Business at the Cat’s Eye lounge was busy for a Wednesday night. The supper hour came and went, and the exotic dancers were grinding for dollars on the center stage. Of the men who frequented the nightclub and filled the tables enjoying the show, most were several drinks past the legal limit to drive.
Wednesday night, the wings were cheap and the beer cold from the tap. The combination of less expensive food and drink pulled in a decent amount of business on another wise slow weeknight. The Cat's Eye, located in the northeast part of town, the strip club blended in among other one-story businesses located in the smattering of malls that made up the areas commercial section.
While the dancers and patrons in the main part of the club gave the club an air of legitimacy, in the back rooms, a different type of business was taking place. One that the cops suspected even knew about but for various reasons never raided. One designated room served as a distribution center for illegal narcotics. People in the know made weekly or nightly treks to the back room, depending on their drug of choice. A knowing knock, the right password and the exchange of cash took place here every night of the week.
A small group of Wolves alumni operated from this back room. One of many such businesses scattered over the east side of the city, under the Wolves control.
Shortly before midnight, five well-dressed, dark haired, bronze skinned men entered the bar, sat at a back table, ordering drinks and enjoying the scenery on the stage. The group took advantage of the cheap hot wings, washed away the lingering burn of the hot sauce with glasses of dark rum idly passing the evening.
Around one in the morning, two of the well-dressed men dabbed their faces clean of the sauce from the wings and crossed the floor to the washroom. The bathrooms located on the backside of the building, one locked door away from the room containing the illicit drug trade. A lone biker in Wolves leathers sat guarding the locked door, his gun hidden, his fingers occupied, pressing keys on a cell phone.
When the two well-dressed patrons ventured to the washroom, a third man from the table walked the opposite direction, passing tables littered with empty beer glasses and back to the nightclub’s entrance and stationed himself just inside. The remaining two at the table finished the plate of wings before leaving their chairs and sauntering to opposing sides of the small club.
The first pair stopped inside the washroom door and removed powerful automatic pistols from under their coats. A nod to each other signalled their readiness, and one of the men backed out of the washroom door, blocking the guard’s view of the gun.
The biker sitting in the chair noticed the man loitering and looked up from his phone.
“Hey, buddy. Get a move on,” the biker warned, stashing his phone in a back pocket. The man blocking the bathroom door stepped aside, his partner filled the vacant space and fired three quick bursts into the guard. The pair stepped over the fallen guard, made short work of the locked door, the automatic weapons sending a searching fire into the room.
At the sound of the gunfire, the men spread through the lounge pulled out matching guns and sprayed rounds indiscriminately at the patrons and dancers. Screams of terror and pain flowed above the canned dance music.
The assualt lasted several minutes. The Wolves associates, running the drug operation out of the room deep in the back of the building, grabbed for their guns. They vastly lacked in firepower. The bikers put up a valiant but not long-standing fight until they dropped like the other members of their gang. One of the Wolves, hidden behind a thick, wooden desk, pushed the buttons on his phone in a panic. The call to Roy Thundercloud was brief before bullets found the hidden man and ended the conversation.
The pair of well-dressed men carefully stepped around the fallen bikers gathering handfuls of cash, reefs of paper, and bundles of drugs into a pile before setting a flame to the stack. Satisfied the fire would burn, the men left for the front of the club. There they joined the others in their group, stacking tables and chairs and starting a second new fire.
An hour and a bit since entering the Cat’s Eye Lounge, the five men exited through the front doors, avoided the bouncer they killed on the way in, and climbed into waiting cars, casually driving from the scene.
Roy Thundercloud swore repeatedly. The walls of the room appeared to close in on him. In every direction, men sat staring blankly up at his face. He had no clear outlet to release the rage building in his massive body. Anger from the attack and anguish at the loss of lives, gripped his body, threatening to paralyze his thoughts and movements.
Roy fought past the haze of red blocking his vision; his large fingers jabbed punishingly at the small buttons on the phone pad. The attack was not the first time this night that he called to warn his men and associates of the unabashed cruelty of the rival Warrior bike gang and their cartel friends.
“How in the hell…” He said to no one in particular, letting the sentence die off. He paced in a tight circle; his leather boot slammed into a footstool that dared stand in his way. Realistically, he prepared for signs of retaliation from the Warriors, but obviously, the Colombians methods were something not taken into consideration.
Several of his men were either killed or injured, and this was the second nightclub that had fallen this night. A hasty gathering of members began riding the streets; extra firepower sent to the more vulnerable establishments. The cowardly ambushes would meet return fire.
