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Iron Angels: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Wednesday, August 23, 2017 21:19 EDT



    “I like him, this professor friend of yours.”

    The smile hadn’t left Temple’s face ever since they’d departed the University, leaving Vance behind with Edwin White. Temple was happy to meet Ed, but what could possibly come of it, what with her being exiled to the Washington, D.C. area and Ed out here in Chicago? Unless she swung a transfer to the Chicago field office someday after all the people she pissed off retired from the Bureau. Yeah, right. Once more Temple was getting ahead of herself. And Jasper sure as the Lord above made little green apples wasn’t playing matchmaker. There was no way he’d want her steaming in on his buddy, Ed. Call her old fashioned, but she wasn’t down with long distance or internet-based relationships.

    “He’s a doctor, no kidding, but he’s not all that braggadocios.”

    “Excuse me,” Temple said, “but did you really say braggadocios?”

    Jasper grinned. “How about we chat about Hyde Park a little more, you’ll be back to your old self in no time.”

    Temple huffed. “When I gave you a hard time on the way to meet your wonderful old crusty white guy professor buddy — you thought that was my ‘old self’?” Temple glanced over at him, and raised an eyebrow.

    “Hey, I never said Ed was white. You made the assumption, remember? After giving me a hard time about what’s his name — Farrakhan? Oh, you’re gonna wanna hit the exit here and then straight on down Indianapolis Boulevard. We’re gonna have to meet up with the source I told you about, Carlos.”

    “Let’s back the conversation up a bit. I need to apologize,” Temple said.


    “Not what you think.” She reached over and turned on the air conditioning. “I was a bitch early this morning and not at all cold — temperature wise,” she added, glancing at him. “You thought I was gonna apologize for the racial stuff, didn’t you? Well, think again.”

    Jasper scratched his cheek, and a smile fought its way on to his lips. “I sorta hoped you’d apologize for the nasty coffee you brought me this morning. Where did you get that motor oil anyway?”

    “My little secret. But don’t get on my bad side, I can get more where that came from.”

    This ride was much better than the morning’s. Temple’s mood had improved considerably, and Jasper was much less of an ass now that he was awake and caffeinated.

    A stream of steady clunks rocked the rental car.

    “Great roads you have in this neck of the woods,” Temple said.

    “They’re constantly repairing,” Jasper said. “But with such heavy daily traffic and rough winters, keeping the roads in navigable condition is nearly impossible. I think the roads on the Indiana side are much worse than Chicago’s.”

    “I’m guessing a lot of trucks go along with all the industry in a relatively confined area,” Temple said. “Right?”

    “Yes. There’s no question this area benefits greatly from industry, but it is or was no friend to the roadways or the ecosystem. This is mostly steel country, and still is — although a lot of jobs in the steel industry have been lost.”

    “Plants moved overseas?”

    “No, automation mostly. A lot of the secondary industries got hurt worse. That’s why you see so many abandoned buildings and plants in this part of Indiana.”

    “Where are we headed?” Temple finally asked, happy to change the topic to the task at hand. “You don’t want to hit your rez first and change before we meet the source?”

    “What? No. What I’m wearing will work for the purposes of this meeting.”

    “If you say so.” Temple glanced sideways at him and pursed her lips.

    “It’s fine for a diner.”

    “I suppose,” Temple said. Jeans and an old olive green t-shirt, likely left over from Jasper’s Marine Corps days, were unacceptable in her version of the Bureau, and certainly in Hoover’s Bureau of the past. Of course, in Hoover’s bureau, Temple would never have been a Special Agent. Not simply because of her skin color, but also because of her gender. Despite all that, the Bureau enjoyed a reputation built on Hoover’s ideals — and one of those was agents looking the part. Suits. Clean cut, that sort of thing.

    “So anyway,R#8221; Jasper continued, “I want to do a daylight drive by of a few areas before we meet with Carlos. The diner has decent food, but don’t ask for a cappuccino. We’re going out of the way, but unless we get caught on the wrong side of a long train, we’ll be fine.”

