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TROUBLESHOOTER

 

by Malcolm Ferrier

 

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CHAPTER FOUR

 

The message was waiting for Donald Grant when he returned to his West End apartment.  He pressed the play button on his answering machine and listened to the Premier's voice recount the details of Steven's shooting an hour earlier.  Grant gazed out of the living room's floor-to-ceiling window at the nighttime view of Stanley Park and thought about his next move.  He'd have to act fast.

He picked up the phone and dialed.  A man's voice answered.

"I just received another call from Stewart," said Grant.  "You're going to have to speed things up."

He listened, and replied "Just do it.  And no more mistakes."

He broke the connection then dialed again.

"Wayne.  I just got your message.  I wanted to let you know everything that can be done is being done…"

 

The next morning, Jack entered the headquarters of the Vancouver Police Department at the south foot of Cambie Bridge.  He crossed the lobby to the glass-enclosed duty desk where a dark-haired, heavyset young woman sat before a bank of monitors.

"Could you let Lieutenant Gardener know that Jack Findlay is here to see him?"

The woman nodded and spoke into the phone.  A few minutes later a sandy-haired man in his middle forties came into the lobby through a set of heavy doors behind the duty desk.  He was wearing a gray suit and had the look of a high school mathematics teacher.  Jack knew that looks were deceiving in the case of Ron Gardner.  A highly competent homicide detective, Gardner had twice been decorated for bravery in the line of duty.  He had joined the VPD in his early twenties and had built a reputation as an ethical, quick thinking investigator.  His face broke into a smile at the sight of Jack.

"Jack!  It's great to see you.  It's been a while."

"It's good to see you too, Ron.  The last time we got together was over that bomb in the Stadium."

"That was a mess.  The game had to be postponed and the crowd nearly rioted while being evacuated.  At least we were able to stop the timer."

"Not a moment too soon, if I remember correctly.  How have you been, Ron?"

"Not too bad.  It's been fairly quiet around here.  The usual.  Until this weekend, that is.  I can imagine why you're here."

"You imagine correctly.  I was hoping to see the gun."

"Follow me."  Ron turned and walked towards the double doors.  Jack followed.

They passed through an area filled with officers’ desks where the usual Sunday morning business of a large metropolitan police department was being conducted.  Various individuals were being booked for a variety of infractions but the hum of focused activity indicated a somewhat higher level of purpose.  Jack could imagine that the events of the past two days had made quite an impact.

They continued down a staircase to a basement sublevel.  They walked down a featureless corridor to a door marked “Evidence Room.”  Ron produced an electronic passcard and passed it in front of a sensor to the right of the door.  There was a click, and they entered the room.

Inside, the small entrance area was separated from the main evidence room by a counter and heavy-duty wire mesh screening.  Behind the counter, an officer sat reading Sports Illustrated.  Ron spoke through the mesh.

"We're going to need to see the rifle from last night."

The officer put down his magazine and stood.

"No problem, sir.  Just give me a moment."

Ron and Jack watched the man walk into the rows of floor-to-ceiling shelves in the main area of the room.  A few moments later he returned with a rifle encased in clear plastic.  He set the gun on the counter and produced a clipboard.

"Please sign here.  You can use the examination room next door."

"Thanks," said Ron.  "We'll have it back in a few moments."

They went next door and set the rifle on the table in the middle of the room.

"They've already been over it," said Ron.  "It's been matched to the shooting last night as well as the night before.  It's a stock Remington hunting rifle.  Thousands are sold every year in the lower mainland alone.  You can buy one at any sporting goods store.  As you may have guessed, the serial numbers are filed and there are no distinguishing marks.  It's a clean job.  The man who left this behind is a pro."

Jack leaned closer to look through the plastic.  This is what he expected.

"What about the scope?" he asked.

"Same deal.  Top-of-the-line hunting scope, available at fine hunting shops everywhere.  The calibration job is outstanding, though.  At 100 meters, the bullet lands only a few millimeters outside of the scope's crosshair point.  Again, the man is a pro.  He knows guns.  That is, if the shooter is the same man who set up this rifle."

"I'm pretty sure he is.  The best always work alone.  Ron, once again I can't thank you enough.  I think I've seen all I need."

"Glad to help.  I still owe you from last time.  I'll walk you out."

They returned the rifle to the evidence locker and made their way back to the main floor.

