Two and a half months after his father’s death, Vincent Liedecker stood in his bathroom.
He’d moved back into his parents’ house a week after the funeral. There was still quite a while before classes resumed and with Dee in LA overseeing their father’s international business and her mother/his stepmother joining her, the place was empty.
He didn’t move into the master bedroom. His stepmother suggested he do so, citing her own reluctance to sleep there because of the memories it bought back. As if he wasn’t living with memories of his own, now turned bittersweet.
But he was using the master bathroom now because it was the one with the best light and the big mirror, both of which he was taking advantage of as he carefully applied gray spray dye over black to his hair. A professional grade beard and mustache kit lay open on the counter, its instruction booklet opened and partially rifled through.
He wasn’t alone either. Callahan sat on the edge of the tub, arms crossed. “Professor Floyd said you haven’t been in class all week, Vince.”
“I’ve been busy, obviously.” Vincent said, trying his hand at masking his accent. He sounded like a train crashed halfway between Brooklyn and Chicago with the only survivor being a pair of accents that got fused into one horrific being, but it was as passable as he got without lapsing back into his thick southern drawl.
Callahan rolled his eyes. “I’m serious, Vince. You used to ride me and Burke’s asses about skipping class for anything less than something with nice legs.”
“I’ll try and be less hardassed when ya’ll are saving the city.” Sarcasm bought out the Mason-Dixon in his speech.
“Saving the city, Vince? Well that’s mighty noble. Maybe we should tell Belle.”
“No1” Vincent said, almost dropping the can in his hand. “Callahan, you know I can’t tell her about this. You saw how she took hearin’ about the guns. This would be too much for her. ‘Sides, she’s got enough goin’ on with that new grant for interference technology or whatever.”
“Interfacing.” said Callahan. “Kinda interesting stuff, actually, but not near as interesting as the fact that her boy is probably going to die tonight.”
Vincent rolled his eyes and put down the can to examine his hair in the mirror. “Stop that, will ya? I’m not gonna die. I’m just going there to talk, no weapons, no mob connections, nothin’ but talk and business.”
“Am I the only one that heard everything Wosniak had on these guys?” complained Callahan.”They’re psychopaths. Other people do this shit for money, or to teach other gangs a lesson, they do it because they think it’s fun, or they just feel like it. They blow things up and start fights with other gangs just to watch the chaos. What’s to keep them from just shooting you for the hell of it?”
“I’ll be wearing armor. You sound like somebody’s grandma, Callahan. Take a breath; I know what I’m doing. Just be sure you know what you’re doing.”
“Oh, I know what I’m doing. Wasn’t that hard, given you own the place. You realize this makes me the trigger man, right?”
“That bother you?”
“Not enough that I didn’t do it. I agree without that everyone’s better off without ’em.” He fidgeted where he sat. “But ask me again afterward, not sure I’ll think the same way then.”
Vincent stepped away from the mirror and put a firm hand on Callahan’s shoulder, making the man look up at him. “Nobody’s makin’ you go through with this. We all knew what those guns were gonna be used for, true, but it’s nowhere as direct as what’s gonna go down and I’m not making a secret of it. Say the word and you don’t have to go no farther. I’ll think of something else.”
He started to pull away, but Callahan grabbed his arm and fixed him with steely eyes. “And then you get yourself killed. That’s the choice I’ve got right now, Vince. Murder one of my best friends, or kill a bunch of pigeon-shit assholes that kill people—kids, mothers, father—for no reason. It’s an easy choice, but I wish there wasn’t one to make. I’m not going to be happy either way and you’re just going to have to accept that.”
Vincent nodded slowly and backed away. “I don’t expect you to be joyful-joyful, Callahan, I don’t even expect you to go this far with me. I appreciate that you didn’t take the third option.”
“Never was one, Vince.”
With a nod, Vincent went back to fixing his hair and applying his false mustache. “If it makes you feel better, you’re not the trigger man. I am. Without me, what your part ends up doing is so clean and legal, I’ve got the permits.”
Yost and Kyle’s was a bar on the interstate about ten minutes from Mayfield. It had never been a place of good reputation, getting it’s start as a hangout for under-aged college students before the drinking laws changed, then becoming a quintessential biker bar, and remaining a point-of-origin for a disproportionate number of drunk driving accidents all the while.
