Parking at the Millennium Casino was at the minimum. Brand slowly rolled the truck past double rows of vehicles, weaving from one end of the multi-acre lot to the other. He searched for an open stall with regards to the proximity of the casino’s security cameras located throughout the lot. He chose to park the truck at the very edge of the vast parking compound. Here the cameras were spaced farther apart due to the distance from the building. Closer to the main entrance and the grounds immediately around the building perimeter the cameras overlapped in their coverage.
Chances of being recognized or watched were probably slim; still, he took the precaution. Advancing thoughtfully, wanting the element of surprise on his side a little longer. Rifling through the back seat, he found a tattered ball cap and adjusted it to his head.
“You’re not going to stay in the truck if I ask, are you.” He wasted the words on Susan. He knew what her answer would be but made one last attempt to keep her out of a possibly soon to be a dangerous situation.
She shook her head in response and together they wove their way past the myriad of automobiles, each step shortening the distance to the main doors of the casino entrance. Susan’s movements quiet and slow, Brand, cautious and alert. His eyes darting over and around the lines of cars and trucks, eager to detect the tell-tale signs of their presence tracked by the enemies in the casino. He walked on an indirect path, weaving among the lines of vehicles abandoned in the massive parking lot, his route chosen to avoid the security cameras.
While part of his brain kept busy moving forward in an undetected approach to the building, in the back of his mind, he sifted through the little information he acquired and reviewed the layout of the casino, and it’s Colombian owners. Aware of the small amount of knowledge he possessed on the two, he ventured onward with little to no preconceived plan of slipping past security and gaining entrance to the top floor of the building. The best he could hope for was to adjust quickly to the way the events unfolded and act accordingly.
The purpose of his visit was to gain access to the top floor of the building and once there, to free his friend, if Jerry was indeed a captive there. One step at a time, he cautioned. First order of business was to cross to the building without allowing the men staring at the video feeds from the lots cameras to identify him. Next, pass security at the front door then enter the gaming rooms and from there access the elevators.
Neither of these two steps should present much of a problem he considered. An organization like the Cartel probably had a long list of people plotting against them. He couldn’t be all that important in the overall scheme of things. Thoughts of bringing a gun on this mission had crossed his mind, but the security guards and metal detectors at the entrance made that more of a hassle then he needed. If he had to shoot his way into the Millennium, the possibility of bypassing the buildings layers of security would be impossible.
Once inside, he could get his hands on a firearm. On his previous visit to the Millennium, he noted that the security guards all carried hidden side arms. He banked on his abilities to convince one of security personnel to lend him a gun. Not the greatest of tactics but certainly doable.
The gun part of the plan was minor compared to gaining access to the elevator and the trip to the fifth floor and into the Cartel’s den. James Cartwright had provided a mental map of the casino layout from the front doors to the elevators and up. The opening of the elevator doors on the top floor gave him the most worry. That part was a little more open to interpretation. All the planning was usually worthless in a situation like this. Too many variables, too many unknown moving pieces to choreograph once the shooting started.
Steps from the entrance he tugged the ball cap lower on his forehead and put his arm through Susan’s. As a couple, the two climbed the pebbled concrete steps. Arm in arm they walked between towering concrete pillars. The reflection of their approaching bodies growing clearer as they drew nearer to the sliding glass doors. Their mirrored images almost life-sized by the time the double doors slid open, welcoming them into the casino lobby. The pair walked up to a set of heavy wooden doors, the only barrier remaining between them and the lights and bells of the gambling floor.
Letting go of Susan’s arm, Brand pulled on the wooden doors and gestured for Susan to enter first. An atmosphere of excitement poured into the opening. Raised voices belaying the happy anticipation found in gambling establishments joined the clanging of one-armed bandits underscored by piped music. The palpable din was overwhelming to the senses.
Guards posted at the entrance eyed the pair as they crossed into the jubilant confines concealed inside the walls of the gaming room. The men smiled at Susan as she stopped. A quick wave of a portable wand and the men waved Susan onto the floor; then the guards turned their attention to Brand. Brand's facial features appeared relaxed. Casually, he studied the guard's expressions. If the two were expecting him to show, the men revealed little.
The burly men watching the entrance eyed him from head to toe. He hesitated briefly before taking a step closer to the screening area. Nodding, he strode up to the guards. One man motioned him closer; the other stood to the side, neither was inclined to talk.
