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Collateral Damage

FOURTEEN

Collateral Damage

By the time Taylor reached the road, which lead to the Gallo’s family camp on Lake Placid, was almost entirely blocked by responding emergency vehicles forcing Taylor to leave her Jeep about a quarter mile form the entrance to the camp. She sprinted the distance, pushing her way past police and rescue personnel until she reached the driveway of the camp. Thick black smoke billowed from the dock area and smoldering pieces of wood and metal were strewn about the area. There were police and fire personnel everywhere collecting evidence, evaluating the scene, and interviewing witnesses. Taylor surveyed the area; several of the camp’s summer staff was standing on the lawn watching the end of the excitement, police officers were interviewing a few. Megan was standing with Gallo’s secretary. Further down the grounds, she saw an EMT attempting to keep Mathew Gallo from letting out of the ambulance, and then she heard Megan call out her name. Turning toward the voice, she knelt down to catch the little girl as she flung herself into Taylor’s arms.

“Taylor! I was so scared.” Tears stained Megan’s tiny cheeks. She buried her face into Taylor’s neck. Taylor smoothed the little girl’s hair.

“Shh, Megan. It’s going to be all right.” Taylor pulled Megan away a little so that she could look at her. She smiled at Megan to try and sell the reassurance the little girl needed right now. “Look over there,” Taylor pointed to where Mathew was still lodging his protests with the EMT. “Daddy looks like he’s going to be okay.”

Seeing her father in one piece seemed to ease Megan’s fears a little but she still clung to Taylor’s neck. Taylor hugged her tightly and squeezed her hand.
“Come on. Let’s go see him.”

As Taylor and Megan neared the back of the ambulance, Taylor tried to steal a look at what was left of the dock and the boat slip. The very end of the dock was a ragged clump of splinters and it appeared that the force of the explosion had split the small cabin cruiser in two, with part of the bow resting in what had been the rear wall of the boat slip. Pieces of what Taylor assumed were the stern of the boat littered the waters around what was left of the mooring buoys and the dock. The closer they got to the ambulance the clearer Mathew Gallo’s protests could be heard.

“I’m not going to the hospital. I’ll see my own private physician when I return to the city.”

Mathew Gallo was seated on the edge of the rear platform of the ambulance. He was wrapped in a blanket, his face was blackened with soot from the explosion and his hair was singed. He had a fairly deep cut over his left eye that the EMT was attempting to bandage.

“That cut is going to require stitches Mr. Gallo,” the EMT said in his most diplomatic voice. “There is a very strong possibility that you have a serious concussion. Do you have any ringing in your ears, dizziness, or nausea?”

“Maybe a little, but that doesn’t mean…”

“Daddy!” Megan sang out as she squirmed her way on to her father’s lap.

Mathew gathered Megan in his arms and kissed her forehead. He seemed embarrassed by all the attention and smiled weakly at a very concerned looking Taylor who was standing behind one of the paramedics. Taylor moved around the EMT treating Mathew and put her hand on his shoulder.

“Mathew, what happened?”

“I’m really not sure.” Gallo let a small chuckle escape from his lips so that Megan wouldn’t be anymore alarmed than she already was. “One minute I was backing the boat out of the slip and then, BOOM! Everything goes black and then someone’s pulling me out of the water.”

Taylor followed Mathew’s gaze to the water’s edge where several police officers, including Michael Bimonte and Cal, were standing talking to the fire and rescue personnel. Two fire marshals were supervising the extrication of the boat’s bow from the slip as crime scene investigators examined various pieces of debris from the explosion.

“Mr. Gallo, we should really be getting you to the hospital,” said the medic.

“Don’t be stubborn,” said Taylor. “You really should let them take you to the ER and at least let them make sure that you’re all right.”

“I’m sure they’ll have questions,” said Mathew motioning to the police officers.

“I can handle that,” said Taylor flatly. “Is there anything else you can tell me about this before I talk to them?”

Mathew shook his head. “No, that’s pretty much all I remember. “ He turned to his daughter. “Megan, why don’t you go and have Margie take you to the house and get something to eat. Then you can come with Taylor later and pick me up from the hospital.”

Megan looked to Taylor for confirmation of what she should do.

“That’s a good idea,” Taylor smiled. “Go on Megan, I’ll come and get you in a little bit.”

Megan kissed her father and gave him a big hug then repeated the combination with Taylor before she bounded back up the lawn returning to Gallo’s secretary.

