Word Count: 3,535
Notes: Does anybody remember this? Heck, I barely do. But I thought it’d be fun to revisit in light of the holiday spirit... Or, something like that. Apparently, I’d overthought things *way* too much for a first-person narrative. Still, it was both easier and more difficult to write than expected... Weird, huh? Briefly alludes to The Girl Next Door but the meat of it comes from An Echolls Family Christmas ...Are there any other episodes I should try backtracking? I’m just afraid that I won’t be able to do the next one justice.
I have to admit, I’m actually not that big a fan of the upcoming season. That's Mom's department, really. She loved to go overboard with the decorating and food and presents. As for us guys, we kinda started sticking random stuff onto this cheap plastic tree he’d picked up one day at the drugstore. I dig into a nearby cardboard box and discover some sort of popsicle-stick monstrosity. The downside to being an only child is that no one else could possibly be responsible for horrific projects like those. Dad unearths a bunch of Padres memorabilia and practically dances around in glee. I raise an eyebrow at him. “It’s funny, some people actually believe this time of year is more about the birth of Christ and not baseball.” He looks sternly at me and ways his finger. “We’re all entitled to our own religions, Logan.” I crack a grin and ask him what he wants this year. He replies without missing a beat, “Your love and respect.” I throw up my hands in exasperation and tell him to pick something that can be gift-wrapped. He just pats me on the head. “Save your money. I don’t need anything.” Well, what kind of a crap answer is that?
At school, I hand Wallace a brochure I‘d managed to snag at the local travel agent's office that morning. He looks it over and snorts, "Some fantasy camp. I was expecting more along the lines of a Playboy mansion getaway." I give him a shrug. "As far as my dad's concerned, it's the next best thing." He carefully examines the fine print. "Yeah, but where are you gonna suddenly come up with..." His eyes practically bug out as he yelps, "You've gotta be kidding me! THREE GRAND? You're not gonna find THAT in the couch cushions!" I roll my eyes in response and deadpan, "Shucks. Well, there goes my backup plan. You know what, money is wasted on the wealthy. If I was..." Just then, Duncan starts to confront Weevil and his gang in the middle of the hallway. That’s not exactly something you see every day. I wait for the shoving to stop and casually walk up. Lucky for Donut, he isn’t sporting a black eye or bloody nose. I go, “So what was that all about?” He kinda deflates and tells me that there had been a poker game held at Veronica’s the other night. Weevil ended up winning the entire pot, but it was nowhere to be found. So he’d pretty much been going around and collecting pricey things to hold as collateral. I ask him, “Why the big fuss? What’d he take of yours?” He hesitates slightly and replies, “Not mine.” I freeze at that. “You mean…” He nods his head. “Yeah… Lilly’s.” He backs away a little at the look on my face and pleads, “Can you do anything about it?” Damn straight I will.
I find Weevil playing craps in study hall. “Well, at least you‘re predictable. Gambling addiction much?” He just laughs in my face. “See you‘ve heard about my little... adventure in the 09-er zip. Anyways, what‘s it to you?” I give him a hard look and say, “I‘ll get you the money. All you have to do is return everything.” Then I futilely try appealing to his sense of logic. “If any of them decide to press charges, you’re gonna get busted for this. Why don’t you let me handle it?” He flutters his (amazingly girlish) eyelashes at me. "Thank you, Logan. Please protect me from those big, bad argyle-wearing rich kids! In what alternate universe does it it look like I need your help?" I turn to leave and his voice stops me at the door. "Of course, they’d probably stop losing their stuff if I get my five grand back." I ask him why he even attended it in the first place. Figure it might be a little more polite than saying outright, "Umm. How?"
Turns out he'd heard about the high-stakes game and decided he wanted some of that action. So one day, he walked up to Veronica at her locker. She told him (with an angelic smile, I'm betting) "If you're asking me to prom again, the answer is still no." Weevil took out a wad of cash and waved it in her face. "Thousand-dollar buy in… right, princess? I've got the money, so what's the problem?" She snarked, “But property values would surely suffer if anybody were to see you in my house without a leaf-blower or skimmer of some sort!” He retorted, “What about me? I could get lost in one of those clean, well-lit streets and get bored to death.“ Then he changed tactics and went, “I wanna come up with enough to buy my grandma a nice vacation this year. The one who cleans for you, remember? C’mon, don’t be like this.“ She finally conceded. “Well then, you’d better bring your A game. As I recall from detention, you’re a lousy bluffer.” He replied, “That‘s what I wanted you to think.” So she called out a parting shot, "We don't take food stamps!" Good ol’ Ronnie. Always has to have the last word.
