Authors note; please go to and donate to the Veronica Mars movie project. There are only three days left! The more we donate, the more smouldering we'll get! MLP
Chapter 35 Serendipity
As October blazed, Veronica dug into her research in earnest. She compiled dossiers on all the attendees of the private auction. Most of them had backgrounds that gave her plenty to work with; tangential connections to people in whom the bureau took an interest; the criminal element were always trying to blend into the upper stratosphere of society and the movers and shakers were rarely so squeaky clean themselves that they turned their noses up at newer, dirtier fortunes. Where big money and politics are, criminals can always be found.
But Veronica needed more than passing acquaintance; she was looking for evidence of market manipulation and money laundering. Her biggest problem with this case was not a lack of leads but the danger of being distracted by questionable business and personal dealings that had nothing to do with the case she was trying to make. She met briefly with Johnson every morning to keep him up to speed on what she found. Most mornings, he sipped his coffee in silence and just listened to her report. Once in a while, he asked to look at a dossier himself. Veronica liked the fact that he didn't assert himself as her supervisor but gave her free reign to follow the information as she found it. She knew better than to think that any one piece of information would break something wide open. After a few weeks she was confident enough to eliminate several names from her list of persons of interest. She went to work digging into the back grounds of the names still on that list. She was in her element; delving into the lives of a dozen or so perfect strangers, unearthing their secrets and trying to put all the pieces together. She was sure she was getting somewhere but was less confident that her bosses would see what she considered slow progress that way. After about two weeks of this, Johnson stunned her by telling her to keep up the good work. Her years of private detective work had not prepared her for the slow, deliberate turning of the wheels of a federal investigation.
Logan was enjoying as much of the still warm days as he could. Little by little, he noticed the sailboats disappearing off the lakes and then one day in the middle of the month, they were gone. All the city lakes had row upon row of empty buoys where boats had been tied up all summer long. And then one day, the buoys were gone as well. The sun was still bright, the air was warm, the sky and water were brilliant blue but the sun was setting a little earlier every day, the glorious colors were fading, the leaves were falling and boats were gone.
He didn't mind. It just made the lakes look bigger. Temperatures were falling at night. Not so much that he and Veronica closed their windows. They certainly hadn't had the furnace on but the lower night time temps were definitely having an effect on the water. At the beginning of October, the water was cooling down but it hadn't reached Pacific Ocean cold yet. The best waves always occur in the winter months, when the waters off southern California are not at all what one imagines while listening to the Beach Boys. That surf is cold. Logan always kept a wet suit in his car and by mid October, he was using it.
He didn't stay out on the water as long as he had when it was hot. He spent more time on his bike or in the gym with JR. They had added free weights and a couple of machines to the arsenal downstairs. Joe Tucker was working with them four days a week, now. JR fancied that he was noticing an increase in his muscle mass. Veronica still kicked his ass when they got in the ring together.
"Come the zombie apocalypse, this right here is my weapon of choice!" JR said, firing a slim metal bolt into the target attached to the hay stack thirty feet away.
"I hear the zombies are due to arrive on Halloween." Logan said, notching a feathered bolt into his own pistol cross bow.
They were standing in a field at the southeastern edge of Lake Calhoun that had served as an archery range for over fifty years. The marshy meadow was bigger than a football field and hedged in by the lake, Williamberry Woods and Lakewood cemetery. The earth was soft and springy and during the summer months it wasn't unusual for makeshift volley ball courts to be set up near the bike path that ran over the hill between lakes Calhoun and Harriet. The trolley tracks running from Lake Harriet followed the edge of the cemetery past the range but were far enough away from the targets to pose no risk. There was no sign of the neighborhood on the other side of the wooded hill behind them. Only the downtown skyline, visible across Lake Calhoun, reminded the two young men that they were still within the limits of a bustling metropolis and not out in the middle of nowhere.
On this day in mid October, it seemed like the world was theirs. The trolley only ran on weekends this late in the season. The bike path running between the lakes was still used but there was nothing like the traffic of a month or so ago. The lake to their left glittered a brilliant cobalt blue and although some of the trees had shed their leaves, most of them still blazed with the remains of their autumn colors. The archery range itself was a golden expanse of dry grass and dead leaves. The sun was warm but the breeze coming across the lakes held a cool edge. Neither JR nor Logan had any idea what the breeze foreshadowed; they just thought it was refreshing.
"Yeah, AMC must think zombies are the new vampires." JR said as he watched Logan take aim.
"Well, we definitely need a new monster; vampires suck these days."
"They're vampires. They're supposed to suck." JR pointed out. Logan grinned and lifted his pistol bow, talking aim.
"You sure these little things will take out a zombie?" He asked as his first shot missed the hay bale completely, burying itself harmlessly in the berm behind the bales.
"Yep." JR twirled one of the pencil sized bolts. "At close range, one of these through the skull and that's all she wrote."
"I don't know," Logan notched another bolt. "I think I'd rather have a gun."
"Think about it, Moneybags; noise attracts them. Guns are noisy. These are silent but deadly."
"Like a fart." Logan said as he took aim. This time he hit the bale but not the target.
"I'm sure your farts have a wider kill zone." JR remarked. "But they're useless against the walking dead."
"I don't know," Logan smirked. "After I've been eating Indian food, I'm a force to be reckoned with."
"I'll take a pistol bow over your gas track any day of the week." JR said, squeezing off a shot. He nicked the edge of the target. "When stealth is the name of the game, this is definitely your ticket. You could pick off zombies all day long with one of these and they'd never know you were there."
"Did you see that episode of Deadliest Warrior that put zombies up against vampires?" Logan notched a bolt and took more careful aim. "The zombies won but it was totally bogus; the attack was a hundred against three."
"In all fairness, zombies would outnumber vampires." JR pointed out.
