Cal and his friends pulled into the parking lot of Mud Puddles Bar around midnight. They had been making the circuit of bars in Lake Placid celebrating their graduation from the Academy and subsequent postings to Troop B in Ray Brook. Cal’s best friend, Allison was tending bar tonight and Cal had promised that they would stop in. Allison waved at the group from her station at the end of the bar as the group waded through the crowd near the entrance. Cal waved shyly back as he and his friends surveyed the immediate area for an available table.
“Did you see that smile on Allison’s face,” teased one of the group. “She just about jumped the bar when she saw you Cal.”
Cal blushed. “Shut up! If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times, Allison and I are FRIENDS.”
The others burst out laughing. “How come everyone but you knows that’s not how she sees it?”
“Give it a rest will you?” protested Cal. “That’d be like kissing my sister!”
The dance floor was crowded and as Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” rang in their ears they made their way to wards the bar to continue celebrating. It was their night to howl and they couldn’t have picked a better night as just about every bar they rolled into was heavily populated with college girls home for the summer or newly graduated and as eager to cut loose as they were and they couldn’t help but notice that a few choice looking young ladies were watching their progress with lecherous interest. As soon as they had settled at their table and had placed a drink order with the cocktail waitress, the ladies were at their sides, pulling them to the dance floor. Three pitchers of Alabama Slammers and a few rounds of tequila shots later, Cal was doing his best to peel a heavily intoxicated and overly amorous bleached blonde from his arm so he could go to the restroom. He managed to loosen her grip enough to pass her off on one of his friends, and with a sly grin and disappeared up the stairs of the bar to the second floor where the sports bar and restrooms were located.
The second floor was much less crowded and the music from below was reduced to a muted bass thumping, barely competing with the jukebox music piping down from the overhead speakers. There were a few locals assembled at the bar watching a Yankees game on the big projection T.V and a few couples seated at corner tables eating bar snacks; a small group of twenty-somethings were playing foosball. As Cal left the men’s room and turned to go back down stairs, his attention was drawn to the pool table where a small group of horse show people were laughing and watching a pool game in progress. He was in no hurry to get back to his friends and he was secretly hoping that he had successfully passed the blonde off to someone more interested in a one night hook up than he was. In order to improve his chances, Cal decided to watch a few innings of the game, ordered a drink and took a seat at the far end of the bar.
He was into his second gin and tonic when he saw one of his friends appear on the landing from the lower level on course for the men’s room. They exchanged a wordless confirmation that while Cal wasn’t ditching them, he had had enough of the dance floor scene for the evening. As he turned his attention back to the ball game, one of the pool players brushed past him on her way to order a round of shots for her group. Her attractive figure and perfume caught his attention right away and he found himself watching her as she spoke with the bartender. It wasn’t that she was unusually pretty, but more the way she carried herself that held his attention. Her self-assurance was evident in the set of her posture and expression that articulated a sense of inner strength and independence. He wasn’t aware that he had been staring at her until she focused her green eyes squarely on him, but the message in them seem to be one of mutual curiosity rather than one of offense. A slightly crooked smile appeared as she broke eye contact and turned away from him and rejoined her party. A strong slap on his back snapped him back to his senses, as his friends suddenly appeared at the bar on either side of his stool.
“Since none of us was in the mood to fall in love or lust tonight,” laughed Paul. “We thought we’d see what’s been keeping you.”
“What are you doing up here anyway, hiding from Allison,” teased Jason.
“Don’t be an ass Jason,” said Cal ignoring the bait. He took a long sip from his drink and casually leaned backwards in his stool to get a better look at the pool table trying to catch a glimpse of the woman again, but the other members of her party were obscuring his line of sight.
“Anyone up for a game of pool?” Cal rose from his seat. “Those horseshow people have had that table all night. What do you say we reclaim it?”
“The bastards,” laughed Jason in mocked indignation. “Let’s do it.”
Cal and his friends took their drinks and moved toward the group assembled around the pool table. The group barely noticed, as they were finishing their round of shots, when Cal put his quarters on the table’s side rail to present their challenge for control of the table.
“Up for some competition,” Cal said as his friends moved to the cue rack and selected their sticks. “How about we play in teams; losers buy the shots?”
Cal glanced quickly at the woman from the bar and tried to seem nonchalant as he selected his cue and began to chalk it. He was sure that he saw her smile and that he could feel her green eyes watching his movements like jungle cat stalking its prey, assessing it for strengths and weaknesses.
