Iron Angels – Snippet 19
“Jasper knows how to push my buttons.” Johnson’s additions to the conversation had to be for the benefit of ASAC Masters and Agent Black.
“Anything else, sir?” Jasper stared at Masters. For a grown man, second in command of the field office, ASAC Masters dressed like some of the more cheap agents. His suits were rarely pressed, the colors he wore never matched the sick pallor his face normally carried, and his ties were always some horrid abstract pattern. Jasper was no fashion plate, but could clean it up when the situation called for it.
Johnson glanced at Masters. “I think we’re done.”
“Great,” Jasper said, “shall I provide updates?”
“Get through the weekend and give us a report next week.”
“Roger that,” Jasper said.
Masters and Johnson stood.
“Thank you,” Temple said.
Both men shook their heads and walked out of the conference room.
“Well, the meeting went swimmingly,” Jasper said. “Looks like you’re stuck with me.”
Temple had her back to him, tapping away on a keyboard near the screen, which was still flashing images. “I’m heading back to the hotel for some sleep. It’s been a long day and I need to recharge.”
Images flashed by.
“Wait,” Jasper said, “what was that?”
“The one with the weird-looking man.”
Temple paused the display, and tapped a few more keys. “This one?”
“How about now?”
“Yes.” A man similar in appearance to the two men who committed suicide in the basement of the Euclid Hotel appeared on the screen. Similar to the men who had kidnapped the little girl, and planned the ritual sacrifice. All right, maybe Temple had a good reason for schlepping out to Indiana after all.
“Why do you have a photo of a man that looks like that? How could you?”
“This is a photo of the man in the vehicle we saw at the homicide scene earlier today.” Temple cocked her head and raised her eyebrows.
“But why include him in this display of yours?” Jasper asked.
“He was at the scene, right? And a pile of meat is not normal, or maybe you hang around meat packing plants?”
“Good one. No. But I’m thinking we’re on to something. The man on the screen is about as non-descript as the two men who committed suicide. Especially if you take the dark hair off the men at the hotel.”
“Interesting.” Temple stood straight up and her eyes widened. “What if the men at the hotel wore toupees or something?”
“Yes, but there was no way to tell, they were ash. Man, but my brain is fried,” said Jasper. “I need to go relax. Perhaps we can get Vance and analyze this tomorrow, what do you say?”
“I’ll tell you what,” Jasper said, “want to join me for a drink or two, and a bite to eat? I know a place, a dive, but the bar food is good. The clientele is interesting — and mostly harmless.”
“Sounds like my kind of place,” Temple said. “Let me phone Vance, though I doubt he’ll join us.”
Vance had already gone to sleep, so Jasper had Temple follow him in her rental to a bar he favored over in Schererville. He loved this place since they stocked a brand of whiskey that had grown on him, and served greasy bar food. They used to have live bands, but had gotten away from that ruckus in favor of a well-stocked old school jukebox and other forms of entertainment such as pool tables.
At least in a bar he could relax a bit and hope that Temple would as well. Another reason for choosing that bar as a venue to chill out with her was that the clientele was racially mixed, and no one was out of place. Well, Masters and Johnson in their suits perhaps, but almost anything worked. The truth was that he was worn out, and couldn’t believe the homicide at animal control had been earlier in the day and that the rescue of the girl and the suicides had been the previous evening.
“I love dive bars.” Temple dragged a rickety wooden chair out and sat.
Was she being sarcastic? Jasper had a hard time distinguishing between her normal attitude and sarcasm.
“It does the trick after a long day. Spend a few minutes in here and you’ll forget all your troubles.”
“I bet,” she said.
Even though smoking had been banned for years, the acrid stink lingered, trapped in the wood and fabric of the place. A healthy dose of smoke always worked its way in from the groups of people outside lighting up and dragging the haze in with them afterward. Smoke mixed with beer mixed with myriad scents of people and food smells. Individually, each of the odors was either pleasant or not, but in a bar setting they created the prototypical saloon scent.
Jasper nodded at the waitress, who within a minute slid two glasses and a bottle of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey on the table. “Thank you, Katie. And bring two of my regular snack, please.”
“So,” Temple stared at the full bottle of whiskey, “you’re a real hot shot around here.” She picked up the bottle and studied it for a moment. “Wait a second. You’re from Tennessee. Shouldn’t you be having Jack Daniels or something? Whoever heard of a Colorado Whiskey?” She pulled the stopper and sniffed. “Not bad, but still — ”
“Give it a try. Yes, I’m from Tennessee, but that doesn’t mean I can’t branch out a bit. I’m not a total rube.” He grinned. “Hey, on the bottle, whoever bottled the whiskey usually writes what group they were listening to while doing so — ”
“Queen,” Temple said. “That’s a neat idea.” She poured healthy amounts in their glasses, a good two fingers worth each. Then took a sip and nodded appreciatively.
“Took me a while to find it, but Stranahan’s is good stuff..” Jasper raised his glass and offered a toast. “SAG, there’s a lot I could say, but I won’t.”
Temple shook her head.
“What, not a decent toast? Fine. Here’s to field agents and HQ agents getting along,” Jasper said. “Real end of the world kind of stuff.” They clinked and swigged.
“You’re all right, I think,” Temple said.
“Just all right, huh?” Jasper winked.
“Too early to tell for sure, but you referenced Ghostbusters for a second time today, right?”
“I watched it last week, so the quotes are still fresh. So tell me, do you and Vance travel around the country or go OCONUS for this SAG thing you’re assigned to?”
“Not much so far, and I created the position, so I kind of assigned myself to SAG.” Temple grinned.
“I thought SAG reminded me of the X-Files — I mean, you’re a pariah and once had such great potential.” He winked.
Temple laughed. “I’m a pariah, but from what I’ve read, so are you.”
“We’ll make a great team — ”
“Don’t get any ideas, sport,” Temple said. “I already have a partner. You’re only on TDY, remember?”
“Whatever, for once I’m trying to get along and play well with others,” Jasper said. “So how do you know all about me?”
“Once your report hit the servers, Vance pulled up some stuff on you.”
“Accessing personnel records isn’t allowed — ”
“Viewing records is permissible with valid reasons.”
“And you think me filing a report about a missing child and two suicides is a valid reason for viewing my personnel file?”
“Look, I didn’t view your personnel file, so relax,” Temple said.
“But — ”
“But nothing. I viewed some of the cases you worked and the write-ups for some of them. You, Special Agent Wilde, have a history of going against the wishes of your superiors.”
“Yeah, I feel the same way,” Temple said. “Being a black woman in such a white Bureau — a white man’s Bureau — hasn’t been easy.”
“Stop a second,” Jasper said. “White man’s Bureau?”
“Yeah, you’re the type of person I see running around playing Agent.” She arched one of her eyebrows.
“The Bureau can’t help who applies for the Special Agent position. It’s my fault the FBI hired me?”
“True, but are they actively recruiting minorities?”
“Aren’t they? Why are we having this discussion, anyway?” Jasper asked.
“Beats me.” Temple sipped the beer. “Heading down the inequality road is so easy.”
“If you say so. I don’t typically think about race or gender or religion or whatever gets people upset.”
“Why would you? You’re a white male.”
“So tired of hearing what I am.” Jasper sighed. “I can’t win.”
“At least you admit defeat.” Temple winked. “Fine, I’ll lay off. My apologies, but being a black woman hasn’t always been the easiest in a hard-charging historically male-dominated law enforcement agency. I did a stint in the Army, too. Enlisted.”