Saturday, May 30
The numbers of his alarm clock are bright in the black room. Gai can't say what woke him up.
Mom's door is open, her bed empty with the covers thrown back. The house lays silent, except the distant pound of feet on a treadmill and the soft click of Keller's nails as she pads toward him from the kitchen and puts her muzzle in his hand, wet from a recent drink. Gai navigates the hallway with only the faint glow from under the office door and a streetlight behind the opaque living room curtains.
He heads to the kitchen and downs a glass and a half of water, gasping after the last bit and backhanding his mouth. With the glass in his hand, he walks into the living room and wanders around, running his fingers lightly over every surface.
He's always loved his house like this, dark and quiet like it's sleeping too. A car outside makes a one-eighty, the electric motor so silent the only giveaway is a set of headlights as they wash over the front window. Then another car comes to a slow idle and stops, as if they're at the bottom of his driveway.
He pulls back the edge of the curtain, just enough to see it's the Logan-dude in his black SUV. The guy gets out and walks to the front of the car. His mouth hangs open in a wide, stupid yawn and he stretches, his arms reaching so far the hem of his t-shirt rides up.
Gai lets the curtain fall and goes back to his room, back to bed and sleep, leaving Keller curled up on her bed by the door.
Veronica sighs and pushes the burner phone across the diner table to Matthew. "There. Stop asking me."
Matthew looks like hell, unshaven and wan, with enough bags under his eyes to take a metaphorical trip around the world. When he picks up the phone, his hands have a slight tremor. She doesn't ask, since she knows without medication—prescription or otherwise—the night terrors often win.
"What time did he say?"
"Between seven and eight. He'll text when he leaves work—they pulled an all-nighter."
They both jump when her personal phone goes off. Matthew pushes aside his uneaten breakfast and sips his coffee while Veronica reads a query from Fish, asking if she can take them to the pool today. Veronica had planned to spend the day in her office, working. Yet guilt about the lack of parenting hours she's put in this week, and the time she's spent at the hotel when Gai thinks she's at work, makes her say yes. "Want to go swimming with me and the kids later?"
"I have plans."
Getting-wrecked-and-sleeping plans, Veronica's sure. She shelves every careworn question about VA doctors, PTSD treatment, and rehab. Lois already drew the tough-love line and hasn't seen her son in months, and Matthew made it clear the other night he didn't want to discuss it. He floats in and out of their lives on his better days, stays away on his worst, and rarely asks for anything. She's choosing a keep-the-door-open policy. Her last bite of egg sits on her empty plate, the yolk drying. "Offer stands, if you change your mind."
Bored, Veronica texts Gai to let him know she'll be home by ten, and to be ready to go.
Go where? Is his answer, making her chuckle. It's not the first time Fish hooked Veronica or Sam into being the parent in charge, only then bringing Gai into it.
The burner phone buzzes and Veronica snatches it up before Matthew can. She types in the diner address and reads off the response. "He'll be here in fifteen."
"Then it's time for you to go."
She shakes her head. "This is my gig."
"And if this gig is a set-up? Buying confidential lawyer files has to carry some ramifications."
"I'll be fine."
"And if you're not, Sam's coming back from the dead to kick my ass."
"Then it'd be worth it." Veronica lays her hand on Matthew's when his mouth goes tight. "I know this guy. He wants the money—there's no set-up."
"If you're wrong, you've got a kid and a job at stake. I'll handle it."
"Little sis, you leave now or I pick you up and carry your ass out."
Veronica sits back, pulling her hand off Matthew's. "I'm not going anywhere."
The steely expression he locks on her sends a chill down her back. She'd only seen that look on him once, years ago, right before he decked Sam. Despite her defensive training from the FBI, Veronica is very aware of the height and pounds Matthew has on her, and how his t-shirt shows the strength in his arms.
She sends a message on the burner and slides the laptop and envelope of cash across the table. "Check everything on the computer before you give him the cash. Once I see him go inside, I'll text you."
"Leave the burner with me and go home, now."
"I don't recall putting you in charge."