Until a few years prior, when a new kind of outlaw showed up and sent the bikers packing for a safer place to drink.
The parking lot played host to a hodgepodge of vehicles of all manner of make and model, with a unifying characteristic of being made up of mismatched parts and paint jobs. Every single one had been stolen and chopped by the expert crews the Wild Men fielded. Not a single identifying mark or device remained, and so they flaunted it in the face of law enforcement.
A twenty year old white sedan looked highly conspicuous as it rolled off the highway and into the dirt lot around the bar. Out of it stepped a man dressed in a too-small sport coat with a rumpled white shirt beneath, and mismatched suit pants. His shoes had once been shined, but had seen a lot of traffic in the meantime. Tonight, his name was Lou Manley to anyone who asked. With his pencil mustache scrubby beard, no one, hopefully, would guess different.
With an appraising look around, he closed the car door, set the alarm, and strode confidently toward the front doors.
Before he even got there, he heard the music, which consisted of screamed lyrics and drums and very little else. He wasn’t big on music, but he preferred more than one instrument in evidence. Opening the door revealed why; the music was live, being played by a topless woman on stage sitting at a drum set that was missing both snares and cymbals.
Toplessness wasn’t limited to the entertainment. All around the tables, on the dance floor and at the pool tables and bar were men and women dressed in whatever the hell they felt like, even if that was nothing.
He instantly noticed that there were three distinct groups represented: large, heavily scared brutes with broken noses and bruised knuckles, smaller folk with fresh bruises over old who flinched whenever they came under someone’s notice, and the rare person who went entirely uninjured and who warranted a large berth from everyone if they wished it.
Most of those were at the pool tables, so he angled in that direction, trying to ignore the feral, predatory looks his entrance invited even from the obvious subordinates. Apparently fearless, he went to the first pool table and laid down a cash card.
“Next game, less somebody’s waitin’.” The accent still needed some work, but somehow he didn’t peg the Wild Men as a group that would notice.
Immediately, the man to his right, a short, stocky fellow with a shaved head, wearing a suit jacket and pants but no shirt took the card and put it in his pocket.
Another man, tall, dark, muscular and bare to the waist started laughing, which made his handlebar mustache wag.
“Write that off as lost money and walk out of here before someone gets hungry.” Someone said over his shoulder. At the same time, he was relieved of his wallet. “Correction: Hungrier. You’re in the wrong bar.”
He straightened his back and didn’t turn around. That’s what the voice wanted. “I think I am. Took me long enough too; everybody’s scared to say where it is you guys spend your time. Only I was hopin’ we could do some business.”
A strong hand grabbed his shoulder and span him around, pushing him back hard against the table, almost knocking him onto it. Said hand belonged to a woman an inch or so shorter then him. She was wearing a torn white wife-beater and cargo pants whose pockets displayed no less than two guns and five hunting knives. Her nest of brown hair was held away from her face with a red bandana.
“There’s a reason they don’t tell anybody where to find us: we don’t want ’em to. So who told you?”
He raised his hands. “Guy who runs a computer chop on the river. Malone something. Look, he said he shouldn’t but even he had to agree that there’s a good chance you might be in for what I’m sellin’. Just let your boss know, that’s all I ask.”
Everyone who heard that burst out laughing. It spread around the room and went on far longer than was comfortable. And it ended with the woman drawing one of her knives so fast the he didn’t notice until it was very close to his neck. The laughter cut off abruptly there.
“See?” The woman asked the room though she locked eyes with him. “This is what’s wrong with the whole damn country. Whole damn world. They just automatically think that we’ve got somebody we answer to. That somebody’s got to be in charge.”
She brought the flat of the knife into contact with his skin, sending a jolt through his spine. “Tell me who you think ought to be in charge, sheep. The government? Cops? Maybe the goddamn military?”
“Way I see it, the one that’s got a knife on me’s in charge ’bout now.” He said quickly. In the back of his head, he wondered if Callahan would say something smug when he heard about it later. But not once did he imagine he’d die there. He had a plan and a mission and it wasn’t going to end here.
