Never Look Back

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Chapter 78

Detective John Albert Sands rested his elbows on his file- and paper-cluttered desk and rubbed his temples where a slowly intensifying headache throbbed. Lack of sleep left him physically weary and emotionally exhausted. His brain had turned to mush. Kidnappers had yet to tender a ransom. Why grab a wealthy family’s daughter and not demand money? If money wasn’t the goal, what was? Nothing about this case made sense. And what about the military element that refused reconciliation with the apparent facts? Questions for which he lacked answers intensified his headache.

What the hell was Garland up to?

One cop executed. Another seriously wounded. The coroner stated he found an entrance wound at the base of officer Jeffery Brown’s head. Soot, smoke, and unburned powder were identified inside the wound. Given the trajectory of the bullet alley and the exit wound, the gun had been angled upward, indicating the shooter had probably fired from a low position. No sign of defensive wounds. The killer had likely snuck up behind the car, pressed the barrel to the back of Brown’s head, squeezed the trigger, then stood up and fired at Officer Jameson in the passenger seat. A very cool cucumber, this shooter.

Strong indication of a professional assassin.

According to Garland’s military file, he never saw active combat up close and personal. Sure, he partook in live exercises, but he had no direct combat experience. The rifle company he served under played a supportive role on active engagements. His first three-year training rotation ended when he committed manslaughter. High probability whoever killed officer Brown had killed previously. Could Sands have completed the mission behind enemy lines? Could he have worked his way up behind two veterans? With patience, sure.

High likelihood the assassin, or assassins, had military or law enforcement training. And they had been in the shitstorm more than once. Enough times to have the wherewithal to assassinate one cop, and then to attempt a second assassination, but not with the wherewithal to confirm his kills. Despite the mistake, the shooter had cool detachment. Garland’s conviction involved a saviour element. It was not cold and cruel and premeditated. Sands resisted going where his thinking was taking him.

“Here, partner,” said O’Reilly, offering two aspirins, as well as fingerprint and ballistic reports. “Frank was bang on. Fingerprints pulled from Brown’s sidearm recovered from the mailbox match Garland’s prints on file. A fourteen-point match. No doubt. Ballistics excluded Brown’s weapon from the slug pulled outta Jameson and Brown. Firing pin markings scaring the nine-millimetre casings have the typical Glock signature. All casings accounted for. Garland emptied a full clip into that oncoming car. Very frosty customer to stand there while fired upon, or daft as a duck. Slug fragments picked out of the walls inside Hidden Oaks admin building were automatic calibre, maybe a machine pistol. Glaser Safety ammo. Nasty fucking shit. The slugs retrieved from the exterior match Brown’s weapon. Our subject was in a gun battle.

“The round fired into Jameson hit his breastbone and fragmented, saving his life. We’re tracing purchases for the past twelve months, but you know the story. Ammo was imported illegally, same as the hardware. Just cuz we don’t sell full auto shit here, hardly fucking slows it turning up on the streets. Our convict didn’t shoot Brown or Jameson. Garland’s partners performed those deeds.”

Sands chased down the aspirins with water.

“What are today’s reports on Jameson’s condition?”

“The surgeon removed all fragments without complications, but he’s lost a lot of blood, and suffered a collapsed lung which they managed to re-inflate. Stable, but critical condition. Scheduled to be moved outta IC later today. Jameson’s one tough dude to pull through this far.”

“When can we talk to him?”

“Maybe tomorrow morning. Still got a tube down his throat so he can breathe. It’s a miracle he’s alive. Whoever called it in and patched him up saved his life: if he continues to breathe, that is. I wonder who our Good Samaritan was?”

Sands shuffled papers inside a file and met O’Reilly’s gaze.

“I contacted Kincaid to see if she could explain the equipment Bitterman and Nelson found when they flipped Garland’s place. His military file cited basic repel training from stationary structures. Garland’s sister said he climbed for fun, and that he was planning to tackle a K3 summit. She couldn’t remember Garland’s climbing buddy’s last name. All I got was Lee or David. No last name. Kincaid told me when Garland was sixteen, he took part in National Park Services recruitment program offered to promising teenage athletes. Program included wilderness survival training, canoeing, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, kayaking, mountain climbing, basket rescue, rappelling, and first-aid.”

“Hey,” interrupted O’Reilly taking his feet from his desktop, “didn’t the ER doc say whoever did that trick with the pen had EM field-dressing knowledge equal to that given to National Park Services?”

