Shades of Gray

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As he said the names out loud, Cal thought back to the first time he spoke with Taylor by the Cascade Lakes. He remembered Taylor’s explanation of how she cloned Mathew Gallo’s cell phone. He also remembered her telling him that they were looking for two killers. He looked at the forensic files on Bimonte’s desk, reached over and picked them up, and began skimming through the contents, finally focusing his attention on the lab report for Andrew Simpson. He took the file and the FBI file contain the Wallace Murphy information, then taking a seat on the couch, Montgomery began comparing the information presented in both files.

“Taylor and Carson,” repeated Bimonte.

“Harmon also wanted to know where we met with Taylor after Simpson’s body was discovered,” Michael said. He seemed to think it was important, that it had something to do with the missing files.”

Michael pushed back in his chair and tried to imagine Taylor sitting in the same chair two weeks ago. He recalled when they entered the office and found her sitting at the desk. Bimonte closed his eyes and concentrated hard on the remembered image, and then he opened his eyes and looked at his desktop as if he was seeing it from Taylor’s perspective. His eyes touched on all the items that were permanent residents on the desktop and he reached for the one item that he was positive she had been holding when they entered the room.

Taylor had been holding the picture of his parents at their golden anniversary party.

Bimonte picked up the framed photograph and turned it over and over in his hands, running his fingers over the edges looking for some clue as to what Taylor might have left for them to find. He noticed that the one of the cardboard tabs on the backing of the frame had been pulled out. The edges around it were ragged and there was a slight bulge from where the piece had been forced back into place. Michael ran his fingernail around the outlining edge and popped the tab open.

Michael stared at the tip of the small piece of black plastic that had been wedged into the opening created by the cardboard tab trying to convince him self of its existence and find a way to reconcile how it came to be in its present location and how this treasured family memento had suddenly become evidence that must be handled carefully.

Michael reached into his inner jacket pocket and took out a pair of latex gloves and put them on. He turned the frame over, resting it on its face in the middle of his desk top, reached into his desk drawer for a letter opener and then carefully pried the backing from the frame carefully avoiding touching any more of the picture frame than necessary. Using the letter opener like a spatula, Michael lifted the backing from the frame and placed it off to the side. A small black plastic memory card rested on the silvery grey photo paper. He touched it gently with a glove finger to confirm its existence and prepare himself for what ever was coming next.

“Cal,” he said keeping his eyes on the memory card. “I think we may have found Wallace Murphy’s missing files.”

Montgomery looked up from the lab reports he had read through for the third time. He closed the files he stood and moved around Michael’s desk and stood slightly behind his chair and looked at the computer screen.

Bimonte pulled a second set of gloves from his open desk drawer and handed them to Cal. Once Cal had donned the gloves, he picked up the small black square resting in the frame.

“Taylor told me she knew where the files were hidden,” Cal said. “But she didn’t tell me where,” he added ruefully as examined the small black square under the desk lamp before handing it back to Michael.

“Let’s have a look shall we?”

Michael slipped the memory card into the small slotted port on the front of his computer. The few seconds the device took to read the memory card, scan it for viruses and produce a small icon on the computer’s desk top seem like centuries but Michael found that he was hesitant to click on the icon and open the file even though he had no choice. This was obviously what Harmon wanted him to find when he had asked Bimonte about Taylor’s visit to this very office two weeks ago. There was something in these files that Taylor knew he would need to close the Murphy case that had plagued him for so long and also put and end to investigation of the double murder in the Notch. Harmon knew that she had left this here for him to find and he couldn’t help but wonder why? There was so little time left to them that he could not afford to succumb to human failings like doubt and suspicion. He positioned the cursor over the folder icon and clicked.

Several icons appeared on the screen replacing the single file folder image, each representing different files on the memory card. There were three text files and what appeared to be several video and audio files.

“Let’s start with the text files,” suggested Cal leaning over Michael’s shoulder. “Open all three; they should appear in separate windows allowing us see and compare all the information at once.”

Michael clicked on each text file icon, successively opening three windows on the computer screen.

Cal squinted at the screen as he quickly scanned over the information in front of them. “These seem to be Wallace Murphy’s files all right,” he said. “Most of the information of the first two appears to be records of wire transactions between bank accounts here and in the Cayman Islands. There aren’t any names only account numbers, so no help there. Now this one,” Cal pointed indicating the center window. “This seems to be a scanned copy of a hand written ledger.”

Michael and Cal exchanged excited and very satisfied expressions as Michael completed the observation.

“This is scanned copy of a ledger with the names, dates and amounts paid to whom ever Murphy was doing business and just look whose name is featured prominently on the payee list,” said Michael triumphantly. “Steven Carson.”

“Seems like he’s been at this for quite some time,” observed Cal. “Trading inside information for cash. Scroll through the ledger files and let’s see what else is in there.”

