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Iron Angels: Chapter Eleven

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 20:38 EDT



    Jasper dropped into the chair opposite Agent Temple Black, and slumped. For some reason, someone insisted on having all the chairs in the conference room at the maximum height. He released the chair from the extreme height down to an appropriate level. Temple had kept hers at maximum height, and no doubt her feet dangled. Perhaps she needed to feel as if she were in control and wanted the height.

    The conference room itself wasn’t large, seating perhaps twenty people — more than enough for this little meeting. He wondered when his boss, the Agent in charge of the Merrillville office, would arrive with the ASAC from the main office.


    Jasper glanced at Temple. “Yes?”

    “How do you lower the chair?”

    “The little lever on the side?” Jasper raised an eyebrow.

    “I’m lifting it,” Temple said, and laughed.

    “Really?” Jasper shook his head, trying not to laugh at the absurdity. “When you lift the lever, plop down on the chair.”

    “Here goes.” Temple plopped down hard, sending the chair to its bottom-most position.

    The conference door swung open and in walked SSA Johnson and ASAC Masters.

    Jasper stood, and felt a little more loosened up at Temple’s chair height shenanigans. “SSA Black, I’d like you to meet ASAC Masters and SSA Johnson.”

    She grinned. “Masters and Johnson, won’t forget those names.”

    ASAC Masters sported his usual nonplussed countenance.

    “Never mind,” Johnson said. He obviously understood the reference, but the ASAC’s obtuseness remained true to Jasper’s memory. “All right, none of us wants to be here on a weekend evening.”

    He took a seat at the head of the table, Masters next to him. Both wore suits — a rarity for Johnson. He must be trying to either impress or gauge the headquarters Agent and ASAC Masters.

    “No need for formality here.” So Temple decided taking charge of the meeting was a strategy for success. That wasn’t surprising, given the brassy nature she’d displayed during their interactions. “Jasper and I have reached an understanding.”

    “We have? That is how you see it?” Jasper adjusted himself in his chair.

    “Yes. SAG is taking over the investigations.” Temple’s tone was matter-of-fact.

    “Hold on.” Masters ran his fingers through slicked back hair. “What is SAG?”

    Jasper opened his mouth —

    Temple pointed a chiding finger at him. “Scientific Anomalies Group.”

    “And what is this group exactly? Never heard of it.” Masters glanced back and forth between Jasper and Temple.

    “Neither had I, sir,” Jasper said.

    “We investigate matters the field won’t touch and the locals ignore.”

    “Who runs the group? You?” Johnson asked, cutting in.

    “I’m the supervisor — ”

    “She has one person who works with her, Special Agent Vance Ravel. He’s here too,” Jasper said, “but I think he’s attempting to analyze a few samples they collected today.”

    “I’ll show you.” Temple stood and walked over to a dry erase board, which snapped on — surprising Jasper. “We were stood up to investigate matters of national security. Watch.” She gestured at the screen and dimmed the lights.

    “Huh,” Jasper said, “I didn’t know dry erase boards were capable of such a feat. Fascinating.”

    “It’s a SMART Board,” Temple said. “They’re installed in most of the field offices.”

    “I don’t need a presentation,” Masters said. “Tell me what’s going on here, but first, who do you report to?”

    Temple’s shoulders slumped and her head lolled backward, clearly exasperated. She took a deep breath. “Fine.” She raised the lights. “I’m going to run the slideshow as I speak.”

    Behind Temple, slides whisked by displaying formulas and high-resolution photos of objects Jasper couldn’t make heads or tails of.

    “We’re part of the Critical Incident Response Group,” Temple continued, “you know, CIRG — ”

    “Yes, we’re all well aware of the Division — ”

    Temple coughed. “We were conceived to handle counter terrorism leads believed to be nonsense. We quickly evolved beyond dull CT leads and now investigate matters falling in the cracks and outside normal FBI guidelines and protocols.”

