Detective Ian Cudney first heard of the mass murder at the Willow Tree Mall as he drove his unmarked police cruiser slowly through downtown London, Ontario traffic.
His radio crackled, “All units, respond to multiple shots fired at 1476 Willow Tree Circle. Unknown number of assailants. Automatic weapons fire reported.”
“Oh shit!” He muttered and grabbed his Fireball portable emergency light and slapped it on the roof. He thrust the plug into the cigarette lighter, flipped on his siren and slowed. As the traffic responded, Ian cranked the wheel, slid into a U-turn and accelerated in the opposite direction. He guessed he was fifteen minutes out with no hang-ups.
The vast mall parking lot was already clustered with police cruisers, Emergency Response Team vans, ambulances and fire trucks by the time he skidded off the access ramp and into the parking lot. He eased up to the perimeter being set up by some uniformed officers and parked. He tucked his badge holder into the breast pocket of his sport coat, grabbed his portable radio and headed for the nearest officer.
The Constable recognized him as he approached. Everyone on the force knew Ian, a twenty-five year veteran, often called Columbo behind his back because of his somewhat frumpy and shuffling manner. He looked nothing like Peter Falk, however, for he was tall and heavy with bushy grey hair and eyebrows. But, like Columbo, he displayed great patience coupled with meticulous attention to detail and keen intelligence. His success as an interrogator rested on his knack of being the genial and gentle bear or, when necessary, a large imposing bastard.
“What’s the situation, Constable?” Ian asked.
“Good news and bad,” he replied. “The good news is that the asshole is down. The bad is that he shot a lot of people before he went down.”
Looking grim Ian responded, “Who’s the ERT leader and what frequency are they on?”
“John Chu is in charge and they’re on Channel 9.”
Cudney nodded his thanks and lumbered toward the mall entrance that was now crowded with Emergency Medical Teams rushing in with stretchers and bags of equipment. He keyed the radio and called, “John, this is Detective Cudney. What’s your location?”
“Hey Ian, this is Chu. We’re about 50 metres down the first corridor on your right. Everything is secure. It’s a god awful mess, but the shooter is down.”
Cudney hustled down the corridor trying not to count the bodies while noting the wounded being treated by EMTs, ER team guys and some Christmas shoppers. Some of the employees and shoppers were peeking out of shops where the metal shutters had been activated. Others had been opened or perhaps never closed, and officers were herding dazed shoppers away from the crime scene toward the far end of the corridor.
He spotted John in full battle gear standing over a black clad body in the middle of the corridor. John was short, perhaps 5’5”, but extremely muscular and fit. “Hey, John, quite a mess, eh?”
“I swear to God, Ian, I will never understand why guys do this shit. This is where it ended.”
Cudney stared at the body, dressed all in black with a black ski mask covering his face. He lay in an awkward pose like he had been sitting and then knocked over backwards. Blood pooled wetly on the terrazzo floor behind his head. A Bushmaster .223 assault rifle lay just beyond his outstretched hand. Ian raised his gaze to the shop directly behind them where an EMT worked frantically over a prone woman. “How many so far?”
“Not sure of the final count, obviously…. But maybe 10 dead with many more wounded.”
“Who shot this asshole? Your guys?”
“Nope. He was dead when we got here. No one should have a firearm in this place. It’s a gun-free zone. There’s a mall cop here but he’s not armed. Haven’t found him yet.”
“Yeah. Well, it looks like two guys had a gun; this asshole and whoever shot him. Any ideas on how this went down?”
“Well, I’m waiting for the Forensic ID Section, but it looks to me like whoever shot him hit him first in the hip just below his body armor. He went down back there. You can see the blood…and he dropped the rifle. From those blood smears on the terrazzo, I’d guess he crawled toward the rifle and when he turned on the shooter, he shot him in the head. Looks like a handgun. Not enough damage for a hunting rifle.”
“Where was the shooter then?”
“Not sure. Up there, maybe,” John replied, pointing to the second floor.
“What? A guy shooting from up there with a handgun? A head shot? You gotta be kidding!”
“Got any other ideas?”
