Shades of Gray

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Truth and Consequences

EIGHTEEN

Truth and Consequences

Cal sprinted towards the place where he’d seen Taylor’s Jeep careen off of the road and flip into the woods. He was about twenty feet away when he saw her body lying face down in the shoulder of the road, about ten feet from the tree line. She appeared to be unconscious and from the position of her body; she must have either been thrown or jumped from the Jeep as it flipped over. Panic filled him as he knelt beside her, afraid to move her until he could determine the extent of her injuries. She moaned and winced in pain as he brushed the hair from her face; aside from some abrasions on her cheek and forehead she didn’t seem to be in any immediate need of medical attention.

“Taylor! Taylor can you hear me?”

Taylor rolled herself over and tried to push herself into an upright sitting position, cringing in pain and cursing a blue streak as she became more conscious.

“Take it easy,” Cal pleaded as he gently held her down. “You don’t know how badly you’re hurt. You probably have something broken.”

“That rat bastard,” Taylor’s seemingly random response took him by surprise and he assumed that she was disoriented from the crash. As it was clear she was determined to get up, Cal helped her assume a sitting position, then held her there so he could check her for further injuries. As Cal patted and probed her torso for signs of injury, Taylor seemed to grow angrier as her senses came back into focus. She let out a sharp cry of pain and swore again as Cal felt along her rib cage.

“Most likely bruised or broken ribs,” he diagnosed. “Probably two or three from impact; we need to get you to a hospital.”

Taylor shook her head and looked at him like he was crazy, which for a moment made him think that her one of her previous comments had been meant for him. Then she leaned into him and took as strong hold of his shoulders as she could manage.

“No. No hospital. Help me up. I need to get to my Jeep.”

“T, are you crazy? You could have broken ribs and God knows what else. At least let me get you back to my truck and wrap you up until we can get you to a doctor.”

She ignored him and continued to struggle to get up. Rather than let her aggravate her injuries any further he helped her to her feet. She was very wobbly and nearly collapsed upon reaching a standing position. Cal positioned himself so that he could support her about the waist without putting to much pressure on her injured ribs. Taylor grunted, trying desperately to cope with the pain she was in, while at the same time maneuver away from Cal.

“If you’re not going to help me, let me go,” the force she intended to put behind the command was muted by the pain her ribs. She suddenly stopped struggling against him and her knees buckled.

Cal caught her as her legs gave out and gently cradled her in his arms. Taylor became very quiet and he felt her body relax against his chest as carried her back to his truck. Instead of being grateful that she was being cooperative, the change worried him as it could mean she was slipping into shock or was beginning to lose consciousness due to her concussion.

“Some things never change. Do they, T?” Cal was reaching for some light memory, trying to keep both of them calm as they neared his truck. “You’re still determined to do things your own way.”

He carefully placed her on the open tailgate of the vehicle then darted to the front seat, grabbed a blanket and dug his emergency responderer’s bag out from behind the seat. She had managed to remain upright on the tailgate and as soon as Cal had the blanket wrapped around her shoulders, he produced a small penlight from the responder’s bag and shined it in her eyes. Her pupils were fixed and dilated; that combined with her other symptoms confirmed that she had a concussion.

“You have a concussion T. You’re going to have to stay sitting up for me. Do you understand?”

She nodded. “I’ll try as long as you agree to do something for me.” She turned her head, looking at the bright orange duffle bag. “You said you have ace bandages in there?”

He knew where she was going with this line of questioning; he reached in and produced two taupe colored rolls. Taylor made sure that her necklace was tucked into her shirt and opened her arms as if she was beckoning Cal with a hug.

“You said you would,” Taylor pouted.

“I also said you need to see a doctor,” Cal complained as he reached inside her jacket then pulled her shirt tails loose and quickly began to weave the bandages around Taylor’s injured ribcage. “This is against my better judgment,” he said. The circuits he made with the bandages brought them into a very intimate proximity, their bodies and faces drawing closer with each revolution until the final turn left them inches apart.

“That never stopped you before,” she breathed suggestively into his ear.

