chapter one

They shot my Dad at twenty-two minutes after ten AM on a Tuesday morning as he was collecting his mail in the lobby of the HOME building on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver. At that moment I was finishing my morning run down the Mystic Vale trail on the University of Victoria grounds and heading toward the house my Dad leased for me to live in on Cedar Hill Cross Road while I worked toward my doctorate in psychology.

Cheech called me to tell me what happened as soon as Dad was in the ambulance, and by eleven-thirty I was on Harbour Air's Flight 2100, still dressed in my leggings, sports bra and running top, wearing my scuffed runners with my overnight bag tucked under my seat. The sweat I'd built up on my run hadn't dried yet and was probably added to by the anxiety I felt. My armpits smelled faintly of skunk and Dad had taught me that was fear sweat, which was one of the 'tells' I learned from him that allowed me to nail down someone's emotional state and reveal deceptions.

Cheech said I was the first call he made, and when I called him back fifteen minutes later to ask him to pick me up at the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre in Coal Harbour at five after twelve, he still didn't have much information; just that Dad was still alive and had gone straight into surgery with the Vancouver General Trauma Team.

Cheech was waiting at the top of the ramp when I bounced up ahead of everyone else from the flight. He looked worried and sick and wrapped me up in his arms and held me tight.

"He took six hits." he said and I could hear that he was on the edge of tears. I hugged him back, but I needed him focused.

"Who have you got at the hospital?" I asked him when we broke off.

"Finn and Patrick are going to be trading off every twelve hours and they each have two of their guys with them." Cheech said as we got in his Cadillac.

"They all strapped?"

"Of course."

"Who was supposed to be guarding Dad?" I asked.

"A young kid named Sal." Cheech told me, "He's solid."

"Where the fuck was he?" I asked, suddenly very suspicious about this Sal.

"In the club getting Denny's coffee and breakfast set up." Cheech said, "You know your Dad, he doesn't like people fussing around him."

"Check this Sal out." I said, "Like a microscopic examination. If he has any dirt under his nails I want him duct taped to a chair in the basement and alive when I see him."

"Jessie ..." Cheech was using his 'Uncle Cheech' voice.

"I want to know who did this, who was involved, who ordered it, and why." I said, "Now, take me to VGH."

Then I reigned in my anger and added; "Please."

Cheech put the Caddy in gear and drove me to the hospital.

"Your old man is so proud of you, you know?" Cheech said as we drove, "Like crazy proud. Doctor Adams."

"I'm not a doctor yet."

"But you're going to be." he said, "It's all he talks about. How fucking proud he is of you."

I heard his voice break. I reached across and laid my hand on his shoulder.

"He's tough, Cheech." I said, "He survived a fucking bomb. He'll get through this."

"Yeah, yeah." Cheech said, reaching under his sunglasses to wipe away his tears.

Now I just had to convince myself.

Dad was still in surgery when we got to VGH and the only people who had answers about his condition were in the operating room with him. Finn was sitting just outside the Surgery doors and I could see two young guys at the intersections of the corridors who looked way out of place there, so I assumed they were part of Dad's protection team. Finn got up when he saw us and walked toward me, giving me a hug.

"Hey, Scholar." he said, using the nickname they gave me when I was a kid, "I'm so sorry, kiddo."

"I know." I said, "I need you to hook me up with a piece. Dad's going to need all the protection he can get."

Finn looked at Cheech who shrugged.

"Don't look at Cheech, look at me." I said.

"It's just ..."

"It's what, Finn?" I asked, "I'm not a little girl anymore. Dad taught me how to shoot a pistol when I was thirteen. He didn't do it for shits and giggles."

"Okay. I get it. Being careful is a science." he said, quoting my Dad's motto, "What are you looking for?"

"A mouse gun for now, like a .32 that will fit in my bag." I said, "After I have a chance to get to HOME and change, I can dress for something bigger. I want a .38 snub revolver with a shrouded hammer and shoulder holster for that and an ankle holster for the .32, and a box of hollow points for both."

"Let me call Leon. He has a better line on this for short notice." Finn said and pulled out his cell phone and walked away a few feet. I turned to Cheech.

"Cheech, I know you're upset, but I'm staying here with Dad so you can go and start to find out who did this." I said, and when he opened his mouth to respond I laid my hand against his chest, "I need you to do this, Cheech. Until we know, we don't know who else might be a target. We have to keep everyone safe. It's what Dad would want you to do."

Cheech took a deep breath and let it out, "You're right. It's what he would want. Leave it with me."

"Who's stepping up to cover until my Dad's back?" I asked.

"I am." Cheech said, "Your old man and I talked about it. I just never thought ..."

"I want all our locations covered with two guys until this is over, MAGIC, SOUND, TECH, HOME. Leon will handle the warehouse." I told him.

