Shades of Gray

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Sacrifice

TWENTY-FIVE

Sacrifice

Taylor and Cal saw a black Mercedes 300 sedan parked in front as they rounded the corner of the drive way leading to the main house of Mathew Gallo’s camp.

“That’s the town car Anthony Gallo keeps here for his personal use when he visits,” said Taylor as she reached for Cal’s arm to stop his forward progress. “Mathew’s father, what’s he doing here?” Taylor pulled her phone from her pocket and saw the three missed calls; two from Mathew and the third from Anthony Gallo.

“Shit cell reception!” Taylor turned to Cal; she started pacing in a tight circle and talking so fast that he couldn’t be sure whether she was talking to him or her self. “You can’t be seen here. I knew that Anthony would find out about tonight, but I never dreamed he would actually come here. Go and meet Alex and my father like you’re supposed to. I’ll contact you when I can, as soon as I figure out what’s going on here.”

Cal grabbed Taylor’s arm as she turned to leave. “How are you going to explain how you got all the way up here with no car T or the fact that you’ve obviously been injured? And let’s not forget that this is probably where your Jeep got sabotaged. Who ever did that could still be here.” He watched her face as she processed what he said and was very surprised when a sly smile replaced her prior startled expression.

“That’s it exactly,” she placed both hand on Cal’s arms, shaking them excitedly. “I’ll be fine; right now, this really is the safest place for me to be. Please just go and make sure that you tell Alex that Anthony is here.”

She could see that Cal was unsure whether or not to leave and she knew exactly what to say to ensure that he did just that.

“Cal you can’t be here, not now. Go and fill everyone concerned in on what’s happened; yes, that means telling Michael about the accident, every thing. I promise to contact you when I can.” She reached in and kissed Cal, lightly brushing his lips like she had when he first saw her at grandmother’s funeral, then she hurried up the path before he could stop her.

Taylor waited on the fringe of the driveway until she heard the distant sound of the engine of Cal’s truck before continuing on to the house. She paused at the front door, bent down and began rubbing dirt all over her face and clothes. Next she ran her hands through hair mussing and pulled her shirt out of her jeans, doing her best to appear as disheveled as possible. Finally, she clawed at the bandage Cal had woven around her ribs until it was totally removed and threw it in the bushes by the door before going inside. The entry hall was empty but she could hear Anthony Gallo’s booming voice coming from the study down the hall. Taylor knew from experience that Anthony Gallo did not appreciate being kept out of the loop with regard to family matters and she at first she assumed that Margie had called him and then she remembered that Anthony always called Megan to say good night whenever either was away from home. At this point it didn’t matter how he had found out; what mattered was that Anthony Gallo was here and he was angry. Taylor shut the door harder than necessary in order to get the attention of the people in the study and announce her arrival.

Anthony Gallo stormed out into the hall, loaded for bear just in time to see Taylor crumble to the floor in the entry way. He quickly rushed to her aid as two of his body guards emerged from the study and sprinted down the hall to assist him. Although the fall to the floor was fiction, the considerable pain her ribs was not and so she was able to greet Gallo with a convincing display of pain as he gathered her up in his arms, his ire effectively neutralized.

“My God Taylor,” The elder Gallo implored gently as he brushed her hair tenderly away from her face. “What’s happening here? What happened to you?”

Taylor allowed Gallo to help her to a seated position. “Anthony? What …when did you get here?”

“I called Megan to congratulate her on winning her event at the horseshow and she told me that Mathew was in the hospital, that there had been some sort of fire here at the camp. I tried to contact you and when I got no answer so I chartered a small plane and flew right to Lake Placid. I’ve just gotten back from the hospital.”

Gallo barked at one of his body guards to help him get Taylor into the family room off the entry hall. Once he was satisfied that she was comfortable on the couch, he sat down beside her. He gentle took her hands in his and rubbed them tenderly, his face full of concern.

“Tell me what happened to you, Taylor,” said the elder Gallo.

“Really Taylor,” Mathew Gallo appeared in the door way, a snide expression on his face.

Taylor had suspected that Mathew would insist on being discharged as soon as his father could make arrangements. Anthony Gallo glared at his son, and from the expression on his face, Taylor surmised that it was Mathew she heard Anthony Gallo arguing with when she arrived.

“Where have you been?” As Mathew Gallo approached them, the petulant look he had at the threshold, quickly dissolved, morphing from confusion to shock in successive seconds.

“I have been climbing out of a ditch,” Taylor said curtly turning towards Mathew before continuing. “And I think you and I both know who put me there.” Taylor returned her focus to Anthony Gallo.

She could feel the tension between father and son and tried to frame the circumstances of her present situation in some sort of logical context. Obviously Anthony had arranged for Mathew from the hospital and she could guess that least part of what they were arguing about was the events of the early evening. But Mathew’s tone a moment ago had spiked her defenses. Taylor knew that tone well; it usually indicated that Mathew believed he was being screwed with and that he intended to take care of the matter himself and he most likely viewed his father’s presence here as unwelcome interference.

“After I left the hospital, I got a called from your inside source asking to meet me at your Moose Pond camp. On my way down the mountain, my brakes on my Jeep conveniently failed. I jumped out just before my Jeep took a dive to the bottom of a ravine about a quarter of a mile from your camp. I got a ride into town from a corrections officer on his way home and then hiked my way up half the Peninsula Road to get back.”

Father and son exchanged a questioning look as Mathew Gallo crossed into the room and took the opposite seat next to Taylor.

“That bastard,” hissed the younger Gallo. “I knew it was a mistake to trust Simpson or anyone he was connected to. But, no, Dad, you said ‘don’t jump to conclusions. Give them the benefit of the doubt’.” Mathew got up and began to pace. “First me and now Taylor; I say it’s past time we took care of this.”

