Brand remained standing, his eyes staring into the darkness. The flickering told of the casinos emergency lighting being brought on line.
By the time he climbed the stairs down to the main floor of the casino, the lighting had been restored. Stepping into the main gaming room, his eyes were drawn to the seas of bikers and police. The room was trashed. Slot machines smashed and ripped from their stands, gaming tables overturned. The litter in the room spread around the standing bodies.
Several of the casino’s security either sprawled on the floor or standing in a group watched over by bikers wearing a variety of colours and patches, none bearing the Warriors colours.
The whine of the fire alarms still echoed throughout the building warning the buildings occupants of a fire that had yet to happen. Brand wove his way through the carnage toward the entrance doors, his movements lost amongst the surging throngs of police and warring bikers.
Before walking outside, he caught sight of Little Abe standing among a group of bikers bracing a squad of cops. Abe looked in his direction and nodded. Brand walked unchallenged past the entrance doors. He removed the hat he had been wearing and tossed it to the ground on his way to Cartwright’s truck. The one he parked at the edge of the lot hours earlier.
At the bottom of the steps he picked up company. Detective O’Brien fell into stride with him. The two walked without a word, the chaos of the casino falling behind.
“Care to tell me what happened back there?” The detective spoke.
“I guess the house doesn’t always win.” Brand commented and stopped mid step, looking the detective in the face. “You should be able to uncover more than enough evidence against the Cartel on the fifth floor. I left the doors open.” He added and continued walking. The detective watched him walk away then spun and returned to the mayhem of the casino.
The cars and trucks that had filled the parking lot earlier were replaced by a crush of motorbikes and police vehicles, the flash of blue and red strobes from the cars adding a surreal layer of light to the surrounding lot.
Pulling his cigarettes from his pocket Brand selected one from the pack, stuck it in his mouth and lit it. Turning to face the casino and the scurry of activity, he said a silent prayer that he had seen the last of the turf war in the city.
Entering the hospital proved a lot easier than his entry into the casino. Careful to avoid detection from the nurses on staff, he found his way to the hospital room Roy occupied. Light and sound from the small overhead TV in Roy’s room greeted him as he brushed aside the privacy curtain separating the room from the hallway.
Roy looked up as he entered the room.
“Quite the late night viewing.” His foster brother said as Brand pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down.
“Yeah. The whole world is going crazy, apparently.” Brand replied to his brother’s comment. “How you doing?” He asked Roy.
“I’ve been better,” Roy touched the dressing on his wounds. “But I’ll live. Tell me what the news channels can’t?” Roy urged.
Brand flossed over the events leading up to the night’s visit at the casino. How he pieced together the identity of the boss for the Moreno Cartel and the deception against them by Jerry’s daughter.
The two chatted in between watching breaking news stories. The city’s news stations running non-stop coverage of the outbreak of the gang war menacing the city. The stations switching between live broadcasts from a spate of nightclubs where fights had broken out among rival bike gangs. With every report, the Warrior motorcycle gang appeared to be on the short side of the battles.
The coverage at the Millennium Casino garnered most of the brothers’ attention as the reporter’s interviews of the police and witnesses slowly told a story of the shootings and violence that had transpired earlier that evening.
“Exactly what were you thinking walking in there alone?” Roy asked about Brands venture into the den of the enemy.
“I wasn’t alone, per say.” Brand confessed. “Do you remember Brent Gallows? He was one of the guys in my unit when I served with CSIS. We’ve stayed in contact since I retired.
Brent’s done pretty well for himself. He owns a private security firm. Does contract work for the government now a days. I contacted Brent before I left the Quonset tonight. He employs some of very talented computer techs.”
Brand strayed from his story. “A few years back I met a woman while working with Brent. Her name is Sarah. I’ve been seeing her since. She’s moved to town.” Brand’s mind drifted at the thought of seeing Sarah again. “When you’re on your feet, we will have to get together so the two of you can meet.”
Brand focused his mind back on the topic. “I told him of my plan and asked him to hack the Casino’s security. Nothing complicated. On my signal, he had his people shut down the power in the building and provide some appropriate music.” Brand smiled. “If you call fire alarms music. The distraction provided me with an opportunity to disrupt the Cartel’s plans.
When I left the Quonset, I slipped Little Abe a note explaining what I had planned and when it was to happen. I asked him to bring the boys to the party.” Brand looked at his brother and winked. “What could have possibly gone wrong?”
Brand gazed down at his injured brother. His eyes took in the bandages covering Roy’s chest. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Susan fooled me. Played me for a fool. Because of our friendship, she planted herself in our lives and relayed our plans and positions back to the Cartel. I should have caught on sooner. You damn near lost your life because of her deception.” He shook his head blaming his unbiased trust of Jerry’s daughter for Roy’s injuries.
News cameras at the casino kept a live feed going as they followed officers escorting a number of leather clad bikers to waiting vehicles for a drive to the downtown police headquarters.
Cutting to another camera, one of the city’s police Captain’s were explaining to the reporters about the casino being used as the headquarters of a Colombian Cartel and how the building was being combed for evidence as they spoke. Evidence they would be sharing with federal prosecutors bringing an end to the Cartel’s reign of drugs and violence that had followed them to the city.
After the Captain gave his statement he introduced Detective Darcy O’Brien of the RCMP drug and gang division. O’Brien was introduced as the man who had been working hand in hand with the Calgary City Police Service in an effort to halt the Cartel’s expansion into the city.
The detective started his interview by telling the reporter the head of the Cartel was dead. His death caused by a fall from the fifth floor of the casino. From there Detective O’Brien launched into a brief summary of the evenings events.
“Son of a bitch.” Brand growled under his breath at the detective’s statement about the Cartels boss, then Brand remembered the phone he had left at the Quonset.
“I guess the detective will have a nice surprise waiting for him once I give him the phone.” Brand told Roy of the phone Dave gave to Yen Lee.
“Once their faces are made public you know that Jerry and Susan will have no where to run.” Roy pointed out. “Even if they manage to slip out of the country, where can they turn? His Cartel is shattered. I don’t think he’ll be able to return to Colombia and rebuild. Not with his identity made public.”
The two spent the next couple hours talking and commenting on the breaking news stories.
“It was good to see you again.” Roy declared. “I know you’ve never approved of my choice of work,” Roy admitted. “Things aren’t always what they seem. In a way I do a service for the city. Sure we run illegal joints and dabble in the drug trade but we’re not all that bad.
I’ve got a loose understanding with the city cops. They restrict their pursuit of the Wolves and in exchange, we monitor the underside of the city. We have strict rules. I make certain my boys or anyone else preys on innocent people. We keep the seedy underbelly away from the law abiding public. The Cartel began to change that.” Roy watched Brand’s face as he struggled to ease his brother’s moral dilemma concerning Roy’s outlaw life.
“I know it doesn’t change your opinion,” Roy shrugged. “It was very good to see you.”
Brand stood and put a hand on Roy’s shoulder. “Things change, people change,” he said. “When Sara gets back to town, I’ll give you a call. The two of you will get along fine.”
In the wee hours of the morning Brand bid his brother farewell, the days and weeks leading up to this reunion catching up to him. He left the room. A week of adrenaline highs and lows settled on his shoulders. His mind and body tired beyond belief.
“…Yeah me too.” He answered softly. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning at the airport.” He disconnected the call and climbed out of the truck. Standing on the street, he faced his house.
In the stark glow of the streetlights, the house stood abandoned. Grounding out his cigarette, he crossed the sidewalk and unlocked the door, hesitating in the doorway. With his hand he flicked the hall lights and sauntered down the short hallway to the open kitchen, dinning room area.
With the rest of the lights turned on, he stood and surveyed the mess left from the shootings of a couple of weeks before. The police crime scene tape had been removed and the police had their cleaning contractors in to remove the blood and aftermath of the gunfight. The rest of the mess was left for him to deal with.
Grabbing a glass out of the cupboard, the rye from the freezer, and the Pepsi from the fridge, he poured a drink then ambled around the counter and stood by the table staring down at the very spot he had sat that rainy Friday night before this had all started.
Feathers, thread and other tying materials the three had been using lay scattered across the table, all mixed together. His vice still had the beginnings of the fly he had been working on that night. Sitting down in front of the vice, he used his arm to brush some of the clutter off the table and out of his way.
Taking a long swallow from his drink, he sorted through the pile of material lumped together on the table searching for a thin plastic bag containing peacock herl. Gathering a few strands in his left hand, he grasped the threaded bobbin in his right hand and continued to tie the fragile feathers on the hook, forming the body of the fly.
Parking at the Millennium Casino was at the minimum. Brand slowly rolled the truck past double rows of vehicles, weaving from one end of the multi-acre lot to the other. He searched for an open stall with regards to the proximity of the casino’s security cameras located throughout the lot. He chose to park the truck at the very edge of the vast parking compound. Here the cameras were spaced farther apart due to the distance from the building. Closer to the main entrance and the grounds immediately around the building perimeter the cameras overlapped in their coverage.
Chances of being recognized or watched were probably slim; still, he took the precaution. Advancing thoughtfully, wanting the element of surprise on his side a little longer. Rifling through the back seat, he found a tattered ball cap and adjusted it to his head.
“You’re not going to stay in the truck if I ask, are you.” He wasted the words on Susan. He knew what her answer would be but made one last attempt to keep her out of a possibly soon to be a dangerous situation.
She shook her head in response and together they wove their way past the myriad of automobiles, each step shortening the distance to the main doors of the casino entrance. Susan’s movements quiet and slow, Brand, cautious and alert. His eyes darting over and around the lines of cars and trucks, eager to detect the tell-tale signs of their presence tracked by the enemies in the casino. He walked on an indirect path, weaving among the lines of vehicles abandoned in the massive parking lot, his route chosen to avoid the security cameras.
While part of his brain kept busy moving forward in an undetected approach to the building, in the back of his mind, he sifted through the little information he acquired and reviewed the layout of the casino, and it’s Colombian owners. Aware of the small amount of knowledge he possessed on the two, he ventured onward with little to no preconceived plan of slipping past security and gaining entrance to the top floor of the building. The best he could hope for was to adjust quickly to the way the events unfolded and act accordingly.
The purpose of his visit was to gain access to the top floor of the building and once there, to free his friend, if Jerry was indeed a captive there. One step at a time, he cautioned. First order of business was to cross to the building without allowing the men staring at the video feeds from the lots cameras to identify him. Next, pass security at the front door then enter the gaming rooms and from there access the elevators.
Neither of these two steps should present much of a problem he considered. An organization like the Cartel probably had a long list of people plotting against them. He couldn’t be all that important in the overall scheme of things. Thoughts of bringing a gun on this mission had crossed his mind, but the security guards and metal detectors at the entrance made that more of a hassle then he needed. If he had to shoot his way into the Millennium, the possibility of bypassing the buildings layers of security would be impossible.
Once inside, he could get his hands on a firearm. On his previous visit to the Millennium, he noted that the security guards all carried hidden side arms. He banked on his abilities to convince one of security personnel to lend him a gun. Not the greatest of tactics but certainly doable.
The gun part of the plan was minor compared to gaining access to the elevator and the trip to the fifth floor and into the Cartel’s den. James Cartwright had provided a mental map of the casino layout from the front doors to the elevators and up. The opening of the elevator doors on the top floor gave him the most worry. That part was a little more open to interpretation. All the planning was usually worthless in a situation like this. Too many variables, too many unknown moving pieces to choreograph once the shooting started.
Steps from the entrance he tugged the ball cap lower on his forehead and put his arm through Susan’s. As a couple, the two climbed the pebbled concrete steps. Arm in arm they walked between towering concrete pillars. The reflection of their approaching bodies growing clearer as they drew nearer to the sliding glass doors. Their mirrored images almost life-sized by the time the double doors slid open, welcoming them into the casino lobby. The pair walked up to a set of heavy wooden doors, the only barrier remaining between them and the lights and bells of the gambling floor.
Letting go of Susan’s arm, Brand pulled on the wooden doors and gestured for Susan to enter first. An atmosphere of excitement poured into the opening. Raised voices belaying the happy anticipation found in gambling establishments joined the clanging of one-armed bandits underscored by piped music. The palpable din was overwhelming to the senses.
Guards posted at the entrance eyed the pair as they crossed into the jubilant confines concealed inside the walls of the gaming room. The men smiled at Susan as she stopped. A quick wave of a portable wand and the men waved Susan onto the floor; then the guards turned their attention to Brand. Brand's facial features appeared relaxed. Casually, he studied the guard's expressions. If the two were expecting him to show, the men revealed little.
The burly men watching the entrance eyed him from head to toe. He hesitated briefly before taking a step closer to the screening area. Nodding, he strode up to the guards. One man motioned him closer; the other stood to the side, neither was inclined to talk.
The guard with the scanner motioned for Brand to raise his arms then proceeded to wave the detector the length of Brand's body. Susan stood beside the second guard. The bulk of the man's body was partially hiding Susan's much smaller frame. At the edge of his vision, he watched her hand slide near the guard's pocket. The second guard's eyes flashed in her direction then locked back into a bored expression. The man stood unmoving. His heavily muscled arms stretched the fabric of his suit jacket and folded across a massive chest. The man stood poised, ready to assist his partner should trouble ensue.
Trained, competent pros, the pair dressed the part in matching black suits. These men were different from the guards Brand had encountered on his first visit to the casino. At that time, the security was looser. Poorly disguised bikers with small man syndrome, big egos matched with bodies pumped up at some gym, brawn with little brain.
In the short time between visits, he was surprised at the change of attitude…or was he. The Warrior’s who fronted the Colombians operation was now being phased out. Well, the classier sides of the business anyways. Brand imagined that the Warriors would be kept around for the dirty, gutter aspects involved. The sewer dealings in back alleys and crack houses that would require the well-dressed Cartel to muddy their hands.
The security guard waved him on, ending his musings. He put his arm through Susan’s and strolled around the gaming floor. His head swivelled as he studied the layout and the bodies of gamblers and staff alike. Gathering new information, processing what he saw and readjusting his fly by the seat of his pants plan. He was inside, unchallenged, so a gun and an elevator ride to the top floor, undetected, were next on the list.
Arm in arm, the pair wandered the floor of the gaming room. Cameras were spotted as well as the routine of the casino security. The two walked, unhurried, as Brand scouted for an area where the multitude of cameras would be blind and allow him an opportunity to disarm one of the floor security team. What he needed was a distraction, some event that would garner a guard’s attention, but not be disruptive enough to draw the interest of everyone else on the floor.
Near a small alcove away from the main pool of gambling activities, Brand stopped. His back to a guard stationed close to the chosen spot. Susan faced away from him gazing over the room. On a whim, Brand grabbed Susan inappropriately. Surprised, Susan let out an involuntary shriek and turned to face him, her face reddening from the assault. Anger flashed across her face. She raised her hand and with an open palm, swung.
Brand felt the sting of Susan’s blow. A sharp retort rang from the harsh contact of her palm on his cheek. The crack echoed loud in the corner of the floor, but yards away the sound was swallowed by the constant din of the busy gamblers and the bells and whistles at the center of the room. Susan’s slap loud enough to grab the attention of a nearby guard and force the man to prevent the situation from escalating.
“You okay Ma’am?” The guard asked shoving past Brand to check on Susan. Moving his body slightly, blocking the guard from the view on the casino floor, Brand raised an elbow and drove it into the side of the guard’s head. The man turned. A stunned, uncomprehending look on the guards face challenged Brand before the man stumbled and fell back into the alcove. Brand followed the man down, his actions swift, disabling the guard before the man had a chance to raise a hand or an alarm.
From the time spent walking the floor, Brand had little trouble discovering where the guards carried their firearms. His hands quickly searched the man, retrieving the hidden weapon and removing a casino security card pinned to a lanyard around the man’s neck. Remaining bent over the guard, he inspected the gun, checking the chamber and the clip of bullets.
In a deft move, he stood, turned and simultaneously tucked the gun into the back waistband of his pants. Straightening his coat, he grabbed Susan’s hand and led the way across the floor to a bank of elevators directly across the crowded floor.
Now came the pressure. How long until the discovery of the prone guard and the rest of security notified? And would the security card get them to the top floor? These thoughts flashed through Brand's mind while he pressed the elevator button and waited.
A bump brought his focus back to the presence. Susan straightened and apologized. Brand felt her hand slide the newly captured gun from under his coat. In that instant, he knew he didn’t need the security card to gain access to the top floor. Susan's actions guaranteed his meeting with the Colombian, Rojas.
He sensed Susan take a step back. He pictured her using both hands to raise the weapon at his head. His intuition proved correct by the metallic click as the hammer cocked into firing position. Slowly turning his head, he stared into the black hole of the barrel.
“You don’t seem overly surprised,” Susan said motioning Brand into the elevator. Standing diagonally across from Brand, she risked a glance at the panel using her elbow to press the button for the fifth floor. The gun held with both hands level at his chest. She studied his face, unsettled by his calm demeanour.
“This story could have ended on a happier note if you would have cooperated?”
Brand remained quiet. His hand lifted to the front of his jacket. He reached into his pocket. His fingers brushed the power button on the cell phone nestled against his cigarette package.
“Hey,” Susan waved the gun in warning.
Brand slipped the cigarette package into view. He flipped open the cover and released one of the tightly rolled sticks from the foil, his other hand lifting a lighter.
“You can’t smoke in here.” She said. The irony of her holding a gun pointed at him while admonishing him for illegally smoking lost on her. He drew deep on the cigarette drawing a deep breath into his lungs then slowly let the wisps of smoke escape his mouth stalling for time. He felt the elevator jerk on its climb upwards. His silence began wearing on her nerves.
“Say something,” she anxiously commanded.
The neutral look on his face told her all she needed to know. Brand looked down into Susan’s eyes. Fear of the unknown tinged their edges. He lifted the cigarette back to his mouth. The less she understood of his motives, the better the chance of he had of succeeding.
Brand briefly tussled with the notion of relieving Susan of the gun. While he bent over the guard, he purposely sheltered his movements from her, emptying the bullets from the magazine and stashing them on the fallen man. The gun she held served only as a prop.
He was a bit surprised by her need to reveal her loyalties so quickly, and he could quite easily wrestle the gun away from her, but he needed access to the top floor. Her method was safer than following through with his deception and possibly the need to avoid the rush of bullets when the doors opened on the top floor.
He had been slow to figure things out at first. The tiny fragments of puzzle pieces too small at first to lead to any conclusion. Over the following days, the scraps of information started to connect and fill in the blank spaces. Random thoughts merged and slowly worked together to reveal a broader picture.
When the shooting had taken place at his house, he balked at the detective’s theory for the late-night visit by the unknown gunmen. A mistaken drug deal, a wrong address, no reason to think otherwise. The continued pressure by the Cartel, though, that part never made sense and got him thinking.
A young guide shot dead in his house, his other friend wounded. Susan attacked at her dad's house and a lost cell phone the Cartel was desperate to get back. Why.
then things started to, not add up. Young Dave, an undercover cop, sticking close to Old Jerry. The half-assed attempt on Susan, at her dad’s house, an insider in Roy’s organization leaking information to the Warriors allowing the rivals to stay one-step ahead.
The attack at Roy’s acreage, the Warrior gunmen satisfied with taking pot shots at the house instead of attempting to overwhelm Roy’s men and enter the building. If they were intent on grabbing Susan, which he presumed was the reason for the attack, then why the lack of effort. A poorly executed ruse used to deflect attention away from the person in Roy’s company responsible for leaking information?
And finally, the airline ticket he found lying on the floor of Susan’s room. Susan had flown in from the west coast not from the east like he assumed. When he stopped to think about her arrival, she had shown up at the hospital in a swift fashion. If she had departed the Maritimes immediately after being informed of Jerry’s condition, a good portion of the day would have passed before she visited the hospital. If the flight included in a layover in Toronto, it would have been evening by the time she set foot in Calgary.
Susan’s hesitation when she saw James Cartwright at the Quonset. That’s when he started rethinking the pieces of the puzzle. He still maintained a glimmer of doubt on her part until she grabbed the gun. Now the doubt was removed, but he did get an invitation to the fifth floor. He had wondered how the story would unfold and when her façade would drop.
He stood watching her, his face devoid of emotion. He dropped the burning cigarette. Watched it fall and bounce on the carpeted floor. Tracking the smoldering remains with his foot, he squashed the burning tobacco out. By the time he raised his head, the elevator had bounced and settled. The doors slid open. Four men, dressed in the same attire as the guards on the casino floor, were waiting, automatic rifles pointed at the elevator.
“You notified the guards at the entrance," he confirmed, remembering seeing her hand near the man's pocket when he stood under the scrutiny of the second guard. Susan glared up at him and used the tip of the pistol to motion him from the elevator. He stepped past the waiting gunmen and walked across a short foyer and through an open set of double doors.
Moving straight ahead, Brand noted the office’s interior. The room was big but not overly. Along the wall from the French doors, a second door farther to his right. A set of chairs set with a small table rested against the side exterior wall. Windows flanked the chairs offering a view overlooking the lights of the parking lot and then, what Brand imagined, during daylight hours, a clear line of sight to the Rocky Mountains, and an hour west of the city.