Over the next two hours, Cal and Michael printed out and reviewed the ledger pages that had been scanned onto the memory card. The information was a RICO investigator’s dream come true; the files contained detailed records of Murphy’s dealings with not only the Gallo Family, but the Easter European Syndicate as well. Everything Murphy was involved in, from the marijuana smuggling operation to a counterfeit prescription drug operation and money-laundering network was outlined in obsessive detail.

As they sifted through the sorted history of Steven Carson’s illicit activities, Cal couldn’t shake the feeling that something was still way off, that there was still something that they were missing. Here, in these files, they had everything they needed to build an ironclad case against Carson. There was enough evidence to implicate him in both the St. Regis murder and the murders of Simpson and Cane and as no one had seen or heard from Carson since he left this very office, it was a safe assumption that he was behind the shootings of Bimonte and Harmon. Things seemed to be wrapped up nice and neat and that bothered Cal. There was still something missing and he hoped that maybe the answer might be in the rest of the files on the memory card. He got up from the couch at the far end of Michael’s office and leaned over Michel’s computer station and started going through the video files.

Michael was on the phone listening Trooper St. Louis’ status update; Alex Harmon was out of surgery and expected to make a full recovery.

“St. Louis is on his way back from the hospital,” said Bimonte hanging up the phone. “As soon as Spanelli and Pryor finish debriefing Harmon, I assume they will be right behind him; they’re expecting an update on the shootings.”

Michael rounded the desk and took up position behind Cal who was now seated in his chair. “What is that,” he asked.

“I wanted to see what was in the video files on the card,” answered Cal as he cued up a video file time stamped about three weeks before the Simpson murder. “So far everything we need has been right here, so I figured what the hell?”

The computer’s media player finished loading the file and started began playing.

“Oh my Christ,” gasped Michael.

The video appeared to have been taken in a warehouse and showed in graphic detail Steven Carson savagely beating a young woman with various implements as she hung suspended by her wrists from what appeared to be a large meat hook. After several minutes, Cal fast forwarded though the carnage and resumed playing the video at a point where Carson appeared to be lowering the girl’s unconscious body to the floor of the warehouse. Cradling the girl almost tenderly, Carson looked directly into the camera lens.

“This is what happens when some tries to fuck with me Mr. Simpson,” Carson said his voice unnervingly placid. “Next time, this will be you.”

Carson quickly jerked the girl’s head sharply to the left; the sickening sound of her snapping neck clearly captured by the camera’s audio feed.

Cal closed the media player and got up from the desk, his brow furrowed as he tried to make sense of all the information they had been inundated with in the last few hours. Michael picked up the coroner’s report on Cynthia Burris and leafed through photos and scanned the written report.

“The Cane woman suffered the same type of injuries as what we just saw on the video. That ties Carson to the murders at the Flume.”

“I don’t understand what Carson is doing,” Cal said as he approached the evidence board.

“Maybe he’s trying to create a diversion, keep us off balance until he can disappear,” offered Michael. “Right now, I’d say it’s safe to assume that he’s aware that we have enough evidence to pin the murders on him,” said Michael. “I’m sure that he’s well into the wind by now.

“We still can’t tie him to the shootings at your house,” huffed Cal.

He turned and regarded the coroner’s photos of Simpson and Cane as he suddenly remembered something Taylor had said, something about there being two killers. Michael saw the look of enlightenment push the scowl off of Cal’s face.

“What is it?” Michael crossed the room and stood beside Cal.

“I don’t think Carson was the shooter.”

“I’m listening,” said Michael priming Cal’s explanation.

“Before you paged me about the Gallo fire,” Cal began excitedly. Taylor had asked me to meet her. She wanted to clarify some information about the Simpson murder. She told me that someone was inside the FBI was involved in the Flume murders.”

“We’ve already established that Cal. All the evidence we have here points to Carson being the leak.”

Cal shook his head stubbornly. “Yes, all the evidence seems to indicate that Carson is our guy, but Taylor said something else; it didn’t make sense at the time and I haven’t really had time to make sense of it until now.”

Michael looked skeptical but Cal’s enthusiasm was infectious. “What else did she tell you?”

“She said that we were looking for two killers, that she knew who ever killed Simpson was not the same person who killed the Cane woman.”

“Two killers?” Michael repeated incredulously. “Are you certain that’s what she said?”

“I’m positive.” Cal jumped excitedly to the evidence board. “She said, ‘two killers who may or may not be working together’.”

“Look,” Cal said pointing to at the picture of Wallace Murphy. “That was the piece we were missing. Gallo puts a hit out on Murphy at exactly the same time as Carson figures out that Murphy is about to double cross him.”

Michael nodded in agreement picking up on Cal’s line of reasoning. He joined Cal at the evidence board.

“Carson sends Simpson to take care of Murphy, but Gallo’s contractor beats him to it,” offered Bimonte. “The contractor recognizes Simpson, assumes he’s working with Murphy on the double cross…”

Which we now know he was,” interrupted Cal.

