Brand bent back the plastic lid and sipped the hot coffee. A chill from the rain and a rumbling in his stomach tore him away from his vigil. Leaving the truck hidden, he stuck to shadows and jogged the few blocks down the road to a convenience store for a pack of smokes, coffee, and a bar to suffice as supper.
The rain leaden skies had eased their assault on the city, the rain growing light and sporadic. A shiver passed through his body, the coffee, warm in his hands and comforting, as it heated his mouth and throat. He stood in the narrow doorway of a deserted business, diagonally across from the steel gates protecting the Warrior’s clubhouse. The building’s torn awning slowed the rain, the drops rhythmically falling on his hat.
The comfort of his truck left behind. The risk of the vehicle's engine idling so close to the biker’s compound, a decidedly bad idea, but his warm breath in the moist, cool cab repeatedly fogged the windshield. He left the shelter of the truck for the darkened doorway and a better line of sight.
A few sips later, a movement at the large gates caught his attention. The big biker from the casino and the gambler squeezed through the opening and walked to the old Ford. Brand waited in the doorway until the pair climbed inside the vehicle before hugging the building and hurrying back to his truck. He watched the Ford back into the street then turn and drive away.
Quickly, he jumped inside the cab, twisted the key in the ignition and rammed the selector into drive. His truck faced the opposite direction the Ford had taken. He drove down and around the block; his foot heavy on the gas peddle.
At an intersection, he turned the corner then swung onto the street passing the clubhouse. More gas and he closed the distance between the two vehicles. He strongly believed that the men would return to the casino. A presumption he made, doubting that the trucker had taken transit.
Brand retraced the route taken earlier when leaving the casino, his worry about keeping the truck in sight dwindling. With a change of mind, he raced ahead, a few vehicles acting as a buffer while he watched the old Ford’s headlights in the mirror. He drove, his eyes constantly checking the rear-view mirror on the off chance the men deviated from returning to the casino parking lot.
The darkness and the continuing rain made maintaining sight of the Ford’s bright lights hard, forcing Brand to slow and let the other vehicle close the distance. With the adverse light conditions and the flow of traffic, he doubted the driver would notice his truck. Within blocks of the casino, he raced ahead, blew through a yellow traffic light before making the turn into the packed, drenched casino grounds.
Stopping near the back of the lot, he reversed into a stall, the view out of the windshield looked over the entire area. With a twist of a dial, the truck sat in darkness, only the engine running, and he waited.
A few short minutes, Tiny followed his route into the lot and wound past lines of automobiles sitting under the casino lights, driving to the other side of the dark asphalt before stopping alongside a row of cars. The distance too far for Brand to make out the type or color of the gamblers vehicle, in the rain, obstructed lighting.
Very slowly Brand crept his truck closer, his headlights still off. Two rows short of where the men stopped, he found an open stall, backed in and watched. The gambler slid from the open passenger’s door and walked around the front of Tiny’s truck. Brand let his eyes roam over the area until a light appeared on the far side of the old Ford. Brake lights went off as Tiny rolled his vehicle away from the spot.
The big man from the casino drove past Brand’s idling truck, a couple rows of vehicles separated the two. As Tiny passed, in the lit cab, Brand noticed the big man turn his head and glance in Brand’s direction. Impossible, Brand thought, for the man to have marked his presence from that distance but the truck seemed to slow as it drove past.
The last thing on Brand’s mind was to tangle with the monstrosity driving the old Ford. Hell. He would have to run the man over with his truck just to soften the big oaf up and give himself a chance. Unaware he was holding his breath, Brand let a sigh escape as Tiny sped up. He watched the taillights disappear before re-focusing on the second vehicle.
The gambler drove an older, run down Chevy half ton. In the poor lighting, the colour of the truck could have been anything from dark green to black. From where Brand sat, he was unable to read the number on the licence plate so he manoeuvred out of his stall attempting to keep sight of the gambler’s vehicle.
While the man wedged the Chevy out of the tight spot, Brand remained in his truck with the lights off. The beaten half-ton stopped reversing and then began inching forward. Brand let the gambler gain some distance before slowly creeping along the lines of parked cars, heading for the same exit. He drove slowly, allowing the man time to merge into the late evening traffic. Brand hesitated, switched the truck’s lights on and pulled onto the street several car lengths behind.
The gambler had left the parking lot in a south direction. Brand glanced at the time displayed on the lit dashboard. Quarter after one in the morning, the clocks numbers glowed in the dark cab.
