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Blue Champagne

Part C

Part 6


I didn't want to see Clay until I could tell him that whoever had done this to his mother had paid for it.  

Peter Lapin and Elizabeth Wexler had been dealt with. The only one left now was Senator Wexler. I wanted to come up with something special for him.

Something very special.  

It was long past midnight when I pulled into a parking spot at the hospital and sauntered into the lobby.  

Not too many people visited at this time of night. The lighting around the information desk had been dimmed, and no one was there.  

Not that it mattered. I'd learned that once she'd come out of recovery, Mrs. Webb had been taken to a private room on the 6th floor. As of the last time I'd checked, shortly before I'd gone to track down the Wexler bitch, Clay's mother still hadn't regained consciousness.  

I'd have liked to have seen how Mrs. Webb was doing before this, but I'd been a little... busy.  

I didn't doubt that Clay understood.  

I found the stairwell and trotted up the stairs to the 6th floor.  

Four men were just entering the elevator when I opened the door of the stairwell. They turned, and I recognized them from the files I kept – Clay's uncles.  

I was in no rush to meet them. Two were former CIA, one was NSA, and I knew the fourth, the Brit who was involved with Clay's middle uncle, had worked British intelligence back in the day. They'd probably all have the same attitude as Markov toward someone who was DSD.  

One of them met my eyes, and his eyebrows rose, but then the doors slid shut and the elevator went down.  

Well, that was taken out of my hands.  

I stopped at the nurses' station. "Do you have something I can put these flowers in?"  

"Oh, violets! How pretty!" The very young nurse smiled at me. "Just a second, I'll see what we have." She went into a room labeled, 'Clean'. When she came out, she was blushing. "I'm sorry, sir. We don't have anything." I raised an eyebrow, and her blush deepened. "Well, only male urinals."  

No, something like that wouldn't do for Mrs. Webb. "How about a plastic cup?"  

"Yes, of course."  

"Thanks." I took it from her. Mrs. Webb's private room would have a bathroom attached to it. I'd get the water there.  

"Um… excuse me, sir, but you do know visiting hours are over?"  

"I know. I haven't been able to get up here to see Porter Webb before now. I'll just drop off these flowers and leave."  

"You're here to see Mrs. Webb? The poor lady. She hasn't regained consciousness yet. Her family has been with her the past couple of days. Are you another one of her brothers?"  

"Yeah." I never let bending the truth stop me.  

"You don't look very much like them."  

"I take after my father." I wasn't usually so polite. Jesus, Webb must be rubbing off on me.  

"I see. Well, I guess it's okay then. She's in 624. Down in that direction. But not too long, okay?"  

"Okay." I walked down the corridor and pushed open the door of the private room.  

Clay was bent over his mother's body, his shoulders shaking, and for a second my gut clenched, and I thought she was dead, but then I noticed there was a tiny smile on her lips, and she was stroking his hair.  

I backed out of the room. I didn't want Clay to know I'd seen him in a weak moment – I knew *I'd* hate it like hell if our positions had been reversed. I'd give him a chance to get himself under control.  

I said, loudly enough for him to hear, "Nurse, have you seen Clay Webb anywhere? Oh, he's in this room? Thanks."  

An aide walking by gave me a look and detoured around me, but I ignored her. Another couple of seconds, and I entered the room.  

Clay had himself together. His eyes were a little red, but that could be attributed to the crummy cot he'd no doubt been sleeping on.  

"Webb. How is she?"  

"Conscious." He studied my face. "Where have you been, Clark?"  

I'd give him the condensed version later. I focused my attention on his mother. "You've got a couple shiners, Mrs. Webb." I grinned at her. "Real beauts."  

"I imagine I look like a raccoon. What happened?" For someone who'd just regained consciousness, she was surprisingly together.  

"What do you remember?"  

She looked amused, and that was when I really started believing she would make it. "It always drove your father crazy when I did that, Clayton, answered a question with a question. It's generally a Sebring trait, you know."  

That wasn't the only Sebring trait. Honorable, steadfast, and loyal to the death, the Sebrings had a long tradition of serving their country. She was a worthy daughter of that line. I looked over at Clay, watching his mother with such love in his eyes. He was a worthy son.  

"Before we go into what I remember, how is Markov?"  

"Better than you, Mrs. Webb." I wasn't surprised she'd ask about him. She was one very classy lady. "He's got a broken clavicle from the airbag, and his ankle is kind of banged up, but otherwise he's in fairly decent shape." I grinned at Clay, who was giving me a look. I knew he was wondering how I'd gotten my information. He didn't need to know how simple it was to hack into the hospital's computer system. Well, simple for me. "Now that you're with us again, I imagine he'll be coming to see for himself how you are."  

"How badly am I injured?" Her breathing was shallow, and her lips were pale, and I could see her concern.  

"Concussion, bruised ribs, burn from the seatbelt. Fractured hip they've repaired with a pin," I rattled off breezily, as if they were no big thing. There would be time later to mention her collapsed lung, especially since it had been successfully re-inflated before they'd taken her to surgery. "You're going to need a doctor's note when you fly, Mrs. Webb, or the metal detectors will nab you. Oh, and they had to yank your spleen."  

"Clark, she's *my* mother." Clay sounded ticked.  

Was he pissed because I'd told his mother about her injuries? I didn't believe in coddling people just because they were sick or injured, but he knew her better than I did, and maybe she was one of those people who needed to have bad news broken to them gradually. Although that didn't sound like the Porter Webb I'd learned about. She'd taken the news of her husband's death with a stiff upper lip, and if she'd wept, she had done so in private.  

And when her son had been kidnapped, her eyes had been steady and fierce.  

