“Well, you shore ain’t gonna believe this boys…” old Jerry set his beer on the table, the bottle wobbling and drops of the golden liquid spilling from its mouth. The seasoned guide straightened the bottle and unfazed by the mishap continued his story, his Maritime accent becoming more pronounced with each drink.
With another hook clamped in the vise and the thread base laid down, Brand cinched the black thread tight capturing the brown turkey biots for the tail. He reached for a couple of strands of peacock herl to form the body then paused, his hand in mid air as Jerry started another one of his now famous but often repeated fishing stories.
Brand had known Jerry for close to a decade. The two guides had met many times at the river launching or loading their drift boats, the acquaintance blossoming into a lasting friendship. During the rainy days with time on their hands because of cancelled float trips, the two would often get together tying flies to restock the supplies lost by clients, drink beer and chat about the fly-fishing business.
Jerry was getting up in years. Brand wasn’t exactly sure how old Jerry was, but his best guess put Jerry well into his late sixties. The man had his usual dirty ball cap pulled tight over his sparse white hair, and as was his habit anytime he told a story, Jerry would remove his glasses exposing a pair of pale green eyes underlined by large, dark bags hanging from their bottoms. Jerry’s nose had the look of someone who enjoyed his drinks a little too much. Bulbous and red veined. The nose and eyes set in a mask of leathery skin wrinkled by too many years of sitting in a boat on the river.
Brand set the herl down next to his vise and grabbed his beer. He took a drink and glanced at his friend. Then he turned his attention to the third member of their party, a much younger guide, Dave Halperson. Where Jerry had the old and wizened look about him, Dave was completely the opposite. Dave was maybe a few years out of school at best but had come to be known as one of the better new guides in the Calgary fishing community. Dave leaned back in his chair, sipped from his warming beer, his eyes smiling while he listened to the old man, throwing in the odd comment to a story he had heard, retold, hundreds of time. Jerry and Dave had become inseparable over the last few months.
While telling his story, Jerry pushed away from the table and the fly he was in the midst of tying and walked to the kitchen intent on grabbing another round of beer. Jerry let out a sigh as he bent to look in the fridge.
“What kind of a friend are you,” Jerry yelled over his shoulder at Brand, laughing as he reached to grab the beers. “There are only two lonely soldiers left.”
Brand swallowed the remainder of his beer and looked at the clock. Quarter to eleven. He paused as he mulled the situation over. The forecast called for heavy showers the next few days leaving the three men with no work; all their booked trips had been cancelled thus the impromptu tying and bullshit session.
“You two go ahead and drink them. I’ll make a quick run to the liquor store.” He said as he stood up, carried his bottle over to the island and placed it among the other empties splayed on the counter amongst the opened pizza boxes. “Besides, I’ve had the privilege of hearing this story at least a thousand times.” He ribbed Jerry. “You can wow Dave with it while I’m gone.”
“Oh. That’s not necessary,” Jerry looked in Brands direction, a tinge of panic flitting across the old guides face. “We're good. It’s late and still pouring like a bastard outside.”
Brand smiled at his friend. He hadn’t consumed a lot of beer and Jerry’s show of concern for his wellbeing struck him as odd. Jerry was never one to refuse more booze, especially when someone else paid.
Brand shrugged off Jerry’s words and walked to the back door, slipped his shoes on and grabbed his truck key on his way to the garage.
“Well, be quick about it then,” Jerry called after him.
The liquor store was only twenty minutes away. Brand purchased a two four-pack of beer and drove back to his house. A flash of light from inside the house blinked quickly in the truck’s rear view mirror as he backed into the garage.
Loud reports of gunfire drifted across the deck meeting him as he opened the garage door. His eyes traveled to the large picture window on the back of the house. Bright flashes of light lit up the blinds followed closely by more echoing sounds.
A sickening feeling swept over Brand. He dropped the case of beer and scrambled back into the garage. With one hand he flung open the rear door on the truck, his other hand reached under the backseat, his fingers fishing for his rifle.
Pivoting, he raced from the garage. Water splashed under his boot when it hit the first tread on the steps of the deck. Breathing heavily from exertion and the sudden, unexpected noise from the house, he paused outside the door. Through the glass, Dave’s raised voice met his ears, and then another gunshot.
Through a slit in the partially opened blinds covering the door’s window, Brand peered into the bright interior. Young Dave Halperson lay slumped over the table. Dave’s outstretched hand rested on the table, a pistol still in the grip of his fingers. A man holding a gun stood bent over his friend’s body.
Brand waited until the attacker turned his attention away from the table, drew a deep breath and with his left hand on the doorknob, slowly eased the door inward. His right hand held the rifle, its barrel in line with the man's chest.
