Iron Angels – Snippet 11

“Scientific Anomalies Group,” Black said, staring straight ahead as if embarrassed by the name, or not wanting to go into detail.

“SAG?” Jasper asked, pronouncing it as an acronym rather than a string of initials. He couldn’t help but laugh. “Really?”

Black’s jaw tightened. “Look, I didn’t come up with that one. I had some other ideas.”

Jasper wasn’t surprised. Government bureaucrats could come up with the silliest acronyms, sometimes, because they didn’t stop to think that the proverbial man-in-the-street wasn’t likely to be properly respectful if the acronym spelled out something stupid or offensive. Probably the all-time champion Idiot Acronym had been before his time, during the Nixon administration — the campaign staff morons who came up with Committee to Re-Elect the President. CREEP. But he’d seen some doozies.

There was no point in ribbing these two agents over it any further, though. So he just said “never heard of it” in as neutral a tone of voice as he could manage.

“You wouldn’t have,” Ravel said, wiping his mouth with a handkerchief. “It’s new and… ah, we don’t publicize it.”

“How did you find me?”

“The cops over at the Euclid Hotel told us you responded to an abandoned vehicle over here,” Black said. “We need to go back over to the hotel.”

“The little girl was rescued and the investigation is over,” Jasper said, but that was a lie. He just didn’t want headquarters pukes stomping around the crime scene. “By me and my partner over there.” They’d come within sight of Gary Avenue. He pointed toward Pete, who stood by two uniformed cops and was engaged in an animated discussion.

Black opened her mouth but Jasper held up a cautioning finger.

“Pete!” he said loudly. “You need to get over here and take a look at what I found down there. It has to be the driver.” Jasper paused a moment. “I warn you, the body isn’t pretty to look at.”

Pete broke away from the uniformed police, and walked with purpose toward Jasper and the two headquarters people. “They said they were here looking for you,” Pete said, his eyes registering Jasper’s annoyance, and conveying sorry.

“It’s okay,” Jasper said. “They were just leaving.”

“SAC Weber already approved this,” Black said.

Jasper shot her a look he hoped would shut her up, but she went right on. “And furthermore, the Assistant Director — my boss –”

“Hold it right there,” Jasper said. He focused on Pete. “Take a peek over there at the body. Follow the sound of the flies, you can’t miss it.”

Pete frowned, and walked off. Jasper turned back to the woman.

“SSA Black, we do not squabble like that in front of locals, you got me? You may be a headquarters supervisor, but in the field that doesn’t mean squat. And you said Weber approved this? My Special Agent in Charge? That’s a joke. He’s been checked out for a year now; he’d approve anything. He’s pretty much retired-in-place ever since he got the job.”

Black’s mouth opened again, but closed as if she’d reconsidered her choice of words.

Ravel stepped forward. “Jasper,” he said, “may I call you that?”

“It’s better than the alternative.”

“That’d be what? Jerk?” Temple Black took another deep breath and turned her head. “I’m sorry, it’s already been a long morning –”

“– and long night,” both Jasper and Vance said at once. Jasper grinned. “Yeah, you called me at oh dark thirty. I didn’t appreciate that.”

“My apologies,” Vance said. “Listen, we need to discuss what happened last night. When is a good time? We’d also really like to get into that abandoned hotel. We think there is something else going on here. Based on your preliminary report we think it’s serious.” He lifted the case in his hand a few inches. “There’s some equipment in here… Well. We think we could be of use, let’s leave it at that.”

Black nodded and faced Jasper again. “We should speak with your boss, your immediate boss. This needs to get worked out, but you should finish up here first. That,” she swallowed, “body was a mess and needs to be processed.”

Heavy breaths came up behind them as they reached the side of the road and their line of vehicles. Pete jogged past them and signaled to the uniformed men who joined him. They then engaged in a spirited conversation.

“It’s about to get crowded around here,” Jasper said. “I’ll tell you what, if you can wait until mid-afternoon I’ll take you to the Euclid Hotel. I don’t think evidence recovery is going to happen until Monday at that scene, if at all, especially given this new incident.” He cocked his head toward the dirt road where the mangled corpse lay in a pile. “Afterward, I’ll see if we can meet with my boss. But I can’t promise anything, SSA Black. It is the weekend, you know. Exhausted supervisors need their rest.”

The moment he made the wisecrack he wondered if he’d gone a little too far. But Black just grinned. The expression transformed her face, turning it from something that had seemed overbearing to something good-natured and quite a bit younger. He wasn’t sure, but he had a feeling that expression came more naturally to her than the one he thought of as Supervisory Special Agent Ramrod Up Her Ass.

“Yeah, I know how that is with some of this new breed of management,” she said. “And call me Temple, would you?”

Jasper nodded. “Sure. And I’m Jasper.” They’d come up onto Gary Avenue by then and he could see the entire line of vehicles parked there: a police cruiser, his bucar, Pete’s Crown Vic, and two other vehicles, one a rental and the other clearly belonging to a local.

He frowned. “You only rented one car, right?”

Temple nodded.

“Probably a reporter, then,” Jasper said. The person in the vehicle, a middle-aged white man, noticed Jasper’s gaze. The vehicle lurched forward and then spun in a tight turn to head back toward East Chicago proper.

“Damn! Too far to get a plate.” For a moment, he was tempted to go in pursuit. But by the time he got into his vehicle, the man would be out of sight beyond a bend in the road. And once he got to the junction of Gary and Parrish, a short distance beyond, there were just too many ways he could go.

“That was a 2009 Ford Fusion with Indiana tags,” Temple said. “Couldn’t make out even a partial on the tags though, sorry.”

“Well, there’s an outside chance that was the person responsible for the corpse back there,” Jasper said. “But that would have been pretty bold, even for a serial killer who wants to insert himself into an investigation. It was likely just a nosey citizen who got twitchy when he saw me looking at him.”

“We could run a search based on the parameters of the make and model and color of the vehicle,” Vance said.

“You’re right,” Jasper said. “I’ll have Pete run it through his folks, since this homicide is likely their investigation anyway. And it’s got to be a homicide, with the corpse looking like that. I can’t think of any kind of accident that would do that sort of damage. Maybe in the middle of a steel mill, but out here?”

He reached out and shook their hands. “Okay, I’ll meet you two at the Euclid later on? Say seventeen hundred?”

“That’ll work,” Temple said.

“Go take a nap or something, and please don’t poke around anywhere. I don’t want to have to bail you guys out of trouble.”

Temple smiled. Vance nodded, his head bobbing up and down rapidly.