“Affirmative. What’s more, he said it was old training. First aid kits now include plastic resuscitators that can be broken down for field tracheotomies and other emergie reasons. Have we confirmed voiceprint analysis of the ‘officer down’ call-in to Garland’s voice from prison telephone archives?”

“No.” O’Reilly shook his head wistfully. “Informatics said they’ll complete the computer analysis any time now, but Beck, his PO, says it could be him.”

“Care to make another wager? Double or nothing on the fiver?”

“What? You think this scumbag saved a cop with first aid learned at kiddie camp, and then called it in? Don’t make no sense why a hardened criminal would do that.”

“Agreed.” Sands picked up a stolen goods inventory. “Army surplus store on King Street reported a break-in Tuesday night. And get this, enough money to pay for the gear was left on the counter. Ever heard of someone breaking into a store and paying for his booty? The thief made off with butane torches, suction cups, 400 feet of nylon sheathed rope, climbing boots, backpacks, combat boots, an eight-inch K-Bar knife, a compass, climbing shoes and harness, karabiners, a grapnel, and a few sets of dark clothes and green jungle army fatigues. All the gear we found hanging across the street from Mansbridge’s condo matched the stolen inventory list. Most of what the manager reported stolen is exactly what I would have needed to scale a very tall building. We did not retrieve half of what was taken. Garland’s planning something other than just Mansbridge’s condo.”

“You got my attention. Go on.”

“Blood samples taken from the road and from the fence behind a house on the opposite side of street from Mansbridge’s condo match the blood-type in his military medical file. Arson investigator stated the gas mains in Mansbridge’s home were rigged to blow from the inside. Said he found pieces of an interrupt valve used in commercial buildings and refineries for repair purposes. We tracked the serial number to an Alberta oil company. They shipped it to an Argentinean refinery months ago. Dead end trail. That valve isn’t cleared for residential use. Someone modified it. Safe to say Garland was at her condo, and he escaped using stolen gear, but I don’t think he rigged the valve. Nothing anywhere indicates he acquired that kind of training before he was imprisoned, or since.”

“I don’t get why he would blow up the condo, anyway,” offered O’Reilly. “We went over the place with a fine-toothed comb. Nothing there except evidence of a break-in, a tussle and a shooting. His prints were all over the goddamned joint. I’m still wondering why the kidnappers thrashed it, and why they snuck back to lay that booby-trap if our boy didn’t do it. Like, maybe they were ensuring no one could ever return to collect additional evidence. We can’t rule that out.”

“What if the condo wasn’t his fire mission? What if he mission was recon but he stepped into an ambush? First, he doubles back to Hidden Oaks, plugs the hole in Jameson’s chest with the wilderness stuff; calls in the shooting, but only after he discovered someone was in the admin building. Whatever he was looking for was important enough to risk a wounded cop’s life,” Sands noted. “How’d he know there was something important in that building to begin with, or that somebody was there? Mansbridge reported Garland did the computer work and placed a backup system in the electrical room. Our techs found evidence of a missing device hidden in the ceiling space consistent with Mansbridge’s description.

“Bus stop witnesses reported a car being fired upon tried to run a guy over. Real frosty guy who stood in the middle of the road returning fire while being fired upon. Garland was proficient with small arms. He qualified expert marksman. Each of his weapons’ instructors cited better than average skills in his evaluation reports. Garland’s sister alluded to the same thing. The whole family enjoys small game hunting and the father belongs to a gun range. It wouldn’t have been difficult for Garland to operate that Glock, not with marksman accuracy, but some things you never forget. From close range I bet he could still decently group lead.”

Sands shuffled more papers until he found the right report.

“Same witnesses saw the shooter dump the Glock in the mailbox. Why throw it in the mailbox in front of witnesses if he was directly involved? He wanted us to find it. Now Garland visits the vic’s condo where he manages to save his six after putting his climbing experience to use.”

Sands choose a thick file in a pile of folders, flipped through a few pages and paraphrased, “One of the five deceased at Katana Dojo was on the Border Agency’s banned entry list. Juan Garcia Carnero, born June /82, Guatemala. Twelve-year army veteran who made sergeant stripes. He fought in a handful of Central American jungle skirmishes. You know how it is down there with the border changing every six months. Few years back he was busted out of his unit when an undisclosed amount of cocaine was found in his kit bag deplaning in San Salvador. A political bigwig paid his bail. He ain’t been heard from since, till now. Last known address unknown. Last known employer unknown. Yadda. Yadda. Yadda.”