“I’m going up there for a look around.” Ian slowly ascended the stairs like a weary bear and ambled back toward the likely spot where the shooter must have stood. He glanced over the railing and spotted the crime scene crew hustling toward Chu and the fallen gunman. As he searched among the potted plants and trash receptacles he caught the gleam of light off the brass of a spent cartridge. Without moving it, he determined it was a 9 mm.
He peered over the rail and shouted down to Chu, “John, we got spent brass up here. Get somebody up here to preserve this area and send the Forensic Team up here when they’re done down there.” John turned from the CSI crew, waved and shouted at one of his men who came running over.
The young ERT cop jogged up to Ian, who expected him to snap to attention and salute, he seemed so military in bearing. Ian instructed him to protect the scene and not let anyone touch anything. The young officer glanced over the railing at the sprawled shooter, turned back to Ian and said, “Wow. That’s a long way and an awkward angle for a head-shot. Could you have made that shot, Sir?”
“Mind your manners, Son.”
Cudney turned and spotted a well-dressed, middle-aged woman standing in the lady’s lingerie shop behind him. As he started walking toward the shop to see if she might have seen anything, his partner, Traci, bounced up the stairs and hurried over to him. Ian glared at her and rumbled, “About time.”
“Hey, Boss, cut me some slack. This is my day off and I was in the tub when I got the call.”
“I talked to John downstairs briefly and he said somebody capped the bad guy from up here?”
“That’s the way it looks. I spotted some 9 mm brass over there by that planter. I was just about to talk to that women in there and see what she knows.”
Traci nodded and they walked into the shop both holding their badges in front of them. “Hi, I’m Detective Cudney and this is Detective Whitequill. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Sure,” the woman replied, shifting her gaze to Traci and recognizing her First Nations features and stunning beauty with raised eyebrows. They ignored it and Ian went on.
“Can you tell us what you saw?”
“Well, I didn’t see much, but…I heard shooting on the first floor. I thought it was fireworks or a prank of some kind. But then as it got closer and I heard the whistling sound like you hear in the movies with bullets bouncing off stuff.”
“Yeah, like that. So, I ducked down behind the checkout counter and crawled in that cubby hole there,” she said, pointing to the space.
“Then what happened?”
“Then I heard two really close shots and I really got scared. But, then it got totally quiet and I heard someone walk in the shop. I was afraid to move. I heard some metallic noises over there by that table and then the guy walked out.”
“How do you know it was a guy?” Asked Traci.
“You know, men walk different. He had a limp.”
Traci nodded and walked over to a table marked with a ‘Clearance’ sign and littered with a pile of colorful bras and panties. “Hey, Ian! Check this out.” Cudney strolled over and discovered a handgun with the action open perched on top of a black camisole like a strawberry on a chocolate cake.
“Smith and Wesson Model 5946,” Traci murmured. “Standard police issue.”
“Yep, empty too. Clip’s gone.”
“So, somebody shot the gunman from over there, walked in here, emptied his handgun, left it and walked out? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Yeah, and where’s the guy that owns it?”
On cue Ian’s radio screeched, “Ian, this is John.”
Ian keyed his hand held and answered, “Yeah, John. Go ahead.”
“We found the mall cop. He’s dead. On your floor, back toward the main entrance, near the top of the stairs. I’m headed that way now.”
“OK, see you there.” He turned to Traci. “Bag this pistol, get her contact info and then head down there.” And then to the clerk, “Thank you. We’ll be in touch.”
Cudney lumbered back toward the entrance hall and spotted a group clustered around a body lying in a pool of blood. John stood off to the side with his hands on his hips. Ian pulled up next to him breathing heavily and stared down at the body. “Shit!” he exclaimed. “It’s Barney Kaminski.”
“Exactly.” John replied. “Looks like our shooter hit him in the legs and vest knocking him down and then finished him off with shots to the head.”
“Same shooter as the guy laying down there on the first floor?”
“Sure looks like it. There’s .223 brass all over up here. Two dead in there, too.” John swung his head toward the shop behind them. Ian followed his gaze and noticed two bodies sprawled on the floor of the shop and a young woman hunched over sobbing near the entrance. “His firearm is missing,” said John, as he pointed to an empty holster. “He was not supposed to be armed but then Barney always did have trouble following the rules.”
