Veronica looked down at her watch and groaned when she realized that she was running late. Faith had been meeting her at the house at the same time every morning for the last three days since her car was stolen and Veronica didn't want to disturb the routine. Not only did she have to get to class on time but she also had to deal with trying to make it past her increasingly nosey father who she knew was lurking around outside her bedroom door.
Hastily throwing the remainder of her books into her schoolbag, she hefted it over her shoulder and then took one last glance around the room to make sure that she had everything she needed. Besides school and work, she also had to find time to make it over to St. Mary's to retrieve the camera she'd planted there. With that in mind, she quickened her pace and opened her bedroom to come face to face with her smiling father.
"Good morning, sunshine," he said all too sweetly, then held out a glass of orange juice to her. "Thought maybe you'd like to have some breakfast with your dear ol' Pops this morning. Fresh squeezed orange juice and a batch of my world famous secret recipe special scrambled eggs."
Veronica had to take a step back to avoid crashing into him. Right away she knew it was some kind of ploy; he never waited at her door like that unless he was fishing for something. Add in his not-so-secret recipe eggs and she knew for sure that something was up. Considering that she was already running late, Veronica knew that she didn't have time to play along.
"I thought we went over this with your lasagna. Your secret ingredient is cheese. Lots and lots of cheese. And if you're buttering me up to ask me for a kidney or some of my liver, you can forget about it. I'm fairly sure that I'll be needing both to get me through the binge drinking and waking-up-in-my-own-vomit stage of college."
She gave him a dazzling smile before grabbing the glass of orange juice as she passed by, drinking it on her way to the kitchen.
Keith followed close behind her, not letting her slip away that quickly.
"Don't put those thoughts in my mind, Veronica. I'm an overprotective father who's getting ready to send my only child off to college. I take no moral issue with fitting your ankle with a combo GPS and blood-alcohol monitoring system."
"I'll keep that in mind when I'm choosing the new wardrobe you'll be providing for me after graduation," she replied, giving him as sweet a smile as he gave her just a minute before.
She finished the last of her orange juice and set the glass in the sink before making her way toward the door. She had the it nearly all the way opened when Keith finally caught up to her and stopped her dead in her tracks with a firm hand on the door.
"I've been very good about respecting your boundaries, Veronica," he said, his voice taking on a different tone now. Yes, this was definitely Overprotective Dad mode. "I haven't asked you who she is or why she keeps meeting you here despite the fact that she doesn't go to your school."
Veronica looked up at him and narrowed her eyes a little. It seemed that while she'd been trying to get to know Faith, Keith had been doing a bit of digging of his own. Before she could speak, he continued.
"Yes, I did some digging. To be honest, it hasn't produced much info."
"Because there's nothing to know," Veronica said dismissively. "And she doesn't go to school with me because she's not a student. Faith is just a friend and that's all there is to it. Now if you don't mind . . ."
She squeezed between the partially opened door and the wooden frame and was nearly scot-free when Keith spoke again.
"But I do mind, because what you're not telling me is that your new friend just happens to be part of the biggest crime family in this town." Veronica stopped dead in her tracks and let the impact of that sentence wash over her, cringing slightly. "I said the digging didn't produce much info; I didn't say it didn't produce anything. You should know me better than that."
"Dad," she began, her voice taking on a pleading quality as she turned to face him.
"I don't want to hear it," he said, interrupting her. "You're a smart girl, Veronica; that's why I haven't chained you to the sofa yet. If you're hanging out with her, it must mean you trust her."
"I do," Veronica quickly cut in. "She helped me out when I was in a sticky situation, and Dad, she's totally not like the rest of the Fitzpatricks. She's not even from around here. In fact, she only came to Neptune to help keep them out of trouble."
"As valiant as that may seem, it doesn't change the fact that she's one of them, and that gives the Fitzpatricks direct access to you through her."
"That's not why she's been hanging around me," Veronica said, shaking her head. "Liam . . . he has it out for me."
"I can't imagine why, seeing as that I told you to stay far away from him," Keith said drolly.
"Regardless, Faith is just making sure that I get safely around town until he backs off."
"I don't like it, Veronica."