"Wouldn't matter; Vampires are super strong and smart…" Logan missed the bale again. "Zombies aren't just stupid, they're mindless. They can't plot, plan or work together. Their only strength is they're fearless. My money's on three vampires over a hundred zombies seven days a week."
"They're not completely mindless." JR objected. "It's not like you'd be fighting house plants! They're more like animals, operating on nothing but instinct and appetite."
"How would they even find a vampire?" Logan asked. "No body heat; no smell. What would even mark a vampire as prey to a zombie? Nothing! And vampires can fly."
"Didn't the show have them trapped in a warehouse or something?"
"Yeah." Logan snorted. "Like that would ever happen."
"That's where a TV show that compared the fighting abilities between vampires and zombies lost you? The battle field? Are you also the guy who wants to know where the Tin Man got an axe?"
"The Tin Man always had an axe. Did you know the Scarecrow had a gun?"
"He did not!"
"Did." Logan insisted.
"Well then why didn't he use it?" JR demanded.
"Maybe guns don't work against Wicked Witches, especially if you trap them in a warehouse." Logan said sarcastically. "It's like they wanted the zombies to win!"
"Maybe they did." JR shrugged. "Zombies are the new hot monster."
"I don't get it." Logan shook his head. "Vampires are charming and sexy. Zombies are just ambulant meat sacks. No personality."
"They're both dead." JR suggested.
"Undead. Whatever. But Vampires aren't decomposing." Logan pointed out. "They're like, physically perfect, strong and smart. Vampires are cool. Zombie's are ugly, getting uglier by the minute, dumber than house plants and smell like shit. Why would anyone root for a zombie?"
"They're more fun; easy to kill." JR sighted and took a shot. It nicked the edge of the target they'd tacked onto the hay bale. "They're slow and stupid. Sitting ducks."
"The ones in 28 Days Later weren't slow or stupid." Logan said, notching a bolt into his pistol and sighting.
"Technically, they weren't really zombies," JR nit picked. "They were living people infected with the rage virus."
Logan looked at him for a moment, thinking, and then nodded in agreement.
"Like Reavers." He said, his first shot no better than JR's. "Not dead but guys who had been chemically altered."
" 'We meant it for the best!'" JR quoted as he squeezed off another shot, once again nicking his paper target.
"The horror of both vampires and zombies is that you could find yourself face to face with someone you cared about…" Logan mused. "…and now it's you or them. Talk about emotional conflict."
"Well, I think the mythology developed around the idea that evil comes in seductive forms. Vampires are hot but you have to invite them in; Zombies are gross but they'll break down your door."
"The classic trade off." Logan's next shot was worse than his last. "Vampires get eternal youth, strength and beauty but they have to live by iron clad rules. Zombies are just death, running rampant."
"Bryn says in mythology there are always rules of balance." JR said. "In real life it's kinda the other way around."
"Is it?" Logan's eyebrow said more than his words.
"Sure; beauty, power, fame…those things open all doors." JR explained, refusing to be intimidated. "That's why we're here, isn't it?"
"Might be why you're here." Logan pulled another bolt out of the package. "I'm just enjoying beautiful autumn day, working on my marksmanship. Getting ready for the zombies."
"It does seem like they weighted the battle pretty heavily in favor of the zombies." JR had to admit. "I mean, a hundred boyscouts could probably beat three ninjas."
"Fifty, if they're Eagle Scouts." Logan finally managed to nick the paper target. "Especially if they had toys like these."
"If you don't tighten up, you're dead meat when the zombies arrive, Moneybags." JR shook his head. "Concentrate! You're all over the place."
"Trust me, dude; if the zombies ever show up, my concentration will be legendary."
"Better be. You have to shoot 'em right through the brain to stop them." JR pointed out. "A shot through the neck won't stop a zombie."
"I know; destroy the brain in a zombie, use silver on a werewolf, take the head right off a vampire…"
"I thought you needed a wooden stake through the heart?"
"Nah; that just paralyzes them so you can chop off their heads." Logan took aim again. "That's the only way to keep a vampire down. When Vlad the Impaler died, they buried his head in a separate place from his body. The locals didn't want to take the chance that he'd rise."
"Who's Vlad the Impaler?" JR frowned as he took aim again.
"The real life guy that Count Dracula is based on. Haven't you seen FFC's film?"
"The one with Winona Ryder?"
"Yeah. It starts out with the legend of the real guy; Vlad."
"That movie has Winona Ryder and Keanu." JR's voice was ripe with disdain. "Why would I ever watch that?"
"It's so cheesy you barely notice the ham." Logan happily agreed. "But watching Anthony Hopkins eat the scenery is worth it." He took careful aim.
"What about sunshine?" JR watched as Logan hit the edge of his target.
"I'd prefer it if you stuck with 'Moneybags'." Logan remarked, satisfied with his shot.
"Doesn't sunshine kill vampires?" JR rolled his eyes.
"Yeah. It either reduces them to ash instantly, or it saps their strength but they'd have to be pretty darned desiccated for an infusion of fresh blood not to perk them right up." Logan looked at JR. "And they don't actually need to sleep in the dirt, it's just that Bram Stoker wrote Dracula long before the age of refrigeration. There's a long, revered tradition of vampire lore. No way they're all OCD, either; just because you become a vampire I see no reason why you'd automatically develop psychological quirks."
"Just because you've suddenly stopped aging, can only ingest living blood and can't go out during the day is no reason to suddenly go nuts?" JR grinned.
"Exactly." Logan notched another bolt. "I'm sure the folk tales about vampires predate Stoker but he's the guy who took it all and made it coherent. I don't know where zombies came from."
"You do." JR put one near the center of the target. "Check me out! Actually, I think zombies might be an off shoot of the Golem legend."
"Gollem?" Logan frowned. "Smeagol?"
"No, Golem. Although I'd bet Tolkien's use of the name was deliberate." JR said. "The Golem is in ancient Jewish folk lore. He's a mindless monster, made of mud..."
