Shades of Gray

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Through the Looking Glass


Through the Looking Glass

Cal knew that Taylor would eventually leave the Gallo camp to go to the hospital so rather than try to follow her out of the narrow Peninsula Road leading to town he left immediately after speaking with Michael and parked his truck in the Caribbean Cowboy’s parking lot, situated directly across from the access road to Peninsula Road and waited for her Jeep to appear. The irony of his situation did not escape him; in fact given his present state of mind, it was unavoidable. Before tonight, he had been following her because he had a need to simply know that she was really back in his life, even for a short time, and really existed as more than just a memory. Now, he had been ordered to follow her to determine if she could be involved in something sinister.

Cal positioned his truck in a parking space that was partially obscured by some tree branches and hoped that Taylor would be distracted enough by the evenings events that she wouldn’t notice when he pulled out of the lot to follow her movements. He tried to sort through the events of the past few hours and organized them into some sort of logical sequence, trying desperately to separate his emotions from the facts of the case. It was vital that he find a way to accomplish this, especially if Taylor was in fact lying about her level of involvement. He was convinced that he knew what Michael had pulled her to the side to discuss privately. They’d both seen the kiss by the ambulance and that had served to lay bare all the old scars Cal carried. Michael was right though; he had to get a handle his feelings. Cal’s relationship with Taylor has been over for a very long time. He had moved on after she had left; he knew it was naive of him to think that she hadn’t. But it wasn’t so easy to quiet those old feelings with her so close. While he waited, his mind wandered back to the days following the night they had met.

Cal wasn’t sure who was more shocked that night when the local police officer had led Taylor past him and Michael. What was shaping up to be a very bad situation had suddenly transformed into one that was much worse. Cal was already thoroughly embarrassed that his training officer was here bailing him out of trouble for a stupid off duty bar fight but the instant that he heard Taylor utter the word ‘Dad’ he shifted from embarrassment into a full blown panic attack. He was fairly certain that once Sergeant Bimonte learned that the reason for the fight had been that Cal was trying to pick up his daughter, his probationary period was likely to be the most painful experience of his short career. When the sergeant excused himself to go speak with the officer that had Taylor in custody, Cal frantically reviewed the information she had provided earlier in the evening and he was certain that she had made no mention that her father was a state trooper. Trying as hard as he could not seem obvious, Cal stared over at the sergeant and tried to assess just how much trouble he was in.

“Did you catch that Cal,” said Jason grabbing his arm and pulling him toward the car they had arrived in. “Jesus Christ! You’ve spent the better part of the night hitting on Bimonte’s daughter.”

“How the hell was I supposed to know that,” Cal slumped against the car and ran his hands nervously through his hair. “She said her last name was Bennetto not Bimonte.”

“She could have said her last name was Hitler and you wouldn’t have noticed,” snapped Paul.

“Why don’t you just shut the hell up?” Cal pushed away from the car and began to pace in a tight circle near the car.

“We are so screwed! He’s going to crucify all of us,” moaned Jason. He opened the door to the car and slumped into the seat.

Jason and Paul began trying to assess what their chances were of staying on Sergeant Bimonte’s good side, debating whether or not to just throw Cal to him as a sacrificial offering to save their own careers. After all they weren’t the ones hitting on the man’s daughter.

Cal was only vaguely aware of what his companions were saying. He continued to watch the interactions between Bimonte and the local police officer. From the look of things, the sergeant had managed to convince him not to cart Taylor off to jail. Cal and his friends watched as her handcuffs were removed and the breathed a momentary sigh of relief when the patrolmen left. They were quite amused to see that Mark Olsen, the man who had started the fight, seated in the back of one of the local police cars as it exited the parking lot. At least no one of their group was going to be arrested but that didn’t mean that they were out of the woods yet; there was still the matter of what Bimonte’s daughter was going to tell her father. No one dared speak a word as they watched a surprisingly brief exchange between father and daughter.

The sergeant stood motionless as Taylor turned and walked away from him without so much as a casual glance in Cal’s direction. Bimonte remained where he was until she had pulled her car out of the parking lot and driven out of sight. Although the whole scene took less than five minutes to play out, it seemed like hours to the three men waiting for judgment to be passed. They each took a deep breath as Bimonte made his way in their direction. The sergeant’s face was stoic and the three men exchanged nervous, concerned glances at one another as he approached them, lowering their eyes to avoid eye contact as he stopped in front of them. Bimonte gave a disgusted huff as he squared off, hands on his hips, a scowl carved on his face.

“Well? Have you three had enough time to come up with an explanation for your behavior?” Bimonte’s expression softened a little, relaxing the scowl into a look of disappointment. “I’m waiting,” he coached as he looked from face to face, waiting for one of them to pluck up enough courage to speak up.

They were only slightly relieved that the tone of his voice seemed more like that of a father scolding his children rather than that of a superior officer reprimanding his subordinates. Since it looked like they might stand a chance of getting out of this with their careers intact, Cal turned to face his training officer.

“I know that sorry doesn’t begin to cover it,” said Cal sheepishly. He shifted his feet, certain that he heard Jason and Paul groan behind him. “And maybe we didn’t use the best judgment.” Cal was reaching for the right words and failing. “It won’t happen again.”

