Bennett meets with Jet’s contact in Minneapolis. He doesn’t uncover any evidence of the conspiracy but he does end up catching some strange feelings.
Bennett cast a nervous glance around as he sat at a picnic table in a nearby park. Jet’s contact was supposed to show up just after noon and it was almost time.
An email had arrived for Bennett shortly after he woke up. It had been confirmation that Jet’s friend was willing to help, and it included contact details in case he wanted to make plans for a rendezvous.
Bennett supposed it hadn’t been strictly necessary to make plans right away. Feeling as apprehensive as he was, though, he figured it would probably be for the best to get it out of the way as soon as possible.
If Jet trusted this guy, Bennett could trust him too. He just didn’t know why he was feeling so uneasy all of a sudden.
Then again, Bennett supposed it was only fair. He’d lived in Iowa all his life and while he was only one state over, it was still very different from what he was used to.
A car pulled up by the sidewalk nearby. From the model, Bennett was pretty sure it was a hybrid of some sort. While it was clearly not brand new, it looked very well-cared-for.
A young man, probably no older than 27, hopped out of the passenger seat. He was wearing a plain white shirt, a pair of tight navy jeans, and a light-blue ballcap twisted the wrong way around.
The guy glanced over at Bennett and waved. He had bright green eyes and red hair, with a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. While Bennett was as straight a man as they came, even he couldn’t deny that the young man was quite handsome.
In the driver’s seat of the car was another young man. He was blond, blue-eyed, and just as handsome, if not more handsome than the ginger. He leaned over the passenger seat and rolled down the window, motioning for the ginger to come closer.
From where he was seated, Bennett could only hear one half of the conversation and even that, just barely. "Oh yeah. I’ll find my way back. You don’t have to worry."
The ginger nodded as the blond said something. "I know. Thanks again for the ride, Ty. Give my love to Robin, yeah?"
The blond grinned and gave the ginger a thumbs up before rolling the window back up. The ginger waved after him as he pulled away before turning and walking over to Bennett.
"Hey," said the ginger. "You must be Bennett, right?"
Bennett set down his sandwich—peanut butter and jelly since he realized he couldn’t trust produce either—and looked at the proffered hand. "Who’s asking?" he said, warily.
"Ewan," said the younger man. "We were talking earlier this morning? I’m Jet’s friend he asked to help you out!"
Bennett smiled. He grabbed Ewan’s hand and shook it firmly. "Just had to make sure," he said.
Ewan shrugged as he took his hand back. "Fair enough. Can’t be too careful," he said. Bennett was glad he understood.
As Ewan sat down opposite Bennett, he glanced at the sandwich Bennett had set down earlier. Noticing where Ewan was looking, Bennet said, "Sorry. Didn’t get a chance to eat breakfast."
Bennett had spent most of the morning carefully moving the equipment from his car to his room. It had been a relief to find that everything was still there when he woke up but he hadn’t been willing to tempt fate for any longer than that.
"It’s fine," said Ewan. The way he looked at Bennett was almost uncomfortable. His gaze was so intense—it seemed as if he was trying to peer straight into Bennett’s soul.
It wasn’t exactly unpleasant but it was definitely unsettling. Bennett could scarcely meet Ewan’s gaze.
"So," said Ewan, tilting his head curiously. "What do you need help with?"
Bennett took a bite of his sandwich. Unsurprisingly, he hadn’t thought that far. He took the opportunity to consider while he chewed.
Money was a primary concern of Bennett’s. Right now he still had some funds to his name but all the extra expenses were going quickly add up. It wasn’t an imminent concern, though.
What Bennett needed was to familiarize himself with the area as soon as possible. The more he knew about Minneapolis, the less time he would waste getting turned around and lost.
"Well, I don’t have a GPS or a smartphone so having a local to take me around to all the interesting parts would be really helpful," said Bennett. Even just once was enough. He had a pretty good mind for remembering routes. It was why he could get away without GPS in the first place.
"That’s it?" said Ewan. He seemed surprised. "I mean, I can take you around on a tour whenever you want but don’t you want me to help you with your investigation or something?"
"Well, yeah, but I didn’t want to impose," said Bennett. It wasn’t like he’d refrained from asking more for purely altruistic reasons. It was self-serving, too. He didn’t want to ask too much right now to make it more likely that Ewan would help him with something more significant down the line.
Ewan shook his head. "No, man. It’s no problem. I’d be more than happy to help."