    “No worries there.” Temple was pursing her lips again.


    “You’re a former marine — ”

    “Not former. Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

    “Yeah right, so you’re a former marine and you sip cappuccinos? You expected one from a diner?”

    “Whatever, but once a Marine always a Marine, there’s no former,” Jasper said. “Turn down this road, I think we can do two things — speak with the old woman who’s van was stolen, she’s at St. Catherine Hospital, and why not pass by the Euclid Hotel and the house we visited last night?”

    “You’re thinking it’s odd so much is happening in such a confined area, aren’t you? See? You’re predisposed to working SAG type leads.” Temple grinned.

    “It’s logical for any type of investigation. For instance, the animal control place would make sense if the attacks were easily explained, but the fact that the mangled bodies were found near the Euclid Hotel is too coincidental.”

    “Okay, but IR#8217;m not sure what we’re looking for.” Temple didn’t argue and simply followed his directions to the diner.

    After a minute of silence, Temple said, “Wow, this route seems circuitous. Have you ever worked counterintelligence?”

    “No, not really. Not beyond helping out some of the other squads when necessary, why?”

    “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’re performing a surveillance detection route.”

    “Maybe I am. This route wouldn’t exactly be the one most people take to where we’re going, and I wanted to ascertain if any interested parties tailed us, but what I said a few minutes ago, still applies.”

    “Since you brought up the subject, anyone following us?”

    “I don’t think so. I didn’t want to tell you the plan simply because you may have driven differently. You’re not upset, are you?”

    “Do I look upset to you?”

    “To be honest, I have a hard time reading you.” Jasper sighed. “Not that my expertise ever rested in reading women, obviously, based on my ex-wife Lucy.”

    “Something tells me you’re being a little too hard on yourself. It takes two people to tango, you know. We all have relationships go pear-shaped on us.”

    “See all those train tracks on your right?” Jasper nodded out the window. “We’re on Chicago Avenue now, cutting across East Chicago.”

    “Train tracks, so what?”

    “Yes, but look at the sheer number all lined up. More rail runs through northwestern Indiana than almost anywhere else in the United States.”

    “Again, so what?”

    “I’m thinking if I’m part of a cult, we hide in this area, what with all the noise, trains, and industry. The exact location of these events is niggling at me — why are so many strange things happening in or around the Euclid Hotel? There are plenty of train tracks around, but the hotel overlooks a fairly busy intersection with residences not far off. There are better, more deserted places in the area, and even more in the next city over, Gary, where anything goes.”

    “Hiding in plain site most likely,” Temple said. “And in an abandoned building no one cares about and no one visits.”

    Jasper shrugged. “Let’s drive through and see if any ideas shake loose. Perhaps we’ll have some questions for Carlos when we meet him at the diner.”

    At least plenty of green remained in this part of the state. Industry hadn’t destroyed all the plant life — and there must be plenty of animals roaming about despite the large number of people and dangerous surroundings.

    At Jasper’s direction Temple headed down Elm Street, toward St. Catherine Hospital.



    “The building looks old,” Temple said.

    “I think it was built in the twenties. I’m a big fan of that time period,” Jasper said.

    Temple’s eyes widened. “You? Really?”

    “Yeah. The area needed a hospital because of the heavy industrial focus and number of workers in the East Chicago area. The exterior has changed over the years, but the original spirit of the building has been preserved by keeping the brick and the original arches resting in the middle of the main entrance. They’ve increased the size of the hospital substantially over the years.”

    “Come on,” Temple said. “That sounded as if you recited it from a book or some Wikipedia entry.”



    “All right, you got me,” Jasper said, and held up his hands. “While I am a fan of the roaring twenties, the truth was that I had an investigation once that led me to this very hospital and I asked a lot of questions.”

    “You have a good memory,” Temple said.

