- Liedecker: Life and Times, Part III – The Master #1
- Liedecker: Life and Times, Part III – The Master #2
- Liedecker: Life and Times, Part III – The Master #3
- Liedecker: Life and Times, Part III – The Master #4
- Liedecker: Life and Times, Part III – The Master #5
- Liedecker: Life and Times, Part III – The Master #6
- Liedecker: Life and Times, Part III – The Master #7
The elevator opened on a spacious vestibule that reminded Burke of his dentist’s office, only with nicer furniture, wood paneling on the walls, and no magazines or brochures laid out. Maybe it was more like what an attorney’s waiting room looked like, he wasn’t sure.
Two flat panel screens were mounted on the wall playing a local news provider. To the right, against the far wall, was a neat, but unmanned receptionist’s desk. Directly in front of them was the entrance to a hallway. A sign hung above that, bearing a simple logo of the words Ithaca Consulting Services being run through by a spear.
Vincent noticed Burke’s eyes traveling up to the sign. “Ithaca was the home of Ulysses, the hero from the Iliad. That old boy had a round trip through hell: from the Trojan war through a gauntlet laid down by old Poseidon himself that got most all his friends killed. When he got back, he found a bunch of men tryin’ to declare him dead and marry his wife—so he and the people still loyal to him killed every one of them sumbitches.”
They entered the hall, where glass doors opened onto small offices. The first few they passed looked fully stocked and ready for someone to get to work, but were empty.
“’Course, we live in civil times, right Burke? No reason to put all the vermin trying to take my Ithaca out from under me in the ground. I’ll settle for jail for most of ’em. But it’s got to start somewhere.”
“Lloyd.” Burke guessed aloud. “Wosniak said not to let it point to him—but you’re gonna make it point to someone else.”
The door on the right just ahead of them was open and at just that moment, Joe Callahan emerged. He was out of place in comparison to them; wearing an old band t-shirt and khakis in contrast tot heir suits. “Head of the class, Burke. Took me two days to get that much out of him. You know Vince and his plans.”
“Joe?” Burke asked, hesitant, “He pulled you in on this?”
“I needed someone trustworthy that knows computers.” explained Vincent.
Callahan huffed, “And I keep explaining to you that being a mechanic means I know vehicle computer systems, Vince. I’m no hacker. Everything I can do aside form the car itself is stuff I picked up off the internet. Frankly, you’d be better off asking Izzy to do this.”
“That’s not happening.” snapped Vincent.
Whatever light had been in Callahan’s expression faded out and he shook his head. “She deserves to know, Vince. She nearly got killed in this once already, and all those attempts the old business had been making to get her in close? She needs to know.”
Vincent moved past his old friend and into the office behind him, restraining himself from shouldering the man aside as he did. “Not an option. At least not until it’s the last possible one. How do you think she’d take it? Any of this? Either she’d leave me… or she’d try and run at this headlong and get herself killed.”
He stopped just inside. The office wasn’t any different from the others aside from a few of Callahan’s personal devices and a bag of tortilla chips on the desk next to the monitor. “It the first keeps her safe, well it might just come to that. But the second… I can’t take the chance.”
Letting loose a defeated sigh, Callahan entered as well, motioning for Burke to follow.
“So how come you didn’t tell me he was still talkin’ to you last time we got a beer?” Burke altogether failed to say quietly.
Callahan didn’t even try to lower his voice. “Because arm’s length is how Vince operates these days. Except with Izzy. He goes out, makes the rounds to his companies, goes to all the right charity events… then nothing. Nothing but the work.”
As their friend had yet to turn and face them, Burke wound up frowning at the back of his head. “All this time?”
“He’s been planning this, setting it up for six months. At least that’s long he’s had me on board. Making sure the right people get picked up and searched by the cops, making sure the right other people don’t… all to force Wosniak’s hand and make him put Vince in play.”
That made the big man stop short. “But that means… Vince, you’re the reason he wants Lloyd dead? What the hell?”
Vincent took a long, deep breath, but still didn’t turn around. “I already told you, Burke. These mob wars… the old business, the Wild Men, the Mara, and all the minor local bangers—they’re just going to go on and on forever unless something happens that puts an end to all of it and keeps anything new from growing.
“I didn’t know it until much later, but I already set it in motion when I killed the Wild Men heads. The small-timers are trying to fill the vacuum and killing each other to a man over it. Problem is, it’s too slow. They fight, they back off and regroup and the fight again, killing more and more bystanders along the way.”
“Won’t this in-fight just do the same thing?” asked Burke. “The old business goes away and leaves another power vacuum?”
A sardonic laugh was his reply. “That ain’t the end game. But first thing’s first; gotta walk before we can run. Callahan, is the first step ready? That’s what I brought Burke around to see.”
