O’Brien flicked the siren in his car off and on to catch the uniforms attention before yelling. “You’re going to kill the man!”
Rushing into the uniformed officers, he pushed the angry men away, standing between them and the source of their ire. The uniforms were acting on rage, driven from a tight bond of the brotherhood of law enforcement officers and the man before them accused of shooting a fellow policeman, the men oblivious to anything else.
O’Brien pulled one officer back and drove his fist into the man’s face knocking him to the ground. Then he dove into two others, the three men hitting the gravel in a tangle. Scrambling to his feet, he stood in front of Brand, daring the others to remove him.
“What in the hell are you guys thinking?” He scolded the uniformed officers, dusting off his coat as he stared them down.
“Get out of the way.” An older patrolman replied. The name Carl displayed on a patch on the man’s chest. “This man is a cop killer!” Then the senior patrolman screamed back. “He deserves what he’s getting…he deserves a damn bullet, not a cell and three hot meals!”
“You back off or the next bullet will be for you.” O’Brien threatened. He stood facing the group of policemen, daring them to move first. After a few heated moments, cooler heads prevailed. The incensed cops reigned in their fury.
“I’ll ride in the back with him,” O’Brien said lifting Brand from the ground and marching him to a waiting patrol car.
O'Brien escorted Brand through the process of fingerprinting, and mug shots then led to the basement and tossed him in a cell. When he asked for a washroom to clean up, his pleas fell on deaf ears. The next few hours he spent sitting on a stained bunk, dust and gravel ground into his clothing and skin mixing with blood and bruises before two officers escorted him to an interrogation room. With his hands cuffed to the table, the officers left him alone to stare at the walls. If this was their way of forcing him to talk, they were sorely mistaken, he thought.
He spent his time reviewing what had happened and what he had to do once he was released. The evidence against him was circumstantial and planted. There was no doubt in Brand's mind that he would be set free, and if not fully exonerated of the false charges, then at least with bail.
While he mulled over his misfortune and options, the door to the room opened. Detective O’Brien entered. Brand eyed the detective warily as the man approached the table, two steaming Styrofoam cups of coffee in the detective’s hands. O’Brien stepped to the table setting one of the cups in front of Brand. A humourless smile pulled at Brand's lips as he looked from the coffee up to the detective.
“What’s this, a peace offering…so let me guess, you're going to play the good cop now, am I right?” Brand said sarcastically. He reached for the coffee. It was unmistakably cop shop coffee. Bitter and burnt, but as he cradled the cup, the coffee tasted like a million dollars. He carefully sipped the hot liquid, feeling it burn down his parched throat.
Brand kept his eyes on the detective; the man remained standing and silent.
“Look, Coldstream, we need to clear things up.” The detective looked away. “I should have been upfront with you earlier,” he continued, “But, in my defense, I had no way of telling how deeply involved you were in this investigation.”
“About what?” Brand egged the detective on. “Clean on the fact that the Cartel has you wrapped around their finger.” He lashed out at the detective then relented, wondering how far he should push, after all the detective probably saved his life back at the bar. “I’ve noticed that grey Toyota of yours several times in my travels of late…did you gamble yourself into their debt or do you just enjoy playing on both sides of the law?”
Detective O’Brien let out a short laugh.
“Yes. I suppose I can see where you would get an idea like that.” O’Brien replied. “No, I’m not in anybody’s debt, and you can bet your ass that I’m on the right side of the line as you put it.” Pulling a chair away from the table, the Detective sat down and proceeded to explain his part in the scheme of things.
“I do not doubt that you did see my car at, shall I say, dubious haunts. I let Detective Walgreen borrow it…it seemed that his car had a run of bad luck thus resulting in several trips to a local garage.” O’Brien lifted his cup to his mouth, blew on the steaming coffee to cool it down, then took a sip. “I have to confess. The reason Detective Walgreen's car has made repeated visits to the mechanic lately is my fault. I purposely tampered with it.”
O’Brien kept talking. “I wanted him to use my car. I had it wired. I suspected he was working for the either the Warrior’s or the Cartel, so I needed a way to keep tabs on him." O'Brien lifted the cup back to his mouth.
