"No way did my father set me up to not just work with you, but to live with you!" Veronica said when she saw who answered the door at the address her father had provided her only a few hours ago.
Veronica looked up from her computer, pausing the search she was conducting at the sound of the door to Mars Investigations opening. She gave a smile when she saw it was her dad back from his meeting. He hadn't told her who it was with or where he was going. She'd even snooped in his appointment calendar but nothing was written down, beyond the time being circled in pencil.
Her smile fell a little when he didn't return it. Well, he did, just not as enthusiastically as usual.
"Uh oh," she said.
"I take it the meeting didn't go well?"
"No, it went well." He shrugged, letting out a sigh. "It was so much easier when I was sheriff. I couldn't let the knowledge that someone filing a report was bad influence my decision to investigate a case."
"Um, okay…" Veronica said, puzzled.
"It's not so easy here. I mean, we need the money and the client is sincere in wanting to hire us."
"So, what's the problem? He's a little shady? Come on, Dad, it wouldn't be the first time a client of ours walked the other side of the line of the law."
"The thing is," he said, taking a seat on the couch. "It involves you."
"Yeah, you'd be the investigator."
"Okay. That's a problem? I've done investigations on my own before." Her dad looked away and refused to meet her gaze even after several minutes of uncomfortable silence had passed. "What aren't you telling me?"
"The shady guy?"
"Right. He's been hired by this establishment to uncover who's enticing his employees to moonlight elsewhere. He wants me to put someone - you - inside to try and get information he may not be able to get."
"All right. I can do that. How hard can it be? What was she? A unicyclist in a circus or something I can't fake knowledge of."
"You'd be working as an exotic dancer."
"I'm sorry? I know I didn't just hear the words exotic dancer come from my father's mouth."
"You did," he said, sounding defeated. He ran a hand over the top of his head as he stood from the couch. "Just forget it. I'll tell him we can't do it, return the retainer."
"He gave you a retainer?"
"Yes," he said, sounding cautious.
"You didn't say that."
"Does it matter?"
"Well, yeah, a little," she said with a shrug, not sure why it mattered. Except that meant the guy was serious about obtaining their help. From what Veronica had ascertained, this was the first meeting between her dad and the client. Most people wouldn't bring a retainer to a first meeting unless they were serious.
"And he's promised to cover your expenses while on the job. Room and board, costumes for the job. Did I mention it's just skimpy clothes? No nudity? More like an upscale Hooters."
"Thank God," Veronica muttered.
"It's not here in Neptune. It's down in LA."
"So, I'd be living there?"
Her dad nodded. "Thus the offer of providing you with room and board. This goes above and beyond what I would expect you to do, Veronica."
"And if you were sheriff and I was a police officer and this case landed on your desk?"
"You'd want me to do it, though, right?"
He sighed, avoiding her eyes again.
"I'll do it," Veronica said. "I mean, does he know you have someone to use for the job?"
"Oh, he knows all right," he said softly. It sounded more like a mumble really.
"You sure you want to do this?"
"I'm sure. I mean, everyone has breasts so it's not like I'll be showing anything no one's seen before."
"I do not want to hear that!"
"Not mine, Dad! Just in general." The list wasn't overly long as far as who had seen hers up close and personal, but her dad didn't want to know that.
"I'll let him know and get the address for you."
"How does he know I'll get hired? I mean, I've never done anything like that before."
"That's good to know," her dad said with a wry smile. "He's been brought in as a bouncer by the owner who hired him. He's mentioned to the management he's involved with a dancer."
"Whoa! I'm involved with the guy, too?"
"Did I neglect to mention that part?"
"Yes, you did."
"It's just some undercover work, Veronica. And, honestly, I think - and I'm speaking as your father not as Keith Mars, Private Investigator - that you might be safer if they think someone on the inside is watching you extra closely."
"Are you going to change your mind?" he said, knowing she wouldn't.
"Do I have my own bedroom?"
"Yes, though it has to look like you actually share one with me. Believe me, Miss Mars, this isn't any easier for me to stomach than it is you, but this is a legitimate job or your father wouldn't have taken it," Clarence Wiedman said. They'd been on opposite sides of many a confrontation and argument. She certainly never saw the day coming they'd be working together instead of against one another.
"I'm so going to make sure my father is charging you his high-risk rate."
"I'm compensating not just your father but you quite well."
She clutched her bags tightly and stepped across the threshold. It should have felt creepier, making a deal with the devil. Nothing happened, nothing changed. She didn't feel like she'd just sold her soul.
"Does Mr. Kane know…"
"No, my workload with the Kane's has decreased immensely."
"Lucky for you, or you wouldn't have time to work as a bouncer at a titty bar."
She thought he saw a hint of a smile at that, but couldn't be sure. Did Clarence Wiedman know what a joke was? Or how to smile? She'd never thought about it before now.
"I can't believe my dad agreed to my living with you."
"It's an assignment, Miss Mars, not a marriage proposal. If you can't handle it then perhaps you should look for another line of work."
