The incessant buzz of his palmtop interrupted the first restful sleep Vincent had had in months. He wasn’t surprised; even before his father’s death, it seemed that the device knew exactly when he was resting comfortably.
Thinking it better to get it over with quickly and may get back to sleep. Without looking, he grabbed it up and hit the button to answer the call.
“Speak.” He said roughly. With any luck, it would tell whoever it was that their call was not appreciated.
The voice on the other end was not one he’d hoped to scare away.
“Vinnie? It’s all over the news, have you heard.”
Vincent felt suddenly more wakeful .”Izzy? What’s wrong? You okay?” She could be hurt. She just couldn’t. He didn’t know how he could hold it together if he lost her that same year.
“I’m fine. I was worried about you.” She said, a hint of annoyance on the line. Obviously, if she was so concerned about him, the least he could do was actually be injured.
His mind was still cloudy and he had to clear his throat to get further words out. “Me? Why wouldn’t I be alright? You were just here with me last night.” It took effort not to sound perturbed at that; she never stayed the night even when they slept together, and there was never any explanation.
“Then you don’t know.” She said. The fact that other people didn’t start the day at six seemed to mystify her sometimes.
“Don’t know what, Belle?” He yawned.
She sputtered at his obliviousness. “It’s all over the news! One of your buildings got bombed!”
Oh. Now he knew he wasn’t getting back to sleep anytime soon. “Bombed?” he marveled, “Well which one?”
“The Mayfield United Bank. You know, the one on Holmes Norton?”
Vincent smirked in the privacy of his room. “Oh? Well wait a minute, I remember signing something about having it demolished.”
“All I know is what the news is saying,” Belle replied. Her tone was evening out as her initial panic started to fade. “According to them, the place was scheduled for demolition tomorrow, but it came down last night?”
Right on schedule. Thought Vincent. “Well that’s… god, Belle is anybody hurt?” Calling her ‘Belle’ instead of Izzy solidified that he was serious.
Belle scoffed again at his dumb act, which she wasn’t aware was an act. “Vinnie, a building fell down. It’s gonna take time to find out. They’ve found some bodies, and I was calling to make sure one of them wasn’t you?”
Sympathy tugged at his heart, mixed with some guilt. He didn’t mean to scare her. “Take ya kindly, my little magnolia blossom,” he said in his most genteel tone. “But as you can hear, I’m doin’ find. Why don’t you take the day off and come over.”
As focused on her research as she was, Belle couldn’t deny that it would make her feel better to see him and make sure he was whole. “I… I think I will.”
Vincent made a note to make the day extra special to make things up to her. “Can’t wait ta see you. Oh, and dress up; more’n likely, I’m gonna have to make a statement.”
Beverly Bryan, one of News 8’s field reporters stood across the street from the ruins of the bank build. She was an attractive, dark skinned woman with chestnut hair done up on tight braids that hung over one shoulder, and she was wearing a pressed dress suit of wine red over a white blouse. Her professional and neat appearance clashed with the chaos of the clean-up behind her, though she showed no awareness of the fact.
“That’s right, Bruce.” She replied to her lead-in from the anchor back in the studio. “I’m get at what used to be old site of Mayfield United Bank and Trust, the scene of what was originally reported to be a bombing, but as we continue to receive reports, a more curious story is starting to unfold.
“No authorities and rescue teams have still not recovered all of the bodies from the building, but so far they say that thirty-two adult males and females have been recovered. Identification is still underway, but a source just told me that based on tattoos and paraphernalia so far recovered, these are members of the infamous and violent street gang, the Wild Men.”
She motioned for the camera to zoom in on the bomb squad truck.
“Now, I’m not sure if you can see in the studio, but the police have halted search and rescue efforts and had deployed the bomb disposal unit. That might just be due to unexploded demolition charges on site, but the Wild Men are well known for using explosive in their crimes.”
A pair of men in fully blast suits emerged from the truck. The suits looked almost comical with their rounded features, and right red padding, but they were essential to surviving a nearby blast. Between them, the bomb technicians were carrying what looked like a metal centipede dotted with periodic black scales.
“Beverly, what exactly are we seeing here?” Asked Bruce Johns, anchor. He was going gray gracefully, but still wore his hair at shoulder length like he had when he first started out.
“Well Bruce, we’re getting word that this is what the police term an ‘exploratory terrestrial drone’. This is a robot that can climb beneath rubble and identify hazardous material and devices. I think it’s clear from this that the actual cause of this tragedy is still unknown, but we will stay on top of this until we have answers.”
The camera cut back to the studio with Bruce. “Thank you, Beverly. That was Beverly Bryan reporting from the scene of the mysterious explosion at Mayfield United Bank and Trust. And this just in to the newsroom, the number of recovered bodies is now at thirty-six.
