vanessagalore: (!Precipitation)
[personal profile] vanessagalore

TITLE: Paradise (29/32)
AUTHOR: vanessagalore
CHARACTERS: Veronica, Logan, Keith
WORD COUNT: 8,284
RATING: PG13 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 zaftig_darling. All remaining errors are my responsibility.


Sorry about the delay in updating. However: good news, the entire fic is written and will be posted before the movie destroys my canon, with a few days between each chapter. You can find a complete summary of the whole fic on my dreamwidth (look on my profile here for the link).

I attempted to include some slang Spanish (of a particular country) in this chapter without an actual Spanish speaker to look it over. Your gentle PMs regarding these errors would be welcomed.

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 18~Phantasm 19~Pendulum 20~Pyromania 21~Prognosis 22~Paternity 23~Premeditation 24~Paralysis 25~Panacea 26~Presentiment 27~Prevailing Winds 28~Pandemonium


Click here to read a summary of the whole story from the beginning. And for just the last time on 'Precipitation': (Highlight to read ~OR~ click here to skip directly to the new chapter)

En route to the Caribbean in a 36' sailboat, Veronica, Keith and Logan run into a monster storm. They try to heave-to and set a parachute to act as a sea anchor, but one of the sails is stuck, and when they free it, the lines get entangled in the rigging of the boat and Keith gets hurt. Veronica has to go up the mast to free the lines even as the boat threatens to flip over in the heavy seas. They finally get the boat under control and Veronica vows to learn everything about sailing as they head for St. Thomas. On the fifteenth day at sea, they arrive in St. Thomas and clear customs without a hitch.


Chapter 29: Paradise

Five months later (late November 2007): The Dominican Republic (the DR)

It's Friday afternoon and Logan's waiting in the rubber dinghy at the Puerta Plata public dock at 6:00 sharp. I toss the bag containing my 'hospitality' uniform and high heels into the boat, and he revs the motor and heads toward Panacea, moored about three hundred feet out in the bay.

It's still a jolt when I see him with blue contact lenses, a blond beard and mustache, and a four-inch long blond ponytail hanging down his back. When he grew his hair out, his natural waves turned to curls. Between the sun and the salt water, and occasionally a little bleach out of the box, his hair is almost platinum blond in marked contrast to his deep tan. He's still a lady-killer, but he doesn't look like the boy from The Tinseltown Diaries any more.

My hair is dark brown and short—easy to style in the humidity here and quick to dye—and my contacts are also brown. Dad shaved his head again and grew a beard as well. It actually looks good on him, the beard surprisingly having grown in salt-and-pepper colored. Some of those worry lines he'd accumulated when we were running have smoothed out again, and his smile is broader than I've seen it since Mom left. We all look good, because we feel safe here.

We'd started out in Luperón on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, intending to wait out the hurricane season in the protected bay, but the crime and the polluted water were awful, and no jobs were to be found. Then one night Dad struck up a conversation with a man in the marina bar, who turned out to be the hired captain of the luxurious 75-foot yacht anchored in the bay.

The boat was owned by Richard Stellner, a corporate executive who lives in a large mansion on the bay in Puerta Plata, the next big town to the west. In addition to a full hired crew on his sailing vessel, Stellner has an extensive private security force, as do many of the expatriates living here in DR, and the captain offered to get Dad a job working security. Introductions were made, and Dad was hired.

So we moved to Puerta Plata and Logan and I began looking for jobs. We'd had to sail back to Luperón three times, to wait out Hurricane Dean, Felix and worst of all Noel. The last hurricane actually hit the southern coast of Haiti while we were cowering up on the northern shore of the Dominican Republic—the two nations share the island of Hispaniola. Despite Noel's power, Panacea made it through with a minimum of damage.

Really, they should go back to all female names for hurricanes. The men just sucked this year.

It wasn't easy to locate jobs for me or Logan. But each day we networked, talking to the Dominicans who sold local produce to the cruisers. Apparently, apartments and jobs here are mostly to be had by word of mouth.

In the beginning, I tutored English, which helped me to work on my Spanish and to rid myself of my Tijuana accent. I practiced dropping my s's and d's and mashing words together like the locals.

Once we moved the boat permanently to Puerta Plata, a cousin of a friend of one of our acquaintances heard that there was a job for someone who spoke excellent English and had good people skills. The position was at the hospitality desk at one of the largest casinos, and I jumped at the job. It was a foot in the door, and I was betting there were plenty of opportunities for advancement at the resort.

And Logan flirted his way into a job teaching sailing and surfing at one of the hotels. We heard a rumor that the previous teacher had flaked out and disappeared without giving notice. So Logan provided faked paperwork showing that he had ASA sailing certification, NSSIA surfing credentials and all the necessary Red Cross courses. That was more 'experience' than the previous teacher had, and, combined with Logan's smoldering sidelong glances at the plump hotel manager, it sealed the deal.

I am forbidden from visiting him at work, to maintain the fiction that he is pining away for the very-married manager. So help me god, her name is Tina, and she's got that same annoyingly perky attitude that Tina at the Neptune Grand had.

