Late afternoon. Brand merged into the traffic, pointing his truck in a northwest direction, a route that would take him to the far corner of the city. Turning onto Crowchild Trail, he drove west past Scenic Acres, slowed for the construction of the new LRT station before signalling right into the subdivision of Rocky Ridge. 20 minutes had elapsed since he left the hospital.He had only been to Dave’s complex once before. The time he dropped the young guide off outside the building. Brand had never stepped foot inside, and he realized that in a couple of years the two had been friends, he no idea what floor Dave lived on, never mind the apartment number.
Parking in an empty stall, he turned the ignition off and pushed away a guilty tinge of remorse while he looked at the building through the trucks rain-streaked windshield. Brand ground out his cigarette and dug into the glove box for a pair of leather gloves. He watched the rain pour down outside the cab of the truck then quickly jumped from the cab and raced for the shelter of the complexes entrance. Most of his working life had involved tracking people for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He reasoned that an apartment number shouldn’t prove too difficult to locate.
Finding the buildings security door locked, he glanced at the intercom panel and randomly selected a numbered button. His finger lingered over the depressed button while the wires connected and transmitted a notification somewhere deep within the building that a visitor waited by the front door. A ladies voice replied from the small speaker asking for his name. Brand ignored the query and repeated the process until finally the lock on the front door buzzed open allowing him into the lobby.
A bank of mailboxes lined an inner wall. Brand walked across the small room and scanned the names until he located one marked Halperson. Apartment four-oh-three. Wandering away from the front doors, Brand followed a brightly lit hallway deeper into the building. A set of elevators waited where the corridor branched away in opposite directions. Pressing the button for the fourth floor, he waited for the elevator doors to close.
An unmarked police car pulled up to the curb across the street from the apartment complex, Brand’s parked truck in full view in the paved lot. The driver watched Brand enter the building, slipped from his car quickly pulling the back of his raincoat over his head and hurried across the street, weaving among the parked vehicles, rushing through the rain for the glass doors and the comfort of the entrance.
The elevator doors opened. Apartment four-twenty sat on the opposite side of the hall. Brand stood in the open doors and glanced one way and then the other noting which way the apartment numbers climbed. Glancing at each door number he passed, Brand moved down the hallway toward apartment four-oh-three. He faced the door and hesitated before twisting his hand behind his back, fishing for the pair of gloves stuffed in his jeans pocket.
Working his fingers into the gloves, he reached for the doorknob. Expecting a locked door, he was surprised when the wooden slab that separated the apartment from the rest of the building, noiselessly opening into Dave’s dark apartment. Brand knew Dave lived alone, so he proceeded with caution. He briefly thought about knocking, then decided he would rather apologize for intruding, then issue a warning to anyone in the unit.
Standing to the side, Brand pushed the door, his eyes scanning the small entrance before shifting to the interior of the suite. Remaining quietly in the doorway, he listened for movement. The apartment was dark, the light from the hallway only penetrating the first few feet of the entrance. A stale, cooped up smell, permeated the air. Brand crept in further, his hand sweeping the door closed, his eyes straining in the gloom for a light switch. He took a calming breath, his body tensed, prepared for the unexpected; his finger nudged the lights on.
Ceiling mounted light fixtures flared to life, their dull yellow glow reaching into the darkened corners. A few feet inside the door, the main room lay visible. The apartment was in shambles. Upended furniture covered the carpet at the end of the short hallway. Carefully weaving deeper into the unit, Brand sidestepped the scattered contents cluttering the floor, trying to disrupt as little as possible. If anyone remained in the apartment, he definitely would have heard him or her, the mess on the floor solidly covering every square inch.
Brand slowed by the entrance to the kitchen. Here, the scenario was the same. The interior of the cupboards laid exposed, drawers pulled from their frames and dumped, even the fridge door hung open. Doubts began creeping into his head about Dave’s innocence and the shooting at his house.
