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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Crime/Gangster · #2287322
A dead dealer in the big city and a small-town sheriff gets a surprise.
Rural Justice

by Damon Nomad

Part I Cold Cases

Chapter One

Steve Clark headed out the door from home, it was still hot and humid at ten thirty at night. He asked the Charlotte Mecklenburg homicide detective three times if he was sure it was the Dan Brandt. He didn't want to drive all the way out to the suburbs of northeast Charlotte if it wasn't that Brandt. He turned off highway forty-nine, into the entrance of the upscale neighborhood. No doubt these people, were not used to so many patrol cars and did not know what Brandt really did for a living, working by the handle Branded.

Clark saw the sergeant gatekeeping for the crime scene on the porch at the front door. "Clark DEA." Clark gestured with his thumb pointing behind him. "Might want to get these lightbars turned off, people are probably going to start to complain."

The sergeant looked at the badge and credentials. DEA this must be a big deal. "Detective Riley is inside; he is in charge. Yeah, thanks we don't really need these all going."

Clark walked into the foyer of the large suburban home, not what most people would think of for a drug dealer. Dan Brandt was not a dealer he was a major distributor. "Hey Steve, crime scene is in the back, I just got here a little while ago."

Clark saw Cal Smart walking his way. Smart is a CMECK narcotics detective, they had worked together on several cases. "Cal, how did they know to call us so quickly?"

Cal gestured for Clark to follow. "It was pretty obvious you will see." He follows Cal to a side door leading to a breezeway connected to the garage.

The door leading into the garage caught Clark's attention. Not a residential door, a heavy steel reinforced with a combination lock. They stopped at the door, reached into a box, and pulled out shoe covers and gloves. Cal signed them in on the clipboard at the door.

The door led into a large room separate from the area of the garage with the cars, purpose-built probably as a large shop. Clark heard the quiet chatter of two CMECK uniformed officers to his right, near a tape barrier where a body was laying. There was a smaller room to his left, he walked to the back right corner of the large room. It was definitely Brandt a single GSW to the back of his head. Execution style laying on his stomach, hands restrained behind his back with plastic flex cuffs. The rest of the room really grabbed his attention. A massive safe on the far wall was open. He moved closer for a good look. On the floor in front of the safe were hundreds of bags of various synthetic opioids being sold in the eastern US, in different colors, shapes, and intensities. These large bags go to local distributors. They will get divided up again for dealers. Next to that were several hundred bags of meth, all the various forms popular in the area. This was a wholesale warehouse of illegal drugs. This is the first time he has seen one in Charlotte; these large distributors are not caught often.

Clark shuffled toward the smaller room, there was another smaller safe open. Next to the safe was a large table, with stacks of money. Wrapped with currency straps, a thousand dollars per packet he guessed. Looks like a hundred and fifty thousand dollars on the table, the small safe could hold three times that amount. Next to the money were four laptop computers and maybe two dozen mobile phones, burner phones most likely. He turned gesturing to Smart. "What the hell? You don't even have a crime scene unit here. The drugs and cash all laid out. Is this some kind of publicity stunt? Someone taking pictures of the big bust. Where is the idiot from homicide?"

Detective Dan Riley was walking their way. "I'm the idiot from homicide who called you. This is exactly how the responding officers found it. CSU is just now arriving."

Clark sighed with a nod of his head. "Sorry Riley, I assumed you guys did this, my mistake. What brought the responding officers here?"

Riley nodded to Clark with his arms crossed over his chest. "That's okay. There was a call from a burner phone to the northeast district night desk, someone said they heard gunfire at this address. No one answered the front door when they arrived, they came around the house and saw the side door to the garage was open with the lights on. I was hoping maybe you or Cal had seen something like this before."

Steve Clark walked out of the small room, and over to the body again. "Professional killing, don't need to tell you that. We have never been able to get enough evidence on him, people in law enforcement across the southeast and the drug business know who he is. His neighbors surely don't."

Riley gestured to the safes. "He just opens the safe for them. How do they get the drop on him and why doesn't he shoot it out or something? Who would kill him and leave the drugs and money? No one is going to show up in this nice neighborhood and decide to rob this house at random. Then leave so much behind, this doesn't make sense."

