Entering the flow of traffic, Brand switched the wipers on high to remove the water pouring down. He hesitated at the exit, letting cars merge into his lane between his truck and the men from the casino. Several car lengths back, combined with the pouring rain, should help mask his truck, he figured, while he matched the truck's route through traffic.
The old Ford turned left at the lights off Highway One onto Sarcee Trail. Brand was forced to rush the lights, running across the intersection on a yellow light, in his attempt to keep the truck in view.
The next set of lights he was five-car lengths back, the wipers on his truck struggling to clean the windshield. The light turned green. The car in front of Brand slowly jerked ahead before coming to a complete stop, almost catching Brand off guard. He drove the brake pedal to the floor in order avoid rear-ending the stopped vehicle. The car stalled, his path forward blocked, the disabled vehicle’s four-ways began a slow red flash.
Frustrated, Brand let a car pass, clearing the neighbouring lane before he was able to manoeuvre around the prone car. He wheeled back into the right lane behind another automobile, this one slamming on the breaks as the light now turned from green to red. Brand slammed the steering wheel a couple of times in disgust. Up ahead, he watched the taillights from the old Ford disappear into the darkening evening rain.
On the next green light, he continued driving east. Knowing full well the other truck would too be far ahead for him to catch, he decided to play a hunch. If he were right, he would meet up with the men from the casino, if not, he would write the evening off and try a different approach.
Winding his way down the rain slicked highway, Brand followed behind the traffic, taking the overpass onto Sarcee Trail as it crossed back over 16 Ave and the river valley. Sheets of rain splashed up from the tires of the cars in front, the trucks wipers working furiously to remove the spray building on the windshield. Traffic crawled as the rain continued to pour down in torrents. June in Calgary meant rain and lots of it.
At the bottom of the hill, he followed the road over the Trans-Canada highway and made for the bowels of Bowness. Brand slowed his speed as he entered the northwest district of the city. The old area was experiencing a renewal boom. He drove past old mid century properties, some cleaned up and standing proudly on their large lots, others run down, in need of paint and repairs, yards with knee high weeds and scrap stacked on lawns, fences leaning or fallen, long forgotten. Among the old properties, developers were buying land and building new multifamily dwellings. The northwest community a conglomeration of old and abused, mixed with new high-end houses.
Blocks short of the Bow River and Bowness Park, Brand slowed his speed a few kilometers more as he passed the large clubhouse of the Hell’s Warriors bike gang. Not much unlike the Wolves clubhouse, the Warrior’s property consumed two huge lots. A high fence blocked the outside world from spying on the private and mostly illegal matters that took place inside the fenced off area.
Studying the wall as he drove by, Brand made a note of the construction and fortitude of the perimeter fence. He had no immediate plans to access the house or the property, but he couldn’t help notice the work and reinforcement of the structure. A small army would be needed to try and breach the compound. Considering the type of activities the bike gang was involved in, the extra security made sense.
Parked out front the gate, blocking the entrance to the biker’s property the old Ford truck sat next to a grey Toyota forerunner. Brand had almost come to a complete stop by this time and was surprised by the sound of a car horn. He looked in the trucks rear-view mirror. The driver of the car behind gesturing for him to get out of the way and quit blocking the road.
Brand pressed the gas pedal and signalled for the next turn. A quarter block away he pulled the truck to the curb and stopped to think over the situation. Roy was right about the Warriors operating out of a casino. In the few hours Brand observed the poker games, the card player escorted from the table had accumulated a sizeable loss. One he obviously didn’t have the cash to cover. And now, the gambler was driven straight to the Wolves clubhouse.
Brand set the thought aside. Looking at the surrounding buildings, he searched for a suitable spot to park his truck. Somewhere close enough to watch over the compound and avoid detection.
He might have to settle in for some time while waiting for tiny and the lonesome loser to leave the clubhouse. He wanted to talk to the gambler, see how much of Roy’s words rang true. He needed to know the truth about the gang running the casino and if they were preying upon victims of gambling misfortunes. Trading favours for accumulated debts, like convincing gamblers to run drugs in lieu of payment for the money they owed.
Shrugging deeper into his coat, he placed his hat back on his head, then left the shelter of the truck and stepped out into the torrential downpour. The fence surrounding the biker compound, while working to keep prying eyes from peering into the yard, also worked the other way and blocked the view from inside the house as well. So unless tiny was standing guard at the gate, the chances of the presence of a solitary figure standing in the evening rain were probably slim.
He walked to the corner of the block and stood against an old brick building, under a ravaged overhang, and looked at the biker property, his eyes never straying long from the solid gate leading into the yard.
The overhang he stood under did little to shelter him from the falling rain. If he remained where he was, the rain would soak through his clothes in a short time. He spent the next few minutes scoping out the streets and buildings in the surrounding area trying to locate a place where he could hide his truck and still have a decent vantage point to continue watching the front gate.
