Mothers in Neptune. I'm sure there are good ones out there; statistics, if not anecdotal evidence, suggest that there have to be. But the ones I've seen? Don't quite measure up to the promises they tell you when you're a kid.
Veronica looked up from her desk as the door to the Mars Investigations office opened. Dick Casablancas wasn't exactly the last person she expected to see, but he was close.
She didn't say anything as he sat down on the couch; what was there to say? "I'm sorry your brother raped me, killed a bus full of kids and jumped off the roof of the Neptune Grand" didn't really seem appropriate somehow.
"I need your help," he said slowly, not looking up.
Veronica stood, but didn't go to him, hovering instead around the edge of the desk. "What do you need?"
"I want you to find my mom," he said, and Veronica had heard that one before. "Beav's ... Cassidy's funeral is tomorrow, and they won't let me move his body unless one of our parents signs for it."
Veronica swallowed. Dick wasn't exactly her favourite person, but she didn't think he deserved this. "She's not around?"
Dick shook his head. "She's in Sacramento. Just got back from Europe."
If Dick was trying to hide the pain in his voice, he wasn't doing a very good job. Veronica didn't point it out.
"Okay," she said. "I'll find her. Do you have an address?"
1147 Schwarzenegger Boulevard. Fitting, for the wife of the Governor's business manager. Unfortunately, the property was guarded by cameras and security guards who didn't seem to believe or care that I was a friend of her son's. So I resorted to more conventional means of getting Dick's mom's attention.
Veronica slid out of the car as she spotted the former Mrs Casablancas enter the café. Afternoon pilates followed by an overpriced all-organic soy decaf chai latte. The lives of the rich and powerful.
"Betina?" Veronica asked. The woman looked up as Veronica slid into the seat across from her. "Hi, I'm Veronica. I'm a friend of Dick's."
Betina smiled softly. "Oh, poor boy. How is he?"
"Not well. His brother's funeral is tomorrow, and he needs you to sign some papers."
Betina's smile faded, and she looked confused for a moment. "Oh, of course it's tomorrow. Does he need me to be there?"
"I think he'd appreciate it, yes."
Betina smiled again. "Of course I'll be there. You tell Dick I'll be on the first flight down. He knows that if he ever needs anything, all he has to do is ask."
What Dick really needed, Veronica thought bitterly, was to not have to hire a private detective to remind his mother about her son's funeral. She bit her lip.
"I'll tell him."
Veronica watched as Dick stood carefully two feet away from his mother. He hadn't thanked Veronica for finding her, and Veronica had neither expected nor needed him to. He had cried at the funeral, and she wasn't sure whether she had expected that.
It was a small service. Mac hadn't shown; not many people had.
Veronica hadn't watched as they lowered the casket.
"Lilies? I didn't order these."
"I did," Jake said, coming up behind his wife. He nodded at the men holding the flowers. "Take them inside."
"You didn't tell me you'd ordered lilies," Celeste said.
"You didn't tell me not to."
"It's tacky, Jake."
"They were Lilly's favourite."
"Of course they were." Celeste laughed, and Veronica hadn't thought it was possible to laugh at your own daughter's funeral. "But you don't have to give in to the whims of a dead girl, Jake."
Jake Kane turned away from his wife, and so did Veronica. She almost bumped into Duncan, who was staring ahead of him like he hadn't even seen her.
"Duncan," Veronica said quietly, and she had no idea what else to say. He looked at her, than, and Veronica took his hand almost before she realised what she was doing. He didn't pull away, and she breathed a sigh of relief as they walked into the church together.
"Lilly would have hated this," he said when the service was over, and Veronica nodded. If Lilly had had her way, there would have been no quiet church service. If Lilly had had her way, she wouldn't be dead.
"Duncan, come on. We've got to get home," Celeste said, and stopped when she saw Veronica. Veronica hurriedly dropped Duncan's hand. He didn't seem to notice.
Celeste looked Veronica up and down, a familiar look of distaste crossing her features. "Veronica," she said coldly. "Do you really think that dress is appropriate to wear to a funeral?"
Veronica blushed as she backed away. She didn't tell Celeste that the dress had been Lilly's, one she gave to Veronica. It was the one thing about the funeral Lilly actually would have liked.
That, and the lilies.
"Honey, you know I'm here for you any time you need me."
Betina's voice cut through her consciousness, and Veronica blinked. She wasn't at Lilly's funeral. She wasn't even sure if she was mourning.