"Two guys will stretch us too thin." Cheech said.

"One then, and Get Leon and Jinx to help you investigate." I said, "Call any friendlies you know in the Capellos and nose around. Do you have anyone you can call in the Triad? They usually know everything that's going on."

"Nah, the old man's the only one with those connections." Cheech said, "And Jinx is doing a year for possession of stolen property, so he's out."

"Do what you can with what you've got." I said, "I'll keep you updated on Dad."

"Thank you." Cheech said and gave me a hug, "We miss you, you know."

"I miss you too, Cheech." I said and he went back to the elevators. I sat down on one of the chairs in the hallway beside where Finn had been sitting and got a whiff of myself. I stunk. It was a wonder that these guys were willing to hug me.

Finn came back, putting his cell away.

"I got my guy Danny coming with your mouse gun and a box of shells from Leon." he said, "Then Leon's going to hook you up with your .38 and your rigs."

"And hollow points."

"Yeah, those too." Finn said, sitting down beside me.

"Any ideas who might have ordered this?" I asked him, watching his face and hands for tells out of habit. He didn't have any.

"Not a fucking clue." Finn said, "Things have been peaceful since Vic retired. Your Dad is the ultimate diplomat, keeping everyone calm."

"Yeah." I said, "But someone wants something. The Russians?"

"No. They're still out of the game out here." Finn said.

"The Triad?"

Finn paled, "If it is, we're all fucked."

"Yeah." I doubted it was the Triad; they were pretty old school when it came to honour, and Mr. Lee and Elliot had a great deal of respect for my Dad. I had to find a way for someone to reach out to them, but I couldn't do anything right then, so I filed it away.

Forty-five minutes later Chelsea showed up. She came around the corner and made a beeline to me, wrapping me up in her arms like she used to do when I was a kid. She was crying.

"I just heard it on the news and came right here." she said, "Oh Jessie. Have your heard anything?"

"Nothing. I'm sorry I didn't call you." I buried my face in the crook of her neck, not wanting to let go. Wanting to be able to cry the tears I'd been holding back since I got Cheech's call that morning.

"I'm scared, Chelsea." I whispered so Finn didn't hear.

"I know, sweetie." she whispered back, "I'm scared too."

I pulled back and looked into her eyes. Chelsea had aged well, other than the crow's feet at the corner of her eyes and a slight sag under her chin, she looked the same as she did when I was little. I knew the auburn of her hair came out of a bottle but she was allowed that little vanity. I looked up to keep the tears from spilling from my eyes. Chelsea was my Dad's emotional refuge and I felt the same way about her.

"You can let it out, you know." she said softly, "You don't have to pretend to be strong."

"Yes I do." I said, "Someone has to."

"You really are your father's daughter sweetheart." she said and I heard the pride in her voice and that gave me strength. We sat down to wait.

As the time crawled to four o'clock, Chelsea found out I hadn't eaten anything yet that day, so she dashed down to the Sassafras Food Fair on the second floor ignoring my protests that I couldn't eat and returned with a tray of five coffees and two bags of food. She made sure Finn and his two guys got a coffee and a muffin each then handed me a coffee and a fruit salad. When I looked down at it I saw she had chosen one with a healthy covering of blueberries on top and I almost lost my shit and burst into tears because she had remembered that Dad and I would always have fruit salad with lots of blueberries on top as a bedtime snack.

In that moment I wanted to be that little girl again, sitting on my stool at the kitchen bar at his place in Arbutus, with my Dad so big and strong and healthy, smiling at me as he leaned on the counter while we ate our snack and talked about our day.

But I had to hold it together. I looked up at Chelsea and she knew I needed rescuing right then.

"He needs a private room." I said to her, "He needs ... can you?"

Chelsea reached down and squeezed my shoulder, "I'll make it happen." she said and put down her fruit salad and coffee on the chair she had been sitting in and went off to harass someone until she got what she wanted.

She got Dad his private room and even tortured the hospital administrator to the point he assigned an intensive care nurse to the ward Dad would be on. I waited until she got back with a "Mission accomplished." and we sat and picked through our fruit salads and drank our lukewarm coffees and I wanted to cry every time I ate one of those blueberries.

The Surgeon came out through the double doors just before five o'clock and he looked exhausted. My heart skipped a beat until I took in his expression and body language and didn't see any micro expressions of him steeling himself for the 'we did everything we could' speech.

"I'm Doctor Emeny-Smyth. You're here for Mister Adams?" he asked us.

"Yes, we all are." I said, standing up and shaking his hand, "I'm Jessie Adams, his daughter, and this is Chelsea and Finn. They're family too." I sort of lied.

