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Iron Angels: Chapter Twenty

       Last updated: Monday, September 4, 2017 10:16 EDT



    They rolled up on the traffic light across from the Euclid Hotel around three in the afternoon, and got a fresh red ball at Euclid and East Chicago Avenue. The intersection, teeming with police, firefighters, and EMTs the night before, stood eerily quiet for a weekend day. The mayhem and destruction and death were thoroughly erased, as if the kidnapping, accident, and pointless deaths never occurred.

    Jasper shivered despite the heat of the day — and the hotbox Temple created out of the rental vehicle.

    “Hard to believe.”

    “Yeah, not so much as a piece of glass out here. Hey, you think your Evidence Response Team descended on the old man’s residence this morning?”

    “They’re probably at the scene now. But they’ll be by the numbers and not extrapolate, I’m sure.” Bile crept into the back of Jasper’s mouth just thinking about the Senior Team Leader of the ERT program for the Indianapolis Field Office, Special Agent Morris Chan. Jasper swallowed, but the sour taste lingered. “Got any breath mints on you?”

    “No, but I bet the woman in the hospital, Hazel, had Certs or LifeSavers.”

    “Wow, your grandmother did that too?” Jasper grinned.

    “Didn’t they all?” She laughed. “I have some gum if you’re so inclined.” She rustled in her bag with one hand, but kept her eyes on the road. “Here.”

    The light turned green after what had seemed an interminable amount of time.

    “Once you’re through the intersection,” Jasper stifled a shudder as they crossed over the spot of the accident, “flip a U-turn and pull up to the side of the hotel.”


    Temple swung around and Jasper peered at the alleyway behind the hotel as she drove past — the same alley he’d seen the haze resembling an Asian-style dragon.

    “Hey, I think Carlos’s truck is parked behind the Euclid — an off-white Toyota pickup. Pull up a little more and park.”

    “You sure?”

    “Yeah, pretty sure.” Jasper frowned and propped his chin up with his fist as he rested his elbow on the armrest. “I wonder what he’s doing here?”

    “I think learning more about Carlos should be on our list,” Temple said. “The same goes for that Eulalia chick from the diner.”

    “Agreed.” Jasper rubbed his chin. “I remember saying the same thing to Pete during the first meeting with Carlos.”

    “What should we do? Go in? See what he’s after? Confront him?”

    “I was hoping to get out of this hot box and walk around the perimeter of the hotel, but now I don’t — ”

    The nose of Carlos’s truck poked from the alleyway.

    “Get down,” Jasper said. “Let’s hope this rentacar is generic enough that he didn’t notice it at the diner. I bet he expected us to show up at the diner in my bucar and won’t even be bothered by a car of this type parked here.”

    They both ducked. Temple had pulled almost to the intersection — not far from the alleyway, but far enough that Carlos might not think anything of the vehicle.

    “I wonder what he was doing here, anyway?” Temple asked. “You think the hotel’s still buttoned up, crime scene tape, and so forth?”

    “Beats me.”

    The sound and smell of ragged exhaust poured into the rental car. Carlos had pulled up next to them — hopefully waiting for the light at the intersection. Neither of them dared poke their heads up. For a moment, Jasper wondered why they cared so much, but if Carlos had anything to do with the mysterious cult, it’d be better to not alert him to their presence.

    “We can come back to the hotel later,” Jasper said softly. “We need to follow Carlos.”

    “But what if he left a signal or a mark or something?”

    “Sounds like spy craft to me, and we’re not after spies, are we?” Jasper raised an eyebrow.

    “It&##8217;s called tradecraft — but why can’t anyone use signals? Gangs do, right? And you work gangs, how is graffiti any different than a spy leaving a chalk mark on a telephone pole?”

    “I see your point.”

    The truck’s rumble deepened and for a moment grew louder, but trailed off.

    They both sat up.

    “He’s westbound on East Chicago Avenue, I bet, uh, turned right — ”

    “I’m aware of which way west is.” Temple frowned and started the engine.

    “You never know,” Jasper said, “so many people have no idea about the points of a compass. Anyway, we can come back here, let’s see what he’s up to.”

    “All right.”

    They followed Carlos, which would prove simple if he stayed on majors and other vehicles provided cover between his pickup and them. But little traffic got in the way and after a quarter mile or so he made a southbound turn on Huish Drive.

