Excerpt from Carnal Vengeance

     "Mizz Wallace, did you, or did you not, willingly take Senator Ziegler's penis into your mouth on more than one occasion?"
     Holly Kaufman gaped at the elderly man on her television screen. The camera zoomed in for a close-up of Cheryl Wallace, a somewhat attractive, big-boned brunette who could not quite conceal her outrage as she replied. "Senator Manson, I am not on trial here—"
     "Perhaps not, but neither is Senator Ziegler. I'm sure you are aware that by coming forward at this hearing with your strong accusations against the good senator, you have placed your morals under public scrutiny as well." The camera left Cheryl Wallace to pan each face of the all-male committee.
     "I might remind you," Senator Manson continued in a superior voice, "that we are judging the fitness of our distinguished colleague for a cabinet post and any aspersions cast on that fitness must be thoroughly examined. Now, please answer the question."
     While Miss Wallace leaned toward her attorney, a bespectacled woman about the same age as she, the camera focused on a dark-haired man sitting with his lawyers, apart from the Senate committee. Holly's chest tightened with remembered panic as she recognized Tim Ziegler. His intent, concerned expression altered to one of relief the moment Cheryl Wallace began her response.
     "Timothy Ziegler and I had been intimate... on more than one occasion... prior to the events detailed earlier. I already admitted that. I see no reason to get more explicit."
     "Aah, but you found it necessary to be exceedingly explicit when you related your side of the story. Nevertheless, I believe your evasiveness speaks for itself. Mizz Wallace, there are many people in this great country of ours who consider oral sex a sin; it is, in fact, a crime in certain states. Your willing performance of such an act constituted lewd and lascivious behavior on your part. That, combined with your history of alcohol and drug use—"
     Holly paused the recorded program with her remote but her gaze remained on the screen for long seconds after it froze. She thought she had put the nightmare firmly behind her. Yet, in a matter of minutes, it had lurched back into her mind as if it had been last night rather than twenty-one years ago—one year prior to the incident Cheryl Wallace was testifying about.
     When she had learned that the hearing was to begin that day while she was at work, she had set it to record so that she could at least scan some of the highlights when she had time. As an environmental lobbyist living in Washington, D. C., Holly had to stay informed of the gossip as well as the facts of current affairs, even when it was personally distasteful.
     No one had expected any problems with the President's selection for the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Pennsylvania State Senator Timothy Ziegler had already gained the support of some powerful liberals by vocally supporting several bills that would make more housing available to lower-income families. He was a devoted husband and father and his constituents praised him. He was practically perfect.
     Except for that time in college that had been forgotten by everyone but the small group of those directly involved.
     Because Cheryl Wallace could never forget what Tim Ziegler had done to her, she had decided to dredge up the past rather than see him rise one step higher on the political ladder.
     And because Holly Kaufman was not quite ready to dwell on how Tim Ziegler had damaged her own life, she rewound the recording to listen to Cheryl Wallace's account once more.
     * * *
     "It was twenty years ago, and I had just turned eighteen," Cheryl Wallace began in a quiet, somewhat shaky voice. "I was a freshman at Dominion University in New York. Tim was a senior. We met at a party. We had been dating about a month before the, uh, incident."
     "Pardon me for interrupting," Senator Manson said politely. "But there are certain facts I believe should be brought to light before you recount your entire story. Approximately how many times did you go out on dates before the alleged incident?"
     "Five, maybe six."
     "Would you say these were casual, friendly dates, or did you become... intimate?"
     Cheryl paused for advice from her attorney. "Intimate."
     The senator raised an eyebrow at her. "On which date did you and Senator Ziegler consummate your relationship?"
     She glanced at her attorney then murmured, "I don't remember."
     "Oh? Perhaps if you think a little harder you'll recall that it was the night of the party when the two of you first met. Of course, I understand there was a lot of drinking at that party and some drugs were available. Is it possible that you were too intoxicated to remember what happened that night?"
     Taking a deep breath, she replied, "A lot of kids, away from home for the first time, get a little wild."
     "I see. Were you a virgin the first time you and the senator had sexual intercourse?"
     "I don't see—" Her attorney touched her hand and she started again. "No, but he was only the second one—"
     "Of course, of course," Manson cut in, but his expression clearly indicated he didn't believe that for a minute. "Please continue."
     It was obvious that his effort to unsettle Cheryl had worked and her attorney turned the table microphone toward herself. "In all fairness to Miss Wallace, what she is about to relate to this distinguished committee is extremely upsetting. We would appreciate the courtesy of your allowing her to finish her statement before any further questions are asked." Senator Manson nodded and the attorney turned the mike back over to her client.
     What little composure Cheryl had begun with was completely gone. Her nervousness manifested itself in a quaking voice and trembling hands but she was determined to say her piece.