"I know what it is! And I'll do my job." They seemed to take one another in, an inspection of some sort. She'd never seen him like this, when lives weren't on the line. Or something wasn't at stake anyway. It was kind of odd to think of him sitting around the house, watching TV like a normal person. She'd just never stopped to think he had a life outside of making the lives of so many miserable. Hers included. "So, where do I put my stuff?"
"Upstairs. I have a room down here, so the entire second floor will be yours."
"But I have to come down here to eat and stuff?"
"I imagine you do," he said. He sounded amused not mocking.
"Fine," she said, fighting the urge to call her father and ask him if he'd gone insane. Instead, she followed him upstairs.
"This isn't bad," she said as she took in her surroundings. It wasn't a mansion or anything, but it was bigger than the apartment she shared with her father. She'd almost forgotten what living in a real house was like.
"I'm glad it meets your lofty standards," he said, pushing a door open.
"How did you come by it? I mean, you don't really live here?"
"I have a friend who knows a friend who happened to have this property standing empty."
"How convenient, but it's not bad."
"College students live here during the school year, I believe, and no one took it for the summer."
"Oh," she said with a nod.
"This will be your room. The others don't have much as far as furnishings go. Plus, this one has an attached bathroom, which I thought would appeal to you."
"No," he said simply.
"All right, thanks," she said, setting her bags down. Maybe the concept of an attached bathroom wasn't a big deal to him, but it sure was a selling point to her.
"I took the liberty of stocking your closet."
"You have an image to portray here; I had to be sure you had the right clothes."
"I know that. I just don't like the idea of you buying things for me."
"No more than I enjoyed doing it, I assure you. It was just a few things that fit going to and from the club." He stepped back into the hallway. "Now get settled and then come downstairs. I've managed to set up an audition for you in a couple of hours. We need to go over a routine for you."
"Dad said the job was mine."
"It's a formality, they just need to see you can actually dance. And have the equipment," he said, eyes dropping to her chest, "to attract the customers attention and keep it."
"I see," she said, fighting the urge to tug on the hem of her shirt so he couldn't see her breasts quite so well. She cleared her throat instead, glancing at him after she'd set her bags down as casually as she could. "Do you think that's going to be an issue?"
He chuckled then. "No, Miss Mars, I don't think that will be an issue at all."
"You have to get over the Miss Mars bit if we're going to be convincing as a couple."
"I'm aware of that. I'm trying to let you adjust to this. The outfit laid out on the bed was the one I thought was most conducive to your audition."
"Thanks," she said, turning back to her things once he'd left the room.
She took longer than necessary. The room wasn't that big and the clothes didn't have that much material. So, he'd know she was procrastinating. He'd even arranged for a cell phone for her. She presumed the numbers programmed in it went to this house and to his cell phone.
She turned hers off, sliding it in between the mattress and box spring of her bed. She hated doing it, but she knew that if that phone were found they'd be busted. Having people like Logan Echolls on her speed dial probably wouldn't go well to keeping their cover story.
She took the time to fix her makeup and hair before putting on what he'd set aside for her to wear. She could have argued, but he knew the club and she didn't. And she was here to get the job so that she could get the job she had been hired to do done.
There wasn't much. The tops of the stockings weren't hidden by her very short skirt. And the top? Well, she may as well not have been wearing one it was that skimpy. And see-through. She took a deep breath after checking herself out in the bathroom mirror.
"You can do this, Veronica. It's like a play!" She just wished she could perform the part in clothes she was comfortable wearing.
He was in the kitchen when she got downstairs. He turned, obviously having heard her come into the room. She saw him falter a little bit and smiled. If she could make Clarence pause, well, she must have been doing something right.
"Do I pass your inspection?"
"Thank you," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Let's practice this routine so we can get on with this job."
And she did just that. They also took the time to get a story together about them and their relationship. It turned out he'd been working as a bouncer for about three weeks now so he knew somewhat how things worked.
"I get to keep the tips?"
"Yes, Miss Mars."
"Veronica," she corrected. "My name is Veronica, Clarence."
"Well, let's get this show on the road. Just one question," she said, grabbing the purse he'd even thought to buy for her identity.
"I do get to wear normal clothes around the house and stuff, right?"
"Thank God. Let's go then."
"Wait for me when you've gotten out of the car."
"What? Why?" she asked.
"Because I don't want there to be any question we're together when you walk in there. The act starts as soon as we pull into the parking lot."
He scoffed. "No, Veronica, but I don't want anyone to get the idea that you could be theirs. I swore to your father I'd do whatever I could to protect you. I stand by my word, however questionable you think that word is."
"All right," she said, chewing on a piece of gum. The heels she wore were an inch too high to be comfortable. She could walk in them fine, but if she had to run a suspect down, she'd be in a heap of trouble.
She waited for him as directed in front of the car. He wore a suit. She wasn't sure why he got to wear a suit and she had to look like the slut from hell. It didn't seem fair. Of course it was a titty bar that catered to hetero men not women or gay men. She reached up, doing a girlfriendy thing and straightened his tie.
