vanessagalore: (!Precipitation)
[personal profile] vanessagalore

TITLE: Pier (16/?)
AUTHOR:

[personal profile] vanessagalore
CHARACTERS: Veronica, Logan, Keith
WORD COUNT: 6,151
RATING:
PG13/R for this chapter
SUMMARY:
Sometimes it's best to just get the hell out of Dodge. Set right after 'The Bitch Is Back'.
SPOILERS:
Spoilers for the whole series, especially season 3.
WARNINGS:
Cursing.
DISCLAIMER:
I don't own any rights to Veronica Mars. This story is written as a tribute only. Beta'd by [personal profile] boobsnotbombs and [livejournal.com profile] zaftig_darling. All remaining errors are my responsibility.

 

1~Precipitation 2~Precarious 3~Paranoia 4~Prevarication 5~Probation 6~Predicament 7~Paradox 8~Please 9~Perilous 10~Palpitation 11~Precipice 12~Perspiration 13~Peregrination 14~Pursuit 15~Plexus

Last time on 'Precipitation': (Highlight to read ~OR~ click here to skip directly to the new chapter)

Lynard helps Veronica get safely out of the bus terminal in Chicago, by pretending to be her boyfriend and then telling a cop that Brown Suit Guy stole his wallet to let her get away. But Brown Suit Guy and his companion see Veronica jump in a taxi; despite her efforts to shake them, they tail her in a dark blue sedan to Union Station. She doubles back and gets another cab heading for the Navy Pier, a tourist attraction on Lake Michigan. All seems to be clear, with no one following her, and then suddenly a dark blue sedan is behind her again.



Lakeshore Drive is expansive, with eight lanes of brisk traffic. To our right is Lake Michigan, with joggers and couples holding hands on the path bordering the lake. To our left and in front of us I can see Chicago's massive skyscrapers. And directly behind us is a dark blue sedan that looks exactly like the car that was following me from the Greyhound terminal earlier today.

"Excuse me," I ask, leaning forward. "Could we get in the right lane? I'd really like to see the lake."

The cabbie obliges, and I watch the sedan move along with us to the rightmost lane. Coincidence? Wishful thinking, Veronica. I can't see the driver's features in the twilight. We pass the exit for Randolph Street and Wacker Drive and the sedan continues to keep our pace. As the cabbie points out Navy Pier, now visible across the bay of Lake Michigan, traffic thins slightly, and we speed up. The blue sedan falls back a little, but when a car tries to get in between us, my pursuer speeds up to stay with us.

It takes every ounce of courage I've got not to tell the cabbie that I've changed my mind. The sign announcing the exit for Navy Pier flashes by while I'm dithering, and I decide that I don't have any better options—I'm going for it. As we curve off the highway, I stare at my pursuer, trying to memorize his features, but through his tinted windshield all I can make out is that he's a dark-haired white man.

We exit for Navy Pier, winding through a park. My driver keeps up a constant narration, telling me about the most popular attractions within the site. Lynard had drawn me a rough map of the area, and as he'd suggested, I ask the taxi to bypass the pedestrian entrance by the Children's Museum and instead turn right onto the pier itself.

The sedan is directly behind us now, the only other car that turns with us, and that last one percent of hope I had disappears. The narrow roadway along the northern edge of the pier appears to be mostly used for access to the loading docks and the on-site parking garage, and the sidewalk is dotted with 'no parking–tow zone' signs. A yellow-vested police officer, a ticket book in hand, is forcing idling cars to move along. About halfway down the roadway, my taxi pulls into a drop-off area, right next to the parking garage.

Unless my pursuer wants to get towed, he's going to have to go in the parking garage. I give my driver a reasonable tip and thank him before moving quickly into the complex, hurrying just a little faster than the average tourist. In my peripheral vision, I see the blue sedan turn into the parking garage, taking the turn just a bit too fast with one wheel going over the curb.

Once the car is out of sight, I turn and go into a tacky souvenir shop that adjoins the taxi drop-off area. After selecting a few items, I watch as a family, two couples, and then finally a single man leave the garage's pedestrian exit.