"Fine, Webb." I studied his eyes, and there seemed to be relief in them. Had he been uncertain as to how to break the news to her? I nodded at him, a little relieved myself. "You go ahead and tell her."  

"Never mind. Would you like some water, Mother?"  


"Can you tell us what you remember now?" I asked after she'd had a few sips.  

"A car hit us. Markov did his best to … But the car just kept hitting us, and then oncoming traffic did the rest."  

"It wasn't an accident, a car hydroplaning on a wet road." I had a feeling Mrs. Webb was aware of that. "It was too deliberate."  

Clay's mouth was set in a grim line. Listening to her talk about what we had heard over the phone... He had come very close to losing her, not through an act of god, but by an act of man.  

"What did you find out, Clark?"  

I kept it short and sweet, finishing with a description of the weapon Modesty Blaise had used to work over Elizabeth Wexler's face.  

"A kongo?"  

"You're familiar with it, Mrs. Webb?"  

"That was the weapon of choice of someone with whom I was very close."  

"Yeah? You know some pretty interesting people, Mrs. Webb." I hadn't originally planned to investigate Clay's mother, but I'd been intrigued by all her Sebring traits, and I had. I'd learned that she and Modesty Blaise had crossed paths when Porter Sebring had been sent to Great Britain to make her come-out – but how did simply crossing paths result in Modesty Blaise calling Mrs. Webb her dear friend? And what was up with the violets I'd been asked to give her? I'd have to look into this. "Mrs. Wexler is going to need serious plastic surgery. I was asked to give you this." I put the tiny bouquet of violets in her hand.  

"Thank you, Clark."  

"I'll be damned if I know how a woman got there before I did." Although considering it was Modesty Blaise – yeah, I'd heard of her, she was legend. And fuck it, I had other things to worry about. I went to a door, and as I'd suspected, it opened into a bathroom. I turned on the water and filled the plastic cup.  

"Clark. Where does Wexler stand in all this?"  

"It was Wexler's aide driving the car. He lived long enough to talk. He said the Senator wasn't happy that you kept getting in his way, Clay." I put the cup on the bedside table. "He saw it as a son's jealousy at the probability of having his father replaced by someone else."  


"I don't want to be crude about it, but he never doubted he could get in your bed, Mrs. Webb."  

"All he had to do was get me out of the way." Clay met my eyes, and in his was the knowledge that it should have been him in that car.  

"Yeah. You were the target, Clay." I really had killed Lapin too quickly.  

"Where is the Senator?"  

"Cops brought him in to identify his aide's body." Samuels, my connection in the DCPD had gotten that information to me. "He professed profound shock when he was told that Lapin had been behind the wheel of the car that drove yours off the road. Said he was devastated to hear you'd been injured, baby." Fuck, that had slipped out. Clay didn't seem bothered by the pet name, but I hoped Porter Webb was too groggy up to pick up on it. I cleared my throat and continued. "He fell apart when he learned that you had been in the car, Mrs. Webb. He started to swear that Lapin had acted completely on his own, but clammed up before he could incriminate himself. Cops had to let him go."  

"Will it be possible to keep Wexler's name out of this?"  

What the fuck? "Mrs. Webb, you can't be willing to let the man get away with this?" Had that blow to the head softened her brains? From the corner of my eye, I saw Clay's expression. There was savage intensity in it. "What am I missing?"  

"My uncles are retired CIA, Clark. If they find out that Wexler was personally behind the accident that left my mother in a hospital bed, they'll go after him themselves."  

That might be true, but the key word was retired. They'd have lost their edge.  

Clay must have seen I wasn't buying it, and he scowled at me. "I won't be able to press criminal charges against Richard Wexler, that would be less than useless, but I fully intend to press civil charges against him. I don't want you involved."  

"Aw, baby. Here I thought I was almost family." I'd said it to bust his chops, but as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized – not how true they were, but how much I wanted them to be true. I waited for that little voice in my mind to sneer, //You are so fucked!// But to my surprise it wasn't anywhere around. And now that I came to think of it, it hadn't been around for some time.  


"Clark." I turned my attention back to Clay. "You like my mother. Wexler was the base cause of her injuries. Nothing less than his death will suit you."  

He was right. And I could make it last a Very. Long. Time. "Are you calling me uncivilized, Clay? I'm hurt."  

"And I'm tired," Mrs. Webb said. Her voice was faint. "And *I* hurt."  

"Mother! What can I do?"  

"Would you mind asking the nurse for some pain medication, Clayton?" She sounded nothing like the indomitable woman I'd grown to know. I studied her carefully, but she was lying back, her eyes closed. The violets had spilled onto the bed, forgotten, and she plucked at the hospital blanket.   

"Clark, behave," Clay ordered.  

I opened my mouth to say something like, 'Don't I always?' But I didn't. He was watching his mother, and there were white lines around his mouth. He didn't need any shit.  

"Mother, I'll be right back."  

"Of course, sweetheart." As soon as he left, she leaned up and pinned me with a stare from her cool blue eyes. "I wanted to talk to you alone, Clark."  

"Mrs. Webb, you aren't going to get on my case about not doing anything, are you?"  

"No, Clark. We both know you aren't going to pay any heed to Clayton in this matter." As battered as she was, her gaze was stony. I should have known she hadn't lost her edge. She'd not only been married to an intelligence officer, but she'd been born into a family that was almost royalty in the intelligence community. "Just see you don't get caught."  

"No, ma'am." No one knew I'd been involved with Lapin's 'accident'. No one would know I was involved with whatever I decided to do to Wexler.  