“I said wait until you have your facts in order before you go off half cocked,” Anthony Gallo continued. It was clear that this was the continuation of the argument father and son was having moments ago. The elder Gallo continued to rub Taylor’s hands in a fatherly manner.

“Mathew told me about the explosion and that the police seem to think that it was cause by someone shooting at either the boat or at Mathew.” Taylor nodded her head confirming the information. “He also seems to think that the officer who came to the hospital seemed to know more than he should.”

“I have to admit that maybe Mathew is right to be suspicious. After the Trooper left Mathew’s room, we discussed the timing of the “accident.” Mathew told me that he had relieved a strange call from your FBI source and that something didn’t seem to be quite right. We both thought that maybe Andrew Simpson wasn’t the only FBI plant, that maybe Simpson had other law enforcement connections. We also agreed that it was probably you’re inside man that was behind the explosion tonight.”

“And caused your “accident as well?” Anthony Gallo nodded. “Mathew and I have already discussed that possibility. So you also think that our insider is trying to pull some sort of double cross?”

Taylor lowered her eyes and her voice, pandering to both Gallo’s protective natures. “Yes I do, especially given the timing of his phone call to me tonight. I’m sure that he knew what Mathew would do given the fact that Megan could have been hurt. Maybe he thought taking me out would buy him some time.”

Taylor’s wounded bird impersonation worked; Mathew returned to Taylor’s side and rested his arm on the back of the couch behind her and his father retreated, slightly leaning away, allowing his son to take over comforting her.

“You look terrible,” Mathew said smiling his roguish smile he took her face in his hands. “Are you hurt, maybe we should take you to the hospital, get you checked out? I know they’ve got an open bed.”

“I’m okay, just sore is all and I could use a hot shower.” Taylor refused to be drawn in and as he moved closer to her, she deliberately turned her face away from him, towards the elder Gallo. “Did Mathew tell you what he has planned?”

“Yes and give what’s happened tonight I think that we should proceed with the arrangements he asked you to make.” Anthony smiled down at her as he got up from the couch. “I see some things don’t change although I don’t expect you to handle this Taylor. I’ll see to it…”

Taylor grabbed for Anthony’s hand. “Anthony, don’t be silly. I’m fine really. I’ve already started to put things in order.” She could see that he was skeptical. She tightened her grip on his hand and used his solid stance to help her to her feet and put some distance between Mathew and her self. “Really, I can handle this.” She looked back at Mathew who was now chuckling on the couch behind her.

“You of all people should know that it’s pointless to argue with her.”

“What I know is that it is getting late and I would like to get some sleep before I take Megan and Margie home tomorrow, or should I say later this morning?” He turned and began walking from the room. “We’ll finalize everything before I leave.”

“I think that it would be best if Mathew went with you as well.” Taylor realized as soon as she finished speaking that she made her suggestion too quickly and turning to Mathew, hurried to qualify her statement. “If you stay here longer than necessary, the authorities might try and connect you to any future “accidents” that may occur. They already seem to be suspicious and…”

Anthony Gallo raised his hand. “We will discuss all of this later. I suggest that we all at least try to get some sleep and put this night behind us.” He continued out of the room, stopping by the door. “Mathew I want you to go and make a final check of the grounds before we turn in for the night. Take George and Vito with you. I want to be sure that everything is secure.”

Mathew rose from the couch and stopped by Taylor’s side, taking her hand in his.

“Go ahead,” she said forcing a smile. “I’m going to look in on Megan and then hit the shower.” She walked him to the entry hall and waited before going up stairs as Anthony summoned his body guards from the study and saw all three men to the door.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t call you Anthony,” Taylor apologized as the elder Gallo closed the door and walked toward her. “There just wasn’t time; everything happened so fast.”


He pulled her towards him and mindful of the pained look on her face, embraced her gently. “I know,” he breathed over the top of her head resting his chin on the top of her head. “Are you sure you’re all right?” He stepped back and looked into her eyes.

“I’m fine Anthony.” Taylor took a deep breath. “I need you to trust that I can take care of this.”

He turned and walked a few steps towards the study. “I do trust you to take care of this Taylor. I know that you will protect me and the interests of this family. How much do you think he knows?”

“I don’t think he got much from the girl, after all she only knew that Simpson was planning to sell information. She had no idea what Simpson had specifically or what he was planning and he missed his chance to question Simpson directly.” Taylor took a seat on the stairs. “I certain that he’s expecting Mathew will try to have him eliminated but, given that he made such a mess of things tonight, I don’t think that he believes that we can or would even try get to him without raising suspicion at this point. He may even try to cut his losses and run. That’s why we have to move quickly.”

“I agree,” said Gallo said leaning against the banister of the staircase. “I’ll make sure that Mathew accompanies me when I take Megan and Margie back to the city. Will you be able arrange everything by then?”

“Everything is already in play; that’s why the sooner you and Mathew distance yourselves from everything that’s happening here the better. I will take care of everything personally and meet you back in the city in a day or two,”

Anthony Gallo leaned over and kissed the crown of Taylor’s head before helping her to her feet. “You never fail to amaze me,” he said smiling and holding her hands. “Please be careful; from the look of things, our friend got a little too close for comfort.” He put his arm around her as they climbed the stairs. “I’m sure you will be able to handle Mathew as well; he was quite put off when you disappeared tonight? You know, even though I have always thought of you a daughter, it would be nice to have you officially as a member of the family.”

“Thank you..,” Taylor’s face flushed. “For everything.”

