- 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
“They put this box in you, hooked up to all the little ducts and tubes and things your kidney’s supposed to go to. On the inside, it’s got hook-ups just like a washer/dryer or a part of a car engine. So whenever you need a new kidney, the doctor just cuts you open and plugs a new one in—the kidney’s in its own… battery pack type thing… instead of trying to cut and reattach the whole organ.”
Across the limo’s aisle from where her brother was reading aloud from some of the conference information his girlfriend had sent to him, Dee Liedecker swirled her brandy and glanced out the window at the airport tarmac where they were parked.
“And this is the sort of thing your girl’s into?” she asked with a smirk.
“Izzy deals more with limb replacement, but it’s all under this ‘interfacing’ thing. I don’t get what the difference is between this and just plain cybernetics is, but she sees it. She’s good too; has a lot of ideas that’re gonna change the world if she gets a chance.”
Dee sipped her drink and smiled. Her little brother had no idea what any of it was, but was enthusiastic about it nonetheless because his Isabelle was. Her immediate urge was to needle him over it, but she put it off to give him his moment. “Sending her off to this conference was part of that?”
Taking a drink of his own snifter of brandy, Vincent nodded. “Machine city or not, Mayfield’s not the end-all-be-all of this sort of thing. Just like us, Izzy’s gotta network.” He turned his attention to the tarmac and the charter jet that was taxiing toward them. “But damn if I haven’t missed her.”
The conference had only been a week, but Izzy had been more or less out of contact for a week before that as she worked extra late to make sure everything at the lab could weather her absence. There have been calls and video chats, but Vincent wasn’t embarrassed to admit that they hadn’t been enough.
He set down the tablet he’d been reading from and pulled out the sliding table between the seats to do the same for his drink in anticipation of getting out and meeting Izzy as she got off the plane. “I’m just pleased as a coon dog with a new bone to have my two favorite girls in town at the same time.”
A light smirk traced Dee’s features. “When are you gonna marry that girl, Vince?”
This made Vincent cough conspicuously and look away, a rare moment where he was the one being made uncomfortable.
“Oh come on. You and I both know you’re dead serious about her. And you’ve been going together for years. Why haven’t you asked yet?”
Vincent went still, eyes falling to the floor of the limo. “I was gonna ask her, Dee. When I got back… back from the Mid East. But then Daddy died and… things got in the way.”
Rolling her eyes, Dee scoffed. “And they’ve been in the way all this time? Vince, Daddy wouldn’t’ want to you give up bein’ happy over him dying.”
“It ain’t just that.” Vincent snapped. “I been busy. You haven’t shown any interest in runnin’ the business, so that’s on me. And there are other things too. Things that just seem to get more complicated the farther they go along.”
“Bullshit.” Dee’s eyes were practically glowing red. “That’s bullshit, Vinny. You’ve been letting the boards run almost everything and you know it. And this other thing—you think I don’t know it, but I do. I wasn’t as… as clean-cut as you an’ Daddy were, so I had people to ask questions after you got attacked in your house.”
Her lips pressed into the firm line as she stared him down. “You got under Wosniak’s thumb. You got in bed with the mob. I don’t know why, but I can bet it was because of some damn fool idea you got in your head; somethin’ you probably thought was clever. Except you can’t out-clever the mob, Vince. They think you’re too smart, they put you under and no number of tricks or money is gonna help you.”
“How do you…”
“I know. That’s all that matters.” said Dee. “Not all of Daddy’s business partners were as honorable as him and when I was tryin’ my hand at the business, I got their kind of education first hand. Some of them are the same folks you’re dealing with now.”
Vincent watched the jet slowly come to a stop a short distance from the limo. Pieces he didn’t even know went with the puzzle were assembling themselves behind his eyes. “That’s why he always talks about Daddy like he didn’t respect him. Daddy wouldn’t do business with him… but he did do business with some of the others.
“It ain’t just that he was jealous, or thought we put ourselves above him… it was that he actually hated him. Hates us.”
“That’s what I’m getting at Vince.” said Dee. “He offered protection so he could take it out on you if he felt like it. You’re not holding anything over him. What’s best is if you just keep your head down from here on out and hopefully…”
Vincent shook his head and interrupted. “No. No. Even if I was to forgive what happened to Daddy and willin’ to let it just go back to the way things were done in this town before, it’s too late for that. I’ve got irons in the fire and things are already in play.”
He looked his sister in the eye. “I appreciate what you’re tryin’ to do, Dee. And we’re gonna have a long talk later about what you’ve been up to. But I can take care of this, and I can take care of myself.” He slid over to the door and grasped the handle. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say nothin’ on this while Izzy’s around. This ain’t got nothin’ to do with her.”
“If Wosniak knows about her and you, it’s got everything to do with her.” Dee warned.
Vincent didn’t listen. He just pushed the door open and strode across the tarmac to meet his paramour.
They had dinner at a restaurant called Elmekia, but even the interesting signature fusion of Japanese and Mexican cuisine didn’t take away from the tension between Vincent and his sister. Nor did his inviting Burke along, citing the fact that even if he was driving them, Burke was still a friend. All that did was transfer some of Dee’s silent scorn to Burke as well.