The trek wound south, lasting twenty minutes before the gambler pulled up into a driveway in the deep south of the city, a community only a couple of years in the making. Newly paved streets twisted among recently constructed houses, some blocks filled with complete houses, other streets void of buildings while piles of dirt and fences signalled new basements freshly dug. Brand slowed and stopped his truck on the street behind the driveway, blocking the Chevy from leaving. Brand swung the door open and stepped outside as the gambler stood on the concrete drive fishing through his keys.
“Hang on a minute.” He called to the other man.
The gambler jerked around nervously at the sound of Brand’s voice.
“What do you want?” The man asked his voice wracked with tension.
“Business.” Brand said.
“Hey, your boss gave me his orders. Jesus, so what does he want now?”
“He ah…” Brand thought quickly. “He just wanted to make sure you're clear on…the …plan?”
“It wasn’t complicated. I leave Tuesday morning for Castlegar and pick up his shipment of…produce.” The gambler almost choked on the thought of what he had to do. Scared or not he was tired and wanted this whole nightmare to end.
“Uh. Yeah…” Brand ad-libbed. “Uh…the boss wants me to accompany you, make sure everything goes smoothly.”
“Yeah…like I need this shit. Whatever.” The gambler resigned to fate.
“I’m leaving early Tuesday morning. Meet me at my truck if you’re coming. I won’t be waiting. Goodnight.” The gambler said as he inserted a key into the lock and opened his front door.
“Wait a minute.” Brand stopped the man. “Where in the hell am I supposed to meet you?” The gambler looked at Brand for a few seconds, fighting down the desire to tell this intruder to go to hell and then resignedly gave up the address. Brand refrained from asking for a name. If Brand's story of working for the casino were right, he would obviously know already.
“I need your cell number too, don’t want any misunderstandings because of lack of communication, do we. And your driver’s licence, too” Brand pushed his luck.
“Why in the hell do you need my driver’s for?” The gambler asked.
“Just give me the damn thing.” Brand snapped. The man read off his cell number, dug a worn leather wallet out of his pants pocket and passed the licence to Brand. Brand quickly memorized man’s name, Chad Worenko, then shoved the card to its owner. The gambler snatched the plastic card, left Brand standing in the driveway, and stormed into his house, the front door slamming against its wooden frame.
Walking down the driveway, Brand noted the Chevy’s licence plate number. Added insurance. Luck and lies only lasted so long.
Rousing himself out of bed the next morning, Brand phoned the front desk, ordered a pot of coffee and headed for the shower. He had a few tasks that needed attending, items he needed to attend to before meeting his new driving partner the following morning.
The hot water in the shower rinsed the sleep out of his brain. The water pulsed a soothing stream over his head while he reviewed the previous day's discovery. Intuition told him that he this investigation got started on the wrong foot. This whole time he thought that the young guide, Dave, was the reason for the shootings at his house. He began to see errors in his judgment and views. Dave, Brand was now convinced, probably was just an innocent bystander, unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, unfortunately.
While dwelling on a half assed plan for the next day’s adventure, his mind wandered over to Jerry. He had a few questions he’d like Jerry to answer, but the last he heard, Jerry was still in a comma. After breakfast he decided to have a chat with Roy and dig deeper into the operations of the Warriors, after, he'd drive to the hospital and talk to Jerry, even if the conversation was one sided.
The hotel restaurant was empty by the time Brand entered. He seated himself, and once the waitress stopped at his table, he ordered a black coffee and eggs benedict with toast on the side. The chocolate bar from the previous evening’s outing was the only food he ate that night leaving him famished.
While he waited, he stared into the mouth of the coffee cup, rolling over different scenarios for the trip the following day, but with the limited information, there was little he could foresee. He mulled over the situation finally deciding that this wouldn’t be the first time he’s had to wing an operation. He mowed his way through the eggs and toast stopping briefly to wash the meal down with sips of the scalding black coffee.
Sliding his plate aside, he picked up a newspaper from an adjoining table and scanned the news stories. He slowly read an article on the police and the accumulating gang troubles brewing in the city. The rash of drug related incidents now the number one concern of Calgary’s finest. Several columns later, he headed for the sports section, the Eskimos lost a preseason game, and the Jay’s were sliding down the standings. At least the sunshine girl was pretty enough, a pleasant distraction from the bad news the paper bore.
Setting cash for his meal on the table, Brand headed for the door. He had a busy day ahead. The next stop, the Wolves clubhouse.
Pulling out of the hotel parking lot, Brand suddenly realized a whole new problem. He dug out his phone and checked for missed calls, working the phone as he drove. Damn. Several missed calls from his girlfriend.
Brand signalled out of traffic and into the nearest parking lot. He shoved the truck into park and reluctantly dialled her number. He had met Sara a year and a half ago while investigating the suspicious deaths of three old friends from the CSIS unit Brand once was a member. At the time, she was in the field assisting a former member of the same CSIS group, Brent Gallows, a long time friend of Brands. Brent ran a security-consulting firm, mainly working special ops out of the Prime Ministers Office.