"Thank you," he said, a glimmer of amusement in his eye told her he knew exactly what she was doing. "Break a leg."
"Not literally I hope?"
"Of course not."
"With you I can't be sure."
"I'm going to put an arm around you now," he said.
"All right," she said. "Are you going to watch the audition?"
"I'll be in the room, but won't watch anymore than I have to," he said simply.
"Hmm. Don't you like girls, Clarence?"
"I don't want you nervous about my seeing you like that. On the other hand, I promised your father so I have to be there with you."
She snorted. "And you won't when you're working?"
"I'll be at the door, so no not much."
She glanced at him then. "You really mean that, don't you?"
"Of course I do. I'm a lot of things, but taking pleasure in putting someone's daughter in this position isn't one of them."
"I never would have thought."
"You don't know anything about me. You can't lump me into a stereotype based on actions I committed at the behest of someone who paid my salary. A very good salary I might add." He stopped at the doors to the club. There was more to what he did than merely being Jake Kane's go-to guy. They both knew that. "Enough talk about those things. You're on, Veronica. You did fine at the house. I've seen some of the other talent that works here."
"That's not saying much."
"You'll be fine. Just take a deep breath and do what we went over at the house." He opened the door, letting her pass through first. "And spit out your gum!"
"Yeah, yeah," she said, taking it from her mouth with her fingers and tossing it into a nearby ashtray.
It didn't take long for the manager to get right down to business. Clarence handed him the Adam Ant CD that had the song on it she'd danced to earlier at the house. She'd only heard Strip a couple of times over the years but it kind of suited the situation.
Clarence was true to his word. He feigned attentiveness, but his eyes were very rarely directed specifically at her. How did she know that? If you're not used to walking around in just a skimpy bra and panties in front of people you seem to have a homing beacon that knows exactly where every set of eyes was.
Of course, they waited until she was down to the bare minimum before asking her questions. She'd stood there answering their questions to the best of her alter ego's ability. Her stage name was Sindy. She'd rolled her eyes when Clarence had told her that, but it did kind of work she supposed. Certainly, it was a better stripper name than Veronica or Ronnie. Neither of which were very sexy sounding.
"You can start tonight?" The man seemed to be in charge asked the question.
"Sure," she said, sounding every bit the stereotypical blonde beach bunny. "Is that all right with you, pumkin?" She turned her gaze to Clarence who was doing his best to maintain eye contact with her.
"Yes," he said dryly.
"Then it's settled," she said sweetly. "I can start tonight."
"Do you know how to drive?"
"Of course I do. Why?"
"Just making sure you're not relying on your boyfriend to get you here every shift."
"Oh no. I just like getting driven around." She walked up to Clarence, running a fingertip over his arm. "I get to have more fun that way." She gave a giggle.
"Sin…" Clarence said.
"What, honey? I wasn't supposed to say that? I don't think they care what we do on our own time."
She chanced a glance in his eyes and saw that he was amused not upset. Good. She wasn't sure if she was taking it too far, but they'd decided that Sindy wasn't too much of an independent or deep thinker. Better to make people think that by talking around her was safe.
Details of pay, tips, expectations, and shifts worked out she and Clarence left with her having to be back in a couple of hours to work.
"That went very well," he said once they were by his car.
She dropped the large purse on the hood of his car and jumped up on it. She slid another piece of gum in her mouth.
"It wasn't that bad. I'm not sure how I'll feel later tonight knowing it's more than a handful of guys looking at me."
"I will say it again. You do not have to do this."
"I don't recall ever hearing you say it."
"I said it to your father. I made it clear to him I did not want you doing this out of obligation."
"A girl's got to have at least one juicy story to tell her grandkids. And, hey, it's summer break," she shrugged and grabbed for the end of his tie, drawing him toward her. He arched his eyebrow in surprise, but came willingly.
"In case they're watching," she said softly as she slid her legs around his thighs.
"There are no windows…"
"But they have cameras out here."
"Right," he said. Had she really noticed something he had missed? Or was he just having an off moment? Very little got past Clarence Wiedman. That was one of the things she liked about him. He kept her on her toes better than any other man she knew did.
And where had that thought come from?
"You knew I would do it. So don't go feeling guilty now. What's a little T&A for a good paycheck?"
"I'm glad you see it that way. I'm not so sure your father does."
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"You are an adult. He could not stop you from coming here even if he'd wanted to."
"He didn't have to come back from his meeting with you and tell me about it."
"True, but he's an honorable man. He would not have done that after giving me his word he would approach you about it."
"You think my dad's honorable?"
"Thank you," she said softly. There was something about knowing he didn't think her dad was a loser or a bumbling idiot that made her feel good.
She reached up and planted a kiss on his lips.
"Let's go then, Frankie." He rolled his eyes and drew away, offering her a hand so she could slide off the car with ease. "Thanks."
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