Clark walked back toward the large safe. "Yeah, good questions."

Riley followed behind him and Smart. "What about competitors, other drug dealers who want his business?"

Clark shook his head with a grimace. "I don't think so. Charlotte has five guys like Branded they operate independent of each other and they stay off of each other's turf. Sometimes you get low-level guys in the city going after each other, but not a major distributor. They meet, regularly to deal with any disputes. They call themselves the council, they run it all very business. We know who they are, but we don't have enough evidence on any of them to sustain a prosecution. They all have other business interests, usually several to launder the money. Branded here, has a registered company, private security a small office near downtown, he is never there. Several car washes and laundry mats are owned by the company, where he launders the money. Somebody was sending a message, a business-related message but not local people. That safe can hold a lot more dope and a lot more cash in that small safe."

Cal gestured to the large safe. "Okay, maybe there was more, more drugs and money. I see where you are headed."

Riley sighed rolling his eyes. "Guys what are you thinking? I don't see where you are going with this."

Clark shuffled back next to Cal and Riley. "My best guess is a dispute with a major supplier, either Mexican for the meth or Detroit for the opioids. They send runners to big cities like Charlotte for wholesale suppliers like Branded. His people work from old warehouses, old factories, and garages to take shipments, moving around. He has a few trusted lieutenants who bring the drugs here for safe storage and distribution to his network. The runners bring the drugs and haul the money back, a price and quantity agreed to beforehand. Maybe Branded decided he didn't like the price they had agreed to, was behind in payments or was trying to switch suppliers. They send someone here to send a message to everyone. Do business in good faith or pay."

Cal nodded in agreement. "Leave behind a part of the stash of drugs and money. They know the media will go wild with a major drug-related killing, sending out their message. They take some of the inventory and cash to make up for what they got shorted, or for their troubles. I can see it."

Riley looks at the floor thinking. "What about the computers and mobile phones why leave those?"

Clark shrugged, "They will be encrypted and password protected, we might be able to get into the computers. Those will have some information on his distribution and seller network; the supplier doesn't care if it gets compromised a bit, it will not point back to them. Someone will take over the business and get that set up, if a few dealers or lower-level people get burned, no sweat to them. They could be helpful to us if you want to send them our way, we might get something from them."

Dan Riley moved closer to the other two men, talking in a low voice. "Isn't there another possibility? Like you said law enforcement all over the southeast knows who he is."

Clark rolled his tongue inside his right cheek shaking his head. "I ain't going down that path. You can if you want Riley, it's your homicide. See ya later." Clark and Smart headed for the door.

The sergeant signed Riley out of the crime scene a few hours later. "What ya think Dan, got any ideas?"

"Maybe a beef with a big-time supplier, will wait to see if I get anything from forensics. Have the computers and mobile phones sent to Agent Clark at the DEA. Cal Smart will know where to send everything."


Roland was nervous as he arrived at the old building. Things have been tense since Branded was hit. Rumors flying around about who might have hit him, including theories of an inside job. He is guessing Branded pushed back on price with the Detroit suppliers or was shopping for a new supplier from Detroit. He had been bitching about their last price increase. He hopes the council doesn't suspect him; he hopes that is not what this meeting is about. He has been to a few council meetings with Branded, to discuss beefs about turf. He walked through the downstairs of the old fabric mill and headed up the stairs to the office suite where the council meets. The big man at the door grunted, "Arms up, turn around."

"I'm not carrying a piece; I already told the guys downstairs."

"They are in the conference room." The big bodyguard pointed down the hall and followed Roland.

As he came through the door Roland saw four men seated at a large meeting table. There was one empty chair in the middle, opposite them. It had been a conference room for the factory manager back in the day. When Charlotte was a sleepy southern town, with lots of fabric mills and textiles.

"Have a seat Roland, you want something to drink?" The chairman smiled a toothy grin with gold teeth while smoking a cigar.

"No sir."

"What do you know about Branded's territory?"

"I know the territory, I helped keep watch on our distributors and dealers in our part of the county, I know the boundaries we are expected to stay in. The rural business not so much, I understand it operates differently."

