Iron Angels – Snippet 20
“Wow, I’m impressed.” He was, actually, a little. “Marine Corps myself. So, are we gonna get along and take care of these investigations? Bust up some crazy cult or something. Bash some skulls?” He wanted off the race subject. Jasper understood much more work had to be done in civil rights. However, as far as government agencies went, he thought the FBI did a decent job of hiring people from diverse backgrounds. Long gone were the days of hiring only white male lawyers and accountants.
Of course, he was a white male himself and honest enough to understand that had to shape his perceptions, at least to some degree. He didn’t doubt the world looked different to a black woman. Sometimes a lot different.
“You drunk already?” Temple grinned. “Does thinking of the Marine Corps make you violent?”
Jasper sipped the whiskey, the color of polished leather, allowing the complex notes to linger on his tongue before the liquid slid down his throat. He took a deep breath.
“I have anger issues, but not because of the Corps.”
“Oh? In the mood to share?”
He brought the glass down on the table with a thunk. “I’m surprised you don’t already know.” He raised an eyebrow.
“Like I said, we didn’t look at your personal details, only some work product.”
“Fine. And here I thought we were beginning to get along,” Jasper said.
“Okay, I’ve had a rough couple of years. Was married, she left.”
“A good thing, right?” Temple asked.
He shrugged. “I suppose kids were something I had on my mind.”
“You have time still. I mean, how old are you, anyway? Twelve?”
He chuckled. “Valiant try, but I think my baby face vanished right about the time my marriage fell apart. And now I’m a pariah at work, too. Some of my co-workers love screwing with me when I show up at the office.” He licked his lips and took a healthy swig of the whiskey. His eyes watered.
“You and me, both.” Temple raised her glass and clanked with Jasper’s. “Here’s to social pariahs, may we graduate to full-on misanthropy.”
“I’ll drink to pariahs and misanthropy,” Jasper said. “So what’s your story? How did SAG come about, other than being an idea of yours?”
“Let’s say I’m a favorite of the Assistant Director of CIRG.”
“As in he isn’t a fan of yours? I can’t seem to read you, and whether or not you’re being sarcastic.”
“Yep, that’s one of my problems.”
“This is gonna be fun.” Jasper grinned. “I may not be the superstar of the field office, but I’m good at my job. I’m persistent, and believe it or not, can work well with others.”
Now it was Temple’s turn to snort.
“Hey,” Jasper said, “I need the right people around me and I’ll play nice and make fast friends.”
“You seem to have the right touch with the locals, an admirable quality, which means you’re probably not arrogant.”
“I’ve worked quite a few investigations with them, specifically the cop you met earlier, Pete. A good guy, but he’s not in to the investigations we’ll be working.”
“You mean the suicides and the other, uh, thing?”
“Exactly. So, with Pete abstaining, I bet his department took note and backed away from these messes, especially when you offered to take the investigations off their hands. I understand the East Chicago Police perspective; they believe nothing good could come from working those matters. It’s a no-win scenario.”
“Oh, yeah, a total Kobayashi Maru scenario.”
“I see you have some Trek up in that head of yours.” Jasper grinned. “But if these investigations are no-win situations, why would you want to look into them?”
He knew the answer, and in this way he and Temple were alike. He didn’t believe in no-win, and discovered yet another way the failed marriage hit him hard — he’d lost. Failed. Ever since Lucy left, he’d been picking up the pieces. Jasper filled his time with work and a bunch of meaningless hobbies designed to keep his mind going. But now, in front of this strong woman, Temple, he hoped his face showed none of the pain lingering below the surface on perpetual simmer.
“I don’t believe in no-win,” she said. “That’s exactly why I came into the Bureau. I’m relentless when I latch on.”
“My assignment to the team should be quite interesting. I hope Agent Ravel can keep up.”
“Don’t worry about him, he’s had a year of me.”
“So, during your one year, any interesting cases fall in your lap? I mean, as interesting as the incidents around here?” Jasper asked.
Temple sipped her whiskey and rolled her eyes upward in thought. “We — uh — well — yes.”
Jasper laughed and clapped the glass down on the table, the whiskey sloshing.
“It’s like this,” she said, “we thought we had something good. We really did. So, we go out to Los Angeles.”
“You can probably stop right there,” Jasper said. “Good enough for me. Let me guess, a vampire or werewolf, but ended up being some Hollywood C-list semi-celebrity gone off his or her rocker, am I right?”
Temple cocked her head. “Come on, this wasn’t a vampire or werewolf.” She turned away, obviously attempting to shield a laugh from Jasper. Her head swiveled back. “Okay, I’m all right now.”
Her eyes watered and she fought back a grin. “So we went down to Venice Beach.”
Jasper snorted. “Sounds like a bad movie — I mean, quite a few oddities hang around Venice Beach, but — ”
Temple stopped him with a hand, palm first aimed at his face. “We were told something had been pulled out of the water and there were concerns, but they wouldn’t tell us anything more.”
“Who is they?”
“This was LAPD — the Pacific Division.”
“Oh, this is getting better and better.”
“Yeah, so they take us to this holding area they have over near Muscle Beach and show us this thing.”
Jasper leaned forward, eager for the punch line.
Temple covered her eyes, but she didn’t hide her wide smile. Her head dropped and her shoulders heaved in full laughter.
“What was it? I have to hear this now.”
“It was — ” Temple snorted. “Humanoid in form.”
“Yes, but a deep green.” Temple pinched her nose. “Oh, Lord, the thing reeked.”
“So the thing was dead, right?”
“Oh, this thing was dead all right,” she said. “But I still can’t believe they didn’t recognize this thing was wrapped in seaweed — or if they did, they simply didn’t want to deal with it.”
“So, was it some sort of dead prehistoric fish thingy?” Jasper asked, and couldn’t contain a chuckle.
“Did you say, thingy?” Temple’s brow wrinkled, and she snorted. “Oh, not prehistoric, but old, and wrapped in seaweed. It appeared somewhat humanoid, or at least shaped like a torso. So Vance snapped on some latex gloves and peeled off the seaweed. This thing was like a mummy from the deep. For a little while we thought this was a torso of a person, but I’m still not entirely sure what the cops thought.”
“Did they think they caught a monster from the ocean, like one of those fifties science fiction flicks? Or better yet, a dead merman?”
“I wish I’d thought of the merman thing while they stood around gawking, but we weren’t sure what we were going to find under all the seaweed. I braced myself as Vance peeled off layer by layer of seaweed, some of which had been wrapped around the torso for a long time and the rancid stench confirmed the rotten vintage.”
“I can imagine how awful the reek must have been,” Jasper said.
“So Vance peels away the final layers, and stares, licking his lips. His head cocks to the side as if he’s confused. He says, ‘This is just a misshapen and unrecognizable fish, dead for ages, but sort of preserved in seaweed.’ Then he slapped his gloves down on the mess and as he walks out, says, ‘I’m getting some sushi, who’s with me’?”
A tune played, distant, and computerized. When The Saints Come Marching In. Temple’s cell phone no doubt. That had to be one of the lousy stock ringers from the crappy phones the Bureau had entered into a seemingly endless contract.
“Hold on,” she said, “this could be Agent Ravel.” She fumbled with the phone — “Go.” She sagged in her chair. “We’ll be right there.” She took a deep breath and hissed the air through her teeth.
“There’s been another kidnapping.”