Cal leaned back and looked into her bruised face as time began to blur. He felt her arms close around him, wrapping them both in the blanket, impulse took over and his lips gently found hers. She winced when he slipped his arms about her and she pressed her body into his and buried her hands in his hair, holding his head captive as the first kiss melted into another. Suddenly, something like an alarm went off in Cal’s head and he pulled away from Taylor; replacing desire with confusion as, generally speaking, this was not how he had ever reacted to her advances. His stomach flip flopped as he realized, searching her face, that he was looking for deceit, some sign that she was manipulating him. She read the suspicion in his eyes and dropped looked away for a moment as she released him from her embrace. Cal retreated a few steps as Taylor felt around her injured torso, inspecting his work to avoid having to see the suspicious look in his eyes. She dropped the blanket from her shoulders and with muffled gasp, hopped off the tailgate.

“Nice job,” she remarked casually, with just a hint of sarcasm. “Maybe you should have been an EMT instead of a cop.” Taylor, pulling her jacket tight around her body, turned and started walking in the direction of her wreck vehicle.

Cal picked up the blanket and the duffel bag and threw it in the cab of his truck. “That’s my job,” he deadpanned as he shoved his mag-lite into his belt of his jeans and followed behind her. “You know, ‘to serve and protect’.”

Taylor caught the sarcastic reference to what she had said in her father’s office, the night she arrived, referring to being Gallo’s lawyer, and understood Cal’s reaction to their kiss moments before. She smiled to herself has she heard him quicken his pace to catch up with her. She knew that Cal thought she was up to something back there at the truck and she was, just not at that particular moment. A moment ago, she had wanted the same thing he did and she knew that she also had to fight against that desire in order to protect them both. It was in both their interests to let Cal believe that he couldn’t trust her; that way she could do whatever was necessary to protect him.

As they neared the spot where the Jeep had plunged into the woods, Cal and Taylor paused to acknowledge where he had found her after the accident, then they moved to the top of the embankment and looked down upon the path of broken trees and debris leading to her mangled Jeep resting at the bottom.

“When we crested the hill,” Taylor began, pointing back to the road. “I tapped my brakes to slow down enough to make that dog-legged turn but nothing happened. The harder I stomped on the pedal, the faster I seemed to go.” She stopped mid-sentence and looked from the road to wreckage below them before continuing. Cal watched her carefully and moved closer in case her balance became unsteady again.

“I knew I wasn’t going to make the turn, so I cranked the steering wheel so the Jeep would go off this side of the road and I baled-out.”

Cal took her hand then tightly threaded her arm though his and together they traverse the embankment to get to the crash site. They paused at the bottom of the trail and he did not release her until he was sure she was steady on her feet. Cal maneuvered around the wreck taking in the damage and shaking his head, while Taylor circled, looking for a way to get into the Jeep. What was left of the vehicle resembled a piece of modern art made of twisted metal and broken glass. The Jeep had completely flipped over and came to rest on its roof. The driver’s door was missing, probably torn off when the Jeep went over the embankment, the chassis was twisted and crooked and the immediate area around the crash site was littered with various pieces of the vehicle.

“It’s a miracle you weren’t killed.”

Taylor moved closer to the wreckage. “Yeah, well you know how what they say about fools and small children.”

She edged near the opening on the driver’s side and once she was satisfied that she could proceed safely, began to root around inside, cursing a blue streak as she crawled through the cab of the Jeep. Cal stifled a laugh and continued to survey the damage focusing his attention on the area under the Jeep’s front end.

“You said you hit your breaks and nothing happened?”

“Yeah,” Taylor answered, her voice muffled. “It seemed like the harder I pumped the brakes, instead of slowing down, I kept speeding up.”

Cal reached down into the twisted remnants of the vehicle’s front suspension. He felt around for the hydraulic hose that connected the power steering pump to the front brake assembly. When his hands lit on what he was searching for, he yanked hard, pulling the hose loose and placed it on the inverted front bumper. He pulled the mag-lite from his belt and examined the hose under its beam. Although the hose was scarred from the Jeep’s trip through the woods and over the rocks, the cause of Taylor’s brake failure was easy to determine. Taylor appeared at his side and watched him as Cal continued his examination.

“What’s that?” Taylor peered around him. “What’s it for?”