"Say that ten times fast." Logan smirked.
"…brought to life with the Hebrew word for 'truth'. It has to be written on it or attached to it somehow. Usually it runs amok and kills people. Like Frankenstein."
"Frankenstein's creature was intelligent." Logan informed him. "The scientist got in trouble not so much for bringing it to life but for abandoning it."
"Yeah. Come on, you don't think DeNiro would play a zombie, do you?"
"You never know. Well anyway animating the inanimate is never a good idea. You wouldn't want to run into a zombie or a golem in a dark alley at night."
"Not without one of these suckers up your sleeve." Logan hit the edge of his target again. "Or a gun."
"Even with, you'd better hope it's a zombie and not a golem; one of these through head wouldn't even slow a golem down." JR's shots were getting closer to the center of the target.
"No; the only way to kill a golem is to change the word 'truth' to 'death' which fortunately in Hebrew all you have to do is erase one letter."
"Of course, you still have to get close enough to do it."
"Yeah, it's a good story."
"Well, I still put my money on vampires." Logan said as he notched another bolt. "They're the most bad ass of the monsters."
"You mean before Brad Pitt made them boring and Twilight made them stupid." JR nodded.
"Twilight." Logan spat as his bolt hit the bullseye. "Chick made a fortune but ruined an entire genre to do it."
"Nice shot!" JR approved. "You may survive the zombie apocalypse after all!"
"Stoker's Dracula was a character of romance," Logan went on "After all, it was his search for Mina that drove him but turning the entire thing into one big chick lit bang fest is going too far. In the original, Mina was enchanted by the monster but you're never lead to believe that it was a good thing; she needed to be rescued, not envied. The problem with the new crap is that we're supposed to ignore the fact that we're looking at chicks who want to have sex with dead guys. What the fuck?"
"You're the one who said vampires were sexy."
"They've got no body heat! I don't care how hot she looks; No way I'm gonna snuggle up to a chick who's room temperature."
"Thank God for small favors."
"And think about it; you're a smokin' hot immortal with super powers. What the fuck are you doing in high school?"
"I think you're taking the whole thing way too seriously." JR laughed.
"I don't know what it says about the state of society when chicks have to turn to the undead for romance," Logan said, firing the last bolt. "I weep for my generation."
The nights began to cool down considerably. Veronica awoke one night, shivering from head to toe. The breeze blowing in through their open bedroom window had turned cold. She could have gone over and closed the window but that would have meant getting out of bed. She snuggled closer to her large, warm husband instead. He didn't wake up, but obligingly scooped his shivering little wife into a cocoon of his arms and legs where she fell back asleep, warm as toast.
The next day, JR was dispatched to buy thermal blankets and the biggest down comforter available. During the day, the air was so crisp and fragrant that they couldn't bring themselves to close the windows, but when they went to bed, Veronica did remember to close them nearly all the way; just a crack to let in the fresh air but thermal blankets to keep from waking up, doing their sleeping popsicle imitations.
"Duluth!" Logan exclaimed one evening as Veronica dragged her exhausted body through the kitchen door. "Let's go!"
"Why?" she asked.
"Surf's up!" He replied, clearly excited.
"In Duluth?" She frowned. "I think you're confused."
"No, I've been hoping for an opportunity to surf Superior, I just didn't think there'd be any good waves so early in the season but a storm is passing through right now and the waves for the next three days are supposed to be killer; Let's go."
"There's a storm? You're not making the case for a trip to Duluth, Baby Cakes."
"The storm will have passed by morning. The sun will be out, the sky will be blue but the waves are supposed to stay good for a few days. Guys have been surfing twelve and fifteen footers for the last two days! We could leave tonight and I could catch some eight to six footers tomorrow morning."
"Logan, its Wednesday." She reminded her husband with a laugh. "I'm supposed to go to work tomorrow."
"Can't you work from home? Or Fitger's Hotel in Duluth? It's a fancy pants four star establishment, I'm sure they have the interweb."
"Come on! It's less than three hours away. Two and a quarter in the Ferrari." Logan said persuasively, only to frown and shake his head. "No, we can't take the Ferrari. I need the Rover to haul my gear. Still; not even three hours away to a unique surf adventure I've been waiting years for!"
"You've been waiting years for a chance to go to Duluth?" she teased. "News to me."
"I have spent my adult life searching out cool places to surf…"
"Your adult life being the last twenty three months."
"I was emancipated at seventeen." He reminded her. "So it's been nearly five years. And now we live a quick jaunt from what may be the world's finest fresh water surf. You can't tell me it's mere luck that a storm just happened to kick up some gnarly waves this early in the season, when the sun is still warm and the beaches aren't snowbound, our very first season in Minnesota. That's not luck; that's serendipity. Pack your overnight bag."
"And what am I supposed to do in Duluth all day while you're out dancing the gnarly waves?"
"Whatever you want; sleep in, walk the shore, shop, sit in our four star hotel room and work on your handy little laptop; they're portable, you know."
"That sounds lovely but why don't you go without me?"
"I want you to come." As he spoke, he picked up her hand and kissed her knuckles. "I don't want to go without you. Think about it; you, me, the big lake they call Gitche Gumee." He turned her hand over, pressing his lips to her wrist. "It'll be fun!"
"You don't play fair." She said, struggling to keep her knees from turning to water.
"I win, cheat or quit." He said, opening her palm and pressing a kiss into her hand. "But I don't lose. Ever."
It took all her will power to pull her hand away from his mouth, saying "You know I'm no fun when I'm neck deep in a case."
"If I thought you weren't any fun when you're neck deep in a case," he said, rolling his eyes, "I'd never have thought you were any fun at all."
"It sounds like you've got plenty to do. You won't even miss me." She said plaintively as he slid his hand around her neck, his palm flat and warm on her skin.