"That's right, his piece of the rural business goes all the way into southwestern Virginia, the lines are not so clear outside the county. Especially outside of North Carolina, but we talk to other councils in other big cities. We have a rough map of things, what do you think happened to Roland, someone working for him good for this hit?"

"No, we might not like the guy but no one in our organization was gonna go after him. If I had to guess I would say he was playing loose with the big Detroit supplier maybe on price, trying to get a better deal after a shipment, or looking for a new supplier. He dealt with them direct, you know those people take business serious and they have badass enforcers."

The chairman blew a smoke ring, "We have been looking into that, the suppliers all say it was not them, but they have no reason to tell us. We need to stabilize his territory and get business back to normal. The council has chosen you to take over; we understand the Feds have the laptops and the mobile phones they will not get much from them. We have the critical information on an encrypted backup system, a tech guy will get in touch with you. Some of your people may be compromised, you will need to deal with that on your own."

Roland swallowed his throat was dry. This is not what he expected this meeting to be about. "I understand."

The Chairman smashed his cigar into an ashtray. " Assume the narcs have names and territories, you might want to move people around now before they move in on them. We are fronting you with money, a loan and a guarantee with the suppliers should get you through the next three months, you have a big shipment on the way from Detroit and Mexico to my place. Tell us where you will be operating from and calm down your distributors and sellers."

Roland felt a bead of sweat roll down his back. "Yea, but the rural business I don't much know what to do." He isn't sure if he is ready to step into Branded's shoes, he knows the money he will make will be substantial. But after what happened with Branded he isn't sure if this is a good time to move into the top job.

"The rural territory runs itself a bit more, we are more hands-off, the only people we chase down are in the larger towns, thirty or forty thousand people. If that business drops off then make some inquiries to find out what is going on. The smaller town distributors are independent operators. They find someone to vouch for them that you trust and they come to you when they need product. Always money upfront, nothing on commission with them. If they drop off the radar, then whoever is running the town has probably gotten out of the life, let it slide, someone will step in within six months or so. Don't let us down Rollie, you know we meet here every month."


Dan Riley was busy updating the status of his case reports for the division commander. He saw the email come into his inbox. A forensics report, for Brandt. He opened the file, scanning looking for anything. Gun is not in the system, nothing from prints other than the money and drugs. Branded's people that they had already chased down, all of them had decent enough alibis. Nothing from fibers or trace. Like he expected there was nothing. He opened the case status report for Brandt, typing in his update, Forensics provided no new leads. Cleared all potential suspects. Most likely UNSUBS are narco-traffickers from Mexico or Detroit based on consultation with DEA. No active leads to pursue, case is inactive but open. The formal category for what people call cold cases. He does not expect any complaints from above, nobody is pushing to quickly solve this case.

Chapter Two

Tony and Melissa sat in the patrol vehicle, parked near the park on the north side of town. Tony finished his coffee. "You hear about that drug dealer in Charlotte a few weeks ago?"

Melissa sipped her cappuccino. "How could I miss it? Media coverage was huge, neighbors all thought he was a security consultant working from home. What about it?"

"We never get anything like that, you know some real action."

Melissa let out a loud sigh looking at the younger deputy. "You want that kind of action, isn't it bad enough with the drugs that are taking over Clear Creek? You want drug kingpins fighting it out here with execution-style killings. I would be happy if we could find out who is bringing the meth and opioids into town. We got our hands full with our own problems. Three overdose deaths last year and one this year."

She handed her empty cup to Tony. "Can you toss these in the trash? Let's head over to the grade school and then get some lunch."


He has been in the mountains just northwest of Clear Creek Virginia since early summer, it's getting late in the day. He put the camera into his backpack, secured the campsite, and headed down the spur trail on the ridgeline. It connects to a trail junction, one way heads to the Appalachian Trail in about twenty-five miles. He came to the junction and saw two young women as he came through the opening in the trees. He saw their startled expressions. "Good afternoon ladies. Are you okay?"

They glanced at each other and then at the man. He looked a little rough with a close-cropped beard and long hair in a ponytail. But for some reason, he didn't seem dangerous and they needed directions. The blonde answered while keeping a safe distance. "We are not sure if we are headed the right way, we were looking for the AT?"