“You’re just lucky this guy’s a car guy and a shitheel, Vince.” said Callahan, walking around to the other side of the desk. He picked up his palmtop has he sat down and connected it to the desk’s desktop system. The monitor went on and the projected keyboard appeared on a strip of black plastic built into the wooden surface. With a few commands, he switched on a projector that threw up the image from the monitor on the wall behind him.
A dossier of Marcus Lloyd appeared. “This guy got his start out as a heavy for pimps associated with a gang of local bangers the Burn Squad. Beating on johns and girls depending on what his bosses felt needed doing. When the Sykes family started taking Burn Squad territories, they took the skin trade for their own and Lloyd made a big enough impression that he turned into a rising star as an enforcer—and enforcer with a good head for business as it turns out. Wasn’t long before he was out of enforcing altogether and running Syke’s car theft operations.
“That how he got put in charge of the Hills: lots of expensive cars there, but selling ’em is the tricky part since they stay hot longer and have better security. He was a natural, especially with how much he loves cars.
“And that brings us to…” Callahan slid and tapped a few times, bringing up the image of a bright red sports car that looked vaguely like some aquatic monster with metal and composite skin. “This is a 2039 Fulliati Bellisima Limited. Only twenty in the world, built to the specs of Enio Fulliati, founder of Fulliati Motors. It’s the first thing Lloyd bought with his new and improved paycheck.”
Callahan called up specs for the car. “It’s more technologically advanced than the space station Indus River is slated to be. Self-contained auto-driving system for the lazy, advanced driver- interrupt for the ambitious. This car is such a good driver that it was banned from every auto-racing circuit in the world before the first one rolled off the assembly line.”
Trying to take all the new information in, Burke felt foolish asking, “What’s all the stuff about his car got to do with how we’re supposed to kill him?”
At the mention of killing Callahan swallowed, but didn’t say anything he was thinking on that front. “The driver interrupt. It’s a safety feature where if the passive sensors detect a problem the driver can’t respond to in time, the computer overrides the driver’s input and takes over steering, braking and gas, relinquishing control once the danger is passed.”
He highlighted a box on the schematics. “It’s located here. And…” Opening the top drawer of his desk, Callahan brought out a dull gray box of his own. “…this is a remote interrupt switch. If it’s connected between the driver interrupt and the sensors, I can feed it whatever sensor input I want—making the interrupt react to things that aren’t there and miss things that are. In three days, Lloyd is taking his car in for inspection.”
Vincent finally joined in, stepping forward with his arms crossed. “The garage is owned by Jimmy Sykes. I got Callahan a job there under a different name. Lloyd will pass inspection—but he ain’t never gonna be street-legal again.”
“Suspected crime boss, Marcus Lloyd died late Saturday night in a car crash. According to preliminary reports, Lloyd was driving in excess of seventy miles per hour on Bernbridge Rd when he lost control of his vehicle, crashed through a traffic barrier into Marlowe Park, and rolled down an embankment into a drainage pond.”
Wosniak’s eyes flicked from his tablet to Vincent, then back again.
They were in another restaurant, This time it was for brunch and the venue was Vincent’s choice, a place called Bowe Gibson’s Taste of Home. Vincent had a plate heaped with glazed ham slices, biscuits with ham gravy, collards, and cheesy fried potatoes with sides of fried apples and hominy for ‘desert’ he had an order of candied bacon coming. Wosniak had balked at that order and gotten raspberry and orange marmalade crepes, a soft-boiled egg, a grapefruit, a gratin that looked suspiciously like the cheesy fried potatoes, and jamón ibérico.
When Vincent registered no reaction and continued to stir butter into his hominy, Wosniak went back to reading. “Lloyd was declared dead on arrival at Mayfield General Hospital. Toxicology reports indicate no alcohol in his system at the time of the crash, and trace amounts of narcotics that would not have impaired his driving ability.
“The investigation into the cause of the crash is just the latest in a long line of pending investigations regarding Lloyd’s dealings in local organized crime. The Scribe has uncovered at least four open investigations, including federal RICO charges currently ongoing against Marcus Lloyd and known associates. Whether or not the accident is connected to these investigations remains to be discovered.”
He put the tablet down and took a long drink of his mimosa. “What are they going to find when they investigate the car?”
“Sabotage.” said Liedecker with a casual shrug.
Wosniak’s eyes narrowed. “What? If this is some kind of game, Liedecker, I can promise you that you will not win this way. If I go down, my very last act as a free man is to bring everything you have down around your ears, you hear me?”
