"Hey, I hear you do stuff for people."
You help one girl out with a stalker ex, Veronica thinks, and a whole pack comes calling.
She turns anyway. The guy behind her is tall and an odd, off kind of good looking. He seems edge-of-her-mind familiar, as if maybe they'd gone to summer camp together a long time ago. "Sure I do stuff for people," she tells him, her overbroad smile in her voice. "Hold doors open, lend my notes, don't shoot them in the kneecap for showing up and expecting favors."
"I'm not asking for a favor. I want to hire you. I think," the guy takes a breath. "I think my girlfriend's cheating on me and I want you to see if it's true."
Normally this is the kind of case she would reject without a second thought. Stalkers and grifters she could handle, but cheaters struck too close to home. But there's something about the guy's face, already crushed, that gets to her. She sighs.
"I have to get to class, but give me your name and number and we can set up a time to go over the details."
"Professional aboutface." He leans over a little, balancing and using his knee as a desk to scribble his name on a piece of paper. "I feel like I'm in good hands."
Veronica grasps the paper as soon as he finishes and turns to enter Randolph Hall for her class. "You're in no hands yet," she calls back to him and even though she thinks she's had the last word, as the door swings shut behind her she hears his voice: "You know, a girl said that to me before and ten minutes later, wouldn't you know it..." She smiles despite herself.
It's not until later, as she digs out the scrap of paper and reads in his tilted, clear handwriting Logan Echolls and his phone number, that everything becomes clear. She calls him right away.
"No," she says as soon as he picks up. "Not a chance."
"Is this my private eye?" As hollow-eyed and sad as he looked earlier, he sounds light and snarky on the phone. She's heard "private dick" made dirty, but he does something with "private eye" that makes it sound like he's humming it huskily against her neck in the backseat of a parked car. She rolls her eyes.
"Your former private eye. I don't do cases for you Neptune deviants." The whole place is a disaster. A few years ago, some bus driver decided to take the plunge with a bunch of kids with him. And everybody knows about Logan Echolls: former boyfriend of Lilly Kane, son of the philandering Aaron Echolls, who had bled out at a Christmas party a few years ago, and Lynn Echolls who has been making a comeback in age-inappropriate leather catsuits since then. That's already more trouble than she needs in her life.
He sighs, put-upon and noisy so it sounds almost staticky in her ear. "Is this a Pan pride thing?"
"No," she says, overly patient and idiot-proof. "It's a non-insanity thing, because you're Logan Echolls and you're a disaster years in the making. There's no PI in 'schmuck.'"
"Yeah, well there's a PI in paid. I'll double whatever your rate is. We rich disasters are accustomed to a certain standard, and you're supposed to be the best sophomore PI at Hearst."
She thinks of a new camera lens, of the special dog food the vet recommended they buy Backup. She purses her lips and walks into hell. "Double plus a bonus," she tells him, even though the job should be simple and all he'll really be paying for is satisfaction about his status. "And we can meet at Doughboys tomorrow at three."
"The doughnut place?"
"Yeah. And you're buying."
When Veronica had been growing up in Oakland, her mother had been a room parent. She had chaperoned field trips and decorated the hallways at Christmas. Once Veronica's teacher had admonished Lianne for giving one child an extra cupcake during a class birthday.
"When they look up at you with those big eyes, what can you do?" Lianne had laughed. "I just want them to like me."
Veronica's classmates did like her. "You're so lucky," Oliver had whispered to Veronica as Lianne made balloon animals at the class picnic. "Your mom's awesome." Veronica grinned because her mom was. And if she ever went to the grown-up cabinet at night and started laughing too much, it was okay because Daddy didn't seem worried.
When Veronica was nine, Lianne went to move her mother into an assisted living facility near Neptune, and when she came home she quickly convinced Keith that it would make a lot of sense to move their family there. It would be easier to see Grandma Reynolds if they lived closer. There were good schools for Veronica. There was an open deputy position that came with a salary slightly higher than the one he was making with the Oakland PD. Lianne had grown up there; she knew the town and liked it, and she had even met up with some old friends during her visit.
They moved over the summer to a little house at the edge of town, not the one Lianne had wanted but fine for their family. Veronica went to a soccer camp at the local park. In the fall, Lianne was a room parent again. And if she was going to the grown up cabinet more and more and sometimes came into Veronica's room late at night and, smelling like outside, gave her a kiss, Veronica's friends still liked her and Daddy still wasn't worried so it was still okay.