Michael nodded in agreement and continued. “The contractor tries unsuccessfully to eliminate Simpson in St. Regis. Simpson now realizes that the contractor will tell Gallo that Simpson and Murphy were working together and that Gallo will retaliate.”

“Now Simpson has a real problem,” Cal’s face was bright with excitement. “He must have known that Gallo would be coming for him, so he goes to Carson for help.” Montgomery started to pace again. “Then what?”

Bimonte pondered Montgomery’s question for a moment, then returned to his desk and restarted the media player. He fast-forwarded the video to the end, just before Carson snapped the girl’s neck. Cal situated himself in front of Michael’s desk as Bimonte turned the computer monitor so Cal could see the screen. He cued up the frame depicting Carson face sneering into the camera, turned up the volume and played Carson’s speech.

“Carson must have refused to help Simpson,” began Bimonte. “Simpson must have threatened to blackmail Carson with Murphy’s files if he didn’t agree to help him.” He returned the monitor back to its original position. “I think this was Carson’s way of letting Simpson know what he thought of his plan and what Simpson could expect if he went through with it.”

“Carson must have suspected that Simpson was planning to sell him out to Gallo,” said Cal. “He must have known that the Cane woman was Simpson’s latest girl friend and tried to beat the information he wanted out of her.”

Cal shook his head disgustedly and walked back to face the evidence board. He sighed as he looked at the pictures of faces of Simpson and Cane when they were alive.

“Simpson must have sold Carson out to Gallo,” concluded Bimonte. “She told you she knew who had Murphy’s files.”

Cal nodded in agreement. “That must be how Taylor came into possession of the memory card, Gallo or Simpson must have given it to her.

“Carson isn’t running from us,” Montgomery said. “I’m sure that someone like him, has always had an exit strategy in the event that his standing with the Bureau was ever compromised.” Cal turned to Michael.

“Gallo’s contractor beat Carson to Simpson and he knew that he was next,” Bimonte nodded and looked back at Andrew Simpson’s photo. “No, Carson isn’t running from us. Carson is running from who ever killed Simpson.”

“Not running from…”

Montgomery and Bimonte followed the sound of the voice to now opened door of Michael’s office as Special Agent Spanelli stepped inside and shut the door behind him.

“Carson is running straight to the person that killed Andrew Simpson and Wallace Murphy. And it is imperative that we find him; Agent Bennetto’s life may depend on it.”

“What are you talking about,” demanded Michael.

“Both of you had better take a seat,” responded Spanelli evasively. “Harmon has authorized me to tell you everything and we have run out of time to break this information to you gently. He’ll be joining us via conference call in a few moments to answer the specific questions he knows you will both have.

Cal and Michael exchanged worried looks.

“Two people are dead and someone did their best to see that Harmon and I joined them,” said Michael sternly. “How much worse can this get?”

The phone on the desk began to ring. Michael answered, confirmed the conference call request and activated the phone’s speaker. Harmon’s disembodied voice asserted itself into the conversation.

“Go a head Harmon,” commanded Bimonte. “You’ve got Montgomery and Spanelli here. What haven’t you told us?”

“Some of what I’m about to tell you will be very difficult to hear.”

“Skip the ‘break it to them gently crap’,” Michael sniped impatiently. “Just tell me; who killed Andrew Simpson and Wallace Murphy?”

Although the ensuing silence that between the question and Harmon’s answer was momentary, absence of sound seemed to go one forever. Spanelli lowered his eyes and refused to look at either Bimonte or Montgomery as Harmon’s voice filled the silent void and lowered a boom that crushed both Michael and Cal.

“Taylor,” he said. “Taylor killed them both.”



Just as Taylor pushed her key into the lock, the front door to the Gallo camp opened.

“I’m surprised to see you George,” remarked Taylor casually. “I thought the Family had left hours ago.”

George Nolan, one of Anthony Gallo’s most trusted body guards, stood holding the door open; his considerable sized filling the open door way. The menacing scowl on his face melted away to an expression of respectful recognition, as he turned sideways to allow Taylor admittance into the house.

“Mr. Gallo asked me to stay behind and render any assistance you might require,” he responded stiffly.

Taylor continued into the house and threw her keys on the small table in the foyer as George hovered behind her. Nolan’s presence surprised her. She was unsure how to view Anthony Gallo’s offer of assistance; she wondered if he was trying to be protective or did he doubt her ability to clean up this mess effectively without drawing further attention.

“Thank you for staying but I won’t need any assistance beyond making sure that the house is properly closed. If you could see to that, I’m sure I can handle the rest.”

“Mr. Mathew Gallo is sending the Cessna back to the Lake Clear Airport for you,” George reported. He’s expecting you at home later this evening.”

“I’m sure that he is,” Taylor sighed and pushed her hair off her face. “If you could just see to the house, we should be on our way shortly,” she said dismissively. “George,” she added as he moved away from her. “Please keep your presence here as inconspicuous as possible.”

