|Primary Characters:||Veronica, Wallace, Mac, Duncan, Logan|
|Warning:||adult themes, m/m sex|
|Description:||Incriminating photos of Aaron Echolls and Jake Kane appear in the media. Next photos of the two men and Conner Larkin appear. Now Duncan and Logan panic and hire Veronica to find out if something’s happened to them during their blackouts.|
Veronica wasn’t in the habit of reading the newspapers. Not on paper anyway. That was why she was taken completely by surprise when she walked into school one Wednesday morning, smothering a yawn. She’d been on a stakeout until three a m the night before, and before that, she’d been studying for a test, so she wasn’t really at her most perceptive. However, it soon became apparent that everyone was busily discussing some topic of intense interest to them.
She caught sight of Wallace and waved at him. He waved back, a brief smile hovering on his lips. Despite her fatigue, Veronica had to repress a stab of pain. It was her fault, what had happened to Wallace only a few months ago. If she hadn’t been so intent on solving the murder of her best friend, Lilly Kane, he wouldn’t have been attacked. If it hadn’t been for her, he wouldn’t have lost his buoyant, exuberant personality. She had to force herself to smile back, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Though as soon as she caught up with Wallace, she found that something actually had. In fact, now that she was inside a crowd of whispering and giggling teenagers, she realized that everyone was talking about the same thing. She heard the name Echolls mentioned and at first assumed it was to do with his missing wife, but when she also heard the name of Kane, she finally roused herself enough to pay attention.
Wallace began to walk in the direction of the classroom and she followed, staring wonderingly at the other teens.
“What’s going on?”
Wallace’s eyebrows shot up, in astonishment.
“You mean you haven’t heard?”
He shook his head in disbelief.
“You have to be the only one who hasn’t heard of it.”
“Heard of what?”
Wallace was looking ill at ease, but after a moment’s hesitation, he continued.
“The photos, of course. The ones of Aaron Echolls and Jake Kane.”
“What kind of photos?”
“Of them – you know – uh – doing it.”
Her mind still preoccupied with last night’s stakeout and her brooding over Lilly’s murder made her jump to the conclusion that Jake Kane and Aaron Echolls had somehow both been guilty of killing Jake Kane’s daughter.
“Did they -”
“Yeah, don’t ask me who took the pics but they’re very – uh – explicit – or – graphic, you might say. I mean, they’re both naked and – well, you can see exactly what they’re doing. Not in the serious papers, but you know, the tabloids and some websites. Everyone’s seen them.”
Her face settled into a puzzled frown.
“Wake up, Veronica. Your ex’s dad and Logan’s dad are doing it. Probably have been for years.”
Suddenly, it dawned on Veronica what Wallace was hinting at. Aaron Echolls and Jake Kane – having sex? With each other? No way.
“Ok, that’s totally impossible. What are we really talking about here? Two lookalikes? Some clever montages? Because you know -”
“No, it can’t be. In all the papers and on tv too, they’re saying the photos have been verified by experts and -”
“Oh, come on. You know it can’t be true. I mean, Aaron Echolls likes to nail anything in a skirt, but Jake Kane? Hey, that’s just impossible.”
“You obviously didn’t see the pics.”
“No. Do you happen to have one of the papers on you?”
Wallace looked scandalized at the suggestion, then appeared to give up the pretense and handed over a crumpled up copy of the less respectable kind. In short, a tabloid. She glanced at the wall clock and decided that she still had five minutes, barely, before she had to be inside the class room, her mind entirely on the algebra test.
Wallace had been right. The photos were – graphic – to say the least. She was wondering if the papers didn’t think Aaron or Jake would sue, because this looked more like gay porn than a news article. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be much doubt about the identity of the two men in the pictures. She knew Jake Kane far too well by sight, and Aaron Echolls too. The question was, were the images really legitimate? Could it be some clever montage? She looked around for Mac, but couldn’t see her friend anywhere.
The thought of her friend, somehow led her to think about Duncan and Logan. How would they be feeling right now? She couldn’t imagine them being in school after such a revelation. But her five minutes were up and she had to go and do her best on the test. On her lunch break though –
But during her lunch break, a new revelation had stunned and thrilled the students of Neptune High. More photos of Aaron and Jake had surfaced, but this time, they had a third participant in their – activities. Conner Larkin. Though Veronica still felt terribly sorry for Duncan and Logan, she couldn’t help staring avidly at Conner’s – absolutely perfect body. Oh, wow. Why did he have to be gay? Not that she’d ever had any hopes for her own sake, but still –
Wallace made a face as he caught sight of her computer screen.
“So you’ve seen those too. They were already out by the time we’d finished the test.”
“Yeah. I need to find Mac. She’ll be able to tell me if these are legit.”
“I guess she could.”
Wallace felt slightly uncomfortable at the mention of Veronica’s other friend’s name. After all, in his mind, she’d always be connected to the incident he’d never manage to forget. The time he’d been sexually assaulted and been forced to look at a photo of the attack. Not that it was in any way Mac’s fault. He just felt uncomfortable whenever he was reminded of that photo, and the one of Veronica in almost the same situation, over a year ago.
They walked around, asking everyone where Mac was. A few of the girls rather spitefully asked Veronica how she felt about seeing her ex’s dad in such a situation. She treated them to one of her icy smiles and hurried on.
At last, with only fifteen minutes to spare of the lunch break, they finally ran into Mac. She, too, was staring in disbelief at the images of Aaron, Jake and Conner. It seemed to Veronica that Mac’s gaze was lingering the longest on Conner’s body, but it was hard to tell with images that size.
“Hey. So you’ve seen them.”
“Hasn’t everyone? Who would have thought -”
“I know. What do you think? Are they legit?”
“Hard to tell for sure, but for what it’s worth, yeah, I think they are.”
“I was afraid of that.”
“Wasn’t Aaron Echolls in trouble over some woman just a couple of months ago?”
“Yes, but apparently he’s kind of an omnivore.”
“You could say that. I mean, who could blame him for – Connor’s really hot.”
“Yeah. You’ll get no argument from me. What a shame he’s gay. I never would have guessed that.”
“But look at his eyes. Doesn’t he looked sort of stoned?”
Veronica took another look at Conner, this time the face. Yes, his eyes really looked as if he was drugged. She frowned. She didn’t really think Aaron or Jake would have used that method to get Conner, but it was odd. Why would Conner be on drugs when he was having an orgy with a colleague and one of his friends? Or was that just part of the Hollywood lifestyle? She had to admit she didn’t know him that well, but the time she had met him, he certainly hadn’t struck her as someone who used drugs. On the other hand, she hadn’t gotten the impression he was gay either. That had to mean she wasn’t such an expert at reading people as she liked to think. It was a humbling feeling, but not really new.
“Anyway, I can’t tell for sure if they’re real, unless I get a chance to check out the originals.”
“I know. Never mind.”
After school, Wallace and Mac followed her home and they began to discuss the main topic of the day. Veronica began to search the internet to find out more about what was going on. There wasn’t all that much more to see. There wasn’t even a hint of denial or other type of comment from Aaron Echolls’ people or the movie company. All kinds of speculation was rife, but very few facts. It seemed Hollywood was too stunned to function. Or perhaps that was only the way it seemed. Attorneys might be at work already, trying to limit the repercussions for the industry.
The next day in school, there was more talk about the delicious new scandal. Veronica didn’t see Duncan or Logan anywhere. In general, the talk wasn’t about them, but she did hear one or two people who were making assumptions about the two sons as well. As Veronica hurried to make it in time for her English class, she overheard a guy talking with ghoulish delight.
“Want to know what I think? Those two are shacked up somewhere doing it, just like their dads.”
“You think it’s hereditary?”