The next year was a sheriff's election year and when Keith's boss announced that he was retiring, bright-eyed Lianne reminded Keith of what a good job he would do in the position. She eagerly became his campaign manager, making buttons, hosting fundraisers, and choosing campaign colors (green for the city of Neptune and tan for the sheriff's department uniforms).
Veronica had been excited at first, helping hand out flyers and getting her picture taken. It had seemed like Keith was easily going to win. But after a few months something changed. Daddy started saying, "Lianne, can you not?" in an angry voice when Mommy would go over to the grown up cabinet, and they would yell at each other after Veronica went to bed. One night she woke up and heard Daddy saying, "I wanted to win this because I deserved it, Lianne, not because you solicited an endorsement from Jake Kane." Veronica hadn't known what all the words meant, but the way Daddy said "solicited" made something feel terrible in her stomach, and the name "Jake Kane" made her want to cry.
Keith lost the election. One of the other deputies, Don Lamb, who always told Veronica to "get lost kid" when she came looking for her dad at the station, won instead. Lianne wasn't a room parent anymore, because Veronica was too old and because Lianne no longer seemed interested in volunteering on field day or handing out corn on the cob at barbecues.
Keith and Lianne fought for four years before they sat Veronica down and told her they were getting a divorce. She had nodded, eyes downcast, arms clutching a pillow. She couldn't believe it had taken them so long.
Lianne wanted full custody. It was clear to Veronica the second she understood what that meant that it wasn't what her dad was expecting. And he fought hard against it, but somehow things wouldn't seem to go his way. Lianne made a lot of calls to her friend from high school Jake Kane, and even brought Veronica over to his house for dinner once. (It had been pretty boring because even though her mom had promised that Jake had kids, and she could see pictures of them on the wall, they were away with Jake's wife on vacation in Europe.) Keith had a clean record at work, but Don Lamb sat and smirked in the courtroom as he described the times that there have been mistakes. In the end, Veronica went home with her mother. She could see Keith at his new apartment two weekends a month.
Lianne seemed happy for a while. She bought pretty new dresses and went to Veronica's soccer games and they made waffles together on Sundays. But after a while, something went wrong. She forgot to pick Veronica up after soccer, and started making angry late night phone calls to Jake Kane. She moved the liquor bottles to the cabinet beside the stove and the door never seemed to close all the way.
Because of where their house was, Veronica had been districted for Pan High. Lianne had protested, insisting that they apply for her to be transferred to Neptune, but for Veronica school was a sanctuary. She heard about what people got up to at Neptune, and Pan was just fine for her. They might not have the enormous new performing center that Morgan Enterprises had just donated to Neptune High, but people were nice. Veronica's friends knew that her parents had been through a messy divorce and they invited her for sleepovers and to do homework after school. Everyone at Pan had problems and they knew not to push.
Keith was her other sanctuary. He had left his position at the sheriff's department and started his own PI office. It was obvious that it hurt him to leave the righteousness of the system, but he was unable to work beside the man who had done his best to have Veronica taken away from him. When Veronica was fifteen, she began helping out at Keith's office. Most days, Lianne, deeper and deeper into the bottle, didn't notice. Sometimes she would cry outside Veronica's door at night, asking where she had gone wrong.
When Veronica was sixteen, she came for a weekend with her father and refused to go home.
"Veronica. You understand how this works," Keith had said, gentle and sad. Veronica took a thick file out of her overnight bag and he discovered where his spare cameras and bugs had been going every time Veronica told him not to worry about it.
They went back to court with the evidence, and either it was impossible to ignore Veronica's carefully curated record of Lianne's drinking and jags of desperate, bleary happiness followed by depression, or Jake Kane was still too caught up in grieving his murdered daughter to intervene. Veronica went home with Keith, and Lianne left town. Veronica hadn't seen her mother in four years, not through college acceptances or her high school graduation, and she didn't want to. She didn't want to remember the nights of dragging her mother to bed, or the ones where she didn't come home at all. She had chosen Hearst because of a generous merit scholarship and because it was near her father, but she didn't want to be reminded of that kind of Neptune.
"You know," Echolls says, smartass helpful even through the noise of the doughnut shop, "In the movies, detectives talk more about getaway sticks and less about cinnamon sticks."
Veronica finishes the last of hers and licks cinnamon sugar off her fingers as she contemplates which pastry to have next. "Then they need to get a clue." She selects a chocolate doughnut and pauses before taking a bite. "Tell me about your girlfriend."
