Brand looked down from the balcony surveying the aftermath. Roy stood in the middle of the room; members of his bike gang combed the littered floor herding the surrendered rivals into a cluster in front of their boss.
Customers climbed to their feet. The uninjured gazing around dazed and confused as they made their way through a maze of overturned furniture and past the wounded and out into the sanctity of the open street under the veil of street lamps.
While the adrenaline slowly released from his battered body, Brand let his rifle slip to the floor. His hand swiped the side of his face. His fingers came away wet with blood that had trickled and clung to the stubble on his face. His cheek cut when wood chips sprayed from the bullet riddled wooden posts.
A disturbing thought occurred. Actually. Two troubled thoughts circled Brand's mind. Fishing his phone from a pocket, he pushed the power button and dialled Susan’s cell. If the cartel knew about Roy visiting his club, they might also know where to locate her. Concern gnawed at the pit of his stomach while the phone slowly connected and rang.
The third ring in, Susan answered.
“Hey. How are you doing,” Brand asked casually. “You’re still awake?” he asked surprised.
“I was restless,” she confessed, “I couldn’t sleep but I’m fine. How about you? Where are you? It’s late.” she asked, her words fast and underlined with worry. Brand hesitated as the weight of the cartel’s involvement fell heavily on his shoulders.
“I’m at the club with Roy. Sorry to call so late.” Brand apologized. The attack on Roy’s club went unmentioned; the details could wait for another time.
“At the club with Roy? Is everything fine?” she asked suspiciously. “Roy wanted me accompany him. Said I could use the diversion,” she explained. “I was too tired, so I stayed put.” She paused. “Are you calling about dad? Did you find him?”
Brand’s hopes that Jerry’s departure from the hospital was of his choosing and by now had contacted his daughter. His disappointment added to the burden crowding his mind.
“No, but I’m looking. I’ll find him,” He assured, ending the call. He sighed, happy that at least Susan remained free of the cartel's clutches. Then, a second wave of concern replaced the first.
Was it luck that the cartel decided to attack the club the same evening Roy was in the building or was someone feeding them information. Another coincidence that Brand added to the burgeoning stack of troubling facts.
He filed the thought and descended the stairs into the pit of the club. Staying on the outside of the roundup, he pushed across the floor, stopping beside Roy. A gash of blood and torn fabric sliced across Roy’s shoulder. The big man paced back and forth, his large form towering over the unwelcome intruders, the Wolves’ leader stopping periodical to stare down at the wounded and defeated rivals. The men, in turn, glared back with defiant faces.
“Who’s in charge?” Roy growled, his pacing continued. Inadvertently, several of the group turned their heads toward a man near the end of the line. Roy walked over to the man, grabbed him by the collar and pulled him aside. Roy barked a question only to have the man answer in Spanish. Growing angrier, Roy lifted the smaller man off the floor, took a couple of long strides away from the gathering and slammed the diminutive Colombian hard into a wall.
“English, you asshole.” Roy snapped at the man. “Why this place? What made you attack this club tonight?” He repeated. “How did your bosses know we’d be here?”
The small Colombian looked up at Roy then he pointed to Brand. The man disregarded Roy’s question. Instead, he focused on Brand.
“That one. Our instructions were to find the man who destroyed our warehouse.” The man spat back at Roy.
“Well, how in the hell would you know he’d show up here? I wasn’t even aware that he planned to stop in. You got a weasel hiding among my men feeding you information?” Roy asked holding the smaller man by the throat as he twisted and let his gaze search the faces of his men collected in the room.
“We are not so stupid as you think, Señor Thundercloud. It 's hard for you to hide.” Came the reply. “Let us leave with that bandida, and perhaps the disruption to your businesses will slow.” The small Colombian spoke defiantly. Roy’s massive hand tightened around the Colombians throat. He glanced at Brand, shook his head and turned his attention back to his men.
“Calvin, you and Saddler watch these guys until the cops arrive. Let them deal with this trash. Make certain the wounded get treated. This tough guy is coming with me,” Roy explained. His hand wrapped tightly around the small Colombians throat, the smaller man gasping as his face reddened. “I’ve got more questions I need him to answer.” The blast of sirens drifted in from the street.
“Let’s get out of here. We’ll take your truck.” Roy motioned to Brand.
Roy gave Brand directions to a park, deserted at the late hour. Brand parked behind a grove of trees where the interrogation would be hidden from the sight of prying eyes. Roy dragged the Colombian away from the truck, pinning the man against a tree. Brand stood by the truck while Roy interrogated the smaller man. Other than providing his name, Jander Varela and the admission he worked for the cartel, the man mumbled unintelligible answers to Roy’s questions. Despite a cloud of fear ringing the man’s eyes, he kept his face passive defiantly challenging the man twice his size.