The guard with the scanner motioned for Brand to raise his arms then proceeded to wave the detector the length of Brand's body. Susan stood beside the second guard. The bulk of the man's body was partially hiding Susan's much smaller frame. At the edge of his vision, he watched her hand slide near the guard's pocket. The second guard's eyes flashed in her direction then locked back into a bored expression. The man stood unmoving. His heavily muscled arms stretched the fabric of his suit jacket and folded across a massive chest. The man stood poised, ready to assist his partner should trouble ensue.
Trained, competent pros, the pair dressed the part in matching black suits. These men were different from the guards Brand had encountered on his first visit to the casino. At that time, the security was looser. Poorly disguised bikers with small man syndrome, big egos matched with bodies pumped up at some gym, brawn with little brain.
In the short time between visits, he was surprised at the change of attitude…or was he. The Warrior’s who fronted the Colombians operation was now being phased out. Well, the classier sides of the business anyways. Brand imagined that the Warriors would be kept around for the dirty, gutter aspects involved. The sewer dealings in back alleys and crack houses that would require the well-dressed Cartel to muddy their hands.
The security guard waved him on, ending his musings. He put his arm through Susan’s and strolled around the gaming floor. His head swivelled as he studied the layout and the bodies of gamblers and staff alike. Gathering new information, processing what he saw and readjusting his fly by the seat of his pants plan. He was inside, unchallenged, so a gun and an elevator ride to the top floor, undetected, were next on the list.
Arm in arm, the pair wandered the floor of the gaming room. Cameras were spotted as well as the routine of the casino security. The two walked, unhurried, as Brand scouted for an area where the multitude of cameras would be blind and allow him an opportunity to disarm one of the floor security team. What he needed was a distraction, some event that would garner a guard’s attention, but not be disruptive enough to draw the interest of everyone else on the floor.
Near a small alcove away from the main pool of gambling activities, Brand stopped. His back to a guard stationed close to the chosen spot. Susan faced away from him gazing over the room. On a whim, Brand grabbed Susan inappropriately. Surprised, Susan let out an involuntary shriek and turned to face him, her face reddening from the assault. Anger flashed across her face. She raised her hand and with an open palm, swung.
Brand felt the sting of Susan’s blow. A sharp retort rang from the harsh contact of her palm on his cheek. The crack echoed loud in the corner of the floor, but yards away the sound was swallowed by the constant din of the busy gamblers and the bells and whistles at the center of the room. Susan’s slap loud enough to grab the attention of a nearby guard and force the man to prevent the situation from escalating.
“You okay Ma’am?” The guard asked shoving past Brand to check on Susan. Moving his body slightly, blocking the guard from the view on the casino floor, Brand raised an elbow and drove it into the side of the guard’s head. The man turned. A stunned, uncomprehending look on the guards face challenged Brand before the man stumbled and fell back into the alcove. Brand followed the man down, his actions swift, disabling the guard before the man had a chance to raise a hand or an alarm.
From the time spent walking the floor, Brand had little trouble discovering where the guards carried their firearms. His hands quickly searched the man, retrieving the hidden weapon and removing a casino security card pinned to a lanyard around the man’s neck. Remaining bent over the guard, he inspected the gun, checking the chamber and the clip of bullets.
In a deft move, he stood, turned and simultaneously tucked the gun into the back waistband of his pants. Straightening his coat, he grabbed Susan’s hand and led the way across the floor to a bank of elevators directly across the crowded floor.
Now came the pressure. How long until the discovery of the prone guard and the rest of security notified? And would the security card get them to the top floor? These thoughts flashed through Brand's mind while he pressed the elevator button and waited.
A bump brought his focus back to the presence. Susan straightened and apologized. Brand felt her hand slide the newly captured gun from under his coat. In that instant, he knew he didn’t need the security card to gain access to the top floor. Susan's actions guaranteed his meeting with the Colombian, Rojas.
He sensed Susan take a step back. He pictured her using both hands to raise the weapon at his head. His intuition proved correct by the metallic click as the hammer cocked into firing position. Slowly turning his head, he stared into the black hole of the barrel.
“You don’t seem overly surprised,” Susan said motioning Brand into the elevator. Standing diagonally across from Brand, she risked a glance at the panel using her elbow to press the button for the fifth floor. The gun held with both hands level at his chest. She studied his face, unsettled by his calm demeanour.
“This story could have ended on a happier note if you would have cooperated?”
Brand remained quiet. His hand lifted to the front of his jacket. He reached into his pocket. His fingers brushed the power button on the cell phone nestled against his cigarette package.
“Hey,” Susan waved the gun in warning.
Brand slipped the cigarette package into view. He flipped open the cover and released one of the tightly rolled sticks from the foil, his other hand lifting a lighter.
