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Best Served Cold

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“Veronica, I need your help.”

The voice on the other end of the line is shaky, and Veronica cradles the phone against her shoulder, thinking. In the past six months, she’s gotten used to phone calls from jilted wives and cuckolded husbands. Veronica, I need your help is different. It’s personal. It’s someone from her past, someone who probably remembers a version of Veronica who was comfortable -- even happy -- working in legal and ethical gray areas. But if it’s someone who’ll pay her father’s medical bills, she literally can’t afford to be picky.

“So tell me, mysterious person from my past, how can I help you?”

She hears a faint huff of laughter on the other end of the line. “This is Jackie. Jackie Cook, you know, Wallace’s --”

“I remember,” Veronica says, and there’s an awkward pause.

“Listen, I know that after everything that happened with Wallace, you probably don’t --”

“It’s alright. You don’t have to explain. We were all different people then.”

“Thanks, Veronica. Somehow I knew you’d come through.”

***

Jackie’s wearing a cream-colored business suit. Prada, Veronica would guess, and it probably cost more than Mars Investigations’ monthly revenue. And really, Veronica ought to stop that train of thought right there. If Jackie had made it big, good for her. Veronica could have done the same. And if she’d slept her way into designer clothes, well...Veronica’s got her boyfriend’s black card in her wallet too, even if she barely lets herself use it. Anyway, it’s hard to resent someone whose smile is as brittle as Jackie’s.

“Have a seat,” Veronica says, gesturing at the battered wooden chairs across from her father’s desk. “Dare I ask what brings you here? In my experience, nobody comes back to Neptune for anything good.”

“I thought I had,” Jackie says, sliding into the chair like it’s a gilded throne. “I worked my way through community college in New York. It wasn’t easy, but I got it done. And then I got into a business program at UCLA. I thought I had it made, teen mom success story. My dad’s friend had a beach house on the PCH halfway between here and LA that he let me stay in for free. His son was this high powered corporate lawyer, exactly the kind of guy I thought I wanted to end up with…”

“I take it that wasn’t the case?” Veronica asks.

“It seemed like it at first.” Jackie smiles wryly. “But as time went on, he got more and more jealous. At first, it seemed sweet, but then it got scary. I asked a guy for directions at a gas station, and he just lost it. Completely. Right in front of my son. It was hard to be single again, but I had to ask myself what I was teaching my son by staying.”

“So I’m guessing you’re not here to find out the difference between our silver and gold surveillance packages,” Veronica says. “Does he have something of yours, by any chance?”

“You could say that,” Jackie says, looking at the floor.

“Let me hazard a guess. You took some pictures just for the two of you, and now the world can see them.”

“You’re quite the pro, Veronica,” Jackie says, shaking her head. “I took the pictures early in our relationship. I know it was probably a terrible idea, but welcome to love in the smart phone age.”

“It’s not my business -- or anyone else’s -- what you do with your body. But I have to ask, if you know who posted the photos, what do you need a PI for?”

“You know, I wish everyone shared your attitude, Veronica,” Jackie says. There’s a hitch in her voice, but her eyes are defiant. “See, I don’t feel that I owe anyone an explanation. The company I interviewed with last week felt pretty differently though. And how can I tell my son why his friends’ moms won’t let them come to the house anymore? The world is a judgmental place. I just want to know what my options are.”

Veronica taps her pen against the desk. This is exactly the kind of work she’s not supposed to do, but she does know how judgmental the world is. Intimately.

“What sort of options are we talking about? You just want the pictures to come down? Or are we talking going through his hard drive, revealing his most intimate secrets to the world?” The thought is appealing, even if a sex tape, a stolen hard drive and a plan for vengeance had cost her dad his job and sent Veronica fleeing from Neptune.

“I don’t know, Veronica. He’s a lawyer, and if we break the law…”

“Yeah. I kind of did swear off the felonies.” Veronica shakes her head. The shitty thing about these cases is how often they fall through the cracks of the law. Maybe asking Mac to help delete the pictures is the best she can do. But if that’s the case, what did she spend all that money on law school for?

Veronica narrows her eyes. “Did you say that you took the pictures?”

Jackie nods. “Yeah. Does that matter?”

“It depends on how far you want to take this,” Veronica says. “You do have to register the photos with the federal trademark commission, but once you have, they’re legally yours. We can demand websites remove them, which they will because a few nude selfies aren’t worth the legal entanglement.”

“And if I want to take it further than that?”

“You can sue your ex for copyright infringement. It’s an unorthodox approach, but a Texas jury just awarded a woman half a million dollars.”

Jackie taps her fingers against the desk, looking thoughtful, but Veronica can see the excited gleam in her eyes. In another, less poisonous high school, they probably would’ve been friends.

“I suppose I should ask if there are risks to this plan,” she says.

“There are. Given the nature of the case, there may be a lot of publicity. And it’s safe to say your ex is going to do whatever he can to further damage your reputation. On the other hand, if we win, we set a legal precedent that could help thousands of other women facing your predicament. Not to mention the satisfaction of beating a lawyer at his own game.” Veronica wishes she weren’t so excited -- but, let’s face it, vengeance-fueled emotional death matches make her feel alive. At least she’s doing it legally this time.

And judging by the new glow in her eyes, Jackie’s game.

“What do I have to lose?” she asks. “My name’s already been dragged through the mud. I might as well get something for it. And I can teach him he can’t control me and help other women at the same time? I’m in.”