A/N: Thank you all for the feedback last chapter. I know it was slightly controversial, but it needed to be done for everything to be able to move forward. There's a reason and a pay-off for everything I do, I promise. Don't be too hard on Wallace, either. His heart is always in the right place and in my head, he did try to warn Piz off. As we all know though, sometimes texts and voice-mails don't reach you in time. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.
After everyone had left that morning, the house had fallen into a kind of odd silence. It wasn't as though the small beach front property was not normally quiet, as long as Dick wasn't throwing one of his weeknight parties, but it felt different than usual. More empty after Veronica and her friends had left.
Logan sat at the kitchen table now with one leg curled up against his chest, his arm wrapped around it as he read The Night Circus. It was something that Veronica had lent to him before his last deployment. The edge of the pages were slightly frayed and a little salt stained from having been devoured several times over since then. Who would have pegged either of them as the type to read books about a love affair between tragic star-crossed lovers spanning years and continents with lives ruined and bloodshed?
Looking up from over his book, Logan took in the sight of his best friend. Dick was by the back door now, water dripping off his body and pooling at his feet on the floor. He had a towel thrown over his shoulders, but was making no move to dry himself off. There was something about the way Dick looked standing there, soaking wet, that made him pause. A seriousness to his blue eyes that was unusual. Logan sat up a little straighter, "What's up?"
"Beav-" Dick cut himself off, pausing for long moment, and Logan watched his friend carefully, trying to read the expression on his face. Dick was hesitating, struggling to find the right words. He hadn't talked about Cassidy in a long, long time. "My brother," he started again, "He really cared about Mac, didn't he?"
This caught Logan off guard. Talking about Beaver was one thing, but Dick had never really commented or questioned Cassidy's relationship with Mac before. At least, not to Logan's knowledge. He knitted his eyebrows together and shook his head, "I think he did." The memory of Mac in the hotel room the night Cassidy jumped was clear in his memory now. The room stripped, Mac wrapped in a towel, huddled by the bed, broken and alone, even as Veronica rushed to her side. He didn't need to tell Dick the details of that moment though, and Logan really did think that Cassidy had cared for Mac.
There was no way to know what he had been thinking at the time, but Logan wanted to believe he had been trying to protect her, in his own twisted way. Not everything about him could have been bad, could it? But he raped Veronica, Logan had to remind himself. That night at Shelly Pomroy's, before Duncan had found himself in the room with her, Cassidy had raped Veronica. There was a cold knife of hatred that twisted in Logan's gut when he thought about it
"You know, he signed her yearbook." Dick was swaying slightly by the door, his wet suit hanging limply around his hips. "Wrote her this, like, long letter full of sentimental crap and inside jokes."
The existence of Mac's yearbook in her apartment was suddenly explained to Logan. A single token of proof that Cassidy had once potentially cared about her, that their relationship hadn't been all bad until the moment he had left her alone in a hotel room and almost killed her best friend. He didn't know a whole lot about her, but Logan could relate. Hadn't he once clung to the few good memories of his father a long time ago? Before he found out that Aaron had murdered Lilly. Before Aaron, also, almost killed Veronica.
Dick was still talking, "I don't really have anything like that, you know, to remember him by."
The book that Logan had been reading moments before was long forgotten now. He flipped it closed to the cover and pushed it away on the table. They never really talked this seriously, Logan and Dick. They had always just existed alongside each other, silently there for whatever the other needed (or in Dick's case, usually less than silent). So, if Dick wanted to talk now, he would have Logan's full attention. "Maybe you should talk about him. With Mac."
The blonde surfer made a face then and shook his head, "Nah. I already talked to her about him once." For the second time now, Logan was surprised, that Mac and Dick had ever talked was new information. "I don't really think she wants to listen to anything I have to say, anyway."
"Maybe you should just try," Logan offered, "Otherwise, you know, we can just hit the water, catch a few waves and you can talk to me." The words felt foreign on his lips as he said them.
