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[personal profile] lambourngb
I've become such a lightweight when it comes to sleep. I went to bed early, couldn't even stay up to finish watching the All Star Game. I didn't think the AL was gonna pull it out with the pitching they were facing, though I knew Hoffman can be vulnerable. Still, missed the rally, I went to bed in the 7th, punking out so I could some sleep for work today.

I know, it counts for HFA, but man, it was just dragging last night. I kinda missed the slug-fests from the last couple of years. Pitching duels are great for regular season games, a little dull when I want to see my favorite players get hits (just not off of Zito). Speaking of, he was awesome, except for the long loud out at the end. Nice to see him face more than one batter for his 3rd ASG appearance.

I started writing again lately, something I did off and on in the last year though I was still no closer to finishing anything. I found some old VM stuff I wrote during the long Jan hiatus between Clash of the Tritons and Lord of the Bling. Who knows, I might restructure it some day and finish. It was just the beginning of something plotty.

"Tears for Peers"
Summary: "By now, you know it's not going to stop."
Spoilers: sometime after "The Clash of the Tritons", AU for "Lord of the Bling."

The best thing about a satisfied customer is the chance for repeat business. This however is a litter harder when you're a private investigator, because really, how many times do you need to hire someone to follow a cheating spouse or run down a delinquent debtor? If it's more than once, you're a fool. However in Neptune, the chance for repeat business has better odds than most places with our overpopulation of the not-so-idle-more-naughty rich. What else is there to do to pass the time, besides infidelity and taking a few strokes off your handicap?

It's a little quieter now on the adultery front because of Lynn Echolls's death. Her husband could have kept my father in business for life trailing mistresses and running interference with jealous husbands and unstable fans, but that all changed when his long-suffering wife spread his affairs throughout the tabloids freely before taking a nonstop flight to Neptune Bay, by way of the interstate overpass.

Logan has stopped going out of his way to make my life miserable, and has found himself fighting his own slide in popularity. The 09ers are always quick to come around when your star is rising but ready to lose your phone number and avoid your eyes at the first sign of trouble. Suicide still carries a stigma that is surprisingly conservative considering the secular wealth that surrounds Neptune.

It's enough to say that Logan and I have an unspoken truce at the moment, while the sharks circle the Echolls family.

* * *

Veronica paused in putting away her books, as a hand appeared in her peripheral vision. She followed the hand to a face, and raised her eyebrow inquiringly at the unexpected face. Luke Wilson was standing next to her locker, shifting nervously as he waited for attention. "That's not a happy face. Don't tell me you lost another piñata' full of steroids."

Luke winced at her reminder and flushed.

Poor Luke, that was probably not one of his fondest memories, running for his life to dodge the dealer he double-crossed unintentionally. Having lived with my father's obsession with the Padres, I did understand that parting with that Barry Bonds ball was akin to being a southpaw and then selling your left arm for parts.

Undeterred by her teasing, he shifted again in front of her locker, before casting a glance behind him to see if anyone was looking. "Can we talk?"

She closed her locker, and put her hand on his arm, guiding him toward the girls bathroom. "Let's step into my office, and tell me what's on your mind."

He followed her reluctantly to the bathroom, sighing at the indignity of it. "You really need to get a better office. It's not customer-friendly."

"I'll put a request in with Vice-Principal Clemmons. So how can I help you? And let me first say if you're involved in drugs again, you're out of luck. I don't help mules or dealers dodge trouble. Last time was a freebie, not to be repeated."

"I'm not doing that anymore. My parents found me a private trainer, and I'm on a completely legal regimen of supplements and energy drinks." Luke reached up and dragged his fingers through his floppy brown hair agitatedly. "It's my girlfriend. Krista Phillips."

Just when I thought infidelity was having a dry spell in Neptune. "You think she's cheating on you?"

"What? No." He replied, surprised by the question. "It's nothing like that. At least, I don't think so. There's something wrong with her though, something she won't tell me about. I'm not talking about the usual girl secrets, this is major."

Veronica frowned at the request. "Something wrong like, health-wise? Because those are confidential, I doubt even I could get someone's medical records."

"I don't know, I don't think so. She's been missing school the last three weeks, not wanting to go out on the weekends, and she stopped taking my phone calls. Her parents don't have a clue what's going with her, and they're pretty worried now too. At first I thought it was some moody girl-thing, related to…" Luke trailed off, and nodded meaningfully toward the tampon dispenser.

"Sorry, Luke, moody girl-things usually only last four to five days, not three weeks. Thank God for that."

"So you understand why I'm concerned? This isn't like her. We've been together for six months now, then last month something happened to her, and now she's treating me like I've got the plague. Like, no warning, nothing!"