“What about the other three?” asked Patty.

“Interpol hasn’t replied to our request for information on the other three sets of prints. Carnero popped up because of his criminal record.” Closing the file, Sands said, “Sasamori cooperated partially with questions regarding Garland and the five heavily armed deceased who assaulted the dojo and its living quarters. He refused to report anything outside the incident except to say Garland defended himself, Sasamori’s home, and his daughter against an unprovoked, overwhelming force and he’s a dojo student. Sasamori adamantly denies knowledge of Garland’s whereabouts. When we asked about his daughter’s role, his responses were similarly helpfully unhelpful. He admits no knowledge of her current whereabouts, and he strongly denies any link between Garland, or the elements who assaulted the dojo. It ain’t a leap to say she’s joined him. To frustrate matters, forensics needs more time to arrive at a meaningful conclusion about the crime scene. We need those answers before we can question Sasamori further with any hope of success. Short of putting him in front of a judge, the old guy won’t talk except to report what he witnessed firsthand.”

Patty shook his head.

“Yeah. I know. We’re going to have to cut Sasamori loose soon or lay charges. Head prosecutor ain’t nowhere close to laying charges against an old man who defended himself and his daughter and their home against five foreign mercenaries with enough firepower to start a war. Even Garland will skate on this one. I’m betting we learn more than just one of the assailants is on several American and Canadian federal agency shit lists.”

O’Reilly scratched his lip before adding, “I tried to jar something loose outta forensics other than their preliminary report, but they won’t budge. They’re under pressure from above to get this one correct. City ain’t never seen the likes of this. Military bean jumpers carrying Special Operations grade weapons and communications gear operating openly on Canadian soil. Maybe Garland wasn’t defending against strangers. Maybe he dragged these mutts up from Mexico or from some sandbox farther south?”

“It’s pretty clear our subject didn’t run,” said Sands. “He’s looking for Odera Mansbridge. And it’s tied to the computers at Hidden Oaks, Mansbridge’s condo and all the rest of this shit. Everyone of those machines were wiped clean and yielded nothing to our tech team. And one doesn’t hire mercs out of classifieds. Has got to be a large payday from somewhere else not to request a million-dollar ransom from daddy Mansbridge. Why’d Garland leave those phone messages for the victim a day after she went missing if he’s in on the snatch? And if he ain’t involved, why is he a target?”

“That’s a fucking lot of somethings partner, but I’m beginning to form a secondary theory myself.”

“Guys,” called out a tawny-haired officer. “Here’s the voiceprint analysis,” Peggy Stewart said dropping the folder onto Sand’s desk. “There’s a ninety-four percent probability whoever radioed in the shooting matches the voiceprint sample you supplied. How’s Jameson? Any leads?”

“Alive,” O’Reilly said. “We’re running through the numbers, but nothing solid.”

“Nail the bastards, would you. Jameson’s a sweet guy with four kids. His wife and brother haven’t left his side in three days.”

“We could share nailing techniques over dinner. Bet you got one or two you could bring me current on.”

“Oooh, now I’m all hot and bothered.” When O’Reilly smiled at her, she declared, “Make that just plain bothered.”

“One of these days you’re going to say yes.”

“Until then, the answer is still no. But keep trying O’Reilly, eventually I’ll be able to retire on a sexual harassment lawsuit.”

Halfway across the floor, Peggy’s middle finger, raised in salute behind her back, greeted O’Reilly’s appreciative gaze.

“She likes me. We got this love/hate thing going on. I’m wearing her down”

“Likes embarrassing you is what I’m getting.” Turning serious, Sands petitioned, “Did you read the hotel incident report?”

“Yeah, main convention floor. Assault on two men and a woman with pepper, plus physical assaults on the men. No one witness saw everything. Happened too fast. We received different views and sketchy accounts. By the time security arrived, the assailants were gone. And they didn’t pop up on any camera. The three victims headed straight out the front door and refused to speak to hotel staff who tried to help. We caught them on two cameras. Half a dozen witnesses swear two other men came to their aid and helped to escort them out of the building. Front door camera’s confirmed witness statements.