    “Interesting,” Jasper said. “He isn’t heading home. Staying on East Chicago Avenue for a while would have been a safe bet. Okay, this road turns into Kennedy Avenue down here.”

    “Maybe he’s going to his place of employment.” Temple glanced at Jasper.

    “Maybe. It’s a weekend, but… maybe his shop if working overtime. If he gets on the interstate following will be easy.”

    But Carlos didn’t. Instead he went under the interstate and looped around to head west on Michigan Street and then south on Indianapolis.

    “There are quite a few shops — not department stores — ”

    “Yeah, I understand — I didn’t think we’d find a Nordstrom’s over here.” Temple rolled her eyes.

    “Sorry. Don’t have to bite my head off.”

    “I won’t, if you stop acting like I’m some dizzy broad,” Temple said.

    “Fine. I’ll try. I’ll try to try.”

    Temple grinned.

    “You may be right, his employment might be over here. It’s kind of a mini industrial area.”

    They had taken a few turns with Carlos where no other vehicles offered cover, and now approached a wide band of railroad tracks with an approaching train.

    Carlos’s Toyota pickup belched a black glob of smoke and he accelerated over the tracks before the arms came down.

    “Damn. He must have spotted us.”

    “Or he rushed to beat the train?” A bit of hope crept into the sentence as Temple finished.

    “I hope you’re good at re-acquiring after losing the eye,” Jasper said.

    “Maybe you worked some spy stuff in the past after all.” Temple turned and raised an eyebrow at him.

    “Once or twice. Interesting stuff, but slow.”

    “Counterintelligence isn’t for everyone.”

    “Well, I say we head down to Summer Street. We can roll through the parking lots of a few businesses over there. With luck, we’ll spot him.”

    “If not,” Temple said, “we can always head back to the Euclid.”

    “Roger that.”

    Mercifully, the train passed in short order. They hit Summer Street and Jasper directed her westbound.

    “Up here, turn right at the next street, I’m not sure of the name.”

    Temple laughed as they approached. “Hump Road.”

    “And people say men are crude.” Jasper grinned. “Stop thinking about Ed.” He leaned away, expecting a poke, but received her disapproving stare.



    They crawled past the first building, all brick, but with thick, smoked-glass windows and unlike some of the other businesses nearby, still in business. A fence surrounded the property so one couldn’t drive on to the complex, but the front of the building remained accessible by walking right up and ringing the front bell.

    A row of vehicles populated a parking lot behind the building.

    “Holy shit,” Jasper said.

    Temple glared at him.

    “Fine, why I’ll be a monkey’s uncle, that better?” He pumped his eyebrows up and down.

    “A little.”

    “And besides, you made a hump joke!”

    Temple’s mouth twitched, an almost smile.

    “Anyway,” Jasper said, “I can’t believe we found him — the Toyota parked in back is Carlos’s. “Keep rolling up this road and we’ll pause before turning around — looks like Hump Road dead ends anyway.”

    Temple swung the car around at the end of the road. Buildings resembling hangars lined the road. Some appeared empty and dilapidated, while others were simply dilapidated, but still in use. This would make a great area for a cult to hide as well.

    “What should we do?” Temple asked.

    “I don’t know, what do you think?” She’d been allowing him to make a lot of decisions today, and he wondered if this was her way of apologizing or making him feel like he was part of the Scientific Anomalies Group.

    “All right.” Temple drummed the steering wheel. “What are the odds he’s part of a cult whose members commit suicide at the first sign of cops?”

    “I’d say low.”

    “And what are the odds he’d phone in the tip on the kidnapped girl if he were part of this cult — which, by the way, we haven’t proven exists yet?”

    “Pretty low.” Jasper chuckled. “Thank you for the bit about the phantom cult. I thought you made up your mind on the cult’s existence.”

    “I think the cult’s real. It fits. Demons, cults, ritual suicide. We even have a name for them now, the Phantom Cult — I like it.”

    “All right.” Jasper suppressed a laugh. “I’m not sold, but I suppose one of us should be a skeptic, right? Isn’t that how these things work?”

    “How do you mean?” Temple asked.

    “Like partners in any movie or TV show — one’s always a skeptic, right?”


    “So if this goes sideways on us, I’m not wearing any body armor, my Kevlar’s baking in the trunk of my bucar, and I doubt you’re wearing any.”