Opposite the windows, to his left, pictures hung on the wall leading to the back of the room and a stand-up bar filling the corner. Two men followed him into the room, and he spotted only two more armed men flanking a much smaller man. The trio back of center, standing behind a decorative piece of furniture centering the room.
“Mr. Coldstream.” A heavily accented voice called to him. Brand focused on the man. Standing behind a polished wooden desk was a slight man with medium length, slicked-back hair and a tanned complexion. Brand walked further into the room, the gunmen from the hallway, trailing close behind.
“Have a seat.” The words uttered from behind the desk. Brand slid a stuffed leather chair, stepped around and sat down, his eyes remaining on the Colombian.
Quintin Rojas stood behind the desk, watched Brand cross into the room and once Brand was seated the Colombian lowered into his chair.
“What a welcome surprise.” The Colombian sneered at his guest.
“You must be Rojas?” Brand commented. “The Moreno Cartel’s number two man.”
“It is fitting that you would show up here after the problems you’ve caused.” The Colombian paused, scowling at Brand. “Did you think you would be allowed to walk in here without us knowing?” Rojas averted his eyes from Brand and sought out Susan. “We’ve been keeping tabs on you for some time now.” He added smiling.
Brand followed the Colombian’s gaze, his gaze also stopping on Susan.
“So it seems.” Brand agreed. “Tough some days to separate your friends from your enemies.” He declared. His stare fixed on Susan’s face. “Although that does explain a lot.”
“Do you take us for buffoons.” The Colombians voice grew louder, more exasperated. “What. You think we would allow you to steal our merchandise and destroy our property and yet remain out of our reach.” Rojas’ face reddened by the reminder of the Cartels lost shipment of drugs and the money lost because of this man. He started to anger all over again.
“Hey, asshole. You sent gunmen to my house. You shot my friends or don’t you recall… well I suppose only one was my friend as it turns out.
A few ounces of drugs and a couple of dollars should be the least of your worry.” Brand threatened. “Count yourself lucky if I don’t climb across this desk and rip your head off and stuff it up your ass for what your piss ant Cartel did.” Brand struggled to stay seated as rage replaced caution. The gunmen standing behind his chair took a step closer. One put his hand on Brand’s shoulder pressing him tight into the chair to prevent him from going through with the threat.
Rojas waved his men back and sat studying Brand.
“We could have used a man like you.” Rojas shook his head as if the thought saddened him. “But I see it would not have worked out…you and us. Tell me, with all the effort to come up here; you did bring the phone to trade for your friend?”
Brand smiled. The phone. He had all but forgotten about it after plugging it in to charge back in the loft. The events from the afternoon diverted his mind. He didn’t even think to check the video and see if it contained the identity of the Moreno Cartel’s boss. It didn’t matter any longer, he supposed. The boss’s identity wasn’t anonymous to him any longer.
With a non-jovial smile on his face, he looked Rojas’ in the eyes.
“You know, I actually forgot about the phone. I guess it doesn’t make a difference…I don’t believe I have a friend here to trade it for, now do I. In fact, I would go as far to say that I don’t even have a stake in this stupid turf war any longer.” He waited and let Rojas digest his words before calling the Moreno Cartel’s boss out.
“Isn’t that true, Jerry,” He said, his raised voice causing the words to reverberate inside the room.
A door somewhere out of Brand’s view opened. The room fell silent. Rojas looked past him. The Cartel underboss’ gaze followed the sound of the open door. Brand remained looking forward. An older man with carefully groomed gray hair and wrapped in an expensive Italian suit strode into the main office.
Brand stared straight ahead at the distracted Rojas. Footsteps preceded the man as he walked over to the desk. Brand listening to the soft footfalls on the carpet as the steps drew closer. He already knew whom he was about to see before the newcomer stepped into his sight. Three men crossed into his vision. Two armed men and the leader of the Moreno Cartel.
“You get around my friend. That’s for damn shore.” The old fishing guide said as he waited for Rojas to vacate the chair.
“It pains me that we have to meet again under these circumstances.” Jerry confessed to Brand. The Cartel boss took the vacated chair behind the big polished wood desk. Absently he ran his swept his hand at some imaginable dust.
Brand held his reply, but his eyes remained locked on Jerry’s face. He reassessed the man sitting on the other side of the desk, a man whom Brand had regarded as his friend. For the past several years Jerry’s act of being an old, down on his luck, drunk, fishing guide, fooled him. Boy, he sure read that book wrong, Brand admitted.
The men sat across from each other re-evaluating what they now saw. One looking for the entire world as a well to do businessman who had things under control, the other staring back with a look of deep contempt.
The man running the Moreno Cartel ended the stalemate.
“Sorry it has to come to this my friend.” Jerry Kartman glanced from Brand to his daughter. “For what it was worth. I did enjoy our time on the water and our impromptu bullshit sessions.” “Long before my life took this path, I honestly relished the days I spent guiding back home.”
“Back home as in Nova Scotia or back home in some South American country?” Brand spat out refusing to merrily go down memory lane. “Did you ever live in the Maritimes or was that all part of your cover?”
“No. I am originally from Halifax…” Jerry looked up at the ceiling as the long forgotten memories poured back into his conscious. “That is where Susan was born. Before I divorced her mother. The name was different back then, mind you. I feel I at least owe you an explanation.” He continued.
“Spare me.” Brand stopped him. “I really haven’t got time for your shit.”
Jerry looked back at his friend, his face reddening from the auditory slap.
“I believe that this may be all the time you have left, so don’t be in a hurry to throw it away. When I’m done speaking, I will have no reason to keep you alive. In fact, quite the opposite, I can’t let you live, knowing what you now know.” Jerry added with no more emotion than if he was ordering a meal.
“Back in the Maritimes when I was a lot younger and after several bouts on the wrong side of the law, I was given the option of jail or joining the army. Obviously the army won out.” Jerry launched into his life story. Brand took the opportunity to survey the room. Mentally placing every piece of furniture, committing the room’s layout to memory. He placed the guards, deciding which men he should deal with first, which ones presented the path of least resistance and his best chance of appropriating a gun and maybe walking out of this office alive.
“My string of bad luck followed me into the army and how shall I say…I had to part company ahead of a court martial. Do you know how many opportunities wait ex military in those shithole South American countries? The ruling governments are happy to employ mercenaries. The Cartels are always on the look for employees who don’t mind blood on their hands and even the American government was more than happy to ignore my misforgivings as long as I was willing to work as a hired gun. Hell, the Americans sought me out and recruited me.”
Brand carefully tracked the movements of the others in the room, especially Rojas. The Colombian was the wild card. He stood to the side and remained wary to every movement, in comparison to the guards who had started to relax while Jerry droned on.
“I did contract jobs for different agencies for a while, but the longer I remained in the area the more I grew to admire the Cartels. They commanded respect with fear, lived in the big mansions high above everyone else. THEY told the government officials and the police what to do and when. And money. Jesus…they had money, so much so that they could wipe their asses with it. So I made a decision right then and there, I tell you. I wanted what they had. The respect, the women, the money.”
The guards flanking Jerry relaxed; their guns held loosely in their hands. Brand turned his head slightly and caught the reflection of the two guards stationed directly behind him. These two were also becoming less attentive.
Still, Rojas watched like an eagle. Susan had wondered over toward the windows, the gun she had removed from Brand, lying unattended on the side bar. Useless, he noted, since he removed the bullets earlier.
“I put in my time being an errand boy for the Moreno boys. Biding my time until I gained the trust of the two brothers who ran the Cartel. One afternoon, as luck would have it, I found myself alone with the Moreno’s. By this time my friend Quintin and several others in the Cartel’s employ had become tired of the brothers. There I stood. All I had to do was remove the brothers and bingo…I inherited my very own drug operation.
The first problem to arise was the fact that I’m obviously not Colombian. People in that country are suspicious of outsiders. I knew I couldn’t control the men if they knew a foreigner was running the operation so I convinced Rojas to pose as the new boss. I ran the cartel from the shadows.
Things worked better then I hoped. I was able to travel and move about undetected. I had it all, the respect, the big mansion, I even sent for Susan. She came and lived with me, but then the other cartels started putting the heat to us…well, we figured we’d set up shop back in this country away from their tentacles.
And it was working beautifully until that nosey kid came along hiring on at the fly shop. Just another snot nosed fishing guide.” Jerry paused and shook his head. “The kid was good. I will have to give him credit. All the while we hung around, I never once suspected him for an undercover narc.
Hell. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I found out you were retired and guiding in the city, the best agent to ever work for the Canadian government. Your reputation certainly precedes you, by the way. The great Brand Coldstream.
So here I was. Running my new venture in the relative safety of my home country and right under your nose. Perfect. I stuck close. I thought that if the law ever became suspicious of an old fly guide making numerous trips back and forth from the coast, my association with you would deflect any suspicions.”
Brand kept scanning the room tracking the others movements. While Jerry droned on, he found a clock mounted across the room and checked the time. Jerry noticed the clock, stopped his auditory then stared at Brand and laughed.
“Am I keeping you from an important appointment? Have you got some place to go?” He asked. Brand shrugged away the question and motioned the old guide to carry on as he stifled a yawn.
Jerry sat quiet staring at his prisoner trying to read his mind and figure out what the man had up his sleeve. He turned and looked at each of his guards checking on their positions. After a brief time he delved back into his story. The man in front of him had no options as far as he could see.
“When I discovered my phone missing, I thought at first that maybe I did get sloppy and misplace it while we were drinking. Then I got to thinking…you know…in my business it pays to be paranoid.” He stopped and smiled. “What’s that saying…just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” He laughed.
“I had spent years, religiously hiding my identity and then my phone goes missing. That phone contains some compromising pictures for a man in my position. Video of me doing business with some very prominent business associates. Men who I’ve had the good fortune to convince to help my cause because of the videos and suddenly all that was in jeopardy because some snot nosed kid steals my phone.
The more I thought about that, the more paranoid I became.” Jerry stood up and left his desk walking over to the bar in the corner. The room remained quiet as he mixed a drink then slowly returned to his chair.
“I suddenly started to wonder if you weren’t involved with the kid. You with your background in law enforcement, I mean. What was a guy to think?”
Brand started tapping his foot in impatience. A few more minutes, he reminded himself, were all he needed if his plan were to actually work. He needed Jerry to keep talking.
“So why bother with the façade of being a fishing guide? Hell, we spent rain days tying and drinking?” Brand asked.
“Well that part was genius.” The old guide bragged. “Under that guise, I was free to travel back and forth to my warehouse and keep an eye on things with out any one questioning my movements. I mean…really, who was going to stop an old man pulling a drift boat down the highway?
And why. Guides in this section of the country are always traveling between provinces, guiding the rivers in between. This area is famous for the fishing.” Jerry stopped and smiled pleased with the plan that allowed him to run his operation in the open with nobody the wiser. Then his face changed from a pleasing smile to an outright scowl.
“Which unfortunately brings us back to the current problem. You, my friend.” Jerry scowled deeper as if he was struggling with a problem that had no pleasant options left but the inevitable. “My phone. Do you have it or not?”
Brand pulled his phone from his front pocket. Holding Jerry’s gaze, he slid his thumb over the screen activating the power, surreptitiously sending a prearranged message. He gently set the device on the desk. Careful to lay it face down hiding the glowing screen. He gave the phone a nudge toward his one time friend. The phone obviously different then the one he expected, his eyes returned to Brand’s face. The Cartel boss failed to notice the lit phone screen.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but this is the only one I have on me.” Brand shrugged. “One thing bothers me about the night Dave died.” He hoped to keep the focus away from the transmitting phone. “Did you pull a gun on Dave first or did he realize you discovered what he was doing and cornered you?”
“Ah.” Jerry’s hand touched his chest. “”That was most unlucky for me. When my men busted into your house, out of nowhere, a gun appears in Dave’s hand. That I did not expect.”
Jerry’s eyes lost focus as he relived the moment. Brand watched the man wince as he ran his hand over the healing bullet wounds.
“I couldn’t let Dave shoot my men so I pulled out my own gun. I rushed my shot, missing the young bugger. He shot through his surprise. His first bullet caught me near the shoulder. His second came damn close to my heart. Almost ending me.
You were supposed to be there.” A flash of hate passed across Jerry’s face. “I had convinced myself that Dave and you were working together to take me down. I couldn’t allow that so I arranged for those men to visit the house and eliminate you both.
Easy enough to explain to the cops, a drug deal gone sour. Nothing the cops haven’t come across before. I even had a cache of drugs in my truck to plant on the scene.”
Jerry stoked his chin. A sad smile moved his lips. “Dave packing a gun to our drinking party. Who’d have thought?”
Coming out of his brief reverie, Jerry focused back on Brand. “Alright then. I hope I answered all your questions. Won’t matter though. Seems that your time has run out.” He turned to look at Rojas.
“Quinton…” the old guide started to say when the lights in the office flickered off and then back on. Questioningly, he looked around the room. The overhead bulbs blinked a second time. The room was again plunged into darkness. A couple heartbeats passed before the brightness returned. The promise of light also brought an ear piercing assault. Fire alarms screamed a warning. The high-pitched squeal added to the confusion. Mixed in with the alarms unnerving whine came a louder, underlining rancorous rumble, an un-muffled roar that emanated from outside the building and rose up the five floors, reverberating in the closed confines of the office.
“What the...?” Jerry exclaimed. “Get security on the phone and see what in the hell is going on.” He issued the order to the men standing in the room.
Quinton Rojas ignored his boss. Strange sounds outside the building drew his attention toward the large office windows. Puzzled, he gazed down into the parking lot five stories below. Bobbing, solitary headlamps distinguished rows of thundering motorbikes as the machines rolled off the adjoining streets and turned onto the casino grounds. The bikers began flooding the lanes between parked vehicles, weaving their way toward the base of the building.
The individual engines combining with each other to compile a symphony of deep growling undercurrents that vibrated the structure of the casino.
Rojas remained by the window. Casino patrons rushed out the exit doors and into the cool night air, the stampede driven to panic by the screeching alarms blasting through the building.
The second lapse in the room’s lighting foretold a predetermined signal for Brand to advance his plans. He pressed his eyelids closed and breathed deeply, calming his heart, preparing for the chaos to come. His pupils slowly adjusted to the lack of light, his ears sorting through the stuttered movements of the Cartel members in the office.
“Holy shit!” The Colombian, Rojas, exclaimed as the lights in the office went out a third time and remained off.
Before the generators in the sub basement had a chance to switch on and power the emergency lighting, Brand planted his feet firmly, his body tensed and ready.
Launching out of the chair, he dove across the large wooden desk, his leap, one of faith, a complete trust of his memory as to where the gunman in the room stood. In the cover of the unexpected darkness, Brand’s shoulder contacted the soft midsection of the guard standing on the old guide’s left. The momentum from his jump carried the two men back toward the bar in the corner of the office.
Taking advantage of the element of surprise, Brand smashed an elbow into the side of the man’s head, dazing the guard. His other hand fought against the guard’s grasp, both men wrestling for the guard’s handgun. A second slice with an elbow, Brand felt the guard’s tight grip loosen. Brand wrenched the gun free and rolled off the stunned man. With his back tight to the corner bar, he waited motionless, bent low to the floor.
He tracked the others by shouts of disbelief and scurrying feet. Scrambling to his feet, he indiscriminately sent a double tap of bullets traveling in the direction of the desk. Faint silhouettes moved in the tight confines of the office. With no friends in the space, he fired freely, tracking the movements of shadowy figures as they were highlighted by the weak infusion of light filtering through the office windows.
Scrambling footsteps on carpet and the exhalation of breath betrayed the people scurrying in the room. He strained to detect the slight sounds of the others. The escalating roar of poorly muffled bike engines converging in the parking lot raised five stories, reverberating off the interior walls of the office.
Brand squeezed tighter into a corner created by the bar. With shallow breaths, he systematically scanned the room’s interior for living shadows.
The advantage was now his. He had no worries about who he shot, a disadvantage for the Cartel men hunting him. A fleeting shadow crept along a perpendicular wall. He fired and moved, the flash from the gun barrel exposing his position. A startled grunt told him that his bullet wasn’t wasted. A surge of bullets replied and slapped into the wooden bar. Splintering wood and shattering glass exploded outward.
He stuck low to the floor scurrying over splinters and glass. His shoulders brushed a chair lying on its side nearer the middle of the room. The chair he dove from minutes earlier. Extending his hand, he felt in the darkness for the side of the desk.
The cacophony of bike engines increased throwing up a wall of overwhelming sound. He strained to hear. The deafening noise rendered his hearing useless. Taking a risk, he rose up from behind the shelter of the desk and sprayed a round of bullets into the far walls. The guns hammer clicking loudly as it hit an empty chamber.
Cursing, he ducked back below the top of the desk. Trails of light passed overhead as a volley of bullets gouged the desk and potted the wall behind. Thinking quickly he reviewed his options. The safety of shelter was limited. He recalled Susan setting a gun on top the bar after they entered the room, a tinge of regret for removing the gun’s ammunition a curse.
How hard had he hit the first guard he took down? Would the man still be unconscious beside the only other form of shelter in the room?
Taking a couple deep breaths he steadied himself then dove the short distance from the desk. The unmistakeable feel of cloth covered flesh greeted him. Brand felt along the body. His hand stopped at the familiar touch of hardened plastic. With an increased sense of desperation, he fumbled with the fabric of the unconscious guard’s jacket, his fingers searching for the opening to the coats inner pocket.
Deftly, he slid a thumb across the top of the cartridge holder tracing the tapered metal of a casing. Brand hefted the weight of the body and squeezed between the man’s bulk and the edge of the bar. He ripped the spent magazine free of the gun and rammed the full one in its place.
Peering over the shoulder of the downed guard, he searched the darkened room for the remainder of Jerry’s men. At least two were wounded, he figured. That would still leave two guards, Rojas, Jerry and Susan. Susan he discounted because she had left the gun when they entered the room.
He would have to concentrate on Rojas and the other two guards. And Jerry. The old guide had claimed he was ex-military. That set the odds at four to one. All the men, he counted as dangerous and if he lay hidden, the four had the chance to flank his position.
He slid up the wall, his back pressed tight alongside the bar. For a second he focused on the side of the desk facing him. The shadows were unbroken. He fired past the desk hoping for a lucky shot. The wall of noise engulfing the room grew in pitch. His senses overloaded.
A tumbled across the floor and his roll stopped when his shoes contacted the hard material of the desk. With his head tight to the floor he watched. Was it his imagination or…a change in the near complete blackness…a foot shifted a short distance away.
From his awkward position, he twisted bringing the gun inline with the opening under the desk. Brand squeezed the trigger. The bullet found its mark. Even with the numbing sounds of the bikes engines flooding the room, he heard a loud cry of pain. Then he felt, rather than heard, a thud rattled the top of the desk. Another presence loomed out of the dark. Brand fired up into the mass, the bullet sending the guard toppling back.
Brand flipped onto his feet. He braced his hands and lifted the desk. The floor shook when the wooden top fell against the floor. The desk now rested on its side. His actions eliminated the very opening he had just used. From the far wall, bullets tore into the solid desk.
The acrid smoke from the gunpowder that drifted through the closed room thickened making breathing difficult and burning his eyes.
The roar of the motorbike engines peaked and then the brain numbing chaos eased. Brand found the absence of the brain numbing uproar unnerving. In front and to the side he heard the rub of hinges. A door opened then slammed shut.
Who or how many went through the door. He had no way of knowing, but gambling on the others leaving could prove fatal, that thought was quickly replaced by another. Whoever left by the side door now posed an even greater problem? What if that door led into the hallway and back to the main office door?
Brand slid around to the side of the desk putting his back toward the bar. He strained the limits of his sight searching the darkness across the room looking for shadows that didn’t belong. While his attention focused on the far wall, the office door flew open and bullets stung the frame of the desk. The spot he had seconds earlier vacated. Closely following the flurry of shots fired from the door, a shadow moved from the side of the room and rushed forward, a second flash of exploding gunpowder marking the shooter’s positions.
Rolling toward the advancing shadow, Brand fired just above the flare of the exposed gun barrel, aiming for the mass of the person squeezing the trigger. The first of his bullets missed and shattered a window. In a sweeping motion, he pivoted and fired over the top of the overturned desk in the direction of the office door while he leapt back.
The wall of the office met him, stopping his retreat. He bounced off. Dropping to his knees, he waited. His vision temporarily blinded by the flash of gunfire. A primitive scream broke through the brief silence. A shadow lifted from the floor and rushed. Bracing against the wall, Brand straightened to meet the challenge.
One of the guards charged the short distance; the man’s hand held in the air, an empty gun wielded as a club. Brand ducked under the weapon driving a fist square into the man’s mid section. Air erupted in a blast from the guard’s mouth. The man staggered back. Brand braced for another rush realizing that he was exposed to the rest of the room.
A second body rushed him. Brand lowered his gun and fired. The attackers momentum carried into Brand. He struggled to overcome the crush of Rojas’ body as blows were delivered at his head. Using his gun as a club, Brand swung upward, stunning the Colombian with a strike to the man’s jaw. Using his empty hand, he followed the guns arc with a fist to the Colombian’s body. His efforts stopped the forward momentum and drove the man back.
