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Iron Angels: Chapter Eight

       Last updated: Friday, July 14, 2017 20:14 EDT



    Jasper phoned his boss, Supervisory Special Agent Johnson, the senior Agent of the Merrillville office, requesting a meeting for around seventeen hundred. Johnson met his request with a sigh. His excuses all sounded the same — something about his kids, but Jasper read between the lines. Johnson simply didn’t want to come in on a Saturday, especially when he discovered no crisis existed. After hearing about the headquarters people and the mangled body on Gary Avenue, he capitulated and promised he’d meet Jasper at the office, but that whatever this problem was better not take long.

    Pete had already arrived at the diner in Hessville where they’d directed the informant to meet them. Pete’s Crown Vic was empty, and Jasper spied Pete through the window, seated alone at a booth.

    Jasper found meeting an informant such as this one in a public place safer, and the odds of a successful recruitment higher. The locations for gang informants mattered, since a bad one could result in the death of the informant. But with this type of person, someone who’d simply reported the whereabouts of a missing girl, the diner was a decent place to break the ice. It was well-known in the area and had been in business for years.

    This particular diner was located outside of East Chicago, since Hessville was one of the neighborhoods in nearby Hammond, but it was close enough that straying into another local department’s jurisdiction wouldn’t be an issue for Pete. They weren’t actively working a case, anyway; the meeting was for informational and recruitment purposes. And meeting in the middle of the afternoon meant the three men wouldn’t be hassled to finish and get out.

    The diner’s exterior demanded a new paint job. The fake luster reminiscent of so many diners had tarnished, the railing was pocked with rust, and the concrete steps cracked. Often with diners like this, though, the food was a lot better than the rundown appearance. Jasper hadn’t eaten here in quite a while, but as he recalled the meal had been good if not outstanding.

    A middle-aged hostess greeted Jasper, but he nodded toward the dining room and she gestured for him to head on in. All neighborhood diners like this featured the same sort of smell — fried food laced with coffee followed by a tinge of sweetness. A few even claimed wet dog as a featured scent, but not this one.

    “Glad you could make it.” Pete grasped a mug with both hands, as if warming them.

    “I had to call my boss.”

    “About those headquarters people?”


    A waitress appeared, wearing black and white attire and holding a little pad in one finely manicured hand and a pencil in the other. She had a tattoo on her neck and a spike protruding from beneath her bottom lip.

    “Something to drink?”

    “I don’t suppose you’d be able to make a cappuccino?” Jasper asked.

    “Sorry, hon,” she splayed her hands, “don’t do those here. But the coffee is drinkable.”

    “A coffee then, cream only.”

    “Something to eat?”

    “We’re waiting on someone else,” Pete said, glancing past Jasper toward the entrance.

    She nodded and walked off.


    Pete grinned. “You’re probably not much older, my friend. You go for her type?”

    “What do you think?”

    “How should I know? You don’t date anyone. Just askin’,” Pete said. “Ah, there he is — has to be him.”

    Jasper turned in his seat for a glimpse and spun back around. A short Hispanic male, glancing about nervously, stood inside the door. He wore a short-sleeved, black and white checkered button-down shirt and faded but intact jeans. On his feet were work boots, steel-toed. A factory worker most likely, but Jasper’d been wrong before on his attempts at profiling. He’d been wrong about his wife, Lucy, after all. He reminded himself that there was no point in allowing his personal life and divorce to take up residence once again in his head.

    “I’ll go get him,” Pete said.

    “He can sit next to me, you think that’ll work?”

    “That’d be better.”

    The waitress returned with Jasper’s coffee as Pete and the informant arrived. After an awkward moment of jockeying for seats, Pete and the informant sat across from Jasper, with Pete scooted all the way to the window.

    Jasper tilted his head and Pete flashed a quick grin in return. There were always plans, and they usually never worked out the way they were drawn. The seating arrangements were less than optimal, but acceptable. Jasper believed having Pete sit across from the informant better because he figured they’d do most of the talking, leaving Jasper to his coffee.



    “Carlos Ochoa,” the short man offered.

    “Thank you for meeting us today.” Jasper dumped a few drops of cream into the pitch-like coffee, as thick and viscous as ninety weight oil, and probably as tasty.

    “I gave you what you needed, so why are we talking now? Am I in trouble?”

    The waitress interrupted. “A drink? Some food? What’ll you have?” For some reason she was frowning at Carlos.


    “That it?” She placed a hand on her hip.


    “Food for you two?” Her eyebrows rose, hopeful.

    “No food for me.” Pete shook his head. “But I’ll have a water –”

    She cocked her head. “Water.”

    “And,” Jasper said in a drawn out manner, trying to get across that he hadn’t finished his sentence, “I’ll have an order of wet fries, you know, fries with gravy?”

    She walked off, muttering something under her breath.

