DISCLAIMER: I don't own these characters, Fox does. I'm only
taking them out for a test drive.
SERIES: This story follows on from After the Fall, it might help if you read that first before venturing forth.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Anything goes at this point.
"I can't believe this."
Billie and Sara were standing together at the base of the stairs that led to Billie's office, having finally come full circle from their walk around the perimeter of the Candy Store.
The lieutenant was accustomed to the stunned reaction of those who were seeing it for the first time. The rare and expensive cars, top of the line motorcycles, jet skis, and two recently acquired speed boats, were certainly enough to make anyone's jaw drop, particularly a person of Sara's ilk. As someone who'd spent most of their life coveting the type of material goods that filled the space around them so abundantly, she seemed all the more awestruck, truly able to appreciate the value of the building's contents.
"I know," Billie replied. "The LAPD pulls in quite a take. Most of what we seize gets sold at auction, but I thought it made more sense to use it, make it work for us. Giving our people the resources to dress themselves up gives them a better shot at getting the top guns."
Sara looked over at her. "And this place, all of this, you're in charge of it?"
"Yup." The brunette turned and started up the stairs. "Come on."
Still staring out over the room, Sara nearly stumbled as she followed Billie into her office. "Man, you would never be able to trust me alone in this place."
"Don't feel bad," Billie told her. "I don't trust anybody."
"And Van and Deaq actually get to use all of this stuff?"
"That's what it's here for."
"Jesus, maybe I chose the wrong profession after all."
"Obviously, I'd have to agree with you." Billie motioned to a chair in front of her desk. "Have a seat."
The lieutenant went around to the other side and began to busy herself, giving Sara an opportunity to take a long look around the room. This was Billie's domain, a place she was fairly certain she was never meant to see. It was also the only thing that could take her lover away from her, and she suddenly realized how much she resented it.
The Candy Store was Billie's other lover, and its hold on her was just as strong as Sara's own.
Billie had already powered up her computer, along with the large video screen on the wall behind her, when she felt Sara's gaze on her. She knew it was important to keep her emotions in check right now. Getting angry wasn't going to help. Neither was remaining silent. The young detective's proclivity for keeping secrets, something she believed would protect those around her, had nearly gotten Sara killed once before.
So, she was about to do the one thing she promised herself she'd never do.
"Okay." Billie got to her feet and carried her small computer over, taking the empty chair beside her lover. With a few quick taps, images began to appear on the screen. "That's Lena, whom you've already met," she announced, quickly switching slides until another familiar face appeared. "And that's her brother, Alexandr."
"He was at the restaurant," Sara said.
Billie nodded. "They have a very close relationship."
"What are they into?"
This was the part Billie really struggled with. Sara shouldn't know about the Verenkas. Knowledge was power, but it was also dangerous. "Primarily, they deal in weapons," she said with some reluctance.
"They sell them?"
"More of a go-between. They have connections in several countries. Access to some very sophisticated stuff."
Sara was stunned. "How the hell did Margo get involved with these people?"
"It could've happened exactly the way she said it did," the detective speculated. "Plenty of bad guys have legitimate businesses."
"Do you think there's anything going on at her place?"
"No," Billie said decisively. "I think it's just a restaurant."
"Then, it shouldn't be a problem for me to take this job," Sara said evenly.
Without bothering to reply, Billie called up another file.
The gruesome image appeared without warning and Sara immediately shut her eyes in revulsion. "Oh, God," she muttered.
The detective's voice was cool and detached. "That was Richie Bowens," she explained, hoping the horrible sight would leave a lasting impression. "He was an informant for the ATF."
Sara opened her eyes again, better prepared to take a longer look at the awful photo. It was the corpse of a young man lying atop an autopsy table, the view shown only from the shoulders up.
The right side of his head was nearly gone.
"Jesus," she breathed. "What happened to him?"
"Someone put a very big gun to his head and pulled the trigger," Billie answered simply. "We think that someone was Lena Verenka."
After a long moment, the video screen went mercifully dark.
"I don't want you anywhere near this, Sara," Billie said softly. "And I brought you here because I wanted you to understand something. What Deaq, Van and I do takes a lot of planning. It also takes resources, money, connections, time but, most importantly, it takes experience. The players we go after are smart. They conduct operations so complex we need weeks, sometimes months of careful investigation to learn the ins and outs." The detective took a deep breath and regarded her lover solemnly. "If you walk in off the street and start pressing your ear against closed doors, it will get you killed. It's as simple as that."
Sara sat, quietly, absorbing Billie's words. What her lover was saying was completely sensible, of course. She really had no idea how she would even be able to help Margo, short of telling her everything, which was obviously out of the question.
But, so was doing nothing.
"Margo doesn't even know what's going on, Billie. I'm absolutely sure of that. She doesn't understand who these people are, or what they're capable of, and you can't possibly expect me to sit on my hands and wait it out. If these people are as bad as you say, than she needs help. At least, you know what you're up against, but what about her? What if she stumbles into something without realizing it? She could be the next one to end up with her head blown off."
Billie sighed in resignation. Sara's concerns were completely justified. Margo was involved with some very dangerous individuals. To what extent neither of them knew at this point, but after losing Jill, Billie knew it didn't much matter. Sara had no intention of burying another friend. "Look, at least give me a chance to check into this whole situation, okay? And I'll talk to Van and Deaq, maybe they know something."
The lieutenant's tone sounded reasonable and calm, but Sara could hear a hint of desperation in it. This situation was drudging up some difficult emotions for both of them, the memory of what they'd gone through with Felicia still so fresh and raw. And though some wounds had yet to heal, a few probably never would.
For the past few weeks, Sara had sensed a change in Billie. There were still plenty of hard edges, but she seemed quieter, somehow, more contemplative. And she continued to have terrible nightmares, although Sara assumed those would likely pass with time.
But, as much as the young detective tried to hide it, there was something in her eyes now, a dissonance that lurked within their cool, blue depths. Her confidence had been shaken. Sara could see that not recognizing Felicia Ralston for who and what she was had left Billie feeling off balance and unsure of herself. She could also see that being away from the job was only making things worse.
But, no matter how much Billie may be questioning her own abilities, Sara still had absolute faith in her.
"Okay," she agreed. "But, I have to at least call her, especially after the way I left there tonight."
"Fine, but I want to be in on it."
