New York—April 14, 2012
Whether through luck, determination, excellent cooperation or divine intervention, Operation Avi was completely successful. On the way home the Indiana Special Ops group relived the experience, all too excited to sleep.
Upon their arrival in Manhattan, the Hoosiers and Irish native had used the information Craig had garnered to locate a couple of the other men whom they suspected as Winston's fellow predators.
Ric had used his accent, smile and gift for story-telling to extract from desk clerks and doormen, secretaries and people on the street current information about them. He'd also been able to learn enough to conclude their plans for the day all ended in a meeting later that evening.
Jack, employing his natural criminal instincts for good, had made earlier trips to Winston's apartment and thoroughly cased the area. He'd carefully outlined for Ric and Craig the entries to the building and apartment. He'd gotten bulky clothes for all of them to disguise their actual shapes, as well as gloves, with the instruction to not touch anything without them.
He and Selina had done the tailing and described the meeting they'd witnessed. "It was like that freaky Tom Cruise movie with all the naked babes in masks. It looked like some of the girls were underage so we knew we had to call the cops, but we didn't want to let Winston off that easy. We knew you two still wanted a crack at him."
"So we slipped him a note that said 'Raid'," Selina interjected. "The son of a bitch just left without warning anyone else."
"Good," said Roric. "Because I wouldn't have wanted to miss meeting him."
Ric didn't share with anyone what, for him, had been the hardest part of the mission—facing Winston's bedroom, where Avi had apparently spent some good nights until things changed. He couldn't help but concentrate on the bedposts, where she'd been willingly bound.
He'd quickly left the room when his thoughts had strayed to the fateful night with Tim.
His search of Winston's place had led to the discovery of a flash drive behind the mirror in the bathroom. Roric had rolled his eyes at the melodramatic yet failed attempt at concealment.
Selina asked, "Did you send the whole file out online?"
Craig shook his head. "I scrubbed any mention of girls' names or identifying info from what I sent out for general release, but I included all that on the file I sent to the police." He continued. "They had codenames—Stallion, Babymaker." Selina threw back her head in disgust.
Craig looked at Roric, sitting across from him. "Winston wrote one entry: 'English Chunnel—here'. Date was last Friday in February."
They all grew quiet. She didn't even say he was English, Ric mused silently. Aloud he stated, "Even if I have crooked fingers for the rest of my life, I'll always think of that crack from Winston's jaw when I hit him as my favorite sound. Just think, generations of breeding went into that profile and I made him much less handsome with one upper cut and to the side—hometown specialty," he added, rubbing his knuckles.
Jack gave him a high five. "Then there was the Selina Special. Do you think he actually tasted his nuts when you kicked him hard enough to drive them into his mouth?"
"I hope he chokes on them," Selina said vindictively.
Craig asked, "So what did the two of you do when we separated? Jack and I didn't have any trouble, except for almost being mugged when we went through the park."
"We ran into somebody on the sidewalk just outside of Winston's building," Ric said. "I made sure our faces weren't seen."
Selina grimaced. "I still don't think you had to kiss me."
"It was the first thing I thought of," Ric said.
"...and the smartest," added Jack.
"Believe me," Ric continued, "I didn't enjoy it anymore than you did...well, maybe a little more," he said mischievously. "But I'd still rather kiss the other Flores sister."
"Ugh!" Selina exclaimed.
The reminiscences continued, until Craig and Jack drifted off to sleep, leaving Ric to keep Selina awake while she drove. "I wonder what Avi would say if she knew what we've done," he said.
Selina shrugged. "Probably we shouldn't have taken the risk but it was very sweet of us and thank you. And she's glad some of the other girls will be able to get closure."
Ric chuckled lightly. "That sounds like her—worrying about everybody else, since it wasn't a big deal to her."
Selina glanced at him in the rearview mirror. "Where'd you get that idea?"
"She said the 'incident' was embarrassing, but she was most upset that her ego had led her to be a victim."
Avi's sister brushed off that statement. "That was so she could put responsibility on herself then minimize it. She knows what happened to her. I've heard her cry at night." She looked back at him again. "She's cried less since she's been with you, which is the only reason I can stand your mushy face being around all the time. If you end up hurting her again over this, I'll give you the Winston treatment every day, until you limp back to wherever you came from."
