A three-foot diameter round exhaust vent, capped by a mushroom-shaped dome, squatted twenty feet from the edge of the roof. Low, brown metal roof flashing formed a domed curb, and the perimeter of the roof. We had been correct not to throw the grapnel. Kira removed the ropes and other descent gear from her backpack. I looped one rope around the exhaust vent, so I held the two lines like a necktie, and tied a base knot and gave them a few test tugs. The ropes pulled taut and solid. We now had twin lines to repel down. At approximately fifty feet, the ground was an easy rappel distance, especially after I secured a figure-eight knot through a pair of in-line karabiners and attached them to a harness on each of the lines. All Odera and Kira had to do were slip into a harness and drop over the edge. Friction created by the rope’s figure-eight pattern running through the karabiners would automatically regulate descent speed. Once they went over the edge, I would follow. We re-entered the plant and fed the padlock back through the hasp but left it unlocked. Secondary exit prepped and ready.
The yellow maintenance hatch leading into the manufacturing portion of the plant opened easily. Sweet and cloying chemical odours breezed over us. The factory floor stretched three-hundred feet long and forty feet across. Almost a dozen people slipped in and out of view. Five worked on production line stations pushing buttons and monitoring gauges and readouts, while others fulfilled secondary tasks. The line ran the length of the plant ― a series of linked components in a constant state of movement pulled the eye here and there. Stainless-steel hoppers and two one-hundred-gallon capsules fed a giant mixing vat powdered compounds and fluids. Once mixed, powerful pumps transferred the contents into a long central trough holding five hundred gallons of slurry. Two, one-ton rolls of grey paper, mounted on steel arms, spooled out. Stainless-steel nozzles disgorged thick fingers of grey slurry onto industrial-grade paper spooling off those giant steel tines. The paper advertised Cornerstone Gyprock’s logo. After the nozzles injected the slurry between the sheets of heavy paper, it passed between drum rollers that regulated thickness, removed air pockets, and spread it evenly.
Conveyor belts moved the continuous length of cocaine-filled wallboard through a forty-foot-long heated curing compartment where it hardened. Following the curing process, eight-foot-long horizontal knives trimmed excess product and squared edges. Trimmings fell into bins to be recycled. Squared and trimmed, the clacking conveyor belt moved the board past a long guillotine chopper that cut the continuous strip into four-by-eight-foot sheets and then stacked them when they rolled off the end of the line. Handlers wearing black respirators helped to settle each wallboard neatly on top. When the boards reached a certain quantity, one handler threw a switch to divert the line to start a new stack off to the right. Two different men secured the first bundle with twin nylon straps. A third man treated the bound bundle with a misting wand whose fine spray mist put a pungent chemical odour into the air. A forklift truck waited to cart away the bundled stack as the first two men positioned themselves to repeat the nylon strapping process on the diverted stack.
Anchored to the underside of the ceiling’s steel girders, iron rails ran from one end of the factory where a supply of giant industrial paper rolls sat, to the other end where hoppers fed the line’s insatiable appetite. Mounted on the rails, an electric hoist, chains dangling almost to the floor. It held a half-ton canvas bag bulging with powdered raw material. Three white capsule-shaped cylinders caught my eye near the hoppers and giant mixing vats. Ten feet tall, each cylinder was nearly twice as thick as a gas station’s propane refuelling tank. Red-lettered, fire hazard and explosive material caution symbols warned of volatility. Flexible, nonconductive feeder hoses connected the cylinders to the main mixing vat. A green sheathed copper grounding cable protected the cylinders from the dangers of static electricity.
Kira tapped my shoulder and pointed. One of two doors leading off the production floor now held our attention. That was our destination. It lay twenty feet from the cylinders. To get there, we must travel the length of the plant to where the cylinders sat. A three-foot-wide catwalk circled the production area at our height, twenty-some feet above the floor. It permitted access to a line of air filtration units. Most workers wore white painter masks, most wore black respirators with duel filters. Nearly all donned orange safety hats. According to the hazard signs on the white cylinders, the contents were caustic, flammable and explosive.The holy trinity.