"We're talking about a simple phone call, Billie."
The brunette nodded, slowly. "I know that. But, I also know how easy it is to let something slip, even when you're being careful."
Sara thought back to earlier in the evening, when she'd mistakenly blurted out Billie's name to Margo. At the time it seemed like such a small thing, but in light of what she now knew, perhaps her lover was right. "So, you want to eavesdrop?"
"Pretty much," Billie confirmed as she closed up her notebook and leaned back in the chair, releasing a tired sigh. "But, let's work this out tomorrow. Right now, I just want to go home."
"Sounds good to me," Sara remarked as she stood up and stretched, arching her back to work out the stiffness that seemed ever present since the stabbing. She could feel Billie's gaze on her and she casually deposited herself on her lover's lap. "Don't give me that look."
Billie draped an arm across the blonde's legs and tilted her head up. "What look?"
"The one that says 'you need to take better care of yourself'."
Billie frowned. "Well, now that you mention it, you really-" A pair of warm, velvety lips quickly fastened onto her mouth and swallowed up the rest of her words. Her lover's touches were soft and alluring, but Billie could still feel the tension in her movements. Sara was the only lover she ever had that regularly worked out stress by having sex. Mood or venue was generally a non-issue.
Sara wrapped her left arm around the brunette's shoulders while her right hand came to rest against Billie's left side. She began using her thumb to gently stroke the outer curve of her breast.
With a low, reluctant moan, the young detective put a hand to her lover's shoulder and forced her back just enough to break the kiss. "Not here, Sara."
"Oh, come on..." The blonde's voice was a sultry whisper as her hand repositioned itself and continued its delicate, persuasive ministrations. "I've always wanted to do it on a Lamborghini."
Despite her objections, Billie tilted her head in unconscious submission. "And risk ruining the half-dozen layers of wax Van spent hours putting on it with his own two little hands?"
Sara leaned into the crook of Billie's neck and began teasing her, using her lips and tongue to expert effect. "Mmm now you're talking."
The detective closed her eyes, momentarily lost in the wonderful sensations her lover's mouth created on her sensitive skin. Like a warm fluid running through her veins, Billie's arousal grew, swiftly, and she knew the battle was already lost. Sara always knew just the right way to make her helpless.
The ring of the telephone on Billie's desk suddenly shattered the quiet.
Sara turned her head and scowled at the unwelcome intrusion. "God, I fucking hate telephones." Without being prompted, she got up to allow Billie to answer it.
The young detective looked perplexed. "No one even knows I'm here," she mumbled, standing up and grabbing the receiver. She leaned her hip against the desk, all the while keeping her gaze on Sara, who was now wandering around her office looking thoroughly annoyed. "Hello?"
"You're not supposed to be there," said a familiar voice.
"Then, why are you calling me here?" Billie immediately shot back.
"I keep getting voice mail on your cell."
"That's because I'm on a leave of absence," she said brusquely. "Try leaving a message next time."
"Sounds like the time off is doing you some good."
Billie grinned, slightly. "So, why are you running me down, Bob?"
"I need to see you tomorrow," Parish informed her. "Stop by and pay me a visit after you finish with Shapiro."
"Can you fill me in?" Billie questioned.
"When you get here." The captain hung up.
Billie placed the phone down and continued to stare at it. Whatever was going on, it was big. She could hear it in Bob's voice. She could also count on one hand the number of times she'd actually been called in to his office. He almost always preferred to come to her.
Which could only mean one thing
"That was Parish?"
The sound of Sara's voice drew the detective's attention and she glanced up to see her lover standing in front of her. The solid glass gun that normally resided on Billie's desk was now cradled in the blonde's hand, the tip of her index finger moving up and down the smooth, clear barrel. Billie found the motion strangely erotic.
"He wants to see me tomorrow," she explained as she watched Sara fondling a piece of her past.
Billie tried to shrug off the sinking feeling twisting in her gut. "He wouldn't say."
As if reading Billie's mind, Sara asked, "Do you think it has anything to do with Felicia?"
"I don't know. Probably not."
Sara watched her lover's expression darken and silently cursed Bob Parish. She placed the cold, heavy item back on its perch and reached for Billie's hand, gently coaxing her to follow. "Hey, you still haven't finished showing me around."
"There's not much else to see," Billie replied, allowing her lover to lead her along.
Sara looked up at the balcony seating that still surrounded most of the room. "So, what kind of theater was this anyway?" she asked curiously.
"It was called 'The Regal'," Billie answered, still somewhat distracted by the phone call from Parish. "They used to do a lot of Shakespeare."
The blonde made a face at her. "I was never a big fan."
Billie stopped at the base of the stairs and gave her an amused look.
"You know," she replied, pointing a finger at the young woman. "Van said the exact same thing to me once."
Sara narrowed her eyes. "Gee, you mean the drama queen doesn't like a good tragedy?"
The detective couldn't help but laugh. Sara didn't even know Van, but that didn't stop her intense dislike of the man. Of course, having been shot by him didn't help matters.
Sara walked away from Billie and glanced around, suddenly noticing the stairway in the corner. She could see a small workout area above them, complete with a punching bag. "What's up there?"
Billie followed Sara's gaze. "We use the loft for a gym, and there's a spare room up there that I use once in a while."
"I'd like to see it."
The lieutenant stared at her for a moment. "It's nothing, really."
"Afraid to show me your private sanctuary?" Sara teased.
Billie waved her off. "It's just a place to crash sometimes, that's all."
"Then, let's go." Sara started for the stairs without waiting for a response. She was halfway up before Billie finally relented and followed her.
"This is amazing."
Margo and Lena were seated together in a tiny office in the back of the restaurant. The furnishings were sparse, but functional, enabling them to handle some of their business in private, while still being close enough to keep an eye on their busy establishment.
The two women were preparing to discuss ideas on how better to utilize the restaurant's relatively modest space, when Lena produced her own plan for a somewhat more elaborate solution.
"I was hoping you would like it," Lena replied, tilting a cup of tea to her lips.
Margo looked stunned as she studied the papers lying on the table in front of her. "How did you ever convince Brackett to go along with this?"
Lena's smile was enigmatic. "He can be a reasonable man given the right motivation."
"You didn't happen to leave a horse's head in his bed, did you?" Margo laughed.
