The clinic was empty, boarded up, and burned.
“They were more thorough than I thought they would be,” Anna said, testing the charring around the edges of one of the door frames.
“The fire department says that this location burned down three weeks ago,” Tam said.
“Which means Izzy’s doctor pals decided to bug out a few days after she went missing,” Val said. “They are not the most laid back bunch of people it seems.”
The Mulberry Park Associates building was where Izzy had gone through the majority of her procedures. It wasn’t a particularly isolated location. No lonely mansion on a windswept outcropping, or other suitably mad science sort of locale. It was, or had been, a decently sized three story office building, set on an open parcel of land near a small shopping center. Before the fire the building had been colored in a sandy shade of cream that was just mild enough to appear harmless and yet offer the eye no noteworthy features to alight upon.
The fire had changed that, rendering the building into a hollow, gutted wreck with an interior that was dark enough, even in the broad daylight, to suggest unnatural shadows waiting to pounce on the unwary.
“Unfortunately, paranoia is working in their favor in this case,” Anna said.
“Maybe not,” Tam said, She’d left her laptop behind and was fiddling on her smartphone instead. “This was a high-end research facility right?”
“Yeah, but the fire cleaned up any traces they might have left behind, didn’t it?” Val asked from inside the building. A little thing like the door being nailed shut hadn’t been a sufficient deterrent to keep her out.
“It did, at least inside the building,” Tam said. “But the equipment Izzy described wasn’t listed in the fire department’s Incident Analysis Report. High end gear like that may have been too pricey for them to let burn up in a fire.”
“Or, perhaps, they didn’t want to have to explain why a simple primary care practice had enough imaging machinery to put all the hospitals in the state to shame,” Anna said.
“That makes sense too. The fire wasn’t hot enough to completely slag something like an MRI machine and if it had been that would have been incredibly suspicious all on its own,” Tam said.
“So if they took the special gear away before the fire that means that there was some hauling that was done,” Val said. “Maybe at night so people wouldn’t see the building being emptied before it burned?”
“Maybe, but these folks have been reasonably smart, so I bet they did it in the middle of the day,” Tam said. “For something like this, it’s less about not being seen, there’s too many buildings and people around her to guarantee that. What you want is for people to see you and think you’re doing something else. Something they don’t care about.”
“Linens,” Anna said. “Hospitals and hotels send out their laundry to bulk processing plants. I would venture to guess that they have a truck with a Linen company’s logo which they used to get the equipment into the building in the first place and which drove the machines to their home.”
“If it’s their truck though, it’ll be a little challenging to track down won’t it?” Val asked from the far side of the buildings lobby.
“We can narrow it down some if we can confirm that Anna’a guess is right.” Tam said.
“Our luck with witnesses will be poor,” Anna said. “The fire was too memorable an event. It will dominate their thoughts and eclipse the lesser details from the day.”
“Maybe, but we could we ask the people who were used to seeing the delivery truck,” Val said. “If it was a linen truck, then the building’s janitorial staff might remember which company it was.”
“Wouldn’t they be in PrimaLux’s pocket too though?” Tam asked.
“Did PrimaLux own this building directly?” Anna asked.
“It’s hard to say.” Tam checked the notes she’d copied to her tablet. “Definitely not directly, but the actual owner is a property management company, so Prima could have a stake in them that I can’t track down.”
“They might, but even if so, the two operations would be kept separate and unaware of each other,” Anna said. “As you mentioned, they have been behaving with intelligence so far. Secrets stay hidden when as few people as possible know of them.”
“Can you find out who was employed here?” Val asked as she exited the building. There’d been nothing left inside that offered any clues, just as she’s suspected before she entered.
“Sure, I’ve already got that list. I just need to filter it down a bit,” Tam said.
The visit to the ex-janitorial staff of the Mulberry Park Associates building turned up gold faster than anyone had expected it would.
“Yeah, I remember the truck that came in that day,” Clara Bellingford said, putting the menu she’d been reading back onto its holder. The Pink Elephant diner didn’t have a large menu, so it hadn’t taken her long to decide on what she wanted. Her new friends were treating and not having to worry about the cost for a change made things a lot simpler too. “It was a big 18-wheeler. Had a sign on the side that said ‘Pure Stream Cleaning’. Used to swing by once a week or so on Mondays, but that Tuesday it came back for a special pickup. Then the building burned down and I lost my job.”
Clara made the last bit sound bright and cheerful, when it was anything but.
“No luck finding any other work yet?” Tam asked.
“Every place needs to be cleaned but no one wants to pay anyone to do it,” Clara said.
“Did your former employers give you any severance pay?” Anna asked.
“Not really. They said the fire burned up too many of their assets and that their money was all tied up until insurance sorted things out,” Clara said. “We got a full week’s pay but they said not to go anywhere because the police might want to question us about the fire in case one of us set it.”
“How many people did you work with?” Val asked.