“Why not? Besides, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Their father’s are doing it, they’re always together, so I guess they’re doing it too.”
Veronica felt herself go rigid with fury. Wallace knew the signs and put a hand on her shoulder, hoping he could calm her down and preferably get her to come along to the classroom, without causing any incident in the hall.
The two guys who had been so callously discussing Duncan and Logan suddenly realized they were in the presence of Duncan Kane’s ex and looked as if they were torn between a wish to continue their gloating and – a reaction no doubt influenced by their knowledge of the resources at Veronica’s disposal – a wish to back off before they ended up deeper in trouble.
“What were you talking about?”
“Veronica, it’s not worth it. Come on, let’s go.”
“Leave us alone. I can see that you’re probably in shock just like the rest of us, but hey – I guess you never can tell.”
“You know, about Duncan and Logan being gay.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And I suppose you do?”
“As a matter of fact -”
Before she had time to finish the sentence, her attention was caught by a noise which was increasing in intensity. It sounded like a fight in progress. A serious fight, between two or more boys. The two guys who had been talking turned and ran, and Veronica and Wallace followed, their English class forgotten.
They had to push and shove their way into a thick crowd of spectators, watching and cheering a fight which seemed serious enough. To her horror, Veronica recognized Duncan as one of the boys involved. Worse still, Duncan was losing.
Some boys who apparently were friends of the boy who was punching Duncan in the face, making his nose bleed and making Veronica wince with every thud, were trying to get him to let go of Duncan before school staff arrived and broke up the fight.
Logan was trying to reach Duncan and pull him up, but the intensity of the fight was making it hard for him to reach his friend. Suddenly, they heard a man’s voice calling out in an authoritative tone.
Finally, the bully’s friends were able to drag him away from Duncan and Logan managed to get hold of Duncan.
At first, it looked as if Duncan had no idea where he was or what was happening. When he realized who was holding on to his upper arms, he pulled free.
“Don’t touch me.”
A series of vivid expressions came and went on Logan’s face. Mortification. Shock. Disappoinment. Anger. That was the last Veronica saw of them. The group wavered and began to give way to the men in charge.
Wallace put a hand on Veronica’s shoulder and tried to steer her in the direction of their classroom. Seeing that she couldn’t do anything for Duncan or Logan at the moment, she let herself be towed away. No point in being late for class over nothing.
After school, Wallace again followed Veronica home, just like on most afternoons. They were still stunned by what they’d seen in school, and on the way back to Veronica’s house, they’d mostly been quiet, pondering the incident they’d witnessed.
“I can’t believe Duncan and Logan would be in school after – that.”
“No wonder Duncan got into that fight. But how could he snap at Logan that way? He was only trying to help.”
“Well, you know, after what they’d been saying about them, I guess he felt that Logan standing there touching him was a bit -”
“I see that, but Logan was only being a friend. I never expected Duncan to be such a -”
“It must have been a terrible shock to him, finding out about his old man like that.”
“I know. Ok. I’m going to look into this. Who took those photos? And why have they been published now?”
“Right. Do you want a snack while you’re working?”
“Do you want a snack, Holmes?”
“Uh – no. I’ll just get to work right away. But you have something.”
In the end, Veronica did munch on the biscuits Wallace had been able to find for her and she took a few sips of the slightly stale mineral water which had been standing in the fridge since a couple of days ago, when Veronica’s dad had opened it.
She was so absorbed in her work, she barely had time to notice how the daylight began to fade. Wallace coughed delicately by her shoulder, making her jump.
“I’m sorry. It’s getting late. I’ll have to get back now.”
“Oh, of course. I’ll drive you.”
“Thanks. Did you find anything?”
She opened her mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell ringing. Nodding in the direction of the door, she walked over to open it. She stopped in her tracks, dumbstruck, as she realized who was standing outside her door.
“Can we – come in?”
Making sure her mouth wasn’t wide open, Veronica coughed to clear her throat, but her voice still came out rather hoarsely. It was probably the shock. Even though she’d been worrying about Duncan and Logan, she hadn’t expected to find them literally on her own doorstep.
Lamely, she stood back and let Duncan and Logan through.
She noticed that Duncan was very pale, and that Logan looked more tense than ever. It took her a while to remember her manners.
“Oh. Sit down or something.”
Normally, she didn’t think Logan or Duncan would have just sat down, automatically, on the couch, at her suggestion, but this time, they just dropped down, without a word of protest or wry comments.
“Uh – I’m sorry about what’s happened.”
They stared blankly at her, as if they didn’t really understand what she was saying. She decided to do a little fishing, though she was feeling a little stupefied herself.
“What happened? Today, in school.”
There was a pause, in which Veronica had time to wonder what had happened to cause the drastic change in their demeanors. If they’d been shaken and angered earlier today, they now appeared as if they were in physical shock. Eventually, Logan made a visible effort to collect himself.
“Oh, we just took off. We were supposed to wait for our dads, but – as you can understand, they were the last people in the world we wanted to see.”
Veronica reflected that apparently, Celeste Kane never bothered to take an interest in her son’s life.
Logan’s eyes roamed around the room, pausing briefly on Wallace, then flickering back to Veronica. It seemed as if he was trying to brace himself for something. She was wondering if something else had occurred, but decided to let him get round to telling her the reason for their arrival, in his own good time.
“Veronica – can we stay here?”
“I don’t want to see Aaron again. And – Duncan says he doesn’t want to see Jake again either.”
“Oh. Well -”
“Veronica – I’d like to hire you again. Do you think you could find out if -”
“If the photos are real? I don’t think I can. I mean, not the actual photos. What I could do, is ask around a little. If there’s anyone who’s heard something – your dad’s old friends – or -”
Veronica didn’t want to stress the fact there had to be dozens, if not more, women who had shared Aaron’s bed. And that was probably a moderate estimate, only counting the time he’d been married to Lynn.
“No – That’s not what I meant. Those photos – are probably real. I mean – could you find out if – they’ve done it to – us.”
Veronica stared at Logan, thinking she’d misinterpreted his words. She couldn’t believe she’d heard what she thought she’d heard. Glancing back at Wallace, she found no elucidation there. Her gazed strayed to Duncan, but again, she couldn’t read any explanation there either.
“What do you mean?”
“You know Duncan’s got amnesia – long stretches of time that he can’t recall at all. Well, what if -”
Logan looked as if he too, was going into shock and Veronica was beginning to have the strangest feeling that citizens of Neptune belonged to some cult which believed in sexually assaulting every kid before they graduated from high school. She shook her head to clear it, knowing she probably looked like a moron.
“What if – Jake did it to him too?”
“Oh, come on, why would he do that? He’s his father, for – ”
“I know. But what about Conner? He’s not that much older than we are – and -”
“No, please. That doesn’t mean Jake would -”
She broke off when she realized that Duncan’s face was so white he almost looked dead. A shiver went down her spine and she sat down on the edge of the couch, gently placing an arm around Duncan’s shoulders. He hardly seemed to notice. Whatever she thought of Logan’s wild speculations, Duncan believed them. She had to take the suggestion seriously, if only for the sake of Duncan’s peace of mind.
“Ok. I’ll try. My dad will be away for nearly a week so you can stay as long as you like, but what if your dads come looking for you?”
A look of horror flew across Logan’s face and Veronica realized she couldn’t even take Logan’s composure for granted.
“I can’t see him now.”
“Ok. Calm down. I’m going to have to drive Wallace home now, but I’ll be back right away. Take it easy. Perhaps -”
She glanced uneasily towards Duncan, wondering if Logan would be able to handle his friend, if Duncan had a seizure or episode or whatever you called the attacks someone with epilepsy suffered.
“Veronica, please. Help us.”
