Iron Angels – Snippet 23
The rumbling of running engines and chatter of police flooding the area faded into the background as Jasper concentrated on taking in all of the dead woman’s features. She was a slender young black woman sporting long straightened hair with a hint of scarlet.Â Faded and tattered blue jeans clung to her legs, but flared out around her ankles. Her shoes were missing and she wore no socks. As a result, her feet were scraped up and covered in dried blood. Her abductor had taken off her shoes and socks, if she’d worn any. Was this woman homeless or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?
He knelt, careful to keep free of the glistening pavement beneath her. The back of her head had been smashed and a nasty bruise darkened her forehead. A thin line of blood had trickled from her nose, but had since ceased flowing and dried. Raw fingertips and ragged nails betrayed the struggle she’d found herself in, likely from scratching at the Astro’s floor in vain.
“I can’t tell if the head wounds are exclusive to the crash or perhaps from blunt force trauma from her kidnapping. The autopsy should provide more clues.”
“Perhaps this death was a blessing. She was alive for the trip, or at least part of it, look at her fingers.” Temple bowed her head. Her lips moved in what Jasper assumed was a prayer.
“Yeah, she fought and didn’t die peacefully.” Jasper’s fingers clenched into fists. “Damn it. We need to find the bastard who’s responsible. I don’t care if this is connected to whatever X-files crap you’re out here peddling. You got me?”
Temple stared up at him, and her face didn’t betray any hurt. Jasper was glad for that. He hadn’t meant to go off on her. This accident wasn’t her fault. She had a job to do, no matter how weird and foreign the ideas and the job.
“Apology accepted. Now can we move on? Unless, of course, you’ve deducted something else from the poor woman’s corpse.” Temple cocked her head.
Jasper waved over the cop who had let them through. “You guys learn anything else about the woman here?”
“From Gary. Single. I’d say wrong place, wrong time. According to the sheet she’d been busted for distribution — ”
“We both know that’s bullshit, don’t we? A user, most likely,” Jasper said.
“Likely. I think she made a habit of being with the wrong people — ”
“And being in the wrong place,” Jasper said. “What are we doing wrong?”
“What?” the cop asked.
“Never mind. She have any relatives, friends?”
The cop shrugged.
“How about the driver of this piece of shit?”
“No clue, but I can tell you the van is registered to a little old lady.”
“But she wasn’t driving it.”
“She’s in the hospital at the moment.”
“So, stolen then?” asked Temple.
“That’s what we think at this time.”
“We’re working on that,” the cop said.
“Thank you, officer,” Temple said, and grabbed Jasper’s arm, pulling him aside.
“Thank you,” Jasper said. “I was starting to lose it a bit there.”
“You have some anger, don’t you?”
He huffed. “Yeah, a little.”
Temple covered the woman once more with the sheet.
Jasper called over to the cop.
“Will you leave him alone?” Temple chided.
“No.” Funny how the roles reversed on this one. “Do you want the Bureau’s Evidence Response Team to assist on this one?” he asked the cop.
The man tensed, clearly irritated. “I’m guarding the scene, that’s all, so take your problem up with my so-called superiors.”
Jasper grinned. “Ah, a fellow lover of management.”
“You know how it is.” The cop hooked his thumbs into his bat belt, and relaxed his shoulders. “Anything else or can I go back to staring off into space?”
As if on command, East Chicago Police Department’s evidence people arrived at the scene. Jasper didn’t bother interjecting or offering the Bureau’s assistance. Maybe the locals had decided this accident wasn’t related to what they were investigating or hadn’t even considered the possibility. Or maybe they had reached out to SSA Johnson and the field office’s ERT Senior Team leader, Morris Chan, and they had begged off or outright dismissed the request. Besides, Jasper didn’t have the authority and saw no point in bothering his boss. Johnson would only react poorly if he hadn’t been asked by the locals and Jasper was interrupting his off time once again.
“We need to find the driver. He must have been hurt pretty badly.”
“Unless,” Temple’s eyes hardened, “like so many people under the influence of drugs or booze, he simply walked away unscathed.” She related the tidbit a little too bitterly, but Jasper didn’t intend to pry right now. Apparently they were both sporting the scars of life — one thing they had in common, at least.