    “That might be the only thing that got me through college.”

    Temple laughed.

    Jasper approached the reception area and smiled at the youngish woman behind the glass.

    “May I help you?” Her voice and demeanor were pleasant.

    Jasper displayed his FBI credentials and badge, pressing them against the window.

    “I’m Special Agent Jasper Wilde, and this is my partner, Temple Black.”

    “Oh.” Her chair glided back, as if Jasper had informed her he’d contracted a horrible communicable disease. “What — what can I do for you?” She swallowed. “How can I be of assistance?”

    “A stolen vehicle involved in an accident last night,” Jasper withdrew his credentials, “is registered to a patient of yours, a Mrs. Hazel Thomas. We learned she’d been hospitalized recently.”

    “Of course,” the young woman said, “I’ll check for you. Though, I’m somewhat taken aback.”

    “Why is that?” Temple asked, stepping forward, eyebrow cocked.

    “Don’t FBI Agents wear suits? Black ones? You know, white shirts, ties, and a hat? What are those called?”


    “Yes, fedoras.” The young woman tapped away at a keyboard, the light of the monitor reflecting in her eyes.

    “Told you.” Temple said. “You look like a bum.”

    “Why are you interested in a stolen vehicle?” asked the receptionist. That seems, well, I’m not sure how to put it, small potatoes for the FBI.”

    “There’s more to the investigation, Miss,” Jasper said. “Much more, but I’m not really at liberty to discuss the details. But I can assure you, the hospital is in no danger.”

    The young lady nodded. “Well, she is here. Go to the second floor and visit the nurse’s station. I’ll inform them you’re on your way.”

    “Thank you.”

    A nurse on the second floor escorted them to the old woman’s room. Two beds stood side by side, one of which was empty, while the other held Hazel Thomas, frail and withered.

    “Had to be my lazy nephew who took my minivan,” she croaked. If dust had flown from her mouth, Temple would not have been surprised. She did, however, remind Temple of her own grandmother, even if this woman was white; the thought warmed her heart.

    “How can you be sure?”#8221; Jasper stood at the side of the bed. “And what is his name?”

    “Alan Smith, lazy little bastard,” she said, “and you know, he came right out and asked me if he could borrow the van for a while. I told him no, I needed my minivan to get around. He asked the very night I was admitted to the hospital.”

    Temple stood beside Jasper and leaned over. “Oh?” Temple placed on a hand on her arm.

    The old woman patted her hand. “I nearly fell. Breaking a hip at my age would likely be the end for me. I had grown dizzy and weak. Thought I was going to die, I did.” She licked, then smacked her lips, but they remained cracked and dry save for a bit of thick white moisture tucked into the corners.

    “You think he did something to cause your admittance here?” Temple asked.

    “Not sure. Awfully coincidental, don’t you think?”

    “He ever hang around with questionable or undesirable types?” Temple squeezed her arm gently.

    “Like attracts like. Oh, who am I kidding? He was, pardon my language, a shit magnet.”

    Temple snorted and covered her mouth. She glanced at Jasper, whose eyes had widened.

    The old woman chuckled. “That boy never done good by anyone. He lived in his mother’s, my sister’s, basement all the way up until last year. One day he comes home and says he’s moving out. My sister had always coddled him — ”

    “Where did he go?”

    “He never moved out. My sister died before he could get his carcass out of her house.”

    “Ah. What was the cause of death, if you don’t mind me asking?”

    “She broke not only her neck, but just about everything in a fall. Going down into the basement of all things to get him up for work.”

    “How do you know?”

    “I was there.”

    “So, no foul play then?”

    “Not unless you count the fact he lived in his mother’s basement, a grown man, lazy and not getting up for his so-called job.”

    “Which was?”

    “What, his job? Hell if I know. Tell me, what happened to my van and where is that no good bastard?”

    Temple released two cheeks full of air through parted lips.