Boy does that sound familiar. One day it's paradise with Duncan, and the next, he forgot my face, my phone number and our relationship. I was a non-entity to him. Shunning is a pretty effective punishment historically, but first you have to know what crime you committed.

"All right, I'm guessing Krista didn't make it to school today?"

"Yeah, she's going to fail History at this point, along with all her other classes."

"Write down her address and phone number, and I'll see what I can find out. I'm not sure if I can help though, Luke. If whatever she's keeping from you is so big, I doubt she's going to tell a stranger over her boyfriend." Veronica handed him a sheet of paper from her notebook.

Luke smiled in relief, and grabbed the paper eagerly to write down the information. "I don't know if you've noticed this, Veronica, but people tell you things they wouldn't normally. Logan said you're a pit-bull when it comes to the truth, that most people want to tell you things just so you'll leave their balls intact."

That sounded suspiciously like a compliment coming from Logan, I think I might blush. Of course, I have to wonder how drunk he was when he said it.

"All part of my charm," she answered, tucking the sheet of paper away. "I'll keep you updated."

He nodded, and then stopped at the threshold of the bathroom. For a boy who was so reluctant to walk into the bathroom, he wasn't leaving in a rush. It took a moment before she realized just what was keeping him there.

Veronica rolled her eyes at his actions, "don't worry, I won't tell the rest of the 09-ers or Logan that I'm doing a job for you. Discretion is my middle name."

"Thanks, but I … could you tell Krista something? Could you tell her that whatever it is, I still like her. A lot. I might even, um, love her." He turned and pushed his way out of the girls' bathroom, as two girls walked in, watching his exit with confusion and giggles.


Veronica held onto the cordless phone tightly listening to the ring on the other end anxiously. She double-checked to make sure her door was locked, and then closed the blinds tightly. Her mother was out grocery shopping and of course, her dad was at work, but still she wasn't taking any chances at getting caught on the phone. Finally after an eternity, the line was picked up. She questioned hopefully, "Duncan?"

"Veronica. I'm so not surprised," a male voice replied. Not Duncan's. "This needy behavior isn't like you."

She exhaled softly in exhaustion, closing her eyes tightly. "Hi Logan, can I speak to Duncan, please?"

"He doesn't want to talk to you, Ronnie."

"But why though? Do you know? Did he tell you? I think Lilly knows but she won't tell me, but maybe she told you…" She bit her lip, trying to keep the tears from spilling over with her words. The problem was the sick tightness in her throat wouldn't go away, no matter how hard she swallowed. "If you know, can you please tell me? I just need to know what I did, so I can apologize or something."

"I don't know what's going on his pea brain of his- he's in a snit over something, just hang on until he's over it, okay?" Logan offered gently. "Wait, he wants the phone, hold on…"

Veronica held her breath, waiting for Duncan to get on the line. A moment passed, and then she heard in a gruff voice she barely recognized as her boyfriend's, her ex-boyfriend's. "It's over. Stop calling me." There was a soft click, and then nothing but dial tone.

Time slowed down. She wiped at her face uselessly as the automated voice came on, "If you would like to make a call, please hang up and try again…"


Maybe Wallace is right and I am a marshmallow. I agreed to help Luke for one reason, sympathy. If his story hadn't brought up so many painful parallels with my experience with Duncan, I doubt I would have agreed to pry into his girlfriend's life.

From my experience, Luke was a nice enough guy for an 09-er, just not too bright when it came to some stuff, like agreeing to smuggle drugs over the Mexican border for a crooked gym owner. That was motivated by the only thing that ever mattered to Luke, baseball. It was probably why I considered him an okay guy, because he cared more about his batting average than he did the internal politics of Neptune High. Even being friends with Logan, he didn't emulate the asshole behavior that was a matter of course for an 09-er. Luke just didn't care, not about the ass-kissing, but then he didn't seem to care about the little people either..

Strangely I think that's why Logan liked him. Luke wasn't impressed by Aaron Echolls and the twenty-million dollars a picture bullshit. After all, Aaron didn't make "Bull Durham" or "Major League" and that's all that was on Luke's radar. Baseball, and apparently his girlfriend, Krista.

Veronica kept an eye on the mostly empty newspaper headquarters, before logging onto the Private Eyez database. There was still a few hours left in the school day before she could take a drive over to the address Luke gave her which left plenty of time for research.

Wallace slipped into the chair next to her, "So I'm guessing you're on another case judging by the descriptive note you passed me after math. I believe it was 'Get Krista Phillips ATT REC & SCHED, ASAP'."

Veronica smiled and held out her hand for the folder, "Succinct and to the point. No room for misunderstandings or confusion."

