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Iron Angels: Chapter Nine

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 19, 2017 20:01 EDT



    Jasper pulled up to the Euclid Hotel, the scene of Teresa Ramirez’s rescue as well as the site of the bizarre thermite deaths of the two still unidentified men. And likely to remain unidentified unless Temple’s assistant Vance hid some magic divining powers within the recesses of the case he dragged around.

    Under the glaring sun, the Euclid Hotel appeared benign. The dilapidated exterior was like the other abandoned buildings in the area, but he’d never view the hotel in that way again. Now that he sat parked curbside, he found it difficult to muster up any enthusiasm to enter.

    Jasper squeezed the Charger’s steering wheel as if he were choking the life out of the car until his fingers ached. He took a breath and realized he’d been clenching his jaw the entire time.

    “Fine, I’ll go in,” he muttered to himself. “They’re probably back there annoying the police standing guard duty.”

    He went around back and found two East Chicago police standing guard.

    “Evening,” Jasper said.

    Both men straightened a bit at his approach.

    “Pete called you?”

    “Yes,” said the man on the right.

    “You see two other Bureau Agents come around here? I’m supposed to –”

    The man on the right held up a hand. “They’re already down there, sir.”


    “Yeah, they arrived fifteen minutes ago.”

    They must have parked around the corner. Jasper sighed. “May I enter the hotel?”

    “Sure, knock yourself out. We’re not even sure why we’re guarding this dump.”

    “You boys are brilliant conversationalists.” Jasper sighed and his shoulders slumped. “Damn it. I’m sorry. But you understand how it is when muckety-mucks and uninvited guests crash a party, right?”

    Both men smiled and relaxed their postures a bit.

    SAG. Wasn’t that the name of the silly group Temple had tossed about? The fault didn’t rest with the two officers standing guard — Temple had probably assaulted them with a huge chunk of her mind. He couldn’t believe she had the nerve to enter the hotel without him. She’d overstepped her mandate. Surely SAC Weber couldn’t have known this would happen, that two headquarters Agents would be traipsing throughout Indianapolis field office’s area of responsibility. Now he couldn’t wait for the meeting with his boss later on today.

    “She gave you fellas quite a go around, I’d wager, and left an impression, huh?”

    The man on the left rolled his eyes, and the man on the right snorted. “You could say that.”

    “Thank you, gentlemen, if I’m not back by dawn, well, you know –”

    The man on the right winked. “Copy that.”

    He entered through the same door Pete and he had used the previous evening. Chills coursed through him as they had then. This time, however, someone had flicked on what appeared to be every light source still functioning in the hotel. Illuminated such as it was now, the building’s years of neglect were obvious.

    The heavy incense aroma from the previous evening had dissipated somewhat, but the acrid chemical odor of the thermite reaction remained as if the stench had permeated the building’s old, porous bones. Jasper descended the stairs, not looking forward to his next interaction with Temple Black, despite having left her on somewhat good terms a few hours earlier near animal control.

    He eased into the doorway at the bottom of the stairs.

    “Agent Wilde held back on his reporting,” a male voice said. From the accent, that had to be Vance.

    “How so?” a female asked. That was Black.

    “The samples I’m collecting here are quite fascinating,” Vance said.

    Jasper strode into the basement, the scene of the thermite suicides and the little girl’s captivity. “Which samples?”

    Vance and Temple jumped. Temple’s lips pursed, rolled her eyes, and shook her head. “You’re lucky you didn’t get shot.”

    “By who?” Jasper placed his hands on his hips. “You? Him?” He nodded toward Vance.

    “I’ll have you know I’m an excellent shot.” Vance frowned and kneeled before a scorch mark on the floor.

    “Hey, the mark you’re examining wasn’t there last night,” Jasper said.

    “What wasn’t?” Temple’s brow furrowed.

    “The scorch mark.” Jasper walked over to where Vance kneeled and studied the black streak. “I wonder if someone else has been down here? I mean, we cleared the building last night and posted guards, but is it possible someone got in here? Another man associated with the two who offed themselves?”

    “Look here,” Vance said. “You see this?” His dark brown fingers traced a wavy pattern in the floor coinciding with the scorch mark.

    “Strange.” Jasper stood, and motioned for Vance to follow. “I noticed similar markings back there.”

    He moved toward the back room where the kidnapped girl had been tied to a stone slab. Vance followed and scraped the wall. Soot and dirt covered a piece of paper he held. He opened a vial, folded the paper and allowed the debris to fall in.

    “What do you make of the substance you’re scraping off the wall, Vance?” Temple entered the back room behind them.

    Vance shrugged. “Until I can perform a detailed analysis, I can only venture a guess.”

    “Which is?” asked Temple.

    “This isn’t from the thermite reaction.”


    “I’d say from the fading on the marks back here that they are older than the thermite scars in the other room as well as the identical scorch marks,” Vance said.