Weevil continues to grouse. "She musta thought I was just some dumb Mexican her friends could sucker." I raise an eyebrow in reply. "Well, I know for a fact that nobody left the house with it. She could've hidden it anywhere. And she had the opportunity." Apparently Sean Friedrich was being his usual pretentious self when then the legendary Lynn Echolls made a poolside appearance, complete with string bikini. All of the guys got up to ogle her, even Duncan. Heh. Connie Larkin was away on yet another bathroom break, so that left Veronica sitting alone with the cashbox. He grumbles, "The money was in that house somewhere. I’d have torn it apart if I wasn’t sure they’d call the cops on me.” He stalks off and I move onto my next quarry.
Duncan’s working on some layout in journalism. I walk up to him and go, “Just finished talking to Weevil. So tell me, were you expecting to see him there? Did Veronica give you any kind of warning?” He replies, “Not really. All she said was that she'd finally found a replacement for Chester, who’d been out sick. When Weevil arrived, she sorta stuffed some Oreos into my mouth and whispered for me not to make a fuss.“ Which of course, he didn’t. After all, the Donut has a major sweet tooth. Plus, he’s totally whipped. She also made a little joke to him while rolling up the cash. "Don't worry, there's no way in hell I'm letting him walk out with our money!" Only, maybe she wasn't kidding.
I arrive home and Dad hands me a sealed envelope. “Run this by the Echolls’ place, will you? I need Lynn to sign and initial a few papers.” I glance at it quizzically. “Does she have you on a case or something?” He shrugs his shoulders. “Yeah, since this morning.” I reply, “ It‘s a good thing I‘m already headed that way. Or I would be severely inconvenienced.“ He gives me a pleased look. “Well, is that so? The two of us had been noticing how you two kids never seem to hang out with each other too much these days.” I roll my eyes and say, “It‘s just a favor. We‘re not going to be sporting best friend charms anytime soon.” He opens his mouth right as the phone rings and I quickly take the opportunity to make my retreat.
It looks like a tornado decided to randomly strike the pool house. I spy a tiny blonde head bobbing behind the counter and remark, “Planning on giving your cleaning lady a good punking? Veronica looks up in frustration. "This is why I suggested attack dogs. But no, my mother wanted an alpaca!" I reply with a grin, “Just here with paperwork for your mom.” She swats the hair out of her eyes. "Aww, and you just wanted to say hi? Well, it's a good thing I don't have my slam book out!" I begrudgingly admit, “And I‘m also here to question you about the game.” She smiles icily at me. "You know, I've been meaning to ask you something as well. Did your uh, super-sleuth kit come with a decoder ring? Do you have a pen that writes with invisible ink? Or a Dick Tracy wristwatch? Guess I just need to start looking harder in my cereal boxes. And that’s pretty much all I have to say, thank you. Scram! Mush, mush!"
I roll my eyes and turn to leave. "Wait, maybe you should try talking to Connie first." I do a double-take. "As in, Larkin? The internationally famous singer/actress?" She rolls her eyes. "Yes, that one. Don’t worry, she's quite mortal. They just airbrush her really well." I go, "Isn't she doing another movie with your father?" She waves dismissively at me. "More like, fifty-million-dollar crap pile. Semantics, really." I raise my eyebrow in skepticism. "And pray tell, why would Connie steal the money?" She lets out a forced laugh. "Oh, everybody's got their issues." Then she gives the air a deliberate sniff. "Plus, I think she's kinda got something against me." The topic of discussion was Catherine Zeta-Jones, whom apparently Connie had a passing acquaintance with. Veronica piped up that unlike Weevil's people, movie stars don't all know each other. For some reason, Connie took offense at the remark. Veronica retorted, "Oh my god! Does the soapbox come with a SAG card?" Connie countered with, "Is this because Marc Anthony thought you were a guy?" Apparently, he'd been a little confused by her nickname because he ended up handing her a gift-wrapped GI Joe. Sean commented that Connie truly is the daughter that Aaron Echolls never had. Ouch. What a prick. Then Connie's cell went off and she headed straight for the lavatory.