"We're producing a list of suspects from the gun registry but it's a long one," said Ron.  "Dispersed across BC, too.  We're also checking gun clubs and hunting shops, but nothing yet.  I'll let you know if something breaks."

"Thanks," said Jack.  "You can reach me at the same number."

They shook, and Jack left the building.

 

To catch a hunter, he'd have to think like one.

Jack knelt on a zazen cushion, counting his breaths.  Although one was supposed to let go of thoughts during meditation, Jack found the activity helped him to focus his mind and find solutions to difficult problems.

It was clear that the man he was seeking had considerable skills.  It was also likely he had military experience, and was able to think both tactically and strategically.  His plan for the assassination of Richard Deck was well-designed and essentially foolproof, and his escape from the police last night showed an ability to adapt and improvise.

But what were his motivations?  Why was he trying to kill BC's political leaders?  To be sure, the present administration was not popular.  They had gained an overwhelming majority in the last election due to the bungling of the previous leadership.  However, they had used this majority to implement controversial legislation, dramatically cutting funding for education, health care, and other social services.  Even though the attacks were on the Ministers of Education and Health, Jack found it hard to believe that government funding cuts would lead a man like this to murder.

There had to be more to it, but Jack didn't have the pieces.  He'd have to move forward with what he had.  The hunting rifle and calibrated scope, the patient wait for the right shot, and the ability to predict and influence his target’s behavior all pointed toward an experienced hunter.  And a hunter needed prey.

Jack would become the bait.

 

Jack quickly put together a cover story.  If questioned, he would claim to be an anonymous representative of a Saudi oil magnate needing a discreet individual for "wet" work.  He put on a dark suit, emptied his wallet of identification, and used the phone to arrange the delivery of a rental car to his address.

He spent the rest of the afternoon visiting hunting gear shops in the Lower Mainland.  He would enter a store, get the feel of the place, and approach a likely looking employee.  After some small talk, he'd ask the employee to show him the store's rifles.  If his intuition told him to proceed, Jack would look pointedly at the rifles and drop a line about needing to find someone who wasn't afraid of some "rough" work.  The first six stores he visited produced nothing, but the seventh proved to be the charm.

Jack entered Barney's Army Surplus on Terminal Street fifteen minutes before closing time.  There were few patrons in the dimly lit, overstocked establishment.  He made his way past racks of camouflage army fatigues and shelves of camping gear to the counter at the back.  The two employees in the shop were discussing a recent transaction.

"I'm telling you, he arrived twenty minutes late and then couldn't get the grinder started."  The first speaker wore thick, dark-framed glasses that made his eyes appear slightly cockeyed.  He was dressed in a Rush T-shirt and jeans, and appeared to be in his early thirties.

"That's happened to me.  You'd think they'd make sure the one thing their business depended on was working properly."  The second speaker was younger than the first, with short spiky blond hair and a post-punk wardrobe.

"Anyway, so he tells me that he's gonna do it by hand, that it'll be better that way," resumed Eyeglasses.

"Bullshit."

"That's what I said.  I said, 'Bullshit, you're gonna screw it up.'"

"What'd he say?"

"He said, like, 'No man, I've done this lots.'"

"So what'd you do?"

"I handed in the knife."

"You did?"

"What was I gonna do?  I needed it sharpened, the man was a mobile knife sharpener, so I let him do it by hand."

"What happened?"

"He actually did a good job."

Jack moved up to the counter.

"I was hoping you could help me," he asked.

Eyeglasses turned to Jack as if resentful for the interruption.  Seeing there might be money here, he forced a smile.

"Can I help you?"  The tone was not accommodating.

"Yes.  I'd like to take a look at your hunting rifles."

"Follow me."  Eyeglasses came out from behind the counter and led Jack to a locked glass case on the side wall.  Inside were a number of rifles, including a Winchester.

"Any particular model?" asked Eyeglasses.

Jack pointed at the Winchester.

"That one," he said.

Eyeglasses pulled a large set of keys from his pocket and selecting one, unlocked the case.  He pulled the Winchester out of its rack and handed it to Jack.

"Good choice.  You find the sights are more precise than the Remington. This'll drop a grizzly in its tracks from 50 meters and with an attached scope you could have a day of hunting without leaving your campsite."