The brunette merely shook her head. "Sorry, bad cultural reference."
"He would like to see our proposal in writing," Lena continued. "And, of course, I assured him we would pay for any necessary renovations, although I see very little cost."
Margo looked over at her business partner, still surprised that she'd somehow managed to finagle their landlord into allowing them to expand, even if it was simply a matter of an awning and a few extra tables. On a good day, Walter Brackett was a complete asshole.
"A patio," she sighed. "I love it."
"This should also help to alleviate some of the waiting time people have been complaining about recently."
"Lena, my friend, before you came along I never had that problem."
"Our partnership has brought good luck to us both." Lena sat back and glanced at her watch, discreetly, wondering what was keeping her little brother. He should have checked in with her by now. "I think I'll head to the kitchen for a moment and make sure Gordon is not feeling too overwhelmed."
"Vicki keeps a close eye on him," Margo replied. "She'd never let him reach critical mass without telling us." As she gathered the papers together on her desk, she looked up and said, "Which reminds me, I may have found someone to take her place."
"My friend you met tonight, Sara. I asked her if she was interested."
"Wonderful. And is she?"
"I think so. Actually, we were in the middle of discussing it when she had to leave."
"Yes, I understand she wasn't feeling well."
Margo looked doubtful. "That is what she said."
"You didn't believe her?"
"I don't know," the woman replied with a wave of her hand. "She was just acting a little strange. I know she's been going through a difficult time lately. A close friend of hers was murdered a few weeks ago."
"How terrible." Lena thought about Sara's behavior again. Despite what Margo said, she still couldn't shake the nagging suspicion that whatever had been causing Sara's sense of discomfort had been present in the room with them.
"Yes, it is," Margo agreed, sadly. "But, Sara's a strong person. She'll deal with it in her own way. At the very least, maybe Samantha will be a good distraction for her."
Lena released a sigh of disappointment. As usual, her brother's romantic instincts were well off the mark. "They are involved?"
"From what I could see, very much so."
Margo's eyes widened. "Alexandr is interested in Sara?"
"Actually, he prefers brunettes."
"Well, I'm afraid the only person Samantha has eyes for is Sara."
"And I'm afraid my little brother is a masochist." Lena glanced at her watch again. "Speaking of which, I'm off to the kitchen." She got up from her chair and headed toward the door, a hand already on the cell phone in her jacket pocket.
The younger woman stopped and turned. "Yes?"
"Would you like a chance to talk with Sara before we make a decision?"
Lena hesitated. It was an interesting quandary. If her suspicions about Sara Matthews had foundation, giving her a job at the restaurant posed a risk to her. But, if she refused, she would lose the opportunity to discover the young woman's secret for herself.
"No," she answered firmly. "I trust your judgment. If you think she's right for the job, then do as you will."
Margo smiled. "She'll be great. I just know it."
Lena returned her smile and walked out, closing the door, softly, behind her. Once alone in the hallway, she leaned against it, her expression hardening to stone.
"Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer," she said softly.
Margo Linzi wasn't the only one who watched gangster movies.
"It's just a room," Billie commented from where she was leaning against the door jamb, watching her lover as she took in every detail.
Sara was standing in front of an oversized, suede sofa. It was midnight blue, creating a striking contrast against the richly piled burgundy rug lying beneath it. Two small cherry wood tables anchored it at both ends, each one adorned with a single, delicate crystal lamp.
Strangely, she could feel her lover's presence more in this one, intimate space than anywhere else she'd ever been. Even Billie's apartment seemed remote and impersonal. Although she'd never asked, Sara always had the impression that the place was already furnished when the detective moved in, and all she brought with her were her clothes.
Billie gave her a curious look. "What?"
Sara dropped down into the lush cushions and sighed. "It's you."
The detective smiled. "You think so?"
"Definitely." Her hands were smoothing across the deliciously soft fabric when she spotted a small stereo nestled in a bookcase to her left and got up to examine it. As she'd done previously at Billie's apartment, she perused the collection of CD's tucked in beside it. Curiously, these selections were nothing like what she'd seen then.
"I don't think there's a single thing here from the last two decades," she commented.
"My mother didn't listen to much of anything recorded after Janis Joplin died."
Sara looked back at her and grinned. "You're kidding?"
"So, these were hers?"
Billie nodded. "Some of them. I like to listen to them here, late at night, when I'm alone. It helps remind me of her... of who she was." She could see Sara hesitate as she looked over the titles, as though weary of handling them.
Without a word, Billie closed the door behind her and walked over to where Sara stood, reaching beyond her and pulling a case from its slot. She put the disc in the player and then reached for Sara's hand.
The blonde came forward and wrapped an arm around her lover's shoulders, melting into her as the first chords of music began to play. The two young lovers stood nose to nose, their bodies moving to a slow, bluesy rhythm.
Billie closed her eyes and held Sara, tightly, in her arms, her entire world shrinking down to a population of two. She focused solely on the warmth of the body against her, and the soft, throaty timbre in her ear, penetrating down to the depths of her battered and weary soul, whispering the sounds of need, want and love.
The door was slightly ajar, as always, and the young woman suppressed a shiver as she placed her palm against the glossy, white finish. With a gentle push, it swung open, silently, and she stepped across the threshold, swallowing hard against the familiar taste of fear that threatened to crush her resolve.
The air was perfectly still. Her breath came out in tight, ragged huffs, as though she couldn't get any air, her lungs laboring with each step she took.
This was the part when she always wished she could turn back. She didn't want to see. Not again. Never again.
Her eyes lowered to examine the hard wood floor beneath her feet. She searched the shiny, polished surface, knowing it would be there.
It was a small splash on the bottom step, and it beckoned her to follow. She moved down the staircase, carefully, her gun held out in front of her with shaking hands.
She was laying there, her eyes wide with terror, the knife's tip poised against her neck.
"You're too late." A pair of dark, demonic eyes lifted up and regarded the detective with a look of amusement. And triumph.
Billie stood there, frozen, her body either unwilling or unable to respond to her mental commands.
"No " The cry was weak, barely a whisper to her own ears.
"It's not your fault, Bi-" Alexa's voice was instantly and brutally silenced as the blade dug into the soft flesh of her neck, a spray of red gore shooting across the gold carpeting beneath her, signifying that her jugular had just been severed. Her body shuddered, violently, for a long, agonizing moment, until finally, mercifully, falling still.