“Let’s poke around here a little more,” Temple said. “Away from all these people, perhaps we’ll find something.”
They peered into the crumpled Astro mini-van. Blood had dried on the deployed air bag and dripped on and around the driver’s seat. They found no personal effects save for a pack of tissues and a cross on a chain shoved in the glove box. The registration gave them the name and address of the hospitalized woman — Jasper’d follow-up on the lead later, and perhaps poke around the house for more clues.
Temple knelt on the asphalt, peering beneath the wreckage. “Over here.”
“I think he crawled out from under all this — ” She wiped her hands off on her jeans and stood, gesturing to the wrecked vehicles.
One of the cops nearby swore loud enough for them to hear. “It’s gonna be one of those nights. Hey, Charlie!” He pinched the bridge of his nose, and another cop ran up. “We have a disturbance. One of the houses nearby here is complaining of an animal attack in their backyard. Says there’s a horrible racket, like something dying.”
“For Christ’s sake,” the other cop said, “don’t we have animal control around here?”
“Hey,” Temple said, and the two cops turned their attention to her. “We’ll take the call. You guys have a lot going on and we’re getting in the way.”
“Sure thing there, Agent Scully. I’m sure the complainants will be quite surprised when a couple of fibbies come by.”
“I’m sure it’s a real X-file case,” the other cop snorted. “Little green men or something, I bet.”
“Your grade school creative writing teacher must be proud,” Temple said. “You jokers owe us a couple of cups of coffee for taking this off your hands.”
Jasper stared at Temple, surprised at how she was interacting with these guys. At least the locals had relaxed a bit and were just having fun with her now.
“By all means. We’ll even provide the pastries.” One of the cops doffed his hat.
“All right, just give me the address.” The cop jotted the information down, tore the page from a small notebook, and handed it to Temple. She turned and strode off toward Jasper’s bucar. Jasper shook his head and ran after her, catching up as her hand hit the door handle.
“The house is close by, we can walk from here, what are you doing?”
“Grabbing some pepper spray out of my bag.”
“Ah. Roger that.”
“There a problem?”
“No,” Jasper said. “None. Get in the car. We should have all my gear at our disposal. Flashlights, and I have an extra Kevlar vest in the trunk. I — let’s go, I simply hadn’t thought about grabbing extra gear. I haven’t carried pepper spray in a long time. The stuff is nasty during a scuffle.”
They both got in the Charger. He flipped on lights and siren for the quick jaunt.
Temple glanced over at him. “You’ve been in some street brawls then?”
“One or two — happens when you spend time with the great folks the locals round up and deal with on a routine basis. Pepper spray jacks up the good guys as much or more than the bad guys.”
“Right. Now, which way to this address?”
“It’s not far from the accident, a couple blocks south of here and a little west.”
They passed the accident and the gaggle of police and medical personnel. There were now a couple of fire trucks on the scene, also. Neither of the wrecked vehicles had so much as a whiff of smoke or flame, but the Fire Department showing was standard procedure. He managed to bypass the scene and cut through the intersection and toward the address of the attack.
“You have a reason for wanting to check this out?”
“A hunch,” Temple said.
“The hunch being someone’s dog worrying the driver of the Astro?”
“Something like that.” She smiled. “But don’t you find this a little too odd?”
The other animal attackâ€¦ She was right. “We’re close to the area where the other attack took place,” Jasper said, “the one with the pile of meat for a corpse and this could be the same sort of thing?”
He rounded the corner of Ivy Street and saw a group of people standing in front of a house. He put the Charger in park, grabbed his ASP baton and a flashlight, and exited the vehicle, heading for the group of people. Temple followed.
A wail pierced the thick, damp air.
“What in blazes?” Jasper slowed up. His skin crawled, the sound reminding him of a wounded coyote out in the desert. He’d heard them often during his time in the Marines when he’d done a stint in the Mojave Desert — one of his more forgettable duty stations, but he’d never forget that sound.
“Perhaps the complaint the cops handed us is legit.” Jasper trotted in the direction of the address, abandoning the leisurely pace of seconds earlier.