A dull grey fog flowed off of the harbor, street lights swaddled in flecked motes of moisture. Carruthers stared out into the formless void where light scattered and lost its way amongst billions of suspended water molecules. It felt like his efforts to unravel this case – bumbling and mostly directionless.
Baxley Shipping wasn’t the largest, but they had their own ship-to-shore gantry crane, which allowed unloading and processing of brightly colored shipping containers. Several containers were stacked in the nearby lot, access doors ajar like gaps in rectangular steel teeth.
The main office was a small two-story affair, grafted on to the side of a larger warehouse. Due to the peeling paint, it was hard to tell which had been there first. Carr yawned, billowing breath diffusing out the window into the mist. Only a little while longer.
The shipping business had razor-thin margins. The hours were long, and when a ship was late it would throw the entire schedule into disarray. The recession hadn’t helped any. Most of the bigger firms closed or relocated, leaving behind rows of cranes silently rusting in the salty air.
Carr kept thinking about Ray’s tone, the way his voice cracked as he explained the need for a containment team. It prompted Carr to do the same with the ambulance, both technicians were in full gear before they put the bartender on the stretcher. If he had seen them waddling down the street in their bright yellow suits, any other day he would’ve laughed out loud.
Carr wasn’t in a cheerful mood, not after tonight.
Switching on the radio, he flipped through the stations. A soulful wail from a jazz quartet filled the air. Notes hanging in the air like wisps of dreams, wandering, yearning to be free. The solo concluded on a minor note that tugged at his heart.
Up ahead, twin headlights punched through the fog with muted brilliance. Carr switched off the radio as the black sedan pulled up in front of the building. An older man emerged with a briefcase, followed by a shorter woman carrying two takeaway coffee cups.
Carr watched them enter the building, while he rolled up the windows. Time to get some answers.
The interior was basic, a few pictures of large container ships docked at port and sailing the open seas. This was a no-frills operation, down to the ugly nap carpeting and the used office furniture. The room faintly smelled like cigarette smoke.
Carr waited patiently as the administrative assistant concluded a phone call, half eaten doughnut in one hand.
“Yes, can I help you?”
“Detective Carruthers, I’m here to see the owner.”
She inspected his badge closely before turning and shouting through the open door, “Frank! Someone to see you!”
“Alright, alright. Come on in.”
She turned back and continued eating, opening a newspaper to the style section.
“Detective Carruthers. What brings you to my office so early?”
Frank was a portly man with graying hair, sitting behind a desk piled with invoices and contracts.
“Just you here today? I’d like to talk to some of your employees if you don’t mind.”
Frank removed his glasses, cleaning them with his tie.
“We aren’t due a shipment today. Most of the staff are on-demand, can’t afford too many full-timers.”
“Have any call in sick?”, Carr pressed the point carefully watching Frank’s reaction.
“At this point I have to ask, do you have a warrant? I can’t disclose information without proper procedure.”
This man was hiding something, Carr knew it. Carr also knew that he couldn’t demand details without a proper warrant. He was slipping, he should’ve called it in before he got out of the car.
“I can get one inside of ten minutes. How about we cut to the chase and you stop wasting my time.”
Frank glared at Carr over his bifocals.
“I think you’d better leave.”
“Keep that coffee warm. I’ll be right back.”
Carr walked through reception to the outer door, while switching on his two-way radio. It only took a few minutes to get the warrant, drowsy voices on the other end making him wish he had slept. Carr clipped the mic back on to his lapel, faint buzzing from his cell phone alerting him to a call.
“Carr.. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Ray is dead.”, the Chief’s voice was filled with sorrow. Carr stared at the gunmetal sky, feeling like the ground would swallow him whole. Ray had been a good friend, not just a co-worker. Another in a long list of the fallen.
“I see. Thanks Chief.”, Carr ended the call, pocketing his phone. That was it. Stuffing down his grief, he pushed past the startled assistant and thrust open Frank’s office door.
“Listen and listen good, I’ve got a warrant – so stop dicking me around.”
Frank waved off his hovering assistant as he leaned back in his office chair.
Carr pulled back a chair and sat down, drops of water pattering on the worn carpet.
“Tell me more about your employees. Specifically, anyone who has called in sick within the last two weeks.”
Frank stood, opening a drawer in the gray filing cabinet behind him.
“Going to take a while, we use paper files for employee records.”
“Then lets get started. Give me some of those and I’ll help.”
Frank handed Carr a heavy stack of manila folders, brimming with time sheets. From detective to paper jockey, the kid back at the station would’ve laughed his head off. Carr began paging through the forms, scanning for sick days.
Frank slammed down another stack, yelling at his assistant for more coffee.
This was going to take a while.
(To be continued.)