She nodded as if satisfied with my assurance. "Richard Wexler engineered the accident that could well have killed my son. If I weren't confined to this bed, I'd go after him myself." She reached for my arm and squeezed tightly. "I want him to pay. I don't want him dead, however. That would be too easy."  

I did like the way she thought.  

"A man who worships power… " I mused as I rested my hand on the hand that still gripped my arm. "How would stripping him of his Senate seat do for a start?"  

"For a start." She released my arm and lay back on the bed. I picked up the violets.  

When Clay returned with the nurse, an older woman wearing a cardigan and with a stethoscope looped around her neck, I was putting the violets into the cup on the bedside table.  

The nurse checked Mrs. Webb's vital signs, checked the plastic band around her wrist, then smiled at us. "If you'll turn around, gentlemen?" We did, and waited while she injected the narcotic into Mrs. Webb's uninjured hip. After a second, the nurse said, "Done. This is Dilaudid. It will start to work pretty quickly. Meanwhile, I'll let your doctor know you're with us once more." She dropped the syringe into a red container on the wall and walked out.  

Mrs. Webb opened her eyes, and I could tell she was feeling no pain already.  

"Where are the clothes I wore to the ball?"  

"They're ruined, Mother. They had to be cut off you."  

"Even your father's lynx?" Her lips trembled, and then she firmed them. "Of course, how foolish of me not to realize." She sighed, and the Dilaudid must have kicked in, because she was asleep just like that.  

I leaned down and kissed her forehead, surprising myself. "Sleep well, ma'am," I murmured.  

And I'd swear she smiled.  

Clay had been staring at her. Now he turned on his heel, went to a closet, and removed a plastic bag. He gestured to the door, and I followed him out into the corridor. He reached into the bag and brought out a handful of the warm cream fur of his mother's coat. His eyes were suspiciously bright.  

He let the fur drop back into the bag and thrust it at me.  

"Clark, make sure nothing else happens to that coat."  

"I know someone who should be able to repair it."  

"Is he good? Never mind, if you're recommending him, of course he's good. Cost is no object."  

"You had to tell me that?"  

He gave a bitter laugh and glanced away from me. "Some spook I am, aren't I? Totally useless… " A strangled sound escaped his lips. "You had it right. I am getting soft."  

"Are you… I never said you were soft!"  

"In the car. 'Don't get soft on me now, Webb,' you said."  

Well, yeah, but I hadn't wanted him falling apart when I didn't have two free arms to hold him. I opened my mouth to object, but he kept on talking.  

"It doesn't matter how you meant it. It's the truth. You must be sorry you ever got involved with me."  

*What*? "Shut up, Webb. Just shut the fuck up!" I looked around. "Jesus, you pick a hell of a place to… " We couldn't have this conversation in a hospital corridor at this time of night. It was too quiet, and sound would carry.  


"C'mere." I dragged him back into his mother's room and dropped the bag onto a chair, then hauled him into the bathroom and closed the door. "What kind of an asshole do you take me for that I'd think less of you for being upset because your mother was injured?"  

"I'm fucking pathetic."  

I smacked the back of his head, and he gave me a stunned look. "You're a fucking idiot is what you are, Webb." I kept my voice down, even though the odds of disturbing his mother were slim. "Do you know how much I envy you having a mother like Porter? Smart, classy, a real lady… And she loves you!"  

"Of course she loves me! I never doubted that! But look at me! I didn't fall apart because she's in that goddammed hospital bed! I fell apart because of a stupid, fucking coat!"  

"Her coat was a catalyst, that's all." I gave him a shove. "Knowing what it's meant to her all these years, seeing how it had to be cut off her, it made you realize how close you'd come to losing her. Look, Clay, I'm not a headshrinker. All I know is you'd have to be the coldest son of a bitch in the world not to have some kind of reaction to the last couple of days."  

But his thinking I'd walk out on him because he'd been upset by his mother's condition wasn't a reaction I'd expected.  

Fuck it. I'd think about that later, when this fucking crisis was averted.  

He blinked, touched his tongue to his lip. "And you… you don't think I'm cold?"  

"Get real. Oh, you put up a damn good front, but you're one of the hottest men I've ever met." I took a handkerchief from my pocket and shoved it into his hand. "Here. Blow your nose."  

"Thanks." His smile was crooked. "I'm sorry." He blew his nose.  

"Enough, Webb." I growled at him. "Either you're telling me you're sorry, or you're thanking me. I'm here for you." It was my turn to blink. I was stunned to hear those words come out of my mouth.  

"You are." He didn't sound surprised. He started to hand my handkerchief back to me, saw my expression, and laughed and tucked it into his pocket. "I'll have this washed, and return it to you."  

"Okay." I cleared my throat. "Now that we've got that settled… "  

His lips cut off the rest of what I'd been about to say.  


"We do pick the damnedest places to make out," I murmured against his lips. I was leaning against the door, and Clay was leaning against me, his right hand toying with the hair at the base of my skull.  

"I like it though."  

Yeah. So did I.  

He smiled into my eyes and straightened. "I guess you'll have to get going. It's a work night."  

"Nah, it's okay. I took the week off, remember?"  

He paused. "Clark, about the reservations you made for Taylor House… "  

"What about them?"  

"Will you be able to get your money back? I know they want to be notified at least 24 hours in advance if you're going to cancel, but… "

"Is that what has your shorts in a twist? Don't worry about it, Clay. Extenuating circumstances. They won't give me a problem at all."  

"I hope not. I still want to go there with you, and once Mother has recovered... Well, it would be difficult if you blew up the place because they'd made you unhappy."  

"Y'know, Webb, I'm really a very easy-going kind of guy. I don't know where you get the impression that I have no patience with people." I stepped away from the door.  

