has to be the driver.” Jasper paused a moment. “I warn you, the body isn’t pretty to look at.”

Pete broke away from the uniformed police, and walked with purpose toward Jasper and the two headquarters people. “They said they were here looking for you,” Pete said, his eyes registering Jasper’s annoyance, and conveying sorry.

“It’s okay,” Jasper said. “They were just leaving.”

“SAC Weber already approved this,” Black said.

Jasper shot her a look he hoped would shut her up, but she went right on. “And furthermore, the Assistant Director — my boss –”

“Hold it right there,” Jasper said. He focused on Pete. “Take a peek over there at the body. Follow the sound of the flies, you can’t miss it.”

Pete frowned, and walked off. Jasper turned back to the woman.

“SSA Black, we do not squabble like that in front of locals, you got me? You may be a headquarters supervisor, but in the field that doesn’t mean squat. And you said Weber approved this? My Special Agent in Charge? That’s a joke. He’s been checked out for a year now; he’d approve anything. He’s pretty much retired-in-place ever since he got the job.”

Black’s mouth opened again, but closed as if she’d reconsidered her choice of words.

Ravel stepped forward. “Jasper,” he said, “may I call you that?”

“It’s better than the alternative.”

“That’d be what? Jerk?” Temple Black took another deep breath and turned her head. “I’m sorry, it’s already been a long morning –”

“– and long night,” both Jasper and Vance said at once. Jasper grinned. “Yeah, you called me at oh dark thirty. I didn’t appreciate that.”

“My apologies,” Vance said. “Listen, we need to discuss what happened last night. When is a good time? We’d also really like to get into that abandoned hotel. We think there is something else going on here. Based on your preliminary report we think it’s serious.” He lifted the case in his hand a few inches. “There’s some equipment in here… Well. We think we could be of use, let’s leave it at that.”

Black nodded and faced Jasper again. “We should speak with your boss, your immediate boss. This needs to get worked out, but you should finish up here first. That,” she swallowed, “body was a mess and needs to be processed.”

Heavy breaths came up behind them as they reached the side of the road and their line of vehicles. Pete jogged past them and signaled to the uniformed men who joined him. They then engaged in a spirited conversation.

“It’s about to get crowded around here,” Jasper said. “I’ll tell you what, if you can wait until mid-afternoon I’ll take you to the Euclid Hotel. I don’t think evidence recovery is going to happen until Monday at that scene, if at all, especially given this new incident.” He cocked his head toward the dirt road where the mangled corpse lay in a pile. “Afterward, I’ll see if we can meet with my boss. But I can’t promise anything, SSA Black. It is the weekend, you know. Exhausted supervisors need their rest.”

The moment he made the wisecrack he wondered if he’d gone a little too far. But Black just grinned. The expression transformed her face, turning it from something that had seemed overbearing to something good-natured and quite a bit younger. He wasn’t sure, but he had a feeling that expression came more naturally to her than the one he thought of as Supervisory Special Agent Ramrod Up Her Ass.

“Yeah, I know how that is with some of this new breed of management,” she said. “And call me Temple, would you?”

Jasper nodded. “Sure. And I’m Jasper.” They’d come up onto Gary Avenue by then and he could see the entire line of vehicles parked there: a police cruiser, his bucar, Pete’s Crown Vic, and two other vehicles, one a rental and the other clearly belonging to a local.

He frowned. “You only rented one car, right?”

Temple nodded.

“Probably a reporter, then,” Jasper said. The person in the vehicle, a middle-aged white man, noticed Jasper’s gaze. The vehicle lurched forward and then spun in a tight turn to head back toward East Chicago proper.

“Damn! Too far to get a plate.” For a moment, he was tempted to go in pursuit. But by the time he got into his vehicle, the man would be out of sight beyond a bend in the road. And once he got to the junction of Gary and Parrish, a short distance beyond, there were just too many ways he could go.

“That was a 2009 Ford Fusion with Indiana tags,” Temple said. “Couldn’t make out even a partial on the tags though, sorry.”

“Well, there’s an outside chance that was the person responsible for the corpse back there,” Jasper said. “But that would have been pretty bold, even for a serial killer who wants to insert himself into an investigation. It was likely just a nosey citizen who got twitchy when he saw me looking at him.”

“We could run a search based on the parameters of the make and model and color of the vehicle,” Vance said.

“You’re right,” Jasper said. “I’ll have Pete run it through his folks, since this homicide is likely their investigation anyway. And it’s got to be a homicide, with the corpse looking like that. I can’t think of any kind of accident that would do that sort of damage. Maybe in the middle of a steel mill, but out here?”

