Title: Get Tough, Get Even

Author: zmdr

Fandom: Veronica Mars

Rating: T for language, disturbing imagery, violence

Characters: Veronica

Summary: Post 3x20, Veronica takes it personally. Waaay personally.

Spoilers: All of VM is spoiled. Warning: Major character death. Possible OoC.

Disclaimer: Veronica Mars is one of the greatest shows. Ever. Pity I don't own it. Actually, if I own it I'll probably ruin it, as can be seen in the following fic. Rob Thomas owns all, CW owns rights.

A/N: So sorry for the wait. Had a very, very busy week at college. Right now, I'm doing final editing and proofreading at 4 in the morning, so please excuse any grammatical errors, tonal irregularities and such.

A/N2: This chapter serves as a ramp-up to chapter 18. I've decided to use Nestor Ramus again, as to me, he's an interesting character. Hope you guys don't mind him.

A/N3: This chapter title is a shout-out to the Carmen Sandiego series, which I fondly recall playing when I was much younger.

A/N4: And more dialogue. That atrophied dialogue writing muscle really needs its exercise.

The truth is rarely pure and never simple. And I shall not rest until it is exposed.

One Day Earlier

Thursday, 7 P.M.

Seth

"Where in the world is Veronica Mars?" Omar whines.

Yep, I'm wondering that too. It's getting late; the sun will be setting soon. The three of us, Omar, Callie and myself, are gathered outside the main entrance of the FBI Academy, under the veranda. It's starting to drizzle; Omar's looking very nervous right now. I look over the sprawling parking lot. It's sprawling precisely because the Academy's situated inside a military base; there's plenty of space for a car park. It's half an hour past the end of the work day, so the parking area is, already, half empty. I glance at my watch. 7.01 P.M. I stare at the entrance, as if the power of my mind could will Veronica to walk out of the door. I dial her number on my cell. It goes straight to voicemail.

The door opens. My hopes rise. Oh. It's a harried looking man. I recognize him as one of our fellow interns. He nods at us in greeting and hurries down to his vehicle.

"Look, either Veronica's antique car has magically morphed itself upmarket, or she's gone. Deal with it." Callie says.

Indeed, the space which I remember Veronica parking this morning is now occupied by a brand new, bright yellow Chevy. Yep. Either she's managed to upgrade during the day, or she's indeed gone. But therein lies the problem. My pickup only has space for two, and the second seat's already taken by Callie. Omar will have to ride in the cargo bed. And, it's drizzling. Omar looks forlornly at the cloudy sky.

"Let's give it another five minutes. If she's not out by then, we should start making our way back. The weather isn't looking good." I try to placate Omar.

The entrance to the building opens again. An agent steps out. He's familiar.

Agent Ramus is the very epitome of professionalism. In fact, I aspire to be like him. Someday. He's confident, competent and respected. I can roll with that. But right now, he's pale as a sheet. He looks… nervous. And angry. I've never seen him like this before. Not even during an operation. Something's gotten him spooked. I can see beads of sweat rolling down his neck, soaking into his shirt collar. He seems to be looking for someone. Well, he's just the person I was looking for.

"Agent Ramus! Is everything all right?" I wave.

He starts at my call. He stares at me blankly for a few seconds, then his face lights up in recognition. But he still looks worried. He walks briskly over. He nods at Omar and Callie, and pulls me to the side.

"You're roommates of Veronica Mars. Is that correct?"

"Yes. How is…"

"Tell me everything you know about Ms. Mars."

"Um… why…"

"Just do it. I like to know more about my interns. Before you started your rotation, I asked her the same about you."

"What did she say about me?"

"That is irrelevant. Now. Tell me about Ms. Mars."

I pause and gather my thoughts. Veronica Mars. The strange girl who occupies the top bunk next to mine. The girl with the intense, calculating stare. The girl who single-handedly hunted down the thief who stole our belongings. The girl who no one bothered to thank for the help, come to think about it. The girl who spends her nights furiously typing god-knows-what into that laptop of hers. The girl who I've never seen sleep, nor smile. Hmm. What shall I say?

If I were in Agent Ramus' position, I'd probably appreciate the truth.

"I don't really know Veronica that well. She doesn't… really talk to us much, come to think of it."

"That's okay. What can you tell me about her? What have you observed?"

