Never Look Back

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Nine people occupied tables in Visiting and Correspondence (V&C), the prison visiting area. Seldom was V&C more than half-full weekdays. Uncomfortable, moulded plastic chairs like those found at MacDonald’s Restaurant were not conducive to long visits. This was my third visit from Odera in four days. The fire was five weeks old. It had taken the police one month to transfer me to prison from city cells, not because they enjoyed my company, but because Sands, O’Reilly and two RCMP plainclothes detectives enjoyed interrogating me in shifts with or without my lawyer present. Not that I objected, unless a tape recorder or video was running to put my objection on the record, which was not the case again after my first objection, which were the only words I had ever spoken. Since I was a big believer in personal freedom, I exercised my right to remain silent. Other officers practised other rights.

Sometimes the nightshift officer forgot to turn out the light in my cell. At other times, dayshift skipped serving one of the two daily meals. Petty torments in city lockup continued until the day Officer Jameson’s wife, escorted by his brother, who was also a cop, appeared outside my cell. They stopped by to meet the man who applied field medicine to their loved one. Mrs. Jameson cried and his brother offered me his hand. That must have stung, I thought. I accepted his amity and genuinely wished Jameson a complete recovery. Most people probably believe parolees hate police. Not true at all. The rule of law is important. Police fulfill a valuable service and put their lives at risk daily. My single objection to cops comes from being the focus of their scorn. Following the Jameson’s visit, the interrogations slowed to include only the RCMP feds; lights went out at night, and my prison transfer went through the proper channels.

Across the room from the door I entered, I noted a man occupied a seat at the same table where Claire Fraser sat. The briefcase and dark suit immediately proclaimed his profession. Correctional staff manned video and audio equipment in the bubble, jargon for staff post. Mounted into the ceiling tile above our table, a dark sphere housed a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree swivel camera. According to a sign on the table, all conversations in this area were subject video and audio recording. If I wanted to speak with an attorney without video and audio intercepts, rooms were available, but Odera and Claire would not be permitted to join us. I had cautioned each of them at our first visit to be aware of conversation limitations. It went without saying the police routinely requested video and audio copies from prison officials. Let them. Odera greeted me halfway across the room with a quick kiss and a long hug.

“His name is Joshua Spearman. Daddy hired him. He comes highly recommended.”

Sending Spearman was Robert’s way of making amends. Even if he had never upped my name to the cops, they would have arrested me and suspended my parole once they discovered my parolee status, or when Beck became involved, whichever happened first. Parolees had no creditability. It made no difference. Robert’s Judas impersonation still angered me, and I would remain that way until I won my freedom. Everyone should embrace a cause. It keeps the mind focused.

Once I had kissed Claire’s cheek, and she had squeezed my hand back, she said, “Mr. Spearman is very confident your parole will be reinstated. He believes he found legal precedence to absolve your flight, and for resisting arrest.”

I got right to the point.

“What’s your fee?”

“Mr. Mansbridge is paying all costs.”

“Then you’re fired.”

I seated myself across from Claire.

“Bruce, Daddy’s trying to make good. Can’t you guys get along? Please. For me?”

Odera motioned Spearman to remain seated when he began to rise.

I asked again, “What’s your rate?”

“Four hundred and fifty dollars an hour, with a five thousand dollar retainer, plus expenses.” After a brief pause, he continued, “I’ve already tallied more than ten working hours. I’ve completed a ‘Notice of Application’ to present the courts to free you while the parole board schedules a hearing to review your suspension.”

“If you wish to represent me in this matter, forward all bills to me. Please reimburse Mr. Mansbridge.” He nodded. “Thank you. Bring in a form and I’ll authorize payment from my bank. In the meantime, I’d like to hear about this precedent.”

“Bruce Alexander Garland,” began Odera. “He will do no such thing. There was less than twenty thousand dollars in the suitcases that showed up at work with your name on them. How long do you think that will last at four hundred and fifty dollars an hour, plus expenses?”

“I’ll not accept thirty pieces of silver.”

Glaring daggers, Odera let go of my hand but did not argue. Laser eyes communicated her displeasure far better than words, a sure sign that I would pay dearly in the future for my rigid stance.

“Would you mind fetching yourself a coffee, Mr. Spearman,” Claire requested. “We won’t be but a minute.”

