He kissed me.
Vin Tanner kissed me.
He kissed me.
He kissed me.
It still didn't make any sense no matter where I put the emphasis. One minute we're talking and the next, Vin Tanner is kissing me. Me, Ezra Standish. Was it just concern over my upcoming role? Had he decided to experiment and thought I'd be safe? I got the Jag headed in the right direction and sped off down the road grappling with all the feeling that were tangled up inside of me.
His lips were soft.
Perhaps he'd just meant it in a friendly way, the way that Josiah hugged me sometimes or Buck clapped me on the back. Expansive gestures with a friendly intent? He was such a private man though, not given to making the grand gesture.
He tasted a bit like vanilla.
Had I given my feelings away? Had he seen the one thing that I had wanted to hide from him? I stopped automatically for a red light and found myself shaking. I was in no shape to begin an assignment as tricky as this one would be but there was no time to fall apart. A good brandy and perhaps one of the sleeping pills that I hated to use would see me through this bizarre encounter.
The light, clean scent of herbs was still there in the car.
It would be awhile before I used the Jag again and if I were lucky, his scent would still be there when I returned. The rest of the trip home was spent on autopilot while I grappled with my surging emotions. Only Vin could make me so unsure about what I was feeling. He had slipped under my defenses and taken up position there with an ease that I would have bet couldn't be done.
Except for him.
Except for his sweet nature, wicked sense of humor and beautiful soul. He was my opposite in every way and I was drawn to his bright spirit. But I'd only hurt him if I tried for any kind of relationship because I didn't have any idea how to give myself so openly, the way he had tonight.
That wish didn't have a hope.
It just wasn't in me. I'd been told that often enough that it must be true. And Vin ... beautiful Vin must never be hurt. He'd lived such a hard life and he deserved only the very best when it came to relationships. I'd always thought that he and Chris would one day take their almost psychic bond to another level of intimacy. I watched for that, torturing myself with pictures of them together.
Joyfully making love. Not something I'd ever experienced or ever hoped to.
Parking the Jag in the garage, I leaned my forehead against the wheel and wished for the moon. But all too soon, I had my emotions under control and got out with my bag of old clothes and briefcase. The sooner I began to dress in my new persona, the sooner I'd be ready to take Mr. Vernon Munson down.
Arriving at my door, a package on the floor brought all my protective instincts to the fore. My admirer shouldn't have known where I live. Going down on one knee, I carefully examined it and breathed a sigh of relief. It was Miss Clover's handwriting so I scooped the brown padded envelope up and unlocked my door.
Laying everything down on the dining room table, I threw the clothes in the washer and added some old cotton boxers from the box under my bed. I rarely threw such things away since underwear was an important detail that amateurs always got wrong. Once the washer was humming, I picked up the package and opened the stapled end. A short letter fell out with a videotape.
My dear Mr. Standish,
Please take great care with your assignment. Vernon Munson is a loathsome man and capable of infinite cruelty. I was of two minds about sharing this piece of my past but you might need a bit more psychological evidence. I would appreciate if you watched this tape but told no one else about it.
Of course, if you need to, just ignore my request and go on to do the excellent job I know that you always do. I hadn't watched it in some time but it is revealing in its own way. I hope it helps.
My prayers are with you,
I looked at the videotape and had a premonition what I was about to see. Loading it into my player, I turned the volume up a bit and settled in to watch. It was an amateurish home movie set in the back yard of a Tudor brick mansion only seen as background. Miss Clover was sitting in a rose arbor and laughing at the antics of the men and women in front of her. But she was the youthful 31 she'd told me of and there was 21 year old Michael in all his beauty. His voice was deep and filled with laughter while he directed the putting together of what had to be his birthday party.
The tape only lasted for 30 minutes but by the end, I had tears on my cheeks. So much life and love was packed into the time that I ached for my friend. I could see why she loved him. He was the epitome of light and laughter. He drew men and women to him with just his smile. But the caring concern he felt for his friends was also evident. At one point, he'd joined her in the arbor and slung an arm about her. The love was palpable and they had both glowed.
How unfair that an age difference should have separated them.
I rewound it and played it twice more, taking a break to put the clean clothes in the drier and find my old bomber jacket. Michael had a couple of habits that I practiced until they became a part of Edward's persona. He tapped his chin with the forefinger of his left hand when he was thinking and when he was embarrassed, he stroked his eyebrow with the same finger to give himself time to think.
I was willing to bet that he still did. And that Vernon would remember them.