    “I don’t understand how the kidnapping of a child and subsequent double suicide are nonsensical or fell through the cracks,” Masters said.

    Perhaps the ASAC wasn’t so obtuse after all, but Temple wasn’t telling him the whole story, either. Jasper wanted her to keep going, because it would quickly become too fantastical for both Masters and Johnson to accept.

    “The crimes are serious.” Temple paced in front of the screen. “Think about their nature though.”

    “But the missing girl has been found and the men are dead,” Johnson said. “And the other case, a straight up homicide, has no Bureau nexus.”

    “A pile of meat with protruding bones doesn’t strike you as extraordinary?”

    “You’re wasting our time, why are we even talking?” Masters asked.

    “Exactly,” Temple said. “My group has already been granted concurrence to operate in Indianapolis’s AOR by your SAC. And your man here, Agent Wilde, seems intent on watching us which is why we’re talking. I simply can’t have him hampering our investigations, especially since he doesn’t believe we belong here.”

    “Fine,” Masters said, “go about your business, but have this wrapped up by tomorrow. The SAC says yes a little too easily if you ask me. I don’t want you and your group, what was it, SIG?”

    “SAG, sir — ”

    Jasper hid a grin.

    “Whatever, I don’t want you ruining the relationships with the locals we’ve worked so hard to develop. I don’t believe for a moment any of what you’re investigating will make a difference to the Bureau. We’re overstepping our mandate, and remember, we do not typically investigate murders and suicides.” There was a pause, and he drove home one more point: “And do with this as you will, but your group sounds like another pointless headquarters initiative the field not only disdains, but despises.” Masters ended the tirade red-faced.

    Wow. Perhaps Masters was pissed for driving up to Merrillville on a weekend, and missing little Johnny’s ballgame or something. Jasper suppressed a grin. He respected him a little more for having a pair — most executive management didn’t — but he’d been hard on Temple and even though she’d tossed Jasper under the bus, he thought Masters had gone a little too far. One thing was clear, Temple believed in what she was doing. She believed in the work and the mission she’d been given by FBI HQ. She wasn’t just going through the motions. Jasper had to respect that.

    He cleared his throat. “Sir, I don’t think Agents Black and Ravel can wrap the investigations up in a day.”

    “Are you for real?” Johnson asked. “All right, I’ve had enough of this.” He spun his chair. “ASAC Masters?”

    “Hold on a minute. How did HQ even find out about the investigations out here?”

    “Agent Wilde’s report itself,” said Temple. “There were certain anomalies in the report responsible for triggering an alert. You see, Agent Ravel created a list of key words.”

    Johnson cut in. “What was in the report capable of triggering the alert?”

    “Oh, let’s see,” Temple said. “Suicide by thermite, stone slabs, possible ritual killing, cults — ”

    “I said nothing about a cult,” Jasper protested.

    “Fine, I added the cult bit, but the other evidence in the report as well as at the scene suggested cult-like activity. You get the point.”

    “We need Agent Wilde here assigned temporarily to this SAG thing,” Johnson said.

    Masters’ eyes narrowed and he spread his hands, palm up. “What for?”

    “Look, if it’s going to take Agent Black and her assistant Ravel more than a day, I’d rather have someone from the Merrillville office tag along so those ‘relationships’ you mentioned don’t get burned.”

    “Thank you, sir,” Temple held up a hand, “but Agent Wilde’s help won’t be necessary — ”

    “Oh, but it is, and it’s happening. If you don’t like it, go back to the Hoover building with all the other zombies.”

    “I don’t work out of the Hoover building,” Temple said, a bit stiffly.

    “I agree,” Masters thumped the table top, “I’ll square it with the SAC and make a call to the Assistant Director at CIRG. But consider yourself TDY’d to this SIG or whatever it is.”

    “Sir, it’s SAG,” Jasper stood, “but I’d rather not — ”

    “Nope,” Johnson said, “it’s too late. I need you to watch over the HQ personnel so they don’t run amok here. That’s all.”