The tossed apartment, very apparent that someone was desperately searching, but what, and if Dave hid a cache of drugs, like the detectives speculated, the act of packing any large quantity through the building and to his apartment didn’t seem a likely possibility. The search of the interior appeared thorough, every possible hiding spot torn apart, many of the spaces too small to be concealing drugs in any quantity. The amount of destruction didn’t make sense. It was quite obvious that someone was very intent on finding whatever Dave had in his possession.
Brand roamed the rest of the apartment with only a quick cursory glance to the overturned rooms and stepped from the bedroom. A dividing wall separated his movements from the apartment entrance. Footsteps crunched against the tile floor. A man’s laboured breathing and the unmistakable, metallic click of a gun’s hammer cocking echoed in his ears.
Shit…Brand swore. The shock and fatigue of the past day’s events dulled his senses, the thought of carrying a handgun for protection, slipping his mind. With this trip to Dave’s apartment and his search for answers, he never considered the fact that he would be facing armed advisories.
He put his back against the wall, hidden from the sight of the front door, and listened as the approaching footsteps passed across the tile to the carpet floor, the gunman creeping deeper into Dave’s suite. Brand waited, his breathing shallow. The footsteps, faint on the soft carpet, edged closer, the wall masking his presence from the intruder.
Soon a gun extended past the wall, and then the wrist holding it. Brand drove his hand down, chopping at the extended wrist. His unexpected action sent the handgun slamming into the apartment floor. In the same, smooth motion, his right hand grabbed a clump of cloth. Twisting his body, he pulled the intruder past the wall. The body, at the end of the arm, tumbled out of control, awkwardly stumbling into the littered room.
The heavy body of Detective Walgreen blurred past. Brand heard the detective curse as the man struggled to regain his footing. Walgreen glared at Brand, swore again and grunted as he bent to retrieve his gun.
“You almost broke my GOD DAMNED wrist!” Walgreen yelled at Brand. The detective’s face reddened, spittle flying from his mouth while he rubbed his sore arm.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Brand replied surprised by the unexpected appearance of the detective.
“I think I should be the one asking you that exact question?” Walgreen answered. “What are you looking for? Your buddy’s hidden cache of drugs. Was he stealing from you, too? Is that why you shot him?
Finding you in the dead man’s apartment looks mighty suspicious, Coldstream. You were only released this morning, and here you are ransacking your friend’s place.” Walgreen looked around at the trashed apartment.
“Cool your heels. I found the place like this.” Brand explained. “Only a few minutes ago, for your information. I came from the hospital,” he said defensively. “Check with the staff. I’m sure one of the nurses will remember me.”
“Padding your alibi. You left our custody this morning. That gave you plenty of time to ransack the place.” Walgreen stared through narrowed eyelids; his breath still laboured from the surprised welcome. “What’s the matter? Didn’t find what you were looking for earlier, so you circled back to double check. Finding you here makes me think that you’re guiltier than hell.”
“Look Walgreen. I have no idea what you think I should be searching for? That round ball above your shoulder, tell me, do you use it for anything other than holding your ugly face.” Brand stared at the detective, his patience starting to wane. “Besides, what are you doing here? You’re not following me, are you? Next time, I’d advise you to announce yourself. Might save you some grief down the road. Sneaking up on people is a bad habit. You could get seriously hurt.”
“We warned you that we’d be keeping tabs on you, so yes, I wanted to know what you’re up to, didn’t want to give you a chance to hide anything. Those men at your house, they didn’t shoot your friends by accident.” The detective leaned closer to Brand. “What are you three hiding, what are you not telling us? You can rest assured that we will uncover the truth.”
“I told you back at the station what I know. You and your partner are crazy. We're..." Brand thought about his reply. Doubts about Dave's involvement unclear in his head, "I'm not involved with any drug gangs.” He took a step toward the door.
“Unless you are going to arrest me, and take me back downtown, I’m leaving.”