“I’ll do what I can. Listen, You’d better come with us, in the car. Wallace? Would you like to drive? I think I should sit in the back with Duncan.”
A look of relief passed across Logan’s face. Wallace nodded.
His mother had been a little impatient by the time they got there, but since he did return in time, barely, she didn’t make a lot of fuss about it. If she was wondering about the other two boys in Veronica’s car, she didn’t say anything about it.
Once back at her place, having had time to gather her thoughts, Veronica became more businesslike.
“Ok, Duncan, what makes you think – someone’s assaulted you?”
He turned his dark, intense eyes on her, as if none of her words meant anything to him. She patiently repeated the question, hoping Duncan wasn’t in such a bad way, she’d be forced to take him to the hospital.
“I – don’t remember anything. He might have -”
“Calm down, Duncan. I don’t want to be indelicate, but have you had any other – indication that someone – has assaulted you?”
Again, he didn’t understand her question, but this time, Veronica couldn’t force herself to repeat it. She glanced up at Logan, hoping he’d have some kind of explanation.
“I – had some kind of blackout myself – about three months ago. I’d been out drinking with some friends and when I got back, I must have passed out. When I woke up, I was – partially undressed, lying on the floor of my room.”
“So you think that – Aaron – might have assaulted you too?”
Logan swallowed nervously.
“Why? He’s your dad. Just because he’s gay, doesn’t mean he’s -”
“But – Conner – he’s closer to our age and – ”
“Logan, do you know what I’m talking about? When you came to, that time, did you – notice anything – physically wrong?”
His face regained a little of its color, hinting that he was blushing, but in the deep pallor of his skin, it was hard to tell.
“I know what you mean. But – wouldn’t it depend on – what he’d done?”
“Yes. But – I mean – if he just – looked at you – how am I supposed to find out?”
The wild look in Logan’s eyes made Veronica despair of reasoning with him. Tonight, at least, both boys were in such a panic, it would be useless trying to make sense of their stories.
“I – don’t know.”
“Ok, never mind. Listen to me, Logan, Duncan. I don’t think your dads would do that to you. And even if – there would have to be some kind of physical trace. If there wasn’t anything like that -”
She shook her head, suddenly feeling too tired to continue. it was time she thought of some way of calming her friends down. One thing at a time.
“Right. One of you will have to sleep in dad’s room, ok? And the other one gets to sleep on the couch. Unless you want to sleep on the floor, both of you. I’ll go get pillows and blankets and sheets and stuff.”
Logan’s gaze clung to her, with such a look of gratitude, she felt ashamed of herself. With all her experience of investigations, surely she could do better than she had so far? Especially, for two of her closest friends.
In the morning, Veronica decided to get started on the investigation right away. Since Duncan and Logan obviously weren’t going to go to school, she told them they could stay in the house if they wanted, or go wherever they liked. She called in sick, then called Wallace and asked him to take notes for her. He wasn’t too happy about being left out, but agreed to help out.
“Logan – I need to talk to Conner. Could you do something about that?”
Logan still looked his new self – pale, wide-eyed, stunned – but he considered her question.
“I’m not sure Conner will see anyone right now, considering what’s just happened, but I’ll do what I can. He’s probably at home right now.”
“Do you think he wants to be seen after what’s happened?”
“What about his contract?”
“I’m betting the directors are in conference, trying to figure out if this is a good thing or not. They won’t want him anywhere near the set, while they’re making up their minds.”
He spoke with such a bitter tone, Veronica assumed he was thinking of his father, rather than Conner. She nodded.
“So, how can I see him at home?”
“Like I said, I don’t think you can, but I’ll try.”
He punched in a number and waited. It was interesting to see how he fell into character, the second someone took the call.
“Marcia. Hey. Still working on that tan? I know. Any time. Listen, I really need to fix up an appointment with Conner. For my friend, Veronica Mars. Yeah, I can imagine, but honestly, it’s not for me. I don’t want to see him. No comment. Veronica – Oh, you’re something else, thanks, Marcia. I appreciate it.”
“Ok, Veronica. Marcia made an appointment for you, Now. You’ll have to get over there right away.”
“Good. If you guys go out, leave the key with my neighbour on the right. I’ll be back after I’ve seen Conner.”
“Why do you want to talk to him?”
“For starters, I can’t talk to your dads, not right away anyway, so I thought I’d start with Conner. Do you have a better suggestion?”
“No. I guess – I thought you’d be looking for – I don’t know – photos or movies or something.”
“Logan, come on. Do you seriously believe your dad could have – I mean, being gay is one thing, but – assaulting his own son, is something completely different. Why do you think he did that? You have to be honest with me, if you expect me to be able to help.”
“If you knew him, you wouldn’t think it was so strange.”
“I’m talking solid evidence, Logan, not just a guess based on his personality. Has he ever – touched you, or – help me out here – stared at you in the shower? Tell me what makes you suspect him.”
“No. He – Why would he have sex with Conner if he wasn’t into young guys?”
“Good point. But Conner isn’t his son. You are. That’s a big difference.”
“You don’t believe me.”
There was an accusation in Logan’s voice, but Veronica forced herself to ignore it.
“I don’t believe or not believe you. Just give me something to work on.”
“I don’t know anything else.”
All morning, Duncan had been quiet. He’d been sitting on the couch, very uprigt, staring at the wall in front of him, clearly not seeing anything. The sound of his name made him snap to attention.
“Duncan, do you have any reason to believe your dad’s ever – assaulted you? I mean, I don’t know if you can guess, but it’s really hard for me to even ask these questions. What I’m asking is – have you ever felt as if – something was wrong? You know, physically. I don’t believe you can be sexually assaulted without having any kind of warning, even if you were unconscious when it happened. You have to agree I have some kind of expert knowledge here.”
Duncan’s eyes looked suspciously moist and Veronica could have kicked herself for bringing her own trouble to mind.
“I’m so sorry about that, Veronica. I wish we could have done something to help.”
“I know, Duncan. It’s ok. That wasn’t your fault. Now answer my question please, I’m running late.”
“Physically? As in -”
Duncan paled even more, though Veronica hadn’t believed it possible.
“Good. We’ll talk later, ok? I really need to go.”
Duncan nodded somberly. Veronica felt his eyes on her as she was leaving, and Logan’s too. She felt burdened by their trust in her. This felt like a typical lost cause. Not only because she found it hard to believe Jake or Aaron could have sexually abused their sons, but because there didn’t seem to be any physical evidence. In fact, she suspected that Logan and Duncan had just panicked. There couldn’t be anything substantial behind their suspicions.
She almost collected a speeding ticket, but by smiling and winking at the traffic cop, she managed to avoid it. It really wouldn’t look good if she was caught speeding, when she was supposed to be in bed with a stomach bug.
While she was waiting outside Conner’s place she remarked that while it wasn’t quite up to the Echolls residence’s style, it certainly was far more expensive than anything she could ever hope to buy. Unless the company rented the house for Conner. That was always possible. As long as he still brought in the big money. After this – She felt sorry for him. Whoever was responsible for the pictures, she was willing to bet that Conner hadn’t had any idea he’d been caught on camera.
The door was opened by a tall blonde, who made Veronica feel as if she was a grubby little kid.
“Ah, you must be Veronica Mars. Logan’s friend. Come on in. Conner’s out on the patio. This way please.”
The blonde’s smile would have made Pepsodent proud. Veronica felt slightly dazzled by all the expensive dental work glinting at her. Wasn’t there just a touch of a shark over the blonde apparation?
“I’m Marcia, by the way. Marcia Brent. Conner’s secretary.”
Marcia breezed through the French doors out onto the patio, where the bright sunlight dazzled Veronica even more. Everything was so white. The walls surrounding Conner’s yard. His deck chairs were almost white too and the white towel draped across the one closest to the French doors. Conner himself was standing with his back to the house, half-heartedly lifting two dumbbells.
