Excerpts from Silent Crusade
The sidewalks in downtown Toronto were streaming with people as the business day in Canada’s largest city came to an end. Office workers fled their cubicles and corner offices, rode elevators and escalators away from the daily grind and flooded out of the concrete towers to join in the afternoon rush outside.
Thousands of men and women thankful for the end of the workday were now working their way toward their ride home so they could enjoy the beautiful spring evening. It was the middle of May in Southern Ontario, and the daytime temperature was already hovering around the mid-twenties. Outdoor patios quickly filled as workers exchanged spreadsheets and desk chairs for menus and a seat at a patio table where they could relax and enjoy their favourite beverages.
Those who longed for the sanctity of their suburban homes joined the torrent of sidewalk traffic and drained down the concrete steps into the subway station where they fought against the rising tides of fellow commuters then patiently waited for the next available train to take them far from downtown. The platforms in the tunnels filled to overflowing with every passing minute. The trains scheduled one after the other with five or six cars to a unit. As fast as one pulled out the next would arrive, and people wedged themselves in for the ride home.
A young couple with their two small children stood near the front of the queue poised to climb on a train that slowly eased up to the loading area. The train had just arrived but was already near capacity with people from previous stops. With the small children’s hands held securely, the young couple playfully avoided departing commuters as they squeezed through the open doors. The little family still exuberant from their big trip into the teeming city, the children excitedly talking about all the sites they had visited that day.
Jostling the young family from behind came a group of sharply dressed businessmen, Bay Street types. The group of mid twenty something financial interns had only enough room to enter the car behind the family and were forced to huddle together tight against the train doors while some of their co-workers lagged behind shoving and bumping other commuters aside trying to board the same train.
The Bay Street workers moved with arrogance and lack of respect that depicted convoluted thoughts of self-entitlement to be placed ahead of others because of their important jobs on Bay Street. The ticker watchers were unable to fathom the unyielding response from the other commuters who refused to move aside for them, the egos of these young up and coming financial gurus bolstered their attitudes in a skewed self-justification about the rudeness they displayed to the other subway commuters.
The second set of suits hesitated at the open car doors long enough for a burka-clad woman to slide around them and stuff herself into the last crevice of room remaining before the cars doors slid shut. The men stood at the front of an ever-growing crush of people that pooled outside the doors, forced to wait for the next train.
The packed rail car doors slid shut, and the train started its slow crawl away from the platform. A short blast of the train's whistle served as the only warning followed by the grind of steel wheels on an iron track.
A couple of feet into its journey the side of the train car erupted in a massive explosion. In an instant, the people packed tight against the inside doors, and closest to the epicentre of the bombing perished, long before their brains had a chance to register the bright flash and searing pain brought on by the blast. They were the lucky ones.
The passengers packed deeper in the car were not as fortunate. The outward force of the explosion intensified by the heat and shrapnel moved like a wave radiating from the doors and through the unsuspecting passengers. The train car rocked violently on the tracks. Simultaneously the side of the car facing the platform exploded outward in a tsunami of flames, scorched air and flying debris both metal and human. The shock wave from the bomb tossed the stacked throngs of commuters backward in a domino-like action.
Before the deafening reverberations of the blast had died down screams of pain and fear started gradually then reached a loud crescendo adding a bizarre soundtrack to the ethereal scene happening underground. There were only a few seconds of suspended disbelief before the chaos spread throughout the long subway tunnel.
The commuters crowded on the platform closest to the epicentre of the explosion that were able to move rushed from area of the smoking wreckage and stampeded over fellow passengers as they scrambled for the stairs leading out of the tunnel. Hundreds of disoriented and frightened travellers stumbled around in the now flickering emergency lights and met a wall of arriving patrons blocking their escape.
As the realization of what had happened started to make its way throughout the subway tunnel, countless numbers of other commuters joined in the crush of people. Human carnage marked a bloody trail of retreat across the platform first by pieces of the fragmented train car driven into the bodies by the explosion and then by the stampeding hoards of commuters racing for the exit.
The adjoining subway cars laid as twisted wrecks on the tracks. A chorus of wailing and frightened screams joined the smoke and flames rising in the air. The passengers closest to the explosion died instantly, but they were a small percentage of the impacted people.
The solid wall of people packed on the subway platform immediately in front of the exploding car and in the two adjacent cars received the brunt of the damage by the outward force as broken glass, and other debris hurled their way.
A thick, black, toxic cloud of smoke followed on the heals of the river of commuters rushing up the stairs leading out of the tunnel to the street above. Pedestrians on the sidewalks stopped to gawk at the scene that was unfolding, cell phone cameras by the hundreds appeared to document every minute of the calamity.
The people in the patios and on the streets above the subway station thought that an earthquake had struck Toronto. Drinks shook and sloshed over the tops of glasses onto the packed patio tables while the workers who remained in the surrounding office towers ducked under their desks for protection as their offices swayed and trembled.
Within minutes of the explosion the emergency lines at the 911 call centers were inundated with hysterical people phoning in about the blast. The switchboards quickly started to overload as operators tried to piece together what the rash of excited callers was reporting: some callers were crying, others yelling in panic.