As they each departed for their respective rooms, they exchanged a knowing smile, acknowledging Anthony’s ploy to arrange for the two of them to speak privately. In the alternate universe of Taylor’s existence, Anthony Gallo was a trusted friend to whom she owed so much and she cared deeply for him. It pained her to know that very soon she would most likely have to hurt him, and she cursed the fact that her fate always seemed to be to hurt those who had come to mean the most to her.

Taylor made a brief stop to look in on Megan, peacefully asleep in her room before going to her own room at the other end of the house. She closed the door behind her and leaning back against it, looked around the lavishly furnished bedroom, grateful for a few minutes to gather her thoughts and ready her self for what lay ahead. She moved across the room to the bed, switched on the bedside lamp and checked her cell phone for messages. Fatigue was being to settle in and Taylor relished the idea of being able to recharge with a nice hot shower. She slipped off the bed and moved towards the bathroom. As she stripped off her clothes, she realized that a great deal of the soreness from the accident had abated and once the hot water from the shower rained over she skin, she began to feel more in control of her self again.

Relaxing under the soothing spray of the shower, Taylor was thankful that the jack hammer pounding inside her head had eased enough so that was becoming easier to think. There was the slim possibility that she could salvage her current situation. From the very first time Alex Harmon had introduced her to him, Taylor had always gotten a bad vibe from Steve Carson, like he was competing with her for the Section Chief’s approval. She didn’t let those negative feeling bother too much because until she began working within the Gallo operation, she had very limited contacts with him. Then everything changed in a very short time. It had taken her nearly two years to confirm that Special Agent Steven Carson was the FBI leak. Now that she had Steve Carson on the defensive and off balance; it was possible that she could limit the amount of damage Carson could inflict.

By letting Carson know that she had Murphy’s files, she was cutting him off from using the FBI as a cover and a source of information that might concern his activities. Carson had no way of knowing what or even if Taylor had briefed Harmon on anything she had uncovered so far. Murphy’s files detailed all the pay offs and information that Carson had been selling for years. Carson had done a good job of covering his tracks and if it hadn’t been for the fact that Murphy could implicate Carson in the deaths of two FBI deep cover agents, he might have been able to keep his secret life from being discovered. But when Murphy got pinched as part of another FBI operation, Carson knew that Murphy would do what ever was necessary to stay alive, including selling him to the highest bidder, law enforcement or other wise. Carson thought he was safe when the Gallo’s got to Murphy before he and Simpson could and he would have been home free, if Murphy’s files hadn’t ended up in Taylor’s possession.

Using the information in Wallace Murphy’s files, she had arranged for Mathew to discover Carson’s identity as the family’s paid FBI informant and she had reconstructed things so that it appeared that Carson was the conduit for Murphy’s business dealing with the Ukrainians. She pretended that she didn’t know that both Anthony and Mathew Gallo had contracted various jobs to Carson and let Carson think the same; it played to his arrogant sense of himself and allowed Taylor to complete the set up. Taylor used Wallace Murphy’s paranoia to disguise her involvement and convince Simpson and Carson that each was playing against the interest of the other. All she needed to do was make sure the Gallo’s got to Carson, just as they did with Wallace Murphy, before he could cut his losses and disappear. Taylor wasn’t surprised that Carson had contingency plans in place; the only thing that separated him from the likes of Wallace Murphy was a badge and an education. Both were paranoid megalomaniacs and in the end, like Murphy and Simpson, Carson’s greed and singular belief in his own superiority would prove to be his undoing. All she needed was a little more time to allow Carson to finish digging himself a hole from which he couldn’t escape. Taylor needed to keep Carson on the defensive and away from Cal and her father. Carson was ruthless and not above using anyone or anything to further his interests. She would do what ever it took to ensure that the people she cared most for did not become collateral damage.

Taylor ran her soapy hands along her sore ribs, tracing the path Cal’s hands had followed on attending to her injury as the image of his face, the sensation of his touch pushed its way through her efforts to keep all thoughts of him away. It seemed that no matter how hard she had struggled to banish that part of her life to oblivion, fate always seemed to alter her course and place her on a path that led back to him. Taylor was so absorbed in thought that she didn’t realize she was no longer alone in the shower. Strong hands encircled her body, caressing her breasts and tracing the lines of her body.

“I’ve been thinking about doing this since that kiss at the ambulance,” Mathew Gallo whispered in her ear as he pulled her closer into him.

Taylor closed her eyes knowing that there was no way she could stop what was going to happen; from the very first, Mathew had made no secret of his intentions towards her. She had always known that this was inevitable and she had accepted it a necessary consequence of the role she was playing. There was no choice or question of whether she could go through with it; she had to; truth be told, for a long time, a part of her was actually looking forward to it; but that had changed after her last visit here and now that she was here again, so close to Cal, and all the things she had once wanted, her course of action was no longer a matter of black and white, or right and wrong. Everything was now painted in the shades of grey had always filled the space between her and Cal. Taylor forced herself to accept long ago that the shades of grey would always keep them apart.

“I didn’t like the way that cop looked at you in the hospital. It was almost like there was something between you,” he said in between kissing her neck and shoulders. “And when I couldn’t reach you, I actually thought that…”

At Mathew’s reference to Cal, a protective instinct ignited in Taylor as she turned around began kissing Mathew but there was no emotion powering her actions- self preservation and anger fuel her kisses. It was vital now more than ever that Mathew believe that he was the focus of all her concerns and desires. She needed to be sure that any doubts he had about her were pushed out of his mind. The actress readied to hit her mark and give the performance of her life.

