Carruthers tapped the accelerator, easing through another blinking-light intersection. Part of the city revitalization project, unsold condos and renovated warehouses sat in the unfolding darkness. The sidewalks were abandoned with bits of trash blowing about in fitful gusts of wind.
A soft tone pinged, alerting Carr to a call. He pulled over to the side of the road, wipers flailing in the downpour.
“Carr, its Ray. Whatever you do, don’t handle anything at the bar.”
Carr glanced at the morgue photo sticking out from the case folder.
“Can’t make any promises, already been there. What’s up?”
A burst of static as lightning flickered overhead.
“I don’t have confirmation yet, but I’ve found something that suggests this is spread by personal contact.”
“I was on my way over to you, and I have a few questions about–“
“No Carr, don’t come over here. I might be… compromised. I’ll explain later, there’s a containment crew on the way.”
Ray sounded shook up, like he had seen something that he shouldn’t have. In all of his years on the force, Carr had never heard Ray lose his composure. It was making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. This all felt wrong.
“Okay Ray, will do.”
The line went dead, leaving Carr staring at his home screen. He pocketed the phone, staring out into the rainswept cones of his headlights. The low rumble of the engine filtering through random percussion of raindrops on the glass. This was starting to bother him. Lots of loose ends, and not enough answers.
Carr opened the glovebox, rummaging through old receipts and scraps of paper. He never had gone fully digital, there were bits of other things he was working on filed away in his personal archive. Pushing them aside, he grabbed two blue nitrile gloves.
Snugging the gloves against his fingers, he fished out a small plastic ziplock bag. Carefully Carr edged out the morgue headshot into the bag, sealing the top securely. That should do it, you can never be too careful. Turning the gloves inside out, he tossed them into an old takeout bag.
If it was important enough for Ray to warn him, then he better take it seriously. Carr grabbed a few more pairs of gloves and stuffed them into his pocket. He wished he had a full facemask, but this would have to do. At least it wasn’t airborne, or otherwise Ray would’ve said so.
Carr put both hands on the steering wheel, drumming his fingers. It helped him think.
The bartender seemed to be hiding something. Carr rubbed his chin as realization struck. Grabbing the folder, he paged rapidly through the dossier until he found the officer report on the dead body. It was on Kennedy Street, not far from where Carr was right now.
Carr closed his eyes, visualizing the layout. The docks had once been the lifeblood of the city, but as time wore on the warehouses shuttered and only a few of the shippers had kept up with the crushing recession. Based on proximity, that left Baxley Freight down near Pier Two.
It was a long shot, but Carr didn’t have anything else to go on. He most certainly couldn’t drive back to the morgue.
Easing back into gear, he pulled away from the curb, swinging a wide U-turn in the middle of the street. It was only a few hours until dawn, and he could grab some shut-eye before they opened up in the morning. No rest for the weary. By the looks of it, the rain would continue until sunrise.
The rain started to slacken, down to a slight mist from a blinding torrent. Carr switched the wipers to “low”, reducing the frantic rhythm to an intermittent squeak. Up ahead, The Red Rose was on the right. Carr idled at the four-way intersection, as the bartender shut the door behind him and locked it up.
Carr switched off his lights.
He had his suspicions, which were amplified as the large man limped down the sidewalk. He appeared to be favoring his left hand, arm crooked at an odd angle as he lumbered down the street. Carr slowly followed, tailing him a half-block behind. The bartender lurched against the wall, crying out in pain.
As Carr watched, the man’s left hand dropped to the sidewalk.
The bartender curled up on the concrete, face twisted in anguish. Carr pulled up, jumping out into the rain. He slipped on two blue gloves, switching on his two-way radio clipped to his belt. The earpiece crackled with activity. He keyed the radio, requesting an ambulance.
The bartender was shaking violently, his severed hand glistening in the street lights.
Carr bent down on one knee, touching him on the shoulder.
“I’ve got help coming. Just hang in there.”
The big man grunted, a guttural noise filled with fear and pain.
Carr looked at the hand more closely. The red striations circled the wrist, crusted and terminating in the oddly-rounded end where the wrist should be. It looked just like the markings on the body in the morgue. Carr stepped back, wishing he had a face mask.
In the distance, the rising wail of sirens drew closer. Carr adjusted his hat, rain dripping off the brim in a steady stream. He would stay on the scene until help arrived, then check on Baxley. The misting rain slackened, as a stiff breeze whirled around him. A growing unease was brewing in his gut, bringing back past regrets.
Carr stared into the night, pinpoints of red light resolving into a boxy city ambulance.
He half wished he could just ride back to the hospital, into sterile rooms and the sharp smells of antiseptics. Carr shook his head, random facts churning in his mind. There was more to this, and it was staring him right in the face. He just had to find the right perspective.
Lightning crackled overhead, low rumbling like boulders rolling down a mountainside.
(To be continued.)