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Iron Angels: Chapter Thirteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, August 2, 2017 18:30 EDT



    Pulsing lights, red and blue, struck them as they drove upon the scene in Jasper’s bucar, the Dodge Charger. He hadn’t gone lights and sirens as Temple had urged, seeing no need. At this time of night, traffic was negligible in this part of town. They had rolled for the spot of the abduction in Gary, but had quickly deviated when they’d heard of the accident near the Euclid Hotel.

    “Got your creds on you, I hope?” Jasper regretted asking Temple the question as soon as the words left his lips.

    Her eyes bored into him. He didn’t dare ask if she carried her firearm. “No need to be touchy, so many HQ types forsake their weapons — ”

    “I don’t work in the Hoover building, remember?”

    They arrived at the hotel and Jasper parked half a block away so as not to impede the rescue work. An ambulance was already on the scene along with a couple of cop cars.

    Temple immediately got out. “Let’s go see what happened.”

    Jasper approached the nearest uniformed officer and displayed his creds. “I work with Pete.”

    The officer, a young Hispanic male, arched an eyebrow. “We have a few Petes running around, care to elaborate?”

    “Pedro Hernandez.”

    “Yeah, we have one of those. What do you want?”

    Temple stepped forward. “We’re working a couple of sensitive investigations involving deaths, likely a murder, as well as kidnappings. Let us through.”

    The officer gave way and gestured for them to pass, exaggerating with a sweeping motion as if treating them like royalty.

    “You know,” Jasper said, “I do have to work with these locals. You won’t be here for much longer, but this is my territory and rebuilding a bunch of bridges you apparently know how to burn down with a certain kind of flair does not sound like fun.”

    “Calm down, he’s a big boy, he’ll get by. They always do. Besides, he’ll keep quiet about a woman giving him a hard time.”

    “If you say so.”

    “I do.”

    “That’s probably the only time you’ll utter those words,” Jasper muttered, not thinking she could hear him.

    She proved him wrong immediately. “I have excellent hearing and the words ‘I do’ have crossed my lips before.”

    “Didn’t know you were married.” Jasper was embarrassed and regretted the barb.

    “Yes, but it’s over and I don’t talk about it. You of all people should understand, right? Now, let’s figure this scene out before the night becomes morning. I’m tired and cranky.”

    “You’re telling me.”

    Temple’s head swiveled and her eyes had the don’t-push-it stare she’d probably mastered while still in the crib.

    The scene smacked Jasper in the face, and Temple sucked in a startled breath. A body covered in a white sheet lolled from an opening on the side of what was once a mini-van. A breeze caught the sheet exposing for a moment the victim beneath. Jasper took in all he could — a piece of white cloth adorned her neck — a gag? Yes, a gag that had been pulled free. A thin rope, maybe twine of some sort, laced about her lifeless body, obviously cut free by the responding EMTs.

    “Bound and gagged,” Jasper said. “African-American.”

    “And now dead. You can say black, by the way,” Temple scowled.

    “Sorry, just trying to be — ”

    “Yeah, I know, politically correct. But what a horrible way to go.”

    “Is there any other way?” Jasper shook his head in disgust. “I mean, all the deaths these past couple of days have been horrible.”

    Would things get worse? Could they? People were dying daily since Jasper had assisted in the rescue of Teresa at the Euclid Hotel, which now loomed over the intersection like a beacon of death.

    They worked their way into the twisted metal littering the intersection. Two EMTs worked on one of the crash victims sprawled alongside a crushed hunk of metal, presumably a Chevy Astro. The other vehicle, a sedan, had suffered as much damage as the Astro, including a blown-out windshield. The person lying on the ground next to that vehicle had flown through the smashed windshield. Jasper had a hard time believing some people still refused to wear safety belts.

    “Hey!” Temple called out to the nearest East Chicago Cop, a young black male. He spun, searching for the word’s owner. He visibly scowled as they approached. Jasper kept his face neutral, and for once, hoped to see what Temple’s demeanor would do to the unsuspecting.

    “Civilians are supposed to be outside the perimeter.” The cop turned away, expecting the encounter to be over.

    “We’re FBI.” Temple thrust her arm forward and practically smacked the cop in the face with her credentials. He stepped back, and recovered quickly.