While Rojas shrugged off the assault, he fought to gain his footing, tripping over the sprawling guard. The unexpected collision sent him careening in the direction of the broken window. With impeded vision, Brand watched the blending of shadows and silhouettes dance in the weak glow of lighting from outside the room. As if in slow motion, Brand saw Rojas’ macabre dance to gain his balance while being entwined with guards attempt to rise from the floor.
The combination sent the small Colombian teetering through the shattered window. A pause followed by a harrowing scream as Quinton Rojas body plunged through the opening in the shattered window five stories above ground. The small man held briefly by the shards of glass remaining in the window frame. The guard rose to his feet, turned at the sound of his boss’s terrified scream then clutched desperately to catch hold of falling man’s coat, the flimsy fabric slipping out of his grasp.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Brand fired point blank into the guard, once, twice, then the hammer clicked on a dry cylinder. The man crumpled to the ground.
A breeze blew into the room, the roar from the motorbikes climbing in decibels, rising up to reach the fifth floor. In the room, Brand stood motionless, his senses alert for further attacks. A door slammed followed by the sound of retreating footsteps, the noise in the hallway growing faint, a body or bodies beating a hasty retreat from the room.
The cry of sirens made Brand glance back toward the broken pane of glass. Emergency vehicles, their lights flashing and horns blaring, started to mix into the blend of fire alarms and motorbikes.
The leaders of the newly arrived gangs swung off their bikes and approached Roy’s men. A few minutes of conversation followed by handshakes. The opening of the door interrupted Brand’s conversation. Little Abe led the unknown bikers into the building. The ear-shattering din of revving engines died off returning the acreage to an eerie silence.
Brand gave the Manager a final look then walked over to Little Abe.
"This is San Diego," Abe introduced the Disciples leader, standing next to Diego, Abe motioned to Harv Greely, the man leading the Montana Grave Runners. The three men were already planning the demise of the Wolves rivals.
“Time to run the bastards out of your city." San Diego espoused. "The guys and I are looking forward to the challenge of driving those losers over the mountains all the way to the coast.”
Little Abe laughingly agreed. “Those that will be able to run…I think that by the time the nights over, most will only be able to crawl or have to be carried away.” He focused on Brand and explained what the extra manpower would mean in putting a stop to the Cartels siege of the city.
The mood inside the Quonset changed. The Wolves gang members, who only a short time earlier, were looking up at a war from the losing end, breathed a sigh of relief. Although Roy's men stood tall in the face of the advancing Warriors, their attitudes strengthened at the addition to their depleted ranks. From the back of the Quonset, cartwheels scraped across the worn concrete floor. Loud voices quieted as everyone looked in search of the interruption. Cases of beer towered from a rickety cart, loaded from a back room and offered as a sign of friendship. The sight of the wobbling beer cart drew hoots and yells of encouragement.
Brand glanced around the room at the mingling of tough men sporting the various colours of gang symbols. He noted the change in atmosphere. The sight of the wagon loaded with beer helped smooth tensions among the newly introduced bikers, as it rolled from the far end of the room. The quiet, reflective mood of the Wolves from minutes earlier changed to a lightened, celebratory feeling.
The pungent smell of burning weed wafted into the air joining the sound of opening beer cans and loud approval. The members of the various gangs grew boisterous as they settled into a sense of ease with the each other.
Standing to the side Brand half listened as the bikers drank beer and plotted to return the city to the Wolves. Shouted questions of who and how many men should be employed to attack chosen Warrior hangouts.
Susan appeared. Her features etched with concern as she scanned the leagues of men. Strangers sporting vests and jackets stitched with colourful patches denoting unfamiliar emblems of the different gangs flooded the interior of the room. Pushing through the growing crowd, she crossed the floor and stood by Brand’s side. The two stood quietly, mesmerized, as the melding alliance of bikers argued over details. The air interrupted at times by loud displays of anger toward their now common enemy.
Brand took Susan’s hand and pulled her away from the bikers back toward the office leaving the door open. He began searching the desk and drawers. The ravaging pain haunting his body after days of abuse begged for a reprieve. He rifled through drawers filled with receipts and notebooks, pens and envelopes.
“What did Cartwright tell you?” Susan asked. “Is he privy to the Colombians inner workings? What do they plan on doing? Did he identify the leader of the Moreno Cartel?” Susan bombarded Brand with questions. Her words betrayed her curiosity, the tone of her voice bordering on panic.
Brand half listened to her questions. His mind occupied. His joints ached, the blood vessels in his head sparked with each beat of his heart. If only…the second drawer down, on the left side of the desk rewarded his effort and fortified his belief in human behaviour. Nine times out of ten, in drawers of an office desk, you would find a bottle of pills.
Facts were facts. The same held true for other traits. When people were nervous, they let their guard slip. No matter the façade they presented, certain mannerisms were hard to disguise. These ruminations flashed across his consciousness in between the jolts of pain throbbing in his skull.
Relief for the headache came in the form of a bottle of painkillers. The key to understanding the Cartels weakness came in the philosophical quest to find something that he knew lay waiting for discovery. Brand popped the lid off the pill bottle and dumped two tablets into his palm. Tossing the plastic container back into the drawer, he turned his search to the side of the office. A collection of liquor bottles sat on a shelf.
Glancing up, he noticed Susan sneak another troubled look out the office door toward the bound Warrior leader. She quickly pulled her gaze back inside the office when she saw him turn in her direction. What if his approach to the shootings and the Colombian’s actions were from the wrong perspective? Could he be overlooking the obvious because of personal bias? In amongst the throbbing pulse in his brain, a new train of thought presented itself. Despite himself, a flicker of a smile touched his lips. In the midst of a raging headache, a moment of absolute clarity. He knew what he had to do.
Brand squeezed past Susan, his hand gripping a bottle of amber whiskey. Spinning the cap lose, he tossed the pills into his mouth then tilted the glass bottle of whiskey, washing the pain medicine down his throat with a promise of the whiskey chaser speeding up the medication. Out of the corner of his eye, he studied Susan as she stole another furtive glance in Cartwright’s direction.
The pills slid toward his stomach, the whiskey burning the back of his throat. Brand shook his head bracing against the raw burn of the potent liquid. The scattered pieces of a troubling puzzle slowly locked together.
Brand set the bottle back on the shelf and turned to Susan. Briefly, he explained how he intended to free her father. The plan was risky but possible. The war was going to end tonight, he assured her.
“Cartwright.” He said pointing to the Warrior chained in the center of the room. “He believes that the Colombians may be holding your dad at the Millennium Casino. The gambling house perched on the western outskirts of the city," he clarified. "Warrior run, but under the control of the Colombians.” Brand paused, wondering how much of his plan he should reveal. “The top floor is strictly Cartel inhabited he told me.”
“Has that man seen dad?” She asked apprehensively. Fingers in her raised hand pointed to the man tied in the center of the milling bikers. With a worried expression, she glanced at Brand and then out of the office at the Manager.
Brand shook his head in response “No. Cartwright said he hasn’t been up to that floor for weeks but thinks it’s entirely possible that your dad could be a prisoner there. It’s all I’ve got to go on for now,” he shrugged. “Slightly better than nothing.” He said in way of an apology. Studying her face, his words conveyed the poor feelings he suffered for not having a better answer.
“I’m going to the Casino take a look later tonight.” He looked past Susan at the fusion of bikers who continued loudly plotting. “I can’t wait. If these guys clash with the Warriors, your dad could become a casualty. I won’t allow that.” He promised.
“Take me with you.” She pleaded.
“No. My idea is too dangerous. I could very well be walking into a trap.”
“The casino will be crowded. Surely the men at the Casino wouldn’t try anything with so many witnesses around.” Reasoning with him, she added. “I can blend in on the gaming floor. I should be safe among the crowds.”
Studying her, Brand pretended to turn the idea over in his head before finally giving in to her request.
“We’ll leave when it gets dark. It’ll be harder to spot us on camera when we arrive. Grab your things. I need to make a quick call, and then we’ll head into town and grab a bite to eat.”
Brand excused himself and showed Susan out of the office. Closing the door, he locked out the loud, rowdy talking of the bikers.
“…Yeah. I’m going in tonight. Do you think that will give you enough time to set up?” He listened briefly to an answer, and before he ended the call, he added. “Be sure to apologize to Sarah for me, will you. I’ve been pretty busy.” He hesitated. “Tell her I’ll call as soon as this is over.”
Grabbing a piece of paper from the desk, he scribbled a brief note and left the office. He scanned the mob of bikers gathered in the Quonset, crossing the warehouse floor when he located Little Abe. Brand pulled Abe aside, and turning his back to shield his movements he stuck the note in the bikers vest pocket.
“Read it after I leave.” He instructed Little Abe then quickly sketched out his plans for the evening. "Something I've got to check out at the Millennium," he finished the conversation when Susan joined the two men.
With Susan at his side, the two walked away from the bikers and the Quonset for Cartwright’s truck.
The discussions among the newly formed group of outlaw bikers dragged on into the early evening hours. Plans were made then changed and changed again. Each gang considered equal among the others so delegating orders became heated at times.
Around the supper hour, the Crypt Riders from the Northern part of the province rode into the already crowded lot of the Wolves metal building. Close on the heels of the parade of outlaws came a small police presence. Singletary squad cars followed the caravan of roaring motorbikes. Officers watched as groups of bikers turned off the secondary highway. A long line of rattling machines and dusty riders flowed out of sight disappearing onto the grassy entrance of a yard. The police cars remained on the shoulder of the secondary road unable to enter the private land. The pairs of uniforms bided their time in idling patrol cars broadcasting updates to their superiors, recording plate numbers and staring at a narrow view offered of the yard between breaks in the shielding bushes.
The recent arrival of a large number of riders wearing unfamiliar colours and entering the city proper caused concern for the cops in charge of keeping law and order in the greater Calgary area. The bikers had so far broken no rules. The unexpected appearance of hundreds of bikers in the area created an atmosphere of concern for the police waiting nervously on the sidelines. Keeping an eye on the gathering, while showing a police presence was the only action available.
Joining in on the plans for a raid against the Warrior faction, the Crypt Riders became impatient.
“We didn’t drive all this way to sit around drinking beer and cackle like a bunch of old ladies.” Matt Henley, the frontman of the Crypts biker gang, shouted while urging his fellow compatriots to action.
“What about the cops sitting outside.” Asked a junior member.
“They’re waiting for us to move.”
“Not enough of them to bother with.” Little Abe responded. “When we leave, we leave in small groups. The cops can’t follow all of us. We join up again once we’re closer to our targets.”
As dark began descending, the men crowded in the building set the beer aside and fuelled by the booze and drugs, focused on the long night ahead. Little Abe began dispatching small units of riders away from the Quonset. Sets of four or six men mounted bikes and re-entered the highway, turning toward the city.
After a number of the men left, Abe motioned to San Diego of the Devils Disciples, Harv Greely from the Grave Runners and Henley of the Crypts.
"Mount up." He said. "The cops know who I am. When we leave, I'm sure that the uniforms posted out front will follow us." He raised his voice and spoke over the dying noise from the remaining men. "Give us a twenty-minute head start and then ride to your assignments."
Abe gave final instructions to the men who would leave the premises last.
"Remove what you can and then burn the building to the ground. After tonight, the police will return with warrants to search the place."
The police assigned with spying on the gathering, sat in their cars, thumbs on car mikes, reporting as the bikers slowly filed out of the Quonset. Every few minutes a group of 3 or 4 men climbed on their bikes and left the area. Updates issued across police channels and back to central dispatch. The police were aware that trouble was heading for the city, but with no legal cause to stop the bikers, all the law enforcement in the area could do was prepare for the battle they knew was about to happen.
The leaders of the separate outlaw gangs rode together out of the yard with Little Abe in the lead. The four men wheeled onto the secondary road past the idling squad cars. Recognition of Little Abe had the desired effect. The officers watching the acreage rammed the squad cars into gear and followed the men north.
A grim smile etched Little Abe's face as he led the procession away from the Quonset allowing the largest part of bikers to leave unhindered. He motored into the city lights and wove among the evening traffic to the northeast quadrant of the city. Abe rolled his bike into a hospital parking lot. The same hospital that Roy Thundercloud was recovering from the gunshot wounds a night earlier.
Little Abe dismounted. He glanced past the vehicles filling the lot, his smile growing as he spied the squad cars roll to a stop at the entrance to the hospital grounds. With the police forces eyes focused on him, the next part of the plan now had a chance to unfold.
Hanging his helmet on the bike handlebars, Abe led the visiting bikers into the hospital. Before the attack on the Warriors could begin, a visit to the bed-ridden leader of the Wolves in a show of respect.
At a strip club in the mid-Northwest of the city, half a dozen Warriors leaned against their bikes smoking and talking. The conversation ending abruptly as one by one their heads swivelled, their voices drowned out by the sound of motorcycles turning into the parking lot.
The upside to wearing biker colours alerted people to who you rode for and warned them to leave you alone. The downside: everyone knew which gang you rode with. The approaching band of bikers wasn't wearing Warrior colours or patches. The colours they wore were from three provinces east. The Desperados motorcycle gang out of Ontario. The Desperados gang’s colours and insignia were unknown to the local boys.
The bikers wearing the Warrior colours pushed upright off the bike seats, unfinished cigarettes flung to the ground. The men eyed the approaching riders, uncertain of the newcomer's intentions. The new squad rode up to the waiting Warriors. The leader of the group stopped in front of the Calgary squad. Straddling his machine, he removed his helmet and sat on his bike. A grim face scanned the confused men.
The man shouted at the Warriors over the rumble of his bike’s engine.
“This your establishment?” He asked.
The Warrior closet to the man stepped forward. “Names Ike. You’re on Warrior turf friend.” He braced the man with more confidence than he was feeling.
The Desperado’s leader just smiled back. “Ike is it. Good to meet you. I’m John Harvey.” The frontman for the Desperados returned the greeting. He motioned with his head signalling his intentions. Men, dusty from the long ride, rolled their loud bikes past the leader surrounding the Warriors. Kickstands dug into the gravelled lot while the men dismounted. The rattle of chains and the glitter off street lights reflected off lengths of metal pipes freed from saddlebags sent a wave of fear through the small group of Warriors.
“How many men are inside?” Harvey asked the Warrior named Ike. Ike gulped down his nervousness. The question was rhetoric. The number of Warriors outside and the number of bikes they stood clustered beside were equal in number.”
Harvey eyed the man. “Do you have a phone, Ike?” The Warrior patted his pocket.
“Pull it out,” Harvey commanded. “I want you to send a message to your clan. Choose the number you dial carefully. You'll only get one chance.” John Harvey waited while the Warrior fumbled the phone from his pocket.
“What message?” Ike asked.
“Tell whoever answers to listen to your words very carefully and then spread the message through your organization." Harvey lit a cigarette while Ike dialled his phone." Harvey listened as Ike spoke to his contact. "Tell them; Hells Warriors run in this city is over. Warn your compadrès that any who choose not to put this city skyline in their bikes rear view mirrors within the hour will... Well, let's just say they will understand my message very soon.”
John Harvey motioned to his men. “I want half of you to head into the club. Empty it out then burn it down.” Harvey sat on his bike. He listened to the sound of kickstands digging scraping the ground and the crunch of footsteps. He eyed the puzzled Warriors, never letting his eyes stray from the men in front of him.
The Warriors watched with wide eyes as a several of the Desperados climbed the stairs to the entrance of the strip club.
When the Desperados left an hour later, frantic emergency calls from shocked bystanders who happened onto the scene summoned the police. Volleys signifying the escalating of the simmering war began.
The unconscious Warrior bikers littered the parking lot of the strip club. The six men wearing Warrior colours were severely beaten and left as a warning of the long night to come. The Desperados herded patrons and staff out into the parking lot before the trashing the interior and then tossing cocktails of flaming rags stuffed in bottles of liquor across the empty business. Smoke rose slowly from the interior of the club. Not a three-alarm blaze yet, but the flammable material lining the club's walls and floors would fuel the fire into one.
As the evening wore on, the merging of the Desperados and Little Abe and his posse, tore a path of destruction against clubs and bars tied to the Warriors. In the path of the cleansing, bikers wearing Warriors colours fell in their wake.
The Warriors who could move were stripped of their colours and warned to leave the city while they were still able to ride. The next time around, the disenfranchised bikers would be lucky if a bad beating was all they received.
The Warrior/ Colombian faction started the war. On this night, the Wolves and their new allies were determined to end it. By morning the city would be the turf of Hells Warriors or the Wolves of Satan. The days of the city split between the two rival gangs was ending.
Relaying directions to the south of the city and back to the acreage with the Quonset, the two men rode silently. James Cartwright, his eyes focused on the road, occasionally stole glances at his captor. Maybe the fuss about the fishing guide had some merit, he thought. In his mind, he chastised himself for underestimating the man’s abilities and until he had a chance to escape he had to suffer from his mistake.
Brand sat stoically, nursing the pain radiating throughout his beaten and battered body. His eyes tilted in the direction of the brooding Manager. The two men, each wary of the other's reputation, traveled uneasy on the journey across the city.
The clock in the pickup read four thirty a.m. The adrenaline that built during the evening and powered Brand’s quest quickly began fading. He struggled to keep his eyes open, and his mind focused on the man driving the vehicle.
Quarter after five, the two pulled off the highway and drove the last few minutes on the gravel road, past the bush line and into the yard housing the Quonset. Brand told Cartwright to stop. He waited. Past heavy eyelids he watched as the rifle-toting guards materialized from around the building, space lit up by the truck's headlights.
“Turn off the truck and hand me the keys.” Brand commanded. “If you step out of this truck the men you see are more than likely going to shoot you and I can’t allow that to happen quite yet.” He said as he climbed out of the passenger side, his hands held high in the air. He waited for Roy’s men to approach.
Little Abe, the same biker who had approached Brand the last time he showed up at the Quonset, moved cautiously toward Cartwright’s truck, his automatic rifle held with both hands covering the unknown vehicle. Noticing Brand, he lowered the gun.
“Jesus…you keep showing up like this you are going to get yourself shot.”
“Yeah…I know…next time I’ll call ahead.” Brand dropped his arms and walked around the truck yanking open the driver’s door. He grabbed the back of Cartwright’s collar and pulled the leader of the rival Warrior’s out into the open.
At the sight of the Manager, Little Abe raised his gun back up. “What the hell?” He exclaimed. “Why would you bring an asshole like that here? What’s going on?” Abe took a step back, his gun covering Brand and the rival biker.
“Whoa. Slow down cowboy.” Brand tightened his grip on Cartwright’s collar and led the man toward the big metal building. “I needed someplace to have a private conversation. I'll need somebody to watch over this fine gentleman until I have more time to deal with him.”
The bikers guarding the building looked at each other. Angry words floated across the yard.
“Because of this asshole, a lot of our friends are in the hospital. His Warriors have hunted our men and destroyed businesses, so what makes you think that we won’t kill the man.” One of the guards asked.
“Some nerve.” Another angry voice cut through the night air. “Who do you think you are? Waltz in here like you own the place and think we’ll be happy entertain this bugger! Not fucking likely!”
“I don’t know man.” Anger coloured little Abe's face as he separated from the other men. “Letting you take the truck was one thing…but this is going too far.”
Brand yanked on Cartwright’s collar. He ignored the protests dragging the Warrior’s leader toward the door of the Quonset, the disgruntled bikers begrudgingly moving out of his path.
“I highly doubt his asshole has enough authority to call the shots." Brand defended his actions. "I don’t think he had much say in organizing the attacks. A small potato like him, he does what the Colombians tell him to do, I suspect.” Brand said over his shoulder.
“They wouldn’t trust this coward any more than you do.”
Inside the building, Brand marched his captive to a post in the centre of the room. He glanced around spotting a length of chain lying to the side.
“Pass me that and a lock.” He pointed. Brand handed the Manager an end of the chain. “Hold this and keep your arms by your sides,” he instructed. Brand let the links slide through his hands as he walked circles. The chain tightened as he wound it from the Mangers waist up to the man's shoulders. Tugging at the metal rope, he fed the pin of a lock between two links snapping the chain shut.
He paused a moment eyeing his work then, looked around at the bikers. Brand read the disgust and hatred on their faces.
“Go back to what you were doing. No one lays a finger on this man.” Brand turned, nodded to Little Abe and motioned toward the office. A couple of bikers followed the two.
“I hope you know what you’re doing. You’re not making friends fast around here.” Little Abe commented. “What’s next?”
One of the straggling bikers piped up. “What in the hell happened to your face?” The man asked. “Looks like you went a few rounds with the bumper of a truck.”
Brand let a tired smile move his lips. “Worst part is that the damn truck fought back. Any coffee around this place.” He asked digging his pack of smokes free. After the long night, he felt his muscles relax. Pain and fatigue seeped into his conscious as tension drained away. He accepted the coffee, enjoying the effects of the cigarette.
The ringing of his phone interrupted his short respite. He glanced at the time and then the phone number before answering, a few minutes after six. The number he didn’t recognize.
A soft female voice filtered into his ear.
“Is this Mr. Coldstream?” The woman asked tentatively.
“Yeah. Who’s this?”