Jack looked over the rifle and then lifted it to his shoulder.  Looking down the sights at the store wall, he imagined the way the man he was seeking had felt before pulling the trigger and ending another man's life.  It was a sense of power, but Jack found it distasteful.  He lowered the weapon.

"It's a quality product," said Jack.  "But to tell you the truth, it's not why I'm here."

Eyeglasses suddenly looked wary.  "You're not a cop, are you?"

"No, I'm not."

"We've already had cops in here today.  They're looking for someone who may have bought a rifle recently.  To do with the shooting of that government guy Friday night."

"I'm not a cop.  But I may be looking for the same person.  Someone who's not afraid to use one of these."  Jack held up the Winchester.

"I couldn't help the cops and I can't help you."  Eyeglasses took the rifle from Jack and locked it back in the case.  "We're closing now."

Jack had the feeling that this man knew more than he was telling.  He pulled out a money clip and removed a $100 bill.

"This gets me five more minutes."

Eyeglasses looked at the bill, uncertain for a moment.  Greed quickly won over, and he took the bill.  "Five more minutes, and that's all."

"I'm not a cop.  I represent…other interests.  All I need from you is a name.  Someone who can help my employer deal with certain problems.  It'll be rewarding for you and you'll remain completely anonymous."

"How rewarding?"

"A name will get you a thousand bucks.  However, a lie will get you dead.  I believe it's a fair deal."

Eyeglasses looked across the store at his partner.  Even though Post-punk was out of earshot, Eyeglasses lowered his voice. 

"Two thousand.  Not negotiable."

Jack's face remained impassive but inside he felt relief.  He was finally getting somewhere.  He had been prepared to spend more than two grand, especially since it was the government's money.  It's too bad he couldn't get a commendation for thriftiness.

"Two thousand, then," said Jack.  He counted off twenty hundred dollar bills and handed them over.  "What have you got?"

Eyeglasses leaned toward him and spoken a low tone.  "It's not the name of a person, but a place.  I've heard it's where most of the big deals go through.  You're sure to find the man you're looking for there."

"What's the name?"

"The Gastown Gun Club.  It's near the East Hastings end of the street.  Talk to Rick.  He'll find who you need."

"Thanks.  Keep in mind if you're lying to me I'll be back with friends."

Eyeglasses looked earnest.  "I'm not lying.  Rick's the one to talk to.  But you'll have to convince him you're not a cop.  Some cash will probably help."

Jack nodded and left the shop.  Outside, he walked to his rental and got in.  Finally, some progress.  He'd pay a visit to the Gastown Gun Club first thing tomorrow.

 

As soon as the man in the suit stepped out the door, Eyeglasses picked up the phone and dialed.  While the line rang at the other end, he thought about his visitor.  He didn't like the look in the man's eyes.  At all.  Finally the phone at the other end was picked up.

"Yeah?"

"Rick.  It's Fred.  I'm sorry to be calling you at home, but there something you gotta know…"

 

The next morning, Jack walked into the Gastown Gun Club.  He had checked the place out using police and government databases and found a few interesting facts.  It was a nonprofit organization managed by Rick McCallum, a former bouncer.  He had been banned from his previous occupation due to excessive force in the performance of his duties, putting a club-goer into a wheelchair permanently.  He had been arrested a few times after this on charges of theft and assault, but nothing had stuck.  A gun enthusiast, McCallum had been involved in the Gastown Gun Club for years.  He had recently applied for and received the position of manager.

It was a large space, probably converted from a warehouse.  The ceilings were high and the wood floors looked like they hadn't been swept for a while.  Sunlight streamed in from windows high on the walls, illuminating the room.  There was hunting equipment for rent, a small library/bookstore, and a meeting area with couches, but the centerpiece of the room was obviously the range.

It was off to the side of the room.  Walls had been knocked down to create a long firing range.  The roof was low over this area and the floor covered in sand.  Several paper targets hung from hooks at the end of the range, and thick corkboard covered the wall behind the targets.  The hooks ran along tracks and could automatically be moved toward the shooter to inspect the results of a session.

Standing at the firing line were two men.  One was large, with the look of a bike gang member going to fat.  The other was smaller, more wiry.  Jack guessed that this was Tim Carter, the assistant manager.  The other was likely McCallum.  They had both heard the bell over the door as Jack came in, and were looking at him.  At this time on a Monday morning there were no other patrons.  Jack walked straight across the room to where they were standing.