Soon cooler heads with years of training at the call centre prevailed, notifying first responders. The police were called to shut down the streets; the fire departments and EMS were dispatched to help the wounded and on their heels came the news cameras. An attack of this sort had never happened in Canada before…BREAKING NEWS...Stop the presses…
The arrival of the local police was heralded with the wailing of sirens as they fought to clear the busy street of traffic and dazed commuters to allow the fire department and the paramedics’ access to the area. Fire trucks arrived seconds after the police, the magnitude of the catastrophe demanded all departments from across the city be sent to help with the evacuation of the tunnel. Emergency responders from outlying suburbs made their way through the town toward the train station, the sounds of sirens and honking horns filled the air. Every hospital in the Greater Toronto area was put on standby and told to prepare for the onslaught of wounded.
John Beener, a twenty-five year veteran with the fire department was one of the first to arrive on the scene and enter the damaged train tunnel. In all his years of service, he figured he had seen every kind of human tragedy there was to witness, many of the memories remaining with him would always steal sleep from him at night. He had grown as acclimated as one could be in this line of work so as to not go crazy.
Without hesitation, he rushed into the tunnel swimming against the tide of commuters desperately struggling to make their way out. He paused at the bottom of the stairs to survey the damage; the flickering lights, horrifying screams, and clouds of thick smoke greeted him as he got his bearings. The lights in the tunnel flickered off and on adding a strobe effect, the macabre scene flashing before his eyes. Thankful for the mask on his face he slowly made his way through the dense black smoke, his head swinging left and right as he took in the horror of the whole scene.
He fought his way to the train car closest to the entrance and pried open the bent doors freeing the trapped commuters. As other emergency crews caught up with him and offered their help, John continued to work his way to the centre car. There was a huge hole blown in the side of this car. Several dead bodies lay stacked on the floor inside, small fires still burning on the clothing on some of the bodies. He was once again thankful for the mask he was wearing; the smell of burnt flesh would be atrocious.
John carefully stepped among the bodies in his search for the injured. He waded farther into the carnage slowly checking for survivors amongst the jumble of limbs and debris. Noticing a movement Beener stopped and reached down to grab the hand of a young woman. Just as his hand gripped her arm, he lost his balance and started to stumble. Catching himself, he quickly straightened up then on steady feet he looked down at his hand. In it was a ladies arm, her hand still gripping the hand of a small child.
Twenty-five years on the force and he figured he had seen it all…well not entirely…John’s brain shut down…he was frozen on the spot…he was barely breathing. When he was finally able to move, he opened his hand letting the arm fall, left the damaged car and walked down the platform past the other train cars.
With trembling hands he pulled his breathing mask and helmet off and leaned over the side of the platform. The lunch he had enjoyed a short time ago came gushing out of his mouth as his stomach heaved again and again. Without even bothering to wipe his face he sat down, a vacant look in his eyes and proceeded to cry. Twenty-five years of faithful service…ended.
Help poured into the area all through the afternoon well into the night and into next day. Cities close to the disaster area sent all the available responders they could spare to help out. It was late the next day before all the bodies were removed either to the hospitals or makeshift morgues. While the emergency workers were attending to the wounded, investigators from the R.C.M.P. and CSIS roamed the wreckage and worked alongside the local police in search of clues.
In the city attending a business conference the Canadian Prime Minister, Darren Reynolds was notified of the subway bombing. With little in the way of an apology he left the meeting and rushed to the site of the tragedy. Surrounded by his protection detail, he exited his car and stood amongst the responders and the wounded, mesmerized by the unthinkable act of terror.
The Prime Minister ignored the advice from his protection detail and rolled up his sleeves to assist the first responders as the wounded were evacuated from the tunnel. Through words of comfort, he consoled and reassured the victims. His job as Prime Minister was to ensure the safety of the citizens of this country, they had elected him to the job, and he had let them down. Now it would be up to him to right this wrong.
Deeply saddened by the leagues of wounded and terrified commuters he remained among the victims and the emergency workers supporting the victims and praising the rescuers. Time and again he paused and surveyed the carnage…each time his anger rose…he became furious…mad as hell… He wanted every law enforcement agency in the country working on this; he wanted answers, and he wanted them fast.
There would be no rest for the agencies working this tragedy and there would be no hiding for the terrorist cowards who caused this. By God, he would find them. The investigators would have every tool at their disposal; Parliament would bring in new bills allowing the police services greater access to information to aid the investigation and no law enforcement agency in this country would rest or be allowed to forget this heinous, cowardly act until all the perpetrators faced justice.
His next step he decided was to gather together his defence advisors and military leaders to discuss and formulate a plan for preparing and securing the country against any further attacks. He didn’t care how many law enforcement officers it took, all the usual suspects would be watched that much closer, and he dared the opposition to question the money needed for such an enormous task. He would tear them apart on the Parliament floor if he had to!
One of the first things he meant to do when he was back at his office was to call his close ally south of the border, the President of the United States. It was the time they had another serious talk about ending this rabble coming out of the Middle East, the constant threats, the attacks on other allied countries and now this. The cowards want to hide behind masks and women and children while they spread their terror around the globe, it was about time they got their due. The conversation would include the use of bombs, not building or city-destroying bombs; country-destroying bombs would be the only way to send a clear enough message.