“Hmmm? We found a Smith 5946 in a pile of ladies underwear back there.” Ian replied nodding his head in the direction of where the shooter lay. Chu frowned and stared at Ian.
“If that’s Barney’s side-arm…” He didn’t finish. “Shit. I’m glad I’m just the SWAT guy on this one and you can do that detective crap, Ian.” Traci hustled up and Ian grabbed her arm and guided her toward the shop.
Traci glanced over her shoulder at the body behind them. “That the mall cop?”
“Yep. Barney Kaminski. Poor sap thought he had a cushy job. Let’s go talk to that young lady over there and see if she saw anything.”
As they approached flashing their credentials, the girl stood up and wiped her eyes with a tissue. She was about 18 and painfully thin with her blond hair pulled back in a severe ponytail. She was dressed in what Ian thought of as the ‘teen/hooker style’ skin-tight top, too-short skirt, and high heels. “You work here, Miss?” asked Ian. She nodded and swiped at more tears streaking her makeup. “Did you see what happened?” She shook her head no.
“Maybe you can tell us what you know.” Traci interrupted. “First, what is your name?”
“My name is Lucy Martin.”
“Where were you when the shooting here happened?”
“I was, like, hiding back in the stock room.”
“How come the other girls didn’t hide?” asked Traci bobbing her head toward the two bodies now covered with sheets.
“I don’t know. The man, like, tried to get them to hide too but…”
“What man?” Ian insisted.
“My customer. He had just, like, picked out an outfit for his daughter for Christmas when the shooting started. He kinda pushed me toward the stock room and I heard him telling Heide and her customer to, like, run but they, you know, never came with me.” She started to sniff again as she thought of her friend and Traci put her arm around her shoulder.
“Take your time, Lucy. What happened after you hid in the stock room?”
“The shooting started in the shop and I could hear, like, screams and then they stopped. I could hear more shooting but it got further and further away and then it, like, stopped altogether. After a while, I, like, snuck out of the stock room and saw Heide and the other girl on the floor and had to, like, get out, ya know. All that blood!”
“What about the man…your customer?”
Lucy looked puzzled, “Gee, I don’t know. He was, like, gone.”
“Can you describe this man, Lucy? How tall was he?”
“He was, like, taller than me.” Lucy gestured with her hand over her head.
“How tall are you with those heels on?’ Ian asked.
“I’m, like, 5’6.”
“White guy?” Traci asked.
Lucy stared at Traci fearing she could make offense before responding, “You are, like, totally pretty.”
“Thanks, Lucy, but help us out here. White guy?”
“Yeah, just, like, an average older guy. Not, like, fat or anything; in fact he looked like he totally worked out, ya know?”
“Older guy?” Traci asked. “How old would you say?”
“Not, like, real old…..’bout the same age as my Dad.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s, like, 40…. Yeah, he’ll be 41 in July.”
“What was he wearing?” Ian jumped in.
“A leather jacket, brown, I think. A baseball cap from one of the American teams, ya know. And jeans.”
“Um, I can’t remember. But I remember wondering if he was, like, an American but, he totally didn’t talk like one.”
“OK. Moustache? Beard? Long hair? Tattoos?”
“Not that I can remember. Just, like, an average guy. Nice guy though and he, like, totally saved my life.” With that she started to sob and Traci put her arm around her shoulder and waited patiently.
“It’s all over now, Lucy. Let’s find your purse so I can get your driver’s license and write down your info in case we need to talk again.” She led Lucy away toward the checkout counter leaving Ian stroking his chin deep in thought.
When Traci returned Ian said, “I don’t think the mall corridors have closed circuit TV recording, but see if they have it in this shop. Maybe we can get a look at this customer of Lucy’s. I have a feeling he figures in this somehow.” As they headed back to the corridor Cudney looked at Traci and said, “That poor cop was carrying a side-arm and it’s missing.” Traci stopped in her tracks and stared at Ian with a mystified look on her face.
“Maybe the ballistics test will clear this up but something seriously does not add up here.”
Cudney and Traci worked their way up and down the corridors trying to find any witnesses who might have any information but once the shooting started, panic set in and people were running in every direction. They headed back to the office and hoped the video surveillance system of the shops would provide something useful.