When Spearman was out of earshot, Claire said, “Believe you me young man, I well-imagine how you feel. I’m no saying Robert was right, but you’re nowt alone in this wee pickle. No matter how hard you try, you’ll nowt change the direction of bumblebee stripes. You ken?” She paused to ensure she had my attention. “Do you plan to propose to ma granddaughter?”

“We haven’t spoken about…”

“You know bloody well that’s nowt what I asked. I asked what’s in your heart.”

“If I’m ever released and if she hasn’t run for the hills. Yes, if she’ll still have me by then,” I said to Odera.

“And I may consent to consider a lifetime of everlasting misery if I decide that I can put up with never-ending pigheadedness.”

“Now that that’s settled, ma engagement present shall be whatever it takes to win your freedom, which includes Mr. Spearman’s fee. Understood?”

“No, ma’am. It’s not. This is my trouble. I’ll take care of it.”

Claire patted my hand as though I was daft. And maybe I was.

“As sure as thair’s wheat amongst the heather, you nowt have a say, son. You’re family now. As a member, you’ll abide ma wishes to the letter. First thing you’ll learn is I’ll no accept arguments pertaining to family. Such considerations are beyond your ken, or any man’s for that matter. Be those words clear enough to suit?” I nodded humbly, feeling as though she tore a mile-wide strip from my hide. “Now that that’s settled, there’s one other thing I have a mind to express. I’ve repeatedly asked you to call me Grams. It’s mighty insulting to be addressed like a bloody stranger, you ken?”

“Yes, ma’am. I mean, Grams.”

“Very well then. Now call that lawyer fellow to the table. I’ll nowt have him loitering on ma dime when there’s work waiting aboot the hoose.”

Spearman outlined our obstacles. Jameson was expected to make a full recovery. He was out of intensive care and doing well, but I already knew that. He identified me as the person who administered first aid. I knew that as well. In return for my Good Samaritan action, the cop I downed in Robert’s trailer withdrew the assault charge. That was something I did not know. Even Beck, upon listening to Odera, her parents and Gram’s impassioned plea for leniency, rendered a positive report to Parole Board Canada. The only obstacle I faced was explaining why I fled arrest. None of my other actions had made it to paper. No further charges or investigations focussing on me were pending. None that the police would admit to, which could change in a heartbeat if they discovered evidence of unlawful behaviour, or if they wanted to screw with me.

Spearman felt confident that given the arrest warrant was improperly issued, thus making its execution unlawful, all actions afterwards, specifically fleeing the scene, were exempt from prosecution. Legal precedence supported his argument. I remained unconvinced. Formal charges were irrelevant to parole boards. They could choose to, or not choose to acknowledge either withdrawn or not guilty verdicts as they saw fit. Only procedural errors during parole hearings, not their judgements, were appealable, and even then the appellate board members who reviewed appeals were national parole board members themselves. Talk about a fixed horserace.

An undisclosed amount of money and more than 500 pounds of cocaine survived the fire, along with munitions, weapons, and other restricted items discovered in a partially emptied armoury. Three barrels of White Phosphorous was recovered safely. It turns out Gomez deceived his men about the thermite. The Geneva Convention, along with a whole slew of governments, banned White Phosphorous. It was not to be used in warfare due to its cruel and unusually inhumane properties. Known as ‘Willie Pete’, white phosphorous creates a screen of fire that cannot be extinguished with water. The substance melts skin on contact and removes the oxygen from the air. No mention of my tip to the firemen about the presence of Semtex and thermite, now found to be white phosphorous, of course, not that I was shocked or shaken to hear citations were awarded to those rescue and police members who identified and secured the dangerous substances. The bomb disposal team identified three dismantled detonating systems and located nearly a pound of Semtex. Had those white phosphorous laden barrels detonated, everybody in a three hundred yard perimeter would have died excruciatingly painful deaths.

Five bodies were recovered inside the loading bay, along with seven firearms, several of which contained Gomez and Sylvia’s fingerprints. Ballistics positively matched five of those firearms to eight different deaths. Forensics teams retrieved nine corpses, burned to cinders, from the plant area. Extreme heat melted the slugs in those bodies, or they were fragmented and deemed unreliable for ballistic comparison. Four of the bodies not incinerated showed wounds consistent with long edged weapons. Two hunting game quarrel tips were removed from another body.