He deepened his serious expressions. “There have been calls to the station expressing worry that some of these people may never be identities due in large part to the secretive, anti-government, ‘off the grid’ mentality of members of the Wild Men. Our experts tell us that due to past criminal histories, dental records and various fingerprinting initiatives, it is very likely that these people will be identified, so if you have reason to believe that a loved one was involved, the Mayfield police have a hotline available to anyone who feels they may be able to identify the victims.”
As if a switch was flipped in his head, Bruce then became lighter, though still serious. “The old site of Mayfield United Bank was scheduled for demolition later this week, and it was owned by the estate of John Liedecker. In another ironic twist, Liedecker was killed earlier this year as an innocent bystander in a battle between the Wild Men and another local gang. Liedecker’s son, Vincent spoke to News 8 via live feed from the family home earlier today.”
Bruce’s image was replaced by Vincent in his Sunday go to meeting clothes, sitting in an arm chair in front of the fireplace in his family sitting room.
With hands clasped in his lap, he started in clear, calm tone. “On behalf of my family, the heirs to my father’s estate to which the building at 1071 Eleanor Holmes Norton Avenue, the site of this tragic loss of human life, belonged, I would like to extend our greatest sympathies to the families of those lost today. We pray that the death toll doesn’t rise any further, and that the investigation will uncover the true cause of what happened.”
He took a breath and made it a point to wring his hands. “Now, there’s a lot bein’ made of how some of the people involved are part of the same gang that had a hand in my father’s death. Someone suggested to me that they were tryin’ to rub sand in the woods by attacking part of my father’s estate.
“Bottom line is, that’s not important. I and my family may or may not be ready to forgive and forget just yet, but the real important thing is that those people were somebody’s sister or brother, uncle or aunt—all of ’em were somebody’s child. Now is not the time to make life more difficult for their innocent loved ones in their time of grief. So I beg of you to hold off on baseless accusations and rumors until the authorities have had time to investigate. Thank you, and God Bless.”
The image cut to Bruce again, looking dour. “That was Vincent Liedecker, son of slain industrialist and philanthropist John Liedecker speaking to us earlier today on the horrific building collapse and explosion earlier today that has claimed the lives of over thirty people so far.
“Police insiders are now telling us that the Wild Men have been known to steal explosives from construction sites and buildings scheduled for demolition and that the Mayfield United building was in fact scheduled for such in the next twenty-four hours. More as it develops.”
Bruce’s expression changed. “And speaking of developing, Sonny Johnston is here to talk about a developing cold front that might be moving into our area. Sonny?”
The television switched off, causing Vincent to glance down at the remote in his hand. He was on the leather couch in the sitting room, still wearing his suit, but with the shirt untucked and his tie loosened.
“You promised you’d be patient and wait to hear from the police about this.” Belle chided from the arched entryway. She was holding her palmtop, evidently the method she used to switch off the television.
Vincent didn’t speak at first, just sat there and drank in the sight of her; she was wearing a dark blue, silk blouse and a flowing skirt if a different shade with an amber broach he’d bought her on her first birthday after they’d met, just after they started dating. Despite himself, he smiled wanly and beckoned her over.
“I didn’t think you’d mind while you were in the other room.” His eyes tracked her as she came around the couch and sat beside him. He instantly put an arm around her and drew her close. “Had to make sure they didn’t cut and edit what I said to make a better story.”
Belle nodded, head against his shoulder and put her own arm across his chest. “It’s just surreal, hearing about all those people hurt. I’m just glad you weren’t one of them.”
“Aw, I didn’t have no reason to be there, you know that. Nothin’ for you to worry about. From the sound of it, none of the people on our payroll was there either. Just those Wild Man bastards trying to take something wasn’t theirs and it finally came back on ’em. Wasn’t ever much for karma ’til today.”
“You didn’t mean a word you said when that reporter called, did you?” Belle asked, not exactly accusing.
Vincent shrugged carefully, trying not to dislodge her from their embrace, then kissed the top of her head. “I really do feel for their families. Felt for ’em before this. Imagine, someone you care so much about… bein’ a psychopath that thinks they deserve to kill people and steal from ’em just ’cause they don’t got the same kind of crazy they got.”
“Where’d you hear that?” She had closed her eyes, now she cracked one open to look up at him.
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I did my research after… after what they did. I wanted to know how they worked and why. Don’t know what I was expecting, but that’s what I learned.”
Belle looked up at him with concern in her eyes. “I remember how you were right after… how angry you were. Vinnie…” She hesitated just a moment too long for his comfort. “You didn’t…”
Quickly, he took her hand, looking deep into her eyes. “Did I have somethin’ to do with this?” He asked for her.
She looked away. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t even think something like that of you. I just saw how bad you were hurt after what happened to your father and, well I thought you must’ve thought about it once or twice over the past few months.”
Being unsure wasn’t something Vincent was used to, but it was starting to become a persistent theme. He hated it and he hated the path his life had been forced to take. But it had to take it. What it didn’t have to do was drag Belle down with it.
Bending his neck, he kissed her hand. “You don’t have to worry about me, my lil’ magnolia blossom. If it’s really the Wild Men that got killed, I’m not gonna lie; I’m glad they’re dead. The world’s a better place without ’em. Mayfield’s a safe place without ’em. To tell the truth, not a tear will pass these eyes for any one of ’em.”
