Iron Angels – Snippet 03
“I noticed from the front a courtyard with trees and shrubs obscuring another entrance into the hotel,” Jasper said.
“That makes sense. Come look.” Pete gestured toward a door set in the brick wall lining the alleyway.
“That a hallway or just an entrance into the courtyard, you think?” Jasper asked.
“We’ll find out,” Pete said. “See that handle and the wood of the door?”
“Yep, been used recently. It open or locked?”
“It’s open. I tried the knob, it turns freely, and the keyhole appears to have been used. It’s not gunked up at all.”
“So the place isn’t completely abandoned. You think the owner of the Euclid is somehow involved?”
“Let’s go,” Jasper said.
He hadn’t put on his Kevlar, and Pete appeared to be unencumbered as well. Jasper did have a flashlight with him, a small Surefire that’d almost burn the hair off a person’s head with its focused solar-flare-like beam. Beside that and his handcuffs and Glock with extra mags he went light. Pete had cuffs and his weapon as well.
Jasper pulled his Glock, as did Pete, and they entered the courtyard. To his surprise the door didn’t creak. Once on the inside he saw the hinges had been oiled recently. He pointed at the hinges for Pete’s information, who nodded in reply.
Jasper would have said that vagrants or a homeless person had set up camp in the courtyard or within the Euclid, but the well-oiled hinges and shiny keyhole suggested otherwise. He supposed the owner could have been through, but that didn’t seem likely. Why wouldn’t he have used one of the main entrances to gain entry rather than the alley and courtyard?
A fire lit in Jasper’s belly, warming him. His ears felt like they were reddening too. He was pretty sure the girl was close by and in danger.
He didn’t like the feel of the situation one bit, though. The Bureau had strict protocols in place for nearly every situation, and preferred to enter a situation with as much intelligence as possible. But in dynamic situations where there was an imminent threat to life, creativity and alternate solutions were often called upon. The playbook was tossed out the window with only the training and muscle memory of the agents in play. That was where experience paid off: experience and instincts. Begging forgiveness later for spontaneity and creativity was something taught him by his training agent who had long since retired.
The shrubs and trees blocked most of the back entrance of the hotel, but for a thin path of matted grass and weeds. A broken branch was the only other sign someone else had been through here recently. They pulled aside the vegetation as they entered the path; a few feet in and they reached two concrete steps leading below to a door. A padlock hung on the loop, open and with the clasp slung back on its hinge.
Pete looked back at Jasper and nodded for him to get in position. He stacked up behind Pete against the wall and placed a hand on his shoulder so he knew he was right there and would move with him.
Pete grasped the knob and pulled. The door swung open easily and without any noise into the courtyard. Pete button-hooked left through the door, and Jasper button-hooked right into —
— inky blackness save for the cone of light from the open door.
“Damn,” Jasper whispered. The hotel was eerily quiet. “You smell that?”
“Incense?” Pete whispered back.
“I think so. Mixed with a damp, musty smell like a stack of newspapers. But I can’t see a thing beyond the entry.”
Green tile, like that of a hospital or government building, covered the floor of the entry. A splintered door, once painted white but now hopelessly chipped and cracked, stood directly ahead. To Jasper’s right was an open door where a damp, musty smell oozed up the concrete steps descending into a cellar. Jasper clicked on his flashlight and eased the entry door shut.
“We should close that door as well,” Pete said. “That one leading down to the cellar. It’d be better to clear the main and second floors first, don’t you think?”
“I’m hesitant –”
But Pete had already begun moving the cellar door.
A long, slow creak echoed, followed by a crack. Jasper winced.
Pete’s face screwed into one of tortuous pain, his mustache scrunched up like a caterpillar. He ceased pulling the door and gingerly released the knob. “Sorry.”
Scurrying sounds like that of a small animal scrambling and scratching a wood floor to get away, sounded from below them. Other than that, the cellar remained silent and without a hint of life.
“Well, it appears we didn’t disturb anything other than an animal down there,” Jasper said, pointing with the barrel of the Glock.
“I bet this lead is a dead end.”
“Maybe, but let’s leave the cellar for now — and leave the door as it is — and clear the rest of the hotel first.”
Pete nodded. “You first, I don’t want to mess things up by causing a rocket.”
“You mean racket?”
“Yeah, like I said, rocket.”
Jasper grinned. “That door sounded more like an old car door creaking shut followed by a backfire of an old carbureted engine.”
“Indeed.” Pete flashed a grin, but it faded quickly, as if he remembered why they were here: to find a missing girl.
