Roy let Brand go and stood back to look at his older brother. Brand took a moment to regain the breath squeezed from his lungs. Smiling like a kid on Christmas morning, Roy turned to his men and introduced his older brother.
“Any of you ever lift a finger against this man, I will personally tear you apart.” Roy told them, his face briefly losing its smile. “Now what in the hell do I owe this visit to?” He spoke to Brand, the smile returning to his face.
Brand motioned toward his truck and waved Susan to join him. He waited as she hesitantly made her way to the group. Brand watched her approach. When Susan stood his side, he looked up at his brother.
“I need a favour, Roy.” He said. “Is there somewhere we can talk other than the street?”
Roy laughed. “Sure, follow me.” Roy turned and led the way to the clubhouse. A few strides in he stopped and talked his men. “Jimmy, get a few men to watch Brand’s truck, and make damn sure no one is snooping around.”
Brand followed Roy, his eyes wondering over the yard. Any grass had long been trampled and the yard lay barren, mostly packed dirt dotted with puddles of muddy water. An assembly of motorbikes sat close to the house, parked on the higher, drier spots. Lone trees randomly scattered throughout the front yard provided the only touch of green. An uneven walkway of crumbling sidewalk blocks led up to a large desolate looking bungalow, the siding faded. Newer metal shutters stood sentinel on the sides of the windows, bars crossed the glass panes, obstructing the view into the fortified building from the road.
Approaching the front door, Brand made note of the reinforced hinges and doorframe. Where the average front door was composed of wood or a light metal this one consisted of heavy steel plating.
“Quite the fort, Roy.” Brand commented as the small group crossed the threshold.
“It’s a tough neighbourhood.” Roy responded.
Brand let Susan walk ahead as they followed Roy through the house to an office occupying a back room. The interior of the house was surprisingly neat and well maintained. A baseball game showed on the TV in the front room and a scattering of leather-clad bikers lounged in chairs, beers in hand. The men in the room looked up curiously as Brand and Susan walked passed them.
Roy stood inside the office door and waited for his guests to enter before closing the door. Seating himself behind a makeshift desk he looked first at Susan and then at Brand.
“So how you doing these days, Roy?” Brand inquired.
“Oh. You know. Just trying to survive in the white man’s world.” Roy said with a smirk on his face.
“You’re still playing the sympathy card. Don’t you ever get tired of your own bullshit?” Brand smiled back, returning the sarcasm.
Roy erupted with laughter. “You would be surprised at how many bleeding hearts still fall for that line, brother.”
“Yeah. No shit.” Brand replied.
A feeble attempt at small talk lasted minutes, both men wary of the unusual circumstances of the meeting. Roy Thundercloud spoke in monosyllable sentences, waiting for an explanation, the reason his brother suddenly appeared at the gate of his compound.
Brand scrutinized his brother. The man he purposely avoided, now sitting across the desk. He sat silent, debating how to word his thoughts.
“Roy.” Brand nodded toward Susan. “This is Susan Bowles. Her father and I are fishing guides. Her father, Jerry, is a good friend…”
With a short, detailed summary, Brand told Roy of the events leading up to his drive to the clubhouse. A professional description of the shooting at his house, a quick flyover of his trip downtown, and the accusations by the police, then the discovery of Dave’s trashed apartment, and finally about the attack on Susan, at her father’s house. When Brand finished, he fell silent, giving Roy time to digest his words.
“A bit of a situation has come up.” Brand explained. “I’m sure it will amount to nothing, but still.” He motioned with his head toward Jerry’s daughter. “I need you to keep an eye on Susan? I need to follow this through. I won’t be able to protect her.”
Locking eyes with his foster brother, the silence in the room built. Susan, realizing what Brand was asking, and afraid to be left with a gang of bikers, in a place like the clubhouse, began protesting. Roy glanced over at her and then, unexpectedly, started to laugh.
“What’s so damn funny?” She asked Roy, her face coloring.
“First. Yes to your request.” He nodded at Brand then turned back to Susan. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to stay here,” he said, the grin still lighting his face. “I have a much nicer place, one I think you will be much more comfortable in.” Roy let out a booming laugh, “but by the look on your face, that must be what you’re thinking.” He continued laughing. “This is our clubhouse, a place of business. Some of the boys live here, but not me.