“You can’t smoke in here.” She said. The irony of her holding a gun pointed at him while admonishing him for illegally smoking lost on her. He drew deep on the cigarette drawing a deep breath into his lungs then slowly let the wisps of smoke escape his mouth stalling for time. He felt the elevator jerk on its climb upwards. His silence began wearing on her nerves.
“Say something,” she anxiously commanded.
The neutral look on his face told her all she needed to know. Brand looked down into Susan’s eyes. Fear of the unknown tinged their edges. He lifted the cigarette back to his mouth. The less she understood of his motives, the better the chance of he had of succeeding.
Brand briefly tussled with the notion of relieving Susan of the gun. While he bent over the guard, he purposely sheltered his movements from her, emptying the bullets from the magazine and stashing them on the fallen man. The gun she held served only as a prop.
He was a bit surprised by her need to reveal her loyalties so quickly, and he could quite easily wrestle the gun away from her, but he needed access to the top floor. Her method was safer than following through with his deception and possibly the need to avoid the rush of bullets when the doors opened on the top floor.
He had been slow to figure things out at first. The tiny fragments of puzzle pieces too small at first to lead to any conclusion. Over the following days, the scraps of information started to connect and fill in the blank spaces. Random thoughts merged and slowly worked together to reveal a broader picture.
When the shooting had taken place at his house, he balked at the detective’s theory for the late-night visit by the unknown gunmen. A mistaken drug deal, a wrong address, no reason to think otherwise. The continued pressure by the Cartel, though, that part never made sense and got him thinking.
A young guide shot dead in his house, his other friend wounded. Susan attacked at her dad's house and a lost cell phone the Cartel was desperate to get back. Why.
then things started to, not add up. Young Dave, an undercover cop, sticking close to Old Jerry. The half-assed attempt on Susan, at her dad’s house, an insider in Roy’s organization leaking information to the Warriors allowing the rivals to stay one-step ahead.
The attack at Roy’s acreage, the Warrior gunmen satisfied with taking pot shots at the house instead of attempting to overwhelm Roy’s men and enter the building. If they were intent on grabbing Susan, which he presumed was the reason for the attack, then why the lack of effort. A poorly executed ruse used to deflect attention away from the person in Roy’s company responsible for leaking information?
And finally, the airline ticket he found lying on the floor of Susan’s room. Susan had flown in from the west coast not from the east like he assumed. When he stopped to think about her arrival, she had shown up at the hospital in a swift fashion. If she had departed the Maritimes immediately after being informed of Jerry’s condition, a good portion of the day would have passed before she visited the hospital. If the flight included in a layover in Toronto, it would have been evening by the time she set foot in Calgary.
Susan’s hesitation when she saw James Cartwright at the Quonset. That’s when he started rethinking the pieces of the puzzle. He still maintained a glimmer of doubt on her part until she grabbed the gun. Now the doubt was removed, but he did get an invitation to the fifth floor. He had wondered how the story would unfold and when her façade would drop.
He stood watching her, his face devoid of emotion. He dropped the burning cigarette. Watched it fall and bounce on the carpeted floor. Tracking the smoldering remains with his foot, he squashed the burning tobacco out. By the time he raised his head, the elevator had bounced and settled. The doors slid open. Four men, dressed in the same attire as the guards on the casino floor, were waiting, automatic rifles pointed at the elevator.
“You notified the guards at the entrance," he confirmed, remembering seeing her hand near the man's pocket when he stood under the scrutiny of the second guard. Susan glared up at him and used the tip of the pistol to motion him from the elevator. He stepped past the waiting gunmen and walked across a short foyer and through an open set of double doors.
Moving straight ahead, Brand noted the office’s interior. The room was big but not overly. Along the wall from the French doors, a second door farther to his right. A set of chairs set with a small table rested against the side exterior wall. Windows flanked the chairs offering a view overlooking the lights of the parking lot and then, what Brand imagined, during daylight hours, a clear line of sight to the Rocky Mountains, and an hour west of the city.
Opposite the windows, to his left, pictures hung on the wall leading to the back of the room and a stand-up bar filling the corner. Two men followed him into the room, and he spotted only two more armed men flanking a much smaller man. The trio back of center, standing behind a decorative piece of furniture centering the room.
“Mr. Coldstream.” A heavily accented voice called to him. Brand focused on the man. Standing behind a polished wooden desk was a slight man with medium length, slicked-back hair and a tanned complexion. Brand walked further into the room, the gunmen from the hallway, trailing close behind.