"I know, and for the record, you know how much I hate feeling like the damsel in distress. But until this mess with the Fitzpatricks and the PCHers is over, it's a situation I don't mind dealing with."
Keith tilted his head to the side a little and stared at her, and instantly Veronica realized that she'd said too much. She tried her best not to cringe but couldn't help it under her father's intense stare.
"What mess?" he asked.
Veronica held his gaze for a moment, then looked down to her watch and out to the parking lot where she could see Faith resting up against her car, arms crossed and looking up at the two of them as if she could hear them. After a moment she looked back to her dad who was looking at her expectantly and very quickly losing his cool.
"What mess, Veronica?" he repeated. "There are three missing Fitzpatricks right now according to my source down at the station. Should the police be looking for bodies? Tell me what you know."
Veronica took a deep breath and tried to collect her thoughts. She had no idea about the three missing Fitzpatricks. Why hadn't Faith told her about them?
"Dad, it's a long story. I have no idea where the missing people are but I promise that I'll fill in the rest of the blanks for you. Problem is, I'm already running late for class. I work tonight so, tomorrow morning, maybe? Secret recipe special scrambled eggs and a chat?"
She wasn't sure that Keith would be entirely happy with that plan but the one thing she was certain of was that he wouldn't want her to be late for school. Not when she was so close to graduating and possibly earning the Kane scholarship. After a short stare down, Keith finally sighed and held out his hand for her to continue on her way. She gave him a thankful look and quickly made her way down the steps.
"For the record," he called out after her, "we're out of cheese. The eggs will be much less special tomorrow."
Veronica couldn't help but smile, both because of her father's comment and because of the look that Faith was giving her as she approached the car.
"I take it my cover is blown," Faith said.
"You heard all of that?" Veronica asked, surprised. She couldn't stop to wait for the answer though; she was really, really late now!
"I'm just observant. Well, that and your old man is givin' me a serious case of stink-eye right now."
"Which would be even stinkier if he found out you just referred to him as my old man."
"Noted," Faith replied with a nod.
Veronica let herself in the driver side door and waited for Faith to walk around the car and join her in the passenger seat before pulling away from the parking space. She glanced down at the digital clock on her dashboard and drew in a deep breath, exhaling it loudly. There was no way she'd make it to St. Mary's before school and actually make it to her first class on time. She'd just have to squeeze the trip in before work, which would undoubtedly make her late for her shift, but at least no one would send her to the principal's office for that.
They rode in silence until they reached the school, pulling into the mostly full parking lot. Students were still lingering near their cars and on the front lawn which was a good sign that she wasn't running as late as she thought.
"You're giving off some seriously tense vibes for this early in the morning," Faith said casually, gazing out the passenger side window at a group of teenagers nearby.
"Sorry," Veronica apologized. "But between school and work and the shady extracurriculars, I think I might just be starting to slowly lose my mind. Really, it's like the town only starts to implode when I'm busy with . . . well, life."
"I get that," Faith replied with a nod, then looked over at Veronica and smiled. "Which is why I already went to the church and snatched the camera for ya."
She tossed the camera over to Veronica who fumbled to catch it. Veronica glanced down at it for a moment and then looked over to Faith, smiling.
"Thanks. Not only does this save me time, but it saves me from the possibility of having my car stolen from in front of the church, too."
"Which is why I grabbed the cam before I got to yours this morning. Wish I could say it wasn't purely selfish, but honestly, I'm getting sick of walkin' my ass everywhere. Neptune sounds like a small town but it ain't when ya gotta walk everywhere."
Veronica laughed, "Where were you when I was trying to convince my dad to buy me a car when I was sixteen?" At Faith's chuckle, she continued. "Regardless, thanks for picking it up. I appreciate it."
"Ain't a big deal," Faith shrugged.
"And now comes the part where it sounds like I'm accusing you of something when I'm actually not."
Faith furrowed her brow a bit but indicated for her to continue. "Okay. Shoot."
Veronica unbuckled her seatbelt and turned as much as she could on the small seat so that she was facing Faith. "Why didn't you tell me that three of your family members have gone missing?"
