It was just about quarter to nine when Veronica spotted her manager standing behind the counter. She left her post at the door since no one was waiting for a table and made her way over, hoping that her plan would work.
“Excuse me, Amanda?” When her manager looked up, Veronica smiled. “I was hoping that I might be able to leave a bit early. We’re not exactly busy and I have a history paper due tomorrow that I haven’t even started typing yet, and I . . .”
“It’s okay, Veronica, you can leave,” Amanda said pleasantly enough. “School comes first, especially if you want to stay in the running for the Kane Scholarship. Get going, we’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Thanks so much,” Veronica gratefully replied.
She turned around and made her way back to the hostess podium and took off her vest, stashing it on the shelf under it and grabbing her bag from where she usually hid it away. After checking her cell phone for messages – there were none – she tucked it in her pocket and slung her bag over her shoulder.
She was close enough to the front entrance to poke her head through it and take a glance up and down the street. There didn’t appear to be anyone out and about except for a group of 09ers who were in the parking lot across the street, sitting on the back of their convertible and laughing at whatever lame jokes she was sure they were telling.
Surely at least one of those jokes had to be about her.
Narrowing her eyes, she glared at them for just a brief moment before checking out the street one more time.
She couldn’t believe it; the coast was clear. Faith hadn’t come back for her yet. She’d be out of there before Faith even showed up at nine.
Smiling to herself, Veronica walked out the door and down the two steps and headed toward her car parked just a few spaces away. She didn’t get more than ten steps before she heard the sound of heavy shoes on the sidewalk in step with her. Five steps later and she saw someone stride up alongside her, smiling just like she had been ten seconds before.
“Don’t tell me you really thought ya could just stroll outta here without your escort,” Faith said easily.
“Unfortunately for me, I did,” Veronica admitted. “I don’t supposed you’d willingly submit to wearing a tracking device so I can, you know . . . track and avoid?”
Faith chuckled and buried her hands deep in her pockets. “Sorry V, you’re not gonna get rid of me that easy. I’ll try not to cramp your style though.”
Now it was Veronica’s turn to laugh. “Clearly you’re not familiar with my reputation.” She turned and faced Faith and held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Veronica Mars, the number one object of ridicule in all of Neptune. Cramping my style? I don’t think it’s possible.”
Faith took Veronica’s hand and shook it. “The name’s Faith; the last name’s just a formality. I’ve been the outcast since ‘98 so I’ve got a few years on ya in the freak department.”
“Ahh, kindred souls,” Veronica replied sarcastically and pretended to swoon.
“Sounds like. Guess this escort business will work out just fine then. I’ll be outta your business once you’re home safe and sound and you can call me when you’re ready to leave in the morning.”
“Is that how this will work?” Veronica asked.
“It’s that or LA.”
“Why are you so intent on making my safety your business?” Veronica asked without a hint of malice. “I’m really just having a hard time understanding why a perfect stranger is going out of her way like this.”
Faith shrugged. “Helping people is what I do. Besides, it’s my family that’s messing with you. Them and that motorcycle gang, anyway. Until I can find a way to straighten out the fam, I’m gonna make sure they don’t make things shittier for themselves by hurting you or worse.”
“Ahh, so there are ulterior motives,” Veronica said, putting the puzzle pieces together.
“Well yeah, if you consider keeping my cousins from imploding and taking the town with them, sure. But besides that, well . . . you, uh, kinda remind me of someone.”
“If you say a young Shirley Temple, I’m going to be very disappointed.”
Veronica walked around to her side of the car unlocked the door but didn’t get inside. Instead, she braced her arms up on the top of the car and looked over the top of it at Faith, who mimicked her gesture.
“Not exactly,” Faith laughed, then shook her head. “It’s just someone I knew for a while. Long story, doesn’t really matter. Besides, you said ya gotta run an errand for your Pops, right?”
“Actually, I do. And I’m not exactly sure it’s something you’ll want to ride shotgun for. Could be dangerous.”
“Danger is my middle name.” Faith winked at Veronica and began to get into the passenger side of the car.
Veronica hesitated for a moment, looking up and down the dark street before eventually taking a deep breath and getting into the car as well. She looked over and found that Faith had made herself right at home, sitting comfortably in the bucket seat with one foot propped up at the base of the door.
“Well now I know your first and middle name. When do I find out the rest?” Veronica asked.
Faith grinned. “Ain’t gonna happen, V. Your Pops is a professional snoop and I have no doubt you’ll be researching me like a proper Scooby chick. It’s better for both of us if we avoid that.”