“There were twelve of us. Two shifts of three people each spread out enough to keep us all at part time,” Clara said, “Some of them bounced back quick. They had family who could get them in somewhere. The rest of us were just left flapping in the wind though.”
“That sucks,” Val said, joining the group with a platter of sweet teas that she’d liberated from the overworked waitress.
“We might be able to make it suck a bit less though,” Tam said. “We know someone at the Marigold estates. There’s a position open there if you want it? I think we can put in a good word for you too.”
“That’s nice of you, but you don’t have to go to all that trouble,” Clara said.
“It’s no trouble,” Anna said. “You are helping a friend of ours, it is only right that we help you.”
“Well that would take a world of weight off my shoulders,” Clara admitted.
“Here’s a card for the Custodial Services Manager there,” Tam said. “On the back I wrote the number for our liaison with the Marigold Estate. If you have any trouble getting through to the Manager, just give JB a call and he’ll get things sorted out.”
The Pure Stream Cleaning company had two offices in the Greater Atlanta area. One was the corporate office while the other was the plant which did the cleaning and transport of the clothes and linens for a variety of businesses in the Atlanta area. Tam was more than slightly annoyed when all her efforts to break into the business office quietly failed to up the required information, not because they were caught but because the shipping manifests were only kept at the processing plant.
“What kind of luddite company still relies on nothing but paper records!” she revved the engine on her bike almost fast enough to catch up with Anna, who was, as ever, still in the lead.
The break in at the laundering plant was more rushed and slipshod than the one at Pure Stream’s business office had been. Tam argued that picking the lock with a crowbar was a perfectly viable option and neither Anna nor Val had the heart to disagree with her.
The paperwork they needed fortunately did turn out to be there, though it took them long enough to find it that Val had to put a roaming security guard in a sleeper hold when he came too close to discovering them.
Maurice Clevenger, the security guard in question, woke up a minute later with a terrible headache but no further damage. Since nothing was disturbed or missing as far as he could see, he very quietly went back about his rounds without trying to explain why he’d unexpectedly passed out on the job.
A few days later he visited his doctor for a physical, driven to it for the first time in years by the worry from his fainting spell. No cause for the fainting was determined but the blood work did reveal an elevated white blood cell count which lead to an early diagnosis and successful treatment of the prostate cancer he wasn’t aware had been developing.
The cleaning company’s shipping records didn’t list the pickup from the Mulberry Park building, but they did list the trucks that had been in service, and the transponder codes for the ones that were theoretically parked in the lot that day. Tam cross referenced that list with the telematics data that showed when trucks left and arrived to discover that one of the 18-wheelers had apparently been taken for a joyride the day before the fire consumed the Mulberry Park building.
“They have telematics and GPS on their trucks but they print everything out to store on paper records? Oh my god this company needs to be shutdown!” Tam said as she searched for the addresses of the company’s senior management with plans to wreck a horrible and unspecified vengeance on them for their poor management practices.
“That is less important at the moment than discovering where our delivery truck dropped off the missing equipment,” Anna said.
Stealing the GPS data was so trivial that Tam felt obligated to rewrite the information in the device’s flashrom to always pick the third slowest route out of the top ten options it could calculate.
The Wainwright Health facility, the spot the GPS data pointed them too, was cut from the same overly sanitized block as the Mulbery Park building had been. Unlike the burnt husk that remained in Mulberry Park though, the Wainwright building was whole and well lit. Somehow it captured the same uninviting air as its ruined twin though.
“Do we wait and come back tonight?” Val asked.
“No, I don’t think we give them that chance,” Anna said.
“What’s the plan then?” Tam asked.
“Very simple. We are going to walk in and take the information we need,” Anna said and began striding directly towards the front door.
Val and Tam exchanged quick looks, reading the surprise in each others faces and, with a shared shrug, trotted forward to catch up with Anna’s long strides.
“Hello, can I help you with anything” the receptionist said. He was a brown haired, mildly handsome, young man who could have been pulled from any college campus in a three state radius.
“That will not be necessary,” Anna said, glancing around the interior without bothering to look at him. She didn’t break her stride at all before venturing through a door that lead into back of the building.
“You can’t…” the receptionist began to say.
“It’s fine, we’re here for the records” Val said, cutting him off. She met his gaze briefly before turning away like that was all the explanation she was required to give.
Tam said nothing at all, instead adopting an expression somewhere between disinterest and casual malice. The receptionist didn’t try to meet her gaze. It seemed like a poor idea to attract her attention if he didn’t need to.
Anna navigated them through the corridors of the office building, setting a pace that didn’t look frantic or hurried but conveyed a sense of purpose. She didn’t avoid encountering people either. She made them avoid her.
At least until they got where they were going.
In the basement they found the room where the MRI machine and other medical gear had been stored, or setup again.
“We have a problem,” Val said as they took in the large open room before them.
There was more than scanning equipment waiting for them in the basement. In close to two dozen glass and metal canisters there were bodies frozen in a dreamless, breathless sleep.
Izzy wasn’t the only vampire the doctors had made. She was just the only one still walking around.