    “So? This is an accident. Didn’t realize accidents fell under the Bureau’s jurisdiction.” He tried to turn away again, but Temple grabbed his shoulder and prevented the action. The cop glanced at her hand and then into her eyes. He was the first to break eye contact.

    “I’m not here to make trouble,” she said. Despite the mollifying words, her tone made it clear that if the ECPD officer wanted trouble she’d be happy to oblige him. “But this accident is likely related to an ongoing investigation your department turned over to the Bureau.”

    “All right, all right,” he said.

    Jasper stepped forward and glanced at the cop’s name tag. “Officer Jackson, I’m Agent Wilde. Jasper Wilde, I work with Pete Hernandez.”

    The cop’s features softened. “Why didn’t you say so right off? You have a question, Agent Wilde?”

    “Not just yet, but I believe Agent Black here did.” He glanced at her. “Temple?”

    Temple shook her head. Exasperated, perhaps? “There an ID on the black woman over there. The one that’d been gagged and bound. Also, how many people were involved?” She gestured at the hunk of sheet metal and plastic. “And anyone else in the van beside the woman who’s now mixed in with the mini-van wreckage? The driver maybe?”

    The cop’s smile morphed into the deepest frown Jasper’d ever seen.

    “We’re not sure about the driver of the van, but the driver of the other vehicle,” the cop pointed with his flashlight at the other hunk of twisted metal, “probably won’t make it. That’s who they’re working on now. The evidence you pointed out does suggest a kidnapping, but she was deceased when we arrived on the scene.”

    “From the accident or other means?”

    “We believe the accident killed her, and you know that’s not my call,” the cop said, “but what do you mean by other means?”

    “May we take a peek?”

    “She’s already been picked over and gawked at, the poor soul.”

    “We insist.” Temple walked around the cop.

    Jasper shrugged and hoped his expression came across as apologetic. If Temple persisted in approaching every situation in her brash manner, the potential of each day feeling like a week increased.

    Jasper caught up to Temple and touched her shoulder. She spun on him and her eyes smoldered with anger.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “You don’t have to be so smug,” she said. “You know, every time I interact with someone you feel this need to rescue me.”

    “I’m not rescuing you, I’m salvaging relationships you’re destroying. One of the reasons I’m here is to smooth over your liaison with the locals and anyone else we meet,” Jasper said. “I’m not trying to be an ass.”

    “You’re well past trying.”

    “Let’s not make this bad situation harder than it needs to be. How about this,” he said, and waited for her to calm herself.

    “Go on.”

    “Okay. If we have to interact with other law enforcement agencies, I’ll take the lead, please. I’ll tee them up for you, but you can’t come in here acting like we’re the big dogs even if we are. Perpetuating what these guys already believe about the Bureau does us no good.”

    “All right, all right.” She sighed. “Let’s get this over with.”

    “You’ve been around crime scenes before, right? I mean, messy, brutal scenes.”

    “#8220;Too many. And not all with the Bureau, I’m afraid.”

    “All right, just making sure.”

    “You don’t need to protect me.”

    “Pfft, as if you’d ever need protecting.”

    Jasper edged past Temple, taking the lead and approaching the body. A breeze rippled the sheet resting on her body allowing a glimpse, but not enough to tear away the cloth, unlike the impact responsible for tearing the life from her. Jasper’s jaw clenched and the back of his head ached from the repetitive nature of the action. He loosened his jaw, working it back and forth.

    “You okay?” Temple asked.



    “This is senseless violence.” He lifted his chin and gazed at the stars poking through the clouds. “A pointless death. I’m tired.” He lowered his gaze on the rippling sheet, imagining the dead woman beneath. Who she was. If she’d been on the way to meet friends, or just coming back from a good time. He always imagined the best, even if what he witnessed most of the time was humans at their worst, but his imagination was no match for the truth laying at his feet. “Let’s see if this incident is related to the other kidnapping and get this over with.”

    Unbidden, Temple stepped forward and whisked the sheet off the body, as if performing some sort of magic trick.

    Jasper had seen many bodies during his time on the streets with the locals as well as during his time on the Evidence Response Team. The Bureau was routinely requested by other agencies to assist with evidence recovery since they were without peer when processing crime scenes from an administrative purity angle, not to mention the eventual testifying required.