Amidst the collapsed, second floor rubble lay several corpses. The medical examiner’s office stated they were dead before the fire. Their lungs were soot-free and lacked burns associated with breathing furnace-hot air. One of the bodies carried a firearm whose barrel rifling matched the slug dug out of the dashboard of Officer Brown and Jameson’s undercover cruiser. Case closed. Four Doberman pincers were cremated before anyone thought to run gas spectrometer tests, or asked why one dog had been bisected.

Odera admitted to shooting Sylvia in self-defence, and to everything else that affected her directly, but refused to comment on my actions other than to say I escorted her to safety. As for Kira, Odera said, ‘I do not admit Kira’s alleged presence.’ She said it so often it became a mantra. Despite immense pressure, she stood up well under interrogation. No matter what tactics the investigators used, Odera only admitted that I escorted her out of the plant. Not one word more. No official wished to imprison a kidnap victim for protecting her rescuers. No prosecutor wanted to compel testimony using contempt of court charges. That’s bad press, especially when that prosecutor had issued arrest warrants for the person who escorted her to safety.

So the authorities threatened, cajoled, promised and pleaded with Odera to tell her story. And she did, less observations that included Kira and me. Having an intelligent and strong lawyer present to advise Odera helped immensely, and so did having John Sands present to moderate angry outbursts from other investigators when their frustration at Odera’s limited responses grew beyond their ability to control. He refused to go for Odera’s throat or to play hardball for the information the police were obligated to recover.

Sands and O’Reilly rightly suspected the truth, but with most of the evidence destroyed in the fire, and Odera’s unwillingness to speak, nothing was clear and tidy. Only bits and pieces remained of the wrist launchers. None of it linkable to me or to Kira. Arson investigators found evidence of an accelerant (black powder) at three locations. Two locations were hot spots ― locations where explosions had originated. The arson report cited the ignition of highly flammable chemicals were catalectic. Turns out one of the chemicals used in the production process was on a restricted substance list. Due to its volatility, the plant was obligated to register its presence but failed to do so. Plant management ignored safe handling and reporting procedures. Fire Marshall’s arson investigation report cited a containment breach of this unstable chemical subsequently accelerated the fire. Funny, but I thought an IED was the cause. Forensics tested my clothes, but they came back inconclusive for discharging a firearm. By the time they tested my hands and arms at the police station, paramedics had cleansed my forearms and hands with alcohol disinfectant and bandaged them. Odera’s forearms and hands held cordite concentrations consistent with someone discharging a firearm multiple times.

Nowhere on the premises did Kira’s fingerprints or mine turn up, and no witnesses identified me, or Kira. Witnesses reported an unknown man wearing a balaclava, garbed in black, and carrying a sword. Others reported seeing a ninja garbed in black clothing, but most did not report anything unusual other than explosions, and working in a cocaine wallboard factory. When questioned as to gender, all witnesses claimed the ninja was male. No witness felt it could have been a female, even when pressed. The figure was simply too imposing, too lethal. I did not clarify the difference between ninja and Samurai. Why bother? People seldom believed a parolee. Everyone knows we lack credibility. Some cops figured the witnesses felt stressed, which explained mixed up stories. Half of the factory’s supervisors carried automatic weapons, and a team of mercenaries called the facility home. Me, I find that unusual, but I was away for a while, and societal definitions changed.

A number of factory workers had yet to be found, and the investigation into the plant’s production is ongoing. Immigration officials opened files to scrutinize workers who were present when the police arrived. Other plant workers were located through a money trail, payroll cheques and whatnot. The majority of them cooperated with police and immigration in the hope of evading deportation. Lucien Gomez and most of the inner circle were dead. They must have felt safe to talk their hearts out or risk going to prison for decades as part of a massive drug distribution conspiracy. I bet they said Gomez blackmailed their families with death or injury had they not complied. It was probably not too far a deviation from the truth.

Sands kept a low profile on my name. Police press-aids released a retraction rescinding my involvement to a crowd of reporters and cameras, ‘Due to hard work and a successful undercover police investigation, city police, with the help of RCMP, were able to eradicate an organized crime drug operation responsible for the recent surge of street violence.’ Placing the blame where it belonged without mentioning my name was all the retraction I could hope to expect.

