Carruthers walked outside, closing the door behind him.
It took some prodding, but Frank finally produced a printout listing every container that had been shipped in the last two weeks. Cryptic number-letter suffix at the end of each line, like a street address, except the houses were stacked ten stories high.
He would need some help to inspect them all. Carr’s phone buzzed in his pocket, derailing his train of thought. A text, from the kid at the station.
Bartender critical, metro hospital isolation
Carr had to get down there. He had been so intent on saving the bartender’s life last night that he hadn’t asked any questions. This could be his last chance. The circle of infection was expanding, beyond the Red Rose and Baxley Shipping. Every moment counted, each lead radiating out from ground zero with fatal swiftness.
Carr tried to get the severed hand out of his mind, lying on the wet sidewalk. He could’ve sworn it twitched when he wasn’t looking directly at it. Might have been the lightning playing tricks with his eyesight, who knows. Shifting into gear, Carr rolled through the barricade waving at the officer on duty.
Metro Hospital loomed up ahead, red warning lights pulsing on the helipad. Brutalist architecture meant lots of concrete and narrow windows. It reminded Carr of the city jail, except the inmates were paying for their stay. He doubted the food was as good.
Carr eased into a parking spot near the Emergency entrance, putting his placard on the dashboard. He walked past an idling paramedic, through the double doors into reception. It was a quiet, just a few nurses filling out paperwork and checking their phones.
“Excuse me, Detective Carruthers for the recent patient in critical care.”
“Over there, down the hall and third door on the left. You’ll have to wear these – isolation ward.”
The nurse handed him a pair of gloves, mask and coverings for his shoes and head. Not a full hazard suit, but enough to keep things at bay as long as you kept your hands to yourself.
Carr donned the clothing, snapping the foot coverings into place with a awkward hopping motion. Doctor Quack, at your service. He felt a bit silly walking down the hallway, foot covers swishing on the white linoleum tile. The third door had a red sign stating “Isolation: Proper Attire Only”.
He stepped into the room, letting the heavy door close silently behind him. Blinking lights, soft whisper of a ventilator pumping air into a flexible tube. Sensor wires and clear drip tubes snaked into a port on the side of the plastic curtain. The bartender lay on a stretcher, encapsulated in the isolation tent.
Carr noticed that one leg was gone, pants folded up to the hip. The bartenders left arm truncated at the elbow, rounded end mottled and red. Multiple scarlet traces were ringing his neck, skin puckering around the edges. He couldn’t help but think of the head in the bathtub, bloodshot eyes staring at the ceiling.
He inserted a gloved hand through the port, gently shaking the large man by the shoulder.
“Hey. Wake up, need to ask you something.”
The bartender opened red-lined eyes, mouth half open. He shifted the mask off of his face, lips slowly moving.
Carr leaned in to hear, head pushing against the plastic.
“Couldn’t.. make… it…”, dry hacking cough filled the room.
“I know. I got the boys to bring you here. This is important, did you have any contact with employees from Baxley Shipping?”
“Yes. Guy came in last night. Crazy story.. half a rat crawled on his boot. Wanted to quit Baxley right there.”
Carr drew back, reconstructing it in his head. One guy comes in, shakes the bartenders hand and gets a drink. Then a buddy of his joins him, they have a few together before he heads home. One gets found on Kennedy Street, the other in the bathtub at his house.
The half-rat must’ve been a recent victim, shedding infecting particles on the worker’s boot. He must’ve wiped it off with his hand, or was careless when cleaning it with a rag. The end was the same, in any case. That was it, all cases pointed back to Baxley.
“Anything else?”, Carr leaned closer.
The big man grimaced, coughing loudly.
“Yeah. He didn’t tip worth a shit…”
A blue light flooded the room, EKG monitor squealing. Nurses burst through the door, pushing Carr out of the way. The EKG flat-lined. They started CPR, compressing the chest at regular intervals. Carr backed out of the room, out into the brightly lit hallway.
This wasn’t getting any better.
Carr stripped off the gloves and coverings, putting them in the bin marked with a tri-horned biohazard symbol. He washed his hands at the nurse station, using liberal amounts of cleanser. You couldn’t be too careful. Carr walked out to his vehicle, sliding into the driver’s seat.
Clicking the two-way mic, he radioed in to the station, updating the Chief on what he had learned.
The warehouse was the key. He was sure of it.
(To be continued.)