Hustling back to the truck, he quickly circled the block. He wedged the vehicle onto a lot littered with salvage material, a half block short of the clubhouse, parked and shut off the engine. From here, he felt confident his lingering would go undetected.
James Cartwright, known to his associates as the “Manager,” the leader of the Hell’s Warriors motorcycle gang, lounged on a couch in the living room of the clubhouse. A rerun of an old UFC fight broadcast from the TV.
The front door of the clubhouse opened. An average sized man wearing a drenched coat and ball cap stumbled into the house. On the man’s heels, one of James’ trusted lieutenants, Don Barker, the man responsible for security at the Millennium Casino stepped out of the raining weather and into the house.
The Manager watched with amusement as Barker grabbed the smaller man by the jacket collar and pulled him further into the house. Cartwright was constantly amazed at Barker. The man was the size of any two average people put together, and he almost had to turn sideways to enter the front door. The thing about Barker that was most impressive was the big man’s ability and ease to do his job. Very rarely did Barker ever have to resort to violence to get his way; most people were cowered and subservient in Barker's presence, no threats necessary.
Out of the corner of his eye, the Manager caught the movement as one of the men sitting in the room watching the fight left his chair and walked down the hall. A bedroom door closed screening the man from the scrutiny of the unlucky fellow Barker escorted into the house. The detective was still touchy about outsiders seeing him among the gang members.
The detective would surely come around to accepting his fate like all the others who’ve found themselves in similar situations. The bike gang owned the detective now. The officer of Calgary’s finest owed a sizable debt to the casino and by association to the Warriors.
Cartwright chuckled to himself. So, maybe the tables on the casino floor were rigged, so what. The man was a bloody detective, after all, If he stupid enough to be played, too bad. At the casino, the detective was allowed to borrow vast amounts to feed his gambling addiction and over the last couple years, with excessive losses to the casino and growing stack of incriminating evidence, he had no choice but to offer his services, reluctant or not.
Turning his attention back to Barker and the new mark, Cartwright left his seat on the couch and motioned the two men to follow him. The Manager led Barker and his guest down the hallway toward the back of the house where he had an office set up.
He walked through the door and left it open for Barker and the other guy. Cartwright walked over to the desk and sat on the front corner waiting for the two to enter. He eyed the smaller man with both disdain and amusement.
“Close the door.” He ordered Barker. He waited several more minutes, then stood back up and walked behind his desk, seating himself. “Well, Chad. I thought we had this gambling problem of yours ironed out and now, here you are, once again. What in the hell am I supposed to do with you?
Instead of learning your lesson, you end up back at the Casino. What? You think you’re smart enough to enter our facility and…win your money back? Cartwright shrugged his shoulders, shaking his head. “Did you run up another loss?” The Manager looked at Barker for confirmation.
“I…I. I’m sorry Mister Manager. I tried to do what you told me but I needed a way to raise the money, and I was feeling lucky…I honestly thought that this time would be different….” Chad Worenko stuttered and wilted in front of the Managers piercing eyes.
“How much does he owe us now, Don?” The Manager asked. He already knew the answer, but he wanted to impress the high amount of debt owed by the defeated gambler.
“Little over two hundred k,” Barker responded, looking first at his boss and then glancing down at the cowering man standing in front of him.
“You drive a truck, don’t you Chad?” The Manager asked as if he wasn’t sure but again, he already knew this, along with the fact that the driver standing before him had been set up and played all along.
The Warrior’s new source of income came from drugs brought into the city from across the mountains. Drugs smuggled out of South America into Canada by a Columbian drug cartel that had set up shop on the west coast, years back. After the Warrior’s worked out a distribution deal with the Colombians, they looked to recruit new mules to carry the products.
They avoided the usual types of transport. Methods the police were well aware of and especially good at ferreting out. An idea was born to use law abiding, hard working folks, those who lived their lives off the cop’s radar, to move the drugs.
The problem being, law abiding men and women, didn’t volunteer to move the drugs, so a method of bringing these people under the gang's power, fixed games of chance at the Casino. The deal with the cartel inviting the Warriors to share in the use of the casino benefited both parties. Now, volunteers were almost begging to haul the illegal cargo as opposed to the alternatives faced by the accumulation of overwhelming debts at the tables.
The plan operated with a high level of success. The Warriors had people from all walks of life indebted to them. Police, lawyers, and even a few judges in their pockets to help smooth legal problems, which rose from time to time. These types of volunteers were certainly useful in keeping the law off his back, but the Manager never dreamt of using them as mules to transport his goods. No. Losers like Chad came in handy for errands like that.
The Manager paused as if he was struggling to find an alternative solution to the gambler's problem.
“Well, lucky for you, I do have a job that your skills may be suitable. Your cooperation will be looked upon kindly in regards to repaying your debt, but if you can’t help us, I will understand. Don has other methods of collecting from those in debt.” He finished, the answer a foregone conclusion, but why not let Chad believe he had a choice. Cartwright looked up at the giant standing behind the despondent gambler, an evil grin spreading across his face.