"There could have been room for a 'please'." Wallace grumbled good-naturedly.

"Sorry. I'm working on cultivating a more people-pleasing attitude." She grinned sardonically. "How about this, 'thank you' for the information."

"I'll take it." He scooted his chair closer to hers and looked over at the computer screen. "So you're doing a background check on Krista. Yikes, is that two arrests I see there, for drug possession?"

"Seems like she has something in common with her boyfriend Luke. Two arrests, but the charges were dropped both times which means she rolled on someone." Veronica paused, reading the screen silently. I will kill Luke if he's lying about being involved in drugs. The absence from school, withdrawing from friends and family, those are all signs of a drug problem morphing into an addiction. God, I'm such a sucker for a sob story.

"Luke, as in Luke Wilson, the ball player? Steroid boy?"

"He asked me to see what's going on with his girlfriend. Apparently she's stopped going to school, actually, she stopped going out period. He said things were fine and then suddenly she dropped him like he had the plague- those were his words. However he completely neglected to mention she used drugs."

"Maybe he didn't know."

Veronica lifted her eyebrow, "Luke is no choir boy being a former drug mule. I'm sure he knows."

"Well, those arrests were both last year. I looked through her records, and she had perfect attendance then, not to mention a 3.5 grade point average. Whatever is going on now, it doesn't look like it's connected to drugs." Wallace tapped his fingers on the closed folder.

"I guess I won't know for sure until I pay Krista a visit." Veronica logged off on the computer, and picked up the folder, "Thanks again for this. Time to go find all her teachers and pick up the work she's missed."


Smiling brightly to the video camera nestled by the front gate, Veronica leaned over her car door and pushed the intercom button. After a pause, a woman's voice answer, "Yes?"

"I'm Veronica, one of Krista's friends from school. I'm here with her make-up work." She drummed her fingers lightly on the steering wheel, and let out a sigh as the metal gates began to move. She drove her Lebaron up the steep winding incline, parking just to the right of a marble fountain.

The Phillips estate was out of place among the modern architecture that spotted the Neptune and Southern California landscape, it sported columns and gables, mirroring an past age instead of a future one. Low brick walls had green vines and flowers spilling over them as they wound creatively into a gentle maze before the solid oak double doors of the mansion.

If I was going to have a self-imposed exile from the world, this place would be in the top ten. Gardens to wander through, a huge pool, and a stone's throw from the beach, I'm not seeing a whole lot of incentive to leave, unlike the small two bedroom apartment I call home. Two days staring at the same four walls, and I would be begging to go to school.

The door opened before Veronica could ring the bell, held by the hand of middle-aged woman with a pleasant expression. "Hi, come in, please." She greeted, stepping back into the foyer. "I don't believe we've met before, I'm Krista's mom, Karen Phillips."

"Veronica Mars." She held out her hand, watching the expression on Krista's mother change from welcome to caution. It was obvious that the Mars name held a stigma in this house, like much of the 90909 zip code. Veronica's own smile stayed fixed, turning around to inspect the shine on the hardwood floors and the artwork on the walls. "You have a beautiful home, Mrs. Phillips. I was very impressed by your fountain. Is that a replica of Rodin's 'Fugit Amor'?"

The caution warmed back into welcome and was increased into genuine delight on Mrs. Phillips' face. "Yes, it is. My husband commissioned it. We weren't sure if a bronze classic like 'Fugit Amor' could be recreated in marble, but it turned out quite well I think. Are you a fan of Auguste Rodin?"

"I've enjoyed what I've studied in European History. It's really a shame how little time is spent on the great sculptors versus the painters. Two weeks on Monet, Manet, and Renoir, but only a day or so on Rodin's 'The Thinker', and Donetello's 'David'."

"It is scandalous how little time is spent on art in the public school. Robert and I wanted to send Krista to the Jamison Academy for a more focused curricula, but Krista wouldn't hear of leaving her friends after middle school." Frustration blossomed in her tone, as she continued, "Friends were always the most important thing to Krista, which is why I can't understand the sudden interest she has in transferring to Jamison."

I guess the playing sick and avoiding Neptune High can only last so long before the absences add up to repeating the year. Transferring to a new school in the middle of the year was akin to social hari-kari. It was a step only to be considered once you've reached leaper status, like Caitlin Ford after Logan dumped her. Speaking as a social leper, I considered it. For about a half a minute. A long 30 seconds. Except I wasn't the running type.

Mom considered it for a lot longer, and it turns out, she was the type.


"How was school, sweetheart?" Lianne Mars greeted, as Veronica got into the car at the curb.

"The same." She replied listlessly, turning her head away from the groups of students chattering and making plans for the weekend as they drifted away from the school to the parking lot. Plans that didn't include anyone connected to the former sheriff. "I got an A on my math test, and my history test."