I duck behind a display rack of baseball caps and memorize my pursuer's features: dark wavy hair, scowling face with a hint of five-o'clock shadow, tall, maybe 6'2". He doesn't look that old, maybe thirties, and he's wearing a navy windbreaker and jeans. He's talking on a cell phone as he looks around, only about forty feet away from me.

Every nerve fiber in my body is twitching, telling me to run, and when he starts walking in my direction I pull back behind the rack of gaudy baseball caps. I look around wildly, trying to decide my best option for escape, but he walks right past the store into the busy passageway filled with tourists, scanning as he walks. His cell phone remains firmly planted on his ear and he seems agitated.

Am I being paranoid? How the hell did he follow me here? We did drive a fairly straightforward route from Union Station to Navy Pier, but I'd been checking for a tail the whole way.

It scares the shit out of me that he didn't care if I saw him following.

Another taxi pulls up, and my breath catches as I look closer. The cab has a number on its roof, and I'm betting that the blue sedan lost me at first, but knew the number of the cab I'd taken. With all of Chicago's one-way streets, there was only a few possible directions. So he must have caught up to me somewhere along the way. Maybe the three of them split up to find me. They could be converging on me on the pier right now. I berate myself for not ditching the cab sooner, but logically I know that could have been just as bad if not worse.

With my pursuer identified, I pay for my purchases: a fake fedora, a red "Chicago Bulls" T-shirt, a disposable camera, and cheap but functional binoculars. The clerk shrugs her acquiescence when I ask for one of her larger shopping bags. Hiding behind a rack of postcards, I don the T-shirt over my tank top, sling the binoculars around my neck, and top it off with my new hat. All the contents of my backpack are emptied into the shopping bag, except for the Glock, which I discreetly slip into my waistband under the untucked T-shirt that I purchased just a bit too large for me. I dump my backpack in a garbage can, and voilà, I'm a typical tourist.

Heading in the opposite direction of my pursuer, I follow a circuitous route while constantly observing everyone and everything around me. I'm expecting to see Brown Suit Guy around every corner, and I force myself to walk steadily around Navy Pier, imitating the languorous pace of the crowd.

I'm reminded of the Santa Monica Pier that I've visited many times. In addition to a Ferris wheel and other rides, there are souvenir shops, fast food restaurants masquerading as exotic cuisine, unhealthy snacks galore, and vendors selling everything from cheap costume jewelry to fake tattoos. The tattoos remind me of Logan, hopefully safe on a Greyhound somewhere in Florida or Georgia. A band on an outdoor stage belting out 'Ain't Too Proud to Beg' mixes with the dinging of arcade games, the distant sounds of the carousel, and people talking loudly to make themselves heard over the general din.

People are everywhere, most of them moving slowly and all of them taking picture after picture, almost subconsciously following a universal tourist protocol. There's an overpowering aroma of burnt sugar, popcorn, fried grease, and human beings—their odors, their garbage. For a moment I can't figure out what's missing, and then I realize it's the smell of the ocean that I associate with the Santa Monica Pier. This air has a tang from Lake Michigan that's distinctly different.

I join a group of four people about my age for a few feet; when they stop to look at the signs for the Funhouse Maze, I continue on. There's a stand selling overpriced funnel cakes, and I buy one, eating it as I walk and buzzing from the sugar. Another trio of teenage girls is in front of me, and I match their pace for twenty feet, until they slow to a crawl and I have to move past them.

I make good progress until they turn the lights of the Ferris wheel on, and then it seems like every person has to stop and point, oohing and aahing. And since I must not stand out, I do the same, and take a few shots with my new camera. It is pretty cool-looking, with the tall buildings of the city beyond in the twilight.

I'll come back here someday and have fun, I swear to myself suddenly. Logan and I will laugh about the fake tattoos and mock the tourists; we'll stuff ourselves with cotton candy and ride the Ferris wheel until we're dizzy. And then I remember that we're going to be lying low in Chapel Hill for the rest of our lives, and my ridiculous plans evaporate.

I shake off my distress and keep moving. I'm still pretty well-oriented, and my plan is to eventually head for the westernmost entrance to the site that we'd bypassed when we arrived. Spotting a ramp to the upper level, I walk up and use my binoculars to scan the crowd. It takes a few passes before I spot my friend pushing through the crowd quite a ways back along the pier. To my relief, I can't see Brown Suit Guy or his companion anywhere in the crowds. When I look back, the man in the navy windbreaker is turning around. He asks one of the vendors a question and then begins making his way through the throngs of people, moving in the opposite direction from my position.