    “Your van is totaled and we’re not entirely sure where your nephew is.” Temple didn’t want to get into the gory details of the pile of meat that quite likely had been her “bastard” nephew.

    “Serve him right if he’d been thrown from the van and broke his neck.” The woman’s eyes watered and her cracked lips trembled. “My sister didn’t deserve a lousy son like him.”

    “Of course not,” Temple kept her hand on her arm. &##8220;Did you ever meet any of his associates?”

    “Pfft. Associates.” She certainly recovered from her sadness in an instant. “You make him sound like some kind of businessman or attorney. Ha. Alan hung around with a bunch of degenerates.”

    “But can you describe any of them?”

    “Odd looking. Ridiculous looking.” She looked up and to the right, and pursed her dry lips, deep vertical lines carved above her top lip like the ground splitting under the strain of an earthquake. “Their appearance — too similar, like they were all part of some weird rock group. Damn kids.”

    “Similar?” Jasper cocked his head slightly.

    “Generic, that the right word?” The old woman’s cloudy eyes gazed up at him.

    “No distinguishing features — ”

    “Pale and plain. Their heads were all shaped the same way and their faces cut in the same manner.” She shivered noticeably beneath the blankets and the hand atop Temple’s trembled.

    “You don’t mean cut by a knife or blade — ”

    “Oh, heavens no,” she said. “Like their heads, their faces were angled, yes, angled the same way. Sunken cheeks and bald.”

    “Alan was bald or he shaved his head?” Jasper asked.

    “He must have shaved, that boy had the most beautiful head of hair. People do the darndest things to themselves these days, it’s beyond my understanding.”

    Temple squeezed her gently. “There are many things about all of this we still don’t understand ourselves. But you’ve been a big help. You have anything you’d like to add or ask, Agent Wilde?”

    Jasper’s eyes narrowed and he bit his lower lip.

    “Do me a favor,” the old woman said. “Would you hold the cup to my lips? I’m so thirsty.”

    Jasper reached for the cup.

    “No. Her,” the old woman said.

    Jasper shrugged and stepped back.

    Temple held the cup to Hazel’s lips, leaning close. The old woman whispered in Temple’s ear.

    Temple straightened and sat the cup on the bedside table.

    “Let’s go,” Temple said. “Don’t we have another stop before we’re supposed to meet your source?”



    Once back in the car, Temple sat for a moment in silence, as did Jasper, but she knew what was coming:

    “What was the whispering all about?” Jasper turned to Temple.

    Temple drummed the steering wheel. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”

    “Go ahead. Try me.”

    “It’s nothing really, just took me by surprise.”

    “You seemed a little gruff after she whispered in your ear.”

    Temple made a face. “Apparently, Alan hates negroes.”


    “Direct quote.”

    “Well, I’m sure we can put the quote in the category of hated — past tense. We’re pretty sure the pile of meat behind the shed was Alan, right?” Jasper asked.

    “That explains the dead black woman at the accident scene — or at least why he chose to kidnap a black woman,” Temple said. “Hey, I think a search of Alan’s house would do us good, perhaps tell us more about him, perhaps he left something useful behind. You think Pete could score a search warrant?”

    “Maybe, I’ll ask him later on.”

    “All right, let’s go. Point me in the right direction.”

    Jasper directed her over to Euclid, then south, but just before East Chicago Avenue an excruciatingly slow train impeded their progress.

    “Look familiar?”

    “A little,” Temple said.

    “We’re near the Euclid Hotel. We have a few minutes before this thing crawls past, how about we go over what we know for certain.” Jasper faced her. “Sound good?”

    “Sure. You start.”

    “We have the first kidnapping — ”

    “How do we know the cult didn’t kidnap and sacrifice before?” Temple asked.

    “Good point, the basement, the stone slab, and the wall appeared used, as if they’d performed rituals below the hotel before.”




    The train clacked, and eased to a stop.