Bimonte looked the three men over and shook his head. “What’s done is done and as long as it ends here, there’s nothing left to say. You’re all very fortunate that there wasn’t any significant damage done inside.”

“But Sarge,” whined Jason. “We didn’t start the fight. That guy in the back of the cruiser there threw the first punch.”

Bimonte nodded his head in agreement. “Both the bartender and the bouncer confirmed that.” He narrowed his eyes and stared hard at the three probationary officers. “Again, you three are very lucky.”

Jason retreated to the car and Cal began an intensive study of his feet, waiting for the axe to fall. If the sergeant had spoken to the bartender, it was most likely that he had learned the true cause of the fight. Then to everyone’s surprise, Sergeant Bimonte’s expression changed as a look of chagrin crossed his face.

“I’m certain you all can get home without further incident?”

Cal and his friends nodded in shocked surprise and then Bimonte turned and started back to the patrol car where his partner was waiting. They watched anxiously as the two officers exchanged a few words. As soon as the other trooper got in the passenger’s seat, Bimonte climbed into the driver’s seat of the vehicle and swung the car around to where they were still standing. He rolled down the window as the car slowly passed them.

“I’ll expect all three of you bright and early Monday morning,” he said dismissively before leaving them behind.

“Jesus that was close,” said Jason getting to his feet. “He really didn’t seem as pissed as I thought he’d be. I wonder what she said to him.”

Cal stared after the retreating taillights of the Bimonte’s cruiser. He was wondering the same thing. He was also wondering if he was ever going to see Taylor Bennetto again.

Cal arrived at the Troop B Barracks almost an hour early the following Monday morning. He hadn’t been able to sleep for worrying about what Sergeant Bimonte might have to say about what had happened over the weekend. He decided that if Bimonte objected to Cal’s flirtation with his daughter, maybe they could get it out in the open without having to do it in front of the others. He found Bimonte in the Watch Commander’s office going over the duty roster for the day. Cal loitered nervously by the coffee machine waiting for Bimonte to notice him. After a few minutes, Cal realized that he was drawing curious stares so Cal fixed himself a cup of coffee, took a seat at the break table and pretended to look at a newspaper that had been left there.

“You’re in early.” Bimonte took a seat opposite Cal who was so startled he nearly toppled his own cup.

“You did say bright and early,” Cal said nervously.

Bimonte chuckled under his breath and took a sip of his coffee. “I see you made it through the rest of your weekend without incident.”

Cal’s blood pressure must have shot up to near stroke levels at the mention of the word ‘weekend’. He wasn’t entirely sure that he could handle this very casual, civilized conversation. If Sergeant Bimonte was going to hand him his head for trying to pick up his daughter, Cal wished he would just do it and get it over with.

“Yes sir,” Cal choked out. “About that, I just want to apologize again.”

“Forget about it.” Bimonte downed the rest of his coffee and got to his feet. “Let’s hit the road, shall we?”

Cal sincerely hoped that the dumb expression on his face would pass for obedience and not panic. He rose to his feet and dutifully followed his sergeant out to their patrol car and started their shift. On their way out the door, they passed Jason and Paul. They stared at Cal, silently asking the question of they day with their eyes. Cal simply shrugged and continued to the car. Cal didn’t know what was going through Sergeant Bimonte’s mind, but if the sergeant wasn’t going to bring up his daughter, then neither was he.

The week passed quickly, followed by three more and there still hadn’t been any mention of what had transpired at Mud Puddles Bar. If it hadn’t been for the fact that his face had been sore for two days from the few lucky punches that Mark Olsen had landed, Cal might have convinced himself that the whole incident never happened. After the first week passed uneventfully, Jason and Paul had finally stopped interrogating him at the end of every shift as to whether or not Bimonte had finally chewed him out and had instead begun teasing him unmercifully about the lousy impression he must have made on Ms. Bennetto. Jason was the worst of the two; by the time their shifts ended on Friday, Cal was ready to tear Jason’s head from his shoulders.

“Guess you aren’t so smooth after all, hot shot,” Jason jabbed playfully Cal in the side as he walked to his car. “Here you go and risk your job for a hot little piece and she totally blows you off.”

“I swear Jay,” Cal warned. “If you don’t layoff, you could find yourself minus some teeth.”

“I’m just saying,” Jason raised his hands in mock surrender. “It has been what a month? I tell you, I’m getting pretty bored casing the same bar every weekend. I mean it’s not like she couldn’t find you if she wanted to. All she has to do is ask dear old dad.”

Cal’s response was a sharp cuff across the back of Jason’s head.

Paul pushed between the two as Jason whirled around looking a little too serious for the start of the weekend. “Take it easy, both of you.” Paul pushed Jason at the passenger’s door to the car and rounded the front to get in the other side as Cal skulked to his truck.

“You know you would be so pissed if you didn’t think he was right,” Paul said as he got into his car. “See you later?”