"I can't imagine." He grinned and stroked my hip, but then the grin faded, and a small line appeared between his eyes. "Mother… She's going to need some things – her robe and nightgown, toiletries and hairbrush. She usually has a book on her night table too. I'll make a list in the morning and ask one of my uncles to drive out to Great Falls."  

"You need a change of clothes too, Clay. Have you been in your tux all this time?"  

"Yeah" He looked down at his dress shirt, his expression wry. "I didn't want to leave. In case… " He left it hanging.  

"Yeah. Why don't I drive you home? You can shower and change, and I'll have you back here in …"  

"A couple of hours?"   

"What? It shouldn't take you that long to shower and change."  

"Obviously, I'm being too subtle. I was inviting you in." His eyebrow disappeared under the lock of hair that spilled over his forehead.  

"How did I miss that?" I caressed his cheek and brought his lips to mine for a final kiss. "You need to shave too." Dammit, this had been rough on him.  

Clay brought his hand first to his cheek, and then to mine. "I've given you whisker burn," he said ruefully.  

"Don't worry about it." I wasn't going to. I opened the bathroom door, and we went back into the room. His tuxedo jacket was hanging across the back of a chair, and I picked it up and handed it to him. "Let's go."  

"I want to let my uncles know how Mother is doing." He slid his arm into a sleeve and shrugged the jacket over his shoulders.  

"Okay. Why don't you do that? I'll go down and bring my car around to the front entrance."  

"Would you like to wait and meet them? They should be back soon."  

"Uh… "

"All right, babe." He tugged on my ear and smiled. "Another time. Clark." He waited until I faced him. His lips were puffy from my kisses, and if his mother hadn't been lying in that bed not three feet from us, I'd have had him up against the wall, his pants down around his ankles and my cock up his ass.  

He flushed, and I wondered if he'd been able to read my mind.  

"Yeah, Clay?"   

"Thank you."  

"You're welcome. I'll take this down with me, okay?" I picked up the bag with his mother's coat.  

"Thanks. I'll meet you downstairs in about fifteen minutes?"  

"Yeah, that'll be good."  

And in fifteen minutes he walked out the front entrance and got into my car, and I drove to Alexandria. At that time of night there was no traffic, and I made excellent time.  


While Clay showered, I laid out clean clothes for him and packed a suitcase. He'd told me his uncles had taken a suite at the Madison Arms, and he'd stay there with them rather than make the drive back and forth to Alexandria.  

I toed off my shoes and laid down on the bed to wait for Clay to finish in the bathroom. He was taking longer than he usually did when I wasn't in there doing things to him that made him lose track of time.  

I stacked my hands behind my head and contemplated the medallion that circled the light fixture on his ceiling.  

I'd finally got him relaxed, and this had to happen. I had definitely let Lapin off too easily. Senator Wexler, now… I began to contemplate all the ways I could make him pay.  

"Who's going to die?" Clay had come out of the bathroom with out me realizing it. A towel was knotted at one hip, and he was rubbing another one over his hair.  

Instead of answering him, I let my gaze wander over him slowly and thoroughly, and gave a low whistle. His mouth didn't move, but his eyes grew warm.  

I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed, then went to him and tugged at the knot that kept the towel around his hips in place. It slipped to the floor. He was already half hard.  

He looped the other towel around my neck and drew me to him as he backed toward the bed. The mattress caught the backs of his knees, and he sat down abruptly, using the towel to pull me down with him.  

For a moment I lay on him, fully clothed to his nudity. I angled up, ran my fingertips over his nipples, causing him to give a deep groan, then wriggled off the bed and made a space for myself between his thighs.  

The wiry hairs at his groin were still damp, and I nuzzled them and licked the stray drops of moisture that gathered where thigh and groin met.  

I ran my palm over his thigh, and he shivered. I drew his knee up so that the sole of his foot rested on the bed, and ran my fingertips along his crack and dipped into his hole, and he shuddered.  

His cock was fully hard now, and it brushed against my cheek, and I raised my head and took him into my mouth.  

I intended to take my time with him, but he had other ideas. He grabbed the hand that was kneading an ass cheek and put it on his chest. I could feel the beat of his heart beneath it.  

Without any conscious effort on my part, my fingers plucked and squeezed and rolled his nipple, and he clenched his fingers in my hair, his grip almost painful, and rocked up. If I hadn't relaxed my throat, he would have inadvertently choked me.  

"Sorry, sorry!" He patted the side of my head.  

I loved when I made him lose control. I let his cock slip from my mouth and grinned at him. "You worry too much, Webb."  

His eyes widened as he watched me stick a couple of fingers in my mouth and suck on them.  

When they were good and wet, I took them out of my mouth and teased his hole with then, and went back to sucking him off.  

Clay gasped and writhed under me.  

With the fingers of one hand working his nipples and the two fingers of the other stretching his ass and prodding his prostate, and my lips and teeth and tongue sucking and grazing his cock, it was only a matter of minutes before he came, and my mouth flooded with the taste of him.  

While he was still panting and shivering from the aftermath of his climax, I crawled up beside him on the bed and held him, rubbing my erection lazily against his hip.  

"Thanks. I needed that." He ran his fingers over my cheek and kissed me, tasting himself on my lips.  

"My pleasure, baby."  

"How many is it that I owe you?"  

"I'm not keeping track. But I tell you what. Once everything gets back to normal, I'll lay back and let you make love to me until neither of us can see straight."  

Clay's eyes grew hot. He rolled toward me, reached down and shaped my cock through my trousers. He hummed with pleasure when he discovered how hard I was, then unzipped my fly and took me out, working me with his knowledgeable fingers.  

"You don't have to… "

"Shh. I want to."  

