Disclaimer: The characters were created by Rob Thomas and remain the property of Thomas, the CW, and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement is intended, no profit is made. All characters in this story are fictional. Any mention of real persons is entirely fictional. None of their quotes or actions in this story have any basis in reality in any way.

Author's Note: I would like to thank the lovely love_is_epic for beta-reading this story. The dialogue from the episode was directly lifted from the TWIZ website, so thanks for the effort they put in transcribing it!

THE CRAPPIEST CHRISTMAS

It had seemed like a good idea at the time – a thrill and a good distraction from the Christmas party preparations at home. He'd found four guys who could afford it, and even when Chester had to beg off because he was grounded, Weevil stepped in as a ready replacement. Five was the perfect number for a poker game, Logan had always found. He had looked forward to it, thinking it would be a night of fun before the annual end-of-the-year party rounds kicked off. It would be cool to have extra cash to spend for the holidays, too.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Nothing had gone according to plan and the whole thing turned out to be a train wreck. Logan had been very annoyed to see that Duncan had shown up drunk. He'd spent the entire time drinking Jack Daniels straight from the bottle, and Logan hated it. Usually he was the one getting drunk, and Duncan put up with his antics. To have the natural order of things reversed wasn't fun at all.

Logan had also hoped that his mom wouldn't go for a swim that night. He'd gauged the temperature outside and had thought he was safe – but no. In the middle of the game, Sean spotted her and alerted everybody that there was a hot chick in a bikini by the pool. They had all gone to the window to drool. It wasn't Mom's fault, of course, the effect she had on guys – it was just that she didn't realise it. No matter how Logan tried to give her the hint, she never seemed to get it. Even Duncan hadn't been able to refrain from ogling - he'd clearly been too drunk to think about how embarrassing it was for Logan.

Duncan wasn't drunk enough to forget to bitch about Sean the whole time, however. Logan found it supremely annoying. So what if Sean was more interested in partying and girls than in preparing to become leader of the world? So what if he liked doing it on someone else's dime? Everyone was already aware of what Duncan thought of such behaviour; there was no need to remind everybody of the fact every five seconds. Logan wished Duncan would shut the hell up about it.

True, Sean was annoying. Logan was feeling a little sickened to see him suck up to Connor all night. He had no idea why he was doing it – Connor was just an overpaid, crappy actor whose only asset was his abs. It was nothing to write home about, but for some reason, Sean had done his best to buddy up to him. Logan didn't find it reason enough to snipe at him for everything from his choice of beer to his lack of a driver's license, though, like Duncan was doing. They were playing poker, for fuck's sake, not giving Sean a makeover.

Connor, ever true to himself, was an obnoxious idiot. Just because he was Trina's ex-boyfriend and he'd played Dad's son a few times, he considered it his sacred duty to humiliate Logan at every opportunity. Logan would have preferred not to have invited him, but Dad had gotten wind of the poker game and had told him it would be a wonderful opportunity for Logan and Connor to "bond." Apparently, Connor was "an excellent example for Logan." What a joke.

Frustrated and irritated, Logan had tried to take it out on Weevil (hey, Weevil had asked to be there – he could take the consequences of his actions). But Weevil was determined to win the game, so he didn't rise to the bait, no matter how tempting Logan made it. There was something Logan found intriguing about the guy, and he was much mistaken if the feeling wasn't mutual. Weevil kept popping up in his life ever since he'd beaten Logan up over Veronica Mars's car.

Logan kept thinking of that tattoo on Weevil's shoulder, the heart with Lilly written in it. Was it really about Weevil's sister? Could Weevil be the guy Lilly had been seeing right before she died? The thought of it made him sick – it couldn't be possible. Lilly didn't even know people like Weevil existed. But the smug look on Weevil's face kept the doubt creeping back in his mind, over and over again.

When Weevil had manipulated himself into the game, Logan had tried blowing him off, but in the end, the prospect had been too tempting. He'd played poker with Weevil before, and the guy was good – certainly much better than Duncan, Sean or Connor. Having Weevil in the game would make things more fun. So despite Weevil's suspicious tattoo, Logan had relented, and right up till the end, didn't regret it.

But then Weevil had added insult to injury, by snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with a hand Logan had been sure to beat. When Logan had opened the box to pay him, the money was gone, which added another layer of injury. That made things really go sour, especially since Weevil didn't hide his suspicions. He made sure to let Logan know he was taking off with a Fabergé egg that was worth considerably more than five thousand dollars. Once Dad found out that it was gone, there would be hell to pay.

Of course, things couldn't just stop there – it was almost like a law of physics that they were going to get worse. At lunch the next day, Logan found out that Weevil had stolen Duncan's laptop. Duncan was pissed about it. He told Logan in no uncertain terms that he thought that Logan had stolen the money.

"It's like you've been going over to the Dark Side, bit by bit, so slowly that I didn't even notice when you morphed into a full-fledged jackass," he said.

True, Duncan didn't like trouble. He liked his life smooth and without small disturbances like the loss of a laptop. But it wasn't Logan's fault that the money had disappeared, and it wasn't as if Duncan was the only one missing stuff.

But to see that his best friend was ready to accuse him of theft was a bitter pill to swallow. Maybe Duncan was right – maybe he had gone too far lately. The idea of losing Duncan was more than he could bear. He had to find the five thousand bucks and give them to Weevil. He had to prove his innocence if he wanted to get his best friend back. He briefly contemplated getting Veronica Mars involved, but quickly rejected it. She would only make things worse by trying to prove that he did do it. She didn't seem to think he could be innocent of anything. There was no way he was going to hand her his own head on a platter. This was something he had to do on his own.

