Iron Angels – Snippet 31
“All right, you got me,” Jasper said, and held up his hands. “While I am a fan of the roaring twenties, the truth was that I had an investigation once that led me to this very hospital and I asked a lot of questions.”
“You have a good memory,” Temple said.
“That might be the only thing that got me through college.”
Jasper approached the reception area and smiled at the youngish woman behind the glass.
“May I help you?” Her voice and demeanor were pleasant.
Jasper displayed his FBI credentials and badge, pressing them against the window.
“I’m Special Agent Jasper Wilde, and this is my partner, Temple Black.”
“Oh.” Her chair glided back, as if Jasper had informed her he’d contracted a horrible communicable disease. “What — what can I do for you?” She swallowed. “How can I be of assistance?”
“A stolen vehicle involved in an accident last night,” Jasper withdrew his credentials, “is registered to a patient of yours, a Mrs. Hazel Thomas. We learned she’d been hospitalized recently.”
“Of course,” the young woman said, “I’ll check for you. Though, I’m somewhat taken aback.”
“Why is that?” Temple asked, stepping forward, eyebrow cocked.
“Don’t FBI Agents wear suits? Black ones? You know, white shirts, ties, and a hat? What are those called?”
“Yes, fedoras.” The young woman tapped away at a keyboard, the light of the monitor reflecting in her eyes.
“Told you.” Temple said. “You look like a bum.”
“Why are you interested in a stolen vehicle?” asked the receptionist. That seems, well, I’m not sure how to put it, small potatoes for the FBI.”
“There’s more to the investigation, Miss,” Jasper said. “Much more, but I’m not really at liberty to discuss the details. But I can assure you, the hospital is in no danger.”
The young lady nodded. “Well, she is here. Go to the second floor and visit the nurse’s station. I’ll inform them you’re on your way.”
A nurse on the second floor escorted them to the old woman’s room. Two beds stood side by side, one of which was empty, while the other held Hazel Thomas, frail and withered.
“Had to be my lazy nephew who took my minivan,” she croaked. If dust had flown from her mouth, Temple would not have been surprised. She did, however, remind Temple of her own grandmother, even if this woman was white; the thought warmed her heart.
“How can you be sure?” Jasper stood at the side of the bed. “And what is his name?”
“Alan Smith, lazy little bastard,” she said, “and you know, he came right out and asked me if he could borrow the van for a while. I told him no, I needed my minivan to get around. He asked the very night I was admitted to the hospital.”
Temple stood beside Jasper and leaned over. “Oh?” Temple placed on a hand on her arm.
The old woman patted her hand. “I nearly fell. Breaking a hip at my age would likely be the end for me. I had grown dizzy and weak. Thought I was going to die, I did.” She licked, then smacked her lips, but they remained cracked and dry save for a bit of thick white moisture tucked into the corners.
“You think he did something to cause your admittance here?” Temple asked.
“Not sure. Awfully coincidental, don’t you think?”
“He ever hang around with questionable or undesirable types?” Temple squeezed her arm gently.
“Like attracts like. Oh, who am I kidding? He was, pardon my language, a shit magnet.”
Temple snorted and covered her mouth. She glanced at Jasper, whose eyes had widened.
The old woman chuckled. “That boy never done good by anyone. He lived in his mother’s, my sister’s, basement all the way up until last year. One day he comes home and says he’s moving out. My sister had always coddled him — ”
“Where did he go?”
“He never moved out. My sister died before he could get his carcass out of her house.”
“Ah. What was the cause of death, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“She broke not only her neck, but just about everything in a fall. Going down into the basement of all things to get him up for work.”
“How do you know?”
“I was there.”
“So, no foul play then?”
“Not unless you count the fact he lived in his mother’s basement, a grown man, lazy and not getting up for his so-called job.”
“What, his job? Hell if I know. Tell me, what happened to my van and where is that no good bastard?”
Temple released two cheeks full of air through parted lips.
“Your van is totaled and we’re not entirely sure where your nephew is.” Temple didn’t want to get into the gory details of the pile of meat that quite likely had been her “bastard” nephew.
“Serve him right if he’d been thrown from the van and broke his neck.” The woman’s eyes watered and her cracked lips trembled. “My sister didn’t deserve a lousy son like him.”
“Of course not,” Temple kept her hand on her arm. “Did you ever meet any of his associates?”
“Pfft. Associates.” She certainly recovered from her sadness in an instant. “You make him sound like some kind of businessman or attorney. Ha. Alan hung around with a bunch of degenerates.”
“But can you describe any of them?”
“Odd looking. Ridiculous looking.” She looked up and to the right, and pursed her dry lips, deep vertical lines carved above her top lip like the ground splitting under the strain of an earthquake. “Their appearance — too similar, like they were all part of some weird rock group. Damn kids.”
“Similar?” Jasper cocked his head slightly.
“Generic, that the right word?” The old woman’s cloudy eyes gazed up at him.
“No distinguishing features — ”
“Pale and plain. Their heads were all shaped the same way and their faces cut in the same manner.” She shivered noticeably beneath the blankets and the hand atop Temple’s trembled.
“You don’t mean cut by a knife or blade — ”
“Oh, heavens no,” she said. “Like their heads, their faces were angled, yes, angled the same way. Sunken cheeks and bald.”
“Alan was bald or he shaved his head?” Jasper asked.
“He must have shaved, that boy had the most beautiful head of hair. People do the darndest things to themselves these days, it’s beyond my understanding.”
Temple squeezed her gently. “There are many things about all of this we still don’t understand ourselves. But you’ve been a big help. You have anything you’d like to add or ask, Agent Wilde?”
Jasper’s eyes narrowed and he bit his lower lip.
“Do me a favor,” the old woman said. “Would you hold the cup to my lips? I’m so thirsty.”
Jasper reached for the cup.
“No. Her,” the old woman said.
Jasper shrugged and stepped back.
Temple held the cup to Hazel’s lips, leaning close. The old woman whispered in Temple’s ear.
Temple straightened and sat the cup on the bedside table.
“Let’s go,” Temple said. “Don’t we have another stop before we’re supposed to meet your source?”
Once back in the car, Temple sat for a moment in silence, as did Jasper, but she knew what was coming:
“What was the whispering all about?” Jasper turned to Temple.
Temple drummed the steering wheel. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”
“Go ahead. Try me.”
“It’s nothing really, just took me by surprise.”
“You seemed a little gruff after she whispered in your ear.”
Temple made a face. “Apparently, Alan hates negroes.”
“Well, I’m sure we can put the quote in the category of hated — past tense. We’re pretty sure the pile of meat behind the shed was Alan, right?” Jasper asked.
“That explains the dead black woman at the accident scene — or at least why he chose to kidnap a black woman,” Temple said. “Hey, I think a search of Alan’s house would do us good, perhaps tell us more about him, perhaps he left something useful behind. You think Pete could score a search warrant?”
“Maybe, I’ll ask him later on.”
“All right, let’s go. Point me in the right direction.”
Jasper directed her over to Euclid, then south, but just before East Chicago Avenue an excruciatingly slow train impeded their progress.
“A little,” Temple said.
“We’re near the Euclid Hotel. We have a few minutes before this thing crawls past, how about we go over what we know for certain.” Jasper faced her. “Sound good?”
“Sure. You start.”
“We have the first kidnapping — ”
“How do we know the cult didn’t kidnap and sacrifice before?” Temple asked.
“Good point, the basement, the stone slab, and the wall appeared used, as if they’d performed rituals below the hotel before.”