5: Missed Interceptions
I drove past Madison Magic on the way to school the next morning.
It was a perfectly decent area for a shop just starting out – cheap rent, good foot trade and easy to reach for the more discerning clientele. However the shop didn’t open till midday, so I just snapped a couple of shots of the window stock and eventually found my way to school.
The gossip network of Neptune High was in fine form today. By the time I’d reached my first class, I’d heard that the dead girl was Kimberly Clarke - one of Casey’s closest friends (well, when Casey was still alive). The injured girl in the hospital, though – no-one knew who she was. Either the Sheriffs Department had closed down all possible sources of leaks, or maybe she wasn’t from Neptune High.
Whichever it was, her condition was known and she wasn’t expected to live past tonight. I went to the offices, smiled at Wallace and walked away with Todd McArthur’s schedule. That boy had some answers to share.
I missed Todd coming out of his first class. I managed to get there in time to see him and his best friend Scott Fox exit History, but I got cut off by the horde of math geeks coming out of their class. This never happens on TV.
Jumping up and down a bit (why are all these math guys so tall?), I saw Scott give Todd a consoling hug, but missed which direction Todd moved off in. I paused, re-thought, and acquired a brand new target.
“Hey, Scott,” I beamed brightly, and dragged him into my office. And by office, I mean the girls’ bathroom.
His eyebrows rose as he looked around. Stephanie Stephenson’s (parents had no imagination) eyebrows rose before she recognised me and went back to touching up her make-up at the mirror. My eyebrows rose at the realisation that this was starting to be treated as normal by some people. Obviously, I am
getting too predictable.
Suppressing my inner snarl, I smiled sweetly at Scott. He stepped backward a pace. Smart boy. “Um…Can I help you, Veronica?” he asked hastily.
“Oh Scott, that’s so kind of you,” I said, fluttering my eyelashes. He swallowed – told you he was a smart boy. “I just wanted to know a few things about Todd.”
Interesting reaction – he closed right down immediately, posture stiff, arms folded, very defensive. “Oh for god’s sake, hasn’t he been through enough already? Why can’t you just leave him alone!”
My eyebrows rose. ”Cool your jets a moment there, Scottie boy,” I replied, a little defensively, “For all you know I just could be interested in who’s lining up to be his next trophy girlfriend.”
Scott shook his head in exasperation. “What is it with you girls? He’s only been single for a couple of days and you’re all already throwing yourselves at him! Can’t you let Todd grieve in peace for a bit?”
With that, he pushed past me and walked out of the bathroom in a huff. I just stared after him, somewhat shocked. Scott had always been one of the more polite kids around Neptune High. Though he wasn’t in the 09er crowd, he was still somewhat privileged thanks to his track star status. But he’d never misused it before. Huh.
Stephanie went to leave as well, then paused and caught my eye. “Even you have to admit that’s tacky, Veronica. Chasing a guy so soon after his girlfriend’s gone.”
My jaw dropped. “I’m…. I’m not interested in him!”
Stephanie rolled her eyes at me. “Whatever. You and that JJ are as bad as each other.”
She left while I was still temporarily speechless. “I’m not interested in Todd!” I shouted into the air in the now empty bathroom. Calming down, I pulled a face at my reflection. Fine. Yet another set of rumours about me to start circulating around. I could deal; I’d certainly heard worse this last year.
I stormed off to my next class, hoping no-one I knew crossed my path. I was so in the mood to bite someone’s head off right now.
By the end of my second class, I’d cooled down enough to act civilised. Bolting out of Spanish, I zipped through the crowds trying to get to where Todd was coming out of his class. Unfortunately, there was no sign of him at all. Perhaps I shouldn’t have spoken to Scott at all – thinking about it, I had no doubt that Scott had tipped him off.
Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one frustrated; JJ stood a little bit down the corridor also eagerly scanning the exiting crowd. I smiled tightly and moved in on Jennifer Johnson.
“JJ?” I whispered conspiratorially, even doing the obvious eye sweep around. “Todd said to tell you he’ll meet you in the music room down the corridor.”
JJ blinked once, smiled tightly at me, muttered thanks and headed off at high speed. Sucker.
JJ was peering eagerly around the room when I clicked the door shut behind me and leaned against it. Hearing the door close made her head shoot round, and I witnessed quite a few emotions cross that expressive face of hers.
“Or was that I’d like a word with you in the music room?” I smiled pleasantly, “It’s all those late nights of mine. I swear I’ll forget my head one day.”
Her face took on a guarded look. “What do you want, Veronica?”
I took a step towards her and rested my arms on the back of a chair. “I just want to know what’s going on with you and Todd. Why all the following him around?”
Her face hardened. “That’s none of your business, Veronica. And I’m not following him!”
