- 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
“Mr. Liedecker?” Vincent’s eyes narrowed as he saw the man darkening the door to his hospital room. All that, the orderlies, nurses and doctors had been avoiding his questions and more than once, he’d caught a glimpse of the same man through the door.
He was in his forties, maybe fifties if he took care of himself. Tall, broad in the shoulder, but thin and narrow everywhere else. The goatee and long, gelled mutton chops were a decade out of fashion, as was the waistcoat and vest he wore. Vincent remembered being in high school, laughing at the twenty-somethings into the ‘Victorian Chic’ look.
When Vincent didn’t do anything but turn his head slightly in his direction, the stranger took it as invite, striding into the room on long legs. “Detective Grayson, MPD. I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Grayson. Vincent remembered that name from his investigations into Wosniak and the Old Business. Grayson was on the take, but not n on anything beyond where not to stick his nose.
“I got a few questions of my own, Detective.” Liedecker said flatly.
If that struck any notes for Grayson, the man had a fantastic poker face. “I’m sure you do, Mr. Liedecker. First, let me express my deepest condolences. I understand that you and Mr. Burke were longtime friends.”
One casualty. Vincent felt his gut twist. It twisted worse as he caught himself feeling his grief alongside relief that his sister and his love were still alive. That guilt had to take a back seat, however. Burke was dead because of him. Because of his scheming and revenge. He’d clawed and fought to get the man out of the mob life and then dragged him right back in when it was his safety on the line.
It should have been him. None of the others would have been there if not for him. The attack wouldn’t have happened because of him. If he’d died then, it would have been over.
Vincent didn’t let any of that show in his eyes. Grayson was someone else’s dog and would take every scrap home to his master for a pat on the head and a stack of cash. For a man like that, he made himself a closed book. “We were.”
Frowning at the lack of reaction, Grayson reached into the inner pocket of his coat and pulled out a palmtop—an old model from when they were still called ‘smart-phones’ for some unfathomable reason. “Hmm. Now Mr. Liedecker, I know it was a traumatic experience, but do you happen to see your attackers? Would you be able to describe what they look like to a sketch artist?”
That wasn’t the question being asked. Vincent read it like Grayson meant it: ‘Are you going to pursue this? Is the war still on, or have you learned your lesson?’.
Burke was dead. He himself had been in the hospital at least two days. He didn’t even know how bad Izzy and Dee were. Dee had been right next to the car; right next to Burke. All that from Wosniak’s warning shot. Just a warning shot; not vengeance, or self defense or even greed. That was how Wosniak and his people told others to back off and fall in line.
All he wanted to do was grab Grayson, to snarl in his face and tell him to run back to Wozniak and tell him that killing Burke and hurting the others only meant he wouldn’t be kind when the end came. He wanted to shout threats and promise torments beyond the most twisted imaginations.
But his rational mind held him back. He was hurt and vulnerable now. Not to mention ignorant of where he and the others he cared for stood. The next warning shot could be fatal—or worse. Considering he’d already lost on of his best friends, it couldn’t really get all that much worse.
He stayed silent for a long time; long enough that Grayson was making little sounds in his throat to prompt him to respond. Finally, he drew in a deep breath, shook his head, and said “No. No, I didn’t see a thing. Happened too fast. I doubt whoever did it’ll ever be caught.”
Grayson locked eyes with him at that. Trying to discern whether it was the truth or not. Vincent forced the defiance out of his gaze, but also refused to let his sadness show. After a moment that stretched on unbearably, the detective nodded and moved on to routine questioning with only one or two more loaded queries intended to figure out how genuine his concession was.
By the time the detective left, Vincent wasn’t sure how genuine it was either. He felt old and worn out. Drained. It was the night the straggler from the Wild Men attacked hm and Izzy in his house all over again. Now he could admit it: he’d made terrible decisions and now he was paying for them. No, not him. Those around him.
He tried to summon the anger that drove him when his father died but it wouldn’t come. It knew not to come. That path was poisoned. Following it again would make someone else dead.
And without that, it was as if the spark of his cunning failed. He had nothing. No plan. No fallback. No hope. As much as he wanted to buck Wosniak’s control, his spirit wasn’t in it any longer. Maybe he should finally admit defeat and retreat. He could marry Izzy and disappear into the seclusion of his wealth, giving Wosniak whatever he demanded just to buy a little peace for himself no matter what happened to Mayfield.
