TITLE: Phantasm (18/?)
CHARACTERS: Veronica, Logan, Keith
WORD COUNT: 3,577
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.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own any rights to Veronica Mars. This story is written as a tribute only. Beta'd by boobsnotbombs and 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 16~Pier 17~Perception
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AUTHOR'S NOTE: One of the difficulties in writing a WIP is that a reader's sense of time gets distorted when real time passes between chapter updates.
If you count the Neptune special election day as Day One, we are now on Day Ten. Depending on when you think the election happened, in this story, we are sometime in May, possibly early June (MarsInvestigations·net places "Weevil's Wobble" and "The Bitch Is Back" in May 2007). There's no mention of final exams in either of those episodes, so it's before the end of the term, which to my mind puts the election on either May 8, 15 or 22, and May 15 seems most likely (and was an actual special election that year in California for State Assembly).
The most important thing is to realize that it's only been ten days; Veronica's still upset about the election, etc., and all three of them are exhausted and stressed. In particular, it's not very long for Logan and Veronica to be trying again at a relationship.
I did previously use an external date in this story: Saturday, May 26, 2007, the date that Lindsay Lohan ran her vehicle up over the curb and got a DUI, which coincides with Day Two or Day Three of my story. As you may recall, the press coverage on Lindsay was necessary to give a reason why the paparazzi hadn't yet picked up the story on Logan. So Day Ten would then be approx. Mon. June 4.
However, I must ask for your indulgence. Because of plotting in upcoming chapters, it will be necessary to fudge the dates a little earlier than this, and I'll need to use the election date May 15 (which is more sensible anyways). That makes Day Ten to be May 24. Only my nitpickers and Lindsay's PR people will care about this, anyway. Mea culpa on the DUI date.
This story is intended to be pretty much canonical. One area where I'm asking you to suspend a tiny bit of canon is my idea that Logan was secretly trying hard to get his grades up, to comply with the terms of the probation that I inserted into a little hole in canon. Season 3 shows Logan struggling mightily with attendance and his grades; let's assume for my story that we weren't seeing the whole picture. Although old habits die hard, Logan was trying to do better, when he wasn't being totally emo, and he managed to satisfy the court's requirements, up until the day he fled Neptune.
When I say canonical, keep in mind that the characters in this story might not have every bit of knowledge that a viewer has. Just because a character contradicts a fact you know as a viewer does not mean that I am crossing over into an alternate universe; it just means that they don't know what you know. And perhaps I've found a brand new plot hole to exploit. Or maybe not.
Last time on Precipitation: (highlight to read or click here to skip directly to the new chapter)
Veronica finally makes it to Chapel Hill and reunites with Logan and her dad. The apartment is dismal and small, and her dad has taken a position as handyman/janitor for the apartment complex. She discovers that the paparazzi have gotten wind of Logan's difficulties, and he's featured in the latest issue of People magazine. Both Logan and Keith agree that Veronica's pursuers seem more intense than the situation warrants.
She's unable to sleep, obsessing about what happened in Chicago. Logan ends up rocking her to sleep, with Keith's approval. The next day, Logan tries to initiate an intimate moment, but Veronica is tense and uncertain. She's unable to stop thinking about everything that's bothering her, including her own difficulties with maintaining a healthy relationship, and they agree to take it slow.
After Dad gets off work and we have lunch, the three of us sit down to talk. I review what happened in St. Louis and Chicago again, with all the details that I'd noticed about my pursuers. Then Dad asks me to go over everything that I'd found during my investigation of the sex video.
We hadn't had the time to look at the contents of the copied hard drive before we left Neptune, and since then we've been running constantly, so it's the first time Dad's looked at it. He boots up our laptop, connects the hard drive, and scrolls through the names in the directory. Each file is named according to the convention of pledge year, then last name/first name of the candidate. Noting the file extensions, he comments, "Video from 1978 on. Audio from 1949 to 1977. And transcripts from 1929 to 1948. There's a lot of famous names on this list. How many of these confessions did you look at?"
