John Liedecker was buried in a private ceremony in the Serenity Revered Cemetery in Mayfield. There was an old family plot in Georgia where he could have been buried, but taking him out of the city he’d grown up both in and with seemed wrong.
He was survived by his second wife, Deborah, daughter Dorothy, son Vincent, brothers Thomas and Benjamin, three nieces, one nephew and many friends, both personal and professional.
He was mourned by the entire city of Mayfield in a public service held at St. Drausinus Cathedral, which opened its doors for the service despite Liedecker being a life long baptist. The cathedral was filled to capacity with hundreds standing outside to pay their respects to a man that changed their lives and their home so profoundly.
At the public service, Dorothy delivered a message from the family, thanking everyone for their support in their time of sorrow and promising to carry on Liedecker’s good works. No one paid any heed to a small apology included for her brother’s absence due to illness.
Vincent Liedecker was sick; sick to his stomach, watching the service on television in the living room of his family home.
Ice clinked in his glass. He hadn’t touched it since Callahan put it in his hand. The scotch was probably diluted past palatable by then. He didn’t notice. Callahan and Burke had come to try and cheer him up, but he was ignoring them now, focused on the televised shots from inside the cathedral. Even Belle, who was right beside him on the couch, seemed beneath his notice.
“Most of the time.” He suddenly said, startling his friends out of their own fugues from being shut out. “The only folks that get something like this in a cathedral without being Catholic are presidents.” He finally took a sip of scotch, not noticing how watered down it was. “That’s how much he meant. To everyone.”
He sat back, admiring an aerial shot of the crowds outside. “They all owed him this much.” He decided, patting his suit coat in search of cigarettes. Finding them, he pulled one out and stuck it in his mouth as the search resumed, this time for a lighter.
“You got a job here? You can probably thank John Liedecker. Got a place to live? John Liedecker. Art, theater, science grants? Same. Damn. Man. They all owe him and they know it.” He finally found his lighter and fumbled to light the cigarette. He inhaled deep and sighed out a large cloud of smoke.
“What are we gonna do without him? Not just me and Dee and mama. What’s the city gonna do? Dee had to get up there and promise we’ll hold everything together, but god damn it, do you know how much he did? It’s not just the companies he owns, it’s the little loans here and there, the fifty-eleven dozen tiny little pieces of land where he put up a park or a shelter or something. The museum pieces he’s loaned out, and all the people he made jobs for just so they could have ’em.”
The others remained quiet as he took another drag and then another drink.
“And it all just worked. Daddy was charmed like the devil. He just knew when a person was telling the truth, or whether they’d do everything in their power to pay him back. It’s… he just knew who was worthy and who would take what he gave them and make it grow so other people could benefit too.
“Mama can’t do it. God love her, but she doesn’t know anything about business. Dee knows but Dee’s Dee. And I… I can’t do it. I know I can’t. I always expected one day either he’d take me aside… or I’d wake up and I’d see exactly how it worked. But I don’t.”
Belle scooted closer to him on the couch and wrapped her arms around him. “Vinnie. It’s going to be alright. Even if your mom can’t help, Dee can. The two of you can do this. You’re both so much smarter and just better than you think.”
“Yeah.” Callahan said, leaning on the bar off to the side of the room. “You never failed us once. And sure as hell, you know you’ve done the impossible to make that happen.”
Burke nodded solemnly and raised his glass. “Especially me, Vince. What you did last year was amazing.”
Vincent held the scotch in one hand, and with the other, reached up to give Belle’s a tender caress. “It wasn’t good enough, Burke. I got you out, yeah. But I thought those guns were going to push the whole thing in Wosniak’s favor. They would have, but I don’t know people. I read him wrong. I could have given him a nuke and he couldn’t have won this thing because he doesn’t want to win, he wants to take control.”
“Guns?” Belle asked. She never had learned the truth of why he’d stood her up for Tartuffe. “Vinnie, what are you talking about? And Wosniak? As in Theodore Wosniak, the man that owns Capashen Arena?”
Vincent blanched and looked at the glass of scotch. No, he hadn’t drunk enough to blame that.
“You never told her?” asked Callahan.
Vincent glared at him. “Of course I didn’t. Do I look like an idiot?”
Belle’s teeth went on edge. “You do now. I know we’ve talked about this sort of thing; I don’t care if you’re private, but if it’s important, I need to know.”
“You’ve told her now.” Callahan pointed out, sipping his drink. “Might as well go all the way.”