Ian had his feet up on his desk wishing he still could smoke in his office as he pondered the contradictions of the mall shootings. His boss, the Deputy Chief of Police, Graham Brantwell, swept into the room followed by a cloud of after shave. He dressed and carried himself like an ambassador and, in fact, harbored dreams of a glorious career in politics. He viewed his time in the police department as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things. Tall and handsome with long wavy hair, he never missed an opportunity to get in front of the TV cameras or get his name in the newspaper. This shooting would get national wall-to-wall coverage and Graham drooled at the chance to become a household name. “The Chief has given me the responsibility of conducting the press briefings on this and I’ve scheduled one for 4:00. This incident is a perfect example of what’s going to happen more and more often now that the god damn Conservative government got rid of the gun registry. I expect to emphasise exactly that point in the press briefing. Anyway, Cudney, what have you got for me?” Graham asked.
Ian gave him a bemused expression and slowly swung his feet off his desk and rolled his chair up to his desk. He detested the man and his backstabbing, tyrannical methods. He pushed a sheet of paper forward towards the Deputy Chief. “Here’s the butchers bill. Seven killed, 14 wounded, four critically. Plus the shooter, of course.”
“What about the shooter?”
Ian opened a slim file on the corner of his desk and pulled out a sheet and handed it to Graham. “Brandon Norton, aged 21. We are still investigating, but it appears he’s the typical troubled youth, in and out of mental institutions and a series of minor run-ins with the authorities: drugs, fights, petty crime, and a rocky relationship with his family.”
“How about his parents?”
“His folks are divorced. The dad works up in the oil patch and Mum works as a waitress. She and Brandon had a falling out weeks ago and she claims not to have seen him since.”
“Has the Dad been contacted?”
“Yeah. He’s flying down from Ft. McMurray tonight.”
“What about the mall cop? I understand he was one of ours and retired.”
“Barney Kaminski medically retired after about 15 years. He was a bit of a loose cannon out on the street and was pulled in to ride a desk. Had some personal issues with alcohol and a divorce and was given a medical about four years ago. ”
“Well, I guess he’s the hero of the entire incident. I’ll be sure to build him up in my statement to the press.”
“Possibly. You will have to finesse the issue of why he was carrying a sidearm, I guess.”
Traci slid into the doorway and stopped abruptly when she spotted the Deputy Chief. “Oops, sorry, Sir.” She muttered.
Brantwell looked up with annoyance. “We’re having a meeting here, Whitequill.”
“Oh, lighten up Graham.” Ian interrupted. “This is not the Premier’s office.” Then turning to Traci he said, “Whataya got, Traci?”
She waved a sheet of paper and said, “Thought you might like to see the preliminary ballistics report.”
Ian beckoned her in and took the sheet from her while Graham glared at her. She smiled sweetly, understanding that his animosity toward her stemmed from her rebuffing his advances, telling him ‘to go home to his wife.’ Graham turned back to Ian as he said, “Well, that’s what we figured. The extractor markings on the shell casings we found on the upper deck match those from Barney’s handgun.”
“The slug that hit the shooter in the hip is still in the body and if it’s not too beat up, the ballistics guys should be able to make a positive ID that it’s a slug from Barney’s weapon.” Traci replied.
“How’s it going on reviewing the recordings from the shops?” Ian asked.
“Mary is working on sorting through them isolating the time of the shootings so we can review them without watching the whole recording. I’ll let you know when we’re ready to look at them.” She turned and headed out the door.
“Well, that settles it then. Barney is a national hero. He saved numerous lives and died in the effort. They’ll put his statue in the courthouse.”
“Not so fast, Graham,” Ian cautioned.
Graham ignored him and lost himself in the fantasy of seeing his face on every TV screen and newspaper front page in Canada. He turned and headed for the door. “I’ve got to go prepare my statement.”
“Hold it, Graham!” Ian said loudly. “There’s a problem here.”
Graham stopped and turned. “What problem?”
“Couple of problems, actually. First off, Barney was a lousy pistol shot. He couldn’t hit the broadside of a…..” Ian stopped himself from saying it. “I doubt that Barney improved as a shooter after retiring four years ago and whoever made those shots is a solid expert and knew exactly what he was doing.”
“Maybe Barney got lucky.”