Which is my cue to go. I hustle down the ramp and head for the entrance, watching nervously for my other two pursuers. There are still people here, but it's not as crowded as the bustling shopping arcade. I pass the carousel, the Wave Swinger ride, and a Mexican restaurant blasting canned mariachi music. As I reach the end of the pier, it's just a few of us walking toward the Children's Museum at the main entrance.

I gauge my speed carefully, glomming onto two small groups and ducking momentarily into a bar before I reach the taxi stand. Most of the tourists are waiting for a trolley, and the rest of us are grouped at the taxi stand. A family of three takes the first cab just as a large group of children exit the Children's Museum, faces painted in neon colors, giggling and shoving each other as they walk.

Another taxi pulls up, with a single passenger. Through the window I see a dark suit, short gray hair. Can't be, can't be, you're just being paranoid, Veronica—there are lots of guys with short gray hair in Chicago.

The man is paying the driver and hasn't seen me—and then he turns and we recognize each other: it's Brown Suit Guy. The door opens and I take off running, my nemesis still a little stunned. A quick glance behind me, and the man in the blue windbreaker is closing fast as well, about fifty feet away. Where the hell did he come from? The Brown Suit Guy trips over all the kids milling around, which gives me a little head start.

Back into Navy Pier? No, all they'll have to do is watch the exits. At closing time, I'll get escorted out. And the kids...there are kids everywhere all of a sudden. Too much chance that someone will get hurt if they come after me.

So across the street it is, with car horns blaring at me as I cross against the light. I dodge and weave, just barely leaping out of the way of a belligerent taxi. My fedora hat goes flying, and the binoculars bang against my chest as I run—I pull them off and drop them into the road. The Glock digs into my waist on every other stride.

To my left, a well-lit city block of grassy plaza, with no cover except for sparsely spaced single trees. Beyond, a tall apartment building dominates the entire area. To my right, a large park that extends down the street with more trees and some kind of stone structure, and then buildings just beyond the park. On the horizon, the skyscrapers of Chicago mock me. I hear another set of car horns and assume Brown Suit Guy is right behind me running through traffic.

It's not a plan. It's just adrenaline and desperation, breathlessness and digging deep for that last reserve of energy as I run faster than I've ever run.

I head right, entering the park and intending to use the trees for cover to exit on the opposite side, but as I get further in, I see the park is a trap. The far boundary of the park is Lakeshore Drive, with no pedestrian access here. It's a concrete mountain, unscalable.

I run toward the stone structure I'd seen from Navy Pier. It's a long rectangular gazebo—a permanent metal canopy—with stone pillars every four feet. The sparse lighting in the park creates a alternating patchwork of shadow, light, shadow, light, along the walkway of the gazebo, and I imagine my pursuers seeing my image strobing through the supports as I sprint through the gazebo.

There's nowhere to go when I emerge from the other end of the structure.

Nothing in front of me but another open expanse of park with only a few trees. No crowd of people to hide in, no bus, no taxi, no policeman, no cell phone, no rape whistle. No one to hear me scream. There's Lake Michigan bordering the park—a convenient place to dump my body.

Cowering behind the last stone pillar of the gazebo, I try to breathe as silently as I can. I take my Glock out of my waistband and release the safety. I clutch my shopping bag tightly to my chest—I can't lose the money I've cached there and I don't have time to fish it out. Turning a little, I try to see where they are, inching out from behind the pillar until I spot the two men converging on the park, each man holding a weapon at his side.

I duck back behind the pillar. If I can't see them...they can't see me.

Should I set a trap, and try to shoot them before they see me? Am I a good enough shot to do this? Should I run? Should I wait and try to pick them off one at a time?

'You are not a killer, Veronica.'

I gauge their progress, and stealthily move back toward the pier one pillar at a time, staying on the outside of the dimly lit gazebo. My petite body is thoroughly concealed by the squat stone pillars—at least, that's my hope. As I slip behind the next pillar, I see that they've split up; one is circling around while the other is coming right toward me, heading for the gazebo.