He had already been in heated discussions with leaders from other allied countries that had suffered the same fate he was now witnessing. Several of the allied leaders were currently pressuring the U.S. President to up the size and scale of the defensive the Western World was deploying against terrorism in the Middle East. The States led the fight and had the kind of bombs that were needed, the rest of the countries didn’t.
The terrorist attack on Toronto was the third such attack of its kind in as many months. Two months prior England suffered an attack of the same magnitude and only a month before that France reeled after a deadly series of bombings that had crippled the country leaving the French people mourning for their dead and wounded. The whole western world was furious at the escalated attacks that had taken place, and now Canada was added to that list.
The Prime Minister was now more resolute than ever to add his voice and the full support of the nation to back Canada’s allies, determined to stop the spread of this terrorist plague by taking the fight back to the terrorist’s front door and stomping it out at its source.
The bombing missions and the other feeble attempts by the allied forces that were used to try and stem the spread of terrorism had so far failed; the time had come to drop bombs that catch the terrorist's attention, bombs starting in the N-class. Time to get serious and end the threat once and for all. The American weapons were designed to solve problems like this, and past events proved that they weren’t afraid to pull the big boys out and use them.
Before Brand walked onto the airplane in Saskatoon, he dialled Sara’s phone number. He had been out of phone service for a week now and was looking forward to hearing her voice. They hadn’t gone this long without speaking since she moved to Calgary the previous fall and although he would never admit it to anyone, he missed her and was eager to talk to her.
His phone rang several times then went to her voice mail. He decided against leaving a message. He would be back in Calgary in a couple of hours, and he could talk to her then.
He boarded the plane and found his seat, fastened his seatbelt and stared out the window. He was looking forward to sleeping in his bed once again, but the first thing he wanted on arrival was a quick shave and shower and hopefully a late supper date with Sara. After spending the past week in the remote fishing camp, he realized he was now ready to get back to the city life. He nestled in his seat while the airplane taxied down the runway.
As a retired CSIS officer turned fishing guide, Brand took advantage of the opportunity to visit new locations in Canada and check out the fishing. When some of the other guides he had befriended throughout the years suggested he join them on a fly-in trip to a remote lodge on Lake Athabasca, he jumped at the chance. It was early June, and the ice was just coming off the massive lake. The lodge the group stayed at was located on the Saskatchewan side of the lake and that far north in that province always had excellent fishing.
Brand enjoyed these types of exploration trips largely because of the contrast to what he considered his previous life. The chance to relax in guest cabins constructed of canvas and heated by wood stoves, to fall asleep every night exhausted from reeling in the vast numbers of fish made the rigours of city life disappear. The winter-starved fish driven into a feeding frenzy by the spring runoff were not shy about biting the hand tied flies they were offered.
During this trip, three fly rods were broken bringing the huge fish to the boats. Fly reels had spun out of control as the large Lakers ran for the depths whenever they were hooked, battering knuckles. No fishing stories were needed, the fish here exceeded even the most colourful storytellers expectations. In all his years of fishing, Brand had never seen fish of this size or the numbers the group caught. What could be a better way to spend your days? If there was something else, Brand didn’t know what it was.
The only thing more pleasing than the fishing were the gourmet meals served at the lodge. The food was plentiful, the service top rate. The guys that accompanied Brand to the camp combined with the guides and the staff from the lodge made the trip one he would remember for years to come. It was the complete opposite life from what he lived as a CSIS agent; the main reason Brand had taken the trip.
Now the trip back to civilization seemed to take forever. In retracing the flights from the lodge time appeared to drag. The departing band of fishermen had to wait at Stony Rapids after returning on the floatplane. The charter back to Saskatoon wouldn’t arrive for a couple more hours. The plane schedule into the remote parts of the country was more limited than in the bigger cities.
Once in Saskatoon, he had to wait again for a connecting flight to Calgary. Deep-rooted instincts made him anticipate every move, never resting, always ready for action. That wasn’t his life anymore he had to keep reminding himself, just have to sit back and relax.
He leaned deep into the seat and reflected on the trip. On the way to the lodge, he was full of the wonder of the stories he had heard from the other guides of the size and numbers of fish. Now that the trip was almost over he felt a certain sense of loss. As much as he wanted to get home he still hated having to leave, and this was a trip he would have to do again.
He smirked. For a second, he thought about asking Sara to join him, but then he remembered whom he was talking about knowing full well Sara hated the outdoors. She would not enjoy the pristine surroundings, and besides, the Wi-Fi was horrible, she’d never make it.
With his head resting against the back of his seat, he found his mind traveling between the two thoughts. He closed his eyes and made himself comfortable for the flight home.
The plane’s tires touching down on the tarmac in Calgary jarred Brand awake. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he gazed out the small window at the sky dark with clouds, a light rain giving the runway a wet glossy sheen. Turning his cell phone on, Brand readied himself for deplaning while the aircraft taxied to a stop at the terminal and the stewardess opened the cabin door, welcoming everyone to Calgary.