* * *

The way Logan saw it, the money still had to be somewhere in the room. Weevil had made them all strip to their boxers and he hadn't found anything. Connor, for instance, could have hidden it in order to pick it up during the Christmas party. Logan could not imagine any other scenario.

After school, he went directly to the pool house and started looking. He'd gone through the room twice without finding anything when he was interrupted by Keith Mars.

"Hello, Logan. How are you?"

The last time Logan had seen him had been at the sheriff's department, the day after Lilly's death. The then Sheriff Mars had asked him to come to the station with his mother. He'd been horrified to find out that he had to give an alibi, that as Lilly's boyfriend, he was considered a de facto suspect. Even worse, he'd had to answer some pretty embarrassing questions – like whether or not he and Lilly had been having sex, and even when they'd made love for the last time – in front of his own mother.

How the sheriff was able to live with himself, making accusations against his daughter's best friends, Logan had no idea. But Mars certainly had gotten what was coming to him. He didn't look so good now, in his shabby jeans and his old jacket. But he still had the same faux-friendly tone in his voice, the same tone he'd used to say that asking Logan where he'd been at the time of Lilly's death was simple procedure, nothing to worry about.

"What are you doing here?" asked Logan.

"Your parents have hired me to look into a stalker of your father's. I just wanted to ask you a few questions."

Right. Ask a few questions. That was all the Marses, father and daughter, could do lately. He'd already been on the receiving end of Veronica's "questions," and now it was her Dad's turn. Couldn't they just leave him alone?

"So? Just wait outside the front gate," he said. "There's always a couple of them lurking out there. If you wanna make a quick buck, that's where you wanna look."

Keith Mars stared at him for a second, as if debating whether or not to tell Logan off. Logan was itching for a fight, and even this sad-sack incompetent private eye would do. No such luck, though - for an idiot, Mars had remarkable self-control.

"This stalker has left a threatening letter on your breakfast table and a carved pumpkin outside the door," he said. "I understand you had some visitors over last night?"

"Yeah, but we didn't do any pumpkin carving, if that's what you're asking."

"Can I have their names?"

"There was Sean Friedrich, Connor Larkin, Weevil and Duncan Kane."

Logan had hoped to needle the man by naming Duncan last, but there was no reaction. Mars just wrote the names down and gave him a stern look.

"Eli Navarro was here?" he asked.

He seemed a little sceptical about it.

"Yeah," Logan answered. "What's it to you?"

"Nothing."

Logan smirked. He wondered if Keith Mars knew what good friends his daughter was with Weevil. She wasn't exactly Daddy's good little girl anymore, was she?

"Can you think of a reason why any of them could have a grudge against your father?" continued Mars.

"Maybe one of their loved ones saw one of his movies and clawed their eyes out? I'd want revenge, too."

"Did any of them go to the main house during the evening?"

"Nope. We stayed here all night."

"Are you certain?" Mars pressed.

"Yeah, I'm certain."

Mars was starting to get on Logan's nerves. The man looked around and saw the mess in the room.

"What happened in here?" he asked.

"I just lost something," said Logan. He had enough of this little interrogation. "Leave me alone. I'm busy," he said.

The former sheriff raised his eyebrows at Logan's rudeness, but didn't comment on it and left. Logan almost called him back. He could have done with someone's opinion on the theft.

The search of the room was fruitless. Logan completely ransacked it, but there was no money anywhere. He was quite angry with Connor by now. Oh, Logan knew very well why he had done it. He'd always sucked up to Dad, and Logan was almost certain Connor wanted to be in his shoes.

Wasn't it ironic that Logan would whole-heartedly let him have his dad? Since the fall, he'd taken a hard look at his father – he had watched all of the old man's movies, and discovered that there was hardly a watchable one amongst them. Even One Good Man, the one Dad had got that pathetic Oscar for, was hardly more than a feel-good tear-jerker. It was clear to Logan that the only reason the Academy had even considered Dad for nomination was that he was playing a German officer in WW2 who was helping Jews escape from Auschwitz. It had all to do with the Academy's political correctness, and nothing with Dad's acting. Of course, the way Dad went on about himself, you'd think he was Cary Grant. It made sense that he would pick a protégé who had just as little talent and brains as him.

And now Connor had picked up a nasty coke habit, if his constant bathroom breaks were any indication. Logan wondered what had come first – the need for cash or the chance to get Logan into trouble. Anyway, he couldn't wait to drop a hint to Dad about the coke. He wouldn't be stupid enough to tell him outright, but it would be fun to see Dad wonder about what Logan had told him, to start to suspect something and sniff around. Maybe, if Logan was really lucky, he would even hire Keith Mars to investigate Connor's bathroom breaks. For a few seconds, he indulged in the fantasy. Then he remembered the five thousand grand that were still missing, and all pleasure left him.

Frustrated and disgusted with everything, Logan went back to his room. Evidently, Dad and Mom were both in a bad mood because of the stalker business. Logan thought it was safer to stay in his room. He tried to get some homework done, but he couldn't concentrate. When the house was finally quiet for the night, he crept out for some food. In the living room, a giant white Christmas tree was glowing eerily in the moonlight. For the party, he guessed. It was in two days, and Connor would come to pick up the money wherever he had hidden it. That meant that either Logan found it before the party, or he spent the entire time trailing Connor in order to catch him red-handed. It probably wouldn't be easy, since Dad was fond of playing the good father in front of his friends, keeping Logan by his side the whole evening.