“Have a seat.” The words uttered from behind the desk. Brand slid a stuffed leather chair, stepped around and sat down, his eyes remaining on the Colombian.
Quintin Rojas stood behind the desk, watched Brand cross into the room and once Brand was seated the Colombian lowered into his chair.
“What a welcome surprise.” The Colombian sneered at his guest.
“You must be Rojas?” Brand commented. “The Moreno Cartel’s number two man.”
“It is fitting that you would show up here after the problems you’ve caused.” The Colombian paused, scowling at Brand. “Did you think you would be allowed to walk in here without us knowing?” Rojas averted his eyes from Brand and sought out Susan. “We’ve been keeping tabs on you for some time now.” He added smiling.
Brand followed the Colombian’s gaze, his gaze also stopping on Susan.
“So it seems.” Brand agreed. “Tough some days to separate your friends from your enemies.” He declared. His stare fixed on Susan’s face. “Although that does explain a lot.”
“Do you take us for buffoons.” The Colombians voice grew louder, more exasperated. “What. You think we would allow you to steal our merchandise and destroy our property and yet remain out of our reach.” Rojas’ face reddened by the reminder of the Cartels lost shipment of drugs and the money lost because of this man. He started to anger all over again.
“Hey, asshole. You sent gunmen to my house. You shot my friends or don’t you recall… well I suppose only one was my friend as it turns out.
A few ounces of drugs and a couple of dollars should be the least of your worry.” Brand threatened. “Count yourself lucky if I don’t climb across this desk and rip your head off and stuff it up your ass for what your piss ant Cartel did.” Brand struggled to stay seated as rage replaced caution. The gunmen standing behind his chair took a step closer. One put his hand on Brand’s shoulder pressing him tight into the chair to prevent him from going through with the threat.
Rojas waved his men back and sat studying Brand.
“We could have used a man like you.” Rojas shook his head as if the thought saddened him. “But I see it would not have worked out…you and us. Tell me, with all the effort to come up here; you did bring the phone to trade for your friend?”
Brand smiled. The phone. He had all but forgotten about it after plugging it in to charge back in the loft. The events from the afternoon diverted his mind. He didn’t even think to check the video and see if it contained the identity of the Moreno Cartel’s boss. It didn’t matter any longer, he supposed. The boss’s identity wasn’t anonymous to him any longer.
With a non-jovial smile on his face, he looked Rojas’ in the eyes.
“You know, I actually forgot about the phone. I guess it doesn’t make a difference…I don’t believe I have a friend here to trade it for, now do I. In fact, I would go as far to say that I don’t even have a stake in this stupid turf war any longer.” He waited and let Rojas digest his words before calling the Moreno Cartel’s boss out.
“Isn’t that true, Jerry,” He said, his raised voice causing the words to reverberate inside the room.
A door somewhere out of Brand’s view opened. The room fell silent. Rojas looked past him. The Cartel underboss’ gaze followed the sound of the open door. Brand remained looking forward. An older man with carefully groomed gray hair and wrapped in an expensive Italian suit strode into the main office.
Brand stared straight ahead at the distracted Rojas. Footsteps preceded the man as he walked over to the desk. Brand listening to the soft footfalls on the carpet as the steps drew closer. He already knew whom he was about to see before the newcomer stepped into his sight. Three men crossed into his vision. Two armed men and the leader of the Moreno Cartel.
“You get around my friend. That’s for damn shore.” The old fishing guide said as he waited for Rojas to vacate the chair.
“It pains me that we have to meet again under these circumstances.” Jerry confessed to Brand. The Cartel boss took the vacated chair behind the big polished wood desk. Absently he ran his swept his hand at some imaginable dust.
Brand held his reply, but his eyes remained locked on Jerry’s face. He reassessed the man sitting on the other side of the desk, a man whom Brand had regarded as his friend. For the past several years Jerry’s act of being an old, down on his luck, drunk, fishing guide, fooled him. Boy, he sure read that book wrong, Brand admitted.
The men sat across from each other re-evaluating what they now saw. One looking for the entire world as a well to do businessman who had things under control, the other staring back with a look of deep contempt.
The man running the Moreno Cartel ended the stalemate.
“Sorry it has to come to this my friend.” Jerry Kartman glanced from Brand to his daughter. “For what it was worth. I did enjoy our time on the water and our impromptu bullshit sessions.” “Long before my life took this path, I honestly relished the days I spent guiding back home.”
“Back home as in Nova Scotia or back home in some South American country?” Brand spat out refusing to merrily go down memory lane. “Did you ever live in the Maritimes or was that all part of your cover?”
