Iron Angels – Snippet 18
Jasper dropped into the chair opposite Agent Temple Black, and slumped. For some reason, someone insisted on having all the chairs in the conference room at the maximum height. He released the chair from the extreme height down to an appropriate level. Temple had kept hers at maximum height, and no doubt her feet dangled. Perhaps she needed to feel as if she were in control and wanted the height.
The conference room itself wasn’t large, seating perhaps twenty people — more than enough for this little meeting. He wondered when his boss, the Agent in charge of the Merrillville office, would arrive with the ASAC from the main office.
Jasper glanced at Temple. “Yes?”
“How do you lower the chair?”
“The little lever on the side?” Jasper raised an eyebrow.
“I’m lifting it,” Temple said, and laughed.
“Really?” Jasper shook his head, trying not to laugh at the absurdity. “When you lift the lever, plop down on the chair.”
“Here goes.” Temple plopped down hard, sending the chair to its bottom-most position.
The conference door swung open and in walked SSA Johnson and ASAC Masters.
Jasper stood, and felt a little more loosened up at Temple’s chair height shenanigans. “SSA Black, I’d like you to meet ASAC Masters and SSA Johnson.”
She grinned. “Masters and Johnson, won’t forget those names.”
ASAC Masters sported his usual nonplussed countenance.
“Never mind,” Johnson said. He obviously understood the reference, but the ASAC’s obtuseness remained true to Jasper’s memory. “All right, none of us wants to be here on a weekend evening.”
He took a seat at the head of the table, Masters next to him. Both wore suits — a rarity for Johnson. He must be trying to either impress or gauge the headquarters Agent and ASAC Masters.
“No need for formality here.” So Temple decided taking charge of the meeting was a strategy for success. That wasn’t surprising, given the brassy nature she’d displayed during their interactions. “Jasper and I have reached an understanding.”
“We have? That is how you see it?” Jasper adjusted himself in his chair.
“Yes. SAG is taking over the investigations.” Temple’s tone was matter-of-fact.
“Hold on.” Masters ran his fingers through slicked back hair. “What is SAG?”
Jasper opened his mouth —
Temple pointed a chiding finger at him. “Scientific Anomalies Group.”
“And what is this group exactly? Never heard of it.” Masters glanced back and forth between Jasper and Temple.
“Neither had I, sir,” Jasper said.
“We investigate matters the field won’t touch and the locals ignore.”
“Who runs the group? You?” Johnson asked, cutting in.
“I’m the supervisor — ”
“She has one person who works with her, Special Agent Vance Ravel. He’s here too,” Jasper said, “but I think he’s attempting to analyze a few samples they collected today.”
“I’ll show you.” Temple stood and walked over to a dry erase board, which snapped on — surprising Jasper. “We were stood up to investigate matters of national security. Watch.” She gestured at the screen and dimmed the lights.
“Huh,” Jasper said, “I didn’t know dry erase boards were capable of such a feat. Fascinating.”
“It’s a SMART Board,” Temple said. “They’re installed in most of the field offices.”
“I don’t need a presentation,” Masters said. “Tell me what’s going on here, but first, who do you report to?”
Temple’s shoulders slumped and her head lolled backward, clearly exasperated. She took a deep breath. “Fine.” She raised the lights. “I’m going to run the slideshow as I speak.”
Behind Temple, slides whisked by displaying formulas and high-resolution photos of objects Jasper couldn’t make heads or tails of.
“We’re part of the Critical Incident Response Group,” Temple continued, “you know, CIRG — ”
“Yes, we’re all well aware of the Division — ”
Temple coughed. “We were conceived to handle counter terrorism leads believed to be nonsense. We quickly evolved beyond dull CT leads and now investigate matters falling in the cracks and outside normal FBI guidelines and protocols.”
“I don’t understand how the kidnapping of a child and subsequent double suicide are nonsensical or fell through the cracks,” Masters said.