"Her name is Annaliese van der Tropf."
Veronica snorts. "Is she a poodle or a high class show girl?"
"She's an international student from Holland. And I don't know about high class, but I have found Dutch girls to be very…" she can imagine the smirk on his face before it appears in reality. "Open."
"In your mind, that country is just a giant red light district to you, isn't it?"
"No, in my mind it's an unfortunately too limited red light district."
Veronica finishes her doughnut. "You'd better tell me more about Annaliese before my disgust kicks in and I leave you to deal with your relationship on your own."
Echolls leans back in his chair, kicking one leg forward. "What else do you want to know?"
"Why you think she's cheating, for one thing."
"We've been together four months, and now suddenly she has random meetings, skips out early on parties, gets texts and turns away to text back." He shrugs, shoulders too hunched to be casual.
"I guess we can check off odd behaviors and new friends on the cheating watch list," Veronica says, refusing to feel bad as the sadness wreathes him again. "And get me a copy of her schedule if you can manage it."
"I'll email you a copy." She writes her email on the back of a flyer advertising the annual Doughboys doughnut eating contest and hands it over to him. He looks at it and then back up at her. "Hey, is there any reason I should know your name?"
Everyone knows that Logan Echolls dated Lilly Kane before she was murdered and was best friends with Duncan Kane before he was shipped off to some boarding school afterward. (There were tabloid pictures for months of Logan looking destroyed at the graveside and hungover behind sunglasses and stirring up trouble in the back alleys of Neptune.) It's not inconceivable that he heard her name or Lianne's while he was eating caviar on Abraham Lincoln's couch or whatever people did at the Kane house. They've been living on the peripheries of each other's lives for years now. "Well, I did win my fifth grade spelling bee. Catapulted right to fame after that one." She picks up her bag. "Text me if you think of anything else."
"Well, the good news," Veronica tells Logan a few days later, "is that Annaliese isn't cheating on you as far as I can tell."
For once she respects him because he stays braced for more. "And?"
She looks up at him. "Well, the bad news is that I'm pretty sure she's a cokehead."
"Don't fuck around," he snaps, voice too loud. She calmly takes a bite of the soft pretzel he had handed her when she arrived at the boardwalk.
"You hired me to find out if someone else was fucking around. And she isn't in the way that you think. But look." She opens her bag and brings out the pictures she took the night before: Annaliese looking flirtatious against the side of a blue concrete building, leaning in to take something small and blurry from a strange man with a wide jaw.
"This doesn't prove anything." Echolls crumples up the picture like it symbolizes something. "I'm not paying you for shots of sweet little nothings"
"No, you're paying me to find out the truth, and this is it." She shows him another, wider shot that includes the tacky shamrock-accented sign. Even with the burned out letters, it's easily readable. "This is the River Stix. I'm sure you get your drugs hand delivered from a dealer in a gold plated limo, but maybe you've heard that it's the go-to spot for those without minions." She puts the photo away. "You can send me a check. Look up the address of my dad's office when you're finding the right snacks to serve at an intervention."
He runs a hand through his hair, blowing out a breath. "Are you going to report it?"
Veronica shrugs. She half considers not telling him in case the whole thing is some kind of confusing setup but she's confident in her assessment of Logan Echolls as a jackass rich kid with a problem girlfriend rather than a Fitzpatrick flunky. "I won't report Annaliese, but I'm going back to the River Stix to try and get some better shots of the trade going on there, so you might want to plan that intervention for tonight."
"Are you insane?" This time someone turns at Echolls's raised voice, a man with a camera trying to take a video of his daughter playing one of the arcade games. Echolls grasps her elbow and pulls her away from the main boardwalk area to where it is quieter. "You just finished telling me that it's a wild and crazy drug haven, and you're going to go back there?"
"The sheriff here hasn't done anything to change that, and he kind of needs to be walked through these things. My dad's out of town for the week and I'm minding the shop, so no time like the present." She fakes a couple of punches and blows on her knuckles. "They call me the Crimebuster for a reason."
"Mars, I've known you for ten minutes and I can guarantee that no one calls you that," Logan says. Irritatingly, he's right. Her friends know she works with her dad, but they don't really get into the specifics. Echolls sighs, tugging on his sleeves a little and looking uncomfortable. "At least take me with you."
She hisses in a breath through her teeth. "Sorry, amateur detective day is next week. But we do have a Junior Investigator badge for you on your way out." She turns away, starting toward her car.