George looked unconvinced that his responsibilities would be so inconsequential but nodded that he understood what she expected of him and disappeared down the side hallway.

Taylor sprinted up the stairs to her room and shut the door; she had very little time to prepare for Steve Carson’s arrival and after think things over, she actually began to feel grateful for George’s presence. Carson expected her to be alone and George would be a useful distraction or at the very least a decoy she could use in dealing with Carson.

Taylor opened the double doors leading into the walk-in closet, parted the clothes hanging in the back and retrieved her black duffel bag, opening it to check the contents: a specially designed, dark colored full body leotard made of a light weight body armor, change of clothing consisting of blue jeans, tee shirt and hooded sweat shirt, her FBI issued Glock 23, passport, cell phone, wallet, and a small black velvet pouch. She returned her FBI credentials to the hidden pocket under the lining of the duffel and slid her gun into the holster strapped to the small of her back, zipped it shut and then carried it out of the closet. She tossed the duffel on the bed and moved to the far side of the room and pushed the tall boy dresser away from the wall, revealing the small safe in the base of the wall behind it and quickly entering the electronic combination, removed a small black case containing a small glass vial, several small needles of varying lengths and a hypodermic syringe. Before closing the safe, she also removed the knife she used to kill Andrew Simpson.

Taylor removed the vial from the case and held it up to the light in order to gage how much remained available for use. After determining that the amount remaining was sufficient, Taylor set to the business of assuming the mind set she needed to finish the task given to her. She unzipped the duffel and removed the additional items she would require. It was time for her to put and end to the fiction that had become her life. As she prepared for the final act, she thought back on the events that brought her back to the event that set the stage where her story would finally end.

Andrew Simpson and Steve Carson had a sweet little moneymaking operation going until Wallace Murphy got nabbed in a stupid vice sweep. Simpson used Murphy as screen to deflect attention from the fact that he had been skimming money from pay offs he was responsible for collecting from gambling and drug smuggling operations that Murphy was running for the Gallo’s. It was the perfect set up with Murphy as the front man; Simpson would take his cut before delivering the balance to the Gallo’s moneyman, paying Carson for his services when ever he alerted Simpson to any possible interference from the Feds. For quite some time, everybody was prosperous and happy; the Gallo’s were kept well informed of any investigative interests in their less than legal activities and Murphy, Simpson and Carson were able to adopt life styles to which they intended to become permanently accustomed. It was a perfect triple-blind system: Murphy dealt Simpson and only Simpson; Simpson dealt with Carson and only Carson. Then two seemingly unrelated things happened: Murphy decided to freelance with the Eastern European drug traffickers and Mathew Gallo got a new lawyer.

The first indication that their perfect little system was about to run a ground occurred when Simpson’s old sources from his days with the NYPD began telling him about rumors they had been hearing concerning Wallace Murphy’s drug use. Apparently Murphy had been sampling the wares that he was supposed to be transporting and had gotten in pretty deep with the Eastern European syndicate. The Ukrainians were kind enough to offer Murphy a deal; they would be willing to let Murphy live in exchange for Murphy using the Gallo’s construction and importing activities between Canada and the United States as a cover for transporting their hydroponic marijuana across the border. The stress of trying to juggle responsibilities for two competing crime families proved to be too much for Murphy who, being seriously unbalanced to begin with, began using more drugs than he could afford to cope well enough to do what he was being paid to do.

When Murphy got nabbed in a routine vice sweep, he called Simpson for help. Simpson could tell from the panic evident in Murphy’s voice that he was strung out could do a lot of damage if he couldn’t be contained quickly. Simpson contacted Steve Carson and gave him a quick rundown of the current state of affairs. He was short and to the point; if they didn’t act quickly, Murphy was likely to bring a world of hurt down on both of them. Carson, acting the concerned government official, concocted a cover story for NYPD that Murphy was in possession of valuable evidence pertaining to a federal investigation. The cops bought Carson’s performance and released Murphy into the protection of the Feds. Once the Ukrainians became aware of Murphy’s new protected status, things took an interesting twist, which unbeknownst to them put Simpson and Carson on a direct course with disaster.

Unwilling to become involved in a turf war with the Gallo’s, representatives from the Eastern Syndicate contacted Anthony Gallo and promptly placed all the blame for unintentionally excluding the Gallo’s from marijuana smuggling operation on Murphy. Even as Murphy desperately tried to convince all involved that he had no intention of selling anyone out, all interested parties agreed that Murphy was too far gone, too paranoid to be trusted, any further. Anthony Gallo himself guaranteed that Murphy would be dealt with swiftly and effectively and he sent the person he trusted the most to take care of the problem.

Andrew Simpson had no idea that Taylor Bennetto was anything other than what she appeared to be: Mathew Gallo’s attractive lawyer and that was exactly what Anthony Gallo wanted everyone, including his son, to believe. Simpson had no reason to suspect that he was making a grave mistake when he contacted Bennetto and offered to supply the Gallo’s with the information that Murphy was trying to use as leverage in his bid to stay alive. When he agreed to meet her at the Noon Mark Diner, Simpson had no idea that Taylor was the contractor Anthony Gallo had hired to kill him.