Cal growled something unintelligible, climbed into his truck and nearly peeled out of the parking lot. He wasn’t sure who he was more pissed off at Jason or himself; Paul was right, he was angry because Jason had the whole situation pegged. They had been to Mud Puddles, more often than either Paul or Jason cared to since the fight, and hadn’t seen her. They couldn’t understand what the big deal was, but Cal wouldn’t let it go. The more he thought about it, the more he convinced himself that there had been some sort of connection, a certain curiosity that had passed between them. He decided to try one more time, without Jason and Paul.

After Cal got home, he showered and made an innocent call to Stephanie to see if she was free for dinner. He knew that she worked Thursday through Saturday at Mud Puddles to pay for community college tuition and he knew that she wouldn’t turn down his dinner invitation. Cal felt a stab of guilt at using Stephanie; she had noticed the frequency of his visits to the bar and had even switched from tending bar on the lower level to upstairs at the sports bar where the trio usually hung out. The switch did not go unnoticed by Jason and Paul, who never missed an opportunity to remind Cal of how Stephanie looked at him every time they came in the bar.

“You know Cal, I’m starting to think something is seriously wrong with you” Paul had remarked one night. “I don’t know why you just don’t give in and start dating that poor girl. You could do a lot worse and at least she’s interested in you.”

“Not like some women,” Jason chimed in, but he quickly backed off as Cal glared at him daring to finish his barb.

As Cal pulled up to Stephanie’s house to pick her up for dinner, he decided that maybe his friends were right. He had had some time to think things through and decided that it was unfair to use Stephanie like this. Maybe Paul had a point; he should simply enjoy the company of someone who really wanted to be with him instead of chasing some alcohol induced crush. He just hoped that Stephanie would let him drop her at work and go home.

Headlights brightly flashed towards the parking lot of the Caribbean Cowboy and pulled Cal back into the present. A van belonging to The Jalapeño Brothers, a local tex-mex band advertised on the Cowboy’s sandwich board, pulled past Cal’s truck and parked behind the building without seeming to take much notice of him. He looked across the road and noticed a pair of headlights coming down the Peninsula access road. He was about to start his engine, when he realized that the headlight belonged to a car and not Taylor’s Jeep. He watched the car turn towards town and then gave a glance over to the activity by the van. Two of the musicians were lighting up just out of his line of sight and soon an interesting odor wafted over the empty lot and through his open window. He briefly considered going over and busting them for possession when he saw Taylor’s Jeep pull onto the main road. He counted to ten and then pulled out to follow her. Her route indicated that she was returning to the Mirror Lake Inn instead of the hospital so to avoid his previous mistakes, Cal took an alternate route through Signal Hill, parked his truck and cut through the employee parking lot of the Inn. As his route was shorter and devoid of traffic, he was able to arrive at the hotel in time to see her entering the Heritage House facility where Gallo had rented a suite.

Cal watched the front of the Heritage House for approximately thirty minutes before he called the cell number on the business card Gallo had given them two weeks ago. The call went unanswered and went straight to voice mail; he didn’t leave a message. He checked to see that her Jeep was still in the hotel parking lot and decided to stake out the hospital, which was her next destination. The view of Mirror Lake from the top of Signal Hill was spectacular tonight and Cal couldn’t help but pause to take in the serene beauty of the lights dancing on the water. When he had lived closer to town, he would often drive around the lake and park near the old Lake Placid Club just to mellow out and enjoy the view. It was something that most of the locals did; either out of boredom or simply to reboot and get their heads set right. As Cal got into his truck, he realized the irony of where he was and looking across the lake, toward the beach, his memory took him back to where he and Taylor officially began their relationship.

After Cal had dropped Stephanie off at work, and realizing that he really didn’t want to hang around at the Sports Bar and give Stephanie the wrong impression, he decided to take a drive around Mirror Lake to unwind before he went home. July was slipping into August and the evenings were still warm and pleasant and after making two circuits of the lake, listening to the radio and enjoyed the breeze blowing into the cab, decided he wasn’t quite ready to go home. Cal parked his truck in front of the old Lake Placid Club. He briefly noted the crime scene tape across the old driveway leading to the main building of the celebrated old resort. Closed now for about ten years, the central building, which formally entertained the rich and famous of the 1930’s through the 1970’s, had recently fallen victim to a series of suspicious fires. Though many theories abounded, no one had been identified as the arsonist although the investigation was on going.

The sky was clear and peppered with millions of stars that provided a sparkling backdrop for a harvest moon. Cal crossed the street and sat on the grass by near the shoreline of Mirror Lake. As he enjoyed the spectacular scenery created by the reflecting lights of the main street buildings dancing on the water he was surprised to realize that his thoughts were completely occupied with his dinner with Stephanie. They had decided to go to Jimmy’s 21 on Main Street because they were assured a great meal and fast service; this was guaranteed because they were both good friends of several of the wait and kitchen staff. They had shared a terrific meal and nice relaxed conversation. Cal and Stephanie had always had this kind of nice, relaxed relationship; he considered her his best friend. They couldn’t have been closer if they had been siblings and Cal was determined to protect that aspect of their relationship. There was nothing that they couldn’t talk about, nothing that they couldn’t do together. Well, almost nothing.