“Sound’s interesting,” said one of the men as he extended his hand in welcome to Cal. “I’m Mark Olsen. That’s Sandra Moore, Connie Morrison, Joe Fields and Ed Porter,” he said indicating the other members of the group. Then, in an effort to establish that he had already laid claim to woman at the far end of the table, Mark moved around the table to the only member of his group he hadn’t been introduced and put his arm around her waist. To the surprise of both Cal and Mr. Olsen, the woman executed a smooth escape of his arm and extended her hand toward Cal.
“I’m Taylor. Taylor Bennetto.”
Cal introduced his friends to the group and the competition both for control of the table and Taylor Bennetto got underway. It was clear that Olsen had assumed he was Taylor’s companion for the evening and that he had no intention of entertaining any other options, quickly assuming the role of her partner for the game. Still Cal and Taylor managed to strike up an on going conversation between turns on the pool table. He learned that her parents were divorced and she had one sister who was some sort of writer and although the friends she was with were horseshow people, she was just visiting for the summer between semesters of law school. He was impressed by her competitiveness and how adept Taylor was at pool, losing only when her partner scratched on the last shot. She made a sound that sounded a lot like a hiss and said something nearly unintelligible under her breath to Olsen.
“You’re such a dumb ass.” Taylor banged her cue off the floor and took a few steps away from the table. She made no attempt to hide how annoyed that they had lost on what she obviously thought was a stupid error on Olsen’s part.
Cal turned to hide his amused grin. It took all his will power not to laugh.
“Looks like this rounds on us.” Olsen grumbled as he signaled to the bartender to set up another round of shots. He was clearly upset over being openly criticized by Taylor.
“Best two out of three,” offered Cal. He suspected that Olsen had intentionally muffed his last shot to end the game and provide him with a convenient exit.
“Why not,” Taylor smiled and began to rack the balls for the next game.
Olsen looked as if he wanted to snap his cue in two and spear Cal with it; instead he just went to the bar to pick up their order. After Cal’s partner, Jason, scratched on the break, Taylor ran the table and quickly won the second game.
“That’ll be one round of earthquakes on you,” Taylor remarked playfully.
“I think we’re being hustled,” grumbled Jason.
Control of the table seesawed two or three times over the next two hours and several the loser of a given game purchased more rounds of shots. By the time the bartender announced last call Cal was completely hammered and completely smitten. He didn’t want the evening to end and decided to do something about it before Taylor and her friends disappeared in to the night.
The alcohol had made him brave enough to decide to ask for her phone number and dumb enough not to have not remembered the hulking brute who had attached himself to Taylor for most of the evening. When Mark Olsen excused himself to go to the men’s room, Cal took advantage of his absence to approach Taylor as she returned the pool cues to the rack on the wall.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” snarled the date as he knocked Cal’s hand away from Taylor’s shoulder
All he had done was to put his hand on her shoulder. Taylor turned to face him then looked towards the man making the accusation; she seemed more annoyed than angry.
“Relax Mark,” she huffed disgusted. “You’ve had too much to drink. Just chill already.” She tried to push past him, but he grabbed her arm in an effort to push her behind him.
Cal still hadn’t moved. The confrontation had neutralized his happy buzz and was now fueling something more dangerous. The loud accusation had drawn the attention of both groups of friends. Each group assumed aggressive stances, waiting for the trigger before the first punch was thrown. The few remaining bar patrons moved towards the stairs leading to the lower level.
Seeing that a fight was evident, the bartender and the bouncer started making their way towards the pool table. They hadn’t even made it half way across the floor when Olsen connected a right cross to Cal’s jaw sending him sprawling into the arms of one of his friends causing the whole place to erupt into a melee. The bouncer jumped into the fray as the bartender ran for the phone to call the police.
Cal recovered from the punch in time to see Taylor jump on to the back of dear old Mark, spinning him away from Cal’s direction. As one of the others attempted to pull her off, she spun around and connected with a punch of her own to the man’s face.
“Jesus Cal,” said his friend Paul. “You sure know how to pick ‘em.”
Cal smiled as he watched Taylor kick the man away from her and dive right back into the fight.
“What do you say we give the lady a hand?”
By the time the police arrived, there wasn’t a lot left in the way of furniture that wasn’t been reduced to splinters. Teams from both the local police department and the state police arrived about ten minutes later and began separating the combatants.
Cal had just landed a punch squarely on the jaw of good old Mark, when a pair of strong hands grabbed him from behind, pinning his arms.
“That’s enough rookie.”