At first Mathew seemed startled by Taylor’s enthusiastic response; he had half expected her to slap his face and push him out the shower like players in some vaudevillian farce. Mathew Gallo had always known that this part of Taylor’s carefully controlled personality existed and he had spent a good deal of time plotting to release it. This was a battle for possession and he was a man used to getting what he wanted. He wasn’t sure what was fueling the intensity of her response; maybe it was it was both of their near-death experiences. Right now, he couldn’t care less; the reasons didn’t matter. Gallo’s hungry mouth and hands began slowly consuming every inch of Taylor they could reach. He was seconds away from what he had wanted since the moment they met and he was going to savor every moment of finally getting what he wanted.

As Mathew’s hands explored her body, Taylor forced her self into her alternate persona. She knew she had to push all thoughts of Cal and the person she wanted to be as far back into her mind as possible in order to go through with this. It wasn’t as difficult as she had first thought; all she needed to do was recall the photos on his mantle; remembering how Cal’s son had looked at his father was enough to put things in the proper prospective. That was his life now and she was literally not ever going to be part of that picture. She felt herself separate into two people as Mathew swept her into his arms and carried her to the bed. Part of her stepped away and watched as she the person she needed to in this moment emerged from the grey, bruised and battered and resigned to battle for possession over what was left the soul she had bartered away long ago with the only weapons she had available.

Later, as she lay still pretending to have fallen asleep, Taylor felt Mathew carefully slip out of bed and she listened as he rooted around the bedroom collecting his clothes before he finally disappeared into the bathroom. As soon as she heard the sounds of the shower running she got up and took a silk robe from the tall boy dresser; putting it on she crossed to the far side of the room and pulled back the drapes. The view was serene and beautiful as the sun was just becoming visible on the horizon, bathing the dark blue lake in subtle orange and burgundy light washing away the darkness of the night.

“Mine at last.” His voice was smug and triumphant.

Mathew Gallo reappeared wrapping his arms tightly around Taylor. She remained motionless, having given Mathew all of herself that she was willing to, her attention fixed on the sun struggling to emerge from the dark water’s horizon. He kissed the nape of her neck and purred into her ear.

“I’ll be waiting. Hurry home.”

Even after she heard the sound of the bedroom door closing, Taylor didn’t move from where she stood, staring out at the lake watching at the way approaching dawn danced upon the stage of silvery grey water. An osprey glided over the choppy surface, its wings gently brushing the surface as it search for it prey. Taylor watched wishing that she could take wing and fly away, free from everything. Free at last. But Taylor had relinquished that brand of freedom long ago, forfeiting the rights to choose her own path the night she took her first life.

***********

When Alex Harmon reached the apartment 12 A on the third floor of UV’s Copeley III building, he was greeted by a locked door and the buzzing sound of a telephone off the hook. Using a professional locksmith’s pick set, he made quick work of the lock and entered the apartment to discover Taylor was still sitting staring at what used to be the infamous “Campus Creeper”. The hand set of the phone lay next to her complaining furiously repeating its automated plea that the caller hang up and try their call again. Harmon knelt down beside her, ignoring the dead man, hung up the phone, pulled Taylor to a standing position and led her to the couch.

“Laura,” Taylor muttered looking in the direction of the bedroom down the hall.

Following the path indicated by Taylor’s line of sight, Harmon approached the open door leading to Laura’s bedroom. Laura startled at the sight of him and raised the comforter defensively; covering most of her face and when the scream would come, began to cry. Alex raised his hands and approached slowly in a non threatening manner, in efforts to clam the terrified young woman.

“Shhh,” he said in soft reassuring tone. “I’m a friend of Taylor’s. I’m here to help.”

“Taylor,” sobbed Laura. “Where’s Taylor? Is she all right?”

“Taylor’s fine,” he said sitting on the side of the bed. “She’s just outside in the living room. Everything is going to be fine, you’re both safe.”

“That man,” Laura’s eyes grew wide in terror. “That man, he…”

“He’s gone.” Alex finished her sentence. “He’s gone and he won’t come back ever.”

At his last words, Laura threw her self into his arms and began to cry again as relief spread through her body. Holding her tightly with one arm wrapped around the sobbing young woman, Alex Harmon reached in to his jacket pocket with his free hand and retrieved a hypodermic needed containing a fast acting sedative. Adroitly flicking the protective sheath from the needle with his thumb, in one fluid motion, he injected Laura in her neck just under the left ear. Within seconds she was rendered unconscious and Harmon tucked her into the bed like a dutiful father and returned to the living room.

Alex stood for a moment assessing the scene in order to evaluate Taylor’s handling of the target.

A smile crossed his face and nodding to himself; from the very first, he knew that Taylor had potential. She had taken everything he had thrown at her at the Quantico training facilities with eagerness and uncanny instinctual reactions. She possesses innate skills that couldn’t be taught; they needed to be molded, honed and wielded by someone who really appreciated the artistry of the hunt and its appropriate conclusion. Even though she had so far refused to even entertain any overtures made by federal law enforcement agencies, Harmon knew that if he provided the right setting, Taylor would have to face the fact that she and her unique talents and her future lay with him.

Alex had monitored the BAU’s progress on the “college creeper’ case. He had read the case files and the profile that had been generated. The Behavioral Analysis Unit had been tracking the creeper for the past few months. They had narrowed the possible suspects to two likely candidates and, based on the creeper’s cycle, the team was sure he would strike in this area and strike soon. Alex put both possible suspects under surveillance and lucky for him, he picked right target. The stage was set; all that remained was to see if Taylor would respond as he hoped she would- and she had.