    “Let’s hope this doesn’t get ugly on us and let’s hope Carlos isn’t a bad guy.” Temple smiled. “We’ve all done stupid things over the course of our careers, what’s one more thing?”

    “Yeah, unless this time is the last stupid thing we do. You know what? I’m gonna call us in with the Merrillville office’s switchboard, so they know where we’re at.”

    Jasper would have called in on his bu-radio, but again, it was installed in his bucar, so he used the smartphone. Boy, he wished he’d talked Temple into taking his car rather than the rental, but he’d been so out of it this morning.

    “All right, we’re set.”



    A metal sign attached to two metal poles jammed into the ground identified the business as Wayland Precision. No witty tag line, only the name of the business with a blacksmith’s hammer beneath. Spartan, but word of mouth and reputation rather than advertising likely brought them business. Also, there’d no doubt be no receptionist eagerly awaiting new clients inside the front door — especially on a weekend, but the nature of Wayland’s business probably didn’t require the services of a person out front.

    Crab grass littered the patchy strip in front of the red brick building. A cracked sidewalk and brick steps led to an imposing metal door, which wouldn’t be out of place in Fort Knox.

    &##8220;The door must weigh a ton.” Jasper pointed. “They expecting to repel an assault or outlast a siege?”

    “Maybe they’re a bunch of doomsday types — ”

    “Oh, you mean like those people out in Wyoming? What are they called? Survivalists?”

    “Something like that.”

    They ascended the steps and the tiny porch provided a respite from the pummeling waves of heat.

    “Oh, there’s a doorbell and intercom, exciting.” Jasper jammed the button; a buzzer inside the building was loud enough to elicit a wince from both him and Temple.

    “Makes sense for a machine shop, eh?”

    They stood for a few minutes and still no one answered the door.

    “All right, I’ll give the intercom a whirl.”

    He reached for the button, but the speaker rattled: “Yes?

    Jasper pressed the button: “I’m Special Agent Jasper Wilde with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I’m here with my partner, Temple Black. We’d like to speak with someone.”

    A long pause.

    “What is this about?”

    “Carlos Ochoa, He works for you. His Toyota is parked out back. No one is in trouble.”

    Longer pause.

    “Yes, Carlos is an employee of Wayland Precision. What is this about?

    Jasper pinched the bridge of his nose. “A few questions regarding some kidnappings, is all. We need to speak with him.” Jasper hoped for Carlos’s sake his employer was not part of some criminal enterprise — which was why he didn’t reveal Carlos was an informant for the FBI. The Bureau protected the identities of informants, but in this case, they needed to get to the bottom of Carlos’s activities and motivations. Jasper would only reveal Carlos’s role if necessary.

    “Give us a minute. We’re in the shop, someone will be up to greet you.

    Jasper took a step to one side of the door and Temple did the same on the other side. Standing in front of the door was not tactically sound, even with a door capable of repelling a medieval battering ram. He cursed himself for wearing the baby Glock on his ankle today, or his hand would have been at his hip poised to draw.

    Temple’s hand retreated to her hip.

    At least one of them was in a better position, more tactically prepared.

    Latches and locks clunked and turned from the other side before the door creaked open.

    “Hello?” A female voice asked.

    Jasper leaned to the left and Temple took a step to her right.

    He waved his credentials and displayed his badge. Temple did the same.

    “We’re with the FBI — ”

    “So you said.” A solidly built blonde woman stepped into the light. She wore not a hint of makeup on her strong Nordic features. The only fitting description of her was as if Freyja herself came to life — if his memory of Norse mythology was still any good.

    Jasper’s tongue was suddenly incapable of producing words.

    Temple shook her head ever so slightly, and stepped forward. “I’m Agent Black, and this is Agent Wilde.”

    “What can I help you with?” The woman who answered the door didn’t offer her hand.

    “We need to speak with Carlos Ochoa,” Temple said.



    The woman looked at Jasper. Whose contribution was “Uh…”

    Temple smiled slightly. “What he means is,” she said, “we have a few questions for Carlos and his recollection of a crime.”

    “Yes.” Jasper managed. “We need to speak with him, Miss — ”

    “Penny Stahlberg,” the young woman said.

    “Are you the receptionist?” asked Temple. “Is there someone else we should speak with?”

    Penny’s eyes darkened as if ready to swing a hammer or hurl lightning bolts at him.

