The Cysko-Flores Hotel Ballroom’s glass dome shone like a diamond on the Mayfield skyline.
Beneath it, soft music was being played; the kind of music quiet enough to talk over, but loud enough to aid in keeping conversations private. The kind of music played at society parties where the agendas present were more important than the event.
The event was the celebration of the John Liedecker’s son’s twentieth birthday.
Standing outside on the balcony, watching the wait staff in the ridiculous crimson and silver suits that were supposed to be his family colors, the aforementioned son was well aware that it was strictly not a birthday party for Vincent Liedecker.
It had been that way his entire life; he attended one birthday party where he was ‘John’s boy’, and later in the week, his father would make amends, somehow absolving himself of his sin in the process.
He was too smart to feel as if his father was putting him last. That wasn’t true and he’d as soon break his own arm as consider it. What he did feel was bored with the tedium of trotting around greeting people he didn’t know or care about who were only there to speak to his father or other people who were there to speak to his father.
All he wanted was for those people to speak plainly and go to his father directly so that everyone involved (especially him) could get on with their lives.
That would never happen. There were rules, his father had explained on his fifteenth birthday. Rules that you needed to follow to become someone important. It didn’t matter how stupid you thought it was; in truth, everyone agree with you, but it had been in place for so long that people wouldn’t know what to do without that structure.
So it was Vincent’s duty to his family, his father in particular, to attend the parties, act pleased to meet everyone that didn’t really want to meet him, and pretend to be charming and attentive to their awkward, acne riddled, and generally annoying daughters.
He looked back down into the ballroom. The acne was gone along with most of the awkwardness. Burke an Callahan would be very pleased with what they saw and he wouldn’t deny that in some cases, neither did he. But they remained annoying, their adult personalities still equivalent to a wet sponge.
No woman on his father’s guest list would be worth his time, he was certain. Of course, he had his own list…
A quick visual of the ballroom told him that only Callahan had arrived so far and true to form was eagerly getting himself soaked by the sponges.
Vincent let out a snort at the thought and turned away from the windows. After a quick search for his lighter, he lit a cigarette and leaned on the rail, looking out over the city his father loved. It didn’t seem that special to him. He’d been to Paris, Istanbul, London, New York and any number of others in between and they were all just cities as far as he was concerned.
Still, somewhere in the tangle of tall buildings, were his actual friends and some actual fun just waiting for his annual political engagement to end. That was what made Mayfield different from other cities: it was home to the people that mattered.
Briefly, he wondered if that was why his father went to such pains and expense helping develop it.
“I like to believe that your mother and I did as good a job as a body can in this world, raising your sister and yourself. And yet somehow, the both of you managed to go off to college and pick up that dirty habit.”
At the sound of his father’s voice, Vincent wheeled around and straightened his posture. The hand with his cigarette went down to his side. “Sir.” He greeted.
John Liedecker stood partly in the door frame. In years past, he used to tower over his children, but in the present, he only had an inch or so on his youngest. “Wasn’t even half a surprise to find you out here instead of in there.” He nodded back to the ballroom. “I only just managed to step away.”
“Sorry, Daddy.” Vincent muttered, but made no moves to return to the party.
“Sorry nothing.” The elder Liedecker barked a laugh, then sighed. “Look, boy. I know these ain’t your kind of folk. Of course, Your friend, Joe seems to be getting along just fine.”
Vincent shrugged. “Callahan gets on with just about anything. Besides, he’s more than glad to see some gals.”
A small smile crossed his father’s face and he took a step back from the door. “Maybe the guests aren’t to you liking.” He gestured to someone in the hall with him, “But I know a gal you’ll at least be happy to see.”
A woman in her late twenties stepped out onto the balcony. She was a few inches shorter than Vincent With the black hair and almond shaped eyes of her mother, but those eyes were steel blue like his and their father’s.
“Dee.” There was a bit of hesitation in the greeting.
“Vinnie.” Dorothy Liedecker smirked as she went over to embrace her little brother. “What’s the matter? You were expecting someone else?” She quirked an eyebrow at him. “A lady friend?”
“It’s good to see you too, Dee.” Vincent was quick to produce his pack of cigarettes and offer it to her.
“I think I’ll get back inside where a body can breath.” Their father remarked. “And I will make this up to you, Vince. That trip out to the Middle East you’ve had a line out for this year? Consider it done.” He didn’t wait for his son’s gratitude before heading down the hall; he knew he had it.
“So,” Dee said, accepting her brother’s offer of a light before slouching against the railing in an identical manner as he. “Still in the meat market, huh? How do you like being trotted out for the crème de la crème?”
“I liked it better when it was happening to you.” Vincent smirked. “’Course, now you’re a grown woman, running one of daddy’s businesses. You don’t have to deal with it. Me, I got three more years of college at least.”
“You make it sound like I’m doing nothing but having fun, Vinnie.” Dee took a puff of her cigarette.
“That’s cause I know you, Dee.” Vincent pointed out. “You skipped college days or weeks in a go. To be frank, you’d damn near have to pay me to pretend to think you don’t do that over at Global Reach Air too.”
Dee smoked in sullen silence.
A cruelly amused grin spread across her face. “I’ve got ’em trained like dogs now. It used to be, I’d disappear and I’ve come back to a mess. The cat’s away and so forth. But I’ll tell you a secret, Vinnie; it’s all in making people think you’re a damn crazy bitch that might do something at any moment.
I disappear now, and she’s telling a whole different story. They work harder than when I’m there because they don’t know when I’m coming back, from where, or what mood the whole thing put me in.”
“You’re a sick lady, Dee.” Vincent said.
“And what about the lady you were really hoping to see show up here?” She asked, “Is she a sick lady, or a delicate magnolia blossom that needs a strong, man?”