    “But what is it?” Jasper asked. “I understand the thermite and how that’d jack up not only a person, but anything the intense heat touched. My confusion is over the odd distortions rippling throughout the wall and spots on the floor as well. What can you tell me about those?” He knelt near the stone slab where the little girl had been tied down, studying for odd marks like those appearing on the wall and the floor.

    “My question exactly,” Temple said.

    “Patience.” Vance scraped more samples from the wall, and joined Jasper by the slab. “What are you seeing here?”

    “Nothing. Well, nothing but another image I’ll never eradicate from my mind.”

    Vance raised an eyebrow.

    “He’s talking about the little girl,” Temple said, “you know, the one we’re going to go speak with? The victim?”

    “Oh, of course,” Vance said.

    “You’re gonna speak with the victim?” Jasper shot to his feet.

    “Yeah, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’ve taken over the investigation out here, remember?”

    “Now wait a minute,” Jasper said, “this is Indianapolis territory, and –”

    “Remember, your SAC, the one who is checked out and would say yes to anything, agreed to our presence here.” Temple raised a fancy camera to her eye and began snapping photos.

    “Yeah, but his concurrence didn’t include taking over investigations, and what’s your nexus here, anyway? We solved the case — Pete and I.” Jasper’s ears were red and hot. This woman understood how he worked, what riled him up, and how to push his buttons. Shoot, even Lucy, his ex-wife, hadn’t ever got to him this fast.

    “Don’t be so sure, cowboy,” Temple said, continuing to take photos of the room.

    Cowboy? Did she think he hailed from Oklahoma or Texas? His home was Tennessee, although he’d ditched most of the accent between his time at college, the Marines, and now the Bureau.

    “Calm yourself. It isn’t the end of the world. Our nexus is clear, my group investigates this sort of thing.”

    “What, this SAG of yours?”

    “Yep. Scientific anomalies, remember?”

    “Oh, I remember, but explain to me how this is an anomaly.” Jasper folded his arms.


    The Indian man with a small potbelly resting on an otherwise spindly frame stood and pulled a notebook out of an inside jacket pocket and flipped it open. “So, you reported the thermite, which in and of itself is not out of the ordinary –”

    “Excuse me? Are you serious?” Jasper’s hands went to his hips.

    “Completely.” Hurt crept into Vance’s deep brown eyes, as if Jasper had wounded him. “Now, if you’ll –”

    “Look, in the Marine Corps we dismantled huge chunks of machinery with the stuff. The temperatures involved in a thermite reaction are capable of taking almost anything down to parade rest. And you’re saying the presence of thermite isn’t out of the ordinary? I disagree.”



    “Wait a moment, please,” Vance said. “I didn’t complete my explanation and analysis. What is not ordinary is men using thermite on themselves, and also using such an interesting chemical as a means of catalyzing.”

    “The mats,” Jasper said. “They stood on the mats, coated their feet with a liquid, and hopped into the basins.”

    “Yes,” Vance said, “sulfuric acid. Remember, I read your report.”

    “How could I forget? You called me at some crazy hour to talk about it.”

    Vance coughed. “Now, this sort of suicide pact –”

    Jasper opened his mouth, but Vance raised a hand —

    “This sort of suicide pact is common with cults.”

    “But there were only two men, wouldn’t there be more cult members crowding around for a peek?”

    “A good point, but I still believe we’re dealing with a group of men engaged in heinous –”

    “So you’re saying this wasn’t some fucked up kiddie porn type thing, but some sort of ritual killing? A sacrifice?”

    “Perhaps,” Temple interjected. “We’re entertaining a few theories, but we’re still forming a more complete picture.”

    “But you figured you had enough so that your little group — your guild or whatever you call it — could roll into Indiana and take over what is essentially a crimes against children case.”

    “There has been more than one death,” Temple said.

    “Yeah, two men killed themselves. Two utterly despicable men.”

    “But three deaths over all,” said Temple.

    “What?” Jasper stepped closer to Temple — uncomfortably so for him and hopefully for her, but she stood her ground. “Are you trying to tell me the pile of meat and bones over at animal control is somehow related to this?”

    “Possibly. Vance?”

    Jasper turned his attention toward Vance, and felt Temple take a step backward.

    “I found markings near the site of the uh, pile of meat and –”

    “Yeah, yeah, go on. I get it.”

    “– uh, similar to the striations and distortions on the floor and wall here at the hotel.”

    Jasper dragged his hand down his face in frustration.

    “But how could they possibly be connected? A cult? The mess over near animal control was no suicide.” Jasper tried to keep the incredulity out of his voice, but failed. “The pile of meat? No way.”

    “No,” Temple said, “but perhaps the pile of meat, as you so eloquently put it, had been witness to the cult’s activities and paid the price.”