He took a deep breath. “And as for you question: do you think I’m the kind of man that could do something like that?”
Time seemed to slow down as Belle sat up, arm still around him to look him directly in the eye. Vincent didn’t know how long she searched, but it felt too long to him and then it was as if he’d missed something: her lips were on his.
Arguing wasn’t on the menu. Vincent opened his mouth and deepened their kiss. It lasted long and left both of them breathless when they finally broke away. He sank back onto the couch and Belle did the same, trapping his arm behind her back as both lay momentarily boneless from the pent up tension they’d released with just a kiss.
He spoke first. “We should go away from here. You got anything you need to do at the lab this weekend?”
For the second time that day, Belle spoke out of character. “Nothing I can’t hand off to Dale, the new researcher.”
A slow, tired smile spread on his face. It was nice to hear her just being spontaneous and not so worried about her work for once, even if the circumstances were terrible. “I can let Dee handle this. She’ll understand. So: hot or cold?”
“Hmm?” asked Belle.
“A hot place, where we can lay on the beach, sippin’ lil’ fruity drinks and listenin’ to the ocean; or a cold place where we can go out, ski, play in the snow, then spend the evenin’ warming each other up?”
Belle grabbed his hand. “After this morning? I’ve got to know you’re there with me this weekend. So let’s go with cold.”
A few hours later, Belle had gone back to her apartment to pack and Vincent was making arrangements for a chalet in Switzerland.
As he sat in his father’s study, picking and choosing what amenities they would want for the weekend, he heard the door close in the foyer.
“Back already, Izzy?” He took a drag off his cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray on the desk.
“Rachel?” He asked. The housekeeper usually sent a text before she arrived and announced herself to boot.
Still no answer.
Vincent stood slowly and snatched up his kukri. Originally part of his collection of weapons around the world, he’d given it to his father on Christmas when the family had agreed to give sentimental gifts rather than pricy ones. He chose the kukri because he’d gotten it on the first father/son trip they’d taken together after Vincent was a grown man.
Now it was his again, and in his father’s neat and scholarly study, it was the only weapon available.
“Rupert?” That was a stretch. The butler had been given an extended vacation after Vincent moved in, because he didn’t see the need for a butler, but didn’t want to turn the old man out on the street.
“Out of guesses?”
Vincent grimaced as Wosniak appeared in the open doorway, backed by two large goons in ill fitting suits. Wosniak himself had his jacket draped over his shoulders, aping a mafia boss from the movies.
“Out of people who’ve got any goddamn reason to be in my house.” Vincent shot back.
“Gratitude, Liedecker the Younger.” Wosniak entered, ignoring the knife in Vincent’s hands, and took a seat in the office chair behind the desk. “We postponed our visit until your girl was gone.”
“Get the hell out of my house.” Vincent rumbled, heedless of the hired muscle present.
Wosniak laughed harshly and leaned back. “I seem to remember saying that to you not too long ago. Payback’s a bitch, ain’t it, kid?”
Vincent toyed with the kukri. “Just get on with it, Wosniak.”
“We don’t need to get hostile here, Liedecker. Fact is, we’re here so I can personally say ‘good damn job’. Guys I paid off on the force say you got almost fifty of those bastards; the big brains of the outfit too. The mara heard the same, I think, ’cause they already hit that bar the Wild Men have out on the highway, plus two flophouses in the city. We’re getting ready to do some clean-up on our own.”
He smiled a dark smile. “A month… two or three tops and there ain’t gonna be no Wild Men no more.”
“Good riddance.” Vincent huffed.
“Exactly. And I lose no soldiers in the exchange. A thing of beauty, kid; that’s what you made here. And so, we come bearing gifts.” He gestured and the first goon produced a carved box of dark, lacquered wood from under his arm.
Vincent took it and looked askance at Wosniak.
“Cigars. The best of the best out of Cuba in an antique humidor. Now that you’re a man, you’ve gotta smoke like a man.” He pushed the ashtray around on the desk with disgust. “None of this barely tobacco bullshit for you. And second…”
The second goon reached into his jacket and produced a pistol, offering it by the barrel to Vincent.
“What the hell is this?” Vincent asked.
“Protection.” said Wosniak. “Or did you not recognize your own company’s gun?”
“Why would I need protection?”
A smirk. “Because not all of the Wild Men are dead yet. Because one of ’em’s bound to put two and two together? And because even if they don’t know it, the tabloid blogs and conspiracy nuts are already thinking what a great story it would be if you were behind that explosion. Dangerous days ahead, baby boy.”
Vincent took the weapon brusquely and put it in the drawer of a table along the wall. “I think I’ll do fine. Now if we’re done, I’m going out for the weekend.”
Wosniak smiled again, just as cruelly. “Alright then. Good luck. You know who to call when you ain’t fine.”
To Be Continued…