"She's very capable. Intelligent. Skillful. Razor sharp. Paranoid. Omar told me that during her time at the OSU, she completed her allocated work well ahead of schedule. Quality wise, it was well above expectations. Also, on the first day we came here, we got burgled. The very next day, she retrieved what was stolen. Turns out she bugged her own luggage for security."

"Interesting." Agent Ramus strokes his chin, almost as if he had a beard. Wonder how he looks like with a beard? Or perhaps a moustache? I continue.

"Honestly, I'm a little worried about her. She seems perpetually on edge. Staring into space sometimes, seeing things that aren't there, overreacting violently at the slightest hint of unforeseen physical contact. And I've never seen her sleep, either. And I'm not exactly an early to bed, late to rise kinda guy too."

Agent Ramus has a frown on his forehead, between his cold blue eyes. He motions for me to continue. I clear my throat.

"She's definitely stressed out over something. Or she has some kind of baggage. Not the physical kind either."

"I've read her file. It's an… accurate assessment." Nestor nods.

Hold on, the FBI has a file on Veronica?

"Now for a hypothetical question for you, Seth." Nestor says. "Suppose there is a person you absolutely hate. You hate him with every fiber of your being. Suppose you found some form of leverage over this person. And suppose you chose to blackmail that person. Suppose that person did as you asked, would you still exercise that leverage out of spite?"

What does this have to with anything? Ah, this is probably some kind of interview question. Something like what Google or Apple would ask a potential recruit. A question of ethics.

I think hard. I've never hated someone that much before. I make good friends. I don't have many enemies. I make my enemies my friends, whenever possible.

"I'm not sure, Nestor. I've never been in such a dilemma before. But, since this is hypothetical, I'd probably honor the terms of the agreement. It's bad enough that I'm already blackmailing this person. I don't think I'm mean enough to betray that person further."

Agent Ramus looks thoughtful. He looks me straight in the eyes and asks his next question.

"What do you think Veronica Mars would do?"

Honestly? Based on what I've seen of her, it won't surprise me if she betrays the person she hates. She doesn't seem like the kind of person that would forgive and forget. But I can't tell Agent Ramus that. It's not fair to Veronica, and he would get a better assessment of her after more contact.

"She's a nice girl," I lie, "You'll know her better after working with her a little more."

Agent Ramus looks… relieved. Was it something I said?

"Sorry to interrupt, but, it's getting dark, the rain's getting heavier, and we really need to get home." Omar butts in. "Oh yeah, you're that Organized Crime guy. Where's Veronica?"

"Er… She wasn't feeling well so I sent her home. In fact, let me give you a lift back. I've got to check up on her anyway."

Veronica's sick. That would explain a lot.

"Great! You rock!" Omar cheers. Next to him, Callie's flipping through her notes with an expression of complete and utter boredom on her face.

We pile into our respective vehicles and drive back to the motel. Somehow Agent Ramus knows the way. Omar's probably directing him.

As I get closer to the hostel, I know that something's not right. Veronica's not parked in her usual spot, outside the bank. The lot is empty. And when I open the room door, expecting to find her sitting on her bed, computer in her lap, or sleeping off her illness, I find the second indication that all is not as it should be. The room is empty. Her bed is neatly made. Her locker's cleaned out. And her bags are gone. Agent Ramus walks in behind me. He's gone pale again. He reaches up to Veronica's bed and grasps a note. It's covered in her familiar handwriting.

Gone on a puzzling errand; don't wait up.

Agent Ramus loosens his collar with his other hand. He's really looking worried now. He shakes his head. I can see the mask slide down over his face. He's back as the professional agent I know.

"That's right. Now I remember. I sent Veronica on a mission. A little surveillance work, if you will. I just came back to confirm that she has indeed left for her assignment. And it's great that she didn't tell you all about it. Secrecy and confidentiality is a good quality that we value greatly." He nods to himself.

He seems to have convinced Callie and Omar, but I still have my doubts. Agent Ramus had no reason to lie to us back at the Academy. What's really going on?

Oh well, it's none of my business. Veronica definitely can take care of herself. She's demonstrated that many times in the past. Anyway, it's another early start to the day tomorrow, and there's still that transportation problem to sort out. Omar can't be sitting in the back of my truck everyday…

Agent Ramus leaves the room quietly. I slip out to bid him farewell, but he's already halfway down the corridor. Perhaps it's my imagination, but over the sounds of the hostel; the muffled voices of Omar and Callie talking, and the neighbors playing a rowdy game of cards, I hear him murmur.