"The first time he didn't know you were coming, right? Shit goes down, right now It's your word against his. If this is a setup, you should be far away, not in the parking lot. Go home. I'll take everything back to the motel and you can pick it up there."
Veronica deliberates for a half second. Nothing in Brent Caster's file leads her to think he'll risk his payday. There's a chance they caught him stealing the file, and he sold her out, but it's a slight chance. Likely Matthew will be fine. The wise choice seems to be to leave him to it, rather than have him throw her over his shoulder and risk losing the file.
She slides the burner phone across the table, drops three twenties down for the check, knowing Matthew will keep the extra change, and slides out of the booth "You're not really my big brother, you get that, right? You don't need to protect me."
"Whatever you say, little sis."
He catches her hand as she passes by. Veronica nods and awkwardly side-hugs him before walking toward the door.
At the knock on his hotel door, Logan abandons the homeowner insurance research he's doing. The list of people who know where he's staying is small, and he's expecting none of them.
Gai? The possibility lifts him up, and reality brings him right back down. Veronica would text before heading over and, if the kid wants to talk to him, he has the chance every morning.
A young black man with a fat manila envelope and clipboard stands in the hall. His ball cap reads Trampoline, the name of Trina's production company. "Logan Echolls?"
"Delivery. Got ID?"
Logan takes the envelope and rips into it before the kid even reaches the elevator. It takes only a second to peruse the contract to see Trina took his snarky comment as a request and signed over all rights to not only the film and all its footage, but Aaron Echolls' life story. An external hard drive weights down the bottom of the envelope. Logan pulls it out and reads the sticky note attached.
This is the only remaining copy of the footage we got. Love, T.
He lets out a heavy sigh and leans against the doorframe. Giving up on the movie at this stage means millions, if not tens of millions, lost in production costs alone. Signing away all rights to their father's life story allows Logan to control the narrative, now matter how defamatory. Not that he wants any narrative about his dad, but still.
Logan puts everything back in the envelope and throws it on the table, slamming the door behind him. His cell phone is on the table and he sits on the couch before he scoops it up, punching in the country code and phone number from memory.
Eva's outgoing message is the same, and her voice makes her too fucking real. Logan holds the phone up to his mouth, everything he wants to say welling in his chest.
He ends the call by not saying anything. Instead, he dials Diego's number.
"Diego, man, it's Lo—it's Monk. How they hanging?"
"Between my knees. It sucks getting old."
Logan chuckles. "Not that old. You can still kick my ass."
"I might have to. I see your lady when I dropped off your stuff. What d'you do to her?"
"Eva?" Logan sits up straighter. "When did you see her? Is she okay?"
"Last week. She's been crying, man. Says you're not coming home."
"It's a little more complicated than that." Logan gives him a rundown of events since they last talked. "We couldn't see a way to make it work."
"Shit. That sucks."
"Not the inspirational speech I was hoping for."
"Fuck inspirational. Just don't drink."
"I won't." Logan picks up a quarter on the table and sends it into a spin. "Can you at least look out for Eva? Ask Emilia to invite her over for dinner once in a while?"
"That I can do. Hey, Isadora's sad you missed her graduation."
Shit. Logan and Isadora, Diego's daughter, have been surfing pals since she was sixteen. All she talked about this past year was her college graduation. The quarter spins off the table.
"Tell Isa I'll call her later."
"You didn't you tell her?"
"I don't tell nobody, except Emilia. Even the guys don't know you can talk."
Trina is likely right, that no one is interested in writing about him lunching with his sister. On a really slow day, they might garner a small picture next to the Osborne siblings. But more than a decade in hiding, working under a fake name and pretending he was mute? That's tabloid fodder if he ever heard it. Logan sighs heavily and nods. "It's probably for the best. Thanks, man."
They hang up with Logan's promise to meet up with Diego next time the ship docks in L.A.
He called to be closer to his life in Antofagasta and ended up feeling more disconnected. Eva's crying over him, men he worked side-by-side with for more than a decade still think he's a mute outlier, and his friend's daughter can't even count on him to come to her graduation.