My lifestyle has afforded me a few luxuries. I’ve got a place a short drive from here. You think this place is set up like a goddamned fort, wait until you see my house.” He turned his attention back to Brand.
“So, what are you thinking?”
“Talk to Dave’s friends. If he was involved in the drug business, they might know something.”
“You’re saying the cops believe Hell’s Warriors are part of this. Those are some definite badass boys running with that group. I’ve heard rumours about the Warriors hooking up with some Colombians from the coast. That would make sense. After years of keeping to our own territory, they’ve begun throwing their weight around, hassling my people. We’ve had some skirmishes breakout with the Warrior’s lately and the way things are building, I don’t think it will be long an all out turf war erupts in this city.”
Roy’s large frame sank back into his chair. The leader of the Wolves leaned his head back and stared at the smoke stained ceiling. “A bloody war, of that I’m certain. Worked out an agreement years ago. We divided the city, they took the west side, we ran the east and our members respected the division, but things have changed. Those assholes are starting to forcefully move east into our territory. They are become very annoying, bad for business.”
“What type of shit are they into?”
“They got their fingers into everything. You name it; they run it, except drugs, actually. That was only a small part of their operation…until recently. The Warriors stuck more to running their nightclubs and prostitution. Sissy things the cops usually went easy on.” Roy’s thoughts drifted away. Slamming his fist on the wooden desktop he sat up straight. “The Colombians would explain the money suddenly backing those assholes.
We’ve been hearing rumours that the Warriors have branched out into gambling, working several casinos…I’ve heard that customers are loosing to the house and those who can’t afford the loses are muling product from the coast as a way to work off the interest owed.”
“A nasty bunch it seems.”
“Brand. If you tangle with these boys, you better be prepared. Those are some seriously bad people. They’re giving us bikers a bad name if you can believe that. My gangs about the only ones left to stand against them and I got to tell you, I’m getting damn tired of the Warriors and their way of doing business.
One other thing.” Roy added. “Some of the local law boys are in their pockets, running errands, messing with evidence. I don’t have any names, but we’ve got some officers who ride with us. We’ll eventually find out which cops are helping them. You keep your head down, this town is about to blow apart and I don’t like the thought of you being caught up in this.”
Brand sat and absorbed the information Roy had told him.
“You just make sure she’s safe.” Brand ignored his brother’s advice motioning at Susan.
Sunday morning. Brand watched the rain beat against the restaurant window while he toyed with his breakfast. The rain had increased as the morning wore on. Pushing the plate of half eaten food to the side, he wrapped his hand around the steaming mug of coffee, raising the hot cup to his lips. The flavour of the coffee, black and fresh, unnoticed, as he blankly stared out the window.
With Susan safely out of harm's way, he puzzled over the attack at his house. He struggled to accept the detectives reasoning that the hit was drug related. Still. How well did he know Dave? Doubts about the young guide began replacing filtering into the scenario. Could Dave have been involved and was that the reason for the gunmen?
Trying to keep an open mind Brand revisited the scene in his mind, especially the image of the handgun in Dave’s limp hand. Why would a guide bring a concealed weapon on a rainy night of fly tying and drinking? Answers lost when Dave died.
Brand pulled his head away from watching the rain and stared at nothing in the restaurant. He gulped his coffee and waved for the waitress.
The fly shop, the same one where he and Jerry also guided, was open Sundays. His plan was to talk to a couple of the boys at the shop who had hung around with Dave, both at work and away. Whether they were at the store or not, he could at least get their numbers.
Parking, Brand pulled a hat from the backseat and settled it on his head. He flung open the door and jumped from the truck, quickly closing the door against the sheets of rain. Small streams snaked across the asphalt melding into large pools where the parking lot dipped. Swiftly, he skirted the building water, weaving around parked cars, his hand holding his hat screening his face from the wind driven deluge.
Reaching for the door, he paused. A customer with a rod case tucked under his arm, and a plastic bag bearing the shop's logo arrived at the opposite side of the door. Brand stepped to the side allowing the man to leave before stepping into the sheltered interior.
Standing by the door, he removed his cap, shaking it dry, then brushed beads of water from his coat. The stormy weather hadn’t impeded business, the store packed with customers, fishermen using the leaden rain filled skies to restock depleted fishing supplies with hopes of sunnier days ahead.