"Where in the world is Veronica Mars?"

Wednesday, 10.00 A.M.

Veronica

Trina Echolls must be the most boring person alive. Ever. Right now, Trina's tending to her garden. I can see her through my view finder. She's wearing a handkerchief over her head like a bandanna. She's squatting on the lawn, clipping blades of grass with a small pair of scissors. It gleams in the late morning sun. She puts a lot of effort into taking care of her house. I can see why the interior was so spotless when I visited on Friday. Through the window, just obscured by the frame, I can see the edge of a kitchen table. If I move my observation post, and change my angle, I know what I'll see in the middle of the table. A clear glass bottle, with a half-constructed ship inside, masts rising from the wooden deck.

It's been half a week since I'd started my surveillance. And so far, not much of note has happened. Speaking of notes… I flip open my laptop and open my surveillance file.

Saturday. Trina wakes up at eight. She cooks breakfast, humming the theme tune to some generic police procedural I can't, for my life, remember the name of. She eats said breakfast. She does some cleaning. Noon. Trina receives a call. Presumably her agent. She hasn't received any roles this time. Front page news, people. She seems disappointed, but resigned.

At one in the afternoon, she takes her car out. The electronic tracker shows that she's driven to a bank. About ten miles. She takes lunch at a café opposite the bank. Manicotti. Hungry. My stomach rumbles, but I must continue observing. One thirty. She enters the bank. I can see her enter the safe deposit room through the clear glass windows. She stays inside for quite some time.

Three thirty. She leaves the bank. Two hours inside the safe deposit room? That's weird. And my eyes are aching from staring through my camera viewfinder, a quarter of a mile away. She enters the car and drives away. I follow. Four in the afternoon. Trina stops at a nearby Wal-Mart. I park in a separate parking lot, on the other side of the building, and enter. I find her through the bug on her cell phone. She's in between aisles ten and eleven, deciding between house brand or organic vegetables. I tail her discreetly.

Five. Trina leaves the Wal-Mart. All I've learnt from this excursion is that Trina eats healthy. Lean meat, green vegetables, fish. Organic produce. She drives off again, and I'm behind her. Not too close, not too far off.

Six. Trina arrives back at home. Cooks dinner. Hums a tune from yet another police procedural. Eats dinner. Pan-fried chicken breast with salad. My mouth waters. I only have coffee here. It's gotta do.

Seven. Trina clears her table and takes out some supplies. A glass bottle, and some other things too small to be seen clearly from my vantage point across the block. They look like lock picks. She puts on spectacles with magnifiers – loupes, and starts fiddling with her tools and the bottle. I get it. She's making another ship in the bottle. So that's how they do it. I've always thought that they were pre-formed and the bottle was constructed around it. It seems like hard work. A great potential hobby.

Eleven P.M. Trina keeps her tools, leaves the bottle on the table, and goes to bed. If I squint, I can just see a small keel suspended in the bottle, with tiny ribs protruding to the side. It's roughly, very roughly approaching the shape of a boat's hull.

Sunday. Nothing new to report. Trina doesn't leave the house, except to take care of the garden in the morning. She does housework in the afternoon. And she works on her hobby at night. The ship's hull is taking shape. It looks like an oblong overripe banana from this distance.

Monday. It's the same as Sunday. Trina's agent calls one more time. No roles available. The hull of the ship in the bottle's nearly complete.

Tuesday. Trina visits the bank again. Two hours. And Wal-Mart. Fish, lean meat, greens. Almost identical to Saturday. Note to self: check out the bank. The hull of the ship in the bottle is complete, and Trina's starting to insert the masts.

I slap the laptop close with a sigh. Based on the current trend, Trina would be spending the entire day at home. Waxing the floor, maybe. Perhaps receiving yet another negative call from her agent. And working on the ship at night. I'm actually pretty interested as to how that will turn out. A Spanish Galleon? An English frigate? Not enough has been crafted to make it obvious.

I have to check the bank out. Spending two hours in a safe deposit room twice a week is strange enough. Doing that as the only break in the routine of cleaning and ship construction, is just plain suspicious. I can take a break from observation. Trina's not going anywhere.

I start the engine and pull out of the parking lot.

Twenty minutes later

The bank that Trina visits twice a week is a small branch. It's situated at the corner of two busy streets. Across the road on the right is the café which Trina has her lunch before entering the vault. On the other side of the bank is a post office. A park occupies the last of the four corners. I park behind the café and enter the bank.

