Susan ran to Brand when the two men entered the house. Roy’s voice rumbled throughout the interior of the house, his words echoing off the walls and ceilings, calling his men together.
"What happened to you," she asked, her hand gently touching his bruised face. Brand moved Susan aside leaving Roy to talk with his men.
"A long story," Brand brushed off her concern. Roy saved him further explanation by motioning the two into the living room. The three chose chairs close to each other.
Roy remained thoughtful before speaking.
“This attack doesn’t make a lot of sense.” He looked in Brand’s direction. “My men were trapped, but the Warrior’s remained by their vehicles, satisfied to take shots at the house…they never attempted to overrun the building…” Roy drifted back into silence.
“Our arrival may have cut them short. The gunmen had no way of knowing how many men were inside the house.” Brand interjected.
“Probably just trying to send a message.” He continued the line of thought.
“Waiting in the yard to get killed is one hell of a message.” Roy shot back.
“Yeah…the approach doesn’t seem very smart.” Brand agreed. “Didn’t you tell me this place was impenetrable? Could be they have known.”
“Maybe." Roy shrugged. "Those men would never have made it inside alive, but then, why attack. Whatever reason for those men to show up here, whoever decided to launch the assault, why? This shit is going to end. I’m growing tired of the Cartel's gun and shoot tactics. Too many of my clubs have fallen; a lot of good men are in the hospital and out of commission.
Funny though, every time we’ve moved against them, the bastards are waiting for us. It would seem that I have a leak in my organization that needs plugging.” Roy glanced away lost in thought once more. Minutes later he re-joined the conversation.
“I’ve held talks with groups not involved in this war, smaller gangs beyond the city’s boundaries. Men not affiliated with the Warriors or us from outside of the city, most from other provinces. I'm offering a deal, mergers with some and talk of a truce with others. These damn Colombians have been bringing in half of the West Coast to bolster their ranks. Time to even the odds.” Roy stood up and smiled changing the subject. “Let’s get the hell out of here grab a bite to eat. We’ll take the SUV’s," he chided Brand. "Looks like your bike might need repairs.”
“You want to go out?” Brand asked studying his brother’s face.
“Sure. Nobody knows where we’re going. Besides, I think the kitchens closed due to lead contamination.” The big man laughed at his attempt at humour as he stepped toward the door.
On the way back into town, Roy expanded on the details of the impending mergers he was contemplating. Smaller gangs from the north and east were eager to hook up with the Wolves’ and share in some of the spoils of the big city boys.
“The leaders are taking my offerings to their men. I'll be contacting them in the morning. Most will become independent chapters of the Wolves. Others will join us as associates. Our," Roy held his fingers up quoting his words, "business know-how with their established connections. A win-win.
If the lot of us join forces, we'll forge a chain well into the eastern reaches of the country. And in a case like this the combined strength of our organizations to draw manpower from.” He continued, “The days of sharing the city with the Warriors is coming to an abrupt halt. If Cartwright wants to make deals with the devil and come after my turf, I think it’s time I renegotiate the terms." Roy faced the window. The hum of tires rolling over the asphalt filled the quiet in the SUV.
"Time to run the Manager and his Cartel garbage all the way back to the coast and push them into the ocean.” A smile marked Roy’s face, but his eyes belied the fury that lay behind them.
The rest of the trip, the two rode in silence. Brand studied Susan carefully, watching to see how she fared after the gunfight. Roy’s driver was entering the east side of town when he asked Roy which restaurant he preferred.
"Mescalles," Roy answered. "A small family-run restaurant on International Ave. The owners are partial to the Wolves." He explained to Brand. "Two of their boys ride with us."
“They serve the best Mexican food in town,” Roy bragged, adding that the eatery was locally known and discreet enough that no one should bother them.
Cars blocked the front of the restaurant. Roy pointed to a space two businesses down. "This will be fine," he instructed.
The entrance to Mescalles consisted of a nondescript, windowless door bearing a small plaque with the businesses name hanging above a welcome sign. The eatery stuffed in the middle of a multi-shop strip mall. The parking lot edged onto International Avenue.
Only a handful of customers sat at tables when the three entered the restaurant. Roy led the way to a table in the back corner and pulled a chair for Susan. Brand sat facing the front door, the old instincts were running at full service and he wanted to make sure he saw trouble coming before it found them.
The three sat silently waiting for the waitress, each busy with their own thoughts. Without seeming too obvious, Brand continued glancing at Susan, worried about her mindset after the attack on Roy’s house. He noticed as Roy toyed with the menu, signs of current war against the Warrior’s setting heavily on his mind.