"I'd expect no less," he answered, "Though I should warn you...Irish stones are harder than a pampered, big city man's.
Strabane—October 25, 2012
My beautiful, brave knight. Not that I like to think of myself as a damsel in distress, but I guess I can see where some people might get that idea. My Gallahad, though, didn't limit his rescue to me. He's really a great guy; he deserves a reward. I look up into his face. "Come with me. I'll fix you some breakfast."
We leave everyone else in the front room of the suite and go to the kitchen area. The table where they're all gathered is on the partial wall separating that room from the "kitchen"—a counter, sink, mini-fridge, microwave and a couple of cabinets.
"What would you like?" I ask, leaning over as I look in the mini-fridge.
He pushes against me. "It doesn't matter. It won't taste as good as what I had this morning."
It's hard to believe sometimes that this is the same, sweet virgin boy that I met in Indiana. I blush so often around him now.
"Are you sorry we were interrupted earlier?" he asks, turning me around and lifting me onto the little counter, so that we're at eye and lip level.
"Oh, break it up, you two," says Ang, rolling her eyes as she comes in for a bottle of juice.
Roric turns around and leans against me, wrapping my legs around him. "So, Ang, what did you and my brother find to talk about all night?" he asks in a teasing voice. I'm kind of sorry that I can't see his face, because I'm sure he's got that mischievous look, like a blue-eyed puppy, with a slightly dirty mind.
"Actually," Ang says sardonically (don't get to use that word very often) "We talked about how sickening the two of you are and how we'll never be like that, with each other or anyone else," she finishes with a flounce as she goes back into the front room, wiggling her hips for somebody...
"You're ruining my reputation," I whisper to him as he turns back to me with a sexy little laugh. "You bring out the bad girl in me," I add when he begins to work my neck.
"Good," Honey-voice says, "I like the bad girl in you." I should have expected his next line. "I like the bad boy in you too," he whispers.
Now I'm definitely blushing. "I don't know; it might be too bad for me."
"I think you can handle it," he says, brushing my lips with his tongue.
His look is melting me; his kiss is hypnotizing me. But there's only that one wall separating us from four other people...
"No, she met Cash before Dawes," I hear Ang say in a raised voice.
That stops me. "We better see what they're doing," I say to Ric as I hop down and out of his grip.
He groans. He has his hands on the counter and is leaning against it with his head down, like he's in pain. "You go," he says. "I'm going to fix myself something and eat it in here."
"Are you all right?" I ask touching his arm.
He chuckles. "Yeah. I just need a few minutes to meself."
Poor guys. At least we can hide our arousals better. I kiss his cheek then scoot away before he can talk me into more.
On the other side of the wall, I ask what the heck is going on. They're all still at the table, grouped around Craig and his laptop.
"We're trying to do a bio of everybody associated with you, Ric and the bastard," Brian explains. "I thought it might clarify things."
I look over Popeye's shoulder to see what they have so far...
Timothy (Tim) Maebry, AKA "the bastard"—Killed 10/16/12 at his estate in Cork County. Avi has know him since February. Never convicted pedophile. Helped arrange TKI to bring Avi to him. He was arrested then released. With help from his chauffeur, Ric has tailed him since middle of Aug. to keep young girls away from him. "Hosted party" at his estate night of his murder.
Reginald Bennington, AKA Reg Winston (stage name)—Known by Avi since Sept. 2010, when she went to New York to live with aunt and participate in young people's theater group. Winston was director. "Introduced" Avi to Maebry. Break-in at his apartment in April 2012 resulted in pedophile sweep in which he and V-boys arrested. Trial for him delayed for prosecution of more prominent pedos. He and V-boys came to Ireland this past summer with Avi and other girls for TKI. Sent back to U.S. and sentenced to rehab, reduced to shock probation. Ric saw him at Tim's party. His cousin Casper Bennington (Cash) initially helped coerce Avi into TKI, but ended up helping in "sting" of Reg by wearing a wire to meeting they had with her.
Joseph Connor, Cork County Police—Lead detective in arrest of Maebry when he tried to kidnap Avi from the meeting. Also arrested and had extradited back to States Winston and other V-boys. Suspended for a month following arrest. He told Ric it was because he protested Maebry's release and lies about Avi. Brian, who has studied files, says that's not the case. Ric says he took girls from party to Connor at station, including Helena, who is now missing. (Needs further investigation)
Drake Dawes (probably stage name)—Associate of Winston, assistant director and choreographer of TKI. Payed for youngest girl in the group. Pictured with Helena, who disappeared after party. Ric says he saw him with Maebry in London before party, arguing outside of restaurant after having lunch together.