"What, are we chicks now?" Dick shook his head, "Dude, you've been spending too much time with Ronnie. Are you going to want to braid each other's hair and watch Mean Girls next?"
Ah, and there was his best friend. Back to being classic Dick again. There was still something different about the way Dick shrugged him off now though. Maybe inviting Dick to hang out with Veronica and her friends the night before hadn't been a bad idea after all.
As Dick disappeared from the doorway, Logan moved to pick up his book again. Even as he opened back up, he knew that he was too distracted to keep reading. All these years had passed without any of them fully dealing with the crap they had lived through as teenagers. He and Veronica were only just beginning to work on their issues, approaching their relationship like adults for once. It was time for them all to move on. It was time for them all to grow up.
And maybe they were finally all ready, too.
Wallace had disappeared to order food at the front counter as they waited to meet with Darrell and Rachel. Though Veronica had insisted on coming alone, for fear of spooking the teens, her best friend would hear nothing of it. Is this the new trend in Neptune? Ignore Veronica's orders to stay put. Everyone seemed to have taken a page from the Mars handbook lately, Zoey White, Logan, and now even Wallace. It was much less amusing when it was being used against her.
By the time her best friend reappeared, Veronica was lost in thought. Her arms spread out across the table, her chin resting gently on her hands. "You know what I miss?" Wallace asked as he took the empty seat next to her again. Slightly startled, Veronica forced herself to sit up as Wallace slid a slice of cake onto the surface of the table between them.
Her attention snapped back to the present, eyes alert and sparkling with their regular mischief, Veronica tilted her head to the side and answered smartly, "Michael Jordan's illustrious movie career?" She plucked a fork up off the table now and dug it into the creamy chocolate icing on top of the cake. Wallace retaliated by poking his own fork at her when she did, the two of them bumping elbows playfully as she stole a bite.
He shook his head, "No, the good old days when you used to work at Java the Hut and I got to cake for free all day." Veronica laughed and rolled her eyes at him. "Do you know how much this cost me? Eight dollars."
Pressing her lips together, she sighed in disapproval, "Damn, they are just robbing us blind. I really think we should go to the press with this. Café over-charges Wallace Fennel for cake."
There was a long pause and when Veronica turned her head slightly to the side to look at the man sitting next to her, her fork sticking out of her mouth as she licked it clean, she noticed immediately the serious expression as he watched her. "What? Do I have something on my face?" She moved her hand to wipe at her cheek, but he was already shaking his head. This was the look he had always given her when there was something on his mind, something he didn't know quite how to approach her with. It was as though she wore a sign around her neck that read Proceed with Caution. In all fairness though, she probably did.
"I'm sorry about yesterday," he offered. It was the first real apology for the Piz incident the day before, but Veronica had already moved on from it. There were other things that she had to worry about than being mad at Wallace for his monumental lack of judgment and failure to warn her that she had been walking into a trap. There was a murder to be solved, after all.
"I know," she nodded her head, her voice soft as she met his brown eyes. No, Veronica Mars was not the forgiving type, but she understood that Wallace's heart had been in a good place, that he had only meant well, even if she disagreed with him. They had both screwed up in the past, trying to look out for each other's best interests, so it was hard to hold it against him. Though her stubborn side had tried to for one brief moment, they were cool.
As she glanced towards the entrance again now, she noticed Darrell and Rachel weaving their way in. She nudged Wallace and gave him a stern look, "Go easy on him, okay?"
The younger of the two Fennel boys hesitated when he saw their table. Veronica watched, with some amusement, as every muscle in his body seemed to tense as though preparing to bolt at any second. Credit had to be given to Rachel Martin though, whose hand remained firmly interlocked with his. She was standing by him, good for her.
"At least my brother has good taste," Wallace leaned over, whispering to her.