    The rumbling of running engines and chatter of police flooding the area faded into the background as Jasper concentrated on taking in all of the dead woman’s features. She was a slender young black woman sporting long straightened hair with a hint of scarlet. Faded and tattered blue jeans clung to her legs, but flared out around her ankles. Her shoes were missing and she wore no socks. As a result, her feet were scraped up and covered in dried blood. Her abductor had taken off her shoes and socks, if she’d worn any. Was this woman homeless or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?

    He knelt, careful to keep free of the glistening pavement beneath her. The back of her head had been smashed and a nasty bruise darkened her forehead. A thin line of blood had trickled from her nose, but had since ceased flowing and dried. Raw fingertips and ragged nails betrayed the struggle she’d found herself in, likely from scratching at the Astro’s floor in vain.

    “I can’t tell if the head wounds are exclusive to the crash or perhaps from blunt force trauma from her kidnapping. The autopsy should provide more clues.”

    “Perhaps this death was a blessing. She was alive for the trip, or at least part of it, look at her fingers.” Temple bowed her head. Her lips moved in what Jasper assumed was a prayer.

    “Yeah, she fought and didn’t die peacefully.” Jasper’s fingers clenched into fists. “Damn it. We need to find the bastard who’s responsible. I don’t care if this is connected to whatever X-files crap you’re out here peddling. You got me?”

    Temple stared up at him, and her face didn’t betray any hurt. Jasper was glad for that. He hadn’t meant to go off on her. This accident wasn’t her fault. She had a job to do, no matter how weird and foreign the ideas and the job.

    “I’m sorry.”

    “Apology accepted. Now can we move on? Unless, of course, you’ve deducted something else from the poor woman’s corpse.” Temple cocked her head.

    Jasper waved over the cop who had let them through. “You guys learn anything else about the woman here?”

    “From Gary. Single. I’d say wrong place, wrong time. According to the sheet she’d been busted for distribution — ”

    “We both know that’s bullshit, don’t we? A user, most likely,” Jasper said.

    “Likely. I think she made a habit of being with the wrong people — ”

    “And being in the wrong place,” Jasper said. “What are we doing wrong?”

    “What?” the cop asked.

    “Never mind. She have any relatives, friends?”

    The cop shrugged.

    “How about the driver of this piece of shit?”

    “No clue, but I can tell you the van is registered to a little old lady.”

    “Oh, yeah?”

    “But she wasn’t driving it.”


    “She’s in the hospital at the moment.”

    “So, stolen then?” asked Temple.

    “That’s what we think at this time.”

    “Any relatives?”

    “We’re working on that,” the cop said.

    “Thank you, officer,” Temple said, and grabbed Jasper’s arm, pulling him aside.

    “Thank you,” Jasper said. “I was starting to lose it a bit there.”

    “You have some anger, don’t you?”

    He huffed. “Yeah, a little.”

    Temple covered the woman once more with the sheet.

    Jasper called over to the cop.

    “Will you leave him alone?” Temple chided.

    “No.” Funny how the roles reversed on this one. “Do you want the Bureau’s Evidence Response Team to assist on this one?” he asked the cop.

    The man tensed, clearly irritated. “I’m guarding the scene, that’s all, so take your problem up with my so-called superiors.”

    Jasper grinned. “Ah, a fellow lover of management.”

    “You know how it is.” The cop hooked his thumbs into his bat belt, and relaxed his shoulders. “Anything else or can I go back to staring off into space?”

    As if on command, East Chicago Police Department’s evidence people arrived at the scene. Jasper didn’t bother interjecting or offering the Bureau’s assistance. Maybe the locals had decided this accident wasn’t related to what they were investigating or hadn&##8217;t even considered the possibility. Or maybe they had reached out to SSA Johnson and the field office’s ERT Senior Team leader, Morris Chan, and they had begged off or outright dismissed the request. Besides, Jasper didn’t have the authority and saw no point in bothering his boss. Johnson would only react poorly if he hadn’t been asked by the locals and Jasper was interrupting his off time once again.

    “We need to find the driver. He must have been hurt pretty badly.”

    “Unless,” Temple’s eyes hardened, “like so many people under the influence of drugs or booze, he simply walked away unscathed.” She related the tidbit a little too bitterly, but Jasper didn’t intend to pry right now. Apparently they were both sporting the scars of life — one thing they had in common, at least.