“That is, or was the hydraulic line to your brakes,” Cal said. He propped the flashlight against what was left of the Jeep’s front axle and held the hose in front of the light as he explained. “Put simply, it’s what is what makes the brakes work, or in your case, why your brakes didn’t work.” Cal traced his finger over the cuts in the hose to draw her attention to them. “These couldn’t have been made by the crash. A knife blade made these. Someone did this deliberately.”

He turned to look at Taylor, who looked more angry than surprised. Without saying a word, she turned and started back toward the path they had made down the embankment. He started after her, and then stopped when he remembered what she had said just after he found her. He quickened his pace and over took her as her began to climb back up the path.

“You know who did this,” he accused as he grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him. “When I found you, after the accident, you said ‘that rat bastard’. Who’s the rat bastard T? Who did this?”

“I don’t know.” Taylor yanked her arm and twisted away from him, wincing as the effort aggravated her injury.

“You’re lying.” He stepped in front of her and put his hands on her shoulders, holding her in place. “The same person who took a shot at Gallo tonight,” as soon as he said the words he knew it was true without any confirmation from Taylor. “It’s the same person who did this, isn’t it? Who did this T and why?”

For a moment, Taylor looked at him, her defiant FBI agent mask firmly in place, her expression silently stubbornly repeating her assertion, then she dropped her eyes and drew as deep a breath as her injured ribs would allow. The adrenaline was beginning to wear off and the pain from her injuries was beginning to hit hard. Cal relaxed his grip on her shoulders and allowed her to retreat a few steps. He could see that she was at odds with how she should handle the situation; he could only hope that she would trust him enough to finally be honest with him.

“I honestly don’t know who did this,” she began raising her hands in surrender. “And you may right; whoever wanted to hurt Mathew could be the same person who caused this.”

Taylor walked over to the wrecked hulk. She ran her hands over the twisted metal and leaned against the side and folded her arms protectively around her torso. “Maybe there are two people working together.” Cal’s head snapped around in surprise and she nodded at him as he took a step towards her. “Yes, Cal; part of my assignment is to find out who’s been killing our undercover agents.”

“Harmon’s using you as bait,” hissed Cal.

“No,” she began but her voice faltered. “No, he’s not. Murphy stumbled upon something, files, records...” Taylor raised her hand to her temple trying to complete her sentence. Her vision became blurry and it seemed that the world began to spin. When her vision cleared, she was on the ground, cradled in Cal’s arms, his face contorted with worry.

“We need to get you to a hospital T. You have a concussion and you need medical attention.”

“No,” she struggled to separate herself from him. “I can’t let whoever’s behind this have the satisfaction. No hospitals, OK?”

Cal stared at her and shook his head. “We should at least call Michael and...”

“No!” This time she succeeded in pushing away from him. She skidded off his lap and ended up on the ground. With stubborn determination she got to her feet somehow. “You’re not telling him about this, not yet anyway; not until I can think clearly and reason some of the why’s and how’s of this out.”

“Exactly how hard did you hit your head,” Cal huffed exasperatedly. This was all so Taylor; her stubbornness never ceased to amaze him. “T, look at you. Look at this!” He waved his hands at the wreckage. “We have to at least report the accident.”

Taylor wobbled unsteadily for a moment then righted her stance and took hold of the arm Cal rushed to extend.

“Ok. How about this: We go to your place and report the accident.” Cal gave her a suspicious look; she continued before he could protest. “We call the barracks and tell them that I over corrected to avoid hitting a deer and that I’m fine.”

“T. For once, could you be reasonable?” Cal tried to reason with her even though he knew from experience that it was a fool’s errand. “You may have broken ribs; at the very least you have a concussion. Anyone looking at you could see that what ever you are, you are not fine. Besides, don’t you think that Michael has the right to know that you were nearly killed?”

“Let’s say for the sake of argument that you take me to the hospital and they agree with your expert diagnosis; that I have a concussion,” Taylor let go of his arm and paced in front of him like she cross-examining an uncooperative witness. “What would an ER doctor do next?”

“Keep you overnight for observation,” Cal watched her smug face as she waited for him to continue; he hated it when she was condescending. He didn’t see any point in keeping sarcasm out of his voice since she wasn’t. “Keep you awake so that you don’t slip into a coma and die.”