* * *

After another night of little sleep, he decided to give it one last shot. But the wad of bills kept evading him. In the hope of relieving his anxiety, he started to play a video game.

The whole situation was crappy. Now Weevil and Duncan thought he had stolen the money, and the only way he could prove his innocence was probably by forking over another five thousand which Logan had no idea where to find without breaking the bank or foregoing Christmas presents. Connor had been craftier than Logan had ever given him credit for.

He started thinking that the aliens he had to shoot in the game looked like Connor. Oh, what he wouldn't give to be able to kick the guy's ass. He didn't care if Connor was bigger than him and if he had more muscle. He didn't even care if Connor ended up beating the crap out of him instead. One good punch in that idiot's face would be worth a great deal. He would make as much of it as possible. Wouldn't it be good to feel the guy's nose break under his fist?

"I love the smell of testosterone in the morning," a female voice suddenly said.

He looked around in surprise, and for a split second he didn't believe what he was seeing. The sight of Veronica Mars shouldn't give him such conflicted feelings, but after more than a year after her horrible betrayal, he couldn't help but still be glad to see her. One day he'd have to get used to the fact that some things were over forever. One day it would have to stop hurting so badly.

"This is why I suggested attack dogs," he said. "But no, my Mom wanted an alpaca."

It was nonsense, of course, they didn't have an alpaca or attack dogs, but that's how things were with Veronica these days. Prickly and mean. And she gave as good as she got. It was almost as if she had forgotten that Lilly had ever existed. He'd been extremely surprised in September, when she'd given him a tape for Lilly's Memorial video. He still had to give it back to her, but he didn't know how to go around doing it. What was going on in her mind? How did she feel about Lilly now? He really wanted to know about it, but he couldn't ask her. Not anymore.

She wanted to ask him about the poker game. Of course she did. That was all anybody was nowadays to her: a font for answers. Well, he guessed that the betrayal business hadn't left her and her father with too many friends, and they had to get their social interactions somehow, didn't they?

He wasn't happy to see that Weevil, in addition to stealing stuff from everyone, had also involved Veronica. She had this nasty habit of considering Logan a prime suspect for whatever went wrong anywhere, and she was bound to accuse him rather sooner than later. She irritated him and he wanted an espresso. He wanted her gone.

"I've been meaning to ask you something," he said, walking to the coffee maker. "Did your super-sleuth kit come with a decoder ring? Do you have a pen that writes with invisible ink? Nevermind, don't care. Mush, mush."

She started to walk away, but then he changed his mind.

"Hey, uh, wait. Hey! Maybe you should talk to Connor," he called, and surprisingly, she turned back.

It was a good idea. If he told her about Connor, at least he would send her on the right track. After all, last time she'd found out that Chardo guy was behind the identity theft, even though she'd spent her whole time looking for evidence against Logan. Maybe she would do the same thing this time.

She got pretty hot and bothered at the idea of meeting Connor. Of course, that would change once he opened his mouth – Lilly hadn't found him so hot either, once she met him. With a bit of luck, Connor wouldn't be able to resist bragging about stealing the money. The guy was an idiot and a sucker for pretty girls. Veronica would make minced meat of him.

"Why would Connor steal the money?" she asked. "He's a zillionaire."

Logan told her about Connor's suspicious behaviour – the bathroom breaks, the phone calls, and how Connor had always hated him. It was a bit humiliating to have to tell the Rosie Perez story again, but after all, it was nothing she didn't already know. He would never forget the time when, during a game of Truth or Dare, Duncan had asked him to tell everyone about it. At the time he hadn't minded when Lilly had decided to call him Lauren for a week and Veronica had followed suit, inviting him over to discuss the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. Nowadays, Veronica was probably embarrassed to even know what Cosmo was.

To Veronica's credit she didn't make fun of him. She just listened to him intently, as if she were actually taking him seriously.

"I would be more than happy to question him," she said when he was done telling his story. "I've a feeling he's not the easiest person to get to, probably has a team of bodyguards to protect him from girls like me."

"I honestly don't get it," he answered, and he got his cell phone out to arrange a drive-on to the set for her.

There was a moment of awkwardness when he accidentally slipped that she was a friend. They exchanged a wry smile. Yeah, not going to happen anytime soon, Veronica seemed to be thinking.

"Look at you, all helpful," she said after he got off the phone.

"Hey, your peskiness being unleashed on Connor brings me joy," he answered.

He didn't want her to get any ideas, to think that just because he helped her in one investigation it meant anything.

"Annoy, tiny blonde one, annoy like the wind!" he called after her as she was leaving.

As he watched her go, he wondered for the umpteenth time, how she and Weevil had become friends. He had asked him, once, during detention, but Weevil hadn't been very forthcoming.

"She's done me a couple of favours, I've done her a couple of favours, that's all," he'd said.

"So she gives really good head, huh?"

"See, when you talk like that, you look like you want your pretty white teeth kicked in."

Logan looked at Weevil to see if he were joking, but Weevil only grinned icily at him.

"Well, you'd better be careful," said Logan. "She has a habit of stabbing her friends in the back."

"Do you really think I'm stupid?" Weevil lowered his roller and looked at him in disbelief. "I know whose daughter she is, and I know that blood runs thicker than water. Believe me, I know exactly how far I can throw Veronica, and that's how far I'm gonna to trust her."