The first person Brand noticed was the store’s owner, Jay Welds, busy behind the counter. Jay was chatting with a customer; one of his hands was filled with fishing accessories, the other, busy punching numbers on a debit pad. Sliding the readied machine to the customer, the bell from the opened door caught the owner’s attention. A slight nod of his head greeted Brand. Walking over to the counter, Brand leaned his arm on the glass top, waiting for Jay to finish the sale.
Brand watched the old man deal with another customer. The two had been friends for several years. A memory of the first time the two met surfaced, occupying Brands thoughts while he stood idle. Mid September, more than a ten years ago, he was in town holidaying, while still employed by the government agency. He wondered into the store and booked a fishing trip. Jay was at the till then, too. The day Brand wanted was booked, but Jay, short of staff, agreed to guide him down the Bow in search of Rainbows and Brown trout.
By this time, Brand was well versed in fly-fishing and had developed into a knowledgeable fisherman. During a shore lunch, Jay commented on the problems of finding reliable fishing guides and jokingly offered Brand a job should he tire of his current employer.
A couple of years later, Brand retired from the agency and pondering his future, reminded Jay of the offer. Since that time, the two worked closely together. With Jay booking the trips in the store and Brand, guiding fishing enthusiasts from across the globe, on the rivers in the Southern part of the province.
Brand fondly watched the old man work the till and the store's customers. When the two first met, Jay looked much younger than he did now. Where Jay was once thin with a dark, full head of hair, now he was several pounds heavier and moved about slowly, hunched over. The hair, the little that still clung to the fringes of Jay’s head, was now snow white.
His face was no longer taut and rugged, but puffy, with an unhealthy pallor. Discoloured bags of skin hung under the old man’s light grey eyes with bushy white eyebrows arched in a permanent scowl. Now, a pair of thick-framed glasses perched on the end of Jay’s nose causing him to peer over their top, whenever he talked. Brand shook his head at his observation. The ravages of age, he thought, I guess old age will catch us all eventually.
Jay’s voice woke Brand from his musing. The till clear of customer’s for the moment.
“What brings you out on such a miserable day?” Jay inquired before another customer sauntered up to the till, hands full of fly tying material.
Brand waited as Jay punched keys on the till then scooped the bought items into a bag.
“I’ve got a couple of questions to ask, if you can sneak away for a few of minutes?” Brand answered, his eyes probing the store to see who was working. Jay called to one of the floor staff and motioned to the computerized till. Finishing with the customer, he walked to the back of the store and a small office crammed into a corner.
“How well did you know Dave?” Brand asked.
A puzzled expression clouded Jay’s face. “Why? You look pretty serious Brand. Was he in trouble, is that why you’re here?” Jay walked behind his desk. His attention fell on a pile of invoices lying on the top. Raising his head, he looked over the rim of his glasses, his eyes curiously searching Brand’s face.
“Thought you might know Dave better than I did.” Before the storeowner replied, Brand added, “ are Brian or Phil in today? I didn’t see them on the floor?”
“Brian has the day off. Phil, he’s somewhere around. Helping a customer re-spool some reels…as to Dave, I don’t know…he has been a guide here for the last few summers. Never really did associate with him other than work related stuff. He seemed like an all right fellow.
“Is this about the shooting at your house?” Jay asked. “How are you doing, by the way? I went to the hospital yesterday to see Jerry. The doctors say he’s stable, but he’s still in a coma.”
“I’m good, Jay. Thanks. And Jerry’s a tough old boy. He’ll pull through. Do you mind if I talk to Phil. I think Dave and him hung out together after hours. I need to know more about how Dave’s spent his off hours.” Brand paused. “The cops believe the attack at my house had something to do with drugs and gangs.”
The storeowner shrugged at the news. “Huh. Doesn’t sound right. You wait here, and I’ll find Phil and send over when he’s finished with his customer.”
“Don’t bother, I can find him.” Brand left Jay standing in the office. Winding his way around shelves stocked with fishing supplies, waders, and boots, past aisles of assorted feathers and small bags of multi-coloured, multi specied patches of fur displayed on revolving racks, he crossed the shop floor.