    “For how long?” Jasper didn’t want to whine, but it must have come across like one.

    “If there are more of these men out there, and these investigations are somehow linked, a Bureau nexus may exist after all. Just don’t piss off the local cops, okay? Lord knows, Agent Wilde, you have a unique ability.”

    “Pissing people off?” Temple asked.



    “Jasper knows how to push my buttons.” Johnson’s additions to the conversation had to be for the benefit of ASAC Masters and Agent Black.

    “Anything else, sir?” Jasper stared at Masters. For a grown man, second in command of the field office, ASAC Masters dressed like some of the more cheap agents. His suits were rarely pressed, the colors he wore never matched the sick pallor his face normally carried, and his ties were always some horrid abstract pattern. Jasper was no fashion plate, but could clean it up when the situation called for it.

    Johnson glanced at Masters. “I think we’re done.”

    “Great,” Jasper said, “shall I provide updates?”

    “Get through the weekend and give us a report next week.”

    “Roger that,” Jasper said.

    Masters and Johnson stood.

    “Thank you,” Temple said.

    Both men shook their heads and walked out of the conference room.



    “Well, the meeting went swimmingly,” Jasper said. “Looks like you’re stuck with me.”

    Temple had her back to him, tapping away on a keyboard near the screen, which was still flashing images. “I’m heading back to the hotel for some sleep. It’s been a long day and I need to recharge.”

    Images flashed by.

    “Wait,” Jasper said, “what was that?”


    “The one with the weird-looking man.”

    Temple paused the display, and tapped a few more keys. “This one?”


    “How about now?”

    “Yes.” A man similar in appearance to the two men who committed suicide in the basement of the Euclid Hotel appeared on the screen. Similar to the men who had kidnapped the little girl, and planned the ritual sacrifice. All right, maybe Temple had a good reason for schlepping out to Indiana after all.

    “Why do you have a photo of a man that looks like that? How could you?”

    “This is a photo of the man in the vehicle we saw at the homicide scene earlier today.” Temple cocked her head and raised her eyebrows.

    “But why include him in this display of yours?” Jasper asked.

    “He was at the scene, right? And a pile of meat is not normal, or maybe you hang around meat packing plants?”

    “Good one. No. But I’m thinking we’re on to something. The man on the screen is about as non-descript as the two men who committed suicide. Especially if you take the dark hair off the men at the hotel.”

    “Interesting.” Temple stood straight up and her eyes widened. “What if the men at the hotel wore toupees or something?”

    “Yes, but there was no way to tell, they were ash. Man, but my brain is fried,” said Jasper. “I need to go relax. Perhaps we can get Vance and analyze this tomorrow, what do you say?”


    “I’ll tell you what,” Jasper said, “want to join me for a drink or two, and a bite to eat? I know a place, a dive, but the bar food is good. The clientele is interesting — and mostly harmless.”

    “Sounds like my kind of place,” Temple said. “Let me phone Vance, though I doubt he’ll join us.”

    Vance had already gone to sleep, so Jasper had Temple follow him in her rental to a bar he favored over in Schererville. He loved this place since they stocked a brand of whiskey that had grown on him, and served greasy bar food. They used to have live bands, but had gotten away from that ruckus in favor of a well-stocked old school jukebox and other forms of entertainment such as pool tables.

    At least in a bar he could relax a bit and hope that Temple would as well. Another reason for choosing that bar as a venue to chill out with her was that the clientele was racially mixed, and no one was out of place. Well, Masters and Johnson in their suits perhaps, but almost anything worked. The truth was that he was worn out, and couldn’t believe the homicide at animal control had been earlier in the day and that the rescue of the girl and the suicides had been the previous evening.

    “I love dive bars.” Temple dragged a rickety wooden chair out and sat.

    Was she being sarcastic? Jasper had a hard time distinguishing between her normal attitude and sarcasm.

    “It does the trick after a long day. Spend a few minutes in here and you’ll forget all your troubles.”