Logan still didn't quite know what Weevil had meant by that. Did it mean she was going to stand by her Dad, no matter what he did? Did it mean she couldn't care about anyone, even her best friend, more than her Dad? He wondered if Lilly had known it was the case, and if she would have accepted it. Duncan seemed to think it wasn't his problem if Veronica's father had accused his own father of murder. He'd once told Logan that Keith Mars must have had his reasons, and that was the last thing he'd ever said on the subject. Shouldn't Duncan, by the same rule of blood and water, have hated the Mars family on principle?

He looked on the coffee table next to the Christmas tree and saw that Veronica had left the paperwork for Mom there. Great – so now he had to do her job, too. Having Veronica involved was just fan-fucking-tastic.

* * *

School that day was a nightmare. Duncan wasn't talking to him. Logan tried to tell him that he thought Connor had hidden the money, but Duncan pretended he didn't exist. He had also taken to hanging out with Sean, of all people. They were probably bonding over stolen laptops and whatever crap Weevil had taken from Sean.

Seeing those two together made him sick. Had Duncan forgotten what Sean had said about Lilly once, when he had just moved to Neptune?

"She's hot, but she looks kinda loose. I wouldn't want to date a slut, know what I mean?"

Had Duncan forgotten who had beaten Sean up for that? Who had defended Lilly's honour? Sean had apologized the very next day for his words, told Duncan that he didn't know she was his sister and that she was dating Logan. After some major ass-kissing and grovelling from Sean, they'd decided to let it slide, but it still hurt that Duncan would choose Sean over him for something that Connor had done.

When he got home, he heard Mom and Dad arguing upstairs over the fact that Keith Mars was investigating that stalker crap. Logan listened in. It seemed that Dad wasn't happy at all with whatever Mars was doing. He was making it sound like Mars wasn't doing his job properly, but weirdly enough, it sounded like Dad was actually scared of him. What could he possibly be afraid of? It was a mystery to Logan, but not enough to risk becoming Dad's stress ball. It was better to spend the afternoon somewhere else.

He was halfway to the Kane house when he remembered that he and Duncan weren't talking anymore. He swore and made a U-turn – Veronica had better get Connor to confess soon, or Logan would be in real trouble. He got himself a pizza and went to eat it on the beach. He wasn't in the mood to deal with Dick and Beaver, and there was nobody else whose place he could just show up at and stay as long as he wanted. What if anyone saw him now, huh? The mad, cackling, hand-wringing villain, pathetically eating pizza on his own, in the cold, all because his Dad was in a bad mood. They would probably remember it as one of the best moments in their life.

When it got too cold outside, he went back to his car. He turned the heat on and listened to the radio. He really felt like a hot chocolate right now, so he drove around to find a Starbucks and ordered himself a venti, with extra whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Once back in his car, he spiked it with the whiskey from his flask and let himself enjoy it.

He knew he had to get home now, before the alcohol started kicking in. The last thing he needed was a DUI – it would be really stupid to stay away from Dad's bad mood only to make him mad at him.

He finished his hot chocolate in the driveway, adding a bit more from his flask after every sip. The house was dark and he got to his room without anyone noticing. Homework was out of the question, he was far too drunk for that. He crashed on his bed, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

* * *

The next day started out even worse. It was the day of Mom's Christmas party and Logan still hadn't found the money. It meant that either he had to catch Connor red-handed, or he'd have to pay Weevil five grand from his own money. He hoped Weevil would be willing to wait after Christmas – Logan would be flush then. Unless Veronica found the culprit fast (it seemed unlikely, or someone would already have called to tell him the news), it was his best option.

Duncan still wasn't talking to him and at lunch, Logan saw him sharing his pizza with Sean. He sat down with them, ready to remind Duncan that his opinion of Sean was even worse than his opinion of Logan, but Duncan stood up as soon as Logan sat down.

"Will you guys kiss and make up already?" asked Sean in frustration.

At that moment, Veronica and Weevil accosted them.

"So, good news, bad news," Veronica said as a preamble. "The good news is, I know who stole the money. The bad news is, I know who stole the money."

Logan couldn't quite repress a grin. She was gutsy, he had to give her that.

"Here's my brilliant idea," she continued. "Filled with holiday spirit, Logan will host another game."

"Will I?" he asked.

"I'm thinking tonight," she added, as if she hadn't had enough nerve already.

"No," answered Logan. "My mother's Christmas party is tonight."

"So no BYOB," she said to Sean without skipping a beat.

"Here's how it will go down," she added as she sat down next to Logan.

She was much too close for comfort now. He backed away a little.

"I'll tell you who did it and you'll buy me into the game," she explained. "I'll just take the place of whoever stole the money. Unless you still might think you want him around."

Logan saw that she really wanted this. He decided to make her beg for it a little longer.

"You know, even if you keep talking, it's not gonna happen," he said.

"Oh. I thought you guys might all want your stuff back," she said innocently.

"Yeah," added Weevil, helping himself to a slice of pizza. "If I get my five grand, some items could magically reappear."

Veronica pointed out that if anybody was against her plan, it clearly meant they were the thief. "Kind of a no-brainer," she added.

Logan saw she had check-mated him. He really couldn't afford to raise anymore suspicions. "Do you even know how to play poker?" he asked.

"No," she answered. "But it must be really hard if all you guys play," she added with fake awe, before standing up and leaving, Weevil in tow.

"Do you really think she knows who has the money?" Sean asked, looking at Veronica.

"I dunno," said Duncan with a shrug. "I guess we just have to wait and see."