Brand and Sara became friends when the two met on the west coast during an operation. Sara contracted IT work for Brent’s company and was assisting one of Brand’s old CSIS buddies before the man was ambushed and killed. After the conclusion of the investigation, Sara moved to Calgary, and their relationship became serious.
He would face a crazed grizzly with out second thought if he had to, but forgetting to call this five foot four woman, he found, made him nervous. The phone rang a third time. Maybe he should try later he told himself. While he contemplated leaving a message, Sara answered.
“It’s about time you called.” She said a tinge of worry in her voice.
“Yeah…I suppose…” He stalled trying to think of a suitable explanation for the last couple days with out causing her more worry.
“Brent heard about a shooting at your house…you alright.”
“Pretty good. I’m staying in a hotel until the police are finished dusting my house. I don’t suppose you’re interested in helping me do some late spring cleaning?” he said to lighten the mood. “How are things in Ottawa?” He asked avoiding her questions about the shooting. Sara worked from her house in the city but often had to fly to Ottawa, to work from Brent’s offices.
Brand listened as Sara talked of her current assignment before he changed the conversation back to the shooting. Briefly telling Sara of the attack at the house, he glossed over the unpleasant details consuming the last few days. When the conversation drew to an end, she added.
“Don’t go getting yourself killed; I’d like to see you again.” She said jokingly, but he detected more than a touch of concern in her voice.
“I promise.” He reassured her.
Brand resumed driving, deciding to change course and go past his house. He wanted to see if the police presence and crime scene tape remained. The hotel was decent, but home was home, besides he needed a new change of clothes if he was to continue living in the hotel.
The front door was ajar, he noticed, as he parked. He climbed out of the truck and cautiously looked over the house walking up the sidewalk and climbing the stairs to the front deck. Hesitating at the door, he pushed it open and called out while looking over the entrance. From the door, he could see clear to the back of the main floor.
He studied the messed interior. Either the police were getting awfully messy when they conducted investigations nowadays, or someone vandalized his house. Vandals or perhaps associates of the two gunmen who shot his friends, either way, somebody carried out a thorough search of the inside and was not concerned about anybody discovering their actions.
Carefully, he crossed deeper into the house. His ears strained to detect movements as he walked past the kitchen and into the living room. The furniture was upended and tossed about, the fabric torn, cushions cut and leaking white cotton stuffing lay splayed across the floor. The paintings yanked off the walls, the backs peeled out of the frames and then tossed. Everything in the house subjected to an intense search.
Brand walked the entire house from basement to the upstairs bedrooms. Each room like the one before disassembled, his belongings thrown to the floor in a pile, furniture slit and overturned, everything hanging on the walls were removed and thrown on the floor.
He shook his head, disappointed and outraged. He kicked at some of the mess on the floor. Whatever these someones were looking for, it sure and the hell wasn’t a stash of drugs. Drugs of any value wouldn't fit in the smaller spaces searched.
Walking down the stairs to the main floor, Brand hesitated. When his foot touched the last step, a thought occurred. Brand turned and raced back to his bedroom wading through the mess left in the walk-in closet. Lying on the floor was his metal gun safe. Somebody went through a lot of trouble to get his safe open. The nine-millimeter Browning he had retained from his days with the government was no longer there. Also missing was the extra thirteen round magazines.
Brand swore and bent down to examine the box. He had bought the box to comply with federal gun laws. It was not meant to keep an over anxious thief from stealing it. Brand stayed crouched over thinking about the ramifications of the stolen firearm. The best he could hope for was that the missing gun wouldn’t show up at some crime scene and cause him undue problems. The police had already confiscated his rifle, and now his handgun was missing.
Brand knew he needed to call the police and report the theft. He made a mental reminder to file a report on the theft and missing 9-mil once he returned to the hotel.
Standing by the front door, he punched 9-1-1 on the keypad of his phone, waited scant seconds before the call connected. The police officer on the receiving end of the phone asked him a barrage of standard questions. Brand stood with the phone held tight to his ear. The sounds of computer keys clicking filled the silent line until the officer typed a report.
“Okay, Mr. Coldstream. I have directed a unit to your address. They’re only minutes away. The patrolmen will review your statement and go through the damage with you.”
“The door will be open,” Brand responded. “Tell them to feel free to enter the house. I won’t be here.”
Brand ran his eyes over the house’s interior one last time and walked down to his truck. Slamming the door, he stared back up at the house, dug in his pocket for his smokes, lit a cigarette, and after a long drag, drove away.