“The sales rep working at the closest stall said a man wearing a punk’s street toque and sunglasses dropped two stocky guys traveling with a late-twenties female companion. One witness swears an Asian woman, who also wore dark glasses, had the late-twenties female bent over a table with her arm twisted behind her back. No description of the Asian woman beyond saying that she was Asian with her hair done up in a bun. Baggy clothes prevented a body description. No description beyond the hat and sunglasses of the instigator, either. But the late-twenties woman and the other men were reported as being Spanish speaking, maybe Latino. Another witness stated one of the Latino men had a ‘big scary silver handgun with a dark handle.’ No weapons were recovered.”

“First we have a South American gas valve, heavily armed ex-military trained Latinos, and now this,” thought Sands aloud. “Isn’t flinging fistfuls of pepper a prison trick? Call the closest prison. Mansbridge reported his daughter was at the convention last week. See if anyone working there can identify Odera Mansbridge, Kira Sasamori and Garland’s photographs. We`ll interview the kiosk sales rep ourselves.”

“You think he went with Mansbridge to the computer and technology convention, and returned later with Sasamori’s daughter? Hoping to learn what? And for what reason?”

“Now that’s the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. Too many reports include computers. I want to know why. Maybe this salesman can shed light. Why the hell is a man suspected of kidnapping worried about a gun being picked up off the street unless he was leaving us breadcrumbs? Why not keep it? Why did a hardened convict save a cop? Again, more breadcrumbs that point to his innocence. And what was so fucking important to him to wait before calling in the shooting unless it was the woman?”

“How do you know he waited?”

“Because he knew as soon as he made the call, we’d race over there. He plugged the hole in Jameson’s chest before going inside. Later, he had his hands full. No time to administer first aid. And Jameson did not climb into the backseat by himself. Garland moved him out of harm’s way before he went inside.” Leaning forward, he raised one hand and ticked the reasons off, “Blood splatters inside the building don’t match his blood type. They’re too fresh to have belonged to the secretaries, or anyone else who worked dayshift, including the officers, who never left the vehicle. Our boy had an altercation inside. Garland interrupted whoever was stealing the optical drive Mansbridge reported was missing. What information attached to an architectural design company could be worth killing one cop, and leaving the other for dead? Mansbridge sure as hell doesn’t know. If Garland had known what was up, why didn’t he arm himself before going inside?”

“Like I said, ice-fucking thin. I’m a partial believer, now that we’ve confirmed voiceprint and blood-type match. And that undressed squad car was riddled with automatic fire. Somebody inside definitely hurried out after Garland and cornered him by the car. That’s why our subject fired up the siren. Otherwise, they would have noticed Jameson slumped in the backseat and finished the job. Our scumbag didn’t arm himself before going inside cuz they were all acquainted. He didn’t expect no grief. I’ll buy that Garland didn’t run. But I don’t buy shit about him looking for the broad, unless it’s because his crew fucked him over. I think he went to his sister’s to weave an alibi for the coming shitstorm. Only his crew got nervous at the media exposure. They moved the broad and Garland’s sniffing her out like the worthless mutt he is. And now they’re sending out boys to ice him.”

Sands interjected, “The landlady said they were boyfriend/girlfriend. Mansbridge introduced herself to the neighbours. Nowhere in her diary does she write she intended to leave him. Besides bitching about his stubbornness, it reads like a fucking Harlequin romance. It’s difficult to reconcile what that journal says about Garland and the man on paper before us.”

“Yeah. Well, maybe. But Ol’ lady Wilson said the vic screamed bloody murder Sunday night, and later, was seen balling. Mansbridge reported a nightmare to explain her screaming and crying. What she really had was a nightmare boyfriend she was scared shitless of. We’ll see what Brinkman says about Garland and their domestic problems. We got an appointment in less than an hour.”

“That’s what I love about you, Patty. You always find the best in people.”

“The guy’s a fucking killer. His kind ain’t hard to see through. Fucking dime a dozen. He bombed outta the forces when his true nature for causing harm to others surfaced. He’s lucky the judge didn’t stick premeditation on him. He snapped that guy’s neck without a second thought. I’m taking this scumbag and his pals down before they hurt someone else.”

“Except he doesn’t have a history of violence against women, which seems to rule out the reason for Mansbridge’s crying that night, and he may have saved a life. According to Sasamori, Garland acted valiantly to defend his home. I don’t like inconsistencies. And then there’s the matter of the ammo, weapons, tactics, and at least one deceased mercenary, with the possibility of four others.”

