Iron Angels – Snippet 17

Chapter 10

Carlos Ochoa’s meeting with the police had gone as well as expected. The only problem he foresaw was the waitress, Lali. She kind of understood what he did and where he went, but wouldn’t be able to provide any real details. But why would the police bother asking her anything? He was probably worried over nothing.

Even though today was Saturday and few of the guild members would be hanging around the machine shop, he was expected to report in after the contact with law enforcement.

He headed south and east from the diner, working his way across multiple sets of tracks. He’d been lucky so far, missing every train and hitting little traffic. Carlos drove with his windows down, enjoying the warm and sticky air mingled with the sharp scent of gasoline and slightly acrid scent of metal working. The mix of abandoned buildings standing alongside operating businesses had been the reason the guild took up residence on Summer Street, running a business called Wayland Precision.

He pulled up to the main gate, and waited. A few seconds later, the gate retracted, allowing him entrance. He drove around back and parked alongside Steve Stahlberg’s extended cab Ford pickup. He desired a vehicle as sweet as Steve’s, with the heavy-duty suspension. He could practically live in the precious hunk of machinery if he had no choice. On the other side of Steve’s pickup was a beater, a worn out Ford Ranger.

“Great, she’s here as well,” Carlos muttered as he thumped his Toyota pickup’s door shut. He had no desire to deal with Steve’s daughter Penny, but no other choice existed unless he wanted to quit. Ever since her father’s stroke, she’d practically taken over the day-to-day operations of Wayland Precision as well as the guild. Penny wasn’t doing a bad job, but Carlos believed she influenced her old man a bit too easily, and a bit too often.

The back of the Wayland Precision building appeared much the same as the front — red brick and frosted glass windows all around. He trotted up the steps and punched his code into the keypad. A buzz sounded and he let himself in.

The building’s eerie weekend stillness unnerved him a little. Only two people in the guild knew where he’d been today, meeting with the FBI and the police — and they were both here and would have plenty of questions. The machine shop itself was dark today. Steve ran a tight ship, keeping the place spotless, at least by machine shop standards. There was hardly a sliver of metal anywhere on the floor or on the machinery. It helped, of course, that they only worked with high-grade steel alloys. If they were cutting stuff like cast iron or bronze, it’d be impossible to keep the shop this clean.

Carlos walked the length of the machine shop, pushed through a swinging door into the warehouse, and descended a flight of stairs off to the side. A vegetal scent filled his nose as he proceeded deeper into the recesses of the building. Warm, damp air hung thick in the wide bench-lined corridor. Mushroom-filled boxes rested atop the benches. The public never saw any of this, only employees and guild members who were one and the same.

“I like the Wizard of Oz,” a female voice echoed from a speaker over his head. That was Penny.

A light flickered on as he approached a solid white door, its edges coated with greasy fingerprints and dirt, as if no one used the doorknob. On the other side of the peephole, he knew, Penny was staring at him.

“It’s me,” Carlos said — he hated this password crap she’d instituted.

“Come on,” Penny said, “what’s the response?”

Penny had obviously gorged herself on too many movies, probably James Bond or the old spy show, Mission Impossible, but this nonsense came from some Christmas movie.

“Fine.” Carlos took a deep breath, and blew out the air with a sigh. “I like the Tin Man.”

“Thank you,” Penny said.

The door buzzed and sprung open. Carlos entered the so-called inner sanctum.

Penny grinned. “See? That wasn’t so bad.”

“Why do you insist on these silly spy antics?” Carlos asked. “I’ve never even seen the movie we’re quoting.”

“We’re quoting A Christmas Story.” Penny shot Carlos a reproving glare. “One of the funniest movies ever.”

“What Christmas story?”

“I feel like we’re Abbott and Costello here doing who’s on first.”

“What?” Carlos asked.

“What’s on second,” Steve chimed in, yanking ripped and faded overalls up.

“You people are insane.” Carlos smacked his forehead. “I don’t know what you’re — ”

Penny’s face turned red, she laughed so hard.

“What?” Carlos was truly perplexed.

“Never mind. Thank you for playing though,” Penny said.

Steve grinned and rubbed his white whiskers with rough hands, like they’d been chewed on like a dog toy.

Carlos grabbed a coffee-stained mug off a shelf and filled it with water from the cooler. “Why use any lines from any movies? Gates, locked doors, and cameras aren’t enough?”

“Let her have some fun,” Steve said. “I don’t quite understand either, but using passwords certainly doesn’t hurt.”

“If you two haven’t noticed, people aren’t beating down the door to uncover what happens in a machine shop. No one cares. Hell, I doubt if more than one percent of the people who drive by — don’t nobody walk on this street — even notices we’re here.”

“Enough,” Steve said.

“So tell us what happened.” Penny grabbed another mug, dropped a bag of black tea in, and drew hot water from the cooler.

Carlos worked his way around and behind a battered old three-drawer filing cabinet, and sat in a chair resembling refugee furniture from the mid-seventies. If the basement had been finished with the dark, wood-grained paneling so prevalent back then, this could have been any house built back in the odd seventies. He was a little too young to truly remember plaid and all the crazy exploitation movies, which made a comeback a few years ago.

“They want to continue meeting me.”

“And?” Penny motioned with her hand as if trying to pull the information out of him.

“So I’m in,” Carlos said, “what more do you want?”

Penny smacked the top of the filing cabinet. “You know damn well what kind of information we’re seeking.”

“Ease up, Penny,” Steve said. “No need to get angry.”

Penny rolled her eyes.

Carlos grinned. “Fine. They had plenty of questions, and for a moment I thought they had caught on to the scene over at animal control, but for now, they aren’t sure what’s going on and haven’t connected the two events.”

“They aren’t sure, huh?” Steve rubbed his chin. “The cops or the FBI still investigating the matter?”

“I don’t know,” Carlos said.

Penny frowned.

“Look,” Carlos folded his arms, “I couldn’t ask too many questions, right? I mean, I had to kind of work with what they tossed at me. If you want my opinion, the local cop, this Pedro, isn’t interested. The FBI guy did most of the asking and appears more eager to use me as an informant.”

“Interesting,” Steve said. “We’ll keep tabs on them as best as we can to be sure they aren’t getting too close.”

“And you want me to continue meeting and figuring out if they’re learning too much?” Carlos asked.

“Yes.” Penny picked up the phone.

“It’s starting up again, the demon universe leaking into ours, right?” Carlos gazed at Steve.

Steve shrugged. “Let’s just call it the ‘other’ universe. We don’t really know for sure what we’re dealing with. But, yes, we think so. There’ve been too many horrific coincidences lately.”

“Speaking of a coincidence,” Carlos drummed his fingers atop the cabinet, “did we have anyone over at animal control today? Once the police arrived?”

Steve shook his head and glanced at Penny who now had the phone up to her ear. She frowned. “No, not that I’m aware of,” she said to Steve and Carlos, then spoke into the receiver: “Hey, John. Be here first thing in the morning. We need to be cutting stainless all day. Let Danny and Ian know also. Right.” A second later she hung up.

“Our old enemy has returned, I’m afraid.” Steve said. “They’re up to something. The two men who died in the hotel weren’t an anomaly or wannabes. No way. The Câ Tsang is back.”

“Great,” Penny said. “We’ll be dodging the law, the Câ Tsang, and Nephilim from another world.”

“Maybe Nephilim,” Steve cautioned. “We don’t really know what they are. We’ve never known, as far back as our records go.”