    “A friendly girl,” Pete said.

    “She isn’t too bad,” Carlos said.

    “You know her?”

    “Once a friend of mine, now more of an acquaintance. So, again, why are we here?”

    Pete coughed. His hands encircled the mug, still drawing warmth despite the heat outside now in full force in mid-afternoon. “Tell us more about the missing girl, and how you knew what you knew.”

    “My daughter saw Teresa’s kidnapping happen.” Carlos stared at the tabletop. It was a dark wood-grained veneer, like the wood paneling so prevalent in the seventies, and reminded Jasper of his childhood home. “She was really scared by it.”

    “Explain the entire event if you’re able.” Pete sipped his water. Jasper relinquished the lead to Pete, happily, even if Pete sitting next to Carlos created an awkward environment for a source recruitment and debrief.

    “The abduction?”

    “Yes, run the scenario by us,” Pete said. “We’re trying to figure out if more people are involved, maybe a gang or a human trafficking ring operating under the radar.”

    “The stolen van belonged to a friend of a friend.”

    Jasper tamped down his irritation. “Go deeper, please, we need more information than you’re giving us.” He took a sip of the thick, bitter coffee, which turned out not to be as bad as he’d thought it would be.

    “My daughter hangs around with Teresa quite a bit.”

    “What’s your daughter’s name?”


    “A pretty name,” Jasper said.

    “A pretty girl,” Carlos replied. “So, they often walk together, along with a few other girls to a friend’s house on the other side of the railroad tracks.”

    “Which tracks? At what street and near which intersection?” That was an important piece of information since railroad tracks crisscrossed northwestern Indiana more than perhaps anywhere else in the United States. The exact location might help pinpoint where the kidnappers had operated out of, and would also provide a few more leads in the form of other eyewitnesses.

    “The tracks just north of Chicago Avenue, a block west of Indianapolis Boulevard. The girls were heading north on Magoun, after leaving their friend’s house a few blocks south. All of them crossed the tracks except for Teresa.”

    “Why? The guys in the van grab her?”

    Carlos shook his head. “Not yet.”

    “A train, right?” Jasper asked.

    “Si. A train had been bearing down on them, and poor Teresa had been too afraid to cross according to my daughter. And as the train crawled past, the van pulled up right next to Teresa as if waiting to cross the tracks. My daughter said that a passing freight car blocked their view and when it passed Teresa was gone. In that moment, they must have grabbed her.”

    “You said, ‘they.’ How do you know more than one man participated in the kidnapping?”

    “The news –”

    “Damn it.” The media had somehow gotten wind of certain details. The fact there were two men was leaked probably didn’t matter, but media problems annoyed Jasper. “Go on, my apologies.”

    The waitress dropped off the rest of their drinks and food. Jasper pushed his coffee aside in favor of plain old water to have with the fries and gravy.

    Carlos took a sip of water, wiped his lips, and continued: “One of my daughter’s other friends even tried to crawl beneath the slowly moving train, but the other girls pulled her back. All of the girls are so upset by this.” He stared into his water.

    “Any other details? Something you’re leaving out?”

    “Are you saying I’m purposely withholding something?” Carlos kept his eyes averted, but his clenched fist and white knuckles betrayed his anger at possibly being called a liar.

    “Not at all, I’m trying to get as much information as possible.” Jasper had both hands up in a placating gesture.

    “I’m not sure I understand,” Carlos said, finally raising his gaze. “You rescued the girl, what else is there to understand?”

    Pete placed a hand on Carlos’s shoulder. “What if more girls go missing because there were more than two men?”

    “Of course.” Carlos sipped his water, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You’re right. The girls saw the van, an older make, and white. But you know this.”

    “We do,” Jasper said. “But the details are quite a bit for a bunch of young and excited and scared girls to recite, don’t you think, Carlos?” He extricated an fry from the pile and plopped it in his mouth.

    “Fine.” Carlos sighed. “No point in hiding this.” He paused.

    “Go on,” Pete said. “You can tell us. You’re not in trouble, unless you were in on the crime.”

    Carlos stiffened and made to slide from the booth.

    “Hold on.” Jasper wiped off his hands and motioned for Carlos to remain in the booth. “I don’t think you were involved. That doesn’t make any sense to me. But tell me, if the van belonged to a friend of a friend, would you really know the specifics so well?”

    Carlos stared at Pete, and reluctantly eased onto the bench seat of the booth. So much for Pete building rapport.

    “I drove around the area and spotted the van. I got out and felt the hood and so forth — warm metal. And the engine ticked, you know, like it was cooling off.”

    “So you had a woman report the activity at the hotel. A woman phoned in the hotel tip, an Hispanic woman.”

    “I did,” Carlos said. “My wife. I told her what I’d seen and said they had to be in the abandoned hotel. I noticed the door had been used recently.”