Harmon circled the body, noting the position of the body and the towels rapidly becoming saturated with blood. He was pleased that Taylor had been able to generalize specific actions and procedures for concluding and operation from her training sessions and although she was still very green, Harmon took satisfaction in the knowledge that Taylor would be joining him very soon- as a valuable asset to his team. He went into the bathroom returning with four bath blankets which he added to the others already in use preventing the blood pool from seeping away from the immediate area of the body. Ready to move things to the next step, Alex then focused his complete attention on Taylor.

Taylor was still sitting on the couch, her chin resting on her knees, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs drawn up in front of her body. She stared blankly at the body on the floor as if she were trying to convince her self that it didn’t exist. Her expression was a mixture of stunned surprise and curiosity. Harmon knelt in front of her, obstructing her view, forcing her raise her head and look into his eyes.

“I…It was like I was outside of myself,” she responded blankly. “Almost like I was watching someone else take over, but it was me.”

“You allowed your instincts to take over; you let the hunter out.” Harmon narrowed his eyes. “What you are feeling right now, will pass. It’s all part of the acclimation process. The first one is the hardest to get past; not everyone can, but you will and you will learn from this.

Harmon rocked back and sat on his haunches continuing to assess her reaction, her state of mind and watched the final transformation take place. He watched as her expression slowly began to change, becoming more animated, her posture relaxed and Alex could see the tension draining from Taylor. After a few moments, Taylor took a deep cleansing breath and calmly released her legs and assuming a confident standing position; she gracefully stepped around Alex and began assessing the dead man’s position in much the same way Harmon had earlier. He smiled after her and then got up and joined her at her side.

“Tell me Taylor,” he said with pride. “What is the next step?”

“Control the witness.” Taylor felt the same calm resolve that had dominated her actions earlier return and looked at the open bedroom door down the hall.

“Already taken care of.”

Taylor turned questioningly to Alex, her expression a mixture of confusion and smugness.

“Not because I doubted your ability to handle the situation,” He chortled. “But because you seemed a bit…”

“Freaked out,” Taylor observed, obviously disgusted with her reaction.

Harmon placed both hands on she shoulders and turned her to face him.

“Unsettled,” he qualified. “There is no need to berate your self Taylor. You performed admirably; very few agents selected for this type of duty are able to generalize from the theoretical to actual practice. I’d be far more concerned if I found you calm and collected; that would indicate a seriously mistake in judgment on my part. Your reaction reflects your humanity, something our friend there was sorely lacking.”

Alex relaxed his grip on Taylor’s shoulders and slid his hands down her arms. Once he was satisfied that she understood and accepted his words of encouragement, he stepped back and reassumed a more instructing affect.

As if quoting from a manual, Harmon recited. “The witness has been secured with a sedative that will render her unconscious for the next four to six hours and upon regaining consciousness will leave her with intermittent amnesia, making her receptive to careful debriefing before the authorities are notified.” Harmon stepped further away.

“What do you do next?”

“Clear the scene of evidence.” Taylor circled the corpse, her expression serious, calculating as she began planning for its disposal and eliminating signs of struggle.

Harmon stood out of the way and marveled as over the course of a few hours, removed all obvious trace evidence that anything other than a brief struggle had occurred in either the bedroom or living room areas. The official story would be that the creeper had broken in the apartment and under the assumption that she was alone, attempted to assault Taylor’s friend Laura. When Taylor heard sounds of a struggle, she startled the attacker, who then fled the apartment. And so began Taylor’s career as one of Alex Harmon’s most efficient and deadly special operations agents.

The business-like sound of her cell phone vibrating on the night stand pulled her from her solitary reverie. Fact and fiction melded into one being as she watched the device begin to rotate around in a circle as it vibrated insistently. By the time she could will herself to pick up her phone, it had stopped ringing. She looked at the number; it was Cal’s cell phone number. Something important must have happened for Cal to risk contacting her when he knew she was in close proximity of the Gallo’s. She punched in her access code and retrieved the voicemail he’d left. As she listened to Cal’s voice, Taylor readied her self for the conclusion of her duties and responsibilities on this case. **********************

It seemed like the drive twenty minute drive from Gallo’s camp to the barracks was taking forever. The only thing that made the trip bearable was the knowledge that once Michael was properly briefed on the events following those at the Gallo compound, he would insist that they go and get Taylor, her cover be dammed, her safety was all Cal could focus on. He had a bad feeling about leaving her there; something in his gut told him that it had been a mistake to let her go in that house alone. He kept looking at his cell phone, willing Taylor to call and tell him to come back. He had just cleared the outskirts of town and just entered the long stretch of road between Lake Placid and Ray brook that the locals refereed to as ‘the corridor’ when his cell phone went off and almost simultaneously two State Police cruisers flew by him heading in the direction from which he had come, lights and sirens blazing. He grabbed his phone, the screen displayed the phrase: restricted number; it was the barracks calling.

Cal flipped open the phone. “Montgomery.”

“Trooper Montgomery, this is Lieutenant Anderson, night watch commander. You need to get to Commander Bimonte’s house ASAP. We have a report of shots fired and we have been unable to reach the Commander by cell or land line. Local police are on scene and ambulances have been dispatched.”

“On my way.”

Cal’s mind shifted into full panic mode, trying to prepare him self as a situation that was already bad was about get worse as he slammed on his brakes and executed and sharp 180 degree turn in the middle of the vacant road. He pulled his portable strobe light from the cargo compartment, secured it to the dash and took off for Michael’s as quickly as his truck would take him there.