Struggling for a calmer demeanour, Roy clutched his phone, reissuing warnings to his men stationed at the various clubs run his men. Operations he was certain were well known to the Warriors. Other businesses, ones operated on a different level, he reasoned would escape this type of treatment, or so he hoped.
Calls rang throughout the early hours, men reporting on the damage sustained in the early morning attacks, others on the watch for suspicious activities. Scouts began tracking the Warriors and searching the streets for the cars of Colombians. By the time the calls quieted, the sun had begun its climb, lighting the eastern horizon. Roy grabbed a bottle of his favourite tequila and took several long pulls to calm the burning rage pumping through his veins.
The Warriors fired the first shots of the turf war, and he needed to re-evaluate the addition of the Colombians. Depending on the number of cartel men added to the Warriors gang, he had to think about reinforcements. Tonight’s attacks stung, but he had the superior manpower. How persistent were his enemies until his forces were worn down.
Roy stood staring a blank wall; in his mind’s eye he foresaw a bleak future. With the cartel helping his rivals, this war will tear the city apart until one gang destroys the other.
Detective Frank Walgreen was woken in the middle of the night by his cell phone. The cursed device bleated and rattled on a table next to the couch the detective lay after falling into a drunken stupor the evening before. To add to his troubled sleep, the voice of the now irate leader of the Warriors raged across the line.
“I’m texting a picture to you,” the Manager roared dispensing of all pleasantries. “The picture is of the man responsible for the destruction of our warehouse near Castlegar.”
“I need you to find out who this man is. I want his name and all the information you can dig up!” The Manager bellowed. Walgreen waited until the photo appeared on his phone and stared at the picture. He was surprised to recognize the man, even with a ball cap covering a portion of the perpetrator's face, but held off telling the Manager. Instead, Walgreen agreed to match the face with a name and call back once the identity was confirmed.
"I'll get on it in a couple of hours. The minute I clock in at the precinct," Walgreen reassured the Manager. "If I show up before my shift, too many questions will be asked."
James Cartwright spewed a few curses over the phone and then abruptly ended the call. Walgreen stared at the silent clump of plastic in his hand and with out turning on the apartment lights, strode to the kitchen and poured himself a strong one. If gambling wasn’t a bad enough vice, he had taken to drinking himself to sleep, his conscious consumed with the threat of exposure that hung over like a threatening cloud. His tension brought on by the vast amount of debt owed to the damn bikers and their casino.
His will to live diminished daily as he was forced to do the bike gangs bidding under thinly veiled threats of being turned in for the illegal actions he had undertaken on their behalf. Coming clean to anyone who could help him out of the situation only ensured the remaining years of his life rotting in jail or worse, a slow and painful death by the same gang for betrayal.
Sitting in the dark, he slowly nursed his vodka as he tried to get his alcohol-numbed brain to make some sense of this current predicament. He decided to spend a few hours at his desk at work before going to the Warrior’s clubhouse and announcing the name of the man they were hunting. By five in the morning, he found the ambition to shower and then searched through a pile of clothes spread across the bedroom floor trying to find his cleanest, least wrinkled suit.
His partner, Detective O’Brien, was picking him up again this morning. Walgreens piece of shit Chevy was broken down, and with no extra money to fix it O’Brien had kindly offered to drive him to the precinct in his Forerunner. O’Brien even allowed Walgreen to borrow the Toyota when he had personal errands to run. He knew that O’Brien wouldn’t be too pleased if he were aware that some of those errands involved driving to the Warrior’s clubhouse on occasion.
Walgreen's life had gotten so shitty lately that even the booze was starting to have little effect in drowning out the unpleasant memories of day-to-day life.
“You look like shit,” O’Brien said by way of greeting as Walgreen climbed into the passenger side of O’Brien’s SUV.
“Been a long night” Walgreen scowled at his partner hoping to put an end to another of O’Brien’s sermons. Walgreen rode the remainder of the way to the station in silence wrapped up in his thoughts of how life was so unfair to him.
At the station, Walgreen grabbed a coffee on his way to his desk, fired up his computer and sat staring at the screen. He searched for all the information on Brand Coldstream the net had to offer. Finding very little, he put his password in and searched through police network. Neither place had any relevant information on the guy. After several tries and numerous avenues of checking were exhausted, he looked across his desk at O’Brien.
“Can I borrow your car, I want to head to a garage and see if I can get a price to fix that piece of crap I’m driving.” He lied.
“You can book out an unmarked off the lot you know.”