    “I hate when they do this. We definitely have time to sort through things.” Jasper rubbed his chin. “They kidnapped a girl, me and Pete thwarted the sacrifice and they offed themselves in a bizarre manner. When you and Vance examined the basement, he found what appeared to be an alien element.”

    “Alien as in foreign. You don’t think he meant from an actual alien, do you?” Temple had one eyebrow raised.

    “Well, I took his comment as alien, little green men kind of alien, even if I don’t believe in them, but you on the other hand, you think we have demons flying about like evil harbingers of an unknown apocalypse — ”

    “You make my beliefs sound infantile,” Temple said. “I think the demon angle makes a lot of sense.”

    “All right, moving on — and I’m not dismissing you or your luna — ”

    Temple poked him.

    “Kidding. Totally kidding. If we can’t call each other lunatics and have a little fun during all this, what’s the point?”

    “Go on.”

    The train’s boxcars in front of them, labeled Santa Fe, edged forward and squealed and screeched once again as they halted. Temple put the windows down and turned off the car.

    “Aw, come on,” Jasper said, “and I’m not just talking about the behemoth of a train — I’m talking about why turn the air off? It’s sweltering out.”

    “Being bitchy again, the malady comes and goes. As you were saying before the train stopped?” The old woman’s negroid comment and her beliefs being ridiculed had edged her into bad mood territory.

    Jasper sighed. “Vance found a foreign material amidst the detritus, both human and otherwise, in the basement. Next up: we find a mangled corpse near animal control.”

    “Don’t forget the vehicle racing away from animal control yesterday,” Temple said.

    “Oh yeah, we’re still figuring the vehicle out, aren’t we? The plates came back as belonging to a rental company. Figuring out who rented the vehicle is a matter of liaison with the rental company. And the victim of the first mauling near Animal Control appears to be circumstance.”

    “Yes,” Temple said. “Wrong place, wrong time. Blah, blah, blah.”

    “And later another kidnapping, but this time the driver of the vehicle, and possible cult member, was snatched and subsequently mauled in the crotchety old man’s backyard. Anything else?” Jasper stared at the car’s headliner, his face blank — and was he keeping something from her?

    “You forgot one or two items there, chief.”

    “Such as?”

    Temple started the engine, rolled up the windows, and hit the air.

    “Bitchiness subsided?” Jasper grinned.

    She put her hand back on the keys. “Don’t make me.”

    “All right. All right. What did I forget?”

    “For starters, you forgot the absence of blood the mangled bodies displayed. A pinkish substance coated them. Not to mention the strange animal-like haze materializing, or perhaps a demon like the one you’re raking me over the coals over.”

    He swallowed, and took a deep breath.

    “What?” Temple asked. “You’re withholding something from me.”

    “Wow. My ex, Lucy, used to accuse me of not telling her everything all the time.”

    “Did you withhold?” She raised an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t be the first time a male agent used the title to score pretty young things.”

    “You’re not quoting Michael Jackson, are you?”

    “What if I were? And you know what you’re doing? You’re evading both questions now.”

    “Damn it.”

    “I have to say,” Temple said, “your casual blasphemies aren’t attractive. Maybe that’s your problem. You toss around a sacrilegious attitude like confetti.”

    “Yeah, I’m a regular Rip Taylor, but enough about me, let’s talk about you.”

    “Nice confetti reference, but no. Let’s get back on point here,” Temple said. “We have work to do.”

    A squeal got their attention.

    “The train moving?”

    “Don’t think so.” They both bobbed back and forth attempting to peek between the cars, to the other side of the tracks.

    Jasper’s cell went off, generic beeps. “Ah, saved by the phone.”

    “Mmm hmmm.” Temple rolled her eyes.

    “This is Wilde.”

    Temple imagined he loved saying that when he picked up the phone.

    “Right, thank you very much. I’ll have to think on that a bit. Hold on, I’ll put Temple on.”

    “What is it?” Temple asked.