“No. I am originally from Halifax…” Jerry looked up at the ceiling as the long forgotten memories poured back into his conscious. “That is where Susan was born. Before I divorced her mother. The name was different back then, mind you. I feel I at least owe you an explanation.” He continued.
“Spare me.” Brand stopped him. “I really haven’t got time for your shit.”
Jerry looked back at his friend, his face reddening from the auditory slap.
“I believe that this may be all the time you have left, so don’t be in a hurry to throw it away. When I’m done speaking, I will have no reason to keep you alive. In fact, quite the opposite, I can’t let you live, knowing what you now know.” Jerry added with no more emotion than if he was ordering a meal.
“Back in the Maritimes when I was a lot younger and after several bouts on the wrong side of the law, I was given the option of jail or joining the army. Obviously the army won out.” Jerry launched into his life story. Brand took the opportunity to survey the room. Mentally placing every piece of furniture, committing the room’s layout to memory. He placed the guards, deciding which men he should deal with first, which ones presented the path of least resistance and his best chance of appropriating a gun and maybe walking out of this office alive.
“My string of bad luck followed me into the army and how shall I say…I had to part company ahead of a court martial. Do you know how many opportunities wait ex military in those shithole South American countries? The ruling governments are happy to employ mercenaries. The Cartels are always on the look for employees who don’t mind blood on their hands and even the American government was more than happy to ignore my misforgivings as long as I was willing to work as a hired gun. Hell, the Americans sought me out and recruited me.”
Brand carefully tracked the movements of the others in the room, especially Rojas. The Colombian was the wild card. He stood to the side and remained wary to every movement, in comparison to the guards who had started to relax while Jerry droned on.
“I did contract jobs for different agencies for a while, but the longer I remained in the area the more I grew to admire the Cartels. They commanded respect with fear, lived in the big mansions high above everyone else. THEY told the government officials and the police what to do and when. And money. Jesus…they had money, so much so that they could wipe their asses with it. So I made a decision right then and there, I tell you. I wanted what they had. The respect, the women, the money.”
The guards flanking Jerry relaxed; their guns held loosely in their hands. Brand turned his head slightly and caught the reflection of the two guards stationed directly behind him. These two were also becoming less attentive.
Still, Rojas watched like an eagle. Susan had wondered over toward the windows, the gun she had removed from Brand, lying unattended on the side bar. Useless, he noted, since he removed the bullets earlier.
“I put in my time being an errand boy for the Moreno boys. Biding my time until I gained the trust of the two brothers who ran the Cartel. One afternoon, as luck would have it, I found myself alone with the Moreno’s. By this time my friend Quintin and several others in the Cartel’s employ had become tired of the brothers. There I stood. All I had to do was remove the brothers and bingo…I inherited my very own drug operation.
The first problem to arise was the fact that I’m obviously not Colombian. People in that country are suspicious of outsiders. I knew I couldn’t control the men if they knew a foreigner was running the operation so I convinced Rojas to pose as the new boss. I ran the cartel from the shadows.
Things worked better then I hoped. I was able to travel and move about undetected. I had it all, the respect, the big mansion, I even sent for Susan. She came and lived with me, but then the other cartels started putting the heat to us…well, we figured we’d set up shop back in this country away from their tentacles.
And it was working beautifully until that nosey kid came along hiring on at the fly shop. Just another snot nosed fishing guide.” Jerry paused and shook his head. “The kid was good. I will have to give him credit. All the while we hung around, I never once suspected him for an undercover narc.
Hell. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I found out you were retired and guiding in the city, the best agent to ever work for the Canadian government. Your reputation certainly precedes you, by the way. The great Brand Coldstream.
So here I was. Running my new venture in the relative safety of my home country and right under your nose. Perfect. I stuck close. I thought that if the law ever became suspicious of an old fly guide making numerous trips back and forth from the coast, my association with you would deflect any suspicions.”
Brand kept scanning the room tracking the others movements. While Jerry droned on, he found a clock mounted across the room and checked the time. Jerry noticed the clock, stopped his auditory then stared at Brand and laughed.
“Am I keeping you from an important appointment? Have you got some place to go?” He asked. Brand shrugged away the question and motioned the old guide to carry on as he stifled a yawn.
Jerry sat quiet staring at his prisoner trying to read his mind and figure out what the man had up his sleeve. He turned and looked at each of his guards checking on their positions. After a brief time he delved back into his story. The man in front of him had no options as far as he could see.