Veronica finishes her tale with a flourish. "So unless that's her Pavlovian response to a downloaded ringtone, I'll bet she was up to something. Either that, or she has a bladder the size of her brain." I quip, “Easy on the claws there! I'd be more than happy to question her, but I've kinda got a feeling she's not exactly the easiest person to get to. You know, probably has a team of bodyguards to protect her from guys like me." She rolls her eyes at me. "Seriously, I don't get it." Then she speed-dials the studio. "Hi, it’s Veronica Echolls. I was wondering if you could get my uh, friend a drive-on today to see Connie? Yeah, Logan Mars. No, L as in loser? Thanks, you're a prince!" I give her a smirk. “Look at you, being all helpful." She shrugs in response. "What can I say? An excuse to get you out of here and drive somebody else nuts instead? Two birds, one stone.” She practically pushes me out the door. “Now, shoo! Go! Annoy like the wind!”
I get to the set and almost run into Connie Larkin as she's getting her hair styled for a lingerie shoot. Her smile might be insured for million, but her figure's gotta be worth at least twice that much. Damn. I repeat, damn. She points at the cup I'm holding. "Is that my tea?" I offer her it. "Umm, how about coffee? Straight black." She sweetly wrinkles her nose. "Umm, no… I can't have any for at least a week. But if you're not a gofer then..." Her eyes go round and I hastily admit, "Veronica sent me. See, you were at her poker game last weekend and..." She lets out a deep sigh of relief, and I struggle to keep my eyes on her face. "Oh, yes… I remember now! It was really fun, until that poor kid got his money stolen." I snort inwardly at the description and ask her who she suspected. Apparently, only the delivery guy was able to leave with any cash. Duncan could barely take out his own wallet and Sean refused to chip in for beer. What a tightwad. Then they all argued over how much to tip and surprise, Class Valedictorian Donut came up with the right amount. Connie wistfully concludes that pretty much anyone could have gotten their hands on the dough. As her cell rings, I surreptitiously whip my own out to call Wallace. Luckily, he’s still at the attendance office and manages to pull up Sean’s file. I give Connie one last appreciative look and reluctantly leave.
I go up a long, winding driveway to arrive at the biggest mansion I’ve ever seen. That‘s really saying something, since I’ve been over to both Duncan’s and Veronica’s places. I knock on the door and a dignified man wearing Armani opens up. It’s Friedrich senior. I politely ask him if his son has arrived yet, making up an excuse on the spot about homework or something. He then informs me that Sean isn’t permitted to receive any visitors at home. I tell him that it’ll just take a minute, but then he conveniently gets called away. In frustration, I return back to my car.
Hoping for a better lead, I corner Sean the next day as he’s getting dropped off by a fancy town car. Before I can say anything, he starts bitching about how his Rolex got filched. Boo frigging hoo. I actually defend Weevil’s actions, which is surely another sign of the apocalypse. He reveals that Weevil had made everyone strip down and went through all their stuff. While my mind tries to digest this, he adds that two girls searched each other. Still… I get back to the subject at hand and bluntly askj him if he thinks Weevil stole the money himself. He simply shrugs and remarks that Weevil was down to his last two chips right as Lynn Echolls came on the scene. I point out that he hadn’t been doing too hot at the time either. The bell rings and he gives me a condescending smirk. “The difference is, I don’t need the money.” Yeah, but too bad it can’t get him a complete personality transplant.
At lunch, I impartially observe the 09-ers squabbling over pizza. Looks like Duncan and Veronica are having a little tiff. Wallace comes up and waves a hand in front of my face. “You‘re gonna hurt yourself, thinking that hard.” I continue to stare at them. “You know, I may have finally found a way to send my dad to that baseball thing.” He shakes his head at me. “Right, and they’re dedicating a statue to me in the main lobby.“ I just roll my eyes and get up. “Just watch the master at work.”
I walk over to the sacred table and help myself to some pizza while announcing, “Good and bad news… I know who stole the money.” Everyone turns around in their seats. “Yeah… that’s pretty much it. So my plan is to have Ronnie here host another game. Tonight.” She bites out, “My mother is hosting an event. And even if she wasn‘t, I‘d still say no.” I slide onto the bench, causing her to recoil. “What, no BYOB? Here’s how it’s going down. I’ll tell you who did it and you’ll buy me into the game.” She snarls, “I’m thinking no.” I innocently shrug my shoulders. “Hey, I just thought the rest of you might want your stuff back.” Duncan hastily pipes up, “I’ll cover his share.” I pat him on the back and turn to leave. “Thanks, man. See you at eight?” Veronica goes, “What makes you so sure we’ll all go along with this?” I flash her a highly amused grin. “Because anyone who doesn’t is obviously the thief. Kind of a no-brainer.” The look on her face is priceless.