"Gory, Jake Kane, a few more—names that I recognized. Enough so I could convince Jake I'd cracked the drive. I think...Gabe Huntley and Gerald Cummings. Maybe a couple others? "
"As in Gerald Cummings, the senator from Mississippi?" Logan asks.
"As in Gerald Cummings, who was just a fresh-faced campaign worker in 1968. He worked for the George Wallace for President Campaign and somehow made all the ballot boxes from poor neighborhoods in southern Georgia disappear. Governor Wallace carried the state."
It feels good to discuss this, to feel competent and in control again, to push my brain to seek a solution. I know how to do this.
Dad drums his fingers on the table. "Once you and Mac cracked the encryption on the hard drive, tell me exactly what you did."
"I made two copies. One we gave to that attorney back in Neptune before we left town, and this is the other one." We hadn't wanted to jeopardize Cliff by getting him involved. Since Gory's lawyer had visited Cliff shortly after we left town, it had obviously been the right call to use an attorney we'd never dealt with before. I point at the hard drive, a portable 80 GB device that I'd wiped and used to save the data. "This is the only other copy. Before I went to see Jake, I decided to strike a blow for feminism and printed a list of all the names. I gave it to Nish Sweeney, the girl who ran 'Take Back the Night' at Hearst."
"A blow for feminism? What does Nish have to do with The Castle?" Dad asks.
"She's been investigating them for a couple years. Nish told me there's a group of women who tried to sue the Castle for gender discrimination, but they don't know who to sue. So I'm assuming Nish is planning to give that list of Castle members to those women, or maybe write a series of exposés. But she hadn't done anything with it before we left, as far as I know."
Dad looks thoughtful. "It takes years to get a class action lawsuit filed and certified by the court, if they're even successful. And it's likely that there are judges and D.A.'s on that list. It'll be pretty easy for The Castle to quash a suit like that. You gave her just the names, Veronica?"
"Just the names. It was obvious when we looked at Gory's confession that just viewing the files themselves could be dangerous."
"Show me Gory's confession again."
Dad watches the video three times. After the last time through, he stands up, stretching, and paces around the room before speaking. "It's almost certainly not admissible, assuming Gory's family has a halfway decent attorney. Sure, it's damaging, and if the Feds could identify the mountain cabin that Gory's talking about, they could drag the lake for bodies, or what's left of them. But with the hard drive out of Jake Kane's possession for a period of time, it would be easy for an attorney to claim that the confession had been doctored, and it's not likely that there's enough physical evidence to convict if the bodies have decomposed."
Logan says, "Maybe there's something else on the hard drive. Something to do with Jake Kane and Gory."
"What are you thinking?" I ask him.
"Jake Kane is someone who has the financial resources to search for us nationwide. Why is he so buddy-buddy with a mobster anyway?"
I muse, "Maybe it is Jake who's behind this—Gory supplies the manpower, but Jake's the one paying the bills."
Dad doesn't look convinced. Before he can answer me, the phone rings and interrupts him. It's ridiculous, but I'm startled, and sweat starts pouring from my armpits, with my heart rate accelerating quickly. Dad walks over and takes the call. "Hello?...Oh hi there, Mrs. Prescott...can you turn the water off with the shutoff valve behind the toilet?" He listens for a minute, then starts explaining where the valve is located and how to work it.
I try to dismiss my adrenaline rush and watch him talking on the phone. Dad's wearing khakis and a blue uniform shirt with 'Kingswood Apartments' embroidered on the pocket. There's a smudge of grease on his shirt sleeve, and the knuckles on his right hand look scraped. He looks tired and far older than 45, but he's still my dad, still smart and resourceful, still the best dad in the world.
"...Okay, I'll hold on while you try the valve." Dad turns to us. With his hand covering the mouthpiece, he says, "I know it's easy to think that Jake Kane is evil. But you really think he'd send mobsters across the country to gun us down?"
"A man who'd pay off Abel Koontz to protect his son from a murder charge is capable of a lot of things," I point out. "And remember how the Kanes barely got a slap on the wrist for that? It sure seemed like the fix was in—"
Dad puts up a finger and I stop talking. "Good job, Mrs. Prescott, I'll be right over to fix your toilet. Give me about fifteen minutes." He hangs up and sits down with us again. "Crisis averted, temporarily. I agree that Jake's proven that he'll do almost anything, given enough motivation. But why would Jake be trying to kill us, Veronica? What purpose would that serve?"