He reached out and shook their hands. “Okay, I’ll meet you two at the Euclid later on? Say seventeen hundred?”

“That’ll work,” Temple said.

“Go take a nap or something, and please don’t poke around anywhere. I don’t want to have to bail you guys out of trouble.”

Temple smiled. Vance nodded, his head bobbing up and down rapidly.

 


Iron Angels – Snippet 10

Posted on Categories Collaborators, Snippets

Iron Angels – Snippet 10 Jasper got out of the van and walked along the road, scanning the tall grass for any signs of activity and making his way toward the driveway leading into the animal control center. That would … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 10

Jasper got out of the van and walked along the road, scanning the tall grass for any signs of activity and making his way toward the driveway leading into the animal control center. That would be the only way to reach the spot the vultures were circling that didn’t involving fighting his way through the grass — which in some places would be over his head. The buzzing and chattering of insects filled his ears for a moment when the sounds of man disappeared briefly, reminding him of where he grew up, Tennessee, and what people referred to as the country.

Northwest Indiana was odd, that way. It was basically a heavily populated residential area, with lots of industry and commerce in the mix. Part of the great Chicago metropolis, artificially divided by the state line between Illinois and Indiana. But there were country patches scattered all through it, some of them operating farms and others just stretches of wild prairie and woodlands.

The weeds and brush gave way to the long driveway leading to the animal control center, and he started down it. After a few yards, he came to a dirt road branching to his right. It was still a little soggy and muddy from the rain a couple of days earlier. He glanced up once more at the vultures and rather than continuing toward the animal control center went down the dirt road.

The back of his neck itched and a chill shook his body, raising the hair on his arms. Two days in a row.

A thrumming invaded the stillness that had overcome the road, as if he was nearing a nest of bees. But when he got closer he saw that it was a mass of flies, not bees, making that noise. About twenty-five feet ahead, lying in what appeared to be a puddle, was a large lump of something. At this distance, the thing was hard to make out. A dead animal of some kind, he figured. Big, but certainly not human. The shape was all wrong.

Jasper came forward slowly. After a couple of steps his hand moved reflexively to his gun’s grip, his thumb on the break, ready to free the weapon from the holster.

Something wrong was up ahead. Terribly wrong.

A mound of flesh lay in a puddle of light pink, as if blood had been mixed with water and mud. Bits of white poked through the flesh — pieces of bone, clearly. A horde of insects swarmed over the mound. Jasper swallowed and took a step back, but then two forward, attempting to overcome the fear and the repulsion of the scene. His heart thumped, and his chest felt hollow. Even the two men burning themselves into nothing the previous night didn’t match this horror. Sure, he’d watched them die, but it’d been swift and he doubted they suffered more than a few seconds. This, however — whatever it was — looked like a pile of uncooked, shredded meat. It was more pink than red, laced with bones, and permeated with shriveled organs.

The pulse magnified in Jasper’s ears, and his vision narrowed. He leaned over, placed his hands on his knees and took a few deep breaths. He’d seen horrible crime scenes over the years, but nothing quite like this.

He didn’t even understand what he was looking at. An animal? An animal killed by another animal? But if so, what kind? No animal he knew of had a shape like this. More than anything else he could think of, the bloody lump on the ground looked like a slab of halibut he’d once seen in a photograph hanging on the wall of a fishery — but it didn’t really look like that, either.

A curved piece of bone caught his eye. It took a couple of seconds before his brain could make sense of what he was seeing.

That was part of a human skull. The front half of one, missing the lower jaw. The edge was sharp, as if somebody — something — had cut straight down with a huge razor, separating the facial bones — what he was looking at — from the back of the skull.

He retched, but managed not to lose his breakfast.

A female voice spoke behind him. “Agent Wilde? Zeke Wilde?”

His heart raced and he jumped, nearly falling over. He swallowed and took a deep breath, then straightened and turned around.

A smartly dressed black woman stood about twenty feet from him. She was about five and a half feet tall, maybe a little less, judging from the low heels of her shoes. Solidly built; somewhere in her early-to-mid forties, at a guess. Her hair was closely cropped, and he could see a shock of white in the tight curls on both temples. Her skin was quite dark, as were her eyes. Her nose was broad and her lips were full; clearly African-American. She was attractive in appearance, if not exactly pretty. The Navy blue suit she wore matched her looks — well-made if not flashy; sober; businesslike.

Jasper moved a little, to block her view of the remains. She placed her hands on her hips and cocked her head.

“Agent Wilde, we need to speak.”