The scene in front of Michael’s house rivaled a big budget Hollywood production. The usually quiet neighborhood was bathed in the light of at least ten state and local police cruisers with a crowd of curious neighbors straining around local uniformed officers manning police barricades of sawhorses and yellow crime scene tape, as a crowd of people were trying to get a closer look at the action. As Cal turned onto the street, there were people literally everywhere blocking the street, forcing Cal to use his police horn to clear a path closer to the house. As Cal pushed through the crowd he could make out two municipal ambulances were positioned at odd angles near Michael’s driveway. Two unformed local police officers stopped him briefly requesting identification; he flashed them his badge, identified himself as BCI and pushed past them. Trooper Carl St. Louis met him as Cal got closer to the focal point of attention and escorted him the rest of the way, filling him in on what few details they had at he moment.

“What the hell is going on here?” Cal stopped as two officers moved to the side revealing the open door of Michael’s car with its window shattered.

“Agent Harmon and Commander Bimonte get into his car to come to the barracks to meet with that other FBI guy,” St. Louis began excitedly. “When the shooter approaches the car and unloads his clip into the driver side window striking both the Commander and Special Agent Harmon.”

“Michael?” Cal implored as the paramedics finished securing someone to stretcher and began steering it towards one of the awaiting ambulances.

“Is fine,” Michael’s voice wafted from the porch steps across the din of activity drawing Cal’s attention to where he was being attended to by an EMT who seemed to be pulling pieces of glass from abrasions on the side of Michael’s face. Michael opened his shirt and patted his torso, which was covered by his bulletproof vest. “My ears are just ringing a little from the graze across the back of my head.

Cal shook his head and let a snort of relief as watched as the paramedics finished loading Harmon into the ambulance while St. Louis continued his report. He smiled to himself as he recalled someone else stubbornly declaring they were “fine.”

“Looks like Harmon got the worst of it, took two slugs in the upper chest, one to the lower abdomen. He had something tucked under his arm that slowed down the bullets enough to blunt their penetration. The paramedics don’t think the bullets hit any vital organs,” said St. Louis as they made their way to where Michael was sitting.

“Thank God for Kevlar,” St. Louis laughed as they stood over the Commander.

“My mother always said,” Michael began smiling up at them as the paramedic began to peel the Kevlar vest off his body. “That God always looks out for fools and small children. So I guess that makes me…” He noted the strange look of recognition that came over Cal’s face. “What?”

“Nothing,” Cal said pushing away his de`ja`vu.

“You’re going to be sore for a couple of days Commander. The vest stopped the bullets from piercing the skin but being hit at that close range will leave bruises,” said the EMT. “The bullet that broke the window just grazed your scalp and knocked you out for a bit.”

As if on cue, four dark purple welts started to become visible in and around the center of Michael’s chest, resembling the center mass ring on a shooting range target. If Michael had not been wearing his vest, he would be dead. Michael ran his hand over the bruises and repeated softly to himself “fools and small children.”

“And you will have to come to hospital for further evaluation,”

Michael narrowed his eyes and readied himself to launch a protest.

“Department policy Boss,” said St. Louis stifling a laugh.

“I’m sure that the ER attending will release you as soon as it is responsibly appropriate,” assured the EMT.

Bimonte huffed in protest. Under the supervision of the EMT, using Cal and St. Louis as crutches, got to his feet and the three men escorted him to the awaiting ambulance. As they walked, Cal began asking the standard witness/victim interview questions.

“Did you get a look at the shooter?”

“No, I didn’t see anything at all,” responded Michael. “I was just about to start the car; I saw the flash of the muzzle and then nothing else until one of my neighbors pulled me out of the car.”

When they reached the open doors of the ambulance, Cal turned to dismiss Trooper St. Louis and climbed into the vehicle to accompany Michael to the hospital. But as the paramedic situated him for transport, Bimonte countered Montgomery’s directive.

“No Cal. I want you to stay and work the crime scene; make an informal assessment before forensics gets a hold of it. Then I need you to coordinate with Agent Carson. He’s in route to the Barracks and will need to be briefed on this; he should be there shortly and won’t take lightly to being kept out of the loop. That’s if he even stays there once he learns that Harmon has been injured.”

“I’ll check to see where he is before I leave the scene. I can give him the same preliminary briefing at the hospital,” said Cal scribbling notes on his pocket notepad.


Bimonte shifted uncomfortably as the EMT repositioned his safety belt for transport. “I’ll join you as soon as I can convince the ER attending that I’m fine.”

Trooper St. Louis settled him self on the bench across from where the paramedic had situated Michael. He turned to Cal.

“Carson’s already at the station. He was at the barracks, waiting to meet with the Commander and Agent Harmon, when the call from dispatch came through.”

Cal nodded. “I’ll notify him.”

Cal alighted from the ambulance and watched as the vehicle pulled off the lawn and into the street, its lights flashing and with a sharp whoop of the siren to clear away curious on lookers, the ambulance quickly disappeared down the street. The forensics team was just arriving as Cal made his way to Michael’s car. The driver’s door was still open and Cal leaned in and popped the trunk release lever, proceeded to the rear of the car and retrieved Michael’s camera from the trunk. One of the forensic techs gave Cal a puzzled look as the team settled in and prepared to evaluate and clear the scene. Cal shook the camera in his hands and moved in front of the lead tech.

“The Commander wants a preliminary over view of the scene for comparison to his initial statement,” Cal offered as both explanation and apology. “I’m going to take some ruff shots of my own.”

The ground in the immediate area of scene had been well trampled so foot print comparisons were out of the question. Cal began by photographing what was left of the driver side door and the broken shards of glass on the ground and on the insider of the car then moved to the driver’s seat. Thankfully, as he was returning home from work, Bimonte had still been wearing his Kevlar vest. The shooter had made a mess of the upholstery, small amounts of blood from Bimonte’s scalp wound were visible as well as passive transfer from the spray caused from Agent Harmon’s injuries., Cal thought better the seats be ripped up than Michael’s body. Next Cal circled to the passenger’s side of the vehicle where there was clearer evidence of Harmon’s more serious injuries.