Jackson Yu dropped the young woman's lifeless body to the floor and stood up, the heinous weapon in his hand now soaked in Alexa's blood. He stretched his arm out and pointed it at the young detective like a silent accusation.
Billie was suddenly seized from behind as an arm wrapped around her waist, followed by the cold steel of a knife touching her throat. She turned her head just in time to be greeted by an even darker, more malevolent gaze.
"Now, it's your turn, elsker."
Billie's eyes snapped open and she gasped for air, expecting the echo of her own scream to still be ringing in her ears. Every muscle in her body went rigid at the feel of something weighing her down and her hands automatically reached out and grabbed her imaginary foe.
"It's alright, Billie," Sara soothed. "It was just a bad dream."
The detective lifted her head, relief flooding through her at the sight of her lover's face staring back at her in concern. Her body was a little slower to calm, however, as several seconds ticked by before she released her painfully tight grip on Sara's arms.
The two women had been sleeping on the couch in the upstairs room at the Candy Store, after giving in to their urgent desires during a particularly seductive slow dance. Sara's naked body was now lying atop Billie's equally nude form, having been awakened by the familiar sound of yet another one of her lover's nightmares.
Sara shifted her position, pushing up on her arm so she could better see Billie's face. Her free hand reached over and brushed a few damp strands of hair from her forehead. "You okay?"
Billie merely nodded, not trusting her voice yet.
"You want to tell me about it?"
There was a weighted pause. "No," the detective said softly.
Sara frowned. "It's not good for you to keep everything bottled up, you know."
"Don't play shrink with me, Sara," Billie snapped.
The blonde placed her hand on her lover's cheek and turned her head so they were looking directly at each other. "Why won't you talk about what happened?" She could feel Billie trying to pull away, but she wouldn't allow it. "Do you realize you have never once told me how you felt about it? Any of it? I mean, Jesus, Billie, the woman tortured you, for God's sake-"
"That's enough!" Billie said harshly as she moved Sara to one side and got up from the sofa. She began grabbing clothes off the floor and putting them on, hastily.
Sara watched her lover for a moment, the young brunette's movements becoming more frenzied as she tried to slip into her pants, only to realize they were inside out.
"Billie," Sara called gently.
The brunette raised a hand to warn her off. "Leave it alone, Sara, alright? Can you just, for once, do as I ask and leave it alone?" The words came out sounding more like a desperate plea than an angry retort.
After a brief silence, Billie could feel her lover's approach from behind -- hands touching her bare back, inviting arms slipping around her waist and encircling her. Sara pressed into her, holding her tighter, and she could feel her defenses crumbling.
"I love you," Sara said quietly. "So, I'll leave it alone. For now." The blonde stood there and clung to her lover, as if trying to stop her from going over the edge into some dark, horrible abyss. She could feel the soft hitches against her body as the young woman began to cry in silence.
It had been this way almost every night, Billie wrestling with her demons in the dark, alone, and Sara trying, desperately, to get through to her, to keep her from retreating further into herself. Watching her lover's suffering was hurting Sara far more than any measure of physical pain ever could. She honestly didn't know how long Billie could go on like this.
And, more importantly, she didn't want to know.
Oh, it'll take a little time
Might take a little crime
to come undone now
- Simon LeBon
Doctor Amelia Shapiro was seated behind a large oak desk, her petite figure perched on the edge of an ultra soft, well-worn cordovan leather chair. A few stray ringlets of silvery curls framed her oval-shaped face, the remainder of her long, gray hair pulled back into a single braid that hung halfway down her back.
With her fingers steepled beneath her chin, the woman's warm, hazel eyes stared in rapt attention, contemplating the contents of the open file folder lying in front of her. It contained numerous documents personnel reports, arrest records, commendations, reprimands all of it a testament to the extensive, and often controversial, career of its subject.
Lieutenant Wilhelmina Chambers was certainly no stranger to her, though, interestingly enough, their paths had crossed only twice. Both were memorable moments, however, and each one took place during different incarnations of the lieutenant's career.
At the tender age of twenty-three, then Officer Chambers had shot and killed a young man during an extremely chaotic raid of a crack house. The shooting had been ruled as justified, and the young woman came to terms with her actions, as well as the consequences that inevitably followed.
Five years later, the more seasoned Detective Chambers, having spent several months working undercover to take down a particularly ruthless drug dealer, had somehow managed to become a heroin addict in the process. It was this second encounter that left a sort of 'bad blood' between the two women, as it was the doctor's recommendation that she be removed from the investigation.
Billie had followed her captain's orders and pulled out, but she was barely even civil to Amelia during the brief meeting between the three of them that precluded her 'extended vacation' in a southern California rehab.
Of course, the latter incident couldn't be found in her records, nor did it appear anywhere in the doctor's own personal files. At the request of Captain Robert Parish, she had never put so much as a single word to paper regarding her late-night, back alley meeting with the young renegade detective.
It was an unusual request, to be sure, and one that Amelia granted solely on the fact that she and Bob had been friends for many years. Billie Chambers certainly wasn't the first cop to cross a line, but the captain had insisted that if the information ever became known, it would mean the end of her career. While she understood his concerns, she did think him to be overly paranoid on the subject.
Then, she met Roland Hill.
A knock at the door interrupted the doctor's unpleasant recollections. "Come in," she called out, already knowing who it was, and bracing herself for the frosty reception she knew was her due.
The door opened to reveal the very person she'd been reminiscing about, the young woman whom she'd once declared to Bob Parish would likely self-destruct before anyone else got the chance to take her down.
She still believed it.
"Sorry, I'm late," Billie said curtly.
"Not a problem, Lieutenant," Amelia replied graciously, watching her lingering in the hallway for a few seconds. "Please, come in and sit down." Reluctantly, the young woman stepped inside and closed the door behind her, taking a moment to look around before seating herself on the other side of the doctor's desk.
Amelia rose from her chair and came around to sit across from Billie, preferring to remove the unintentional barrier between them. Already sensing the brunette's discomfort, and respecting her need for personal space, the doctor decided not to bother extending a hand in greeting. Instead, she took a deep breath and forged ahead.
"Before we get started, I think it might be helpful for us to clear the air a bit."
The detective's gaze was steady and cool. "About what?"