He would let his father’s legacy die, but then again, wasn’t he part of his father’s legacy?
Vincent had no idea how long he was lost in his own thoughts. It was dark when the sound of his door closing made him pay attention to his surroundings.
The light in his room was still on full, so he could easily see that it was Dee interrupting his introspection. His sister was wearing a hospital gown like his, with a breast pocket on it to hold a transceiver lined to the monitoring sensors still stuck to her. She had a cloth tote bag over her shoulder and…
He forced himself not to gasp. Her right arm now ended in a charcoal gray ceramic cap with a port at the end and smaller nodes around the circumference.
“Don’t stare, Vince.” Dee said with vexing casualness. “It’s better than I could have expected given what happened.”
She came over to the side of Vincent’s bed where Grayson had left a chair and sat down in it with the tote in her lap. From the bag, she produced a small bottle of whiskey and two cheap glasses. “Your friend Burke… he was a hell of a guy. I saw everything. He… he could have dived off to the side and maybe only just got hurt real bad. Instead, he didn’t even think. He just dove right on top of me. Everything that was coming at me got him instead.”
With some difficulty owing to her not being used to only one hand, she poured a shot for each of them and handed one to him.
Vincent didn’t need to be told what it was for. He raised it. “To Roland Burke. He was the best of us, but got the worst of what we had comin’ to us.”
They drank. For a few minutes, they sat in reverent, amicable silence.
“How you doin’?” Vincent finally asked. The missing arm was a clue, but Dee had snuck out of her hospital room and somehow gotten her hands on alcohol, so it was a valid question.
Dee however, knew what he really wanted to ask. “Izzy’s legs are burned. They say her dress caught fire. She’s gonna need grafts.”
“Is she here?”
Dee nodded, but her features also fell as she looked away from him. “Vince… I talked to her today. I would have talked to you too, but that cop was keeping everyone away from you. Otherwise, I would have talked to you first before…”
“…before what?” Vincent sat up, jaw clenching as his mind fed him vivid thoughts of all the things that might have happened”
His sister steeled her own resolve and met his gaze. “Tell me I’m wrong, Vince. Tell me that the woman you love—the woman I would love dearly to call my sister-in-law—didn’t deserve to know why a bunch of psychotics almost burned her alive.”
He tried. He thought up every possible argument he could make at this point, but none of them held water. The only thing he could think of was that… he didn’t want her to know. Didn’t want her to see what he was in the dark. It wasn’t even to save his own hide; he knew how much it would hurt her and didn’t want to put her through that.
But would it hurt more than what keeping her near had done?
“No.” He said, voice low and devoid of emotion. Breaking was out of the question, even when it was just Dee. “You ain’t wrong. I shoulda told her when this all started. I shoulda told her to get away.” His gaze focused on the bottle sitting on the counter on the other side of Dee. “She’s gone ain’t she? Not from the hospital, but…”
Dee nodded slowly. There were tears in her eyes, but like a good Liedecker, she wasn’t letting them brim and fall. “I’m sorry, Vince. Going in with Wosniak… I think she could’ve taken it, even with what happened. But the Wild Men…”
Vincent’s eyes narrowed. “Wait. How did you know that?”
“Christ’s sake, Vince; you think you’re the only one of us kids that couldn’t measure up to Daddy?” She managed to shout without raising her voice. “My twenty-first birthday, he gave me controlling interest in a couple of shipping and security companies. I knew what to do; studied all my life to do it, but they don’t teach you what to do when gangsters start putting pressure on your workers, your suppliers… I couldn’t let them make me fail, so I cut some deals.
It felt like the blood was leaving Vincent’s head. “Son of a bitch. You’ve been in this longer’n I have and I never knew. But you…”
“Wosniak thought it was funny to tell me what you were on about when we met. Vince… you scare him. I can read people and Wosniak talks about you like a copperhead he found sitting on his arm. He knows he can’t make any sudden movements, but he knows he can’t keep you where you are. Whatever new thing you’ve been doing…”
“I was getting’ ready to start a gang war on the inside of the Old Business.” said Vincent. “Turning all the other bosses against Wosniak.”
“He got wind of it?” Dee asked.
Dee sighed. “I can’t take this city any longer. I know Daddy helped build this place into what it is, but… he had no idea, did he? Just how rotten it was underneath. Face it; this is too heavy a weight now, Vince. I’m going to sell my interests and… and see the world. Go somewhere where at least I don’t know who the men pulling the strings are.”