“I’m hurt,” she replied in mock indignation. “You sound like you’d enjoy that, the whole coma-death thing.”

Cal snorted disgusted at her attempt at humor.

“All right then; how about a compromise,” she asked sincerely.

“Go on,” Cal demanded. He folded his hands across his chest braced himself for what ever she intended to argue. “I’ll bite. What are you offering?”

She sighed and assumed the appearance of a child trying to negotiate a later bedtime. “I’d rather not go to the hospital. Right now it doesn’t matter what my reasons are; no hospitals and no phone calls to Michael, at least not tonight.”

She paused to let her opening statement settle in. Cal remained skeptical but nodded in agreement so she would continue.

“I propose that you take me to your house and since I have to stay up all night, so I don’t die,” she rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner. Seeing that Cal refused to lighten his mood, she dropped her attempt at vaudeville. “I’ll answer any and all questions that you have for me, all the questions I can answer anyway?”

There it was an offer she knew he wouldn’t refuse. Cal shook his head and to both their surprise, he started to laugh. “How do you do that?” He looked at her, standing there smiling like a cat with someone’s pet canary in its mouth. “How do you always manage to get your way?”

“Trained negotiator extraordinaire,” she smiled.

When she tried to execute a playful bow, she started to wobble again so Cal stepped closer and wrapped his arm about her waist for support.

“Let’s get you out of here,” he said and started them back up the embankment.

They looked back at the wreck from the top of the embankment before returning to Cal’s truck. The fifteen minute ride back was awkwardly silent and when they arrived at Cal’s cabin, Taylor wandered nervously around the room before she disappeared out onto the deck. Cal called the Troop B Barracks and reported that Taylor had over corrected to avoid a deer and crashed her Jeep. He confirmed that there was no private property damage, apart from Taylor’s totaled Jeep and told the desk sergeant to list him as the responding officer and that he would file the necessary accident report forms in the morning. Taylor reappeared through the sliding doors just as Cal was finishing his phone call.

“All right,” he said hanging up the phone. “The letter of the law has been followed, to an acceptable degree anyway.” Cal ran his hand through his hair. “I doubt that Michael will go back to the station tonight, so I think that we’re good until tomorrow.”

He watched Taylor as she looked around the living room; neither of them appeared to know how they should proceed. The room was crowded with memories of the last time they were here together and the specter of recent events. Taylor attempted to take her jacket off, but her muscles were beginning to stiffen and, even though she was putting on a brave face, he knew that she was in considerable pain. He crossed the room and helped her out of the jacket and pulled her toward the couch. As Taylor settled into the corner of the couch, Cal nervously hovered assessing the area in order to lessen the discomfort that Taylor’s injuries were inflicting; he pushed the coffee table closer and propped her feet on it, then disappeared into the bathroom. He returned seconds later with a Tylenol bottle in one hand and continued into the kitchen, took an ice pack from the freezer and poured a glass of water before returning to his patient. He ignored the smug smile on her face as he handed her the water and the ice pack.

“You must be an awesome father,” she said with a something that was supposed to be a teasing snicker.

But as soon as the words left her mouth, the truth of them stabbed at her heart inflicting the same level of pain as that in her ribs. Taylor had always worked hard to accept the fact that Cal had moved on after she pushed him out of her life. She of all people understood completely that ‘forever’ was the stuff of fairy tales and sentimental movies and she endured the pain of hurting him as penance for the sins she’d committed and the decisions she had made. She looked over at the mantle above the fireplace, at the two framed photographs of Cal and his son. He probably was an awesome father, husband and father: a father to another woman’s son, husband to a woman who had picked up the pieces of the man she shattered and made him whole again.

“I’d like to think so,” he said absently. Cal popped the cap off the Tylenol bottle and shook out several capsules and handed them to her. “These are extra strength; at the very least, they’ll help with the soreness as long as you don’t mind exceeding the recommended dosage.” He took the ice pack from her and plopped in playfully on top of her head smiling.

“Thanks,” Taylor dropped her eyes and looked away, hoping he didn’t see the tears she could feel welling in her eyes and if he did, she hoped that he would think they were caused by her physical injuries.