"Billie," the doctor started, already moving into more personal territory. "The last time we saw each other the circumstances were difficult, to say the least. I'm concerned that it might get in the way of what we're here to do today." The older woman's body language clearly indicated she was relaxed, despite the tense subject matter. She clasped her hands together, loosely, and rested them in her lap. "I'd like to hear what you have to say on the subject."
In another time and place, Billie had liked and respected Amelia Shapiro. The doctor had helped her through her first professional crisis many years ago. Shooting someone for the first time was a traumatic event for any young officer; fatally wounding them, however, was an experience for which no one could ever be trained.
Simply put, killing someone changed you. Irrevocably.
But, given time and distance, Billie had learned to live with those changes, to use them in making her a stronger person, and a better cop. It was a difficult road, and one she hadn't walked alone, which is why the thought of Amelia selling her out to a man like Roland Hill was particularly hurtful.
"I was ordered to come here," she replied matter-of-factly. "Ask whatever questions you want, and I'll answer them to the best of my ability. My priority is to get back to work."
Given what she'd been expecting, Amelia was somewhat surprised by the young detective's guarded response. This was certainly not the same Billie Chambers she used to know. "And my priority is to help you do exactly that, provided it's what you want."
"Then, it's important for you to feel comfortable enough to speak your mind. Trust is essential if we're going to get anything done."
Over the years, Billie had become well-practiced at hiding her emotions, but she was finding it increasingly difficult to put a lid on her anger. "Trust is overrated," she replied tightly.
"It can be critical in your line of work."
"It can also be a liability."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because, sometimes we put our trust in the wrong people."
Amelia studied her closely. "Do you put me in that category?"
"I'm not sure," Billie answered honestly.
The doctor removed her glasses and placed them in her lap with a soft sigh. "Billie, I am sorry that you still feel some animosity toward me, but I did the only thing I could."
"I'm thinking you did a little more than that."
"You were out of control, and in all good conscience I couldn't just stand by and watch you get yourself killed."
"And did that good conscience of yours also decide it was okay to screw with my career?" Billie snapped.
The doctor gave her a confused look. "My only concern was for your safety."
"Then, why the hell did you go to IA?"
Billie suddenly leaned forward in the chair, her gaze intense. "Don't lie to me."
Amelia locked eyes with the young lieutenant, refusing to be intimidated by the clear signal of aggression. "I'm not lying to you, Billie. I have never spoken a single word to anyone about that night." She could see the wavering doubt clouding the young woman's face. This was a crucial moment. She needed to convince Billie that she was telling the truth. It was her only hope if she expected to have any chance of getting through the detective's considerable emotional barricades.
A brief, tense moment passed, and it was Billie that finally broke their silent stalemate. She rose from her chair and walked to the row of windows across the room. Her instincts were telling her that Amelia was being truthful. Unfortunately, she wasn't so sure she could rely on them.
With her blue eyes fixed on the hazy skyline, Billie fought back the urge to retreat into her anger. It was difficult. Lately, it seemed the only place where she felt safe.
"Hill knows," she said softly.
"Does he have any proof?" Amelia asked.
Billie turned to the older woman. "I don't know. I was hoping you could answer that question."
Amelia felt a modicum of relief. For the moment, it seemed that Billie was willing to entertain the idea of her innocence. "I can't say I'm sorry to disappoint you. How long has he known?"
"A few months."
The doctor replaced her glasses and got up. "Well, I suppose that might give you your answer right there." She moved to a small table beside her desk and began to pour a cup of coffee. "Would you like some?"
Billie shook her head. "You mean, because he would've moved on it by now?"
"If Roland Hill had the means to ruin your career, it's doubtful he'd have wasted any time in doing so."
"I'm not so sure about that."
Amelia leaned against her desk and regarded Billie over the rim of her cup. "Why?"
"I think having me tossed in jail didn't look good for him," she commented. "And if he had come out with it back then, it would've made him look too vindictive, especially since we closed that case together."
"So, you believe he's sitting on it for another reason," the doctor surmised.
""I don't know what to believe," the detective sighed. "I suppose it's possible that he just doesn't have anything to back it up."
"Relayed second hand, maybe?"
"Maybe," Billie replied. "Even IAD can't just start throwing out accusations " Another unpleasant thought began to gnaw at her, and without thinking, she gave voice to it. "Which means he's digging."
When Billie's blue eyes suddenly focused on her, Amelia could almost feel the intensity of her unspoken warning. Apparently, the young detective wasn't quite convinced of her inculpability after all.
"You can relax, Billie," she said gently. "Roland Hill has come sniffing around here on a number of occasions, and it has always been a complete waste of his time. Besides, I made a promise to a very dear friend, and I have no intention of breaking it."
The detective eyed her, warily. "I really hope that's true."
Amelia set her cup down and rested her palms on the desk. "So, where do we go from here?"
After a brief moment, Billie replied, "I need a little more time."
"I don't know that time will change anything," Amelia lamented. "You either trust me or you don't."
"I want to."
"I believe you."
The corner of Billie's lip turned up, faintly. "So, can we call that progress?"
For the first time since their session started, Amelia thought she caught a glimpse of the person she'd first met so long ago. The feeling of nostalgia was fleeting, but almost painful, as though she were actually mourning the more innocent and idealistic young woman Billie Chambers used to be.
"I think we can."
The young lieutenant was nearing the end of the corridor, now only a few steps away from Bob's office when she heard someone calling her name. She turned around and saw a man coming toward her, a small stack of folders tucked under his arm.
The first thing that always struck Billie about Detective Douglas Wyler was how out of place he looked in the LAPD. Standing over six feet tall, he had the physique of a hard core athlete, born from a lifetime of pursuing his passion for surfing. Topped with a thick head of sun-bleached blonde hair over the bluest eyes she'd ever seen, he bore a much closer resemblance to a fashion model than an undercover cop.
Doug had been married to Billie's best friend, Alexa Tan, for just over three years before the two of them finally called it quits. Since they were always working lengthy undercover assignments in separate divisions, they hardly ever saw each other. When Doug admitted to having an affair during a very long and difficult case, Alexa knew they were finished. She'd still been madly in love with him, but the pain of his betrayal was just too much to overcome.