The temperature was currently fifteen degrees with rain; the flight attendant announced over the intercom as the passengers stood up to collect their luggage from the overhead compartments. Brand stood up to join the fray grabbing the two fly rods he had stored overhead then held them by his side as he stood in line with the other passengers waiting to exit.
The airport concourse was crowded as he walked through the terminal to the luggage carousel. Brand stepped away from the other passengers while he pulled his phone out of his pocket and checked its messages to see if Sara had returned his calls while he was in flight. Nothing. He’d call her again when he reached his truck.
Outside the terminal, Brand walked over to wait for the shuttle bus that would return him to the lot where he had left his truck. He stepped off the bus and stood beside his truck, dug out his phone and tried Sara again, straight to voice mail.
That’s odd he thought to himself as he threw his fishing gear into the cab of the truck and climbed in after it. He had never known Sara not to have her phone close. He would try calling her again once he reached his house.
The trip from the airport to his house was a good thirty minutes if traffic cooperated. He merged onto the Deerfoot and drove straight south finding that rush hour traffic had nearly ended. At Southland, it bottlenecked briefly but continued at a rapid crawl, and then the rest of the way to the house the traffic remained light.
Pulling into the back alley, Brand pulled slightly past his garage, stuck the truck in reverse and backed into the garage. He removed the fishing gear from the back seat and set it on a shelf in the garage before he walked into the house.
Brand sauntered around the interior of his house and opened the windows to let a breeze blow through. The air smelled stale, the result of the house being sealed tight for the past week. The rush of air stirring up dust as it chased out the stale air.
He took his phone in hand and dialled Sara’s number again. Still no answer as his call went straight to voicemail. He stared at the phone for a second. Shower first he decided as he climbed the stairs and then he’d drive over to Sara’s.
Freshly showered, Brand wiped the fogged mirror clear and stared at his reflection. His brown hair bleached by the early June sun and the shadows under his eyes were a little more prominent than the week before caused by the late nights drinking and talking and the early mornings on the lake with a rod in his hand.
The skin on his thin face was darker now from the sun that had reflected off the water, his face sporting a week’s growth of beard. His spirits lifted as he applied the shaving cream and then carefully guided the razor blade as the grizzled facial hair fell away.
He whistled as he buttoned his shirt and climbed back down the stairs to call Sara one more time. Again, straight to voice mail. His refreshed feeling now interrupted by a tinge of concern. She’s just busy he told himself as he picked up his truck keys, grabbed a coat and walked out the door.
The traffic seemed heavier now than it had been when he was driving home. He merged onto the busy Deerfoot driving north to the Sara’s house in Fairview, a little north, and west of where Brand lived. Frustration was starting to build inside him; he had never known Sara to ignore her phone like this before.
While changing lanes to get onto the off-ramp for Southland Drive a man driving a Beamer cut him off and came within inches of hitting the front of his truck. Brand rammed his palm against the truck’s horn, his frustration, and concern getting the better of him. He blasted the inconsiderate driver and instantly followed that up with a few colourful adjectives shouted in the sanctity of the trucks cab. The driver of the car barely glanced in his rear-view mirror and didn’t seem too concerned with Brand’s warning but at least, Brand released a little frustration although it didn’t make him feel a whole lot better.
Turning onto Sara’s street, he pulled his truck up to the curb in front of her house and peered through the windshield at her car parked on the street out front. Puzzled by her lack of response to his repeated calls he sat in the truck and watched the early evening rain mix with a layer of dust that had collected on her vehicle. Small rivulets of mud streamed off the top of the car, ran down the sides and joined with the rainwater on the pavement.
Where would she go without her car? As far as he knew she hadn’t made many friends during her brief time in town but he supposed that it was possible that she left the house with someone else. He didn’t for a second believe she was sitting at home and out of contact with her phone; that was definitely not like her. But with that line of thought he knew if she were out she would surely have taken her phone with her. Warning bells rang in his head as he climbed out of his truck and walked up to the front door.
The instincts he developed and used back in his CSIS days started to push to the surface again. Something was off. Even still he held onto hope that she may have just been up researching all night and was now fast asleep through his calls this whole time.
Brand pulled his coat tight against the chilly drizzle and reached for the doorbell. He listened as the chimes resonated through the house. Time passed without hearing any movement in the house so he reached down and pressed the bell again. The drizzle was starting to give him a chill as he stood on the front step. He waited patiently for a few more minutes then pulled his keys out of his pocket locating the one for Sara’s house.
Reaching to insert the key into the lock his hand brushed the knob and the front door moved slightly. Brand froze. Sara wasn’t answering her phone and now he finds the front door unlocked…what the hell was going on he wondered?
Careful not to touch the doorknob he placed his hand on the door and slowly pushed it out of his way stepping into the house while calling Sara’s name. He waited as her name echoed around the bungalow. No answer. He continued standing in the doorway, confusion momentarily making him advance with caution. The uncertainty quickly receded when the investigative side of him started taking over.
He took another step into the house to allow the front door to be closed. Although it was light outside, inside the house late day shadows started their daily journey to slowly consume the remaining light. Standing completely immobile, Brand let his eyes roam over the interior of the house. Everything appeared to be fine. The furniture in its place…not disrupted…a bit of clutter, a half full cup of coffee on the table as per usual…nothing out of the ordinary… but Brand couldn’t get past the unsettled feeling in his stomach.