“What?” Jasper asked, nonplussed by the intrusion. “Zeke? No one calls me that, not even –”

“You received our phone call, did you not?” she asked. “Special Agent Ravel rang you earlier and informed you we’d be arriving today.”

Jasper remembered the phone call at his home. “Oh. Right.” He shook his head. “You mean that wasn’t a practical joke? You’re for real, then?”

“For real?” She had a rather ferocious frown. “Of course I’m for real. I’m Supervisory Special Agent Temple Black.” She stepped forward and offered her hand, but stopped when she got within five feet of Jasper. She’d finally spotted what was lying on the road.

“I’m not sure, but I think that’s the driver of the vehicle on the side of the road,” Jasper said.

She spun away and her hands flew to her mouth.

“And yes, I’m Jasper Wilde. Not Zeke. Now, what are you doing here exactly?”

A man appeared behind Black, carrying a large case. This would be Agent Ravel, he assumed, the owner of what Jasper had thought was one of the guys at the office doing an Indian impression when he had received the phone call late in the night. But Ravel was obviously of south Asian ancestry. Probably a first generation immigrant, from the trace of accent Jasper had detected.

“Agent Wilde,” the man said, moving past Black. “Vance Ravel, pleased to meet –” His cheeks puffed and his free hand flew to his mouth, except he wasn’t successful in tamping down his illness. Fortunately, he was able to turn aside before he vomited. He even had the presence of mind to hold the case well away from his body, so it wouldn’t get splattered.

“I kind of had the same reaction,” Jasper said sympathetically, after Ravel was done and Black had brought herself under control. “God-awful-looking, isn’t it? Now, will someone tell me why you’re out here? Where did you come from and what are you trying to accomplish? It isn’t often we get headquarters people out here on such short notice.”

“We…” Temple Black took a deep breath. “We need to speak somewhere else. I can’t be anywhere near that and think clearly.” She nodded stiffly toward the pile of meat, blood and bone.

“Fine,” Jasper said, “but I didn’t invite you over here to begin with. Did you see my partner, Pete Hernandez?”

“Is he an East Chicago cop? If so, he’s up on the road talking with his buddies.”

They moved away from the body and toward the driveway leading into the animal control center. Jasper helped Ravel by taking the case from him after a minor protest. The man was still obviously unsettled. “So, who are you guys?”

 


Iron Angels – Snippet 09

Posted on Categories Collaborators, Snippets

Iron Angels – Snippet 09 Chapter 6 In the full light of day, the Euclid Hotel looked just like all the other abandoned buildings in the northwestern part of Indiana. Not crumbling — they were mostly made of brick and … Continue reading

Iron Angels – Snippet 09

Chapter 6

In the full light of day, the Euclid Hotel looked just like all the other abandoned buildings in the northwestern part of Indiana. Not crumbling — they were mostly made of brick and solidly built — but forlorn; the brick faded, and black lines streaking from letters in the masonry.

Crime scene tape had been placed across all the obvious entrance points. They went around to the rear, where they had entered the night before. Jasper pulled back at the sight of two East Chicago police standing guard.

“There’re still people in there going over the crime scene?” Jasper asked. They stared back at him blankly.

“Guys,” Pete said, appearing through the trees, weeds and bushes, “answer the man. He’s not exactly one of us, but he’s Bureau.”

“Oh, sorry, sir,” one of the young policemen said to Pete. They looked so impossibly young, reminding Jasper of the young Marine guards at Quantico where the FBI Academy was housed. He’d been one of those Marines once, but had he ever looked so young and green?

“Don’t call me ‘sir.’ Just tell us what’s going on here.”

“We’re the ones who rescued that girl last night,” Jasper said.

“Down there.” Pete glanced at the ground, as if the girl had been in hell, and perhaps she had.

Their radios clicked as one of the police opened his mouth:

“Abandoned vehicle on Gary Avenue near Cline, possibly stolen. Requesting one unit to investigate the scene. Vehicle is an SUV parked along the south side of the road near the animal control facility. Dark-colored, late model, exact make unspecified.”

“Hey,” Pete said, “want to check that out? It’s close by.”

Jasper shrugged. “Sure.”

“Advise dispatch we’re checking it out.”

Both policemen nodded.

Jasper and Pete rolled to the scene of the abandoned SUV in their respective vehicles in less than five minutes. They passed by the tank farm and most of a nearby asphalt plant before they reached it. The SUV was on the opposite side of Gary Avenue from the asphalt plant and just before the entrance to the animal control center. The center was down a driveway, across a railroad track and behind a screen of trees and tall grass. It was barely visible from the road.