And we sail. Almost every evening, Logan and I take Panacea for a sail before tying up again on our mooring ball. On the weekends Dad often joins us, or sometimes we pick up some extra cash running charters for people seeking fishing trips or a honeymoon sunset cruise. During the week Dad usually stays in a little studio apartment near the estate where he works, but sometimes we switch off, and Logan and I see what it's like to sleep (or not sleep) in a bed that doesn't rock with the waves and take a long shower that's not limited by the capacity of our water tanks.

We're all working on our permanent residency paperwork. The Dominican Republic allows dual citizenship with the United States: no messy renunciation required, and more and more people are retiring here so we really don't stick out that much. It'll be three years if everything goes all right, and then, as residents, Logan and I will be eligible for reduced tuition at the state universities.

Sometimes, I allow myself to imagine that I'll be a lawyer or a journalist. Somehow.

The Dominican Republic's beaches are beautiful, the interior of the island is wild and gorgeous, with mountains and lakes, and the weather is awesome. But it's really not paradise.

The same corruption that allowed us to skate in under the radar bites us in the ass more than once, and sometimes we have to pay double for our monthly mooring permit. Panacea's been broken into twice, and our dinghy was stolen. The thieves foolishly tried to sell it to one of our neighboring cruisers, and Dad brandished his weapon to make them relinquish our little rubber boat. We've upgraded the sailboat's security, and all our cash, weapons and crucial items like paper stock for false documents have been hidden in cleverly concealed woodworking.

Dad's job is risky, about as dangerous as the Neptune Sheriff's job was. His boss is a target because of his wealth, and Dad is usually assigned to provide personal protection. As the CEO of 3M Dominicana, Stellner has a high risk of being kidnapped.

I'm hassled on the street, and I can never wear jewelry or headphones. Logan got in a little fight with one of the locals who didn't appreciate a gringo taking a job away from a Dominican. Most of the American expatriates buy private medical insurance so they can go to adequate hospitals, rather than the third world Dominican ones. We can't quite afford that yet, so we have to stay healthy.

There are electrical blackouts for several hours three or four times a week; the wealthy have generators and the poor just deal with it. The worst problem in the DR is the sex tourism industry, men from the United States who come to this country to prey on desperate young men and women from impoverished villages.

Dad has made a friend on the police force, Miguel, just in case we should ever need somebody official. Miguel and his wife Soledad have come out on the boat a few times, and we treat them to grilled sea bass or curried chicken and the best Dominican beer, Ambar Cerveza Oscura. Soledad clucks her tongue at the crazy gimbaled stove and crosses herself when I show her how to use the head.

Every week or so, we have a discussion about whether we should stay or move on. Panacea is always stocked with non-perishables, enough to get us to another island if we have to run. Logan keeps the boat in top condition, just in case, and he's always volunteering to help other cruisers with their repairs in order to learn more.

So far, we haven't attracted any official attention here, and we're making a go of it. We're not saving much money, but we're supporting ourselves. Our salaries are small, but the cost of living is low. If we can get residency papers, we could have pretty close to a normal life. But the crime here is wearing us down, and it might be safer just to keep moving from island to island throughout the Caribbean, working crappy jobs and just lying low.

Now that we're here, I can see why Logan thought this would work. There are so many cruising sailboats, here one day, gone the next—the locals hardly pay attention so long as the proper bribes are paid to the dockmaster. The cruisers barter among themselves for services, and no one seems too excited when we use cash instead of credit cards. Friendships are made and then forgotten when the next yacht sails in. People don't use last names: it's 'Bob from Aquaholic' or 'Mary from Lazy Daze.'

The last time we talked about it, Logan reminded us that high season was starting. He'll be making more in tips from all the snowbirds learning to surf and sail; I can do more tutoring with all the cruising families here to escape the Northern winter. Logan feels we should try to build up our nest egg and buy some solar panels and a watermaker for the boat. With those additions, we could go offshore for longer periods: hide in the ocean if need be, even sail to Tahiti if we want.

And as far as Neptune goes, we've discreetly followed the situation there via Internet cafés in the capitol, Santo Domingo. Our home city is still in turmoil, with gangs battling for drug turf and a murder rate that seems to be rising daily. The big news in August was the disappearance of Gorya Sorokin, reported missing by his fraternity brothers. Logan said, "No body. He's not dead, he's gone to ground," and I privately agreed.

In October, we hear about the massive wildfires raging in San Diego and Balboa counties, and we scrutinize the news for the names of our friends. One of Dad's oldest friends, a firefighter in the Neptune Department, is injured battling the blaze. And Vinnie did his usual inadequate job as Sheriff; the Register blasted him for delaying the call to evacuate until after many residents had already fled their homes.

I also keep tabs on Anatoly Ponomarev's murder. While the case apparently remains open, no progress is reported—certainly nobody official seems to have connected the Mars family's shootout in Arkansas with a mobster killing in Chicago a couple of days later.