When Simpson arrived at the diner, Taylor was sitting in a booth at the far end of the diner dinking coffee. He stopped and admired the view for a few moments before approaching the table. He had never formally been introduced to Gallo’s pretty lawyer and the description he’s been given really didn’t do her justice. Simpson had always been a fan of red heads so as Ms. Bennetto brushed her long auburn hair over her shoulder and arched her back, showcasing her quite ample breasts ever so slightly; he fully understood what Gallo saw in her.

“I ordered you a slice of the house’s special apple pie,” she said as Simpson slid into the seat across from Taylor.

The waitress appeared with a steaming coffee pot and filled the cup next to dish of apple pie in from of him.

“Gee thanks,” Simpson said with exaggerated humility. “How’d you know apple was my favorite?”

Taylor ignored his smug reply. “I assume you have something for me?”

Simpson reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small clear plastic case containing a black computer memory card. He adeptly twirled the case between his fingers and then, with the smug, self-satisfied smirk on his face, slipped the case back into his jacket.

“I assume you have something besides pie for me,” mocked Simpson as he began eating the pie.

Taylor knotted her brows in annoyance; she had no intention of spending any more time with Simpson than her task required. She patiently waited as he shoveled the pie into his mouth. Although she would be patient, the sooner Simpson got what was waiting for him the better.

“I trust that you’ve taken care of preparations for Mr. Gallo’s arrival later today?”

“Everything’s set at the Mirror Lake Inn,” Simpson replied with a mouthful of pie. “I reserved a room at a little place in Wilmington, in the event that my girlfriend decides to join me.” He swallowed the pie and moved on to his coffee.

“Ahh, that was good,” Simpson announced. He signaled for the waitress to come and refill his cup. “Now I want to make sure that Mr. Gallo understands that I was, in no way what so ever, involved with Murphy’s little ‘meltdown’ shall we call it.”

“I can assure you that Mr. Gallo is well informed on everything concerning Mr. Murphy,” acknowledged Taylor sipping her coffee and watching Simpson’s face very closely.

“That’s good,” he said. “Now all we need to discuss is the financial compensation for my demonstration of loyalty.”

He tried to smile but he couldn’t seem to make his face perform the action. His tongue started to feel like someone had slipped a fur coat over it. He picked up his coffee and brought the cup to his lips only to discover that he couldn’t seem to focus on exactly what he wanted to do with the cup.

Taylor quickly got up and slid next to Simpson. He looked at her with an expression of amused confusion as the sedative she had put into his pie began to take effect. The initial effects of the sedative would make Simpson extremely compliant. She reached into Simpson’s jacked pocket and took out the computer memory card and his wallet. After motioning to the waitress to bring the check, Taylor slipped the small plastic case into her pocket and took twenty dollars out of Simpson’s wallet. She handed the money to the waitress and ignoring the puzzled look on the young woman’s face, pulled Simpson out of the booth. Once she got Simpson in standing position, Taylor turned to the waitress.

“You’ll have to forgive my brother. Looks like he’s already had a few Irish coffees before he got here.”

“I know what you mean,” the girl said nodding with understanding. “I’ve got a few of them in my own family.”

“Come on Andy,” Taylor deadpanned, rolling her eyes. “Let’s get you home.”

Simpson obediently took Taylor’s hand and allowed her to lead him out of the diner. Once she located the SUV Simpson had rented, Taylor belted him into the passenger’s seat and set on for the site she had selected near the Wilmington Notch. By the time they arrived at their destination, the sedative had paced Simpson in a complete disassociative state. She knew this was a side effect of the propophyol cocktail she had drugged him with and it was the reason for the longhaired wig and padded push-up bra she was wearing. In his current state, Simpson would believe that he was in the process of enjoying a romantic get away with his current girl friend. Taylor parked the SUV as far off the trailhead as possible to avoid being seen from the main road.

“I’m so sorry that I have been such an asshole Baby,” Simpson cooed into Taylor’s neck as she leaned over him to release his seat belt. “I’ll make it up to you, anything you want. I promise.”

“I know you will,” said Taylor taking his hand and pulling out of the vehicle. “Just follow me sweetie. You’re going to have the time of your life.”

Taylor ushered Simpson quickly along a wooded trail that opened up on a small clearing where she had set up a small camping tent where she intended to put him after the sedative she had given him rendered him unconscious. She unzipped the opening of the tent and pushed Simpson inside expecting him to pass out at any moment. But instead of falling asleep, Simpson’s libido kicked into high gear. He grabbed Taylor and began pulling at her clothes. Taylor squirmed away from him long enough to get to a black duffel bag and while she rummaged through it, Simpson grabbed the blanket he had been laying on moments earlier and staggered out of the tent.