"Okay. Your father is in recovery and we're keeping him there for close monitoring for at least an hour." he said, "He came through the surgery successfully. He's lucky in that his spleen and major arteries weren't damaged. A bullet only nicked his liver and we managed to close that up. Another tore up his transverse colon, but we made a small resection and that's holding well. Two of the shots impacted his hipbone which fractured it but it's still intact, and that probably saved him from a lot more internal damage. The other two bullets only hit soft tissue, so those were easy fixes once we found them."

Amateurs. Accomplished hit men would have done a better job, so whoever hit my Dad was scared and inexperienced, firing blindly into his torso instead of taking a headshot.

"What's the prognosis?" I asked.

"He should pull through and make a full recovery given time. We'll know more in twenty-four hours." the surgeon said, "We have him on intravenous antibiotics because of the bowel resection to prevent peritonitis and I've prescribed tramadol and naproxen for pain and inflammation."

I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Because of his age, he's going to have a prolonged recovery time and he's going to need months of physiotherapy because of his hip." the surgeon said, "The good news is his blood work came back as optimal with low cholesterol and good blood sugars, and we had the cardiologist in during surgery and his heart is in good health. He has the heart and arteries of a man in his late forties, so he has that going for him."

"Mostly he needs a lot of rest and to refrain from strenuous activity until he's cleared by his physiotherapist." Doctor Emeny-Smyth said. Then I saw a cluster of micro expressions on his face that told me he was thinking or feeling something that made him uncomfortable.

"What is it, Doctor?" I asked.

"Your father ..." he hesitated.

"Just say it, Doctor." I said, "We're all grown-ups here."

"I don't know what your father does for a living. I don't know what he's ... involved with and I don't want to know. But the police said it wasn't a robbery or a robbery attempt." he said, looking down the hall at Finn's guys, "By all indications, this attack on your father was intentional and he was targeted. Someone tried to assassinate him, correct, Miss Adams?"

"You could say that." I admitted.

"Stress kills. And it will most definitely kill a man who has gone through what your father just went through. At the very least it will slow down his recovery." the surgeon said, "I would make a strong recommendation that Mister Adams be insulated from any further stress. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"We do, and we plan to do exactly that." I told him, indicating Finn's men, "These men, and others like them will be stationed outside my father's room while he remains in this hospital and when he returns home. Myself and his people will be running his businesses for him until he makes a full recovery."

"Good. That's good." the surgeon said.

"And Doctor, I need you to do something for me. I want his name removed from any record that is accessible to the public. Patient information, room and ward assignment, Medical Services Plan billing, anything someone outside this hospital could access through any channel. All the people who we want to be able to see him already know he's here. I also want you to red flag his medical files and restrict access to yourself and his personal physicians and physiotherapist." I said, "Do you understand me?"

The surgeon looked at me for a moment, then nodded, "I do, Miss Adams. I understand perfectly and I'll make that happen right away."

"Thank you." I said, "And thank you for your skills today. My father is a grateful man and won't forget what you and your team did. Nor will I."

"Thank you." he answered and said his goodbyes.

I turned to Finn after the surgeon walked away.

"Give it half an hour and test the system." I told him, "Call hospital information and ask about my Dad to see if you can get any information on him. Then call Martin and have him hack into their system and see if he can find anything that way. We have to keep him safe. Who ever did this will try again, and until we know who it is, everyone is a suspect."

"Got it." Finn said.

"And I want you and Patrick and who ever you have here to protect my Dad to be present at every shift change and meet every nurse and orderly that is on duty. I want you to write down their names for each shift, and no one - absolutely no one who is not on that list gets past his door." I said, "Understood?"

"A hundred percent, Scholar." he said, "A hundred percent."

"Start now." I said, motioning to the nurses station down the hall.

Chelsea was watching me, her trademark crooked smile on her lips that she got when she was relaxed and had a few.

"What?" I asked.

"My god, you are Denny's daughter." she said and hugged me again.

"Being safe is a science." I quoted my Dad, "But he missed something. Someone wants him dead and he missed it."

Orderlies wheeled my Dad out of recovery an hour later and all four of us fell into step around his gurney as he was wheeled down the hallway to the elevator. One of the orderlies pushed the IV stand and the heart monitor that beeped with it's slow rhythm telling me that my Dad was still alive. When the elevator arrived one of Finn's guys entered first and helped line my Dad's gurney up so we could all fit.

"He's going to the tenth floor." one of the orderlies said, "Three of you need to wait and take the next elevator."

"Bullshit." I said and flashed him a look that made his face quickly pale. We all crowded in and rode up to the tenth floor then down the hallway to his private room. Chelsea and Finn broke off and went to the nurse's station; Chelsea to ensure my Dad's intensive care nurse was there and Finn to gather names of all the staff on that shift. I was avoiding really looking at my Dad until we were in the room and the orderlies transferred him to his proper hospital bed and left. I checked the bathroom and made sure no one was in there then pushed one of the chairs out though the door to where Finn's guys were standing.