    “I bet,” she said.

    Even though smoking had been banned for years, the acrid stink lingered, trapped in the wood and fabric of the place. A healthy dose of smoke always worked its way in from the groups of people outside lighting up and dragging the haze in with them afterward. Smoke mixed with beer mixed with myriad scents of people and food smells. Individually, each of the odors was either pleasant or not, but in a bar setting they created the prototypical saloon scent.

    Jasper nodded at the waitress, who within a minute slid two glasses and a bottle of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey on the table. “Thank you, Katie. And bring two of my regular snack, please.”

    “So,” Temple stared at the full bottle of whiskey, “you’re a real hot shot around here.” She picked up the bottle and studied it for a moment. “Wait a second. You’re from Tennessee. Shouldn’t you be having Jack Daniels or something? Whoever heard of a Colorado Whiskey?” She pulled the stopper and sniffed. “Not bad, but still — ”

    “Give it a try. Yes, I’m from Tennessee, but that doesn’t mean I can’t branch out a bit. I’m not a total rube.” He grinned. “Hey, on the bottle, whoever bottled the whiskey usually writes what group they were listening to while doing so — ”

    “Queen,” Temple said. “That’s a neat idea.” She poured healthy amounts in their glasses, a good two fingers worth each. Then took a sip and nodded appreciatively.

    “Took me a while to find it, but Stranahan’s is good stuff..” Jasper raised his glass and offered a toast. “SAG, there’s a lot I could say, but I won’t.”

    Temple shook her head.

    “What, not a decent toast? Fine. Here’s to field agents and HQ agents getting along,” Jasper said. “Real end of the world kind of stuff.” They clinked and swigged.

    “You’re all right, I think,” Temple said.

    “Just all right, huh?” Jasper winked.

    “Too early to tell for sure, but you referenced Ghostbusters for a second time today, right?”

    “I watched it last week, so the quotes are still fresh. So tell me, do you and Vance travel around the country or go OCONUS for this SAG thing you’re assigned to?”

    “Not much so far, and I created the position, so I kind of assigned myself to SAG.” Temple grinned.

    “I thought SAG reminded me of the X-Files — I mean, you’re a pariah and once had such great potential.” He winked.

    Temple laughed. “I’m a pariah, but from what I’ve read, so are you.”

    “We’ll make a great team — ”

    “Don’t get any ideas, sport,” Temple said. “I already have a partner. You’re only on TDY, remember?”

    “Whatever, for once I’m trying to get along and play well with others,” Jasper said. “So how do you know all about me?”

    “Once your report hit the servers, Vance pulled up some stuff on you.”

    “Accessing personnel records isn’t allowed — ”

    “Viewing records is permissible with valid reasons.”

    “And you think me filing a report about a missing child and two suicides is a valid reason for viewing my personnel file?”

    “Look, I didn’t view your personnel file, so relax,” Temple said.

    “But — ”

    “But nothing. I viewed some of the cases you worked and the write-ups for some of them. You, Special Agent Wilde, have a history of going against the wishes of your superiors.”

    Jasper sniffed.

    “Yeah, I feel the same way,” Temple said. “Being a black woman in such a white Bureau — a white man’s Bureau — hasn’t been easy.”

    “Stop a second,” Jasper said. “White man’s Bureau?”

    “Yeah, you’re the type of person I see running around playing Agent.” She arched one of her eyebrows.

    “The Bureau can’t help who applies for the Special Agent position. It’s my fault the FBI hired me?”

    “True, but are they actively recruiting minorities?”

    “Aren’t they? Why are we having this discussion, anyway?” Jasper asked.

    “Beats me.” Temple sipped the beer. “Heading down the inequality road is so easy.”

    “If you say so. I don’t typically think about race or gender or religion or whatever gets people upset.”

    “Why would you? You’re a white male.”

    “So tired of hearing what I am.” Jasper sighed. “I can’t win.”