As I find out, it's a relatively simple process to set up a safe deposit box in the bank. One just has to provide a proof of identity and, of course, pay a fee, seeing that I don't have an account with this particular bank. Good thing that college private investigation at five hundred bucks a case has given me a significant amount of savings.

I hand my driver's license and three hundred dollars in cash over to the smiling bank employee. According to her name tag, she's Gretchen. Of course, I use my fake driver's license. So according to this bank, I'm Valerie Monique. And I'm twenty-one years of age. Excellent. The FBI won't pick me up here.

"Come this way, Ms. Monique." The bank teller leads me to the side of the room. She enters a code into the keypad next to a locked door, and swipes her security card into the reader. It beeps. The door opens with a click, and swings outward with a squeal.

The interior of the vault is rather cramped. Near the entrance, there are two rooms on each side of a short hallway. Presumably, those are for the use of the box owners. Administration of one's own safe deposit box needs a measure of privacy, after all. Apart from the two rooms, the safe deposit area isn't too big. It's not a large bank branch, after all. The area is separated into two aisles. The walls are covered in safe deposit boxes. Each is perhaps three inches tall and six inches wide. Each box has a number engraved on its metal door. On either side of the number, there's a keyhole. Presumably I'll need to provide my own key, and the other key's provided by the teller. I've seen all of this before, a few years ago when cleaning out Mom's box. Boxes like these hold many secrets. Even the bank doesn't keep an inventory of the contents. For all I know, the box next to my head – I check the number, 325 – may be holding a lost Picasso. It could be holding mementos of great personal but zero financial value. It could be holding surveillance photographs of loved ones with targets drawn on their faces. What secrets does Trina have hidden in this vault?

I'm glad I chose this way to gain access to this room. There's no way I'm going to be able to sneak into a bank vault. Security cameras cover the entrance; the teller blocked my view of the keypad when entering the code. And I've no desire to attract any police attention. Breaking into a bank is definitely going to catch the attention of the cops.

I look around the room. Good. No security cameras on the ceilings. Apparently I'm not only paying for the privilege of storing my belongings safely, but I'm also purchasing privacy. Up ahead, the teller sticks two keys into a box midway along the row. She turns both of them at the same time. Clockwise. The box opens and the door swings open. She takes out the left key and gives it to me.

"Thank you for your patience, Ms. Monique. Take your time to place your items into the safe deposit box. Press the button on the intercom," she indicates the microphone set into the wall, next to the door handle, "and I'll come down and help you to lock the box up."

I nod my thanks and she leaves. The vault door shuts behind her with a dull clang. I'm alone in the room. I try the doors of the viewing rooms. They open easily. The doors can be locked from the inside. They are set in a solid frame. I can see felt lining the inside of the frame. Soundproofing. Each room contains a plain white table and two chairs. A simple digital clock hangs on the wall. The large digits which show the time are offset by the much smaller numbers which show the date to the side. That will do. Behind each clock, I install an audio bug. High sensitivity, low signal range. Good thing the clock isn't analog. The sound of the clock ticking can drown out what I'm trying to pick up. The bug can pick up the rustle of pages turning from across a quiet room. However, the receiver needs to be less than a hundred yards away from it. That's what differentiates the T6 from its competition. A hundred yards. The receiver needs to be within that radius. To be safe, it needs to be even closer, due to the thick, radio wave absorbing steel walls of the vault. Good thing that I have the perfect location to stow the receiver. A place where no one will ever look.

I pull the container out of the safe deposit box. It's plain matte steel, gray and boring. A simple latch holds it closed, hiding whatever secrets I may choose to conceal within. I take it into one of the viewing rooms and shut the door. I take a seat. I open my backpack. In the metal case, I place the receivers for the T6. I close the case. Oh, wait. Almost forgot. I reopen the metal case and throw in some battery packs. I connect these to the receivers. That should last them a few more days. Just enough to capture what Trina's doing during her time here. I also store a receiver for two video capture bugs inside the metal case. The case is getting very cramped. There's just enough space for me to squeeze the very last battery pack inside and connect it to the video receiver. I set the timers on the receivers. Trina's estimated time of arrival is on Saturday, so I program the receivers to start recording from Saturday morning. I swing the case cover down, closing it. The case snaps shut. Barely.