“Nobody said I was hoping to see anyone. Just that this dog and pony show was over so I could get to my real party.”
“Is she gonna be there?”
“Leave it alone, Dee.” Vincent ashed his cigarette aggressively.
“What?” She pretended to sound hurt. “A sister can’t take an interested in a potential in-law?”
“You’re just trying to find something to tease me over.” Vincent waved away her hurt act dismissively and pushed away from the railing. He sauntered over to a corner. They stood there in silence for a while until Vincent cracked, just as Dee thought he would.
“She’s the smart type. Real smart. A teacher’s aid in my intro to medical robotics course.”
Dee grinned again, this time in a much less cruel, much more girlish way. “That’s your type now, Vinnie? When I left home, it was girls with a bout as much air in their heads as gray matter. Don’t tell me little brother’s grown up. Do Callahan and Burke know this?”
“This is why I didn’t want to talk about it.” snapped Vincent. “I ain’t a mooning school boy. It’s only been a couple of months and I want to spend a a little more time with her.” He thought a moment. “Funny you should mention Burke; he’s supposed to be here to suffer with me.”
“Maybe he’s picking up your lady friend to bring her to you.” Dee exhaled a long stream of smoke into the night air. “That’d fair much seal the deal on which on of them is your best friend.”
Vincent shook his head. “More than likely, he got pulled in on his job. Seems like every week that boss of his works him a little longer. You’d think a man that can afford on driver could afford to have to working on shifts.”
“Think he won’t show then?” Dee asks, disappointed. Between Joe and Roland Burke, she got along much better with Burke.
“Not on his life.” Vincent said. “I know Burke almost as good as I know you. He gave his word, so hell or high water, he’ll be here.”
It rarely got truly dark in most places in Mayfield. There were too many windows, too many safety lights or the glowing indicators of a thousand normally unseen and unnoticed devices to somehow contributed to keeping the city running. To find somewhere truly dark, you had to hunt for it.
And that valuable task had fallen to Roland Burke: Find a dark place to park somewhere within five blocks of the five hundred block of Kyle Avenue, turn on the secure beacon provided, and wait. No other electronics. Keep the car and everything inside off until instructed otherwise.
One of the things inside Burke wasn’t supposed to turn on was the heater. He never expected to be called in to work that day, much less that there would be any reason to sit in a car in the pitch black with no heater. Three hours later and he wondered if he’d ever stop shivering.
Not all of those shivers were from the January night. By all accounts, it was actually mild out and there was no wind.
But Kyle Avenue’s five hundred block and everything north of it to Yost Street was Mara 19 territory. Anyone known to be part of what the gangs were calling the Old Money Establishment was kill on sight and that included Burke if anyone cared to check.
He’d pieced his part in whatever was going down together in the first hour. Sometime between waking up that morning, confirming plans for his buddy Vince’s real birthday party at the Trophy Lounge club and being called into work, he’d been ‘promoted’ to get away driver.
With little else to do in the dark, his mind had spent the last two hours conjuring images of exactly who he was helping to get away and from what. So far, he’d liked none of them very much. This wasn’t what he’d taken the job with Wosniak to do and yet it didn’t seem like the kind of job he could simply quit.
Burke was still turning the entire thing over in his mind when he heard the first shot. He’d never heard a real gunshot before, but he instantly knew it when he heard it. In short other, there was another shot and then another and still more until it seemed to him that a string of firecrackers was burning somewhere.
It was getting closer.
Something pinged against the rear driver’s side door and every fiber of Burke’s being wanted nothing more than to flee. But something stayed his hand; the fact that though he might die if he waited for instructions, he would definitely be killed by Wosniak’s people if he ran.
Footsteps joined the gunshots and he got the sense of men approaching. “Start the car!” One of them shouted, his voice muffled by the car’s armored exterior.
That was more than enough of an excuse for Burke. He hit the ignition and the car purred to life, it’s automatic headlights piercing the veil of darkness ahead of him and almost blinding his dark adjusted eyes.
He could see the men now; there were three of them, one only able to move because he was supported by the shoulder of another. As they got closer, Burke saw something dark staining the white shirt under his suit.
The third man turned away from him and ripped off a handful of shots back up the alley they’d come from. “Get him in!” He shouted.
Answering gunfire ricocheted off the car’s paneling as the bearer of the injured man threw the door open and pushed him inside. In spite of the still relatively low light and the grimace of pain on the casualty’s face, Burke recognized him: Bernard Meistersinger, a man who had shared the limo with Wosniak often. From their cryptic conversations, it was obvious that the man was a hired killer.
Before the man who had delivered Meistersinger could seat himself properly, the third man shoved him roughly inside and pulled the door closed, another spray of gunfire pinging off the panels.
“1305 W. Butcher Street.” The third man barked. “And hurry, goddamn it before he bleeds out.” Burke had the car in gear before he was done talking.
“Fucking Maras.” Meistersinger snarled deliriously. “It was a set up. Damn animals don’t even know how to break bread. Call Wosniak, tell him forget trying to reason with ’em. Kill ’em all.”
Burke took the corner and suddenly found himself headed straight for a tall, thin man in Mara colors wielding a shotgun. Not flinching a bit at the two ton car barreling toward him, he raised the weapon and fired.
Whatever the shotgun was loaded with, it wasn’t capable of fulled piercing the hardened windshield. It did, however, crack it into a massive spiderweb pattern. Burke shouted, ducked and instinctively floored it.
He didn’t see the impact, but he did feel it as the car jolted, then bucked violently as if it were going over a badly maintained speed bump. Then they were clear and speeding away down the street.
Roland Burke didn’t remember much else about the rest of that night, only numb fear and the feel of his grip tightened around the steering wheel.
To Be Continued…