“I doubt it. But there’s a bigger problem.”
“Barney’s 9 mm was in a pile of ladies’ undies near where the shots that took out the shooter were fired and that was about 50 meters from where Barney lay dead.”
“I don’t get it.” Graham looked puzzled.
“For Barney to have made those shots he would have had to rise from where he was shot–in the head–walk 50 metres down the corridor, kill the shooter, hide his side-arm, walk back down the corridor and die. He’d have to do all that without bleeding on the floor.”
“So you’re saying some shopper picked up Barney’s handgun and killed the shooter?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense.” Ian replied.
“That’s murder.” Graham mused.
“Well….. Yeah, technically.”
“Not technically, actually. You kill someone in Canada with a firearm and that’s murder two. You find out who did this and I want him charged with murder. You got me, Ian?”
“Yeah, I got it, but I wouldn’t tell this to the press this afternoon. Not until we sort this all out.”
“Yeah, I suppose. I’ll tell them we’re still investigating and that quick action by the police saved lives.”
“Yes, I’d leave out the murder idea. Emotions are a little raw right now and we need to be sure of what we’re talking about before we open that can of worms.”
Graham marched out hurried down the corridor. Seconds later Traci poked her head in the door again. “We’ve got the videos cued up if you have time to take a look.”
“Yep, I think we’ve found our mystery shopper anyway.”
Ian hauled himself to his feet and he joined Traci heading down the hall to the video room. Ian nodded to Mary as they entered. “What have you got for me, Mary?”
“First, here’s the video from Michelle’s, the shop where Lucy Martin works. It’s the one close to where Barney was killed.” Mary started the video and they could see the man described by Lucy ducking behind a rack of long dresses as a man in black carrying a rifle enters the shop. The silent black and white video did not soften the horror of the execution of the two women.
“Christ,” muttered Ian.
The man in the video slipped from behind the dresses after the shooter exited, checked the pulse of the two downed girls and then limped out of the shop.
“With that baseball cap pulled down, you can’t really see his face.” Traci said. “Detroit Tigers cap, if that helps.”
“If he made a purchase in the shop with his credit card there will be a record and we should have his name and address within an hour.” Replied Ian.
“I’ll get right on it,” answered Traci.
Mary interjected, “There another video of the lingerie shop where the handgun was found. Looks like the same guy but still no good look at his face. As the lady said, he’s got a limp.”
Ian and Traci drove through the near suburbs of London looking for the apartment complex on Huron Avenue. “You sure this is the guy?” Asked Ian.
“Well, he used his credit card in Michelle’s about the time of the shootings.” Traci answered.
“But you could find out nothing about the guy?”
“Not much. His name is Peter Gerard and it’s almost like he’s off the grid. Nothing on Google, Facebook or Twiter. Not listed in the phone book. He’s got a driver’s license and a cell phone account but no email address. I could find no social insurance number or any employment record. He’s got a couple of credit cards with BMO and a checquing account. That’s it.”
“So, what’s he do for a living? Sell drugs?”
“I have no idea but I think we better be careful with this guy until we find out what’s going on.”
They found the apartment building and circled around to the back parking lot just as a few snowflakes started to fall gently out of a depressingly gray sky. They walked up to the 2nd floor and found the apartment halfway down the corridor. Standing on each side of the door, Ian rapped firmly.
They heard someone move to the door and say, “Who’s there?”
“Police. Please open the door.”
The door opened to the safety chain and a man said, “Show me some ID.” Ian and Traci pushed their ID wallets to the opening and after a moment the man unhooked the chain and swung the door open. They entered and gazed around the small apartment. It was sparsely furnished but neat and clean. A small flat screen TV flickered in the corner where a hockey game was in progress. A two-foot artificial Christmas tree sat on a table by the window with coloured lights blinking a sad rhythm.
“Mr. Gerard, we’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“What about?” He replied.
“Mind if we have a seat?” Asked Ian. Gerard nodded and motioned toward a tired-looking couch. He remained standing.
Traci noted that he was of medium height, solidly built and in good shape, pretty much as Lucy had described him. He was in his early 40s with short and slightly graying hair.
“Mr. Gerard,” Ian began. “Were you shopping at Willow Tree Mall yesterday?”