It was in the immediate aftermath of that gut-wrenching breakup that Alexa became so immersed in the operations of an Asian gang network, one of which she finally managed to infiltrate. Exactly one month to the day after her divorce became final she had a fateful, chance encounter with a man named Jackson Yu.
"Doug?" Billie looked surprised to see him. "What are you doing here?"
"I came to talk to Commander Reece," he replied, as if that were explanation enough. "It's so great running into you. I've really been wanting to talk with you."
The brunette looked puzzled. "About what?"
"About Lex." He waited a few seconds before narrowing his eyes at her. "You haven't heard yet?"
"Heard what?" she asked with some trepidation.
A sad smile graced Doug's handsome face. "She's getting the Medal of Valor."
Billie stared at him, feeling her eyes well up with tears, even as her heart swelled with pride. The Medal of Valor was the highest honor bestowed to any police officer. They were given out annually at an awards ceremony, the best and bravest all gathered together to be recognized for their selfless acts of heroism.
The thought of Alexa receiving such accolades posthumously made the tribute feel bittersweet, somehow but sweet, nonetheless.
"She deserves it," Billie said when she finally found her voice again.
"Yes, she does," Doug agreed, his expression turning solemn and angry. "She also deserves to be here to receive it."
Billie nodded in understanding. "They've asked you to accept it for her?"
He shoved his free hand into his pants pocket, suddenly unable to meet her gaze. "Yeah," he laughed, bitterly. "Isn't that a kick in the ass? I think Lex would love the irony."
The brunette grinned, slightly. "Just don't trip on your way up to the podium."
Doug chuckled, softly. "She always was a sucker for physical comedy."
Billie's smile broadened. "Remember the Three Stooges marathons?"
"Oh, man," he groaned. "She always had to wear that stupid t-shirt you got her in Reno."
"Hey, you're the one that got her the fish," she exclaimed.
"I know," Doug smiled, fondly. "When Curly died, she got another one and named him Shemp."
The two of them began to laugh more openly, their gazes distant for a moment, each lost in thoughts of more pleasant times.
"I miss her," Billie admitted softly.
He looked down again and nodded, sadly. "Me, too even though I don't really have the right to."
"Don't say that, Doug. I know you loved her. You just screwed up. We all do, sooner or later."
Doug held Billie's gaze for a few seconds, a profound look of regret simmering in his eyes. She was being generous, especially considering how much he had hurt Alexa. Billie was the only person who really understood how much he cared for his now late ex-wife, and not for the first time, he wished things could be different between them.
"Billie, could I ask you a favor?"
"Reece wants me to say a few words and I suck at this kind of thing, but I really want to do it right. Maybe we could sit down and put something together the both of us."
"I don't know," Billie answered, reluctantly. "I'm not much good at putting words to paper."
"Come on," he coaxed gently. "Who better to do this than the two people who loved her the most?"
Billie suddenly thought of Deaq. She would have to find a way to make sure he didn't miss the ceremony.
"Let me think about it, okay?" she finally said.
"Sure." Doug produced a card from his pocket and handed it to her. "This is my new number. Give me a call. We can grab a bite to eat, or something."
She held up the card and gave him an affirmative nod. "I will."
The moment suddenly turned awkward as they stood there staring at each other. Billie lifted her hand and pointed in the direction of Parish' office. "I better go. I've got a meeting."
"Oh, sure." Doug held a hand out to her. "It was good to see you, Billie."
"Yeah, you too." The two of them shook hands and quickly parted, heading in opposite directions.
As Billie reached Bob's door, she stole a glance back down the hall. Doug was already near the end of the corridor, his long strides carrying him swiftly toward the elevator doors. He had an almost defeated look about him, as though he were carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Billie knew just how he felt.
Sara was nervous.
She didn't know why, exactly. There was nothing wrong with what she was doing. In fact, this was one of the few times in her life she was putting someone else's needs above her own. Rather ironic considering that this was the very spot where she'd committed the most selfish, desperate act of her life.
"This is ridiculous," the blonde muttered to herself, finally shrugging off her anxiety and reaching over to ring the doorbell. She sighed, impatiently, glancing around at the other houses on the street. Everywhere she looked there were finely manicured lawns and expensive cars. Not exactly the place one would expect to find a former gangbanger.
The blonde turned around as the front door opened.
"Sara?' Deaq stood in the doorway, clad only in a pair of running shorts. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes, the initial look of surprise on his face quickly changing to one of concern. "What are you doing here?"
Sara could see him looking beyond her, as if expecting to see someone else. "Billie had a doctor's appointment this morning," she offered in answer to his unspoken question. "I know I probably should have called first, but I was hoping we could talk for a minute."
There weren't too many things in this world that could throw Deaqon Hayes off his pins, but Billie's relationship with Sara was still a complete mystery to him, as was the woman herself. She had an odd way of always keeping him off balance.
And, truthfully, he didn't like it.
Sara rolled her eyes in annoyance. "I won't bite."
Deaq rubbed his hand across his face in an effort to force away the tiredness. He didn't like being around Sara when he wasn't at the top of his game. There were always too many layers to their conversations. "Sorry, I was out late." He stepped back and held his arm up. "Come on in."
Sara walked by him, trying to shrug off the tension that had settled into her neck and shoulders. She took a moment to glance around the large living room. It was odd being in a house where everything looked familiar to her even though she'd ever been invited into it before.
"Have a seat." Deaq reached for the shirt he'd been wearing last night, still laying across the back of the couch. He slipped it on, feeling a little foolish at his sudden modesty. His guest certainly didn't care what he looked like. "So, what's up?"
The blonde waited until he sat down in the chair beside her before answering. "I know this is a little strange," she started. "My coming here, I mean considering everything."
It was obvious that Sara was uncomfortable, but Deaq wasn't about to say anything to help put her at ease. Certainly not here, in the place where she had almost cost an innocent woman her life. In fact, a part of him was hoping she couldn't stop thinking about it. Remorse was a healthy emotion.
"I wanted to talk to you about Billie."
"I kind of figured that."
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"Almost two weeks ago. Why?"
"I'm a little worried about her."
Deaq's tired gaze immediately sharpened. What he knew about Sara Matthews would probably fit on the head of a pin. Ditto with his boss. But, if there was one thing he did know, it was that both women understated everything. "I think we've been here before. Maybe this time you could be more specific."
