She at alone at a lab table, eyes flitting between three monitors and her own portable computer as the results of a battery of microscopic scans were broadcast to her from apparatus in other areas of the lab.
All of her focus was directed on her task; analyzing, documenting and evaluating the performance of surgically implanted devices in frogs, designed to boost the efficiency and strength of their leg muscles. It was a focus not simply born out of a desire to do good work, but out of a passion for her field.
It was a boundless and overflowing passion that drove her to pontificate on it the finer points of neuromuscular interfacing, nano-matrices, and nerve splicing to anyone that would listen.
He didn’t understand any of it, but Vincent loved to listen to her for hours. For a few long minutes, he just leaned in the doorway and watched her work. But this wasn’t the time for dawdling, he needed to move quickly if he was going to get everything done that needed it.
“Ya know, you’re even more beautiful when you’re being intense, darlin’.”
Isabelle Cummings reluctantly tore her gaze away from her work. A hint of a smile flitted across her face and vanished as she first noticed him, then the pack of cigarettes in his hand. “There’s not smoking in the lab; it upsets the calibration of the instruments.”
“Why I didn’t light ’em.” He pushed off from the door frame and started towards her. “And good evenin’ to you too, Belle.”
“I thought we were meeting later at the theater. We are still going to see the drama department put on Tartuffe.”
Vincent stopped just outside of arm length, regarding her for a moment. Belle was at five years his senior, working in the lab and as a teaching assistant while she was doing her grad work, but he couldn’t see the age difference at all.
She was most striking than traditionally beautiful with dark hair done up in a hasty bun, an elegant roman nose, and hawkish, amber eyes that turned yellow when the light hit them just so. Her loose blouse and khakis did nothing for her figure, and nor did her too large lab coat.
What had caught his attention though had nothing to do with her physical traits, but the pride and dignity with which she carried them. Since the day he’d first seen her around campus, he couldn’t get her expressions out of his mind.
He was seeing suspicion mixed now and knew anger would be next. Hence why he remained out of her reach.
“About that. I’m gonna have to take ya there another day.” There wasn’t a hint of nerve in the statement, nor of apology. John Liedecker always said that if a man was doing the right thing, he should never feel sorry for doing it. His son took that to heart, even knowing as he did that Belle wouldn’t be very forgiving of the attitude.
Belle pierced him through with a disbelieving stare. “This had better be a joke, Vinnie. And if it, is, there better be more to it than this, or I may leave you just because you’ve lost your humor.”
Vincent didn’t flinch at the threat. “It’s not in my power, Belle. Something’s come up and I’ve got to look after it tonight.”
“What?” she snapped.
“Can’t tell ya that.” He shook his head. “What’s told in confidence and more than that, it’s best if you’ve got no part in it.”
“You expect me to believe that? For all I know, this big emergency is that Callahan got court side seats to a ball game.”
“How many times have I lied to you?” He challenged. The answer was zero that she could prove and he aimed to keep it that way, so he gave her a moment to try and fail to come up with an example. “That’s right. So you’ll just have to take my word when I say this really is life and death.” He met her withering gaze steadily. “And I’m life.”
Belle exhaled slowly through her nose. Her jaw was set and the sternness in her eyes didn’t dissipate. That looks solidified all doubt in Vincent’s mind that her destiny in life was to teach. When staring him down didn’t work, she heaved an exasperated sigh. Both of them were fully immune to intimidation.
“Fine. Go and do whatever you want. But this is the last time you get to run out on me without telling me where. Next time, you run out for good.”
Vincent nodded and stepped forward. Deftly, he grabbed her hand and kissed it. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, darlin’.” He straightened up from the gesture with a somewhat penitent look. “You know I’d much rather be with you tonight, but this thing… it’s got me ‘tween that devil and the sea.”
“Just go.” She replied. “I’ve got work to do and you’re distracting me.”
“I’ll make this up to you.”
“You always do.” came the dry response. Belle turned her attention back to her monitors.
The occasion hadn’t come up often that Vincent had need to make something up to her and he did it without fail or delay. But it was a stinging barb all the same. “More so this time. And I’ll explain it all when I get back and this thing’s done.” He didn’t wait for her to reply before he left. She wasn’t going to.