“Thanks for that, for being there for Megan,” said Mathew reaching for Taylor’s hand. “And you’re right; I should let them check me out just to make sure everything is in working order.” He took both her hands in his and then carefully circled them so that he had a hold of her wrists. Once he had her wrists firmly in his grasp, Mathew looked up into Taylor’s eyes and said, “There’s just one more thing I need you to do before I go.”

Before Taylor could react, Mathew pulled her quickly toward him and into a passionate kiss. He freed one of her wrists and twisted his free hand into her hair, pressing her lips tightly to his own. He was surprised for a brief second as Taylor offered no resistance, but then she quickly pulled away from him.

“It seems that you’re not so hurt after all.” Taylor yanked her hand away from him. Her cheeks started to fill with a subtle color. She was surprised that she had allowed Mathew to get away with his little stunt. Why did she allow him to do that?

Mathew laughed, “Can’t blame me for taking advantage of my weakened condition.” Seeing that she was less than amused, Mathew looked toward the EMT. “Perhaps you had better get me to the hospital before my very pretty lawyer makes sure that I sustain injuries that actually need treatment.”

Taylor was too angry with herself to be pulled any further into his farcical display of flirting. She nodded toward the EMT as politely as possible and stepped as far away from the ambulance as she could while the paramedics finished positioning Gallo for transport. As they were about to shut the doors, Gallo motioned for them to wait.

“You will come and bail me out of the hospital?”

“That’s my job,” Taylor remarked coldly. She could hear him start to laugh as the paramedic closed the door. After the ambulance started pulling away, Taylor turned and walked toward the accident site where Cal and her father were still standing.

The firemen had moved what was left of Gallo’s boat to a grassy area near the water’s edge. Two forensic technicians were bent over the twisted mess of wood, metal and what appeared to be engine parts. Michael was standing over Cal, who was squatted next to what was left of the throttle assembly and the corkscrew drive from the boat’s motor. Taylor could see that they were deep in conversation. She quickly weighed her options for getting his attention in the most appropriate manner befitting the situation. Given the circumstances, no attention would be paid if she were seen speaking with the police.

“Commander Bimonte,” Taylor called out as she approached them. “May I have a moment of your time?”

Cal seemed to deliberately look away and devoted his complete attention to the examination of the wreckage before him. Michael exchanged a wordless moment with Cal as he balled his hands into fists and flexed them nervously preparing for what might occur next and then he turned and moved to meet Taylor.

“What can you tell me about this?” Taylor motioned to the remnants of the explosion. “What caused the explosion?”

“I think that you may know more about this than we do.” Michael looked worried. “Cal told me what you said about someone threatening Gallo.”

“You think this,” Taylor motioned to the wreckage, “Was deliberate?”

“Come take a look at this.” Michael took her elbow and led her back to his previous location. Arranged on the ground were several large chunks of twisted metal and the charred remnants of wires and engine casing.

“What is all of this? Some sort of explosive device,” asked Taylor.

“This is part of the boat’s engine. The force of the explosion blew this debris towards those trees over there,” said Bimonte. “The rest is probably at the bottom of lake. But we got lucky. These parts are really all we need to determine the cause of the explosion.”

Taylor closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to concentrate on what he was saying. “Some one rigged the engine to explode?”

“Not exactly.”

Cal stood up and presented Taylor with one of the twisted pieces of metal. Taylor turned it over in her hands, examining it from all sides trying to see what they wanted her see.

“Your client’s boat wasn’t rigged to explode,” said Cal his voice was cold and biting as he stressed the word ‘client’. “If it was,” he continued, “The boat would have exploded when he started it up.”

Taylor looked into his face with alarm. If the boat had exploded on ignition, Megan would have been there; she could have been hurt or killed.

“Megan told me that she was on the boat when Mathew started it,” Taylor said looking down at the hunk of metal in her hands. “She’d forgotten her life vest, so he sent her back to the house to get it.” She turned her face away quickly to regain her composure. Cal and Michael exchanged looks as they registered her concern for the little girl.

“How can you be sure that all of this was intended for Mathew and not his father, or someone else?”

“We have a working theory,” said Michael. “What you just told us, combined with what you told Cal earlier about the mystery caller seems to support our suspicion.”

“Which is?” pressed Taylor; now back in control of her self.

Cal approached Taylor, carefully reaching towards her hands that still held the engine piece. He turned the twisted metal in her hands and added another larger piece. Even though the two pieces no longer fit together as one, when Cal pushed them together, Taylor could see what he was trying to show her. There was a hole was obvious when the two pieces were placed next to each other, jagged around the edges but smoothly honed at the center when the two halves were placed together; the cause of the hole was obvious.

