Iron Angels – Snippet 13
“Carlos Ochoa,” the short man offered.
“Thank you for meeting us today.” Jasper dumped a few drops of cream into the pitch-like coffee, as thick and viscous as ninety weight oil, and probably as tasty.
“I gave you what you needed, so why are we talking now? Am I in trouble?”
The waitress interrupted. “A drink? Some food? What’ll you have?” For some reason she was frowning at Carlos.
“That it?” She placed a hand on her hip.
“Food for you two?” Her eyebrows rose, hopeful.
“No food for me.” Pete shook his head. “But I’ll have a water –”
She cocked her head. “Water.”
“And,” Jasper said in a drawn out manner, trying to get across that he hadn’t finished his sentence, “I’ll have an order of wet fries, you know, fries with gravy?”
She walked off, muttering something under her breath.
“A friendly girl,” Pete said.
“She isn’t too bad,” Carlos said.
“You know her?”
“Once a friend of mine, now more of an acquaintance. So, again, why are we here?”
Pete coughed. His hands encircled the mug, still drawing warmth despite the heat outside now in full force in mid-afternoon. “Tell us more about the missing girl, and how you knew what you knew.”
“My daughter saw Teresa’s kidnapping happen.” Carlos stared at the tabletop. It was a dark wood-grained veneer, like the wood paneling so prevalent in the seventies, and reminded Jasper of his childhood home. “She was really scared by it.”
“Explain the entire event if you’re able.” Pete sipped his water. Jasper relinquished the lead to Pete, happily, even if Pete sitting next to Carlos created an awkward environment for a source recruitment and debrief.
“Yes, run the scenario by us,” Pete said. “We’re trying to figure out if more people are involved, maybe a gang or a human trafficking ring operating under the radar.”
“The stolen van belonged to a friend of a friend.”
Jasper tamped down his irritation. “Go deeper, please, we need more information than you’re giving us.” He took a sip of the thick, bitter coffee, which turned out not to be as bad as he’d thought it would be.
“My daughter hangs around with Teresa quite a bit.”
“What’s your daughter’s name?”
“A pretty name,” Jasper said.
“A pretty girl,” Carlos replied. “So, they often walk together, along with a few other girls to a friend’s house on the other side of the railroad tracks.”
“Which tracks? At what street and near which intersection?” That was an important piece of information since railroad tracks crisscrossed northwestern Indiana more than perhaps anywhere else in the United States. The exact location might help pinpoint where the kidnappers had operated out of, and would also provide a few more leads in the form of other eyewitnesses.
“The tracks just north of Chicago Avenue, a block west of Indianapolis Boulevard. The girls were heading north on Magoun, after leaving their friend’s house a few blocks south. All of them crossed the tracks except for Teresa.”
“Why? The guys in the van grab her?”
Carlos shook his head. “Not yet.”
“A train, right?” Jasper asked.
“Si. A train had been bearing down on them, and poor Teresa had been too afraid to cross according to my daughter. And as the train crawled past, the van pulled up right next to Teresa as if waiting to cross the tracks. My daughter said that a passing freight car blocked their view and when it passed Teresa was gone. In that moment, they must have grabbed her.”
“You said, ‘they.’ How do you know more than one man participated in the kidnapping?”
“The news –”
“Damn it.” The media had somehow gotten wind of certain details. The fact there were two men was leaked probably didn’t matter, but media problems annoyed Jasper. “Go on, my apologies.”
The waitress dropped off the rest of their drinks and food. Jasper pushed his coffee aside in favor of plain old water to have with the fries and gravy.
Carlos took a sip of water, wiped his lips, and continued: “One of my daughter’s other friends even tried to crawl beneath the slowly moving train, but the other girls pulled her back. All of the girls are so upset by this.” He stared into his water.
“Any other details? Something you’re leaving out?”
“Are you saying I’m purposely withholding something?” Carlos kept his eyes averted, but his clenched fist and white knuckles betrayed his anger at possibly being called a liar.
“Not at all, I’m trying to get as much information as possible.” Jasper had both hands up in a placating gesture.
“I’m not sure I understand,” Carlos said, finally raising his gaze. “You rescued the girl, what else is there to understand?”
Pete placed a hand on Carlos’s shoulder. “What if more girls go missing because there were more than two men?”
“Of course.” Carlos sipped his water, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “You’re right. The girls saw the van, an older make, and white. But you know this.”
“We do,” Jasper said. “But the details are quite a bit for a bunch of young and excited and scared girls to recite, don’t you think, Carlos?” He extricated an fry from the pile and plopped it in his mouth.
“Fine.” Carlos sighed. “No point in hiding this.” He paused.
“Go on,” Pete said. “You can tell us. You’re not in trouble, unless you were in on the crime.”
Carlos stiffened and made to slide from the booth.
“Hold on.” Jasper wiped off his hands and motioned for Carlos to remain in the booth. “I don’t think you were involved. That doesn’t make any sense to me. But tell me, if the van belonged to a friend of a friend, would you really know the specifics so well?”
Carlos stared at Pete, and reluctantly eased onto the bench seat of the booth. So much for Pete building rapport.
“I drove around the area and spotted the van. I got out and felt the hood and so forth — warm metal. And the engine ticked, you know, like it was cooling off.”
“So you had a woman report the activity at the hotel. A woman phoned in the hotel tip, an Hispanic woman.”
“I did,” Carlos said. “My wife. I told her what I’d seen and said they had to be in the abandoned hotel. I noticed the door had been used recently.”
“But you didn’t witness the men take the girl inside, did you?” Jasper bit into another fry, this one soaked with gravy.
Carlos shook his head. “A guess, but it was the only place that made sense.”
“Fine, anything else?”
“Could we speak with your daughter at some point?” Pete asked.
“I’d prefer not, but if you must.” Carlos allowed the final word to hang.
“Probably won’t be necessary,” Jasper said, and Pete frowned at him. “Let me ask you, would you be available to meet with us from time to time?” Jasper grabbed a couple more of the less saturated fries and stuffed them into his mouth. He hadn’t realized how hungry he’d been.
“I already told you all I can about this nasty business.”
“Understood, but what I mean is for other goings-on in the community. Someone with your sense of duty to the neighborhood and so willing to put yourself in harm’s way, well, I’d enjoy working with you again. Would that be okay? If you need money or something, I’m sure we could –”
“No. No money.” Carlos frowned, and disgust crept onto his face. “Some coffee or lunch perhaps, but no money, I can’t accept money. I was simply doing my duty and helping the community. For my daughter.”
“I didn’t mean to insult you,” Jasper said. “Again, my apologies. Can you tell us anything else about Teresa’s kidnapping, and the men who died?”
Carlos shook his head.
Pete glanced at Jasper, appearing antsy to pursue a different line of questioning. Jasper raised his eyebrows and tipped his head to the side in a quick gesture.
Pete took over. “We discovered a body today –”
“In the abandoned hotel? Another man?” Carlos asked. “Not a little girl, I pray.” He glanced up at the ceiling and crossed himself.
“No, nothing like that,” Pete said, “but it’s a strange death.”
“Strange? In what way?”
“How about we say strange, all right? The body had been mutilated.”
Carlos took a sip of water. “I heard nothing about a mutilated body.”