Perhaps the ASAC wasn’t so obtuse after all, but Temple wasn’t telling him the whole story, either. Jasper wanted her to keep going, because it would quickly become too fantastical for both Masters and Johnson to accept.
“The crimes are serious.” Temple paced in front of the screen. “Think about their nature though.”
“But the missing girl has been found and the men are dead,” Johnson said. “And the other case, a straight up homicide, has no Bureau nexus.”
“A pile of meat with protruding bones doesn’t strike you as extraordinary?”
“You’re wasting our time, why are we even talking?” Masters asked.
“Exactly,” Temple said. “My group has already been granted concurrence to operate in Indianapolis’s AOR by your SAC. And your man here, Agent Wilde, seems intent on watching us which is why we’re talking. I simply can’t have him hampering our investigations, especially since he doesn’t believe we belong here.”
“Fine,” Masters said, “go about your business, but have this wrapped up by tomorrow. The SAC says yes a little too easily if you ask me. I don’t want you and your group, what was it, SIG?”
“SAG, sir — ”
Jasper hid a grin.
“Whatever, I don’t want you ruining the relationships with the locals we’ve worked so hard to develop. I don’t believe for a moment any of what you’re investigating will make a difference to the Bureau. We’re overstepping our mandate, and remember, we do not typically investigate murders and suicides.” There was a pause, and he drove home one more point: “And do with this as you will, but your group sounds like another pointless headquarters initiative the field not only disdains, but despises.” Masters ended the tirade red-faced.
Wow. Perhaps Masters was pissed for driving up to Merrillville on a weekend, and missing little Johnny’s ballgame or something. Jasper suppressed a grin. He respected him a little more for having a pair — most executive management didn’t — but he’d been hard on Temple and even though she’d tossed Jasper under the bus, he thought Masters had gone a little too far. One thing was clear, Temple believed in what she was doing. She believed in the work and the mission she’d been given by FBI HQ. She wasn’t just going through the motions. Jasper had to respect that.
He cleared his throat. “Sir, I don’t think Agents Black and Ravel can wrap the investigations up in a day.”
“Are you for real?” Johnson asked. “All right, I’ve had enough of this.” He spun his chair. “ASAC Masters?”
“Hold on a minute. How did HQ even find out about the investigations out here?”
“Agent Wilde’s report itself,” said Temple. “There were certain anomalies in the report responsible for triggering an alert. You see, Agent Ravel created a list of key words.”
Johnson cut in. “What was in the report capable of triggering the alert?”
“Oh, let’s see,” Temple said. “Suicide by thermite, stone slabs, possible ritual killing, cults — ”
“I said nothing about a cult,” Jasper protested.
“Fine, I added the cult bit, but the other evidence in the report as well as at the scene suggested cult-like activity. You get the point.”
“We need Agent Wilde here assigned temporarily to this SAG thing,” Johnson said.
Masters’ eyes narrowed and he spread his hands, palm up. “What for?”
“Look, if it’s going to take Agent Black and her assistant Ravel more than a day, I’d rather have someone from the Merrillville office tag along so those ‘relationships’ you mentioned don’t get burned.”
“Thank you, sir,” Temple held up a hand, “but Agent Wilde’s help won’t be necessary — ”
“Oh, but it is, and it’s happening. If you don’t like it, go back to the Hoover building with all the other zombies.”
“I don’t work out of the Hoover building,” Temple said, a bit stiffly.
“I agree,” Masters thumped the table top, “I’ll square it with the SAC and make a call to the Assistant Director at CIRG. But consider yourself TDY’d to this SIG or whatever it is.”
“Sir, it’s SAG,” Jasper stood, “but I’d rather not — ”
“Nope,” Johnson said, “it’s too late. I need you to watch over the HQ personnel so they don’t run amok here. That’s all.”
“For how long?” Jasper didn’t want to whine, but it must have come across like one.
“If there are more of these men out there, and these investigations are somehow linked, a Bureau nexus may exist after all. Just don’t piss off the local cops, okay? Lord knows, Agent Wilde, you have a unique ability.”
“Pissing people off?” Temple asked.