Walgreen continued glaring. The detective dug a card from his pocket and shoved it in Brand’s direction. Turning, Brand left the detective standing in the apartment. Let the cops deal with the mess, he thought, as he walked to his truck. The fact that Dave’s flat lay in shambles, uneasy on his mind. Brand sat staring out the windshield. How well had he known Dave? The detective’s wild accusations were giving him a reason for doubt, their seemingly outrageous theories gaining substance.
Susan Bowles stopped at the curtain and gazed back at her father. The strong man she had grown to know looked small and fragile lying in bed. Still, in a coma, he remained hooked up to various machines, tubes running from his mouth and arms. The doctor’s assured her that if her father’s condition changed, they would notify her. With a forced smile, the doctor pleaded with her to go home and get some rest.
She climbed into the rental, navigated through the crowded parking lot before joining the midday traffic, driving west to the community of Bowness and her father’s house. She rolled the car to the curb in front of the house, her mind preoccupied. Digging through her purse, she found the house key Jerry gave her years ago when he first purchased the house.
Standing on the street, she glanced toward the house. The old wood siding desperately needed paint; the grass in front was long and brown from lack of water and attention. The shingles on the house were well past their due date, and sections of the sidewalk, leading up to the front step, had sunk over the years, the concrete was broken and crumbling, clumps of grass growing wildly through the cracked cement. Her father had never been much of a handyman. He would sooner crack open a beer than fire up a lawnmower, or open a can of paint, never one to worry about the maintenance of his house.
Susan dreaded going inside. On her last visit, the interior of the house suffered worse neglect than the exterior. Drawing in a deep breath, she tentatively stepped on the sidewalk, steeling herself for what waited inside the house, the dishevelled realm of an old, single drunk. She carefully wove her way across the crumbling sidewalk, careful to avoid the several holes in the disintegrating walkway.
Standing at the front door, she paused. A worn and weathered rocker sat to the side of the step, empty beer bottles lay scattered at its base. Happier images of her father, rocking away the evenings on the front step, while enjoying his favourite brew tugged at her memory, a stark contrast from the pale old man she witnessed lying unconscious in a hospital bed.
Pulling back the torn screen door, she inserted the key and swung the front door inwards. Expecting a certain degree of squalor, the condition of the interior was shocking, even for her to comprehend. The open room, beyond the front door, resembled the aftermath like one viewed after a tornado tore its path of destruction. Her father being a slob, she could accept and expect, the sight that she now witnessed, was completely unexpected.
She called out before stepping foot inside the house. Why, she wasn’t sure, except for a feeling that she wasn't alone. Pushing past the door, she halted, her breath caught in her throat. Unusual sounds filtered from the back of the house. For all she knew, her father probably took to letting neighbourhood cats live with him. The only problem, stray cats couldn’t have possibly left this horrible mess.
She removed her cell phone from her purse and pressed Brand’s number. Susan stood among the vandalized room, waiting nervously while the phones connected and he answered. Disturbed by both the sight and the sounds, she whispered into the phone, fighting back hysteria, as she waded deeper into the house.
“Brand…this is Susan. Something awful happened to dad’s house.” She exclaimed, walking deeper into the catastrophe, pushing furniture out of her way as she explored. “The house is completely ransacked…” Before she finished the sentence, she felt a hand brush against the back of her head, knocking her off balance, the phone falling from her hand. On the other end of the line, Brand called her name several times. He had just left Detective Walgreen at Dave’s apartment and was heading east on Crowchild Trail when she called.
Brand cranked the steering wheel and sent the truck veering across three lanes of traffic, cutting off a line of cars, aiming for the exit to Nose Hill Drive. He wove his way in and out and across the lanes. He wasn’t far from Bowness and Jerry’s house. Receiving Susan’s distressed call spurred him on as he ignored a red light and sped through traffic. With one eye watching the road, he fumbled with his phone and distractedly typed Detective Walgreens number. Impatiently, he waited for the call to connect.