In early November, with Logan and Dad's blessing, I took a chance and logged onto the Hearst website. Wallace was featured in an article about the basketball team, and Mac was listed as having won a computer science competition. In the Neptune Register, Cliff was mentioned as the attorney-of-record for several Fitzpatrick defendants, and although his chosen work nauseates me, we assume Liam's cronies find Cliff useful enough that they'll protect him.

These circumspect Internet searches are as close as I come to detecting these days. I don't do favors for friends. When I see something intriguing at the casino, I take a deep breath and focus on my boring job. With all the illicit activity here, I could be investigating night and day, but I've trained myself to ignore the petty criminals.

I read a lot. I'm learning to cook. Logan's going to teach me how to windsurf. Maybe I'll take up knitting.

It wasn't easy to change the way I thought: for months I wore a rubber band on my wrist and snapped it every time I wondered what a Planet Zowie search or discreet surveillance would reveal about a potential miscreant. Sometimes when I found myself obsessing about what we'd lost, I'd dive into the ocean and swim until I was exhausted. They were dumb psychological tricks that only worked a little, but as I started to experience a happiness that has eluded me since before Lilly Kane died, the new thinking habits started to become my norm.

Mostly.

It helps that the nightmares have mostly stopped. Not waking up disoriented and terrified is a major improvement. Dad and I talked about Chicago until I finally started to believe that I'd had no choice but to shoot, and it's starting to sink in that we really have managed to escape Gory. And I'm feeling better about some of my decisions I made over the last year. There are regrets, but I'm determined to move ahead and make a decent life for myself.

But tonight we're just going to have a sunset cruise followed by a blissful weekend of wind and sun, and we won't think at all about the turmoil we've left behind in the United States. Steady breezes push Panacea along, the sea air exhilarating after breathing in the stale air-conditioned air of the casino. The ocean is blissfully quiet compared to the incessant dinging of slot machines that makes my head ache. I take the helm and Logan pulls up the anchor as we leave the mooring.

It's hard to believe I thought sailing was difficult at first. I've become attuned to the rhythms of sailing, with each point of sail having a distinct sound of the water hitting the hull, the boat being tilted to a specific degree, and Panacea having a particular thrumming sound from all the forces acting upon her. Walking confidently along the deck, I tweak a line here or there, confident that it's the right thing to do. I have an awareness of weather and my surroundings that feels natural and instinctive, and I transition from deck to shore the way most people go from stairs to floors.

We sail upwind, tacking lazily when we feel like it, and we eat pasta with shrimp and vegetables (a new recipe), and ice cream for dessert. Then we turn and have an easy sail downwind back to our mooring as the moon rises in the sky. The wind is free, and we can have this pleasure anytime we want, so we do.

We're sitting in the cockpit, and I'm leaning against Logan, my back to his front with his arms encircling me. The boat rocks gently at our mooring. It's quiet, except for the very faint throbbing bass of the hotel's disco on shore. I ask, "What would we be doing if we were in Neptune?"

"You'd be studying for your Criminology midterm. I'd be at a frat party with Dick."

"What would you have majored in if we'd … if we'd stayed?"

He shrugs. "I guess Business." Logan plays with my hair. "What brought that up?"

"There were some college kids in the casino today."

"I like our life here better."

"I do too." Mostly it's not a lie, but the college students did give me a pang of regret this morning. "How were your sailing students today?"

He scoffs. "They were drunk, or hung over, at 10 a.m. One of them just missed puking on me."

"Classy."

"All-inclusive apparently means beer at breakfast. Then one girl kept pulling the tiller when I told her to push, and she almost knocked me on the head with the boom. She was giggling like a lunatic and smelled like a piña colada."

I elbow him. "Ah, the irony … I remember a few times when you were drunk in homeroom. Must be rough, all that surfing and sailing and pretty girls in bikinis."

"Except that I have to be nice to everyone. That's not exactly how I was raised, you know. It still feels weird to be the hired help."

"It's good for you."

"Yeah, it is." He hugs me a little tighter. "I'm really tired at the end of the day from being out in the sun and going in and out of the water chasing after little kids, but I like it. And I like that I'm pulling my weight for the family."

I don't know when we started calling ourselves a family. The "three of us" just somehow turned into "our family" over the last few months. It helps that our fake passports declare that Logan is Keith's son and I'm Logan's wife. It's almost like the cover story has become real. Vicky and Randy Donahue, just your typical young couple from Durham, North Carolina, with the husband's father Cal tagging along. Not three desperate felons from sunny California.

"C'mon, 'Randy.' Let's do the dishes and get to bed."

"Foredeck?"

"Absolutely."

The dishes done, we drag cushions and pillows up to the bow. A folded blanket lies beside us, just in case, but there's no one here to see us. This mooring is the farthest out from the dock, and when it became available we snatched it up and have claimed it ever since. So when we pull off our clothes, there are only stars to see it.

I'll never get tired of watching the night sky from the boat. The stars aren't as clear as they were in the middle of the Atlantic, but still it's a dazzling show almost every night. In the sheltered bay of Puerta Plata, the waves rock us gently, and the wind plays music on the wires that stabilize beautiful Panacea's mast. It smells fresh here on deck, ocean plus a hint of the subtle essences of diesel, wood, and wet cotton sails that make up our humble boat. Our home.