"I will when I get to my beautiful, romantic hotel room with a view of the lake and no one to share it with." He massaged her neck in a way that he knew made her go weak. "We'll go out for dinner, maybe catch a show at the DECC or find some club where we can dance."
"That does sound fun." She moaned, letting her eyes flutter shut. "Why don't we go this weekend?"
"The waves could be gone by then. Surf's up now." Unfortunately for Logan, that broke the spell.
"You've never minded taking surf trips without me before." She said, sliding out from under his carress.
"You don't want to come to the San Francisco of the Great Plains with me?" Logan's shoulders sagged.
"It's not that I don't want to go…" she tried to explain. "I can't. I have a meeting with Larson tomorrow morning."
"I thought your boss was named Johnson."
"He is. Johnson is my immediate superior and I've been reporting to him on the case. Larson is the Section Chief."
"Why are you meeting with him? Can't you reschedule?"
"First of all, a lowly rookie agent does NOT reschedule a meeting with the SC. Second of all, the message I received, which was more like a summons, didn't include an agenda."
"So what does that mean?"
"It's got to mean that the meeting is about a certain matter that I asked the SC to help me with a few months ago!" Veronica said, excited. "I don't know what else it could possibly mean. And I'm not about to give Larson an excuse to blow me off. If he's finally got something for me on OCB, I'm not about to blow it."
"OH fuck, Veronica!" Logan cried. "Not that again!"
"What do you mean 'again'?" she demanded. "This is the first break I've had in years."
"Blow it off." He shrugged. "Who cares what Gory's up to? I sure as Hell don't."
"I know you don't." she sighed, putting her hands on her hips. "What I don't understand is why not. You have no idea what those people are capable of…"
"I have no idea?" Logan interrupted. "The way I remember it, I'm the one who spent a day hanging from the ceiling."
"You think that since Gory's first attempt to kill you didn't work, he's no threat. I've seen reports of what those guys do. The bodies turn up with no hands, feet or head. The scars he left on your back would be the only way I could identify you."
"You don't think you'd recognize my…" He glanced towards his crotch.
"I JUST WANT TO KEEP YOU SAFE!" She cried, refusing to let him joke about it.
"Remember how pissed you used to get at me when I said that?"
"I'm beginning to empathize."
"Logan, Gory may have been incompetent when he tried to kill you himself but he could have learned a lot in three years." Veronica sighed. "He could send someone else after you! I just want to be able to keep an eye on him myself. This could be my only chance to get that advantage and I'm not willing to risk losing it just because the surf's up on Lake Superior."
"Veronica, I spent a day with that guy. I'm surprised he can remember how to tie his shoes. I'd be shocked if he remembers me at all."
"Do you know how lucky you are that he didn't kill you? What if you and I hadn't gotten back together? What if you and Heather hadn't had a standing game of Mario Cart? What if I hadn't known about Jake Kanes' connection to Gory? It wasn't luck that saved you, Logan; that was serendipity! And I'm not about to risk your life on it happening again."
"DAMN IT." Logan slammed his fists on the granite counter. "I can't believe my plan to spend a few days surfing Lake Superior have been thwarted just because my wife doesn't want me to get killed by Russian mobsters."
Veronica giggled at his mock indignation. "Seriously, go without me. If you want, I can join you Friday evening."
"I wanted to see Lake Superior for the first time with you." He wheedled.
"Are you trying to guilt trip me?" she asked, incredulously.
"Would that work?"
"Fine." He blew out his cheeks in exaggerated acceptance. "There'll be other chances to surf Superior. I guess."
The next morning, Veronica was annoyed with herself for how excited she was going into Section Chief Larson's office for her private meeting. For three years, she had exhausted every avenue she could think of to find Gory Sorokin. The man had vanished without a trace and if she were honest, that fact made her more nervous than if she had discovered that he had been moving up the ranks of his Uncle's organization. To have disappeared seemed far more ominous and dangerous than accumulating a record of any kind of achievement.
When she had opened the email from Larson's office, she had expected the usual field office update. Instead, she had read the terse note commanding her to appear upstairs first thing in the morning. No interdepartmental greeting, no agenda; just a summons for Agent Mars to present herself at the section chief's office.
Her current case was occupying an enormous amount of her time and energy but it hadn't pushed the other matter out of her mind. She had begun to despair of getting anywhere with her request to contact OCB but had hesitated giving the section chief another push since she was pretty sure he'd given her the case at hand at least in part as a show of good faith. He had to know that using her marriage to the Bureau's advantage cut both ways. Reading that email, she felt her patience had been rewarded.
She ducked into the ladies room to make double check her appearance. Satisfied that she was all tucked in and professionally sleek, she marched up to his assistant's desk.
"Oh." Cheryl looked up at Veronica with an odd look in her eyes. "Agent Mars." Then the look vanished, she smiled and said "Section Chief Larson is expecting you. Go on in."
"Thanks." Veronica said, a small v between her eyes as she tried to decode that something in Cheryl's eyes. Had it been…fear? Pity? She mentally shook herself, determined not to be too disappointed if Larson told her OCB had said to kiss off. She took a deep breath as she turned the knob and walked into Larson's office. She felt ready for anything.
Except what she found waiting for her inside.
"Good morning, Agent Mars." Larson said from behind his desk. "Have a seat. I believe you remember Special Agent Morris?"
At his words, the statuesque blonde standing near the file cabinets stepped forward and Veronica found herself eye to eye with a woman she had last seen while being interrogated in Sheriff Lamb's office about the disappearance of Duncan Kane and the abduction of Faith Manning, aka Lilly Kane.
"Veronica Mars." Morris said in that unforgettable smooth, low voice. "So they actually let you in to the bureau. Will wonders never cease."
Veronica's eyes narrowed and she said "Of all the section chiefs' offices in all the world…you had to walk into mine. How are you, Special Agent Morris? How's your partner? Is the good Wills still hunting? I thought you retired years ago."