“How much do you know about the Warrior’s?” Roy asked after the waitress had taken their order. Roy glanced from Brand to Susan, resting his gaze on her face before he continued. “Received a message from our Colombian friend earlier today.” Roy hesitated, his eyes darting in Susan’s direction. Roy paused, wondering if he should breach the subject of Susan’s dad while she was at the table. Realizing the need to push on, he told the others of the call from Rojas.
“What did he want?” Brand asked.
“He left a number and message for you. He wants you to bring him the missing phone…” Roy studied Susan’s expression, the spoken reminder of her kidnapped father draining the colour from her face. “If you don’t agree to meet, with the missing phone in hand…” He paused again. “Jerry won’t fare well.”
“I don’t know if this phone can be found. I've been toying with a different approach." Brand played with his drink, twisting the glass absently as he organized his thoughts. "I'm going to take a run at the top guys in the organization, tit for tat so to speak. Get my hands on one of the higher-ups and use them to bargain for Jerry’s release, but I will need help.
What can you tell me about Rojas?” Brand asked. “Does he stay at the casino or is there somewhere else in town I can find him? And how about this Manager, Cartwright, any idea where he likes to hang out? Anyplace he goes to be away from the Warriors. Does he have a wife or girlfriend?"
Roy shook his head. "You attempting to end this fight all by yourself," Laughter followed his words. "Lone Ranger type deal or what?"
"Something's got to be done." Brand replied defensively. "My friends are suffering, and you and your men aren't faring very well."
“You'll have to wait until we return to my place. I can get you the information, but whatever you're planning, be damn careful. This alliance between the Warriors and the Cartel is lethal. The way they're roaming the streets, they either have most of the police force locked on their payroll, or they don’t give a rats ass about the law in this city.”
Susan stood up interrupting the conversation and excused herself. The two men watched her walk away. Roy filled in some of the blanks of Brand’s questions. “There is one club where Cartwright likes to visit. I believe his girlfriend works there. Like I said. I'll have to make some calls.
I understand he spends a lot of time there, and usually with only one other guy in tow. The problem is that the guy is that giant, Bakker. Don Bakker. So I guess Cartwright doesn’t need anyone else tagging along.”
“What does the big guy look like?” Brand asked. Roy described the man. Brand nodded. The big man sounded like the same fellow Brand had followed from the casino the night he met the gambling truck driver. If it was the same man, the term big somehow fell short in describing the giant.
“Where’s the club?” Brand asked. He would figure a way around the big man when and if the time arose. Had to be the same man, the Warriors couldn’t possibly have two men of that stature in their club, could they? At least he hoped not.
Roy wrote the name of the club and address on a napkin, sliding the paper across the table.
"When he shows at the club, I'm not sure, but I can ask around in the morning for you. Cartwright's habits may have changed with the outbreak of trouble, but I doubt it. So far, we seem to be the ones on the defensive.” Roy added.
“You have a name for Cartwright’s girlfriend?”
“Not off hand. I'll get it for you when we return to the acreage." The two men halted their discussion as Susan walked back toward the table. The next few hours, the three talked about anything but the fight that was raging between the two big gangs in the city.
With the meal complete and a collection of empty cerveza bottles, Roy suggested that they leave. The earlier clientele had finished their meals and left, the interior all but deserted except for Roy's table and the staff.
"We could drive back to the acreage and grab a few items then find a place for the night," Roy mentioned. Brand agreed. He had no place to be and he was hesitant to leave Susan. The Colombians had abducted her dad, and after the shootout, Roy’s home now lacked the security he had hoped, leaving him reluctant to place Susan in further danger.
While Roy was talking with the manager, Brand escorted Susan to the door.
“Meet you in the car.” Brand told Roy as they left him. When the pair was almost at the door, Susan stopped.
“I forgot my purse.” She stated and spun back toward the table. Brand waited inside the door for her.
Having taken care of the bill, Roy met Brand at the door.
“I’ll wait for you outside,” he said patting Brand on the shoulder as he squeezed past Brand in the tight entrance and stepped onto the sidewalk. The front door closed leaving Brand standing in the lobby waiting for Susan.
The thick restaurant door vibrated and shook. Brand flinched, turning in curiosity to stare at the unpredicted disturbance. His mind raced as he tried to place the popping sound and the rapid drumming happening street side. The explosions dulled by the wooden material of the building’s facade.