"I'm new to the Calgary police department. I’ve only been in the province for the past few months transferring in from Surrey. I'm here on loan from the E Division of the RCMP. Part of the Drug Enforcement Branch.” O’Brien paused again staring at his cup. “No one in this department is aware of this fact, so I guess you could say that I’m undercover.”
Brand slowly sipped his coffee. “I am sure there is a point to all this?” He interrupted.
“There have been rumblings blowing over the mountains of the Cartel expanding their operations east into this city. Rumours surfaced about members of members of the local law also involved.
My bosses didn’t want me storming into the city and announcing my intentions. That would only put the bad guys on their best behaviour, so we managed to keep it under the radar.
I think by now you are probably aware of the Cartel and the business they run. We know they came to the country from South America and we also know most of the players. The thing is, the leader of the group remains a mystery. We have a list of names and corresponding charges but can’t find anyone to provide us with an identity, so we’ve been staying in the background, letting things unfold while we try to discover the man's identity and find his location.”
“That’s a pretty sad story, but I’m afraid I don’t know why you’re sharing this with me?” Brand asked. A drop of blood fell on the table beside his coffee. Lifting his arm, he swiped a sleeve across his chin and lips. His gaze remained on the splatter. “Why haven’t you arrested some of his lackeys, guys close enough to the top to name names?”
“Yeah, we have, but no matter what we threaten or promise, they all tell the same story. No one knows who the top dog is or where the boss hides. The group has run a similar operation on the coast for years and still, no matter what we do or who we arrest, not one person can or will cough up his name.” The detective set down his coffee in frustration, hard enough that the cream lightened coffee slopped over the edge of the cup. “It’s like the guys a flippin' ghost.”
“Dave, he was working undercover,” O’Brien said flatly. The detective’s words jolted Brand to attention. Brand pulled his focus away from the drop of blood drying on the table and met the detective’s stare.
“Dave…Dave Halperson?” Brand asked disbelievingly.
“Yes.” O’Brien pause. After several seconds of silent debating, O’Brien decided to bring Brand up to speed on his case.
“Dave’s worked undercover for our department for probably close to ten years now. On the coast, in Vancouver, he was very successful in tracking down a human smuggling ring that was coming up through Washington State and using ferries to sneak the people into the country. Part of the payment the smugglers required was that every illegal had to bring in a certain amount of contraband drugs when they crossed. If the illegals succeeded, they were free to go, but if we arrested them, well, what else. They were locked up until we turned them over to the American justice system.”
“So, what are you telling me? Because of Dave, the Cartel targeted my house?"
“I got to be honest with you. When I first arrived at the scene, I presumed you were involved. You and Dave hung around a lot. So, you can see where I would conclude that you were the one he was pursuing. I believed that he had evidence that you were involved with the drugs and he was keeping you close.
Dave called the other day and set a meeting for this past Saturday. Dave hadn’t been in touch for a while, and then, out of the blue, I get a call, and he wants to meet. He was very close to identifying the Moreno Cartel’s top man, but first, caution was needed to make sure his path was clear before retrieving the info.
Next thing that happens, gunmen attack your house, and Dave's lying face down on your table, dead. So I ask you, what was a guy to believe?” The detective said shrugging as a way of an apology.
“So you no longer think I'm involved?” Brand queried.
“No, not any longer.” The detective stood from the table, stretched, then paced in the confining space of the interrogation room. A short laugh came from O’Brien’s mouth. “If you are involved, you sure in the hell are going through a lot of pain and misery to keep your cover,” O'Brien said, stopped his pacing long enough to shoot a glance back at Brand. Brand sat hunched over the table, his hands in restraints, staring back. His clothes covered in dust and blood. Swollen blackish, purple bruises tightened up his facial features.
Brand watched the detective pace, confusion twisting his battered face.
“That’s a good story and what happened to Dave was shitty…but I still don’t understand why you are telling me this?”
“Alright. I guess I should get to the point. The point is I could use your help. The law limits my options for the ways I can gather information. You, on the other hand, don’t seem to be concerned how you come across the knowledge you’re seeking. That kind of help I most certainly would appreciate.”