I sighed. Why do they always have to make things hard for me? I pulled out a copy of the photograph from yesterday. “Well, will you look at this? Is that your car leaving school last night directly
after Todd? Some sort of big cosmic coincidence, is it?”
I paused, and held one finger in the air in a dramatic pose. “Oh! And let’s not forget the girl gossip network says you’re throwing yourself at Todd.” I watched JJ’s face fall – looked like I might owe Stephanie the bitch thanks after all. Dammit.
“Bullshit,” she managed to grit out, “Circumstantial at best.” I was impressed. Maybe we had a budding lawyer here. All she needed was ‘flimsy’ and she’d have been a dead ringer for Cliff.
Time to pull out the big gun. “Oh well, guess you won’t mind me asking Todd then,” I said casually, folding the photograph away in my bag.
“No!” she exclaimed. “Please don’t!” She stepped forward over to where I was standing, her face showing a variety of emotions. Swallowing a couple of times, JJ asked “Promise me you won’t say anything to Todd? Please?”
“Fine,” I said, rolling my eyes and crossing my fingers, “Spill.”
She sighed and sat herself down in a chair. “This could take a while. Okay… you know Todd’s family wasn’t always rich, right?”
JJ smiled somewhat sadly and carried on. “Well, they used to live next door to me and my mom, so Todd and I used to play together as kids. Anyhow, when Todd’s dad got that big government payoff, he moved his family down to Neptune, and because my mother and Todd’s got on so well, he hired Mom to be his secretary on his consulting job.”
I nodded again. I knew the McArthurs hadn’t always been rich, and I’d heard about JJ’s mother bringing her up by herself, but all told this was really nothing new. “Go on, JJ.”
“Todd and I grew up together. I was the older one, so I always had to be the one looking after him. We’re like brother and sister, Veronica! I wouldn’t do anything to Todd!” JJ’s voice went up a bit at the end of that sentence. I think someone
was fooling herself a little too much there.
JJ slumped forward in the chair, and looked up at me. “It’s just…. I’ve always kept an eye on him. It’s just automatic now, and especially after his mother died.”
I blinked. “Todd’s mother died?”
JJ’s forehead furrowed. “Two months ago. Car crash. You didn’t hear?”
“I’ve been… a bit busy… these last few months.” And not exactly in the gossip stream until fairly recently. I pressed on regardless. “So, what was with the WWE catfight with Casey last month?”
JJ’s face spoke volumes about just how much of a bitch Casey had been. “Let’s just say that I didn’t think much of Casey.” Our eyes met in a moment of perfect understanding.
“Todd’s been acting a bit odd since his mother died, throwing himself into lots of track meets. I thought he just needed time by himself.” JJ grinned humourlessly. “Casey thought he was seeing me.”
I grinned too, and with the same lack of humour. That was Casey alright. Blessed with a total lack of moral sense, a loud set of lungs and a rich daddy. Not so sadly missed.
The door behind us opened and two girls came in talking about the latest boyband. Giving us a quick look and a sniff of disapproval, they sat down and stared at us, willing us to leave. Personally I’d have stayed just to be bloody minded, but JJ wasn’t quite so tough.
Scrambling to grab her bag, she fled, pausing only to beg me one last time. “Don’t say anything, Veronica. Please?”
I sighed internally. I was going to regret this, wasn’t I? “Okay, JJ. I won’t say anything for the moment.”
I scowled at the girls in the corner, and then made a graceful exit. Pausing outside in the corridor, I considered JJ’s story. It rang true, so regretfully I crossed her off my mental list of people to interrogate. Now, where was Todd hiding?
I looked at my watch, and blanched. Crud, I was going to be late for History with Robin Wood. Launching myself along the corridor, I sprinted down and careened round the corner dodging past Cassie Bishop and Kate Lang. Sprinting up the next corridor, I shot round the next corner.
I breathed a sigh of relief as the History class door came in sight, totally missing Madison Sinclair kicking her bag out into my path. I tripped and fell, smacking straight into the next nearest person, and sending them tumbling down with me.
Somehow entangled with them, I swore loudly and pushed the hands away with more force than was really necessary. Madison and I had a long and adversarial conflict over this last year, and the bitch had managed to pick a very public arena this time. Someone was going to pay.
My unlucky companion on the floor behind me managed to get to his feet, and started to pull me up as well. “What?” I snarled, “Just because I landed on you is no excuse for trying to cop a free feel!”
Logan Echoll’s face went blank for a millisecond, before breaking out into that psychotic grin of his. “As the lady insists…” he said semi-politely, and promptly let go, dropping me back down on my butt.
Watching him stalk off into class, I stared after him. There went our strange fragile détente that we’d achieved over these last couple of weeks. Not good. Not good at all. I shot Madison one last glare promising extreme misfortune coming her way soon, and went into History.
End part five