She definitely didn't know why she was here.
"Now, I'm flying back up to Sacramento tonight, but you know I'm always just a phone call away."
Dick turned as his mother left, and Veronica offered the closest thing to a smile she thought was appropriate. Dick frowned and walked the other way.
"I guess he doesn't want to talk to me," Logan said as he came up behind Veronica, and she turned to face him. He took her hand, and Veronica let him, leading him away from the service.
He was dressed in black, wearing a suit she recognised. He had worn it to another funeral more than a year ago.
Veronica got out of her car and walked towards the cemetery. She could already see Logan, his head bowed, hands in his pockets. He straightened up when he saw her.
They walked in silence to his mother's grave. Lip service, really; they still hadn't found her body.
The headstone should have been tasteful and elegant. But it was just a little too big, a little too ornate. His father's doing, Logan had said.
"Beloved wife and mother. A star sent to heaven." Logan laughed, low and painful. "At least one of those is true."
Veronica looked at him. "Is Trina coming?" she asked.
Logan shook his head. "She's already on her way to God knows where. Ready to film her latest C movie."
Veronica didn't ask about Aaron. Even if Logan had wanted him there, it was doubtful he'd have come. He had already held his funeral.
"Do you think this is stupid?" Logan asked her finally, in a voice so low Veronica almost didn't hear.
She shook her head. "No."
"I just ..." Logan wasn't looking at her; he hadn't taken his eyes off his mother's grave. "I never got a chance to say goodbye to her, you know?"
When Veronica didn't say anything, he laughed again. "You can't mourn the living."
Veronica reached out and took his hand, an echo of the gesture she had performed for Duncan more than a year before. Logan didn't look at her, but he squeezed her hand slightly, and he didn't break.
"So, I'll come by your place later? Maybe we can have coffee or something."
Veronica nodded, and withdrew her hand slowly. "Sure. I'd like that."
Funerals. Anyone who says they're for the dead is either lying or seriously misguided. We create them for ourselves. It's our way of dealing with the grief. When the funeral is over, the mourning has passed, and we can move on.
I never got to bury my mother.
Veronica heard the door to the apartment open from her room, and she walked out, expecting to see Logan.
Or anyone but Lamb.
"Is your father here?" he asked, and Veronica shook her head.
"No. Why are you?"
"I need your help." His voice was anything but apologetic, and Veronica would have laughed if it weren't for the expression on his face.
"Help with what?"
Lamb strode into the apartment like he had been there a hundred times before, shutting the door behind him. "There's a guy wanted for murder in Texas. Sources tell me he's taken up in Vegas. I want to find him."
"So why do you need my help? Why don't you just go after him yourself?"
"It's out of my jurisdiction. Even if I find him, there's nothing I can do."
Veronica frowned. "If it's out of your jurisdiction, why do you even care? Let the cops in Nevada hunt him down."
Lamb turned to her, and his posture - confident, defensive, hands rooted to the gun belt on his hips - almost made up for the look on his face. "He's my father."
"And you want to bring him down?"
Lamb turned away. "Look, I figure we can track him down, call your father, he can bring him in. So do you want to help me or not?"
Numbly, not quite sure why she was agreeing, Veronica nodded. "Sure. Fine. "I'll help you."
Tracking down wayward parents. You'd think I'd be a natural at this. Dad thinks I don't know that he went looking for mom after the second time she split. I don't know if he ever found her. I don't know what he would have done if he did.
I did. She was in New Mexico the last time I saw her. I didn't announce my presence. I didn't run up to tell her that I forgave her, or that I didn't. I just left.
I must have learned that from her.
"Did I just see the Sheriff leaving here?"
Veronica looked up as Logan walked in, and forced herself to smile. "Yeah. It was nothing. He just wanted to remind me to come in for questioning. Like that's something I really want to do."
Logan smiled at her, and Veronica relaxed a little. "Okay, well, did you want to ..."
"Yeah." Veronica nodded. "Let's go."
"You wanted to see me?"
Lamb smiled tightly as Veronica walked into his office. "I have tickets to Las Vegas for this afternoon."
"Yes, we're flying. Unless you want to sit in a car for six hours while we drive there."
She really didn't. "Fine. What time's the flight?"
"Five thirty-five. You want me to pick you up at home?"
Veronica shook her head. "Do you know where the Mackenzies live?"
She nodded. "Pick me up there."