His eyes continued their search past the front entrance deeper into Sara’s house. Still everything seemed fine. Satisfied that what he saw was completely natural, Brand slipped off his shoes and started walking slowly through the house searching. The house consisted of a main floor and basement, the initial search taking little time.
Passing through the dining room nothing seemed out of place. He left the dining room with a niggling feeling in the back of his head. The contents of the room seemed untouched but the feeling that he was missing something troubled him. He couldn’t put his finger on it at the moment so he carried on his search and then returned to the dining room.
Standing in the doorway, he remained motionless letting his eyes and his brain slowly go over the place. He couldn’t shake the thought that he might be missing some important detail. His eyes traveled over the counters, passed the fridge, across the table and around the other side of the room.
That was it. He turned his head back to the table. Sara kept her computer on the table; the computers power cord lay off to the side. Sara’s computer was her life, whenever she took her computer with her the power cord was an added necessity. The computer's power source sat resting on the table…the computer was nowhere in sight.
Brand reached for his phone and tried calling Sara’s phone. Again his call went directly to voice mail. The tinge of worry he was feeling before increased to a full on assault of concern. Where the hell could she be that she would take her computer but not answer her phone and how had she gotten there? Her car was parked out front.
Brand set out to search the house again. This time, he wasn’t looking for her; he was hunting for clues that might reveal what had happened to her. He very methodically checked every square inch of her house. Nothing.
Remembering that the door was unlocked when he arrived, he made his way back to the door and glanced down at the exterior part of the lock for signs of forced entry. Leaning closer, he studied the metal around the keyhole. He found no markings that would have been made by someone trying to force the lock. With the same close inspection, he studied the doorjamb. The lock showed no signs of being tampered with.
His concern deepened. Brand walked into the living room and tried Sara’s number once again. Voice mail. Frustration forced Brand to tightly squeeze the phone in his hand. Standing in the middle of the floor he was immobilized by indecision and the frustration continued to build.
Unable to contain himself any longer he raised the phone in his hand and violently threw it at a wall, the force of his throw hard enough that it made a hole in the drywall. The phone smashed into the wall falling to the carpet in pieces instantly rendering it useless compounding Brand’s already maxed frustration levels. He gulped down a couple of large breaths trying to get his mixed feelings under control. Wrecking things wasn’t going to help accomplish much and it certainly wasn’t going to help him find Sara.
This time Brand started looking for evidence of abduction. That was where his mind was as he slowly surveyed the floor for marks of struggle. He walked over to the chair and was about to sit down realizing he never checked the furniture in this room. Instead of sitting on the cushion he raised it combing for any clues that may be hidden.
The chair was clean so he turned his attention to the couch. Tucked in behind the second cushion Brand’s fingers struck hard plastic, Sara’s cell phone. He punched the power button but the battery was dead forcing him to take the phone into the kitchen where he knew she kept the phone charger. He knew she had one, he just wasn’t sure where.
It wasn’t in the drawers. Passing by the fridge, he noticed a picture of the two of them Sara had stuck to the door. Gazing fondly at the picture taken on their trip to Bali he was struck again by the color of her emerald green eyes and soft brown hair that lay nestled on her shoulders. Hair several shades darker than his that framed her pale white Irish skin with a tinge of red added from the hot Bali sun during their last holiday. Passing a finger over the picture he could almost feel the softness of her skin.
He turned away from the picture and next to the microwave he found the cord rolled in a ball. Carrying the phone and its cord over to the dining room table Brand plugged the phone in. Once the screen on the phone lit up, Brand punched in Sara’s code and waited for the next screen to appear. A recording app filled the screen. The phone must have been left on record mode and over time killed the battery.
Fumbling with the phone Brand played the recording. The message lasted only a few seconds …long enough for him to hear a male voice.
“…Take the computer, I’ll bring her along…hurry, let’s go…” In the background Brand could hear sounds of Sara struggling.
Somehow Sara had managed to hit the record button on her phone and stash it in the cushions. Brand didn’t know what to make of the recording. When he had left for his trip a week ago, Sara had been screening footage of the Toronto subway explosion for her employer, Gallows Security.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service, CSIS, had employed both the owner of Gallows Security, Brent Gallows and Brand. During that time, the two had become close friends, both serving on the same special ops unit for the Canadian Intelligence Agency. It was through this connection that Brand and Sara had first met.
Shortly after Brand’s retirement from the agency Brent had gone on to start his own security company. Currently, Gallows Security along with several other law enforcement agencies across the country had been requested to work on the investigation of the worst terrorist attack on Canadian soil. This fact along with Sara’s disappearance left Brand wondering if the two weren’t somehow connected.
Suddenly memories of a darker period in his life came rushing back flooding his thoughts and momentarily paralyzing him. These were the kind of horrible, dark memories that he had spent years suppressing to retain his sanity.