O’Reilly theorised, “Maybe he started beating the broad when he figured she was going to leave him. You know, scare, control and dominate. It ain’t the first time we’ve seen that. As for the shooting, he called it in for brownie points. He’s clever. A real calculating bastard who will show his true colours. I agree with you, though, given the hardware, maybe one or more of his accomplices are Mexican or South American. It would explain a lot, partner. Maybe he wanted guys with military training. Guys he could count on in tight spots. That’s why we see ex-military. Maybe his partners are losers that got their asses tossed out like him. There’s an angle we should be running down.”

Sands nodded.

“Whoever snatched Mansbridge were experienced. And where’s the ransom demand? No demand; no cut to chase. I don’t think money motivated this case. The auto slugs we pulled out of the wall bother me as well. I see gangland drug cartel all over this. Automatic shit and paramilitary tactics are generally linked to drugs, money and to power plays, not an innocent woman with a well-to-do father. Cross-reference for other Canadian dishonourable discharges that might have served prison time with Garland. And let’s put a rush on the prints of the deceased against Interpol military records. Good call, Patty.”

“Now that’s a bitch about the ransom. Me, I think our convict is into more than we initially suspected. We need to widen our field of inquiry. Drugs could definitely be part of it. Explains the Spanish speaking connection as well as the possible mercenary team, the ammo and why they tossed the vic’s crib. Maybe Garland fucked up ― made big promises he couldn’t keep. Now he owes mucho dinero for mucho kilos. That’s why they came after him at the dojo. Poor old Sasamori don’t know what a lying shit Garland is.

“As far as Mansbridge goes, perhaps our victim was with the wrong guy at the wrong time and didn’t have nothin’ to do with nothin’ except for having poor taste in bad-boy scumbags. Garland’s drug connection grabbed her because he owes them big coin and she’s a great way to motivate him. Or maybe it’s something as simple as revenge and he’s after his traitorous partners. No way, no how can one predict to what lengths a man like Garland will go for payback.”

“That’s what has me worried,” Sands murmured rising to his feet. “Bring Garland’s prison psyche file. Maybe this shrink can shed light on our subject. I gotta a feeling we ain’t going to jump for joy, Patty.”

“Want to bet the fiver I owe he’s a stark-raving psycho ’bout to set a new slay record? Our shrink said Garland’s unstable, disconnected from his emotions ― a ticking time bomb who’s got little respect for the law except when it suits him. You come up with a reason yet why his prints were all over the vic’s windows?”

“Nope,” Sands said shaking his head. “The answer’s in this diary, but I just can’t yank it loose. Last entry was Friday night, over a week before the snatch. It says she decided to follow a family tradition. Was going to bust him out of jail. I spoke with her parents, but they don’t have any idea what she was referring to. Old lady Fraser hasn’t returned our calls.”

“We’ll swing by Fraser’s after the shrink. C’mon. It’s getting near the end of office hours.”

“Send Bitterman and Nelson back to the Katana Dojo after the forensics’ team signs off. See what they dredge up. Sasamori is holding back. He should be worried sick about his daughter and climbing the walls over her safety. Instead, he doesn’t seem shaken up at all. He’s sitting in protective custody calm and cool. Never even requested a lawyer. Cut him loose. Put twenty-four-hour surveillance on him until we catch Garland. Maybe Garland and his daughter will make contact. Clear it with the prosecutor’s office first. Submit a request for an expert on martial arts, specifically kendo, to come into the station and brief us on the scope of its nature.”

Detective Sands rose from his seat.

“Ask Officer Tamara to contact Border Services and run all entries into Canada from Mexico and Central- and South America for the last six months and see how many haven’t departed. Then we take that list and send it to the appropriate consulates and request information regarding military background and criminal record. Run everything through facial recognition.”

“Agreed. I’ll contact Bitterman and Nelson and ask them to liaise with our city police contacts. I’ll ask them to send out feelers to our confidential informants to learn if our perp has made waves on the street. If he’s had contact with old prison associates, we should learn that too. I’ll contact vice to start that going. Too much time has passed. We’re still chasing our tails scrambling to make sense out of too many disconnected facts. Let’s schedule a team meeting first thing tomorrow morning to review and share interim reports. If five days go by without word from Mansbridge’s abductors, our success curve drops way off. We have to get ahead of this wildcard. Garland’s the goddamned link that will lead us to the girl.”
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