Rather than reply right away, Vincent took his time cutting a strip off his ham, speared it and some of the potatoes with his fork and ate them. He chewed slowly, steely eyes regarding Wosniak imperiously. Finally, he swallowed and set the fork down. “They’re going to find that a switch was installed, between the driver interrupt ad the master sensor switch. Those are both part of the Virginia state inspection and an extra switch box wouldn’t have been missed during one. You might be interested to know, Wosniak, that Lloyd was driving home from his inspection when he had his accident.”
The crime boss was too busy fuming to get the subtler hints and simply plowed ahead. “I swear to god that you’ll suffer for this.”
Vincent went to cut off another strip of ham. “You own any garages, Wosniak?”
“Got any mechanics on staff?”
Wosniak made a rude noise, more out of confusion than derision. “No. Sykes family runs those. We all get our cars serviced through them.”
A smirk curled the edge of Vincent’s lips. “All of you? Oh, well the: I’d really recommend you find yourself a good grease monkey outside the city then because that’s where Lloyd got his car inspected. And if the cops test, it’s gonna turn out that tools from his shop were used to install the switch.”
“This isn’t what I asked for.” Wosniak said, jaw set, face starting to go red.
“This is what’s happened.” said Vincent. “I decided to skip to the next little task you were gonna hand me, get it outta the way before you decided to impose on me again.”
At this, Wosniak paused, brows furrowing. Vincent thought and talked too fast for him and the worst part was that he knew it. He just didn’t know what parts needed dissecting. “What next task? I didn’t have anything lined up for you for a long while after this.”
Vincent made a tsking sound with his tongue. “You just haven’t connected the dots yet Wosniak. How does the car theft business work in this town, Wosniak?”
The crime boss shrugged. It wasn’t his area, so he never bothered to learn.
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes was an effort on Vincent’s part. A businessman, as his father would say, ought to know his partners’ parts if only to know if they were doing them right. “Lloyd’s crews and crews from the other territories boost the cars and strip them, leaving just the body and frame while they take the interior, the engine—anything that doesn’t have a VIN on it. They dump what’s left and let the police find it. Then it either goes up for auction and to the junk yard where Sykes’s people pick ’em up for cheap—once they’ve been processed, the VIN number is clean again. Then they put the cars back together in their garages, and Lloyd takes the cars and ships ’em cross-country.”
He raised an eyebrow at Wosniak. “You see where this is going?”
The details of the car theft business might have eluded Wosniak, but paranoia was something he took too quickly. Collusion was something he was always watching for among his colleagues. “Whatever Lloyd was into, Sykes would probably know because they’ve got to work so close together.” he said grimly.
“And that means, that the same reasons you want Lloyd done applied to Jimmy Sykes and his crew. I’m not about to kill a dozen members of the man’s family, so instead, I set him up to take a fall if the police look hard enough. Happy now, Wosniak?”
The vindictive smirk on the man’s face told the tale. He waved dismissively to Vincent. “Sure, sure. Good work kid.”
“Now there’s the matter of the bill.” said Vincent, suppressing a smile as Wosniak did a double take.
“What?” he snarled. “Keeping you alive isn’t good enough anymore? And I’m not paying you for taking any ‘initiative’ with Sykes and his family. You’re not going to see cent one out of me.”
Vincent picked up his drink. Just to play up the down-home charm Wosniak took for stupidity, he’d ordered a mint julep. “No one said anything about money, Wosniak. You think I need money? Remember who you’re talking to. No, here’s my price: the emails to my fiancee? The blacklisting of my friend? They stop. No more tryin’ to grab somethin’ else to hold over my head. I don’t like it… stresses me out.
“And maybe next time I have to do somethin’ delicate for you, the stress might cause me to make a mistake. A fatal mistake—and not fatal on my part.” He sipped the julep as Wosniak turned steadily more red. “And believe me, if I make a ‘mistake’, it’ll come down much too quick for you to come back at me.”
It was raining outside the restaurant, so Burke met him with an umbrella for the walk to the car.
“How’d it go, Vince?”
“Exactly as I expected.” Vincent reached into a pocket and took out a cigarette. He put it between his lips, but visions of Wosniak and his disgusting cigars stayed his hand form lighting it, so it just sat there in his mouth, getting soggy. “He’s good and pissed now. I’m pretty sure how ‘ll hit back and we’ll be ready for him.”
Burke laughed and hearing his friend in good spirits brought a genuine smile to Vincent’s face. It was working. Things were in motion and soon they would all be out from under the Mayfield Underworld. He was going to fix everything.
“In the meantime, it’s time to start playing the other half of this game. Pick us up some bulletproof vests to tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow night?” Burke asked, wary but still hanging on to the earlier light mood.
“Yeah. Tomorrow night, we’re gonna have a little chat with the Mara.”