"Are you sure?" said Bennett. "I’d be fine if you could just lend me a hand now and then."
Ewan shrugged. "It’s not like I have anything better to do right now, anyway," he said. "And besides. I admire what you’re doing. It can’t have been easy, moving out of your home state to chase the truth."
"Thank you," said Bennett. "Well, I could still use a tour. After that, maybe you could help me collect some water samples?"
"Sure. I can do that," said Ewan.
The younger man was beaming at Bennett. If his expression were any brighter, it would have been outright blinding.
It was a bit weird, but Bennett figured Ewan was just a bit eccentric. He seemed like a good lad, otherwise. Like a big puppy, really, considering how enthusiastic he seemed about helping out.
"So, what did you have in mind for water samples?" said Ewan, as Bennett polished off his sandwich.
Bennett dusted his hands off over the picnic table as he considered the question. "I think I might want to get samples from all over the city," he said.
The more different sources Bennett could get samples from, the better. He needed data. A lot of it. Especially since he didn’t have the equipment or the expertise to conduct sophisticated chemical analysis.
If Bennett could find a pattern, though, he could justify asking someone with more expertise to look into it. It was just like what Jet did with the social media stuff. He had to look at the big picture. One sample wasn’t going to give him the proof he needed, but a hundred samples, a thousand samples, all exhibiting the same properties, would tell him he was on the right track.
"Does your A/C not work?" said Ewan. His face shone with a faint sheen of sweat and every time he wiped his hand across his forehead it would come away wet.
Bennett glanced over at the passenger seat. He said, "No. Hasn’t worked for years, now. Did you just notice?"
Ewan glowered at Bennett, who couldn’t help but chuckle. "Not very likely," said Ewan. "I’ve been sweating like a pig since we headed out. I was just too polite to ask."
Bennett raised an eyebrow. "Past politeness now, are we?" he said, cheekily. He’d come to enjoy Ewan’s company more than he first expected.
It was like they’d known each other for years. The banter was easy and conversation flowed freely between them. Bennett could barely even remember the last time he talked so openly with someone face-to-face.
"Yeah," said Ewan, fanning his damp shirt. "A little bit."
Bennett scoffed. City boys, he thought to himself. He was sweating, too, but he didn’t particularly mind. His only regret was that he wouldn’t be able to take a shower to wash it all off.
"You could crack a window if you want," said Bennett.
Ewan glanced at the crank for a moment. He seemed to really consider it before he shook his head and said, "No thanks. I’d really rather not be sweaty and covered in smog."
Bennett chuckled. Before meeting Ewan, he could never really open up to people. He was always afraid the people he talked to were members of some deep-state conspiracy out to get him for knowing too much.
When Bennett thought about a secret agent, Ewan was the furthest thing from the image he had in his mind. The lad seemed way too friendly for that sort of unpleasant work. And besides, Ewan had one thing no agent of the New World Order could have: Jet’s endorsement.
Every time niggling little doubts about Ewan’s identity popped up in Bennett’s mind, he couldn’t help but think back to the episode of the podcast he’d been listening to on the way over. Jet trusted Ewan with his life and that was more than enough for Bennett.
"Turn down here," said Ewan.
Gravel crunched under the tires of Bennett’s beater as they pulled down an old road that ostensibly led to the riverbank. The box of samples in the back seat rattled as the car shook.
Bennett pulled off to the side and parked the car. He hopped out and reached in the back for his mask, gloves, and sample tube.
As they were walking toward the river, Ewan paused and reached out a hand to stop Bennett. "Hand me the sample tube," he said.
Bennett hesitated. "Why?" he said. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Ewan. It was just so abrupt.
"I just realized that the agent might not be airborne but spray from the water might still be dangerous," said Ewan.
"Okay…" said Bennett, slowly. He understood. That was why he had the mask, the gloves, and the long-sleeved shirt. He didn’t get why that meant he had to hand the sample tube over to Ewan.
"I’m already gay so it’s not like the water can turn me any gayer," said Ewan.
Bennett’s eye twitched. "I-I see," he said. He hadn’t even suspected, in the slightest. He was so shocked he handed the tube over to Ewan without thinking.
By the time Bennett realized what he’d done, Ewan was already halfway to the water. He watched closely, feeling conflicted.
On the one hand, Ewan hadn’t given Bennett any reason to mistrust him. On the other, Bennett couldn’t help but wonder why Ewan had hidden his sexuality from him.