Satisfied that he had done at least an adequate job of administering to Taylor’s injuries, Cal sat down beside her, his posture stiff and nervous; the whole situation felt like he was on a bind date, awkward and extremely uncomfortable. It was odd, given their history that they could be so comfortable with each other one minute and the next they acted like wary strangers. He felt the old pull of the feelings he still had for her and forced him self to remain focused in the event that he really couldn’t trust Taylor’s motives. Taylor seemed to be just at ill at ease beside him, intently focusing on her hands and the pattern of the blanket covering her lap. Finally, he decided to just take the plunge and get things rolling.

“Ok, your turn. You said you’d answer any questions that you could.”

Taylor drew a breath and fidgeted to get comfortable. The tension was starting to build between them as both were aware of the dangers that were lurking around them being alone together like this.

“Wow, way to transition from paramedic to BCI investigator Cal,” she teased hoping to lighten his mood. “Go ahead, I’m ready. Fire away. But be aware that I am both a licensed, practicing attorney and a federal agent. There will be some things that I cannot divulge, but I will try to be as open with you as possible. ”

Cal couldn’t help but smile, as Michael’s attitude and voice seemed to echo in Taylor’s words. There were only about a million questions he had been dying to ask her since that afternoon and some of them even pertained to this crazy case. Taylor could see that he was unsure where to start his interrogation, so she offered a little help.

“Why don’t you tell me what you think you know and I’ll fill in any gaps I can?”

“Tell me about this leak that Harmon was talking about. Both he and you have mentioned that someone with knowledge of the FBI side of this case may be involved. Do you have any idea who that is?”

“I don’t but I have my suspicions. I first I thought that it was Simpson because of how chummy he became with Wallace Murphy. They had a history because both were Gallo “employees” at one time or another. Simpson was the NYPD’s source who confirmed Murphy’s involvement in the federal case. I never felt comfortable with Simpson being the inside go-between, but I couldn’t risk compromising my cover, by getting involved with Murphy, so we really had no choice.”

“Agent Carson was worried about Murphy turning state’s evidence. He thought that ultimately, he was unreliable because Murphy was paranoid by nature; that happens when you hang around violent criminals. Murphy had a habit of crying wolf and when felt threatened he would always try to take matters into his own hands. That’s why he used Simpson as Murphy’s handler. As much as I hate to admit it, I have to agree with Carson on that one. Just after we moved him to St. Regis, Murphy dropped off everyone’s radar, Gallo, the Bureau’s, everyone’s. He just disappeared. When he resurfaced, he was really agitated, almost paranoid and it rubbed off on everyone involved. Mathew became suspicious that Murphy was skimming from the Canadian businesses and Carson was worried that the way Murphy was acting was bound to tip Mathew off that he was an informant.”

Cal nodded as he listened. “Any idea what happened to spook Murphy?”

“Murphy called Carson directly, in effect cutting Simpson out of the loop, and told him that he stumbled into something important; he claimed to have hard evidence, records, files that the Bureau would find interesting,” Taylor said continuing. “He also told him that what he had a feeling that what he had could get him killed. We both know how that turned out.”

Cal took a moment to digest what Taylor had told him and he wished that Michael would have loved to be here. The St. Regis case had bothered him because Bimonte knew that there was more to it than met the eye and now Taylor was supplying the missing pieces that connect the two cases.

“The night you got here,” Cal wanted to tread lightly. “You confirmed that Gallo arranged for Andrew Simpson’s murder.” He saw her shift uncomfortably. “Was Gallo onto Murphy? Is that why you said that you knew that who ever killed Simpson didn’t kill the girl?”

Taylor drew a deep breath. It was getting easier now that the pain medication was working through her system. She hesitated as she considered what she could and should tell him.

“Yes,” she said finally. “Mathew found out that Murphy was stealing from him and then while he was deciding what he was going to do about that, he received information that Murphy was also working as a federal informant.” She took Cal’s hand in hers. “I’m certain that who ever told Mathew about Wallace Murphy is the same person who shot at him this afternoon at the lake. And I’m sure that it’s someone within the Bureau.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I know who stole Murphy’s files. I know where they are hidden.”

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