    “Tomorrow we’ll be attending a few autopsies,” Jasper rubbed the bridge of his nose, “but there are problems.”

    “Like what?”

    “Well, they may not have the resources or forensic abilities to provide us with any answers, well, useful ones at least.” Jasper shrugged, and passed her his cell. “Here, speak with Vance.”

    “What’s going on?” Temple asked Vance, and after a few seconds, must have cut him off, “Fine. You know what to do. Uh huh. Great. That will work just fine then. Thank you.” She handed the cell back to Jasper.

    “What did you have Vance take care of?” Jasper raised an eyebrow.

    “I asked him to secure assistance, nothing big.”

    “Right. Anyway. I’m going to have to inform my boss, you know. Hopefully he doesn’t make a big deal about the autopsies.”

    “Do what you have to do, Agent Wilde, but you’re TDY’ed to SAG.” She looked him in the eye and said, “Now, back to my questions you thought you had escaped — ”

    A sick rumble followed a high-pitched whine, like an engine winding down after being revved hit them. Had to be one of those rice burners with an overly large tailpipe. Temple hated those things.

    “I think we’re a little jumpy is all,” Temple said. “Look, the train’s moving again, but I’m not letting you off the hook so to speak. Spill it.”

    “Fine. You know why Pete isn’t working with us on this? He’s spooked.”

    “What? I don’t understand.”

    The loosely spaced clacking picked up in speed and the train rattled by, car after car and the end was in sight.

    “The Asian style dragon appeared the night of the first kidnapping. After we’d rescued the girl.”

    “In the basement?” Temple’s mouth hung open.

    “No. We’d pretty much buttoned the place up and we’re standing curbside outside the Euclid when Pete and I both see a giant mist. I perceived the haze as an Asian dragon, but when I turned, Pete had collapsed to his knees. The encounter, the vision, was religious to him, and you’re approaching this as he did.”

    “Oh my,” Temple said. “You witnessed a demon outside the hotel.”


    “Well,” Temple said, “and this is a theory of course, what if the demon went looking for food?”

    “What if it did?” Jasper asked. His eyes and demeanor told her he understood where she was headed with this line of thought, but wanted her explanation, from her lips.

    “You found the first pile of dead human near animal control, not far from the Euclid Hotel. The mauling took place some time during the night, right?”

    “As far as we can tell. Vance’s assessment too, right?”

    “Yes,” Temple said. “So, this thing went and found the guy in the SUV on the side of the road, and carried him over to animal control.”

    “How? This thing we’re talking about is mist or gas or haze or something.”

    “What makes you think I have the answers? I’m just tossing ideas out so we can play with around with them a bit, that all right with you?”

    The train passed and the arms rose, granting them passage across the tracks.

    “The Euclid Hotel’s just up ahead. Animal control, as well as the old codger’s residence, is nearby. Park after you get through the intersection and we’ll walk back.”

    Traffic had piled up behind them while they waited on the train. Temple pulled over in front of a non-descript house with a meager, rough-looking front yard. She felt uncomfortable with a stack of cars behind her.

    “Don’t worry, we’ll get to the hotel,” she said. “Wait, that sounded bad. We’ll get to the scene.”

    “I didn’t take offense, besides, you’re acting like you have warm feelings toward my friend Lando at the university.”

    “He ever get cross with you on account of the ribbing?”

    “You kidding? He eats it up. No doubt.” After a pause, he added: “If you’re wondering, he’s not married. Used to be, but he got divorced… what’s it been? About four years ago, now.”

    Temple felt a little edgy, partly because she wasn’t certain yet of her own interest in Ed White and partly because Jasper could be more astute than she expected. “We should move on, get off this topic. I just met the man, you know?”

    “We’re running out of time,” Jasper glanced at his watch. “We should meet Carlos over at the diner. I think we dallied too long. Maybe we’ll have another shot at the hotel after the meeting.”

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