“Some one took a shot at your client counselor,” sneered Cal.

Michael frowned at Cal in disapproval of his attitude and tone of voice. “We aren’t sure whether the shooter was targeting Gallo or the boat’s engine,” he said qualifying Cal’s statement. “But we’re relatively certain that that the explosion was caused by rifle shot.

Taylor knitted her brow in thought as she handed the metal pieces back to Cal. Michael gave Cal a look to indicate that he didn’t approve of his tone before Cal could say anything further to Taylor. Cal took the parts from Taylor and returned them to the crime scene investigators to be tagged and bagged as evidence.

“We’ve all done enough target-shooting at beer cans to recognize what a bullet does to metal. That kind of a hole was most likely made by a large caliber rifle shell,” Bimonte continued. “We’ll have the ballistics technicians run tests to verify it.”

Michael studied Taylor’s face, trying to gage her reaction to get a read on what she was thinking. She looked conflicted, pained almost and his paternal instinct was to try and draw her out, to render what ever comfort he could. He waited until Cal was far enough away so he couldn’t hear what he was about to ask his daughter.

“How are you? I saw you comforting Gallo’s daughter. I know she called you; she was looking for you earlier.” He pulled her closer so that there was no chance that anyone would hear what he said. “What about that exchange between you and Gallo before they carted him off to the ER? Are you closer to all of this than you should be?”

Taylor took a deep breath, fixing her emotions, slipping into her FBI persona.

“You needn’t be concerned,” she said flatly. She stiffened and stepped back and yanked her wrist from his grasp. “I’m completely aware of what I need to be, what I need to appear to be.” It was clear that Taylor wanted to convince him that everything was FBI operations normal. She looked toward Cal before she continued. “What else did Cal tell you?”

Michael sighed. He knew that she wouldn’t let her guard down, although he had hope otherwise. The fact that she had her guard up only served to confirm that what he suspected. “He said you believe that Simpson and Cane weren’t killed by the same person, that the times of death are different. That contradicts what Carson told us earlier. He was really pushing the hard sell on the single killer theory.”

Taylor nodded. “Harmon and Carson don’t always agree on investigative theories and Harmon also doesn’t always tell Carson what’s he’s thinking.”

Michael was a little surprised to hear that Agent Harmon was in the habit of withholding things from his field partner and more than a little surprised that he would have confided things of that nature to one of his subordinates. He filed the information away for consideration later and let Taylor continue to try and distract him from trying to get her to lower her defenses.

“Harmon wasn’t satisfied with the initial findings,” she continued. “He had our lab in DC run further tests.” Her tone took on a dismissive tone. “Let Carson know when the ballistics report comes in. The Bureau will be expecting full disclosure of your findings here. I’ll contact him to make sure you get a copy of the tests results on the TOD’s for Simpson and Cane.”

As she turned away from him, Michael called quietly to her.

“Taylor.”

She turned and looked into her father’s face, full of concern. “I have to get to the hospital.” Seeing that he expected more, she let her FBI agent persona fall away and took a few steps to close the gap between them. She took his hand and squeezed it quickly. “I’m fine,” she said softy releasing his hand and before her father could respond and moved quickly away towards the main house.

Michael stood watching his daughter until she disappeared into the house. He had been in law enforcement long enough to recognize the danger signs; things that indicated that an officer was becoming ragged around the edges. It was common occurrence among deep cover agents; the tendency to lose one’s identity and have the fictional person leech into the person’s psyche, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. Michael had no idea how much control Taylor’s fictional life had over her true self. He wasn’t even sure how long she had been a deep cover agent, but he suspected that it was longer than it should be. He couldn’t shake the feeling that Taylor was losing her objectivity on this case.

Cal anxiously watched the exchange between Taylor and her father and waited until she had left before he approached Michael.

“Anything I need to know boss?”

“I want you to maintain your surveillance on Taylor.”

Cal dropped his eyes, embarrassed. “Yeah, about that, did she tell you?”

“No,” said Michael, a trace of sarcasm in his voice. “You just did.” Cal started to explain, but Michael cut him off. His face was stern, calculating as he looked back toward the forensics team gathering evidence. “Something is way off in all of this. I want to know where she goes and exactly who she sees.”

“You sound like you don’t trust her,” said Cal surprised. He himself was starting to suspect that Taylor was holding back information and now it seemed that Michael was treating his own daughter like one subjects of this investigation. “Do you think she’s holding out on us?”

