Iron Angels – Snippet 33
Temple stopped, placed her hands on her hips, and stared. “This diner’s gonna be outstanding.”
“Don’t let the charming facade fool you, this place has great diner food. Just don’t expect any frou-frou coffee type drinks here.”
“Wouldn’t dream of fancy here,” Temple said. “This is a diner. Plain old coffee, or milk shakes, or soda.” She licked her lips. “I love diners.”
“You’re a soda person, then. I’ve always kind of been on the fence,” Jasper said, “but pop always sounded silly to me.”
Jasper held the door for Temple and followed after her. A hostess walked up — no, she was the waitress from his previous time here, he’d recognize her piercings and tattoos anywhere.
“Hello again,” Jasper said.
“You’re with Carlos,” she said. “Right?”
Temple glanced at Jasper in disbelief. Bad tradecraft for sure — but how many Agents changed venues for every single meeting? This wasn’t an espionage investigation.
“This way. He’s already here.”
The waitress seated them — Temple slid in, Jasper sat next to her and made the introductions.
“Where is Pedro?”
“Pete isn’t coming, so Special Agent Black will be sitting in on these for the time being.”
“You some kind of replacement?”
“Something like that, but I’m pretty sure Pete can’t be replaced so easily.”
“Eh,” Carlos said, playing with the fork in front of him on the table. “He’s kind of a sell-out.”
“Watch it,” Jasper said. “What’s wrong with you today, anyway? You seemed friendlier during our last meet.”
“Trouble at work.”
“I’m not trusted with stuff as much as I should be.”
“What do you do?” Temple asked.
“Machine shop. Cutting metal, that sort of thing. Handy man on the side.”
“Carlos called in the tips on the first kidnapping,” Jasper said to Temple, “which was why we met and why we’re talking now.”
The waitress came up and spread her hands, a pencil in one hand and a small notepad in the other. “Well?”
“All right then, one sedative so far,” the waitress said.
“Trying to be a standup comic all the sudden?” Carlos asked. “Quit with the wise remarks for once, Lali.”
“You two know each other?” Temple asked.
“Yeah, Carlos here is a real treat. A stand-up guy,” the waitress said.
“All right,” Jasper said, attempting to interrupt the mutual love festival, “I’ll have a cheeseburger and fries.”
“What to drink?”
The waitress didn’t bother writing down the order. She looked at Temple. “You?”
“Give me a second.” Temple flipped the menu over. “Chicken Caesar salad, light on the dressing.”
“Dressing’s already mixed in. So — nope.”
“Whatever.” Temple handed back to menu. “I can live with it.”
The waitress stomped off.
“What in the Lord’s name is her attitude all about?” Temple asked.
“She’s loco. Messed up in the head.” Carlos pointed at his head and twirled his finger. “Bad upbringing, bad relationships, whatever. If I cared enough, I’d attempt to figure her out, but she falls in the I-don’t-give-a-damn category.”
“You seem to be in a less than chipper mood today, so we’ll make this quick,” Jasper said.
“Sure. What do you need from me?” Carlos raised his eyebrows.
“I didn’t have anything to ask you, not until last night. You heard what happened?”
“The accident? Yeah, how could I not hear about it? Some serious twisted metal.”
“And twisted up people,” Temple said. “You hear anything about the kidnapping last night?”
“Why would I?”
“Cut the crap,” Jasper said. “There’s no need to play coy like this. I’m not — we’re not — accusing you of anything. Did you hear anything? Do you think last night’s kidnapping relates in any way to the kidnapping of the little girl — ”
“Teresa, remember?” Carlos filled in the blank, an empowering ploy by Jasper, making Carlos feel like he’d done something good, which he had.
“Yeah, the little girl you had a hand in saving, Carlos.”
A glass of water clunked down in front of Jasper. “Yeah, he’s a real American hero, this one,” the waitress said.
Jasper glanced up at her. She’d worn makeup the last time he’d seen her, but now she’d applied thick layers. Not thick enough, though, to cover a few marks on her face, as if someone hit her recently.
“You okay?” Jasper asked the waitress, who clunked down two more glasses of water, and stared at him.
“All the sudden you care about some waitress at a greasy spoon?”
Jasper shrugged. “Have it your way.”
“I will,” she said, “and that’s the way I like, uh huh, I like it. Uh huh, uh huh.” She sashayed off.
“That girl is a certified fuh-reak,” Temple said.
Jasper couldn’t take the mystery any longer. “Seriously, Carlos, do you have a history with the waitress? What’s her name? Where does she live?”
“Who cares? I thought you wanted information about the accident and the driver of the van. The kidnapping.”
“So, you’re holding back information on the driver of the van?” Jasper had snagged him, not in a lie, but withholding.
“The crazy girl’s name is Eulalia, but she goes by Lali.”
“Okay, Lali, wonderful, but what can you tell me about the driver of the van?” Jasper sipped his water.