Wonder changed to confusion by as a feeling of dread crept over Brand, a realization borne by the familiar sound of gunfire. His mind reeled, the brutal realization sending mixed thoughts. He reached for the door handle. A flood of emotions swirled at the continued reverberations of bullets played a macabre melody against the restaurant door.
The sound began the second Roy disappeared from view. Dropping low, Brand slid the door open. A sliver of streetlight reflected in his eyes highlighting Roy sprawled on the sidewalk; his brother's head visible inches from the entrance. Brand pushed further onto the sidewalk desperately reaching for the collar of Roy’s jacket. Crouched low to the ground, he clamped his hands under Roy’s armpits in an effort to drag the larger man back into the relative safety of the restaurant.
Bullets whined off concrete and thudded into the stucco finish of the building's exterior. Roy’s men, the ones waiting with the SUV’s down from the entrance, scrambled to return fire. Brand hesitated, his sight cast beyond the prone figure of his brother, sweeping the street. He paused long enough to witness unfamiliar cars crawling down the avenue, darks shadows hanging from the windows, spits of exploding gunpowder erupting from the procession.
Swinging a foot, he braced the door open. Sweat creased his forehead while he strained to pull Roy’s body.
A full minute passed with the cacophony of guns erupting and bullets whining through the night air, lead projectiles biting into everything in their path. As quick as the shooting started, it stopped. From within the restaurant, Brand heard the squeal of tires on pavement followed by sporadic bursts of gunfire.
Roy had taken several shots to his upper body and some, if not all were oozing blood. Brand peeled away his brother's coat and shirt. A flack jacket covered Roy's upper body beneath his clothing. The vest had protected his chest, but as Brand checked further, he noticed at least one bullet that went into the meaty part of Roy's shoulder close to his neck, the blood leaking out in pulses.
Looking around, he hollered at the wait staff to grab towels and to call an ambulance. Susan ran to his side to help and then Roy’s men ran into the building. The group watched as Brand fought to stop the hemorrhaging wounds. With the worst of the bleeding stemmed, Brand switched spots with one of Roy's men, instructing the biker to keep pressure on the wounds until an ambulance arrived.
Standing up, Brand peered down at the blood collecting around his brother’s body. The pale colour of Roy’s face and the fresh, red wounds pushing him to the edge. The attempt on his brother's life was the final straw, he decided right there and then. Drawn into this fight with the shooting at his house, he had since witnessed his close friends harassed, shot and abducted, and now his brother lay in a pool of blood.
Brand stepped away from the group gathered around Roy and found a bathroom. Anger seeped from his pores as he washed Roy’s blood off his hands. He returned to the entrance and demanded the keys to one of the SUV’s. He had matters to attend to, he replied in answer to inquiries. Turning with the keys, Susan grabbed his arm.
“I’m going with you.” She said. The grim look on her face left little room for discussion.
“You’re not going to be safe where I’m going.” Brand shook her off.
“Where am I going to be safe?” She defiantly replied, her grip tight. He thought quickly.
“I’ll take you back to the acreage. You grab what you need and I’ll find a safe place for you.” He said through clenched teeth, barely managing to contain the burning anger fighting to consume him. He spun and stormed out of the restaurant, covered the distance to the vehicle in a few long strides and climbed behind the wheel.
Susan’s footsteps rang off the concrete sidewalk as she ran to keep up. She yanked the passenger door open and jumped into the passenger seat, slamming the door closed as Brand put the car into drive.
Brand paced in the hall, impatience and a want to exact hurt on those responsible for the cowardly attacks on his friends and family. He seethed while Susan disappeared into a bedroom and quickly gathered items into her suitcase. Noticing she was ready, he moved into the room to grab her luggage. He let her go ahead of him. At the doorway, a piece of paper lying on the carpet caught his attention. He knelt down and picked it up. The crumpled paper was Susan’s used airline ticket. It had fallen to the floor in her rush to pack.
Brand snatched it off the floor and turned to place it on a dresser. His eyes swept across the cities displayed in the destination and arrival column. Vancouver to Calgary typed in bold letters across the top line. Placing the paper on top the dresser, he stepped from the room, Susan’s suitcase gripped in his hand.
Throwing the luggage in the back of the SUV, Brand dug around for his phone, swiped down the screen, located his contact list and dialled Detective O’Brien’s number. Brand began speaking the second the detective answered.
“O’Brien, this is Coldstream. I’ll take your deal, but I need you to do a couple of things for me.”
“Hold on. That’s not how this works.” O’Brien balked at Brand’s words.
