Iron Angels – Snippet 02
The tips on the missing ten-year old girl had come in within fifteen minutes of each other. One was from an Hispanic male whose daughter had seen a van pull up to where her friend had been standing across the railroad tracks, and the other from a concerned woman who had seen a strange man enter an abandoned building. Crimes against children got the Federal Bureau of Investigation hopping, especially a missing child the locals asked for assistance in locating.
Z. Jasper Wilde leveled his Glock, the larger of the .40 caliber models, on the vehicle suspected in the kidnapping. The late 90s Ford Econoline van had been reported stolen yesterday according to Jasper’s East Chicago cop buddy, Pedro Hernandez. Pete was a Safe Streets Task Force officer he worked with often and now stood before the van with.
“What you think, Zee?” Pete asked. He spoke fluent English but his Puerto Rican accent was still heavy despite decades of living way north of the island. The neighborhood in which he lived had slowly become more and more Latino over the years, thereby maintaining the accent rather than softening it. Only Pete called him Zee, and never Zeke: Jasper hated that name.
“I think it’s empty,” Jasper said, “but there may be evidence.”
“Call in the evidence team?”
“No time, we can handle this. Maybe later.”
“It’s your show, Zee.”
Not really, but Jasper didn’t argue. Pete was usually ready to let the Fed take the lead — and the fall — on most joint investigations. He was closer to retirement age by a landslide.
From a distance of ten feet or so, Jasper could see beneath the van. There were no drips from air conditioning, but that didn’t mean much. This jalopy wasn’t likely to have working AC. He peered over at Pete who raised his gun in response.
Jasper nodded and approached. He reached out for the hood — warm, but from the sun, not from being run in the past two hours or so. No taps from a cooling engine.
“Unlocked doors and a drawn curtain behind the front seats.”
“That mean closed or open?” Pete asked.
“Oh. But it can mean open?”
“I suppose, but this one is shut. That better?” Jasper shook his head. The girl could be behind the curtain. A bad guy could be hiding behind the curtain, but he doubted that. A hurt or, God forbid, dead girl could be back there. His ears grew hot, and a sheen of sweat coated his forehead. The heat and humidity were brutal today, but this was anger oozing from his pores.
Pete worked his way around to where Jasper stood, covering him as he reached for the sliding side door. The handle gave way as Jasper yanked and the door slid wide open, the door’s wheel grinding against the track in a metallic glissando. The stench of cigarette smoke poured forth, overwhelming his senses — he enjoyed an occasional cigar, but the stale smell was nasty. From the amount of it, someone had smoked up a storm in there. Half a pack of cigarettes or more.
Pete dropped to a knee and flashed a light inside the darkened van. “I see nothing, my friend,” he said.
Jasper peered from around the open door and into the van, keeping his weapon close. He wasn’t a fan of the limited penetration technique, called a limited pen. The limited pen had the person clearing the house, car, whatever, forced into a situation where they thrust their gun hand and arm into an open area, but kept their body out. At the same time, they peeked into the space, but hopefully with one eye. The downside was that a baddie could grab the arm if the room hadn’t been at least partially cleared first.
A quick peek worked better, but there was no need since Pete had flashed the light in and had taken a great look. The downside for Pete was that he had been exposed when Jasper had ripped the door open. Pete holstered his weapon.
“There’s nothing,” he said.
Jasper sighed. “I was afraid we’d find the girl in there.”
“I was hoping we’d find the girl in there — alive, of course. Now we’re back at the beginning.” Pete peered inside the van. “Looks clean to me. No clothes, no obvious evidence.”
“I have an evidence kit in my bucar,” Jasper said. “But I don’t want to waste any time. I’ll check the front of the van for obvious clues or evidence left behind. Check out the back.”
Jasper donned latex gloves and went through the driver and passenger sides of the van. Cigarette butts littered an overflowing ashtray.
“I’m getting lung cancer back here,” Pete said.
“Yeah. It isn’t any better up here,” Jasper said. “The cigarettes are likely the owner’s.”
“I got nothing,” Jasper said, as he searched the glove compartment and console.
“All right. Call for some of your people to process the van, okay?”
Pete nodded. “Sure thing,” he grinned, “still having trouble with what’s-his-name?”
