Iron Angels – Snippet 26

A piece of cloth caught in the light. He patted himself down, searching for the cheap pen he always kept on him. The exact pocket depended entirely on the quality of his attire and the type of people he’d be dealing with on any given day. In this case he found the pen lying flat in the bottom of one of the pockets in his cargo pants. The pants were a hard habit to break, especially in warm weather when wearing a jacket of any sort was out of place and appeared odd to do so.

He inched for the pile, avoiding any contact with the mutilated corpse of a dead person — if that’s what it was — with his feet or hands. That gave him some thoughts on the matter. Could a man do such a thing? Probably, with the right tools, but why would someone go through this sort of trouble to mangle a corpse beyond recognition? He didn’t want to believe these incidents were anything other than a murder or some bizarre death at the hands of an animal.

He bit his lip and extended the pen toward the bit of cloth he’d noticed. But so far as he knew, there weren’t any animals that killed like this. Not in North America, anyway. The pen poked the cloth and caught in a fold, allowing for some leverage to pull the piece free of the mess.

“Well,” said Temple’s voice from behind, startling him. He almost lost his balance as he was precariously reaching for the cloth with his pen.

“Holy shit.” Jasper rocked back on his heels and took a few breaths, allowing the weight of his body to rest against the shed. “You scared the hell out of me.”

“Sorry. I was just thinking about something I read years ago, when I was a kid.”

“Okay, go on — anything to take my mind off this.”

“I was fascinated by certain types of sea creatures — ”

“I don’t think this was caused by chicken of the sea or anything.” Jasper grinned. Jokes were good for times like this.

“You’re a funny guy. Ever consider a career in comedy?” Temple paused a moment. “Anyway. Don’t sea horses digest their food outside their stomach? Or maybe another sort of sea creature, starfish?”

“What? You’ve got to be joking.”

She was back to her no-nonsense stare. “Why couldn’t a land animal exist capable of the same mutilation, and we, for some reason, scared the thing off? I mean, it’s possible, right?”

“I don’t know.” He pinched the bridge of his nose. The scent returned, mingling with the burnt odor of the petrochemical tinged air. “At this point, I’m all for calling in the locals and letting them button up this scene.”

“After Vance obtains some samples, right?”

Jasper sighed. “Yeah, but you know what? I’d like to try to grab some sleep tonight, if you and your partner Vance can do without me.”

“All right. He’ll be here soon. But what are you doing behind the shed, anyway?”

“A piece of cloth, perhaps some identifying clothing or who knows, maybe I’ll find a wallet or some identification in this mess.”

“You’re not thinking of picking through the pile,” Temple’s top lip curled upward on one side, “are you?”

“The thought crossed my mind, but maybe you’re right. Vance can get in there, if his stomach holds up. Didn’t he almost toss his lunch after coming face to face with the last pile of meat?”

“There was no almost — he did.”

“Right.” Jasper smacked and licked his lips, attempting to stave off the dryness in his mouth and was rewarded with a taste of copper, as if he’d bit his lip. “I wish Vance would just get here already.”

The back door of the old man’s house rattled. “Damn foreigners, so pushy.”

“I’m with them.” Vance stuck his Bureau credentials in the old man’s face, practically crammed down his throat. Jasper couldn’t tell if the tone was Vance’s natural lilt, or if he used a remonstrative voice.

“He’s okay!” Jasper shouted. “Please, Mister Yablonski, go back inside.”

“I phoned the police,” Yablonski said. “They’ll be here in a few minutes.”

“Excellent. I was just about to do that, thank you very much.” Jasper turned away from the old man. “Vance? Whatever you’re going to do, please do so with the utmost alacrity. Sleep is calling.”

Vance came over to Jasper and frowned. “Sleep? That was what I was trying to do.” His hair was tousled and doing a pretty good job of defying gravity in a few spots.

“Payback, my friend.”

“So we’re friends, now that you need something from me.”

“We haven’t identified the victim, but these remains resemble the mangled corpse near animal control,” Temple said.

“An idea popped into my mind as I fell off to sleep,” Vance said. “The first corpse, the mangled one, reminded me of something being digested, but on the outside, like a — ”

“A sea creature,” Jasper finished. “Yes, Temple thought of the same thing, but I think that’s a little too far-fetched.”

“Just a thought. Where is this one?” Vance asked, eyebrows raised.

“Behind the shed, but a tight fit, so only take what you absolutely need.”

“And try to figure out who this person was. We think it may be the person who kidnapped the dead girl at the accident scene over near the Euclid Hotel,” Jasper added.

Vance disappeared behind the shed. Seconds later, retching could be heard.

“Please tell me you’re not contaminating the evidence with your vomit.” Temple placed her hands on her hips.

“I’m — I’m fine. Almost lost my stomach’s contents, but I’m good here,” Vance said, “I’m fine.”

“Biology has given me a thought,” Jasper said.

“Oh?” Temple arched an eyebrow.

“I have a buddy over at the University of Chicago, he’s a biologist. Perhaps he could enlighten us a bit on this, and if he can’t, I’m sure he has a roster of professors that might, and plenty of books and other research materials available. I’ll call him in the morning. Maybe he’ll meet with us tomorrow.”

“What do you think, Vance?” Temple leaned toward the shed and shouted.

“Ugh, err — fine.” Vance coughed. “I’m okay.”

“So, yes? We’ll go to the university?”

“Yes. Now please don’t make me open my mouth anymore.”

Vance’s coughing continued throughout his examination and evidence collection. No definitive answers existed other than this mangled corpse resembled the first one, only not as pink, as if retaining more of the red in the blood.

The East Chicago police arrived and cordoned off the backyard with rolls and rolls of crime scene tape and agreed to watch over the scene until morning.

“I’m going to have to call in our Evidence Response Team, I’m afraid,” Jasper said. “This is becoming too much for us to handle alone.”

Temple nodded. “Fine.”

“Hopefully the senior team leader won’t be too much of a dick when he shows up. ASAC Masters will have to lean on him to make this happen.”

“Whatever,” Temple said. “We collected everything we needed from here. Right, Vance?”

When Vance emerged, his face was a shade or two more pale than when he’d gone behind the shed and his forehead sported a damp sheen. His black hair lay matted on his head, soaked with sweat.

“Let’s go, there’s plenty to do in the morning. You brought means of preserving all the evidence you collected without a need to go back to the office? Jasper asked.

“I did.” Vance licked his lips and frowned. He must have gotten the same taste of copper Jasper received.

So Jasper’s sleep didn’t matter, but a few hours were better than nothing.