"Well, we'll see tonight, won't we?" said Logan. "Is eight pm okay with you guys? I'll get you on the guest list."

"It's cool with me," said Duncan.

"Yeah, okay," said Sean. "But I really don't see why we should all just do Veronica Mars's bidding. Who knows what kind of freak show she has in mind?"

"Well, if she's planned a freak show, I definitely don't want to miss it," said Logan.

He took a slice of pizza and stood up to get to class. Maybe things weren't so desperate after all.

* * *

Getting Sean, Weevil and Veronica on the guest list turned out to be more difficult than he thought, because the head of Mom's security team was on a power trip.

"This is a serious situation, young man," he said. "I cannot allow anybody to add names to the guest list without Mrs. Echolls' approval."

"Oh, come on," said Logan. "These are people from school. They're coming here to play poker. Just add them to the damn list!"

The guy proceeded to lecture Logan about how dangerous stalkers could be, how this one had already broken into the house. He'd just started to insinuate that Logan was too young to understand when he had enough. He rolled his eyes and left him mid-sentence. He went to drag Mom away from the inspection of the hors d'oeuvres.

"Is Veronica coming too?" she asked in mild surprise. "That's nice. I haven't seen her in an awfully long time."

"Yeah, yeah, she's been… busy, helping her Dad and stuff," answered Logan.

He really didn't want to talk with her about his relationship with Veronica. For whatever reason, Mom had always thought Veronica was a good influence on him. She liked to hold on to these fantasies, like how Duncan was going to turn him into a straight-A nerd. It didn't seem to occur to her that maybe Logan couldn't be a straight-A nerd.

"Well, I'm glad that you're friends again," Mom said, and she stroked his hair.

Logan was engulfed in the scent of her perfume.

"Yeah," he said, almost choking.

If Mom was happy thinking that he and Veronica were friends, he wasn't going to contradict her. The security guy pencilled the names in with a scowl.

"See, that wasn't so hard!" Logan told him cheerfully as Mom walked back to the house.

The guy glared at him and acted like he hadn't heard anything.

* * *

The atmosphere in the poolhouse was tense while the guys waited for Veronica to arrive. Logan wondered if she had taken a page out of Lilly's old book and wanted to make an entrance.

"Can we have our stuff back now?" Duncan asked Weevil.

Duncan had shown up with his bourbon again, but he didn't seem half as drunk as last time. Logan wondered why he was drinking while playing poker. It seemed rather counterproductive.

"First, I want my money. Then we'll see about your stuff," said Weevil.

He had a smug look on his face, as if he thought he was better than the rest of them.

"Look who's got attitude," said Logan. "But when it comes down to it, you're just Veronica's lap dog."

"You just wish you were the one lapping her up," said Weevil.

Logan felt himself blush at the comment, without even knowing why. He ignored it and he hoped nobody had noticed.

"I'd rather have someone who can afford soap, thank you very much," he said.

"Hey!" cried Duncan.

He stood up and loomed over Logan, suddenly angry.

"Don't talk about her like that!" he said.

Logan threw up his hands in surrender. Exactly how drunk was Duncan? Some moments, he acted like he was completely sauced, but then there were moments, like this, where he seemed stone-cold sober. Considering how much he'd already drunk, he should have been about to pass out. Logan made a note to himself to try that booze of his. Maybe he'd cut it with water.

"So who's Veronica?" asked Connor, clearly confused about the situation.

"The chick you talked to on the set yesterday," said Logan. "Forgotten about her already?"

"Neptune High's very own Nancy Drew," added Sean. "Personally, I didn't know cheerleaders were allowed to think, let alone solve crime…"

Logan stared at him. He'd never realised it before, but clearly Sean was an idiot. Weevil smirked.

"So lemme get this straight," he said. "You three all think you're smarter than Veronica. Yet you can't find out what happened to the money, and one of you morons hired her. Which one of you was it?"

"What?" said Logan, surprised. "I thought it was you!"

"Nope," answered Weevil. "She came to me. She said she could get me my five grand if I told her about the game."

"So who hired her, then?" asked Logan.

"I think I did," Duncan said, clearing his throat. "Sort of."

"What do you mean, sort of?" asked Logan.

"I told her Weevil had taken my laptop. She said she could help get it back for me," Duncan answered as if it were perfectly natural.

Still, Logan knew him well enough to see through the studied casualness. Duncan was hiding something. Were he and Veronica getting back together? Logan had long stopped expecting it, but suddenly it seemed to be happening. They certainly had stopped avoiding each other lately, and they seemed even friendly. It was weird that he'd spent a year hoping for something, anything to happen between those two, just so Duncan would come out of his stupor. Now he realised it was actually the last thing he wanted. He doubted that Veronica would be willing to share Duncan with him. She would probably find a way to turn him against Logan, convince him that Logan was indeed the jackass everyone thought he was. He made a mental note to ask Duncan about it later. At least he would be prepared for whatever war she had planned over Duncan.

"So, this Veronica, she knows what happened to the money?" asked Connor.

"Yep," said Weevil.

"At least she says she does," added Sean with a sceptical look on his face.

"Huh," said Connor, and he stared into space, trying to reconcile the girl he'd met with something like Sherlock Holmes or Lieutenant Columbo.

They were all silent for a moment, until the door opened and Veronica came in.

"Ho ho… ho," said Logan in greeting.

She answered with a sarcastic laugh. Weevil was oddly gallant, taking her bag and offering her a soda. But Veronica wasn't having any of it. She kicked off the show by downing half of Duncan's Jack Daniels.