“My parents said you visited the store the other day asking about a phone.”
“You’re parents…what store?” Brand’s overtired mind wrestled to make sense of the caller’s words.
“I’m sorry.” The female apologized. “My name is Yen Lee. My parents own Lee’s Groceries in Montgomery. They told me you came to the store asking about Dave Halperson and a phone that was missing.”
Her words cut through the fog in Brand’s brain. He sat up. The weariness weighing down his body was all but forgotten.
“Yeah…yes, I was.” He responded suddenly alert. “Do you know anything about Dave or the phone?”
The girl hesitated. In a barely audible voice, she answered.
“Dave was special to me. A few days before he died, he came to me and begged me to hide the phone. He wouldn’t tell me why. Said I would be safer not knowing." Brand waited. The young lady choked back a tear. "That was the last time I talked to him." She continued. "I hid it away and honestly; I had forgotten about it until you walked into the store and talked to my parents."
“Where are you now?” Brand asked. He had the keys to Cartwright’s truck in his hand and was crossing the floor as he talked.
“The same place you met my parents. We live on the second floor. We have an apartment above the store.”
“I’m on my way. A friend's life depends on it.” He was about to end the call. “You haven’t told anyone else about this phone, have you?” He had to ask.
“No. As I said, I'd forgotten about it until now.”
At the Quonset door, he stopped and called out to Abe. “I need Cartwright alive.” He said pointing to the Warrior tied to the post. “Something important has come up. I'll be back as fast as possible.” As an afterthought, he added. “Promise me you'll keep your guys from killing him." Brand left without hearing Little Abe's response.
Traffic into the city had increased significantly by the time Brand picked up the four-lane highway north into town. Rush hour was well under way. He impatiently tapped the steering wheel as he sat in the truck crawling along with northbound commuters on their way into the city for work.
Forty-five minutes later he pulled into the strip mall. Closed signs greeted him, businesses yet to open for the workday. A hand full of vehicles sat scattered randomly in the lot. Owners and employees, early to work preparing for the new day mixed with cars abandoned after a night of too many drinks at the corner pub.
Brand wedged the truck into a stall a store down from the grocery store. The lights inside the building were off, the door locked, a neon sign read closed. Under the red bulbs a sign displaying the hours of operation.
He stood gazing up at the front of the building. Brand lit a cigarette. Standing on the pavement, he pulled the phone from his pocket. Swiping through the array of screens, he stopped on the call log and hit redial. The number from Lee’s daughter’s recent call front and center on the list. Before the call connected, a moving curtain on the second floor grabbed his attention. A small face framed by straight black hair peered down at him. Her head backlit by the apartment lights.
Brand raised his phone in greeting and shrugged. The woman raised her hand to her ear.
"Are you Dave's friend," she asked.
Brand nodded his head. "Yes," he replied.
"Give me a minute," she said.
Brand crossed the sidewalk closer to the store's entrance. Muffled footsteps grew louder as they approached the door. The sound of sliding metal as the door locks were released before the glass and steel frame opened a crack.
“Mr. Coldstream.” The same face from the second-floor window enquired. Brand pocketed his phone and took a step stopping close to the opening.
“Yes.” He acknowledged. “Brand. You can call me Brand.” He said and smiled, with what he hoped was a reassuring gesture. “Nice to meet you.” He faltered, thoughts of young Dave ran through his mind. Sad that he never knew Dave had a girlfriend and embarrassed to meet the girl under these circumstances. His mood darkened. Some friend he had been.
Brand followed the girl to the back of the crowded convenience store. A back room stuffed with boxed grocery items, trays of goods and a hollowed out space containing an overburdened desk. Yen Lee looked up into Brand's face. Spent teardrops glistened at the edge of her eyes. Her words came out sadly.
"Dave mentioned your name often." Yen Lee started. "He enjoyed the fishing and the friendship." Lee turned her face away. In a shaky, tear-filled voice she told Brand about her relationship with Dave. The young woman's story drifted at times. She smiled at the couple’s happy memories and then talked quieter, choking back the pain of her loss.
Brand felt the fatigue return, swamping his body. He pushed against the lack of sleep and politely listened. The rage over the young guides death fuelling the familiar anger he had been holding at bay for the past several days.
"I am sorry to burden you, Mr. Coldstream," she apologized. Yen Lee squeezed past Brand in the tight confines. She slid a stack of boxes aside revealing wooden shelves. Standing on her toes, she stretched and reached a hand, her fingers exploring at the back of a rack.
Yen Lee twisted and dropped back to flat feet. She faced Brand. Her fingers wrapped tightly around a device as big as her hand. She raised the phone in his direction.
"I hope this helps you," she said.
Brand nodded. "It will. Believe me."
Palming the phone, he held the power button. A warning and a red line told of the lack of battery power. He hid his disappointment. The answer to so many questions nestled in his palm but unable to access them. The need to recharge the battery before he could comb through the stored videos and his chance to review the pictures that cost one friend his life and another held by the Cartel.
"Maybe one day we can meet for a coffee and share happier memories of Dave." He suggested.
Brand stuck the phone in his pocket and thanked the young lady. He wound through the crowded grocery aisles and into the morning sunshine.
One hand on the truck's door handle, his phone rang again. He thought about ignoring the ringing nuisance. He was dead tired and still had lots of work to do before he had a chance to rest. On the third ring, he accepted the call. Susan was on the other end.
“Can you pick me up?” She pleaded. “Detective O’Brien hadn't returned home since your call last night, and I’m afraid being here alone.”
Rubbing his face, Brand stood beside the truck mulling over her request. She was probably safe enough at the detective’s house.
“Fine.” He said. “I’m not that far away. See you in a few.” He hung up and climbed into the truck. The Quonset where he drove Cartwright would also be safe enough, he figured. Roy's men guarded the place continuously. They may be able to keep an eye on her as well, he supposed.
Back in the yard surrounding the Quonset, Brand went through the now-familiar routine of waiting for the guards to do their thing. He was in no mood for these games any longer, but he wouldn’t blame the bikers for being cautious. Not after the war that was being waged by the Warriors over the last few days.
Men appeared at the edge of the bushes. A lone biker, gun held chest high and aimed at the cab of the truck, left his post and warily moved forward.
Recognizing Brand, the guard signalled to the other men watching the property. The man nodded and waved Brand through. The truck rolled the last several feet before Brand pressed the selector in park and removed the key.
Stepping out of the truck, Brand forced his sagging eyelids open. His legs unsteady, his body faltering from equal amounts of fatigue and spent adrenaline, waited by the nose of the truck for Susan to climb from the cab. He motioned Susan ahead as the two walked past armed men.
Crossing the threshold into the metal building, Susan pulled up short at the sight of the Warrior leader chained to a post in the middle of the building. Her hesitation was slight. She recovered quickly and continued further inside. Brand noticed her pause and chalked it up to jitters then put it out of his mind.
"There's possibly a pot of brewed coffee in the office," he pointed her toward the open door. "I'll be along in a minute." Brand strayed to the center of the building. The day's activities transformed the building. The squeal of air wrenches and compressors rattled. The smell of auto paint tainted the air as men climbed among a variety of vehicles in different stages of repair. Fenders and various auto parts littered the floors. The tone in the Quonset muted. The men were murmuring amongst themselves.
"The boys treating you all right?" Brand stopped, facing the Manager. Cartwright glowered back. He studied the biker's face. Red rimmed eyes half concealed behind drooping eyelids. The man struggled against the chains holding him upright against the post.
"You look tired," Brand commented. "Me too. You might as well grab a few winks. We can talk later." Brand was operating on little sleep and knew that if he didn’t find a place to lie down soon, he’d hit a wall of fatigue and be rendered useless.
Walking out of the office, steaming mug of coffee in hand, Brand tracked down Little Abe. “Is there a place I can crash? Somewhere out of the way to grab a few hours of sleep?”
Little Abe pointed to the second level.
"Second room on the right has a couch. I'll make sure you're not disturbed," Abe promised.
The roar of bike engines entered his subconscious bleeding into his troubled dreams. He was on a bike being chased by a band of demons. The demons morphed into the Colombians…then the scene switched to his friends chasing down the highway after him.
The nightmare jumped from the highway to alleys filled with rot, buildings crumbling all around. A wall of brick stopped Brand's escape. Behind Brand, his friends gestured at him accusatorily, their heads replaced by white skulls as flames burned in place of their eyes….
He sat up, his eyes snapping open, the bizarre images disappearing but the rattle of bike engines remained loud, seeping into the building, slowly rising to the still room in the loft he had sought refuge in a short while ago.
Brand's hands rose to his head. A headache drummed his brain while pain and throbbing wracked his weary body.
Outside the massive metal structure, a loud resonating roar vibrated the building. Shaking the cobwebs of sleep away, Brand swung his feet to the floor and stretched before leaving the couch and walking to a small window in the loft. He stood to the side of the window; his fingers peeling the dusty curtain aside.
Gazing outside, he peered down into the yard searching for the source of the noise that had woken him from his dreams. An army of motorbikes filled the gravel lot outside. The loud mufflers of the bikes unable to restrict the throaty rattle thrown off by the powerful engines. The array of bikers wearing different patches and colours.
Brand's heart skipped a beat. None of the biker's in his view carried Wolves colours. The lingering wisps of sleep quickly left his mind. With a clearer head, he scanned the patches below, the names not easily readable, but not Warriors. The clubs he and Little Abe called the previous day.
He dug in his pocket for his phone to check on the time. He pulled two out. In his tired state, he had forgotten to charge the phone Yen Lee had given him. Turning his attention back to his phone, he hit the button and swore, early afternoon already.
Outside the window, dust from the gravel lot settled. Brand's heart skipped half a beat. His breath quickened. The dissipating cloud of dust revealed hundreds of riders straddling motorbikes. His eyes roamed over the yard.
The riders wore leather vests and jackets adorned with unfamiliar gang colours and patches. Brand studied the group. None of the badges resembled the Wolves but in the same breath, not Warrior colours either. The arrivals filled the space between the trees rimming the lot and the building. Noises rose from the lower floor seeping into the loft. Loud, excited talking. The combined sound of many footsteps crossing the concrete floor.
Remaining by the window, he watched as Little Abe and a group of Wolves walked into his sight from somewhere near the Quonset. The Wolves men spread apart, crossing the short distance from the building to challenge the rival bikers.
To Brand's tired eyes, the meeting outside the window was tension filled. His hand went to his side searching for a gun. Were these new riders part of the Warriors and did they discover the location of the Quonset or...no, he realized. The new arrivals would not have ridden in peacefully. Instead, they would have shot their way into the yard with guns ablaze, if they were from the Warriors.
Still, he hung by the window watching the proceedings. The gathering outside seemed friendly enough, and the men who rode into the yard were obviously the bikers Roy had been recruiting.
Brand left the room and climbed the stairs. He spotted Susan walking from the center of the room back toward the office.
“I’m not sure what to do with you?” Brand confessed to James Cartwright as he crossed the floor. “I can’t imagine that my threats or even a good beating would convince you to tell me what I want to know.” He continued as he walked a circle around the Manager. Cartwright followed Brand's movements. The Warrior sagged against the chains holding him in a standing position. "And frankly. I'm too tired to care.
I will tell you what I am prepared to do though.” He stopped in front of Cartwright locking eyes with the man. “I need to know where your Colombian buddies are holding my friend. Tell me, and I will guarantee that the Wolves will not touch you."
He stopped and listened the sound of the thundering of barely restrained motorcycle engines rapped out of exhaust pipes and filtered into the massive room. That roar you hear is the cavalry arriving. You and your Latin friends are in for a little push back.” Brand walked to the office, dragged a chair back and sat in front of the Warrior’s Manager.
He remained silent letting the other man consider his options.
“I’ll give you another minute, after that I am walking outside and the men in the yard can do with you as they wish. I think those men will probably enjoy the chance to question you after watching what your men did to their friends.”
James Cartwright returned Brand stare. The defiant expression on the Manager's face changing as he imagined the horror awaiting him beyond the buildings metal walls. Brand watched Cartwright struggle. Loyalty to his men and the Colombians or the prospect of a short future, one he presumably would like to avoid.
The warrior biker broke his silence.
“Sure, what the hell. I’m tired of the Cartel boys and their shit anyways. You can guarantee me that these guys aren’t going to cut me to pieces or leave me lying in a ditch with a bullet in the brain?"
“I can persuade them to let you live if you cooperate.”
“The shooting of Thundercloud was never my idea," Cartwright confessed. "That slime ball, Rojas. He wanted to repay you for the stolen drugs and the destruction of our warehouse.”
“Ya, ya whatever. Where’s my friend, the old fishing guide? Where can I find him?”
“That I can’t help you with, but I can tell you that Rojas and his men occupy the top floor of the casino. It's where they operate from.” Cartwright struggled with his dilemma. “They could be holding your friend there; I rarely set foot on that floor.”
San Diego, the boss of the Devils Disciples, an offshoot of the much larger Wolves Of Satan, sat staring at his phone. He had just concluded a call with the leader of the Grave Runners, an American crew operating south of the Canadian border, in the state of Montana. The two had been trading calls since the news of Roy Thundercloud’s ambush.
Both, San Diego’s Disciples and the Grave Runners from Montana were small in comparison to the Wolves of Satan group in Alberta, but factoring the men spread across western Canada and down into the bordering states, the two bands numbered well into the hundreds.
Shortly after the call ended, the Disciples gathered at their clubhouse in Regina. The Saskatchewan motorcycle gang fired up their bikes and headed west down Highway One for the Alberta border. The plan agreed upon called for them to meet up with the Grave Runners at a small bedroom community twenty minutes east of Calgary. Once joined, the two groups of bikers would ride into the city together.
The Desperados out of Ontario ran an excess of illegal activities throughout an enormous portion of the western part of that province and across the provincial boundary into Manitoba. The Desperados were a couple of days into their trip west before Roy’s shooting occurred. The Desperados leaders were bargained into the looming turf war in Calgary by Roy Thundercloud and had agreed to throw their lot behind the Wolves.
Their help in the war traded for favours from the Wolves. Improved underground lanes to move product and guaranteed protection of cargo as it passed from the Pacific Ocean east over the mountains and across the prairies to Ontario. A decent payoff for their part in assisting the Wolves to remove the Columbian backed Warriors. The cooperation between the Desperados and the Wolves would open a nation of possibilities for both clubs.
Calgary was a hard three-day ride west, but the Desperados had no plans on delaying and missing the fun that was certain to erupt in Cow town.
Most of the gangs Roy had brought into talks already worked under an uneasy truce with the Wolves. All managed to maintain working conditions with each other with the Wolves being an integral part of the drug pipeline from the Orient and South America suppliers
Word of the building war in the Albertan city had echoed across the prairies and farther east. The separate gangs set their differences aside, any resentment of fellow groups stifled with the truce Roy Thundercloud proposed. Each group’s leader knew Roy Thundercloud, at least by reputation, and respected him enough to ride to his aide.
The smaller gangs had begun to feel the ripples in their operations caused by the Warriors and the Moreno Cartel. While joining forces, the growing biker syndicate brought new rules for those partaking in the illegal underground business along with the will to control the illicit drugs flowing from the Pacific inland. Word spread quickly about the new consortium’s power and the disregard for competition. While mounting the war against the Wolves in Alberta, fingers of the Cartel/Warrior venture already had begun its march to gain control over the other provinces.
With the Warriors being backed by the Colombians, the only path open to the smaller biker gangs was to tow the line or be steamrolled by the growing juggernaut. Backing the Wolves was the better, and more favourable option left open for the Eastern gangs who were determined to remain independent.
Early the next morning in Edmonton, the Crypt Riders of the North motored south down Highway Two with plans of hooking up with more of their members along the way. They left the Albertan capitol in the early hours of sunrise, their expected arrival time in Calgary, early that morning.
Two days before Roy fell victim to the hail of bullets at the restaurant, the Lower East End Posse gathered with the West Coast Reapers in Kamloops and together they rode toward the City of Calgary. A war was brewing, and these two groups were allied with the Warriors and backed by the Colombian Cartel. Local police forces and RCMP detachments along the way followed the bike gang’s movements as they headed east across the province.
Once the gang’s destination was determined, phone calls poured into the Calgary Police Headquarters warning of the incoming invasion. Police forces along the way stood aside as the few hundred bikers rode. The riders were careful not to break the law, and as the numbers increased while they headed east, the spattering of law enforcement grew less likely to challenge the growing ranks of criminals and had little stomach to harass the bike gangs.
Meeting at a Warrior’s hang out west of Calgary, the members of the East End Posse and the Reapers drank and partied with the host Warriors and a smattering of Cartel underlings before receiving instructions concerning their expected actions. The next day the hunt was on for any, and all associates tied to the Wolves. Businesses managed by the Wolves came under attack.
Rojas and Cartwright decided to end the turf war before the Wolves were able to bring in reinforcements to swell their ranks. The following night, after the attack on Thundercloud’s acreage, a car full of Colombian gunmen was sent to deal with the Wolves leader.
By the time the local cops got wind of the attacks, the deeds were complete. Wolves’ members were hunted. Nightclubs and other businesses of illegal repute were swarmed, some burned to the ground. For two long days, the Wolves of Satan tracked and dealt with, the surge by the Moreno Cartel culminated with the shooting of Roy Thundercloud.
The combined forces of the Colombian drug Cartel and the Warriors bike gang were on the verge of claiming another major city with undisputed rights of running the profitable underground.
The city of Calgary had blossomed into a world-class center for the past number of years, which meant a lot of young, affluent people living in its limits. The perfect scenario was unfolding for the growing drug and gambling trade to flourish.
The Cartel wanted to expand east from the coast, and with the Warrior’s providing muscle and insight, the only thing standing in the way was the Wolves of Satan…and a fishing guide.
The morning after Roy Thundercloud was gunned down, the rumble of bike engines rattled a small city east of Calgary. The Devils Disciples flooded the parking lot of a local eatery when they arrived in town. The roar of the bikes could be heard in the restaurant before the first metal two-wheeler crossed into the parking lot.
Nervous early morning diners peeked warily through the slits of the restaurant's blinds and into the rising sunlight. Mumbles of disbelief interrupted family meals as tentacles of uneasiness and fear settled over the breakfast crowd. Parents with young children pushed aside partly eaten plates of pancakes and eggs, called for their bills and slipped from the restaurant as quickly and as meekly as was humanly possible.
San Diego sat with his men. Grim smiles streaked their faces as they rested on leather bike seats, smoking and watching the scared families with amusement while the parking lot emptied. He and his men waited. The Runners were to join them shortly. After breakfast, they would ride as a group to meet Thundercloud’s men.
Brand stood on the outside of the damaged building looking back up at the Warrior’s clubhouse, the front half of the truck sitting inside, intermitted flashes of light reflecting off the metal frame of the damaged cab. Brand lifted a cigarette to his lips, flicked his lighter then scrolled his phone screen for Detective O’Brien’s contact number.
“O’Brien.” The tired, annoyed voice of the detective’s answered.
“I got a tip for you.” Brand replied. “Wake up the uniforms at the station and send a couple of squad cars to the Warrior’s compound.” Brand rattled off the address. “Seems like somebody drove an 18-wheeler into the clubhouse.” Brand listened to the detective curse across the phone line. Cutting O’Brien off before he asked the wrong questions, Brand added as an after thought. “Oh. You better send an ambulance or two along, also.” Brand told the detective. “Warn your men to be cautious when they enter the premises. There’s a big man inside and when he wakes he’s probably going to pissed.”
Before hanging up, Brand said. “Detective, you might want to take the time to make an appearance. A trailer full of evidence is attached to the back of the semi tractor. Check amongst the pallets of produce. I’m certain you’ll find that the product in the trailer matches the stuff on the streets the Warriors peddle.” He ended the call not waiting for O’Brien to waste time asking needless questions.
Walking across the yard, Brand sorted through the damaged bikes. Some escaped the path of the eighteen-wheeler’s tires. He walked to one leaning to the side of the clubhouse, the bike still drivable. He stood the bike up and pulled the ignition wires loose. Before climbing onto the bike he took a gun he recovered from inside the house and shoved it into the back waist of his jeans, slipping his coat over and spun the bike around heading away from the crash scene, his destination north of the Warrior’s clubhouse.
It had taken Brand time to to pry the Manager’s whereabouts out of Bakker but eventually the giant of a man succumbed to Brand’s charms. James Cartwright was at a sleep over at his girlfriend’s apartment. The friend’s place was in the northwest part of town, one of the fast growing, new subdivisions in the expanding city.
Brand felt the wind tug at his hair as he left the Bowness area, turned onto Shaganappi Trail, and wound his way through the deserted city streets toward the far reaches of the north end.
Leaving the bike in an alley, he walked up to the apartment’s entrance and studied the buildings security system. The front door was locked and he couldn’t count on many people leaving or entering at this hour if the morning.
Avoiding the buzzer to Cartwright’s girlfriend’s apartment, Brand randomly pressed buttons hoping for an annoyed or otherwise non-caring resident to grant him entry without any questions. A few annoyed and suspicious patrons refused his attempts. Tired, curious voices asking who he was and reminded him of the late hour. Several failed beckoning rings passed before the buzzer on the front door notified him that the door had been unlatched. He quickly seized the door handle and entered the main building.