“Whoa. I’m flattered, but if you fail to notice,” Brand raised his hands the short length the handcuffs would allow, “I am currently going to be residing in a jail cell.”
“Oh…that. You will be released shortly. While you were cooling your heels in the basement, I made some phone calls. That shooting of Detective Walgreen was an obvious attempt to frame you. I’ve talked to witnesses and studied the surveillance cameras in the vicinity. We have a picture of the Walgreen’s killer. A search is underway for the man.”
“How long have you known? Why did the patrols still think I was the shooter? Brand regarded the detective," Maybe you won't mind sharing that information with the uniforms in the patrol cars. Next time they stop me, I might not be so lucky.”
“I have revoked the BOLO,” O’Brien assured him.
“Good.” Brand said raising his handcuffed arms again. “If you don’t mind then…?”
Brand kept his gaze locked on the detective, anger adding a deeper hue to the bruising covering his face. He watched the man’s eyes break contact and travel down to his hands still fastened to the table with the steel cuffs before.
"First. Let me explain," O’Brien cleared his throat. “With Dave out of the picture, I had no way of finding his hidden information. I needed you desperate and willing to search.” The detective said in a quieter voice. “And again, I wasn’t sure what part you played. Dave worked for us and if you’re not part of the ring, who does that leave? The old guy, the man who disappeared from the hospital?”
“That’s ridiculous,” Brand stammered past his ire, “The man’s ancient and a drunk. When’s he’s sober, Jerry’s a stand-up guy but most of his spare time is spent in a bottle…no…never.”
The detective walked over and unlocked the handcuffs. “Dave stayed very close to you two. Why? Just so that he could tie feathers on tiny metal hooks with coloured string and drink your beer? Naw. He had a reason.” O’Brien planted his hands flat on the table and leaned in close to Brand. “So what do you say? Will you help?”
“I don’t know what to tell you. If the best plan you have is counting on me to help, then I think you’re going to have a bad day.” Brand replied rubbing his wrists.
Detective O’Brien offered to drive Brand back to his bike. The lot fronting Oscar's bar sat vacant in the late afternoon. Brand’s helmet lay in the gravel near the motorbike. Dusting the headgear, he gently slipped it over his swollen, battered head and climbed onto the seat. A standing push against the bike’s kick-start lever and the metal two-wheeler roared to life.
Brand pointed the motorcycle toward the southeast. What he needed was to clean up, change clothes, grab a decent meal and wash it down with copious amounts of rye. O’Brien left a card before he departed and let Brand know that his house was all his again, it was no longer a crime scene.
The promise of a shower and clean clothing disappeared as he signalled off of Deerfoot, rerouting past a cluster of businesses in the direction of his home.
The front door sat ajar when he climbed the stairs onto his deck. He bent and studied the lock. Twisting it, he discovered it would no longer work. Brand stepped over and around his scattered belongings and made a careful search of the interior. The past few days made him reluctant to be complacent.
Relieved to find no surprises waiting, he grabbed a chair from the dining room and carried it to the front entrance jamming it tight under the doorknob. Time permitting, he’d have to replace the lock, but that could wait until he at least had a shower and cleaned up.
Sitting at the table, he nursed a rye and coke, working the detective’s words together with pieces of information he had uncovered. A lot of holes remained that needed filling, bits of information to complete the puzzle.
Dave being undercover was a big piece to add, but how did that fit into the situation. If Dave had proof to blow the investigation open, then why would he spend the evening drinking beer and tying flies instead of meeting with O’Brien. The information had to be more important than drinking with a couple of friends. O’Brien said he would retrieve the data when it was safe to do so, but, safe from who or what?
Dave wasn’t hanging around because Brand was involved in any of this…what was he missing. The only other person was Jerry and he sure and the hell wasn’t the ringleader of a Colombian crime syndicate. Shit, the old boy would no doubt use the drugs personally instead of selling them. Sure. He got caught up in gambling debts to the Warriors and admitted to making some illegal runs for them, but a drunk like Jerry sure wasn’t leading a multi-national drug cartel.