For the life of him he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t seem to let their relationship evolve beyond friendship. Maybe Paul was right and there was something wrong with him. Stephanie was pretty, smart and treated him like the sun rose and set around him and she made no secret that she wanted more; she had wanted more since they were hormone-fueled teenagers. Cal had always found ways to distract her from her mission change the status of their relationship and more than once he had set her up with other friends of his who thought he was an idiot for not dating her himself. Cal had lived through his mother’s devastation after his father died. His father had been the love of his mother’s life and she never seemed to recover from that loss. As he sat there soaking in the natural beauty that made tourist flock to this town, he realized what it was that kept him from giving in to Stephanie; he wasn’t ready to accept the responsibility of being the love of someone’s life.

After a while the change in the ambient temperature made Cal realize that he had been sitting by the lake for much longer than he had intended. He got up, dusted the grass from his jeans and turned to cross the road but what he saw on the wall above his truck stopped him in his tracks. Perched on the wall about fifteen feet above where he had parked, was Taylor. She was slightly reclined and seemed completely relaxed with her legs dangling over the side of the wall; her expression was calm and thoughtful as she enjoying the same view. Cal kept his eyes trained on her face as he darted across the street and noted that her expression changed and seem to reflect his surprise. He stopped just under her.

“Hello there,” he said smiling up at her.

“Hi.” She looked down at him for a moment. Her voice was casual and light. “Nice night isn’t it?”

Cal chuckled at the irony of the situation as ran his hands through his hair and preformed a tight pacing circle just out of her line of sight. He had wasted the last three weeks trying to accidentally on purpose run into her and without thought or planning he had finally accomplished exactly that. He was overcome by the need to say something witty and interesting, but all that came to mind were worn-out clichés. He had waited nearly a month for this opportunity and there was no way he was going to have ‘come here often’ be his opening line. When he stepped back and craned his head back to speak to her, he was suddenly shocked to see her feet were no longer dangling over his head and he couldn’t see her. He continued to back up to see where she had disappeared and was relieved to see that she had merely shifted her position on the ledge. She was now seated sideways with her legs drawn up to her chest. Cal was certain when their eyes met briefly that appeared be hiding a smile and stifled laugh at his confused and pained expression.

“Come here often,” she said laughing as if she knew that that was the line he was so desperate to avoid.

He saw her lean back and disappear from the ledge, but given the way she had spoken to him, he wasn’t worried that she would disappear. Within a few seconds he smiled as he saw that she was walking down the drive and headed in his direction.

“Actually, I do come here often,” Cal said laughing a bit shyly as she drew nearer to him.

He shook his head as he realized that the temperature of his face had risen and he was probably blushing like some pimple-faced teenager. He hoped that it was dark enough so that she wouldn’t notice. She stopped about three feet from him and looked across the street to the area from where he had just come.

“It’s nice you see you again,” he said. He realized that this too was a some what worn out opening line but at least it wasn’t as clichéd as ‘Come here often.’

“I was just headed over to the beach,” She said turning away; over her shoulder she called, “Wanna come along?”

Cal didn’t have time to answer before danced across the street, although she did pause briefly upon reaching the sidewalk on the other side. She tilted her head to one side as if to say ‘well’ and before he knew it he was hurrying to catch up as she disappeared down the walkway towards the public beach. They walked beside each other in silence down the path that cut across the sandy area of the beach. Cal’s mind was lost amid a swirling sea of questions and he felt the pressure of the desire to learn the answers both exhilarating and frightening. There was the matter of the one burning question he had wanted answered since he learned who she actually was, but he worried that asking it would put a quick end to this happy encounter. Instead, he followed her lead across the sand and up on to the dock that extended out onto the water. As he watched her lean over the railing at the dock’s edge, he realized that they were directly across from where he had been sitting earlier.

“I used to love to come here at night,” she said looking out over the water. “It’s actually been quite a while since I’ve been here at all.” She turned to face him leaning back against the rail.

For a moment he simply stared at her, admiring in the way the subtle illumination of the dock lights and the stars framed her form against the soft backdrop of the soft landscape of the lakeshore. The placid surroundings complemented her appearance almost as if she were crafted from the night wind and sparkling water. There was so much about her he wanted to learn and once again he found that he was rifling through his mind searching for the right things to say.

“Why didn’t you tell me your last name was Bimonte?”

The question surprised him more that it did Taylor. He was surprised his voice uttered the words and instantly he wished that he hadn’t.

“Because it’s not,” she replied curtly. “And even if it was, I don’t see why it would make a difference?”

She folded her arms across her chest and although she seemed annoyed, gave no indication that she took offense. She cocked her head sideways again, assessing him, almost as if she were calculating what his response might be.

Cal smiled; the family resemblance was undeniable in her comments, her posture and her tone. Just like his sergeant, Taylor was a counter-puncher; she would lie in wait and assess her opponent before committing herself to action. Right at that moment, Cal decided that given the choice, he would much rather spar with Taylor than her father. He moved to next to her resting his forearms on the railing opposite her stance and pretended that he was enjoying the view of the lake when he was trying to avoid staring at her.