Veronica furrowed her eyebrow at her best friend, trying to hide her smile. "Keep it in your pants, Fennel. She's fifteen." Cautiously, the couple approached, hovering by the table until Veronica motioned to the empty seats in front of her and Wallace, "He doesn't bite, I promise."
"If I had known I was meeting the family earlier, I would have dressed up a little," Rachel joked and Veronica had to appreciate the quip and the bravery of the youngest Martin girl. She slid into the seat across from Wallace easily and offered him a smile, "Hello, Mr. Fennel."
"Rachel," Wallace nodded his head professionally. Of course they already knew each other, Veronica realized. He was more than just the coach of the Neptune High basketball team, but also taught a few science and health classes. It was still strange, imagining him as a teacher. Then again, he had enjoyed high school a lot more than she had. He'd been the star of the basketball team, popular in his own fashion.
Darrell watched his brother and girlfriend silently, evaluating the situation, before taking his seat next to Rachel. Veronica offered him an apologetic smile when their eyes met. She had warned him, of course, that Wallace would be there, but had not gone into details as to how he had found out in the first place. She hoped that Darrell did not believe she had betrayed his trust.
"You know you could have told me," Wallace was speaking now, forcing everyone at the table to turn their attention to him, "Did you think I was going to disapprove or something? You know mom and I always support whatever you do, D."
His brother just shrugged and Rachel chewed on her bottom lip, they didn't know how to answer that. Veronica thought back to her relationship with Logan the first time around, how she hadn't told Wallace, even when he had confronted her about the late slip she had given Logan. Secrets are sexy, Fennel, that's why. Sneaking around, stealing moments, it was fun and yes, a little hot, too. It was also easier than facing the judgment of your remembered clearly the looks that Logan's friends had given them when their relationship had been revealed at Logan's surprise "birthday" party as well. High school kids could be cruel and in the case of Rachel Martin, so could parents.
"Alright, you two can now check Awkward 'Meet the Family' moment off your couples check-list," Veronica pressed her hands down against the top of the table, eager to bail them all out of the relationship conversation, "And we can get on to business."
The teenagers both looked relieved as Rachel nodded her head, blonde curls bouncing in a merry way that seemed as out of place as ever in the moment, and started digging through her bag. Finally, she pulled out a stack of papers, neatly folded and bound together by an elastic, and dropped it gently onto the middle of the table. For just a minute, they all stared at it. A ticking time bomb of evidence sitting inconspicuously in front of them.
It wouldn't be enough to exonerate Ben Adams, the evidence of the baseball bat too great to ignore, but it could potentially be enough to shed a shadow of doubt over his guilt. And to give the case a new suspect. Of course, for that to happen they had to bring this information to the Sheriff's department, a notion that made Veronica cringe inwardly.
Their other option, of keeping it to themselves and potentially being arrested for obstruction of justice later, was even less appealing though. Veronica knew that the new Sheriff Lamb, like his predecessor, would love nothing more than to have a reason to put her in handcuffs (again).
After dropping Wallace off, Veronica had made a stop at Mars Investigations. While she had come to the conclusion that she needed to hand everything over to the Balboa County Sheriff's department, there was no way that she would do so without getting photocopies first. She liked to stay head of the law at all times, especially in Neptune, and she knew that once she had given everything to Lamb, she would never see any of it again.
And now that she sat across from him, she was fully prepared. She had the upper hand.
"Veronica Mars," Dan Lamb propped his feet up on the desk in front of him, leaning lazily in his chair, "To what do I owe the pleasure? Do I have a criminal in custody you would like to bail out?"
"That depends," Veronica said thoughtfully, tilting her head to one side, "How many innocent people have you arrested today? This week? Is it too big a number? I have a calculator for you, if it'll help you add them all up." She held up her phone, just a hint of a smirk tugging at her lips.
Lamb, however, looked less than impressed by her. He waved a hand in the air, "Yeah, yeah, just get on with it already. Some of us have actual, important jobs to do."
