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.