The year was two thousand and three. A fellow CSIS agent in his covert unit and his love interest, Rebecca Stone, had at that time been kidnapped while vacationing in Morocco. Her abduction took place shortly after their special ops unit had successfully completed a sanctioned mission in Sudan involving modern day pirates. The new age cyber Pirates were at home sailing and pillaging on the vast seas of information available through the Internet instead of the open seas like their ancestors, both groups were learned to be equally feared and ruthless.
Rebecca had separated from the group at the end of the mission and had flown to Morocco for a short holiday while Brand and the rest of the unit flew back to Canada.By the time, he was able to track the kidnappers to the Moroccan city of Casablanca the Sudanese captors had fled. Brand discovered Rebecca in a hotel room, dead, lying in a pool of her own blood. Her body was still warm when he arrived but her life had ended.
In the weeks that followed, he had hunted down every man involved in her death and swore to himself to never let anyone get close to him again. A promise he kept faithfully until a year earlier when he found himself on the wrong end of a Russian ploy to manipulate power from within the Canadian government. During that time, he had met Sarah while the two worked together in revealing the Russian deception.
As he found himself falling for the timid computer geek he had justified that it had been twelve years since Rebecca’s death and he was no longer in “the business. Now standing in the middle of Sara’s empty house with her phone in his hand he found that once again the girl that he loved had disappeared.
Not again he swore to himself. Not again.
Pushing Rebecca’s memory away he forced his body to move and willed his mind to concentrate on the here and now. He checked the date the recording was made. The digital stamp was from three days ago.
Anger replaced the heart-wrenching despair that always accompanied thoughts of Rebecca’s death. He should have been with Sara, protecting her, not stuck in some faraway fishing camp. DAMN IT! He was sitting in a goddamn boat fishing while she was being abducted, no one around to help her. He swore at himself for letting it happen, then just as quickly he pulled his emotions back in. He’d have plenty of time to punish himself once he found her…right now he needed to focus.
Dialling Sara’s phone, Brand called 911, explained where he was and what he thought had taken place and then got busy searching the house one more time…the search, this time, was done with a different purpose. He wanted to make sure he hadn’t missed anything of importance before the police arrived and asked him to leave while they investigated.
Finding nothing else of use, he walked out of the house and stood on the front lawn. There he remained for several minutes plotting his next move. He looked up and down the street with a flicker of hope that maybe one of Sara’s neighbours may have witnessed her leaving. Brand cut across the lawn to the house next door and knocked.
An elderly gentleman answered. Brand explained to the man that he was looking for the lady who lived next door and if anybody in the house had noticed anything peculiar three days ago. With the shake of his head, the man explained that he and his wife were the only two in the house and they had been away for the past week.
Brand continued this same line of questioning up and down the block for several houses. Similar responses met him at all the other doors. No one had seen anything. His ray of hope was dimming as he walked across the street and continued his door knocking. At a house almost directly across the street from the one Sara rented he climbed the step and rapped his knuckles against the wooden door.
He knocked on the door a couple more times before a lady from the house next-door stepped outside to talk to him. He was told that the woman who lived there was away visiting…she wouldn’t be back for another day or two…yes, she believed that her friend was home at that time and if anyone knew the comings and goings on the street her neighbour certainly would.
Brand crossed the rain-soaked lawn and explained once again about Sara’s mysterious disappearance. Before thanking the elderly woman he pulled a business card out of his wallet and asked if she could pass it along to her friend.
Brand continued crossing wet lawns and canvassing the street with the same lack of success. By this time, he noticed the police pull up in front of Sara’s house. A single squad car appeared, two officers climbed out. Brand crossed the street to meet them. One of the officers remained with Brand and recorded his statement, the other officer walked into the house, the front door left open by Brand. The officer taking Brand’s statement asked to see his I.D. questioning whom he was and why he was at the house. Brand explained and then told the police that he had spoken with a few of the other homeowners on the street.
The police officer looked at Brand with a slightly annoyed look on his face, “Are you a cop he asked?”
“No!” Brand answered just as curtly.
“Well, then how about you leave the police work to us. Can’t have every Joe on the street playing detective now can we?” The officer berated him in a condescending tone. At this, Brand thought about telling the officer where he could stick it, then thought better of it.
He’d spent a good part of his life doing a job much like theirs. He had started out working for the RCMP when he was young and then advanced his career working for the Canadian Security Intelligence Services. Throughout his law enforcement career, he’d been involved in some very major, very dangerous investigations in the service of this country all while these two uniforms were probably still playing marbles in elementary.
Brand felt a flash of anger start to rise but quickly pushed it away. Not here…not now…these guys were just trying to do their job he reminded himself. Getting mad at them would just be a waste of everybody’s time so instead; he left his phone number with the uniform in case they found anything.
Memories of the first time he had seen Sara crept into his mind. He had only known her since the previous fall when the two had met while he was investigating a conspiracy involving a disloyal MP and his Russian backers and their misguided attempt to derail the Canadian government. During that time, three of Brand’s friends and former CSIS colleagues had been killed in that insane plot and an attempt had been made on his life.
Nothing like a traumatic experience to bring two people closer together he mused. The two had really hit it off and Sara must have thought so too or she wouldn’t have moved to Calgary to be closer to him. Her line of work was mostly online so she could be located anywhere in the country whereas he had made a name for himself in the fishing community of Southern Alberta and B.C. so he was sort of tied down for now.
