Iron Angels – Snippet 04

Chapter 2

Jasper brought his Glock and flashlight up in a ready position, his finger creeping toward, but remaining off the trigger. He didn’t bother glancing at Pete, as he likely had his weapon trained on the open door.

A brown haze hung in the subdued lighting of the room, masking its contents and whoever had flung open the door.

“This is bad,” Jasper said.

“We have no choice now,” Pete said.

Jasper took a deep breath. “You heard the girl’s whimper though, right?”

“Si. Think that door flung open on its own?”

“Not a chance,” Jasper said. “From this angle I can’t see much, but I’m pretty exposed.” Part of his body was in the doorway, but he managed to squeeze to the right of the door up against the foundation. There was only about a foot of wall on either side of the door, not much cover at all. He motioned for Pete to stay back and climb a step.

“Police!” Jasper yelled. “How many people are in there and do you have any weapons?” Depending on the mental state of the people within and also if they felt they were out of options they’d likely assume the police had come in force and give up. However, if desperate, there was always a chance of a shoot-out, or even a good old-fashioned death-by-cop scenario. None of them were good, but the worst situation would be if they took the life of their captive. Jasper didn’t care about the abductors’ health and well-being, not one iota, but that little girl in there, Teresa Ramirez, deserved better.

No answer.

“Police! I need one of you to come out into the open and show me your hands. And raise ’em high.” Jasper waited a few more seconds. “We’re here for the girl, Teresa Ramirez. Her parents are worried. We’re not interested in you, only the girl.” Jasper pursed his lip

“We call in SWAT?” Pete asked.

“No. We can’t wait on that. Not with the little girl in danger,” Jasper said.

A muffled conversation hung in the air — two men in a hushed argument.

“I’m going to peek,” Jasper whispered, “but I wish I’d brought a mirror.” Safer for sure, but Jasper wasn’t too concerned. Over the years, he’d developed a keen eye and ability to take in a lot of detail during a quick peek. Theoretically, it was dangerous, but he exposed only a sliver of his head for a split second during the action. The likelihood of a marksman on the other side knowing at what level he’d peek and when was very low, so being shot during a quick peek wasn’t that likely. It was when they made entry that they’d be at their most vulnerable.

Jasper kneeled down and poked his head in and out of the room in what took probably not even a half a second. The trick was not focusing on any one thing, but taking in the whole room in one mental image and sorting it out afterward.

“Two men in the left corner closest to us,” Jasper said. “But I didn’t see the girl.”

The brown haze drifted through the door, the incense and musty scents battling.

“We’ll go in rapid succession. I’ll go straight in, you buttonhook to the left. I saw nothing right in front of me, so I’m assuming the girl must be in the back of the room. The layout appeared fairly straightforward. Very little furniture so we shouldn’t have any real surprises. I also noticed what appear to be a few basins or small tubs. Hard to tell in the dim lighting.”

Pete shook his head. “You got all that from a quick peek?”

“Let’s go.” Jasper moved with purpose into the room. “Police, hands up! Let’s see ’em!”

Pete moved in gun raised at eye level on Jasper’s left. “Hands up, now!”

Both men stood. They’d been huddled in the corner. Average height, both had dark hair cut in the same manner, and remarkably similar looks. Their odd choice of clothing, however, didn’t make sense — they both wore what looked like checkered shirts beneath a knee length robe. The material was thick, like the canvas of a martial arts gi, and similarly fastened with a belt. An odd fold created a pocket of sorts in front of their stomachs. Both men stood shoulder to shoulder with their arms hanging at their sides.

“Put your hands up, fingers spread and way over your head. Come on, now,” Pete said.

Jasper kept his mouth shut and eyes on the men. If either of them reached into those odd pockets he’d have no option but to shoot.

The men stepped toward the middle of the room in unison, as if they shared some hive mind way of doing things.

Jasper glanced about, looking for a reason for their odd behavior, but the room was otherwise empty.

“Stop right there!” Pete said, and took a step toward them. “See this?” He waved his gun. “That means you stop when I say stop and you do what I say. We’re police, and we’re looking for a little girl. It’s simple. Speak English? Either of you?” After a moment he added, “Habla español?”

The men stared back blankly.

“You think they’re on something?” Pete asked.

“This whole situation is on drugs if you ask me,” Jasper said. “We need to get them under control, and fast.”

The two men had paused at Pete’s last command, but now they took steps sideways. They had an odd-looking way of moving. Jasper glanced over, noticing unpolished stone basins, like the sort someone might have washed clothes in, or if they’d been metal, had at a picnic filled with ice and beer. Jasper kept his Glock up and moved toward the basins. The two men halted.