As he walked down the hall, away from the lab, he lit a cigarette. The hard part was over. Now for the part that could get him arrested, followed by the part that would likely get him killed.
By the time the sun went down, the rain had let up so that it was only a downpour and not a visibility ruining deluge. Still, it gave the world a sullen and skulking look as it dimmed the street lamps and abbreviated the lights from the windows up and down the street.
Few people were out and the few who were moved quickly so as to spend as little time as possible exposed to the elements. It was a night better spent inside.
A man in a dark suit stepped out of the Brockway Hotel and onto the corner. Through smoky glasses, he surveyed the street, the nearby windows, and briefly the rainy sky above before settling his gaze on the limo waiting there.
Satisfied, he nodded to the door and from it came another man in a suit, this one holding an umbrella for their employer, Theodore Wosniak. “All clear, sir.” the first man said.
“One place in the city that is.” Wosniak said bitterly. “Call ahead to the house. I want Chandelling on the phone and begging forgiveness by the time I get there.” He ground his teeth. “How dare he not show for a meeting he himself called. Waste of my time.”
The first man set his jaws as he opened to door for Wosniak. “Actually, Mr. Wosniak, I heard on the radio… Chandelling’s dead.”
Wosniak paused at the door, staring hard at the bodyguard. “What.” It wasn’t a question. It was an order to elaborate.
“Wild men bombed his car two hours ago in Riverside.” said the guard, refusing to meet his employer’s gaze. He blanched. “Hit him with a grenade launcher.”
An angry curse flew from Wosniak’s lips. “Where in the hell do those lunatics get that kind of weaponry? We need to get to the bottom of that; get Ackerman on the phone too, have him set up another meeting tomorrow.”
Watching for the guards acknowledgement, he finally got into the limo, sinking fitfully down into the seat even before the door was closed. What little respite he managed was short lived.
“By all means, find their supply lines and cut ’em off.” A smooth, forcibly calm voice said. Wosniak looked up to find steely eyes staring back at him. There was a young man in the seat across from him, dressed in a casual sport jacket and trousers. There was a sizable and viscous looking pistol in his lap. “But what you really need is a supply of your own, right?”
His hand already reaching for the door handle, Wosniak refused to break eye contact with the younger man. “You think you’ll last long at all pointing a gun at the likes of me?” He spat. The door was locked. The car was already moving. Still he refused to be afraid.
“Gun’s not loaded.” said Vincent. He picked it up by the barrel. “In fact, it’s yours. Think of it as a gift, a free sample.” Casually, he tossed it to the mob boss, underhand.
The gun was heavier than it looked; Wosniak nearly fumbled it, but managed to catch it with the barrel facing him. He was quick to turn it around. Just for a moment, he admired the heft and craftsmanship. It had been a long time since he’d held a well made firearm.
Once that moment fled, however, the righteous anger at having his private limousine invaded came roaring back. “Just who do you think you are, ambushing me like this?” He demanded.
Vincent shook his head. “This ain’t an ambush.” He put up his hands. “In fact, I’m unarmed. This is a business deal.” After making sure Wosniak recognized his unarmed state, he lowered his hands. No sense making himself feel any more vulnerable that he already did.
“Now that right there in your hand? That’s a Morton Defense Works Combat Utility Sidearm. One handed firing with minimized recoil, built in sound dampers, and vibration guards. It’s barrel features the MDW model 34A target acquisition system that links to a visor or ocular implant to allow real time use of a head’s up targeting reticule.”
He folded his hands in front of him as he spoke. The sales pitch was keeping Wosniak unbalanced and that was keeping Vincent alive.
“It takes .454 caliber round and can hold and switch between three types of on board ammo between semi-automatic shots. And the bullets come in any flavor that floats your boat; tracers, incendiary, electroshock… ell, I’ve seen it take bird-shot.”
Leaning back in the seat as if he were making himself at home, he waved in the direction of the gun. “In five years’ time, that weapon in your hand there will be the standard sidearm of all field operations in the US military. And you can have the future today.”
Wosniak narrowed his eyes at the gun. “You’re a goddamn gun salesman?”