The darkness deepens, and the antique streetlights in the park throw off little circles of light at regular intervals. Suddenly, to my right about sixty feet away, I see a taxi coming down the street bordering the park, its turn signal and headlights on. It pulls into a valet area for the monstrous condominium looming over the park. In my terror, I'd seen just an impenetrable monolith and failed to notice the U-shaped drive-through at the base of the building.

Maybe...

Two more pillars, and I'm halfway, and the man in the blue windbreaker passes right beside me on the interior of the gazebo. I hold my breath for ten seconds, and then it's time to move.

As quiet as I am, he hears me and I hear him. His running footsteps echo on the gazebo's concrete floor. My arms are pumping, trying for an extra burst of speed, my lungs exploding with the need for oxygen, legs aching, tired, so tired.

The footsteps sound closer—he's catching up to me...oh my god, oh my god.

At the last pillar, I pause for a millisecond, and then reach around the pillar and fire three shots, without aiming. I take off like a rocket across the street to the apartment building, tucking the Glock back into my waistband, praying that I won't need it again. Once more, I fly into traffic heedless of the oncoming vehicles and dart into the valet parking as a horn blares and a voice calls out, "Asshole!" The taxi I'd seen a minute before is just pulling out onto the street, its vacancy sign lit up, and I hammer on the window. "Please, please, please!" I sputter, and the cab stops. I throw myself into the back seat.

"Where to, miss? ...Hey, are you okay?"

"Um. Um. Yeah, I'm okay. The Sheraton," I mumble, naming the first hotel that comes to mind.

"The Towers Sheraton or the Airport Sheraton?"

Fuck! Whatever. Just go! "The Towers. ...That's not too far from here, is it?"

"Just five minutes or so, this time of night."

As we pull out, I see a huddled shape lying in the gazebo, and Brown Suit Guy looking balefully at the cab from across the street, his gun hand concealed under his suit jacket.

The taxi driver says cheerfully, "They must be starting the fireworks show a little earlier this year."

"Excuse me?"

"Didn't you hear the firecrackers a few minutes ago? They have a fireworks show on Navy Pier every Wednesday and Saturday."

"Oh, that's what that was," I reply lamely. I have one last chance to look as the cab accelerates, and that body-sized lump in the gazebo still isn't moving.

I killed him. Did I kill him? Oh my god.

I see the cab driver's eyes on me in the rearview mirror. "Miss, you sure you're okay?"

"I think so," I reply. It's a goddamn lie, but the truth would probably make his head explode.

I'm pretty sure that Brown Suit Guy and his friends tracked me to Navy Pier by the cab's number, so I still have to lay some false trails. I won't make that mistake again. And then—I need about twenty-four solid hours of sleep and a large hot meal. And a really long shower. I'm almost there, I promise myself. Just a few more subterfuges.

I killed a man tonight. That unmoving lump in the gazebo haunts me.

It's not far to the Sheraton from Navy Pier—walking distance, in fact, but because of Chicago's one-way streets, it takes us the five minutes the taxi driver promised. Just as we pass the Embassy Suites Hotel, I see the Sheraton up ahead on the left, and it gives me an idea.

We turn left on a dead-end street that's only used for access to the hotel, so I can easily see that no one has tailed us. In the Sheraton lobby, I make sure to chat with the bellhop, hoping he'll remember me if anyone comes asking. Near the concierge is a large display rack of flyers for tourist attractions and Chicago information. I pick up another city map that includes the suburbs, all the public transportation information available, and flyers for a few of the attractions.

Wandering through the Sheraton, I head for Shula's Steakhouse, packed with customers at this time of night, and exit through a different entrance onto the street we'd driven to get here, North Columbus Drive. No cabs here, but the Embassy Suites I'd noted before are just a block away. There's an open plaza between the two hotels, deserted at this hour, and I feel awfully exposed walking through it. I pass a garbage can, and I dump all the flyers for tourist attractions, keeping the maps and public transportation schedules.

In the Embassy Suites, I find a side door and enter. Quickly scoping out the lobby, I duck into a ladies' room. I look haggard in the mirror, with the remains of the creepy mascara from earlier, dark circles under my eyes, and greasy hair.

Murderer. Killer.