Izzy had no idea what had the siblings at odds, but she did her best to keep the mood light with anecdotes from the conference. Still, after dinner, while Burke was retrieving the car, she took Vincent aside and asked, “Vinny, what’s going on? I’ve never seen you and Dee act like this.”
“Nothin’ you have to worry about darlin’.” Vincent said, taking her arm. It was starting to feel like a lie, but he refused to acknowledge such. “It’s just a few things to do with the family business and all…”
A sour look twisted her lips. “Really? Vinny, I’ve known you and your sister for years now. I know how much you respect her—whatever this is about, I’m pretty sure it’s not worth you two fighting. Besides, you haven’t talked about the business for months now… why do you care so much now?”
Everything she was saying was absolutely true and Vincent couldn’t deny it. Had it really been months since he said or did anything about his family’s holdings? He still read every report, but now that Izzy mentioned it, he hadn’t reacted to any of them in a long while.
John Liedecker never would have stepped away from the wheel for so long. And the Vincent Liedecker he thought he knew wouldn’t have abandoned his father’s legacy. He would have done everything he could to honor it and to live up to his lofty name. He wouldn’t have ignored Dee’s warnings.
Then again, the Dee he knew wouldn’t have the skeletons in her closet she implied.
Something twisted in his stomach was a thought he’d pushed away since earlier at the airport resurfaced. Had his father been as ignorant about his business partners as he wanted to believe? The idea of John Liedecker being corrupt was so insane that Dee had dismissed it out of hand… but if it came down in the blood, maybe that explained why Vincent had been so ready to murder dozens to avenge his father.
He shook his head. “I know, darlin’. This ain’t gonna last. Dee’ll cool off and I’ll apologize and things’ll get back were they ought to be. The two of us just got a little heated is all.”
A glance past Izzy as he leaned down to kiss her revealed the Dee had been listening to the whole thing. His older sister gave him a sad smile that slowly transformed into the sly smile as she moved toward them.
“Actually, it wasn’t so much about the business as the future.” she announced casually—as if they should have expected her to eavesdrop. “I’m thinking of giving up my share in all Daddy’s holdings and letting Vince buy me out.”
Vince’s eyes widened. He had no idea where that was coming from. Neither he nor Dee really needed to do anything to continually make money on their family holdings. Allowing herself to be bought out just meant she’d be giving up long term earnings.
He was about to ask why, but Dee was already explaining. “It’s too much pressure on me, really; keeping everything at the level Daddy would have wanted. I’ve got my own things I want to do and I think I’d rather take the money up front to make it happen.”
Dee was one of the few people who could play mental chess with him and win consistently. Even as Vincent was sussing out what she was up to, she had him in checkmate. “But… we both already have quite a bit of worth on our own, so I thought maybe I could offer half my share as… a wedding present?”
Too late, he saw the genius of it. Dee was protecting him. Once marriage was on the table, he’d be a fool not to follow through in short order. And once he was married, Dee knew he wouldn’t do anything to endanger Izzy, especially not locking horns with Wosniak.
Vincent mustered a properly embarrassed expression. “Dee…”
Similarly (and genuinely) flustered, Izzy shook her head. “We actually haven’t talked about that in a while. I mean … I should probably get my career on track, and Vinny’s been so busy…”
“Not that it’s not a good prospect.” Vincent said, slipping the hand he had on Izzy’s arm down to her hand. “I certainly will ask, but it’s gotta be the right time an’ place, Dee.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Izzy blush. That was as rare as giggling for her.
The right ‘time and place’ would be soon, he thought. It should have been months ago.
“What’s got to be the right time and place?”
They hadn’t noticed Burke returning, but when he did, Dee gave him a hard look and a mirthless smile. “Marriage. As one of the frontrunners for best man, I would have expected you to have pushed him toward it a lot sooner than this.”
Burke’s eyes darted from Dee to Vincent to Izzy and he was silent for a bit too long. Vincent knew the Burke might look like dumb muscle, and think of himself as dumb muscle, but he wasn’t. The implications were clear enough for him to need to take a deep breath.
After that uncomfortable pause, he let out a guffaw. “Well you know Vince. You push the guy, he pushes back and does the opposite of what you wanted. Besides, these two are as good as married already, just without the fighting.”
That coaxed a genuine smile from Dee. “Maybe so. Let’s head out then.”
Burke nodded. “Car’s out front.”
They went out; Burke ahead with Dee right behind him. Vincent bought up the rear with Izzy on his arm. His head was swimming and the calculating part of him was trying to find a solution, a way to either execute his plan before his proposal or to find a way to disengage.
He was off his game, off balance. That’s what he told himself later. That’s why he didn’t notice the sound of screaming tires.
No, the first warning he got was Burke turning and grabbing Dee, pulling her down to the side of the limo instead of opening the door. “Vince!” He shouted, “Down!”