"Is that what you call the daily Sudoku?" There was no way that Veronica was just going to willingly hand the papers over without just a little of her regular Mars charm. Especially since the last two big cases he had been left in charge of, she had been the one to solve. "I've got something for you, regarding the Eve Martin case. Who knows, maybe third time's a charm and you can actually solve this one without my help, have the real killer arrested for once."
"How about you just hand over your so-called evidence before I arrest you?"
"So snippy this afternoon," she mock pouted and reached into her black leather tote bag, pulling out the stack of papers Rachel had left her. "The victim's sister, Rachel Martin, left me these. Apparently, they were being stalked and blackmailed."
Lamb rolled his eyes, "Is this where you start pointing fingers at the son of one of my deputies? Eve Martin and her friends were already in here about that and I shooed them away. What makes you think I'm going to buy it this time?"
"Because this time I have evidence," she motioned to the papers with her eyes, "And because I'm not accusing Holden Masterson of anything, just giving you a paper trail to follow."
The skepticism in the Sheriff's blue eyes was evident. He trusted Veronica as far as he could throw her and she didn't blame him. She had made him look pretty incompetent in the media a few times already. The feeling was, of course, mutual, but she was just trying to cover all of her bases in this case. If she could avoid coming to him at all, she would have, but the Sheriff's department had resources that Veronica needed. Resources that couldn't just be hacked by her best friend, the computer wizard.
Slowly, Lamb reached out and took the papers from her hand, "I'll have someone look at this stuff, see if it leads anywhere." It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Veronica was never one to sit back and wait while someone else did the legwork though. She was too invested in the case and Lamb had reminded her that it was time for her to talk to Holden Masterson.
The first thing that Veronica noticed about Holden Masterson was that he was big. The eighteen year old Neptune High Senior was a hulking 6'4" and 220 pounds. He was built like a football player and, as Wallace had informed her, was actually one of the best Neptune High had to offer before he had blown out his knee early in the season. Another athlete whose dreams of playing professionally down the drain. It seemed to be the trend in town lately, with Benjamin Adams getting kicked off the baseball team because of Eve Martin later that same year.
Of course, Holden's academic records weren't as outstanding as Ben's, who still had a shot of getting scholarships and making it into good colleges if he pushed himself next year. Holden was just barely passing his senior year and Wallace told her that if he failed his health final next week, he'd be in summer school, or worse yet, repeating his final year of high school.
The man standing in front of her now was a far cry from the sensitive boy that Veronica had once babysat. She remembered the tears that had been spilled over scraped knees and the sadness that he seemed to have carried with him everywhere at the absence of his father. Deputy William Masterson was a workaholic. Taking doubles whenever he could, working overtime on his cases. A wonderful law-enforcer, but a pretty shitty father. There was an air of confidence to Holden now that had never been there before and a bitterness in his eyes that immediately put Veronica on alert.
While a Porsche was hardly in the Masterson family budget, they still lived in the small two bedroom house they had for over a decade, Holden definitely fit the description of the man seen fleeing the Martin house on the night of the murder. Not to mention, the allegations that Zoey White had brought forth of him stalking Eve made him look suspicious enough for Veronica to check him out. She was going to leave no stone unturned.
"Veronica Mars?" there was an ounce of confusion to Holden Masterson's tone when he saw her. She couldn't blame him. It had been years since she had last babysat him, and it wasn't as thought they had kept in touch. Her unannounced visit was nothing he would have expected, which is exactly how she wanted it to be.
"I don't know what your dad was thinking," Veronica shook her head, feigning disbelief. "You're definitely a little too old for a babysitter these days." She watched as Holden reacted, rather slowly, to her being there. He glanced furtively behind him and his arm twitched as though he were about to slam the door in her face. "I wouldn't do that if I were you," she warned, "Unless you want to look really guilty. Are you feeling guilty about anything, Holden?"
