Even though the recipe calls for a couple ounces of sparkling wine, the sautéed duck is already ruined. The smoke finally starts to lift in the kitchen as Ratchet shuts off the fire alarms. Billy unsuccessfully tries to cook dinner, waving the smoky cloud. A moment later she takes a gulp of wine when it sinks in that her ‘Duck sous vide’ is ruined. Billy had a nice meal planned for she and Eric, but now she must think of something else.
"Perhaps takeout food will be better this evening. Would you like me to make the call?" The floating data-mech Ratchet asks.
"Fine." Billy angrily says taking off her apron.
She takes a seat on the couch, frustrated. She is still stuck in a murk, unsure as to what her next move should be. She and Lennox have become even more distant since the Gresham-Belmont dinner gala. Lennox spends a lot of time at his new office suite at their headquarters a couple of miles outside DC. His relationship with them is disturbing; it hurts her head to even think about it.
Another sip of wine and the TV begin to soothe her thoughts. She catches a story on the news that has been playing all day. She doesn’t pay much attention to it at first but a familiar face on the screen causes her to nearly drop her glass.
"…is involved in this growing Judge-sex scandal. It’s believed that there are more high-ranking political officials linked to this escort service, pending further investigation. The Republican Party have yet to comment on Stabler’s alleged involvement with the ‘judge-Tranny scandal’ but it seems like a case of guilt by association." A reporter says grabbing Billy’s attention.
Billy is speechless, shocked at the salacious report, not wanting to believe it to be true. She is glued to the screen and mortified at the footage of Stabler being hounded by paparazzi. Besides being a friend of she and Lennox, he is a presidential hopeful in next year’s elections.
"… Circuit Judge Mark Johnson is named in the civil lawsuit, alleging that he not only was a regular client of the plaintiff but also paid for many of this individual’s medical procedures. Rumors are that these medical procedures were for sex reassignment surgery. The real tragedy in all this is Elliot Stabler’s connection to the victim and how this will have grave effect on his career, most likely ending any chances he had at running for the presidency."
When Eric comes home, he also gets wrapped up in the report. They even eat their dinner in front of the TV, enthralled in the scandal. Billy knows this cannot be true, she knows Stabler and knows he isn’t capable of this. Billy comes across corrupt public figures often during crime fighting; she feels she can sniff out the greed or selfishness in someone. Images of the corrupt Judge scroll alongside Stabler, causing irreparable damage.
This scandal hits too close to home. ‘This can't be true’. It stays on her mind for the rest of the night and it frustrates her. She has this overpowering sense that something is wrong here. The logical side of her mind says to let it go, thinking that ‘you really just don’t know people’. Surmising that Stabler was simply dishonest and he is getting what he deserves.
However it stays in her mind, keeping her up. So she ends this night like most other nights, on the back porch with a drink and a cigarette, watching the sky-lane traffic over DC.
As the elevator climbs to the upper floors, the view is breathtaking. The Gresham Bellmont DC branch sits south of downtown, beyond the Potomac River. As pretty as it is, Billy hates this place. Once the elevator arrives, she marches out, eager to get out of here as fast as possible. Lennox now starts and ends his days here, complicating their already hectic schedule. She adjusts her shades, buttoning up her disheveled suit coat rushing inside Lennox office. As she enters, she is let down by who she sees.
David Palmer, a politician known for dishonest actions is in the office with Lennox. Palmer extends greetings to Billy but she stoically responds making the room tense. The Republican Party committee member Palmer isn’t new to controversy. After a successful career in the military, he held a high position in the C.I.A. Billy doesn’t know much about the middle-aged man, except that there was a senate hearing about some of his interrogations policies in the CIA. She feels like Palmer should be in the middle of a sex scandal, not Stabler.
"Noah, I’ll catch ya later." Palmer says throwing on his coat, then making his exit. No sooner than Palmer steps out the door, Billy scoffs.
"This is getting old. Is there a problem here?" The senator says noting Billy’s disrespectful demeanor in the past couple of weeks.
Billy is caught off guard by his words; she gets flustered stumbling to answer. "…I mean… I don’t understand… what's going on. These guys are corporate scum, and you have an office here… Its…"
"I told you that I have things in motion. Gresham’s shady past allows me to operate without limitations." Lennox says with scorn, rising from his desk.
Billy has to catch her breath, having never been on the receiving end of his wrath.
"Boss... I just don’t know… you’ve been different lately." She finally says after a moment, taking off her sunglasses. "I mean… what about your friend Stabler? You know he didn’t do those things. He was going to run for the presidency and now his career may be ruined." She says with her hands raised.
Lennox turns to the window of his office. "Stabler is a big boy, he can take care of himself."
Billy nearly laughs. ‘Take care of himself? ’ "…wow, do you even care if he is innocent?" She exclaims.
Lennox only grabs his coat, readying to leave, getting tired of their conversation. "Sometimes you don’t know what people do behind closed doors. Do not be so naive."
Billy is offended on so many levels. She feels as if he is a different person.
"Wha…what happened to us, boss? I thought we were heroes, not suits looking for a payday." She says on the verge of tears.
Instead of noting her underlying pain, Lennox coldly readjusts his tie and marches towards the door.
"Let’s go. The senate is about to convene." Lennox adds with finality.
Billy takes a deep breath, places her sunglasses back on her face and obediently follows him.
The constant thrum in our heroine’s head slightly subsides as she enters the Singers coffee shop. She takes a seat at a small table in the back, glad to be here. A friend is coming to pay her a visit and she knows she could use it. Times have been rough for her; she is in the middle of an identity crisis, so being among normal people soothes her nerves.