Then again, Bennett knew Jet trusted Ewan. He couldn’t even imagine Jet being wrong about someone like that. So, he had to believe. He had to keep the faith.
If Jet was wrong about Ewan… Well, Bennett didn’t even want to think about that. He knew Jet was right. It was the only answer he could accept.
The alternative didn’t even bear considering. If Jet had been wrong this whole time, if all the evidence he’d found amounted to nothing, then Bennett would have wasted the last few years of his life.
Bennett had been a loser long enough. He didn’t know how he’d handle it if everything he’d come to believe in the last few years ended up being fake. He couldn’t accept that. He refused to.
Casting his gaze over to where Ewan was leaning over the bank of the river, Bennett took a deep breath to calm the turbulent emotions inside him. Once he took a moment to think about it, he realized Ewan hadn’t done anything wrong.
It wasn’t like Ewan had done anything to hide his sexuality. If anyone was to blame for being too dense to see it, it was Bennett.
Bennett should have known Ewan was gay the moment he noticed the way the lad looked at him. It should have been a dead giveaway. Instead, he’d chalked it up to "eccentricity." Like an idiot.
Now that Bennett took the opportunity to actually take a look, it occurred to him that maybe the outfit should have given it away. Not that he was saying straight men didn’t wear tight pants—he just had never seen a straight boy pull it off so well.
And Ewan did pull it off fantastically well. Bennett could scarcely tear his eyes away.
It wasn’t just the way that Ewan’s rump looked in those tight, navy-blue jeans that hugged every curve. It was also the confidence he exuded—as if he knew he looked good and didn’t give a damn about what the world thought about him.
That said, if that ass had been on a woman, she would have been a regular feature of Bennett’s fantasies from the moment he saw it. He was secure enough in his own sexuality he could say that. And it was true, besides, so there was no use denying it in the first place.
It was probably wrong to stare so openly but it was hard not to look. There was nothing else nearby and Ewan was bent over at the waist, making his plump ass all the more prominent.
Bennett was almost disappointed when Ewan turned around with the filled sample tube in his hands. "Everything good?" said Ewan, as he handed over the stoppered test tube.
"Y-yeah," said Bennett. "Thanks."
Ewan chuckled. He seemed amused. "Oh, honey. You knew I was gay off the bat, right?"
"O-of course," Bennett stuttered. He averted his gaze as his cheeks warmed. He didn’t want Ewan to see him flush. "A-anyway, we should probably get going."
Ewan cupped a hand over his eyes and squinted up at the sky. "Oh yeah," he said. "We need to make sure we use as much of this hot, muggy sunshine as we can."
Bennett detected just a hint of sarcasm in Ewan’s voice. "City boys," he said, with mock exasperation.
Ewan chuckled. He tapped the hood of Bennett’s car twice as he walked around to the passenger side. "Didn’t you say you grew up in the city, too?"
"Yeah, but I learned how to take the heat," said Bennett. He leaned into the back of his car and stowed away the sample tube with the rest before sliding into the driver’s seat.
As Bennett closed the door behind him, Ewan cracked, "Yeah, but that’s because you’ve been driving a glorified oven this whole time."
Bennett smirked as he shifted the car into drive. "You look like you could use a little roasting anyway," he said. "Might get a bit of color on you for once, ginger boy."
"I bet you just want to have a bite," said Ewan, lightly punching Bennett on the shoulder. "You gotta be careful if you want to have me later, though. I burn easily."
Bennett laughed. It wasn’t as weird as he thought it would be. He was glad the banter went right back to how it had been before he knew Ewan was gay.
Yeah. This was the kind of friendship Bennett could get used to.
"Nice digs," said Ewan, looking around as he entered Bennett’s motel room with an armful of test tubes.
"Right," said Bennett, rolling his eyes as he set the samples in his arms down by the dining table. "Like you’ve ever been in this part of town."
Bennett had set the table up as a bit of a chemistry lab. He didn’t have the best equipment and had practically no measures to prevent cross-contamination but his options were limited.
"I have been, actually," said Ewan. "Brings back memories."
"Oh yeah?" said Bennett, raising an eyebrow as Ewan sat on the edge of the bed. "Didn’t peg you for the type."
Ewan shrugged. "Yeah. I mean, I was a broke college kid that didn’t want to have roommates. I wasn’t exactly spoiled for choice."
"Huh," said Bennett. "I figured you’d have come from money or something."
