Iron Angels – Snippet 08
Buzzing awakened him. Jasper’s heart thumped and he sucked in a quick breath. He glanced over at his clock, the red numbers seeming angry as they displayed four o’clock AM. So, it wasn’t the alarm buzzing.
His cell phone buzzed and rattled on the nightstand. He licked his lips and rubbed his eyes.
“Why?” he asked the ceiling, and reached for the phone. The call had to be about the girl’s abduction. Probably his boss’ boss. It seemed the higher one climbed in the bureaucracy, the more obtuse they became.
He hit the talk button.
“Z. Jasper Wilde?” a male voice asked. There was a hint of English as a second language in the accent, but he was too tired to think about it.
“This is Wilde,” he said, draping a forearm over his eyes. His friends called him Jasper, so this call could only mean more work, unless it had something to do with his ex-wife. But that wasn’t likely given the late hour.
“Ah, very good.”
“Yes. Your report, it –”
“Hold on. Hold on. My report? Which one?”
“Oh, of course, I’m very sorry about the early call,” the man said. “You were up quite late, yes?”
“You mean the one I drafted a few hours ago now?” Jasper sat up. “Who is this?”
“I am Agent Ravel, out of Washington, and –”
“What sort of agent? FBI? And if so, then you’re calling from the District. Hoover building or Washington Field Office. Which is it?”
These things mattered. If the man said Hoover, then he was some headquarters zombie, but if he said WFO, then this could be case-related, or a lead of some sort. But really, four in the morning? It was only five on the east coast.
“I am FBI, and calling from a secure location, an offsite if you will, but I prefer not to give away those details.”
“Great, what do you want?” Jasper scratched the back of his head.
“We are flying out there. Your report contained some interesting items. We want to –”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Jasper said, and he felt his irritation level rising. “We? You’re coming out here? Why?”
“Yes, however, I cannot talk on an open line about this. But my partner and myself will be seeing you later today.”
Jasper shook his head. This was a joke. It had to be. Someone at the office — his office — had read the draft report. He just didn’t understand how it was possible.
“Congratulations,” Jasper said, “have a great flight.”
Jasper hung up on the agent pulling the prank on him. Someone had gotten up early and perhaps found his draft of last night’s events on the printer.
But he hadn’t printed it, had he? He’d been tired and anything was possible with the Bureau’s computer systems. Maybe his boss had — But, no, that didn’t make sense. The boss wouldn’t be working on the weekend, let alone a Saturday morning during the summer. Not a chance.
He drifted, but never retreated into slumber. That ship had sailed. Finally, he got up and searched the internet for any mention of last night’s rescue. But so far only a local paper had printed a bare bones account. A story like this had a slim chance of making national news, especially if the fantastic and gruesome nature of the perpetrators’ deaths got out. Pretty soon the big shots at the office would be holding a press conference — but that might be put off until Monday. He didn’t bother turning on the television; it was likely too soon.
The prank pushed itself forward, demanding his attention. Who at the office did impressions, and specifically who was capable of pulling off a decent Indian accent? Well, Indian or Pakistani: a person from the south Asian subcontinent.
He shook his head. His report had been fantastical in some ways, but it clearly laid out the facts, and he hadn’t even mentioned the strange wispy, dragon-like fog that had appeared alongside the building. The deaths were crazy, but not prank-worthy.
The timing was odd, too. Pranks usually took days or even weeks to develop. This had just happened.
He got dressed and got in his bucar, heading for the office, feeling as if he’d just been there. After getting off I-65 on U.S. Route 30, he picked up a cappuccino at a Starbucks.
He had to drive a little out of his way to do so. Northwest Indiana was not Seattle or San Francisco. You could find a few gourmet coffee places in Lake County, but you had to be willing to hunt for them. There were a couple of Starbucks in Merrillville, along with a coffee house from a smaller independent chain, one in Schererville, and one in Crown Point. The Target store in Munster on Calumet Avenue had a Starbucks inside also. But so as Jasper knew — and he’d looked; he was partial to cappuccinos — there were none at all in the more northerly towns in the county.
That wasn’t surprising, of course. The rule-of-thumb when it came to the demographics of Lake County was that the population got whiter and more well off the farther south you went. It was only a rough rule of thumb, granted. The northernmost of all the towns in the county, Whiting, was almost all white — but it was also very working class. Dunkin’ Donuts territory, not Starbucks-land.
When he pulled into the small parking lot of the Merrillville office, he saw that a few more lights were shining through the tinted windows than when he’d been there earlier. That was likely to be support staff putting in some overtime. Jasper rarely entered the building before eight, and he was out in the field investigating as much as possible — an activity that was becoming a bit of a lost art in the Bureau these days due to the avalanche of administrative folderol. Agents spent a lot of their time at their desks tapping away at their keyboards.
