I thought it would be pitch black inside, but of course the roof had gone and the sky gave plenty of light. We weren’t in the main space yet. It was what had been some sort of office. The door into the main warehouse was a little more solid than the exterior one had been, but across the room an internal window offered easy access to the main part of the building.
It was madness inside. Collapsed roofing lay like a Satanic maze of blackened timber and steel framing, twisted and stinking. The floor was a mulch of soot and ash still soaked from the fire brigade’s efforts and subsequent rains. Nails, screws, roof ties, shards of glass lay in a frenzy of caltrops and punji traps. I tried to peer through the debris to see if the floor was solid or disguised deadly pitfalls.
‘This is crazy love. Look, we gave it our best shot. We can’t go in there, it’s a death trap.’
‘ Row C, block 5 section 1.’ She muttered in reply, and seconds later she stood before a giant steel pillar that had once supported the roof. I was still picking my way between hazards as she scraped a gloved hand through the carbon and revealed a peeling letter “B”. Before I could reach her, she was off to the next steel trunk. This one had caught more heat and the letter wasn’t as clear, but just visible through the encrusted filth was the curve of a ‘C’.
She was off among the sections of shelving and boxes and for a minute I lost sight of her as I navigated my way across the floor. There were ominous creaks and cracking sounds across the building but the fire had been a couple of weeks ago and I was hoping any major post conflagration collapses had already happened. No doubt a completely unfounded assumption but hope is a wonderful thing. At least the floor was concrete so I wasn’t going to end up ten feet below ground impaled on a tie rod.
I turned the corner by pillar “C” and about twenty metres away recognised the remains of my mother’s pride and joy. It was a Victorian thing of solid wood and although it was beyond recovery as a piece of practical furniture, it was surprisingly still recognisable as the awful sideboard of memory. Which was odd, as I thought it was supposed to be inside one of the steel containers. But there it was, half in the storage unit and half in the sludge and filth, And up to her shoulder in the compartment that had held the bottle drawer, which now lay discarded to the side, was Charlie.
‘What are you doing?’
She ignored me and pulled at something from inside the remains of the drawer.
It was a small bag. It hadn’t burst into flames but it looked charred. Charlie slid a box out. It was about twelve by six by six inches. She opened the lid and looked inside. By the time I had made my way here it was back in the bag and being tucked inside the backpack she had brought with her.
‘What is it? Is that what we’ve come for?’
She nodded. ‘We’d better go before anyone comes.’
‘Why does it matter? It’s our stuff isn’t it? You said we were entitled.’
‘I just don’t want to get into it here. Let’s go.
We were filthy after our foray into the warehouse. I was desperate to get the stink off me. ‘Let’s go and book into a hotel and get a shower. We can’t drive home like this.’ I said.
‘We can’t turn up anywhere in this state. And we can’t wreck the upholstery. Change first.’
I was about to ask how when she pulled a bin bag from her back pack.
We stood at the end of the tarmac lane and changed our outer clothes and shoes for the ones Charlie had brought.
‘Wallet out? Nothing else in the pockets?’
I shook my head, rapidly disoriented by the sudden turn of events.
She dumped the contaminated clothes and shoes in the bag and we went back to the car.
‘Look, what’s going on love?’
She said nothing, but drove a couple of blocks down the industrial estate we were in. She stopped the car, got out, motor running and dumped the bin bag in a skip.
Before I could protest she was back behind the wheel and driving.
‘Not like they’d be any use after being covered in that crap is it? She said, though I hadn’t asked
I shook my head. ‘I suppose not’.