"Hey, no!" Duncan protested.

They all stared at her, dumbstruck.

"Damn, girl!" Weevil exclaimed.

"Hmmm, ice tea?" she said. "How very musical theatre of you!"

Duncan hung his head in resignation.

"Duncan can't remember the alphabet when he drinks, let alone figure out twenty percent of the pizza bill," Veronica explained.

It suddenly struck Logan as perfectly obvious and he wondered why he hadn't thought of it before.

"No, he didn't play drunk to steal your money, he played drunk to win your money," she said, answering the question that was certainly on someone's lips. "To no avail, it seems. Oh, and Connor isn't a drug addict! I know – the constant bathroom visits. He wasn't going for a fix. He was going because of the Sun Tea."

She pointed at Connor's mug, from which the tell-tale tag of an unmanly teabag was hanging.

"It's that diuretic wrestlers down when they need to make weight or that actors use before they're half naked on the cover of Vanity Fair," she said.

Duncan laughed, but Logan couldn't keep his eyes off Veronica. He'd never seen her enjoy herself like that. It was a real pity the old Veronica had been such a traitorous little rat, because the new Veronica – while still a bitch – was hot.

"And then, there's bachelor number three!" she said, facing Logan.

He gave her his sweetest, most innocent smile.

"And he's got it all!" she said. "Motive. Access. Looks like an evildoer, smells like an evildoer, but surprisingly... not so much. Weevil cleared him."

The latter looked surprised, and Logan couldn't say that he had anticipated that.

"He told me he searched the room but didn't go through it as much as he wanted," Veronica clarified. "When I saw it, it looked like it had been raided by the FBI. You had to tear the room apart looking for it."

Logan smiled wryly, slightly embarrassed. He braced himself for the inevitable mockery, but none came. Veronica was too busy unveiling everyone's suspicious activities to put him down.

"So, two left," she said planting herself between Weevil and Sean. "The boy from the wrong side of the tracks and the boy who lives in the most expensive house in the 09er zip."

She took of her jacket and dumped it in a corner with her bag, as if telling them who had stolen the money was part of a bizarre and modest stripper act.

"So, do you want to hear how Sean did it?" she asked point-blank.

There was a stunned silence. Sean was looking murderous.

"Ah, he's a crafty little bugger," she continued. "Sean didn't bring the Big Mouth Joes because he's cheap. He knew he couldn't leave with the money, so he didn't. What happens to garbage in the 09er zip? He just waited for the recycling to go out the next day and did a little garbage picking."

"Sean? What?" Logan exclaimed. Nothing was making sense. "The guy has a chauffeur drive him to school everyday. Why would he need to steal?"

Veronica smirked, as if that were the exact question she'd been hoping for.

"Funny story," she said. "When I went to Sean's, I couldn't help but wonder: what was his dad doing at home, at three in the afternoon, dressed in a suit instead of being at work?"

She paused for dramatic effect.

"Unless he was at work," she said with a flourish. "I have to say, I was a bit miffed. I was this close to being able to say the butler did it. But no, it was the butler's son."

"That doesn't prove anything," Sean said venomously.

He seemed very unhappy to have his little secret exposed. There were suddenly a lot of things about him that clicked into place.

"Well, that proves that you're a liar," answered Veronica blithely, "and the background check I ran on you proves that you've got a bit of a shoplifting problem. You are really bad at it."

Sean looked around the table for support. There wasn't any. He realised that he was defeated and turned towards Weevil.

"I can totally pay you," he said, standing up. "I have the money, I can get it right now."

Weevil stood up too, and so did Logan, warily. Whatever was going to happen between those two, he didn't want it to happen inside. Weevil seemed to understand.

"All right, why don't we take a walk so we can discuss a few things, huh?" he said.

"But you see I can pay you, see, there really is no need for physical violence," Sean sputtered.

"Uh huh," said Weevil, pushing him towards the door.

Logan stared after them. He hoped they weren't going to cause a scene in front of Mom's guests. Veronica took Sean's seat as if nothing had happened.

"Mind if I deal first?" she asked and took the cards.

Logan was about to tell her that there were rules about that when she fanned and shuffled them like a true card dealer. He smiled, impressed.

It only took a few rounds for Logan to realise that she was very good at poker. She could bluff like nobody's business and could tell immediately when someone else was. Logan started to really look forward to Weevil's return – he might be the only one who could stop her.

Weevil came back looking unscathed, and to Logan's relief, carrying the stuff he'd stolen.

"Well, look who's here?" said Logan. "It's Santa, bearing gifts!"

For once, Weevil didn't threaten him with physical violence - just threw the Fabergé egg at him. Logan stood up to put it back on the shelf while Weevil handed Duncan his laptop.

"Thanks," said Duncan, looking for scratches.

"I kept the scumbag's Rolex," said Weevil, holding up Sean's watch. "I bet it's a fake, but… do you want it, V?"

"Sure," she said. "You never know when it might come in handy."

He threw it at her and grinned.

"I'm sure I don't want to know what for," he said, and settled back in his seat.

Weevil brought out the wad of bills he had gotten from Sean. He counted ten of them and handed them to Logan, who put them with the money he'd gotten from the other guys. He left it in the middle of the table, where everyone could keep an eye on it, all the time. He wasn't going to take any chances anymore.

"I hope you're bringing your A-game," Connor told Weevil. "She can read minds."

Soon it was obvious that Veronica was going to take them all to the cleaners. Even Weevil couldn't keep up with her. Where had she learnt to play poker like that?