‘It doesn’t really; it was just a bit of a shock is all.” He laughed at the memory of his shock and chagrin and shook his head. “I mean there what were the odds that your father would be my training officer?”

For the briefest of seconds, a confused look flashed across her face but was quickly replaced by a more thoughtful one as she nodded, seemingly in agreement.

“That’s right. You’re a new state trooper.” She laughed. “I sincerely hope he didn’t give you a hard time?” She seemed genuinely concerned. “That stupid fight, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing for you three to become involved in.”

Cal could feel her looking at him and didn’t trust himself to meet her gaze just yet. There was so much going on his mind; it felt like conflicting thoughts and emotions were pulling him in opposite directions. He could feel that something was beginning here, either by accident or design and he wanted it to continue.

“You either,” Cal said focusing on keeping his voice light and steady. “I mean, if you’re planning on being a lawyer and all someday, being arrested for assault and battery wouldn’t look good on your record.”

“It is nice to have connections isn’t it?” She laughed softly, pleased that her remembered some of the things they had spoken of that night at the bar and when Cal joined in together their laughter sounded like music.

“What about you” he asked. “I suppose you got the ‘you should be more responsible, what were you thinking lecture’ too.”

He swore he felt her stiffen slightly beside him and instantly hoped he hadn’t crossed into uncomfortable territory. He kept his eyes trained on his truck across the street and was mentally calculation how long it would take him to reach the opposite shore if he jumped into the water right now in case he said or did anything stupid.

“No, I didn’t.” She said moving slightly away from him. “Is that the one you got?”

He couldn’t tell whether she was mocking him or not, but there was an edge in her voice, the playfulness seemed to have ebbed. He sensed that there was more in her matter-of-fact reply and if he was going to discover what it was, if he was really going to get to know her, he was going to have to venture into the opening she was giving him. She had boxed him into a corner and had left him no choice but to turn and face her. But her reaction surprised him. Instead of being elusive and flippant, her mood changed suddenly and became dark and sullen.

“I got the ‘nice way to let me know you’re in town, why couldn’t you have just called’ speech.”

Taylor pushed away from the railing and walked about five steps before turning back around. By the time she had executed her about face, Cal had reversed his stance and was leaning up against the rail watching her, he face showed a mixture of confusion and concern. She inhaled deeply and released an exasperated sigh as she contemplated whether or not to provide him with the explanation that his expression was so subtly demanding and returned to her original position next to him.

“My parents got divorced and my mother, sister and I moved away from here when I was about 14,” she began. Her voice was serious as she stretched her arms wide and gripped the rail, letting her head fall forward. “I think that the break-up hit them both pretty hard, even though my mom never said anything specific, never said anything about the reasons why they spilt. In the beginning she was always sad, she tried to hide it, but my sister and I always knew.”

Taylor pushed herself away from the railing and started to pace, her face was tense and her expression faraway. Cal could tell how hard it was for her to share this story and he suddenly felt uncomfortable, unsure if this was information he should be privy to. He settled back against the rail, folded his arms at his chest and waited patiently for her to continue her story.

“We moved to Hyde Park and it was a while before either my sister or I started coming here for visits. I’m not really sure why it was like that; like I said, my mother never said anything about why she left and she never said anything negative about him at all. I asked he once, why we didn’t live with him anymore. She just got all quiet and said she just couldn’t live that way anymore. I mean they didn’t even negotiate a custody agreement. When they split up, he didn’t even put up a fight for us. He just let us go.”

Taylor stopped for a moment and Cal wondered if she even realized that he was there anymore. She looked startled as if she’d said more than she’d intended but realized that it was too late to turn back. The story needed to be finished if Cal was to completely understand.

“Any way, when I was a junior in high school, my sister won some writing contest and the prize was a trip to the Adirondack Writer’s Institute near Blue Mountain Lake. My mother invited him to come and he did. Some how they got to talking about how much he had been missing and how much he apparently wanted not to miss anymore and BINGO,” She stopped and made a mock display of fanfare. “Ta-Da, we start spending summers and every other Christmas here until I graduated from high school.”

It didn’t take an expert in human behavior to tell from the sarcasm in her voice that Taylor wasn’t entirely amenable to the visits. Cal’s trooper instincts activated and he replayed the scene outside the bar when the local cop had Taylor in handcuffs.

“That night at the bar,” Cal began. “He was genuinely surprised to see you. You don’t always let him know you’re in town anymore. Do you?”

Taylor returned to the railing and rested on her forearms next to Cal. Their original positions were now completely reversed; now Taylor was the one staring out over the water avoiding looking at Cal.

“I’m 20 years old,” she replied. “I don’t need to report to my movements to my father anymore.”

Cal’s cell phone began vibrating as soon as he reached his truck. He looked at the number before answering it. It was Michael Bimonte.

“We just cleared and released the scene here. I’m heading back to the office to see if the copy of the FBI lab results has arrived yet.”

Cal knew that the reason behind the call and he was trying very hard not to over react. He resented being lectured at the crime scene as if he were still a probationary officer. It was true that Taylor’s involvement in this investigation had been a shock and the fact that her own father now suspected her withholding information was even more so. He couldn’t understand why was Michael being so paranoid? Cal had worked hard to establish a working relationship based on mutual respect and trust; so why would Michael suddenly question his judgment? Why did he feel he needed to check on him?