“That’s right,” Jasper said. “What’s in those basins that you’re so eager to get to? Huh?”

The two men looked at each other and then at Jasper.

Pete triangulated with Jasper on the two men, weapon raised. His face was red and rivulets of sweat wended down his cheeks. The mustache riding his upper lip glistened.

“You okay?” Jasper asked.

“Just tired of this bullshit.” Pete never took his eyes from the men. “You two, separate from each other slowly. You need to be two paces apart from one another. If you don’t have the girl then this shouldn’t be a big deal, but we heard a whimper.”

“A girl’s whimper,” Jasper said.

“Yes,” Pete said, “and if you cooperate this whole deal will go much easier for you.”

Pete eased off a bit. Heaven forbid some hidden camera was filming this and Pete lost control or Jasper shot one of them and the two men were unarmed. Jasper shivered. It was still damned cold in this basement.

“No. Please.” A little girl’s voice came from the back of the room. He couldn’t see her, though. Was there a closet he couldn’t make out? Or another room?

“Where is she?” Jasper asked. “You two are heading for trouble. Answer me.”

Pete moved for the men. “Get down. On your knees, and interlock your fingers atop your heads, and lace those fingers into your hair.”

The men stared, faces blank and devoid of emotion.

“What do we do?” Pete asked.

The men continued edging for the basins. Jasper glanced in. White powder, apparently a pretty thick layer, filled the basin about halfway. Cocaine or drugs of some sort? A bath mat, glistening as if it were wet, rested before each basin. Jasper stepped away from the basins. An ill feeling overtook him. If any of them came into contact with a drug like PCP, this mess would become a lot messier and a lot more dangerous.

“What is that?” Jasper asked. “Drugs?”

Both men shook their heads.

“You two can speak, can’t you?” Jasper asked.

The two men now stood roughly three feet from the basins and were still inching forward. Jasper raised his weapon.

“Stop, or I’ll assume what is in those basins is a weapon of mass destruction.” Perhaps that would get their attention. For all he knew, the basins’ contents were a concoction aimed at destruction.

The men each stepped onto one of the mats with an audible squish. A clear liquid oozed between their toes, coating them and the sides of their feet.

“Don’t take another step, or –”

Both men hopped into their respective basins with both feet.

Two cones of white flame erupted, shooting up each man’s body. One of them screamed. Jasper fell backward, not from a blast, but from the intense heat thrown off by the men. Pete ran forward, but from about ten feet away he threw his arms up to cover his face.

“Don’t!” Jasper shouted. “It’s too late.” He glanced up at the ceiling, scanning for scorch marks, but the flames were confined to the men. The one on the right dropped to his knees, or perhaps the lower part of his legs had been incinerated. A foul scent of seared flesh mixed with acrid smoke and sulfur smacked his nose.

Except for that one short scream, the two men hadn’t cried out or shown any emotion; but then, they hadn’t had any time for such. Jasper wasn’t positive, but he thought he was seeing thermite at work. They’d been trained in the Marines to use thermite grenades to disable artillery. The thermite he was familiar with hadn’t looked like the stuff the men had jumped into, but if he remembered right thermite came in several different varieties.

Jasper watched as the two men glowed white, their forms barely discernible now, melting or disintegrating as the heat intensified. He was reminded of the scene toward the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Nazis’ skin and flesh melted away exposing the skeletons beneath. Only this reaction tore these two men down to a pile of atoms in the bottom of stone basins.

He’d never witnessed such a thing before. They hadn’t worked that much with thermite in the Marines, and never against humans. The sad part was that this wasn’t even gruesome or gory. The two men had lit up like human sparklers.

“What the fuck?” Pete laid a hand on Jasper’s shoulder, and he realized he hadn’t gotten up off the ground.

“Yeah,” Jasper said. “What. The. Fuck.”

What was left of the two men sank into the now disintegrating basins, a shower of white-hot flame and the heat rippling the air like some twisted mirage. The white flames turned yellow and dwindled. Smoke hung in the air, acrid and mingling with incense. The smell of burning flesh and singed hair barely touched his nose. The destruction of the men had been too rapid. The flame feasted on them like some ravenous predator, disposing of the bodies within seconds.

The girl.

“Pete,” Jasper said. “Teresa Ramirez. She’s close by.”

“There might be a trap back there.”

“Yeah, I know. But we’ve got to look for her.” Jasper squinted through swirling smoke. Was he breathing in dust from the dead men? He coughed and brought a hand to his mouth.

“You okay?” Pete asked.

“Yeah, it’s nothing. Let’s go.” Jasper pointed with his gun hand toward the back wall.