It feels really good to shift some of the blame onto our old nemesis. "Maybe there's something criminal on the hard drive that Jake doesn't want people to know about. Maybe something that would destroy Kane Software or give Celeste evidence to get a favorable divorce settlement. Follow the money, that's what you always say."
Dad sighs. "I don't think you're on the right track with this. But perhaps while Logan is stuck here in the apartment he could—"
"Oh no," Logan says.
"Oh yes. I think you should transcribe all the confessions. It won't take long for us to skim the old transcriptions, but I have a feeling if there's something to be found, it's in the most recent confessions, in the videos from the last decade. You should start with this year's pledges and work backwards."
"You need something to do, anyways," I say. "You can't just hide out here all day long, Logan."
"I've got my stories. And it's getting a little old the way you two never appreciate everything I do around here. Do you think the cooking and cleaning will take care of themselves?"
I scoff. "You swept the kitchen floor this morning after you poured me a bowl of corn flakes and managed to dump half the box on the floor."
Dad adds, "And I had to teach you how to make the coffee yesterday."
"Like I said, I'm so not appreciated by you guys."
Dad says, "Okay, you're appreciated. How about today, while Veronica and I go grocery shopping, you clean the bathroom for a little extra appreciation? And then tomorrow, you can start on your little project while I'm at work and Veronica's job hunting."
"Damn it. What'd you say, thirty years of video, and thirty of audio? How long's that going to take me?" Logan sighs and tries to ruffle his hair, but his hand stops short at the bristle on his scalp.
"You always wanted to help with all the glamorous P.I. stuff," I remind him. "This is P.I. work at its finest. Data analysis. You could probably get two or three years done every day, ten candidates per year. Think of it this way—we're trusting you to do a good job on this."
"Great." Logan's voice is sarcastic, but he smiles just enough that I see that he's actually pleased we've trusted him with the job.
We spend the evening creating a fake resume for me, complete with made-up references with phone numbers that match three of our prepaid phones. We line up the phones on the kitchen counter with a script for Logan to follow if someone checks up on me. Dad turns the TV on to an Orioles game, and he and Logan settle into the easy camaraderie of men bonding over baseball.
I try to watch the game as well, but I keep thinking about Jake Kane and his anger—and maybe a little fear—when I'd proved to him that I had cracked his precious hard drive.
Duncan had told me that his father had changed after Aaron's arrest. Something had broken in him when he found out his daughter had been playing a very dangerous game with her boyfriend's famous father, and that Jake had been completely wrong about Duncan.
Most men would be relieved to find out that their son hadn't murdered their daughter, but Duncan had told me that his father was unrelentingly bitter about everything and cold toward Duncan, as if it was somehow Duncan's fault that Lilly had slept with Aaron. Or, in Celeste's words, that Lilly had allowed herself to be manipulated by 'that man'.
Right, like Lilly ever did anything that she didn't want to.
And Jake had always been a complete son of a bitch to me. You'd have thought that he would have been nicer to the girl who could have been his daughter. I guess I was the bad seed that corrupted his true children. I wonder, like I always do, if he'd ever loved Mom, and what the hell she'd ever seen in him.
I imagine Jake ordering Gory to kill me. How would that have gone? "Gory, Veronica Mars has interfered in my life for the last time. I want her dead. And I want her to suffer."
Jesus, Veronica. I try to reconcile the lurid thought with 'Mr. Kane', Lilly's dad, the man who'd told us to get out of the pool and get ready for dinner when I was fourteen. He'd never exactly been nice to me, but he'd at least been civil. And now I'm wondering if he'd ordered a hit on me?
I go to the kitchen for a glass of water, and Dad walks over with me. Leaning on the counter, he asks, "What's going on? You're awfully quiet."
"Just thinking about Jake Kane. He's kind of a formidable enemy, you know? More money than God and bitter about everything."