Vincent’s senses returned to him and he caught just the sense of a dark sedan tearing down the street. Its windows were open and a sizable barrel was sticking out of one. Throwing an arm around Izzy, Vincent dove for the sidewalk just as the fire began.
It wasn’t gunfire. The air above him rippled just before a fist-sized chunk of Elmekia’s facade exploded into a cloud of dust. A pulse rifle; one of the second generation energy weapons he’d supplied to Wosniak’s people via Morton Defense Works.
A second shot easily blasted through the bulletproof glass of both the driver and passenger windows in the limo’s front compartment and a third hit the driver’s side door, making the vehicle rock on its wheels.
The car wasn’t going to be any protection. Vincent held Izzy close and scanned the street for something safer. There wasn’t much cover of note there either; just cars far less sturdy than the limo and open space filled with screaming, panicking people.
Impressively, Izzy wasn’t screaming. She was breathing hard, and looking about, wild-eyed for someplace to escape the onslaught, but she wasn’t bolting. Impressive, but not surprising. No woman Vincent T Liedecker intended to marry would be the kind to lose their minds under stress.
With nowhere else to go, Vincent turtled, hunkering down next to Izzy in the partial cover of the limo. Even though the pulse rifle’s fire could easily go through him, he kept his body between Izzy and the sedan.
Beside the limo, which was rocking continuously now thanks to the sustained fire from the pulse rifle, Vincent saw Burke reach into his jacket and produce a handgun. It looked ridiculous next to the hardware their attackers were packing, but at least someone was able to fight back.
Burke slipped past Dee and kept low as he moved to crouch behind the trunk. Without taking another second to stop or think, he rose up and opened fire on the sedan, aiming for the driver. He only got a few shots off, all of which deflected off the car’s own bulletproofing, before whoever was firing the pulse rifle turned it on him.
Only surprisingly quick reflexes for a big man saved Burke. The shot that might have pulped his head struck the wall of the building behind, blasting bricks out of the wall.
Then, from the other side of the sedan, a new gunman, wearing a red, horned Halloween mask, leaned bodily out of their window to aim a second weapon across the car’s hood.
Vincent recognized that one as well, thought it wasn’t something he’d supplied to Wosniak: a weaponized version of common construction equipment, a plasma lance. The construction variant was able to cut through steel girders. The type Morton Defense Works was working on was meant to cut through military powered armor and conventional tank armor.
The limo was going to offer no defense at all.
Vincent hardly understood the words coming out of his mouth. He shouted at Burke and Dee, tried to tell them to run, that dodging the pulse rifle would be better than getting caught by the plasma lance’s beam when it cut through the limousine.
If they even heard his warning, they didn’t hear it soon enough.
The red beam of the lance punched into the side of the car, but it didn’t go all the way through. The deadly-hot plasma hit the battery bank instead. Rated to be inert in most crashed, the battery chemicals reacted violently to the hellfire heat of the lance. The explosion shook the block.
Consciousness, or at least the wherewithal to put together what was going on came and went after that.
Vincent remembered the impact of the shockwave and everything going eerily silent. Somewhere in the tumbling chaos, he lost hold of Izzy and his right side started blazing with pain. Pieces of the limo crashed down around him, some smashing into the doors to Elmekia.
Then he was on a gurney. His ears were packed with cotton and two men in paramedic uniforms were wheeling him through a hallway. That passed quickly and sort of faded or melted into a young nurse putting an IV in his arm while another were shining a pen light in his face.
The silence ended sometime later, but the world was still muffled by the cotton. His side pulled instead of burned and he realized he had stitches—many stitches—up and down that right side, both in his arm and across the ribs.
He must have regains consciousness soon enough because they hadn’t put a feeding tube in. They’d doped him pretty good though, as he couldn’t seem to force his body to move enough to find the call button. He needed to know where Izzy was. Not to mention his sister and Burke. But his body had turned traitor in favor of the drugs and soon he was drifting off again.
When next he scrounged enough sense to open his eyes, he was in a hospital room and it was night time. A woman wearing a doctor’s security badge was reading the panel attached to the foot of his bed.
“Waaa.” His parched throat refused to let him say more, but at least it got the doctor’s attention. She glanced up and he managed to catch her eye.
“Mr. Liedecker, I’m Dr. Hennet, the doctor on call tonight. I want you to know that you suffered a nasty concussion and some rather deep lacerations. We’re keeping you for observation for a couple of days, but you should be able to go home soon.
Vincent narrowed his eyes, which made his head hurt. Like he gave a good goddamn how he was. “Waaa.” he tried again. When that swallowed, working hard to generate some saliva. “What. About….” He had to pause to work up more, but the doctor got the gist. From the darkening of her expression, he felt whatever water was left in his body turn to ice.
“I can’t tell you that right now, Mr. Liedecker. There were a lot of injuries from that explosion.” After a long pause, she rallied and added solemnly. “One casualty.”
Whatever else she was said was lost as his will and strength gave out and turned against him again.
The next time he woke up, it was daytime and he was alone in the room.
Alone, that is, except for a large floral arrangement with an oversized card on it. Even from his bed, he could make out the name on it:
And his vision turned to fire and blood.