He didn't stop until I came, and when I groaned, his mouth was there to swallow the sound.  

He held me until I stopped shaking.  

Finally, he drew back and licked his fingers clean, then leaned over me and gave my cock a lick. "How's that for a start?"  

I swallowed, blinked, and blinked again. "Good start." All those blind idiots who didn't see the passionate man for the cool exterior he presented.  

He sighed. "I guess I'd better get dressed." He got up, pulled on his shorts, and looked at me expectantly.  


"You're lying on my clothes."  

"Oops. Sorry." I rolled off his shirt and handed it to him. "Did they get wrinkled?"  


Not that it would have mattered. He had a closet full.  

I watched as he dressed. I could see the hairs under his arms as he slid his arms into the sleeves of his shirt. Once the view of his chest was concealed, I rolled off the bed and handed him his trousers.  

By the time I had tucked my cock back in my pants and zipped my fly, he was stepping into his shoes.  

"All set?"  

He nodded and picked up his suitcase. Downstairs, he slung his overcoat over his arm, and we went out to my car.


Part 7


Traffic was still light, and I knew it wouldn't take long to make the drive to the hospital.  

Clay turned on the radio, and the CD I'd left in it started playing.  

//3 AM… Nowhere else to go. It's 3 AM, and I miss you so… //  

"Blue Champagne, babe?"  

I hunched a shoulder. "I like The Manhattan Transfer."  

"Yeah. Me too." There was a smile in his voice.  

I cleared my throat. "You sure you don't want me to arrange for a rental for you?"  

"I won't need one for a few days. My uncles have transportation."  

"Okay, but let me know if you need anything."  


When I looked across at him, his head was against the headrest and his eyes were closed. I concentrated on driving and let the music fill the silence.  

I made good time, and it was just after 4 AM when I pulled up in front of the hospital. "Clay? We're here."  

"I'm not asleep."  

"No." I let the car idle. "Listen, I'm glad your mother will be okay."  

"I know. Thank you." He unbuckled his seatbelt and turned toward me. "Clark… "  

I didn't need gratitude from him. I looked at my watch. "I have to go. It's gonna be a busy day."  

"'Busy' how?"  

"It's a work day."  

His eyes narrowed. "You took this week off." I didn't reply to that. "You're not planning on doing anything to Wexler, are you?"  

"Of course not. Didn't you tell me not to?"  

"As if you're going to start paying attention to what I tell you now."  

"Don't I always pay attention to you?"  

"Never mind."  

"I'll be in touch, okay?"  

He nodded.  

"Get some sleep, baby." I cupped his cheek with my palm, tempted to pull him into another kiss, then blew out a breath and dropped my hand.  

"I know. Thanks for coming down." Clay ran his palm over my thigh, his smile regretful. He got out of the car and took his suitcase and overcoat from the back seat. I watched as he walked to the hospital entrance. He paused for a moment and looked back, and then with a small salute, he was gone.  

"I'm sorry, sir. You can't… Oh, Mr. Palmer."  

"Hi, Samuels. I was just leaving. Thanks for the information you got me. It will be worth your while."  

"It always is. Thank you, sir."  


"Goodnight, Mr. Palmer."  

I put the car in gear and drove home, whistling along to the music that came out of the speakers.  


Since I wasn't going to be spending the week in Key West, I could have gone back to work. However, I had other plans.  

Richard Wexler needed to be taken care of.  

It took a few days. I gained entry to Peter Lapin's house in Georgetown and obtained those tapes he had doctored. I found some other tapes that would be of interest not only to certain parties on the Hill – Wexler was dead serious about becoming president, and who would have thought he'd have so many senators, congressmen, and lobbyists in his pocket? – but to The Boss as well.  

The CIA wasn't the only organization with which the Senator had a connection. He'd had one with the DSD also.  

With Sperling.  

Although Senator Wexler was unaware of it at this point, his political career was in the crapper. A phone call to a newspaper that had a reputation for asking tough questions and not backing down, a package containing copies of all pertinent data delivered via a messenger service …  

It would start slow, like a snowball rolling down a hill. Self-righteous, arrogant, and a fool to the core, the Senator would deny any involvement with the accident that had resulted in Porter Webb's hospitalization.  

But then his shady dealings, his offshore bank accounts, his intention to coerce his wife – who was well-liked in their home state – into a divorce, his recorded conversations mocking his constituents, would all come to light. He'd lose his seat in the Senate, as well as the possibility of being nominated for anything, even dog catcher, ever again.  

And that was just the start.

He'd never know what hit him. 

And as per Porter Webb's wishes, no one would ever suspect that I was the one who had set that snowball rolling.  


Mrs. Webb had been in the hospital for a little more than two weeks, and I'd gone to see her as often as I could.  

On this late afternoon in October, she was sitting in a chair by the window and frowning with impatience at the tangled mess in her lap.  

I tapped on the door frame, and she looked up and smiled, all trace of irritation gone.  

"Clark. How nice to see you." She set aside the ball of yarn and the hook she'd been working with and held out her hand.  

"How are you feeling today?" I crossed the room and took her hand in mine. She was wearing a silk robe of a rich blue that deepened the color of her eyes. A walker was beside her, but otherwise she looked as elegant as ever.  

"Better. I'm being discharged tomorrow."  

"I'm glad to hear that. I'll bet Clay is too."  

"Yes. I'll need some weeks of rehabilitation and a cane to help me get around, however."   

"You'll be done with the cane before you know it."  

"Of course I will. And it is better than this walker."  

"Damn straight."  

She swallowed a smile.  

"What are you working on?" A chair had replaced the cot that Clay had slept on those first tense nights, and I drew it next to hers.  