    “But you didn’t witness the men take the girl inside, did you?” Jasper bit into another fry, this one soaked with gravy.

    Carlos shook his head. “A guess, but it was the only place that made sense.”

    “Fine, anything else?”


    “Could we speak with your daughter at some point?” Pete asked.

    “I’d prefer not, but if you must.” Carlos allowed the final word to hang.

    “Probably won’t be necessary,” Jasper said, and Pete frowned at him. “Let me ask you, would you be available to meet with us from time to time?” Jasper grabbed a couple more of the less saturated fries and stuffed them into his mouth. He hadn’t realized how hungry he’d been.

    “I already told you all I can about this nasty business.”

    “Understood, but what I mean is for other goings-on in the community. Someone with your sense of duty to the neighborhood and so willing to put yourself in harm’s way, well, I’d enjoy working with you again. Would that be okay? If you need money or something, I’m sure we could –”

    “No. No money.” Carlos frowned, and disgust crept onto his face. “Some coffee or lunch perhaps, but no money, I can’t accept money. I was simply doing my duty and helping the community. For my daughter.”

    “I didn’t mean to insult you,” Jasper said. “Again, my apologies. Can you tell us anything else about Teresa’s kidnapping, and the men who died?”

    Carlos shook his head.

    Pete glanced at Jasper, appearing antsy to pursue a different line of questioning. Jasper raised his eyebrows and tipped his head to the side in a quick gesture.

    Pete took over. “We discovered a body today –”

    “In the abandoned hotel? Another man?” Carlos asked. “Not a little girl, I pray.” He glanced up at the ceiling and crossed himself.

    “No, nothing like that,” Pete said, “but it’s a strange death.”

    “Strange? In what way?”

    “How about we say strange, all right? The body had been mutilated.”

    Carlos took a sip of water. “I heard nothing about a mutilated body.”



    “How about a missing person? An abandoned vehicle along Gary Avenue over near the animal control center? Doesn’t mean anything to you?” Pete leaned on the table with both elbows. The approach wasn’t quite as effective when sitting next to a person you were questioning, even if the proximity of Pete to Carlos should have been uncomfortable. There was nothing like sitting across from someone and staring at them while leaning forward and knowing the answers to the questions posed, or at least pretending. This wasn’t an interrogation, but a simple extraction of information in the furtherance of a homicide — a disturbing homicide. Jasper hoped Pete wouldn’t provide details, not in such a public place with food being served.

    Jasper had picked up another dripping fry but he dropped it back on the plate. The image of the pink mound with bone poking through the one-time flesh of a man overwhelmed his hunger.

    Pete and Carlos hadn’t noticed Jasper’s action, and hopefully not the sick expression, nose kinked up replacing his attempted stoicism. In fact, Carlos’s body language and attitude was that of a person who retained more information than he provided. Was he afraid to talk about the homicide because he feared the person who had perpetrated the heinous crime? He did have a family — a daughter — to protect, after all.

    The clinking of silverware on plates, and clunking of glasses on table worked forward into his mind. The sounds had been there the entire time, but surfaced when the conversation chilled. Motion from the left caught in his periphery. Jasper turned and saw the waitress coming toward them. He opened his eyes wide, alerting Pete so he’d cease the current line of questions.

    “You having anything else?” The waitress stood with her hip cocked to the left with a hand resting upon the ample curve.

    “We’re good.” Jasper considered a fresh cup of coffee, but would hold out for a cappuccino at Starbucks once they finished with Carlos. The waitress slapped the check down on the table and walked off, shaking her head. “What’s with her?”

    “You’re cops and she doesn’t particularly care for me.”

    “That bother you?”

    “Should it? I’m not doing anything wrong. She’s been busted before, though, so I’m sure she has a beef with you guys.”

    “Pfft, not me,” Jasper said. “Probably Pete, he’s into hate crimes.”

    “Ay.” Pete dropped his head into his hands.

    “Kidding. Totally kidding. Sheesh.” Jasper picked at the fries, just from reflex. His appetite was quite gone, for the moment. “She think you’re a narc or something?”

    Carlos shook his head. “No — besides, she never got into the drug scene.”

    “A few more questions and I’ll let you get back to your weekend, okay?”

    “Sure thing.”

    “What do you do for a living, if you don’t mind me asking?”

    “Metal working. You know, a machine shop and other various odds and ends.”

    “Like a handyman?” Jasper asked.

    “Only during my off hours, fixing stuff around the neighborhood.”

    “You must hear quite a bit about what goes on around town, right?”

    Carlos shrugged. “It’s talking to people, being friendly. You know how it is.”

    Jasper did indeed. The main job of a Special Agent involved talking to people and obtaining information in the prevention of crime and in the furtherance of investigations in the hopes of locking up criminals.

    “Yeah, I understand,” Jasper said. “We understand.” He glanced at Pete.