I examine the clock hanging from the wall. Unlike audio bugs, video surveillance units have the distinct disadvantage of being bulkier. Also, they require a direct line of sight to their surveillance location. Both help to make it extremely difficult to hide a bug in plain sight. I've got to get creative. I scour the room. Air vent? Nah, I'm not tall enough to reach it, even standing on the table. Potted plant at the corner of the room? Yeah, right. A black appliance amongst green foliage? Real sneaky. I look at the clock again. This could work.

I dig into my backpack. I pull out my multi-tool. With some difficulty, I pull out the awl. I could get used to this thing. My switch blade never had such attachments. Perhaps it's time for it to retire…

I pull the clock down from the wall again. It has a thin wooden border around the digital clock face. It's painted black. Really chic, modern looking. Also, a perfect place to hide a video surveillance device. It takes almost no effort at all to bore a hole through the cheap wood. I flick the sawdust off into a plastic bag from the nearby convenience store. The bug fits just right into the space behind the wooden border and the wall. Just to make sure it's pointing at the direction I want, I replace the clock on the wall and calibrate the bug with a laser pointer. Perfect. The bug's now pointed directly at the table. Experience tells me that the field of vision would incorporate most of the room, including anyone who would be sitting in the chairs. Now, for the other room…

SQUEEEEK!

I jump as the vault creaks open, the high-pitched sound filtering through the sound proofing. Through the slit window, I see a middle-aged man dressed in a business suit enter, followed by the teller, Gretchen. Great. Company. I hear muffled voices as they disappear from my view. Soon, I see the door on the opposite side of the corridor open, and then close. I can hear the vault door closing through the sound proof door of my room. I rise from my seat. I tiptoe across the corridor and peek into the slit window of the next room. Yep. The middle-aged man's inside, pulling a thick stack of what looks like financial reports from his metal case. He has a calculator on the table. Fuck. I need to install the video surveillance bug in that room too. Oh well. I'll just wait until he's gone. I've a copy of today's papers in my backpack. Time to do a little catch-up with the goings-on…

Great. Looks like I'm going to be here for a while.

Nestor Ramus

The sight of Vicky… no. The sight of Veronica Mars' empty bed chilled me to the bone. That and her cryptic note. Right now I fear for the safety of Catherine and Tony more than ever. I'd hate for them to enter WitPro. I won't be able to see them, they won't be able to see me. Tony will forget I exist, and Catherine will hate me. If she doesn't already. All this because I underestimated one teenaged girl.

I knew she would be trouble the moment I laid my eyes on her, those weeks ago in San Diego. I should have suspected something. Should've, would've, could've. It was too easy, too coincidental. First, a letter comes in, fingering someone for a crime that hit very close to home for the leadership of the Sorokin family, and in less than a week the person in question just turns up out of the blue? It took everyone in the family by surprise. Boris and Lev just had to take a look. It was a great plan. She made excellent bait.

I never suspected a thing. Lev never suspected a thing. Neither did Boris. Neither did poor, scatter-brained Anton. I was too distracted with the paperwork at the end of the job to notice when she disappeared from the hospital. That didn't hurt our case too badly. I, after all, know everything, the ins and outs of the Sorokin family. The two of them fried in court. A conviction was almost guaranteed. Of course, I was hidden from sight, my voice electronically garbled. No one could identify me. And when I finally shaved and cut my hair, not even my wife could recognize me.

Veronica, or at least, Vicky's statement that she killed Gorya Sorokin struck me as odd. She appeared to be a gold-digging groupie. If she truly killed Gorya like she claimed she did, she would have to be a lot smarter, more ruthless, more intelligent that she appeared. Gorya's death did, after all, smack of a suicide. As I dug deeper, inconsistencies started to surface. Gorya's fingerprints on the syringe were atypical of how one usually uses a syringe. They were more like… he was rolling them around in his hands instead of actually injecting himself. Also, Boris told me that Gorya was a smart person, and would never do anything so stupid. But, then again, Boris also told me that Gorya never would do drugs. And Gorya's autopsy showed evidence of chronic drug use. I'll have to take Boris' assurances with a pinch of salt.

It was such a shock when Vicky reappeared in front of me in the elevator that I instinctively reverted to my persona of Pravda. I could read her like an open book. I could see the fear in her eyes. The fire that grew beneath it. And when she revealed that she knew Catherine and Tony, I suddenly found out that I couldn't read her at all. And after our confrontation, when Mandy, the receptionist, let me into my office, I saw what was on my desk. I saw the photos with targets drawn on their faces, with my own stationery. I have never feared so much for Catherine's and Tony's lives before today. It's not a good feeling.

