Lucky tucked his wallet into the glove compartment, taking only his badge, gun, work cell phone, and the flashlight. He hiked through a dense stand of trees to reach the building’s loading docks. The van still sat parked outside.
Two men stepped out of an open loading bay access, one stopping to lower the metal door behind him. A few minutes later they drove away. Lucky made a quick circuit around the building before venturing up the stairs to the docks. A padlock secured the loading door. He found the other entrances similarly secured. While no lock stopped Lucky for long, he didn’t want to leave evidence that’d he’d been there.
Giving up on an easy entry, he slithered up the gnarled kudzu vine, wider around than his wrist in some places. It would have been one hell of a lot easier to climb with tennis shoes, instead of the lace-up business shoes mandated for the uniform, and once or twice he clung to the vine to keep from falling. He peered through a broken window on the third floor. With the sun shining on the other side of the building, and an overhanging roof and the kudzu providing shade, the space appeared dark, even hours before sunset.
He wriggled through the window. His feet connected with the floor, slipped and Wham! He landed flat on his back, breath whooshing out. Screek, screek, screek!Lucky rolled to his feet, snapping the borrowed Q-Beam on and aiming it at the ceiling. Wings fanned up a breeze as two dozen or more upside down bodies screeched in protest.
Bats! He wrinkled his nose in disgust at the bat shit now smeared on his arms and pants. What a fucking smell! Using the wall for handholds, he rose and gingerly picked his way across the slippery wooden floorboards, breathing a sigh of relief once he’d cleared the exit.
Down rickety stairs he climbed, clutching a rusted iron railing. Outside the sun shone, but the mostly boarded up windows let in little light. For a moment Lucky wondered what the place had looked like in its heyday, back when textile mills provided the lifeblood for sleepy little towns. His grandfather once worked in a similar place. Lucky shuddered. How in the hell had the man worked indoors eight hours at a time, doing the same ole, same ole, day in, day out?
Thick grime spoke of long disuse, until he reached the bottom level. A ray of sunlight shone through a crack in the wall, dust particles dancing in the beam. The scent of decay hung heavy in the air, along with grease and oil smells from years ago.
At the base of the stairs he found an office, old metal desk overturned and graffiti spattering the walls. A file cabinet stood empty and open. He tiptoed down the hall on plank flooring, gritting his teeth at the creak and grind of rotting wood. The kudzu vine grew on the far left, with the loading docks around the back. That meant… This way! He turned left at the next hallway. “What th—” He shrank back, biting off a shout. A rat scuttled out of the way of his Q-Beam’s glow.
“You leave me alone, I’ll return the favor,” he muttered under his breath. Eerie, creepy silence. No traffic noises, no voices, no electrical hum of machinery. Prickles rose on Lucky’s arms. Walter in lecture mode; the honks, beeps, and squealing brakes of downtown Atlanta at rush hour; hell, even his neighbor’s never-ending rap music beat the total absence of sound.
After passing a men’s bathroom and what might have once been an employee break area, he stepped out into a cavernous room with soaring ceilings and unboarded windows. A bird took wing, flitting among the rafters overhead.
Wood and metal racks that probably once held raw cotton or finished fabric appeared cleaned and somewhat patched, the floor less filthy than the rest of the building. Cases upon cases sat piled in a corner. Lucky set the Q-Beam down and ripped the top from one of the cartons. Roughly two dozen glass vials stared back at him. He held one up to the light. Unless he missed his guess, the vial matched the one he’d held in his hand in the conference room at Rosario.