Carruthers didn’t want to see another time sheet ever again. It had taken hours to sift through the records, cross-checking them with the monthly schedule. He had two leads. Technically only one, the john doe found dead on Kennedy Street was one of the workers who had called in sick.
Carr rubbed his face, he needed a good nights sleep. Looking in the rear-view mirror he could see dark circles under his eyes. What a wreck. Day old stubble and a loosened necktie. At least the address wasn’t too far, just on the outskirts of town.
Revving the engine, Carr shifted into gear pulling on to the elevated expressway. It would dump him right where the money ran out, where shiny office buildings faded into dilapidated three-story walkups and seedy liquor stores. Old neon signs buzzing in storefronts, imploring passers by to spend their last dollars.
The wave of prosperity had washed over the city and crashed hard at the borders. The riptide of poverty made for a bleak landscape. Bedsheets in windows instead of curtains, litter on the sidewalks. Even the street sweepers couldn’t keep up, and they didn’t dare stop on their rounds – the last one that had got robbed at gunpoint.
Carr eased off the ramp towards the intersection, framed by peeling traffic lights flashing in standby mode. No one came out here unless they wanted to hide, or couldn’t afford anything else. He didn’t feel better than these people, just the radiated pain reflected in every broken bottle, every sagging store front.
He counted off the blocks, turning left on a pot-holed street near the city limits. The street ended in a cul-de-sac punctuated by stripped cars resting on their bare axles. Scattered piles of green safety glass marking past break-ins. Carr swung around the circle, backing up to provide a speedy departure.
829 Ogden. One story affair with peeling paint and drooping gutters. The front porch was stacked with auto parts, rusting exhaust pipes leaned up next to a torn screen door. Carruthers carefully opened the screen door, pressing the doorbell.
Muted chimes sounded from inside.
Nothing. Just a fitful breeze stirring scraps of paper.
Carr walked around the side, stepping through a rusted gate into thigh-high weeds. The back yard was overgrown, columns of stacked tires graying in the morning light. Stepping up the back porch stairs, he peered through a half-opened window.
Darkness, the faint sound of a radio playing.
“Metro police, I want to ask you some questions. Anyone here?”
Still nothing. Carr pushed on the back door, which swung in with a long squeak. This wasn’t right. He unholstered his pistol, safety switched off. Entering the kitchen, Carr swept the room. Piles of dishes sat in the sink, festering. Flies buzzed around the dim fixture in the ceiling in lazy arcs.
An unmistakable smell hit his nostrils.
Carr found him in the bathroom, water still dripping into the tub. He put on his blue nitrile gloves, putting away his gun. There were a jumble of parts at the bottom of the tub, each rounded and mottled just like the man found on Kennedy Street. The head bobbed at the edge, hair moving like tentacles on a jellyfish.
This whole site could be contaminated. Carr hastily withdrew, going out the back and rushing towards his vehicle. He removed the gloves and hurled them into the takeout bag, joining the others. He’d have to dispose of that somehow, it was probably crawling with whatever had infected the poor sap in the tub.
Carr’s phone rang, vibrating in his pocket.
“Carr, you better get down to the warehouse if you’re not there now. Ray’s autopsy results has the CDC stepping in. You’re the point man in getting down to the bottom of this.”
“Roger that, Chief. Be there soon-as.”
He hung up, turning the phone like a worry stone between his fingers. Center for Disease Control meant more resources, but the stakes were going up. Titles 8 and 42 expressly permitted full quarantine of any potential assets involved in the transmission or spread of communicable diseases.
Frank at Baxley Shipping would have a fit. His entire inventory would be frozen until it was determined there were no potential infection vectors. Somehow the thought didn’t make Carr feel any better. Shifting into gear, he accelerated down the street, weaving to avoid the deeper pits in the asphalt.
The street in front of Baxley was a swarm of yellow tape and flashing lights. Carr flashed his badge at the officer on the line, who moved the barricade aside to let him pass. He had to give the Chief credit on this one, looked like every possible agency was represented on site.
He got out of the car, walking over to the sergeant in charge.
“Detective Carruthers, Chief put me on point for this one.”
“Have at it, the old man is giving me a headache.”, the sergeant waved Carr on, two-way crackling with updates.
Carr walked inside, greeted by Frank shouting at a visibly annoyed patrol officer.
“You can’t do this! I have a business to run! I pay my taxes, which means I pay your salary, so get out of here!”
“Frank. Shut it.”, Carr nodded to the cop, who stepped outside.
Frank blustered, hair askew. By the look of it he had been ranting for a while. His face was as red as a beet, circles of sweat under his armpits.
“You can’t talk like that to me–“
“I can, and I will.”, Carr stepped forward, staring Frank in the eyes. “You’re not only going to allow these people to do their jobs, you are going to calm down and let us save some lives.”
“What are you talking about, there isn’t anyone dead here.”
“Wrong again, Frank. The body we picked up on Kennedy Street was one of yours. The other I just checked on, he’s dead too. So shut up and sit down.”
Frank slumped into his chair, muttering under his breath.
“Now tell me about your most recent shipments. We’re going to have to check them all. We’ll need the keys to the warehouse.”, Carr drew up a chair, sitting opposite of the disheveled CEO.
(To be continued.)