Memorizing the gestures while I packed, I made sure that every detail of my new persona was perfect before succumbing to the need for sleep. I didn't want to take a chance on dreams so I took a sleeping pill with my nightly brandy. Standing in front of the windows to the south, I let myself have one more wallow in the memory of the evening with Vin.
The sound of his voice, the way he ate his cornbread, the gentle laughter of him -- they all mixed together in my mind until I kicked off my shoes and pulled a blanket over me on the sofa. The pill brought blessed relief from the bittersweet thoughts and kept the dreams away.
I slipped into Vernon's life easily and was soon a part of his circle. Every so often, I'd catch a glimpse of the man he'd been at sixteen when his older cousin had been an influence on him. But he'd coarsened almost beyond recognition save for that occasional gesture that reminded me of the videotaped birthday party.
He enjoyed my naiveté and the fictitious stories of my encounters with Michael. And the second time I brushed my eyebrow with downcast eyes, I heard him catch his breath. The hook had been set and soon I was his constant companion. Once a day, I made contact with the drop that I'd set up so the others would know that everything was proceeding according to plan.
But I was heartsick at some of the things I saw and heard. I had to pretend to succumb to his blandishments and begin to 'loosen up' as he so quaintly put it. But I liked Edward Stanton and it felt like a betrayal of everything Michael Munson stood for to allow his cousin to seduce me.
The drugs were the worst. I hated taking them because of the loss of control. So far, I had managed to keep from the cocaine but twice I'd allowed him to talk me into smoking a marijuana joint. That's a rather gentle drug and it just gave the world a rosy glow before leaving me feeling melancholic. Nothing had ever given me the good buzz that a twelve-year old scotch did.
But Edward only enjoyed beer so that escape was denied me.
By the third week, I had almost a complete map of his organization and I felt that things were coming to a crisis point. Contacting the Team, I set up a meeting that would seem accidental and hopefully away from prying eyes. Some of Vernon's set didn't like me moving in on him and my path was rather thorny at that moment.
Sitting in the small clinic on the University campus, I awaited my 'doctor'. When my name was called, I slipped into the room to find Buck waiting for me. I'd known that it couldn't be Vin because of his prior history with Vernon but even so, I felt disappointed. "Mr. Wilmington, it is a pleasure to see you."
"Thank God, Ezra. We were starting to think that you'd never call. We've missed you, especially Junior. He's been moping ever since you left." Buck's hearty voice was suitably subdued.
And my traitorous heart leapt at that statement. But I beat it back down and went on with business. We didn't have that much time to set up the rest of our mission. I gave him the documents I'd been compiling and his eyes widened when he saw the scope of Vernon's organization. The Munson family had brains.
Too bad Vernon hadn't used them to help people the way Michael had.
Buck was a little hesitant about my plan and I had to admit there was an element of risk involved but part of me wanted the chance to avenge Vin's humiliation. My psyche was going to have to have a vacation when this case was over. Parts of me were beginning to fray at the edges. The dreams weren't helping any.
The ones with Vin and I at a shady pond wearing a minimum of clothing. The ones with moans and sighs and touches that awoke me in an alarmingly hard state.
I was beginning to hate the night and yearn for the damn sleeping pills. Some of my desperation must have come through because at long last, Buck agreed and set the time of our next meeting to finalize the plans. Events were moving more quickly now and I could feel that little spark that told me that this charade was nearing an end.
Ruthlessly, I put all thoughts aside of what would come after this case was finished. I refused to look that far ahead. Every day would be taken as it came. I couldn't afford to screw up now. But I was tense and I knew it. That's what comes from letting your emotions get the better of you, I told myself. Look how much better it would be if you could just turn them on and off like Maude did.
That thought brought back a little of the ice that I needed to numb the feelings that were so inappropriate. There was a party tonight and I firmly expected to be shown the last piece of Vernon's organization. I was so sure of it that I threaded the wire into the hem of the University of California sweatshirt that was Vin's. That bit of comfort, I couldn't deny myself.
Every time I wore it, it felt like part of him close to me. It might be the closest I got to him and I wanted to make sure that I had it fixed into my very skin. He was my armor against the sometimes-seductive role I played. He's so honest that the thought of him kept me honest.
Of course, I could never tell him that. I didn't think he'd appreciate being my talisman against the dark. But he was and I had the suspicion that he always would be. How ironic that at the same age that Miss Clover had found the love of her life, I had found mine. And neither of us could have the one we wanted.
The melancholy that usually struck after a case seemed to be creeping in early. I choked it off and made myself think only of what had to be done. I had the meeting with Buck at the student union to prepare for and a few weapons to secrete about my person. The flat knife that fit in the tongue of my left running shoe slid into place easily.
