John C. Liedecker wasn’t one of the founders of Dayspring College. The place had been a small friendly four year college that fit its name and not much up for twenty years before John Liedecker moved from Memphis to Mayfield to be near his holdings.
It was Liedecker, however, that jumpstarted the tidal wave of funding that made Dayspring into a large, serious college with nationally competitive programs and transformed Mayfield from a town with a college to a college town.
A favorite anecdote was that Liedecker’s first donation, the one that paid for the construction and furnishing of the D. Hong Center for Robotics in full, was made on the same day his first child was born.
Another favorite was that despite donating an average of a residence building a year, not a single building on campus was named for him because he didn’t stand on such things.
Both were true. What it boiled down to was that when John Liedecker talked about investing in his children’s future, he meant it in the most literal sense. The only favor he received for his generosity was a significant reduction in cost when his first born decided to attend Dayspring and again when his second was cajoled into going.
John Liedecker’s second born had just finished up a session in the gym and was sauntering homeward toward his dorm with his gym bag over his shoulder. He didn’t always saunter; sometimes he sidled or moseyed. If the people he was passing were unlucky, they might catch him storming. But no one had a memory of him doing what they could put down is simply walking.
He wasn’t particularly handsome either. He could have been, no doubt; especially with the platinum colored frost in the tips of his hair and his father’s strong chin. What ruined it were his eyes.
They weren’t eyes you put a color to because if you ever locked eyes with him, you looked away. When one reached for a word to describe them, you came up with words that went with something sharp and pointy. He was always looking at people with interest. Specifically the interest of a biology major for a formaldehyde soaked frog.
Turning on the brick path leading up to Hathaway House, the dormitory reserved for the children of alumni, or in his case, for the children of massive donors, he fumbled in his bag for a cigarette and lighter. He had everything sorted out and the cigarette lit by the time he was within sight of the dormitory.
Two figures already occupied the plantation style front porch: Roland Burke and Joe Callahan. Whenever the three agreed to meet, they usually managed to beat him there. They had their backs to him at the moment; Callahan sitting on the porch railing and both having their heads bent over what was almost certainly Burke’s palm-top.
Callahan was only slightly shorter than average, but seeing him beside the monolith that was Burke, he looked like he was a prop for Burke to sit on his knee and have sing while he gargled. The ginger hair and ears his mother still thought he’d grow into didn’t help.
Their voices carried down the walk as Liedecker the Younger came up it.
“That’s bullshit, Burke.” Callahan was saying. “Bullshit and you know it. She can’t actually do that.”
Burke’s brow furrowed in frustration. “’Course not. The show’s called Science Fact. They’ve got real scientists to make sure it’s real.”
“Deep Fleet’s got scientists too and I don’t think anyone believes there’s a real Atlantis down there.” Callahan pointed out. “They bring scientists in to show the producers how to fool people better.” He leaned over the screen again. “No woman alive can do that.”
Vincent T. Liedecker reached the top step and exhaled a long cloud of smoke. There was a no smoking sign posted, but for alumni’s children this was more of a friendly request. “My god, you two have really hit rock bottom if you’ve got to turn to Science TV to see a woman. The internet turn ya down?”
Callahan turned red starting with the tips of his ears and ending at the tip of his nose. Some people couldn’t handle even tame ribbing. “Hey Vince, didn’t see you coming up.”
“Vince, you ought to see this.” Said Burke who didn’t care what he was accused of.
Smirking, he held up his hand to stop him. “Rather not.” But it was too late, as Burke had thrust the screen within inches of his face.
On the screen a woman in a red leotard was performing gymnastics. The remarkable thing was that she was performing gymnastics why passing herself though eight inch rings and gaps between transparent walls of less than two inches.
“Just when in the holy hell am I watching?” The screen was pulled away and handed to Callahan who was instantly hypnotized by it.
“You heard of a show called Science Fact?” Burke waited to get a nod. “Well they had her on last night. They say it’s a mutation of some kind that makes her like rubber. A little later in the clip, then put her through a half inch roller and she’s fine.”
“So what’s the plot?” Was Liedecker’s instant reply.