The truck driver looked at the manager, nervously glanced up at the giant standing behind and gulped before blurting out his answer afraid that the manager might rescind the offer.
“Ah…sure…what ever you need.” Chad squeaked out.
“Good. Good.” The Manager said smiling at the truck driver like a used car salesman unloading a piece of crap auto to an unsuspecting mark.
“I need a shipment of…shall we say, produce, picked up from a warehouse in Castlegar the day after tomorrow? You know where that is, right?” The gambler shook his head in confirmation. “Someone will call ahead and make the arrangements. The men at the warehouse will load your trailer and give you further instructions. Any questions?” He asked as he wrote down the address of the warehouse in Castlegar for his newly enlisted driver.
Chad reluctantly palmed the slip of paper and turned toward the door. Cartwright spoke from behind. “I don’t need to remind you to not talk to anyone about our deal, do I?”
Chad shook his head in agreement.
“Don. Give our friend a ride back to his vehicle. Thanks.” He then turned his attention to some papers on his desk dismissing the two.
When the door to the room closed, Cartwright left his desk and moved over to a bar sitting in the corner of his office. He poured himself a Jack on the rocks and stopped to gaze into a mirror behind the bar.
The reflection in the mirror showed a middle-aged man, grey hair starting to creep into his dark brown locks. A weathered, scarred face man returned his stare. Not handsome but probably not the homeliest face either. His face was getting puffy from hours of sitting around and too many drinks, his steely blue eyes, red streaked, tired looking, the five o’clock shadow on his face thickening to a scruffy, unkempt look.
He flexed his arms. He still spent hours pumping iron in an attempt to fight off the ravages of the advancing years. The tight t-shirt he wore still showed a well-muscled body. Until he was ready to ride off into the sunset and leave this life, he had no choice. To remain on top of this gang of outlaws, he had to be the toughest, meanest man in the room all the time or yield to a stronger, younger member. He knew that nobody in his group was up for the challenge. Not yet any ways, but he had to stay prepared, wary and ready to stave off any threat to his authority without hesitation. The men he led knew he was able. He had done it before and he sure and the hell wasn’t opposed to doing it again.
The only man in his crew that he might not be able to whip his ass in a brawl was big, Don Barker but the man was fiercely loyal and if that loyalty ever faded. Cartwright pondered the thought. Barker would be dealt with like others before. In this business nice guys didn’t finish first, they usually died.
The Manager took his drink and left his office. In the hallway, he stopped outside to another door and rapped lightly.
“You can come out now; our guest has left.” He said sardonically. He had little respect or regard for the detective who had ducked into the room, but the man proved helpful at times, and for this reason, Cartwright put up with the man's quirks.
Cartwright leaned against the wall as he waited for the detective to emerge.
“You know I can’t be seen hanging around here with you guys.” The detective whined.
Cartwright rolled his eyes at this statement; maybe the guy’s helpfulness had almost run its path, he’d be glad to deal with this asshole personally.
“So you were telling me where your investigation was in regards to the missing phone I asked you to find.” Cartwright pushed off from against the wall and headed back to his office, the police detective in close pursuit.
“Well, there’s very little to tell. When the shooters attacked the house, they didn’t have time to search the place before they were gunned down. What a fucking mess,” the detective whined. “All those assholes managed to accomplish were to involve the whole damn police force. One of the three died at the house, the old fishing guide is critical in the hospital, he's still in a coma, by the way, and the third guy, the home owner, the one who shot our guys, is not cooperating. I confiscated their cell phones, but none contained any recordings or videos, and so far we haven’t found the one we need, if it even exists.”
Cartwright locked his eyes on the man. “Have you checked the other homes?"
“We tore apart one and were searching the other, but the guys were interrupted. One of the men from the house attack, a Brand Coldstream, keeps getting in the way. We had the old guys daughter, but this son of a bitch showed up. There was nothing I could do.” The detective pleaded his case.
Cartwright turned in his chair and faced the window watching the rain assault the glass. He remained quiet for several minutes before spinning back to face the detective.
“Excuses are not going to find that phone, and you know what will happen if," the Manager glared at the detective, "Say, some real police officers get their hands on the information contained in the phone.”
“The old man could have been blowing smoke about the recording for all we know. He might have concocted the whole damn story get us off his back.” The detective answered locking eyes with the leader of the Hells Warriors.
“If the Colombians are worried about this phone, then we’re worried about it. One of those men stole it, and they want us to get it back. So why don’t you pretend that you are a competent detective and find the damn thing, just in case the phone recording does exist, oh, and maybe before it falls into the wrong hands?” Cartwright slammed his fist on the top of the desk to emphasize his growing anger on the subject. “So get your ass out of here and do what you're paid to do."
The detective glared, his face red with pent up rage.
“Sayonara.” The Manager said pointing to the office door.