Trashing my new Chicago Bulls T-shirt, I put on my last clean shirt, a tank top that looks reasonably okay, although my jeans could walk home to Neptune at this point. I do the best I can with my appearance, splashing water on my face and combing my hair.

There's a tense moment when I can't locate the bundle of cash in my shopping bag. I finally find it wrapped in my last clean pair of underwear at the bottom of the bag, and I slump onto the sink in sheer relief, breathing hard and shaking a little. My gun goes in the shopping bag as well, because I can't hide it with the tank top. Next time, I'm getting an ankle holster and a money belt, I promise myself sarcastically.

I exit the restroom and pretend to enter the lobby from the stairs. Approaching the concierge with a smile, I put my Southern belle accent back on. "Do you think you might be able to help me?"

"Of course, miss."

"I've heard so much about y'all's Blues clubs. Could you recommend one? One where a single lady such as myself might be all right this time of night. And without having to get all dressed up, please." I'm so tired that I have trouble maintaining the pretense of a Southern accent, but the concierge doesn't seem to notice that my inflection is all over the place.

He asks dubiously, "You're over twenty-one?" When I nod, he checks his watch and replies, "Well, then, Buddy Guy's is a lot of fun. The main act goes on around 8 and again at 10—there are usually two or three sets. They've got a full menu there, sandwiches, burgers, entrees, you name it."

"Ooh, I've heard of him. Guitar, right?"

"Yes, that's right. Would you like me to call you a cab?"

"Could y'all? That would be simply splendid."

The concierge picks up a phone and mutters into the receiver. Hanging up, he says, "About five minutes, miss."

"Thank you kindly," I reply, pretending to smile broadly.

While I'm waiting, I watch carefully as cars pass by the Embassy Suite's entrance. No dark blue sedan. No evil mobster wearing a brown suit and looking to kill me. And no cops looking for the young woman who killed a man over by Navy Pier. I start worrying that the cab driver who drove me to the Sheraton will make a connection between his young, out-of-breath, female fare and a mob shooting in the nearby park.

Five minutes later, a taxi pulls up out front, and I step in. "Buddy Guy's?" he inquires.

"Yes."

He turns back toward the Sheraton, and we head south down North Columbus Drive. I'm trying desperately to stay oriented, as well as watching to see if anyone is following. By the map in the cab, I'm pretty sure that we're in the Loop. There are plenty of cars on the streets, despite the late hour, and apparently it's a straight shot down North Columbus to the blues club.

I ask the cabbie, "Do you mind? I'm just visiting for a few days...could you show me a few buildings that are worth visiting while I'm here, maybe drive around a little. Just a few of the biggies, things that are right here downtown."

"It's going to be a few more dollars."

"Oh, that's fine."

He turns right at the next light and gives me the ten-cent tour. I pretend to look in awe at the buildings, but I'm really checking to see if anyone is following. After five minutes of this, I pretend to check my watch. "Oh dear, we better get to that club. I'm meeting someone at 9:30. Thank you so much."

Five minutes later, he deposits me at Buddy Guy's. I fake going inside as he drives off, then turn around and start looking for a new cab.

*****

When I left the club, my next cabdriver had obligingly recommended a cheap hotel in Chinatown, named, imaginatively, The ChinaTown Hotel. I've booked a room for two nights, and now I walk into an economical but clean room and sink onto the bed in utter exhaustion. I know that if I lie down, I'll be asleep in ten seconds, but I sit on the edge of bed for a few minutes just trying to breathe and think.

I killed a man tonight. I push the thought away. You don't know that he's dead, Veronica.

'You are not a killer, Veronica.'

I don't actually feel safe, but the adrenaline edge of panic has ebbed away with the multiple evasive maneuvers. There's no way that I've been followed here, after two hotels, a blues club and three cabs with no sign of a tail. The only way Brown Suit Guy will find me in this hotel room is by sheer luck.

'Brown Suit Guy': I've been too afraid to admit it to myself, but I'm sure that Brown Suit Guy is one of Gory's people. I'm sure of it. They seemed far too ruthless for private dicks or bounty hunters; I have no doubt that my pursuers wouldn't have hesitated to dispose of any of today's cab drivers if necessary, and I could have easily ended up being the one lying dead in the park tonight.