Logan slides the phone between his thumb and middle finger, letting the edge hit the chair arm before rotating the phone and doing it again. After some thought he redials Eva's number, again getting her voicemail. "Hey, it's me. I," he swallows. "Fuck. I miss you. It doesn't change anything, I get that, and I heard what you said about letting go. I just need to know you're okay. Diego said he saw you, and are you? Okay?"
He hangs up and slumps down in the chair, too morose to move on with any of his plans for the day. Minutes later, his message alert chimes.
Diego sees a sad day. Today I am okay. Te quiero.
Te quiero, mi Mazu.
It doesn't help to know she's hurting as much as he is, or that she still loves him. A few hours on a plane could ease both their hearts. Two weeks of missing him, and being together in their own house, could do a lot to break down her resolve.
Logan lets the fantasy play out in his head for a torturous minute, fed by the memory of his past homecomings. Opening the door to find her at her easel, in the kitchen, or on their stretch of beach. The smile she'd give him, and the open-mouthed, greedy kisses that would follow. The trail of clothes, time spent tangled together in bed, in the shower, on the floor—wherever is most convenient.
And then the stories they would tell each other. About the people who stopped at her market stall to buy her paintings, his dinner with Char and Dick, and Gai's repeated rejections.
Gai, to whom Logan promised he'd be there every day.
What does it matter? He doesn't want you.
His Wilsonesque alter-ego snarks up. Wow, you lasted two days. Way to hang in there.
And then there's Veronica. Gai wasn't the only one he made promises to. Her expression comes to him, both the grief in her eyes when she told him about Sam, and that day in the bathroom when she brushed off the dust from his cheek and, in response to his saying he's not going anywhere, she looked so damned believing and happy.
No, he can't go anywhere.
Logan can't take the prospect of sitting inside and talking to himself for the night. He texts Veronica and finds she's at the pool with Gai and a bunch of his friends, and they're headed to her place for an evening of pizza and movies. Trina invites him as her date to a premier, and he resoundingly turns her down. Dick doesn't pick up his cell, but Char answers when Logan calls their house and says, while Dick had to make a last-minute business trip, she's got plans for a night out in San Diego and would love to have him along. She's gone before giving him any details beyond, "Look sharp! Text me your address and I'll be there at six."
Which is how Logan ends up in the front seat for the scariest car ride of his life, including the time Weevil's gang kidnapped and tortured him.
"Char, you need to go south."
"I am going south."
"That must be why the sun is setting right in front of us."
"Then which way is south?"
"Take a left at the next light."
Char checks over her right shoulder, causing the car to swerve halfway into the right lane. The driver they almost sideswipe lies on the horn. She scowls. "That was rude."
"So is taking up two lanes. I said left. Go LEFT."
"I'm trying to get over, but this guy won't move."
Logan grips the door handle harder. "Nevermind. Take a your side at the next light."
Char turns on her left blinker and checks over her shoulder, bringing the car back into her own lane. "Make up your mind."
He flips the bird as the car they almost hit passes by, the driver screaming 'fuck you' so loud Logan can hear it through the closed window. "Take a my side in two blocks."
After the next turn, they're in an older, residential area of town. Logan releases the handle and lets out a breath. Sweat breaks under his arms, now that his body senses the danger is over. "What's this play we're supposed to see?"
"Um, Same Time Next Year? I think that's what it's called. Not sure what it's about but it's a fundraiser so I bought four tickets."
"Rom com about adultery. Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn were in the movie version."
"Who?" They pass an old stone church and Char points, "There it is!"
Logan leans over and grabs the wheel, narrowly saving them from hitting a car door as it opens in front of them. They turn down a side street and park at the top of a hill, nose end pointed down. Logan reaches down and pulls up the parking brake while Char opens a compact to freshen her lip stain.
"Question. Who taught you how to drive? Ma Boggs?"
"I'll have you know I've never been in an accident."
They get out and he grimaces at her over the roof of the car. "Check your review once in a while. I'm sure you've caused a few."
Char links her arm with his as they walk toward the old church. "Be nice or I'll make you Uber home."