Walking through the deserted hallways, he stopped at the elevator, pushed the up button and waited for a ride to the fifth floor. Turning left in the upper hallway, he paused in front of the apartment number Bakker had given him. Had the big man lied? A few moments of pondering the truthfulness of the information, he pulled his lockset out of his pocket and quietly let himself into the dark unit.
Standing motionless behind the closed door, he breathed shallow, allowing time for his senses to warn him of unwelcome movements. When he was satisfied that his entry went undetected, he moved about the apartment searching for the bedroom, his final destination. Again he remained immobile, his hand on the doorknob, his ears strained for sounds of activity from the other side of the door.
Brand retrieved the gun from behind his back, pushed the door inward and stood silhouetted in the doorway as he studied the layout. His eyes adjusted to the dim light seeping past the window blinds from the streetlights outside the building. Two dark lumps lay among the shadows on the bed, the bigger obviously the Warrior’s leader; the man lost in sleep while his snoring disturbed the otherwise silent room.
In two long strides, Brand reached for the prone form lying in the bed and with his left hand, he clutched the man’s t-shirt in his fist, his right hand holding the gun at Cartwright’s head. The Manager’s eyes snapped open, his pupils expanding at the sight of the gun in his face.
The biker started to yell and Brand smacked the butt of his gun into the side of the man’s face.
“Quiet.” He growled. With the gun remaining tight to Cartwright’s face, Brand slowly pulled the man into a sitting position before easing his grasp on the t-shirt. Brand took a step back. His gun unwavering, pointed at the Manager’s head. The commotion in the room woke up the apartments owner. The woman startled awake, her eyes zeroing in on the gun and then up at Brand. A scream burst from her lungs.
“Shut her up or I swear I will.” Brand warned. The Manager turned his attention away from the gun and with a few sharp commands quieted his girlfriend.
“Grab a sheet and tie her up.” Brand instructed the Manager. “Not too tight though. She’s so damn skinny I don’t want her to die of hunger before she can get loose. Quickly,” Brand urged. I’m in a hurry.”
Standing back to give the Manager room to complete his task, Brand waited impatiently. With the woman bound, Brand spoke. “Find your clothes. You’re coming with me.”
Brand had thought about questioning Cartwright in the apartment, but changed his mind. Too many variables to consider and then the problem of containing the man when he was done created another problem. He didn’t view the girl as a threat, he doubted she had no idea who he was and if she was aware of what line of work her boyfriend was involved in, that ruled out the possibility of her running to the police, at least for the time being.
With his gun held at the Cartwright’s back, Brand escorted the man out of the building and over to part of the building dark in shadows as he surveyed the street.
“What do you drive?” Brand asked. The two leaving the premises on the stolen bike, awkward, he realized.
“My truck.” Cartwright answered pointing past the building toward visitor parking.
“Lead the way.” Brand nudged with the tip of the gun, the barrel pressed tight to Cartwright’s back. The hard metal of the handgun digging into flesh made the biker wince.
On the top floor of the Millennium Casino, Quintin Rojas stood, his head bowed in front of his boss. The subject of a heated conversation between the two men was the shooting of Roy Thundercloud earlier that evening.
“We had to act fast. He left the acreage with Coldstream and a few men.” Rojas replied. “When the guys saw him leave the restaurant, they opened fire.” Quintin Rojas searched for the words to explain his actions. “You wanted the Wolves spirits broken. Thundercloud is the head of the pack. We took him out.”
Rojas’ boss stared at his underling, disappointment in his eyes. “Still. You should have cleared the attack with me. Your rash decision may make the Wolves dig in their heels in harder.” The boss chastised.
“Shore ain’t gonna help our cause.” He paused then conceded the fact that there was no undoing the shooting of the Wolves leader.
The Cartel boss changed subjects. The open shooting of Roy Thundercloud caused a need to accelerate his plans. “How many men do we have in the city? Cartwright’s bikers and our men from the coast, I mean?”
“The Manager has probably pulled in a couple hundred of his bikers and wannabes from across the mountains…his vagabundo, together with our men. I think we have plenty of manpower.” Rojas did the calculations as he spoke. “Thundercloud’s Wolves have been depleted. His men either shot up or arrested. The remainder are said to be laying low. I have reports that only a few were sighted, and these are mainly protecting his establishments. None of his men were seen working the streets the past couple of days.”
“I have a bad feeling.” Rojas’ boss interrupted. “Something doesn’t feel right. I never expected the Wolves to run at the first sign of a fight. Still, we are gaining ground, but we have to be careful. One wrong move could expose us." The boss sighed with disappointment. “With Thundercloud out of commission, now is the time to flood his territory and run the Wolves out of town.”
The room went quiet as both men gave thought to the looming conclusion in the war against the Wolves of Satan.
“Notify the men. I want them ready to move on the Wolves territory before the week is done. Ratchet up the pressure against all of the Wolves remaining clubs and squeeze them from the streets. Don’t give Thundercloud’s men a chance to think or plan. The longer we prolong their demise, the better the chance that that big Indian will pull something together.”
The Moreno boss steered the conversation away from the evening’s troubles. “Any word on my phone or what Coldstream is up to? I was hoping the fool would intensify his search. What. With the threat you’re holding over him?” Rojas' boss stated.
A smile grew on Rojas’ face. “I haven’t heard back from the man since I made the call to Thundercloud. Coldstream left the restaurant after the shooting and we lost him. Could be he’s not the tough guy you think he is, and if the phone is not recovered, so be it? Soon it won’t matter.”
A fist slammed the desk rattling the surface and making Rojas step back.
“I CARE!” His boss screamed. “I have spent years building my cover. My attempts to remain anonymous, well, it’s made running this Cartel a lot easier. I move around with out looking over my shoulder. The anonymity has allowed me to cross borders freely and undetected.”
The boss paused. The anger on his face resided as he fought to regain control of his anger. “… Because of that, I’ve made a nice life in this city, and free of suspicion, I've built my business right under the nose of the law. I like the fact that I don’t have to worry about the cops or some low life rival trying to end my life.” He calmed down. “I shouldn’t have to explain…”
“Find the FUCKING phone.” The boss leaned on the desk inches from Rojas’ face. Through clenched teeth, he spoke. “I should never have dropped my guard and let that phony fishing guide get so close; then he would never have had the opportunity to blindside me.
But he was smart. Not for a second did I suspected Halperson of being an undercover narc. Not until my phone went missing.”
The boss took a deep breath then slowly let the air escape his lips. "Unfortunately, the man is dead, and you have yet to recover the only proof of my involvement. So squeeze Coldstream harder. In his day, he was a top-notch investigator. Make him do our work for us. Convince him of the urgency regarding my situation.” The Moreno Cartel boss glared at his subordinate. “And do it quickly! When the phone is in my hands, you are free to deal with the man however you like."
Brand turned off the gravel road onto Highway 2. The quiet of night disturbed as the truck’s engine rumbled. At the bridge crossing the Bow River, Brand found his mind drifting. A scattering of moonlight reflected off the current in the water. Thoughts emerged of better days floating the river, of drift boats and fly lines, fleeing Rainbows and bullish Brown trout. Brand pushed the distracting memories away. Shaking his head, he tried to refocus on the highway and the task lying ahead.
The multi-lanes of the busy thoroughfare were free of traffic at the late hour by the time 18-wheeler crossed into the city limits. The journey before him a rash decision brought on by a mixture of anger and revenge. Struggling to hold his emotions in check, Brand stared out the truck's windshield, his thoughts in disarray.
The Cartel, the Warriors encroachment on Roy's territory, and the loss and injuries to his friends all weighed on his mind. The only concrete fact he arrived at was that he had to do something. Time had come to go on the offensive.
There was much he needed to learn, and the urgency of collecting the information from someone at the top of the organization. He knew too little about the Colombian calling the shots for the Warriors. Where the man lived, who he surrounded himself with and if Rojas was holed up at the casino, what type of protection would stand in Brand's way? How to get to the Cartel was the problem.
An alternative solution would be to flush out the Warrior's top man, the Manager. His whereabouts were unknown to Brand and with Roy temporarily out of the picture, finding the Manager’s location fuelled his late night drive. Brand would begin the search with the simplest means, the most obvious starting point a clubhouse in a northwest community Calgary.
The city was dark as any major metropolitan center could be at this late hour. Lighting a cigarette, Brand guided the truck across the deserted streets, angling for the western edge of town. He was thankful for the lack of traffic due to distracted thoughts and the skills required to manoeuver this train of wheels through miles of city streets.
Blocks from the Warriors clubhouse, Brand brought the truck to a stop and shut off the engine. The loud, rumbling motor an unwanted disturbance in the peaceful neighbourhood. He climbed down from the cab, crushed his cigarette under foot, scanned his surroundings then clinging to the shadows, walked a couple of blocks down the street toward the biker clubhouse.
Across the road from the biker’s fenced off yard, he leaned against a wall and studied the place. The driveway leading onto the property was clear of vehicles, but the height of the gate and fence blocked his view of yard inside. The sidewalk in front of the compound, deserted.
Brand slowly swung his head, his vision following the divided asphalt road in both directions as they led away from the clubhouse. A side road, a half block down and opposite the gate, ended in a t-intersection. Brand wished he had a better view of the property inside the confines of the fence. He rejected the thought of scaling the top of the fence for a look. Good chance cameras were planted around the property to notify the clubhouse of unwanted attention.
He shrugged off the concern, forcing doubt away. If anything lay in his way, the worst obstacles to be encountered would likely be a scattering of motorbikes littering the lawn between the perimeter and the house. Hopefully not too many, he found himself thinking as he walked back to the truck.
Sitting behind the wheel, he chain-smoked another cigarette and reviewed the consequences of his actions. What he was about to do was reckless, but he was past the moment of giving a shit.
The truck roared to life at the turn of the key. Brand placed his hand on the gear selector, shifting the transmission into low gear. Columns of black diesel smoke floated above the cab. With pressure on the gas pedal, the truck lumbered away from the curb.
The big rig rolled slowly past the clubhouse. Brand pressed easy on the gas, aware of the loud echo of the exhaust stacks in the quiet evening. At the corner, he turned wide. Two hands played the wheel, steering the rig onto an adjoining road then back around the block until the tractor-trailer lined up on the street ending with the t intersection. Brand’s gaze momentarily passed over the passenger's seat. The crowbar from the Quonset sat waiting.
Throwing his cigarette out the window, he pressed the gas and worked the gears. The rig gathered speed. Forcefully working the clutch and gas pedal simultaneously, he pushed the protesting engine. One hand shifted through the lower gears with the rhythm of the motor's rpm's, building momentum. His left hand gripping the oversized steering wheel as the truck and trailer rolled closer to the gate protecting the Warriors clubhouse.
The truck's engine screamed while the RPM’s climbed. The big rig lurching forward with each gear change, 18 rubber wheels hissing on the pavement, gathering speed.
At the intersection, Brand swung the truck close to the curb, straightening the truck’s path to the tall metal gate.
The speedometer flashed 60 km as the truck crossed the street and rolled over the curb. The screech of tearing metal exploded into the night as the rig’s chrome bumper pushed past the gate. The truck lurched and swayed, the powerful machine crushing abandoned motorbikes under its large rubber tires.
The seatbelt caught, holding Brand tight against the seat. He ignored the whine of crushed metal and bone crushing jolts as he pushed the truck over the row of bikes, the speed nearing seventy, only inches from the wall of the clubhouse.
Bracing for the impact, Brand watched the front window of the house dissolve into shards and the vinyl siding on the buildings exterior wall give way. Brand crushed the gas pedal to the floor. Startled silhouettes danced behind the flapping curtains covering the shattered picture window.
The impact from the collision of the tractor-trailer meeting with the frame of the house whipped Brand forward. His forehead glanced off the steering wheel before momentum snapped his upper body back into the cushioned backrest, the straps of the seatbelt biting into his shoulder pinning him tight to the fabric of the seat, the rigid straps unforgiving.
Brand cursed from anger and the new found pain. His fist smacked the wheel in retaliation for the whack on his forehead.
A shower of glass and wood preceded the grill of the truck as it came to rest a cabs length into the house. The front roof sagged dangerously, feet above the nose of the tractor, the buildings wooden supports shattered.
Brand shook his head to clear the cobwebs. A sharp pain radiated in his shoulder and chest from the restraint of the seatbelt, the discomfort melting as rage coursed through his veins. He searched for the tire iron on the passenger seat. The sudden stop tossing the metal bar onto the floor of the cab. He fought to release the seatbelt's grip, reaching over the center console. With the reassuring feel of the hefty metal bar in his hand, he kicked open the driver's door.
Semi-darkness surrounded the cab of the truck and the destroyed front room of the clubhouse. Wires ripped from their wooden supports adding to the failing electrical system that greeted him. Steam from the truck’s radiator hissed into the room from under the twisted engine cover, the sweet odour of overheated coolant mingling with dust and the flickering house lights. In the obscure lighting, Brand carefully stepped from the truck’s running board onto what remained of the main floor.
The undercarriage of the big truck stopped to rest on broken floorboards and torn carpeting. The front wheels sunken below the subfloor and framing, hanging down in the basement. Broken, jagged edges of plywood and joists protruded upwards, the furniture in the room upended and scattered.
Moans rose from the wreckage. Brand warily moved across the damaged floor, pulling aside disrupted furniture and chunks of building materials to check on the condition of injured men. Each face he studied carefully in the twinkling lights. A hand full of men laid spread throughout the room tangled in the mess of furniture and lumber.
Working his way around the carnage, he moved toward the back of the house. The Manager wasn’t among any of the injured at the front of the house. Shoving a couch that dared block his path to the hallway, he strained his eyes, peering through the dust and intermittent lighting.
A door at the back of the house opened. A man stumbled into the hall. Even in the poor lighting, Brand spotted blood covering the man’s head. The man’s face and exposed upper body coated with dust. The man staggered away from the room, extended a massive arm to steady his body, swayed, and then swung his head to peer down the hall, his eyes locking on Brand. The giant of a man, the Manager’s right-hand, Don Bakker stood scowling at Brand. A deep growl emanated from Bakker’s heaving chest
Brand cursed under his breath. Of all the people to remain on his feet, it had to be the giant. Just his luck, he thought. The way the man supported his body against the wall, the man's unsteady demeanour and the blood flowing from a wound on Bakker's head alluded to the possibility of a serious injury, that, coupled with the unbridled rage coursing through Brand's body, steeled his resolve.
Doubts of facing the giant faded. The thoughts chased by an adrenaline fed anger bubbling to the surface. Days of angst and frustration pushed logical reasoning from Brand's mind. His eyes narrowed as he stared back at the giant. His hand tightened around the metal bar. The iron bar smashed against the wall as both a warning and a starting point.
“I’m here for Cartwright.” Brand yelled at the giant. “Tell me where your boss is, and I’ll let you walk away.”
A glint of light reflected off the man’s teeth. Bakker’s mouth opened in a malevolent grin. The giant grunted at Brand’s offer, kicked debris aside and advanced. To meet the guy in the tight confines of the hallway wasn’t the way Brand had expected this evening to go, but it was too late now. Fear and common sense disappeared replaced by the unbridled desire to hurt anyone standing in his way.
Brand's nostrils flared as he waited for Bakker closed the gap. When the giant was in striking distance, Brand feigned a swing at the man’s head with the tire iron. Barker’s head lifted as his eyes followed the path of the tire iron, the man raising a massive arm to block the threat. With Bakker's attention drawn to the flight of the bar, Brand shifted his weight onto his back leg and lashed out. Barker might be immense, but a man was a man.
The toe of Brand’s boot connected with the crotch of the giant, the kick vicious enough to make the man bellow in pain before doubling over. Brand’s knuckled fingers shot upward into the soft flesh of the biker’s throat. He quickly followed the fist with an elbow to the side of the man’s head.
Bakker lashed out with the back of his hand. The power of his fist knocked Brand backward. Brand scrambled through the pain of the blow, and broken furniture littering the floor, to regain his footing. Bakker shook off Brand’s attack, a mask of fury twisting the giant’s features. Brand raised the tire iron and rushed Bakker. Between the bar and his fist, Brand delivered a flurry of blows to the giant’s head and body, Bakker's movements slowed by his injuries. Brand continued his assault, determined not to quit until the man was lying on the floor.
Barker stood solid as Brand’s attempts struck the big man. Finally, unable resist the assault, Bakker sagged against the wall and slid down to a sitting position. Grasping the tire iron in both hands, Brand pressed the bar against the man’s throat choking Bakker's air supply.
Brand leaned close to the giant’s ear and repeated his question.
“Where is Cartwright?” Brand asked. Bakker’s reply came in the form of a fist to the side of Brand’s head. Brand straightened from the impact. He took a step back, his feet tangling with the litter spread across the floor. He stumbled, the tire iron flying from his hand. Brand scrambled over the scattered furniture at the mouth of the hall to regain his balance.
A shower of small explosions rattled his brain. Darkness began edging the fringes of his consciousness. Shaking his head violently, he fought to regain his senses. Bent over the floor, he watched his opponent rise.
Bakker used a wall for support, inching his body upward on wobbly legs, the man's head covered in blood. The biker took a threatening step forward.
Brand sprang from the floor. The sole of his foot aimed at Bakker’s knee. The force of his weight buckled the giant's kneecap at a sickening angle. Brand followed the kick with a leap, hurtling feet first into Bakker’s chest, the impact driving the massive man over. Bakker’s head thudded into a doorjamb. The man sagged against the wooden frame then slowly slid to the floor.
With the biker down, Brand stepped close, delivering several more blows, ending the man’s ability to continue the fight. With bruised knuckles and gulping mouthfuls of air to feed his searing lungs, he stopped. Don Bakker lay collapsed on the floor; his back slumped against the wall, blood running down his battered face onto his chest.
“One last time.” Brand said in between rasping breaths. “Where’s your boss?”
Susan ran to Brand when the two men entered the house. Roy’s voice rumbled throughout the interior of the house, his words echoing off the walls and ceilings, calling his men together.
"What happened to you," she asked, her hand gently touching his bruised face. Brand moved Susan aside leaving Roy to talk with his men.
"A long story," Brand brushed off her concern. Roy saved him further explanation by motioning the two into the living room. The three chose chairs close to each other.
Roy remained thoughtful before speaking.
“This attack doesn’t make a lot of sense.” He looked in Brand’s direction. “My men were trapped, but the Warrior’s remained by their vehicles, satisfied to take shots at the house…they never attempted to overrun the building…” Roy drifted back into silence.
“Our arrival may have cut them short. The gunmen had no way of knowing how many men were inside the house.” Brand interjected.
“Probably just trying to send a message.” He continued the line of thought.
“Waiting in the yard to get killed is one hell of a message.” Roy shot back.
“Yeah…the approach doesn’t seem very smart.” Brand agreed. “Didn’t you tell me this place was impenetrable? Could be they have known.”
“Maybe." Roy shrugged. "Those men would never have made it inside alive, but then, why attack. Whatever reason for those men to show up here, whoever decided to launch the assault, why? This shit is going to end. I’m growing tired of the Cartel's gun and shoot tactics. Too many of my clubs have fallen; a lot of good men are in the hospital and out of commission.
Funny though, every time we’ve moved against them, the bastards are waiting for us. It would seem that I have a leak in my organization that needs plugging.” Roy glanced away lost in thought once more. Minutes later he re-joined the conversation.
“I’ve held talks with groups not involved in this war, smaller gangs beyond the city’s boundaries. Men not affiliated with the Warriors or us from outside of the city, most from other provinces. I'm offering a deal, mergers with some and talk of a truce with others. These damn Colombians have been bringing in half of the West Coast to bolster their ranks. Time to even the odds.” Roy stood up and smiled changing the subject. “Let’s get the hell out of here grab a bite to eat. We’ll take the SUV’s," he chided Brand. "Looks like your bike might need repairs.”
“You want to go out?” Brand asked studying his brother’s face.
“Sure. Nobody knows where we’re going. Besides, I think the kitchens closed due to lead contamination.” The big man laughed at his attempt at humour as he stepped toward the door.
On the way back into town, Roy expanded on the details of the impending mergers he was contemplating. Smaller gangs from the north and east were eager to hook up with the Wolves’ and share in some of the spoils of the big city boys.
“The leaders are taking my offerings to their men. I'll be contacting them in the morning. Most will become independent chapters of the Wolves. Others will join us as associates. Our," Roy held his fingers up quoting his words, "business know-how with their established connections. A win-win.
If the lot of us join forces, we'll forge a chain well into the eastern reaches of the country. And in a case like this the combined strength of our organizations to draw manpower from.” He continued, “The days of sharing the city with the Warriors is coming to an abrupt halt. If Cartwright wants to make deals with the devil and come after my turf, I think it’s time I renegotiate the terms." Roy faced the window. The hum of tires rolling over the asphalt filled the quiet in the SUV.
"Time to run the Manager and his Cartel garbage all the way back to the coast and push them into the ocean.” A smile marked Roy’s face, but his eyes belied the fury that lay behind them.