Veronica Mars. She's a wild card. An unknown variable. She's probably suffering from post-traumatic stress. I'm much of the cause of that stress, I must admit. But I'm not apologizing for that. The ends justify the means, and putting an emerging crime family out of business is well worth one traumatized teenaged girl. She's volatile. I've read her file, together with the police report of that incident at her motel last week. Apparently she Tasered the receptionist who stole her belongings. It appears that she's violent too. The report states that the perpetrator was taken into custody with a bloody, broken nose. Veronica's a ticking time bomb. It's only a matter of time before she cracks and destroys everything I've worked for. And she must be stopped.

She's been in my office. She's drawn target signs on Catherine and Tony's faces. The underlying threat cannot be clearer. Stay clear or they die. I can't guarantee that if I leave her alone, she won't tip-off Odessa in New York about them. I can't guarantee their safety in the Witness Protection Program. The only way to ensure their safety is to stop Veronica Mars.

I pulled my search history. She was reading through her own file, and that of someone named Trina Echolls. That name sounded familiar, somewhat. This person lives in Virginia Beach. A contact? I thought that it would make a good place to start searching for Veronica Mars.

Which is why I'm here, driving up and down the beachside road, looking in vain for Veronica Mars. I'm armed with a picture from her file. She's smiling, radiant, innocence incarnate. I'm also armed with my trusty sidearm, and several… let's call them tools of the trade. I've already told my superiors that I need to be out of town for a while. I've told them I sent Veronica on an assignment. They trust me. They don't ask any questions.

My eyes narrow as I pass a blond girl walking down the sidewalk. Could it be? No. It's not her. The girl only looks like Veronica from the back. My eyes flick over to another blond walking in the opposite direction. Nope. Not her again. In fact, the entire city is full of blonds. This is going to be difficult. I make a U-turn. Time for another circuit. I drive off, muttering under my breath.

"Where in the world is Veronica Mars?"

Veronica

I've been reading today's papers for what seems to be the fourth time, and clock on the wall tells me it's one in the afternoon. Wow. Three hours, just gone like that. The classified advertisements section is starting to look very interesting… I see the door opposite mine open. Finally. The middle-aged man walks out, carrying his metal case. The door automatically swings shut behind him. I wait until he calls Gretchen down into the vault. She arrives and helps him lock his metal case back into the safe deposit box. They both leave. I quickly slip into the other room. Likewise, I bore a hole in the wooden frame surrounding the digital clock. I install another video surveillance device behind this clock. I calibrate it again with a laser pointer.

The metal case which contains all the digital receivers is really heavy right now. In contrast, my backpack is almost empty. I slide the case into the hollow in the safe deposit box and close the door. Gretchen arrives quickly when I press the button on the intercom. She helps me to lock the box, and escorts me out of the bank with a smile. I wish I can be as cheerful as her. For her, the evening will probably be spent sleeping in a comfortable bed, eating a hearty meal, enjoying a hot shower. For me, it'll be more surveillance, in an uncomfortable car, maybe grabbing a couple of hours of shuteye when I'm sure Trina is not going anywhere, a sip of tepid coffee, and an icy cold shower in the morning. Such is the life of a girl in search of the truth.

I step out of the bank and am hit by the Sun's glare. Yep, it's already past midday. Despite that, I'm feeling exhausted. I check my laptop. Yep, according to the bug tracking interface, Trina's still at home. Probably doing gardening or something. Her car's still parked in the driveway. I close the computer and return it into my bag. Perhaps I'll be able to catch a few hours sleep. Police officers mainly look out for people sleeping illegally at night. I should be safe in the middle of the day.

I wait patiently for a car to pass by so I can cross the road to reach my car. It's a dark blue Crown Vic. The car takes its time to pass. I glare at the driver, but his face is shrouded in shadow. Because the car's moving so slowly, I need to wait for another few cars to pass by before I can cross. Damn those inconsiderate drivers. I'm sure that guy would speed through a puddle to drench a pedestrian, just because he can.

I stifle a yawn. Yep, definitely time for a nap. An old couple is waiting to cross the road. They're waiting at the gap between my car and the one parked behind it. I give way to them, waiting beside the green Nissan that's parked behind my car. I stretch. Tight muscles creak, joints pop and I groan. I really need to take a break.