The abandoned vehicle was a dark green 2012 Chevy Equinox bearing Illinois tags sitting off the road and well onto the shoulder. The driver’s side door was open.

Jasper got out of his bucar and approached Pete’s driver’s side window, which was already down by the time Jasper reached the door.

“Just called in the tags,” Pete said.

“Think it was stolen? Joy ride perhaps?”

“Possibly.”

The radio clicked, and dispatch reported the vehicle was not stolen and the owner of the vehicle had not yet been reported missing.

“Let’s check out the vehicle first,” Pete said, scratching his chin. “Maybe the owner or driver got sick and wandered into the woods over there.” He nodded toward the animal control facility.

Jasper didn’t have high hopes for finding the owner of the vehicle nearby. He figured the vehicle had probably been stolen, just not reported yet. He and Pete approached the vehicle, each with their hands resting on their service weapons. That was somewhat unusual, but the previous night had left them both jumpy.

They peered into the vehicle and saw nothing outwardly suspicious or any sign of foul play. A sport coat lay draped across the passenger seat, folded in half lengthwise. The keys were still in the ignition. A few miscellaneous CDs were in the console along with a few pens, lip balm, a pack of tissues, and curiously, an MP3 player. The vehicle had obviously not been stolen. Neither the coat nor the MP3 player would have remained if that had been the case.

In fact, Jasper was a little surprised, given the proximity to the rougher areas not too far away, that some random passerby hadn’t stopped and looted the vehicle. Gary Avenue didn’t get a lot of traffic, especially on weekends. He didn’t think the animal control center had anyone working today, either. The gate leading into the facility was closed. He wasn’t sure if that was true of the asphalt plant, but if there was anyone over there they weren’t visible outside.

Whatever had happened here, in other words, it was quite likely there’d been no witnesses — or if there were, it would have been someone driving by who didn’t pay much attention to a vehicle on the side of the road. The SUV had obviously sat here for some time. The engine was cold, and there were no rattles, ticks, or taps emanating from the mechanical systems cooling. The ground beneath was dry — any drips from the air conditioning system had disappeared.

“Not stolen,” Pete said.

“At least not the typical stolen vehicle,” Jasper said. “But yeah, now I’m thinking this wasn’t stolen. Maybe you’re right, the owner or driver got sick.”

Pete shrugged. “And maybe it broke down and he had a friend pick him up. There are a lot of possibilities.”

Jasper sat behind the wheel and turned the ignition. The vehicle started without hesitation. “It runs nicely. Any flats?”

Pete walked around the van. “Nope.”

While he checked the tires, Jasper opened the sport coat and checked the pockets. A wallet, pen, more lip balm, and another set of keys. “Our friend is a busy guy,” Jasper said. “Or maybe just an optimist.” He tossed a pair of unopened condoms he’d found in a small inside pocket at Pete, who stepped back reflexively allowing them to hit the ground.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“They’re not used.”

“I don’t care.” Pete scrunched up his face. “What’s in the wallet?”

Jasper opened the black faux leather wallet. “Typical credit and debit cards. A few rewards cards, all bearing the registered owner’s name. There’s a couple hundred in cash.” He checked the slot where pictures would be kept and pulled out a driver’s license. “Great photo,” he said and shook his head. He handed it to Pete.

“It’s like a villain from that old detective comic strip.”

“Dick Tracy?”

“Yeah, that one. This guy would be rubber man or something.”

“I’m surprised you know those books, Pete. Shoot, I’m surprised I know.”

“I came across a stack of old papers one time, and snuck them whenever I could.” Pete laughed.

Jasper had been examining the photo while they bantered. “You’re right about the picture. He is sort of rubbery looking. What they call ‘non-descript,’ too.” He frowned. “He look familiar to you, Pete?”

“Should he? The answer’s no — never seen him before.”

“I can’t place it, but there’s a familiarity there.”

“He could be anyone. We’ve arrested how many people over the years?”

Jasper sighed. “Doesn’t matter, I suppose.” He tilted his head back, and ran the image through his memory. But Pete was right, they’d arrested hundreds of people and interviewed hundreds more. After a while, names and faces ran together. But this man was so average, and so bland that now he stood out to Jasper.

The sun had climbed higher into the open sky, which was a dingy blue today. The morning heat threatened misery in the afternoon. Two turkey vultures appeared, or perhaps they’d been up there all along, their black wings forming a shallow vee as they circled a spot closer to the animal control center.

“You see that?” Jasper asked. “Something is dead or dying over at animal control.”

“Yeah, maybe the driver is close by after all. Start looking. I’ll call this in and get a squad car over here to assist. Perhaps an ambulance.”