“That’s exactly how this is going to work. Roy Thundercloud was shot outside a restaurant this evening. I don’t know which hospital they have taken him to yet, but I’m sure you can find out. I want guards posted outside his room…and I have a witness for you to protect.”
“I’m not a babysitter.” Detective O’Brien started.
“You want my help to shut these guys down, that’s my buy-in. What is your address,” Brand talked over the detective's objections, “I’m in a hurry.”
“Yeah. Sure. Alright.” The detective rescinded providing an address.
“We’ll be there shortly.” Brand ended the call.
“I’m not going to sit in protective custody…I want to stay with you.” Susan protested. Brand looked at her and shook his head.
“What I have to do, I can’t have you tagging along.” He said putting an end to the discussion as he raced through the city toward Detective O’Brien’s residence.
The rest of the ride to the detective’s home passed quietly. After Roy's shooting, Brand had left the restaurant with his thoughts muddled about what course of action he needed to take. He began to focus. Wild ideas of carrying the fight to the Cartel and rival bikers and with luck bringing Jerry out alive.
O’Brien was waiting on the sidewalk in front of his house as Brand and Susan arrived. Hopping out of the SUV, Brand grabbed Susan’s suitcase and carried over to the detective.
“Take good care of her.” He said as he turned to leave.
“What are you planning to do?” O’Brien asked.
Brand stopped with his back to the detective.
“Probably better that I don’t tell you. I’ll find the guy running the Cartel, the one you haven’t been able to identify.”
Brand turned around as O’Brien took a step toward him. “I asked for your help, but I need to know what you have planned.” O’Brien stared into Brands eyes. “I can’t have you recklessly running around adding fuel to problem.”
“Too late for that.” Brand replied then held his hands toward the detective. “You can arrest me on that trumped-up murder charge or get the hell out of my way.” He dared O’Brien. Brand waited for the man to decide then left the detective and Jerry’s daughter standing on the sidewalk as he climbed back into the SUV.
Cranking the steering wheel 180 degrees, the SUV changed directions in the narrow street. Brand pressed the gas pedal. The 8-cylinder engine surged as the vehicle straightened and he headed for the southern outskirts of the city. Traffic was light as he threaded his way across town, hooking up with the Deerfoot for the final stretch of his trip.
The subsiding of adrenaline and the ease of his rage allowed his mind to refocus. A spark of an idea started to grow into a workable strategy as he tossed it over in his head. The constant drum of the truck’s tires comforting as the SUV rumbled over barren city roads. He needed to meet the Manager, the leader of the Warrior’s and he decided against waiting until the man was alone.
At this time of the night and after the ambush on Roy, Brand counted on the Manager to be holed up at the Warrior clubhouse, maybe slightly off guard with the attack that rendered his rival leader incapacitated for at least a short while. With a bit of haste, he planned on taking advantage of the Warriors brief triumph to confront the Manager on his home turf.
The big son of a bitch who hung around with Cartwright was a problem all its own. Brand considered himself tough, but the guy was a giant and Brand knew he wouldn’t last long if he came up against the man.
He mulled over different angles to deal with Cartwright’s bodyguard, but in the end, his thoughts kept arriving at the simplest solution, one of survival. The urge to pack a gun and shoot the bastard or any other Warrior who stood in the way fitted with his anger. Pay back for the carnage left behind by the recent attacks, reduce the enemies numbers. But the lawman from Brand’s past wrestled away the thoughts. Killing out of angst wasn’t his style.
He merged onto Deerfoot Trail and put pressure on the gas pedal. Time was of an essence if he had any hopes of accomplishing what he set out to do. Surprise and stupidity were the only two things he had as an ally at the moment, and the longer he waited to implement his plan, the less chance of surprise.
Twenty minutes later he signalled off the highway for a dirt road and drove Roy’s Black SUV onto the gravel path leading to the same Quonset he had visited a couple of days earlier when driving a stolen tractor-trailer containing a shipment of the Cartel’s illegal cargo.
In the shadows of the late hour, men slowly emerged into the glow of the head lights and watched the SUV roll into the back quarters of the hidden building, an array of weapons pointed at the vehicle. Brand shifted the truck into park, left the engine running with the high beams lighting the property and the building.
Sitting in the SUV’s cab, he watched as more armed men filtered from the cover of the bush rimming the yard. Brand fished in his pocket removing his cigarettes. His eyes busy scanning the building and the growing number of men. He took his time lighting a cigarette then slowly opened the door and emerged, hands held high, so he wasn’t accidentally shot before the bikers guarding the Quonset realized whom he was.
