"No plans tonight?" Natalie Mackenzie asked her daughter as she came down the stairs.
"Nah," Mac replied. "I'm just going to watch the news and then go to bed early, I think."
"Watch the news?" Mac's mother clutched her pearls in mock horror. "I thought you got all of your current event updates from the Internet."
Mac smiled indulgently as she picked up the remote and fell back onto the couch. "I do, but Ryan needed to use my computer. He needs to Photoshop something for his history report."
Her mother beamed at her and Mac blushed in spite of herself. "That's so sweet of you, Cindy. It makes me so happy to see you two getting along," Natalie said as she left the room.
Ever since she discovered that she'd been switched at birth, Mac had made an extra effort to be tolerant of her adoptive little brother. It had gotten easier as he'd grown older, but it could still be really hard sometimes. Since she'd come home for the summer, she often missed her cramped little dorm room. At least it provided some measure of privacy.
That privacy came in especially handy just a few weeks earlier, when Veronica had shown up at her room unexpectedly.
"Is Parker here?"
"No, she had her last exam this morning and then she left for home." Mac closed the door behind her friend. "What's up?"
Veronica folded her arms tightly across her body. "I really screwed up, Mac…" Then she burst into tears.
Mac had never actually seen Veronica cry—not after she was attacked in the parking garage, not after any of her breakups with Logan, and not when she finally told Mac about how she lost her virginity. She didn't even cry in front of Mac on the night Cassidy tried to kill her. Veronica had been her rock, taking care of her and bringing her home to tell her parents what happened, all the while believing her own father had been killed.
But here Veronica was, sobbing in Mac's dorm room. When she recovered from her brief astonishment, Mac threw her arms around her.
"What's going on? Is someone hurt? Are you hurt?"
Veronica took a deep, shaky breath to pull herself together. "It's not something like that, but… Mac, I think I lost the election for my dad."
Mac steered Veronica toward her bed and handed her Kleenex as Veronica recounted her break-in to the Kane home and the actions Keith Mars had to take to keep his daughter from getting arrested.
"Oh my God, Veronica, I helped you!" Mac exclaimed without thinking.
Veronica's lip quivered. "I'm so sorry! I shouldn't have gotten you involved—"
"No, I mean, I'm responsible too! If I hadn't helped you crack that password, you wouldn't have been able to do any of this!" Mac clapped her hands down on her thighs. "OK, we need a new plan."
"Uh-uh," Veronica countered with a shake of her head. "I've already asked you to do too much. If anything happens, I'm not dragging you into it. Only a few people know that you're my Q, and I'm not going to rat you out. This is all on me."
"I don't feel like Q anymore." Mac slumped back against her pillows. "I'm Dr. No.'
A little laugh escaped Veronica's lips. "Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve you, Mackie."
"Shut up," Mac replied, smacking her friend with a pillow.
The Pink Panther theme snapped Mac out of her reverie. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and without even glancing at the screen, pressed the "ignore" button with a sigh, adding yet another listing to the phone's log of ignored calls from Veronica. Since her pesky friend couldn't take a hint, Mac was tempted to just turn the phone off, but she didn't want to miss her nightly call from Max.
A lot of people were put off by Veronica's pushiness, but being a decidedly non-pushy person herself, Mac always admired that quality in her friend.
Veronica hadn't always been that way, Mac knew, but they hadn't been friends then. They'd had a few honors classes together, but Mac never would have tried to speak to Veronica—she was an '09er by association. Mac tried to pretend she didn't care about the '09ers, but the way they completely ignored her existence stung a little.
But once she saw how they treated Veronica after Lilly Kane's murder, Mac realized that being ignored wasn't so bad. Veronica didn't take their abuse for long though—she soon transformed into a lean, mean, clique-fighting machine. Mac, aware that she would have crumbled under such treatment, watched with admiration as Veronica only became more powerful.
When they became friends, Mac felt her own backbone grow stronger and straighter. And when she felt her insecurities taking over, Veronica was always there to give her a shove in the right direction. She knew she wouldn't have had the guts to get involved with Bronson or Max if it weren't for the not-at-all subtle prodding from Veronica.