"I see you haven't outgrown your snotty attitude." Morris sighed.
"I prefer to think I've grown into it."
"You continue to convince me that the Bureau's hiring standards have deteriorated sadly since I joined." Morris shook her head.
"I'm sure standards have changed a bit since the…Reagan administration, was it?"
"You're funny." Morris said without a hint of humor. "I remember how funny you were."
"As I recall, you were a bucket of laughs, yourself."
Larson's eyebrows rose during this interchange, which was uttered in the friendliest possible manner.
"Special Agent Morris is here to talk to you about an open case," Larson told Veronica, "a kidnapping in which you are a material witness, Mars."
"Duncan Kane and Faith Manning." Veronica nodded. "Special Agent Morris already knows everything I know about the situation. Although, I suppose forgetfulness isn't uncommon at her age..."
"Recent events have caused me to go back over my case notes." Morris said coolly. "You're not the only witness I'm re-interviewing."
"I hope you didn't go very far out of your way to hear that I still don't know anything." Veronica said.
"That's enough." Larson ordered. "Sit down, both of you."
Veronica immediately slid into one of the chairs in front of her section chief's desk. Morris stood for just a moment before gracefully easing herself into the other. She smiled at Larson. It was the sort of smile that goes nowhere near the eyes.
"I would have classified Ms. Mars here as a hostile witness in court." She told Larson. "I expected as much from a girl with her reputation. I expect something else from a Special Agent with the FBI."
"You treated me like a suspect." Veronica defended herself. "You accused me of aiding and abetting. I was a kid and you tried to bully me into confessing to a crime I knew nothing about!"
"We know all about Agent Mars participation in that old case," Larson told Morris. "I agreed to let you talk to her as a professional courtesy. I can see that I was right in insisting that the interview take place in my office. Keep it professional, Agents, or I'll censure you both."
"I'm always professional, Section Chief Larson." Morris said, never taking her eyes off Veronica. Veronica just rolled her eyes.
"What recent events have changed the circumstances of the case?" Veronica asked in as neutral a voice as she could muster.
"I'll ask the questions, if you don't mind." Morris said in an equally neutral voice. Then she fixed Veronica with her steely gaze and said nothing.
Veronica stared right back at her.
Larson sighed inwardly, knowing exactly how far those intimidation techniques would get Morris with Mars. After nearly a minute of this, he'd had enough. "Agent Morris, if you didn't have anything to ask my agent, she has a lot of work to do..."
"When was the last time you had contact with Duncan Kane?" Morris asked Veronica as though the Section Chief hadn't spoken.
"Same as the last time you asked me that question." Veronica answered. "I haven't seen, heard or had any contact whatsoever with Duncan Kane since we broke up two days before he disappeared, allegedly with the infant, Faith Manning."
"In the ensuing years you haven't received any cryptic, unsigned letters or postcards, no emails of unknown origin, no suspicious strangers trying to 'friend' you on Facebook?"
"No, no and no."
"How about Twitter?" Morris asked. "Have you received any messages of a suspicious nature in a twitter?"
"Ashton Kutcher has over a million followers on Twitter," Veronica pointed out "Why don't you ask him?"
"I'm asking you."
"I don't tweet."
"You're saying you no longer have any connection to Duncan Kane?" Morris asked.
"What's your relationship with Jake and Celeste Kane?" Morris questioned.
"What was your relationship with them at the time of their son's disappearance?" Morris specified.
"Complicated." Veronica answered tersely. How else to describe one's relationship with a couple who thinks you may be her worst nightmare and his bastard daughter? One sees you as a reminder of everything that's wrong in her life, the girl who could never be good enough for her son, the other sees you as a reminder of lost love, scandal, a purveyor of industrial espionage, blackmail and finally an uneasy truce.
"You can do better than that, Agent Mars." Morris insisted with a cold smile.
"Celeste Kane never thought I was good enough to date her son and Jake…tolerated me. Less so, after my father and I proved that they obstructed the investigation of their daughter's murder."
"Hmm." Morris was naturally well acquainted with all the details about the Kanes trial at the time of Duncan's disappearance. "You have an acrimonious relationship with the Kanes, yet you've invested heavily in Kane Software." She consulted her notebook. "To the tune of 100,000 added shares this year."
Larson's eyebrows inched up at that. He knew Mars had married money but it was still mind boggling to hear the numbers. Kane Software was currently trading at around $187.53 a share.
"I have nothing to do with the way my husband invests his money." Veronica pointed out.
"Nothing?" Morris acted surprised. "Isn't it true that your husband put all his assets in your name last spring?"
Veronica set her jaw. The contents of the hated prenuptial agreement Logan had insisted upon were not a matter of public record. Unless and until such a time as Veronica filed for divorce, it never would be. Morris had no business knowing about it. It did nothing for Veronica's temper that she hated the prenup.
"Sort of." She said.
"Sort of?" Morris raised her eyebrows. "Either he did or he didn't, Agent Mars. Which is it?"
"When we got married, my husband took my name. Therefore the assets are all in our name."
"Your husband, Logan Echolls." Morris clearly thought she would score a point with that but her expression betrayed no disappointment in the non reaction from Veronica or Larson.
"Yes." Veronica merely nodded, bored.
"You're saying he invested that amount in a company that is owned and operated by a man with whom his wife, whose name he took upon marrying, has an 'acrimonious relationship'? That's what you're saying?"
"My personal relationship with the Kane's has been over for years." Veronica said. "It has no bearing on the investment value of the company."
"It's business." Veronica answered.
"Have you ever been to the Eastern shores of Australia?" Morris asked, suddenly changing tactics.
"Yes." Veronica frowned.
"How often do you visit there?"
"I've been there once."
"You can check my passport."
"Oh, I have Agent Mars." Morris said in a vaguely threatening way. "I have."