He said he didn't want my dad involved in this before he had to be. I can see why he doesn't want dad's help, but I don't agree. I hate lying to him. But it's better than the alternative.
Veronica smiled at her dad as she got home. "I'm going to stay at Mac's for a few days," she told him, carefully maintaining eye contact. "Her parents are going out of town, and I don't think she wants to be alone."
Keith nodded, and Veronica went to her room, quickly packing a bag. She kissed her dad goodbye as she left.
It was a short drive to Mac's, and Veronica parked her car at the curb. She had only been half lying; Mac's parents were going out of town, but Mac was going with them, and she hadn't asked any questions when Veronica had told her about her cover story. Veronica almost wished she had; it would have been nice to hear her friend string more than a few words together, even if it meant having to explain her impromptu trip to Vegas with Neptune's not quite beloved Sheriff.
Lamb honked impatiently as he rolled up behind her, and Veronica got into the car wordlessly.
Flight 2617. An hour and fifteen minutes from San Diego to Las Vegas. An hour and fifteen minutes for me to work out why I'm even here.
"Give me your taser."
"What?" Veronica turned to look at Lamb, who rolled his eyes.
"Your taser. You know, that weapon that you don't think I know you carry? Hand it over."
Veronica pulled the taser out of her bag, and Lamb shook his head. At the security checkpoint, he placed it carefully alongside his gun, and flashed his badge as they were waved through. Veronica smiled. Maybe he could be good for something, after all.
"Can I have it back?" she asked, as they waited for their flight to be called. Lamb shook his head.
"When we get to Vegas," he said, and smirked. "If you're a good girl."
Veronica didn't bother to answer him.
He took up the arm rest once they were on the plane, and looked at Veronica as if daring her to complain. She shook her head and pulled a magazine from her bag.
Lamb handed her taser back after they landed, which almost surprised Veronica. They took a shuttle to the Riviera, and Veronica looked at him as they checked in.
"What, only one room?
Lamb smirked at her. "I wanted to keep an eye on you," was all he said.
They got in the elevator, and Veronica was careful to stay as far away from Lamb as she could in the confined space. When they got to the room, she heaved a sigh of relief at the two beds inside.
"I'm going to take a shower," she said, and Lamb nodded.
"I'll meet you downstairs."
The water was warm, almost washing away the guilt and indecision of the past few hours. When Veronica got out, she wrapped herself in a towel, taking her time as she dressed in something she hoped was suitably Vegas-y.
It didn't take her long to find Lamb when she got downstairs. He looked at her appraisingly, seeming to deliberately refrain from asking her how she got into the casino. It wasn't like he had never busted her for possession of fake IDs before.
Veronica laughed as Lamb lost his hand at the table, and he looked up at her, a challenge in his eyes.
"What, you think you can do better?"
Veronica smiled as she sat down, and Lamb slid half his chips over to her. It didn't take long for Lamb to lose his, or for Veronica to double hers.
"Why, Deputy," she drawled. "I do believe I'm winning."
Lamb scowled as he ordered them drinks, and Veronica didn't think that it would be a good idea to remind him that she was under twenty-one. She tipped the waitress with one of her chips as the drinks arrived, and looked up in shock.
Veronica sat, open mouthed, staring at Lianne. She almost didn't notice when Lamb left the table.
"What are you doing here?"
Lianne shrugged. "I'm working."
"I can see that. But ..." Veronica bit her lip before she asked her mother why she wasn't still in New Mexico. She wasn't supposed to know that. "How long have you been here?"
"About a month. I came up with ..." Lianne paused. "Veronica, I'm getting married."
Of all the things Veronica had ever expected to hear her mother say, that was definitely not one of them. "Married?"
Veronica stared at her mother. "Tomorrow?"
"I know this is sudden, sweetie, but he's a good man. I think you'd like him."
Veronica thought that there wasn't much chance of that, but she didn't say that to Lianne. She couldn't seem to say anything.
"Oh, Veronica, I'm so glad you're here. I was afraid to call you, and ... it would really mean so much to me if you'd be there tomorrow."
Tomorrow. Her mother's wedding. This was way too much for Veronica to process.
But her mother was still looking at her, and as much as she wanted to, Veronica couldn't find the words to say no.
"Okay," she said finally. "I'll ... yeah, I'll be there."
When Veronica woke, it took her the requisite three seconds to register why she was in an unfamiliar bed. She rolled over as she finally remembered - Vegas. Lamb. Her mother - and blinked at Lamb, who was standing in front of her.