His hand finds mine, and we play our nightly game of identifying the constellations. The zodiac is to the north, and tonight we find Canopus south of Orion. Vega and Capella blink at us and Betelgeuse is just barely visible. It feels like we could stretch our arms and pluck the stars from the skies.

We have sanctuary here, an uninterrupted peace that's eluded us for so many years. It's not exactly that we forget, but it's okay here. Better than okay.

So then he rolls over and kisses me, confident that I'll accept his lips and tongue. No words now, just tasting each other and gentle stroking of familiar skin. I pull the tie from his ponytail and play with his curls; his soft beard caresses my cheek. He lavishes little kisses of delight along the curve of my jaw and runs his fingers through the shorn locks of my hair. We are comfortable in our facades, because they just are.

This is making love. There is passion, but mainly there is love. This is what they write songs about and fight wars over. The future is irrelevant, because we are now.

Moist and tender lips tingle on my breast; my hands seek his pleasure. We are filled with the joy of knowing exactly what the other prefers and trying to make it even more than it ever was. Our breath stills as we wait for the other, then the other surges ahead and the chase begins anew. Hard and soft meet and join; fingers are clasped as we hurtle to the precipice of orgasm.

And as the boat sways, we rock together as one under a starlit sky.

*****

A motor boat revs in the distance, the sounds getting closer.

I fumble next to me and Logan is right here sleeping—it's not him. The sun is up, but it's still early. Leaning on my elbow, I look at the water and see a small dinghy headed toward us, two people on board, and I poke Logan. "Hey. Wake up. Someone's coming." We scramble to get some clothes on as the boat nears.

Dad's gotten a ride from one of the other cruising families, and we help him on board. He waves his thanks at the boat's driver and cocks his head at us. "You guys don't answer the radio anymore?"

Logan says, "I took it apart. You know it's been really staticky—Ben Turner over on Second Wind showed me how to fix it. Haven't quite got it back together yet." We'd picked up three prepaid cell phones once we arrived in the DR, but they rarely work offshore.

I ask, "What's going on?"

"This." He hands us a newspaper, a week-old copy of the classifieds from the Sunday New York Times. "Stellner gets the Times and the Miami Herald flown to him from Miami every day. It was on top of the recycling and I just happened to see it." Dad stabs a finger at a large boxed ad, prominently displayed in the center of page one above the fold.
Seeking information regarding the whereabouts of Adrian Monk, CEO of Gezeichnetes Kapital, Gmbh. All responses kept confidential. Important to make contact. Reply to cmccesq90909@lavabit.com.
"Pricey ad," I remark. "Who's Adrian Monk?"

Dad explains, "Adrian Monk is the alias I used when I was pretending to be a building inspector in the Batando case. Cliff was there when I was questioned about it. Only three other people in the world know about that: the super of the building, Don Lamb, and Detective Sanchez of the LAPD. Batando and Lamb are dead, and I'm betting Sanchez never thought about Adrian Monk again. And I really don't see the super placing an ad in the New York Times."

"'Ausgezeichnet' was the expression I used when I was pretending to be Inge after we fled Neptune," I say.

Dad nods. "It's definitely Cliff, trying to reach out. He could have been running this ad for weeks."

I stare at the ad, willing it to give up more information. "Do you think he's trying to warn us about something?"

"I don't know," Dad says.

"Can we trust him?" Logan asks.

"It's Cliff," I say. "Other than Wallace and Mac, he's the person I trust the most in Neptune."

Logan says, "Just forget about it. We're safe here. Why would you take the chance that someone is pretending to be Cliff?"

"How would they know these things?" Dad says. "Maybe we're not safe. What if Cliff's trying to let us know that the FBI picked up our trail in North Carolina? Maybe somebody figured out that we bought a boat, and they're narrowing in on us as we speak. I say we should try to make contact."

"We could use the Tor protocols again—" I muse.

"Not fucking good enough," Logan says. "I think someone's using this to try to smoke us out. I wouldn't put it past that fucker Gory to kidnap and torture Cliff until he spilled the beans. And what about the Fitzpatricks? Cliff's been raking it in as Neptune's premiere mob attorney, you know. Maybe Liam's offering Cliff a generous retirement incentive."

"Cliff wouldn't do that," I protest. The thought had crossed my mind as well, but I feel certain that Cliff would've come up with a way to warn us.

We argue for two hours. In the end, we vote, and it's two to one, Dad and I voting to send an email and Logan saying we're out of our fucking minds. Dad and I discuss the possibilities—since we've been here, Dad's been studying computers at night, hoping to make himself more valuable in the job market, and he has a few ideas for more encryption layers to obscure our electronic location.

Logan ignores us and begins to reassemble the radio, testing it by calling another boat. Then he starts working his way around the boat, examining every rope and bolt for wear. He sees me following him with my eyes. "I'm getting ready to run, since you guys seem determined to do this. But remember, if it's a trap, they'll know we're in a boat now."

"Not necessarily," Dad replies.