The heavy wire that could bind or cut went into the right side seam on my jeans. I'd be a trifle less bend-able but I'd never been much of a lounger anyway. Grandmother Eugenia hadn't approved of a gentleman who slouched. Thinking of her lightened my spirits a bit and I pondered where to put the small derringer that she had bequeathed me.
"A gentleman always has a little something up his sleeve, dear."
I could still her lovely Southern drawl and see her deadly precision with a gun. I'd never told Maude about my shooting lessons. That was Grandmother's and my little secret. But Vernon was a very touchy-feely kind of man and he'd quickly notice an unaccustomed bulge. So, I left it at the bottom of my bag and hoped that I wouldn't need it.
Seven o'clock saw me using the men's room on the third floor of the student union. It was only a one-holer so it was usually empty. When I slipped inside, Buck was already there.
"We're ready, Ezra. You wired?"
"I am as ready as I shall ever be, Mr. Wilmington. Is my backup in place?" I couldn't help asking although I already knew the answer.
"Sure is and we're ready to arrest a whole bunch of people. The DEA is practically panting at the thought of taking Munson down and so are the cops." The feral look on the normally genial face told me something had happened.
"What aren't you telling me?"
He frowned and sighed. "I knew that I couldn't keep from telling you. They found one of the bodies that Chris was sure Munson had hidden. You know, one of the guys that looked liked Vin. We've got it under wraps for the moment but the news will break soon and we need to be on the closing side of the case. Judge Travis is getting antsy."
"I will thank him to remember that I am doing the best I can, as quickly as I can." I bit my tongue to keep from snapping at poor Buck. It wasn't his fault that things were coming together so quickly.
"We know that, Ezra. Chris told him that you were working night and day to bring this to a close. You feeling all right?" That soft voice was full of concern and it warmed me most unexpectedly.
"I'm fine, Buck. Just a little tired of playing a part twenty-four hours a day. I'll just wile away the rest of my time totaling up the overtime I've been working and what I'll do with the proceeds." I managed a smile and that seemed to satisfy him.
"We've missed the Friday night poker games with you, Ez'. You need to get back and keep us on our toes." He clapped me on the back then hugged me close for a brief moment. "Go on so's we can finish this case."
I chuckled and left him, heading across campus to the other side where the old Munson mansion still stood. I'd been there several times and always I felt the presence of the ghosts of that day almost twenty years before when Michael had celebrated his 21st birthday so happily. It was a nice old house but sad. Briefly, I wondered if a place could have memories and whether any ghosts lived in what had once been a happy home.
Perhaps if we exorcised Vernon, Michael would come back and make the house live again. It was a nice thought and kept me walking briskly towards the brightly lit three-story building. The sounds of the raucous party could be heard two blocks away. Taking a deep breath, I put on a shy smile and went in to find my target.
He wasn't hard to find. Vernon Munson stood head and shoulders over everyone else in the room. His booming laugh and expansive gestures drew everyone's attention like a magnet. I slowly made my way to his small circle of intimate friends who were never very far from his side.
The latest in a string of blonde, green-eyed bimbos was held close to his side, one of his large hands cupping her breast. Her name was Trixie and supposedly she was a junior but I had my doubts about her academic credentials. Part of me thought she might be the insider that the DEA had planted but who hadn't been able to get close enough. But I had never seen even a spark of intelligence in her big green eyes.
If she was DEA, she was damn good. And it certainly wasn't her fault that she hadn't succeeded. They hadn't realized that a woman wasn't needed, just a man. Vernon smiled when he saw me and drew me into his other arm. "Ed, I'm glad you could make it tonight. You've been studying too hard. I guarantee that we'll relax you right into tomorrow."
I hugged him back and chuckled. "You always say that, Vern. I've got that algebra test on Monday and I'm not doing very good at all. But I could sure use a beer."
He laughed and took his arm away from Trixie to reach behind him. A cooler had several six packs of beer on ice and he plucked out one for me. It was domestic but then I was getting used to that. He even opened it for me, never letting me go. But when he reeled Trixie back in and whispered to her, I drank some of my beer and wondered why my alarm bells were ringing.
Her shrill laugh cut through my thoughts and Vernon was smirking when he looked back at me. "I've got something special for you tonight, Ed. I promise that you're going to forget that algebra exists."
His second-in-command, a blond by the name of Steve who was more of a bodyguard than anything else, laughed along with him and my instinct was to find a wall and put my back against it. But I just smiled and leaned into Vernon's side a little more. He responded by hugging me tighter.
I hid my revulsion with the experience of a lifetime, smiling up at him and drinking some more beer. "That would be wonderful, I'm sick of studying."