"Then you know I've only been there once."
"The real question is why did you go there, Agent Mars?"
"What in the world does that have to do with the disappearance of my high school ex?"
"Just answer the question, Agent Mars." Morris smiled that cold reptilian smile again.
"I was on my Honeymoon."
"And who were you with, Agent Mars?"
"My dad and a few girl friends."
"NO. Who do you think was with me on my Honeymoon?"
"Mr. Logan Echolls." Morris repeated slowly. "He and Duncan Kane weren't merely friends; they were best friends and in fact, roommates at the time of the abduction, were they not?"
"Isn't that why you questioned him repeatedly at the time?" Veronica pointed out.
"So you acknowledge their relationship at the time of the abduction?"
"Convenient, isn't it? That the one should disappear without a trace and then you marry the other?"
"You got me." Veronica admitted. "It was convenient that my boyfriend knocked up a different girl, kept it a secret, kidnapped the baby and disappeared, clearing the way for me to marry his best friend, four years later. So much cleaner that way than just to break up…oh wait, we did break up!"
"Do you think it's usual for a Honeymooning couple to come home four days early?" Morris ignored Veronica's sarcasm as she changed direction.
"I have no idea what's usual for Honeymooning couples." Veronica admitted.
"You had plans to remain in Mollymook for two weeks, yet you left after only ten days. Why is that?"
"Are you serious?" Veronica frowned.
"Serious enough to make a federal case out of it." Morris answered.
"It's none of your business why we left Australia early."
"Answer the question, Agent Mars." Morris repeated.
"Answer the question." Morris pressed. Veronica merely raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms.
"ANSWER THE QUESTION!" Morris shouted. Veronica's expression didn't change but Larson's did.
"That's enough, Agent Morris!" he snapped. "What could the details of Agent Mars' Honeymoon possibly have to do with an open kidnapping case which occurred while she and her future husband were still in high school?"
"Chief Larson, with all due respect, I agreed to conduct this interrogation in your presence but I didn't agree to allow you to direct me in how to conduct it." Morris said, coldly.
"Interrogation?" Larson asked. "You said you had a few questions for my agent."
"I didn't expect to encounter such hostility from Agent Mars, sir."
"This isn't hostile." Veronica scoffed. "You've never seen me hostile."
"That's enough Agent Mars." Larson cut his eyes to the rookie. "Answer the question."
"Which question, sir?" Veronica asked sweetly.
"Why did you and your husband cut your Honeymoon short?" Morris asked her.
"You've been misinformed." Veronica said. "We did no such thing."
"You checked out of your beach front unit four days before scheduled!" Morris said.
"The bed was lumpy."
"Where did you go from there?"
"We went back to Hawaii." Veronica told her. Morris raised her eyebrows skeptically, prompting Veronica to ask, "Are you suggesting that Honeymooning in Hawaii now constitutes suspicious behavior?"
"What made you choose Australia for your Honeymoon?" Morris asked, her voice low and calm again.
"Sixteen thousand miles of beaches." Veronica answered.
"Mm hmm." Agent Morris nodded, as though Veronica had confirmed her suspicions. "Your husband, Logan Echolls, likes to surf, doesn't he?"
"Duncan Kane likes to surf." Morris smirked.
"Does he?" Veronica asked.
"Doesn't he?" Morris snapped.
"I don't know." Veronica replied. "He did when he was in school but that was a long time ago."
Morris glared at the younger Agent for a long drawn out moment.
"Agent Morris," Larson sighed, "What exactly do you think Agent Mars knows?"
"I think Agent Mars helped Duncan Kane skip the country in 2006." Morris looked at Larson for the first time since sitting down. "I think she aided and abetted the kidnapping of Faith Manning. I think she knows where the fugitive Duncan Kane has been for the past four years, I think they've been in contact and I think she used the pretext of her Honeymoon as a cover to meet with him."
There was a brief silence in the office as her words hung in the air.
"Do you think it's usual for a Honeymooning couple to track down and meet with their exes?" Veronica finally asked. "You must have had the worst Honeymoon ever."
"I'm not married." Morris said dismissively.
"What a shock."
"Are you saying that Duncan Kane has been in Australia these past four years?" Larson asked, ignoring his agent's commentary.
"I didn't say that." Morris hedged.
"Then what in Hell are you talking about?" The Section Chief demanded.
"We have reason to believe he may have been in that hemisphere earlier this year."
"Last spring, when Agent Mars was on her Honeymoon?" Larson asked.
"Are you suggesting that she and/or her husband met Kane there?"
"They're both surfers, sir." Morris insisted.
"Did I mention sixteen thousand miles of beach?" Veronica asked, incredulous. "That's not a needle in a haystack; that's a needle in a pile of needles the size of Mt. Everest!"
"That's what you'd like us to think, isn't it Agent Mars?" Morris sneered.
"Agent Morris, if you think I was glad that Duncan took that baby away from the Mannings when she was an infant, you're right." Veronica said. "I knew then and I still believe today that that child is immeasurably better off with her father than she would have been with anyone else. I made no pretense of hoping that you'd find him. I helped you as much as I could back then because you and my father made it very clear that if I didn't, it would bring more trouble down on me than I could ever get out from under."
"If I ever find proof that you obstructed…" Morris threatened.
"It's been four years, have you found any yet?" Veronica cut her off. "Don't you think you would have, if it existed? Do you even realize what kind of incompetence you're admitting to?"
"I admit to nothing." Morris sniffed.
"I was eighteen years old when that baby was born." Veronica went on. "And you think I outsmarted the entire FBI. I'd be flattered if it weren't so sad."
"You outsmarted no one!" Morris said, indignantly.
"That's right." Veronica nodded. "I didn't. In four years you're no closer to finding her than you were in the first twelve hours after they disappeared. If you think the suspicion that two young men may have both been in Australia at the beginning of the surf season in the southern hemisphere means anything, then you're really grasping at straws."