“Come on my sweet Candy Baby,” he yelled as he staggered into the clearing. “You and me ain’t nothin’ but mammals,” Simpson’s attempt at a sign-song voice slurred as if he was highly intoxicated. “Let’s do it like they do it on the discovery channel!”

Simpson threw the blanket on the ground and reached back into the tent and grabbed Taylor on her way out and resumed pulling at her clothes. She was surprised that he was still on his feet and even more surprised when he slapped her hard across the face when she tried to bat his hand in an attempt to keep him from pulling on her clothes.

“That’s it Candy Baby,” Simpson leered. “You know you like it rough.”

Taylor realized that if she were going to gain control over Simpson, she was going to have to play along with his delusion. When he grabbed for her again, she slammed into him knocking him back and landing him on the blanket. While Simpson concentrated on removing her pants and the rest of his clothes, Taylor slipped the stiletto she had concealed in her back pocket and tucked it into the rear weaving of the wig. She allowed him to reach up and kiss her in order to set him in the proper position to ensure that her next movements would be efficient and quick. Then she rocked back and pulled the stiletto from the back of her wig, pushed Simpson down on his back and slit his throat.

As she finished preparing for Steve Carson’s arrival, she reviewed how she would deal with Carson. Carson’s training was very similar to her own making him a formidable opponent who would certainly be on his guard. He would be expecting deception so Taylor decided her best course of action would be to be as straight forward as possible, let him think he had the upper hand because the element of surprise was not in play. She ran her hand over the silver chain that Cal had given her on their first anniversary as a couple and slipped the tip of her finger in to the engagement ring suspended from it, twirling around several times. She had taken the ring from the carved wooden box on Cal’s fireplace mantle the last time they were together; on the night she killed Wallace Murphy.

Taylor reached up to unhook the clasp and return the necklace to the back velvet pouch in her duffel but stopped and instead tucked it close to her heart so she could feel some part of him at the end. Taylor looked at her reflection in the mirror and, for the first time in fifteen years of doing this, wondered who the predator was and who the prey. The sound of the loud front door chimes shook Taylor out of her reverie and brought her focus back to the matter at hand.

As she descended the stairs, Taylor shook her head in amused disbelief as George Nolan was politely ushering Steven Carson in to the foyer as if he were an expected and honored guest. Carson, properly and officially attired in standard FBI issue, nodded politely as Taylor approached. She noted that he was carrying a briefcase, something she found curious given their present circumstance.

“Welcome to the lion’s den,” Taylor said with icy sincerity. “Thank you George that will be all.”

Carson watched as Nolan silently disappeared from view and turned, smiling toward Taylor who had stopped at the bottom of the staircase and was leaning against the banister.

“I wasn’t expecting a chaperone,” Carson said laughing, slight nervousness hovering just around the edges of his tight grin. “I did expect you to be just a bit upset with me, given the circumstances. Don’t trust yourself to be alone with me?”

“That’s always been the difference between us Carson,” Taylor began as she stepped off the stairs and started toward the family room off the foyer. “I never make it personal. And I told you, if I wanted you dead, you’d be dead by now.”

Carson followed Taylor into the large, well lit and tastefully furnished family room. The exquisite view of Lake Placid, the grey waters of the lake framed by trees shimmered in the French doors leading to the deck behind where Taylor now stood, regarding Carson, arms crossed in front of her in a very business like manner. Carson took a few moments to survey the room and then took a seat on the couch, positioning the briefcase close to his side.

“Would you feel safer with an impartial third party present,” she asked rhetorically.

“I hardly think that a Gallo soldier constitutes an ‘impartial’ third party or would prove to be anything approaching safe for me at this point.”

Carson settled into his seat on the couch casually, making him self right at home.

“Let’s get to it shall we?” Carson began, “I have thought your offer over and decided that perhaps my destiny also lies apart from the Bureau.” Carson said. “I have an 8pm connecting flight to Rio to catch at Albany International and I intend to be on it.”

“Then why are you here?” Taylor moved closer to the windows creating more space between them.

“Curiosity mostly,” answered Carson flippantly. He paused, studying Taylor’s demeanor; her reaction remained calm and composed.

Taylor looked at Carson with suspicious fascination and realized that he was acting entirely too smug and self satisfied. She eyed the briefcase knowing that he wanted her to ask the obvious question; she decided to make him wait for that and continued the posturing dance.

“Curious,” she repeated. “What about?”

Carson smiled and patted the briefcase beside him.

“I always wondered what exactly it was about you that so fascinated Alex Harmon,” said Carson as he turned the case toward him and clicked the latch.

“He’s always fancied himself something of a collector you know; each of us selected for his elite teams according to our unique talents and strengths. But I’d never, in all the years I’ve known him, seen Alex Harmon take such a directed interest in a potential agent as he did with you.”