“There’s not much going on here,” Cal reported flatly. “I’m at the hotel. She didn’t go straight to the hospital. I’m waiting for her to leave.”

“Ok.” Michael paused long enough for Cal to feel even more uneasy. “Keep me informed. I should be at the office for another hour.”

Cal snapped his phone shut and threw it on the passenger’s seat. Part of him wondered if Michael would put him under surveillance as well. Cal continued to watch the exit to the parking garage and after about twenty minutes, Taylor’s jeep emerged and turned on a course consistent with the route to the hospital. Since he knew where she was headed, he did not feel the need to follow her directly, instead he took another route that would allow him to arrive at the back of the hospital without her knowing he was there.

Michael was never completely comfortable with Cal and Taylor’s relationship. Even when things were good between them, Michael always gave off a cautious vibe, almost as if he knew that they couldn’t last; like he was waiting for the whole thing to collapse. He never pried and even though the two men became close friends, Michael never asked about Taylor in the capacity of Cal’s girlfriend. There were no family dinners or outings because Taylor rarely let her father know she was in town. If Cal ever mentioned it, Michael would nod respectfully and move on to other things. At first, Cal took it as a sign of disapproval but later he came to realize that Michael was just respecting Cal’s privacy. That night, by the beach, he also learned early that any information that passed between father and daughter was handled on a strictly need to know basis; neither seemed willing or able to share anything of a personal nature.

“I’m sorry,” She said. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. Talking about my father tends to bring out the beast in me.”

“No offense taken,” Cal laughed; he could have sworn she had just batted her eyelashes at him in an attempt to lighten the dark mood that threatened to intrude on what had been an otherwise pleasant conversation.

“Ok then,” she joined in his laughter. “Suppose you tell me about you.”

They walked the beach and wandered through the park, talking about everything and anything. She listened with interest and attention to everything he told her. Cal provided an abridged version of his childhood; judging from what she had shared about her own, he thought, given what she shared earlier, it best if she didn’t know about her father’s involvement in his teenaged years. Time seemed to stand still as they traded childhood memories of growing up in the Adirondacks and Cal was amazed at how many times they nearly met growing up but never did. The more he learned about her the more he wanted to know and he found himself wondering what might have happened if they had met as teens. As they sat on the swings watching the sun gently temper the darkness of the night with the soft orange light of the approaching dawn, Cal was amazed at how easy it was to be with her. They had spent the entire night just talking and not talking; it all seemed so natural, as if they’d known each other for years. After a while it occurred to him that they hadn’t spoken for several minutes and he marveled at how he relaxing it was not to have to fill every moment with conversation.

“Well Mr. Montgomery,” Taylor said rising from her swing. “Or should I say Trooper Montgomery?”

He felt his cheeks redden, which made her laugh, which only made his embarrassment worse even though he knew she was laughing with him not at him.

“How about just Cal,” he said as his cheeks blazed red.

“Ok, ‘Just Cal’” she said smiling brightly, standing before him. “I really have to get going.”

Cal instinctively got up to follow her; he had let her disappear once and he wasn’t ready to let that happen again. As he rose from the swing, he reached for her hands and pulled her into a kiss. It was tentative at first, as if they were both testing the waters, then she leaned into his body as the kiss became more intimate. Taylor ended the kiss but kept his hands in her own.

“I had a great time tonight.” She said staring deep into his face, memorizing each feature before releasing his hands and turning to leave.

Cal kept hold of one of her hands and walked in a comfortable silence beside her as they retraced their route from the previous night, both of them seemingly lost in their thoughts. When they arrived at his truck, he realized that she didn’t have a car.

“Can I give you a ride somewhere,” he asked. The instant the question left his lips he said a prayer quickly in his head that she wasn’t staying at her father’s house.

She deliberated for a moment as if she was wrestling with a difficult math problem then a mischievous smile spread across her face. “Depends,” she said “Do you have to work today?”

They spent the rest of that morning in Cal’s bed ignoring the phone, the answering machine and then later in the afternoon, knocking on the apartment door. Cal was no stranger to sex, but he discovered quickly that he apparently still had things to learn and that he was suddenly a very eager student. Finally when physical hunger won out over the carnal hunger they’d been feeding for the better part of the day, Cal got up and ordered some take-out while Taylor headed for the shower. He had just placed the phone back in the cradle and was headed to the shower to join her when it began to ring. Without thinking he picked the receiver up thinking it was the restaurant confirming his order. Cal was sorry he answered it the moment he heard Paul’s voice yelling through the receiver.

“Jesus Christ Cal,” barked Paul. “What the hell is going on? It’s bad enough that you haven’t been answering your phone, but if you’re going to play the ‘I’m not home’ game you really shouldn’t park your god dammed truck in front of your apartment building!”

“What’s the big deal Paul? It is my day off. So I’m not available right now; so what?”

Cal listened to the water running in his shower and the image of Taylor naked in the shower made him very eager to hang up the phone.