The passenger side door was open, left that way by the responding emergency personnel who attended to Agent Alex Harmon’s injuries. The seat belt lay in pieces, dangling off the edge of the floor. The back of the seat as well as the seat cushion was colored dark with blood that had seeped from Harmon’s wounds. A large file envelope was jammed half way between the seat and the center console of the vehicle. Montgomery assumed this was what St. Louis had been referring to when he reported that something had blunted the bullets fired in Harmon’s direction. Cal photographed the envelope, documenting its original position before he removed it for closer inspection. Even though the bullets had penetrated the documents, the contents gave Cal pause as he realized that all the files had Michael’s name on them. He placed the mass of torn files on top of the roof of the car and continued photographing the inside of the car. Before stepping back to take some wide-angle shots of the car, Cal asked one of the forensic techs for an evidence bag, into which he deposited and tagged the files and took custody of them as evidence.

As the forensics team began to process the car for evidence, Cal stepped back and recreated the shooting in his head based upon his initial impressions. The shooter had been standing about a foot and a half from the driver’s door and fired on occupants. At this point it was impossible to tell who the intended victim was or what was the motivation behind the shooting. Based upon the position of the wounds, Cal assumed that the shooter didn’t target one man specifically but fired on both, possibly to eliminate a potential witness in Harmon. Cal did some quick math; Harmon had been hit three times, Michael four. As there was no shell casings left behind, the shooter either used a revolver or policed his brass before he left. Taking into account the number of rounds taken by each victim, the missing eighth round most likely shattered the window glass and the absence of any shell casings indicated that the shooter used a revolver with an eight shot clip; judging from the damage done to the case files that had served a buffer-shield for Harmon, Cal guessed the gun was most likely a 357. As it was dark and with the street light behind the shooter, it would have been difficult for Michael to have given a description even if he had been aware of the shooter’s presence.

Cal jotted several more notes on his pad, and then signed the evidence log indicating that he was taking the file folder with him and headed to his truck. Once he was situated behind the wheel, Cal dug his cell phone out of his jacket pocket to call Agent Carson when he realized that he didn’t have Carson’s cell number, but he did have Taylor’s. Cal rationalized that Taylor also needed to be informed of the shooting because it involved her supervising agent as well as her father. He dialed Taylor’s FBI number; as he anticipated the call when straight to voice mail. Cal quickly debated whether or not to leave a message and even quicker tried to decide exactly what he should say.

“T, there’s been an incident at your,” he paused editing his choice of word. “At Michael’s house.”

He tried to picture her face; he could imagine the suspicious scowl and knitted brow that dominated her face whenever she thought he was keeping something from her.

“T, Michael and Harmon have been shot. Michael’s fine. He was wearing his vest. They’ll probably release him from ER before you even get this message. They’re taking Harmon to AMC for surgery. He took three rounds but the paramedics think that the wounds aren’t life threatening.” Cal thought he was finished when words he could stop poured from his heart. “Be careful; call me when you can.”

Cal pushed the end button and speed dialed the barracks. After identifying himself, he asked to speak with Field Agent Carson.

*********************

Field Agent Steven Carson arrived at the Troop “B” barracks ten minutes before the dispatcher from Essex County 911 notified the State Police about the shooting reported at their base commander’s house. Carson calmly identified himself to the officer behind the admission’s desk, stated that he was there to meet his Section Chief and asked politely if he could wait in Commander Bimonte’s office. He passed trooper Carl St. Louis as he made his way towards Commander Bimonte’s office. St. Louis made an abrupt stop at the sight of Agent Carson and stared suspiciously.

“Is there something I can assist you with Agent Carson?”

“Trooper St. Louis isn’t it,” Carson said as a greeting, stopping in front of the Commander’s office. He peered through the open door into the empty office. “I’m meeting the Commander and Special Agent Harmon here.”

Carson and St. Louis continued their awkward standoff for another few moments before Carson decided to just enter Bimonte’s office. If Trooper St. Louis had any objections, he didn’t voice them; he simply stared and muttered something unintelligible under his breath as Carson deposited his overcoat and brief case on the couch and walked over to the think center that displayed the outline of the case in progress. Carson proceeded as if St. Louis didn’t exist, with his back to him; Carson smiled as St. Louis, satisfied that he could leave the FBI agent unsupervised, made a point of making sure the office door was left open when he finally left.

Not long after, the activity level in the barracks increased considerably as the Essex County 911 dispatcher alerted Troop B to the report of shots fired at the address of the Troop Commander’s address. Carson, his face displaying the appropriate level of confused concern, made an appearance in the open doorway observing the flurry of activity that consumed the attention of the officers in the immediate area. He patiently stood by as if he were waiting for someone to fill him in on what was happening, event though Carson knew exactly what had occurred. As expected and much to his delight, Carson’s presence in the doorway was completely ignored and as soon as he observed Trooper St. Louis bolting for the exit and as soon as the officer was out of sight, Carson closed the door to Bimonte’s office and began his search for any indication that the police had made any progress on the case or if Bennetto had shared any of her information concerning recent events.

Steve Carson sat down behind Bimonte’s desk and began looking for anything related to the current investigation; there were two new forensics reports, one he recognized as the one requested for comparison from the Bureau. Carson assumed that Bimonte had taken the rest of the active case files with him. Bimonte had logged off and shut down his computer left. Carson briefly considered hacking into the Commander’s computer but he was certain that Bimonte wouldn’t have left anything of use and, even though he knew that Bimonte would not be back this evening, he did not want to run the risk of being discovered on the computer. Carson picked up the files; the first was the report for the dearly departed Ms. Cane.