The rest of the trip, the two rode in silence. Brand studied Susan carefully, watching to see how she fared after the gunfight. Roy’s driver was entering the east side of town when he asked Roy which restaurant he preferred.
"Mescalles," Roy answered. "A small family-run restaurant on International Ave. The owners are partial to the Wolves." He explained to Brand. "Two of their boys ride with us."
“They serve the best Mexican food in town,” Roy bragged, adding that the eatery was locally known and discreet enough that no one should bother them.
Cars blocked the front of the restaurant. Roy pointed to a space two businesses down. "This will be fine," he instructed.
The entrance to Mescalles consisted of a nondescript, windowless door bearing a small plaque with the businesses name hanging above a welcome sign. The eatery stuffed in the middle of a multi-shop strip mall. The parking lot edged onto International Avenue.
Only a handful of customers sat at tables when the three entered the restaurant. Roy led the way to a table in the back corner and pulled a chair for Susan. Brand sat facing the front door, the old instincts were running at full service and he wanted to make sure he saw trouble coming before it found them.
The three sat silently waiting for the waitress, each busy with their own thoughts. Without seeming too obvious, Brand continued glancing at Susan, worried about her mindset after the attack on Roy’s house. He noticed as Roy toyed with the menu, signs of current war against the Warrior’s setting heavily on his mind.
“How much do you know about the Warrior’s?” Roy asked after the waitress had taken their order. Roy glanced from Brand to Susan, resting his gaze on her face before he continued. “Received a message from our Colombian friend earlier today.” Roy hesitated, his eyes darting in Susan’s direction. Roy paused, wondering if he should breach the subject of Susan’s dad while she was at the table. Realizing the need to push on, he told the others of the call from Rojas.
“What did he want?” Brand asked.
“He left a number and message for you. He wants you to bring him the missing phone…” Roy studied Susan’s expression, the spoken reminder of her kidnapped father draining the colour from her face. “If you don’t agree to meet, with the missing phone in hand…” He paused again. “Jerry won’t fare well.”
“I don’t know if this phone can be found. I've been toying with a different approach." Brand played with his drink, twisting the glass absently as he organized his thoughts. "I'm going to take a run at the top guys in the organization, tit for tat so to speak. Get my hands on one of the higher-ups and use them to bargain for Jerry’s release, but I will need help.
What can you tell me about Rojas?” Brand asked. “Does he stay at the casino or is there somewhere else in town I can find him? And how about this Manager, Cartwright, any idea where he likes to hang out? Anyplace he goes to be away from the Warriors. Does he have a wife or girlfriend?"
Roy shook his head. "You attempting to end this fight all by yourself," Laughter followed his words. "Lone Ranger type deal or what?"
"Something's got to be done." Brand replied defensively. "My friends are suffering, and you and your men aren't faring very well."
“You'll have to wait until we return to my place. I can get you the information, but whatever you're planning, be damn careful. This alliance between the Warriors and the Cartel is lethal. The way they're roaming the streets, they either have most of the police force locked on their payroll, or they don’t give a rats ass about the law in this city.”
Susan stood up interrupting the conversation and excused herself. The two men watched her walk away. Roy filled in some of the blanks of Brand’s questions. “There is one club where Cartwright likes to visit. I believe his girlfriend works there. Like I said. I'll have to make some calls.
I understand he spends a lot of time there, and usually with only one other guy in tow. The problem is that the guy is that giant, Bakker. Don Bakker. So I guess Cartwright doesn’t need anyone else tagging along.”
“What does the big guy look like?” Brand asked. Roy described the man. Brand nodded. The big man sounded like the same fellow Brand had followed from the casino the night he met the gambling truck driver. If it was the same man, the term big somehow fell short in describing the giant.
“Where’s the club?” Brand asked. He would figure a way around the big man when and if the time arose. Had to be the same man, the Warriors couldn’t possibly have two men of that stature in their club, could they? At least he hoped not.
Roy wrote the name of the club and address on a napkin, sliding the paper across the table.
"When he shows at the club, I'm not sure, but I can ask around in the morning for you. Cartwright's habits may have changed with the outbreak of trouble, but I doubt it. So far, we seem to be the ones on the defensive.” Roy added.
“You have a name for Cartwright’s girlfriend?”
“Not off hand. I'll get it for you when we return to the acreage." The two men halted their discussion as Susan walked back toward the table. The next few hours, the three talked about anything but the fight that was raging between the two big gangs in the city.
With the meal complete and a collection of empty cerveza bottles, Roy suggested that they leave. The earlier clientele had finished their meals and left, the interior all but deserted except for Roy's table and the staff.
"We could drive back to the acreage and grab a few items then find a place for the night," Roy mentioned. Brand agreed. He had no place to be and he was hesitant to leave Susan. The Colombians had abducted her dad, and after the shootout, Roy’s home now lacked the security he had hoped, leaving him reluctant to place Susan in further danger.
While Roy was talking with the manager, Brand escorted Susan to the door.
“Meet you in the car.” Brand told Roy as they left him. When the pair was almost at the door, Susan stopped.
“I forgot my purse.” She stated and spun back toward the table. Brand waited inside the door for her.
Having taken care of the bill, Roy met Brand at the door.
“I’ll wait for you outside,” he said patting Brand on the shoulder as he squeezed past Brand in the tight entrance and stepped onto the sidewalk. The front door closed leaving Brand standing in the lobby waiting for Susan.
The thick restaurant door vibrated and shook. Brand flinched, turning in curiosity to stare at the unpredicted disturbance. His mind raced as he tried to place the popping sound and the rapid drumming happening street side. The explosions dulled by the wooden material of the building’s facade.
Wonder changed to confusion by as a feeling of dread crept over Brand, a realization borne by the familiar sound of gunfire. His mind reeled, the brutal realization sending mixed thoughts. He reached for the door handle. A flood of emotions swirled at the continued reverberations of bullets played a macabre melody against the restaurant door.
The sound began the second Roy disappeared from view. Dropping low, Brand slid the door open. A sliver of streetlight reflected in his eyes highlighting Roy sprawled on the sidewalk; his brother's head visible inches from the entrance. Brand pushed further onto the sidewalk desperately reaching for the collar of Roy’s jacket. Crouched low to the ground, he clamped his hands under Roy’s armpits in an effort to drag the larger man back into the relative safety of the restaurant.
Bullets whined off concrete and thudded into the stucco finish of the building's exterior. Roy’s men, the ones waiting with the SUV’s down from the entrance, scrambled to return fire. Brand hesitated, his sight cast beyond the prone figure of his brother, sweeping the street. He paused long enough to witness unfamiliar cars crawling down the avenue, darks shadows hanging from the windows, spits of exploding gunpowder erupting from the procession.
Swinging a foot, he braced the door open. Sweat creased his forehead while he strained to pull Roy’s body.
A full minute passed with the cacophony of guns erupting and bullets whining through the night air, lead projectiles biting into everything in their path. As quick as the shooting started, it stopped. From within the restaurant, Brand heard the squeal of tires on pavement followed by sporadic bursts of gunfire.
Roy had taken several shots to his upper body and some, if not all were oozing blood. Brand peeled away his brother's coat and shirt. A flack jacket covered Roy's upper body beneath his clothing. The vest had protected his chest, but as Brand checked further, he noticed at least one bullet that went into the meaty part of Roy's shoulder close to his neck, the blood leaking out in pulses.
Looking around, he hollered at the wait staff to grab towels and to call an ambulance. Susan ran to his side to help and then Roy’s men ran into the building. The group watched as Brand fought to stop the hemorrhaging wounds. With the worst of the bleeding stemmed, Brand switched spots with one of Roy's men, instructing the biker to keep pressure on the wounds until an ambulance arrived.
Standing up, Brand peered down at the blood collecting around his brother’s body. The pale colour of Roy’s face and the fresh, red wounds pushing him to the edge. The attempt on his brother's life was the final straw, he decided right there and then. Drawn into this fight with the shooting at his house, he had since witnessed his close friends harassed, shot and abducted, and now his brother lay in a pool of blood.
Brand stepped away from the group gathered around Roy and found a bathroom. Anger seeped from his pores as he washed Roy’s blood off his hands. He returned to the entrance and demanded the keys to one of the SUV’s. He had matters to attend to, he replied in answer to inquiries. Turning with the keys, Susan grabbed his arm.
“I’m going with you.” She said. The grim look on her face left little room for discussion.
“You’re not going to be safe where I’m going.” Brand shook her off.
“Where am I going to be safe?” She defiantly replied, her grip tight. He thought quickly.
“I’ll take you back to the acreage. You grab what you need and I’ll find a safe place for you.” He said through clenched teeth, barely managing to contain the burning anger fighting to consume him. He spun and stormed out of the restaurant, covered the distance to the vehicle in a few long strides and climbed behind the wheel.
Susan’s footsteps rang off the concrete sidewalk as she ran to keep up. She yanked the passenger door open and jumped into the passenger seat, slamming the door closed as Brand put the car into drive.
Brand paced in the hall, impatience and a want to exact hurt on those responsible for the cowardly attacks on his friends and family. He seethed while Susan disappeared into a bedroom and quickly gathered items into her suitcase. Noticing she was ready, he moved into the room to grab her luggage. He let her go ahead of him. At the doorway, a piece of paper lying on the carpet caught his attention. He knelt down and picked it up. The crumpled paper was Susan’s used airline ticket. It had fallen to the floor in her rush to pack.
Brand snatched it off the floor and turned to place it on a dresser. His eyes swept across the cities displayed in the destination and arrival column. Vancouver to Calgary typed in bold letters across the top line. Placing the paper on top the dresser, he stepped from the room, Susan’s suitcase gripped in his hand.
Throwing the luggage in the back of the SUV, Brand dug around for his phone, swiped down the screen, located his contact list and dialled Detective O’Brien’s number. Brand began speaking the second the detective answered.
“O’Brien, this is Coldstream. I’ll take your deal, but I need you to do a couple of things for me.”
“Hold on. That’s not how this works.” O’Brien balked at Brand’s words.
“That’s exactly how this is going to work. Roy Thundercloud was shot outside a restaurant this evening. I don’t know which hospital they have taken him to yet, but I’m sure you can find out. I want guards posted outside his room…and I have a witness for you to protect.”
“I’m not a babysitter.” Detective O’Brien started.
“You want my help to shut these guys down, that’s my buy-in. What is your address,” Brand talked over the detective's objections, “I’m in a hurry.”
“Yeah. Sure. Alright.” The detective rescinded providing an address.
“We’ll be there shortly.” Brand ended the call.
“I’m not going to sit in protective custody…I want to stay with you.” Susan protested. Brand looked at her and shook his head.
“What I have to do, I can’t have you tagging along.” He said putting an end to the discussion as he raced through the city toward Detective O’Brien’s residence.
The rest of the ride to the detective’s home passed quietly. After Roy's shooting, Brand had left the restaurant with his thoughts muddled about what course of action he needed to take. He began to focus. Wild ideas of carrying the fight to the Cartel and rival bikers and with luck bringing Jerry out alive.
O’Brien was waiting on the sidewalk in front of his house as Brand and Susan arrived. Hopping out of the SUV, Brand grabbed Susan’s suitcase and carried over to the detective.
“Take good care of her.” He said as he turned to leave.
“What are you planning to do?” O’Brien asked.
Brand stopped with his back to the detective.
“Probably better that I don’t tell you. I’ll find the guy running the Cartel, the one you haven’t been able to identify.”
Brand turned around as O’Brien took a step toward him. “I asked for your help, but I need to know what you have planned.” O’Brien stared into Brands eyes. “I can’t have you recklessly running around adding fuel to problem.”
“Too late for that.” Brand replied then held his hands toward the detective. “You can arrest me on that trumped-up murder charge or get the hell out of my way.” He dared O’Brien. Brand waited for the man to decide then left the detective and Jerry’s daughter standing on the sidewalk as he climbed back into the SUV.
Cranking the steering wheel 180 degrees, the SUV changed directions in the narrow street. Brand pressed the gas pedal. The 8-cylinder engine surged as the vehicle straightened and he headed for the southern outskirts of the city. Traffic was light as he threaded his way across town, hooking up with the Deerfoot for the final stretch of his trip.
The subsiding of adrenaline and the ease of his rage allowed his mind to refocus. A spark of an idea started to grow into a workable strategy as he tossed it over in his head. The constant drum of the truck’s tires comforting as the SUV rumbled over barren city roads. He needed to meet the Manager, the leader of the Warrior’s and he decided against waiting until the man was alone.
At this time of the night and after the ambush on Roy, Brand counted on the Manager to be holed up at the Warrior clubhouse, maybe slightly off guard with the attack that rendered his rival leader incapacitated for at least a short while. With a bit of haste, he planned on taking advantage of the Warriors brief triumph to confront the Manager on his home turf.
The big son of a bitch who hung around with Cartwright was a problem all its own. Brand considered himself tough, but the guy was a giant and Brand knew he wouldn’t last long if he came up against the man.
He mulled over different angles to deal with Cartwright’s bodyguard, but in the end, his thoughts kept arriving at the simplest solution, one of survival. The urge to pack a gun and shoot the bastard or any other Warrior who stood in the way fitted with his anger. Pay back for the carnage left behind by the recent attacks, reduce the enemies numbers. But the lawman from Brand’s past wrestled away the thoughts. Killing out of angst wasn’t his style.
He merged onto Deerfoot Trail and put pressure on the gas pedal. Time was of an essence if he had any hopes of accomplishing what he set out to do. Surprise and stupidity were the only two things he had as an ally at the moment, and the longer he waited to implement his plan, the less chance of surprise.
Twenty minutes later he signalled off the highway for a dirt road and drove Roy’s Black SUV onto the gravel path leading to the same Quonset he had visited a couple of days earlier when driving a stolen tractor-trailer containing a shipment of the Cartel’s illegal cargo.
In the shadows of the late hour, men slowly emerged into the glow of the head lights and watched the SUV roll into the back quarters of the hidden building, an array of weapons pointed at the vehicle. Brand shifted the truck into park, left the engine running with the high beams lighting the property and the building.
Sitting in the SUV’s cab, he watched as more armed men filtered from the cover of the bush rimming the yard. Brand fished in his pocket removing his cigarettes. His eyes busy scanning the building and the growing number of men. He took his time lighting a cigarette then slowly opened the door and emerged, hands held high, so he wasn’t accidentally shot before the bikers guarding the Quonset realized whom he was.
Brand kept his hands in the air and closed the SUV’s door with his foot before walking toward the men. One of the bikers advanced to meet Brand, the barrel of his rifle levelled at chest height.
“That’s far enough.” The biker warned. Brand stopped. Just his luck, in the darkness, none of Roy’s men could recognize him.
“I’m Roy’s brother.” Brand called out and sidestepped into the light flowing from the front of the SUV. “Put the guns down before somebody gets hurt. Roy’s been shot.” He added, doubting that the men hadn’t already heard.
The bikers guarding the Quonset snuck glances at each other, confused with Brand’s appearance. The standoff continued in the yard until a door on the side of the building opened and another man walked outside, his eyes looking over the commotion, stopping when he saw Brand.
Little Abe, Roy’s second in command. Abe had been with Roy since the conception of the Wolves of Satan conception and had fought side by side with Roy as the gang grew in notoriety.
Little Abe’s real name was Jesse, but his striking resemblance to Abe Lincoln, mostly due to the man growing his facial hair to resemble the late president. The first part of his nickname little was a misnomer. Little Abe was three times the size of the original. Abe Lincoln on steroids. Jesse grew into the name and was never without the facial hair the original Abe made famous.
He walked past the line of bikers surrounding the vehicle; recognition dawned on the man’s face changing his features as he drew closer to Brand.
“Put your gun’s away.” He shouted into the night air and walked closer. “We received word of the attempt on Roy.” Little Abe said. “So, why are you here?”
Brand related the shooting at the restaurant; then he switched to the reason for his visit. “I came to take the tractor-trailer, the one containing the stolen drugs. Is it still here?”
“Yep. It’s inside.” Little Abe motioned with his head. “What do you need that for?” The biker asked suspiciously. Brand traded glances with the bikers guarding the Quonset.
“I’m going to trade it for information.”
“I don’t know about that. I would have to clear this with Roy.”
“Roy is in the hospital. I don’t think he’d give a rats ass right about now.”
“Well. We’ll have to wait.”
“When I leave I'll be taking the truck and trailer. I am long past waiting." Brand challenged. “This isn’t a request. So either you help me or try to stop me.” He followed the lights of the truck and stepped past the line of men toward the building. His first look inside was directly at the 18-wheeler. The tractor looked like it hadn’t moved since the night that Brand had parked it in the Quonset.
Once inside, Roy’s men spread around Brand. The confused men glancing from the late night visitor to Little Abe, guns ready. Turning to Little Abe, Brand broke the standoff. “Is there a place we can talk?” The biker pointed across the building to an office crammed under a set of stairs.
Brand walked ahead of Little Abe. When the two entered the crammed office space Brand closed the door.
“Abe. I need the truck and I’d rather not create more troubles for you.” Brand stated. He briefly outlined the basics of his revenge attempt. Brand left his words for Roy’s lieutenant to ponder switching to another pressing matter.
“Roy told me about conversations he's been holding with the leaders of some non affiliated biker clans. Any chance you know their names.”
“Most of them.” Little Abe replied.
“Do you have the phone numbers to go with the names?” The biker shrugged, then went to the desk and fished around for a notebook. The two men began by calling associated chapters of the Wolves. To the crew leaders Roy had mentioned, the men explained the current situation. Roy’s offers to the men left on the table for those who pledged to help in the battle.
Finishing his calls, Brand left Abe behind in the office. He detoured toward a bench filled with tools. He glanced over the random wrenches and automotive paraphernalia spread on the counter.
The bulky head of a tire iron poked out among the assortment. Brand dug the large wrench free and hefted it in his hand. Not exactly the kind of metal he wished for going into battle but the tire iron could even the advantage if he ran across the huge Warrior biker, Don Bakker.
“Open the big doors.” He requested as he climbed into the cab. His eyes dropped to the steering column. Fortunately, the keys were still in the ignition. Little Abe climbed up the side of the truck and spoke through the window.
“You let me know when you find the assholes who shot Roy?”
“Count on it.” Brand replied.
“You gonna need some help?”
Brand thought about the request. “No. Better I do this alone. Things could go sideways pretty easily. You stay in touch with the Calvary. Keep on them, make sure they bring lots of manpower.”
Abe climbed down and hollered for the overhead door to open. Brand twisted the key in the ignition. The big engine rumbled to life. Columns of black exhausted lifted into the air. Brand shifted into reverse, nodded toward Little Abe and backed the truck out into the night.
O’Brien flicked the siren in his car off and on to catch the uniforms attention before yelling. “You’re going to kill the man!”
Rushing into the uniformed officers, he pushed the angry men away, standing between them and the source of their ire. The uniforms were acting on rage, driven from a tight bond of the brotherhood of law enforcement officers and the man before them accused of shooting a fellow policeman, the men oblivious to anything else.
O’Brien pulled one officer back and drove his fist into the man’s face knocking him to the ground. Then he dove into two others, the three men hitting the gravel in a tangle. Scrambling to his feet, he stood in front of Brand, daring the others to remove him.
“What in the hell are you guys thinking?” He scolded the uniformed officers, dusting off his coat as he stared them down.
“Get out of the way.” An older patrolman replied. The name Carl displayed on a patch on the man’s chest. “This man is a cop killer!” Then the senior patrolman screamed back. “He deserves what he’s getting…he deserves a damn bullet, not a cell and three hot meals!”
“You back off or the next bullet will be for you.” O’Brien threatened. He stood facing the group of policemen, daring them to move first. After a few heated moments, cooler heads prevailed. The incensed cops reigned in their fury.
“I’ll ride in the back with him,” O’Brien said lifting Brand from the ground and marching him to a waiting patrol car.
O'Brien escorted Brand through the process of fingerprinting, and mug shots then led to the basement and tossed him in a cell. When he asked for a washroom to clean up, his pleas fell on deaf ears. The next few hours he spent sitting on a stained bunk, dust and gravel ground into his clothing and skin mixing with blood and bruises before two officers escorted him to an interrogation room. With his hands cuffed to the table, the officers left him alone to stare at the walls. If this was their way of forcing him to talk, they were sorely mistaken, he thought.
He spent his time reviewing what had happened and what he had to do once he was released. The evidence against him was circumstantial and planted. There was no doubt in Brand's mind that he would be set free, and if not fully exonerated of the false charges, then at least with bail.
While he mulled over his misfortune and options, the door to the room opened. Detective O’Brien entered. Brand eyed the detective warily as the man approached the table, two steaming Styrofoam cups of coffee in the detective’s hands. O’Brien stepped to the table setting one of the cups in front of Brand. A humourless smile pulled at Brand's lips as he looked from the coffee up to the detective.
“What’s this, a peace offering…so let me guess, you're going to play the good cop now, am I right?” Brand said sarcastically. He reached for the coffee. It was unmistakably cop shop coffee. Bitter and burnt, but as he cradled the cup, the coffee tasted like a million dollars. He carefully sipped the hot liquid, feeling it burn down his parched throat.
Brand kept his eyes on the detective; the man remained standing and silent.