“Look, I’m kinda in the middle of something right now. Can I call you later?”

“Personally, I couldn’t care less what you’re in the middle of,” Paul’s voice was stern and full of impatience. “But when Stephanie calls me about seventy-five times freaking out because she can’t find you, can’t reach you, I kind of have to care. Come on Cal do something about this! My girlfriend is getting pissed about all the phone calls!!”

Cal had stopped listening. Taylor was leaning against the open door to his bathroom, naked and dripping wet. Class was back in session.

“I’ll take care of it,” said Cal robotically as he dropped the phone on the counter and pulled Taylor back into the shower.

Cal awoke the next morning alone. When he rolled over and discovered her absence, he waited for a moment, listening for a sign that she was in the bathroom or had gotten up to get some of the leftovers from their takeout order the night before. As soon as his eyes could focus, he grabbed the alarm clock from the night stand in order to orient himself. It read 7:30. Cal sat up and looked around his bedroom for some clue, a note a piece of her clothing, anything that might indicate where Taylor went or how long she had been gone. He flopped back on the bed and buried his face into the pillow she had slept on, looking for something tangible to convince himself that she had really been here. He heard his front door open and close then the sound of keys hitting the stand by the door. The smell of coffee preceded Taylor’s appearance in the doorway of his bedroom.

“We’re off to an early start today.” Cal tried to keep his voice casual as if he hadn’t noticed she’d been gone.

Taylor plopped down on the bed beside him, kissed him gently as she handed him one of the coffees she was carrying. She was freshly showered and dressed in clean clothes. Cal was torn between the delicious smell of the coffee and how delicious she looked and smelled. While he debated whether or not he should just pull her back into bed, she leaned into him and kissed him again, but, reading the look in his eyes, quickly pulled away laughing.

“What shall we do today?”

Cal propped him self up against the head board and took a long drink of his coffee.

“I could think of a few things,” he said with a lecherous leer.

“I’ll bet you could.” Taylor got up and surveyed the room for a fall back position. Spying a likely spot, she cleared out a chair by Cal’s dresser that had apparently been doubling as clothes hamper, settled comfortably down in it and started to drink her coffee

“Let’s play outdoors; it’s going to be a beautiful day.”

Cal got out of bed and headed in the general direction of the bathroom. After last night, he was more than a little disappointed and anxious that she seemed to be more interested in public activities than private. He stopped in front of Taylor, bent over her, and delivered what he thought was a heart-melting kiss on her lips.

“Want to help me wash my back?” The wolfish leer was back.

“I think you can handle that just fine,” she said smiling coyly, sinking deeper into the chair and shoving him towards the bathroom dismissively. “I’m really useless until I’ve had my morning coffee.”

Nice, thought Cal. O for two. Cal fought the anxiety creeping in over his failed attempts at seduction, and focused on the memory of last night in the park to bolster his drooping mood. He felt that they had made a good connection but at the very least, he had the rest of the day to try again. As he showered he was happily surprised to find just how much he was looking forward to what ever she had planned for their outdoor fun.

They spent the entire day playing Adirondack tourists. They walked the main street and then completed the loop around Mirror Lake. Next, they took a short road trip to Keene and climbed Porter Mountain. They had lunch by the Cascade Lakes and finished the day with a hike to Marcy Dam. Cal had lived in the Adirondacks all his life and like many of the locals, he never really took the time to enjoy the things about the area that attracted so many visitors. He was surprised to discover that he was actually having a good time doing the kinds of things he and his friends usually picked on tourists for paying to enjoy. Cal was also well aware that the fact he was doing all these things with Taylor was the primary reason he was having such a great time.

As the day began to draw to a close, they decided to relax in one of the lean-tos around Marcy Dam. There had been a cold snap lately and some of the leaves were beginning to change. They snuggled close and watched a family fishing off the dam. Taylor had been quiet for a while and Cal was wondering what was going through her mind. He smiled as he realized that he felt just as comfortable being quiet with her as when they spoke. And even though he was completely at ease, he still wondered: was she as happy as he at this moment?

“I know a couple that have climbed all 46 high peaks,” Taylor said casually almost as if she had read his mind. She chuckled. “You wouldn’t believe how they celebrated each climb.”

Cal hugged her tightly. “Well it’s kind of late in the year to do all 46, but at least we polished off three today.”

“One and a half,” Taylor playfully corrected him. “We had lunch near Cascade and didn’t finish Marcy. Hiking to the dam doesn’t count.”

“So tell me some more about that couple,” Cal asked. “How did they celebrate each peak they climbed?”

Taylor twisted around in his arms and kissed him.

“They made love on every peak, all 46.”

Cal returned the kiss, deeper and more urgently.

“Too bad we didn’t bring a sleeping bag.”

They hung out in their lean-to until little after sunset, and then they drove back to Cal’s in their now customary comfortable silence. It had been a long time since he had done any climbing and his muscles were beginning to voice their objection to being over worked. Cal was looking forward to a hot shower for two followed by dinner in bed so he was quite surprised when Taylor hesitated by his truck instead of following him up the stairs to his apartment. The look on her face instantly raised alarm; she looked like she was searching for a way to break some bad news.

