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Iron Angels: Chapter One

       Last updated: Monday, July 10, 2017 21:08 EDT



    The tips on the missing ten-year old girl had come in within fifteen minutes of each other. One was from an Hispanic male whose daughter had seen a van pull up to where her friend had been standing across the railroad tracks, and the other from a concerned woman who had seen a strange man enter an abandoned building. Crimes against children got the Federal Bureau of Investigation hopping, especially a missing child the locals asked for assistance in locating.

    Z. Jasper Wilde leveled his Glock, the larger of the .40 caliber models, on the vehicle suspected in the kidnapping. The late 90s Ford Econoline van had been reported stolen yesterday according to Jasper’s East Chicago cop buddy, Pedro Hernandez. Pete was a Safe Streets Task Force officer he worked with often and now stood before the van with.

    “What you think, Zee?” Pete asked. He spoke fluent English but his Puerto Rican accent was still heavy despite decades of living way north of the island. The neighborhood in which he lived had slowly become more and more Latino over the years, thereby maintaining the accent rather than softening it. Only Pete called him Zee, and never Zeke: Jasper hated that name.

    “I think it’s empty,” Jasper said, “but there may be evidence.”

    “Call in the evidence team?”

    “No time, we can handle this. Maybe later.”

    “It’s your show, Zee.”

    Not really, but Jasper didn’t argue. Pete was usually ready to let the Fed take the lead — and the fall — on most joint investigations. He was closer to retirement age by a landslide.

    From a distance of ten feet or so, Jasper could see beneath the van. There were no drips from air conditioning, but that didn#8217;t mean much. This jalopy wasn’t likely to have working AC. He peered over at Pete who raised his gun in response.

    Jasper nodded and approached. He reached out for the hood — warm, but from the sun, not from being run in the past two hours or so. No taps from a cooling engine.

    “Unlocked doors and a drawn curtain behind the front seats.”

    “That mean closed or open?” Pete asked.


    “Oh. But it can mean open?”

    “I suppose, but this one is shut. That better?” Jasper shook his head. The girl could be behind the curtain. A bad guy could be hiding behind the curtain, but he doubted that. A hurt or, God forbid, dead girl could be back there. His ears grew hot, and a sheen of sweat coated his forehead. The heat and humidity were brutal today, but this was anger oozing from his pores.

    Pete worked his way around to where Jasper stood, covering him as he reached for the sliding side door. The handle gave way as Jasper yanked and the door slid wide open, the door’s wheel grinding against the track in a metallic glissando. The stench of cigarette smoke poured forth, overwhelming his senses — he enjoyed an occasional cigar, but the stale smell was nasty. From the amount of it, someone had smoked up a storm in there. Half a pack of cigarettes or more.

    Pete dropped to a knee and flashed a light inside the darkened van. “I see nothing, my friend,” he said.

    Jasper peered from around the open door and into the van, keeping his weapon close. He wasn’t a fan of the limited penetration technique, called a limited pen. The limited pen had the person clearing the house, car, whatever, forced into a situation where they thrust their gun hand and arm into an open area, but kept their body out. At the same time, they peeked into the space, but hopefully with one eye. The downside was that a baddie could grab the arm if the room hadn’t been at least partially cleared first.

    A quick peek worked better, but there was no need since Pete had flashed the light in and had taken a great look. The downside for Pete was that he had been exposed when Jasper had ripped the door open. Pete holstered his weapon.

    “There’s nothing,” he said.

    Jasper sighed. “I was afraid we’d find the girl in there.”

    “I was hoping we’d find the girl in there — alive, of course. Now we’re back at the beginning.” Pete peered inside the van. “Looks clean to me. No clothes, no obvious evidence.”

    “I have an evidence kit in my bucar,” Jasper said. “But I don’t want to waste any time. I’ll check the front of the van for obvious clues or evidence left behind. Check out the back.”

    Pete nodded.

    Jasper donned latex gloves and went through the driver and passenger sides of the van. Cigarette butts littered an overflowing ashtray.

    “I’m getting lung cancer back here,” Pete said.

    “Yeah. It isn’t any better up here,” Jasper said. “The cigarettes are likely the owner’s.”


    “I got nothing,” Jasper said, as he searched the glove compartment and console.

    “Same here.”

    “All right. Call for some of your people to process the van, okay?”

    Pete nodded. “Sure thing,” he grinned, “still having trouble with what’s-his-name?”