"What do you want?" His tone was immediately defensive, which gave Veronica the satisfaction of thinking that he was, indeed, feeling guilty.
She shrugged, "I thought we could have a chat, catch up on the last ten years, watch Hercules for old time's sake, and then maybe you could tell me about your relationship with Eve Martin."
"I didn't have any kind of relationship with her," Holden let out a long, exhausted sigh. Which was a mistake because it was not at all the kind of punctuation that should have followed that statement. He was lying and they both knew it.
"That's funny," Veronica squinted her eyes at him slightly, "Because her best friend told me that they went to the Sheriff's department to try and get a restraining order against you. That seems a little weird for someone you didn't have a relationship with."
Another sigh, "She didn't get one, did she?"
"No," Veronica conceded, "But that doesn't mean anything considering your dad is a deputy and even Sheriff Lamb knows how to look out for his own. So, why was Eve Martin going around telling her friends that you were stalking her?"
"I don't know." His voice was too forceful, too aggressive. It was another lie.
"The more you lie, the deeper you bury yourself."
"Look," his hand dropped from the front door, defeated, as he took a step forward onto the porch. His tone softened and he spoke just above a whisper, as if there might be someone listening to him talking, as though he was about to say something potentially damning. Veronica hoped he did. It was so nice when they tied their own noose. "Eve came to me for help. She told me that someone was out to get her, wanted me to look out for her, find out who it was. Then all of a sudden, she's telling people I'm stalking her, I don't know why."
Confused, Veronica frowned. None of this made any sense with the narrative that was being painted by the other people in Eve's life. Or by Eve herself. "Why would she come to you?"
Holden rubbed the back of his neck and shrugged his shoulders. Veronica knew that shrug well. It was hard to explain, it said, it was a long story. She had given it plenty of times in the past, too. Why was a teenage girl running around town solving murders, nailing cheaters to the wall, seeking out rapists and petty criminals. It was a long story. "I used to want to go into law enforcement, like my dad. Like my older brother. I thought it was really cool, you know?"
Veronica nodded her head. Of course she knew exactly what Holden was talking about. "What changed?" she asked, feeling like she knew the answer to that, as well. The town had changed, the meaning of the badge had changed when Don Lamb had taken charge. It was tainted now.
"My girlfriend, Ella, her brother ran with the PCHers," he continued, "Got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time one day and the Sheriff's department pinned a hold-up on him because he had the wrong skin color and a motorcycle. My dad was the arresting officer, helped plant the evidence and everything." Disappointment saturated every word. William Masterson never have been father of the year, but his son had always respected him before, admired him even.
Acid bubbled in Veronica's stomach. The corruption of the town had made its way into even the most loyal and dedicated of deputies. Neptune had definitely seen brighter days and the look on Holden Masterson's face told her that his story wasn't finished, that there was more to come. There was no light at the end of this tunnel. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Is it possible that Neptune is the hell that Dante was writing about? "I know the drill," she said, "A friend of mine had the same thing happen to him a few months back."
"Eli Navarro," Holden nodded his head, "I know the story. He's back running the gang now, taking matters into his own hand because everything's all fucked up. Cesar, Ella's brother, he was stabbed and killed by a Fitzpatrick before we even had a chance to bail him out. No one even tried to help him, they just let him bleed out."
A sad story, no doubt, but it still didn't explain to Veronica his involvement with Eve Martin. Didn't explain how he had gotten wrapped up in helping a scared teenage girl, or on her list of potential murder suspects. "So?" Veronica prodded, trying to get them back on track now, "How does this all lead back to Eve?"
"I was just a kid when you were in High school," he started. It was a history lesson that Veronica didn't exactly need. "But I heard all the stories, you know, of how you worked for your dad. How the two of you solved cases that the Sheriff's department fumbled on, and how you even helped people out at school for cash sometimes. It was pretty cool, the way you got things done around here. You really helped people."
