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.