Veronica eyed her warily. “Just tell me that you’re not some kind of violent criminal.”
Faith’s jaw clenched and she continued looking straight ahead, avoiding Veronica’s gaze.
“Oh boy,” Veronica said under her breath. She gripped onto the steering wheel and looked out the windshield, then back at her passenger. Faith hadn’t given her any reason as of yet not to trust her. She was offering help in what could be a scary situation and wasn’t asking for anything in return. “Okay. It’s fine. You’re helping me and I appreciate that. Clean slate.”
“Thanks,” Faith murmured.
“Just give me a warning if you’re feeling a relapse coming on? I may be vertically challenged but I can run like the dickens.”
Veronica looked over at Faith and noticed the corner of her lips curve up in a small smile.
“Fair enough,” Faith replied, then cleared her throat. “So where we headed?”
Grateful for the subject change, Veronica started the car and pulled out the parking space. She grinned and tilted her head to the side.
“One of my father’s clients thinks that her husband is having an affair with a woman unknown.” She reached down between the seats and pulled up a camera with a telephoto lens. “We need proof.”
“So what, you’ve gotta score some pics?” At Veronica’s nod, Faith asked, “How the hell are you supposed to know where he is?”
Veronica’s grin grew even bigger. “Have I mentioned that the woman in question is an exotic dancer?”
Faith smiled wide.
It was nearly two hours later and Veronica was trying to keep focused on the building across the street from her parked car and not on the girl fidgeting next to her.
“This sucks,” Faith said gruffly. “You have to spy on a stripper but you can’t even go inside and get a drink?”
“Apart from me being eighteen and not exactly able to drink, this isn’t quite my scene,” Veronica replied. The front door of the strip club opened and she quickly looked through the viewfinder of the camera but was disappointed when she saw it was just a group of rowdy college guys.
“Why the hell not?” Faith asked. “Who doesn’t like strip clubs?”
“Are you saying you do?” Veronica asked. “It’s a female strip club, I’ll have you know.”
Faith shrugged. “I’m an equal opportunity ogler.”
“Huh,” Veronica said evenly. “I’m just going to tuck that little snippet away in the same box where I’m keeping the fact that you’re a Fitzpatrick and a likely criminal.”
“You do what you gotta do, V. Speaking of which,” Faith nodded toward the club. “That your guy?”
Veronica quickly faced the building again and brought up her camera. Sure enough, one of the dancers was exiting the club draped around a middle-aged man in an old business suit. He looked completely out of place there, but when she watched them get into his brand new fully-loaded BMW, she realized why the dancer was likely with him.
She snapped a series of shots and then lowered the camera, trying to act casual as the man and woman drove past them and down the street with the car radio blasting loudly.
“We following them?” Faith asked.
“Nope, we’re done.”
“Seriously? You’re getting paid for that?” Faith asked in disbelief.
“Yep. The client has a pre-nup with an infidelity clause. Luckily for my impressionable mind, I don’t need to get shots of them doing the dirty. Just them kissing and leaving together is money shot enough.”
Faith thought about it for a few moments and then whistled long and low. “Shit, I’m in the wrong field.”
Veronica smiled while she tucked the camera away and then started the car. She was about to pull away from their parking spot when suddenly a figure appeared next to her window and rapped loudly on it. Veronica jumped but settled down when she saw who it was. Sighing, she rolled down her window and plastered on a fake smile, completely unaware of how Faith was reacting aside her.
“Was I speeding, officer?”
“We need to talk, Veronica,” Weevil said. He looked serious. He looked angry. He looked . . . confused?
And then he was back to angry, his face pressed against the back window.
Veronica’s eyes widened when she realized that Faith had slipped from the car and was now holding Weevil against it with one arm held tight behind his back. Both he and Veronica winced when Faith pressed roughly against him again.
“Oh boy,” Veronica said again. She unbuckled her seatbelt and slipped out of the car, feeling both enjoyment and an impending sense of doom when she looked at the spectacle before her. “You should let him go, Faith.”
“Yeah, you should let him go, Faith,” Weevil spat out.
“Like hell I should,” Faith said with a grunt as Weevil struggled. “This clown ain’t up to no good. Anything he says is just gonna pull you further into this mess.”
“Faith, it’s okay,” Veronica said. “Weevil is a friend. A screwed up, troublesome friend, but a friend nonetheless.”
“You might want to listen to the girl,” Weevil grunted, steeling a backwards glance at Faith. “Yunno what they say. A friend of a friend is . . .”