“Can you describe what happened?”
“I was in a shop picking out a gift for my daughter and some guy in black came in and shot up the place. I hid and then ran out after he left. He shot two of the girls in the place and I could see they were dead so I hauled ass away from the shooting.”
“Did you see Officer Kaminski lying in the corridor when you went out?
“Yes, of course, but I could see the holes in his head and guessed him to be beyond any help from me.”
“OK, Mr. Gerard, what did you do then?”
“I worked my way back to the entrance and got the Hell out of there.”
“You didn’t grab Officer Kaminski’s gun and run down and shoot the bad guy?” Traci asked.
“What? Why would I do a stupid thing like that?”
“Somebody did.” Ian interjected. “Somebody killed that guy and in Canada that’s murder.”
“How do you support yourself Mr. Gerard?” Traci asked quickly. “What kind of work do you do?”
Pete looked at her for a long beat and then said, “I’m on disability. I was injured and am no longer able to work.”
“Where did you work?”
“I was in the Army…. A supply sergeant and was injured in a vehicle accident. I was medically discharged.”
“You don’t look like a supply clerk.” Traci said, doubtfully.
“You don’t look like a cop. You look like a model.” Pete responded. Traci blushed in spite of herself.
“Look Gerard, if you don’t want to give us straight answers we can continue this conversation down at the station.” Ian replied angrily.
“What’s the point? I don’t have anything to add and nothing more to say.”
“We’ll just see about that Mr. Gerard.”
Pete said nothing on the drive down to the station and said nothing for the next four hours despite the various officers who took turns trying to get him to talk. He simply sat there and stared at them. Finally, as Traci came in to take her turn, Pete spoke at last. “I have to take a piss.” He said.
“Well Mr. Gerard, if you answer our questions perhaps we can then take a short break.”
“Bullshit. If you don’t unlock these handcuffs and let me go to the washroom I am going to piss my pants right here. Make sure you don’t delete the video you’re making of this interview. My lawyer will want it for the lawsuit. Last I heard, torture is not permitted in Canada.”
Ian entered the room, reluctantly removed the cuffs and led Pete from the interview room. As Gerard relieved himself with Ian standing behind him Pete said, “Look Chief, I’m done here. I gotta pick up my daughter after swim practice so I need a ride back to my car now.”
“You’re not going anywhere. We have credible evidence that you are involved in this thing and we want a statement from you.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it, Cudney. If you have evidence, charge me. Otherwise, I’m out of here. If you don’t give me a ride home I’ll take a cab.” Gerard walked out of the bathroom and headed down the hall to the elevators. Ian spotted Traci and motioned her over.
“Give him a ride home. He likes you. Maybe he’ll say something on the way.”
Ian sat brooding in his office when Constable Kelly poked his head in the door. “Good news Chief. Your idea paid off. We found the magazine from Barney’s pistol in the one of the trash baskets on the second floor. The techs are trying to pull some prints off it as we speak.”
“Excellent, Kelly! Let’s hope it’s not wiped as clean as the handgun.” Kelly nods and hurries out.
His phone buzzed and he heard the insistent voice of Graham as he answered. “What’s the progress, Cudney?” I hear that you brought in a likely suspect.”
“We got nothing out of him and had to let him go. But, we found the magazine from Barney’s gun. We’re trying for prints right now. Should know something by morning.”
“Good work. Stay on it. I want this murderer behind bars by the end of the week.”
“Yes, sir. We’ll stay on it.” But Graham had already hung up. Ian sighed and looked at the clock. Time for a couple of cocktails and dinner. This case was not how he had imagined his cruising into retirement.
The next morning Ian walked in to find Traci already at her desk. He growled at her, “Anything new?”
“Yes, we got one good thumb print off the magazine and have submitted it to the Automated Fingerprint ID System database. It came back without a match. We also submitted it to the FBI system in the US. The print’s not there either.”
Ian scratched his head. “If the print is Gerard’s or even Barney’s it would be in the database. All the Army guys are printed. Unless maybe the guys in JTF2 are not in the database.”
“You know, Canadian Special Forces… like the US Delta Force or Navy SEALs.”
“I suppose we could get Gerard in here and take his prints, see if we get a match.” Offered Traci.