Roy tired of the Varela’s refusal to comply and several times anger overcame his emotions. The attacks on his clubs, the ambushing of his men leaving them either wounded or dead was too powerful for even he to remain calm and objective.
With his huge hand, he slammed the smaller Colombian into the trunk of the tree. Brand walked the few feet to where Roy interrogated the Varela; concern for what his brother might do, worrying him. Seeing Roy lose his patience, Brand put a hand on his brother’s outstretched arm, Jander Varela sagging from the repeated collisions with the base of the tree.
“Enough. You’ll kill the little bugger.” Brand cautioned. “He’s not going to talk, and dead he’ll be of little use.” Brand’s reasoning enough to make Roy pause. Opening his hand, Roy let his prisoner fall to the dew soaked ground.
“What should we do with him?” Brand asked. Roy pondered the question then knelt beside the beaten Colombian.
“I’m going to let you live. The next time you see your boss, tell him I said to FUCK OFF and leave my turf alone. You inform the idiot, if he doesn’t cool it, he might anger me, and I can guarantee he won’t like the consequences.” The small Colombian smirked at Roy.
With incredible speed for a man his size, Roy shot his hand forward, grabbing the man around the throat, as he stood. In his rage, he lifted the man three feet off the ground. Roy brought Valera’s face close to his own, his dark brown eyes deepening to black with the burning rage he felt. Through gritted teeth, Roy spoke quietly to the man.
“You tell El Shitto if he doesn’t leave us alone, I…will…destroy…everything he cherishes before I rip his head from his body and shove it up his ass. COMPRENDE!” Roy’s finger dug tightly into the man’s throat while he looked the squirming smaller man squarely in the face. The Colombian’s eyes grew wide with fear.
Roy grabbed the Colombian’s hand firmly. He eyes unwavering. Tears slipped from the Colombians eyes, rolling lazily down his cheeks as Roy slowly squeezed the man’s much smaller hand. With the sound of snapping bones, Roy eased his grip. “Now get the hell out of here.” He uttered and threw the man several yards away from him.
Jander Valera hit the ground and rolled several times before stumbling to his feet. With his crushed fingers securely held in his other hand, he looked back at Roy before hobbling away.
Brand watched the interaction, ready to stop Roy from going too far. He remained still as the Colombian ran across the park.
“What are you going to do now?” He asked his brother.
Roy walked over to him and shrugged. “I’ll give the assholes a few days to see if my message was received. If this war escalates, the city will turn into a war zone. This turf war is still just simmering, but if the Colombians and their pet bikers persist, we’ll take the fight to them.” Roy swung his head sadly, his brows furrowed. “The city won’t survive a full blown gang war.”
“Any more clubs get invaded, if more civilians get hurt,” Roy continued, “then police forces from across the country will be summoned here to help. The Calgary cops are far too few to handle a battle this big.”
As the two men walked back to Brand’s truck, Brand remembered the call from O’Brien earlier in the evening and piped up.
“I’ll need to borrow a bike if you can spare one. If the cops are looking for me, my truck will be easier for them to track.”
Roy stopped and smiled. “I’ll have one of the boys fit a bike with training wheels for you?”
Brand awoke late the next morning. The sun poked past rolling banks of light cloud and filtered into the room through openings in the curtains. Friday morning and a week since the shooting at his house that starting the ball on a bad run of luck cascading down a hill.
Leaving Roy at his acreage, he exchanged his truck for a motorbike and cruised back into the sleeping city looking for a small, out of the way motel to spend what remained of the night. His search wound from the east end to the northwest part of the city, well into the Warriors territory.
Lying in bed, he stared at the ceiling. The attack on the nightclub melded into his dreams disrupting the few hours of sleep his body longed for. Aches and pains ran up the side of his body prodding him awake each time he drifted back to sleep and tossed or moved.
Slowly, he climbed out of bed and stepped into the shower. The water blasting hotter than he usually preferred. He pressed his hand against the shower wall for support and let the scalding heat cascade down, soothing the tender purple and red bruises. The water easing the stiffness in his joints and allowing him to shake the dullness caused by the lack of sleep and helped focus his mind on the new day.
Swiping his hand across the steamed mirror, he caught a blurred glimpse of his face. Turning his head, he eyes paused on the myriad of scrapes and nicks from his hairline down to his jaw. Various sizes of red welts remained, a reminder of the flying shrapnel from the night before.
With a towel wrapped around his waist, he strode out of the bathroom, made a cup of coffee and gingerly eased his aching body into a chair before reaching for his cigarette package. A lot had happened the past week that he needed to sort out. It seemed like a lifetime ago that the pair of gunmen had stormed his house and the chaos that ensued. So much had happened since then to send his life spiralling out of control that he had to take a step back and decide what to do and how to do it.