    “No, I’m pretty much your point of contact,” Penny said. “I’m part owner of Wayland Precision.”

    “May we come in?” Temple leaned forward.

    Penny gestured for them to enter.

    “You said Carlos wasn’t in any trouble.” Penny offered them a bench in the dimly lit reception area. “Oh, pardon the atmosphere, we don’t receive many people here at the shop.”

    “No, uh, Ms. Stahlberg,” Jasper said.

    “You can call me Penny.”

    “No, Penny,” Jasper said, “Carlos isn’t in trouble. He may have information on the recent kidnappings. I’m sure you’re aware of them?”

    “Oh yes, horrible. I can’t imagine investigating such matters. Care for some water? It’s boiling outside.”

    “No thank you,” Temple said. “May we speak with Carlos?”

    “I’ll send him up.” Penny moved for another solidly built door sporting a combo lock, where a sequence of numbers are pressed and a switch is turned, opening the lock.

    “May we have a tour of your building?” Temple asked.

    “It’s a machine shop — not much to see, really.”

    “I’d be interested.” Jasper couldn’t believe how much of an ass he was making of himself.

    “I’m sure.” Temple poked him in the ribs.

    “How about another time?” Penny said, “We’re quite busy today.”

    “On a weekend? Your business must do okay. What exactly do you do here?” Temple fired away with the questions and remained standing, as if displaying her dominance over the Norse goddess denying them entrance to the temple.

    Jasper shook his head. What in the hell was wrong with him, he hadn’t felt this way since, well, since Lucy way back in the day when they’d first met. Not a good omen, but also not anything to put much stock in.

    “Like I said,” Penny’s stance faltered, “we’re busy, and — ”

    The intercom crackled. “Show our guests in.” That was a man’s voice; not Carlos’s, but an older one, projecting gravitas.

    “You heard the man,” Penny said.

    “And who would that be?” Temple asked.

    &##8220;Steve Stahlberg,” Penny said. Jasper wondered if that was her husband and suddenly he was crestfallen. But —

    “Steve is my father;” she explained. “We own and operate Wayland Precision together.”

    “You can relax.” Temple glanced over her shoulder at Jasper and pursed her lips, as if calling him out over his ribbing of her earlier regarding his friend, Ed White.

    Jasper’s ears radiated heat. Embarrassing.

    Penny bit her lip, trying not to smile, and turned away.

    Damn it.

    “This way.” Penny punched the code into the keypad and pulled open the door.

    They descended a long flight of stairs upon stepping through the door. A vegetal scent filled the air.

    “I thought you ran a machine shop.” Jasper glanced about, attempting to locate the source of the odd scent.

    “We have some strange hobbies,” Penny said.

    “Such as?” Temple wasn’t even trying to hide her skepticism.

    “You’ll see,” Penny said. “For one thing, we like growing mushrooms down here.”

    “For what? Extra mushrooms on your pizza?” Temple’s tone came right to the edge of outright sarcasm.

    “Don’t mind her.” Jasper said to the Norse goddess. “You must have a good reason, I mean, other than loving fungi.”

    Temple shook her head, and yes, he continued making a fool of himself.

    “I’ll let my father speak with you on the finer points,” Penny offered.

    “But we’re here to speak with Carlos,” Temple said.

    “I’m sure that can be arranged.”

    Penny said the last line as if Carlos was indisposed, or a prisoner locked away in a dungeon.

    The group descended into a damp cool. A substance, not slick, but slimy, coated the surface of each step, and Jasper was relieved when they reached the bottom.

    The hallway glowed unnaturally under the current lighting conditions — was the light blue? Violet? Penny flipped a switch and good old incandescent bulbs flared to life, providing a harsh yellowish-white light.

    “Better?” Penny smiled disarmingly.

    A bench lined the hallway on one side, but acted as more of a planter. Mushrooms in varying states of growth and maturity filled the box, planted in the blackest soil. A few of the mushrooms attained gargantuan proportions.

    A strange feeling crept into Jasper’s gut. Inserting a woman into a situation proved time and again the easiest way to put law enforcement at ease, and whoever ran Wayland Precision had done just that. But Temple’s bullshit detector was probably wired correctly. He relaxed. A tiny bit.

    “What is it?” Temple whispered into his ear.

    #8220;Nothing, at least I hope it’s nothing.”

    “There’s nothing to worry about,” Penny said.

    Jasper winced. He’d never had a soft whisper.