The detective’s raspy voice echoed in his ear. “Walgreen.”
“Detective Walgreen this is Brand Coldstream.” he blurted out. “I just received a call from Jerry Kartman’s daughter…I think she may be in serious trouble.”
“Who? Jerry who’s daughter?”
“Kartman. The man shot at my house, the one who is in the hospital.”
“You think I have nothing better to do than chase after you and rescue your sorry ass!” Detective Walgreen exclaimed. “You people are unbelievable. You get involved with some bad hombres, and now expect the police to follow you around and protect you.” The detective went on.
“Look, we’re not…never mind…she’s at her dad’s house. I think someone was waiting for her.” Brand gave the detective the address, ending the call with an angry stab of his finger. More horns honked as he continued to cut his way through traffic, speeding in the direction of Jerry’s house.
A half dozen blocks away, Brand ran another red light and narrowly avoided t- boning a delivery truck lumbering through a green light. At well over the speed limit, he raced around a corner, the peeling paint of the exterior of Jerry’s house looming at the far end of the block. Pulling his foot off the gas, he crushed the brake pedal to the floor. Wafts of black smoke rose, and the high pitched squeal of overheated metal brake pads poured from the tires as the soft rubber tires skidded over the pavement.
Brand rammed the gear selector into park. The truck lurched as he threw open the driver's door, and abandoned the vehicle in the middle of the street. He ran up the sidewalk, all pretence of caution thrown aside.
The front door already open, he burst into the house. His actions were single-minded, one friend was dead, and Jerry was clinging to life in the hospital, so as he crossed from the street to the house, his focus was on Susan’s safety.
His back foot cleared the threshold. An explosion of pain rang at the back of his head. A powerful blow sent him tumbling to the floor. He fell forward, awkwardly colliding with the mess spread over the floor. The scattered furniture impeded his movements. Instinctively, he twisted to the side. A second strike smashed into the debris beside him.
Brand grabbed the sleeve of his assailant in an attempt to subdue the man. The attacker’s clothing slipped from his fingers. Off balance, Brand crashed to the floor, his head colliding with the leg of an over-turned table. Out of the corner of his eye another fist drove down. Raising his arm, he partially blocked the downward swing to his face, the man’s fist deflected, the force of the blow taken squarely on the side of his head. His brain lit with fireworks obscuring his vision, and momentarily stunning him. Shaking the grogginess away, he lay dazed. Helplessly, he watched as two blurry silhouettes stepped around his battered body, and disappeared out the open door.
Rising quickly to his feet, he sank back to one knee. Dizziness and nausea overwhelmed him. He gulped a couple quick, calming breaths, waiting for his head to clear. Seconds passed before he was able to gain his footing and move out the door. The two men already a block away, running down the sidewalk. Too far out of range, he realized.
A wave of anger pushed against the fog in his brain. More for the stupid mistake of rushing headlong into the situation than from the blows he received. His head ached and his ears rang, he was in no condition to pursue the men. He watched the men disappear at the end of the block. Disgusted by his blunder his focus returned to the vandalized interior, thoughts of Susan pulled him back into the house.
Using a hand to steady his body, Brand staggered across the littered floor and entered the hall. A door of the back of the house hung open, Susan’s ragged sobbing drifted from the room. Brand flung the door fully open. Susan lay on the bed, her face swollen and bruised, tears ran down her cheeks, her body quivering.
Brand knelt down beside her, his voice, quiet and soothing, while he calmed her.
“The men who attack you are gone,” he whispered. “You’re safe now.”
Reluctantly, he left her side. In the bathroom, he found a towel and ran the taps, warming the water. With the heated towel, he returned to Susan’s side. Carefully, he wiped her tears, and then pressed the warm cloth against her bruised face. His other arm circled her shoulders for comfort. The two sat on the bed, quiet sobs rising from Susan as her head rested on his shoulder.