His response got a grin from the knife nut, revealing missing teeth. “Now you’ve got some right thinking.” She relaxed the pressure of the knife. “That’s how Wild Men live. No one tells us what to do unless they can back it up. All trade’s in barter, and you live or die on what you can do or what you can give in trade. No one’s in charge; we’re all free. More free than the meek little lambs in this so called land of the free. We choose what we want when we want. And if they choose to get in the way…”
She flourished the knife before returning it to her sheathe. “So let’s hear what you’re selling. Maybe someone needs it, maybe they don’t.”
He took some time to breath and read the room, letting them think he was still shaken by the assault. The people at the pool tables were the skilled ones, the ones that didn’t have to brute force their way to what they wanted. Probably the ones that kept the big, strong dullards in line with that little screed about freedom.
A dog off its chain still ain’t runnin’ away if there’s still a fence around the yard, as his Daddy’d say.
“Alright, it’s like this. You know that big bank on Holmes Norton Ave? They’re movin’ shop, place is wired for demolition at the end of the week. Thing is, the owner never cleared out the inside. It’s still wired, got fixtures, marble counters, the safes and vaults… no cash of deposit boxes, but a body could clear millions easy strippin’ the place. Malone said you might like to hear about it.”
“Wired to blow, huh?” asked the handlebar mustache and the man attached to it. “Takes a lot to take down a bank. Built to last and all that.”
“Looks like we don’t have to pay him.” A skinny blonde woman in a bathrobe snickered.
The big guy grabbed his arm. “Looks like. Time for you to get.”
“Wait, that’s not the part I was sellin’.” He ducked the grab and slipped around the corner of the pool table. “Look, sure you know about it, but a place wired like that? It’s got tighter security now than when it as a bank—they’ve all heard how you guys supply out of construction sites.”
The big guy moved to go after him, but the woman with all the knives stopped him. “I wanna hear this, Dewey. How are you gonna get us through?”
“That’s the good part: I’m responsible for scheduling, and the might be a couple hours coming up when nobody’s minding the store if you know what I mean.”
The knife nut pursed her lips, then looked at the big guy, Dewey. “We bring a big crew, we could clear all the Boom in a couple hours. All that extra stuff too, enough for everybody who wants in.”
“Check him.” Dewey replied.
As she had his wallet already, that wasn’t hard. “Lou Manley, 3814 River Drive…” She scanned over his vitals, then rifled through the rest of his wallet. “keypass with Mayfield SecureTech, lotto tickets,” She took these, as the drawing hadn’t been announced yet, “picture of the wife. You married above you, that’s for damn sure. Cash cards, all vendor card.” She took that too. “Looks good to me. How much.”
He looked around carefully. “Ya’ll even have regular money?”
The stocky fellow made a sour face. “Heh. Comes easy enough when you’re willing to just reach out and take it. Besides, some things we don’t have nobody the can make it for us. Like diapers and guns.”
He desperately wanted to know how they could possibly have kids underfoot, living like they did, but held his tongue. “Alright then, how about two hundred large? Half now and half—“
“Half your guts strung up around your house on River Drive.” The knives came out again. “If we don’t like what we find in that bank.”
They tried to convert him to their cause after that. He had to pretend to be intrigued, but their every sales pitch made him want to vomit. But apparently some people saw some kind of appeal in having to physically battle for what you wanted if you didn’t have any special skills, and the unsavory implications of the ‘lower’ caste. It just made him feel less guilty about what was coming to them.
Pulling into a parking garage just outside of City Central, he switched over to his familiar red sport model and turned toward home. Along the way, he made a call.
“Surprised you’re not dead yet.” said Wosniak, by way of greeting.
Vincent was unmoved. “Surprised or disappointed? I’m curious who’s the biggest pain in your ass between the two of us.”
“Them, but by a hair.” said Wosniak. “If you’re calling, I suppose it went well?”
“It went. And I can’t for the life of me figure how you thought they’d ever end up working for you. They think it’s alright to kill people for following rules, hate to imagine what they do to a body tryin’ to lay down the law on ’em.”
“I didn’t pick up the phone to hear your mouth boy.” Wosniak said harshly. “Did you get something done or didn’t you?”
“Don’t talk like you’re my boss, Wosniak. They did just what I thought they would. Didn’t even try and hide it from me that they cared more about the explosives then stripping the place. Everything will look like their fault—which it will be.”
“What the hell are you doing anyway?”
“All I can say here is: watch the news this week, Wosniak. You won’t miss it. Neither will the Mara, I wager.”
To Be Continued…