Sara sat forward on the edge of the sofa and rested her elbows on her thighs, interlocking her fingers to still her restless hands. Her blue eyes focused on them as she spoke. "She's having a really hard time."
"She's been through a lot," he remarked. "You both have."
"I know, but it's more than that. She's not herself. I mean, one minute she seems okay, and the next " Sara trailed off with a heavy sigh. It was difficult to say the words, to put them out there for someone she didn't really know, especially someone who held her in such low esteem.
But, the only thing that really mattered to her was Billie. She needed help, and apparently she needed it from someone other than Sara. So, it only made sense to turn to someone else for advice, someone who knew Billie better than she did. Maybe they could do something for her that Sara couldn't. Of course, Deaq had been the easy choice. Unlike Van, he'd always at least been civil to her.
"She keeps pulling away from me," Sara finally pressed on. "She won't tell me what's going on, or how she's feeling. Every time I try to get her to talk to me, all I see is that guilt in her eyes, and I hate it. What happened to me wasn't her fault, but I can't seem to make her believe that."
Deaq gave her a look of understanding. He did know that Billie was struggling, not just with guilt, but also with the psychological damage that Felicia Ralston had inflicted on her. During one intense, late night conversation at the Candy Store, he and Van had learned the truth of what really happened between Felicia and Billie in that small, darkened room
But, both men knew they hadn't heard the whole truth.
"Look, Sara," Deaq responded gently. "I haven't known Billie all that long, alright, but we've been up against it together, more than a few times. She needs to get in there and mix it up, you know, get the job done. Shit, even from prison she was still calling the shots. But, this 'temporary leave' thing, sitting around for the last few weeks " Deaq shook his head, unable to even imagine what his boss would do with so much down time. "That's not who Billie is. Maybe shutting down is just her way of coping like idling in neutral until the signal changes. Once she gets the green light, she'll be back in action."
"But, that's just it, Deaq, she's not idle at all. She disappears for hours at a time. When I ask her what she's been doing, she always gives me some story about it being work related, tying up some loose ends on old cases, stuff like that. She hardly even sleeps anymore, and when she does, she has terrible nightmares."
Sara nodded. "Mostly, but she's also been dreaming a lot about Alexa's murder." As soon as the name crossed her lips she could see the change in Deaq's expression. "You knew her?"
"Yeah, I did," he said simply.
"She told me once that she still feels responsible. I guess this whole thing is bringing it all back for her."
Deaq closed his eyes for a few brief seconds, reliving that god-awful day, right down to the moment where he pointed the finger of blame. "Maybe you should just back off a little, give her some more time."
Sara looked at him. "What?"
The detective leaned forward and closed some of the distance between them. His brown eyes locked on Sara's face. "Sara, I know that you and Billie have gotten really close, and you feel like you need to do something, but what you've got to try and understand is that Billie is a very private person. She deals with things in her own way."
"So, you're saying I should leave her alone, just let her go on suffering?" Sara questioned in disbelief. "That's the advice I get from someone who's supposed to be one of her closest friends?"
The mention of Alexa's murder was like hitting a raw nerve, and Deaq couldn't seem to stop himself from going on the defensive. "First of all, you need to get something right in your mind, girl. Billie, Van and I, we're family, alright?"
Sara was incensed. "What is this, some macho, cop thing? I tell you I'm concerned about Billie and you tell me to mind my own business?" She stood up and pinned him with a cold stare. "Well, you know what Deaq you can take your thin, blue line and shove it up your ass." She walked by him and headed straight for the door.
Deaq cursed under his breath as he watched Sara storm off. Her words burned him, but he knew she had a right to be angry. Here she was coming to him for help, something he knew had been hard for her, and he, in turn, had treated her like crap.
He quickly stood up and followed after her, catching her by the arm as she reached the front door. "Hey, hold up a second."
The blonde spun around, angrily. "What?" Deaq's dark gaze seemed to be searching her face, as if he were trying to read something there.
He suddenly realized that, like Sara, he too had a violent and sordid past. And it was through the love of one special person that he was able to turn his life around, to find a sense of self-respect, and become the kind of man he wanted to be.
Billie saw something in Sara that he and Van did not. She put her love and trust in a troubled soul, so certain of the potential underneath. Though Sara had committed a terrible crime, she also did something selfless and heroic, proving, without question, that Billie's faith in her had been justified.
So, who was he to stand in the way of redemption?
"What I'm trying to say, in my own screwed-up way, is that I love her, too." He spoke the words, softly, but his voice resonated with emotion. "And if it ever came right down to it I would die for Billie."
Sara met his gaze with calm assurance. "So would I."
The two of them stood there, knowing that no matter what happened in the past, they now shared a common bond, and through that devotion, a new level of understanding.
"I'll check in with her," Deaq finally said.
Sara was about to offer her thanks when the sound of something crashing to the floor immediately drew their attention toward the kitchen.
Inez stood in the foyer, the shattered remnants of a teacup littering the tile at her feet. She was staring straight at Sara, the shock of seeing the young woman clearly written all over her face.
At that moment, Deaq wanted nothing more than to rip one of his legs off and kick himself in the ass with it. "Oh, shit Inez "
The older woman immediately dropped her gaze and bent down to begin cleaning up the mess. "I'm I'm sorry I didn't know you had company. I was just making you a cup of tea " Her voice caught as she tried to gather up the tiny pieces of porcelain with her shaking hands.
"Inez, don't worry about it." Deaq released Sara's arm and went to her. "I'm the one who should apologize. I didn't know you were here." He bent down and took her wrists, gently coaxing her up from the floor. "Come on. Let me take care of this." When the woman could only nod in return, he put a hand on her back and guided her into the kitchen, waiting a few seconds until he was sure she was out of earshot. He walked back to Sara, who was still standing near the door, having remained silent during the entire exchange.
"I better go," she said solemnly.
"Yeah." Deaq pulled the door open and followed her outside, watching as she headed down the front stairs. The twinge of sympathy he suddenly felt for her came as a complete surprise, especially since, considering everything that Inez had gone through, he honestly didn't believe she deserved it.
"Sara," he suddenly called out.
The blonde stopped along the walkway and turned to look at him. She thought she saw a semblance of a smile on his face.
"Next time, call first, alright?"