He smiled respecting the distance between them. "I know the trails pretty well." He gestured to his left. "This way along the flank of the mountain heads to the Appalachian Trail." He nodded directly in front of him. "Straight ahead down these switchbacks leads into Clear Creek, that's where I am headed now. The AT is a pretty good distance, probably another eight hours. There is a shelter about another thirty minutes along the ridge, that would be a safe place to stay the night."

Both girls smiled and blondie answered, "Thanks, we go by sparks and glitter."

"Justice, that's my handle, you good to go?"

They started down the trail and blondie turned and waved, "Yea, thanks."

He got the ball cap out of his pocket and put it on, pulling the bill down low. He headed down the trail towards Clear Creek. The sun would be setting in another hour. He planned another run by the park and then over to the pizza restaurant. Lots of people sitting in the outside seating enjoying the food and the nice weather.


Monday morning Tony Barnes got into the office early; he started the coffee. The dispatcher, Jemma Baldwin was the next one in. "Tony, early bird today."

Right behind Jemma was Melissa Barton. Surprised Sheriff Bachman was not in his office. "We all beat Paul in this morning, that must be a first."

Jemma grinned waving at Tony. "Tony made the first pot of coffee in the morning, when is the last time that happened?"

Sheriff Paul Bachman found them all at their desks having their first cup of coffee. "Running late today, found something strange in my mailbox this morning."

Melissa got up from her desk and poured a cup of coffee for Paul. "Mail at eight in the morning?"

"Saw the mailbox door was open and found this." He held up a USB and laid it on Tony's desk. He took the coffee cup Melissa was holding out.

Jemma looked at Paul with a concerned expression. "You okay Paul? You look tired."

"Long night, yeah I'm fine."

They all gathered around Tony's desk as he plugged the USB into his computer. Melissa tapped him on the shoulder. "Check it for viruses."

"I know Melissa, I know more about computers than you. So, looks like there are folders by month since May. Weekly folders in each month." He started clicking through pictures in the folder for the first week.

Melissa put her cup down on Tony's desk. "These are surveillance pictures, John Green, Ray Hart, and Amy Heaslip selling drugs. Hand-to-hand deals in the park, Summit Pizza and Grounds Coffee. Did you see those zoom-in shots, you can see the bags and the cash, we don't have anything like this, who took these?" No one answered, they keep looking as Tony kept clicking through picture after picture.

Tony half-smiled nodding in agreement. "Well not shocking those three, we don't have evidence this good." He clicked on properties for a picture. "Look at that labeling, day, time, suspect name, location."

Paul tapped Tony on the shoulder. "Keep going."

They came to a series of pictures of David Holland and Ray Hart, on the road driving to Charlotte. Taken by someone following them in another vehicle. Holland and Hart into some warehouse, with a duffel bag and came out with a duffel bag. The pictures of the trip with Hart and Holland parking at Hart's house going into his garage. There were more pictures of Holland and Hart meeting at the pizza restaurant after hours. The pictures painted a clear picture of David Holland as part of the drug distribution.

After nearly twenty minutes Paul stood up rubbing the back of his neck. "That's enough, how many pictures are on that USB?"

Tony clicked the mouse a few times. "Almost twenty-five hundred."

Paul shook his head looking around at each of them. "Not a word about this to anyone."

Jemma's voice trembled with emotion. "You think it's true? David Holland, bringing the drugs into Clear Creek? He has been here twenty years; his pizza place is one of the most popular spots for kids to gather and families."

Paul shrugged, "Let's wait and see what this all means."

Melissa gestured to Paul. "The business would give him a way to launder the drug money, can we even use this as evidence, what do we do Paul? We don't know who took these pictures, there is no chain of evidence."

"I don't know, the metadata on the files doesn't identify who took the pictures. Maybe the FBI or state police could figure it out. We need to talk to the mayor and the town lawyer but they are friends with Holland, not quite sure how they would react to this."

Tony sighed loudly. "Everyone knows everyone in Clear Creek. Town lawyer is only part-time, he probably does legal work for Holland for the restaurant. He could be in on it for all we know."

Paul tapped a fist lightly on the desk. "Let me see if there is someone we can talk to, we cannot tell anyone. You understand Jemma, not even Frank."

"Not even my husband?"

Melissa squeezed Jemma's shoulder. "Not even Frank."

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