Vincent Liedecker often found himself waking up before his alarm went off. He found it an excellent time to gather his thoughts and just enjoy some times relaxing in the warm embrace of his covers before he was expected to be up and about.
This even extended to his vacation. He absolutely hated lounging around in hotel rooms during the day and took care to absolutely fill his days with activity. The last few days had been spent trolling around Basra for dealers in gray market wares. He found a man claiming to deal in art pieces looted from the Baghdad flood five years previous. Liedecker doubted that, as hard was the government had come down on people trying to cash in on that tragedy, but the idea that he looted some sacred vault on his trip sounded like a good story to tell.
He bought an antique spear to decorate his dorm room and a painting, which didn’t look to be from the region at all. Thought not an art buff, he found himself attracted to the eerie image of a blond woman who reminded him somehow of Ophelia from Hamlet. If anything, he could make a start of following in his father’s footstep by making the no doubt very old painting into a generous donation to a museum.
Today, he was planning a day trip to Iran. He wanted to visit the University of Tehran after hearing one of his professors speak so glowingly about it.
A tone from his palmtop beat the alarm to shattering his peace and interrupting his mental planning.
He rolled onto his side and opened an eye to find the offending device. The tone was his text warning, not the phone. He wished it was the phone; you didn’t have to come fully awake to talk on the phone the way you did to read a text.
It was probably his friends texting while drunk. It would be past one stateside; prime time for alcohol fueled hijinks that Callahan or Burke would want to keep him apprised of. Last time they’d sent him one, it was in the form of a video featuring Callahan trying to convince a woman that yes, he really knew the son of the John Liedecker and that yes, that son was on the other end of that video transmission. It ended with the woman saying her number and adding ‘call me, Vinnie’, much to Callahan’s frustration.
The prospects of finding something equally embarrassing reduced the annoyance of being interrupted during his quiet time. He picked up the palmtop and checked the screen. It wasn’t from Callahan or Burke. It was from his sister.
It just read ‘check Mayfield 4. It’s dad.” along with a link to Mayfield News Provider 4.
Sitting up, Vincent hit the link which automatically opened a news clip.
“Earlier this evening,” the anchorman’s voice was saying as the image panned over a scene of carnage. The twisted wreck of some large vehicle lay on its top on the street atop the remains of another unidentifiable car. The guardrail of the flyover ramp above was demolished, explaining how one car wound up on top of another, “We bought you the story of a horrific crash; an unregistered armored truck broke through the barrier of a flyover ramp and landed on top of a limousine driving below.”
Vincent’s stomach knotted. It couldn’t be.
“Since then, News Provider 4 has learned that the driver of that limo, 46 year old Rick Price was killed instantly at the scene. The lone passenger, noted philanthropist and local business leader, John Liedecker has been rushed to the hospital in critical condition.
There was a brief light of hope. Critical wasn’t a good thing, but neither was it a death sentence.
He sprang from the bed and started picking up clothes. Flying back to Mayfield was now the only thing on the itinerary.
All the while, the anchor continued to report. “Police sources say that the armored truck was involved in a shoot out between local gangs. They have declined to say which gangs were involved, eyewitnesses claim that the driver of the truck, who also died at the scene, had a tattoo on his chest commonly used by the violent street gang known as the Wild Men.”
Vincent shut off the clip and got up. Hastily throwing on the first clothes he could find, he went out into the main room of his suite. He kept it cold out there because he thought it made his mind more alert. Now it just added to the feeling of uneasiness that was settling over him. He synched his palmtop to the room’s services and turned off the air conditioner before turning on the plasma screen.
Within minutes, he was using the larger screen to take care of everything that needed to be done; canceling his tour guide for Iran as well as his reservations at a several Basra restaurants for the week. He also made arrangements for a service to pick up his things from the hotel and ship them back to the states; he planned to be on his way home as soon as possible and wasn’t willing to waste time packing.
For the trip itself, he found a flight leaving in two hours from Baghdad, but there as a supersonic flight leaving from Ramadi in four. He hated the idea of waiting around four hours to get under way, but there were no supersonic jets available to hire on such short notice, so he was stuck.
He ordered a light breakfast to be bought up. Not that he was hungry; his stomach was in so much turmoil that he wasn’t even sure he could keep anything down, but he knew he needed to eat if only to take his mind off how useless he was waiting on the other side of the world for someone else to bring him home.