There's a knock on the door. I grab my Glock and cross the room, switching off the safety as I walk. "Who is it?"

"Ricobene's. You ordered pizza?" The desk clerk had ordered a deep-dish pizza to be delivered to my room, and I almost swoon at the thought of hot food. I check through the peephole and see a teenage boy wearing a 'Ricobene's' T-shirt, white with a green and red logo.

"I, um, I'm not dressed right now." One fewer person to see my face in this hotel, I'm hoping. "Okay if I slip the money under the door? What's the damage?"

"$16.45—without the tip."

I fumble in my wallet and slip a twenty under the door. "Thank you."

"Have a good night."

I watch through the peephole as the delivery boy walks to the end of the hall and down the stairs, and then I pull open the door and bring in the pizza, moaning a little at how good it smells. The 'Do Not Disturb' sign swings on the door handle as I start to close the door, and I take a moment to place it on the outside knob.

The pizza disappears quickly, although I force myself to eat slowly so I don't get sick. Deep-dish pizza is everything it's been touted to be, a wonderfully thick crust baked to perfection, incredibly greasy and dripping with tomato sauce. I decide that I prefer Chicago pizza to New York.

After a long shower—it's amazing how bad you smell after riding a bus for twenty-four hours—I get to work. I spread out the train schedules and begin calculating various routes. The problem is that Gory's people know that I'm in Chicago, and they'll be watching all the transportation hubs. I've got to find a way to get out of this town.

Finally, I figure something out that might work. And then I start thinking about disguises: what's possible, can it be sustained, is it flexible if I need to change it midcourse, will it work? I've got to be careful not to draw attention to myself. It's not just Gory, after all, who's looking for me.

But for Gory's people, it's personal now. They were beaten by a teenage girl, and they're going to have something to prove, to themselves and to the people they report to. It's going to be that much harder not to get caught or lead them straight to Dad and Logan.

At midnight, completely exhausted, I go to bed with a plan.

Despite my fatigue, I don't sleep at first. I imagine Logan, head shaved and arms and neck tattooed, riding on a bus through small Southern towns...a sitting duck if Gory's crew happens to check a Greyhound terminal that Logan passes through. Futilely, I try to comfort myself by remembering how many terminals there are and how Dad had disguised him, and I hope that every terminal he passes through is chaotic and bustling. And I worry, because I know he doesn't have the experience I do, to notice surveillance, to change his disguise, to change his strategy at the drop of a hat.

That reunion that I long for is seeming awfully far away. It's. not. fair. We'd just started talking again. I'd finally told Logan things I should have said months ago—why I'm such a lunatic about Madison, how much I've missed him, and that I really, really should have listened to him when he told me I was taking too many chances.

And now...I've killed a man.

*****

I sleep for twelve hours and awaken at noon. I have a lot to do today, so I get going as fast as I can. Chinatown is perfect for the first part of my plan. At the Chinatown Bazaar, two blocks away from my hotel, I pick up the clothing I'll need: two size eight ladies blouses, one in sea foam green with a black line print, the other in a gray check; two pairs size eight petite slacks, in black and gray; two pairs leggings; four fitted T-shirts; dressy flat sandals and black high heel shoes that seem comfortable enough to walk in, maybe even run a little; and new underwear to replace the dirty pairs I've tossed along the way.

The Bazaar has anything you could ever want, at a price anyone could afford, so I also buy a battery-operated curling iron, hairspray and gel, some barrettes, a makeup mirror (useful for looking behind me), a paperback novel, and three new prepaid cellular phones. To put it all in, I buy a stylish bike messenger bag.

At Chinatown Vision Associates, I purchase a pair of 'computer glasses', clear glass with a reflective coating to make it easier to work in front of a screen all day long. I select slightly squared dark frames that make my reflection look studious.

Next, at the Lotus House of Beauty, five blocks away, I'm a walk-in. After a short wait, I ask for a more 'mature' hair style and a new reddish-brown color, explaining that I have a job interview tomorrow morning. Ninety minutes later, I walk out with a slightly shorter, layered cut with a subtle auburn tint that frames my face in a new way.