She hips checks him and tightens her grip on his arm when he laughs. "It's a gorgeous night, isn't it?"
The houses slope down from where they are, affording a jeweled view of street lights. The air is cool and carries the heady scent of citrus blossoms. "Yeah," Logan says, "it is. Thanks for getting me out."
"Anytime. Dick always talks about you like a brother, so I feel like we're family."
Neither brings up Dick's actual brother, though Logan wagers she knows about Cassidy. "I'm sure that didn't pair well with how everyone else talked about me."
"Yes, except Dick and Veronica don't love easily. It took a special person to break them both."
Her low laughter and the brief second Char lays her head against his arm says he's forgiven. It's been a long time since Logan had a woman friend who was nothing more, and he enjoys the way Char compliments him and breaks his balls at the same time.
As they near the church, they fall in step with several other people headed the same way. They both turn at the sound of Charlotte's name being called and Logan spies a small, slim woman, shadowed by a generic, square-jawed man in a gray suit and banker's haircut. The woman's style is edgy, with heavy eye makeup, asymmetrical-cut blonde hair sporting black tips, and a body-hugging gray and red dress that appears to be a bunch of torn t-shirts sewn together. Before Logan can wonder how such a mismatched couple paired up, the woman's smile breaks open and thirteen years fall away.
"Mac?" He leans down and kisses her cheek when she nods and moves to hug him hello. "Wow. You look fierce."
"And you look not dead." She touches the scar by his eye and shakes her head.
"Is that a good thing?"
Mac winks at him. "Depends on who you ask. Logan, Char, this is Bart."
Logan shakes hands with the suit guy, then falls in step with him as Mac and Char lead their way into the church.
The place has seen better times, given the stained red carpeting and scarred wood paneling in the entryway. He half-listens as Char gives the history of the struggling theater group who took over the place after it the church deconsecrated it, and are trying to raise money to put on a new roof.
They linger in the lobby area since the play doesn't start for a bit. Char pairs up with Bart, asking him about his work and hobbies and leaving Logan and Mac to get reacquainted.
"So, Veronica says you moved back."
"Sort of. San Diego instead of Neptune."
"And you bought a house?"
He chuckles down at her. "How about instead of asking me questions you already know the answer to, you catch me up on your life?"
"Oh, me. Nothing big. Still work with computers. Have a cat."
Bart interrupts them to get drink orders, then heads to the bar.
Char puts an arm around Mac's shoulders. "She's just being modest. Logan, she started her own IT support business when we were still in college and now she has offices in six cities."
Logan arches a brow at her. "Wow. Impressive."
Mac blushes a becoming pink and skitters her eyes away from him. "It's really not—,"
"Yes, it is that big of a deal," Char says. "Plus, she does a lot of work with Thorn. Mac's doesn't just look fierce."
Logan remembers reading about the organization and their work, creating computer programs and tools to fight child exploitation. He winks at Mac, noting how uncomfortable she looks with Char's praise. "And she has a cat."
Judging by the grin Mac flashes him, it was the right thing to say.
"So," he indicates toward the bar. "What does Bart do?"
"Don't know, don't care."
"Mac," Char scoffs. "He just told me he's a hedge fund manager. I didn't even have to ask. How do you not know that?"
"I'm not looking to invest." Mac rolls her eyes when Char shakes her head. "What? I just met the guy twenty minutes ago. It's not the kind of conversation you have online."
"Then what do you talk about?"
"Do you really want to know? Because I'll tell you" The uptick of Mac's eyebrow and mischievous smirk has Logan snorting as Mr. Hedge Fund hands him the soda he asked for.
"What are we talking about," Bart asks.
"Same thing you and Mac were discussing earlier. Her," Logan pauses just long enough to make the edit obvious, "cat."
The drinks are subpar, judging by Logan's flat ginger ale, but the play is good. The male actor is no Alan Alda but does well bringing George's bumbling charm off the page, and the lead playing Doris is an appealing mix of maternal and sexy. The church pews are uncomfortable, more suited to penance than laughter, and yet the place is roaring. Logan especially enjoys watching an affair unfold on the same stage where priests once preached coveting as sin.