“I think the term is ‘arms dealer’, but no.” Vincent replied. “I’m just a man that knows where those sweet ladies are being built, the time they’ll be put on the road to Quantico, and where the driver’s scheduled to take a piss break.”
“And you want part of the take.” Wosniak reasoned. His lip curled in derision. “A finder’s fee.”
“No.” was the reply. Vincent felt a bit better when he was surprise come to the mob boss’s eyes. He might just pull it off. Before Wosniak could react, he dove forward with the rest of his song and dance. “I’ve heard tell there’s a war in this town. I get you these guns, they ain’t gonna be sold, so there ain’t no take. You’re too low on manpower and firepower to take the time to turn a profit and cover your ass.”
“So you’re just doing this out of the goodness of you heart.” Wosniak’s tone was mocking. “You know, I’ve been in the business a long, long time and this is about the worse, most bullshit-filled, half hearted run at a sting I’ve ever run into.” He weighed the gun in his hand and leaned forward dangerously. “Maybe you should talk with your superiors before you get so cocksure of yourself, boy.”
An impertinent smirk crossed Vincent’s face. “If I were one of this city’s esteemed boys in blue, you’d be gone by now, Mr. Wosniak. If I put my mind to it and made an effort, it wouldn’t be hard to make a case… a Federal case… without a sting.”
Wosniak bristled and the smirk became a sly smile. “But I’m not. Nor am I doing this out of the any kinda charity. I want a deal, yeah, just not for money.”
A low, gruff sound came from Wosniak. His grip on the gun tightened. Even if it was unloaded, he imagined bludgeoning the abrasive young buck with it. “Why should I deal with you at all? You sneak into my car, you show me no respect, and then on top of it, you talk as if you’re smarter than I am. I ought to just toss you out right here and now.”
“Now, now. I didn’t mean no disrespect, Mr. Wosniak; only responding in kind. Thing is, I’m here to make you a deal in good faith.” Vincent steepled his fingertips and leaned forward, lowering his voice conspiratorially despite it being impossible that anyone was listening in. “That truck I mentioned? It’s carrying five hundred units, plus ammunition. Enough to level the playing field and if you’ve got a head for planning, enough to win.”
None of it softened Wosniak’s glare. “You still haven’t told me what you’re supposed to get out of this.”
“Besides putting down a gang war that’s looking like it’ll make like Sherman in Atlanta on my city?” Vincent diligently avoided saying ‘my father’s city’.
“Yeah.” Wosniak replied coldly. “That.”
Vincent calmly nodded his head. “Right. To business. I want to buy out one of your men. That’s the deal. You get all the information you need on the shipment and all you have to risk is one man. Sounds like an easy choice, don’t it?”
“Too easy.” said Wosniak. “As smart as you want to sound, you’re wrong. One man’s not all I risk. I risk my whole operation trying to go after Fed goods. My men get caught, they get traced back to me and then the war don’t matter no more. That’s a hell of a risk.”
For the first time in the conversation, Vincent felt his advantage slipping. Wosniak was smarter than he thought. He was too far in to turn back though. “Without guns, the war won’t matter anyway, am I right? Where else are you going to get your hands on this much hardware that’s damn near free?”
Until that moment, Vincent had never thought of Wosniak as an especially cunning man. Intelligent he might be, but as far as he was concerned, he was a criminal and as per John Liedecker, a criminal was by definition not smart enough to succeed within the law.
The look in Wosniak’s eyes made him question that supposition and what followed blasted it into meaningless fragments.
“You.” the crime boss said.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Vincent nodded. “I can deliver you everything you need to get them.”
“No.” Wosniak shook his head. “You deliver the guns.”
“You know the where, the who, the how; you get them.” A cruel grin split the mobster’s face. “You’ve got no connection to me, so this way, I really am risking just a man.”
Vincent stared straight ahead. It made perfect sense from Wosniak’s point of view; if the heist failed, Wosniak would have gained nothing, but ventured even less. And if it succeeded, he would gain exactly what he needed. There was really no logic to use against that.
So there was no use fighting. After all, Wosniak didn’t know that Morton Defense Works was a subsidiary of his father’s holdings. There was substantially less risk to Vincent than he might think.
“Mr. Wosniak, you’ve got yourself a deal.”
To Be Continued…