    “With Morris?” Jasper rolled his eyes. The Indianapolis Field Office Evidence Recovery Team Senior Team Leader was a pain in the ass, unreasonable and unyielding. Jasper’s blood pressure rose every time the man popped into his thoughts or conversation. “You could say that. I got kicked off the Evidence Response Team after not showing for the last call out, even though the crime scene was in southern Indiana and would have required me to — oh, hell, let’s move on to the next lead. It isn’t far from here, right?” He hadn’t recognized the name of the hotel, the Euclid.

    “Sorry I brought it up,” Pete said. “But the Euclid is close.”

    “Enough that someone could walk to it from here with a little girl? Or carry a little girl?”

    Pete shrugged. “I guess. You know it’s abandoned, right? Has been for decades.”

    “I do now. No wonder I’ve never heard of it. Call in for assistance. I don’t want to leave this van here unguarded.”

    The sun was falling rapidly, and soon they’d be working into the night searching for the girl. It was never a good thing when a kidnapping went overnight and into another full day. Recovery was most likely to occur right off or probably not at all — and then if they did find the victim, they were usually in a field somewhere, dead.

    Pete got on his radio and within two minutes a marked East Chicago Police cruiser rolled up and blocked the van. The problem with the FBI’s manpower was that out in the suburbs, away from the main field offices, the help was scarce and spread out. Relying on task force officers was critical and necessary. Those were local cops like Pete, but detailed to the FBI for a specific purpose like the Safe Streets and Metro Gang Task Forces.

    The uniformed officers nodded at Jasper and approached Pete. They spoke for a few minutes and Pete walked for his vehicle, an unmarked Ford Crown Victoria. Jasper dropped into his bucar, a dark gray Dodge Charger, and followed. Pete didn’t go lights and sirens, since there was no use alerting anyone who was possibly holed up in the Euclid Hotel with a frightened little girl.

    The Euclid was only a few blocks away on Chicago Avenue. That was a busy stretch of road, with cars and trucks moving in both directions, but from the standpoint of foot traffic it might as well be deserted. There were very few residences nearby. It was mostly an industrial area whose salad days were long gone. More than half of the buildings — machine shops, once, many of them, along with industrial and electrical supply houses — were now abandoned.

    Pete pulled up to a crumbling curb at the corner of Chicago and Euclid and Jasper aped the action. He guessed the building on the northwest corner was the hotel. The daylight, though fading, still factored into their search in a positive way. The abandoned hotel’s interior would benefit from the natural light, and also expose anyone moving about the hotel proper. Unless secreted in some dark room or closet, Jasper and Pete’s job would be easier.

    Catty-corner to the hotel was a tank farm, a large field surrounded by a tall wire fence and filled with squat white cylinders most likely filled with petroleum. That belonged to one of the petrochemical corporations in the area. Lake County, the northwestern Indiana county that butted right up against Chicago, was one of the nation’s premier industrial areas. A big percentage of U.S. steel production took place within fifteen miles of where they were standing, in the huge steel mills stretched out across the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

    The area had a major petrochemical industry also. Less than a mile away was a large plant producing liquid oxygen, and just a short distance from there was one of BP’s biggest oil refineries. Humid, chemical-laden air invaded Jasper’s nose. Even after all these years, six in his current assignment with the FBI’s Merrillville Resident Agency — part of the larger FBI Indianapolis Field Office — he’d never really acclimated to the smell. It wasn’t too bad in the winter, but Midwest summers weren’t much less hot and humid than those of Alabama or Georgia.

    Jasper trotted over to Pete’s vehicle. “We know the owner of this place?”

    “Can’t get a hold of him,” Pete said. “I had the station try.”

    “We try the businesses next door?”


    Jasper sighed. “Would have been nice to get a rudimentary layout, or at least consent to enter from the owner. Let’s take a look around, perhaps we’ll have some legitimate reason to enter.”

    Pete nodded.

    Jasper took in the building’s front. A red-bricked building, still in fairly good repair, it stood two stories tall and had an entrance on the corner, as well as one about half-way down the block. An alleyway ran along the side of the hotel, separating it from another brick building.

    Euclid Hotel was spelled out in brick above the mid-block entry. Jasper walked around the corner entrance and saw the hotel was one long building with only a slight ell. A chain link fence blocked off entry to the courtyard in front. The gate was padlocked, but in the back of the courtyard he could see a door that appeared to open onto the back alley. There was also an entrance into the hotel from the courtyard itself, but he couldn’t see it very well. That door was mostly shrouded by an overgrown cluster of shrubs and trees growing out of the cracked paving of the courtyard.

    The place had obviously been abandoned for a long time. Jasper walked back to the mid-block entrance. Pete popped out from the alley and motioned for Jasper. “Over here.”