I buy a Chicago Sun-Times newspaper from a vending machine on the street and learn that Anatoly Ponomarev, 32, a three-time convict for battery, robbery, and menacing charges, was found dead the night before in Jane Adams Memorial Park with a bullet wound in the abdomen. The police have no suspects and are seeking witnesses. I make a mental note to get rid of the Glock as soon as I get to Chapel Hill.

A weight like concrete sinks into me as my last hope disappears. I killed a man. Someone who was breathing yesterday isn't alive today, because of me.

But I'm alive. It was him or me. Him or me.

My guilty conscience has been nagging at me for the last few hours, and I use one of the burn phones to call Lynard's cell. After a few rings he answers, "Yo," clearly still alive. I disconnect and trash the phone down a sewer grate.

At 5:30, I walk out of the back door of the ChinaTown Hotel, dressed in the two pairs of leggings and all four of the fitted T-shirts under the light green shirt and gray slacks. With the eyeglasses, the new haircut, and the extra clothing layers, I look at least fifteen pounds heavier and ten years older. It's a little weird to be back up on my usual high heels after wearing tennis shoes since we left Neptune, and I feel awkward wearing all these clothes.

The second cab I hail agrees to take me to South Bend, Indiana. It's $175.00 on the meter plus a fifty dollar tip to the Amtrak Station there, more than I'd like to spend but absolutely necessary, in my opinion. We hit rush hour traffic, and I get to the South Bend train station with only twenty minutes to spare, which is actually perfect.

I buy a sleeper car ticket, a "roomette" to New York City, with a one hour layover in Washington, D.C. It's an extra $336 to have the roomette to myself, but it feels incredibly safe after everything I've been through—I don't even need to go to the dining car to eat. Justifying the extra expense to myself, I decide that if it keeps someone from following me to Chapel Hill, it's totally worth it.

I hide in my civilized little bedroom the entire time, sleeping through the night and then watching the world flash by my window when I wake up the next morning. There's no way I could keep up the pretense of a casual conversation; the solitude is perfect for my mood. For seventeen hours, the train wheels whisper to me, you killed a man, you killed a man, you killed a man.

At 5 p.m. the next day in Philadelphia, I disembark early and find an economical hotel for overnight without incident. I test a Philadelphia cheesesteak and pronounce it inferior to both New York and Chicago pizza, but still delicious. Just a tourist in the City of Brotherly Love, right? Not on the lam. Not a desperate criminal. Another bite, and I feel nauseated. I end up tossing half the cheesesteak in the garbage.

In my hotel room that night, I look at myself in the mirror, trying to determine if it shows on my face: you killed a man. I take the Glock out and stare at it. It lies on the bed like a living thing, purposeful and evil, smelling a little like death. I put it on the nightstand and try to get some sleep. It's a restless night filled with nightmares of the door to my room crashing open, Russian mafia or Chicago police finally catching up with me here in Philadelphia.

The next morning, I board a train for Charlotte, North Carolina. The option of a roomette isn't available for this train, and throughout the day, I find myself switching cars frequently. It doesn't take much to spook me—an overlong glance or a suit jacket that seems to bulge where it shouldn't. Just outside of Alexandria, Virginia, a man follows me from the dining car after I grab lunch. He sits down right next to me and I tense up, half expecting him to pull a weapon and take me into custody. I pretend to fumble in my messenger bag for something, reassuring myself that my Glock is there if I need it. But the man flips open a newspaper and doesn't seem to notice when a few minutes later I leave to find a new seat in a different car.

The next stop is Quantico, where my FBI internship would have been. I haven't thought about that particular facet of my old life for days, but everything I've lost comes back to me now: the Hearst Scholarship, a career in the FBI, Mac and Wallace, and Backup. I'd been so desperate to leave Neptune after senior year. But I'm not that girl anymore; I'd give anything to be able to share a Joltin' Java with my friends again. The train pulls out of the station. The FBI is in the rearview, along with everything else from my old life.

We continue south through Virginia and then cross over in North Carolina. I'm ticketed through to Charlotte, but I'm planning to ditch in Raleigh, which is as close to Chapel Hill as Amtrak gets. Each subsequent stop ratchets up my nervousness. I've traveled in a straight line with no subterfuges since Philadelphia, and the possibility looms that someone's been following me and biding their time, hoping that I'll lead them right to Dad and Logan.