“Yeah, but that would require a warrant and I don’t think we’re gonna get a judge to do that with what we’ve got now.” Ian headed for his office. “I’m going to get on the phone and start calling up the Canadian Forces. See if I can find out anything about our Mr. Gerard. You can stall Graham if he gets anxious.”
After three hours, Ian emerged from his office with anger and frustration clouding his face. He looked into Traci’s cubicle and said, “Let’s go to lunch and then drop in on Mr. Gerard.”
As they settled into a booth at Joe Kool’s and ordered drinks, Ian a pint of lager and Traci a diet Coke, Traci asked, “Well, what did the Army have to say?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I got bounced around and talked to lots of colonels, majors and many sergeants but essentially they were all telling me zip. Never heard of Pete Gerard. Or, so they said.”
“So what now?”
“Well, I’d like to drop it. The guy saved a lot of lives. Norton had over 300 rounds of .223 ammo on him when he got capped. By the time the ERT got there, a lot more people would have been dead.”
“Graham is going to insist that we pick up Gerard and bring him in for printing.”
“I know. I figured we’d do it right after lunch.”
When they got to Gerard’s apartment he wasn’t there and neither was his pickup truck. Nor was he there the rest of the afternoon and night when a patrol car cruised the parking lot. Gerard had seemingly vanished.
London Chief of Police, Stuart Sims, rummaged through his top desk drawer looking for some antacids. Between the Mayor demanding an explanation for what happened at the mall and the ranting of Graham Brantwell, his stomach boiled with acid. His phone buzzed and his secretary announced, “Chief, there’s a Ms. Smith here to see you.”
“Ms. Smith. She says she has an urgent personal message for you from Ottawa.”
Stuart frowned. Now what? “Send her in.”
The woman entered briskly. Tall and slender, she dressed in a serious business suit with low heels. She wore little make-up and her hair was pulled back in a severe bun. After shaking hands she presented her ID wallet that sported a bright badge and picture ID.
“CSIS? What the Hell do the spooks want with me?” A pained look caused Sims to realize the offense and he quickly added, “Sorry, Ms. Smith. You just caught me by surprise. What can I do for you?”
“Perfectly understandable Chief. I’ll get right to the point. Your department is trying to get information on Peter Gerard.”
Sims nodded. “Yes, we have reason to believe that he was involved in the shooting at the mall two days ago.”
“Yes, we know and I’m here to deliver the message that the government wants you to drop your pursuit of Mr. Gerard.”
“What I am about to tell you is Top Secret and revealing any of this is a federal crime. Understood?” Sims nodded and Smith continued, “You may have noted that there is not a lot of history on Mr. Gerard. That’s because that’s not his real name. He was a highly trained member of JTF2 and involved in numerous clandestine operations in Afghanistan. In one highly successful operation, he rescued some very important British civilians who were on a humanitarian mission and were abducted by the Taliban. He was awarded the George’s Cross, their second highest award, by a grateful Britain.”
“Wow!” Sims said. “But why is he in hiding?”
Smith held up her hand. “Gerard killed several high ranking Al Qaeda leaders in a later operation and they issued a fatwa on him and his family. He was seriously injured at that time and retired from service as a result. He received the Cross of Valor from Canada for his actions. In secret, of course.”
“What about the murder charge? Sims asked. “I’m assuming from this that he did it?”
“Of course he did it. But, I think under the circumstances most people would consider what he did a tremendous service, don’t you?”
“Yes, but I’m not the problem. My Deputy Chief is a stickler and has political ambitions.”
“We’re well aware of that. I have a message from the Prime Minister for him. Why don’t we call him in and talk it over?”
When Graham entered the room and Ms. Smith introduced herself Graham looked at her with a haughty expression. He did not approve of the clandestine service or the military so her explanation fell on deaf ears. She produced from her slim folder a hand written note from the Prime Minister explaining the situation and requesting that he back off. Graham stood angrily.
“Ms. Smith or whatever your name is….. I despise this Conservative government and its militaristic ways! When I get to the House of Commons I intend to vote to eliminate your organization, cut funding to the military and re-instate the long gun registry! I will not back off of my pursuit of the criminal that committed murder in my town!”