    “At least you admit defeat.” Temple winked. “Fine, I’ll lay off. My apologies, but being a black woman hasn’t always been the easiest in a hard-charging historically male-dominated law enforcement agency. I did a stint in the Army, too. Enlisted.”



    “Wow, I’m impressed.” He was, actually, a little. “Marine Corps myself. So, are we gonna get along and take care of these investigations? Bust up some crazy cult or something. Bash some skulls?” He wanted off the race subject. Jasper understood much more work had to be done in civil rights. However, as far as government agencies went, he thought the FBI did a decent job of hiring people from diverse backgrounds. Long gone were the days of hiring only white male lawyers and accountants.

    Of course, he was a white male himself and honest enough to understand that had to shape his perceptions, at least to some degree. He didn’t doubt the world looked different to a black woman. Sometimes a lot different.

    “You drunk already?” Temple grinned. “Does thinking of the Marine Corps make you violent?”

    Jasper sipped the whiskey, the color of polished leather, allowing the complex notes to linger on his tongue before the liquid slid down his throat. He took a deep breath.

    “I have anger issues, but not because of the Corps.”

    “Oh? In the mood to share?”

    He brought the glass down on the table with a thunk. “I’m surprised you don’t already know.” He raised an eyebrow.

    “Like I said, we didn’t look at your personal details, only some work product.”

    “Fine. And here I thought we were beginning to get along,” Jasper said.

    “Aren’t we?”

    “Okay, I’ve had a rough couple of years. Was married, she left.”



    “A good thing, right?” Temple asked.

    He shrugged. “I suppose kids were something I had on my mind.”

    “You have time still. I mean, how old are you, anyway? Twelve?”

    He chuckled. “Valiant try, but I think my baby face vanished right about the time my marriage fell apart. And now I’m a pariah at work, too. Some of my co-workers love screwing with me when I show up at the office.” He licked his lips and took a healthy swig of the whiskey. His eyes watered.

    “You and me, both.” Temple raised her glass and clanked with Jasper’s. “Here’s to social pariahs, may we graduate to full-on misanthropy.”

    “I’ll drink to pariahs and misanthropy,” Jasper said. “So what’s your story? How did SAG come about, other than being an idea of yours?”

    “Let’s say I’m a favorite of the Assistant Director of CIRG.”

    “As in he isn’t a fan of yours? I can’t seem to read you, and whether or not you’re being sarcastic.”

    “Yep, that’s one of my problems.”

    “This is gonna be fun.” Jasper grinned. “I may not be the superstar of the field office, but I’m good at my job. I’m persistent, and believe it or not, can work well with others.”

    Now it was Temple’s turn to snort.

    “Hey,” Jasper said, “I need the right people around me and I’ll play nice and make fast friends.”

    “You seem to have the right touch with the locals, an admirable quality, which means you’re probably not arrogant.”

    “I’ve worked quite a few investigations with them, specifically the cop you met earlier, Pete. A good guy, but he’s not in to the investigations we’ll be working.”

    “You mean the suicides and the other, uh, thing?”

    “Exactly. So, with Pete abstaining, I bet his department took note and backed away from these messes, especially when you offered to take the investigations off their hands. I understand the East Chicago Police perspective; they believe nothing good could come from working those matters. It’s a no-win scenario.”

    “Oh, yeah, a total Kobayashi Maru scenario.”

    “I see you have some Trek up in that head of yours.” Jasper grinned. “But if these investigations are no-win situations, why would you want to look into them?”

    He knew the answer, and in this way he and Temple were alike. He didn’t believe in no-win, and discovered yet another way the failed marriage hit him hard — he’d lost. Failed. Ever since Lucy left, he’d been picking up the pieces. Jasper filled his time with work and a bunch of meaningless hobbies designed to keep his mind going. But now, in front of this strong woman, Temple, he hoped his face showed none of the pain lingering below the surface on perpetual simmer.