“There’s no plot.” Burke shrugged, which looked to be a major seismic even thanks to his stature. “It’s what she is. Some folks are just born that way. With powers I mean, not only as rubber women.”
Liedecker chuckled and took a drag off his cigarette. “Burke, do you believe everything you hear on television or the internet?”
“They’re real.” Burke protested.
Shaking his head, Liedecker dropped the cigarette and ground it out with his heel. “Get real. The only powers a body can hope for are the kind my daddy and Callahan’s got.”
Joe Callahan Sr. was on the board of Vitality Pharmaceuticals, which made him a count or a duke to John Liedecker’s king. Henry and Betty Burke were nameless accounting cogs at an insurance firm, which didn’t really have a feudal analogue though the other two didn’t hold it against him.
“You could probably build something with powers like theirs.” Said Callahan, the only one of the three who had ever set foot in the robotics center John Liedecker funded. “There’s expansion aluminum now that can probably do the rubber job. I read about it a few weeks ago.”
“Or.” Liedecker strolled over to the opposite railing and leaned back on it. “You could use rubber.” His favorite classes thus far had been psychology and philosophy and science needed to do something new, not just efficient to impress him.
He leaned his head back and watched the sky. “Doesn’t matter though, ‘cause it’s neither here nor there.” Without looking, he held up his bag. “In here, I’ve got the best thing that’s happened to either of you apes since your voice broke.”
With some maneuvering, he reached in and brought out his own palm-top. For a moment, the screen dominated his vision, then he held it up for his friends to see. “This is confirmation for three in the executive skybox at MegaWare Stadium. For tomorrow.”
“Bullshit.” Callahan said with a look of aw and covetousness. “The Break Fire Anthem show?”
Liedecker nodded. “An early birthday present from the old man. The box, not the show.”
“They’re good.” Burke pointed out. “But I don’t think it’s as big as you—“
“That’s because that ain’t the big part.” Liedecker sat up and pulled himself to a seated position on the railing. “The big part is that there’s three more confirmations waiting in the message boxes of Catherine Hagen, Annie Hindland, and Kelly Kavanek.”
He pushed off the railing and made a broad gesture. “In case you have both been living under rocks the past year, these are three beautiful seniors who will be sharing a private box with us while listening to a band described by Sonic Vibe as an electric aphrodisiac.”
Subtly was not on the menu. He took a bow as his friends looked on in awe. “Now let’s celebrate with some dead cow. Trio’s good for ya?”
Callahan wanted to ask things about the girls, particularly which one was supposed to be with him, but he let Liedecker steer the conversation. “Trio’s is all the way on the other side of campus. Can’t we go to Faster Burger instead?”
This was rewarded with a disapproving glare. “I cannot in good conscience and sound mind let any friend of mine eat at that place.” He says. “Swear to God, I will call you cab first.”
“What’s wrong with Faster Burger?” Callahan looked affronted. “I love the special angus patty.”
“They print their meat.” Liedecker’s voice withered with disgust.
“That ain’t meat, Joe, that’s… I don’t even have words. All I know is that to get meat, something’s gotta die.”
“Trio’s probably uses clones.” Was the defense.
“That’s completely fine by me.” Liedecker shrugged. “A clone was alive at some point.”
“Guys.” Burke interjected. “I don’t want to break up the fight we have all the goddamn time over where to eat.” He said it like he meant it. Likely, he did, because he usually won those arguments. “But I’ve gotta head out early. Work.”
Unlike his friends, Burke wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Instead, he was born with a huge medical bill for being such a big baby. So he had to work to help pay for his education. Callahan and Liedecker again didn’t make a big deal out of it, mostly out of guilt.
Liedecker spared Callahan another glare before nodded amiably to Burke. “Seems like your boss wants you more and more. Guess it’s good for your wallet though.”
Burke only nodded and set off.
From among the six men and one woman seated that the big boardroom table rose a mustachioed man in his fifties. With his wire rimmed glasses and bald spot that dominated the top of his head, he looked like a substitute teacher.
“Smooth.” He looked more smug than a man that looked like him had much right to be. The effect was froggish. “All the store owners paid up on time, cops know what’s what. Life is good.”