     "One night, after we had been dating about a month, we went to a party. There wasn't much going on, so we had a few drinks then went back to his fraternity house. Most of the brothers were there, working their way through a keg of beer. We sat around with them for a while before Tim took me up to his room. I... I had too much to drink. I knew it. I had a hard time getting up the stairs and told Tim I just wanted to sleep it off. But he talked me into smoking a joint. Said he'd been saving it for a special occasion."
     It took her a moment to continue. "Although I told him I didn't feel good, he was determined to have sex. I remember him pulling my clothes off and entering my body without my consent or participation, but I was too intoxicated to put up any resistance. I'm not certain exactly when I passed out but something made me wake up again. At first I thought it was Tim on top of me but then I heard his voice beside me. I turned my head and saw him sitting there, holding my hand. The room was filled with his fraternity brothers. Besides the one... having intercourse with me, there were eight others, some with nothing on, some with just their pants open and their... privates exposed. They were... fondling themselves... getting ready."
     Her voice cracked and she swallowed hard several times before she was able to go on. "I told them no. I didn't want that. It was as if they didn't hear me at all. I tried to push the one on top of me away but I couldn't seem to coordinate my mind with my body. I was crying and begging for Tim to stop them but he only squeezed my hand tighter and said..."
     She paused, closed her eyes and took another steadying breath. When she reopened her eyes, they glistened with unshed tears but the expression in them was pure hate as she glared directly at Senator Ziegler. "He said, 'Just lie still, honey. It will be over in a minute.' I had no way of knowing how long they had been at me before I awoke but it actually went on for at least another hour that I was aware of. They finally gave up when three of them tried to take me at once, and I vomited on the one trying to use my mouth. Then they let me get up and dress and Tim drove me back to my dorm."
     No one uttered a sound for several seconds then one of the junior senators said, "Miss Wallace, what you describe was such a hideous offense against you, I can't help but wonder why it took you twenty years to report it."
     The camera switched back to her just in time to catch her rolling her eyes in disbelief at his naïveté. "Surely, sir, you must realize that it is extremely difficult for a young woman to cry rape when she'd been drinking and willingly went to the boy's bedroom.
     "In spite of that, however, I did attempt to report it to the local police the next day, after I recovered a little. But they insisted it was strictly a college matter and would have to be handled by the authorities there. Campus security took a report but I got the impression it went directly into the trash when I left the office. I overheard one of them snicker and say, boys will be boys. I did try to obtain a copy of that report before this hearing and was told they didn't keep the records that long.
     "Instead of any of my attackers being punished, I was required to attend weekly sessions with the school counselor—another man by the way. After the first humiliating session, I didn't return, and no one cared, as long as I didn't do or say anything that could ultimately hurt the school's reputation or their precious football team. You see, they were having a winning season and, although Tim Ziegler was only second string, one of my rapists was Dominion's star quarterback and another went on to the pros." Offering up a piece of paper, she added, "I have the entire list of men's names—"
     "Objection!" Ziegler's attorneys both shouted at once as Cheryl's attorney quickly covered her microphone with her hand and urgently whispered something to her client.
     Holly let the recorded program continue but her mind had slipped off track the moment Cheryl stated that one of the rapists was the star quarterback. She knew, without seeing the list, what that man's name was, a name she thought she had purged from her memory. As Tim Ziegler had been Cheryl Wallace's guide into hell, Jerry Frampton had been Holly's. What he and Tim had done to her was a far cry from the brutal obscenity perpetrated on Cheryl a year later, but it had been no less devastating to her.
     In one night, Holly had been transformed from an innocent young girl with romantic dreams to a bitter woman who would never again feel comfortable with a man.
     Holly had to give Cheryl a lot of credit for being brave enough to report the crime back then—something Holly hadn't had the guts to do. Coming forward at this time, though, exposing herself on national television to denigrate a man who was admired by both his colleagues and the media—that went right past courage to self-destructive masochism.
     Although she'd never met Cheryl, the newspapers had supplied some background on her. She was an award-winning poetess who had inherited the large sum of money that allowed her to concentrate on her writing. The money also granted her the freedom to be as reclusive as she wished to be.
     But money wasn't going to spare her from the ordeal she had set herself up for. It was clear from this first day of the hearing that the committee had already judged Cheryl Wallace and was planning to drag her through the mud for attempting to sully the good senator's name.
     There was no way in hell Holly would put herself in that position.
     Yet, she couldn't simply dismiss what she'd heard either. Twenty-one years ago, when Cheryl would have been a senior in high school, Holly had left Dominion and never returned. She had never known for certain that other young women had suffered as she had, but she had received a letter once that hinted at it.
     Some perverse quirk had made her keep that letter, though she never had any intention of doing anything about it. With Cheryl's tale still replaying in her head, Holly found herself in her condo's spare bedroom that she used as an office. The letter had been sent to her, in care of her parents, about twelve years ago. It was from a psychiatrist named April MacLeash and contained only one sentence:
     If the names below stir any memories, it may be to your advantage to contact me. There were fifteen men's names below that sentence, some of which she may have recognized years ago. Now, however, only two jumped out at her—Jerry Frampton and Timothy Ziegler.

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