"It's a pretty convenient coincidence." Morris insisted.
"You keep saying that word. I don't think it means what you think it means." Veronica sighed. "This case is going to haunt your entire career, isn't it?"
"Worry about your own career, Agent Mars." Morris retorted.
"Are we done here, sir?" Veronica snapped her eyes to Section Chief Larson.
"Do you have any other questions for Agent Mars, Agent Morris?" Larson asked.
"No sir." Morris smirked. "I've got all I came for."
"You can go, Mars." Larson said curtly.
"Agent Mars," Morris said as Veronica stood. "Don't leave town."
Veronica left the office without a look back. Outside the door, she drew a deep breath.
What the hell was that all about?
She didn't know whether to be angry at Agent Morris' ridiculous assertions, anxious that there seemed to be new evidence in Duncan's kidnapping case, relieved that they still had nothing to connect her to the disappearance or just plain confused about the entire situation.
Veronica really, really hated feeling confused so she chose anger.
Logan had skipped the lake that morning. The thought of missing out on eight to ten foot swells up on Lake Superior had ruined his appetite for wind surfing the local lakes. He had spent an hour in the gym, then come straight to his office to work.
About mid morning, movement caught his eye and he turned to look out the large window to the back yard. He watched Veronica's Audi pulling up in the drive and his tiny wife explode out of her car like a snake from a can of peanuts. She didn't look happy.
He went out to meet her as she slammed into the kitchen.
"Pack your bag, Surfer Boy; we're going to Duluth!" she said with a smile that threw sparks.
Several hours later, Veronica sat on the Veranda at Fitger's Hotel, sipping a cup of tea and enjoying the afternoon sunshine glinting off the waves of Lake Superior. Despite the sun, she was bundled up in a thick fleece jacket as the wind coming across the water made the lake side of the hotel ten degrees cooler than the street side.
Duluth was not a disappointment. Typical West Coasters, they had joked about the 'San Francisco of the Midwest' as though it were an oxymoron like 'jumbo shrimp' but their first sight of the old shipping port proved that they had suffered from a lack of imagination. They came over the hills and there it was, shining on the bluffs over the wide blue horizon of the greatest of the Great Lakes.
Duluth had been built by big money and it showed in the mansions that climbed up the cliffs above the lake. Tier after tier of beautiful, ornate, Victorian homes lined the terraced bluffs, each succeeding block rising above the rooftops of its neighbors like stadium theater seating, providing everyone in town a panoramic view of the fresh water sea. The wooden castles weren't as colorful as San Francisco's painted ladies but what they lacked in whimsy they more than made up for in elegance. Front porches, towers, turrets and widows' walks adorned the enormous homes facing the lake like the monoliths of Easter Island. Unlike San Francisco, Duluth was covered with trees and packed with green spaces, now a little more than a week past its Autumn peak. The city was a tapestry of muted mauve, gold, rust and soft heathers.
Despite the fiercely blue sky, the lake looked like beaten pewter. The late storm could barely be seen as a dark smudge against the eastern horizon but the proof of its passing was in the choppy surface of the water, covered with eight to ten foot swells, frothing white as they broke near the shore.
Logan had hooted in excitement at the sight.
He had waited only as long as it took them to check into their room before he hauled his gear to the beach, donned his wet suit and took out his long board for the first time since their honeymoon in Hawaii.
He wasn't alone; Minnesota surfers are a very hearty strain of the species. Frigid air and water temperatures hovering just above freezing are no detriment to those who love the sport. Modern technology has made it possible to withstand the temperatures and brave the harshest of elements. The water off the beaches of Duluth was dotted with surfers, with and without sails.
The waves and wind were such that the wind surfers were able to grab several feet of air off the largest breakers. Logan could see how much fun they were having but he didn't miss his sail; he had come to enjoy the sport he'd grown up with; it felt great to be riding a curl, hands free again.
They had been halfway to Duluth before Veronica explained her change of heart. Running off to Lake Superior was her way of flipping off Agent Morris.
"I knew they were never going to stop hunting Duncan," She said, shaking her head. "But after all this time, I can't imagine why they'd come back at me. I need to find out what's changed with the state of the investigation."
"Do you think they're going to want to interview me again?" Logan asked, his forehead creased.
"I don't know." She shrugged. "I doubt it; after your initial interview, they pretty much wrote off the idea that you knew anything."
"Because I didn't. Dude went up in a puff of smoke without so much as a 'see ya'. You're the one they suspected of smuggling him over the border."
"Yeah." Veronica sighed.
"You don't think they've figured out how you did it, do you?" Logan asked, worried.
"No." Veronica chuffed at the idea. The only people who knew how they had done it were either implicated, dead or sitting beside her in the car. "This was clearly another fishing expedition. I shouldn't have let it upset me."
"Why did it upset you so much?" Logan asked, a part of him still afraid of the answer.
"I think…" Veronica answered, shaking her head, "I was just so pissed that the meeting wasn't about OCB."
She was looking out her window so she didn't see the look of immense relief on Logan's face as his features relaxed into a grin. It had not been the memory of Duncan that upset her.
"Fuck OCB!" he chirped, as a matter of habit. "And fuck Agent Morris; let's have some fun."
Veronica was enjoying herself as she sat in the brisk autumn air, her laptop on the table in front of her as she sipped her tea and entered Duncan Kane's name into the FBI data base. She may have been more upset by disappointment in the silence of OCB than the memory of Duncan's departure but she still wasn't going to allow Agent Morris to barge in and out of her life without giving up some information.
She hadn't followed the progress of Duncan's case since she joined the bureau. It never occurred to her to do so. Despite herself, she was impressed by the doggedness of Agent Morris's search. The woman had worked three other kidnapping cases in the four and a half years since Duncan had vanished but despite the coldness of the trail, had never stopped adding bits and pieces to her file on Duncan. From what Veronica found in the official file, it had been nothing more than reported sightings and an ongoing surveillance of Jake and Celeste's activities from where and when they vacationed to every financial move they made.