"One of you sits here, the other is roaming within line of site." I told them, "You can spell each other off. I want the stairwells checked every ten minutes for anyone lurking around and no one gets in here without being on the staff roster for each shift."

Then I remembered; "You guys know Danny?" I asked and they both said they did, "He's coming to deliver something to me in a while. I want one of you to give him a call and give him my Dad's room number. He delivers it to me himself, right into my hand. Understood?"

They exchanged glances but said they would.

I closed the door.

I stood at Dad's bedside and looked down at him as the monitor beeped it's reassuring voice monotonously. He was still my Dad, but he looked older than he did just six weeks before; his face sagging a little, his complexion greyish. He had faint dark circles under his eyes that I didn't remember noticing before and his hair was a mess. I dug in my overnight bag and got out my brush and brushed his hair, smoothing it and sculpting it the way he always wore it and was just finishing when Chelsea came in with the intensive care nurse. Her name was Melanie and she came across as professional and pleasant.

Melanie checked my Dad's vitals and recorded them, checked his IV bags and that the electric pumps were set right, then pulled back his sheet and lifted his gown.

"Can I see?" I asked and stepped forward, not really giving her a choice. He had six bullet wounds right where Doctor Emeny-Smyth said they were; two close together on his hip that were dark slits held closed with one staple each, the area ugly red and purple and badly bruised. Two wounds in his side that had done the damage to his liver and bowel; one on his belly and another on his love handle, all of them on his left side. I envisioned him standing at the mailbox, sorting through his mail, tossing junk and flyers into the recycling and only keeping the envelopes with his or my name on them. Other than the two in his hip, the bullets had different entry angles, so after he'd heard and felt the first two slam into his body, he'd been turning away when the other four hit him.

From out in the corridor I heard Finn's muffled voice; "If she told you to do it, then fucking do it. She's the boss's daughter, for fuck sake."

"He's lucky." Melanie said.

"If he was lucky he wouldn't have been shot in the first place." I said, "But I appreciate the sentiment, Melanie."

I had to rein myself in - I could hear myself crossing the line between assertive and harsh bitch a few times since I left Victoria that morning. Chelsea's hand cupped my shoulder and squeezed.

"It's been a rough day for us." Chelsea explained to Melanie, "Jessie is really a sweetheart, but that's her Dad." and she had to fight back the tears.

"I understand." Melanie said, "You're Dad's stable so I'm going down to the station to make sure the pharmacy has sent up his medications." and left.

Danny arrived a few minutes later and Finn opened the door and said; "Danny." and ushered him in. Danny was carrying a medium sized bulging envelope.

"Hi Danny, I'm, Jessie, Denny's daughter." I said, reaching out for the envelope. The poor kid looked stricken as he looked at Chelsea then back at me. He couldn't have been more than eighteen years old.

"This is Chelsea. She's worked with your boss for years, she's almost family, and she's a friend of ours." I said, giving him the gangster code for Chelsea's status. A 'friend of mine' meant someone was a friendly outsider, a 'friend of ours' meant Chelsea was in the know. Danny looked relieved and handed me the envelope.

"Stand with your back against the door." I told him and he did. I didn't want Melanie walking in on me opening the envelope.

I ripped it open and pulled out a blued North American Arms Guardian .32 NAA which held a necked down .380 ACP cartridge that gave the .32 more punch than a typical bullet of that calibre. It wasn't a man-stopper, but it would sting like a motherfucker and was lethal if you hit the right part of the head or body. I flicked on the safety and released the magazine then opened the box of bullets and loaded it with six shells. Sliding it home I chambered a round, then dropped the mag again and added the seventh round and slid it back in until it clicked in place.

I opened up my overnight bag and pushed the automatic under the spare underwear I'd thrown in there when I packed this morning. I poured the rest of the shells into the side pouch of the bag and zipped it shut. I flattened the box, pushed it back in the envelope and handed it to Danny.

"Can you take that with you?" I asked him, "Toss it off site. I don't want to initiate a search if someone finds it in the hospital recycling or garbage."

"Of course." he said.

"Thanks Danny." I said and turned my back and he left. I was aware that Chelsea was watching me.

"I don't like that you knew what you were doing just then." she said.

"Dad taught me." I explained.

"What happened to that sweet little girl who gave those mushy wet kisses?" Chelsea asked rhetorically. But I answered her anyway;

"She grew up and someone shot her Dad."


Copyright © 2018 Aaron D McClelland
Summerland, British Columbia


East Van