I strongly suspect police failed to lay charges because they did not want to admit the man they hunted for Odera’s abduction, with a lot of assistance from a modern-day female Samurai, ultimately saved her life, which included the lives of an unknown number of firefighters and cops that would have died had ‘Willy Pete’ exploded. Who wanted that leaking to the media? It helped that most of the slain mercenaries were on a global terrorist list, and on Canada’s banned border entry list. Previous employment of several deceased mercenaries included working for an African leader who committed a long and horrendous violation of human rights atrocities. Many hundreds of women and children had been slain and enslaved. Everyone involved knew if charges had been laid against me, I would have defended myself in court which meant bringing everything authorities wanted to stay in the dark out into the light for examination. Although the media publicly condemned me for Odera’s abduction, no retraction from them ever surfaced. Sands and O’Reilly dropped my name off the radar for reasons that had nothing to do with aiding me.

Lucien Gomez’s American partners were at large. As it stood, it seemed unlikely Gomez would have reported his troubles, and thus our names were safe, for the moment, from the Machine side, but doubts disturbed my sleep. This was a sensitive case for a number of different reasons and from multiple points of view. Revealing the truth had too many downsides for everyone involved. Detective Sands and I both knew criminal eyes and ears down south were listening, and Raymond Fernandez, the other plant manager and part-owner of Cornerstone Gyprock, was listed as whereabouts unknown. The police considered him a person of interest. The tunnel Kira escaped through exited two hundred yards away, inside the old plant’s property line. If anyone threatened our safety, it was Fernandez. No one could say what Fernandez either knew or did not know about Odera’s five days in hell. Any thinking person had to deduce Fernandez was dirty.

Kira made a full recovery. Four weeks after the incident, she returned to the dojo and resumed light training alongside her father. Two hours after she returned to the dojo, the police arrived to escort her downtown. No one denied Miyamoto permission to accompany his daughter. A pair of top attorneys were on hand to meet Kira when she exited the squad car at the station. Of course, Kira had the advantage of knowing what both her father and Odera had told the police during their interviews. The girls had become inseparable, despite my caution to remain unconnected for obvious legal reasons. They just laughed at me during our first visit for worrying too much. Since Odera and I had known Kira and her father prior to the incident, the girls reasoned no harm existed in visiting me as often as they liked.

Kira coaxed her father to instruct Odera. When I inquired as to the form, Odera only smiled and refused to answer. Miyamoto asked one condition from Odera before classes began. He insisted she not divulge information governing her training to anyone, which included me, but which did not include future children. Neither one of us shared her inability to bear children. At first, I was confused, but I gave the matter more thought and remembered information gathered during my research into Samurai culture. It alluded to an ancient Japanese martial art solely passed down through Samurai family members, but as yet it remained unconfirmed. The art specialized in debilitating and mortal strikes with hands, feet and common objects found in the house such as a calligraphy paintbrush or a broom. It was outlawed because of its lethal forms. Imminent danger warranted immediate death, according to Miyamoto, hence the training of family members in this secret art. Historically, Samurais made enemies who sometimes took retribution out on family members.

A cross-border investigation into the exportation and importation of cocaine, with multinational, multi-jurisdictional cooperation between Canada and American Drug Enforcement Agency commenced. Destinations of the cocaine-filled transport trucks, as well as who might be at the destinations to receive and to distribute the product was of particular interest to American authorities. We hoped the investigation would put the Machine’s Southern leg on the run. If they were saving their own skins, they were unlikely to stop and to wonder what role Odera’s abduction played to start the dominoes falling.

The police did not feel imminent danger threatened Odera. Lawyers and accountants who administered Cornerstone Gyprock’s corporate needs sprung immediately to mind, as did Raymond Fernandez, as sources of potential danger. Whether these professionals were white-collar or not, whether they were aware of the operation or not, made no difference. They washed dirty money. They reported to somebody. And someone must be wondering how police discovered their operation? What precipitated the deaths of Gomez and his crew? Those questions had one theme: What prompted Odera Mansbridge’s abduction?

Sitting in minimum-security was a relaxing change from maximum- and medium-security institutions. Beck’s recommendation included I maintained a low-security level, the same level assigned on parole. Maybe he had a heart after all, but the jury was still out. Brinkman wrote a persuasive assessment on my behalf, as did Dr. Whitenhall. Life on the street was tough. Prison life was a vacation in comparison.

Last week I told Odera the prison offered a Private Family Visiting program. Every three months we were eligible to spend three days together in conjugal quarters. Instead of agreeing outright, she told me how much more meaningful it would be if we consummated our commitment outside the prison, but it was up to me to decide. How could anyone disagree with such a reasonable non-request? After everything that happened, I only know one thing for sure ― unless you are willing to lose horribly, before winning remarkably, never get involved with a reasonable woman.
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