Iron Angels – Snippet 37

A chair squeaked, and Carlos stepped out of the shadows near the back of the office, as if he’d been hiding.

“What can we help you with today, officers?” Steve leaned against a filing cabinet, which emitted a screech as it slid an inch or two on the tile flooring.

“Special Agents,” Temple said.

“Carlos may have information on the accident and kidnappings. May we speak with him alone?” Jasper asked.

“Nah, let’s just chat all together here, sound good?” Steve stated, more than asked.

“If Carlos agrees,” Temple said.

Carlos stepped forward and nodded. “We can talk about anything you like in front of them.”

“All right, general question here,” Jasper said. “Why are you growing all those mushrooms? It’s odd.”

“Let’s say we’re a tad superstitious,” Steve said.

“I thought I’d heard it all,” Temple said. “I mean, all the random acts people practice because they think it’ll bring them luck or ward off evil spirits.”

Steve shrugged. “You going to ask anything relevant? If not, I’ll show you out.”

“Hold on,” Jasper said. “We’re part of a special unit within the FBI — ”

Temple held up a hand, stopping Jasper. He hadn’t realized how proprietary she was regarding SAG. “Yes, I head up an investigative unit called the Scientific Anomalies Group. We have reason to believe there is something going on in the area involving a cult. We’ve also found traces of an element a scientist attached to SAG has never seen before.”

Temple paused. Steve, Penny, and Carlos didn’t flinch or blink.

Temple continued, “This element is foreign to our world. My Agent thinks it’s alien, from another universe. I think it may be demonic in origin.”

Penny’s eyes flicked toward Steve. Her father chuckled. “Aliens or devils, huh?” He scratched at his beard. “You’re serious?”

Temple nodded.

Carlos stepped forward, appearing eager to get this impromptu meeting over.

“Ah,” Jasper said, “tell us, Carlos, what were you doing at the Euclid Hotel earlier?”

Steve and Penny shot each other indecipherable glances.

“I wasn’t — ”

“Save it, we saw you at the hotel, by chance, of course. Awfully suspicious behavior.” Jasper raised his eyebrows. “Wouldn’t you agree? And you never glimpsed us following you?”

“What? No.”

Jasper focused on Carlos, staring him down. “So, why were you at the Euclid Hotel?”

Penny spoke up. “He was at the hotel under my orders.”

“But what could you possibly want with the Euclid Hotel?”

“Is parking behind a hotel against the law? I frequent a nearby auto parts store, and I’d rather park in the alley.” Carlos seemed proud of himself for that bit of lying.

Temple sighed. “We’re not your enemy. We’re trying to stop a bunch of senseless murders — ”

“And suicides,” Jasper added.

“All right. How about this,” Temple said, “do you know anything about mangled bodies and strange figures made of mist or haze?”

Steve and Penny glanced at one another again — clearly aware of what Temple said, and clearly hiding something.

Jasper decided to take a different tack: “We’re not getting anywhere.” He walked toward and pointed at the aquariums. “What sort of fish do you have in the tanks?”

“Not fish. Sea squirts.”

“Salt water tanks, huh?” Jasper bent over and peered inside. “So, you grow mushrooms and have a bunch of sea squirts. This is truly an eclectic machine shop.”

“We spend a lot of time here,” Penny said, “and we each have our little diversions.”

“Okay, back to business,” Jasper said, and moved away from the aquariums. “What sort of metal work do you perform here?”

“We specialize in stainless steel and exotic alloys.”

“Ah, okay. I see.” But Jasper didn’t, really. His familiarity with machining was passing and, in any event, quite a few years back. One of his cousins in Tennessee had owned a small machine shop but he and Jasper had never been close.

He stood near a desk and glanced at the papers littering the surface. Temple spoke up — good, a distraction while he stole a few furtive glances.

“Ever deal with thermite?” Temple asked.

“No.” Steve, Penny, and Carlos all answered at once.

Jasper scanned the desktop: a few papers with Wayland Precision on the letterhead, a notebook, a ledger, and poking from the corner of another notebook, a symbol. No, a hammer, and arcing atop the hammer the words: Völundr’s Hammer.

“Find anything interesting, Agent Wilde?” Penny asked.

“You can call me Jasper. Sorry, I was intrigued by the hammer on this piece of paper.” He tapped the paper in question.

“Oh, that,” she said, waving as if the paper were a trifle. “I considered re-naming the company Völundr’s Hammer at one time, but Wayland Precision was my father’s brain child, so we let the name be.”

“This may be a silly question, but why Wayland Precision?” Jasper glanced at Steve, Carlos, and settled on Penny. “I mean, no one named Wayland works here, right? Does Wayland mean something to you?” He turned his attention back to Steve.

“It’s an old blacksmith thing, from Northern Europe — a fairly common tale, that of Wayland the Smith. Do you have any other questions for Carlos? We’re busy, and running a business, you know.”

“Of course,” Temple said, “but I’m not sure I understand why Carlos was at the Euclid.”

Carlos started: “I told you — ”

“By my direction,” Penny repeated. “And that’s all I’m going to say for now.”

“You’re going to leave it at that? Do you have anything you can tell us that will aid our investigation? We’re trying to prevent any further kidnappings and deaths.”

Steve, Penny, and Carlos remained silent.

“May I contact you again?” Jasper asked, hopeful Penny would say yes, but Steve stiffened.

“If we learn anything, we’ll reach out to you. Do you have business cards?”

Temple and Jasper handed them each one of their cards.

“You can call me at anytime,” Temple said, and glared at Jasper, stopping him from saying the same to Penny.

They were promptly escorted from the building and back in the oppressive heat.

“Well, that was different. I’m not sure what to make of them.” Temple squinted and shielded her eyes.

“We got some info from them, and a bunch of weird hobbies. We need to put all this together and see what we can come up with.”

Temple’s phone erupted into When the Saints Come Marching In. “Ah, that’d be Vance. Hopefully they’ve come up with something on their end.”

Gravel crunched, the sound of tires rolling over loose rocks and pebbles. They’d almost rounded the building to where Temple had parked on Hump Street, but both of them stopped and gazed behind them.

A deep blue compact car sped off, but in the opposite direction, up Summer Street. A Yaris perhaps? Jasper squinted.

“Think the car is related?”

Temple shrugged and answered her cell. “Hold on one moment, Vance.”

“Eh. Probably not,” Jasper said. “Maybe I’m paranoid after our bizarre encounter among the toadstools.”

“No, you’re in a daze after drooling all over Princess Toadstool.”

Jasper grinned. “Good one.”