He checked his work email and calendar, more out of habit than anything else. There’d be no meetings, no mandatory virtual training, or other nonsense on a Saturday morning to keep him in front of the computer and off the street today. He had a few follow-ups to yesterday’s events he wanted to tackle. He gave the report he’d written last night another read, seeing nothing prank-worthy, and then sent it along for approval to his supervisor. He’d seen his share of embarrassing emails pass throughout the Bureau — acrimony, incredulity, and downright hilarity contained within and forwarded on and on. A few of those unfortunate creators of the offending emails resigned or got laughed out of the Bureau.
Jasper escaped the air-conditioned administrative confines of the FBI building and entered the air-conditioned freedom of his bureau vehicle, his bucar, still safe from the sweltering August heat and oppressive humidity. He drove northwest into East Chicago and hooked up with Pete at a local diner.
Pete had willingly accepted a chance to work some overtime. Jasper was the only one not making any extra money on this. Special Agents only made overtime on extremely rare occasions, and were expected to be available at all times.
“You up for a source meet?” Jasper asked, taking a sip of coffee. The stuff brewed by the diner was decent, if not up to Starbucks standards.
Pete was still visibly shaken from the previous night. His skin seemed more ashen than tan, as if his pigment had soured overnight.
“I can’t get that scene out of my mind,” Pete said.
“The men going up like human sparklers?”
Pete shook his head. “No. The girl. Lashed to a stone slab. Jesus, it was like something you’d see in a horror movie.”
Jasper gazed down at his half-empty cup. “They were going to kill her, for sure. It was some kind of weird sacrifice, at least that’s my belief. I don’t think they were going to violate her –”
“And killing her isn’t a violation?”
“Come on, Pete, you know I didn’t mean that. I ‘m just trying to make some sense of it.”
“Yeah, I know. But the older I get the less interesting this work is becoming.” Pete covered his eyes with one hand and dragged it down his face as if attempting to wipe away a layer of filth. Hernandez was older than Jasper. Not elderly — he was still in his fifties — but he’d been doing this sort of thing for more than thirty years now. By comparison, Jasper was a total newb with his nine or so years with the Bureau. Even if he counted his time in the Marines he came nowhere close to Pete’s experience and time dealing with monsters and staring into the face of evil.
Jasper shivered, despite the intense morning heat. Maybe the air conditioning in the diner was set too high.
“You okay, Zee?” Pete asked.
“Yeah, just thinking about how long you’ve dealt with the dregs, and all the shit you must have put up with over the years.”
“Don’t think it’s all been bad. We rescued a girl, didn’t we?”
Jasper laughed and sat his coffee mug down with a heavy clunk. “And here I thought I was consoling you.”
“It’s a long career. I’m winding down, but you’ve still got quite a bit of time left. This is a marathon, my friend, not a sprint.”
“I’ll remember that,” Jasper said. “I just hope we don’t have any repeats of last night, at least not for quite some time. Give me bad guy on bad guy killings, any day. Those aren’t victimless crimes, but…”
“You hear yourself?” Pete asked, finally smiling. “You’re beginning to sound like the news, or the ass-covering executive management we all have. Knock it off.”
Jasper smiled back. “I have the information on the man who tipped us off to not only the van, but also the Euclid Hotel. I want to know how he knows so much. And speaking of the Euclid, I want to go back there and look it over again. It’s still early, and I bet we can get in there before any of your CSIs or heaven forbid Morris and the Bureau’s ERT get on scene.”
“Bad news, the department isn’t all that interested in evidence collection right now,” Pete said. “But you still know how to process a scene, right?”
Jasper sighed. “Yeah, but I’m not even sure what we’d get out of it after giving the incident some thought this morning. I’m hesitant to use any of the ERT gear stored at the office.”
Pete arched an eyebrow.
“Fine, Morris tried to get me fired.”
Pete sipped his coffee.
Jasper sighed. “Fine. It isn’t much of a story, really. I called him an oxygen thief and he got me kicked off the team.”
“That all?” Pete shook his head. “That’s nothing. But is that why you want to get to the scene early? To avoid him?”
“Personally, I don’t mind being around him if there is a need, but he can’t stand me.”
“Gee, I can’t for the life of me figure that out,” Pete said. “So we’ll go the hotel first?”
Jasper nodded. “I already called the source. He agreed to meet us this afternoon at three o’clock.”
“A full day.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll make up for it some other time.”
Pete chuckled. “Oh, I’ve made up for it already. Don’t forget the overtime your FBI pays me for being on the task force and working a weekend.” He winked.
Only an American would go out of their way to buy coffee at Starbucks. They went broke in Australia trying to compete with real baristas.
Most Americans don’t care about the quality of the food we eat, only that it is consistently the same. “A Yank is someone who goes to Paris and eats at Pizza Hut.”
Personally, I can hardly stand to even walk past a Starbucks. Their coffee stinks, literally.