"Of course, you are, Ed. Now drink up, I'm way ahead of you." He smiled down at me and his fingers on my upper arm rubbed me through the cotton shirt.
I finished the beer and accepted another one from Trixie who was eyeing me speculatively. I had the sinking feeling that Vernon had a threesome fantasy that he wanted to indulge. I didn't want to be a part of that but I might not have the choice. Just then, a gentleman I'd never seen before came up to us and Vernon stiffened. "Derek, good of you to come. Steve, go and find some of that Scotch that my friend here likes."
I was going through my mental Rolodex and finally found the name to go with the face. We'd never met but he was an import-export entrepreneur that had been investigated about five years back in Santa Cruz. I finally had my missing link but it was too soon to get away from this crowd. I just hoped that Buck was listening and had seen Derek Hudson enter the house.
The conversation was general but Vernon's hands were flexing on the both of us and I could feel the bruises forming. I could just imagine what Trixie's upper arm looked like. She usually wore long sleeves and it wasn't because of the weather. I felt a twinge of sympathy for her and hoped that business would supersede Vern's pleasure.
"Derek, where are my manners? Have you met Trixie Beecham and Ed Stanton?" Vern had relaxed and we both murmured our 'how do you do's' to the slender man with the dark hair.
"It's a pleasure, Trixie. And Ed, Vern's told me so much about you." White teeth gleamed at me and I smiled shyly at him.
Vern began a long involved conversation about my woes with math and Derek teased me about being too serious. Something was going on and I had the sinking feeling that I knew what it was. I was beginning to perspire profusely and the thinking part of my brain knew that something was wrong.
I hadn't had a chance to check the beer but I was pretty sure that I'd been drugged.
And there was no way to get that message through to my listeners.
"Well now, Derek, I promised you something special tonight and I know you're anxious to start." He nodded at his bodyguard who'd returned with the dark whiskey for Derek. "Thanks, Steve, we'll be back in a little while. Don't let the party get boring."
I stumbled a little when Vern dragged us away from the bright lights and noise. "Vern, I feel a little dizzy. Maybe I shouldn't have drunk so much beer."
"Nah, Ed, you're just finally beginning to relax. And Trixie here is going to show you a good time. We're going to loosen you up a little, kid."
Derek laughed and I felt a shiver go up my spine. Whatever the drug was, I was succumbing very quickly. There were halos around all the lights and my hearing came and went with rapidity. I could no longer really feel my hands or feet and Vern had to hold me up.
I was in deep trouble and felt a sick revulsion at the thought of being raped or raping anyone else.
"Vern, what's happening?" I slurred my words, not at all on purpose. My tongue felt huge and clumsy in my mouth.
"Nothing you won't enjoy, Ed. I'll make very sure of that." His voice seemed to come from far away and I recognized the door that he was steering us to. Steve opened it for us and Vern steered us inside.
All I could see was the bed and when I fell face forward on the velvet spread, I prayed earnestly to a god I didn't believe in. Vern's hands stroked me, burning me through my jeans before he turned me over and ripped my pants apart with one strong tear. The air on my fevered skin felt cold and I tried to fight the drug but to no avail.
"Thanks for the Ecstasy, Derek. I've been waiting to see how your new blend works." Vern's voice came through loud and clear. I would have groaned if I'd been able but no such luck. "Trixie, honey, get his shirt off so you can start pleasuring him. Unless you want to go first, Derek?"
"I'll just watch this time." A cool hand trailed over my legs while Trixie's fingernails scratched my chest.
I was trembling all over and it wasn't from cold although I was completely naked now. All my weapons were in my clothes and my martial arts were useless since I no longer had control of my limbs. My cock however had no such reservations and I could feel it spring to life under Vern's sucking.
Trixie was giggling now and shedding her clothes. "Gee, Vern honey, he's sure pretty under all those old clothes. And real big too, this is going to be fun."
"He is indeed, Trixie. But not as big as me, is he?" Vern was still squeezing my cock and the pleasure bordered on pain before I felt her settle on me. She moaned a little and my gaze watched in disbelief as she slid me inside of her while Derek squeezed her breasts and Vern gave her a hickey on the side of her neck.
She began riding me while I moaned at the exquisite sensations. It had been a very long time for me and the feelings were wonderful. Well, some of them were. When Vern slipped a hand under us and slid his fingers behind my balls and down to my crease, I knew what was coming. Shoving two of his meaty fingers in tore me and from what I could see of his cock, I wouldn't survive his rape without massive internal injuries.
The blood letting had already started. I hoped that the Team was on their way.
End part five