Billy takes out another cigarette and lights up wanting to relax. She doesn’t want to think about Lennox, or Eric for that matter. She shutters thinking about how she has taken out her frustrations on him. Last night she screamed at him, causing him to storm out of the house. That gives her yet another thing to feel guilty about.
She taps her foot repeatedly, nervous in a way. She hasn’t seen Jessica D in a while but they have stayed in touch. Jessica is familiar with her hardships as of late, but not all of it. Today that will change. Billy has decided to tell Jessica everything.
‘Frakk… she’s gonna be so mad at me.’ Billy thinks, scared to tell her the truth. Afraid to reveal how she has been lying to her for over two years. She fears Jessica storming out; she can’t afford to lose another friend.
It isn’t long before a tall woman clad in black approaches.
"Well look at you, all grown up." The tough Jessica D says approaching with a smile and open arms.
Billy hugs her with a laugh, not wanting to let go. After a long embrace they sit down, as Billy tries to hide her tears. Jessica smiles noticing, she quickly rambles about her flight in to DC. Billy’s sunken eyes, and darker lips tell the story of her harsh times in recent months.
"I was so sad to hear about what happened to the Senator’s family." Jessica says giving her condolences; the mere mention of it makes Billy fidget.
"Yeah… that was pretty hard, I was close to… Natalie and Nicole." Billy starts, then pauses.
"I… it was Tubb. After he did that… I just lost it… I." Billy says with her head lowered, secretly mad that she still feels so guilty about what she did.
Jessica reaches across the table and grabs her hands. "You did the right thing." She firmly says, gritting her teeth at the thought of the vicious killer.
The words soothe Billy’s mind, like a weight being lifted off her. Just the simple knowledge that her actions are understood means a lot. Jessica chats more about the tough calls she has made over the years in their line of work.
"I should have taken Tubb out while we were in Texas." She adds with scorn.
Billy becomes calm, Jessica seems so real to her, like a true friend. Billy wishes she had been more forward with her.
"Trust me, sometimes you gotta make the tough call. I had to do that last week." Jessica starts, then pauses looking over both shoulders before continuing.
"The Hierarch threat is valid. They are planning something."
Billy is thrown back a little, holding in a disbelieving scoff.
"The Cadets and me raided a hideout last week still searching for Dr. Helsinki. It leads us to some fancy lab in Arizona. When we arrived, we faced the last person I ever wanted to see, Super Zulu."
Billy is stunned, taking her moments for her to believe it. Super Zulu was one of the founders of the international criminal empire, the Hierarch’s. Zulu is a tribal leader from South Africa, commanding an endless throng of juiced up para-military. Billy fought him alongside Slayer many years ago in Istanbul. It was there, where she killed two child soldiers, turning their weapons against them.
"He and a platoon of his troops were there, escorting something, not sure what. It was a brutal battle, they nearly killed Arrancar. The kid is still in a med-pod."
A brief silence follows, the gravity of it sinking in. Billy never thought that this big bad group of villains was still around, even when she was working with the Cadets. However, this validates everything they were doing and everything Kronos told her.
This time though, there is a silver lining. She smiles inwardly; knowing her and Lennox can decisively help, because they are fully armed to deal with the Hierarchs. Then she thinks of Lennox. He and Kronos did not get along years ago; she doubts it will be any better now.
"I’m heading up to New York, to see Claymore, wanna tag along?" Jessica asks.
Claymore was also in the Patriots, but was kicked out due to his extreme tactics and deteriorating mental stability.
"I thought he went a little crazy. Like …‘everything’s a government cover-up conspiracy’ kinda crazy." Billy says, remembering the rumors of the mysterious ex-Patriot.
"Yeah, he is a lil out there. He’s a conspiracy nut, but you should have seen that lab. There were civilians working there, like government employees with 401K. They were working for Super Zulu, a known international terrorist on American soil. That stinks of a conspiracy, or government cover-up to me." Jessica adds taking another look over both shoulders.
Billy pauses in deep thought, not wanting to believe the possibilities, but on some level knowing it is true.
"Billy, think about it… how is it that the Hierarch’s been off the radar for years, yet they are still operational? We know Terminus had major ties to Russian officials, ex-KGB spooks back in the day. If they could infiltrate a foreign government, why not us? We know they have bought Presidents from other foreign countries before, why not a U.S. president? I know it sounds crazy, but just crazy enough to be true." Jessica adds sending a spark in Billy, Buying a U.S. president.
"Gresham-Belmont." She says behind clinched teeth.
It hits her like a brick. How could she have been so blind? Elliot Stabler flashes to mind and gets her moving. It’s all so clear to her now, ‘Stabler was set up’, she thinks rising from the table. Jessica is startled at Billy’s sudden need to exit.
"I gotta jet, Jess. Just remembered I double scheduled some things today." Billy says, lying to her friend.
She has just realized a bigger lie; one that will ruin the life of a friend and even Lennox may be at risk himself.
"What about going you with me to N.Y?" She asks rising also, giving her a hug.
"Oh… I would, but Lennox has the Republican convention tomorrow. It’s a big event, and why I gotta run." Billy utters, in motion.
She waves bye, truly glad to have met with Jessica, but she is now clear on what she must do.
Gresham-Bellmont is covering something up and she must get to the bottom of it.
Thanks for your continuous reading, only a couple of chapters left in the book, so stick around.