“I don’t know what I think right now. I get the feeling that there’s more going on here than anyone is aware.” Bimonte turned and stared hard into Cal’s face. “Be careful. Keep a professional distance.” He saw Cal’s cheeks begin to color in embarrassment. “Obviously, Taylor knows you’ve been following her Cal. We both know how easy it is for her to get into your head. If she is holding out on us, she’ll use that, but it’s also something we can turn to our advantage.”

Cal clenched his jaw and balled his hands into fists at his sides attempting to control his anger that the scars she had left on him were still obvious and at the stupid mistakes they allowed him to make. He knew that Michael was being thorough, pointing out weaknesses their suspect could exploit; it was just hard not to take it personally given the circumstances.

“Fine,” said Cal. He inhaled deeply to set his composure. His voice cracked a little, as he was unable to keep the sting of Michael’s obvious disappointment out entirely. “I’ll get right on it.”

Michael watched Cal stalk away and disappear in the darkness towards his truck. Normally he had every confidence in Cal’s abilities, but he was worried. He knew that the scars that Cal carried ran deep; nothing went deeper than losing the one. He knew from experience that that kind of pain wasn’t something that you ever really got over; you simply learned to live with it. Michael knew he’d have to keep a close eye to make sure that neither of them got pulled under the riptide that the phantoms of past could generate.

There was still enough activity at the scene for the man to go unnoticed. He had remained on the fringe of the frantic activity of the rescue personnel and it had had been quite easy to slip into the shadows of the main house once the police investigators arrived. He enjoyed the safety that the panic he had caused afforded him; everyone was so enraptured with the explosion and its aftermath that he had no trouble blending in and enjoying the fruits of his labor. From a secluded rise between the main house and the driveway, he had been able to relax and enjoy the drama unfold. It gave him a great sense of satisfaction that he could manipulate these fools like puppets and all for his own personal enjoyment. He had but one task left to perform.

Moving along the wooded area parallel to the driveway and the access road, the man smiled with satisfaction, recalling the sight of Mathew Gallo’s body flying through the air as his boat engine exploded. At the proper time, he would make sure that Mr. Gallo appreciated and understood that it the entire incident could have had quite a different ending. The rifle bullet could have just as easily passed through Gallo’s head as it did the boat’s engine housing. The only reason it didn’t was due to the little girl’s presence. She was an innocent and, although he was capable of monstrous deeds, the man wasn’t a monster; he was simply a man looking out for his own interests. Traumatizing an innocent child would not serve his interest, but the task he had begun with the boat and would now conclude and satisfy his interests quite nicely.

It had also pleased him to watch dear Ms. Bennetto walk the tight rope line between the police and her obligations to Mathew Gallo. She seemed to have little trouble managing the State Police investigators. He thought he would vomit as he watched Gallo’s desperate attempt at seduction by the ambulance. She should thank him for protecting her virtue, but from then again she didn’t seem to mind Gallo’s ham-handed forward pass; in fact she seemed to be giving in to his advances. He smiled in the darkness as he made his way along the road; dear Ms. Bennetto’s worth to Gallo would be tested soon enough.

He found the vehicle and checked to make sure that he was completely alone before crawling underneath. Quickly he positioned the small penlight in his mouth and located the Jeep’s hydraulic fluid line. He then snapped the blade from his knife open and stabbed at the hose at three separate intervals before he rolled back into the wooded path and disappeared.

As she neared the house, Taylor heard the message alert sound of her cell phone. She flipped the phone open and saw that there were five new messages; three were for her phone; the other two were cloned messages fed to her phone from Mathew’s phone. By the time she reached the main house of the Gallo family camp, she had scrolled through the numbers listed as received calls both on her phone and Mathew’s. Taylor wanted to wait until she was back at the hotel suite to check Mathew’s messages so switched her cell screen and checked the cell numbers for her personal messages. Seeing Adirondack Medical Center number listed first, she retrieved the message. It was from a very angry Mathew Gallo demanding that she get there as soon as humanly possible.

After making a quick phone call to the hospital to check on Gallo’s status, Taylor learned from the ER doctor that, despite a long drawn out argument from Mathew, he would remain in the hospital overnight for observation. Taylor gently broke the news to Megan that they wouldn’t be visiting her father this evening and asked that the house keeper keep Megan at the camp until she made arrangements to get Gallo released from the hospital. After making sure that Megan was tucked in for the night, Taylor made her way back to her vehicle and drove toward town.

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