Waiting for his food, food he had no taste for, to arrive, he removed the earpiece from his phone and put in Dee’s number.
It only rang twice before Dorothy Liedecker, his half sister picked up. “Where the fuck are you, Vinnie?!” Her voice exploded from the receiver.
The sickness of helplessness swirled within him. “I’m still in Iraq.” He said, and was unable to say more before she pounced on it.
“You need to be here. What the hell are you doing? You need to be on a plane now.”
Vincent leaned over and grabbed a half empty pack of cigarettes of the end table before sitting down heavily on the sofa. He rarely fought with his older sister; they respected each other too much. But she was upset and so was he.
“What do you want me to do, Dee? Ain’t no planes for at least two hours and if I take that one, it’ll take eight more hours than it would if I wait for the one in four. You think I don’t wanna be there? Bullshit. You know I love daddy, just as much as you.”
There was silence on the other end of the line, at least it seemed that way unless his listened closely. Then he heard the soft sobs through the hand Dee had over the receiver. Finally, she came back. “I know.” She said in an almost whisper. “But… he’s in bad shape, Vinnie. He needs us around.”
Vincent swallowed, focusing on the flame as he lit his cigarette. “How bad?”
“Bad!” She growled.
“Dee, I need to know. I… god damn it, Dee, you sent me that damn clip. How bad?”
The tone of her voice, on the edge of crying, was alien to him. If someone had asked him before that day, he would have said that her defining characteristic was how few shits she gave. Life happened to Dorothy Liedecker and she either ignored it or went with the flow.
Now all of that seem to dissolve. “The doctor said… he’s bleeding inside. A lot. Four broken ribs, collapsed lung. No matter what happened, he’s going to lose if left leg and hand. After that, he talked about skin grafts, but the way he said it… he doesn’t think he’s going to make it to that.”
Vincent swallowed and tried to convince himself that the sting behind his eyes was from the cigarette smoke. “I’m gonna get there as soon as possible.” He said, “Just… you and daddy, hold on, okay? Is momma there?” She was really just his mother, but she’s played that role for Dee longer than he’d been alive.
“On her way.” said Dee. “She was in LA, just missed the earliest flight, had to get the next.”
“Shit. You’re there alone?”
“Yeah.” she said, sounding tired. It made sense, it would be three in the morning in Mayfield by then.
“God, I’m sorry, Dee. I’ll be there the second I can. You know that. Want me to stay on with you?”
“I’ll be alright.” She lied, he could tell, “Momma’ll be here in a little bit. You just concentrate on getting here.”
Vincent took a quick drag on his cigarette “All I can think of. You hear anything else about how it happened?” He was morbidly curious. More than that, he wanted a face to aim his anger at.
“Not more than the news clip. They caught the guy that did it.” She half-sobbed, half-chuckled, “It could’ve been a lot worse. That truck he was driving? Full of homemade explosives and stolen guns from New York.”
Vincent scowled, remembering how, only a few months prior, he’d heard almost as good as first hand about the escalating war between the established crime lords of Mayfield and the two upstart gangs from out of town; Mara 19 and the Wild Men. There were lots of smaller gangs, but up until recently, they all bended knee to the master of the local underworld, a man named Wosniak.
But in recent months, the gangs were starting to go to the new blood and the gangs were going to war. Vincent helped prop up the efforts of Wosniak to retake control in order to help get a friend of his out from under the man’s thumb. He’d hoped that the side effect would be in turning the tide in Wosniak’s favor and ending the gang wars.
He was wrong, they were getting worse. Maybe he had made it worse. And now the war had come right up to him and spat in his face.
“Hey Dee…” He said, voice breaking. “If you’re alright, I’ve gotta go. I might have a better flight on the line.” He lied this time, but she wouldn’t be able to tell. Vincent was very good at it. Smooth, as Callahan called it. “Keep me posted.”
“Alright.” said Dee slowly. “You take care, alright?”
“Always do.” He said. “And you do the same.”
The hung up. Vincent was quick to start an internet search on Wosniak.
He knew why the gang war wasn’t getting better; he’d seen it in the man the first night he met hm but ignored it because it wasn’t important. Now it was very important: Wosniak didn’t just destroy threats, he preferred to subjugate them. That was why he would rather make Vincent steal guns for him instead of just taking the tip he offered.
Control. Wosniak would never just exterminate the Maras or the Wild Men, not when he thought he could fold them into his power base. That would work on small gangs, but the Maras were major players, out to be kings in their own right.