Pushing these thoughts out of his mind Brand climbed back into his truck and headed for a mall, his first order of business was to buy a new phone. Throwing his into the wall and destroying it hadn’t been the smartest thing to do. It did help relieve some frustration but in the long term being an idiot like that always cost him money and time. He would quickly stop by the mall; purchase a new phone and then beeline for his house.
He had to call Brent Gallows, Sara’s employer and let him know the situation. Brand was hopeful Brent could shed some light on what exactly Sara had been researching. Maybe, and it was a big maybe, especially after hearing the phone recording, he was wrong… maybe Sara wasn’t abducted after all… maybe he was jumping to conclusions…maybe Brent knew where she was.
Three days before Brand’s return from his fishing trip, Sara had been at home sitting cross-legged in front of her computer as usual. That morning she had woken up early and excited to continue her work from the night before. She rushed her shower, dressed in a pair of comfortable jeans and an oversized sweater, brewed a pot of coffee, skipped breakfast and parked herself in front of her computer.
Late the previous night she had been reviewing scores of uploaded videos and still pictures that had flooded the net from the Toronto subway bombing. After hours of relentless searching, she stumbled upon footage of the suicide bomber before they had entered the subway tunnel.
A lot of the images she found were from the subway’s security cameras seconds before the explosion. The law enforcement community now had a general description of the bomber’s features and a reasonably accurate timeline to go on. From there all Sara had to do was sort through the thousands of video feeds that were uploaded online and correlate the video’s timestamps to the date of the bombing.
A tourist in Toronto had unwittingly filmed the bomber while taking video of some friends on a street across from the subway station and had proceeded to upload the video to the web. The video was shot minutes before the explosion and had captured footage of the supposed bomber hiding in an alley while pulling on a burka and then wrapping their head in a niqab. Before the niqab was fully in place the person had turned around and the video captured a few seconds of the bomber’s exposed face.
Sara wasn’t entirely sure that this was the bomber but the video feed and the general appearance matched closely with the descriptions handed out to the law enforcement agencies in the country.
Still she was eighty-five percent certain that the video was of the actual bomber. In the slightly out of focus video, she watched as the suspect changed into the same type of clothing that had been reported in several witness statements and the timeline and location worked.
Captured in the video along with the bomber were a couple of other men who appeared to talk with the suspect. The brief video showed the three men involved in a rather heated conversation and in Sara’s opinion what she conceived to be the trio looking and pointing down the alley toward the subway entrance.
She methodically searched through every CCTV camera she could find in the area surrounding the tunnel opening and methodically backtracked the suspect’s movements. With the excitement of finding the video, she had placed a call to her boss, Brent Gallows, in Ottawa.
Sara was recruited by Gallows Security, a firm that was internationally renowned for providing security to companies that often operated in hostile countries or under threatening conditions. In addition to being classified as a first notch firewall against both physical and cyber threats, the company carried a dark secret.
She soon learned that Gallows Security was a front for the Canadian government’s clandestine operations. This is where Sara’s skill as a computer hacker was mostly utilized. While the firm's day-to-day operations remained focused on the interest of their private client's worldwide, the company’s international dealings provided a screen for the group to move about the world undetected while carrying out the shadow operations. Covert ops that often required a computer savvy tech to evade and at times enter securely protected sites for Intel prevalent to the cases. Sara had both the skills and tenacity the company required for their operations.
The shadow task force was overseen by Canadian Senator Audrey Meadows and run directly out of the Prime Minister’s office, a secret service that remained hidden from Canada’s other intelligent agencies.
Many of the employees at Gallows Security were, in fact, ex-CSIS operatives that had either been recruited, or joined the firm after being disbanded from different federal agencies. These lucrative employees were extremely dedicated to the protection of Canada and its people with a drive to follow through on an operation no matter the consequences.
In her late night phone call, Sara explained that she had discovered something of interest about the bomber and she would forward the pictures as soon as she had a chance to further verify her suspicions. Give her a couple hours in the morning Sara had told her boss. She needed to do some more digging to check the video and would call back the next day if she could prove her theory.
Sitting at her table frantically looking through the cameras in the subway area her heart was pounding. She had traced the bombers route from the tunnel entrance all the way back to the alley. The phone video was the only source she was so far able to find that showed the lane at that time. She carefully reviewed the video. The other men in the alley left the picture and as the bomber turned to exit the alley, the camera had recorded what she was sure was the suspect adjusting the hijab over their face.
Sara manipulated the video, playing it back and forth, slowing it down frame-by-frame paying careful attention as she watched the person adjust the hijab. The video was grainy and out of focus and as best as she could tell the person in the video had what looked like facial hair, light brown facial hair? To the best of Sara’s knowledge, she wasn’t aware of Muslim women wearing a niqab because they grew beards, especially light coloured beards.
The video was still too grainy for Sara to make a positive I.D. so she stubbornly manipulated the feed searching for a crisper picture. This is what she had been stuck on the previous evening and she bullishly continued adjusting the pictures with the realization that if she were unsuccessful in improving the clarity of the images, she would forward it the way it was. The technology at Gallow’s Security was much better than the computer she was using and maybe someone in his office would have better luck but it wasn’t in her nature to admit defeat so easily.