He turned to face her, looking nothing like he had that day on the set. Veronica didn’t think she’d have been human if she’d been able to resist falling a little in love with him. But that was then. Today, his face was serious and distant.
“Veronica Mars? If you’ve come to ask about those photos, I’m going to have to ask you to contact the board of directors.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t accept that. Some friends of mine are going through a rough time right now and I have to ask you a couple of questions. it’s not for any paper. Whatever you tell me won’t go any further than -”
“Some friends of yours? You mean Logan and Duncan? I guess – they must really hate me now.”
The cool businesslike tone fell away and now Conner sounded like just a boy, who had been badly disappointed in something or someone.
“No. They’re more upset about – their fathers.”
“I know what you must be thinking. But you’re wrong. I’m not gay. And even if I was, I don’t think I’d be interested in Aaron Echolls and Jake Kane.”
Now there was a definite touch of revulsion. Veronica recalled the odd drugged look in Conner’s eyes. She was wondering if – but Conner didn’t give her time to reflect further on the way he’d looked in the photos.
“Aaron came to me. He offered to – help me in my career. And I – didn’t think I could afford to turn him down. I didn’t realize there would be two of them. Not that it made much difference. Two or one – it would still have been one too many, even without Jake Kane.”
“Conner – they didn’t – drug you?”
“What? Oh, those photos. No, I popped some pills myself, before – I was hoping it would make it all a little less – It’s not as if I take anything normally. I just wanted to -”
Yes, Veronica could imagine how he must have felt. She was wondering how to ask the questions she needed to ask without giving anything away. it was impossible. Strangely enough, Conner went on to mention Duncan’s and Logan’s names almost immediately after she’d finished her thought.
“What – I mean – do you know what Logan and Duncan have been saying about me?”
“Nothing. At least not what you’re thinking. As you can imagine, it isn’t something they liked to find out about their dads.”
“I know. I can imagine. If my dad – oh, god, my dad. He’s going to have a stroke. His business associates -”
“Conner. Calm down. I’m sorry I came here to ask you these questions. It’s just that Logan and Duncan -”
“Yes, of course. Would you tell them – I’m sorry. Really sorry.”
“I don’t think you’re the one who needs to apologize. One last question, do you have any idea who might have taken the photos, and who might have leaked them to the media?”
“Do you think they were two different people? For a while – I thought Aaron had taken those pictures. And he was supposed to help me. Now I’ll be lucky if I get to keep my job. Not that I care about that right now. I wish I’d just gone to work in a store or why not a parking garage? Anything would have been better than this.”
“I’m sorry, Conner. I should get going. I’ll tell Logan and Duncan what you said.”
“Thanks. You’re ok, Veronica Mars. If I thought you could do it, I’d hire you to get rid of those photos. All of them.”
“I don’t think that’s possible. I’m sorry. Do you think they’ll let you go on working for the company?”
“Maybe. This kind of thing means headlines. it’s just that they kind of had me cast as the girl magnet. You know, to get teenage girls watching.”
Veronica gravely nodded, forcing down the smile she knew was waiting to break out. Even like this, Conner was so hot. At least he wasn’t gay. It was hard to guess if her visit had been of any use in her investigation, but at least she knew about Conner. From what he’d told her, what had happened between him and the two older men had been a business deal, pure and simple, even if it had blown up in their faces afterwards. It definitely didn’t sound as if Aaron or Jake would be inclined to drug and abuse their sons. Not when there were plenty of hot, young actors around. Guys who would feel obligated to look out for their careers. Another question which kept popping up in her mind was who had had the pictures taken and why. It was time to go. She would learn nothing more here.
“Take my card. Call me if you need help with something I can do.”
“I might ask you out for a date, Veronica Mars.”
Veronica carefully kept her facial muscles under control. To be quite honest, this was exaxctly what she’d been hoping to hear, for a couple of years at least, ever since she’d first seen Conner on tv, in a soap all the kids from school were watching back then. Every girl’s dream date. But he had to be joking. A guy like Conner Larkin wouldn’t go out with a girl like her. Things like that simply didn’t happen. As she well knew, miracles never did.
She didn’t trust her voice, so she merely laughed politely.
Her laugh made the semi-smile which had been hovering at the corner of Conner’s mouth vanish before it had even appeared. Of course she wouldn’t want to date a guy who had just – She was just being nice. Any girl would be disgusted by what she’d just seen.
Not wanting to draw attention to his mistake, Conner merely forced himself to smile as Veronica walked away.
On her way back, Veronica concluded that she hadn’t learned much that would be of use. No one had asked her to find out who was behind the leaked pictures, so she should focus on helping Duncan and Logan. Not that she thought there would be anything she could do for them.
Though she’d forced herself to consider the possibility of Duncan and Logan having been sexually assaulted by their fathers, she just couldn’t bring herself to believe they had. She felt she knew Jake Kane enough to be able to tell he cared too much about his son to expose him to anything like that. And Aaron Echolls? What did she really know about him, apart from what she’d read in the papers? Nothing. On the other hand, she knew Logan and though he’d become more edgy after Lilly’s death, she didn’t think he was acting the way he would if he’d been the victim of sexual abuse. They had overreacted to the photos, that was all.
Who would take that kind of news about a parent, any better? She was really glad her dad was such a – such an ordinary guy. Unless Jake Kane was her father. Perhaps she ought to have found out when she had the chance, but she wasn’t going to look into that anymore. After what Mac had learned about her family background, Veronica was quite happy the way things were at her house, despite the fact that her mom was missing.
When she got back, she half-expected Duncan and Logan to have cleared out. On the contrary, as she walked in, she noticed how Duncan still sat bolt upright on the couch and Logan didn’t seem to have given up his nervous habit of pacing back and forth in their living room. It was a wonder he hadn’t worn a hole in the carpet. They stared at her so intently, Veronica felt ashamed she couldn’t bring them any better news. What she had, was more or less nothing, unless you counted the fact that Conner had confirmed that at least the photos of him and Aaron and Jake were real.
Logan even took a few steps towards her, before he checked himself, trying to affect a calm indifference it was obvious he didn’t feel.
“Hey, let me sit down for a second. I’ve been driving for hours, or at least it feels that way.”
Neither guy said anything, but she could see how hard it was for them to wait. With a sigh, she decided she might as well tell them the truth. Not that it would help them with their problem.
“Well, the photos – at least the ones of – all three of them – have to be legit. Conner – confirmed it.”
Logan made a derisive noise, which made Veronica want to spring to Conner’s defence.
“Hey. He – Your dad offered to help him in his career. He felt he couldn’t refuse. It wasn’t as if he – enjoyed himself.”
When she heard how she sounded, she almost snorted herself. She still sounded like a star struck teenager – which was kind of what she was, she told herself.
“I can believe that. Then why the hell did he agree? Never mind. I don’t want to know. This is too – gross.”
“Logan. He’s your friend. Don’t be so -”
“What? I guess if your dad had been doing him, you’d be all love and forgiveness?”
“What else did he say?”
Veronica almost didn’t recognize Duncan’s voice. It was so tense, he didn’t sound like himself.
“Nothing that would be of any use to you. He says he didn’t know your dad was going to be there, but that’s about it. Oh, he did – ask about you and Logan. He was really upset about it.”
“I’ll bet he was. If he’s expecting me to be understanding, he’s going to be disappointed.”
The harsh note of contempt in Logan’s voice told Veronica that perhaps she’d promised Conner too much.
“And – they didn’t drug him?”
Veronica stared at Duncan. Was he only referring to the way Conner’s eyes had looked in the extremely high quality photos – someone hadn’t spared any expense – or – was there something more to his question?