    A door opened at the opposite end of the hallway; a figure blocked the light coming from the other side.

    “Bring them along, Penny.” The gruff voice echoed down the hallway.

    “Don’t mind him,” Penny said.

    “Who? Your father? Steve, right?” Jasper asked. Why did he feel as if he were meeting a girlfriend’s father for the first time? He shook his head.

    “Yes. I’m sure we can clear all this up.” Penny swung her gaze around on him and smiled.

    “Calm down there, Romeo,” Temple whispered in Jasper’s ear. Penny didn’t notice or react.

    “Here we go.” Penny stepped through the door past her father, who immediately blocked the entrance.

    “So, you’re FBI, eh?” Steve folded thick arms across a broad chest. He was an imposing man with an equally imposing beard and head of hair. The silver locks fell across one side of his face, which was interesting since the uncovered side appeared as if it’d been terribly scalded — apparently he didn’t care and perhaps wore it as a badge or show of defiance. Regardless of the burn mark or port wine stain, Steve’s appearance resembled the same mythological Norse stock as Penny.

    “Yes, sir,” Jasper said, and introduced himself and Temple.

    “Steve Stahlberg, proprietor of Wayland Precision.”

    “Nice sign out front,” Jasper said. “Noticed the Thor-like hammer under the name.”

    Steve grinned and glanced at Penny who stood directly behind him. “See? I told you someone would notice.”

    “May we come in?” Temple asked. “I have to admit, I’m not overly fond of the pungent smell out here in the hallway.”

    “I’m afraid it won’t be much better in here,” Steve said, “but please, come in.” He stepped aside, granting them entrance. “The main office is down here, away from the metal working upstairs. One of the few places we can speak at a normal level and not go deaf.”

    A few aquariums dotted the office, but they were all dim at the moment, and Jasper couldn’t make out what sort of fish lived in them. Typical office furniture filled the room: filing cabinets, desks, conference table, a few computers, and other accouterments one would expect.



    A chair squeaked, and Carlos stepped out of the shadows near the back of the office, as if he’d been hiding.

    “What can we help you with today, officers?” Steve leaned against a filing cabinet, which emitted a screech as it slid an inch or two on the tile flooring.

    “Special Agents,” Temple said.

    “Carlos may have information on the accident and kidnappings. May we speak with him alone?” Jasper asked.

    “Nah, let’s just chat all together here, sound good?” Steve stated, more than asked.

    “If Carlos agrees,” Temple said.

    Carlos stepped forward and nodded. “We can talk about anything you like in front of them.”

    “All right, general question here,” Jasper said. “Why are you growing all those mushrooms? It’s odd.”

    “Let’s say we’re a tad superstitious,” Steve said.

    “I thought I’d heard it all,” Temple said. “I mean, all the random acts people practice because they think it’ll bring them luck or ward off evil spirits.”

    Steve shrugged. “You going to ask anything relevant? If not, I’ll show you out.”

    “Hold on,” Jasper said. “We’re part of a special unit within the FBI — ”

    Temple held up a hand, stopping Jasper. He hadn’t realized how proprietary she was regarding SAG. “Yes, I head up an investigative unit called the Scientific Anomalies Group. We have reason to believe there is something going on in the area involving a cult. We’ve also found traces of an element a scientist attached to SAG has never seen before.”

    Temple paused. Steve, Penny, and Carlos didn’t flinch or blink.

    Temple continued, “This element is foreign to our world. My Agent thinks it’s alien, from another universe. I think it may be demonic in origin.”

    Penny’s eyes flicked toward Steve. Her father chuckled. “Aliens or devils, huh?” He scratched at his beard. “You’re serious?”

    Temple nodded.

    Carlos stepped forward, appearing eager to get this impromptu meeting over.

    “Ah,” Jasper said, “tell us, Carlos, what were you doing at the Euclid Hotel earlier?”

    Steve and Penny shot each other indecipherable glances.

    “I wasn’t — ”

    “Save it, we saw you at the hotel, by chance, of course. Awfully suspicious behavior.” Jasper raised his eyebrows. “Wouldn’t you agree? And you never glimpsed us following you?”

    “What? No.”

    Jasper focused on Carlos, staring him down. “So, why were you at the Euclid Hotel?”

    Penny spoke up. “He was at the hotel under my orders.”

    “But what could you possibly want with the Euclid Hotel?”