Carson took a file from the case and tossed it on the coffee table that marked the midpoint between him and Taylor. As the file landed on the table, several photos of a solider dressed in desert sniper camouflage slipped out and lay partly exposed. He watched with satisfaction as Taylor’s attention diverted to the file on the table and though she made no motion toward it, he knew that she must have surmised whom the sniper was and was furiously contemplating what the rest contents might be.

“I always wondered what special proclivity you possessed that he would place you in the position of most favored among our ranks. As you are no doubt aware, either by accident or design, it is extremely difficult to obtain complete background information about you; even for me, the section chief’s senior adjutant. As I enjoy a good mystery, discovering what information was so important that it be kept secret became something of a hobby of mine.”

Taylor was certain that he was trying to bait her into losing her temper and though she was growing annoyed and impatient to get to the matter at hand, she refused to allow him manipulate her.

“Get to it Carson,” she snapped. “You obviously have something you want to share with me, so get on with it.”

“You said earlier, that you never make what you do for the Bureau personal. I, on the other hand, find that taking a personal interest in an assignment, it raises the stakes and makes both the process and the outcome so much more rewarding.”

Carson laughed but there was no levity in the icy tenor of the sound.

“You see, it never occurred to me that in I would find what I was looking for in something as innocuous as a basic background check in to someone’s military history.”

Carson paused as Taylor began to see the pattern that was emerging in the game that Carson was playing.

“Needless to say, when I was helping Harmon assemble his I-File on our father, I never imagined that I would also find the answer to the questions I had concerning you.”

Taylor took two steps toward the photos Carson wanted her to see, her hands flexing at her sides until they touched upon the pictures. She crouched down beside the table and flipped open the file and spread the photos over the table. They were military surveillance photos of different military operations Michael Bimonte had been assigned to in Beirut, Kuwait and Honduras.

“You and I are not so different,” Carson said smugly. “We are our fathers’ children. The only difference is that when I kill for sport where as you…”

“We have nothing in common,” Taylor hissed.

As she rose, she brushed her right hand against the knife holstered to her ankle and as she began to spring from her position, she launched it at Carson. The stiletto flew in the direction of Carson’s throat, grazing the side of his neck as it rocketed past him and stuck in the wall behind the couch. As she achieved a standing position and reached behind her for her gun, the large strong hands of George Nolan seized both her arms and crushed her forcefully into his body.

Screaming in pain, Carson jumped up off of the couch gripping his neck, blood seeping from beneath his fingers. In less than four strides, his face was inches from Taylor’s. As she continued to struggle against Nolan’s restraint, Carson reached his left hand around Taylor’s body and removed her gun from the holster strapped to the small of her back. He tucked the gun into the waist of his trousers and removed a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and applied it to his neck wound.

“Save your strength,” Carson said with a sneer as he turned to pick up the briefcase that had toppled to the floor when he sprang from his seat. “I’ve planed a little going away party for the two of us as we part our ways and I’d much prefer a bit of, how should I put it? Active participation?”

Taylor stopped struggling and looked over her shoulder at the open French door behind them through which Nolan, unobserved, had made his entrance and then shifted her attention to Carson shoveling the numerous bricks of cash which littered the floor back into the case.

“What’s the matter Carson,” taunted Taylor. “Afraid to face me alone so you had to hire help?”

Carson quickly stepped toward where Nolan restrained Taylor and slapped her hard across the face. The force he put behind the slap aggravating his neck wound enough that blood began to trickle down his neck.

“You of all people should know that loyalty can be a very tenuous thing when large sums of money are involved.” Carson applied pressure to the handkerchief and tucked it into his shirt collar.

“As much as I would have preferred to take care of you and young Mr. Gallo

myself,” he continued pacing the room waiting for the bleeding to come under control.

“I needed to establish my presence far away from the events which took place here. For a fee, Mr. Nolan was receptive to assisting me. And although I was disappointed in Mr. Nolan’s ability to initially render a satisfactory result, he was quite willing to redeem himself by facilitating our little meeting this afternoon.”

“How much did he promise you to betray Anthony, George,” Taylor hissed.

Nolan squeezed Taylor’s biceps pinning her arms so tightly that she cried out in pain. “Enough to keep me comfortable and far away from Gallo retaliation.”

“Enough of this,” barked Carson irritated that Nolan felt the need to explain him self. He slammed the case shut and grabbed it by the handle. “Did you make the arrangements I asked you to?”

Nolan nodded.

“Then let’s proceed. I am on a tight schedule after all.”

Carson nodded toward the open French doors and tightening his hold, Nolan turned and pushed Taylor through the door and onto the deck as Carson followed behind. They made their way down the steps and across the lawn to the boathouse situated by the ruins of the dock near the boat launch. As the three entered the slip previously occupied by Mathew Gallo’s boat, Nolan twisted Taylor’s arms, forcing her hands to the front of her body where Carson snapped on a pair of handcuffs. Nolan raised the barrel of his gun to her temple and grasping the scruff of her neck with his free hand conducted her to the rear of the slip. Suspended from the ceiling of the boathouse was a stanchion used for the overhaul and storage of the boat motor and removal of the boat during the winter months. As Carson moved to the side and observed, Nolan slipped Taylor’s manacled hands over the metal hook mounted on the top of the stanchion and raised it to a point where her arms were completely straight over her head and forcing her to rise up on the balls of her feet allowing her distribute her weight and keep the hand cuffs from cutting into her wrists.