The Wild Men were worse. As far as his limited knowledge told him, the Wild Men were more interested in violence than money. They orchestrated pyrotechnics fueled robberies occasionally, but they most often went after the cops or other gangs. Periodically, their leader would surface and publish a rambling manifesto about the nature of crime and corruption, but none of their activities suggested any cares about collateral damage.
Neither group would bow to Wosniak, no matter what he said, threatened or offered. And unless something pushed him to move against them definitively, the gang war would go on, and Mayfield bear the wounds of the crossfire.
That sobering thought was interrupted by his breakfast arriving, but the idea that his father was neither the first, nor the last casualty of a clash he now had dirty hands in stuck with him for the rest of the day.
The interior of the jet was comfortable and attractive. As luck had it, the flight he booked out of Ramadi was the noon business shuttle to Dulles. He wouldn’t have cared if it was a cargo plane filled with incontinent pigs, as long as it got him home as quickly as possible.
Vincent was drinking. It had never helped before, but he was hoping that it would make him sleep through the four hour flight. He wasn’t sure he could take being conscious and thinking the whole way, knowing there was nothing he could do to help, no comfort he could give.
The man beside him, bearded, red faced and stuffed into an ugly, blue suit, kept tossing looks at him, alternating between suspicious and annoyed. Vincent ignored him. He knew how he must look; he hadn’t bothered to shave and he was breathing hard and sweating. Let the sausage fingered corporate raider think whatever he wanted, whatever Vincent might be ‘up to’ in his mind was probably more moral than whatever business he had in Iraq.
John Liedecker did a lot of business in the Middle East just to offset men like him who dropped into the growing economies looking to abuse still developing labor laws and poach young, idealistic talent from the universities. Those talents found themselves locked into contract that robbed them of the rights to their work with no compensation.
But Liedecker’s holdings played fair and paid fair. Their reputation made it harder for men like the one beside Vincent to make nearly as huge a profit by subterfuge and whenever possible, did business with local concerns. It wasn’t just moral, it was smart. It hedged out the competition while establishing deep roots with the locals.
Vincent let out a long breath and leaned back. That was his father; good and smart and always a step ahead without ever getting dirty. Men like him didn’t deserve to suffer like he was. Everyone had to go, but John Liedecker deserved to go painlessly. Peacefully. Surrounded by loved ones and secure in the knowledge that his legacy would continue; that all the good he had done was eternal.
Dee would inherit the empire, he was sure. His sister didn’t really have a desire to, but she was oldest and that sounded about right to Vincent. He knew that he himself wasn’t ready. He was a boy, learning to be a man; making the mistakes that came with it. Mistakes could ruin a business, destroy the balance that made the machinery run smoothly. If Vincent wanted to be part of that, he’d need to learn more about judging people and dealing with stressful situations.
And as cocksure as he played when with his friends or mingling with people abroad, he knew that he didn’t have any of what he needed yet. He didn’t even really know what to do or where to got to get it. Somehow, he had always been waiting for his father to show him the secret.
The flight attendant bought him another brandy. He didn’t drain this one like the last, just leaned back and held it carefully in one hand. Drinking wasn’t going to help him. His mind was so engulfed in the flames of ‘what if’ and ‘how’ that it would take something far stronger than the half-watered alcohol the airline served to put him to sleep.
Beside him, the empty suit in the shape of a man got out his tablet and started surfing the internet. He probably wanted to look like he was doing some important business, but through half-lidded eyes, Vincent saw that he was reading a blog about the professional billiards circuit and another for baseball. Evidently he was a fan of the Carson City Scorpions.
A buzzing came from his breast pocket, less a sound then a feeling against his chest. Suddenly there was another weight on his chest, like a block of ice with tremendous weight. There was little reason anyone else would be calling him at this time. And there was no other reason that Dee would bother calling him back.
He took the palmtop out of his pocket and looked at the screen. As expected, it was Dee. He hesitated. Some tiny piece of his mind hoped that maybe if he didn’t answer, what he feared wouldn’t become real. Another held out hope that maybe it was positive news.
The rest of him knew better.
Pushing down all his emotions, he put the earpiece in and answered. “Dee?”
“He’s dead, Vinnie.” Dee’s voice was hollow, emotionless. Probably from shock; too much pain too quickly. “Daddy’s dead.”
Vincent hung his head. Even expecting it, he hadn’t been ready. Nothing could have made him ready.