Iron Angels – Snippet 06
“What’s going on?” Jasper asked.
Pete stood with his arms crossed, leaning against the Euclid’s brick wall. “Looks like your victim specialist is here, she’s speaking with the girl now. You know her well?”
Jasper shook his head. “No. She transferred in a couple of months ago. She’s a contract employee, not full Bureau.”
Pete grinned. “She single?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. Not right now. Not after what we’ve seen tonight.” Jasper took a deep breath. “And I’m not ready, not after, well, you know. It wouldn’t be fair to Shelly, even assuming she was interested herself.”
“The victim specialist.”
“So you know her name.” Pete rocked on his heels. “It’s a start.”
Jasper tilted his head and stared at Pete until his grin faded.
“All right. All right,” Pete said, holding up his hands with the forefingers and middle fingers spread into a V. “Peace, brother. Don’t get upset. Just trying to give us something else to think about is all.” He rubbed the top of his head, the short graying hair poking through his fingers. “All that shit down there, a fireworks display and that poor girl. I’m a little shook up and not afraid to admit it.”
“Me too.” Jasper let the words hang, and sighed. “How long’s Shelly been with the girl?”
“Ten minutes, maybe?” Pete shrugged. “Ambulance is waiting. The EMTs gave her a quick once over, but they still need to take her to St. Catherine’s for the usual workup.”
St. Catherine Hospital was nearby, just a few blocks away. Jasper leaned against the nearest police cruiser, facing Pete and the Euclid Hotel. A block to the north, barricades came down to block Euclid, flashing their red lamps. A train was coming.
That happened so regularly that Jasper paid little attention. It was often said that Chicago was the nation’s rail hub, but most of that constant freight traffic passed south of the city — and just about all of it came through the northern Lake County towns of Hammond, East Chicago and Gary.
A line of police emerged from the alley. The one in front announced they’d cleared the building and buttoned it up for later evidence collection.
“They’re calling it early, don’t you think?” Jasper asked. Bureau personnel would have been more thorough during the initial examination.
“We caught the bad guys, so what else is there to do?” Pete asked.
“What if there are others out there?” Jasper spoke more loudly because the train was passing through the intersection now. It was moving slowly; not more than twenty miles an hour, but a mile-long freight train makes a lot of noise.
“Just saying.” Jasper tilted his head back and gazed at the night sky. Haze and light pollution obscured all but the brightest stars and the crescent of the waning moon. “The vastness of space is out there, countless worlds, countless stars, and here we are dealing with dirt bags as if we’re making some kind of difference in the grand scheme of things.”
“Thought for a moment you were philosophizing, and then you said dirt bags.” Pete shrugged. “If we don’t deal with ’em, who will? Every one we take off the street makes things a little better.”
“Yeah,” Jasper said, and dropped his gaze from the murky heavens, “but they just get replaced by… That’s odd.”
Jasper pointed toward the alley behind the Euclid Hotel. “That. What the hell is it?”
Tendrils wafted from the alley, dark gray and silver followed by an oddly shaped body of mist strobed by the blue and red flashes of the police cruisers. A slow hiss escaped from between the buildings as if the mist was a real, corporeal monster. The tendrils poked and prodded, feeling their way about as if attached to a blind person. The mist changed shape and for the briefest of moments, congealed, forming a head like that of a beast, a lion perhaps.
No. The head of a dragon with large eyes and tendril-like whiskers, danced about as if submerged in water.
Jasper blinked. The form reminded him of Chinese-style dragons like the ones on an educational channel showing a Chinese festival; only this thing wasn’t a bunch of people in a costume tossing firecrackers. The resemblance was only a vague one, anyway. Rather than scales, this “dragon” sported patches of mist. Jasper closed his eyes, hoping the image would be gone upon opening them. A negative afterimage persisted in Jasper’s vision from the intense light of the men burning.
The mist dragon had to be an illusion, due to being tired and that horrid afterimage. He opened his eyes, and blinked a few times.
It was still there.
“Pete, are you seeing this?”
“Pete?” Jasper glanced over. Pete had gone down on one knee and covered his eyes with his forearm. “You okay?” Jasper turned back for another glimpse of the mist dragon. The gurgling hiss continued, now morphing into a faint whistle, as if a distant gas line had been punctured.
The mist swirled and what had once been similar to a Chinese dragon was now a ragged cloud suspended above the Euclid Hotel.
“Could that be gas?” Jasper asked, but Pete still covered his eyes. “This some sort of religious experience, Pete? I’m not being funny.”
“I — I can’t explain it,” Pete said. “I can’t look, and I don’t know why.”
The raggedness of the mist smoothed and pulsed. Silver shot through the dark gray portion of the cloud like veins, a complete respiratory system. The hiss rolled into a thunder-like grumble, also sounding like it was far away. The cloud solidified, once more taking the appearance of a great beast — more like a dragonfly than a dragon, now. And then it was simply gone. Gone completely, as if it had never existed.
“Where in the hell did that thing come from? It had to be some strange atmospheric condition, right?” Jasper helped Pete to his feet. “I don’t smell any gas, but it certainly could have been. I mean, not all gas has an odor.”
“Thing? It was a weird cloud is all,” Pete said. “It’s easy to see what we want to see. Believe what we want to believe.” His face had gone white, even in the subdued lighting and the dwindling number of cruiser strobes flashing red and blue across the scene.
“I’m heading back to the office,” Jasper said. “If I don’t write this up tonight I won’t get to it until Monday.”
“Maybe. I’m thinking about coming back here during the day.”
No further information had been gleaned from Teresa Sanchez. The ambulance finally pulled away, carrying her off to the hospital for a full examination. Her parents had been told to head directly there and they’d be reunited. Jasper departed before all the police had dispersed and grabbed a cup of coffee to help keep him wired for report writing — just one of many cogs adding to the administrative burden ushered in by a reliance on computers that was supposed to help eliminate paperwork. The irony was old and stale by now, though.
En route, Jasper informed his boss, the Agent in charge of the Merrillville office, who then informed his boss, so the Special Agent in Charge of the entire Indianapolis division could appear on the news at some point with the East Chicago Chief of Police and claim Teresa Sanchez’s recovery was a joint operation and everyone could slap each other on the back and be happy they busted a human trafficking ring or some other nonsense they made up to make the public feel better and feel safer. Someone would be receiving an award for the actions Pete and he had taken earlier, but it’d likely be some muckety-muck who had nothing to do with the girl’s rescue.
The Merrillville FBI office was a stand-alone building at the end of a cul-de-sac. At this time of night, it presented a half-lit face and stood deserted save for a lone person working the radio and phones. Jasper entered a narrative of the events and would finalize the draft in the morning. He then went to his sparsely furnished bungalow in Hammond and collapsed on his bed.
He lived alone. No pets. No family. No wife. Lucy had left two years earlier and he hadn’t seen her since. The divorce had been swift. Lucy hadn’t wanted anything from him, not even a portion of his pension upon his retirement. She probably didn’t want to wait that long.
Jasper stared at the ceiling. Light from a streetlamp penetrated his window and in that cone of light were two men ablaze and dying in the basement of an abandoned hotel. The negative afterimage remained emblazoned, on his mind if not his retinas.