Ewan reclined on the bed as Bennett prepared a few slides to go under the microscope. "What makes you say that?" he said.
"I dunno," said Bennett. "Something about the way you act, I guess. Tells me you at least grew up without wanting for much."
Ewan was quiet for a second.
"Sorry," said Bennett. He turned his attention toward the microscope. He didn’t even know what he was looking for. He figured he’d know, somehow, if there was something in the water that wasn’t supposed to be there.
"Nah," said Ewan. Bennett looked up from the microscope. "You’re kind of right. My family was upper-middle class, growing up. We weren’t rich, by any stretch of the imagination, but we could afford a few small luxuries here and there."
"I see," said Bennett. "You don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to, by the way." He figured it would be polite to offer an out. As much as part of him wanted to know more, he also didn’t want to make Ewan uncomfortable.
Ewan shrugged. "It’s fine," he said. "My parents were third-generation Irish immigrants. Strongly Catholic, as you could imagine, but more of the American kind than the European kind."
Bennett, having not seen anything worth mentioning in the first slide, looked up at Ewan and said, "Ah."
"Yeah. Ah. I was terrified to come out to them and figured I just wouldn’t talk about it when I moved out for college," said Ewan.
Ewan looked up at the ceiling. "Man. The first year at university was the best year of my life," he reminisced.
Bennett could relate to that. He’d grown up in a small town in rural Iowa. University had been a breath of fresh air and he’d loved the freedom.
"Hooked up with the wrong guy, though. Major closet case. Super guilty about the whole thing. Turned out he went to the same church."
Bennett winced. He could see where this was going. "I’m sorry you had to go through that," he said.
As tragic as the story was, Ewan didn’t seem all that bothered. It seemed he’d truly moved on from it all and Bennett had to admire that.
"Eh," said Ewan. "What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that clichéd bullshit. Anyway. They kicked me out. Cut me off. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have made it this far if they hadn’t, though, so I guess that’s one point for homophobia."
Bennett exhaled loudly through his nose. The strange affinity he’d already felt for Ewan only got stronger. He could sympathize, after all. He probably knew better than anyone what it felt like to be cast out and treated like a pariah.
"I’m actually a bit envious of you," said Bennett. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the expression on Ewan’s face as he spoke so he clipped another slide into place and looked down the eyepiece of the microscope.
"Why do you say that?" said Ewan.
"You managed to persevere in spite of everything, you know?" said Bennett. "I just… coasted by after the people around me turned their backs on me."
Ewan was quiet for a moment. "I mean, you survived. Isn’t that the important bit?" he said.
"I guess," said Bennett. "But I can’t help but wonder if I couldn’t have flourished as you did."
Ewan chuckled. "Thanks," he said. "Say… How seriously do you want to go with this whole analysis thing?"
Bennett glanced at the younger man. "As serious as possible, of course," he said.
"Of course," said Ewan. He looked at the wall for a second before turning his gaze back at Bennett. "I can’t make any promises right now but I might be able to sneak you into one of the labs at the university."
Bennett perked up. "Seriously?"
Ewan nodded. "Yeah," he said. "I’m working on a Ph.D. for biochemistry. Well, I was. I just sent my thesis to my adviser and I’ve been waiting weeks to hear back."
"And you’re sure you’re not going to regret making this offer?" said Bennett. Again, he felt an out was the polite and respectful thing to do here. He had every intention of taking Ewan up on his offer—even if it wasn’t guaranteed—but he wanted to give Ewan a chance to back out if he had any doubts.
Ewan waved his hand dismissively. "It should be fine," he said.
"Don’t say I didn’t give you a chance to say no," said Bennett. "I’d love it if you can get me in."
"Do you even know what to look for?" said Ewan, cocking an eyebrow.
"Well, since you’d already made the offer, I was hoping you might help me out," said Bennett.
"Oh. Volunteering me now, are we?" said Ewan.
"I didn’t hear a no!"
It was pretty dark out by the time Ewan left. Bennett had offered to get him a cab but Ewan had insisted on paying his own way.
Even though Bennett hadn’t expected to find anything on the first day, he still couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. Hours of work with nothing to show for it tended to do that to a man, he supposed.
The only thing Bennett could do was persevere. He couldn’t let it get to his head. It was normal to come up empty-handed after the first day of pursuing leads.
Thank God the motel room had a kitchenette, though. Bennett didn’t know if he could survive on white bread and a variety of spreads for the foreseeable future.
