Iron Angels – Snippet 32
The train clacked, and eased to a stop.
“I hate when they do this. We definitely have time to sort through things.” Jasper rubbed his chin. “They kidnapped a girl, me and Pete thwarted the sacrifice and they offed themselves in a bizarre manner. When you and Vance examined the basement, he found what appeared to be an alien element.”
“Alien as in foreign. You don’t think he meant from an actual alien, do you?” Temple had one eyebrow raised.
“Well, I took his comment as alien, little green men kind of alien, even if I don’t believe in them, but you on the other hand, you think we have demons flying about like evil harbingers of an unknown apocalypse — ”
“You make my beliefs sound infantile,” Temple said. “I think the demon angle makes a lot of sense.”
“All right, moving on — and I’m not dismissing you or your luna — ”
Temple poked him.
“Kidding. Totally kidding. If we can’t call each other lunatics and have a little fun during all this, what’s the point?”
The train’s boxcars in front of them, labeled Santa Fe, edged forward and squealed and screeched once again as they halted. Temple put the windows down and turned off the car.
“Aw, come on,” Jasper said, “and I’m not just talking about the behemoth of a train — I’m talking about why turn the air off? It’s sweltering out.”
“Being bitchy again, the malady comes and goes. As you were saying before the train stopped?” The old woman’s negroid comment and her beliefs being ridiculed had edged her into bad mood territory.
Jasper sighed. “Vance found a foreign material amidst the detritus, both human and otherwise, in the basement. Next up: we find a mangled corpse near animal control.”
“Don’t forget the vehicle racing away from animal control yesterday,” Temple said.
“Oh yeah, we’re still figuring the vehicle out, aren’t we? The plates came back as belonging to a rental company. Figuring out who rented the vehicle is a matter of liaison with the rental company. And the victim of the first mauling near Animal Control appears to be circumstance.”
“Yes,” Temple said. “Wrong place, wrong time. Blah, blah, blah.”
“And later another kidnapping, but this time the driver of the vehicle, and possible cult member, was snatched and subsequently mauled in the crotchety old man’s backyard. Anything else?” Jasper stared at the car’s headliner, his face blank — and was he keeping something from her?
“You forgot one or two items there, chief.”
Temple started the engine, rolled up the windows, and hit the air.
“Bitchiness subsided?” Jasper grinned.
She put her hand back on the keys. “Don’t make me.”
“All right. All right. What did I forget?”
“For starters, you forgot the absence of blood the mangled bodies displayed. A pinkish substance coated them. Not to mention the strange animal-like haze materializing, or perhaps a demon like the one you’re raking me over the coals over.”
He swallowed, and took a deep breath.
“What?” Temple asked. “You’re withholding something from me.”
“Wow. My ex, Lucy, used to accuse me of not telling her everything all the time.”
“Did you withhold?” She raised an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t be the first time a male agent used the title to score pretty young things.”
“You’re not quoting Michael Jackson, are you?”
“What if I were? And you know what you’re doing? You’re evading both questions now.”
“I have to say,” Temple said, “your casual blasphemies aren’t attractive. Maybe that’s your problem. You toss around a sacrilegious attitude like confetti.”
“Yeah, I’m a regular Rip Taylor, but enough about me, let’s talk about you.”
“Nice confetti reference, but no. Let’s get back on point here,” Temple said. “We have work to do.”
A squeal got their attention.
“The train moving?”
“Don’t think so.” They both bobbed back and forth attempting to peek between the cars, to the other side of the tracks.
Jasper’s cell went off, generic beeps. “Ah, saved by the phone.”
“Mmm hmmm.” Temple rolled her eyes.
“This is Wilde.”
Temple imagined he loved saying that when he picked up the phone.
“Right, thank you very much. I’ll have to think on that a bit. Hold on, I’ll put Temple on.”
“What is it?” Temple asked.
“Tomorrow we’ll be attending a few autopsies,” Jasper rubbed the bridge of his nose, “but there are problems.”
“Well, they may not have the resources or forensic abilities to provide us with any answers, well, useful ones at least.” Jasper shrugged, and passed her his cell. “Here, speak with Vance.”
“What’s going on?” Temple asked Vance, and after a few seconds, must have cut him off, “Fine. You know what to do. Uh huh. Great. That will work just fine then. Thank you.” She handed the cell back to Jasper.
“What did you have Vance take care of?” Jasper raised an eyebrow.
“I asked him to secure assistance, nothing big.”
“Right. Anyway. I’m going to have to inform my boss, you know. Hopefully he doesn’t make a big deal about the autopsies.”
“Do what you have to do, Agent Wilde, but you’re TDY’ed to SAG.” She looked him in the eye and said, “Now, back to my questions you thought you had escaped — ”
A sick rumble followed a high-pitched whine, like an engine winding down after being revved hit them. Had to be one of those rice burners with an overly large tailpipe. Temple hated those things.
“I think we’re a little jumpy is all,” Temple said. “Look, the train’s moving again, but I’m not letting you off the hook so to speak. Spill it.”
“Fine. You know why Pete isn’t working with us on this? He’s spooked.”
“What? I don’t understand.”
The loosely spaced clacking picked up in speed and the train rattled by, car after car and the end was in sight.
“The Asian style dragon appeared the night of the first kidnapping. After we’d rescued the girl.”
“In the basement?” Temple’s mouth hung open.
“No. We’d pretty much buttoned the place up and we’re standing curbside outside the Euclid when Pete and I both see a giant mist. I perceived the haze as an Asian dragon, but when I turned, Pete had collapsed to his knees. The encounter, the vision, was religious to him, and you’re approaching this as he did.”
“Oh my,” Temple said. “You witnessed a demon outside the hotel.”
“Well,” Temple said, “and this is a theory of course, what if the demon went looking for food?”
“What if it did?” Jasper asked. His eyes and demeanor told her he understood where she was headed with this line of thought, but wanted her explanation, from her lips.
“You found the first pile of dead human near animal control, not far from the Euclid Hotel. The mauling took place some time during the night, right?”
“As far as we can tell. Vance’s assessment too, right?”
“Yes,” Temple said. “So, this thing went and found the guy in the SUV on the side of the road, and carried him over to animal control.”
“How? This thing we’re talking about is mist or gas or haze or something.”
“What makes you think I have the answers? I’m just tossing ideas out so we can play with around with them a bit, that all right with you?”
The train passed and the arms rose, granting them passage across the tracks.
“The Euclid Hotel’s just up ahead. Animal control, as well as the old codger’s residence, is nearby. Park after you get through the intersection and we’ll walk back.”
Traffic had piled up behind them while they waited on the train. Temple pulled over in front of a non-descript house with a meager, rough-looking front yard. She felt uncomfortable with a stack of cars behind her.
“Don’t worry, we’ll get to the hotel,” she said. “Wait, that sounded bad. We’ll get to the scene.”
“I didn’t take offense, besides, you’re acting like you have warm feelings toward my friend Lando at the university.”
“He ever get cross with you on account of the ribbing?”
“You kidding? He eats it up. No doubt.” After a pause, he added: “If you’re wondering, he’s not married. Used to be, but he got divorced… what’s it been? About four years ago, now.”
Temple felt a little edgy, partly because she wasn’t certain yet of her own interest in Ed White and partly because Jasper could be more astute than she expected. “We should move on, get off this topic. I just met the man, you know?”
“We’re running out of time,” Jasper glanced at his watch. “We should meet Carlos over at the diner. I think we dallied too long. Maybe we’ll have another shot at the hotel after the meeting.”