“My bitch?” Faith finished with a feral grin, then pushed off of him and took a step back so that he could right himself. “And you ain’t a friend. A friend wouldn’t get her mixed up in the middle of a gang war.”
“Well a friend don’t have much choice at this point,” he spat back, rotating his now sore shoulder around. “The cops think they already found Felix’s killer so they ain’t interested in hearing alternative theories. I need solid proof.”
Sadly, Veronica understood Weevil’s problem. The Balboa County Sheriff’s Department wasn’t exactly known for making the best decisions as of late. Sheriff Lamb wasn’t exactly a reasonable guy and as far as he was concerned, he’d already found the guilty party. He had no reason to listen to someone like Weevil or Veronica unless they had solid proof, and even then he might not be interested in playing nice.
Typical Sheriff Lamb.
“It’s too risky,” Veronica said, shaking her head. Weevil looked over at her and she met his gaze sadly. “The Fitzpatricks are hiding something, the PCHers are hiding something, and if I step in, I’m going to get caught up right in the middle. Weevil, I’d love to help but . . . I can’t.”
The intense silence that followed was broken by the sound of motorcycles roaring down a nearby street. Faith’s eyes flickered in the darkness and then she looked over to Veronica.
“Time to go, Veronica,” she said.
Veronica nodded and stood still while Faith skittered around the car and into the passenger seat. She stole a glance up at Weevil who was looking at her, his anger replaced by disappointment.
“I can’t do this alone, V,” Weevil said.
Veronica looked down at her feet, then looked back up and sighed. “Get out while you still can, Weevil. I’ll find out what I can’t but don’t expect any miracles.”
He nodded his head and started slowly stepping backwards. “Thank you,” he said, then turned around and disappeared into the night. Veronica watched the darkness for just a moment before slipping back into her car and heading out of there before any more trouble could find her.
They drove in silence until Veronica pulled into her parking spot just outside her apartment complex. She turned the car off and pulled out the keys, then rested her hands in her lap. There was so much going on in her head that she didn’t even know where to begin.
Finally, she found a good place to start.
“Are you some kind of secret superhero?” she asked anxiously, her lips tugging up into a smile. “Because I’ve never seen Weevil man-handled like that, not even by a man – which you’re not, in case you haven’t noticed. I’ll be honest; after the terror went away? It was a little bit enjoyable for me.”
Faith smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes.
“I already told ya. I’m just your average everyday superhero. And since we’re being honest, it was a little bit enjoyable for me too.”
They shared a laugh but quickly became silent again.
“Listen,” Veronica began when the silence started to get awkward. “I appreciate what you did back there, but you can’t just go roughing up anyone who tries to talk to me if we want this little arrangement of yours to work.”
“I know,” Faith replied. “I just . . . I know who that guy is, remember? First thought was that he was gonna do something stupid to get info from ya.”
“Weevil won’t hurt me,” Veronica replied, shaking her head. “He may be a PCHer but he would never hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it.”
Faith nodded her head and then looked over at Veronica, her face solemn. “So what if he decides you deserve it?”
Veronica held her gaze for a moment and then looked back down at her lap, her lips tight as she thought it over.
“That’s why I’m here, Veronica,” Faith continued. “I’m working on my cousins. They’ll have to back off eventually, one way or another. If they stop covering shit up, maybe the cops can find out what really happened to that kid taken down on the bridge. Until then, just keep away from it all.”
“I can’t make any promises,” Veronica said quietly.
Faith sighed, then straightened up in her seat. “Alright. Then we keep this up. What time do you leave for classes in the morning?”
While Veronica wanted to tell her no, she knew there was no use in fighting over it. Besides, having Faith around might come in handy, especially now that she knew that Faith wasn’t some kind of lightweight.
“Holy . . . seven-fifteen? Who actually wakes up that early?”
“Only half the known world,” Veronica replied easily.
“Well shit. No wonder I dropped out. Alright, I’ll be here at seven-fricken-fifteen.”
Faith opened her door and stepped out. Veronica followed suit and when she stood up and looked around, Faith was waiting with her back resting against the side of the car. She obviously wasn’t going anywhere until Veronica was safe inside her apartment.
“See you in the morning,” Veronica said as she slung her bag over her back and started to walk down the narrow sidewalk.
“Hey V?” Faith called out. Veronica turned to face her and waited expectantly. “Tell your Dad you’re gettin’ a ride. I ain’t walkin’ my sweet ass half way across town ten times a day.”
She raised her arm and waved, then turned around and began walking down the darkened street. Veronica watched her go until she was out of sight, then sighed and started up the stairs to her apartment.
“Well this just keeps getting better and better.”
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