    “I noticed from the front a courtyard with trees and shrubs obscuring another entrance into the hotel,” Jasper said.

    “That makes sense. Come look.” Pete gestured toward a door set in the brick wall lining the alleyway.

    “That a hallway or just an entrance into the courtyard, you think?” Jasper asked.

    “We’ll find out,” Pete said. “See that handle and the wood of the door?”

    “Yep, been used recently. It open or locked?”

    “It’s open. I tried the knob, it turns freely, and the keyhole appears to have been used. It’s not gunked up at all.”

    “So the place isn’t completely abandoned. You think the owner of the Euclid is somehow involved?”

    Pete shrugged.

    “Let’s go,” Jasper said.

    He hadn’t put on his Kevlar, and Pete appeared to be unencumbered as well. Jasper did have a flashlight with him, a small Surefire that’d almost burn the hair off a person’s head with its focused solar-flare-like beam. Beside that and his handcuffs and Glock with extra mags he went light. Pete had cuffs and his weapon as well.

    Jasper pulled his Glock, as did Pete, and they entered the courtyard. To his surprise the door didn’t creak. Once on the inside he saw the hinges had been oiled recently. He pointed at the hinges for Pete’s information, who nodded in reply.

    Jasper would have said that vagrants or a homeless person had set up camp in the courtyard or within the Euclid, but the well-oiled hinges and shiny keyhole suggested otherwise. He supposed the owner could have been through, but that didn’t seem likely. Why wouldn’t he have used one of the main entrances to gain entry rather than the alley and courtyard?

    A fire lit in Jasper’s belly, warming him. His ears felt like they were reddening too. He was pretty sure the girl was close by and in danger.

    He didn’t like the feel of the situation one bit, though. The Bureau had strict protocols in place for nearly every situation, and preferred to enter a situation with as much intelligence as possible. But in dynamic situations where there was an imminent threat to life, creativity and alternate solutions were often called upon. The playbook was tossed out the window with only the training and muscle memory of the agents in play. That was where experience paid off: experience and instincts. Begging forgiveness later for spontaneity and creativity was something taught him by his training agent who had long since retired.

    The shrubs and trees blocked most of the back entrance of the hotel, but for a thin path of matted grass and weeds. A broken branch was the only other sign someone else had been through here recently. They pulled aside the vegetation as they entered the path; a few feet in and they reached two concrete steps leading below to a door. A padlock hung on the loop, open and with the clasp slung back on its hinge.

    Pete looked back at Jasper and nodded for him to get in position. He stacked up behind Pete against the wall and placed a hand on his shoulder so he knew he was right there and would move with him.

    Pete grasped the knob and pulled. The door swung open easily and without any noise into the courtyard. Pete button-hooked left through the door, and Jasper button-hooked right into —

    — inky blackness save for the cone of light from the open door.

    “Damn,” Jasper whispered. The hotel was eerily quiet. “You smell that?”

    “Incense?” Pete whispered back.

    “I think so. Mixed with a damp, musty smell like a stack of newspapers. But I can’t see a thing beyond the entry.”

    Green tile, like that of a hospital or government building, covered the floor of the entry. A splintered door, once painted white but now hopelessly chipped and cracked, stood directly ahead. To Jasper’s right was an open door where a damp, musty smell oozed up the concrete steps descending into a cellar. Jasper clicked on his flashlight and eased the entry door shut.

    “We should close that door as well,” Pete said. “That one leading down to the cellar. It’d be better to clear the main and second floors first, don’t you think?”

    “I’m hesitant –”

    But Pete had already begun moving the cellar door.

    A long, slow creak echoed, followed by a crack. Jasper winced.

    Pete’s face screwed into one of tortuous pain, his mustache scrunched up like a caterpillar. He ceased pulling the door and gingerly released the knob. “Sorry.”

    Scurrying sounds like that of a small animal scrambling and scratching a wood floor to get away, sounded from below them. Other than that, the cellar remained silent and without a hint of life.

    “Well, it appears we didn’t disturb anything other than an animal down there,” Jasper said, pointing with the barrel of the Glock.

    “I bet this lead is a dead end.”

    “Maybe, but let’s leave the cellar for now — and leave the door as it is — and clear the rest of the hotel first.”

    Pete nodded. “You first, I don’t want to mess things up by causing a rocket.”

    “You mean racket?”

    “Yeah, like I said, rocket.”

    Jasper grinned. “That door sounded more like an old car door creaking shut followed by a backfire of an old carbureted engine.”

    “Indeed.” Pete flashed a grin, but it faded quickly, as if he remembered why they were here: to find a missing girl.