Cal stopped struggling at the sound of the voice of his training officer, Sergeant Michael Bimonte. The sergeant and his partner began to corral Cal and the other two probationary troopers while the local police rounded up the horseshow people. When they reached the parking lot, Bimonte demanded an explanation.
“You want to tell me just what the lot of you was trying to do in there, besides making yourselves look like idiots?”
Cal looked to his friends for some show of support but didn’t find any. As he tried to choke out some sort of reply, one of the local police officers approached, headed towards one of the awaiting patrol cars; he had Taylor, who had gotten in her fair share of punches, in hand cuffs. As he turned to look in her direction, her expression brightened and she smiled sweetly as they passed. He didn’t notice that his sergeant was also looking in the same direction.
Then she looked over her shoulder directly at Sergeant Bimonte and said, “Hello Dad.”
The conversation took less than two minutes and was almost entirely one sided. Michael closed his cell phone.
“She made arrangements to brief us in my office in an hour. Apparently Gallo phoned her as soon as we left. She convinced him that she should come alone to the station to speak with us, rather than bringing Gallo here for further questioning. It’s probably best; that way we can talk freely, without raising any unnecessary suspicion.”
The fifteen-minute ride back to Troop B at Ray Brook seemed endless. Neither Cal nor Michael said anything, both uncomfortable and not sure what to say to the other about Taylor’s involvement in this investigation. The last time either man had seen Taylor was nearly two years ago, at the funeral services for Michael’s mother. As with most of the visits Taylor bestowed upon her father, the visit had been brief but eventful.
Following the divorce, Allison Bimonte decided to return to being Allison Bennetto and moved back to her hometown near Hyde Park. Time and distance reduced Michael’s relationship with his daughters to sporadic holiday and summer visits for the remainder of their teen-age years. While Michael had maintained a more positive relationship with his youngest daughter, his relationship with his oldest daughter, Taylor was difficult to define. It wasn’t so much a relationship as an association; they were two people who shared DNA and little else, either by accident or design. They exchanged the requisite cards for special occasions, birthdays and holidays and maintained a very polite business like relationship for most of Taylor’s adult life except on those rare occasions when she simply appeared out of the blue and surprised the hell out of her father.
Like the night when she was almost arrested for her involvement in a bar fight. Michael wasn’t even aware Taylor was in town, and she had had no intention of seeing him. It was pure coincidence that he was working over time on that particular evening and it was a double shock when he responded to a call to assist the local police to find not only three off duty probationary troopers involved in a brawl but his own daughter as well. Taylor had merely said ‘thank you’ when the local police officer released her, as a professional courtesy, following a short conversation with her father and disappeared into the night. Although they did see each other a few more times that summer, due mostly to the fact that she became involved romantically Cal Montgomery. Even though her relationship with Cal increased the frequency of her visits, they remained essentially estranged and kept in loose contact from that time on.
Taylor did invite him to her graduation from law school and in true Taylor fashion, informed him that she had no plans to practice law and that the FBI had recruited her as an agent. To add insult to injury, Michael also had to endure the aftermath of the disastrous end to his daughter’s involvement with Cal that, either by accident or design happened to coincide with her graduation. After that Spring evening, Taylor vanished into the FBI’s special agent world almost immediately and father and daughter did not see each other again until the death of Michael’s mother almost eight years later. She was seated behind Michael’s desk when they entered his office.
“You said an hour on the phone,” said Michael only mildly surprised to find her there.
“That was for my “employer’s” benefit.” Rising from his chair, Taylor returned one of the framed photos she was holding to its original position on the desk. “I didn’t want him to know I was in the area yet. He thought I was just getting off the Keene exit when he called me.”
Michael noticed that it was the photo of his parents.
“Gallo did his best to act surprised to hear of Mr. Simpson’s demise,” said Michael, a touch of cool sarcasm in his voice was evident as he threw his jacket over the back of one of the chairs. He focused on Taylor’s face to gage her reaction. She remained calmly composed. He continued. “And he didn’t waste any time requesting that we defer any further questions to his lawyer. Where were you?”
Taylor rose from commander’s chair and took the route furthest from her father around to the front of the desk, tracing her fingers around the edges as if committing its shape to memory. She ignored Michael’s opening comments and focused on his question.
“I knew that you’d be calling on him and I knew that my presence at your initial meeting with Mathew might be a bit of a shock. I thought it would be best if he were placed in a situation where he didn’t have to see us together; at least until you knew the specifics of my involvement,” she said taking a seat in front of his desk.