“What about the little thing with Mara 19?” The question was delivered with exactly the right amount of insufferable slyness from one of the seated men; a thin, well scrubbed man about the same age as the speaker.
The standing man, whose name was Chandelling, took a deep, affronted breath and gave the thin man, called Morris, a withering look. Then he send a look more commonly seen on stray dogs too new to homelessness to be feral to the man at the end of the table.
“Y-yes. The incident.” He mopped his forehead with a handkerchief plucked from his breast pocket. “I was just getting to that. There was…” He stumbled on his words, “An incident. With some Mara 19 prostitutes a-and their pimp about two weeks ago. Ambridge sorted it out of course: put the kid on his back a-and the women.”
There wasn’t a silence in the room so much as the sound of a group of people preparing to listen. A dozen eyes glanced to other eyes and communicated pity or avarice as was appropriate at this juncture. Riverside was a good territory; not particularly lucrative, but with the police properly paid; it was the safest in the city from Mara 19, the Lobos, Wild Men and other assorted gangs.
A match was struck.
Theodore Wosniak was very particular about his cigars. They had to be from a specific shop in Miami (he insisted that genuine Cuban cigars had gone downhill after the sanctions were lifted) and they had to be lit with a wooden match.
From his seat at the head of the table, he looked almost nonchalant as he lit the cigar and snuffed the match between callused fingers.
He took a few more casual puffs before speaking, cigar still in his mouth. “Two weeks? How come I haven’t heard of it?” His voice was rough from decades of cigars and much shouting in his earlier youth, but his tone made silk seem like burlap.
“It was an isolated incident.” Chandelling mumbled quickly.
“You’ve said ‘incident’ about a dozen times, William.” Wosniak said around his cigar. “Think that’s the right word?” Chandelling nodded. “Really? And… isolated? That’s the right word too?”
“It’s the only gang activity in Riverside in months.” The reply sounded like the squeak of something very aware of nearby owls.
Wosniak ashed his cigar. “Lucille, you’re over in Prosperity Heights. How many…” He gave Chandelling a meaningful look, “incidents have your people seen to this month?”
Lucy Harrow looked like a loving grandmother rather than a lieutenant in Mayfield’s criminal organization. In fact, she was a loving grandmother who was planning to go pick up the youngest of her five grandchildren from elementary school after the meeting. She was also a lieutenant in Mayfield’s criminal organization.
“Just from Mara 19?” She asked. Wosniak nodded. “Twenty-three off the top of my head. Penny ante drug dealers, pimps—that kind of thing mostly, but they shot up two or three of our own guys for it.”
Wosniak nodded. “Jameson. Give me a number.”
Ben Jameson was the youngest person at the meeting, which wasn’t a great accomplishment; the Mayfield underworld was entrenched and had excellent health care. “Thirty in The Hills. Including killing Adam Billingsley, my best fixer.”
The boss of the bosses chewed his cigar and stared at the still standing Chandelling. “Not an incident.” He said plainly. “And not isolated. It’s endemic. My city is… infested with these animals… these vermin.
“They fight each other for the right to piss on my trees. And they’ve got no idea how to run a goddamn business. Whores and dealers out walking the streets—what am I paying the police for if they can’t catch these sons of bitches?”
He ran his gaze up and down the table, making sure that each of his lieutenants knew that it wasn’t just Chandelling who was on thin ice. “New York, Chicago, LA—all of them at hell holes because of this civil war bullshit.”
Rising from his seat, he slipped on his jacket. “And now it’s coming to my town? Hell no. Figure it out. I want this over and done by the new year. Even if it means killing ever last one of them.”
Not long after his edict, Wosniak was settling himself into the back of his town car. “I was hear when they rededicated this city.” He said to his driver. “When this became Mayfield. I made it. And I’m not giving it up to young scum that think they know about territory and know nothing about a city—an empire.”
He looked at the driver’s eyes in the mirror. “You know what I’m talking about, son?”
Roland Burke nodded, keeping his eyes on the mirror and the road at the same time. “Yes sir, Mr. Wosniak.”