“Yeah. I don’t like driving one when I'm on personal business. You know that.” He further lied. The thought of being discovered at the Warriors clubhouse with an unmarked car was something he couldn’t risk.
O’Brien tossed him the keys as he stood up and grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair. He nodded to O’Brien as he made his way out of the precinct building.
“This is the same guy who shot the cartel's men at the house.” The manager grilled him as he stood in front of the desk. The Manager never offered him a chair. “Why didn’t you tell me that this morning when I sent you the picture?” The bike leader said as he glowered at the dishevelled detective.
“I see a lot of faces in my line of work. I can’t be expected to remember them all.” The detective lied again. It seemed like all he did these days was lie. He wasn’t even sure if he could remember how the truth went anymore.
“Do you still have that gun you found at the house?” The Manager asked.
“Yeah.” He answered hesitantly not liking where he thought this conversation was heading. “I’m sure and the hell not going to kill this guy if that’s what you’re getting at.” He added beating the Manager to any thoughts of the sort.
“No. That's not what I was thinking, but leave it with me. I might use it to teach this guy a lesson.” Pausing, the Manager flipped through some papers on his desk then turned his gaze back to the detective.
“What I need you to do is arrange a meeting with this guy. See if he has any information that could hurt us. He doesn't have any idea about our…association. I mean, you, working with us. Does he?”
“I doubt it.” Walgreen blurted out.
“Good. Tell this, Coldstream, that you have info about the shooting at his house then. That should be believable. Make something up, just get him to meet with you.
What did you say this guy does? He's a fishing guide, is that right?" The Manager stopped in his train of thought. His mind reeled back over the past day and the amount of trouble the fisherman caused.
"His actions seem out of place for somebody who wields a fishing rod.” The Manager scowled at his words. “Anyways, pump him for information with out him getting wise.”
“Sure.” Walgreen agreed and motioned to leave. The manager stopped him before he exited the room.
“I want to know when and where you’re planning to talk to him.” The Manager said leaving no room for disagreement. Detective Walgreen wondered at the Managers request. Did he plan to have Coldstream killed while the two met?
“I’ll let you know when we're I've got a place set,” Walgreen promised then added. “Have one of your men meet me at my house in a bit, and I’ll pass along the gun.”
Brand’s cell rang. He looked at the number before answering. Not recognizing the number, he connected the call and waited. A few seconds passed before he heard Detective Walgreen’s voice.
“Coldstream, Detective Walgreen.” Walgreen sat behind the wheel of his partner’s SUV outside the Warriors clubhouse.
“How can I help you, detective?” Brand asked.
“Can we meet?” Walgreen asked. “I’ve got some background on the men who led the attack on your house.” Walgreen ad-libbed. His alcohol dulled brain unable to conjure up a better reason for the two to meet. The detective evaded Brand’s searching questions and quickly fought through his troubled thoughts for a suitable area to rendezvous.
“The hotel in the strip mall off of Deerfoot and Heritage. There’s that breakfast joint behind the sports club. Jim’s or Harry’s…whatever the hell the name of the place is. Say, later this afternoon. Does that work for you?"”
“Yeah. I know which one you’re talking about.” Brand replied.
“Meet me in the parking lot adjacent to the hotel. I’d like to talk in private before we go inside and eat.”
Reluctantly, Brand agreed. Suspicions entered his mind. He already figured that either Walgreen or O’Brien or even both were working with the Warrior biker gang. Usually, cops liked the sanction of the police station to conduct queries, not at some obscure destination, definitely not parking lots.
With the meeting not until later in the afternoon, Brand turned his attention to Jerry’s missing cell phone. The palm-sized device would be difficult to locate, and the possibilities of finding it would require a lot more luck than good detective work. First, he wanted to stop at the hospital and talk to Jerry. See if the old-timer could remember any more details about the missing phone, maybe give Brand a smaller circle to start his search.
Stepping out of the elevator, Brand noticed a bustle of activity in front of his friend’s room. Police officers stood at the curtained entrance talking to the hospital staff. At the nurse’s station, Brand interrupted a nurse, his curiosity mixing with a sudden feeling of queasiness in his gut.
“Can I help you,” the nurse asked, her eyes traveling between the charts in her hands and Brand, a look of annoyance reflecting off her face at his intrusion.
“The patient in that room,” Brand pointed to the cluster of cops outside the curtained wall. “Jerry Kartman. Is he alright,” Brand tentatively asked?
“Mr. Kartman is gone,” the nurse told him. A tone of boredom and casualness underlined her words. “When the attendant checked on him this morning, the bed was empty.” She explained.