Sara nodded, mutely, and started back to the car, still feeling unsettled. Her strained conversation with Deaq had left her no opportunity to ask him about Margo. That wasn't really why she came, of course, and she knew Billie wouldn't like her getting any more involved than she already was, but on top of her concern for her lover was her growing worry for her friend.
And one way or the other, Sara was going to do something about both.
"Come on in."
Bob Parish leaned forward in his chair and folded his hands on his desk as Billie walked in. Her face remained deceptively calm when she spotted the other people in the room, but the captain knew her well enough to recognize the flash of anger in her eyes. If there was one he knew about Billie, it was that she didn't like to be blindsided.
Billie remained standing just inside the door. Her tone was cool. "You wanted to see me?"
Parish almost smiled. Not using his rank was a deliberate jab, especially since others were present in the room that she didn't know. It was so like her. "Have a seat, Lieutenant."
The detective's eyes flicked toward the two people sitting nearby. Judging from their passive expressions, and their stiff, bland attire, she knew right away that she was looking at a couple of federal agents.
"This is Special Agent Noone and Special Agent Gillespie with the F.B.I.," Parish introduced as Billie sat down in the only other empty seat in front of the captain's desk. She acknowledged them with a brief nod and looked back at her boss, whose dark gaze remained fixed on her with serious intent. "They're assisting the task force we've put together to work the Ralston case."
Billie suddenly felt as if all the air had been sucked out of the room. There could only be one reason for this meeting. "When did she wake up?"
"A week ago."
"And I'm just finding out now?" she demanded, not caring the slightest bit about propriety.
Parish kept his expression neutral, but there was still a hint of regret in his voice. "This was the Chief's call, Billie. I only found out myself two days ago."
"Why didn't you tell me?" It was a personal plea. She depended on Bob. More importantly, she trusted him. Neither of those things came easy for her.
"There were some issues that had to be addressed," Parish explained before gesturing toward the two agents. "That's what we're here to talk about."
Special Agent Noone gave him a quick nod and focused her attention on Billie. "We already have a signed confession."
The detective didn't bother to hide her surprise. "For what?"
"Witness tampering, conspiracy, and murder, for starters," the agent told her. "She acknowledges shooting Jill Kistler, and she admits to conspiring with Warren Colby to kill her husband, Harold Ralston."
Billie looked over at Parish, who nodded. "She set the whole thing up, and Colby committed the murder," he confirmed.
A sinking feeling settled into Billie's gut. "You gave her a deal?"
Noone quickly shook her head. "No. We didn't have to. She gave it all up willingly."
Something wasn't right here. Billie knew Parish wouldn't have bothered asking the F.B.I. to bring her up to speed. He'd have simply told her himself. And she could tell by the look on his face that there was more to it. Much more.
"That's great," Billie commented, immediately directing her next words to the captain. "But, that's not why you called me down here.
Parish leaned back in his chair and brought his hands together, tapping the tips of his fingers against each other, thoughtfully. This conversation needed to be crafted carefully. He didn't want Billie to feel like she was being backed into a corner.
Even though that was precisely what was about to happen.
"Felicia's agreed to give up additional information " he said slowly, " about the other murders."
That certainly got Billie's attention. She straightened up in the chair, trying to remain calm while her hands gripped the arms almost painfully. "Why would she do that?" She watched Parish as he glanced over at Noone, apparently deferring the answer to her.
The F.B.I. agent met the young detective's sharp gaze. Like any good investigator, Special Agent Noone had done her homework on Billie Chambers, since it was she alone that was responsible for Ralston's apprehension. And given what she'd suffered at the woman's hands, it was certainly no small feat. But, written words didn't tell the whole story. Sometimes you had to see the person for yourself, and let gut instinct tell you what you need to know about them.
"This is about one thing, Lieutenant," she announced. "Control. Clearly, Felicia Ralston is psychotic, and to her, control is everything. She sees the world and everyone in it, as fodder for her own whims. People are there to do with as she pleases. She decides who lives and who dies. She controls their destiny just as she controls her own."
"But, when she woke up in that hospital room last week, she was no longer in control of her own life. From an intellectual point of view, she understands this, of course, but her ego refuses to accept the idea, so she does the only thing she can she takes back control. She knows her confession will put her on death row, but she will believe that she chose to be there. Once again, she is master of her own fate."
"Yeah, well, I've had plenty of first hand experience with Felicia's need for control, Agent Noone," Billie commented soberly. "I also know that she would never offer up anything unless she had something to gain from it. So, let's just get to the point. Why am I here?"
"Psychotic criminals often pit themselves against a member of law enforcement, usually as a way of demonstrating what they see as their 'superiority' over those whose job it is to catch them. They like the idea of a nemesis, if you will, a counterpart, whose sole purpose is to pursue them at all costs. It fuels their sense of self-importance. Felicia knows that since she's now in custody, your 'relationship' with her is about to come to an end. By offering us a chance to interview her, she seeks to take control of that situation, as well."
Billie was beginning to understand where all of this was leading. "When you say 'us', you mean me, don't you?"
The other woman nodded. "You're the only person she's willing to talk to."
The room grew silent.
Billie could feel the rush of blood pounding in her ears and took a deep, calming breath. "I shouldn't be the one to do this," she said softly.
"You don't have to be," Parish quickly added. "We can go at her another way."
"Ralston made her terms perfectly clear," Noone quickly countered. "She has nothing to lose here. One way or the other, she will die in prison. This will be our only shot." She waited for Billie to make eye contact again, and could see she was beginning to get through. Now, there was only one more thing left to convince her.
Parish caught the agent's meaningful glance and released a heavy sigh. "If you agree to do this, you'll be back on active duty effective immediately, and Forsythe assures me that all of this trouble with the SMPD will go away. For good."
Billie's gaze hardened. She would certainly expect this kind of manipulation where Felicia was concerned, but being handled by her own colleagues was a little more than she was willing to take.
Still, thoughts of Margo Linzi continued to linger in the back of her mind. Sara could only be put off for so long, and Billie knew she was quickly running out of options. Van and Deaq were the only ones able to get near the Verenkas in months, and there was no way Billie could wait around until someone else found a way in, especially since no one else probably would.
Unfortunately, all of this added up to one irrefutable fact. She needed access. And she needed it now.
"I want my guys back," she said to Parish.
His expression was grave. "Done."
Billie turned to Agent Noone. "When do we start?"
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