"Probably because I only just found out about it from Patrick this morning and I didn't wanna bother ya with it before your classes," Faith replied. "Thought maybe they just flew the coop before things get too bad here. Guess I was wrong though cos Pat said they're pretty dedicated to the fam and that they wouldn't just up and leave like that. I dunno. I can do some checking around but all the boys are pretty tight-lipped around me these days."
"Because you've been hanging around with me," Veronica said rather than asked.
"Pretty much sums it up. They won't fuck with me cos I'm family, but they ain't gonna air their dirty laundry when I'm around either."
"That's probably good. Some of your cousins look like they haven't showered in months," Veronica replied, grinning a little. "I'm willing to bet that laundry is pretty ripe."
Faith chuckled but then continued. "You're probably right. Here's hoping that whatever ya find on that camera answers a few of our questions. Still ain't sure we should be trustin' your prematurely balding friend with his info, but I guess if he's right, we'll find out after ya have a sneaky peek."
"I hope we find something," Veronica said, shaking her head a little as she looked down at the camera in her hand. "I let it slip in front of my dad that there's something going on between your family and the PCHers. I bought us a bit of time but I'm going to have to fill him in over breakfast tomorrow, at least on some minor details."
"Okay," Faith said with a nod. "Pretty sure I've got a lock on where my car is. I'll do a little digging while you're at school today, see what I can find without it looking suspicious; hopefully get my ride back in the process. I just feel like . . .I'm missing something here." Faith trailed off, shaking her head lightly as she was trying to put some things together in her mind. "Yo V, there any chance one of your buds could go with ya to work today?"
"I'm pretty sure Wallace wouldn't mind so long as I bribe him with free cake," Veronica said easily.
"Good," Faith replied. "I'm gonna work on getting my car back and finding out what's up with my missing cousins. I'll meet ya at work at the end of your shift. Don't leave with out me, got it, kid? Something fishy is defo going on. I don't want you alone until we figure out what it is."
"Got it, ma'am," Veronica said with a mock salute. "The Veronica is to remain partnered at all times."
They exited the car and met around the back, watching as most of the students left the parking lot and lawn, headed toward the school at the sound of a loud bell ringing from within. When they were well and truly alone, Veronica reached out and touched Faith's bicep. It was soft yet firm at the same time; Faith obviously worked out.
She shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts.
"Faith, I know you're all gung-ho about helping to keep me out of harm's way, but please don't put yourself in its path because of me either. You're already putting your neck on the line. If you're going to snoop around, be careful. Please."
Faith smiled brightly, her arm flexing just a little under Veronica's soft touch before she slowly started backing away, keeping eye contact as she went.
"Don't worry, V. Careful is my middle name. Thanks for the concern though." She winked and then turned around, casually strolling through the parking lot and toward the street.
Veronica watched her go for a moment before calling out after her, "I thought you said that Danger was your middle name!"
Faith didn't turn around; she merely lifted up one arm and gave Veronica a backwards wave. Veronica didn't need to see her face to know that Faith was grinning.
Turning around with a grin of her own, Veronica hefted her bag over her shoulder and headed off into the school, ready to take on yet another busy day.
It was the second last period of the day and Veronica decided to skip her Phys. Ed. class to see what was on the camera. Anticipation had been eating at her all day long and she just couldn't take it any longer. She found a computer lab that wasn't in use and turned on her laptop, plugging in the drive from the small camera.
There was roughly twenty four hours of footage and she watched it go by on fast-forward, stopping to check out the random people who popped in from time to time. She was surprised to find Liam Fitzpatrick show up on the video not once but twice. Actually, the more she thought about it, she figured that with the amount of crime that he took part in on a daily basis, multiple trips to the confessional were probably in order.
It was only when, an hour or two later on the film, that Veronica saw a PCHer enter the confessional that she realized that something was odd. She watched the segment several times from Liam's visit until the PCHer's visit, and that was when she realized what that 'something' was. Pulling out her cell phone, she typed a quick message to Weevil and then set it back down on the desk next to her laptop.
She bookmarked the two segments and watched them several more times before Weevil showed up and leaned down with his palms on the desk beside her.
"What'd we find, V? And you better make it quick because I don't want to have to explain to my entire History class why I took ten minutes going to the bathroom."