“With Morris?” Jasper rolled his eyes. The Indianapolis Field Office Evidence Recovery Team Senior Team Leader was a pain in the ass, unreasonable and unyielding. Jasper’s blood pressure rose every time the man popped into his thoughts or conversation. “You could say that. I got kicked off the Evidence Response Team after not showing for the last call out, even though the crime scene was in southern Indiana and would have required me to — oh, hell, let’s move on to the next lead. It isn’t far from here, right?” He hadn’t recognized the name of the hotel, the Euclid.
“Sorry I brought it up,” Pete said. “But the Euclid is close.”
“Enough that someone could walk to it from here with a little girl? Or carry a little girl?”
Pete shrugged. “I guess. You know it’s abandoned, right? Has been for decades.”
“I do now. No wonder I’ve never heard of it. Call in for assistance. I don’t want to leave this van here unguarded.”
The sun was falling rapidly, and soon they’d be working into the night searching for the girl. It was never a good thing when a kidnapping went overnight and into another full day. Recovery was most likely to occur right off or probably not at all — and then if they did find the victim, they were usually in a field somewhere, dead.
Pete got on his radio and within two minutes a marked East Chicago Police cruiser rolled up and blocked the van. The problem with the FBI’s manpower was that out in the suburbs, away from the main field offices, the help was scarce and spread out. Relying on task force officers was critical and necessary. Those were local cops like Pete, but detailed to the FBI for a specific purpose like the Safe Streets and Metro Gang Task Forces.
The uniformed officers nodded at Jasper and approached Pete. They spoke for a few minutes and Pete walked for his vehicle, an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria. Jasper dropped into his bucar, a dark gray Dodge Charger, and followed. Pete didn’t go lights and sirens, since there was no use alerting anyone who was possibly holed up in the Euclid Hotel with a frightened little girl.
The Euclid was only a few blocks away on Chicago Avenue. That was a busy stretch of road, with cars and trucks moving in both directions, but from the standpoint of foot traffic it might as well be deserted. There were very few residences nearby. It was mostly an industrial area whose salad days were long gone. More than half of the buildings — machine shops, once, many of them, along with industrial and electrical supply houses — were now abandoned.
Pete pulled up to a crumbling curb at the corner of Chicago and Euclid and Jasper aped the action. He guessed the building on the northwest corner was the hotel. The daylight, though fading, still factored into their search in a positive way. The abandoned hotel’s interior would benefit from the natural light, and also expose anyone moving about the hotel proper. Unless secreted in some dark room or closet, Jasper and Pete’s job would be easier.
Catty-corner to the hotel was a tank farm, a large field surrounded by a tall wire fence and filled with squat white cylinders most likely filled with petroleum. That belonged to one of the petrochemical corporations in the area. Lake County, the northwestern Indiana county that butted right up against Chicago, was one of the nation’s premier industrial areas. A big percentage of U.S. steel production took place within fifteen miles of where they were standing, in the huge steel mills stretched out across the southern shore of Lake Michigan.
The area had a major petrochemical industry also. Less than a mile away was a large plant producing liquid oxygen, and just a short distance from there was one of BP’s biggest oil refineries. Humid, chemical-laden air invaded Jasper’s nose. Even after all these years, six in his current assignment with the FBI’s Merrillville Resident Agency — part of the larger FBI Indianapolis Field Office — he’d never really acclimated to the smell. It wasn’t too bad in the winter, but Midwest summers weren’t much less hot and humid than those of Alabama or Georgia.
Jasper trotted over to Pete’s vehicle. “We know the owner of this place?”
“Can’t get a hold of him,” Pete said. “I had the station try.”
“We try the businesses next door?”
Jasper sighed. “Would have been nice to get a rudimentary layout, or at least consent to enter from the owner. Let’s take a look around, perhaps we’ll have some legitimate reason to enter.”
Jasper took in the building’s front. A red-bricked building, still in fairly good repair, it stood two stories tall and had an entrance on the corner, as well as one about half-way down the block. An alleyway ran along the side of the hotel, separating it from another brick building.
Euclid Hotel was spelled out in brick above the mid-block entry. Jasper walked around the corner entrance and saw the hotel was one long building with only a slight ell. A chain link fence blocked off entry to the courtyard in front. The gate was padlocked, but in the back of the courtyard he could see a door that appeared to open onto the back alley. There was also an entrance into the hotel from the courtyard itself, but he couldn’t see it very well. That door was mostly shrouded by an overgrown cluster of shrubs and trees growing out of the cracked paving of the courtyard.
The place had obviously been abandoned for a long time. Jasper walked back to the mid-block entrance. Pete popped out from the alley and motioned for Jasper. “Over here.”