"A little impressed, aren't you?" she said, while raking in a particularly big pile of chips.

"You must be really unlucky in love," said Connor.

She chuckled nervously, as if to say, you have no idea. It was true that between Duncan and Troy Vandegraff dumping her, she hadn't had much luck. But that was her own fault, wasn't it? After all, for Duncan to refuse to talk to her for an entire year, she had to have done something really bad. Also, from what Duncan had told Logan, Troy didn't have enough swearwords in his vocabulary to convey what he thought of Veronica. What had she done to either of them that was so bad? One day he'd walked up to her and told her what Troy thought of her now, but she just smirked at him in response. He wasn't sure if she had reacted that way just because she didn't want to give Logan the satisfaction of upsetting her, but a part of him told him that there was more to it. It was clear to him that Veronica nowadays wasn't the kind of girl you wanted to get too close to. Caitlin seemed like an angel in comparison.

"Okay," said Logan. "I say we take a little break. Let the cosmos realign because obviously something's up."

* * *

They walked to the Christmas party, Logan leading the way, followed by Connor and Duncan, then Veronica and Weevil, who were chatting about the game.

Logan went straight to the bar, which was, as usual, rather crowded. He had hoped Duncan would apologize to him after Veronica exposed Sean, but it hadn't happened. Now he needed a few stiff drinks if he wanted to end the game in good spirits.

But then Duncan stood next to him and leaned against the table.

"So…I, uh, you know," he said.

"Yeah," said Logan.

"Sorry about the whole…"

"I've done plenty of other things," said Logan to cut him off.

They both chuckled, thinking about Logan's antics.

So, we're cool?" asked Duncan.

"Yeah."

And then, just like that, they were friends again. They waved over a bartender and ordered some champagne.

"So, what are you gonna do about Veronica?" Duncan asked. "You can't let her win!"

"What do you mean, I can't let her win? You can try too, you know!"

"Dude, she's already exposed the one trick I had. What am I gonna do now?"

They laughed and went to grab some food. They settled in a corner and enjoyed the catering, comparing the various pastries.

After a while, Duncan left to go to the bathroom. When he didn't come back, Logan went looking for him. There was some sort of commotion with the waiters, complete with Santa hats, ringing bells, and everyone moving to the front door. He couldn't see Duncan, but the sight of a waitress talking to his father made him stop.

"Lynn, I don't know who this person is, I swear," Dad was saying, looking at Mom. "I don't know you," he added to the waitress.

And then the woman lunged towards his Dad just before Keith Mars came flying through the air and pinned her on the ground, handcuffs at the ready. His dad fell back against the piano, clutching his side, which was bleeding profusely. A bloody ice pick was lying on the floor.

"Somebody call an ambulance!" yelled his mom, and through a haze of shock, confusion and fear, Logan dialled 911 on his cell.

"9-1-1, what is your emergency?"

The voice on the other side of the line sounded oddly bored.

"I…er… My dad just got stabbed. We need an ambulance," Logan stammered.

"Do you have an address?"

"15665 Muir avenue, Neptune CA 90909."

"Tell them to send someone from the Sheriff's department!" yelled Keith Mars at him while still holding down the waitress.

Logan repeated the request to the dispatcher.

"The police and the ambulance are on their way, sir," he answered, and Logan felt a wave of relief.

"Thanks," he said, "thank you very much."

Logan sat down and spent the rest of the time staring at what was happening, incapable of rousing himself.

He watched as two of the guests took over restraining the waitress for Keith Mars as he moved to give Dad first aid. He watched as the ambulance arrived and took his dad away with his mom crying and holding his hand. He watched as the deputies arrested the woman and took Keith Mars' statement. He watched as the detective – who had either done a crap job protecting Dad or saved his life, Logan wasn't sure – walked over to Veronica, who looked as shocked as he felt, hugged her and led her away. He watched as the guests started leaving and the caterer started packing up. He watched as the cameras – a sure sign that the paparazzi had made their inevitable appearance – started flashing at the front gate.

And then he was all alone, with all the lights still on and the mess from the party littering the room. Logan didn't dare move for fear that one of the photographers out there would see him and take a picture of him with a good zoom lens. His phone rang. It was Jake Kane.

"Logan, we just heard about what happened – we left the party early. Is your father going to be all right?"

"I don't know, Mr. Kane. He's in the hospital right now, Mom's with him. I'm at home."

It was strange how his voice was trembling. Logan suddenly felt very young and alone. He really wanted someone to take care of him, but the staff wouldn't be back until tomorrow morning.

"We were thinking," said Mr. Kane, "maybe it's better if you stay with us tonight. Just pack a bag, I'll come to pick you up."

"Yeah, that would be nice," said Logan.

He tried to keep his voice as steady as possible, but it was hard with the frog in his throat. He was really glad for the opportunity to sleep anywhere but in the big, empty house, even if it meant going through the barrage of reporters.

Twenty minutes later Mr. Kane was at the door in his big, reassuring SUV with tinted windows. Logan bent over in the front seat, his arms over his head in order to avoid having his picture taken. Mr. Kane drove slowly but deliberately through the crowd.

They remained silent until they arrived at the Kane estate where Mrs. Kane was waiting for them in the kitchen. She had already changed in her pyjamas and a stylish bathrobe.

"Duncan has already gone to bed," she said. "I prepared a room for you. Here is something to help you sleep."