"Watch, right here," she said, using a remote control to queue up the first bookmark. "Keep an eye on Liam's hymnal. The Lord giveth . . ." she pointed to the hymnal book that Liam placed in the rack beside the confessional window, then fast-forwarded to the second bookmark, ". . . and the stooge taketh away."
The next scene showed Thumper in the confessional, removing the book that Liam had planted just an hour before. Weevil watched the scene and then shook his head with disbelief.
"I could kill him," he said angrily as he plopped down onto the chair beside Veronica.
"But that would be counterproductive," Veronica said, closing the lid on her laptop so that she could get Weevil's attention. "Listen, now we know where the PCHers are getting the drugs from, or at least Thumper anyway. You can't take down Liam Fitzpatrick on your own. It would be stupid to even try. I say we turn this tape over to the police – anonymously – and let them handle it."
"And then what?" Weevil asked, exasperated. He stood up so quickly that the chair scraped backwards on the floor and then eventually toppled over with a loud clatter. "It doesn't prove anything, Veronica. Cops can't prove what was inside that book."
Veronica quickly realized that Weevil was right. Unless that book was still sitting there full of drugs and Thumper and Liam's fingerprints, turning in the video was useless. She opened her mouth to speak but Weevil cut her off.
"See? I'm right. There's only one way to handle something like this."
Before she could ask what way that was, Weevil stormed out of the room, intent on settle the matter on his own. Veronica knew better than to chase him, especially when that chase could lead her right into gang territory or worse.
Sighing, she did the only thing she could think of: she picked up her phone and called Faith. The other line didn't even ring; it went straight to a recorded voicemail message.
"Can't answer. Leave one after the beep," came Faith's voice from message, followed by a short beep.
"Faith, it's Veronica. I watched the video. Problem is, so did Weevil. We need to stop him before things get worse, and believe me when I say that yes, things are actually able to get worse right now. Call me."
She hung up her phone and set it to vibrate so that a meddling teacher couldn't swipe it away when it rang. Packing up the rest of her things, she tucked them away in her bag just as the bell sounded. Students began filtering out into the halls and Veronica joined them, headed off to her last class of the day. She anxiously looked up at the nearest clock as she passed by, hoping beyond hope that Faith would get the message in time to stop Weevil from doing something stupid.
It was almost five o'clock when Faith reached the junkyard that her cousin Sean owned. She'd been tracking down her stolen car from one point to another all day long, the rest of her cousins obviously playing with her by moving it from place to place. She hadn't been able to find out anything about the missing guys - Ian, Craig, and Ronan - and found that when she randomly brought up any of their names, everyone either got real quiet or told her not to worry about it.
It wasn't her business, they'd said.
So Faith followed the trail of her missing car and knew that she'd finally found it when she entered the massive, scrap-filled lot of Sean's junkyard. She only hoped she'd find it in one piece. Sure enough, she found the car - dirty but still very much car-shaped - near the very back of the lot. The doors were locked and the keys were in the ignition, but luckily enough she had the spare set in her jacket pocket.
She was about to unlock the door when something off to the side caught her attention.
It was completely ordinary, the small mound of disturbed dirt in the middle of the yard; ordinary except for the fact that she could tell that it wasn't supposed to be there. Neither were the two other disturbed mounds just a few yards away in either direction. Immediately her spidey sense started tingling for the first time since she'd been in Neptune. Either that or she'd simply been too preoccupied to notice it before then.
She really hoped that wasn't the case.
Stepping closer to the mound, she squatted down beside it and ran her fingers through the loose earth, pushing it this way and that as if it would reveal some huge clue. The mounds were clue enough though, especially seeing as that there were three in number . . . and that they were all big enough to fit a body.
The good thing was that there were no bodies in the holes now. The bad thing was that . . . there were no bodies in the holes now. Whatever had been in the holes was gone now, and Faith was starting to get a really, really bad feeling about that.
Hearing the soft scuff of a boot against the dirt behind her, she quickly stood up to come face to face with a smirking Liam.
"Careful, little cousin. Girl's gotta be cautious in a place like this. Never know what could be lurking around in the shadows."
Feeling the tingle in her spine intensify, Faith took a step back and shook her head slowly.
"Oh, Li. What the hell did you do?"