“The rumor going around says a chupacabra ate him, drank his blood.”
Jasper felt one corner of his mouth creep upward, but Carlos wasn’t laughing and no hint of a joke rested in his eyes.
“A chupacabra,” Temple said. “Up here in Indiana? Doesn’t seem likely.”
“Who would have thought those Chinese fish would be loose in our waterways destroying the native species here in the United States?” Carlos smirked.
“TouchÃ©,” said Temple, nodding in acknowledgement of his point.
“So, chupacabra ate the driver,” Jasper said. “Why?”
“Wrong place, wrong time I suppose.”
“Come on. A chupacabra, a blood drinking cryptid. But I thought the blood came from livestock?” Temple leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table.
“A what? A crypt?” Carlos’s eyes and mouth crinkled, confused. “Word gets out. The old man who lives in the house, the one where the chupacabra did its thing, came out after you left and told the group all about the mess in his backyard, and how a mangled body lay back there drained of all its blood.”
The old man shouldn’t have been talking to anyone, but stopping people from flapping their gums always proved difficult. What were they going to do to him anyway? He wasn’t impeding the investigation. The concern here was if Carlos was hiding something else — he didn’t seem to want to provide any details about the driver.
“You think your best friend forever, what’s her name, Lali, would know anything about the driver?”
“She probably hooked up with that freak, you know, they’re pretty much cut from the same freaky cloth,” Carlos said.
A plate slid in front of Jasper. The heat of the cheeseburger and fries up, as did the very pleasant scent. The diner had a limited menu, but what they did, they did well.
“So I’m a bit freaky,” the waitress said, “who isn’t?”
“How do you keep appearing out of nowhere?” Jasper asked. “Delivering food and joining the conversation — a private conversation.”
“You know the driver of the van that crashed last night? Or anything about the kidnapping?” Temple asked.
“Or anything about a chupacabra?” Jasper added and took a sip of his water.
“A what? Chupacabra?” The waitresses’ eyebrows knit together. “What the hell are you talking about? Something that steals all the tortilla chips?”
Jasper nearly spit the water out of his mouth. Temple’s smile expanded beyond the boundaries of the hand covering her mouth.
“Ay.” Carlos covered his face and shook his head.
Jasper wiped the corner of his eye and took another bite of the cheeseburger.
“Anything else?” the waitress asked.
Temple eyed her Caesar salad and held up a hand.
“Something wrong?” The waitress put a hand on her hip.
Temple’s smile vanished. “You didn’t answer my questions. The driver? Kidnapping?”
“Ran into the driver once, if it’s the guy everyone’s talking about.” She put the pencil eraser first between her red lips, thick and a little pouty, holding it for a minute as her gaze roamed. She shook the pencil at them like a wand. “Can’t say I know who was kidnapped, but I ran into the driver at a party once. Can’t remember his name, though, if I ever knew it at all.” She shrugged.
“If you think of the name, let us know,” Jasper said.
“Sure thing.” She walked off and attended another table.
“Anything you care to add?” Temple asked.
“That’s probably where I know the driver from — ”
“Like Lali said, probably some party.”
They ate in silence for a few minutes and Jasper made quick work of his cheeseburger and French fries. Temple picked at her Caesar salad. Carlos sucked down his water and jammed a toothpick between his teeth.
“I gotta get going. Sorry I couldn’t be much of a help today.” Carlos slid from the booth, half-saluted them and exited the building.
“Odd,” Temple said, “but then, the entire meeting was not how I remembered source meetings.”
Lali appeared out of nowhere with an expectant look on her face.
“We’re fine,” Jasper said, “oh, you want to take your salad to go, Temple?”
“No, I’m good.”
“So sorry to see little Carlos go so soon.” Lali dropped the check on the table.
“You know him? Date him? Anything him?” Jasper asked.
“Hate him?” Lali turned her head and cocked an eyebrow. “Hate’s much more accurate.”
“You a jilted lover maybe?”
“Heh. I’m the jilter, not the jiltee.” She bumped Jasper’s shoulder with her hip and strolled off.
Temple rolled her eyes and reached for the check.
“Somehow I can see that,” Jasper said, watching the waitress and her swaying hips, “despite the bruise and marks she’s covering with the shit ton of makeup.”
“Ah, you noticed,” Temple said.
“You’re paying? But Carlos is a local informant.”
“You’re temporarily assigned to SAG, remember? This meal will come out of our budget, and we’ve managed to secure quite a nice little war chest for this fiscal year.” Temple paid with cash and took the second copy of the check.
“Care to head back to the Euclid? Have a look around?”
“Sure, let me pick at the salad for another minute,” Temple said.
Jasper polished off his water.
They both slid from the booth and exited the diner. Lali leaned on the counter, and each time Jasper stole a peek, she was still watching them, all the way to their vehicles.