“What?” He asked defensively, mentally preparing for his happy balloon to burst.

Taylor ran her hands through her hair and took a deep breath as she readied the pin. “Cal I had a great time this weekend. Really I did.”

“But,” he started the let-him-down- gently speech for her.

“But, I have to start getting ready to go back to school. I have to be out of here before the end of the week.” She closed the distance that had opened up between them and took his hands into her own. “You have work the rest of the week so I think it would be best if we just said our good-byes now.”

Cal let a huge sigh of relief escape his lips as he pulled her into his chest. This may be a good-bye but it sounded like this was a good-bye for now, not forever.

“You will be back for the holidays,” he asked hopefully. He felt her stiffen in his embrace and was instantly glad that he didn’t have to see the look on her face. She was quiet again and even though it was only for an instant, to Cal the ensuing silence was interminable.

“No. I’m actually not sure when I’ll be coming back here. Spending this summer here was a kind of freak thing. I don’t, visit.” Taylor nearly choked on the last word. She knew that was not what he wanted to hear so she added quickly, “But that doesn’t mean that you can’t come and see me. That is if you want to.”

What Cal wanted at that moment was to scoop Taylor up in his arms and lock her in his apartment. What he did was drive her to the friend’s house she where she’d been staying and wait patiently as she wrote down her address and phone number in Virginia. They sat on the front porch steps and Cal kept her talking until it was so dark that the porch light was necessary if they were going to be able to see each other. Finally he knew that there was nothing left to say except the one thing he didn’t want to say. Taylor pulled him to his feet and pushed him at his truck. She stuck her head through the open driver’s window and kissed him good-bye.

Cal arrived at the in the rear parking lot of the Adirondack Medical Center and parked his car in the staff parking area and entered the building through the employee entrance. He took the staff stair well to main floor of the hospital that exited on the hallway where the emergency room was located. The hall was deserted as he emerged from the stairwell and made his way to the patient admission area. Cal made certain that his badge was visible in his waist to avoid having to explain his presence. The night receptionist recognized him immediately as state trooper and asked if he needed anything. Cal asked to see the admission records of Mathew Gallo to confirm that he had been admitted for observation and would be released in the morning. Cal made note of the room assignment and took the stairs to the third floor where Gallo had been moved for the night. He looked around the lobby for a suitable place to continue his surveillance, when he was struck by the absurdity of his current situation.

Cal started rolling the night’s events around in his mind and didn’t like how things were playing out. The more he thought about things, the angrier he got and he made a snap decision to take a short cut and get some answers to questions he was sure he didn’t want the answers to but answers he knew he had to have in order to get his head right. He decided to have a chat with Mathew Gallo and he wanted to do it with Taylor in the room. Michael was going to get pissed and he realized that his sudden appearance at the hospital was likely to throw Taylor for a loop. Maybe it was time to push Taylor out of her comfort zone and perhaps use her own weapons against her, find out once and for all what was going on. More importantly, Cal wanted to see Taylor and Gallo together, up close and personal; he wanted to try and determine for himself what was real and what was fictional.

When he reached the third floor he made a detour to the waiting room adjacent the elevators. The waiting room’s windows overlooked the front parking lot and Cal wanted to check to see if Taylor’s jeep was parked out front in the visitor’s lot. After a quick scan of the area, he located her vehicle near the front of the building; he was about to proceed to Gallo’s room when he heard the bell indicating the arrival of the elevator. He positioned himself so that his presence was obscured just as Taylor passed by the waiting area. He was relieved that she appeared to have proceeded down the hall without giving the waiting room a second glance; he waited for a few minutes before following her course down the hall. He paused at the night nurse’s station, officially identified himself as a police officer and formally asked where Gallo’s room was. The young nurse became viably nervous when she saw Cal’s badge and gun and quickly gave him the information he requested. Cal thanked her for her cooperation and headed down the hall.

The door to Mathew Gallo’s room was open and Cal hesitated before making his presence known to the people inside. He stood in the doorway for a moment taking in the scene. Mathew was lying on the bed with Taylor seated on next to him on the bed, one of his arms wrapped around her waist. They appeared to be involved in a serious conversation, their voices were low and from where he stood, Cal could not make out exactly what they were saying. Taylor was sitting with her back to the door so Gallo saw him standing there before she did. Gallo looked Cal full in the face as he ran his hand up and down Taylor’s back, very intimately, before he alerted her to his presence.

“Something we can do for you officer?”

Taylor jumped off the bed like a surprised teenager and snapped to attention next to the bed. The whole scene reminded Cal of a night, long ago, a night he had worked hard to forget, the night he was planning to propose marriage and instead found Taylor with another man. The memory made what he was about to do easier, he would use the anger that memory was fueling to try and shake some answers out of both of them.

“I’d like to speak with you about what happened at your camp tonight, Mr. Gallo.” Cal moved into the room and positioned himself about three feet from where Taylor stood. He looked straight into Taylor’s eyes and let the anger of his memory steel his voice. “I assume that since your lawyer is present, neither of you should have any objections to answering a few questions.”

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