    “I don’t believe in no-win,” she said. “That’s exactly why I came into the Bureau. I’m relentless when I latch on.”

    “My assignment to the team should be quite interesting. I hope Agent Ravel can keep up.”

    “Don’t worry about him, he’s had a year of me.”

    “So, during your one year, any interesting cases fall in your lap? I mean, as interesting as the incidents around here?” Jasper asked.

    Temple sipped her whiskey and rolled her eyes upward in thought. “We — uh — well — yes.”

    Jasper laughed and clapped the glass down on the table, the whiskey sloshing.

    “It’s like this,” she said, “we thought we had something good. We really did. So, we go out to Los Angeles.”

    “You can probably stop right there,” Jasper said. “Good enough for me. Let me guess, a vampire or werewolf, but ended up being some Hollywood C-list semi-celebrity gone off his or her rocker, am I right?”

    Temple cocked her head. “Come on, this wasn’t a vampire or werewolf.” She turned away, obviously attempting to shield a laugh from Jasper. Her head swiveled back. “Okay, I’m all right now.”

    Her eyes watered and she fought back a grin. “So we went down to Venice Beach.”

    Jasper snorted. “Sounds like a bad movie — I mean, quite a few oddities hang around Venice Beach, but — ”

    Temple stopped him with a hand, palm first aimed at his face. “We were told something had been pulled out of the water and there were concerns, but they wouldn’t tell us anything more.”

    “Who is they?”

    “This was LAPD — the Pacific Division.”

    “Oh, this is getting better and better.”

    “Yeah, so they take us to this holding area they have over near Muscle Beach and show us this thing.”

    Jasper leaned forward, eager for the punch line.

    Temple covered her eyes, but she didn’t hide her wide smile. Her head dropped and her shoulders heaved in full laughter.

    “What was it? I have to hear this now.”

    “It was — ” Temple snorted. “Humanoid in form.”


    “Yes, but a deep green.” Temple pinched her nose. “Oh, Lord, the thing reeked.”

    “So the thing was dead, right?”

    “Oh, this thing was dead all right,” she said. “But I still can’t believe they didn’t recognize this thing was wrapped in seaweed — or if they did, they simply didn’t want to deal with it.”

    “So, was it some sort of dead prehistoric fish thingy?” Jasper asked, and couldn’t contain a chuckle.

    “Did you say, thingy?” Temple’s brow wrinkled, and she snorted. “Oh, not prehistoric, but old, and wrapped in seaweed. It appeared somewhat humanoid, or at least shaped like a torso. So Vance snapped on some latex gloves and peeled off the seaweed. This thing was like a mummy from the deep. For a little while we thought this was a torso of a person, but I’m still not entirely sure what the cops thought.”

    “Did they think they caught a monster from the ocean, like one of those fifties science fiction flicks? Or better yet, a dead merman?”

    “I wish I’d thought of the merman thing while they stood around gawking, but we weren’t sure what we were going to find under all the seaweed. I braced myself as Vance peeled off layer by layer of seaweed, some of which had been wrapped around the torso for a long time and the rancid stench confirmed the rotten vintage.”

    “I can imagine how awful the reek must have been,” Jasper said.

    “So Vance peels away the final layers, and stares, licking his lips. His head cocks to the side as if he’s confused. He says, ‘This is just a misshapen and unrecognizable fish, dead for ages, but sort of preserved in seaweed.’ Then he slapped his gloves down on the mess and as he walks out, says, ‘I’m getting some sushi, who’s with me’?”

    A tune played, distant, and computerized. When The Saints Come Marching In. Temple’s cell phone no doubt. That had to be one of the lousy stock ringers from the crappy phones the Bureau had entered into a seemingly endless contract.

    “Hold on,” she said, “this could be Agent Ravel.” She fumbled with the phone — “Go.” She sagged in her chair. “We’ll be right there.” She took a deep breath and hissed the air through her teeth.

    “Another problem?”

    “There’s been another kidnapping.”

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