Putting his glass on the table, Vincent turned to her. “Belle..” The cigarette bobbed on his lip in a distracting manner. He took it out and put it on the edge of his ashtray. “Belle, this was something… Yes; it was important, but you didn’t want to know this. You have to believe me.”
Her stare was stony. “I believe that’s what you think. But that isn’t your decision. You don’t decide for me.”
He wanted to protest, but she was right. Part of why he loved her was based on that. He’d been with other girls before; the kind that were fine with being led around. It was work to spend time with them, having to direct every conversation, make every decision with no reward for it. Belle wasn’t the total opposite, she was the best part of the spectrum; she agreed when she wanted, disagreed when she didn’t and thought when she didn’t know.
“Fine. You’re right. But I don’t want to tell you.” He said with a serous look on his face.
Belle, of course, took this literally. “Fine. Callahan, what happened.”
“Now that’s not fair.” Callahan said.
“Might as well tell her.” said Burke, glad he wasn’t on the spot here. “She won’t let it go.”
Vincent gave Belle a half-hearted glare. She smirked in response. “Go ahead.” he muttered, just loudly enough for Callahan to hear.
After slugging back the rest of his drink, Callahan told the tale. He related how a now-sheepish looking Burke had gotten caught up in a job as a driver for Theodore Wosniak, who was not, as the public believed, merely a savvy venture capitalist and was, in reality, the big boss in Mayfield’s established criminal underworld. And then he told of the plan to trade guns from Morton Defense Works in exchange for letting Burke out of the game.
By the end, Belle looked conflicted and Vincent looked much the same.
“I’m not gonna say I’m sorry for what I did.” He finally told her.
Belle nodded. “I’m not going to ask you to. Burke needed your help and you gave it to him.” She bit her lip. “But I can’t help thinking of how many people got hurt or killed by those guns.”
“Neither can I.” He retrieved his cigarette and took a quick puff. “When I did it, I figured Wosniak would kill the Wild Men and the Maras. I could live with those sons of bitches dying, if it make Mayfield safer for being stable.” He looked away from her concerned gaze. “But Wosniak, he wants to be in charge. He doesn’t want to kill ’em. He wants to beat on ’em until they decide he’s the boss. And they’re never gonna do that. Not that he cares.”
Another drag of his cigarette and he drained his glass, leaving only ice. “I put my hand in this, didn’t see it through. And now this goddamn war killed the greatest man any of us has ever known or ever will.”
Belle, arms still around her beau, moved them around to rub his back to comfort him. “Vinnie, you can’t blame yourself for that.”
“I don’t.” he shook his head and put his arm around her, drawing her close. “But like I said, I’ve got my hand in there now. I’ve got a responsibility in this now.”
Callahan and Burke shared a confused look, but it was Belle that asked the question. “Vinnie, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Someone’s gotta put their foot down, Belle. It’s gotta stop.” Slowly, he looked from her to his two friends. “It’s gotta be me. But I might need you—all of you before this is done.”
It was late when Wosniak got home. The Mayfield Tinmen, the soccer team he was part owner of, had just tied an exhibition game in Chicago and he spent the day there, attending meetings regarding some of his legitimate investments before the match.
He nodded to the guard n the door and entered his apartment.
The place was smaller than his reputation and bank account would suggest, but still comfortably large. It was furnished in a highly utilitarian manner with little in the way of art or conversation pieces.
After hanging his coat and hat, he passed through the dining room on the way to the kitchen. The last time he’d eaten had been a business lunch at a trendy restaurant that put more importance on presentation than on taste or quantity.
Halfway across the room, he paused in the darkness. Something didn’t feel right.
At that moment, the overhead lights came on. And sitting at his table, eating one of his rehydrated steaks and drinking a snifter of his fine, aged port was Vincent Liedecker.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” He growled. “How did you get past my guard!?”
Vincent smirked and finished chewing. “Don’t you remember who I am? Money got me in here; past the doorman, past the guard by the elevator, and then past that fella outside.”
In an instant, Wosniak’s face went from enraged to unreadable. “I know who you are. Liedecker the Younger.” He pulled out the chair opposite Vincent and grabbed the edge of the plate he was eating off of, pulling it over to his side. He did the same with the wine decanter, then the snifter.
Expression still blank, he sawed off a piece of steak and put it in his mouth. Then another without a word Only after the very edge of his hunger and thirst were satisfied did he bother to acknowledge Vincent again.
“I was at your father’s funeral, Friday. Damn shame.”
“I agree.” Vincent replied blandly.