"Will you guys at least give me time to buy the solar panels and the watermaker I've been asking for? I have to go to Santo Domingo to get them."

Dad and I exchange glances. These purchases will seriously deplete our savings. "Can't hurt," I mumble finally.

"I'll go on Monday. I think we should really go over the boat one hundred percent, top off the tanks and lay in some extra supplies. Get everything stowed for offshore. Just in case."

*****

On Monday, Logan calls in sick and goes to Santo Domingo to buy the new gear for the boat. It's very expensive, about $6,500 total, but we see his point. We could easily stay in the ocean for weeks with these items, and it's comforting to have this as an option.

I always worry when one of us goes to the capitol. Puerta Plata is bad enough, but Santo Domingo is downright dangerous. Muggings are common, especially by locals on mopeds or bikes who swoop in and grab pocketbooks, and they target Americans. Even taxicab drivers have been known to mug their passengers. Logan will dress like a surfing bum, not a wealthy tourist, and most of the cash will be sewn into his clothes, with a 'normal' amount in his wallet ready to hand over to a mugger. Five thousand Dominican pesos, about $118, is a fair price for your life here. Logan was mugged once, only losing about $50 and some of his pride, and he shrugged it off as just part of the daily grind in the DR.

Still, I worry.

So when I get a call at 2:00 while working at the hospitality desk, I'm expecting the worst. "Casino Paradiso de Puerta Plata, this is Vicky Donahue. How may I help you?"

"Soy Rafael Ortiz, el jefe de securidad de Señor Stellner. Su suegro fue heri'o."

Ortiz's Dominican accent is thick, and I have to puzzle out the words. Heri'o, I think that's herido—wound, injury. Suegro—cousin. No. Father-in-law. Shit. Dad's been hurt! "¿Señor Donahue? ¿Dónde está?"

"Sí, Señor Donahue, está en la casa Stellner, con el médico." At Stellner's, with the doctor.

I clutch the phone. "¿Es serio?" Fuck, that's not right! How do you say serious? Gravely, that's it. "¿Es … es gravemente herido?"

"No gravemente. Tató." With an effort, he adds, "Going to be okay. You come?"

"Sí, voy inmediatemente."

"No te preocupe'. A po' ta' bien." Don't worry. It's okay.

At Stellner's, Rafael Ortiz meets me at the door, and I'm led through the house. I've never seen the inside of Stellner's house before. He would be a wealthy man in the United States, and here in the DR he's a king. We pass room after room of tastefully decorated living areas and offices, a magnificent kitchen, and even a large swimming pool in an enclosed courtyard, with an adjacent gym and sauna. Fresh flowers are everywhere, inside and out, and there is an impressive number of employees working to keep everything beautiful.

Finally we find Dad resting on a bed in one of the luxurious guest rooms on the second floor. Cool breezes waft through the room from louvered doors leading to two balconies. A doctor and a nurse are fussing over Dad, and a maid waits patiently with a tray of food.

Dad truthfully looks more embarrassed than injured, but I throw my arms around him. "What happened? Are you all right?"

"I took down a man with a gun who broke into Stellner's office. He got off a couple rounds, but they all missed. I just wrenched my shoulder a bit. A couple of aspirin and I'll be fine."

I sigh, a mixture of relief and worry. "You got lucky. I hate this job."

He leans closer and whispers, "Yeah, well, I remember wanting to get a giant hamster ball for you. Now you know how it feels."

"Don't joke."

A man in an elegant tropical-weight suit walks into the room, a concerned look on his face. He is trailed by a slender American woman in corporate attire who wields a notebook, pen and cell phone. Dad says, "Mr. Stellner, this is my daughter-in-law Vicky."

Stellner has intelligent eyes and a pleasant demeanor. "Vicky, nice to meet you. Mr. Donahue, I'm very grateful to you. I hope you're all right."

Dad puts up a hand. "Please. Call me Cal. I'm fine."

Stellner turns to the doctor. "Mr. Donahue is all right?" When the doctor nods, Stellner says to Dad, "Cal, I'd like to find some way to express my gratitude."

Dad scoffs. "It was nothing—just doing my job."

"This was no ordinary thief. Rafael has told me that the intruder was able to bypass all our security and was about to open my safe. I feel very lucky that my skipper met you in Luperón." Stellner looks at us quizzically. "You're taking all this in stride."

"I told you when we met that I'd done a little security in the past. Worked as a bouncer, night watchman, a few jobs like that."

"Rafael said you disarmed the man very professionally, even while you were injured."

"Just got lucky," Dad says evasively.

"I'm the one who's lucky. Cal, if you need anything at all, please let me know. Take the rest of the week off—I insist. And then we'll discuss giving you a little more responsibility." He turns the woman accompanying him. "Melissa, take care of this, please. I'd like the doctor to go by Mr. Donahue's house tomorrow to make sure he's all right. Have the cook prepare some meals and have them delivered as well." Turning to me again, he says, "Nice meeting you, Vicky." Stellner glides out of the room, his attention already focused on the next issue of the day.

"I think he likes you," I whisper. "It's good to have friends in high places."