"I've been thinking about him, too. Remember how Lamb pinned Aaron's murder on a deranged fan? The woman who threw herself off the Coronado after she confessed to the murder in a YouTube video."
"Shh." I look over at Logan, still absorbed in the baseball game. "He gets upset when you talk about it. Of course I remember. What about it?"
"Lamb got a new car right around that time. A Corvette, a really nice model, loaded with every option. Sacks mentioned it. He said it was weird—Lamb was always short of money, and then suddenly Don showed up with that car and a few days later the Echolls murder was officially closed."
"What are you saying?"
Dad leans closer and keeps his voice low. "What if Jake paid Lamb to look the other way and not investigate? Aaron's death looked a lot like a mob hit."
"You're saying, what? Jake inducts Gory into The Castle, and then he hires him to avenge his daughter when Aaron was acquitted?"
"Plausible deniability, Veronica. Jake and Celeste were at a celebrity function that night, where hundreds of people would see them."
I sigh. "I always figured it was Clarence Wiedman, doing Jake's dirty work as usual."
"Wiedman had an alibi too. I checked—it was in the files at the sheriff's department. A good alibi, Veronica."
"I know we have to be careful about using the Internet, but, Dad, there's no way we're going to figure this out without—"
"Veronica, you know all it would take would be one click on a honeytrap, and they'd have our approximate location."
Honeytraps: we used to set up fake web sites or spoofed Facebook profiles to lure in bail jumpers who just couldn't resist reading news articles about their crimes or the family they'd left behind. As soon as someone clicked anywhere on the page, we'd have their IP address. And then Dad would have an ISP location from which to start his searching. "Dad, I'm not going to click on a honeytrap."
"Really. You think Jake Kane, one of the most brilliant computer programmers of our generation, can't devise something to lure you in? And what about Vinnie? If he's serious about catching us, don't you think he'll be using Google Analytics to see who's accessing the Neptune Register archives? A sudden spike in traffic from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and he alerts the local cops to watch out for us. Right now we're safe here. We don't have to figure this out. No Internet, Veronica."
"All right, all right, you made your point." I nod my head toward Logan. "So why is he transcribing—"
"He needs a project. And...maybe he'll find something, and then we'll figure out our next move. I do think we're missing something important. But no Internet." I can't hold back a sigh, and he adds, "For now, Veronica. We can revisit it once Logan's looked through the whole hard drive. We're safe, unless we do something stupid to draw attention to ourselves."
"But Dad, we could get a prepaid cellular modem, and I could use Tor to mask our IP addr—"
"It's not worth the risk. No investigating, Veronica."
Dad goes back out to the couch and the ballgame, and I sip my water, thinking about our conversation. Logan's not the only one who needs a project. And I realize that for a second there I'd thought that we were going to find a solution, that we were going to find a way to get our old lives back.
Hope is the cruelest motherfucker of all.
....The park is dark, with twilight descending fast. I see the gazebo ahead of me, and I run into it at full speed, the two men pursuing me relentlessly. The stone pillars flash by, but the exit doesn't seem to get any closer. I speed up and pull the Glock out of my waistband. My breath sounds are loud, too loud. The exit is suddenly bathed with light, and I flinch. Something hits my arm, and I drop the Glock. I'm tackled from behind and thrown to the ground. A curtain of black takes over my consciousness.
And then I'm in a room, arms and legs handcuffed to a chair. Gory and me, facing off under a bright overhead lamp, just like a clichéd interrogation scene. The rest of the room is devoid of light, with unknowable dimensions. How long was I out? Where am I? The light hurts my eyes and I have a pounding headache.
I squint, trying to discern my surroundings. Brittle silence, palpable on my eardrums, like a plane descending too fast. A disturbing, primal odor—my sweat and, oh god, I've peed myself. Humiliation. Pain. Bruises and scrapes I don't remember getting. The harsh bite of unrelenting metal handcuffs and my limbs screaming already from confinement. Dread seeps into my nerve endings, muscles twitchy and skin crawling with fear.
Gory speaks. "Well...Pom-pom. We meet again."
"Do you think we could dispense with the cheesy Cold War dialogue?" False bravado. I know he's going to hurt me, and I know I'm going to break.
