The M5, M6 interchange had been insane as usual, but at least we didn’t hit it at rush hour so it only took us about fifteen minutes to crawl through rather than the half an hour plus I’d expected. Before we set out I’d asked all the questions you would, the main one being of course, “Why?”, but I hadn’t got any sensible answers. I’d insisted on ringing the insurers before we set out. They hadn’t been as much of a deterrent as I had hoped. They didn’t think the site was open, but they didn’t see any harm asking at the place itself. It has been a suspected crime scene, but the police had released it back to the owners. They and the fire brigade had done all the forensics they needed. The assessors and adjustors had been over the place and the insurance company didn’t think there would be any point in looking at a scene of smoky carnage, but they didn’t have any objection to us trying.
I suspected the intention was rather more than just looking but I kept that bit to myself and ended the call.
‘They think it was arson. Probably some sort of insurance scam.’
‘I thought so. The arson I mean.’
She accelerated smoothly through the traffic, avoiding the crush to get off at the Wolverhampton turn off.
‘What are we going to do when we get there?’ I asked again. Even I was getting bored with this line of questioning, but I was even more frustrated by the lack of a convincing answer.
‘I just want to have a look, okay?’ she said for the umpteenth time.
I slumped down into my seat again.
‘Hell of a way to spend a day off.’
It looked a lot worse in the ashes than it had sounded in the letter. The complex had been part of an old set of warehouses from the late nineteenth century, repurposed successively over the years as light engineering works, wholesale fabric outlets, dodgy import export stores and latterly units catering for the mass expansion of the ownership of things. Things too numerous, too cumbersome, too unwanted to fit in modern homes, but not unwanted enough to be binned forever, just yet. A limbo for consumer capital acquisition.
A large car park next to the skeletal remains of the main building had been jammed with containers, part of a self store facility. The entrance to the whole compound was through a wire link fence locked with a thick chain and a massive padlock. The remains of blue and white police tape fluttered from the posts either side of the gate.
There were no obvious signs of life and even if there were people inside, which seemed unlikely given the padlocked gate, no way of attracting their attention. There was a security camera on a pole but it lay in the prone position, filming the sky. Except it wasn’t. The cable at the bottom had been ripped from the ground when the pole had been knocked over. By a fire engine, police vehicle or whoever had set the fire wasn’t clear.
‘Shall we go home now?’ I asked.
Ten minutes later I was trying to slide through a broken bit of fencing on a disintegrating tarmacked track between the main building and an even more dilapidated version next door.
‘Come on, hurry up.’ Charlie snapped.
‘I’m trying. My shoulders are wider than yours.’ I said, managing to unsnag myself from a bit of trailing wire. ‘We’re bound to be on cctv somewhere you know?’
‘Keep your face down then. You know how crap the quality of these things is. They’ve just had a major fire. All that smoke? All that heat? All that water? Even if they are working they aren’t going to give a clear picture. Just don’t go staring into them, looking for them.’
I knew that but I still didn’t understand what we were doing. Love makes you do mad things but driving two hundred miles and breaking into a burnt out warehouse had never crossed my mind as a sign of devotion until now.
We shuffled through the trampled nettles and willow herb and after about twenty metres came to what had once been a small doorway, boarded up after a change of use, but now rotted through and burnt. The hinges and lock were sound but as I saw when she pushed through the flimsy planking, no longer attached to anything sound enough to pose a bar to entry.