Suddenly Brand’s mind snapped back to Jerry. With all the excitement he had forgotten about his friend. Days had passed since Jerry disappeared from the hospital. O’Brien never said anything about locating him, so where was he, and was he still alive? Would the Colombians kill Jerry once they found out that he was a hopeless drunk and lost the phone?
It seemed that everything came back to the missing phone. What had Jerry recorded on the device that could be so important? Even video of the Cartel boss wouldn't be that big of a deal. No more than a minor inconvenience for a man hidden in some South American hideaway where no Canadian law enforcement agency could touch him. Unless, unless the head of the Moreno Cartel wasn't out of the country. Brand indulged this thought. The prospect of the drug lord lurking nearby, maybe even holed up in the city. Suddenly the phone became much more significant and would better explain the Cartel's need to get their hands on it.
Brand walked to the fridge and poured another rye. Thinking of phones, he had his turned off and decided it was safe to power the device back on, the worry of the cops tracking him now a problem in the past. He carried his drink back to the table and sat down waiting for the phone to run its cycle.
He looked over his ransacked house and decided against cleaning up for now. The funny thing was that the fly he was tying that Friday evening was still sitting in the vice, the vice and the materials lay undisturbed where he had left them. The rest didn’t matter right now if anyone else broke into his house there would be little else they could do to cause damage.
His phone chimed, bringing him out of his musing. Thirteen messages were waiting for him. The first hand full switched between announcing that he was a lucky winner of a free trip to the Caribbean, several robo calls from local businesses and a couple triple eight numbers from phone solicitors. Stuck near the end, a number he didn’t recognize appeared over a short time span. The caller spoke with a thick Latin accent.
“Mr. Coldstream…you are nothing if you are not a pain in my side. I have your friend here….” There was silence, and then he heard a loud, painful scream, a scream with a few maritime adjectives thrown in and a Lord Tundering Jesus, Boy. “I know you are looking for your friend’s phone. A phone that you know by now is of the utmost importance an associate of mine, so that I will make you a deal…find the phone and return it and then perhaps I stop my camaradas from removing your friend's body parts.
He remains alive for now, but do not take long to decide. Your amigo will run out of appendages.” The connection ended abruptly. Rojas' call was recorded earlier. Likely around the time the cops had interrupted the Warriors trying to kill him.
Brand worked on his drink while listening and deleting the messages. The phone number from the Colombians he saved into the phones memory. Arriving at the last voice mail, he was no longer paying close attention to the voices on the phone. His mind was busy searching for a different angle to locate the lost phone. He still had one more location to check. It was to be the next on his list when the bikers confronted him at Oscar’s.
“BRAND…HELP…WE’RE UNDER ATTACK. A FEW OF ROY’S MEN ARE HERE, BUT WE’RE PINNED IN THE HOUSE BY GUNFIRE…
Brand’s attention shifted back to his phone. He started the recording over again and listened to Susan’s frightened voice. The last time he replayed the message, he checked the time the call arrived, 35 minutes earlier.
He ran for the door, one hand scrolling through his phone searching for Roy’s number. He pinned the device between his ear and his shoulder while it connected, his hands busy with the throttle. Revving the bike's engine, he raced out of the neighbourhood.
Struggling to maintain control of the bike as he fought to hold the phone to his ear, Brand pushed his luck, precariously weaving around traffic and slipping illegally past vehicles as he gained the route to lead him east toward the outskirts of the city. Brand continued recklessly, the speed of the motorbike climbing, he shifted in the seat, dodging in and out, around and through the two lanes of traffic, ignoring red lights and racing north first before he had the chance to swing the powerful two-wheeler in an easterly direction.
Fumbling to redial Roy’s number while he drove, the front tire of the bike came within inches of contacting a merging pickup truck. Brand looked up from the phone screen with scarcely enough room to avoid a dangerous collision.
Finally, on the third attempt his call connected with Roy.
“Your house is under attack…” He yelled above the roar of the motorcycle. “I’m on my way now!” Before his brother could answer, Brand ended the call and stuck the phone into a pocket then cranked the throttle on the bike. The front wheel lifted briefly then squealed as it contacted the pavement, the bike leaping as he tried to erase the miles to Roy’s acreage as quickly as possible.