“When I discovered my phone missing, I thought at first that maybe I did get sloppy and misplace it while we were drinking. Then I got to thinking…you know…in my business it pays to be paranoid.” He stopped and smiled. “What’s that saying…just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” He laughed.
“I had spent years, religiously hiding my identity and then my phone goes missing. That phone contains some compromising pictures for a man in my position. Video of me doing business with some very prominent business associates. Men who I’ve had the good fortune to convince to help my cause because of the videos and suddenly all that was in jeopardy because some snot nosed kid steals my phone.
The more I thought about that, the more paranoid I became.” Jerry stood up and left his desk walking over to the bar in the corner. The room remained quiet as he mixed a drink then slowly returned to his chair.
“I suddenly started to wonder if you weren’t involved with the kid. You with your background in law enforcement, I mean. What was a guy to think?”
Brand started tapping his foot in impatience. A few more minutes, he reminded himself, were all he needed if his plan were to actually work. He needed Jerry to keep talking.
“So why bother with the façade of being a fishing guide? Hell, we spent rain days tying and drinking?” Brand asked.
“Well that part was genius.” The old guide bragged. “Under that guise, I was free to travel back and forth to my warehouse and keep an eye on things with out any one questioning my movements. I mean…really, who was going to stop an old man pulling a drift boat down the highway?
And why. Guides in this section of the country are always traveling between provinces, guiding the rivers in between. This area is famous for the fishing.” Jerry stopped and smiled pleased with the plan that allowed him to run his operation in the open with nobody the wiser. Then his face changed from a pleasing smile to an outright scowl.
“Which unfortunately brings us back to the current problem. You, my friend.” Jerry scowled deeper as if he was struggling with a problem that had no pleasant options left but the inevitable. “My phone. Do you have it or not?”
Brand pulled his phone from his front pocket. Holding Jerry’s gaze, he slid his thumb over the screen activating the power, surreptitiously sending a prearranged message. He gently set the device on the desk. Careful to lay it face down hiding the glowing screen. He gave the phone a nudge toward his one time friend. The phone obviously different then the one he expected, his eyes returned to Brand’s face. The Cartel boss failed to notice the lit phone screen.
“Sorry to disappoint you, but this is the only one I have on me.” Brand shrugged. “One thing bothers me about the night Dave died.” He hoped to keep the focus away from the transmitting phone. “Did you pull a gun on Dave first or did he realize you discovered what he was doing and cornered you?”
“Ah.” Jerry’s hand touched his chest. “”That was most unlucky for me. When my men busted into your house, out of nowhere, a gun appears in Dave’s hand. That I did not expect.”
Jerry’s eyes lost focus as he relived the moment. Brand watched the man wince as he ran his hand over the healing bullet wounds.
“I couldn’t let Dave shoot my men so I pulled out my own gun. I rushed my shot, missing the young bugger. He shot through his surprise. His first bullet caught me near the shoulder. His second came damn close to my heart. Almost ending me.
You were supposed to be there.” A flash of hate passed across Jerry’s face. “I had convinced myself that Dave and you were working together to take me down. I couldn’t allow that so I arranged for those men to visit the house and eliminate you both.
Easy enough to explain to the cops, a drug deal gone sour. Nothing the cops haven’t come across before. I even had a cache of drugs in my truck to plant on the scene.”
Jerry stoked his chin. A sad smile moved his lips. “Dave packing a gun to our drinking party. Who’d have thought?”
Coming out of his brief reverie, Jerry focused back on Brand. “Alright then. I hope I answered all your questions. Won’t matter though. Seems that your time has run out.” He turned to look at Rojas.
“Quinton…” the old guide started to say when the lights in the office flickered off and then back on. Questioningly, he looked around the room. The overhead bulbs blinked a second time. The room was again plunged into darkness. A couple heartbeats passed before the brightness returned. The promise of light also brought an ear piercing assault. Fire alarms screamed a warning. The high-pitched squeal added to the confusion. Mixed in with the alarms unnerving whine came a louder, underlining rancorous rumble, an un-muffled roar that emanated from outside the building and rose up the five floors, reverberating in the closed confines of the office.
“What the...?” Jerry exclaimed. “Get security on the phone and see what in the hell is going on.” He issued the order to the men standing in the room.
Quinton Rojas ignored his boss. Strange sounds outside the building drew his attention toward the large office windows. Puzzled, he gazed down into the parking lot five stories below. Bobbing, solitary headlamps distinguished rows of thundering motorbikes as the machines rolled off the adjoining streets and turned onto the casino grounds. The bikers began flooding the lanes between parked vehicles, weaving their way toward the base of the building.