"What did you do with the hard drive?"
"I gave it back to Jake Kane."
"That's a lie. We know you made a copy. Where's Logan Echolls? Where's your father?"
"I don't know. We split up."
"Bullshit." Gory waits. I squirm under his stare. At last he says, "I have no patience for this. I mean, if I'd met you in a bar or at a party, I would have had you on your back in an hour. But that's an hour of my life I would have never had back. And you know what you should do? Just lay back and enjoy it." He motions with his hand, and a light illuminates a metal table behind him.
"How very deus ex machina of you," I snipe.
A voice from the inky periphery of the room speaks. "Stop wasting time and get on with it."
"Mr. Kane?! Please help me!"
Brown Suit Guy and his two companions from Chicago step into the light and begin unlocking the cuffs on my arms and legs. The guy in the blue windbreaker is oozing blood from his abdomen, and he twists my arm viciously as they haul me toward the table. "Shouldn't have shot me, you bitch."
I kick and scream, but each man is twice as big as me, and my efforts don't slow them down at all. Brown Suit Guy grabs me around the neck, his hands tightening until my vision gets fuzzy around the edges. I sag, and they lift me carelessly onto the table. It's like I'm a bag of garbage to them, a nuisance, a disgusting, nauseating thing that needs to be taken care of. I'm battered and bruised as my body makes contact with the table's sharp edges, and my head clunks ruthlessly onto cold steel.
Jake walks into the light. He addresses Gory and ignores me. "Gorya, you told me that you had the only copy. You've got to fix this. You know what you have to do."
The men pull my limbs taut, holding me down on the frigid metal table. Shivering, I realize that all my clothes have disappeared. "Mr. Kane, please! You thought I was your daughter! How could you do this to me?"
"I’m afraid it's a little too late for that, Veronica. You know what we want." Jake turns and walks away, and Gory drops his towel and begins fondling himself....
I sit up, panting. I don't know where I am. Nothing's familiar. They're here, they're here somewhere. Where the fuck am I? My chest feels like it's been crushed by a concrete block. Every nerve ending is firing. I'm shaking, shivering, panic running icy fingers up my spine into my amygdala. I've got to get out of here! They're coming for me! I know it's not true, but I can't breathe and it's too fucking possible and I'm certain that somehow they followed me here.
And then I find myself in the bathroom, curled into a tight ball in the tub, with no memory of getting here. I rock forward and back, my breaths too fast, too fucking fast, muscles cramped from tension. No light. No light. I don't want the light.
I don't recognize the voice.
"Veronica, are you okay?"
I hear the knob rattle, and the door opens. The light switches on, and I gasp, squinting against the brightness. It's Logan. What the hell is he doing here? I screw my eyes shut and hunch even tighter, my chin to my knees. This isn't real.
The light switches off, and I feel movement in the air. Then he's in the tub with me, surrounding me with his arms. He lets me sway against him, my body beyond my control. With a great shudder, I suck in oxygen, and I hear him whisper, It's okay, it's okay.
It is real. This bathroom is real. This man holding onto me is real.
Here's what is true: I killed a man. Mercer was going to rape me, but he didn't. And Beaver...did what he did. I'm with Dad and Logan in North Carolina. My dad is my dad. Here's what isn't true: Gory and Jake aren't here. Brown Suit Guy didn't follow me. I think.
Here's what I don't know: Did Jake Kane assassinate Logan's dad? Is Jake in bed with the mob? Does he hate me enough to kill me?
When I awaken again, the bathroom is subtly lit by daylight from the tiny window. I don't remember falling asleep. At some point in the night, Logan put a couple pillows in the tub, and he's sleeping, his arms protectively encircling me.
I sit up, and he wakes up immediately. "Let's go back to our beds," I suggest.
"You sure you're okay?"
No. I'm not okay. "Just a terrible nightmare."
"You sure you don't want me to stay with you?"
I shake my head. "No. I— I don't want Dad to know I freaked out."
"Are you going to tell me what you were dreaming about?"
"Maybe. I think I need to process it."
But the truth is I don't think I'll ever make sense of that dream.