"Except I've just attracted a little bit too much attention," Dad replies. "Logan's not back yet, right?"

Logan had left at 6am. The bus takes four hours, it'll take at least a couple hours to complete his shopping, and then a four-hour bus ride back. "4:00 at the earliest, I'd think." I check my watch. "I'm sure he's fine."

"Get back to the casino. I don't want you to get in trouble."

"You sure?"

"Positive."

*****

By Friday evening, Logan has the new solar panels and the watermaker installed on Panacea. All week, he gets up at first light and works until he reports to his teaching job at 9 am. Then after work, Logan fusses with wires and manuals until he's exhausted. Dad comes over and helps as much as he can on Thursday and Friday, but the installation work is in very tight spaces and Dad's shoulder is still bothering him too much to really be of assistance. I'm doing some extra shopping and spending my free time organizing the boat. We've accumulated a few things since we arrived in early July, and I donate some items to other cruisers and the rest I stow.

I'm not working on Saturday, as usual, and now it's my turn to go to Santo Domingo. The air-conditioning on the bus is ridiculously cold, and I shiver for four hours. At an Internet café, I order a Coke and find a discreet corner table. I log on, using Tor and a temporary email address.
This is Adrian Monk. Who is this? Give me some guarantee that this communication is safe. This email address will be available for one hour only.
I imagine Cliff hearing an alert tone on his computer and rushing to answer. While I wait, I check in with the Neptune Register. The same old stories confront me: gang murders on a daily basis, petty thefts skyrocketing, and Vinnie Van Lowe denying that there's a problem in Neptune. There are a lot of real estate ads for high-end homes, and no news on the disappearance of Gorya Sorokin.

A half-hour later, I get a reply. I scan the email headers before opening the email. The return path looks as sophisticated as the ones from our Tor encrypted ones. Taking a deep breath, I click on the email.
Your friend CM set this up and assures me it's completely safe. Your location is secure, do not worry.

Situation dire in Neptune with VVL. Property values plummeting. JK has been in touch with me, is working on a pardon for you. If K will agree to return as sheriff. And tell your companion he still owes me for a four-handed Thai massage.

'A pardon ... agree to return as sheriff.' I read the phrases over and over again, not really believing my eyes. The whole world has shifted, and there are possibilities.

Suddenly I feel nauseated and I have to close my eyes and grab onto the table in front of me to avoid keeling over. I try to perform the breathing exercises Dad makes me do when we discuss my Chicago 'adventures.' In for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four. Focus on the counts.

One, two, three, four. A pardon. One, two, three, four. Sheriff. One, two, three, four. Location secure. One, two, three, four. We can go back. Back ... Backup, Wallace, Mac, college, a career, a life.

I open the eyes and the café isn't spinning any more. Sipping my Coke, I read the email ten times. I try to puzzle out the meanings of the oblique message.

CM must be Mac. Situation dire—I'm not surprised. JK—Jake Kane—is working on a pardon? No way. And what about Arkansas, not to mention Chicago? I know Jake's got some pull with Governor Schwarzeneggar, but what can he do for us in El Dorado?

Four-handed Thai massage? That throws me. Wracking my brains, I try to assess if it's code for 'don't believe what I'm saying.' Does four-handed mean two-faced? It's too tenuous, and I decide that 'Thai massage' can't be anything nefarious. I make a mental note to ask Logan.

I feel rusty. Unused brain cells are creaking with the effort of discerning the truth of these words. Veronica Mars still exists, somewhere deep within Vicky Donahue, but those synapses are stubbornly slow with disuse. What's the right thing to do here? Minutes pass as I parse every syllable for hidden messages.

Finally, I give up and click 'reply.'
Adrian Monk will be in touch.
I'd argued that the three of us should go to Santo Domingo together to send the email so we could discuss our response, but Logan had wanted to keep working on the boat. Dad and he are doing a final oil change and topping off all the fluids that keep our diesel engine running smoothly. This whole week, we've all felt unsettled and nervous, and Dad's run-in with the burglar didn't help.

Leaving the café, I find a bench in one of Santo Domingo's many parks and call them on my cell. They're on the boat together, tied up at the dock so they can get cell reception, and they put their phone on speaker.

In hushed tones, I tell them what the email had contained. Logan huffs a laugh at 'four-handed Thai massage.'

"What?" I ask.

"It's Cliff, all right," Logan says. "It's a joke. I'll tell you later."

Dad asks me to repeat the email slowly, so he can write it down. He reads it back to me, and then comments that Jake was one of the largest investors in Neptune real estate. "He bought a lot of property before the incorporation vote. Real estate prices took a hit when the vote went the wrong way, so he held onto all that property he'd invested in. I suppose if the real estate market is collapsing, Jake could be hurting badly. I just don't know if Jake has enough juice to get Schwarzeneggar on board."

I say, "The charges in Neptune are bullshit. No one was hurt, and if Jake doesn't want to press charges, everything could just go away. One big misunderstanding that everyone can laugh about. They could add a year onto Logan's probation, and everyone would probably be satisfied. But what about Arkansas and Chicago?"

Dad says, "They don't know it was you in Chicago."