In a towel.
"Get a good look?" he asked her, and Veronica looked away. She got up, feeling distinctly overdressed in her pyjama pants and tank top.
"I'm going to take a shower," she said, hurrying into the bathroom before Lamb could drop the towel.
She came back out again in her pyjamas just as Lamb was pulling on his shirt.
"My mother's getting married," she said, still not quite believing the words that came out of her mouth.
Lamb looked at her. His gaze travelled over her body, and Veronica was suddenly glad that she was dressed in more than a towel.
Lamb raised an eyebrow.
"I told her I'd be there."
Lamb turned around, and Veronica supposed that that was her turn to get dressed. As much as she really didn't want to be naked in the same room as Don Lamb, it seemed that her only other option was to downstairs in her pyjamas, which was only slightly less appealing. She dressed quickly, keeping an eye on Lamb to make sure he didn't turn around.
When she had finished, she coughed, and Lamb turned to face her. He seemed thoughtful for a minute, and then nodded.
"Okay. You go with your mother, and I'll see what I can find out in the meantime."
Veronica nodded her agreement. "I'll call you when I'm done."
They went down in the elevator together, and Lamb smirked as Veronica was pressed up against him by a group of families. Crowd or not, Veronica silently vowed that she'd taser him if he moved his hand any further down.
He smiled as they went their separate ways in the lobby, and Veronica called her mother.
An hour later, she was standing in a dress shop as Lianne tried on her third gown of the day.
"What do you think?"
Veronica looked at her mother as she emerged from the dressing room, and smiled. "I think it's perfect."
"Really?" Lianne studied her reflection in the mirror. "You don't think it's too white?"
"It's your wedding dress," Veronica reminded her. "Besides, it's ivory."
Lianne still looked unconvinced, and Veronica reached out and took her hand. "You look beautiful. Trust me. It's the one."
Lianne smiled at her. "Oh, I hope so. This is ..." She paused as she went back into the dressing room. "I'm just really nervous. I shouldn't be, you know? I mean, I've done this before."
"I'm just really glad you're here, Veronica. It means a lot to me."
Lianne smiled as she came back out holding the dress, and Veronica nodded.
"I've been sober," Lianne said, after she had paid for the dress. "Two months and eight days."
Veronica looked up at her mother with something a little like shock.
"I just ... I wanted you to know that. That I've changed."
Veronica nodded. "Come on. We should get to the chapel."
"Okay. But wait, let me change first."
They had just got to the chapel when Veronica's phone rang, and she answered it with an apologetic smile.
"Where are you?" Lamb.
"Just got to the chapel," she told him.
"Across from the hotel?"
Veronica nodded, and then realised that Lamb couldn't see her. "Yes."
"I'll be there in a minute."
Veronica frowned as she hung up. A few minutes later, Lianne got up from her seat.
"Don!" she called, running over to embrace him, and Veronica cringed. "I didn't realise you two were -"
"We're not -" Veronica began, but Lamb interrupted her.
"Lianne," he said. "It's been a long time."
Just then, they were interrupted by a man who came up to touch Lianne just above the elbow. From the way he looked at her, Veronica guessed he was the groom-to-be.
"John," Lianne said. "This is my daughter, Veronica. Veronica, this is John."
He looked ... normal. Veronica didn't know whether or not that surprised her. But more than that, her mother looked happy, and Veronica tried to be happy for her.
"They're ready for us."
"Need a date?" Lamb asked, as John led her mother out of the waiting room. Veronica rolled her eyes, but she smiled.
"So what did you find out?" Veronica asked Lamb outside the chapel. The service had been short, and Lianne and her new husband had rushed off afterwards, leaving Veronica and Lamb alone.
Lamb frowned. "I got the address. He's staying on the edge of town. I rented a car."
Veronica nodded. "Let's go."
She followed Lamb to the car, and they sat in silence on the short drive over. Eventually, they pulled to a stop outside a small, weather-beaten house.
"Is this it?" she asked.
Lamb nodded, his jaw clenched tightly.
Veronica got the message that he didn't want to talk, and fell silent, watching with Lamb as he stared at the house. There were a million things that she wanted to say, but she didn't think he'd want to hear any of them. So they waited.
It was almost dark when they saw another car pull up.
"Is that him?" she asked, as a man got out of the car and walked up to the house.