Morgan McLaren—Maebry's chauffeur and Ric's partner in trying to keep girls from and find evidence to convict the bastard. Hasn't been seen since night of party. His girlfriend Grace, server at local pub, told Ric and Avi that he'd had a sister who had been Tim's victim. Sister and her baby are dead. (Needs more investigation)
Helena Nielsen, 18—From Cork area. Hasn't been seen since night of party. Ric and Morgan lured her out with other girls then Ric took them to police station to give statements to Connor. (Needs further investigation)
"Hey, Ric," Craig yells, "How many girls did you say you and Morgan got out of the party?"
"Ten," he calls back, sounding like his mouth is full.
"Don't forget the painting disappearing," Maria says. "I can't help thinking that's significant."
Craig adds that to Tim's profile, along with the number of girls, where that information is needed. "Can you think of anything else, Avi?" he asks me.
I shake my head no. This is actually a little...disturbing for me, seeing outlined all the trouble I started by thinking I was this super-cool chick who could have an affair with a man twice my age, someone in a position to give me an advantage over other people, someone who pretended to care about me and played on my gargantuan ego.
"Rules don't apply to people like you, Little Avi," Reg had said to me. Thinking of it now, I just shudder.
"Under things to investigate, we need to include how the information about Winston and the V-boys got online," Ang points out.
The uncomfortable silence that follows tells me poor Ang is the only one who doesn't know that Winston's hacker is sitting right in front of her, with his face glowing blue from his computer screen, while one of his fellow conspirators is stuffing his beautiful face on the other side of the wall.
Brian looks inscrutable, (another word I don't get to use often) except that his eyes unconsciously shift to where Ric is, and Maria nervously runs her hands through her masses of hair and heads to her own room. Had Selina told her before they broke up?
"I'm going to the Historical Society," she says. "I want to see what I can find out about the Cranston family and the original theft of that painting." She's really great at turning a conversation around. "Are you coming with me, Craig?" she asks.
"Yeah," he says too quickly, jumping up and proving that he isn't actually chained to his laptop.
Ang looks really confused. Brian puts an arm aound her and asks, "How would you like to go to Dublin with me? I want to see what I can find out about McLaren and that's where Ric said he's from."
"Okay, she answers, lifting her perfect profile to catch his eye. You can almost hear it between them. I'll explain later, he seems to say.
They all head off on their errands and I sit on the couch, thinking quietly. I'm so lucky that they all still love me when I can be blamed for this whole mess.
"What's wrong, Luz-lips?" Roric asks, coming to sit next to me and putting his arm around me.
His voice is like a hug on its own, then he's holding me so gently. I'm stressed and tired, my head's spinning and suddenly, my face is buried against his chest and I'm just weeping.
"I'm so sorry, Ric," I cry. "This is all my fault. You being accused of murder, that girl disappearing, your isolating yourself from everyone and worrying your family so much. It's all because of me."
"Honey," he says, "You were used and hurt and you were only fifteen."
I sniffle and lean back on his chest. It's a little more cushioned than usual because of Craig's extra-large t-shirt.
Roric uses a finger to wipe a tear just under my eye. "The people who care about you, love you as much as I do—we'd do anything for you."
I sigh in his arms, letting his comforting words float around me.
"I couldn't keep them from doing what they did to you, especially Tim, but I could make his life Hell and keep him from putting that sadness in some other pretty eyes," Roric says softly.
He lies back on the couch, holding me tight. "I'm not proud of everything I've done since you left, but protecting girls from that bastard is something good. The guy I was before I met you couldn't have done it."
I inch up so that I'm hovering over him, looking down at his face. "So, even with everything, you've never regretted knowing me?"
I get his wonderful half-smile. "Not for a second." He pulls my head down and tucks it under his chin. "I love you, Avelina."
It's so sweet and tender lying with him like this. I feel so much better, just being with him. "I love you Roric, and I need you," I tell him, tightening my hold around him.
I can feel a little laugh rumble in his chest. "Avi, baby," he says breathily, "I'm here."