"It's supposed to be a scarf." She held it up. It was about five inches long, and while it was rectangular, one end was much narrower than the other, the stitches tighter. "I don't know why they insist I learn how to crochet. Grandmother Blackburn tried to teach me, but she gave up when I persisted in mixing single, double, and triple crochet stitches all on the same row. I really tried her patience, the poor woman – I much rather wanted to be playing outside with my brothers."   

"I imagine you'd much rather be outside now too. Here, let me show you." I took the unfortunate scarf and unraveled it, then started a loop and began a row of chain stitches. The Portuguese fisherman who'd been with my old lady for a time had taught me how.  

"You never cease to amaze me, Clark."  

"Well, you never can tell when it'll come in handy." The corner of my mouth quirked, but I kept my eyes on the hook and yarn.  

"Such as when you're confined to a hospital bed?"  

I looked at her sharply. That time was buried deeply in my files, and I'd never spoken of it. "Ma'am?" She gestured toward her bed, and I let out the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. "Yeah, that's right. Why don't you try it now? Nothing fancy, though, okay?"  

She took it and looped the yarn around her index finger, slid the hook under it, and drew it through, completing her first stitch, and eventually her first row. "Ah!"  

"There you go. Just watch the tension."  

She concentrated on the simple stitch for a few minutes, finishing a few rows, then paused and looked at me, her eyes bright with mischief. "I want to thank you again for your thoughtful gift." She glanced over at the thing I'd brought her the day after she'd regained consciousness.  

"Don't mention it. Seriously." My face felt hot.  

Of course I'd visited people in the hospital, but since for the most part they were injured DSD agents, and since all DSD agents were males, I'd never been to see a woman.  

Mrs. Webb's room had been filled with flowers and Mylar balloons, and it had occurred to me that I should have brought her something. I'd gone down to the gift shop, to find they were sold out of flowers, so I'd grabbed the first thing I'd seen, which happened to be a stuffed hot air balloon made out of shiny material.  

Across the balloon were the words, 'Get Well Soon!!!' including the three exclamation points. I'd thought it was appropriate enough.  

I hadn't realized until I'd given it to her that the basket under it held a Smurf with lime green hair.  

"My brothers will be taking that as well as all the plants and flowers and balloons home later this evening."  

"Good idea." There would be less to worry about tomorrow.  

"Palmer! I'm glad you're here. I want to talk to you. Why are you blushing?" Clay sauntered in, carrying his overcoat over his arm. "Hello, Mother." He leaned down and kissed her cheek. "How are you feeling today?"  

"Fine, sweetheart." That was what she told him every time. "I'm glad I'll be going home tomorrow, though. Jefferson and Ludovic insist on staying with me until they have to leave for London. Thank goodness Tony and Bryan are staying at their hotel until they have to fly back to LA. I'm not sure I could survive five mother hens."  

"Anytime you need rescuing, Mrs. Webb, just give me a call."  

"Thank you, Clark. I might take you up on that."  

The very young nurse who'd given me the cup for Mrs. Webb's violets came in. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Webb. It's time for you to get back into bed, and then I'll examine your dressing. Gentlemen, I'll have to ask you to step outside for a few minutes."  

Clay dropped his coat on my chair, and we walked out, closing the door behind us.  

"What did you want to see me about, Webb?"  

"I wanted to know if you'd like to have dinner with me and Mother this evening?" He smiled at me. "You may as well say yes. I've already ordered… " George Washington Hospital had a good chef on staff for patients who were well enough to eat real food, and family would be accommodated as well, with trays sent to the rooms. "… and my uncles and Markov won't be in until later this evening. They've been getting the house ready for her."  

"Sounds good to me." It just happened to work out that his uncles and Markov weren't there when I was there. It wasn't as if I were trying to avoid anyone – I ran into Clay plenty of times. "So what did you order?"  

He spoke of the menu until the nurse opened the door.  

"You and your uncle can come back in now, Mr. Webb," she said to Clay. "Your mother is healing very well."  

"My uncle and I are glad to hear that."  

"We've all grown very fond of your mother, and we're going to miss her. Oh! Here's your dinner! Well, I'll just get back to my charting. Enjoy your meal." She left as the trays were brought in.  

"My *uncle*?" Clay's voice dropped. "That sounds so kinky!"  

I shrugged. "Beats hell out of me where some people get these ideas."  

"Clayton, behave." Mrs. Webb was pale and a little breathless, but she was smiling.  

"I'm glad to hear someone else besides me being told to behave," I groused.  

"Never mind, Uncle Clark." Clay laughed. "Let's eat."  


When I arrived home later that evening, Matheson was coming down the stairs, carrying a couple of empty pizza boxes.  

"Mr. Palmer!" He looked around as if expecting to see someone with me.  


He cleared his throat. "Theo would like to see you, if you have some time? He's found the tape."  

It took me a minute to remember what tape he was talking about. "Oh, the one of Delilah Carson, Pretty Boy, and Spike, and the mystery john?"  

"Yes, sir."  

"Do you have any idea who he is?"  

"I haven't watched it, sir."  

I raised an eyebrow but didn't say anything. "I'll stop by the apartment right now."  

"Yes, sir. I'll be up as soon as I put these boxes in the recycling bin."  

"Right" I continued up the stairs, and he continued down.  

Theo was lounging against the doorframe in a seductive pose, his eyes closed. "See anything you like, sailor?" he asked in a husky voice.  

"Are you back in the business, Sweetcheeks?"  

His eyes snapped open, and he straightened. "Damn. I thought it was Wills."  

"Well, it isn't."  

"I can see that."  

"So I take it you're not in the business again?"  