The gunman swung his head in Brand’s direction. Before the man‘s eyes traced the sound of the opening door and had a chance to raise his gun, Brand filled the doorway, his finger squeezing the rifle's trigger. The bullet caught the intruder in the chest, tossing the man backward, the kitchen counter catching his fall.
Working the lever action on the rifle, Brand ejected the spent shell. A second bullet nestled in the chamber taking its place. Two quick steps carried him further into the house. Stopping with his back tight to a partition wall that separated the back entrance and the open interior, he let his hearing search the house for movement.
A second bullet slammed into the drywall as he edged closer to the open corner. The reverberations of the gunshot echoing in the walled confines of the house, acrid smoke of gunpowder filling the air.
Bullets lodged themselves into the wall he hid behind, one blowing through the drywall, leaving a furrow in his leg below the knee. Wincing, he reviewed his options. The second man would have to be standing at the far unseen end of the table, from the direction the bullets had traveled.
From where he stood his assailant had all the advantage, which he would have to change. Eyeing the table, Brand dove from his shelter, slid across the table scattering the fly tying material on its surface and collided with a chair as he tumbled into the back of the island that separated the kitchen and dining room.
Hitting the island at an awkward angle Brand scrambled to bring his gun to bear toward the living room. Through the tangle of chair legs, he spotted the second man moving in his direction. Brand fired at the man’s legs, the bullet hitting the man’s thigh sending him reeling. Jumping to his feet, Brand worked the bolt action on his rifle as a live cartridge replaced an empty shell.
Raising up, his upper body clearing the table, Brand fired a round at the intruder as the man was lifting himself up off the carpet, the bullet knocking the man back to the floor and burrowing deep into the man’s body.
Brand racked another shell into the chamber and looked around the main floor of his house prepared for another attack. He waited patiently, listening for sounds of moving feet or a round chambered.
Nothing. Remaining alert, Brand took stock of the situation. One gunman lay sprawled in the living room. Old Jerry was crumpled on the floor at the end of the table, a broken bottle of beer in his hand, a pistol lying just beyond his fingertips. Turning he looked at Dave, the young guide who minutes ago was politely listening to Jerry’s fishing stories, lay face down on the table, blood running from a gunshot wound to his head.
Brand gathered the guns from the two intruders and then checked his friends for signs of life. A bullet had entered the back of Dave’s head ending his life, but Jerry fared better, although barely. On Jerry, Brand found a faint pulse. He located some towels and worked on staunching the flow of blood seeping from the wounds in Jerry’s body.
After several minutes of wrapping cloth to stop the flow of blood Brand picked up the old guide and carried him to the couch. He watched the slight rising of Jerry’s chest praying he was successful in plugging the wounds, dug his cell phone from his pocket and dialled 911.
“I need an ambulance…” He breathed heavily into the phone when the operator answered then absently replied to the dispatcher’s questions as he glanced around the kitchen, his eyes roaming over the trail of destruction. The dispatcher finished the call by telling him that the police and ambulance were already on the way.
Brand stared at Dave’s body refusing to believe the young fishing guide was dead. He let out a sigh and wary not to disturb the scene any more than he already had he lifted his rifle and carried it to the front door. Setting the rifle leaning against the doorjamb he walked onto the front deck front door to wait for the ambulance. He lit a cigarette and listened to the raindrops drum a rhythm on the deck roof while mulling over the strange turn of events that had occurred on the chilly Friday evening.
The two men who had entered his house must have had the wrong address. There had been a rash of home invasions in the city lately. Most of the invasions stemmed from the illegal drug trade but those attacks usually involved people mixed up in the drug business.
Sitting on the veranda, he recalled news stories on the evening news of drug deals with the same M.O. Armed men targeting houses and assaulting the occupants while upholding their perverse form of criminal justice. More than once these perpetrators hit the wrong people. What other explanation would fit, Brand reasoned, although the two men lying dead in his kitchen didn’t have the bearings of typical city gangbangers? Not the type that he’d crossed paths with during his career or commonly shown on the evening news.
He thought how lucky it was that Sara had been called to Ottawa on business and was out of harms way and spared witnessing the attack. She was still paranoid after being abducted and caught in the center of a terror case a year earlier and although she repeatedly assured him that the events were behind her, he knew the tragedy still bothered her. Little changes in her attitude betrayed her denials.
The whole secretive plot by the zealous religious cabal was a bit more than a computer analyst should have to deal with and every time the subject of his inevitable to return to the United States came up he noticed the change come over her while she relived the ordeal.
His involvement in settling the case now rested in the hands of bureaucrats with his day in court looming closer. A technicality, he was reassured, but political matters had a way of dragging on. The Canadian government had been handling the back room details to resolve him of charges, but until the final verdict was read, the repercussions of his actions still weighed on his mind.
Read the first two Brand Coldstream novels, available on the website as E-book or print or the newly released sci-fi thriller, The Ice Racer.