Desperately needing a break to stretch her legs she left her computer poured a fresh cup of coffee and leaned against the kitchen counter trying to think of a different approach she could use to enhance the video. A couple of sips into her coffee, the doorbell rang. Irritated at the unwanted distraction she walked from the kitchen, setting her coffee cup down on the living room table on her way to the door.
Parting the blind on the front door she saw two men in suits standing on the front step. The man closest to the door was the taller of the two. Short trimmed hair, dark glasses in place and dressed in a dark navy suit. The second man was a shorter, stockier version of the first, same glasses, same blue suit. Sara chuckled. The two men looked like they were auditioning for a “Men in Black” movie.
Sara was still relatively new to Calgary and she didn’t have many visitors so the two men standing on her front step put her on edge a bit. Her closest companion was normally her computer and Brand was out of town. Who else would be calling on her this time of day? Probably well meaning religious people she mused. She had become used to them coming to her door at all hours of the day.
Too early in the day for salesmen, she supposed, although these men were dressed the part. She also considered the possibility that they were officers of some sort. She had worked closely with several different police agencies lately and that’s what these two reminded her of. Sara relaxed…maybe Brent had sent them to her house because of her phone call last night, on that thought, she opened the door widely. She smiled and bid the two welcome from her doorway.
“Sara Monahan?” the man in front inquired.
“Yes,” Sara replied.
“May we come in Miss Monahan?” the man quickly asked.
“Yes. Sure,” she turned and led the two of them inside. “Did Brent send you?” she asked. She wasn’t even sure about what she had found yet, she didn’t want these two wasting their time for nothing. Brent’s really on the ball sending these two here already, she thought as she heard the door close. At the sound of the closing door, she turned back around to face the men who had followed her inside. The smile on her face disappeared as she found herself staring into the barrel of a gun.
The man holding the gun put his hand on her shoulder and gently pushed her backward until her legs touched the couch stopping her movement.
“Sit down.” She was instructed. Addressing the second man he stated. “Search the house, I’ll keep an eye on Miss Monahan.”
“What’s this about?” Sara blurted out.
“Sit still and be quiet,” the gunman told her. “My friend here is going to have a quick look around and then you will have to come with us.”
Fighting against a rising panic Sara forced herself to think quickly. Her cell phone was in her back pocket and she needed to work it out of her pocket somehow. If she could dial 911 unobserved…maybe, just maybe the police would be able to get to her house in time and stop the two men she was now facing. Despite her makeshift plan, Sara was nervous. What did they want with her and what did they intend to do with her?
Very carefully Sara eased her phone free from the pocket of her jeans. The gunman’s eyes roamed around the front room while he held his gun pointed at her. Holding her breath she ever so slowly manoeuvred the phone behind her, careful not to be noticed by the gun-toting intruder, daring not to risk a look at it.
She managed to turn it out of sleep mode and thanked the developers for installing fingerprint recognition security. When she judged she was on the home screen, she tried to steal a glance at the phone and allow her to notify the police but the ever-roaming eyes of the intruder made looking too risky…instead, she decided to rely on repetition. She had dialled her phone almost blindly several times. She was very practiced with it. She prayed she was making progress.
The second man called from the kitchen. The house is clear he said. He told the gunman that he found her computer on the table in the kitchen.
“Good…bring the computer, I’ll take her…hurry, let’s go…”
The gunman motioned for Sara to stand up and briefly turned his attention to his partner coming out of the kitchen with Sara’s computer in his hands. While the gunman’s attention wavered, Sara slid her phone into a slot between the cushion and the back of the couch away from the eyes of her unwelcomed guests. Uncertain if she had successfully dialled out Sara had to believe that the call went thru.Before exiting the house, the gunman spoke to Sara.
“My gun will remain pointed at your back. Walk casually to the car and climb in, I will have no need to shoot you if you do as you’re told… do you comprehend what I’m saying?” he ended.
Sara was too afraid to do anything but nod her head in acknowledgement. She walked in front of the two men toward their car. As the three made their way down the sidewalk, Sara noticed one of her neighbours watching from across the street. An older retired lady that Sara had talked to briefly a few times. She tried desperately with her eyes to communicate with her about the trouble she was facing; just wishing her neighbour would understand and call for help.
When the trio reached the car, the man carrying her computer opened the back door, threw her computer on the seat and then moved aside allowing her to climb in. Sara sat sullenly in the back seat while the two men climbed into the front. Sara fixated on the back door handle and wondered what her chances would be of jumping out of the car and making a run for freedom.
“The door handles back there are disabled if that’s what you’re thinking,” the gunman said. Sara raised her eyes to the front and saw the driver's eyes staring right back at her in the rear-view mirror.
“Best for you to sit back and enjoy the ride. We’re not here to kill you…those aren’t our instructions. We were only ordered to grab you and your computer,” he continued.
“Where are you taking me, who ordered you to apprehend me?” she demanded with more bravado than she was feeling.
“Don’t ask any questions. Sit back, be quiet and enjoy the ride,” came the response from the front seat.