"Good morning.  I'm looking for Mr. McCallum," said Jack.

"That's me," the large one replied.  "What can I do for you?"

"I've been told you'd be able to help me.  Can we talk in private?"  Jack looked over at the smaller man.

"Whatever you say to me you can say to Tim.  He's my right-hand man," said McCallum.

"Alright then.  I'll get straight to the point.  I've been told that you might be able to connect me with a man that can shoot straight, no questions asked.  No matter what the target."

"I know a lot of straight shooters.  What's this all about?"

"My employer needs a man that can follow orders.  Someone to help him take care of a few problems.  If you can point me in the right direction, he'd be grateful."

"How much is this worth?"

"I can give you a thousand for a name."

During this conversation, Tim was edging out of Jack's field of vision, toward a nearby cabinet.  An alarm bell went off in Jack's head.  As Tim slid open the drawer and reached in, Jack aimed a kick at the drawer's handle.  It crashed shut on Tim's hand as he pulled out a Black Eagle handgun.  Tim screamed in pain but still tried to level the gun at Jack.  Jack twisted his body sideways and hooked the wrist of Tim's gun arm with his left hand.  The gun fired but Tim's injury combined with Jack's deflection caused the bullet to whistle harmlessly past Jack's right side.

With a fluid, continuous motion, Jack wrapped his right hand around Tim's gun hand.  He twisted in a circle upwards and to the side, and Tim was forced backwards to the ground.  There was a loud snap, and Tim was screaming again.

"My arm!  You broke my fucking arm!"

Jack picked up the gun and spun around to see McCallum making a quick exit out the back door.  Jack turned back to Tim and held the gun to Tim's head.

"You'd better be able to tell me what I need to know."

Tim looked panicked.

"I don't know nothing!  Rick's the boss here!  He got a call yesterday from Fred and he told me we had to take you out!  That's all I know!"

Tim's eyes slid shut and his face went waxy.  Jack scooped the phone off a nearby counter and dropped it on the floor by Tim.

"You'd better call yourself an ambulance," said Jack.  As Tim dialed 911, Jack headed out the back door and was just in time to see McCallum exiting the far end of the alley on to Carrall Street.  Jack ran after him.

As he sprinted down the alley, Jack pulled the ammo clip from the gun and ejected the bullet from the chamber.  He tossed the gun and ammunition down a sewer grill and ran out onto the sidewalk.

Jack had three reasons for disposing of the gun.  First, he was sure McCallum wasn't carrying a gun or he would have pulled it while Jack was fighting Tim.  Second, Jack had no idea where the gun had been.  He didn't want to be stopped by the police while possibly carrying a murder weapon.  Dropping the gun in the sewer would eliminate his fingerprints.  Third, like most martial artists, Jack hated guns.  They could instantly change the balance of power in a fight no matter what the skill of the combatants.  He felt better off without them.

His target could move fast for a big man.  McCallum tore down the sidewalk, knocking over tourists as he went.  Jack followed in his wake, dodging pedestrians and slowly gaining.  McCallum looked back and increased his speed.  He left Carrall Street and turned onto East Hastings.

One of the poorest neighborhoods in Canada, East Hastings was the inner-city home to a large population of transients, intravenous drug users, sex trade workers, and the homeless.  At this time on a Monday morning, the streets were busy but the sprinters attracted little attention as they ran.  A foot race was not out of place in this neighborhood.  There was the odd comment but they were not impeded.  People made it a habit to mind their own business here.

After a few blocks, McCallum turned down a side street and ducked into an alley.  Jack followed.

The alleys of East Hastings were used frequently by the Vancouver film industry to depict gritty, urban environments.  They were the archetypal dark alleys in which one wouldn't want to meet an undesirable.  Garbage and cardboard boxes lined the backs of local businesses, and power lines crisscrossed overhead.  The uneven pavement was slick with oily-looking water.

Jack could see immediately that McCallum had made a bad choice.  The alley went for half a block and ended at the back of an apartment building.  There were a few men playing craps at the end of the alley who watched with interest as McCallum fruitlessly tried to open one of the building’s reinforced doors.  Jack walked slowly down the alley towards McCallum and stopped twenty feet away.

"We need to talk," said Jack.

McCallum looked wildly at Jack and then turned to the dice players.

"500 bucks each if you take care of this asshole for me," said McCallum.