"Gory knows."

Logan says, "Gory might be dead."

"But if he's not, and he decides to go to the police—"

"With a crazy tale, that an eighteen-year-old girl shot and killed a Russian mobster in a town that has no record of her ever being there. Correct?" Dad asks. "You told me you were careful, and I believe you. You used cash for everything. You were disguised. The gun is gone and can't be tied to you. It's been five months. If there was a video of you or any credible eyewitnesses, we'd know about it."

I'm probably on somebody's vacation video from Navy Pier. And Lynard knows my face. Could he be convinced to testify, and would he be credible? Would he come forward and rat me out? What if he needed something to deal with the cops—

I tell myself sternly Lynard doesn't know what happened at Navy Pier and push the thoughts away. What could he really tell the cops? Some girl he met on a bus was trying to get away from a scary guy in a brown suit. But Chicago's not our only worry, and we need to focus. "What about El Dorado? They know that was us. Discharging a firearm, impersonating a law officer, escape from custody … those charges aren't going to disappear."

"I don't know. Email Cliff and ask."

Then Logan really starts arguing. "This is insane! We have a decent life here. You really want to go back? To a town that's infested with Mexican drug lords and Irish meth heads? A town that hated me because I was rich, and despised you because you were poor and honest? They deserve Vinnie for their sheriff."

My head really aches and I'm suddenly completely exhausted, thinking about everything that's happened. "You know, I'd really like the charges to be dropped, so we can have a future. And we don't have to go back," I retort. "We can stay here and start using our real names."

"No, Veronica. Quid pro quo," Dad says spitefully. "If I know Jake Kane, he'll tie us up in legalese, and we'll be serving a new master back in Neptune. To get the charges dropped, we'll have to give him some assurance that we'll do what he wants."

"So let's forget about it," Logan says. "Just forget that we ever saw the ad."

Dad sighs. "I really don't know. My main concern is for your future, the two of you. You'll always be running. You'll never be able to put down roots, won't be able to go to a good college, probably won't ever be able to have kids."

Logan says, "Not true. We can have kids. I think in a few years we'll have solid identities here and we can think about it."

I'm shocked into silence. We've never talked about this.

"You'd purposely put a kid into this situation?" Dad says, his voice suddenly filled with anger. "Don't you dare."

"Oh, fuck this," Logan says.

I hear unintelligible noises on their end. "What's going on?" I'd inadvertently raised my voice, and a couple of passersby in the park turn to look at me. Quieter, I say, "Dad, what's going on? Logan?"

"I'm taking a fucking walk, is that all right with you?" I haven't heard that tone in Logan's voice in a long, long time. Not since Chapel Hill.

"Calm down," Dad says. "We're just talking."

With biting sarcasm, Logan says, "'Don't you dare.' Fuck you, Keith. I got us here. I made us safe. We will be safe. Don't you dare fuck this up." I strain my ears and over the speaker I hear a bang.

The phone timbre changes, and I hear Dad's voice, not on speaker. "Honey? You still there?"

"Yeah. What are we going to do?"

"I don't know. I really don't know."

After a moment, I say, "Should I stay here or come back home?"

"Come back. I want to talk about this, all three of us. And I need you to calm him down. And if this is a trap, making whoever it is sweat a little might get them to show their hand."

"Did you mean that, what you said? About never having kids?"

He sighs. "Tell me the truth. Do you think we're ever really going to be one hundred percent safe? Safe enough to have a baby or a toddler running around underfoot? You know someone could recognize one of us at any time, especially Logan."

"Yeah, I suppose. Maybe he shouldn't do that job—he's running into too many Americans."

"He needs to feel useful, honey. We can't coop him up out of sight. You remember—"

"I know! I'll see you in a few hours."

On the bus ride back to Puerta Plata, I try to visualize what my life would be like here in twenty years, and Paradise keeps coming up short.

*****

The sun is setting by the time I arrive at the marina in Puerta Plata. Panacea is gone from the dock, and I see her moored in her usual place. A group of cruisers are returning from dining out at a restaurant and they give me a ride out to Panacea in their dinghy. "Everything okay, Vicky?" one of the women asks as we motor out to the mooring.

I fake a smile. "Yeah. Just a really long week."

Dad hears us coming, and he's on deck, waiting to give me a hand onto the boat. "How was the bus ride?"

"Freezing, as usual. You need a winter coat for those buses." I look around and see a dark shape seated on the bow, leaning against the mast. "Have you and he talked at all?"

"He's not speaking to me." Dad gives me a wan smile and heads down below as I step onto the foredeck.

I'm surprised to see the glowing red ember of a cigarette in Logan's fingers. "Since when do you smoke?" I drop down to the deck and share the mast with him.

