Iron Angels – Snippet 09
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?”
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.”
“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.”