“I mean, he looked sort of – dazed, didn’t he? In the photos.”
“Oh. Actually, he took some pills to – make things easier.”
Duncan looked embarrassed, but not nearly as spiteful as Logan.
“He was hoping you’d still want to be friends.”
Veronica thought she sounded like a peppy kindergarten teacher. Shake hands and make up, boys.
Duncan looked as if he seriously considered what she’d just said.
“Well, if you think about it, Logan, what happened was tough luck for Conner, but what’s really bothering us – me at least – is that my dad was involved. Conner’s an actor, don’t tell me you’re surprised he has to – well, do things he doesn’t like, once in a while, to keep on the good side of the board or whoever.”
“Are you saying all actors are whores?”
The belligerent tone in Logan’s voice surprised Veronica. It sounded as if he was sticking up for his dad, and surely he wouldn’t do that?
“No, I’m just saying it’s his problem. Not ours. At least if it had been someone else. The fact that it’s our dads, makes it more awkward, but he didn’t do anything to us.”
It was as if Logan hadn’t heard his friend. His eyes were dark with anger, and he looked as if he was about to punch Duncan. Veronica prepared herself to jump in and stop the fight before it began. But Logan didn’t move.
“Are you saying that sort of thing is so common, every actor has to do it? You might as well say it out loud, Duncan. You think my dad had to do it too, before he made it. Come on. Just say it to my face.”
Veronica moved in between the two guys, trying to deflect Logan’s anger.
“Hey. Logan. Who knows? Is it really any of our business? I know I didn’t like finding out that my mom and Jake were King and Queen of the Prom their senior year. It is embarrassing to find out stuff about parents, but ”
“Embarrassing? We haven’t seen any photos of your dad and – Jake or my dad. Or the principal or Clint Eastwood or -”
Veronica had to laugh. Her dad and Clint Eastwood. That would really be the day.
“Calm down, Logan. I’m trying to help you and Duncan out. You’re not making it very easy for me.”
At that reminder of how it had all begun, Logan faltered. He sat down on the edge of the couch and absently began to scratch the dog’s chin.
“That’s better. Duncan’s right. The main thing isn’t the acting business, it’s your families.”
“Logan, I’m not sure I can help you find out if – you or Duncan – were – if your dads -”
“Yeah, yeah. But you have to do something.”
“What? I wish I could do something about it, but I don’t see what that would be. Have you ever found – you know – kiddie porn or something on your dad’s laptop?”
“My dad with a laptop? You’ve got to be kidding me. He leaves that stuff to his secretary.”
“Alright. DVD:s, then.”
“No. It’s all just his old movies, even rehearsals and screen tests and whatever. Boring old stuff.”
“Ok. What about – other guys – your friends? When you were younger or -”
Veronica really felt she was grasping at straws.
“No. He’s always been chasing waitresses and secretaries and lead actresses or bit parts and extras. Any woman really. When my mom was away having a face lift, when I was ten, he – got involved with mrs Sanchez – our fifth grade teacher. Remember her, Duncan? How we all used to say she was so hot. Well, dad thought so too. And apparently, she felt the same way.”
Somehow, Veronica wasn’t surprised. She could see that Duncan remembered and she didn’t really like the look on his face as he did.
“Duncan, what about your dad? Have you ever noticed anything – odd about his behavior? Or have you seen photos or movies around the house?”
“Of naked guys? No. Not naked women either. Dad isn’t into that stuff. It’s all just figures and diagrams and market shares. And I’ve never seen him with other women either. It’s always been just work for him.”
“Ok. Logan, if you’d heard that sort of thing about one of the other guys, would you think anything was wrong?”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m trying to say that there isn’t anything to find out. About Conner – yeah, I think it’s gross too. He’s so young and he’s not into men, but as for the rest – sure, they’re married, but – sorry, Logan, but you know it’s been in every paper since, well, years back, – your dad has always been cheating on your mom. I know it must be more embarrassing for you that this time, it’s with a guy, but apart from that, what’s different?”
Logan looked as if he had plenty to say about how this was totally different, but he swallowed the words he’d intended to spill out. He did understand that he’d probably overreacted. It shouldn’t come as such a surprise to him. After all, several of his dad’s colleagues in Hollywood had sordid little secrets just like this one. Perhaps it was lucky it was just a man. It could easily have been little boys or mules or something really unnatural.
“Yeah, ok. Thanks for trying, Veronica.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”
“No, it’s not your fault. You can’t work miracles. How could you change something like this?”
“There’s a lot I’d change if I could.”
“Can we still stay here for a while? I’m trying to think of a way to get out. If I call my grandparents, maybe they’ll let me stay there.”
“Sure. As long as you like, but if your dad comes here looking for you -”
“Give me five minutes, and I’ll sneak out the back. I don’t want to see the sick bastard.”
“I’d kind of like to stay too, if it’s ok, Veronica. I’m not sure where I could go, but I don’t want to go back home either.”
“Of course, Duncan.”
At that point, Wallace arrived, with Mac tagging along. They said hi to Logan and Duncan, but apart from that, the room grew oppressingly quiet. Eventually, Veronica decided to tell Mac she’d gone to see Conner. There had been something in Mac’s eyes when she’d stared at the photos of Conner’s naked body that made Veronica guess she’d enjoy hearing about the meeting. Of course she wouldn’t betray any confidences, but at least she could talk about how he’d looked and what kind of house he lived in.
“I went out to see Conner Larkin today.”
“Oh. What did he say? Did he -”
“He confirmed that – well, the photos are real.”
“He isn’t gay. It was just that Aaron Echolls offered to help him in his career and he – didn’t feel he could refuse.”
“I see. Did he know who might have sent the photos to the news station and the papers?”
“No. He had no idea. He was really depressed about it.”
“I can imagine.”
“He might lose his job.”
“That would really be a shame. Hm. What if someone could make it seem as if the photos are a fake?”
“Is that possible?”
“Well, if I could get a hold of some of the photos and – play around with them – there might be – well, reasonable doubt about them. I could change the date and add some – yeah, of course, the “originals” – the ones the papers or the news network received would still be around, but – they would never be sure. And if someone sued them for slander – You know, I don’t think they could afford to take the chance.”
“That would be fantastic. I know Conner would be really grateful.”
Mac looked rather shyly at Logan and Duncan. She definitely didn’t belong to their crowd, but if they wanted her help, she felt she should offer it anyway.
“Logan, – if you like, I’ll do the same with the photos of your dad and -”
“That’s very kind of you, but don’t bother. He made his bed and he can lie in it. No pun intended.”
Mac looked as if she wished she hadn’t made the suggestion in the first place.
Duncan made an effort to smile and show a little gratitude for Mac’s offer.
“I think – Logan’s right. It’s really embarrassing, but they might as well take responsibility for what they’ve done. But it’s really great if you can help Conner out. I don’t think he deserves to lose his job over something like this.”
“Ok. I’ll go home and get started right away.”
It occurred to Veronica that she would like to know who had taken the photos and why. There were far too many odd circumstances all connected with the Kane family. Perhaps the real reason for the leaking of the compromising photos wasn’t to incriminate Aaron Echolls and Conner Larkin, but Jake Kane.
It was still early, so she decided to do a little digging, but she couldn’t do that with Logan and Duncan around. She took Wallace and went over to her dad’s office to do some research. After making a few phone calls, she realized that whoever it was, had to have been a professional. That seemed to lead straight to Jake Kane’s chief of security. Him again. What reason would he have to work against his own employer?
“Wallace, who do you think stands to gain from having those photos published?”