    “Yeah, let’s go.” Jasper edged past Pete and brought up his Glock and flashlight. He moved toward the closed door in front of them that he assumed led into the hotel proper.

    Jasper’s soft-soled shoes produced little sound against the entry’s tile flooring. Pete wore boots that were similarly soled. Jasper took a few steps toward the closed door before them and grasped the knob.

    “Wait,” Pete whispered, and placed a hand on Jasper’s shoulder.

    “What is it?”

    “You hear that?” Pete asked.

    Jasper turned and aimed the flashlight away from Pete’s face, but not at the steps leading down to the cellar. “I don’t.”

    “Perhaps it’s nothing, only my imagination.”

    “Let’s hold up a second then,” Jasper said, and pointed toward the cellar.

    Pete nodded.

    Jasper pointed at his flashlight and chopped with his hand, hoping Pete understood he was about to douse the flashlight.

    Pete nodded again.

    Jasper leaned against the jamb of the door leading into the cellar and killed his flashlight. They stood in darkness. Jasper strained his eyes and ears for any hint of movement or signs of other people within the abandoned hotel.

    Each breath seemed to echo and fill his ears. The black hitting his eyes felt as if he were swimming underwater in a lake on a moonless, starless night. But slowly, a vague outline of the doorway presented itself, as did a few of the steps leading down. He turned, and saw Pete, more a shadow than a man, and Jasper’s skin crawled and he shivered.

    Two thumps echoed from deep under the hotel.

    Jasper clicked on his Surefire flashlight and raised his Glock. “Let’s go, that wasn’t the building simply settling. There’s someone down there.”

    “Should we call for backup?” Pete asked.

    Jasper shook his head. “No, if that little girl is down there I don’t want to waste any more time.”

    “I agree.”

    Jasper descended the steps, but at a slow and deliberate pace. At the bottom, the cellar likely opened left based on his back pressing against what he presumed to be the outer wall of the building. The brick wall scraped and pulled his shirt, a faded olive green t-shirt from his days in the Marine Corps. His last girlfriend had referred to the shirt as part of his lounging uniform. He loved these shirts and found they worked in quite a few situations, but never wore them into the office because the FBI preferred business-like attire. He appreciated that, and understood the general public’s image of a Special Agent was that of a clean-cut man dressed in a dark suit and wearing a white shirt with a conservative tie. That worked for normal day-to-day operations, but not when doing dirty work such as dumpster diving, meeting human sources in certain rough areas, and situations such as this: trying to locate a little girl who was likely kidnapped. And the local police often dressed down when working on the task forces with the bureau. FBI Special Agents often dressed according to the violations they worked, but in a smaller Resident Agency, agents wore many hats and worked many violations.

    A sliver of light peered from under another door at the bottom of the steps. The gap under the door was also apparently where the incense escaped. The scent had grown stronger, but the mustiness had as well. Despite the heat of the day, the cellar’s atmosphere was cold, as if the temperature was being manipulated on purpose. The difference from the main floor to just — what, ten, twelve feet down — was obvious. It felt like they were entering a refrigerator — no, more like a walk-in freezer.

    “It’s cold,” Pete said quietly. “Way too cold for this time of year, even in a cellar.”

    Jasper nodded. “See that light?” he whispered.


    The light darkened, lightened, and darkened in quick succession. Something moved within. It had to be a person, since that was likely two legs. Jasper shivered again. The feel of the dark, musty old hotel was creepy and unsettling, regardless of the gun in his hand.

    “Someone is inside there.” Jasper kept the light aimed high so the beam didn’t hit the bottom of the door and cast flickers and shadows under the door. He pointed to his ear and then the door.

    Pete nodded.

    Jasper edged toward the door, but kept his feet back and the light aimed away. He could hear muffled voices now, the words indiscernible and unintelligible, speaking in hushed monotones.

    He pulled back from the door. “Sounds like two people having a muffled conversation behind that door — two men — but I could be mistaken.”

    Pete sighed. “That’s one too many.”

    “It may not be the abductor.”

    “I’m betting it is — and so are you, Zee. But if there are more than two unsubs in there this could get ugly. It could get ugly with just one person.”


    A shuffling noise, as if someone were being dragged, oozed from under the door. A whimper, almost like that of a dog, followed the shuffling.

    A distant and weak, but distinct “no” hit Jasper’s ears. That was no dog.

    “We have to go in.” Jasper stared at Pete, who nodded grimly, his eyes glistening in the Surefire’s light.

    Jasper brought the light and gun up before him and stood off to the side and nodded at Pete to open the door.

    Pete reached forward, but the door flung inward with force.

    Jasper and Pete jumped back.

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