The Echolls definitely went all out this year. I have to trudge through at least a foot of fake snow in order to get to the pool house. Veronica greets me with, “I see little dumber boy’s finally arrived. Can we get on with it now?” I snort aloud. “You had the entire evening, and that‘s your best shot?“ Weevil offers me a beer. I tell him I’d rather have something with a little more kick and reach for Duncan’s bottle of JD. He protests weakly as everyone watches me slug it down. Then I wipe my lips and proclaim, “Nothing hits the spot quite like iced tea.” He turns red as I continue, “Donut here can’t even remember the alphabet when he drinks, much less figure out how much to leave as a tip. But did he play drunk to steal the cash? Nope, he was trying to WIN it. Which obviously didn’t work.” I wink over at Veronica. “Oh, and Connie isn’t doing blow. I know, what with her constant visits to the restroom and whatnot. Turns out, it wasn‘t for a fix. It‘s because of all the tea she drinks, which acts as a diuretic to promote quick weight loss. I personally think she doesn’t need it, but then again I’m not appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair.” She gives me a grateful little smile. I walk over to Veronica and go, “Then there was bachelorette number three. And she’s got it all… motive, access, cunning?” She shoots me a frosty glare. “Weevil had her pretty much cleared. He’d already searched the place, but not as thoroughly as he had wanted to. When I saw it, the place looked like it’d been raided by the FBI. And I know Ronnie is always as fastidious as possible, so… She must’ve been looking for the money too.“ Out of the corner of my eye, I watch her slowly relax. Lousiest poker face ever.
Then I move on to the end of the table. “Now, it all comes down to these two. Richie Rich versus 8 Mile. Wanna know just how Sean pulled it off?” I take off my jacket and remark, “He’s a sly one. Friedrich didn’t bring the Bigmouth Joes because he’s cheap. Well, that wasn’t the only reason. But he didn’t leave with the five grand either. What happens to the garbage around here? He just waited for the recycling to go out so he could do some dumpster diving.” Veronica huffs, “That doesn‘t make any sense. He’s got a chauffeur that drives him to school every day!” I counter with, “Funny thing. When I was over at his place, his dad answered the door. In a suit. At three in the afternoon. Now, why would he be doing that unless… it was his job?” I chuckle at everyone’s reaction. “You know, I was this close to saying that the butler did it. But nope… merely his son.” He snarls defensively, “That doesn’t prove anything.” I reply with a grin, “It doesn’t? Only that you’re a liar and the background check I ran shows you’ve also got something of a shoplifting problem. As in, you’re really bad at it.” The worm turns to Weevil (sounds like a winning documentary to me!) and pleads, “I can totally pay you. There‘s no need for physical violence, okay?” He hauls the traitor out in response and sneers, “I’d rather discuss this in private.” At which I pick up the deck while quipping, “Where’s the popcorn when you need it?”
Weevil returns a little later, and I deal out the cards. My uncle in Vegas taught me everything I need to know about calculating odds and bluffing. Soon, I’ve got nearly half the pot. Connie shoots me a flirty smile and asks, “How old are you again?” Veronica bites out, “He’s a minor.” Connie grins mischievously and prods, “So when’s your birthday?” At which Veronica rolls her eyes and announces, “I think we could all use a break by now. Get something to eat, watch the carolers perform, let the cosmos realign...” Everyone agrees and we head for the mansion.
I'm loading my plate with hors d’oeuvres when Connie sidles up to me. “So as I was saying…” Right then, my dad frantically rushes by. I excuse myself and follow, managing to grab his arm. “Hey, what is it?” He turns around and shakes me off. “Not now, Logan. I’ve got to…” At that exact moment, commotion breaks out in the ballroom. We race over to see one of the caterers screaming, “You promised me you’d leave her! But no, you never gave a damn about my love! And now…” Then she takes a nearby ice pick and stabs Aaron Echolls in the gut. Dad lunges forward and tackles her to the ground as Veronica runs in. I hiss at her to call 911 but she freezes up. So I pry the cell from her hands and do it myself. The sheriff arrives and lines us all up to take statements. Not exactly how I expected the night would end. But then again, I shouldn’t have been surprised. No matter how much you try to dress it up with lights and tinsel and ice sculptures, Christmas in Neptune is just like every other day.