Taylor kept her eyes trained on Carson who was snickering in the corner. After he set the briefcase on the workbench, Carson walked over to where Taylor was suspended as Nolan took his place and opening the case, began counting the bundles of cash.

“I’ll admit, I find myself disappointed,” mused Steven Carson approaching Taylor’s hanging position. “I expected more from Alex Harmon’s prized agent.”

“Don’t forget who drew first blood,” Taylor growled.

The self-satisfied grin dissolved from Carson’s face as he raised his hand and caressed his neck before he drove the heel of his hand into Taylor’s solar plexus, forcing the wind from her diaphragm and causing her to swing backward and off her feet. Carson caught her as swung back toward him and returned her gasping for breath to her previous position. Carson then turned to the workbench and regarded a series of items he had asked Nolan to provide for him farewell party. He passed his hand over the items, as if his hand was functioning of its own free will. His fingers gently caressed a length of rubber tubing, a pair of brass knuckles and an old fashioned wooden billy club.

With Carson’s attention diverted, Taylor began assessing the environment and her options for escape. She had anticipated that with out the element of surprise, she would have to allow Carson to assume that he had control of the situation and had planned for it. Nolan’s involvement complicated things and she cursed herself for not considering the possibility that Carson had cultivated other relationships during his association with the Gallo Family. She should have been more suspicious that Nolan had stayed; it was uncharacteristic of Anthony Gallo to leave reinforcements behind. Taylor knew that she had proved her worth to the elder Gallo years ago. It wasn’t Anthony who doubted Taylor’s ability to fulfill this contract; it was Taylor herself who had begun to doubt her self and whether or not she could continue on the path she had chosen.

In the corner, Nolan, apparently satisfied the terms of their agreement had been fulfilled, closed the brief case.

“Everything appears to be in order here,” he said turning to leave. “I assume there’s nothing further you require?”

“No; I believe that I can handle everything from here.” Carson smiled and drew Taylor’s gun from his waistband firing three shots into George Nolan’s chest.

Nolan collapsed to the floor with a stunned expression on his face.

“I did promise you that you’d be safe from any Gallo retribution Mr. Nolan and I am a man of my word.”

Taylor steadied her self as best as she could and took advantage of one Carson’s tactical errors.

She knew from the video of his torture of Andrew Simpson’s girlfriend that Carson preferred to use two lengths of heavy hemp rope, soaked in salt water: one to bind and another knotted piece to beat his female punching bags. The saturated rope provided additional weight and strength to the rope fibers and the salt water in addition to limiting the amount of blood that might seep from the abrasions, increased the pain caused by the victim’s struggles.

Carson had counted on the jeep accident eliminating Taylor and never considered the current scenario an eventual possibility so he was using standard issued handcuffs to control Taylor. She twisted her hands so that they were facing in opposite directions and carefully began to slide the metal key pick she had concealed in her watchband. Once she had the pick comfortable situated between her thumb and fore finger, she set to work picking the handcuff lock. Carson’s fired his gun just as the locking mechanism clicked open.

With his attention focused on Nolan and before he had time to react, Taylor dropped down from the stanchion and landed a solid kick to Carson’s knees. Carson’s legs buckled and as he fell backward, he discharged two rounds into the ceiling of the boathouse. Taylor rolled to her right and scurried over to George Nolan’s dead body. As Carson struggled to his feet, Bennetto retrieved Nolan’s gun as Carson fired on her. Bennetto returned Carson’s fire and fled out the door as Carson hurried after her. Carson managed to get off two more rounds before Taylor disappeared into the woods just on the edge of the estate’s grounds. Carson smiled as he noticed the hesitation in Bennetto’s step and tracing the trajectory of her flight towards the woods, he saw a trail of blood leading away from where he stood on the dock. At least one of his rounds had found its target and with her wounded, Carson started to relaxed a bit knowing that, even though he would enjoy finishing Taylor off, face to face it was possible that he’d accomplished his goal already. He remembered the briefcase full of cash and went back inside the boat slip to retrieve it, stashing it in the trunk of his rental car.

Carson turned at the sound of a vehicle rushing down the graveled access road leading to the Gallo estate and cursed under his breath. Obviously Bennetto had either alerted the team the Bureau had dispatched to investigate Harmon’s shooting of perhaps the Gallo’s had sent reinforcements in the event Bennetto missed her target. Either way, Carson could not afford to be seen on the front steps so he quickly hurried into the house to conceal his presence and figure out the best way to cut his loses and get away.

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