His thoughts narrowed to the lost cell phone Jerry had mentioned. Finding the phone was his top priority. His friend, he firmly believed, had undoubtedly been kidnapped by the cartel. If he found the phone and used it as leverage with either the authorities or the cartel themselves, the evidence might stop the mayhem that was to follow. Roy's warning to the cartel wasn’t going to carry far, he figured, so he’d have to find another way to end this, and now, the murder of Detective Walgreen complicated matters further. Hell. Not just complicated but the killing of a police officer would have the entire force hunting if they believed he was responsible.
If O’Brien were involved with the cartel, Brand knew he would be hard pressed to prove that he didn't kill O'Brien's partner?
Brand finished his coffee and stood to get dressed. Jerry had sworn that the phone contained incriminating video of cartel members along with footage of city cops working with the gang. If O’Brien were on the videotape, filmed alongside the cartel, the video would carry a lot of weight in clearing his name.
Damn, Brand shook his head. He wished Jerry were around to ask which cops were in the video.
Dressed in jeans and t-shirt with a leather jacket to ward off the cool June day, Brand peered from behind the curtains at the open motel parking lot. He smoked another cigarette while meticulously scanning the area, not only close to his hotel room and the borrowed bike, but also beyond the paved lot. The few vehicles in his line of sight were blanketed in the morning due, no signs of being occupied.
His stomach rumbled as he stepped from the room crossing the sidewalk to the waiting motorbike, his hand sweeping moisture from the seat and handlebars. He considered a fresh plate of breakfast, complete with coffee and a newspaper, but if the cops were hunting him for the Walgreen’s murder, he was certain the local media would be sharing his picture.
He decided on a breakfast burger from a nearby burger chain. Usually, younger people operated the drive through windows, the type that didn’t spend a lot of time watching the news.
Brand sat at a picnic table eating his ham and egg burger sipping a tolerable cup of black coffee. Distracted, he replayed his last conversation with Jerry. All the small details Jerry had spoken of about where and when the phone went missing. Jerry’s memories were foggy of the night in question. He vaguely remembered a night of drinking close to his house in Bowness, at a local bar in the strip mall in the Montgomery area.
Brand finished his coffee and burger and climbed onto the bike. He wasn’t far from the area, maybe twenty minutes in the mid morning traffic. Entering the flow of morning commuters, he steered the bike away from the motel and toward the southwest part of town.
His destination, a strip mall of assorted businesses sat deserted when he rolled into the parking lot. The mall contained small mom and pop specialty shops, a convenience store, a stand-alone pizzeria, sandwich shop, a few craft stores and a local pub. Business at the mall probably remained quiet most days. The neighbourhood bar he was anxious to visit wasn’t open for another half hour, so he drove his bike around the back of the buildings.
Several weeks had passed since Jerry lost his phone, but with a lack of leads, Brand leaned the bike on its kickstand and slowly wandered around the back of the mall. The saying of a needle in a haystack came to mind as he methodically combed the dumpsters and doorways in the alley. Starting at one end, he checked in and under garbage bins, through wind blown piles of trash and carefully combed through long tangled and unattended patches of grass that were growing against a fence on the opposite side of the alley.
The strip mall wasn’t a huge complex but still ran on for thousand or so feet. At one point, Brand rousted a couple of men sitting in a doorway enjoying a bottle of something disguised in a brown paper bag.
“You fellows hang around here often?” He asked the pair. Both men stared at him through bloodshot eyes. Neither answered, so he tried a different approach.
“A friend of mine lost his cell phone here a few weeks back. I don’t suppose either of you guys has seen it?” The two continued staring at him like he was from a different planet then turned their attention back to the well-aged drink they had concealed in the brown bag.
“There might be a reward for anyone who finds the phone.” Brand tossed the idea out hoping to grab the men’s attention. One of the guys lifted his eyes up to Brand and slurred.
“How much of a reward?” He asked.
“Depends.” Brand thought fast. “The sooner I locate the phone the more the reward.” Then as a show of good will, Brand pulled his wallet out and fished inside for a ten. Just his luck, the smallest bills he had were twenties. Doubting he’d ever see a return for his money, he plucked a single bill from the fold in his wallet and held it toward the men.
The quicker of the two flashed his hand and snatched the twenty before his buddy realized what had taken place.
“What about me?” The second man whined. Eyeing the pair, Brand retrieved another twenty and held it out for the second man just out of grasp.
“I will tell you what.” He paused thinking over a way to get some use from the money he was about to through away. “Do either of you guys have a pen?”