So in Raleigh I decide to leave one more false trail. I exit the Amtrak station and look around for a hotel, but I find an even better option, the Raleigh Convention Center just a block and a half away. There are three conventions going on, and I wander around for twenty minutes. Exiting on a street behind the center, I hail a taxi. The driver is happy to give me a tour of downtown Raleigh, and then, when I'm finally satisfied that there's no way anyone's tailing me, I ask the cabbie to take me to Chapel Hill.

As we drive down the highway, I text Dad for instructions, signing my text, 'Princess'. I'm relieved when I get the return text addressed to 'Honeybun', the code that tells me he too is safe. At 7:30, four days and three hours after we split up, Dad and I are reunited at the picturesque Chapel Hill Public Library, and we head off on foot to our new basement apartment, where Logan is anxiously waiting to see me.

The new me, that is. The woman who killed a man in Chicago.

Continue reading...Perception

(no subject)

Date: 2011-07-22 03:07 pm (UTC)
medjunkie: (Default)
From: [personal profile] medjunkie
This is great I have only just read the last chapter and now another one. I think that the path V had chosen, her PI work the FBI if she had got in, at some point se was going to have to take a life to protect her own. Now she has crossed that line, accidently. I'm interested to see how yo will write her dealing with. I really liked the park scene, it was very film like, very visual. All these cities and highways are fun to read as a brit, I'm learning loads.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-07-23 03:12 am (UTC)
celtic_flicka: UFO (Default)
From: [personal profile] celtic_flicka
Exciting chapter! Great chase scenes, and nice job with the Chicago geography. :)

Two tiny corrections: (1) It's just called Navy Pier, not the Navy Pier and (2) there's only one entrance onto Navy Pier for cars. The entrance by the Children's Museum is only for pedestrians, so the only options for cars are to stop in the front there and let people out, or go toward the parking garage (nice detail with the cops stopping people from trying to park there--totally true! They actually yell at drivers!).

(no subject)

Date: 2011-07-25 05:53 pm (UTC)
afrocurl: (Default)
From: [personal profile] afrocurl
I'm so intrigued by that chase with Veronica in Chicago.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-07-26 07:35 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] vertejaune
I wonder how it'll change her. On one hand, I can see Veronica not changing all that much. There was a clear and imminent threat to her life and the lives of her father and Logan. She attempted to escape, shooting was very last resort. So I wonder if she'll be overwhelmed with the guilt of having taken a life- I think it's more likely to hit her in terms of the laws she's broken, the finality of this disappearance. And possibly feeling as though it's on her to protect Keith and Logan from the knowledge that she had to do such a thing. With just the one bullet wound in the abdomen, it was definitely her shot that did him in, no chance of the partner finishing him off to flush her out.

Wherever you decide to take it, I'll be very interested to read. I wonder if they're really going to be able to stay in Chapel Hill indefinitely. They can't get particularly exciting jobs, and working in a coffee shop and looking over one's shoulder would probably drive people like Logan and Veronica crazy. Keith would probably have more patience, but the tension of that little family unit would be pretty crazy in a situation like this, I would assume. Once the relief wears off, there's gonna be some serious adjustment. Eek.

Anyways, I really liked this chapter. Can't wait to see the fallout.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-07-28 08:11 pm (UTC)
schuylerjo: (Default)
From: [personal profile] schuylerjo
You're doing a great job with Chicago - whether you've lived here or not :). Celtic is right, it is just Navy Pier, maybe think of it like the name of a store. We go to Navy Pier every year (I live in the suburbs) and I could really picture it. I was very nervous as I was reading! I'm sorry you're taking a break but I hope you feel better soon.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-08-03 02:41 am (UTC)
schuylerjo: (Default)
From: [personal profile] schuylerjo
I thought it was ok, nothing jumped out at me when I was reading. I think referring to it as the pier is fine. Locally we don't say the "Pier" in that way. I guess its just a Chi-cah-go thing :).

(no subject)

Date: 2011-08-04 02:15 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] fickledame
Oooh, I loved this one! It was very suspenceful. Poor, Veronica. :( Ugh, just leave her alone.

I hope Keith and Logan had better trips and they're able to bring her some comfort.

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