The time: 4:43, pm. The place: the Mars’ kitchenette. The crime: the forging of a parental signature. The culprit: one Veronica Mars.
The witness-most-definitely-not-an-accomplice: a Mr. Wallace Fennel.
“It’s for a good cause, Wallace.”
He can feel his eyebrows migrating all the way up to his hairline.
“You ever notice how when you say something like that, it always goes bad? For me, specifically. It goes bad for me.” He pauses, before adding, “And I don’t even know if keeping you out of detention is that good a cause.”
“Of course it is. “Veronica barely glances his way. “And I don’t see how it going badly for you is even a remote possibility here, because this has nothing to do with you.”
“Oh, I know it doesn’t,” he drawls, crossing his arms for good measure. “I know I won’t get pulled into your shenanigans this time, even when you give me the eyes and the tilt and the hair flip. But I also know that when this blows up in your face, what I’m going to hear at home is, ‘Wallace, what were you thinking, sitting there all innocent while Veronica Mars was doing that? And don’t even try to tell me you didn’t know, mister, because you and I both know you did’. And then I don’t get to play that new video game I blew a majority of my paycheck on.”
“You do a shockingly good Mama Fennel,” Vee compliments him as she leans over the page. Follows it up with a not at all contrite, “And I told you not to buy that video game.”
“Just because Weevil can get one through some shady deal does not mean I wasted my money.”
She glances up at him before turning to her handiwork. “Kinda does, actually. Your money is going mostly into the company’s coffers, and you know it.”
He pushes away from the table, and circles around her. Finds the cookies she’s baked, and pours himself a glass of milk. “I’m not getting into this with you. I bought it, I want to play it, and it is the first thing that’s gonna get taken from me when your dad decides this is the kind of thing to tell my mom over dinner as some kind of funny kid story.”
She glares at him, and he stares back at her, maintaining the raised eyebrows as he slides back into his seat and pops a cookie into his mouth. “Why are you assuming I’m going to get caught?”
“Because,” he enunciates around the snickerdoodle, “The only one better at this than you is the other Mars. And you’re trying to pull a fast one on him.”
“I’m going to pull a fast one on Clemmons,” she retorts. “Dad is barely involved in this. And I would get his actual signature on this paper informing him of some of my supposed transgressions, but he’s not here right now to do it.”
“I’m pretty sure you did do those things. Mostly because I was there with you when you did those things.” She rolls her eyes at him, and he groans at her complete lack of remorse. “And I’m also pretty sure he was home for the rest of the week, and that you’ve been waiting for him to get a job taking him conveniently out of town.”
Vee’s eyes narrow, and Wallace grins. “Tread carefully, Fennel, or else you’re going to be looking elsewhere for help when you need a favor.”
He shakes his head.
“You wouldn’t turn me away. Because you love me,” he sing songs at her, resisting the urge to bounce triumphantly at her ruffled feathers.
“Wallace,” she begins softly, and his smile widens as he eats another cookie. “My dear, sweet Wallace. You’d be surprised at how vindictive I can be.”
He snorts at that, and she grins back at him.
“Alright,” he gives. “Lemme see what you’ve got.”
She pushes the paper toward him, along with the sample. He has to admit, it’s a perfect copy. The likelihood she’s going to get caught is probably minimal. He tells her that, reluctantly.
“I’ve been doing Dad’s signature for a while now, so it’s not like this is hard,” she throws out, it shrugging off. He head tilts back at her. “Someone has to send out invoices while he’s away.”
If he didn’t know her so well, he wouldn’t notice the little tremor in her voice. But, he thinks, he does know her that well. And just like that, this is something else. Something beyond not getting to play that video game.
“When’s he coming back, anyway?” She folds the letter home from Clemmons back up, sticks in her bag.
“It’s just a bail jumper. Two, maybe three days.” She shakes out her hair at him, and side eyes him over her shoulder. “Why? You worried about me, Fennel?”
“Nah,” he tells her. “More worried for this town. Who knows what you’re going to do while he’s gone.”
“Curl up with a pit bull, and maybe spend almost obscene amounts of time with Neptune’s star basketball player?” she floats, and he nods quickly.
“Yeah, of course.” He ducks his head down. “My mom’s ordering some pizza tonight. Something about a hell week at work, even though it’s only Wednesday. You could come around, eat a slice or three dozen, and enjoy that satellite tv I know you love so much.”
She smiles at him, real and big, and he puffs up. “I wish I could, but I can’t. Not tonight. I’ve got a stake out at the Camelot, and I need to do some research for that history paper we’ve got.” She grabs her messenger bag, and stands up. “Want to come with me while I run this to the high school, drop it in Clemmons’ mail box?”
Mimics her stance, and meets the almost purely guileless eyes. “You mean, ‘Wallace, you want to help me sneak into Clemmons’ office so I can do whatever it is I need to do on that case I’m pretending I don’t have’?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she shoots back, and he rolls his eyes at her.
“Like three different kids have been in your private office this week, and if you think I haven’t noticed that, you’re wrong.”
“You are quickly on your way to becoming a master, young padawan,” Vee intones. “There’s some weird rumor going around about dance competitions. I’m staying out of it.”
“But?” He leads.
“But,” she answers, “it would be interesting to see if Ms. Hauser’s position as dance coach means that some of the more promising dance team participants are getting ahead in classes based solely on their ability to jazz pirouette.”
“So, ‘Wallace -’”
“Fine. Wallace, you want to help me sneak into Clemmons’ office so I can look at how the top dance team performers are doing academically now that Hauser is coach as opposed to their standings, say, a year ago?”
“Was that so hard?”
She leans closer. Head tilts harder. “Is that a yes?”
“It is a conditional yes. And the condition is that you come over and eat pizza with me.”
She groans. “Wallace, William Vanderhausen is paying Mars Investigations a lot of money to get evidence that Lucille Vanderhausen is shtupping her lamaze coach.”
He nods. “I understand. Why wouldn’t you want to watch a pregnant woman getting it on when there’s R rated movies on television and margherita pizza to be eaten?”
“Your mom is not going to let us watch R rated movies in her living room.”
“You’re right,” he grins. “We’d probably just end up watching a kid’s movie with Darrell, and I know how much you hate that.”
She grabs her keys, and he sneaks another handful of cookies before he jumps up and follows her out.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were feeling sorry for me,” she says warningly.
“Nope,” he shoots back. “Just feeling sorry for myself. You know, I’ve got this best friend and she’s just work work work work work. All the time. Can barely hang out with the girl without her running some kind of scam or scheme or another.”
“Is that so?”
“Well,” she starts as they each get in her car, “I guess I can catch Lucille in the act later tonight. Maybe eat some pizza.”
“Let’s get this dance team fun done, then. I gotta catch Mom before she orders. Let her know we need a whole second pizza.”
“I don’t eat that much,” she tells him huffily and he snickers as they peel away from her apartment.
The time, he thinks: 5:04 pm. The place: a slightly worn LeBaron. The crime: sneaking into Vice Principal Clemmons’ office. The perpetrators: a duo, Mars and Fennel. Fennel and Mars.
The way, he thinks, it should be.
Worth every bit of lost video game time.