The first bum pulled open his dirty coat revealing an assortment of pens and pencils hidden inside a pocket. The man took his time deciding which pen to lend Brand as if the pens were gold. The man seemed afraid Brand would steal it. Finally, he decided on a dirty felt pen and hesitantly passed it to Brand.
Brand looked for something to write on. These men would discard any paper he left with them the moment he left their sight. Figuring on this, Brand reached for the man with the pens and grabbed the flap of the man’s coat. The pocket containing the pens was still a light colour, so Brand quickly wrote his phone number on the man’s inside pocket then released his grip.
The man looked at his pocket and grumbled briefly before turning his eyes back in Brand’s direction. Brand calmly explained the rules of his deal.
“Either of you two finds a phone in this area, call and leave me a message. There will be more money involved. Don’t lose my number.” He said as he surrendered the second twenty and left the men to resume their drinking. Brand continued to search through the alley.
When he was satisfied he checked every possible place a phone could fit, he walked around front. He planned to speak with each business on the strip. Showing the owners a picture of Jerry and explaining about the missing phone. A long shot at best, but at the moment it was all he had to go on.
Striding toward the entrance of the first shop at the beginning of the small mall, while he walked, his thoughts were on his friend. He hadn’t heard a word about Jerry since he disappeared from the hospital. Was he being tortured or had the Colombians killed him. Whatever was on Jerry’s phone certainly was making someone nervous, worried enough to run the risk of being discovered while abducting a patient from a busy hospital.
Brand focused back on the task at hand. He entered a sandwich shop. A bell rang as he walked through the door announcing his presence. Behind the counter was a young girl dressed in her company uniform cleaning the large glass enclosure containing a large display of cheeses and condiments to compliment the desired sandwiches proudly pictured on the wall behind the counter.
She looked up from her cleaning and smiled a greeting to him. She moved behind the cash register eager to take his order. Brand showed her the picture of Jerry displayed on the screen of his phone and explained his reason for visiting the shop. She stared at the picture and started shaking her head no before telling him that she didn’t recall seeing the man and she was not aware of any phone left behind by a customer. Thanking her, Brand turned on his heels and walked outside the next business just steps down the sidewalk.
After repeating this process in several other small shops, all with the same results, he found himself standing in front of the door to a small pub. Brand debated whether to skip the pub for now and check in with the owners of the convenience store on the other side or talk to the bar staff first. He glanced at the time on his phone. Too early to have a beer he decided, so he walked past the entrance and went into the convenient store.
The store was small, lined with narrow aisles and an abundance of stock. An elderly Chinese couple greeted Brand from behind the counter smiling, the pair smiling as he approached. Brand showed the couple the picture on his phone and started to inquire about the missing phone. He stopped abruptly. The couple stood with smiles on their face and nodded as he talked.
“Do you speak English?” He asked apprehensively. The woman smiled and said something to him that he couldn’t quite understand. Very slowly Brand tried to break the language barrier and ask about his friend and the phone. After several attempts, he finally gave up, grabbed a pen and a piece of the paper from beside the register and wrote down his phone number and information about the missing phone in hopes that this couple would have someone working at the store who better versed in the English language.
Pushing the paper and the pen back beside the cash register, he lifted his hand to his ear pantomiming a phone and pointed to Jerry’s face on his phone screen. “If you happen to recall seeing this man?” He added.
After the frustrating exchange, he was ready for a beer. He strode into the pub and chose a bar stool close to the till where the bartender and waitress were chatting.
Ordering a draft, he sipped the beer slowly until the waitress left and busied herself with preparing the bar for the noon crowd. Brand raised his eyes to a television above the bar. Golf was showing on the TV. Replays of Tiger Woods highlights were currently showing. Finishing his beer Brand waved over the bartender.
“Another beer?” The bartender asked.
“No. One is enough.” Brand replied and scrolled to the picture of Jerry on his phone. “Any chance you would remember seeing this guy around here a couple of weeks ago?” The bartender took his time and studied the picture. After a momentary glance, the bartender shook his head indicating he had not.
Brand explained how his friend had lost his phone in the area a few weeks ago and was looking for it. Brand wrote his number on a coaster and slid it to the bartender.
“If somebody happens to find it can you give me a call?”
“Ya, sure. So another beer then?” The bartender inquired.
“No. But thanks.” Brand slid a ten out of his wallet and marched for the door. While the door was closing behind Brand, the bartender moved to the other end of the bar, dug through the pockets of a leather vest and arched for his phone. Stitched above the pocket, a small emblazoned crest of Satan’s Warriors bike club. The bartender carried the phone over to the windows overlooking the malls parking lot and watched as Brand mounted the bike and rode off.