“Gain? Well, for starters, Logan and Duncan didn’t. Aaron Echolls and Jake Kane didn’t. Lynn Echolls is out of the picture. What about Celeste Kane? Duncan’s mom? If she wanted a divorce -”
“Yeah, but does she? Why would she want a divorce – now?”
“I don’t know. Because her husband’s gay?”
“If she really loved him. Maybe it’s just for the money. I hate to say this, but I never liked Celeste. I don’t even think she liked Lilly much and she was her mom. If their marriage has always been about the money – then she wouldn’t gain either. Or would she? If she wanted to hurt Jake – maybe the money wouldn’t be an issue. Of course, there would have to be a good reason why she wanted to hurt him. Something big.”
“Like his being gay.”
“Wallace. This is California. You’d be surprised how many people are gay.”
“Ok, that’s a surprise I’d rather do without.”
“Who else might gain?”
“Not your pal Conner, that’s for sure.”
Was Veronica mistaken, or had there been just a hint of jealousy in Wallace’s voice? She shrugged mentally and told herself not to imagine things.
“No, Conner doesn’t gain. What about some actor, someone who competes for the same roles as Conner? Or someone who’s got a grudge against Aaron Echolls? There has to be plenty of people who do. Lynn Echolls, for one.”
“But she’s dead, right?”
“Not necessarily. I – happen to know that someone used her credit cards a while back.”
“Someone. That doesn’t mean it was her.”
“No, but how would this someone have found the credit card if it was at the bottom of the lake?”
“Right. Do you think it’s Lynn Echolls?”
“Hm. Maybe. Or Celeste. Or – some actor we don’t know about.”
She shook her head dejectedly. Always the same. She could make some progress, then suddenly she was up against the same blank wall. Would she ever get close to the Kane family’s secrets?
“You could go and ask your friend Conner about that.”
“Yes, I could. But let’s go back to Duncan and Logan now. I can’t think of anything else to try right now.”
There. She hadn’t been imagining things. Wallace didn’t like Conner. Poor Conner. Didn’t any guys like him?
The moment she set foot inside the apartment again, she knew something was wrong. Logan and Duncan weren’t anywhere to be seen, but Veronica noticed that the bathroom door was open and she could hear someone moving about in there.
“Duncan? Logan? What are you guys up to?”
She exchanged a worried glance with Wallace. He seemed uneasy.
“Veronica. Come in here. It’s Duncan. I think -”
Logan’s tone told her he was seriously concerned about his friend.
She hurried over to the bathroom door and looked inside. Logan was shaking Duncan, making her think they were fighting over something. Then she noticed that Duncan seemed unusually dazed. In fact, he looked as if he was about to pass out.
“He went to bed for a while. I thought it was odd, so after a while, I asked him what was up. He didn’t reply. So I went inside to check on him and he was – more or less asleep. I tried to wake him, but he didn’t respond. That’s when I noticed that there was an empty medicine bottle on the floor beside the bed.”
“Where is it?”
Logan fumbled inside his jeans pocket, and eventually he managed to extract the small bottle. All the time, he held on to Duncan who was swaying on his feet. Veronica took the bottle from Logan and read the label. She wasn’t familiar with the name of the prescription drug, but she had a hunch it was Duncan’s anti-depressants. How many had been left? Despite the heat, she felt cold all over. They’d have to call an ambulance. Or –
“Do you think we can get him to puke it up?”
Logan was staring hopefully at Veronica over Duncan’s nodding head, which was constantly tipping over onto Logan’s shoulder.
“I guess. Wallace -”
She called over her shoulder, without taking her eyes off Duncan.
“What? Uh oh.”
“Could you make lots of strong coffee? Really strong.”
He didn’t ask her what she wanted it for, so she guessed Wallace had taken stock of the situation and come to the same conclusion they had.
Veronica moved closer and began to slap Duncan’s face as hard as she could bring herself to. His eyes were more or less open, but he wasn’t focusing. She felt her heart flutter inside her chest. Duncan just couldn’t die too. She couldn’t bear to lose him too.
Trying to stay calm, she forced her mind to keep working. Something about his pulse. Yes. Pulse and heartrate. She pressed her fingers to the side of his neck and waited, counting each slow beat. Too slow. His skin felt colder than usual, or was that merely her hands, which felt icy and clammy at the same time.
“How long has he been like this?”
Logan’s wild-eyed gaze met hers, and he tried to calculate.
“I think – ten minutes. It was just a little while before you and Wallace got back.”
“Good. Where’s that coffee, Wallace?”
“Here. There’s more coming.”
“Great. Help me pour this into him, Logan. All of it, if you can. Make sure he swallows. Just a little at a time.”
They had a hard time getting the hot liquid into Duncan’s mouth, but the heat seemed to make him more aware of his surroundings. He even tried to close his mouth and move his head to the side, trying to avoid their hands.
“No, you have to drink it all, Duncan. Please.”
Somehow, between them, they managed to get almost half of it down his throat. By the time Wallace showed up in the doorway with the second pot of coffee, it seemed to Veronica that Duncan’s gaze met hers at times. He did seem a little more aware than before. Or perhaps she was just deluding herself.
In any case, she and Logan proceeded to pour the rest of the coffee down Duncan’s throat.
Wallace returned with more coffee after a while and Veronica told him that would do for the moment.
“Try to make him walk, Logan. Around the room. Just keep him walking. Wallace, could you help Logan, please?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Wallace pulled Duncan’s other arm around his neck and began to drag the other boy around the room. It wasn’t a very large room so he and Logan had to turn and turn, and keep walking just a few steps at a time. Veronica began to push the couch aside, then the table. That gave them a little more space to move in.
After a while, Duncan’s face took on a greenish tint and before Veronica had time to call out a warning, he began to vomit. Logan and Wallace managed to jump back, but Duncan soiled his shoes and the carpet. Veronica was wondering if the vomit would wash out or if she’d need to buy a new carpet before her dad got back. At least she thought Duncan would be ok now. She went over to Duncan’s bent over form and began to gently rub his back.
When he seemed to be feeling ok, the two boys began to drag him around the room again. Veronica went into the kitchen and found some tissues. She helped wipe Duncan’s face. Those shoes were probably a write-off, but she thought Duncan probably had several other pairs, so that wasn’t too serious. The carpet was worse, but she couldn’t worry about that now.
Eventually she could tell that Logan and Wallace were exhausted. Duncan on the other hand, seemed to have recovered his strength.
“Hey, guys. I think it’s ok to sit down now. Duncan’s back now, aren’t you, Duncan?”
“I – I’m sorry. I just -”
“Oh, Duncan. I wished you’d talk to me instead of pulling something stupid like this.”
“I know. I mean, it’s just – I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to see my dad or my mom. It’s all so horrible.”
“I know. But don’t give up. You have to hang in there.”
Duncan even managed a half-smile. Veronica had to blink to clear her sight. This had just been too close. First Lilly, then mom. Now Duncan. What would she do if everyone she cared about died or disappeared?
“You’re an idiot, you know that, Duncan? A real moron.”
“Yeah, you’re right, Logan.”
Logan stared at his friend. That wasn’t quite what he’d expected. Duncan looked too exhausted to argue with him. In fact, Logan himself was totally worn out. Finding his friend lifeless like that had been a bad shock to him. As usual, in a crisis, he found himself reacting with anger. It was just a little hard to feel angry at the pathetic, helpless creature that was all that was left of his buddy Duncan.
“Ok. We’ll have to do something about the mess, and then – you’re going to bed, Duncan. I’ll fix us all something to eat. Oh, crap. This is beginning to look like some old fifties rerun. The little lady tidying and cooking.”
“I’ll fix something, if you’re willing to take the risk.”
Wallace seemed to be serious so Veronica wasn’t going to argue.
“Great. Thanks, Wallace. You know where to find everything, right?”