Another chime from her phone caught Mac's attention, and she quickly looked at the screen to read the text. It wasn't from Max—it was from Logan: "Computer problem. Call me?"
Mac laughed to herself. If she called him back, she knew that Veronica would answer his phone. The "former" couple had been spending more and more time together this summer, although they seemed to think they were keeping it a secret. They should have known Mac's observation skills were better than that—after all, she learned them from Veronica.
"Later, VERONICA" Mac typed back, smirking as she hit "Send."
The cheesy techno drumbeat of the local news station's intro music began, and Mac quickly turned up the volume.
"We promised you a story about the downtown parking fee increase, and we will get to that later in our newscast. But first, we have a breaking story for you. Here's reporter Nancy Sweeney with more."
Mac sat forward on the couch cushion, resting her elbows on her knees.
"Only a few short weeks after Neptune elected Vincent Van Lowe, KNPT has learned that our new sheriff may have close connections to the Fitzpatrick crime family. Audio recordings of phone calls between Sheriff Van Lowe and Liam Fitzpatrick, recently obtained by this news station, suggest that the sheriff may be giving preferential treatment to Fitzpatrick associates in exchange for their help in his election. Here's a sample."
A huge grin slowly spread across Mac's face as the news station helpfully captioned the audio track:
Sheriff Van Lowe: He's just a small-time meth dealer, Liam. Can't we just let this one go?
Liam Fitzpatrick: I don't care who he is—I got you your job, you keep my guys out of jail. That's the arrangement.
Van Lowe: Fine, I'll take care of it. But D'Amato won't stop arresting your guys just because I say so.
Fitzpatrick: Then you're just going to have take care of that too, won't you, Sheriff?
Nancy Sweeney continued. "The officer being discussed is believed to be Balboa County Deputy Leo D'Amato, who was recently put on administrative leave for unknown reasons. Hours of phone conversations between Sheriff Van Lowe and members of the Fitzpatrick family seem to indicate that their relationship began long before the election last May.
"The county district attorney has begun an investigation of Sheriff Van Lowe and Mr. Fitzpatrick, but will be making an official statement later this evening. We'll interrupt our broadcast when that occurs, but until then, back to you, John."
Mac muted the television as the anchorman began the piece about the parking meters, then picked up her phone. She began counting under her breath, and only got to four before the Pink Panther theme rang again.
"Yeeeeeessss?" Mac asked.
"What did you do?" Veronica demanded.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Mac replied in her perkiest voice. "But did you just see the news? Isn't that interesting?"
"My dad got a call from one of his old deputies, who told him something like this was going down," Veronica said. "I've been trying to call you all evening!"
"I was just busy," Mac said, aiming for a casual air. "Dinner with the family, then some World of Warcraft..."
"Mac!" Veronica barked. "I told you not to get involved! You shouldn't have done that!"
"I didn't do anything, but I did hear that the reporter received those recordings anonymously. They just turned up in her mailbox at work."
Veronica's tone grew more panicky. "But someone could still track you down! It's dangerous, Mac! There are ways—"
"I still don't know what you're talking about," Mac interrupted. "But I have heard that some people may know people who have some experience in covering one's electronic tracks. So I've heard anyway."
Veronica took a deep breath and her voice softened. "Are you sure? There's no way y—anyone could get in any trouble for this?"
"Well, things don't look too good for Sheriff Van Lowe or Mr. Fitzpatrick," Mac said. "They're the only ones I'm aware of who should worry about getting into trouble."
The other end of the line was quiet for a moment, then Veronica spoke quietly. "I don't know what to say, Mac."
"Mmmm, call it… payback," Mac said with a grin.
Mac's brother came down the stairs and she saw her chance to get back to her latest Warcraft adventure.
"I have to go, but I'll see you tomorrow. Pick you up at 10?" Mac said."Yeah." Mac could hear the smile in her friend's voice.
Before she hung up, Mac had one last question. "So V, should I pick you up at your dad's or at Logan's?"