Iron Angels – Snippet 15
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.”
“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.”
“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.
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.”