"No." He had been a rentboy for more than twelve years. "Even if Wills hadn't asked me, I'd have gotten out sooner or later."  

"It's a good thing he asked you then. Although after the way Pretty Boy got beat up… "  

"I'm glad you killed the bastard who did that to him."  

"I didn't kill him, Theo," I said patiently. Sperling – yeah, it had been Sperling although he'd used the name Michael Shaw – had sent Pretty Boy to the hospital in hopes of being able to draw me away and get into my apartment. He got as far as unlocking the door, but since he hadn't known the correct sequence of the locks, it had exploded in his face.  

"Close enough."  

"Never mind. Matheson said you'd found that tape?"  

"Oh, yeah. Are you still interested in it?"  


He looked beyond me to the stairs, but no one was coming up them. "Come on in. I'll get it for you."  

I followed him into the apartment.  

"Can I get you something? A drink? Coffee? Some leftover pizza?"  

"No, thanks. I just finished dinner."  

"Okay. Well, it's in the living room. I tried to get Wills to watch it, but he said porn is one thing, and home movies are something else."  

"He's got a point."  

"I resent that! 'Home movies' implies it was done by amateurs. I'm a pro!"  

"A retired pro."  

Theo jumped. Matheson had come in, unseen by him, his tread so quiet *I* had almost been unaware of him. I nodded in approval.  

"I meant when it comes to filming. You know I don't do that any more." Theo scowled at his lover. "And y'know, there are people who would pay big bucks to see Delilah deep-throat Pretty Boy, even knowing she's dead. What am I saying? *Especially* knowing she's dead."  

"Yeah, there are a lot of sickies out there."  

"Geez, Wills… "  

"You know what it would do to me if you ever got hurt?" Matheson's voice was very low. He glanced at me and cleared his throat. "I'd better go load the dishwasher. Goodnight, Mr. Palmer."  


Theo watched him leave the room. "How did I get so lucky, Palm?"  

Maybe he was due for some good luck. I hoped his luck didn't run out. "Bascopolis, you want to shake a leg here? Some of us have work in the morning."  

"Yeah, yeah." He laughed and opened a cabinet, and took out a black VHS cassette box. "Here you go, Palm." He handed me the tape. "Watch this, and then tell me if you don't think it's hot."  

"I won't be watching this to get my rocks off."  

"Then why watch it at all?" I gave him a look. "Never mind, forget I asked!"  

"Is this the original?"  

"No. Wills suggested I put it in a safety deposit box. Did you want the original?"  

"I'll check this out and let you know."  

"Okay." He walked to the front door with me, a bounce in his step. I didn't remember seeing him this happy before. "By the way, the last of Delilah's things were removed from your condo today."  

The dead woman's belongings should have been gone more than a week ago. I'd been busy with other things, and it had slipped my mind. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been a delay.  

"I'll have the carpets removed tomorrow, and then the painters can come in. Once that's done, it will just be a matter of having your furniture delivered from storage."  

"I ordered more."  

"Huh? I thought you had everything you needed." He looked interested. "What did you get?"  

"Some stuff for the dining room."  

"But you weren't planning on having a dining room."  

I shrugged. He didn't need to know I'd changed my mind because someone wanted to have Thanksgiving dinner at my place.  

"Let me know if you want some advice placing it. Say, uh… Palm?" His hand was on my arm, and he lowered his voice. "I remember you always worked through the holidays."  


"It would be really great if Wills had Thanksgiving off?" He peeked at me through his lashes.  

Now that I was no longer in the field, I'd realized that quite a number of DSD agents actually took time off around the holidays.  

"I'll see what the schedule is like."  

"Cool. Thanks, Palm!" He hugged me. "I'm not sure yet what we'll be doing, but I'd really like to spend the day with him. If we stay home, would you like to come down for some turkey? No, wait a second, you'll have moved. Well, would you like to come over?"  

"Thanks, but I have previous plans." I wondered if Mrs. Webb would be well enough to come to my place. If she wasn't, I'd just have the caterer bring everything to her. I'd even make sure there was enough for Markov, if he decided to stay in town. "I'll get this tape back to you as soon as I can."  

"Sure. Whenever. G'night, Palm."  

"'Night, Theo."  

I climbed the stairs to the next floor, unlocked my door, and walked into my apartment. Already there was a feel as if it were no longer home. Or had it always been like that?  

After turning the locks in sequence, I took the tape into the living area, turned on the TV, and put the tape into the VCR.  

Three pretty people romped on the bed, Pretty Boy, Spike, and the late Delilah Carson. They looked like they were being directed on a movie set.  

I remembered the one time I had gone to bed with Pretty Boy, years before when I'd been wild with fury at my partner's death. There had been no structure to his actions then. He'd held me and let me pound into him, and I'd bruised his fair skin.  

Now, a rich, even tan covered his body, unbroken by any lines. He'd said something once about buying a tanning bed so he and the other boys could have year-round tans, because that was what the clients wanted. That, and smooth, hairless torsos. Because of his Greek heritage, Sweetcheeks tanned well, but Spike had tried it once and wound up burning so badly across his chest that for a time they'd been afraid he'd be scarred.  

I picked up the remote, sat on the coffee table in front of the television, and fast forwarded, stopping periodically. I wasn't interested in seeing how they performed for a john – I was looking for the john. Maybe I'd recognize him. If not, there was picture recognition software in my computer. I'd burn the tape to a CD, and then run it through the program.  

Suddenly someone else appeared in the frame, wearing a thong and a bra, someone with red hair that was long and wavy and spilled down to… very unfeminine hips.  

I blinked and rewound the tape to shortly before he made his appearance.  