One of the men stood.  He was tall and thin with a weather-beaten face, dressed in a worn grey parka.

"Let's see the money."

McCallum pulled out his wallet and looked inside.

"I haven't got it all here.  When you're done, we'll go to a bank machine…"

Grey Parka motioned to his companions.

"No cash, no trash.  We don't take credit."

As the group headed out of the alley, Grey Parka nodded to Jack.

"I don't know what business you have to transact with him, but don't take a check."

Jack smiled.  "Don't worry.  All he owes me are answers."

McCallum stood with his feet planted, red in the face.  Expressions of rage and wounded pride alternated as he spat at Jack.

"I don't know what the hell you did to Tim, but it's not going to work with me.  I'm going to tear your motherfucking head off."

Jack knew he couldn't toy with this one.  Anger was dangerous, especially combined with physical size.  However, he also knew that anger impaired judgment.  He planned to take full advantage of this fact.  His feet moved into the stable "T" shape of the Aikido resting stance.

"You look like you're about to explode, my friend.  Why don't we sit down and you can tell me your problems."

With a roar, McCallum charged towards Jack, arms outstretched.  Jack moved to the side, ready for a circular throw, but McCallum was more cunning than Jack had anticipated.  McCallum's charge was a bluff, and he feinted to the left.  McCallum's full weight hit Jack and slammed him into the wall.  Winded, Jack managed to block McCallum's flurry of blows and twisted away from the wall.  He moved back to the middle of the alley, trying to catch his breath.  He wouldn't underestimate McCallum again.

"Not so smug now, are you?" said McAllen.  "I'm gonna beat you to death."

Jack said nothing, just gave him the Bruce Lee "come-at-me" motion with his fingers.  McAllen moved quickly towards him and dodged again, this time to the right.  Jack, however, was ready.  He moved inside McCallum's space before McCallum could finish his maneuver, placed both arms across McCallum's wide chest, and tossed the man headfirst into the oily pavement with a hip throw.

Jack regretted the violence but realized the necessity of it.  McCallum, if left unchecked, would sooner or later get the upper hand with his greater size and strength.  Besides, Jack fully expected the man to have a head like a rock.

He wasn't wrong.  Already McCallum was groaning and trying to get up onto his hands and knees.  Jack grabbed one of McCallum's arms and twisted it behind his back in an elbow lock.  A little pressure would cause the man some pain; even more would break his arm.  McCallum gritted his teeth and let out a long stream of curses.

Jackie ignored them.  "There's only two ways this can end.  One, you tell me what I need to know. Two, I break your arm and you tell me what I need to know."

McCallum swore again.

"Fine.  You've got another arm, two legs, and a lot of fingers, which leaves me with a lot of options."  Jack put more pressure on the arm.

"All right!  All right!  What do you want to know?"

"Who put you up to killing me?"

"No one!"

Jack increased the pressure on McCallum's arm.

"No, really!" shouted McCallum.  "We were just supposed to steer you away, but I thought…"

"You thought you'd indulge your homicidal impulses.  Bad move.  Who's paying for all this?"

"I don't know."  More pressure.  "No!  Really I don't!  I got an unmarked letter with cash in it promising more if I could arrange a shooter.  I knew of a guy and I hooked them up."

"How?"

"The money man called and I told them how to reach the shooter."

"How?"

"Through the Galiano Rod and Gun club.  The shooter's name is Richards.  He's ex-military and hates the government.  I met him while I was at the club."

"What about the money man?"

"He only said a few words.  He sounded older, like the cigarette guy from the X-Files.  That's all I know."

Jack believed him.  This one was all about his own skin and didn't have the imagination to create this story.  Jack eased up on the man's arm.

"I suggest you and your partner get out of Vancouver.  Bad things will happen if you don't."

Jack released the man and backed away.  McCallum slowly got to his feet, his face bright red.

"Fuck you."

He stalked over to the side of the alley and kicked over a trash can.

"Fuck you.  Fuck you!"

He punched the wall.  He was like a schoolyard bully trying to get his courage up to attack after being beaten.  Jack continued to back away until he reached the end of the alley.  His last image of McCallum was of a child having a tantrum.

The truth was, Jack no longer cared about McCallum and his friend.  He had his lead, and he was on his way to Galiano Island.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2006 Malcolm Ferrier

 

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