Veronica grinned. The feds might never find Duncan but if Jake or Celeste Kane ever strayed from the straight and narrow, the treasury department would come down on the software moguls like a ton of bricks thanks to the constant scrutiny their son's disappearance had caused. That couldn't have happened to a nicer couple.
Then she frowned. She and Logan were heavily invested in Kane Software. The merest whiff of shadiness in Jake Kane's business dealings could have an adverse impact on their fortune. As much as it pleased her to imagine either of the Kanes being perp walked on the nightly news, she wasn't sure it was worth millions to her to see it.
Then she shrugged. The fact that Jake Kane had managed to keep out of jail this long meant he probably knew what he was doing.
To her surprise, there was nothing in the file indicating that Duncan had been sighted in Australia the previous spring.
Veronica almost felt a twinge of sympathy for Agent Morris; clearly the woman had hit a dead end in the case and had gone back to square one.
Couldn't have happened to a nicer agent.
Later on, dressed for dinner, Logan regaled Veronica with his adventure on the waves as they went down to the lobby.
Veronica was smiling more at her husband's enthusiasm in describing the water than listening to the details of a sport she didn't understand when her eye was caught by a marquee in the lobby. She grabbed Logan's arm and pointed.
"Look at that!" she exclaimed.
The large, colorful poster advertized the Opening Reception to be held the following night for a show featuring several artists of national renown, right there in the banquet hall of Fitger's.
"Huh." Was Logan's eloquent return.
"Are you going to tell me you didn't know about this?" she cocked her head at him.
"Serendipity!" He shrugged.
They went on down to the Brewhouse for dinner. As soon as they were seated, Veronica pulled out her phone and called Johnson, telling him about the show. He agreed that it was a good idea to get up to Duluth, as the more shows and auctions she attended, the better it would be for her investigation.
"It's official!" she grinned at Logan as she dropped her purse back into her bag. "I'm here on business."
"Does that mean we can write off dinner?" He asked, perusing the menu. "I don't see lobster."
"I don't think the bureau will pay for Fitger's but if we wanted to go on down to the Super 8, we'd be good."
"No thanks. My patriotism only goes so far." Logan shook his head. "I'm having an elk burger."
The reception at Fitger's could hardly have been more different from the gala at the Art Institute. Whereas the one had been an exclusive, expensive fund raiser, the other was a celebration of local talent. It was open to all and after chatting with several other attendees, Veronica quickly realized that many, if not most of the folks filling the banquet hall of the old hotel were friends and family members of the artists.
Catered by the hotel, the food and wine was excellent. The banquet hall was well lit but couldn't compete with the exhibit space of the Target Atrium. The three artists whose work was being shown were all local so the place was packed. At first glance it looked like a town picnic had been moved indoors. There was no dress code. Mothers chased kids in and out of the hall. Men and women who had come straight from the office stood beside those who had driven in from the countryside or come in off their fishing boats to see what their favorite artists had produced.
Logan had not expected to be at all impressed by the art for sale.
He didn't know that Minnesota was the epicenter of the remnants of the Boston School; an underground movement in the art world where painters still learn to see, draw and paint like the old masters. Classical Impressionism was alive and well and Two Harbors, Minnesota, thirty miles up the coast from Duluth, was one of its strongholds.
The three local artists whose work was being shown that night were all graduates of the Atelier system; all were students of the great Richard Lack. These three were all members of the society from which Kirk Sorenson had exiled himself and spent his days drinking to forget.
All Logan knew was that for the second time in as many weeks, he felt his Mother's ghost at his shoulder.
The paintings were magnificent.
"Wow." Veronica said, later as she joined Logan back in their suite. She had stayed behind to see who got what at the silent auction.
"Waste of time?" Logan asked. "That really didn't look like the money laundering or drug running crowd."
"No; too much polyester." She agreed. "Although that old couple in their gardening clothes paid eleven thou for that last painting at the auction! I wouldn't have pegged them as having that kind of money or being art collectors."
"Can't judge a book by its ratty old, stained cover, eh?"
"Guess not." She agreed. "I didn't recognize anyone from the last auction. Everyone used their real names and phone numbers in the silent auction; I got shots of those lists and I'll run them against the Art Institute event just to be sure but I don't expect any overlap."
"No, this stuff wasn't 'important' enough to attract that bunch." Logan sneered. "But the night wasn't a total waste of time; I bought another painting."
"Ooh!" Veronica wasn't even surprised. "Which one?"
"Yellow and Blue." The featured artist had done an entire series of paintings depicting a woman hanging laundry on sundrenched summer days. There had been a half dozen pictures that were studies of sunlight pouring through translucent fabric. In the hands of the artist, simple laundry had become almost unbearably beautiful; mysterious and romantic. Logan had fallen in love with a large oil painting of a slim, blond woman hanging a pale yellow sheet on a clothesline. The simple composition was beautifully rendered and the sunlight filtered though fabric had reminded him of the giant Sorolla he'd fallen in love with years before. "I thought we could hang it in the kitchen; it's homey."
"Perfect!" Veronica said. "Man, being rich is fun! I bought one, too!"
With that, she uncovered the wrapped canvas she'd outbid all others to win at the silent auction; a 20"X24" oil study of a young boy sitting on a river bank reading a book.
"It's called 'Tom Sawyer'," she told him. "I took one look at it and knew I had to have it."
"Great, we came here to catch waves and bad guys and wound up buying art." Logan said, shaking his head. "No one can accuse us of wasting our time."
"Who knows?" Veronica shrugged. "Maybe when I run the names it'll turn out one of those polyester Pollyanna's will have mob connections. This could turn out to be the best surf trip ever."
To be continued...