“Did the doctors release him?” Brand inquired. “The other day when I visited he looked to be in rough shape, still.”
“His clothes and his items are still in the room.” The nurse set her charts down and dug through the second stack of files lying on the raised counter. She pulled out a file and quickly skimmed the pages.
“Mr. Kartman had only shown signs of recovering from his coma. The doctor’s report states that he remains weak and disoriented, so it seems unlikely that he wouldn’t have the ability to leave on his own.” She paused, glanced toward the police officers wondering if she should be divulging this information.
She turned her gaze back to Brand and continued in a confidential voice. “We are checking the hospital and the grounds. He may have wandered off, but that seems very doubtful. Everyone we can spare has been searching since morning. We finally agreed to bring the police in, and one of their detectives appears to be particularly interested in Mr. Kartman.” She confided to Brand. Before he had a chance to ask the nurse which detective showed the interest, another nurse interrupted their conversation.
Brand left the station, walking up to the crowd gathered outside Jerry’s room. A police officer watched as he approached. The officer left the group and asked Brand’s name and why he was there, and then told him to leave, sternly directing Brand away from the room.
Brand returned the nursing station. His mind raced with possibilities of Jerry’s disappearance as he watched the police interrogate the hospital staff. Could Jerry possibly have wandered away from his room in his condition or…more worrying thoughts began troubling Brand’s mind? If the cartel knew about the missing phone, would they have the balls to sneak Jerry out of the hospital?
Out of the corner of his eye, a movement from across the hall caught his attention. Brand recognized Detective O’Brien at the same time the detective spotted him. Veering away from the room, the detective changed course and stopped beside Brand.
Brand began to ask about his missing friend when the detective cut him off, O'Brien ignoring Brand’s questions.
“Time to come clean Coldstream. This shit you and your buddies have dug into is starting to pile up. Why don’t you tell me what the hell is going on before I find another of your friends dead?”
“What makes you think that he didn’t just wander off?” Brand questioned the detective hoping to pry some relevant information out of the cop.
The detective snorted in disgust. Grabbing Brand by the shoulder, O’Brien moved away from the nursing station.
“Let’s take a walk?” Was all the detective said as the two squeezed their way past the throng of police and hospital staff and moved down the hallway toward a steel door marked stairwell. Once the metal door closed behind them, O’Brien stopped, leaning against the faded white cinder block stairwell.
“I’m not quite certain how you and your friends are tied up with those mothers in the Moreno Cartel and I’m sure you’re going to feed me a long line of bull, but I’ll make you a deal. How are the three of you involved, off the record of course?” The detective hesitated. “In fact, come clean and name names and I’ll even guarantee you immunity from prosecution…and...I’ll fill you in on what we believe has happened to your friend.” The detective sweetened the deal then tapped his foot impatiently while waiting for Brand's response.
“Detective, I don’t think I can be much help to you. I tried to tell you before; I'm not involved in what happened at my house. Not until I came back and saw my friends under attack, at least.” Brand shrugged. “Sorry. I honestly wished I knew more.”
Detective O’Brien snorted disgustedly again and spun, grabbing the handle of the stairwell door and flinging it open. Almost through the door, he turned back to face Brand. “Security tapes show a pair of Latino men escorting your friend out on a gurney. I think your Colombian buddies may now have him. I’ve seen what they do to people…I don’t think I’d want to be your friend.” He said then let the door close behind him.
Brand sat motionless on the dimly lit stairwell. If the detective was telling the truth, Jerry’s story about losing the phone with the incriminating videos wasn’t going to convince the Colombians to leave them alone, and with Jerry’s condition, he would never stand up to any strenuous interrogation.
Brand was left wondering what he should attempt first. The odds of finding either Jerry or the missing phone both had the same odds. Not good.
Checking the time on his phone, he discovered his decision would have to wait. There wasn't enough time to start searching for either before his meeting with Detective Walgreen. Taking the stairwell down to the hospital lobby, Brand left the building and ran to his truck. At the curb, he stepped around a grey Toyota Forerunner.
A few steps farther, Brand stopped in the middle of the street and glanced back at the SUV. He had seen that vehicle before. Then it dawned on him. He remembered seeing it parked in front of the Warriors clubhouse, and then once again when he was in Chad’s truck as the two were leaving the industrial park for the trip to B.C.
Son of a bitch Brand cursed. No wonder he was always running into the detective. O’Brien must be on the Warriors payroll. That explained why the detective was so eager to befriend Brand. He was looking to recover the missing phone for the Cartel.