“Look, Coldstream, we need to clear things up.” The detective looked away. “I should have been upfront with you earlier,” he continued, “But, in my defense, I had no way of telling how deeply involved you were in this investigation.”
“About what?” Brand egged the detective on. “Clean on the fact that the Cartel has you wrapped around their finger.” He lashed out at the detective then relented, wondering how far he should push, after all the detective probably saved his life back at the bar. “I’ve noticed that grey Toyota of yours several times in my travels of late…did you gamble yourself into their debt or do you just enjoy playing on both sides of the law?”
Detective O’Brien let out a short laugh.
“Yes. I suppose I can see where you would get an idea like that.” O’Brien replied. “No, I’m not in anybody’s debt, and you can bet your ass that I’m on the right side of the line as you put it.” Pulling a chair away from the table, the Detective sat down and proceeded to explain his part in the scheme of things.
“I do not doubt that you did see my car at, shall I say, dubious haunts. I let Detective Walgreen borrow it…it seemed that his car had a run of bad luck thus resulting in several trips to a local garage.” O’Brien lifted his cup to his mouth, blew on the steaming coffee to cool it down, then took a sip. “I have to confess. The reason Detective Walgreen's car has made repeated visits to the mechanic lately is my fault. I purposely tampered with it.”
O’Brien kept talking. “I wanted him to use my car. I had it wired. I suspected he was working for the either the Warrior’s or the Cartel, so I needed a way to keep tabs on him." O'Brien lifted the cup back to his mouth.
"I'm new to the Calgary police department. I’ve only been in the province for the past few months transferring in from Surrey. I'm here on loan from the E Division of the RCMP. Part of the Drug Enforcement Branch.” O’Brien paused again staring at his cup. “No one in this department is aware of this fact, so I guess you could say that I’m undercover.”
Brand slowly sipped his coffee. “I am sure there is a point to all this?” He interrupted.
“There have been rumblings blowing over the mountains of the Cartel expanding their operations east into this city. Rumours surfaced about members of members of the local law also involved.
My bosses didn’t want me storming into the city and announcing my intentions. That would only put the bad guys on their best behaviour, so we managed to keep it under the radar.
I think by now you are probably aware of the Cartel and the business they run. We know they came to the country from South America and we also know most of the players. The thing is, the leader of the group remains a mystery. We have a list of names and corresponding charges but can’t find anyone to provide us with an identity, so we’ve been staying in the background, letting things unfold while we try to discover the man's identity and find his location.”
“That’s a pretty sad story, but I’m afraid I don’t know why you’re sharing this with me?” Brand asked. A drop of blood fell on the table beside his coffee. Lifting his arm, he swiped a sleeve across his chin and lips. His gaze remained on the splatter. “Why haven’t you arrested some of his lackeys, guys close enough to the top to name names?”
“Yeah, we have, but no matter what we threaten or promise, they all tell the same story. No one knows who the top dog is or where the boss hides. The group has run a similar operation on the coast for years and still, no matter what we do or who we arrest, not one person can or will cough up his name.” The detective set down his coffee in frustration, hard enough that the cream lightened coffee slopped over the edge of the cup. “It’s like the guys a flippin' ghost.”
“Dave, he was working undercover,” O’Brien said flatly. The detective’s words jolted Brand to attention. Brand pulled his focus away from the drop of blood drying on the table and met the detective’s stare.
“Dave…Dave Halperson?” Brand asked disbelievingly.
“Yes.” O’Brien pause. After several seconds of silent debating, O’Brien decided to bring Brand up to speed on his case.
“Dave’s worked undercover for our department for probably close to ten years now. On the coast, in Vancouver, he was very successful in tracking down a human smuggling ring that was coming up through Washington State and using ferries to sneak the people into the country. Part of the payment the smugglers required was that every illegal had to bring in a certain amount of contraband drugs when they crossed. If the illegals succeeded, they were free to go, but if we arrested them, well, what else. They were locked up until we turned them over to the American justice system.”
“So, what are you telling me? Because of Dave, the Cartel targeted my house?"
“I got to be honest with you. When I first arrived at the scene, I presumed you were involved. You and Dave hung around a lot. So, you can see where I would conclude that you were the one he was pursuing. I believed that he had evidence that you were involved with the drugs and he was keeping you close.
Dave called the other day and set a meeting for this past Saturday. Dave hadn’t been in touch for a while, and then, out of the blue, I get a call, and he wants to meet. He was very close to identifying the Moreno Cartel’s top man, but first, caution was needed to make sure his path was clear before retrieving the info.
Next thing that happens, gunmen attack your house, and Dave's lying face down on your table, dead. So I ask you, what was a guy to believe?” The detective said shrugging as a way of an apology.
“So you no longer think I'm involved?” Brand queried.
“No, not any longer.” The detective stood from the table, stretched, then paced in the confining space of the interrogation room. A short laugh came from O’Brien’s mouth. “If you are involved, you sure in the hell are going through a lot of pain and misery to keep your cover,” O'Brien said, stopped his pacing long enough to shoot a glance back at Brand. Brand sat hunched over the table, his hands in restraints, staring back. His clothes covered in dust and blood. Swollen blackish, purple bruises tightened up his facial features.
Brand watched the detective pace, confusion twisting his battered face.
“That’s a good story and what happened to Dave was shitty…but I still don’t understand why you are telling me this?”
“Alright. I guess I should get to the point. The point is I could use your help. The law limits my options for the ways I can gather information. You, on the other hand, don’t seem to be concerned how you come across the knowledge you’re seeking. That kind of help I most certainly would appreciate.”
“Whoa. I’m flattered, but if you fail to notice,” Brand raised his hands the short length the handcuffs would allow, “I am currently going to be residing in a jail cell.”
“Oh…that. You will be released shortly. While you were cooling your heels in the basement, I made some phone calls. That shooting of Detective Walgreen was an obvious attempt to frame you. I’ve talked to witnesses and studied the surveillance cameras in the vicinity. We have a picture of the Walgreen’s killer. A search is underway for the man.”
“How long have you known? Why did the patrols still think I was the shooter? Brand regarded the detective," Maybe you won't mind sharing that information with the uniforms in the patrol cars. Next time they stop me, I might not be so lucky.”
“I have revoked the BOLO,” O’Brien assured him.
“Good.” Brand said raising his handcuffed arms again. “If you don’t mind then…?”
Brand kept his gaze locked on the detective, anger adding a deeper hue to the bruising covering his face. He watched the man’s eyes break contact and travel down to his hands still fastened to the table with the steel cuffs before.
"First. Let me explain," O’Brien cleared his throat. “With Dave out of the picture, I had no way of finding his hidden information. I needed you desperate and willing to search.” The detective said in a quieter voice. “And again, I wasn’t sure what part you played. Dave worked for us and if you’re not part of the ring, who does that leave? The old guy, the man who disappeared from the hospital?”
“That’s ridiculous,” Brand stammered past his ire, “The man’s ancient and a drunk. When’s he’s sober, Jerry’s a stand-up guy but most of his spare time is spent in a bottle…no…never.”
The detective walked over and unlocked the handcuffs. “Dave stayed very close to you two. Why? Just so that he could tie feathers on tiny metal hooks with coloured string and drink your beer? Naw. He had a reason.” O’Brien planted his hands flat on the table and leaned in close to Brand. “So what do you say? Will you help?”
“I don’t know what to tell you. If the best plan you have is counting on me to help, then I think you’re going to have a bad day.” Brand replied rubbing his wrists.
Detective O’Brien offered to drive Brand back to his bike. The lot fronting Oscar's bar sat vacant in the late afternoon. Brand’s helmet lay in the gravel near the motorbike. Dusting the headgear, he gently slipped it over his swollen, battered head and climbed onto the seat. A standing push against the bike’s kick-start lever and the metal two-wheeler roared to life.
Brand pointed the motorcycle toward the southeast. What he needed was to clean up, change clothes, grab a decent meal and wash it down with copious amounts of rye. O’Brien left a card before he departed and let Brand know that his house was all his again, it was no longer a crime scene.
The promise of a shower and clean clothing disappeared as he signalled off of Deerfoot, rerouting past a cluster of businesses in the direction of his home.
The front door sat ajar when he climbed the stairs onto his deck. He bent and studied the lock. Twisting it, he discovered it would no longer work. Brand stepped over and around his scattered belongings and made a careful search of the interior. The past few days made him reluctant to be complacent.
Relieved to find no surprises waiting, he grabbed a chair from the dining room and carried it to the front entrance jamming it tight under the doorknob. Time permitting, he’d have to replace the lock, but that could wait until he at least had a shower and cleaned up.
Sitting at the table, he nursed a rye and coke, working the detective’s words together with pieces of information he had uncovered. A lot of holes remained that needed filling, bits of information to complete the puzzle.
Dave being undercover was a big piece to add, but how did that fit into the situation. If Dave had proof to blow the investigation open, then why would he spend the evening drinking beer and tying flies instead of meeting with O’Brien. The information had to be more important than drinking with a couple of friends. O’Brien said he would retrieve the data when it was safe to do so, but, safe from who or what?
Dave wasn’t hanging around because Brand was involved in any of this…what was he missing. The only other person was Jerry and he sure and the hell wasn’t the ringleader of a Colombian crime syndicate. Shit, the old boy would no doubt use the drugs personally instead of selling them. Sure. He got caught up in gambling debts to the Warriors and admitted to making some illegal runs for them, but a drunk like Jerry sure wasn’t leading a multi-national drug cartel.
Suddenly Brand’s mind snapped back to Jerry. With all the excitement he had forgotten about his friend. Days had passed since Jerry disappeared from the hospital. O’Brien never said anything about locating him, so where was he, and was he still alive? Would the Colombians kill Jerry once they found out that he was a hopeless drunk and lost the phone?
It seemed that everything came back to the missing phone. What had Jerry recorded on the device that could be so important? Even video of the Cartel boss wouldn't be that big of a deal. No more than a minor inconvenience for a man hidden in some South American hideaway where no Canadian law enforcement agency could touch him. Unless, unless the head of the Moreno Cartel wasn't out of the country. Brand indulged this thought. The prospect of the drug lord lurking nearby, maybe even holed up in the city. Suddenly the phone became much more significant and would better explain the Cartel's need to get their hands on it.
Brand walked to the fridge and poured another rye. Thinking of phones, he had his turned off and decided it was safe to power the device back on, the worry of the cops tracking him now a problem in the past. He carried his drink back to the table and sat down waiting for the phone to run its cycle.
He looked over his ransacked house and decided against cleaning up for now. The funny thing was that the fly he was tying that Friday evening was still sitting in the vice, the vice and the materials lay undisturbed where he had left them. The rest didn’t matter right now if anyone else broke into his house there would be little else they could do to cause damage.
His phone chimed, bringing him out of his musing. Thirteen messages were waiting for him. The first hand full switched between announcing that he was a lucky winner of a free trip to the Caribbean, several robo calls from local businesses and a couple triple eight numbers from phone solicitors. Stuck near the end, a number he didn’t recognize appeared over a short time span. The caller spoke with a thick Latin accent.
“Mr. Coldstream…you are nothing if you are not a pain in my side. I have your friend here….” There was silence, and then he heard a loud, painful scream, a scream with a few maritime adjectives thrown in and a Lord Tundering Jesus, Boy. “I know you are looking for your friend’s phone. A phone that you know by now is of the utmost importance an associate of mine, so that I will make you a deal…find the phone and return it and then perhaps I stop my camaradas from removing your friend's body parts.
He remains alive for now, but do not take long to decide. Your amigo will run out of appendages.” The connection ended abruptly. Rojas' call was recorded earlier. Likely around the time the cops had interrupted the Warriors trying to kill him.
Brand worked on his drink while listening and deleting the messages. The phone number from the Colombians he saved into the phones memory. Arriving at the last voice mail, he was no longer paying close attention to the voices on the phone. His mind was busy searching for a different angle to locate the lost phone. He still had one more location to check. It was to be the next on his list when the bikers confronted him at Oscar’s.
“BRAND…HELP…WE’RE UNDER ATTACK. A FEW OF ROY’S MEN ARE HERE, BUT WE’RE PINNED IN THE HOUSE BY GUNFIRE…
Brand’s attention shifted back to his phone. He started the recording over again and listened to Susan’s frightened voice. The last time he replayed the message, he checked the time the call arrived, 35 minutes earlier.
He ran for the door, one hand scrolling through his phone searching for Roy’s number. He pinned the device between his ear and his shoulder while it connected, his hands busy with the throttle. Revving the bike's engine, he raced out of the neighbourhood.
Struggling to maintain control of the bike as he fought to hold the phone to his ear, Brand pushed his luck, precariously weaving around traffic and slipping illegally past vehicles as he gained the route to lead him east toward the outskirts of the city. Brand continued recklessly, the speed of the motorbike climbing, he shifted in the seat, dodging in and out, around and through the two lanes of traffic, ignoring red lights and racing north first before he had the chance to swing the powerful two-wheeler in an easterly direction.
Fumbling to redial Roy’s number while he drove, the front tire of the bike came within inches of contacting a merging pickup truck. Brand looked up from the phone screen with scarcely enough room to avoid a dangerous collision.
Finally, on the third attempt his call connected with Roy.
“Your house is under attack…” He yelled above the roar of the motorcycle. “I’m on my way now!” Before his brother could answer, Brand ended the call and stuck the phone into a pocket then cranked the throttle on the bike. The front wheel lifted briefly then squealed as it contacted the pavement, the bike leaping as he tried to erase the miles to Roy’s acreage as quickly as possible.
His first thought was that he hoped he was in time and then the reality of the situation reared its head. He was riding into a gunfight with only a bike for a weapon. He’d been in worst positions than this, but it was still a stupid idea, one that he had no choice but to continue.
His mind worked through a few quick scenarios, although he had to admit, a bike against a group of armed men had a low probability rate of success. He returned his attention to arriving there first; the how and why would work themselves out.
As he turned onto the highway that bordered Roy’s property, lady luck toyed with him. The traffic on the busy two-lane road was substantial. Heavy traffic equalled traffic noise equalled whoever was laying siege to Roy’s place wouldn’t notice the roar of the bike coming. The advantage of surprise would cut the odds somewhat in his favour.
Nearing the drive way leading to the yard, he noticed the pair of metal gates hanging askew, the gravel driveway to the house unblocked and deserted.
He quickly glanced behind. The traffic was still lined up, the loud thrum hiding the bikes roaring engine. He slowed slightly and then leaned into the turn to maximize the bikes forward momentum while going through the gate and carrying toward the house. As he made the crossing, a man stepped from behind a gate pillar. Taking the man's appearance in stride, Brand shot the bike forward. His shoulder used as a ram to smash the gunman into the gatepost.
A short distance ahead, a group of men knelt together using the metal body of a car for protection as they fired bullets towards the house. Instincts took over. With the traffic on the highway camouflaging the noise from the bike engine, he sped closer to the group. Timing his movements, Brand squeezed the front brake. The rear tire skidded forward. With the bike's momentum sliding in the direction of the shooters, he leaned away from the group. The bike started to lie down in the gravel driveway and skid. Brand dove. He pushed away from the falling motorcycle with his feet.
One of the gunmen turned, his voice rising in surprise, echoing over the calamity of rifle fire and traffic. The man yelped as the bike and a wall of dust and gravel hurtled toward him, but was too slow to react. The wall of metal and grit chewed across the driveway and into the men gathered behind the car, the men toppling like bowling pins.
The careening bike slammed the men straight back into the side of the car with such force and awkwardness that the sedan used as cover by the gunmen rocked. Cries of surprise rose into the evening air with the dust from the impact followed by screams of pain erupting from the unfortunate few pinned between the bike and the car.
Brand planted a foot in the gravel slowing his slide, rolled through the dust and gravel before rising to his feet. In the screening dust, he rushed after the bike with hopes of retrieving a fallen weapon or two. The air was thick and masking. Brand rushed through the veil of confusion emerging among the fallen gunmen. Disarming the few who still clutching their firearms, he retrieved a rifle with a spare magazine. Brand sidestepped the men pinned against the car by the bike and moved to take cover behind a second vehicle, cautiously scanning the yard for more assailants.
The screams of the wounded and broken men grew quiet leaving the yard silent, cut off from the highway by the wall of sound from the evening traffic. While he was catching his breath, a pair of black SUV’s raced into the yard kicking up more dust. The doors of the SUV flew opened, and Brand heard, rather than saw, boots land on the gravel driveway followed by the arming of numerous of weapons.
Several of the weapons sighted on Brand before the bellow of Roy’s voice told them to stop. Brand listened as Roy barked orders at his men, assessing the situation as he moved, then he watched several of the Wolves leave the safety of the vehicles and spread out across the yard and toward the house, Roy’s men carefully crossing the yard using the few bits of concealment available.
The minutes ticked by as Brand sighted down the rifle’s barrel at the house, his ears pricked for the sounds of gunfire. A few sporadic shots rang through the yard and then silence once again. Time passed before Roy’s men appeared at the back of the house signalling that the fight was over.
Brand stood up as Roy left the SUV and strode toward him.
“You all right?” Roy’s gaze stayed on Brand’s swollen face. “Did you hit the gravel with your head?” He asked then looked away studying the area surrounding the house watching his men comb the yard.
Brand dusted off his clothes. “Another long story.” He replied and followed Roy.
The two men walked toward the two-story building. Roy called to the men inside the house, shouting an all clear in case they were fidgety and mistook the group standing in the front yard for the attackers and shot at them as they approached.
Brand sat on the bike, the engine running. How in the hell was he going to find a phone that’s been missing for weeks? The possibilities of it being anywhere in the city, from a bum’s pocket to the landfill, ranged within that realm and if he found it, how relevant would the video be. The police had to know who the ringleaders were and have done nothing. Would the evidence urge them to act? Probably not, he reasoned.
Brand revved the bike's engine and cut into traffic. The bar at the strip mall was only the first of the places Jerry remembered carrying the phone. Brand pushed the worry aside. The search was a long way from over.
The sun was high in the sky when he pulled the bike into a small gravel lot fronting a stand-alone bar. The busted neon sign over the entrance flickered the name. Oscars. Although between the flickering lights and the grime and dust covering the cracked plastic sign, faint outlines of lettering were close to that, it was hard to tell.
The exterior of the building reflected the age and neglect of the building. Exposed areas of black paper and wire showed against old, yellowed stucco. Rusty security bars protected dusty, cracked windows added to the décor.
Brand rolled the bike in front of a split, weather polished rail, aged and splintered by the elements, the battered rail protecting an old crumbling sidewalk. Pushing the kickstand out, he climbed off the bike and removed his helmet, hanging it by a strap from the handlebars.
Standing beside the motorbike, Brand eyed the bar. He wasn’t an expert on the Warriors, but he was certain that this bar was among the ones they haunted. A quick look at the back of the building eliminated the need to search. From where he stood, there wouldn’t be any reason for a person drinking at the establishment to wander out back. A tangle of unruly shrubs crowded tight to the building separating the gravel lot from the back area. The bottom of the bush littered with discarded garbage collected in the tangle of stems. He didn’t think that the grown bush was even penetrable.
Brushing the dust off his jeans, Brand ran his fingers through his hair then headed up the crumbling sidewalk and pushed aside the door leading inside. The bar's interior was a slight improvement over the exterior. The dim lights hid the packed, worn carpet covering the floor. The layout was typical of these types of run down joints. Sets of stained circular tables surrounded by wooden chairs with torn backs under out-dated chandeliers throwing a dull yellow cast.
A grey Toyota Pathfinder slowed alongside a curb, half a block down from Oscar's bar. The car came to a stop, partially hidden behind a small cluster of overgrown Poplar trees, the engine shut off. Detective O’Brien parked with enough of the windshield exposed to allow him a view of the parking lot and the bar’s entrance. He’d been on Coldstream’s trail since earlier in the day, following him around at a discreet distance. He watched Coldstream enter the bar then settled in, waiting for the adventure to continue.
Ten minutes into O’Brien’s vigil, a pack of bikers roared past the car and into the parking lot. He watched the group roll up to the wooden rail flanking Coldstream’s bike. The men dismounted, removed their helmets and stretched, then chatted while leaning on their machines, five additional pairs of eyes watching the bar’s entrance in the same manner as him. With the arrival of the bikers, the afternoon should prove interesting, O’Brien thought, as he palmed the police radio, his thumb hovering over the call button.
Like the pub before, the bartender and waitress were huddled by the cash register. Their conversation paused by his presence. He scanned the interior walking toward the old beat up bar on the opposite side of the room. Choosing a stool in the middle of the counter, he sat down and waited for the bartender to amble over. Naturally, the conversation the bar’s employees were having took precedence over service, because the bartender took his time taking Brand’s order.
“Bud and juice.” Brand called as the man made his way over. The bartender nodded stopping beside a bank of pull levers labeled with various types of draft beer. Brand pulled crumpled bills from his pocket front pocket and waited for the beer to arrive. Brand flattened a few twenties and shoved them toward the bartender when the man set the beer and clamato juice on the bar top.
I’ve got a few questions.” Brand said to the bartender, his hand holding the spread twenties flat on the bar.