“His kind were a dying breed.” said Wosniak, chewing loudly. “Extinct now.” A cruel glint entered his eye. “So what are you going to do without ‘daddy’ to lean on? Ready to fall flat in the mud, or are you ready to dirty those pretty, soft hands with us working men?”
“Ain’t never seen you do any work, Theo.” said Vincent. He leaned back and produced from his breast pocket a cigar; one of Wosniak’s cigars from the humidor in his office. That was followed by the silver plated cigar cutter and the man’s electrical lighter. Looking Wosniak right in the eye, he cut the cigar and lit it, taking a dramatic puff on it before speaking. “But this ain’t about working men, Wosniak; this is about the gangs. What happened to killing leeches with fire? I gave you the cutting edge in personal firearms and you did shit with ’em.
“The Wild Men and the Mara are still killing one another, drowning my town with drugs and whores and generally making you look like you can’t get your gun up. Now I’ve already figured out ‘why’; I want to know where all them goddamn guns went. What? Are you just sitting on them until you think you can roll in and take over?”
Wosniak stared at him balefully, though it wasn’t clear if it was because of that impotence remark or the stolen cigar. For a time, the only sound in the room was the clink of his utensils on the plate and his loud chewing. Finally he said. “That’s about right. One or the other can’t hold out forever. Then the survivors can work for me or die.”
Vincent shook his head. “Maybe if this city was in a bottle. The Maras always got more soldiers; in other cities, or countries. The Wild Men, maybe you can grind them down, but your own gangs know that not going to one side or the other means dying by a machete or a bomb. You don’t even figure into it.”
“Just a matter of time.” Wosniak insisted.
“How many are gone, Wosniak? How many turned on you already, I wonder?” prodded Vincent. “You’re not gonna win this; you’re not even in the game.”
The other man stopped eating, deliberately placing his knife and fork on the plate next to the few morsels of steak remaining. “And why exactly are you here in my house, Junior? You think this is good for your health? Coming here and taunting me? You pretend to know so much, here’s a free lesson: you don’t know how dangerous I am. Your money won’t keep you alive if I get it in my head that you’re worth the bullet. Understood?”
“I think I’ve got a fair look at how dangerous you are, Wosniak.” Said Liedecker. “And I know that what I did months ago made you more so. So much more so that you though it was worth offering me a seat at your table.” He gestured to the seat he was occupying before reaching across and dragging the plate over again.
Wosniak only managed not to laugh because of how enraged he was. “That’s what this is? You want in and you think the way to do that it to enter into my house uninvited, steal my food and my wine and then show me more disrespect than I have ever seen from one man?”
“That’s about the inkling I had, yes.” Vincent put the last piece of steak into his mouth.
“Fuck you!” Wosniak bellowed, starting to rise form his chair.
“Easy.” said Vincent as if speaking to a faithful hound. “This was just for show, Mr. Wosniak.” He said the name at every opportunity and yet this was the first time he’d used ‘Mister’. It threw Wosniak visibly off balance. Vincent used the time to wipe his mouth.
Wosniak put his hands down on the table and leaned forward dangerously. “A show for what?” He growled.
“To make it clear,” said Vincent, “That yes, I do know how ‘dangerous’ you are. But I’m letting you see how dangerous I am. Here I am; in your house, just like you said. If I’d wanted, I could’ve put a bullet in you, then taken everything you’ve got, including your organization.”
As he said this, a shadow appeared in the door to the kitchen; Burke, and he was holding a pistol.
“I was even ready for if you made this a standoff.” He gestured of Burke to lower the gun. Wosniak’s expression flickered with concern as he recognized his former driver.
Vincent’s voice called his attention back. “Except, I’m not hungry, Wosniak; I don’t want a slice of what you’ve cooked up. All I want is the Mara and the Wild Men ended. Bring me in and give me what you know about how they work; how the small gangs work and I will bring weapons, logistics and tactics that will put an end to them inside a year.”
“You can do that?” Wosniak couldn’t hide the greed in his voice.
“That’s what you expected me to do way back when I gave you the guns.”
Wosniak took a sip of wine and sat down, pretending to ignore Burke. “And what happens after the other gangs are gone?”
Vincent made an expansive gesture with the cigar. “Then we all wake up. You get your kingdom and I go back and help my sister mind the empire. Everyone’s happy ‘cept the corpses.”
Silence. And after a long minute, Wosniak took up the decanter and poured more wine. “The personnel problems I mentioned before… they’re still there.”
“Wouldn’t dream of taking any of your folks, Mr. Wosniak. That might look like I was trying to eat outta the big dog’s bowl. I’ve got all I need. I just want to know where best to use it.”