Using the respite to think, he no longer believed the attack at his house was random. Maybe the detectives weren’t blowing smoke. Something serious was brewing. The shooting of his friends was not the end of this story. Whoever was doing this, were clearly looking for something, something valuable or of great importance and they weren’t wasting any time.
Brand held Susan, talking quietly to her. The minutes slowly passed until she got her sobbing under control. He helped her walk into the living room. Leaving her standing, he pushed some of the mess, clearing a spot on the floor, lifted a chair and urged her to sit down. He stood by her side, his eyes roaming over the mess that transformed Jerry’s house. The same thorough search, he realized, like the one at Dave’s apartment, had been conducted here.
He bent down and knelt at Susan’s side.
“What happened?” He asked.
“I left the hospital not long after you, and drove straight here.” She explained. “As soon as I opened the door and discovered the house vandalized, I called you. A man grabbed me while I was on the phone.
I must have walked in on the men, surprising them while they were still searching the house. The men dragged me into the bedroom…” She paused and dabbed at her eyes, tears once again forming as she relived her ordeal. “…They sat me on the bed and repeatedly asked me where it was hidden. I told them I had no idea what they were talking about, and that’s when they started to hit me…they accused me of lying, and said they had no qualms about beating the location out of me…” Susan fell silent. Tears flooded her eyes.
Quietly, Brand asked if the men gave any clue what they were hunting.
Susan shook her head, the word “no” barely escaping her lips.
From where he was kneeling, Brand looked around the trashed house again. The search of Jerry’s place was thorough, again like Dave’s apartment, too extreme if the elusive item was a cache of drugs. The search of both Jerry’s and Dave’s homes indicated to Brand that something small and easily hidden was more than likely the target. Papers maybe, or a key or even some digital device, like a thumb drive, but something easily concealed from sight.
He tried to concentrate. He couldn’t be positive, and after being hit, his vision was blurry, but the men running from the house didn't appear to have anything in their hands. If he interrupted the assault on Susan, then the two probably never found what they were looking for, that would mean, they or somebody else, would be back to search again. Susan’s safety was going to be a problem as long as she remained in the house.
Brand was still debating what to do when sirens bleated from the street out front. He waited by Susan’s side, watching the front door. A pair of police officers climbed the front step. The uniformed officers shouted their arrival, and then cautiously entered the ransacked house, closely followed by Detective O’Brien. The uniform officers conducted a room-by-room search; O’Brien stood in the doorway, his head slowly turning as he studied the wanton destruction. With a grunt of disapproval and a shake of his head he waded through the mess stopping beside Brand and Susan.
“Coldstream…what in the Lord’s name is going on? It hasn’t even been 24 hours since the shootings at your house. Does trouble always travel with you, or are you very unlucky.” O’Brien talked while his eyes continued roaming over the houses contents scattered across the floor.
Glancing down into Brand’s face, the red haired detective rubbed his trimmed beard then checked off his talking points on his fingers. “Gunmen storm your house. I receive a call from Detective Walgreen, after he radioed H.Q. notifying them of your distress call. He fills me in on the meeting you two had at your buddy’s apartment. And now, here we are.”
“You and your lady friend look a little worse for wear,” O’Brien glanced at Susan. “And someone turned this house into a garbage dump. I’m not sure what kind of trouble you're involved in, but it must be some serious shit. I can’t believe you want to continue this façade while somebody is roughing up your friends. Before anyone else dies, let me help you, what do you have that’s so important.”
“Detective, believe me. If I had any idea, I would talk your ear off, but I’ve already told you, I haven’t got a clue what this is about.”
“Well, that is too bad,” The detective said disappointedly. His eyes resumed surveying the trashed room while he slipped a notepad from inside his jacket pocket. Shrugging, he turned to Brand. “Play it your way, i'ts your funeral”
Brand Coldstream novels, GOING SILENT and SILENT CRUSADE, for sale on this site or at on-line bookstores worldwide. Also available on Amazon kindle, the new sci-fi release THE ICE RACER. Purchase your copies today.