"Come on," he calls after her. "I can help." She waves a hand back over her shoulder and keeps walking.
"No," she says over the phone later that night, her tone the same firm one she'd been taught to use when training Backup. "You are not invited."
"But I'm already in the area," he says. Even though she's half expecting it, when there's a tap on her window she closes her eyes and gulps in a quick breath. Opening her eyes, she hits the locks and he drops himself into the passenger seat.
He's in a dark t-shirt with a little dip of a V-neck, and dark jeans that probable cost more than her car. His face has just a glint of scruff. The attractiveness is irritating. "Oh look, a stalker to call my very own!" she says to cover it up, thankful when her phone buzzes. It's Amy. We're all for post-midterm drinks. Come and join us? She smiles and texts back Take me out tomorrow night for ice cream instead, laughing when the answer comes back: We're but poor college students. We cannot afford such excess. :) (That's probably from Samantha, who's an English major with a love for smiley faces.)
"Boyfriend?" Echolls asks, not breaking his gaze from the façade of the Stix. "Maybe checking to make sure that you're not on a suicide mission in front of a drug den?"
Veronica hasn't had a boyfriend since she and Drew broke up at the beginning of senior year of high school, but she doesn't say anything about that. "Just the gang."
"What, they're waiting for you in the mystery machine?"
"That'd be you, Scrappy." There's a silence that doesn't feel like silence, surrounded as they are by the drunken shouts from down the street. "How about that girlfriend of yours? Headed for the Naomi Campbell Center for the Rich and Addicted as we speak?"
He shrugs. "Who knows? As of three hours ago, she is not my problem."
Veronica tries to evaluate his face but it's too dark. She shrugs and says flatly, "Your boyfriendly warmth is overwhelming." Her phone buzzes again and she laughs at the picture Amy sent of Chris and Robin in the middle of another of their "So You Definitely Can't Dance" competitions, and slides her phone away. "Okay, nothing's happening out here tonight." Echolls barely relaxes before she's saying, "So I'm going to go in and take a look around. Stay here and you might get a Scooby Snack."
"How is that even going to help?" he groans. "Even if you have a pinhole camera in a fake flower, I don't see a buttonhole."
"I'll think of something. You just stay in the car."
He catches her wrist as she opens the door. "Look, I'm sure you've heard what happened with my first girlfriend, and she didn't even go looking for trouble. Wherever your dad is, he'd probably be sleeping easier knowing that you're not getting involved with whatever is in there."
Veronica thinks of her father, and for a moment considers it. But then she remembers the years she spent with Lianne, discovering that her mother cared more about her drug of choice than she did about Veronica. She doesn't want that to happen to another kid. "It's just some quick surveillance. I'll be fine. Just wait out here."
"At least let me listen in." He looks like he might be willing to dive for her pocket for her phone, so she hands it to him and lets him dial his own number before putting it on speakerphone. She takes it back, puts it away again, and jogs across the street.
The inside of the River Stix is roughly what she expected, and the rough is literal regarding both the décor and the customers. She chooses what seems to be the least offensive stool and swings herself onto it. "Can I have a margarita?" she says, fake tears shaking her voice. The bartender looks stony and unimpressed. She makes her voice small. "Or maybe just some tequila." As he goes to pour it for her, she says to his back, "Thank you. You're the only person who's been nice to me all night." He silently sets the shot on the bar. "I'm sure you're wondering what a nice girl like me is doing in a place like this. Not that it isn't nice," she adds hastily. The bartender's face doesn't change. "But I know I'm not the usual crowd. I just couldn't be around my boyfriend anymore." She lifts the glass to her mouth, but then puts it down again. "It's not like I wanted to get married right now. I just wanted to talk about it. After four years together, the promise rings," she lowers her eyes and her voice, "my virginity…You'd think that would mean something!"
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees some men she recognizes from the odd items in the local newspaper over the years as Fitzpatricks. They're standing in plain sight with a couple of bags of coke. They're not even trying to hide it. As much as Veronica hates Jake Kane (and she fucking hates Jake Kane, who golfed with the judge who presided over her parents' first custody hearing) she wishes that her dad had taken his endorsement the first time around. She knows that Keith Mars as sheriff would have changed all of this.