His first thought was that he hoped he was in time and then the reality of the situation reared its head. He was riding into a gunfight with only a bike for a weapon. He’d been in worst positions than this, but it was still a stupid idea, one that he had no choice but to continue.
His mind worked through a few quick scenarios, although he had to admit, a bike against a group of armed men had a low probability rate of success. He returned his attention to arriving there first; the how and why would work themselves out.
As he turned onto the highway that bordered Roy’s property, lady luck toyed with him. The traffic on the busy two-lane road was substantial. Heavy traffic equalled traffic noise equalled whoever was laying siege to Roy’s place wouldn’t notice the roar of the bike coming. The advantage of surprise would cut the odds somewhat in his favour.
Nearing the drive way leading to the yard, he noticed the pair of metal gates hanging askew, the gravel driveway to the house unblocked and deserted.
He quickly glanced behind. The traffic was still lined up, the loud thrum hiding the bikes roaring engine. He slowed slightly and then leaned into the turn to maximize the bikes forward momentum while going through the gate and carrying toward the house. As he made the crossing, a man stepped from behind a gate pillar. Taking the man's appearance in stride, Brand shot the bike forward. His shoulder used as a ram to smash the gunman into the gatepost.
A short distance ahead, a group of men knelt together using the metal body of a car for protection as they fired bullets towards the house. Instincts took over. With the traffic on the highway camouflaging the noise from the bike engine, he sped closer to the group. Timing his movements, Brand squeezed the front brake. The rear tire skidded forward. With the bike's momentum sliding in the direction of the shooters, he leaned away from the group. The bike started to lie down in the gravel driveway and skid. Brand dove. He pushed away from the falling motorcycle with his feet.
One of the gunmen turned, his voice rising in surprise, echoing over the calamity of rifle fire and traffic. The man yelped as the bike and a wall of dust and gravel hurtled toward him, but was too slow to react. The wall of metal and grit chewed across the driveway and into the men gathered behind the car, the men toppling like bowling pins.
The careening bike slammed the men straight back into the side of the car with such force and awkwardness that the sedan used as cover by the gunmen rocked. Cries of surprise rose into the evening air with the dust from the impact followed by screams of pain erupting from the unfortunate few pinned between the bike and the car.
Brand planted a foot in the gravel slowing his slide, rolled through the dust and gravel before rising to his feet. In the screening dust, he rushed after the bike with hopes of retrieving a fallen weapon or two. The air was thick and masking. Brand rushed through the veil of confusion emerging among the fallen gunmen. Disarming the few who still clutching their firearms, he retrieved a rifle with a spare magazine. Brand sidestepped the men pinned against the car by the bike and moved to take cover behind a second vehicle, cautiously scanning the yard for more assailants.
The screams of the wounded and broken men grew quiet leaving the yard silent, cut off from the highway by the wall of sound from the evening traffic. While he was catching his breath, a pair of black SUV’s raced into the yard kicking up more dust. The doors of the SUV flew opened, and Brand heard, rather than saw, boots land on the gravel driveway followed by the arming of numerous of weapons.
Several of the weapons sighted on Brand before the bellow of Roy’s voice told them to stop. Brand listened as Roy barked orders at his men, assessing the situation as he moved, then he watched several of the Wolves leave the safety of the vehicles and spread out across the yard and toward the house, Roy’s men carefully crossing the yard using the few bits of concealment available.
The minutes ticked by as Brand sighted down the rifle’s barrel at the house, his ears pricked for the sounds of gunfire. A few sporadic shots rang through the yard and then silence once again. Time passed before Roy’s men appeared at the back of the house signalling that the fight was over.
Brand stood up as Roy left the SUV and strode toward him.
“You all right?” Roy’s gaze stayed on Brand’s swollen face. “Did you hit the gravel with your head?” He asked then looked away studying the area surrounding the house watching his men comb the yard.
Brand dusted off his clothes. “Another long story.” He replied and followed Roy.
The two men walked toward the two-story building. Roy called to the men inside the house, shouting an all clear in case they were fidgety and mistook the group standing in the front yard for the attackers and shot at them as they approached.