Flashing lights and blaring sirens on the drive back to Baxley. Carruthers didn’t like going full-bore, but sometimes there was no other choice. Time was passing at an alarming rate, what had been early morning wore into noon and was rapidly becoming evening rush-hour, cars clogging streets with weary commuters.
The bartender hadn’t made it. The nurses and doctors tried their best, but there was not much left to save. The body had been wrapped in a plastic cocoon, awaiting a full autopsy under the direction of the Center for Disease Control. Since Carr was the point man on the case, the technicians were waiting for him to arrive before inspecting the warehouse.
Frank had been full of surprises, and Carr didn’t trust him. He had to use every skill in his arsenal to get Frank to disclose what he knew. The only reason Frank wasn’t in an interrogation room was the time-sensitive nature of the problem. Baxley’s ancient record keeping wasn’t helping any.
The only reason Carr had a inventory printout at all was due to regulatory requirements, Baxley furnishing manifests and responding to inquiries. He was sure Frank would’ve preferred everything be done on a handshake and a liquid lunch if he could get away with it. It smacked of shady dealings, making him think Frank had some contracts he wasn’t talking about.
Money made people do stupid things.
When he was young and naive, Carr got wrapped up in a deal that ended up being a Multi-Level-Marketing scam. What he had thought was a good friend introduced him to it. The lure of easy cash was too hard to ignore. It took years to restore his credit, after his “friend” bolted with the funds leaving him twisting in the wind. It taught him a lesson, always do your own diligence on a deal.
Carr rolled through the barrier, pulled aside at speed due to his obnoxious entrance. He switched off the lights and sirens, pulling into a spot near the main entrance. Frank was smoking a cigarette outside, scowling at officers and yellow-suited hazmat techs.
Carr wished he had brought the kid in on this one, let him deal with Frank’s bluster while he got down to the real digging. Army of one, master of none – like they say. He strode up to Frank, nodding at the officer tasked with babysitting duty.
“Another body cooling on a slab, Frank. You better be on the level before anyone else dies.”
Frank eye’s widened, he coughed mid-inhale, sputtering, “You can’t talk to me like that–“
“So I keep hearing. The only thing I want from you is the truth.”, Carr locked eyes with the bedraggled CEO, refusing to blink first.
“I gave you everything, I swear.”
“We’ll see about that. Got a team inbound to audit your records.”, Carr stepped around Frank, headed towards the entrance.
“What? I have it organized the way I want, you can’t do that – I got shipments coming and bills to pay!”, Frank grabbed Carr’s wrist, pleading like a child.
“We can, and we will. You’ve got nothing coming, Frank. Harbor master already told them to expect a full inspection when they arrive. Nothing is moving off of those boats until we know its safe.”
Frank let go, slumping against the weathered grey wall. Carr almost felt sorry for him. Almost. There was an undercurrent there that he couldn’t put his finger on, and it bothered him.
Carr pushed on past the front office, to a small utility room that had been repurposed as a staging area. The entire interior had been draped in thick plastic, held up by an adjustable frame. Furniture that couldn’t be moved were indistinct lumps rising from the ground, edges taped and secured against tearing.
Technicians handed Carr some disposable coverings, spraying down the outer surfaces with a chemical wash. The suits hung on a rack past a plastic curtain. Part of the room had been sectioned into a improvised airlock. Two steel benches gleaming in the portable floodlights.
He stepped into the full gown, gloves and shoe coverings wrapped tight on his hands and feet. Turning in the confined space, he received a spray treatment before moving on to the changing area. The air was sharp and tinged with chemicals. Donning the suit, technicians made sure the zipper was sealed with tape before doing another spray-down.
It was like being in a car wash, except the windshield was a rounded rectangle of plastic, any leaks inviting horrible disease. He imagined an array of flopping brushes doing a final pass over his body, coating the suit with a thin layer of auto wax.
The techs halted, looking at each other with puzzled expressions.
“Just kidding. Lets pop the cork and see what we’ve got.”
The interior door had been cut out and replaced with a flexible aperture. Carr stepped through, into the brightly lit space beyond. The containment team had been busy. The warehouse was too big to enclose from outside, so every container block had been draped and encapsulated, with room for portable scaffolding containing stairways to each level.
A low ceiling of plastic was supported by portable struts, each strapped with glowing LED lights. It looked like something out of a science fiction movie. This would be the part where an alien would appear, dripping slime and baring several sets of teeth.
If only it were that obvious. They had plenty of containers to check, and going by the manifest, they would start with the most recent additions. Carr felt tired just looking at it. A dry patch in his throat made him cough, forgetting he was wearing a suit – his gloved hand hit his facemask with a dull thud.
“Sorry, reflex. Let’s get started.”
Technicians began to fan out, each holding a copy of the manifest. Carr cleared his throat, keying the radio on his utility belt.
“Do it by the numbers. Give a shout if you find anything of interest.”
Carr walked up to the nearest column, climbing the shiny metal stairs.
(To be continued.)