She pointed to a pill on the counter, next to a glass of water and Logan swallowed it without a thought. Whatever it was, it was good stuff. Once he was in the impersonal guest room, lying in the freshly made-up bed, he immediately fell asleep.

* * *

He was awoken the next morning by Duncan, who was standing over his bed.

"Hey, Logan, wake up," he whispered, touching his shoulder. "I thought we could swing by your house before school to get the money from the poker game. You know, before someone else steals it."

"Oh yeah, almost forgot," said Logan, groggily.

Logan got up, got dressed and went to the kitchen for breakfast. He found it impossible to shake off his sleepiness and wondered again about the sleeping pill Mrs. Kane had given him. There was a stack of pancakes and a tall glass of orange juice waiting for him on the counter. The Kanes' housekeeper was well aware of teenage boys' appetite, and he was grateful. He hadn't had much to eat the previous night, and he was starving.

He drowned his pancakes in maple syrup and began wolfing them down. Duncan was reading a note someone had left for him.

"My mom called your mom. She says your dad is doing okay. Nothing vital was touched, and he's out of intensive care," he said.

"That's good," said Logan, relieved.

He'd wished so many times that someone would come up and hurt his father, spent so many occasions fantasizing about his father's death, that he couldn't help but to think that he was at fault for what had happened. Logan hadn't paid attention to what was going on in the house. He had been flippant about it to the security guard. Now Dad was in the hospital. He hadn't really wanted that. He supposed there was a lesson to be learned about being careful what you wish for. He hoped that his dad was going to be okay, because Logan wasn't sure he would live with himself if he died.

Once they were in Duncan's car, he dialed his mother's number, but he only got her voicemail.

"She's probably asleep," he told Duncan, trying not to feel hurt that she hadn't called him to tell him about Dad's condition. His mom probably had other things on her mind than calling everyone to update them about how his dad was doing.

They drove in silence through the deserted streets. The sun hadn't yet come over the hills. The darkness wasn't helping Logan to wake up, and he yawned deeply. When they got to the house, they found that the paparazzi had left.

* * *

The money, miraculously, was still on the table, right where they had left it. Together, Logan and Duncan counted everybody's chips and calculated how much money everyone had won. It helped that Duncan had no trouble calculating off the top of his head.

"That's thirty-five hundred for Veronica," he said, "six hundred for Weevil, four hundred for you, two hundred for Connor and three hundred for me."

Logan texted Connor to let him know how much he'd won and to ask him when he could come over to give him his money.

"So, er, you and Veronica - you're friends again?" he asked Duncan casually.

"Sort of," Duncan said. "She hangs out a lot with that new guy who's on the basketball team, Wallace Fennel."

"Short, black kid?" Logan asked, even if he knew perfectly well who Duncan meant.

"Yeah. His mom's a secretary at the firm. He's all right."

Logan smiled as he arranged the chips in the box. It was good to have Duncan back from the undead, or the underworld, or wherever he had disappeared to after Lilly's death. Even schmoozer-Duncan, who knew everybody's name along with a couple of facts about them so he could chat with them and proclaim they were "all right."

"So, er," Logan began again, clearing his throat. "You and Veronica, you're getting back together?"

"No. We're not getting back together," said Duncan.

There was a coldness in his voice that told Logan the subject was closed.

"Okay, well, I just need to grab my schoolbag," said Logan. "See you in calc?"

"Yeah, no problem. You want to take care of the money, or you want me to do it?"

"It's okay," said Logan, "I got it covered. See you!"

Duncan took off with a wave of his hand.

* * *

When Logan arrived at school, he wished he'd asked Duncan to stay with him. Everyone was staring at him, just like they had after Lilly's death, only now it was only him. This time there wasn't Duncan and Veronica to share in the staring and whispering. He ignored it as well as he could, pretending nothing was the matter, but he still thought the Christmas holidays couldn't start too soon.

He looked for Weevil first, and he found him at the spot where the PCHers usually hung out between classes.

"Here, man," he said, handing him his money. "What you won last night."

"That seems about right," Weevil said after counting the bills. "Is your old man going to be okay?"

"Yeah, he'll live. Hey, uh, thanks for being discreet, you know, with the whole Sean situation."

"No problem. It's not your fault he's a sneaky piece of shit. He'll get his, don't worry."

Logan grinned. He fully expected Sean to show up bruised and with two black eyes one of these days. He nodded to Weevil and left him to his gang.

He didn't see Veronica until lunch. She was at her usual table with Fennel.

"Here," he said, throwing the roll of bills in front of her. "For your… services last night."

Fennel glared at him, but Veronica ignored the barb.

"Thanks," she said. "Is your Dad going to be okay?"

He almost answered as if they had been friends, but then remembered her Dad hugging her as she was still staring, white as a sheet, at the place where his father had been stabbed. And then he remembered Mr. Kane, who had come to pick him up in the middle of the night, braving the paparazzi for him. Could he have any doubt where her loyalties were?

"Yeah, like you actually care," he said.

She had chosen her side a long time ago, and he'd chosen his. He wasn't going to abandon his friends, and she'd made it clear she wasn't going to admit she was wrong, no matter how many times Abel Koontz confessed to Lilly's murder. There was nothing to be done about it. Logan walked away without looking back at her. Whatever friendship he and Veronica had ever had, it was over and one day he would get used to it.

He could feel her stare at his back, could hear Fennel angrily abusing him, but there was nothing to be done. There were some things that could never go back to the way they were.

Great job !! I really enjoyed your interprétation of this épisode. It's one of my fav épisodes !