Veronica pretends to burst into tears. "That dartboard!" She points a shaking finger to a spot beside the laughing men. "It's exactly like the one Tommy wanted for his birthday. Can I take a picture? Just to remember him?" Stone man looks down at her but doesn't say anything, so she hefts her camera and just manages to get off a picture before an arm swings around her waist.
"I'm not sure what's prettier," an alcoholic voice says in her ear. "That fancy camera, or the hands holding it."
She forces her back to relax. "Well, aren't you sweet?" she says, her giggle just a little too high. She hopes he doesn't notice. "But these pretty hands have to get on home."
"Oh, darling." He spins her around on the stool and gives her a fake pout. "You just got here. Don't you want to spend some more time with old Liam?"
She tries shifting around a little. "I sure do! But you know, places to go, cats to feed."
"Cats!" Liam's laugh is craggy and discomfiting. She wishes she had found a place to tuck the tazer her dad had given her for dangerous cases. She wishes she had listened to Logan and not let her past blind her into coming here at all. "I don't think I've ever been stood up for a cat before. I'm not sure I like it. In fact," he leans in toward her face. "I think I'd rather you stayed right here."
"Nancy!" For one second, Veronica thinks there's some other girl in the bar, but then she recognizes Logan's voice. He blunders over, shoving Liam a little as he rests his hands on her shoulders. "You were right and I was wrong. After all this time, you do deserve a ring." He kneels clumsily. Veronica couldn't be more shocked if it were all real. "Nancy Alexandra Drew, I've loved you since high school. Will you marry me?"
Liam's grip is by this point as slack as his jaw. Veronica slides off the stool and grips Logan's hands. "Of course! Angel eyes, I've been waiting for this day forever."
When she kisses him, it's just to sell it. But why he kisses her back, tender and tugging, like it's real, she doesn't know. She steps on his foot lightly after a minute, and pulls away. She puts a twenty on the bar and takes Logan's hand. "I've got a whole scrapbook of ideas at home so we can get started!"
Outside, the night air seems cooler than it did as she was coming in. She feels shaky. Logan keeps an arm around her. He looks down at her and she's glad her dad isn't here.
"Maybe hold off on the preaching," she says as he opens his mouth, her hand on her car door. "It was a stupid thing to do, but I just want to go home and go to bed."
He sighs, looks up at the moon, and then takes a few backwards steps toward his own car. "Sleep well, I guess," he says with a little salute.
It takes her a minute to start the car. Her fingers haven't quite stopped trembling. He sits in the parking lot until she leaves.
Her phone rings at three am. "No," she says as she answers it, trying to sound commanding despite her tired voice. "Favor time is over. It's sleeping time now."
"Maybe for some of us, but I couldn't sleep."
"Don't you have a butler who can read you a bedtime story?"
"National butler vacation day, so I thought you could do it. I'm outside your door."
He actually has his back to the door, his arms against the balcony railing as she stumbles sleepily out. "This stalking thing isn't working for me, you know."
"Yeah, not so much for me either," he says with a soft half humor. She comes to lean beside him. "So I was thinking maybe it could be more permanent. Knowing you're running around out there like that…I'm too young and good looking for that ulcer. So I thought maybe I could come along next time. I think I was promised Scooby Snacks anyway. I'm owed."
A week ago, Logan Echolls was a name from a headline, a magazine caption. Three days ago she wanted nothing to do with him. Now he's the only person besides her father to see this side of her. She wouldn't trade her friends for the world- her high school friends who have so much kindness, her college friends who make her laugh- but there is a part of her that will always be more reckless than them. She might need someone in her life who can handle that and so far Logan Echolls is the only candidate.
There's something gentle about his hands, about his face, as she looks over at him. "I guess you can be Ned Nickerson," she says. "But you're printing up your own business cards." She holds out her hand, feeling awkward about it as soon as she does.
He takes it anyway, shaking for a moment before ambling toward the stairs. Nearly there, he turns back toward her. "Oh, and by the way? I'm not Ned anything. I'm Frank fucking Hardy, and don't forget it, babe."
As Veronica goes inside and locks the door, she tries not think any clichés of this being the beginning of a beautiful friendship. She suspects that won't be the right way to describe it anyway.
This is probably going to sound cold and arrogant when I am only one of those things, but I'll say it anyway: I'm not planning a sequel to this. I don't want to add chapters. I'm not thinking of expanding. Please don't ask. I wrote this for the August prompts over at the fabulous VM fic recs tumblr. Title is from the Bon Jovi song "The More Things Change." Applications of canon and reality changed to suit my whims.