He's spinning a cigarette pack around on the deck and he doesn't look up when I sit down. I can see that several cigarettes are missing from the pack, and he reeks of smoke. "I used to steal Aaron's cigarettes all the time. I just never smoked around you. I'm not a nicotine addict or anything. Just sometimes when everything seems impossible—"

He shrugs and takes a deep drag before stubbing out the cigarette on the sole of his boat shoe and pocketing the butt. "I don't want to get shit-faced drunk, and I kind of felt like that after you called. You know, my usual loser way of dealing with all the crap that life gives me. This," he motions to the cigarette pack, "seemed like it'd be okay, just this once, just a little chemical help to keep me from downing a quart of tequila. Sorry. I'm sure you don't approve." There's a palpable edge to his voice, just this side of that famous Echolls sarcasm.

"It's fine. What's going on with you?"

Logan gives me a sharp look. "You know."

"No, I don't know."

"I like our life here."

"So do I. Mostly."

"I like being me here. I never realized that I could be someone other than the son of the infamous Aaron Echolls, and it's pretty fucking great to be Randy Donahue, professional surf bum and sailing instructor. And—"

"And what?" I ask.

"I'm falling in love with you."

I snort. "We're married. Mr. and Mrs. Donahue, remember? And of course you love me."

"No, I mean … I'm really falling in love with you. I want to stand up and tell the world that I'm going to spend my life with you. I've always loved you, but we've never been in love before." He shrugs. "Semantics, I know."

"And kids?"

"Yeah. I think I'd like that. Eventually." Logan turns to look at me. "Aren't you feeling it, too? You know, like we should make a commitment to each other? Jesus, maybe I'm fucking deluded, and you're just making the best of a bad situation."

"Of course I'm feeling it." I twist the cheap wedding ring I'd picked out in Virginia Beach to go along with my new identity. "You know, we've been so busy since we got here that there hasn't been time to dissect what was going on with you and me. But it's been good. And I like you here too. That job is good for you. And I think Dad and I are good for you too."

He turns away when I mention Dad. "Uh-huh."

"Cut him some slack, will you? He's a reasonable person. We can discuss this. I thought you guys liked each other."

"You heard what he said. Didn't sound too reasonable to me. Sounded like he thought I was a total jackass."

I huff a breath in exasperation. "Look. I'm not going to have a baby right this second, all right? Can we agree that we're going to revisit this at a later date?"

"Except it factors in. You guys are all gung-ho about going back, and I want to forget that Neptune even exists."

"It's kind of like when you and Dad decided to sail here, and I didn't want to. And we came to a consensus." I thread my fingers through his. "I'm not saying we should go for it. But can you envision a life for us back in the United States, under our own names and without all the charges against us? There must have been some point in time when you could imagine that kind of life for us."

"Actually, even when we were together in the United States, I always felt that someday you'd decide I was too big of a jerkoff and you'd leave me. I don't feel like that here."

I suck in a breath. Now we're getting to it. "You're not a jerkoff."

"In the United States, I'm a rich brat who's always getting into fights, drinking too much, and never making anything of myself. Here …" He sweeps his hand around the boat. "Here, I'm important. I'm needed. I'm an equal contributor. Well, maybe not equal. You guys make more money than me."

"But you take care of the boat for us, too. And you got us here." I lean my head against his shoulder. "I'm with you because I want to be with you. If we go back, you can contribute there too. You can change your life, you can do anything you want. Look at how you got us here—that took courage and resourcefulness."

"Yeah. Maybe. The only thing is—" He breaks off and refuses to look at me.

"What?"

"It's … " Breaking off, he sighs like the world is ending. "What about Gory?"

I'm quite certain he was going to say something else, but I have no idea what it is. For now I play along. "What about Gory? I think his father took care of him for us. That was the goal, right?"

"No body. I would feel a lot better if his body turned up. What if this is all some ploy by Gory to get us to come back, and Jake Kane will pull the rug out from under us when we cross the border? And then The Castle gets the last laugh."

Scoffing, I say, "You think Jake Kane is going to go through all this just to bring us back, so that Gory can kill us? Or to get us thrown in prison? Pfft. We're like gnats that Jake Kane slaps at. A trifling bother. We're only important now because he needs Dad for the worst sheriff's job in the world."

"What if we missed something on the hard drive? Something worth killing over?"

"You're the one who transcribed it. Did you miss anything? Was there anything we need to look at again?"

He thinks for a moment, then shakes his head. "No. I'm pretty sure I got it all. Maybe you should look at it again—"

Touching his arm, I feel all the tension in him. "Try not to worry so much. If we decide to do this, we'll get it all in writing. And we don't have to make a decision right this second. Dad thinks if we let them stew a little bit, they might get desperate and make their agenda clear."

He shrugs and I add, "But seriously, Logan, wouldn't you like to have your bank accounts unfrozen? We could buy a yacht like Stellner's. C'mon, Admiral Moneybags, don't you wish you could drop a bundle on a solid gold foosball table like the old days?"

"No, not for a second."

From the galley, Dad yells, "Anybody want dinner? I heated up some of the chili. With bread from that bakery you guys like."

Feeling Logan tense, I nudge him hard. "Just relax, okay? You are two reasonable men, and we'll figure this out. Two buccaneers and their favorite wench. Let's forget about Neptune and just have a nice dinner."

As we head for the cockpit, I turn and say, "And now I'd like you to explain that four-handed Thai massage, please."
Continue reading...Possibilities
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