Michael nodded and remained where he stood as Cal nervously moved around the office. Cal briefly considered sitting in one of the chairs in front of Michael’s desk, but decided against it when Taylor moved around the desk and settled into one of the chairs. After weighing his limited seating options, Cal finally alighted on the couch in the far corner of the office by the crime scene board.
“Harmon or Carson could have told us that you were the inside contact,” Michael was annoyed feeling that he was being jerked around. “Does he know?”
“Does he know you’re my father,” Taylor laughed. “Of course he knows. He and Carson have been having a fit wondering how you’d react. That’s one of the reasons why I wasn’t at the hotel suite when you had your interview with Mathew. They were afraid that your reaction might blow my cover.”
“How long have you been undercover in Gallo’s Organization?”
“The law firm is an FBI front. Over the past 15 years or so, with the help of connected crime family associates that have turned state’s witness, the Bureau has been able to put key operatives inside several of the bigger families. With my law degree,” she smiled slyly, “And law enforcement background, it was the most natural place for the Bureau to assign me. I have been part of the Gallo family’s legal team for about eight years now, Mathew Gallo’s personal business counsel for the last three.”
Michael moved back behind his desk as she spoke and sat down. He was trying hard to force himself to separate his feelings as father and instead focus on the necessity of being an objective investigator. The fact that Taylor was so deeply involved gave him a deep personal connection and could possibly make a dangerous situation worse. This killer was an impersonal predator, someone who killed for money someone, someone who had killed law enforcement officers, and someone who wouldn’t hesitate to kill anyone who might expose them. What would he do if the next dead agent were his daughter? He knew that he had to focus on the fundamentals of working in conjunction with the FBI on the investigation and push all personal considerations to the side.
“Did Gallo order the hit on Simpson?”
The calm, matter-of-fact way she responded gave Michael pause. He hadn’t really expected an answer, much less one delivered so coldly and so quick.
“You’re certain? Harmon didn’t seem to think that Gallo was involved.”
“I’m certain that I know every thing about Mathew’s business dealings that exist outside of his head. Just as I am certain that you will not be able to connect Mathew to Simpson’s murder,” she responded in the same pat matter-of-fact tone.
Bimonte folded his arms across his chest and rocked back in his chair, a slightly bemused smile on his face.
“Really? And you’re certain of that because?”
Taylor mirrored his smug expression perfectly. “I’m his lawyer. That’s my job.”
Michael marveled at how well Taylor affected her ice-cold Mafia lawyer persona and the ease at with which she shifted from her fictional role to FBI agent.
“If it makes any difference, and just so you’re all on the same page, Agent Harmon has been updated on the specifics of Mr. Simpson’s demise.”
It was quite obvious to Bimonte that either the call Harmon received while he was in this very office or at the Flume must have been from Taylor.
“All right then, tell me what I need to know about this contractor. Harmon said that Gallo was meeting with him. Do you have any idea who it could be?”
“As you know, the Gallo’s are in negotiations to purchase a portion of the old Lake Placid Club properties,” said Taylor shifting back into her fictional role. “We have several meetings scheduled over the next two weeks, and with his involvement in the Horse Show events, things will be very busy, there will be lots of people coming and going. I’ve seen Mathew’s personal appointment book; some of the names I recognize, others are new or people referred by family contacts.”
“Making it easy for the contractor to blend in, collect payment and vanish without drawing any unnecessary attention,” Michael concluded.
Taylor stole a glance at Cal in the corner; rose from her seat then paused at the door.
“I’ll go through the appointments again. If I pick out anything I think you should know about, I’ll contact you. For now, all we can do is wait.”
Cal watched Taylor leave and felt the void open in his chest. He knew that he was reacting childishly by giving her the cold shoulder routine, but Taylor had pushed the limits of his comfort zone from the moment they met. Even though it had been a considerable time since he’d seen her, it bothered him that he couldn’t dismiss his feelings for her as easily as it seemed she could. He didn’t realize that Michael had been speaking to him until he felt his hand on his shoulder. Cal looked up into the very concerned eyes of his Commander.
“Cal, can you handle this?” Michael knew how much damage Taylor had exacted in Cal’s life and on some level he had always felt responsible.
“Jesus! What am I twelve?” Cal was angry that his had allowed his emotions to be so transparent.
Michael kept his gazed fixed, his eyes narrowed sternly. “I need you to be able to focus. I need you to keep your head on straight. If you can’t…”
Cal jumped to his feet, he was well aware that his actions were going to look like he was having a tantrum; maybe he was. More than anything, he wanted to believe what he said was true.
“I am perfectly capable of doing my job,” he snapped. “No matter who I have to work with.”