The individual engines combining with each other to compile a symphony of deep growling undercurrents that vibrated the structure of the casino.
Rojas remained by the window. Casino patrons rushed out the exit doors and into the cool night air, the stampede driven to panic by the screeching alarms blasting through the building.
The second lapse in the room’s lighting foretold a predetermined signal for Brand to advance his plans. He pressed his eyelids closed and breathed deeply, calming his heart, preparing for the chaos to come. His pupils slowly adjusted to the lack of light, his ears sorting through the stuttered movements of the Cartel members in the office.
“Holy shit!” The Colombian, Rojas, exclaimed as the lights in the office went out a third time and remained off.
Before the generators in the sub basement had a chance to switch on and power the emergency lighting, Brand planted his feet firmly, his body tensed and ready.
Launching out of the chair, he dove across the large wooden desk, his leap, one of faith, a complete trust of his memory as to where the gunman in the room stood. In the cover of the unexpected darkness, Brand’s shoulder contacted the soft midsection of the guard standing on the old guide’s left. The momentum from his jump carried the two men back toward the bar in the corner of the office.
Taking advantage of the element of surprise, Brand smashed an elbow into the side of the man’s head, dazing the guard. His other hand fought against the guard’s grasp, both men wrestling for the guard’s handgun. A second slice with an elbow, Brand felt the guard’s tight grip loosen. Brand wrenched the gun free and rolled off the stunned man. With his back tight to the corner bar, he waited motionless, bent low to the floor.
He tracked the others by shouts of disbelief and scurrying feet. Scrambling to his feet, he indiscriminately sent a double tap of bullets traveling in the direction of the desk. Faint silhouettes moved in the tight confines of the office. With no friends in the space, he fired freely, tracking the movements of shadowy figures as they were highlighted by the weak infusion of light filtering through the office windows.
Scrambling footsteps on carpet and the exhalation of breath betrayed the people scurrying in the room. He strained to detect the slight sounds of the others. The escalating roar of poorly muffled bike engines converging in the parking lot raised five stories, reverberating off the interior walls of the office.
Brand squeezed tighter into a corner created by the bar. With shallow breaths, he systematically scanned the room’s interior for living shadows.
The advantage was now his. He had no worries about who he shot, a disadvantage for the Cartel men hunting him. A fleeting shadow crept along a perpendicular wall. He fired and moved, the flash from the gun barrel exposing his position. A startled grunt told him that his bullet wasn’t wasted. A surge of bullets replied and slapped into the wooden bar. Splintering wood and shattering glass exploded outward.
He stuck low to the floor scurrying over splinters and glass. His shoulders brushed a chair lying on its side nearer the middle of the room. The chair he dove from minutes earlier. Extending his hand, he felt in the darkness for the side of the desk.
The cacophony of bike engines increased throwing up a wall of overwhelming sound. He strained to hear. The deafening noise rendered his hearing useless. Taking a risk, he rose up from behind the shelter of the desk and sprayed a round of bullets into the far walls. The guns hammer clicking loudly as it hit an empty chamber.
Cursing, he ducked back below the top of the desk. Trails of light passed overhead as a volley of bullets gouged the desk and potted the wall behind. Thinking quickly he reviewed his options. The safety of shelter was limited. He recalled Susan setting a gun on top the bar after they entered the room, a tinge of regret for removing the gun’s ammunition a curse.
How hard had he hit the first guard he took down? Would the man still be unconscious beside the only other form of shelter in the room?
Taking a couple deep breaths he steadied himself then dove the short distance from the desk. The unmistakeable feel of cloth covered flesh greeted him. Brand felt along the body. His hand stopped at the familiar touch of hardened plastic. With an increased sense of desperation, he fumbled with the fabric of the unconscious guard’s jacket, his fingers searching for the opening to the coats inner pocket.
Deftly, he slid a thumb across the top of the cartridge holder tracing the tapered metal of a casing. Brand hefted the weight of the body and squeezed between the man’s bulk and the edge of the bar. He ripped the spent magazine free of the gun and rammed the full one in its place.
Peering over the shoulder of the downed guard, he searched the darkened room for the remainder of Jerry’s men. At least two were wounded, he figured. That would still leave two guards, Rojas, Jerry and Susan. Susan he discounted because she had left the gun when they entered the room.
He would have to concentrate on Rojas and the other two guards. And Jerry. The old guide had claimed he was ex-military. That set the odds at four to one. All the men, he counted as dangerous and if he lay hidden, the four had the chance to flank his position.