Brand kept his hands in the air and closed the SUV’s door with his foot before walking toward the men. One of the bikers advanced to meet Brand, the barrel of his rifle levelled at chest height.
“That’s far enough.” The biker warned. Brand stopped. Just his luck, in the darkness, none of Roy’s men could recognize him.
“I’m Roy’s brother.” Brand called out and sidestepped into the light flowing from the front of the SUV. “Put the guns down before somebody gets hurt. Roy’s been shot.” He added, doubting that the men hadn’t already heard.
The bikers guarding the Quonset snuck glances at each other, confused with Brand’s appearance. The standoff continued in the yard until a door on the side of the building opened and another man walked outside, his eyes looking over the commotion, stopping when he saw Brand.
Little Abe, Roy’s second in command. Abe had been with Roy since the conception of the Wolves of Satan conception and had fought side by side with Roy as the gang grew in notoriety.
Little Abe’s real name was Jesse, but his striking resemblance to Abe Lincoln, mostly due to the man growing his facial hair to resemble the late president. The first part of his nickname little was a misnomer. Little Abe was three times the size of the original. Abe Lincoln on steroids. Jesse grew into the name and was never without the facial hair the original Abe made famous.
He walked past the line of bikers surrounding the vehicle; recognition dawned on the man’s face changing his features as he drew closer to Brand.
“Put your gun’s away.” He shouted into the night air and walked closer. “We received word of the attempt on Roy.” Little Abe said. “So, why are you here?”
Brand related the shooting at the restaurant; then he switched to the reason for his visit. “I came to take the tractor-trailer, the one containing the stolen drugs. Is it still here?”
“Yep. It’s inside.” Little Abe motioned with his head. “What do you need that for?” The biker asked suspiciously. Brand traded glances with the bikers guarding the Quonset.
“I’m going to trade it for information.”
“I don’t know about that. I would have to clear this with Roy.”
“Roy is in the hospital. I don’t think he’d give a rats ass right about now.”
“Well. We’ll have to wait.”
“When I leave I'll be taking the truck and trailer. I am long past waiting." Brand challenged. “This isn’t a request. So either you help me or try to stop me.” He followed the lights of the truck and stepped past the line of men toward the building. His first look inside was directly at the 18-wheeler. The tractor looked like it hadn’t moved since the night that Brand had parked it in the Quonset.
Once inside, Roy’s men spread around Brand. The confused men glancing from the late night visitor to Little Abe, guns ready. Turning to Little Abe, Brand broke the standoff. “Is there a place we can talk?” The biker pointed across the building to an office crammed under a set of stairs.
Brand walked ahead of Little Abe. When the two entered the crammed office space Brand closed the door.
“Abe. I need the truck and I’d rather not create more troubles for you.” Brand stated. He briefly outlined the basics of his revenge attempt. Brand left his words for Roy’s lieutenant to ponder switching to another pressing matter.
“Roy told me about conversations he's been holding with the leaders of some non affiliated biker clans. Any chance you know their names.”
“Most of them.” Little Abe replied.
“Do you have the phone numbers to go with the names?” The biker shrugged, then went to the desk and fished around for a notebook. The two men began by calling associated chapters of the Wolves. To the crew leaders Roy had mentioned, the men explained the current situation. Roy’s offers to the men left on the table for those who pledged to help in the battle.
Finishing his calls, Brand left Abe behind in the office. He detoured toward a bench filled with tools. He glanced over the random wrenches and automotive paraphernalia spread on the counter.
The bulky head of a tire iron poked out among the assortment. Brand dug the large wrench free and hefted it in his hand. Not exactly the kind of metal he wished for going into battle but the tire iron could even the advantage if he ran across the huge Warrior biker, Don Bakker.
“Open the big doors.” He requested as he climbed into the cab. His eyes dropped to the steering column. Fortunately, the keys were still in the ignition. Little Abe climbed up the side of the truck and spoke through the window.
“You let me know when you find the assholes who shot Roy?”
“Count on it.” Brand replied.
“You gonna need some help?”
Brand thought about the request. “No. Better I do this alone. Things could go sideways pretty easily. You stay in touch with the Calvary. Keep on them, make sure they bring lots of manpower.”
Abe climbed down and hollered for the overhead door to open. Brand twisted the key in the ignition. The big engine rumbled to life. Columns of black exhausted lifted into the air. Brand shifted into reverse, nodded toward Little Abe and backed the truck out into the night.