Brand detected a lingering bleach odour permeating from the patrol cars interior. The substance often used in masking the smell of vomit, and other foul odours left by the myriad of backseat occupants collected during nightly patrols. Brand switched his gaze from the car window to the clock on the dash. The cruiser neared his house. Six a.m. Saturday morning. He sat silently forcing his eyes to remain open, his body wracked with fatigue from the long night.
The patrolman reiterated his standing orders and reminded Brand to use the opportunity to grab a few personal items. Until further notice, the house was to remain an active crime scene while the investigation was ongoing.
Bright yellow crime tape flapped in the morning breeze, the plastic wrapped around the deck posts and draped across the yard. The front door blocked by a stretched, yellow X strung diagonally across the frame.
Desperately wanting a shower and a clean set of clothes, Brand sighed, resigned to the fact his needs would have to wait until he checked into a hotel. The patrolman followed him from the car to the front door.
“You’ll have to be quick,” the patrolman apologized.
Brand hesitated on the front deck, thinking through a line of unconvincing arguments why he should be allowed to stay long enough to shower and change. His reasoning sounded weak, so instead, he nodded and waited for the door to be unlocked.
The stench of gunpowder and blood rushed to meet him while he stood in the open doorway. Vivid memories of the previous evening flowed before his eyes. A disconcerting vibe, no, more a feeling or intuition, rendered him motionless. He hadn’t stopped to reflect on the attack yet, but a niggling thought poked at his brain.
A lot of the pieces failed to connect, starting with shooting, the oddly dressed assailants and certainly, the timing. Was Dave truly involved in the drug trade? He remembered the first look he had inside the house, the handgun in Dave’s outstretched fingers.
Years of investigative work forced him to question everything. How much of what O’Brien and Walgreen had told him was fact?
The house welcomed him silently, the interior, dark, except for a few weak strands of light sneaking in through the closed blinds. He stepped a few feet to the right improving his line of sight into the dining room. Shadowed pools of dried blood stood out on the dark hardwood, a picture of his friend's sprawled bodies lying lifeless after being shot, burned into his mind.
A hand grabbed his arm. The officer interrupted his thoughts, warning him against entering the area and nudged him toward the stairs. A couple of steps up, Brand turned to the police officer.
“I’ll need my truck keys.” He pointed to the back of the house. “They’re hanging by the back door. Would you mind? I’ll walk around the outside to the garage to my truck,” he promised the policeman.
Rummaging through the bedroom drawers, Brand collected a handful of clothes and returned to the main floor, thanked the officer for the truck keys, and walked off the deck, around the side of the house and entered the garage. He turned back to glance at the house. When he would be able to return, he had no idea.
Brand locked the hotel door, tossed the key on a nearby table and dropped his bag on the floor. He looked toward the bathroom and the promise of a hot shower. His eyelids drooped, forcing him to change course and wander toward the freshly made bed. Out of sheer exhaustion, he dropped, fully clothed, onto the bed. As tired and worn out as he felt, his mind refused to let go of what the detectives had told him. What the pair had accused him and his friends of doing.
He hadn’t known Dave Halperson long, but he found it hard to believe the young guide was mixed up in the drug trade. Jerry, he did know well, and there was no doubt in his mind that the old guide was not involved with any illegal gangs or drug trafficking. He admitted to himself that Jerry liked to drink a little too much, but Brand never had once suspected his friend of taking illegal substances. So, the question remained, what, if anything did the cops have on Dave, to make them so certain, the attack was a targeted and drug related affair?
Brand had no idea that Dave or Jerry carried firearms, so what caused the intruders to rush the house and shoot his friends. The gun he had seen in Dave’s hand. Did the young guide wrestle it free from the intruders, Brand couldn’t be sure, and the gun that lay on the floor beside Jerry? Which of the men had dropped that weapon?
The unrelenting line of questioning by the detectives about the attack and the bloody scene at his house made no sense. Something troubling played at the back of his brain. Lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, Brand turned the problem over, the missing pieces just beyond his exhausted minds reach.
The only decision he could settle on before drifting off to sleep was that right after he visited Jerry, Brand planned on driving to Dave’s apartment to disprove the detective's accusations, dig into Dave’s life, see what kind of skeletons the young guide had hiding in his closet.
Brand woke up mid afternoon. A long, hot shower and a cigarette in the hotel’s parking lot, gave him a renewed boost of energy. Searching information on his phone, the second hospital he dialled, confirmed Jerry as a patient. He inquired about the visiting hours, climbed into his truck and left in search of a restaurant and lunch, before making the drive to the hospital.
A couple of black coffees down and half way through the greasy burger he ordered to fill the void in his stomach, his phone rang. Brand studied the caller I.D. A local number, one he didn’t recognize.
