Iron Angels – Snippet 14

“How about a missing person? An abandoned vehicle along Gary Avenue over near the animal control center? Doesn’t mean anything to you?” Pete leaned on the table with both elbows. The approach wasn’t quite as effective when sitting next to a person you were questioning, even if the proximity of Pete to Carlos should have been uncomfortable. There was nothing like sitting across from someone and staring at them while leaning forward and knowing the answers to the questions posed, or at least pretending. This wasn’t an interrogation, but a simple extraction of information in the furtherance of a homicide — a disturbing homicide. Jasper hoped Pete wouldn’t provide details, not in such a public place with food being served.

Jasper had picked up another dripping fry but he dropped it back on the plate. The image of the pink mound with bone poking through the one-time flesh of a man overwhelmed his hunger.

Pete and Carlos hadn’t noticed Jasper’s action, and hopefully not the sick expression, nose kinked up replacing his attempted stoicism. In fact, Carlos’s body language and attitude was that of a person who retained more information than he provided. Was he afraid to talk about the homicide because he feared the person who had perpetrated the heinous crime? He did have a family — a daughter — to protect, after all.

The clinking of silverware on plates, and clunking of glasses on table worked forward into his mind. The sounds had been there the entire time, but surfaced when the conversation chilled. Motion from the left caught in his periphery. Jasper turned and saw the waitress coming toward them. He opened his eyes wide, alerting Pete so he’d cease the current line of questions.

“You having anything else?” The waitress stood with her hip cocked to the left with a hand resting upon the ample curve.

“We’re good.” Jasper considered a fresh cup of coffee, but would hold out for a cappuccino at Starbucks once they finished with Carlos. The waitress slapped the check down on the table and walked off, shaking her head. “What’s with her?”

“You’re cops and she doesn’t particularly care for me.”

“That bother you?”

“Should it? I’m not doing anything wrong. She’s been busted before, though, so I’m sure she has a beef with you guys.”

“Pfft, not me,” Jasper said. “Probably Pete, he’s into hate crimes.”

“Ay.” Pete dropped his head into his hands.

“Kidding. Totally kidding. Sheesh.” Jasper picked at the fries, just from reflex. His appetite was quite gone, for the moment. “She think you’re a narc or something?”

Carlos shook his head. “No — besides, she never got into the drug scene.”

“A few more questions and I’ll let you get back to your weekend, okay?”

“Sure thing.”

“What do you do for a living, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Metal working. You know, a machine shop and other various odds and ends.”

“Like a handyman?” Jasper asked.

“Only during my off hours, fixing stuff around the neighborhood.”

“You must hear quite a bit about what goes on around town, right?”

Carlos shrugged. “It’s talking to people, being friendly. You know how it is.”

Jasper did indeed. The main job of a Special Agent involved talking to people and obtaining information in the prevention of crime and in the furtherance of investigations in the hopes of locking up criminals.

“Yeah, I understand,” Jasper said. “We understand.” He glanced at Pete.

“The machine shop,” Pete cut in, “what sort of shop is it?”

“We do specialty work. Stainless steel, mostly, and other alloys. Some of them are pretty exotic.”

“You work that stuff?” Pete asked. “Impressive.”

“I’m more of a helper. Sweeping, odds and ends mostly.” Carlos broke eye contact briefly.

“Fair enough,” Jasper said, wedging himself back into the conversation. He had the impression Carlos held back information on them, but no source ever gave up the whole enchilada during a first meeting. No need to press the man now, he’d get more information from him later. “I can contact you at the number you provided to the station?”

“Sure, that’s a private number.”

“Good, I was hoping I didn’t need to provide a drop phone. The budget for operational items is kind of in the crapper right now.”

Carlos arched an eyebrow. Perhaps Jasper shouldn’t have discussed budget issues with a prospective source, but the government’s financial woes were well known throughout the world.

“But if you ever needed a drop phone, that’s doable. Getting one depends on the sort of information you’re providing and the need to keep your identity secret.”

Pete smiled, as if saying “nice recovery.”

“No need. I’ll be fine, but do feel free to contact me if you come up with more questions.”

“Thank you,” Jasper said and slid from the booth.

Carlos stood and Jasper thrust a hand out to shake. Carlos shook, hardly gripping Jasper’s hand, nodded, and walked off. Jasper slid back into the booth, frowning.

“What?” Pete asked.

“His hand’s not as calloused as I would have thought from a metal worker and handyman.”

“So what? Maybe he wears gloves and uses hand lotion.”

“Nobody in their right mind wears gloves around moving equipment. Sure as hell not machine tools. Good way to lose a hand.” Jasper shrugged. “I had the impression he held back on us a bit. He knows more than he’s admitting, or at least he’s not admitting to how he knows so much. The waitress angle interests me — they obviously know each other fairly well.”

“He said they were once friends,” Pete said. “For a first meeting, I’d say Carlos acted like any other source. He did provide the information leading us right to those bastards at the hotel yesterday.”

“That he did, but there’s something off about the whole thing.”

“A feeling you have, perhaps?”

“You’re funny. No, I can’t figure his mannerisms and odd answers.”

“Sounded straightforward to me,” Pete said.

“Before I can open him as a Bureau source, I’m gonna have to run a few background checks and vet him a bit.”

“Do what you have to do, it’s no skin off my nose.” Pete finished off his water.

“You two ready?” The waitress had walked up on them without either of them noticing.

“Yeah,” Jasper said, and dropped a ten on the table. “Keep the change.”

The waitress picked up the money and sauntered off.

The diner had grown quiet and had entered the lull before the dinner rush.

“I need to meet those Agents in a bit.” Jasper slid from the booth. “You’re ready, right?”

Pete chuckled. “I only had water.”

They exited the diner and stood near their vehicles. Pete shoved a toothpick between his lips, but then grasped it between his thumb and forefinger. “Where are you meeting those Agents? You’re talking about the black woman and that little Indian man?”

“Yep, those are the ones. I’m meeting them over at the hotel. They’re interested in examining the scene.”

“What for?” Pete asked.

Jasper released a protracted sigh and dragged his hand down his face. “They’re out from headquarters, some unit I’ve never heard of, SAG or something. They’re interested in the crime scene and the M.O. for some reason.”

“You mind if I sit this one out?”

Jasper raised an eyebrow. “You’re gonna leave me with those two?”

“I’d rather hang with you, but I can’t go back in the hotel, or anywhere near the place.” Pete glanced away from him. “And I don’t know why.”

“But you stared at a lump of meat, a mangled human corpse, over at animal control, eh? That was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen.”

Pete tilted his head back, squinting against the sun. “Look,” he said, dropping his gaze back on Jasper, “I can’t explain. Cut me slack on this one, will you?”

Jasper rested a hand on the man’s shoulder, “Sure thing. You know, it’d probably be better anyway if you aren’t involved much with the headquarters folk. I’ll call you if I need anything. You do the same.”

“Sounds fine by me.” Pete nodded and dropped into his Crown Vic.

“Hey, I won’t have any problems getting into the hotel, will I?”

“I’ll call over for you and tell the officers standing guard to allow you entrance.”

“Great, talk to you later.”

Pete waved, started the engine, and drove off.

Jasper did likewise. The afternoon sun had baked the interior of the black vehicle, but within a minute the air conditioning caught up to the heat.

By the time he reached the Euclid Hotel, the headquarters Agents Temple and Vance would likely already be waiting for him. He didn’t speed, though. If he got caught on the wrong side of the tracks waiting for a train to pass and the HQ zombies had to wait, so be it.