Near the back wall of the store, Brand stepped around a stand of fly rods, single and double handed, walked past the bins stocked with assorted tied flies and stopped in an aisle. The man he sought was seated behind a glass counter, a spool of floating fly-line in his hands. Brand waited while the store clerk finished up with a customer.
Brand watched the transaction, the customer struggling to wrap his hands around his purchases. Phil had the generic look of a lot of young men in their early twenties, Brand thought. Shaved head with a full, bushy beard, gaudy, oversized earrings stretching his earlobes and numerous tattoos showing on his arms and around his neck thick-framed glasses hid what little face not covered in hair.
“You got a minute Phil?” Brand asked. Phil was turned toward a shelve straightening out boxes of fly line. The man stopped and looked at Brand, his hands busy straightening the products on the shelf.
“Yeah, you bet. What do you need?” Phil stopped and twisted in Brand direction.
“You and Dave hung out away from the store, right?”
“Yep. We did a lot of shit together. Why?”
“What kind of interests did Dave have aside from work?”
“The usual, I suppose. Video games, beer, the odd movie.” Phil stated and shrugged. “Most weekends we’d head out meet up with a few other fellas and hit some of the clubs downtown. Mostly on seventeenth, there was always lots of women there.”
“Did Dave like to gamble?”
“No…not really. Said the gambling bored him, and none of us made enough money to piss away at the casinos.”
“I know it’s none of my business…but did you guys… did Dave do drugs?” Brand regretted asking, but he watched Phil’s face for a reaction.
“What?” Phil exclaimed. His eyes narrowed, his manner cooled as he suspiciously stared at Brand. “What the hell man. You a cop, what’s going on?”
“No. No, I’m not. At least not anymore.” Brand hastily rummaged for words to ease the situation. “It’s nothing to do with you. The police think that Dave’s death may be gang involved.”
“Not Dave. No way, man. None of us touched that shit. Hell,” Phil stammered, flustered and red faced, his voice growing pitchy with indignation. “Dave barely even drank. The guy was a pretty boring, dude. I can’t believe the cops think that he was messed up in that shit. That’s ludicrous. Doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yeah…I don’t know. I’m trying to get a handle on this mess. A lot that I've heard doesn't add up.” Brand confessed and searched for other questions that might shed light on the shootings and his friend’s death.
“You know…there a couple of times,” Phil interrupted, “he told me that he and old Jerry would get drinks in a bar down in Bowness. I can’t remember exactly which one, but I know he met Jerry there several times. That always struck me as odd, considering Dave drank very little but …well…you know how Jerry likes his drinks.” Phil stared at the floor trying to command the memory to return to him. Brand waited a few beats.
“And you don’t recall the name of the bar?” Brand prodded.
“Esmeraldas, maybe.” Phil shrugged. I’m not sure, but I think it was a biker bar from the way Dave described it.
Hey, you going to his funeral. I hear the cops have allowed his family to go ahead with the arrangements.”
“You bet.” Brand said and was ready to leave. “I’ll see you there.” He said as he continued down the aisle toward the cash register and the door. At the counter, he asked Jay to cancel his booked guide trips for the near future. At the door, he pressed the key fob unlocking the truck door. Tugging the hat back down into place, he hurried past the puddles, sprinting the last few steps to his truck, swung onto the seat and closed the door shutting out the pouring rain.
Brand fired up the truck’s engine and sat in the parking lot, thinking. His breath fogged the windshield. He spun the defrost dial to high then removed his phone. His thumb pressed the camera icon. A photo gallery materialized. Sweeping through the long line of photo’s, he stopped at a pictures he had taken only weeks before.
Dave and Jerry smiled back at him. The Bow River, at McKinnon’s Flats, flowed across the background, the end of a long day on the river. The two guides stood by their boats, tired smiles on their faces, paying customers from the days float, captured at the edge of the picture. Brand stared at the picture, memories of better days running across his mind.
“What the hell happened, boys?” he muttered to himself in the isolation of the truck’s cab.
Snapping himself back to the present, he focused on the guides and took a screen shot. Saving the picture separately, he switched it to the phone’s screen saver, an easily accessible picture to use when he located the biker bar in the older community on the northwest section of the city.
More Brand Coldstream novels, Going Silent and Silent Crusade for sale on this website or on-line bookstores worldwide. For the sci-fi enthusiast, read the newly released Ice Racer.