“Sit down, Mr. Brantwell, before you have a stroke.” Smith pulled a phone from her pocket and punched a speed dial number and set the phone in the middle of the desk. “You’re a member of the NDP, right Mr. Brantwell?” She asked. He nodded as the phone rang. “Maybe you’d like to speak to the leader of your party?”
When the phone was answered Smith spoke loudly. “Hi, Tom. I’m here in London with Chief Sims and Graham who does not think too highly of the Prime Minister’s note.”
Tom sighed. “Hi, Chief. Look, Graham, I don’t agree with Steven on very much but on this subject, we see eye to eye. Gerard is a hero and if we expose the guy and subject him to this, we will do irreparable harm to the party. The Conservatives will beat us over the head with it and we will have the Queen on our ass. A couple of the people he rescued were close to the Royal Family. Graham, I know you have political hopes but I promise you this; if you push this or breathe one word to the media you will never get elected to anything. I will see to it personally! Do you understand?”
With a pout Graham mumbled, “Yes, I got it, Tom.”
“Good. I’ll see you at the convention next summer, buy you a drink and I’ll introduce you around. Gotta go, guys.”
“Thanks, Tom.” Smith chirped.
“Well.” Chief Sims said. “What now?”
“Simple,” Smith answered, “Call in the media and tell them that after investigating you have determined that Barney fought it out with the gunman and though gravely wounded managed to kill Norton before he could murder more innocent Christmas shoppers. Quite frankly, he’s a hero.”
Graham looked glum but the Chief beamed, “Let’s make it happen, Graham.” He then looked at Smith. “I’m going to have to explain to the detectives working this case what’s going on here. They know Barney did not shoot Norton.”
“Yes, you may but you should also remind them of the secret nature of this situation and that if this leaks out I will be back looking for the culprit.”
Three weeks later Traci exited her grimy, ancient Toyota sedan as Pete Gerard drove his beat up F-150 into his apartment parking lot. He looked mildly surprised as she approached him. “Well, Detective Whitequill, what brings you into this neck of the woods? Not here to arrest me I hope?”
She laughed. “You saw that Barney is up for the Cross of Valor?”
“Yeah, I saw that. I’ve got a TV and everything. He deserved it and it will make his family proud. Why are you really here?”
She blushed and said, “I wanted to see if you’d have dinner with me.”
“What?” He looked shocked. “Why? Detective, I’m old enough to be your father!”
“No you’re not. I’m 28, and you can call me Traci.”
“Geeze … ah Traci, a woman that looks like you shouldn’t have any trouble attracting guys like bees to the clover patch.”
“Guys maybe, but not real men. Guys I meet are too full of themselves, only want to get their hand up your skirt and get you into bed. Too many guys with multiple earrings and too many tattoos; guys who wear perfume and moisturize and can’t walk past a mirror without admiring themselves, or married guys looking for a little something on the side. Plenty of guys like that.”
“I’m pretty beat up, Traci. Damaged goods.”
“Hey, I’m just talking about dinner here.” As he stood there considering it, she continued. “You don’t have a daughter in town you have to pick up from swim practice do you?”
He laughed and she liked hearing it. “No, but I do have a daughter. She’s 12 going on 22 and she does swim. She lives with her mum quite far from here.”
“I’ll even buy.”
“Nah, can’t have that. Tell ya what though. I’m a modern guy; we can split the cheque.”
© Richard Draper, August 2015
This story was prompted by my observation that the worst of the mass shootings that plague modern society seem to happen in “gun free zones”. Gun free, that is, for everyone but the armed psycho bent on killing as many people as possible. Like the muslim terrorists, they are essentially cowards and pick the softest targets they can find. Unarmed Christmas shoppers are as easy as it gets. I also wanted to write a story that takes place in Canada, a country with some pretty restrictive gun laws, and to my Yankee readers, some unusual spelling of certain words.
I was helped in getting my facts and terminology about Canadian police procedures correct by RCMP Officer Cst. Janelle Shoihet. True, I had to stretch a couple of facts to fit the story but mostly I think I got it right. And, of course, thanks to the Blogmaster, Karen, for her suggestions in getting the ‘teen speak’ in Lucy’s dialogue accurate and for her thorough editing. Hope you liked the story.