At this point, Veronica didn't need him to finish. She had put the rest together on her own. Using her as his role model, Holden Masterson had taken matters into his own hand. He had decided to help people, too. "So, you decided to take on a little detective work of your own, and then Eve Martin came to you for help."
"She said someone was stalking her, trying to blackmail her. They were sending her these weird letters, filming her without her knowledge. So, she hired me to figure it out."
"Did she mention that her sister was getting these weird notes, too?" Veronica asked.
He shook his head, "No."
Veronica didn't know what to make of any of this. There was still so much evidence she had to go through, but she hadn't been able to cross anyone off her suspect list yet. Instead, it seemed to grow with every conversation she had. Nothing added up, no one was telling the full truth. It seemed like no one had been even before her investigation had started. The webs of lies all beginning to get tangled up with one another now, the further she dug.
"You know I have to ask where were you on the night of Eve's murder?" A small part of Veronica hoped that he had an airtight alibi with multiple witnesses to account for his presence. At least it would make it easier for Veronica to believe his version of the story. For some reason, she wanted to believe it, too Maybe it was because at the moment, Holden reminded her of herself ten years ago. Neptune had let him down and he had realized that if justice was to be served, he would have to do it himself.
His eyes darted away from her and he shuffled his feet nervously, "I was at the Martin house."
Her heart fell. How does that song go again? You can't always get what you want, Veronica.
It was dark out by the time Veronica collapsed onto the couch next to him, immediately burrowing herself into his side. Easily, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and held her in close. She let out a deep, relieved sigh against his chest as Logan's lips brushed the top of her head. "Long day?"
"Like you wouldn't believe." She pulled away slightly and met his brown eyes. There were dark shadows under her blue eyes, her skin too pale for someone who lived in California during the summertime. She was exhausted and it made Logan worry slightly, worry that she was not taking enough care of herself as she launched full throttle into this investigation.
How had he not noticed before, how much this seemed to be taking out of her?
"Maybe you should take a break," he suggested gently, choosing his words carefully. As expected, a wave of defensiveness rose up in her eyes and the tight way her lips pressed together. This was the default Veronica setting whenever someone tried to tell her to take it easy. She didn't like to be told what to do, that had not changed at all. "I'm just saying, you're going to make yourself sick. Let's just go away for a few days, get out of Neptune?"
Veronica shook her head, moving out of his arms altogether now, "I can't. This case…"
"This isn't Lilly, Veronica," Logan frowned, "You solved that already, and you don't need to solve every teenage murder that comes through town just because my dad's slimy lawyer got him off, because I fucked up and destroyed the evidence."
The blonde directed a glare at him now. This was not how he had anticipated their night going, especially not after everything had gone so well the night before. He was just worried, not trying to pick a fight with her. "This isn't about Lilly," she snapped, "This is about finding the real killer because no one else will as long as they have someone who looks guilty enough."
Just like Abel Koontz, Logan thought to himself. He didn't say it out loud though, he had learned a long time ago to pick his battles with Veronica. Besides, he knew that she was right. Dan Lamb didn't care if Benjamin Adams had really killed his ex-girlfriend or not as long as he had enough evidence to put him away. As he had tried to do with Logan when Carrie had been murdered. Justice was hard to come by in Neptune these days, but the similarities to what happened to Lilly were too obvious to ignore. Logan still hadn't forgotten the look on Veronica's face that day as they had watched the news story either, there was some part of this that was about Lilly.
He sighed and moved to be closer to her again, hand stroking her hair gently. "I know, and I'm on your side, Veronica. I'm always on your side. I just need you to take it easy on yourself, okay? You can't just do everything on your own. You might not believe it, but you're not actually Batman."
She laughed then, easing the tension out of Logan's chest when she did. "And I finally got the voice right and everything."
This time, when their eyes met, they were both smiling.
"So," she tilted her head to the side after a beat and raised an eyebrow at him, "What was that you were saying about a couple of days away from Neptune?"