“The men pullin’ the strings…”
His sister raised a brow at him. “Hmm?”
He shook his head. “I’ll buy your shares, Dee. Everything, lock stock and barrel.”
“What? Vince, that’s not why I told you that. I was hoping you’d get the hint—we need to get out of this place.”
He shook his head. “Dee, everything you just said was right. Daddy was a great man, but he could afford to be a great man because he didn’t know what was goin’ on underneath. If he did, knowing how much he loved this place, do you think he’d cut and run?”
“He would if they almost burned your mother’s legs off, or killed one of his friends.”
Vincent looked his sister dead in the eye and asked, “You really think that? You know how he built his business; he might have been nice to widows an’ orphans an’ everyone else that needed help, from hobos to zoo monkeys, but he tore down more businesses and made them part of his holdings than the Roman Empire.
“No, I think I know exactly what Daddy would do.”
He didn’t go visit Izzy in the hospital after he was discharged. He tried once, but Dee was waiting for him. Apparently Izzy instructed her that she didn’t want to see him. Ever again.
They did cross paths again and very soon. As angry as she was with Vincent, she still came to pay her respects to Burke. Even confined to a wheelchair so as to give her grafts time to heal without strain, she made it to the large, tasteful service paid for by one Vincent T. Liedecker.
“Not a good idea, Vince.” Aside from Dee, Callahan was all Vincent had left for moral support.
“I ain’t had a good idea in years.” replied Vincent coolly and stepped away from his friend to approach the wheelchair-bound woman.
Izzy was in the atrium of the church, waiting for the special driver from the cab service to arrive with an accessible vehicle. Vincent moved silently to her side and stood a while, giving her the chance to react first. “I don’t think I’m ready to even look at you.” she said, not sounding anything like the woman Vincent knew and loved.
That actually made him wince. There wasn’t another person in the world that could do that to him. “Izzy…”
“Don’t call me that. I hated that nickname until you started using it. Then it… it felt right. Nice. Now I can’t hear it without thinking about that night with that crazy woman and then all those people. I called you and told you about that collapse the morning it happened, Vincent. You pretended to just be hearing about it.”
Vincent. Everyone called him by a different name, he’d started to notice. Vinnie, Vinny (there was a difference even if a small one), Vince, Vincent, Mr. Liedecker, Liedecker the Younger. They meant different things coming from different people’s mouths. He felt he’d rather hear Wosniak call him Liedecker the Younger a billion times if it meant he’d never hear Izzy… well Isabelle… call him ‘Vincent’.
It didn’t even matter to him who heard her mentioning his multiple murders. He’d kept her in the dark for so long, he couldn’t bear trying to make her be silent.
But she did become silent then. During the whole tirade, she hadn’t looked at him, and now, as she felt silent, it seemed to him as if she was trying to will him to disappear.
“I know.” He said after swallowing hard. “And I got no excuse. I didn’t come over here to beg you to come back or to forgive me, Iz… Belle. Leavin’ me was a damn smart thing to do. Nobody ought to be around me. But I wanted to thank you for comin’. It’d mean a lot to Burke.”
“Do you think that spending a lot of money on his funeral makes up for getting him killed?”
He didn’t wince this time. It was a question he’d been asking himself all week. “No. There ain’t no absolution for me. Hell’s waitn’ and I’m gon’ hit that lake of fire so goddamn hard, I’ll strike bottom. I just hope you end up happy, Isabelle. I hope you get them replacement arms and legs workin’, that interface patented, then you end up with more money I ever had and a man who knows not to throw away what a miracle he’s got.”
Through the glass in the church doors, they both saw a silver van pull up on the street. Her ride had arrived.
A single tear rolled down Belle’s face. “Goodbye, Vincent.”
“As much as you hate me, I love you—and I’ll never stop.” He said that only after she was halfway down the ramp and out of his life.
Vincent didn’t move from his spot until an older man in an expensive but not showy suit strode up beside him and leaned over to speak in his ear. “Is there a problem, Liedecker? It was a lovely service, but I have places to be.”
It took less time than the breath he took in for Vincent to drain his face of all emotion and put on a business-like smile. “No problems at all, Mr. Staffhammer. I really think what I have to say will be real interesting to the Syndicate.”