    “Let’s poke around here a little more,” Temple said. “Away from all these people, perhaps we’ll find something.”

    They peered into the crumpled Astro mini-van. Blood had dried on the deployed air bag and dripped on and around the driver’s seat. They found no personal effects save for a pack of tissues and a cross on a chain shoved in the glove box. The registration gave them the name and address of the hospitalized woman — Jasper’d follow-up on the lead later, and perhaps poke around the house for more clues.

    Temple knelt on the asphalt, peering beneath the wreckage. “Over here.”


    “I think he crawled out from under all this — ” She wiped her hands off on her jeans and stood, gesturing to the wrecked vehicles.

    One of the cops nearby swore loud enough for them to hear. “It’s gonna be one of those nights. Hey, Charlie!” He pinched the bridge of his nose, and another cop ran up. “We have a disturbance. One of the houses nearby here is complaining of an animal attack in their backyard. Says there’s a horrible racket, like something dying.”

    “For Christ’s sake,” the other cop said, “don’t we have animal control around here?”

    “Hey,” Temple said, and the two cops turned their attention to her. “We’ll take the call. You guys have a lot going on and we’re getting in the way.”

    “Sure thing there, Agent Scully. I’m sure the complainants will be quite surprised when a couple of fibbies come by.”

    “I’m sure it’s a real X-file case,” the other cop snorted. “Little green men or something, I bet.”

    “Your grade school creative writing teacher must be proud,” Temple said. “You jokers owe us a couple of cups of coffee for taking this off your hands.”

    Jasper stared at Temple, surprised at how she was interacting with these guys. At least the locals had relaxed a bit and were just having fun with her now.

    “By all means. We’ll even provide the pastries.” One of the cops doffed his hat.

    “All right, just give me the address.” The cop jotted the information down, tore the page from a small notebook, and handed it to Temple. She turned and strode off toward Jasper’s bucar. Jasper shook his head and ran after her, catching up as her hand hit the door handle.

    “The house is close by, we can walk from here, what are you doing?”

    “Grabbing some pepper spray out of my bag.”

    “Ah. Roger that.”

    “There a problem?”

    “No,” Jasper said. “None. Get in the car. We should have all my gear at our disposal. Flashlights, and I have an extra Kevlar vest in the trunk. I — let’s go, I simply hadn’t thought about grabbing extra gear. I haven’t carried pepper spray in a long time. The stuff is nasty during a scuffle.”

    They both got in the Charger. He flipped on lights and siren for the quick jaunt.

    Temple glanced over at him. “You’ve been in some street brawls then?”

    “One or two — happens when you spend time with the great folks the locals round up and deal with on a routine basis. Pepper spray jacks up the good guys as much or more than the bad guys.”

    “Right. Now, which way to this address?”

    “It’s not far from the accident, a couple blocks south of here and a little west.”

    They passed the accident and the gaggle of police and medical personnel. There were now a couple of fire trucks on the scene, also. Neither of the wrecked vehicles had so much as a whiff of smoke or flame, but the Fire Department showing was standard procedure. He managed to bypass the scene and cut through the intersection and toward the address of the attack.

    “You have a reason for wanting to check this out?”

    “A hunch,” Temple said.

    “The hunch being someone’s dog worrying the driver of the Astro?”

    “Something like that.” She smiled. “But don’t you find this a little too odd?”

    The other animal attack… She was right. “We’re close to the area where the other attack took place,” Jasper said, “the one with the pile of meat for a corpse and this could be the same sort of thing?”


    He rounded the corner of Ivy Street and saw a group of people standing in front of a house. He put the Charger in park, grabbed his ASP baton and a flashlight, and exited the vehicle, heading for the group of people. Temple followed.

    A wail pierced the thick, damp air.

    “What in blazes?” Jasper slowed up. His skin crawled, the sound reminding him of a wounded coyote out in the desert. He’d heard them often during his time in the Marines when he’d done a stint in the Mojave Desert — one of his more forgettable duty stations, but he’d never forget that sound.

    “A problem?”

    “Perhaps the complaint the cops handed us is legit.” Jasper trotted in the direction of the address, abandoning the leisurely pace of seconds earlier.

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