Iron Angels – Snippet 16

“Wait a moment, please,” Vance said. “I didn’t complete my explanation and analysis. What is not ordinary is men using thermite on themselves, and also using such an interesting chemical as a means of catalyzing.”

“The mats,” Jasper said. “They stood on the mats, coated their feet with a liquid, and hopped into the basins.”

“Yes,” Vance said, “sulfuric acid. Remember, I read your report.”

“How could I forget? You called me at some crazy hour to talk about it.”

Vance coughed. “Now, this sort of suicide pact –”

Jasper opened his mouth, but Vance raised a hand —

“This sort of suicide pact is common with cults.”

“But there were only two men, wouldn’t there be more cult members crowding around for a peek?”

“A good point, but I still believe we’re dealing with a group of men engaged in heinous –”

“So you’re saying this wasn’t some fucked up kiddie porn type thing, but some sort of ritual killing? A sacrifice?”

“Perhaps,” Temple interjected. “We’re entertaining a few theories, but we’re still forming a more complete picture.”

“But you figured you had enough so that your little group — your guild or whatever you call it — could roll into Indiana and take over what is essentially a crimes against children case.”

“There has been more than one death,” Temple said.

“Yeah, two men killed themselves. Two utterly despicable men.”

“But three deaths over all,” said Temple.

“What?” Jasper stepped closer to Temple — uncomfortably so for him and hopefully for her, but she stood her ground. “Are you trying to tell me the pile of meat and bones over at animal control is somehow related to this?”

“Possibly. Vance?”

Jasper turned his attention toward Vance, and felt Temple take a step backward.

“I found markings near the site of the uh, pile of meat and –”

“Yeah, yeah, go on. I get it.”

“– uh, similar to the striations and distortions on the floor and wall here at the hotel.”

Jasper dragged his hand down his face in frustration.

“But how could they possibly be connected? A cult? The mess over near animal control was no suicide.” Jasper tried to keep the incredulity out of his voice, but failed. “The pile of meat? No way.”

“No,” Temple said, “but perhaps the pile of meat, as you so eloquently put it, had been witness to the cult’s activities and paid the price.”

“I’m sorry, but the idea a person could mangle a body in such a way is ludicrous. Are you two about finished here? You were supposed to wait for me, remember? I was going to escort you through the crime scene –”

“Oh, I wasn’t aware of any arrangement.” Temple stepped into Jasper’s space now. Her glossy lips pursed and her eyebrows arched in a go ahead, make my day sort of way. “Remember, we’ve taken over the investigations.”

“Wait. This one and the murder? The locals, the East Chicago Police, will never agree –”

“They already have.” She turned her attention on Vance whose head was down studying some smudge on the floor. “How much more time do you need?”

“A few more minutes. I need to collect samples from the basins.”

“Ten-four,” Temple said. “Now, Jasper, tell me, has the rest of the building been checked?”

“Yes, but this is unacceptable. I can’t have you two blundering all over Lake County. Don’t screw around too much with this place, the Evidence Response Team is going to give this place another going over –”

“Afraid not.”

“Are you trying to be a pain in the ass?” Jasper huffed. Out of nowhere, a chill crept up his legs and worked into the core of his body, as if emanating from deep within the earth. His shoulders shook, despite his attempt to tamp down the urge.

“Look, why do you care so much?” Temple shook her head, the tight curls wiggling. “You said yourself this was a clear case of suicide and the other a murder and they weren’t connected. The girl was rescued, right? You’re off the hook.”

Yeah, why was he so interested in all this? Why did he care so much about the turf war? Wouldn’t it be easier to simply go back to busting lowlifes? Black was right, after all. Suicides, murder, and a rescued girl. Why stay involved?

He realized it was because a part of him believed what she was saying. Both the suicides and the murder were fantastic in nature. He’d never witnessed human bodies devoured by thermite and had never seen a human corpse rearranged into a pile of meat.

Vance looked up. He’d donned thick spectacled glasses that reminded Jasper of some nutty scientist examining bugs or something. “Hey, this is interesting.”

“What?” Jasper and Temple asked in unison.

“I can’t be certain out here in the field, but a sample I took from the murder scene and another from here match. This is big, we’ve never seen anything like this.” Vance grinned. “Once I can get the samples to a real lab, I’ll go to town.”

“Can you give me a hint as to what you’re talking about?” Jasper asked Vance, but never took his eyes off Temple. Damn, she was good. Her eyes hadn’t left his either, and he wasn’t sure if she’d even blinked yet.

“You don’t have to answer, Vance.” Temple arched an eyebrow, as if once again relaying a go ahead and try me look.

“All right, I guess we’ll be straightening this out over at the Merrillville office. My boss, SSA Johnson has agreed to meet me, and he requested your presence.” Johnson hadn’t requested her presence, but Temple didn’t need to know he lied.

“I’ll do you one better,” Temple said. “Your Assistant Special Agent in Charge is going to be there as well.”

“Great.” Jasper hadn’t ingratiated himself to ASAC Masters any more than he had the ERT leader. A minor insight hit him: perhaps the other person wasn’t always the problem. A slim chance existed that on occasion he caused the problems. He laughed.

Temple’s eyes widened. “What is so funny? Care to let me in?”

“Not at this moment,” Jasper said. “I was simply detecting an emerging pattern, is all.”

“With the investigations?”

“No. Not at all.” Jasper took his eyes from Temple’s. “Fine, I’ll meet you over at the office. When is ASAC Masters supposedly arriving at the RA?” She’d gone above and beyond to shoehorn her little group into places they didn’t belong and then had likely gotten him in hot water. As if he needed help in the hot water department.

Temple glanced at her watch — a slender non-digital piece — a Tag Heuer. Perhaps this woman had some class after all, or perhaps it’d been a gift from a lover jilted by her cherubic demeanor.

“If we leave in fifteen minutes,” she said, “that should give you plenty of time.”

“Fine, I’m leaving now.”

“Okay. Bye now.” She fluttered her fingers, shooing him from the hotel.

He spun and made for the stairs. What a total bitch —

“I know what you’re thinking.”

“That’s good, but do I get to zap you with electricity if you’re wrong?”

She laughed, the first genuine one he’d heard out of her. “That a Ghostbusters reference?”

“Something like that, kind of obscure I’d imagine,” he said, still pissed and managing his anger poorly. “Bill Murray at the beginning when he’s zapping the guy, but not the girl when they’re guessing what patterns are on the cards he’s holding. So, yes.”

“I’m good,” Temple said. “Relax, Agent Wilde, maybe you’re not so bad after all.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“And maybe I’ll allow you to tag along.”

“Too many maybes for me.” That had done it. “See you later.” He wanted to salute her with a finger, but buried his hands in his pockets like he was some little kid being run off the playground by a bully.