    “I’m sorry, but the idea a person could mangle a body in such a way is ludicrous. Are you two about finished here? You were supposed to wait for me, remember? I was going to escort you through the crime scene –”

    “Oh, I wasn’t aware of any arrangement.” Temple stepped into Jasper’s space now. Her glossy lips pursed and her eyebrows arched in a go ahead, make my day sort of way. “Remember, we’ve taken over the investigations.”

    “Wait. This one and the murder? The locals, the East Chicago Police, will never agree –”

    “They already have.” She turned her attention on Vance whose head was down studying some smudge on the floor. “How much more time do you need?”

    “A few more minutes. I need to collect samples from the basins.”

    “Ten-four,” Temple said. “Now, Jasper, tell me, has the rest of the building been checked?”

    “Yes, but this is unacceptable. I can’t have you two blundering all over Lake County. Don’t screw around too much with this place, the Evidence Response Team is going to give this place another going over –”

    “Afraid not.”

    “Are you trying to be a pain in the ass?” Jasper huffed. Out of nowhere, a chill crept up his legs and worked into the core of his body, as if emanating from deep within the earth. His shoulders shook, despite his attempt to tamp down the urge.

    “Look, why do you care so much?” Temple shook her head, the tight curls wiggling. “You said yourself this was a clear case of suicide and the other a murder and they weren’t connected. The girl was rescued, right? You’re off the hook.”

    Yeah, why was he so interested in all this? Why did he care so much about the turf war? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply go back to busting lowlifes? Black was right, after all. Suicides, murder, and a rescued girl. Why stay involved?

    He realized it was because a part of him believed what she was saying. Both the suicides and the murder were fantastic in nature. He’d never witnessed human bodies devoured by thermite and had never seen a human corpse rearranged into a pile of meat.

    Vance looked up. He’d donned thick spectacled glasses that reminded Jasper of some nutty scientist examining bugs or something. “Hey, this is interesting.”

    “What?” Jasper and Temple asked in unison.

    “I can’t be certain out here in the field, but a sample I took from the murder scene and another from here match. This is big, we’ve never seen anything like this.” Vance grinned. “Once I can get the samples to a real lab, I’ll go to town.”

    “Can you give me a hint as to what you’re talking about?” Jasper asked Vance, but never took his eyes off Temple. Damn, she was good. Her eyes hadn’t left his either, and he wasn’t sure if she’d even blinked yet.

    “You don’t have to answer, Vance.” Temple arched an eyebrow, as if once again relaying a go ahead and try me look.

    “All right, I guess we’ll be straightening this out over at the Merrillville office. My boss, SSA Johnson has agreed to meet me, and he requested your presence.” Johnson hadn’t requested her presence, but Temple didn’t need to know he lied.

    “I’ll do you one better,” Temple said. “Your Assistant Special Agent in Charge is going to be there as well.”

    “Great.” Jasper hadn’t ingratiated himself to ASAC Masters any more than he had the ERT leader. A minor insight hit him: perhaps the other person wasn’t always the problem. A slim chance existed that on occasion he caused the problems. He laughed.

    Temple’s eyes widened. “What is so funny? Care to let me in?”

    “Not at this moment,” Jasper said. “I was simply detecting an emerging pattern, is all.”

    “With the investigations?”

    “No. Not at all.” Jasper took his eyes from Temple’s. “Fine, I’ll meet you over at the office. When is ASAC Masters supposedly arriving at the RA?” She’d gone above and beyond to shoehorn her little group into places they didn’t belong and then had likely gotten him in hot water. As if he needed help in the hot water department.

    Temple glanced at her watch — a slender non-digital piece — a Tag Heuer. Perhaps this woman had some class after all, or perhaps it’d been a gift from a lover jilted by her cherubic demeanor.

    “If we leave in fifteen minutes,” she said, “that should give you plenty of time.”

    “Fine, I’m leaving now.”

    “Okay. Bye now.” She fluttered her fingers, shooing him from the hotel.

    He spun and made for the stairs. What a total bitch —

    “I know what you’re thinking.”

    “That’s good, but do I get to zap you with electricity if you’re wrong?”

    She laughed, the first genuine one he’d heard out of her. “That a Ghostbusters reference?”

    “Something like that, kind of obscure I’d imagine,” he said, still pissed and managing his anger poorly. “Bill Murray at the beginning when he’s zapping the guy, but not the girl when they’re guessing what patterns are on the cards he’s holding. So, yes.”

    “I’m good,” Temple said. “Relax, Agent Wilde, maybe you’re not so bad after all.”

    “Yeah, maybe.”

    “And maybe I’ll allow you to tag along.”

    “Too many maybes for me.” That had done it. “See you later.” He wanted to salute her with a finger, but buried his hands in his pockets like he was some little kid being run off the playground by a bully.

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