    “Is parking behind a hotel against the law? I frequent a nearby auto parts store, and I’d rather park in the alley.” Carlos seemed proud of himself for that bit of lying.

    Temple sighed. “We’re not your enemy. We’re trying to stop a bunch of senseless murders — ”

    “And suicides,” Jasper added.

    “All right. How about this,” Temple said, “do you know anything about mangled bodies and strange figures made of mist or haze?”

    Steve and Penny glanced at one another again — clearly aware of what Temple said, and clearly hiding something.

    Jasper decided to take a different tack: “We’re not getting anywhere.” He walked toward and pointed at the aquariums. “What sort of fish do you have in the tanks?”

    “Not fish. Sea squirts.”

    “Salt water tanks, huh?” Jasper bent over and peered inside. “So, you grow mushrooms and have a bunch of sea squirts. This is truly an eclectic machine shop.”

    “We spend a lot of time here,” Penny said, “and we each have our little diversions.”

    “Okay, back to business,” Jasper said, and moved away from the aquariums. “What sort of metal work do you perform here?”

    “We specialize in stainless steel and exotic alloys.”

    “Ah, okay. I see.” But Jasper didn’t, really. His familiarity with machining was passing and, in any event, quite a few years back. One of his cousins in Tennessee had owned a small machine shop but he and Jasper had never been close.

    He stood near a desk and glanced at the papers littering the surface. Temple spoke up — good, a distraction while he stole a few furtive glances.

    “Ever deal with thermite?” Temple asked.

    “No.” Steve, Penny, and Carlos all answered at once.

    Jasper scanned the desktop: a few papers with Wayland Precision on the letterhead, a notebook, a ledger, and poking from the corner of another notebook, a symbol. No, a hammer, and arcing atop the hammer the words: Völundr’s Hammer.

    “Find anything interesting, Agent Wilde?” Penny asked.

    “You can call me Jasper. Sorry, I was intrigued by the hammer on this piece of paper.” He tapped the paper in question.

    “Oh, that,” she said, waving as if the paper were a trifle. “I considered re-naming the company Völundr’s Hammer at one time, but Wayland Precision was my father’s brain child, so we let the name be.”

    “This may be a silly question, but why Wayland Precision?” Jasper glanced at Steve, Carlos, and settled on Penny. “I mean, no one named Wayland works here, right? Does Wayland mean something to you?” He turned his attention back to Steve.

    “It’s an old blacksmith thing, from Northern Europe — a fairly common tale, that of Wayland the Smith. Do you have any other questions for Carlos? We’re busy, and running a business, you know.”

    “Of course,” Temple said, “but I’m not sure I understand why Carlos was at the Euclid.”

    Carlos started: “I told you — ”

    “By my direction,” Penny repeated. “And that’s all I’m going to say for now.”

    “You’re going to leave it at that? Do you have anything you can tell us that will aid our investigation? We’re trying to prevent any further kidnappings and deaths.”

    Steve, Penny, and Carlos remained silent.

    “May I contact you again?” Jasper asked, hopeful Penny would say yes, but Steve stiffened.

    “If we learn anything, we’ll reach out to you. Do you have business cards?”

    Temple and Jasper handed them each one of their cards.

    “You can call me at anytime,” Temple said, and glared at Jasper, stopping him from saying the same to Penny.

    They were promptly escorted from the building and back in the oppressive heat.

    “Well, that was different. I’m not sure what to make of them.” Temple squinted and shielded her eyes.

    “We got some info from them, and a bunch of weird hobbies. We need to put all this together and see what we can come up with.”

    Temple’s phone erupted into When the Saints Come Marching In. “Ah, that’d be Vance. Hopefully they’ve come up with something on their end.”

    Gravel crunched, the sound of tires rolling over loose rocks and pebbles. They’d almost rounded the building to where Temple had parked on Hump Street, but both of them stopped and gazed behind them.

    A deep blue compact car sped off, but in the opposite direction, up Summer Street. A Yaris perhaps? Jasper squinted.

    “Think the car is related?”

    Temple shrugged and answered her cell. “Hold on one moment, Vance.”

    “Eh. Probably not,” Jasper said. “Maybe I’m paranoid after our bizarre encounter among the toadstools.”

    “No, you’re in a daze after drooling all over Princess Toadstool.”

    Jasper grinned. “Good one.”

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