That said, as tired as Bennett was, the best thing he could muster to make for dinner was a grilled cheese sandwich. It was decent. Not great, but at least not terrible.
As he lay down to rest his sore body, Bennett’s mind went over the events of the day. Even though the end result was somewhat disappointing, he had to admit that it had gone better than he expected.
Ewan had been a much-needed breath of fresh air. Bennett had expected things to be a lot stiffer and more awkward between the two of them but instead, they’d become fast friends over the course of a couple of hours.
Bennett’s cock twitched in his pants. He tilted his head back and groaned as he felt it swell against his thigh.
20 years ago, it might have been understandable. Bennett was older now, though. It wasn’t supposed to be this needy anymore.
Whatever it was supposed to be, Bennett was powerless to resist. He shoved a hand down the front of his pants. He didn’t even bother to take them off, slipping his fingers under the waistband of his pants and grabbed his cock.
Bennett grunted as he stroked himself. He was hard enough and horny enough that he didn’t think he’d need a fantasy to get off on but he imagined one anyway.
A faint bitterness curled in Bennett’s chest as he pictured his old college sweetheart. She’d left him soon after he got thrown under the bus by his old employer. In this fantasy, he imagined her coming back and telling him that she’d made a big mistake letting go of him and that she wanted to make up.
The fantasy worked, for a while. Bennett was hard as he imagined the two of them going through the motions of foreplay.
It was sizzling hot. Bennett remembered the things his old lover liked to do with her tongue. The memory was vivid in his head. As if the last time he’d seen her was just yesterday.
As they moved on to steamier things beyond the realm of heavy petting, Bennett’s erection flagged. Big surprise, there. He should have expected it to stop working when he was finally getting into it.
Unbidden, Bennett’s thoughts turned to Ewan. He imagined Ewan had no such problems with his cock.
Ewan was a young, attractive man. If anything, Bennett was sure he had the exact opposite problem.
The whole train of thought struck Bennett as weird. For one thing, his cock felt a lot stiffer in his hand the moment his thoughts strayed in that direction. For another, it wasn’t exactly normal for a straight guy to think of another guy with his cock in his hand.
A small part of Bennett was alarmed. It was that paranoid voice in the back of his mind. It told him that he’d somehow been infected by the agent.
It was an absurd thought. Bennett didn’t give it too much credit. He was pretty sure he’d be the first to know if he was starting to turn gay. And besides, he’d taken all the precautions.
There was nothing wrong with admiring another man who was objectively attractive. If anything, Ewan just reminded Bennett of his lost youth.
How Bennett wished he still looked young and attractive. Unfortunately, those best years of his life had been swallowed by misery and rejection. He was little more than a washed-up, middle-aged man, now.
Bennett shoved the thought aside. It was depressing. His thoughts wandered back to earlier in the afternoon, by the riverbank, shortly after Ewan had told him he was gay.
Maybe it was weird how Bennett remembered the scene with almost perfect clarity. Maybe it wasn’t. It had only been a few hours, after all. Then again, some days he couldn’t even remember what he had for breakfast.
Whatever. Bennett focused on the memory. Oh, fuck, he thought to himself, as he remembered what he’d been doing as Ewan collected the sample.
Bennett chewed on his lower lip. That ass. It was so round. So perfect. The seam in the seat of those tight pants rode up into the crack just enough to be tantalizing.
There was just something so goddamn seductive about the way the form-fitting fabric hugged the mounds of Ewan’s ass. Bennett couldn’t help but groan. His cock pulsed in his hand.
Is it weird that I’m jerking off to a guy’s ass? Bennett asked himself. It didn’t matter. He didn’t care. Not when he was this horny.
Besides, Ewan’s ass was good enough to go on a woman and Bennett wasn’t about to complain just because it was attached to an attractive young man.
"Shit," Bennet groaned, under his breath. He came hard before he could stop himself. Cum gushed out the tip of his stiff cock, soaking through his briefs.
Bennett could scarcely believe he’d come to his new friend’s ass. There were so many conflicted feelings inside of him. It was a good thing he was too tired to unpack them because he didn’t know if he could handle the aftermath.
As Bennett lay there panting, he could feel the cum he’d blasted into his pants slowly cooling. It was weird but not unpleasant. He was too lazy to strip down right now, anyway.
With a yawn, Bennett rolled over onto his side and closed his eyes. He was half-asleep in seconds, which was fine. He’d just have to deal with what he did some other time.