“Hello?” He answered tentatively, waiting for a reply.
“Coldstream, Detective O’Brien.” A voice broadcasted from the phone’s speaker. “Just checking to see if you are still among the living.” The detective fell silent. “Have you thought more about our conversation? I can still offer you a deal and protection.”
“Detective O’Brien, I believe this call borders on harassment.”
“Not harassment, yet,” the detective replied, “but soon, it’ll come to that, I guarantee. This time, I am calling as a concerned public servant. Well…you have a good day now. We’ll talk soon.”
Brand shook his head and stared at the phone, wondering what type of problem Detective O’Brien harboured. He set some cash on the table for his meal and walked to his truck; the hospital was across town.
The nurse at the information desk gave him the number for Jerry’s room and directions through the labyrinth of corridors. He wound his way around hallways crowded with gurneys, found the bank of elevators and pressed the button for the 3rd floor. A few steps from the elevator, he checked with a nursing station. The on-duty nurse walked him to his friends’ room.
Brand stopped just outside the door. Standing beside his friend’s bed was a woman he hadn’t seen for a few years. Brand waited and quietly watched her. Jerry’s daughter was holding her father’s hand; her back turned to the partitioned entrance. Moving a couple of steps into the room, Brand spoke quietly.
“Susan. How’s your father doing?”
Susan Kartman, or rather Susan Bowles, he corrected himself, she had married since the last time they met, but Brand still thought of her as Kartman. His eyes studied her, as she turned away from her father’s side and self-consciously wiped a hand across her face, smearing a tear into a smudge of mascara on her cheek. Her face was a little heavier since he’d last seen her, traces of white showing in her hair. Brand wasn’t sure if she was tired or if her eyes were swollen and red from worrying over her father. Susan was shorter than Brand tilting her head back to meet his eyes.
He waited patiently. Susan Kartman smiled weakly up at him and then with a few quick steps, she closed the gap between the two of them and hugged him. He put his arms around her and let her weep on his shoulder. Minutes of silence passed before she backed away and rubbed her face with the back of her hand, attempting to dry her eyes.
“ Have you been in town long?” He asked. She shook her head, swallowed back more tears and with a choked voice answered.
“No. I arrived this morning. I came straight from the airport to see dad.” She explained. “What happened Brand? All the police tell me is he suffered a gunshot wound during a house attack last night?”
“I don’t know.” Brand said sadly. His eyes focused on his friend lying in the hospital bed. “Have you talked to the doctors…did they tell what his condition is?”
“Only that he’s in a coma, but resting easy.” She swallowed again. “They’re not sure how long until he comes out of it. One of the bullets tore some arteries and caused internal bleeding.” Susan stopped, fought back the tears that insisted on pooling in her eyes, composed herself and continued. “The doctor commented on dad's drinking and the toll it has taken on his body, the booze thinning his blood, making it much harder for them to stabilize his wound.”
Brand listened to the monitor's hum and beep in the background, his friends breathing, even and shallow. “Yeah. I noticed he was hitting the bottle harder.” Brand changed the subject and gently put his hand on Susan’s arm. “Let’s walk downstairs. I’ll buy you a coffee. We can talk.”
In the hospital cafeteria, the two discussed Jerry's fragile condition. Brand assured Susan that her dad would be all right, while, at the same time, trying to convince himself. He recounted the shooting, the attack at his house and how he believed the gunman mistakenly showed up at the wrong address, how the two men must have walked into the wrong house. He held back about his fleeting suspicions about the young guide and the detective’s insistence that the hit on his house smacked of drug connections.
“I can wait until you’re ready to leave. Give you a ride to a hotel if you need? He offered.
“I rented a car this morning. I’ll stay at dad’s house.” She replied, her expression one of uncertainty.
Brand grabbed a napkin off the table and fishing a pen from his pocket began scribbling a row of numbers. “Changed cell number since your last visit,” he explained pushing the paper across the small table. “I’ve got some things to do, but I’ll check in with you later,” he promised.
He walked across the parking lot toward his truck, his mind occupied by thoughts of Jerry and his daughter and his dead friend, Dave. He found it was becoming easier to accept the detective's far flung theory and maybe Dave had gotten himself mixed up with this biker gang. He hoped to find the answers waiting at Dave’s apartment. Guilty or not, Brand didn’t plan on wasting any time finding out. If the man’s apartment didn’t render any clues, then he figured his next step would be to talk to the guys at the fly shop. Maybe one of them knew Dave better; he wouldn’t stop until he dug to the bottom of this tragedy.
Brand merged his truck into traffic. Several car lengths behind, an unmarked police car left the hospital parking lot and followed him into traffic.