He slid up the wall, his back pressed tight alongside the bar. For a second he focused on the side of the desk facing him. The shadows were unbroken. He fired past the desk hoping for a lucky shot. The wall of noise engulfing the room grew in pitch. His senses overloaded.
A tumbled across the floor and his roll stopped when his shoes contacted the hard material of the desk. With his head tight to the floor he watched. Was it his imagination or…a change in the near complete blackness…a foot shifted a short distance away.
From his awkward position, he twisted bringing the gun inline with the opening under the desk. Brand squeezed the trigger. The bullet found its mark. Even with the numbing sounds of the bikes engines flooding the room, he heard a loud cry of pain. Then he felt, rather than heard, a thud rattled the top of the desk. Another presence loomed out of the dark. Brand fired up into the mass, the bullet sending the guard toppling back.
Brand flipped onto his feet. He braced his hands and lifted the desk. The floor shook when the wooden top fell against the floor. The desk now rested on its side. His actions eliminated the very opening he had just used. From the far wall, bullets tore into the solid desk.
The acrid smoke from the gunpowder that drifted through the closed room thickened making breathing difficult and burning his eyes.
The roar of the motorbike engines peaked and then the brain numbing chaos eased. Brand found the absence of the brain numbing uproar unnerving. In front and to the side he heard the rub of hinges. A door opened then slammed shut.
Who or how many went through the door. He had no way of knowing, but gambling on the others leaving could prove fatal, that thought was quickly replaced by another. Whoever left by the side door now posed an even greater problem? What if that door led into the hallway and back to the main office door?
Brand slid around to the side of the desk putting his back toward the bar. He strained the limits of his sight searching the darkness across the room looking for shadows that didn’t belong. While his attention focused on the far wall, the office door flew open and bullets stung the frame of the desk. The spot he had seconds earlier vacated. Closely following the flurry of shots fired from the door, a shadow moved from the side of the room and rushed forward, a second flash of exploding gunpowder marking the shooter’s positions.
Rolling toward the advancing shadow, Brand fired just above the flare of the exposed gun barrel, aiming for the mass of the person squeezing the trigger. The first of his bullets missed and shattered a window. In a sweeping motion, he pivoted and fired over the top of the overturned desk in the direction of the office door while he leapt back.
The wall of the office met him, stopping his retreat. He bounced off. Dropping to his knees, he waited. His vision temporarily blinded by the flash of gunfire. A primitive scream broke through the brief silence. A shadow lifted from the floor and rushed. Bracing against the wall, Brand straightened to meet the challenge.
One of the guards charged the short distance; the man’s hand held in the air, an empty gun wielded as a club. Brand ducked under the weapon driving a fist square into the man’s mid section. Air erupted in a blast from the guard’s mouth. The man staggered back. Brand braced for another rush realizing that he was exposed to the rest of the room.
A second body rushed him. Brand lowered his gun and fired. The attackers momentum carried into Brand. He struggled to overcome the crush of Rojas’ body as blows were delivered at his head. Using his gun as a club, Brand swung upward, stunning the Colombian with a strike to the man’s jaw. Using his empty hand, he followed the guns arc with a fist to the Colombian’s body. His efforts stopped the forward momentum and drove the man back.
While Rojas shrugged off the assault, he fought to gain his footing, tripping over the sprawling guard. The unexpected collision sent him careening in the direction of the broken window. With impeded vision, Brand watched the blending of shadows and silhouettes dance in the weak glow of lighting from outside the room. As if in slow motion, Brand saw Rojas’ macabre dance to gain his balance while being entwined with guards attempt to rise from the floor.
The combination sent the small Colombian teetering through the shattered window. A pause followed by a harrowing scream as Quinton Rojas body plunged through the opening in the shattered window five stories above ground. The small man held briefly by the shards of glass remaining in the window frame. The guard rose to his feet, turned at the sound of his boss’s terrified scream then clutched desperately to catch hold of falling man’s coat, the flimsy fabric slipping out of his grasp.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Brand fired point blank into the guard, once, twice, then the hammer clicked on a dry cylinder. The man crumpled to the ground.
A breeze blew into the room, the roar from the motorbikes climbing in decibels, rising up to reach the fifth floor. In the room, Brand stood motionless, his senses alert for further attacks. A door slammed followed by the sound of retreating footsteps, the noise in the hallway growing faint, a body or bodies beating a hasty retreat from the room.
The cry of sirens made Brand glance back toward the broken pane of glass. Emergency vehicles, their lights flashing and horns blaring, started to mix into the blend of fire alarms and motorbikes.