Knock knock!

I jump as the driver of the Nissan raps on his windshield. He rolls down the window and sticks his head out.

"Hey, Miss… I appreciate the show, but you're blocking my way, and I need to get a move on. So, excuse me."

I didn't even realize that there was someone in the parked car. I apologize and move to my car. I get into the old Toyota. Despite it being a little musty, dented and uncomfortable, I'm starting to see it as home. Familiarity breeds content.

Behind, the green Nissan turns into the road and moves off. I put my backpack on the passenger seat and take out my laptop. I check the bug interface. Trina's still at home. Still no changes. Perfect time to catch a short nap. I close my laptop and replace it in my bag.

I start the engine, shift gears and turn into the road. To the beach I go.

Nestor Ramus

There she is! I slow down as I examine her face. Yes, there's no question about it. Veronica Mars is here. She's standing next to the road. She's wearing a baseball cap which obscures half of her face, but I'm sure it's her. She's got an extremely annoyed expression on her face. No fear there. She probably can't see me through the tint in the glass. I follow her with my eyes through my rear-view mirror. She's crossing the road, stopping next to a dark green Nissan… Good. That would be an easy car to follow.

I make an illegal U-turn at the next junction. I ignore the irate honking and fingers the local drivers give me. I resume my snail's pace. Up ahead, I see Veronica's car pull out of the parking lot. It passes a beat up, old blue Toyota. I distinctly remember owning one like that a long time ago…

Focus, Nestor. That's right, the green Nissan occupies my entire world now. I see the left turning indicator start blinking. I do the same. I tail her car, keeping at least ten vehicle lengths from her. And when I stop, I allow at least five vehicles to separate us. I don't allow any large vehicles to block my line of sight of her car. Veronica's escaped me once. I'm not going to let her escape another time. Not when the stakes are so high. My family needs to stay safe. They are my world. I would do anything to protect them. Anything. I check my pistol. The gun feels dense in my hand. It's loaded. I check the safety. The ends justify the means. I look up. Up ahead, the light is now green. Veronica turns and I follow.

She's headed for the freeway. Good. I'd be able to pull her over there. Fewer witnesses. She hasn't been able to see my face. She's no idea I'm on her tail. She won't do anything stupid like run from a police officer. At least, I don't think so. However, her recent actions have smacked of desperation. All right. Maybe she'll run. And then perhaps I will have something concrete to take her in for.

Veronica enters the ramp leading into the highway. This is it. I open my glove compartment and pull out my light bar. It goes onto the dashboard. The siren's already integrated into my car. We enter the highway. I maneuver behind the Nissan. I flick the switch on the blinker. Immediately, the Nissan slows down and pulls over to the right. Strange. Something's wrong. Veronica's surprised me yet again.

I stop behind the car. I ready my weapon. I know Veronica has a Taser. I know she knows how to use one. And I've been hit by a Taser before, back in San Diego. It's rather unpleasant. I'd rather that not happen again.

"FBI! Leave the vehicle with your hands in the air! Do not make any sudden movements!" I yell. I take cover behind my open door. I aim through my open window.

The door opens. A leg slowly comes out, touches the floor. A person slowly emerges from the car. His hands are in the air.

Wait. A man? It's not Veronica.

"Do you have anyone else in your vehicle?" I shout across the distance.

"No!"

I'm getting a very bad feeling about this. I straighten up from behind my door. I holster my weapon. I walk over to the green Nissan. My shoes crunch in the gravel scattered on the road shoulder. The car's empty. The driver kindly presents his boot for inspection. Just a guitar case. I check inside. Yep, the case contains a guitar. Veronica's small, yes, but she's definitely not hidden in this car. I'm back at square one again.

"Fuck!" I yell over the sound of traffic. I kick a small pebble as hard as I can. It flies about twenty yards off the road. It bounces a few times and disappears from sight.

"Excuse me, officer," the man tries to interject, but I ignore him. I shout once more over the din of the traffic.

"Where in the world is Veronica Mars?"

A/N: Please review! I'll definitely reply to any signed reviews.

A/N2: I'll be taking a short break to work on the next chapter. I've got to get a few things settled in terms of timeline and pacing, and formulating the reveals that will happen in the next chapter. I should be able to publish next Sunday.