“Yeah, let’s go.” Jasper edged past Pete and brought up his Glock and flashlight. He moved toward the closed door in front of them that he assumed led into the hotel proper.
Jasper’s soft-soled shoes produced little sound against the entry’s tile flooring. Pete wore boots that were similarly soled. Jasper took a few steps toward the closed door before them and grasped the knob.
“Wait,” Pete whispered, and placed a hand on Jasper’s shoulder.
“What is it?”
“You hear that?” Pete asked.
Jasper turned and aimed the flashlight away from Pete’s face, but not at the steps leading down to the cellar. “I don’t.”
“Perhaps it’s nothing, only my imagination.”
“Let’s hold up a second then,” Jasper said, and pointed toward the cellar.
Jasper pointed at his flashlight and chopped with his hand, hoping Pete understood he was about to douse the flashlight.
Pete nodded again.
Jasper leaned against the jamb of the door leading into the cellar and killed his flashlight. They stood in darkness. Jasper strained his eyes and ears for any hint of movement or signs of other people within the abandoned hotel.
Each breath seemed to echo and fill his ears. The black hitting his eyes felt as if he were swimming underwater in a lake on a moonless, starless night. But slowly, a vague outline of the doorway presented itself, as did a few of the steps leading down. He turned, and saw Pete, more a shadow than a man, and Jasper’s skin crawled and he shivered.
Two thumps echoed from deep under the hotel.
Jasper clicked on his Surefire flashlight and raised his Glock. “Let’s go, that wasn’t the building simply settling. There’s someone down there.”
“Should we call for backup?” Pete asked.
Jasper shook his head. “No, if that little girl is down there I don’t want to waste any more time.”
Jasper descended the steps, but at a slow and deliberate pace. At the bottom, the cellar likely opened left based on his back pressing against what he presumed to be the outer wall of the building. The brick wall scraped and pulled his shirt, a faded olive green t-shirt from his days in the Marine Corps. His last girlfriend had referred to the shirt as part of his lounging uniform. He loved these shirts and found they worked in quite a few situations, but never wore them into the office because the FBI preferred business-like attire. He appreciated that, and understood the general public’s image of a Special Agent was that of a clean-cut man dressed in a dark suit and wearing a white shirt with a conservative tie. That worked for normal day-to-day operations, but not when doing dirty work such as dumpster diving, meeting human sources in certain rough areas, and situations such as this: trying to locate a little girl who was likely kidnapped. And the local police often dressed down when working on the task forces with the bureau. FBI Special Agents often dressed according to the violations they worked, but in a smaller Resident Agency, agents wore many hats and worked many violations.
A sliver of light peered from under another door at the bottom of the steps. The gap under the door was also apparently where the incense escaped. The scent had grown stronger, but the mustiness had as well. Despite the heat of the day, the cellar’s atmosphere was cold, as if the temperature was being manipulated on purpose. The difference from the main floor to just — what, ten, twelve feet down — was obvious. It felt like they were entering a refrigerator — no, more like a walk-in freezer.
“It’s cold,” Pete said quietly. “Way too cold for this time of year, even in a cellar.”
Jasper nodded. “See that light?” he whispered.
The light darkened, lightened, and darkened in quick succession. Something moved within. It had to be a person, since that was likely two legs. Jasper shivered again. The feel of the dark, musty old hotel was creepy and unsettling, regardless of the gun in his hand.
“Someone is inside there.” Jasper kept the light aimed high so the beam didn’t hit the bottom of the door and cast flickers and shadows under the door. He pointed to his ear and then the door.
Jasper edged toward the door, but kept his feet back and the light aimed away. He could hear muffled voices now, the words indiscernible and unintelligible, speaking in hushed monotones.
He pulled back from the door. “Sounds like two people having a muffled conversation behind that door — two men — but I could be mistaken.”
Pete sighed. “That’s one too many.”
“It may not be the abductor.”
“I’m betting it is — and so are you, Zee. But if there are more than two unsubs in there this could get ugly. It could get ugly with just one person.”
A shuffling noise, as if someone were being dragged, oozed from under the door. A whimper, almost like that of a dog, followed the shuffling.
A distant and weak, but distinct “no” hit Jasper’s ears. That was no dog.
“We have to go in.” Jasper stared at Pete, who nodded grimly, his eyes glistening in the Surefire’s light.
Jasper brought the light and gun up before him and stood off to the side and nodded at Pete to open the door.
Pete reached forward, but the door flung inward with force.
Jasper and Pete jumped back.