The man looked back with dull eyes. “What kind of questions?” He asked flatly, no curiosity involved.
“Nothing serious.” Brand replied tapping his fingers over the bills. “A friend of mine lost his phone, and I’m trying to find it?” He toyed with the money. “One hasn’t been found or turned in, has it?” He lifted the glass of clamato juice and poured some into his beer while letting the bartender think.
“Keep your money. I don’t know about any lost phones.” The man said and grabbed a twenty heading for the till. “Tell your friend to buy another phone.” He mumbled over his shoulder.
Noticing the waitress eavesdropping, Brand tapped his hand over the money then raised his voice so she could plainly hear his words as well.
“I told my friend that exact thing, but it seems he’s partial to this phone, says all his contacts are on it, and he doesn’t want the fuss of replacing them.” Turning his attention back to his beer, he waited, letting his words sink in. People in bars talk while they are drinking and he hoped that maybe the waitress overheard someone talking about it. Looking back at the woman, he watched her face, but she seemed as puzzled as the bartender about the missing phone.
Pulling his phone out of his pocket, he scrolled the screens until the picture of Jerry and Dave appeared.
“I’ve got a picture of my friend. Would you two mind taking a look. Maybe you’ll recognize the face. Might jog your memory? The phone is pretty important to him.” Brand stood to show the picture.
“Maybe you should finish your beer and go search somewhere else?” The bartender said motioning toward the exit with his head.
Brand shrugged. How many phones were left behind in bars like this each day by drunks and why would these two remember or care about this one specifically, he wondered. Needle in the haystack.
He looked at the twenties spread on the bar. “Keep the cash.” He told the bartender and swivelled in the direction of the door.
Brand squinted his eyes when he stepped into the bright sunlight as he crossed from the dark interior to the outside. He hesitated, letting his eyes adjust to the light. A loud rumble of powerful bike engines assaulted his ears. Blinking his eyes into focus, he traced the sound to the group of bikers parked out front.
“Shit.” He mumbled out loud as he looked down into the parking lot. Warrior patches adorned the biker’s leathers.
The group of bikers stared up at Brand standing at the entrance while he stood looking down on them. One by one they pushed up off the bike seats. By the twinkle of sunlight gleaming off the accessorized jewellery the group was wearing, knuckle busters and chains, Brand couldn’t imagine that talking was going to help avoid the situation.
Like any wild animal, if you showed fear they would attack, so Brand slowly descended the steps in the direction of his bike. He had no weapons on him. Even his helmet was hanging beside the men on the motorbike's handlebars. If he managed to get his hands on that, he could do a little damage or at the very least protect himself for a while.
Brand continued moving toward his bike, his eyes shifting between the biker’s faces waiting for them to telegraph their first move.
“Howdy boys. Not a bad day for a ride?” He broke the silence, getting a feel for the situation and buying time to grab his helmet. He was probably going to get a good beating at the very least, so his thoughts turned proactive, searching for a way to dish out some punishment of his own before the group overwhelmed him.
The Warrior’s remained still as he closed the gap. When he reached across the railing for the helmet, the biker closest to him stretched out a hand to stop him. Acting on adrenaline, Brand scooped up his helmet and swung it at the biker’s head. The smack of the helmet surprised the man toppling the man into a bike.
Catapulting over the wooden rail feet first, Brand slammed into the bikers on one side driving both the men and machines to the ground. He rolled off the tangle and landed shoulder first into the packed gravel of the parking lot, a cloud of dust rose. He came up swinging his helmet as the bikers recovered and surrounded him. Knocking one man in the face, he rushed forward trying to keep the others off balance by surprise.
A chain bit into his back sending him back to the ground. Rolling to avoid another hit from the chain he began to rise and regain his footing. A blow struck his shoulder. Brand raised his arms protecting his head as blows started raining down. A foot caught him flush on the side of his head sending a jolt of fire through the length of his body.
Desperately, he fought to remain alert. Darkness began to push him away from consciousness when the assault to his body eased. Blinking wildly, Brand waded through the fog overwhelming his brain. Pain soared from his nerves leaving him wasted and dazed. Sirens replaced the ringing in his ears. Through blurred vision, he watched the tangle of arms and legs of the bikers pull back. Harsh voices filtered into his ears in muddled waves. Shortly, the jumbled words took form, their meanings growing clearer.
The blue attire of city police officers replaced the leather-clad Warriors. Past the line of uniforms, the bikers stood in a line. One officer bent close and looked at him. On the policeman's face, a look of surprise before recognition turned the man's features to disgust.
“Hey, Charlie. Have a look at this guy. Isn’t there a BOLO out for this bastard’s arrest?” The officer continued glaring at Brand. “Yeah. Isn't this the son of a bitch who gunned down Detective Walgreen? He’s a god damned cop killer. Maybe we should let the bikers loose and have them finish what they started. Give this asshole everything he deserves?”
Another cop stepped into Brand's line of sight and glowered. Brand shook off the results of the biker’s blows and started to rise from the gravel only to have an officer raise a foot and push him back to the ground. He lay there.
The angry tone of the officer’s words sent a chill down his spine. Trapped, he searched for means of escape, his vision roaming the faces of the cops. The bikers would have been easier to deal with than a group of police who believed they stumbled across a cop killer. His mind raced amid shouts of the police telling the bikers to climb on their bikes and get the hell out of the area before the lot was arrested and taken downtown.
The roar of the bikes deafening, the wheels of the bikes crunching gravel, passing close to Brands head while he remained on the ground. Before the roar of bikes receded, a boot thudded into his chest. One of the men in blue stood with the barrel of a gun pointed down in Brand’s direction.
“We should do the world a favour and end his miserable life instead of letting another murderer holiday in jail while some asshole defence lawyer tries to get him released.” The cop holding the gun knelt and swung a fist into Brand’s face. Soon more officers joined the fracas, a second barrage of fists and boots pounded Brand.
Detective O’Brien watched in disbelief. As the officer’s anger increased, he jumped from his car. When he called for backup, he had forgotten that Brand was the main suspect in Walgreen's death. O'Brien had intended to stay in the background to continue following Coldstream, but the time for discretion was over. These uniforms looked like they might just finish what the Warrior bikers had started.
The Manager stopped at the door to his office. Quintin Rojas, the Colombian underboss’s voice echoed from the room. Rojas stood on the business side of the custom crafted desk. The small man’s back toward the door, strings of rapid Spanish spoken angrily filled the quiet of the room, words borne of a heated conversation. The flow of the Colombians conversation lost on Cartwright, his understanding of the language limited to a Taco Time menu.
James Cartwright, a.k.a. The Manager stood in the doorway debating walking farther in the room or allowing his unwanted guest some privacy. He remained in the opening, his face impassive, his features barely veiling his dislike of the outspoken Colombian. The office, this city, was his turf and these foreign sons of bitches set up shop and took right over.
Cartwright leaned against the doorframe. He found himself longing for the simpler life left behind over the passing years. A time before the Cartel blew into town. A time when Satan’s Warrior’s and Thundercloud’s eastside bikers coexisted, each group claiming parts of the city in an uneasy truce.
The Manager let his eyes roam the office interior, the headquarters of his operation floors above the noisy gaming rooms of the Millennium Casino. At one time, he lorded over the west end of the city, running his operation from a fortress-like clubhouse. Drugs, extortion, prostitution were the mainstays of his clubs activities. Occasionally, people got hurt, maybe killed and disappeared when running afoul of the Warriors but those incidents were rare. With the partnership of the Cartel, the body count climbed indiscriminately.
When first approached by the Cartel to partner with their organization and handle the drug distribution east of the Rockies, the Manager saw the deal as a way to bring power and wealth to his Warrior members and a way to crush his cross-town rivals.
The cash that followed the increased drug trade was more than his gang was capable of procuring. With the surge in profits, the violence escalated. The Colombian’s proved they were not shy to brutally remove any obstacle in their way. His lack of understanding of how the Cartel operated soon put things in a different perspective.
It became all too evident that what the Cartel wanted, they took, and his role in the partnership clear. Another pion caught in the Cartels expanding collective. His organization’s efforts to build and fight for their share of the drug trade in the city and surrounding area now in the hands of his Colombian partners. How much longer would they pretend that he was a valuable partner?
And the damn Spanish they spoke. Cartwright had no idea what the hell they were talking about, and the Colombians showed little respect, freely conversing in the language while in his presence. Nor did he trust them. James Cartwright dropped his chin to his chest. Times were changing violently, and he was becoming irrelevant. The Cartel was conniving and ruthless, and his future began to look uncertain.
Rojas slammed down the phone, the sudden noise busting through the Managers dark mood. Cartwright caught Rojas looking in his direction; the man’s face dark and surly. Rojas motioned Manager into the room, pointing to a chair at the foot of the desk.
“Why have we not heard from that big Indian, the leader of the Wolves?” The Colombian underboss asked angrily. “Have we not destroyed enough of his businesses yet for him to realize the trouble we bring?” The diminutive man dropped into the stuffed leather chair and swivelled facing the Manager. Rojas’ coal black eyes locked on Cartwright, the Colombian’s anger bubbling out in his words.
“He’s a stubborn man. I don’t think he scares as easily as you think.” The Manager stared right back at the seated Cartel man. “I warned you against such rash actions.”
“Are you scared, Parcero? Maybe you have no cojones.” Rojas braced the Manager. “If you are easily frightened, I can find a real man to do your job.”
“This isn’t some backwoods South American country,” The Manager calmly replied, “where all the cops and politicians are corrupt and people scatter at the sight of your big bad Cartel.
Sure we have cops on the payroll, but they’ll draw the line at you killing Roy’s men and torching his buildings. Here the consequences are great and the police fear going to prison more than they fear you. And Roy Thundercloud, never underestimate the man.” The Manager placated. His words meant to dispel the tension in the room. “We have to plan our moves carefully.”
Rojas regarded the Manager before speaking again. “El jefe is very displeased about the loss of our warehouse and the missing shipment. He wonders why nobody has been made to pay for these atrocities. He wants, no, he demands that we end this problem swiftly and leave no doubts that further disrespect will be punished severely.
The Indian and his pack of wolves, along with any future roadblocks that interfere in our business are to be…how do you say…removed with extreme prejudice. Our boss demands respect, and we will roll over every crook or cop to get it.” The Colombians nostrils flared as he sucked in a deep breath when he finished his speech. A cold smile appeared on Rojas’ face. “We will help you rid the city of these serpientes.”
Rojas’ thin lips curled into a smile, his tone growing friendlier.“Call the big Indian…what was his name, Thunder…?”
“Thundercloud, Roy Thundercloud,” Cartwright interjected.
“Yes. Mr. Thundercloud. What an odd name. Tell El Lobo that if he surrenders the man responsible for the destruction and theft of our property, we may leave him enough scraps to continue his way of life. If not, he can die along with his gang of mutts or get out of town! And his threats,” Rojas referred to the injured Jander Valera and Roy’s message, banged his fist on the desk to emphasize his words,“ are useless. Tell him,” Rojas slid the left-hand sleeve of his jacket up revealing a diamond-studded watch, “he’s got until 6:00 tomorrow night to accept.”
“One more thing,” Rojas added. “I want every cop under your thumb to start arresting El Lobo's men? We’ll deplete his manpower, help make his decision easier.”
“The cops can’t hunt and arrest the Wolves without cause. Their actions will draw suspicions.” Cartwright tried to reason. Quintin Rojas regarded the Manager. In the growing silence, he reached across the width of the desk and fumbled open an intricately designed humidor. Lifting the lid, the Colombian ran his fingers over the collection of exquisite cigars before choosing a thickly rolled Cuban. Beside the humidor, he slid a decorative guillotine cutter along with the cigar.
Rojas took his time inspecting the cigar before clipping the end and scratching a wooden match across the desk’s surface. The match flared, burning off the sulphur, before settling to a mesmerizing yellowish flame. The Colombian closed his eyes as he touched the lit match to the tobacco. Puffs of smoke escaped his mouth before he reopened his eyes.
“Tell the policìa to do what we ask. Otherwise they are no use to us and become disposable. Those who stepped across the line in our service only have death or jail in their future as an escape. Remind the corrupt men in uniform why we pay them, and…of the family members they will be unable to protect.” Rojas paused letting Cartwright digest the words of his thinly veiled threat. A cloud of dark grey smoke filled the air. “They take our money; they do what we ask!” Rojas banged the desk again ending the conversation, the smile no longer twisting the man’s lips.
The Manager clenched his jaw, fighting down the urge to call bullshit to the Colombian’s insidious orders. Threatening the freedom or the lives of the cops or worse yet, the cop’s families, was well beyond any type of action Cartwright was willing to undertake. Where would the madness stop?
The bloodshed and loss of gang members and cartel soldiers from the previous evening still stung the Managers pride. Without his advice, Rojas had orchestrated the attack on Thundercloud and his club. How the Colombian even knew that the Warrior leader would be there, Cartwright still didn’t know. The police presence at the club and today’s media coverage brought the simmering drug war into the open. Publicity that was never good for business.
The Manager allowed his head to move slightly in wonder. He felt the grip on his operation and now the war building between the rival bike gangs spinning out of control and the Cartel seemed more then eager to hasten it along.
Cartwright sat watching the Colombian. He dared not further enrage the man, but he sensed the need to rationalize with Rojas before bodies began cluttering the streets. A knock at the open office door interrupted the two men.
“Boss. I’ve got a bartender from the Lucky 7 on the line. He says that a man showed up this morning asking about a phone some old drunk lost. Probably nothing, but he insisted on talking to you.” The man said and handed Cartwright a phone.
“Cartwright.” The Manager snapped then listened as the caller updated him about the visitor at the bar and the questions asked. Cartwright grilled the bartender. The Manager’s eyes widened as a picture of the man formed in his head from the bartender’s description.
The snoop at the bar had to be Coldstream, and the Manager could guess why Coldstream was interested in the phone. Ending the call, Cartwright related the details of the conversation to Rojas. The man seeking the missing phone is none other than the very person they had framed in the detective’s murder.
“So he must know about the video on that phone, why else would he be interested? This man undoubtedly has a death wish.” The Colombian scowled at Cartwright. “If that phone is anywhere to be found, we have to find it. It’s vital.”
“Why. What the hell is so important about the video on it? So a few cops get busted for taking our money, maybe even some of your guys get arrested. What’s the deal?” Cartwright failed to understand the unnecessary waste of time and the urgency of worrying about a lost phone, which may or may not contain secretly recorded videos of illegal transactions.
Rojas continued glaring at the Manager wondering how much he should tell the man. If he knew what was at stake, would the Warriors try harder to locate the phone? The Colombian sat quietly debating whether to tell the Manager exactly why the video on this phone was so important.
“The head of the Moreno Cartel has, for many years, remained anonymous to law enforcement in any country. He grows concerned that some of the videos might contain footage exposing his identity. He would very much like to remain anonymous. He finds operating with anonymity helps him travel and expand his business without the worry of the police and competitors.” Rojas stopped. “Very few people know what el jefe looks like, so, find the bandida who stole our product and locate the damn phone.”
In an industrial park on the south side of town, the doors to a strip club opened. A group of bikers exited the bar, the men joking with each other. Laughter erupted from a drunken joke. The men clinging to open bottles of beer huddled under the club’s awning, a pack of cigarettes appeared and was passed around. Lighters flared as the drunken men howled loudly from off colour jokes and tugs of strong beer.
Blast of police sirens dampened the mood. The group turned their backs to the club wall watching and wondering why the cops would venture into this section of town on a quiet Saturday afternoon. The police officers sprang from the squad cars with guns drawn, pointed at the surprised men. Beer bottles smashed on the sidewalk as the Warriors raised their hands.
Roy Thundercloud had just gotten off the phone concerning a similar incident in the far south when his phone rang again. The call from the strip club in the industrial park was the third of it’s kind that day. News of arrests trickled into the clubhouse all day. Roy lost track of exactly how many members were detained by the police but the count was climbing.
In between these calls, he worked the phone passing word through the city for his men to find shelter from the storm. Other calls went out to his lieutenants for a meeting at the secure acreage on the outskirts of the city.
Obviously his warning to the Warriors and their Cartel partners went unheeded. Crushing a man’s hand and sending him running home with a mouth full of words rarely had an effect on serious matters. The threat levelled at the Warrior alliance after the altercation at the nightclub was his first warning, time to change course.
Roy paced away the day. A cell phone glued to his ear as he planned and talked to the vast number of Wolves bikers spread across the east side of Calgary. As the day passed, Roy recalled men to acreage. Others moved to undisclosed locations around the city with orders to remain out of sight. The acreage itself was out of the city cops jurisdiction, besides, he didn’t think there were enough police in the province to mount an attack on his fortress.
He walked the floors, receiving updates on the assault of his territory, mulling over strategies for retaliation against the Warriors and their Colombian partners. The east side of the city, the territory that the Wolves had lorded over for years was slowly crumbling to the Warriors Bike gang.
The time for action was now. Roy realized the truth in this. Quick and brutal strikes against the enemies might satisfy the rising anger his fellow Wolves hungered for but at what cost? And if he proceeded in a haphazard fashion the price could be too steep. No. He had to push aside the growing fury and methodically assess the enemy and their battlefield tactics. The war wasn’t the typical biker throw down. The Colombian Cartel changed that scenario.
In order to for him to suppress the onslaught against his turf, the city would pay a huge price. The war between the city’s two largest outlaw gangs wouldn’t only mean dead bikers but would include unintended casualties.
Roy fought with the solution that made the most sense. He intended to let the attacks on his clubs and the police harassment die down. Ride out the storm before the Wolves would begin to reclaim the business they lost. He needed to buy time. Even with the advantage in manpower he had to tread carefully. With the appearance of the Colombians in this fight, his men stood small chance of success.
The increase in attacks was echoed by the news media causing an outcry from the city’s population. Demands for the police force to quell the rising tide of violence would in turn result in added law enforcement. If he pushed back immediately, he would find that his gang would be fighting the battle on two fronts; one against the reinforced Warriors and another against a determined police force.
Too many unknown variables involved, he thought, diluting any chance at success. What he needed was an overwhelming show of force to stomp out his rivals quickly and permanently, but that meant merging forces with rival gangs from around the province and country, some friendly, some not. If the Cartel weren’t stopped before they gained traction, the Colombians would roll across the country.
But his men were growing restless. The attacks were personnel. The men would rather fight in the open and take their chances with the law than hide like cowards. Roy worried that controlling their urge to take the fight to the enemy might prove to be as difficult a task as he faced in the years of heading the organization.
“What are you going to do?” Susan’s voice stopped his pacing. Roy set the phone down and after hours on his feet fell into an armchair. Tiredly smiling back at her, he scratched his head in thought.
“Those boys are not leaving me much choice.” He summarized his thoughts. “A strong show of force will bring the cops flocking to the city. People are scared with the recent gang shootings. It’s all over the news.” He stated.
“How can you possibly stop them? United with the Cartel, the Warriors don’t care who they hurt, what they destroy.” Her voice grew quiet. “You could leave. Save your men. Would that be so bad?”
“I don’t really see that as an option.” Roy replied. He tilted his head curiously at Susan’s thinking.
“What then?” Susan pushed.
Roy studied Susan’s face. “A good question,” he admitted then told her about possible talks with other factions of bikers. Joining forces to take back the city.
Late that evening while meeting with his men, his phone rang. The number seemed vaguely familiar. One he had seen before but couldn’t place.
James Cartwright reintroduced himself to Roy.
“How’s business?” Cartwright asked, the tension in the Manager’s voice palpable through the phone line.
“A bit of a pain in the ass.” Roy answered unperturbed. He punched the speaker button on his phone and set it on his desk.
“But you know how this business can be.”
“I can make this go away for you.” The Manager replied. “I just need a favour.”
“Now what kind of favour can I do for you?” Roy asked.
“The man who torched our warehouse, we want you to turn him over. The stolen truck with our shipment, that we can talk about later.”
“Not going to happen.” Roy replied and waited. Silence was his answer. Over the phone line Roy heard a curt exchange of words and then a heavily accented voice replaced Cartwright’s.
“Mr. Thundercloud. We are not asking. We are simply giving you a chance to remain alive and still retain a small part of your operation.” Quintin Rojas explained as if the deal the men were negotiating was part of any every day business transaction.
“Ah. Mr. Rojas. I’m going to speak very slowly so the language barrier doesn’t screw up the translation of my words…Enjoy your last days on this earth.” Roy said very quietly into the phone. "If you continue to screw with me, I'll personally introduce you to the devil."
“I’m sorry you feel that way.” The Colombian underboss paused. “ I have a message for Mr. Coldstream. And yes, we know who he is. Tell Coldstream, his old friend's every conscious moment will be filled with extreme pain until he agrees to meet. Perhaps I will send him a video as a memento. He’s not weak in the stomach, is he?” The Colombian laughed.
“I will leave a number for this purpose. His friend might appreciate the cooperation. Do not forget to pass on this message…” Roy motioned to one of his men to write down the number as the Colombian deliberately emphasised the numbers.
Roy sat still, a blank wall the focus of his eyes. He punched the end button on the phone and looked at his men and shrugged.
“Anyone know where Brand is?” He asked. The men looked at each other. No one had an answer.