"I thought you'd be asleep by now," Veronica said when she came home. She and a couple of the girls had gone to get something to eat after their shift. It had gotten later than she realized, so she was surprised to see Clarence on the couch. She thought for a minute he'd fallen asleep, but he turned to look at her almost as soon as she came in.
"I was waiting for you," he said, glancing at his watch.
"You know we're not really dating, right? It's just an act for the job?"
He closed the book he'd been reading and rolled his eyes. He looked at her, assessing her she imagined. She wondered what he saw. Not that she cared necessarily, she was just kind of curious to know. She'd caught him off guard a time or two when they'd worked the same job. He was probably wishing he'd gone with another PI about now. And while it shouldn't, for some reason the idea of him working with someone else in this bothered her.
"Yes, Veronica, I'm aware. I expected you earlier. That's all."
"Oh," she said, not having thought of that. He was worried. Who knew Clarence could worry? She'd been surprised at being asked since it was her first night. She hadn't thought to call or anything.
"Is that your form of an apology?"
"Um, yeah, I'm sorry, I didn't think you'd worry."
"I promised your father I'd look after you. While the club is reputable there are deviants that hang out in places like that, looking for someone to prey on."
"I know, I know. A couple of the girls asked me to join them for dinner."
He stood from the couch then. "Did you learn anything?"
"Nothing useful. One of the dancers is involved with one of the bartenders, but I'm not sure which one. In either case. And evidently Penny, who I haven't met yet, called in sick today because she got implants done a couple of days ago."
"I don't care about their social lives or who has breast implants, Veronica. Did you learn anything useful?"
"No, I was just telling you what I learned, because if I leave something out and you find out later and tell me you could have used the information I'd scream."
"Is that your form of an apology?"
His lips quivered a bit. It wasn't a full-out smile, but for Clarence it was pretty close. As close as she'd ever seen anyway. They'd never been in a position to see one another smile. They were usually trying to outmaneuver or beat one another to the finish line. And not try to kill one another in the process. Well, she'd never tried to kill him. The same probably couldn't be said in return now that she thought about it. Would Jake Kane really have ordered her killed? No, Veronica never got the impression Lilly and Duncan's dad had a problem with her. His wife might have, especially before the blood test had been done.
"I guess so," he said dryly.
"So, anyway, that's tonight's report."
"Anything happen at the club?"
"No, nothing. I danced, I got tips."
"No one approached you?"
"No. One of the bouncers was in the dressing area when I got back there, but he didn't say anything to me. I assumed he'd gone to the bathroom or something."
She doubted anyone was going to approach her on her first night anyway. That would certainly be ideal and put an end to this charade she was having to live. In the meantime, she'd make some decent money if tonight was any way to judge. She came home with close to two hundred dollars just in tips. If she could make that every night. Well, it made her understand how other girls could be enticed into this type of work.
She gagged at the thought of dancing privately as a way to earn even more. She'd have to put those feelings on hold if she wanted to help Clarence solve his case, though. The plan was for Veronica to make it known she needed to earn as much money as she could to help pay for their wedding. Hopefully, whoever was encouraging the other dancers to moonlight away from the club would get word of it and approach her about earning some extra money.
The owner probably would have looked the other way, but one of the off-site customers seriously hurt one of the dancers. Enter Clarence Wiedman into the picture. And when he'd realized what the situation was, he'd enlisted the help of Mars Investigations. Veronica supposed she should be flattered Clarence thought she could pull this job off.
"Well, while you were out socializing…"
"Oh, please, it wasn't exactly my idea of fun."
"They weren't nice to you?"
"Well, yeah, they were, but they were nice to Sindy, not Veronica."
He chuckled then and walked toward her. "Just have fun with it. It's a game. This is for you," he said, reaching into his pocket. He placed a ring in the palm of her hand.
"Clarence, you shouldn't have," she said, picking the ring up and looking at it. "It's not bad."
"I got a good deal."
"Big spender," she said, giving his arm a playful slug. "Should I wear it to work? I can't wear it when I'm dancing."
"Keep it in your purse so if you go out again like tonight you have it on you."
"All right," she said, slipping it over her finger. "It fits."
"I guessed on the size."
"You're a good guesser then." She held her hand out in front of her. It certainly wasn't how she pictured herself getting an engagement ring. "Do I get to keep it?"
"If you want to, I have no use for it. I was going to pawn it when we were done."
"No girlfriend, Clarence?"
"No, I don't have time for girlfriends."
"Hmm," she said. "Any ex-wives?"
"If I don't have ex-wives…"
"You don't have to be married to have children."
"You've led a charmed life."
"Some would say."
"I've made my bed, I lie in it. My life is what it is. I don't regret the decisions I've made nor would I go back and change anything I've done. And I certainly don't dwell on things."
She nodded slightly. She could respect that. She always felt the people who said they would go back and do things differently were kind of wishy-washy. And would they really do things differently? Where would they end up if they did?
"I suppose that raises me back up to being a monster in your mind?"
"No, actually, the opposite really." She shrugged. "I've done a few things I'm not too proud of, acted rashly or too quickly and people got in trouble."
"And you don't regret it?"
"Not really. I mean, if the people weren't acting or doing something suspicious to begin with I wouldn't have pointed a finger at them. Not that it compares to the type of stuff you've done."
"You have no idea what I've actually done."
"I have some."
"And those would be works of fiction with no tangible proof unless you have evidence."
"Getting defensive, Clarence? Have I struck a nerve?"
"No, but you cannot take our previous encounters merely at face value. I was doing my job."
"I know, and thought you were protecting Duncan in the process." She glanced at him. "I find it hard to believe you bought that Duncan did it hook, line and sinker."
"Evidence pointed that way, and I had to do what his parents wanted me to do."
"So, if you'd known from the beginning…?"
"The Kane's would have wanted to avoid a scandal."
"So, things would have gone down the same way. More or less."
"More or less," he said with a shrug. "They would have wanted to protect Logan who had already lost one parent."
"Don't even get me started on that one…"
"Not convinced she jumped?"
"It seemed too neat, but I haven't gotten a hit on one of her credit cards since Trina stopped using them so I guess I have to believe maybe she really did."
"You still have her cards flagged?"
"Yes," she said simply.
His eyes softened a little then. "I would do the same thing," he admitted.
"Yes, if it involved a friend. And having them flagged doesn't harm anything."
"Do you have friends, Clarence?"
"I have had a few here and there, yes."
"So have I eased your mind that I'm not a complete monster?"
"I don't know there's anything you can do to convince me of that just like I doubt you'll stop thinking of me as a pain in the ass, but I don't think you're as bad as I thought all those times."
"That's good to know."
"No denying the pain the ass remark?"
"My mother told me never to tell a lie."
"Right, I'm sure she did," Veronica said wryly.
"At least I haven't labeled you an annoyance."
"There is that."
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