    “The machine shop,” Pete cut in, “what sort of shop is it?”

    “We do specialty work. Stainless steel, mostly, and other alloys. Some of them are pretty exotic.”

    “You work that stuff?” Pete asked. “Impressive.”

    “I’m more of a helper. Sweeping, odds and ends mostly.” Carlos broke eye contact briefly.

    “Fair enough,” Jasper said, wedging himself back into the conversation. He had the impression Carlos held back information on them, but no source ever gave up the whole enchilada during a first meeting. No need to press the man now, he’d get more information from him later. “I can contact you at the number you provided to the station?”

    “Sure, that’s a private number.”

    “Good, I was hoping I didn’t need to provide a drop phone. The budget for operational items is kind of in the crapper right now.”

    Carlos arched an eyebrow. Perhaps Jasper shouldn’t have discussed budget issues with a prospective source, but the government’s financial woes were well known throughout the world.

    “But if you ever needed a drop phone, that’s doable. Getting one depends on the sort of information you’re providing and the need to keep your identity secret.”

    Pete smiled, as if saying “nice recovery.”

    “No need. I’ll be fine, but do feel free to contact me if you come up with more questions.”

    “Thank you,” Jasper said and slid from the booth.

    Carlos stood and Jasper thrust a hand out to shake. Carlos shook, hardly gripping Jasper’s hand, nodded, and walked off. Jasper slid back into the booth, frowning.

    “What?” Pete asked.

    “His hand’s not as calloused as I would have thought from a metal worker and handyman.”

    “So what? Maybe he wears gloves and uses hand lotion.”

    “Nobody in their right mind wears gloves around moving equipment. Sure as hell not machine tools. Good way to lose a hand.” Jasper shrugged. “I had the impression he held back on us a bit. He knows more than he’s admitting, or at least he’s not admitting to how he knows so much. The waitress angle interests me — they obviously know each other fairly well.”

    “He said they were once friends,” Pete said. “For a first meeting, I’d say Carlos acted like any other source. He did provide the information leading us right to those bastards at the hotel yesterday.”

    “That he did, but there’s something off about the whole thing.”

    “A feeling you have, perhaps?”

    “You’re funny. No, I can’t figure his mannerisms and odd answers.”

    “Sounded straightforward to me,” Pete said.

    “Before I can open him as a Bureau source, I’m gonna have to run a few background checks and vet him a bit.”

    “Do what you have to do, it’s no skin off my nose.” Pete finished off his water.

    “You two ready?” The waitress had walked up on them without either of them noticing.

    “Yeah,” Jasper said, and dropped a ten on the table. “Keep the change.”

    The waitress picked up the money and sauntered off.

    The diner had grown quiet and had entered the lull before the dinner rush.

    “I need to meet those Agents in a bit.” Jasper slid from the booth. “You’re ready, right?”

    Pete chuckled. “I only had water.&##8221;

    They exited the diner and stood near their vehicles. Pete shoved a toothpick between his lips, but then grasped it between his thumb and forefinger. “Where are you meeting those Agents? You’re talking about the black woman and that little Indian man?”

    “Yep, those are the ones. I’m meeting them over at the hotel. They’re interested in examining the scene.”

    “What for?” Pete asked.

    Jasper released a protracted sigh and dragged his hand down his face. “They’re out from headquarters, some unit I’ve never heard of, SAG or something. They’re interested in the crime scene and the M.O. for some reason.”

    “You mind if I sit this one out?”

    Jasper raised an eyebrow. “You’re gonna leave me with those two?”

    “I’d rather hang with you, but I can’t go back in the hotel, or anywhere near the place.” Pete glanced away from him. “And I don’t know why.”

    “But you stared at a lump of meat, a mangled human corpse, over at animal control, eh? That was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen.”

    Pete tilted his head back, squinting against the sun. “Look,” he said, dropping his gaze back on Jasper, “I can’t explain. Cut me slack on this one, will you?”

    Jasper rested a hand on the man’s shoulder, “Sure thing. You know, it’d probably be better anyway if you aren’t involved much with the headquarters folk. I’ll call you if I need anything. You do the same.”

    “Sounds fine by me.” Pete nodded and dropped into his Crown Vic.

    “Hey, I won’t have any problems getting into the hotel, will I?”

    “I’ll call over for you and tell the officers standing guard to allow you entrance.”

    “Great, talk to you later.”

    Pete waved, started the engine, and drove off.

    Jasper did likewise. The afternoon sun had baked the interior of the black vehicle, but within a minute the air conditioning caught up to the heat.

    By the time he reached the Euclid Hotel, the headquarters Agents Temple and Vance would likely already be waiting for him. He didn’t speed, though. If he got caught on the wrong side of the tracks waiting for a train to pass and the HQ zombies had to wait, so be it.

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