The coroner’s autopsy photos of Candy Cane’s pallid body dotted with purplish bruises called Steven Carson back to his childhood in the quiet suburbs of Philadelphia. As he thumbed through the photos of dead woman’s injuries, admiring his handiwork and recalling how much he had enjoyed himself, he ruminated over the fact that he didn’t often get to see the results of his extra curricular activities; more often than not Carson preferred to sub contract out the more unsavory tasks requested by his exclusive customers. However, he did enjoy the occasional foray into the trenches when the circumstance presented itself. Steve Carson’s fondness for the sound of the impact of fists on flesh and the cracking of bone was born in the shadow of the hall closet where he used to hide as a small child while his father beat his mother and older sister. Little Steven was always careful to keep his presence to each spectacle a secret, in part so that if and when his father ever tried of using the women in the house for punching bags he would be less likely to come for him. Young Steven marveled at how his father could inflict such pain without leaving marks in obvious places and eventually developed a fine appreciation for his father’s brutal hobby.

Little Steven never once commented to his father, to anyone, on his sister’s sobbing late into the night or his mother’s extended absences. He remained the dutiful and respectful son, never giving his father a reason to suspect that he knew anything other than the cover stories his parents told him. It was a dubious existence, but it kept Steven off his father’s radar until about a week after a rather severe encounter with dear old Dad, his sister didn’t return home from her part-time job. His mother was out and his father was still at work. Steven was watching television in the living room when he heard someone attempting to open the front door; he though that maybe his sister or mother had lost their key and went to open it. Instead of his sister, a nasty little man from Child Protective Services had appeared at the door announcing that his sister was now a ward of the county and apparently now, so was he. After that night, Steve Carson spent the remainder of his childhood in various foster homes. After he graduated from high school he learned that he had become a ward of the county after his mother had died from a lacerated liver caused by the last of her beatings and that his father, arrested after CPS took the children away, had, ironically enough, been beaten to death while awaiting his trial in jail. Steven continued to honor his role as the dutiful son and often congratulated himself that he learned from his father’s mistake. He never left any of the women he beat alive to implicate him. Carson allowed him self one last selfish look at his handiwork before closing the Cane file and moving on to the second forensic report.

The second file contained crime scene and autopsy photos of Andrew Simpson’s body as well as photo of evidence collected from the scene and trace evidence collected from the body. Carson quickly scanned the medical examiner’s report on Simpson’s cause of death. He didn’t spend much time with the COD, although he did pause to admire the artistry and skill of the killer. The coroner concluded that the absence of arterial spray common in throat slashings was due to the extreme depth of the wound. Next, Carson focused his attention to the toxicology and DNA findings. Strands of red hair, caught in Simpson’s watchband and skin scrapings from under his nails were collected by the coroner and sent for analysis and comparison to the NCI database for comparison. Toxicology reported that the level of sedatives in Simpson’s blood stream would have made him extremely easy to manipulate and rendered him virtually unable to defend himself. The hair sample collected was combination of synthetic fibers blended with real human hair indicating that the assailant wore a high-end wig. The DNA evidence on the skin collected from his fingernails was very interesting and Carson read it twice to be sure of what was written. The skin collected from Simpson was his own and not that of the alleged unidentified female assailant. Carson was so absorbed in the report that he actually jumped when the office door suddenly opened.

“Sir,” began the rather large Trooper who filled the doorway. “There’s an important call for you.” The officer nodded towards the phone on the desk and waited until Carson picked up the receiver before departing, closing the door behind him.

“This is Special Agent Carson.”

“Carson,” barked Cal. “Trooper Montgomery; there’s been a shooting involving Agent Harmon and Commander Bimonte.”

Carson mustered as much surprise in his voice as possible. “Shooting? Are they all right?”

“Harmon took three bullets; he’s in route to Adirondack Medical Center in Saranac Lake for surgery.”

Carson’s brow furrowed as Montgomery hadn’t mentioned Bimonte requiring medical attention. “What happened? Agent Harmon told me that he and Commander Bimonte were meeting at Bimonte’s house.”

“An as yet unidentified assailant ambushed them as they were getting in the car to leave to meet you.”

“Is Commander Bimonte…”

“Bimonte’s all right. He was still wearing his Kevlar,” Cal replied flatly.

Carson clenched his jaw and cursed the fact that he hadn’t considered the possibility that Bimonte would be wearing a bulletproof vest. “Did he get a look at the shooter? Are there any witnesses?”

“As far as we can determine, the answer to both of your questions is no.” Cal sounded impatient. “If I were to hazard a guess, this looks like this was a professional hit; it’s even possible that we may be looking at the work of the same person who did Simpson and the Cane woman. There is very little in the way of forensic evidence, no shell casings, no discernable trace evidence or prints, and no witnesses. I’m on my way to the barracks now. I’ll fill you in with what little we have on the way to the hospital.”

The line went dead before Carson could respond. Carson pushed away from the desk and began pacing in front of the evidence board. Nothing would please him more than to be done with this place and these people. Carson had needed to make sure that neither Harmon nor Bimonte became aware of what Taylor Bennetto had discovered. He hadn’t counted on Bennetto surviving her little “mishap” but his plan was still viable even if Bimonte and Harmon were still alive. If he eliminated Taylor from the equation, he could resume normal operations; he could even get back in the Gallo’s good graces when he revealed that he had Taylor was as an FBI operative and had disposed of her in order to protect the Gallo family. He still had an opportunity to silence her and then no one would be the wiser and he would rather do it sooner than later.

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