"It doesn't look like he's going anywhere," she said, after they had waited a few more minutes. "I'll call my dad."
Lamb started the ignition.
Veronica pulled out her phone and dialed the familiar number, smiling grimly when her father picked up.
"Dad," she said. "Listen, don't be mad, but I'm not at Mac's."
Veronica frowned. "What do you mean, you figured?"
Beside her, Lamb smiled.
"I called there today when your phone was switched off." Veronica could almost hear his shrug. "It was just a hunch. So where are you?"
She took a deep breath. "I'm in Vegas. With Lamb."
There was a pause at the other end of the line. "If you're calling to say you got married, I'm seriously considering disowning you."
Veronica almost laughed. "To Lamb? Is that really what you think of me?"
"Some days, Veronica, I don't know what to think."
She frowned. "Well, you can rest easy. We're on a case. Guy wanted for murder in Texas. Think you want to come pick him up?"
"All right. What's the address?"
"Well?" Lamb asked as she hung up.
"Well, my dad was happy to hear he hasn't suddenly gained a son-in-law."
"And he said he'll be on the next flight over."
"Which means we'll be on the next flight back."
Lamb pulled in at the rental place, and Veronica looked at him. "Who did he kill?"
There was a long pause, and she thought he wasn't going to answer.
"My mother," he said finally.
Veronica knocked on the door, not sure if Lamb was going to answer. When he did, his eyes were bloodshot, and she wondered whether he'd been crying or drinking.
As he stepped aside to let her in, she saw the bottle on the table, and thought that maybe it had been both.
Lamb didn't ask her why she was there, like Veronica had been expecting. Instead, he reached for a glass from the kitchen and sat it next to him on the table, pouring a generous amount of amber liquid. Veronica took it silently as he handed it to her, and bit back a complaint as the whiskey burned its way down her throat.
"My dad hauled him in," she said as Lamb poured himself another drink. She refrained from saying "your father"; Lamb hadn't referred to him like that since he had told her who they were going after, and she didn't think he liked to be reminded. "He's flying back tomorrow."
Lamb nodded, and she finished her own drink. This time it burned slightly less.
He poured her another.
"The funeral was today," he said, sitting down on the couch. After a minute's hesitation, Veronica joined him.
"You didn't go?"
He shook his head. "I'm holding my own."
Veronica nodded. After everything, she couldn't say it didn't make perfect sense to her.
"My family," he said, when Veronica was on her third glass.
She shrugged. "I've seen worse."
He looked at her then, and she couldn't hold his gaze. "Okay," she admitted. "Maybe not a lot worse."
"Was it awkward?" Lamb asked. He didn't need to clarify what he was talking about.
"Oh yeah," Veronica said, and drained her glass. She should have stopped him when he reached to fill it up again, but she knew that she wasn't drinking for herself.
"Were you close to your mother?" she asked softly.
Lamb shrugged. "Not since I moved out here."
Veronica didn't ask him if he regretted it. It was a stupid question.
"Do you miss yours?"
She considered the question. "Sometimes," she admitted. "I used to, the first time she left. The second time ..." She shrugged. "I got used to it."
"And I have my dad." She felt guilty even as she said it, but Lamb didn't seem to mind.
"He's a good father."
Veronica looked at him. She couldn't remember the last time Lamb had said anything nice about her dad. "He is."
She laughed. "He was better than you."
"That not what the voters say," Lamb said, and smiled. "Besides, he just couldn't pull off the look."
"You mean the 'I'm a complete jackass' look?"
"Admit it. I'm growing on you."
"Never," Veronica said, not quite sure which she was talking about.
"You helped me."
She shrugged. "It was a case."
They finished the bottle sooner than they should have, and if Veronica was drunk, Lamb was way past her.
"You need to go to bed," she told him seriously, and he smirked.
"Was that an offer?"
She laughed. "Only in your dreams."
The look in Lamb's eyes told her way more than she needed to know.
"You can't go home," he said, as Veronica helped him towards the bedroom.
"I can and will."
"You can't drive."
She shrugged. "I'll call a cab."
He looked at her, and Veronica almost flinched from the look in his eyes.
"Stay," he said. Not quite pleading, but not in any tone she'd ever heard from him.
"I'll stay on the couch," she agreed softly, and he nodded.
Family can be a tricky thing. You can't help the one you're born with, though most of us wish we could. But the good thing about family is that sometimes you get to make your own.