“I’ll just call my mom and make sure she’s ok with me staying.”
“I’ll – I guess I’ll clear up the mess out here.”
Logan looked as if he was surprising himself too. He caught Duncan staring at the vomit on the floor, then making a feeble effort to stand up.
“No, I made that mess. I should be the one to clean it up.”
“Just go to bed, Duncan. It’ll be ok. Veronica – perhaps you’d like to sit with him?”
“Unless you want to -”
“No, you go on. I’ll figure out a way to clean this up. And – I’ll buy you a new carpet.”
“That’s not necessary. It’ll be ok. Just clean it up, the best you can. I’ll deal with the rest of it.”
It wasn’t until the dinner Wallace had cooked – actually quite delicious, if not strictly speaking a traditional dinner – was gone, that Veronica realized they had a problem with the sleeping arrangements. Or at least they now had witnesses to their sleeping arrangement. Ever since Wallace had been attacked on his way home from her place, she’d let him sleep in her bed, whenever his mom let him stay the night. There was no harm in that, but she’d have to try and explain herself to Logan and Duncan. Somehow, she didn’t expect them to offer to share her dad’s bed, to spare her reputation.
“Listen, guys. Wallace will be sleeping in my room. Ok? And if anyone finds out, I’ll know who’s responsible.”
“Ok. I wasn’t going to say anything.”
But she could tell Logan was wondering.
“It’s not like you think. There’s no other bed, that’s all.”
“Right. Sure. No problem.”
Wallace stared self-consciously at Logan. On the one hand, he was glad the rich boy got to see him disappear into Veronica’s room. On the other, he just didn’t want anyone to think there was anything going on between them, when – well, there really wasn’t. Or – at least not – Except –
Duncan had fallen deeply and soundly asleep on Veronica’s dad’s bed. She went in to check on him several times just to make sure he was sleeping normally. His breathing sounded natural and calm. Her interrupted sleep made her sleep late. She woke up to hear someone pounding on the door. It took her a while to get her mind working again, but finally, she jumped out of bed and hurried towards the front door.
Wallace grabbed his clothes and vanished into the bathroom. Logan began to eye the window on the right, wondering if he could get it open without alerting whoever was outside to what he was doing. Duncan too had woken up and was fully dressed by now, except for the shoes.
“Veronica, is Duncan in there?”
That voice – she nervously glanced over at Duncan, whose face began to lose whatever color he’d gained when he came to last night.
“Just a minute.”
“Veronica. It’s Jake Kane. Is my son there with you?”
“Is Logan there?”
This time, her eyes met Logan’s. His face was rigid and pale, just like Duncan’s.
Now the pounding began again.
“Open the door. It’s Aaron Echolls. If you’ve got my son in there -”
Duncan swallowed nervously, then cleared his throat.
“It’s ok, Veronica. There’s nothing to be done about it. Let them in.”
After a few seconds of rapid thought, Logan gave in. He wouldn’t be caught sneaking out through a window. He’d face his dad, and have it out with him once and for all.
Veronica opened the door and stepped aside. It was as if the two men hardly noticed her once she’d moved out of their way.
Jake Kane stopped just inside the door, and studied his son closely. Aaron Echolls walked around him and faced his son, who scowled back at him.
Logan decided not to give his dad a chance to take the initiative.
“What do you want?”
“I need to talk to you.”
Logan’s voice was angry and bitter and there wasn’t a trace of warmth in it.
Now Aaron began to take in his surroundings and his gaze settled on Veronica.
“Could we have some privacy?”
Veronica sought out Duncan’s gaze then Logan’s. They both nodded reassuringly.
“Right. I guess Wallace and I will take the dog for a walk. Right, Wallace?”
“Yes. We’ll – walk the dog.”
He had absolutely no wish to be present during this conversation.
The second the door had closed behind Veronica and Wallace, Jake Kane walked over to his son and put his hand on Duncan’s shoulder. Duncan twisted away, violently.
“Leave me alone.”
“Duncan, please. Give me a chance to explain.”
“I don’t think there’s anything that needs explaining. Those photos were real, weren’t they?”
Jake Kane didn’t look his usual self-assured self today. His shoulders were drooping and his face had a look of defeat.
“Then I don’t really see what we need to discuss. I – just want to ask you something.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Did you – did you ever do anything to me?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I don’t – remember. I have these blanks. It’s all gone. Did anything happen to me during one of those blackouts?”
“Like what? I don’t know. Are you talking about the night when Lilly -”
“No. Did you ever – touch me or something?”
Jake’s face darkened at the suggestion.
“How can you ask me that? Why would I do something like that?”
“Well, if you can do it with Aaron and Conner, why not me?”
“You’re my son. I love you. I’d never do anything to hurt you.”
“What about you, dad?”
Aaron looked as if he had trouble following the conversation.
“Did you ever – touch me?”
“Why are you asking me that? Are you out of your mind?”
“Because, you sure never thought twice about beating the crap out of me. Why wouldn’t you sexually abuse me too?”
“Logan. You’re my son. If I beat you, it’s because I love you. I want to make sure you turn out ok.”
Jake Kane stared in disbelief at his friend. He hadn’t had any idea that Aaron was in the habit of beating Logan. Personally, he’d never laid a hand on either of his children.
Aaron caught Jake’s look and returned it squarely. Jake didn’t have any reason to look at him like that. Duncan was a nervous wreck. A real wimp. Whereas Logan, his boy, was a perfectly normal boy, despite the look of challenge on his face. Still, it was only natural if he was upset. Those damned pictures should never have been taken in the first place and certainly not released to the media. If he ever caught the person responsible he’d –
“Conner, dad? He’s my friend. He’s just a couple of years older than I am. How could you?”
Aaron had trouble meeting his son’s eyes. That was the problem. How could he tell him about Conner? At the time, it had just seemed – too tempting. He’d never imagined his little indiscretion would be made public. What a fool he’d been. He should have remembered that nothing could be kept a secret in his business.
“I – made a mistake. I’m sorry. I can’t talk about that.”
“Ok. What about Jake Kane?”
“You know we’re friends.”
“Friends? Duncan and I are friends and we’ve never done what you were doing in those photos.”
“Well, perhaps a little more than friends. But that doesn’t mean we’d ever hurt you or Duncan. I don’t know how you could even think such a thing.”
Jake Kane again faced his son.
“Duncan, was it Veronica’s idea – about -”
“That you might have – abused me? No. Logan and I wanted her to investigate the whole thing, but even from the start she’s been trying to convince us that you’d never do such a thing etc. But why not? If you can do it with Aaron or Conner, why not me?”
“Duncan. I can’t believe you’d say something like that. Never. I – don’t suppose it’s any use denying that Aaron and I – are a little more than friends. And about Conner, it’s just as Aaron was saying. We made a mistake. I’m sorry about that.”
“It’s a little late for that, isn’t it?”
Logan was still glaring angrily at his father.
“I’d say it was a mistake. You know what Conner did? He had to take drugs to be able to stand – what you were doing to him. He’s my friend. And you – You make me sick.”
“I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry, Logan.”
“Sorry just doesn’t do it, dad.”
“Logan, please. Don’t do this. I realize it’s embarrassing for you and I’ll do what I can to stop the rumors going around, but – I’m your father. I love you. Please don’t let this come between us.”
“There is no us. Now, get this. I don’t want to live with you anymore. I’m going to grandma and granddads’. I can’t stand to be around you anymore. Just leave me alone.”
Aaron’s eyes filled with tears. For once, he didn’t react with anger to Logan’s defiance. It seemed to him that all he had left was his son. He just couldn’t bear to lose him too. His marriage had gone sour a long time ago. In fact, he was having trouble even remembering what he’d seen in Lynn, but Logan was his son. His blood. He wished he’d given him more time and more affection. Why had he spent his life pursuing one pleasure after another, instead of taking care of the one person who really mattered?