It's good he's seen the movie because, to his left, Char keeps asking him questions, and in listening to his answer loses the thread of the story which leads to more questions. On his right, Mac's date fumbles his chances for a happy ending.
The guy comes in too hot, putting his hand on Mac's thigh before the first act's done. He laughs a beat late at every joke, and whispers something in her ear toward the end that has Mac jerking her head away. After the play, when the entire audience stands and applauds, Logan sees Mac subtly drop something onto the floor and kick it forward.
Her intention is obvious when she follows him and Char out of the pew, leaving Bart behind.
"Can I get a ride with you guys?"
"What happened to Bart," Char asks.
"Lost his keys. He might be awhile."
CChar and Mac bicker over their next stop, and appoint Logan designated driver since Mac refuses to get in a car with Char behind the wheel.
At the club Char, ahead of them, grabs the sole, unoccupied table that's covered in empty glasses. Logan pulls out Mac's chair and sits next to her. The live band is rocking the place, bringing most of the patrons out to the floor. After they place their order, Mac lays a hand on his arm. "Logan, I didn't even think. We can go somewhere else."
Mac's embarrassment has Logan shaking his head. He raises his voice to talk over the music. "Don't worry about it. I can handle it."
"Are you sure?"
"Mac, relax. Booze was my woobie when things went to shit. I never needed it to have a good time."
"We went to the same high school. That's not how I heard it."
"Well, things were shit in high school. Seriously, Eva and I went out all the time. It was never a problem."
She busies herself moving glasses to the other side of the table while Char goes to the bathroom. Logan watches the dancers and thinks of Eva. No, the booze isn't an issue, but clubs and dancing were her thing. Her absence fills the empty chair beside him.
Mac clears her throat. "Logan, I have a confession."
"Oh sure, after we've left the church."
"Remember the Grade My Ass website I helped you build?"
"Vaguely. Didn't I get an F on that?"
"Because your teacher was a jerk. I launched it, and even did some spin offs you talked about: Grade my Rack, Grade My Feet—there's a huge market for feet."
Logan laughs. "So your confession is you contributed to objectifying the female form and perpetuating a misogynistic society?"
"Well, that and I used the money we made to start my business. I mean, most of your share went to Veronica. I sent her links to apply for cash scholarships I funded on the sly, and things like that. But the rest I can pay—"
"Whoa." Logan holds his hands up in a time-out gesture. "You're telling me I not only supported Veronica and our kid, I helped launch a successful woman-owned business?"
"Look at me, I'm a feminist."
"Says the mind behind Grade My Ass."
"Seriously, though. It means," Logan has to pause and clears his throat. "It means a lot that you took care of Veronica and Gai. Thank you."
"You're welcome. But about the rest of it, I can send over a check tomorrow."
"Keep it. I find it useful to have people indebted to me."
Mac kicks him under the table, making them both laugh. "Better yet." She points to his phone and orders him to unlock it, then sends a text to herself. "I'll set you up with an unhackable system and give you a discount to service it."
The waitress brings Mac's bourbon and Char's wine, along with a pitcher of water and three glasses. Logan nods and pours himself a glass. "If it's unhackable why do you need to service it?"
"I used your computer before, remember? With your porn habits, you need me."
Logan taps his glass against hers. "Excellent point."
Char comes back, downs her wine in two gulps, grabs their hands and pulls them both onto the floor. Within a song Mac's dancing beside them instead of with them. If, that is, dancing's defined by grinding against a short, muscular, dark-skinned man with arms covered in white-ink tattoos, iridescent under the bar's black lights.
He's having fun, Logan realizes. The music and style of dancing is different enough from Eva's that he can allow himself to enjoy it, to enjoy what it means. Living in San Diego, making friends, and building a life. Not everything is in place, but today is a little better than yesterday.
Progress, not perfection.
He grins and grabs Charlotte around the waist, taking them both on a dizzying journey across the floor. His to-do list, after fixing up the house, should include writing AA some less cheesy mantras.