Pretty Boy had  propped himself up on the bed. His legs were spread wide, and he grinned into the camera and ran a palm down his hairless torso, over his cock, and cupped his balls.  

A falsetto voice off-screen ordered, "Suck him, Delilah! I want to see you take his big cock all the way down your throat!"  

"Sure, sugar. Whatever you say." She gave the unseen watcher a flirtatious smile. "You sure you don't want to join us? These boys are very good."  

"Not now!" The voice was coy.  

"All right, J… "  

"Now, now! Names!"  

"All right, *Julia*." She tossed her long, wavy hair over her shoulder so it was out of the way and went down on Pretty Boy.  

"Good, that's good." The voice was suddenly hoarse and rough. "Now you, pretty boy… " The camera drew back, revealing Spike crouched at the foot of the bed.  

The youngest rentboy looked confused. "I'm Spike."  

"Yes, yes, whatever your name is. Fuck her up the ass!"  


"Don't ask her! *I'm* paying for this! Shove your cock into her! Make her squeal!"  

The camera shook for a second, then steadied.  

"It'll be fine, Spike." Delilah smiled at him over her shoulder, a reassuring smile, and this wasn't a party girl acting the part. She was concerned about him. Damn. I'd probably have to look into her murder. "I lubed up before you got here."  

"Okay." He bit his lip. "If you're sure?"  

"*Goddammit!* Who's in charge here?"  

Pretty Boy reached forward and stroked Spike's bleached hair. "It'll be okay, baby." He took Spike's cock and centered it between Delilah's rounded buttocks. "Go ahead."  

"Yes, go ahead, Spike. I'm ready." Her back bowed gracefully, and she began to lick Pretty Boy's cock, swirl her tongue around the crown, and gradually swallow him.  

Spike's hips thrust forward. "Oh!" And a look of dazed surprise colored his face.  

"Now lean closer so I can kiss you, baby," Pretty Boy murmured.  

Spike wrapped both his arms around Pretty Boy and sank into the kiss, virtually forgetting his cock was in Delilah's ass. His soft whimpers were muffled by Pretty Boy's lips.  

"I can't see!" The voice was falsetto again, and contained a pout.  

Delilah's hair had spilled over her shoulder and veiled Pretty Boy's lap. She let the cock she'd been sucking slip from her lips.  

"Why don't you come around here, sugar? You'll have a great view." She fluttered her lashes and licked her lips.  

An ass with a vaguely phallic tea stain birthmark on one cheek filled the screen, and then the man settled himself at the head of the bed. His chest was hairy, and the ultra-feminine bra he wore, satin and lace and underwire, looked ridiculous stretched across it. His face had been expertly made up, and I wondered if that had been part of Delilah's service.  

He grabbed Delilah's hair and dragged her head down to his lap. "Suck me through my panties. You!" He took Pretty Boy's hand and pushed it toward his own cock. "Jerk yourself off."  

"You're the boss," he said lazily. He began the long, steady strokes that would bring him to orgasm. His other hand caressed Spike's cheek.  

"And don't forget it! Tell me before you come!" The john gasped and wriggled as Delilah slid her fingers under the leg of his panties and tickled his balls. "I want to watch you come all over her tits!"  

His mouth opened wide as he gasped for air, his eyes closed, and his head tipped back against the headboard. That movement caused the wig he was wearing to slip to the side. The camera focused in on his face.  

Well, well, well. I wouldn't be needing the program in my computer. While I didn't know the man personally, I recognized him.  

It was James Watts.  


The next morning I called the Madison Arms from a public phone that was just down the street from it. "Put me through to Anthony Sebring, please. He's in Suite 808."  

"One moment, please, sir."  

I wasn't surprised when after a minute or so the desk clerk came back on the line and said, "I'm very sorry, sir, he doesn't answer. Would you like to leave a message?"  

"No, that's all right, thanks. I'll try again later in the day." I'd been pretty sure everyone had gone to the hospital to be there when Mrs. Webb was discharged, but I didn't get to be senior special agent and then Deputy Director of Interior Affairs by taking stupid changes.  

I hung up the phone and entered the delivery van. I drove it down the alley that lead to the hotel's service entrance, took a rectangular box from the rear, and walked into the building.  

The service elevator was right there, and I rode it up to the 8th floor. Just to be on the safe side, I tapped on the door to 808.  

"Delivery," I called in the soft southern drawl of my Dwayne J. Lester persona.  

There was no answer. A glance around verified the empty corridor, and I let myself in with a key card that had been programmed to work for this room.  

A quick recon showed the suite was empty. The beds were made, so housekeeping had already been there.  

Whistling through my teeth, I opened the box, hooked up the VCR and set it up so it was ready to run.  

I'd promised Clay that he and his uncles could deal with Watts. They were civilized men, but they would go for the jugular if they had to. While they were busy with him, I'd be taking care of Wexler. I didn't let being civilized interfere with what needed to be done – I went not only for the jugular, but for the balls as well. And if a little evisceration was necessary…  

I left a padded envelope on the cocktail table. It was addressed to Markov and contained a copy of the video and a brief message.  

If anyone chose to trace the message, and if they were good enough, they'd find that it had been printed on an anonymous printer from a local library.  

I grinned when I thought of how Markov would react to the message. //You might find this useful. It should help you deal with the matter that's been of concern to you all. Don't worry about screwing up the tape, there are copies.// I wished I could be there to witness it.  

I wished I could be there when they watched DCI Watts gamboling on that pink bed in his pretty pink unmentionables, with Pretty Boy, Spike, and Delilah Carson, but I had other things that needed to be done, ditching the uniform and the van among them.  

I let myself out of the suite, went back down to the van, and drove away.



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