"What about your paper in English? Did you get that back?"

Veronica shifted in the seat next to her, staring at the dashboard with interest. "Yeah, I did. Hey, do you think you can drop me by the library? I have an extra-credit paper to research for that class."

Lianne blinked, and turned her attention from the road briefly. "It's Friday, Veronica. You want to go to the library on a Friday?"

"All the more reason to get the research done today so I can write the paper this weekend. I thought you'd be proud of my time-management skills." Veronica reached up to touch her pendent with a small shrug, "besides, what else am I going to do this weekend? No offense, but anymore quality movie time with you and I'm going to start sounding like Meg Ryan."

"As much as I love the fact you've returned to your studies, I'm a worried about you, Veronica. It's not good to spend so much time on your own. I know it's been hard since –" Lianne trailed off, at the unspoken mention of Lilly Kane before finding her voice again with enforced brightness, "What about Shelly Pomroy? Or Caitlin Ford? I've got room on my charge card, you could go to the mall and shop with them. Buying shoes is always therapeutic."

She laughed at her mother's suggestion, brittle and tightly. "I didn't think I needed to spell it out for you, Mom. I thought the fact our phone bill is nearly half than what it was before was a pretty good clue. I don't have any friends. Not anymore. They gave me a choice, to tell everyone Dad was an incompetent fool or to side with him against the Kanes." Veronica reached into her bag and produced her English paper, "it's not just the students either. My teacher gave me an A on content and grammar, but an F on style, rounding out to a C, which is funny, because two months ago, my teacher told me I should consider taking AP English my junior year because I was talented. My math teacher two weeks ago gave me an F on a pop quiz because I coughed, you know upper respiratory infections and cheating go hand-in-hand. My locker is searched every week in the 'random' sweeps. My biology project on submarine sonar technology and whale migratory patterns was passed over for consideration in the state science fair, despite the fact I had interviews with marine biologists at Sea World. Do you need me to go on with examples of how little buying shoes helps me, or can you just drop me at the library so I can do this extra credit paper to keep my A in English?"

At the end of Veronica's long rant, Lianne's face was pale and pinched, her grip on the steering wheel, white-knuckled and unyielding. Silently she flipped on the turn signal, and turned in the direction of the public library. "I'm sorry, Veronica. I had no idea everything was so being made so difficult for you. Why don't we talk to your father tonight about transferring to another school?"

"And let them win? You've got to be kidding. Besides, Lilly's death was national news, and so was Dad's after the recall election. Where could we go that no one knows the Mars name?" Veronica cracked a small smile, "You have to admit, Mom, we're running out of planets."

"How 'bout Jupiter? Florida has similar weather." Lianne replied, accepting the change in subject. "Or Mercury, Michigan. We own a Chrysler already."



She blinked out of her memory, aware that Mrs. Phillips was looking at her with concern. "I'm sorry, what was that?"

Mrs. Phillips raised her eyebrow, "I asked if you knew of anything going on at school. Like a bully or something, targeting my daughter."

"No, Veronica is still their favorite target." Krista answered, appearing at the top of stairs in pair of sweats and towel wrapped around her head. She walked down to the foyer, "What are you doing here and how did you get past the gate?"

"Krista!" Her mother admonished, embarrassment pinking in her face. "We don't allow rudeness in this house, especially toward guests. Apologize, please."

Veronica smiled widely at them both, "That's okay, Mrs. Phillips. I brought your make-up work from school, and I bring greetings from Luke." She tilted her head toward Krista's mother deliberately, "he says his phone number hasn't changed, so anytime you feel like returning his fifteen messages, knock yourself out."

The mask of hostility on Krista's face cracked at the mention of Luke. "He sent you here?"

"He did. I volunteered to take you your makeup work all on my own though." She reached into her bag, and pulled out a thick stack of papers. "I've got some time, if you want me to stick around and explain the latest assignment from Mr. Turner's calc class."

Mrs. Phillips beamed in response. "That would be lovely, Veronica. Krista was having a hard time teaching herself that, and anything involving letters in math goes well beyond me." She turned to her daughter with a no-nonsense expression, "Why don't you show Veronica up to your room, and I'll bring up some sandwiches and drinks to help with the learning."

... and that is all I wrote. Totally season-1 fun full of voice-overs and flash-backs. I know where I was going with it, but then Rob Thomas totally beat me there with the slow cease-fire from Logan, the reveals in "Trip to the Dentist", etc. I found myself chuckling over the Barry Bonds ball part. Wonder if Luke still mourns it with all the allegations.

Off to work for another fun filled day of cranky customers.
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