“Logan, please. Forgive me. For everything. For the way I treated your mother. For – beating you. And for – Conner. Just give me another chance to be a good dad.”
Logan hesitated. He hated his dad. Inside him, the anger just swirled and expanded and it was eating him up. Still, he’d never heard his dad sound like that. Of course the old creep was an actor, but somehow Logan didn’t think this was just acting.
Jake Kane took advantage of the temporary silence and once again caught his son’s eye.
“Please come back, Duncan. Let me try to make this up to you, somehow. I’m sorry you had to learn about me and Aaron this way, but -”
“Don’t tell me you’re sorry. Tell it to mom.”
“Your mother and I – we haven’t been living like husband and wife for many years. She has her own life and I have mine. Duncan, please. I’m really sorry about Conner.”
He was too. Even when Aaron had made the suggestion, it had made him uneasy. What he and Aaron had was one thing, but – Conner – he was just a kid. Logan’s words about how the boy had taken drugs to be able to stand being with them had made him feel sick. He should never have listened to Aaron’s seductive talk about Conner’s body.
Duncan didn’t feel strong enough to make a stand. He knew he was going to have to return home with his dad.
“Ok, dad. I’m coming.”
He got up and began to pick up his things. The shoes – were a mess, but Logan seemed to have cleaned them up enough to wear on the way home. He was hoping his dad wouldn’t be paying attention to them.
Logan, too, began to gather his belongings. He hadn’t brought much anyway. Before he went to his grandparents’ he’d need to pack.
“Ok. I’m coming too. Just to pack. I’m still going to grandma’s and granddads.”
“Ok. Just give me a chance to make things up to you, Logan. Please. Things will be different now, I swear. I don’t want to lose you. I’ll do anything.”
Logan didn’t reply. Despite everything, it felt good to hear his dad talk to him that way.
On their way out, Logan remembered to hand over the key to the neighbor Veronica had told him about. He wanted to pay for the carpet, but he’d heard a stubborn note in Veronica’s voice when he’d mentioned it. Perhaps he could think of something else to do for her. She’d let him pay for the work she’d put in. Maybe he could add a little to the check, without her noticing.
When Veronica got back, she found Mac standing on her doorstep, looking as if she was about to give up.
“Oh, there you are. I did it. I think I’ve managed to fix up some of the photos.”
“Great. Just a sec. I’ll get the key. The guys obviously aren’t here anymore.”
“No. There’s no one here. When I got here, it was empty. Your neighbor said Aaron Echolls and Jake Kane came to pick them up maybe fifteen minutes ago.”
“Oh. I’ll be right back.”
Inside, Mac went on at length about how she’d manipulated the photos. She’d also emailed the three major newspapers anonymously to hint that she knew the photos were fakes. Now all they had to do was wait. The reaction from the media didn’t take long. On most of the news stations, there were apologies and retractions. The papers sold as many copies now, as they had when they’d made the announcement. Most of the readers and viewers didn’t buy the new story. Everyone suspected Echolls and Kane money to have bought the retractions. Still, the story soon lost its news value. There were other scandals to get worked up about.
Mac had contented herself with working on the photos with Conner Larkin, after she’d realized Logan didn’t want his father to get off the hook that easily. She was glad to be able to help Conner, even if he’d never know it was her doing.
On Sunday morning, Conner called Veronica to thank her for her help.
“I can’t believe it. You did it. I don’t know if anyone believes it or not, but I just heard from the board that they’re not going to fire me. They’re going to assume the photos were fake and leave it at that. Or they’re going to sue. In any case, I’m off the hook.”
He didn’t sound exactly happy, but at least there was a note of relief in his voice.
“Actually, I didn’t do this. It was a friend of mine. Mac.”
“Oh. Then – could I see Mac and say thanks in person?”
“Sure. I’m sure Mac will be glad to see you.”
“Great. Why don’t you guys come out here this afternoon? If you’re not busy.”
“I’ll call and check. But I’m sure we can make it.”
“Yeah, I’ll call you if we can’t make by then, but I’m sure we can.”
Just like Veronica had expected, Mac was thrilled that she’d be allowed to meet Conner Larkin in person and speak to him.
As they were about to leave, Veronica’s dad called to let her know he was on his way back and that he hoped he’d be home by eight. She promised she’d have dinner ready for him by then and hung up.
Veronica decided to let Mac drive. Her car was so nice it would be fun to ride in that for a change. Eagerly, Mac set out, following Veronica’s directions. They pulled up in the driveway outside Conner’s house and got out. Mac stared wide-eyed at the mansion Conner lived in.
Veronica walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell, expecting the blonde secretary to open. To her surprise, Conner himself stood in the doorway. His eyebrows shot up as he caught sight of Mac.
“Is that Mac?”
“Yes. Mac – you know Conner Larkin. Conner, this is my friend Mac.”
“Great to meet you. Come on in.”
He showed them into a spacious lounge and asked them to sit down.
“Can I get you anything?”
He looked relieved, but still very subdued. Veronica didn’t think he’d get over the whole thing for a long time yet.
Conner kept glancing sideways at Veronica’s friend. He’d been expecting a guy. After all, not many girls were called Mac. In any case, he was totally amazed at her skills. if he hadn’t been so embarrassed about the photos, he would have asked her how she’d managed to get the media to withdraw. As it was, he contented himself with thanking her profusely. Under other circumstances, he’d have given her an autograph, invited her over to the set and kissed her on the cheek. Somehow, now, none of that seemed the right thing to do.
Veronica was beginning to feel a little left out. Conner was staring at Mac and Mac was staring at Conner. Perhaps she should have taken her own car, so she could have gone home again, on her own.
Eventually, as the girls were about to leave, Conner gathered all his courage and asked Mac a question.
“Do you – think I could see you again? I’d like to learn more about computers and so on.”
Veronica almost laughed. That was so transparent. Conner wasn’t interested in computers. Logan had told her that. Still, it couldn’t happen to a nicer girl.
“Sure. No problem. Do you – do you think I could come out and see you on the set some day?”
“Of course. Any time. I’ll call you – ”
Mac quickly pulled out one of her cards. She’d never had use for them before. Normally, whenever she made a little extra, using her computer skills, she’d hide behind an anonymous web page. She’d really only made the cards to make herself feel more important. At least they came in handy now.
“Thanks. I’ll call you and let you know. Thanks again.”
On the way back, Veronica couldn’t help smiling at her friend.
“That went well.”
“What? Oh, yes. He was wonderful. What a body.”
“Yeah, we did get to take quite a good look at that, didn’t we?”
“I kept a few copies of the photos. Actually, I made a closeup of him. I guess I can’t make a poster out of it, but I’ll keep it on the computer. Do you think that’s awful of me?”
“No, of course not. Can I have a copy too?”
“Of course. I mean, if this had been a girl, some guy wouldn’t have hesitated to keep the photos to look at, right?”
“Absolutely. Did you get the one where you can see his ass too?”
“Of course. We’ll go by my place and I’ll show you.”
“No, I’d better get back. Could you email them to me?”
As she unlocked the door to her house, Veronica couldn’t help reflecting that all in all, things had turned out quite well. She wondered how Duncan and Logan were doing, but she knew she couldn’t just call them. On the other hand, she’d probably see them in school Monday morning. In the meantime, she had a carpet to clean and dinner to make. it would be great to see her dad again. Her dad who didn’t go around chasing men or young guys. Her wonderful, predictable, respectable dad. She was still smiling, even when she had to take the carpet into the bathroom to scrub it. It had been a good day. If only all days could be as nice.