Shades of Gray

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Michael Bimonte’s alarm sounded promptly at 4:15 am as the aroma of freshly percolated coffee wafted down the hall at its preset, scheduled time. Roused from a fitful sleep, he briefly contemplated hitting the snooze button and to try and quell the headache he felt coming from getting too little sleep, thought better of it and shut the alarm off. He got out of bed and repeated the same ritual he had faithfully practiced for the last 30 years of his law enforcement career. Shower, shave, don the freshly dry cleaned uniform, apply the trappings of his position, nametag, pocket note book, badge, and belt, attach various accessories to his gun belt, retrieve his state issued Glock 22 from its locked box and nestle it in its holster, completing the uniform. It felt good to be wearing the class A grey uniform today. Normally, he wore a suit and tie as befitting his position as chief investigator for the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations, but today he had agreed to conduct a special orientation session for newly appointed troopers being assigned to his barracks. Satisfied that every element of the uniform was in place, Michael continued his morning routine. Next stop was the kitchen, fill travel mug with black coffee, grab brief case from the often-unused dining room table, and exit the house, pausing to collect the morning paper on the door stoop before locking the front door. On to the unmarked police cruiser parked next to his own pick up truck, and the fifteen-minute drive to the State Police barracks.

Law enforcement was a natural career choice as Michael was very much a creature of established orderly routines and procedures. He was a firm believer in order because order provided structure. Order provided stability and therefore predictability. Raised by strict Italian immigrant parents, Michael learned early to respect authority and duty. His parents instilled the values of hard work and responsibility. They worked hard to provide him with the things they themselves never had and asked only two things in return: that he go to college and that he give them grandchildren someday. Michael dedicated his young life to honoring those requests. He had enlisted in the Army after high school, promising his immigrant parents that he would honor their dream and become the first Bimonte go to college.

His adherence to order made him an excellent solider. Follow his two tours of duty in Beirut and one in operation Dessert Storm, he departed the army a distinguished veteran and enrolled in college where he earned his criminal justice degree. At college, he met his future wife, Allison. They were married the summer before his sophomore year and were parents twice by the time he graduated. Fresh from commencement ceremonies, with all filial obligations fulfilled, Michael took the entrance exam for the New York State Troopers and 30 years later was a lead investigator in the Troopers BCI unit and station commander for the Troop B Barracks.

Completing his morning ritual, Michael entered the secured parking lot and parked the cruiser in its designated parking spot at precisely 5:30, thirty minutes before the watch commander’s shift change. He made his way to his office navigating through the obligatory pleasantries to his coworkers and finally arriving at his office, settled behind his desk and began his review of his current open cases. The walls of the office bore the standard trappings of New York State government, specifically of the Troop B Barracks along with some framed photos documenting Michael’s evolution from solider to police cadet, patrolman to detective. His desk, like everything that was under his control was neat and orderly. Almost devoid of anything that was not related to the performance of his duties, the only personal items on his desk were two small framed photos; one of his parents taken at their golden wedding anniversary party and the other of his two daughters taken at the youngest’s graduation from college.

Michael situated himself at the desk, booted up his computer and finished off the coffee in his travel mug. After logging into the secure server, he pulled up the files on his most recent case. A body had been discovered in the remains of a burned out cabin near a northern New York Indian reservation. The death was initially deemed to be a result of the fire. First responders had surmised that the man had probably been asleep when his cabin had caught fire and succumbed to smoke inhalation. However, when the body was removed for examination by the county coroner, evidence of two gunshot wounds were discovered; one was an entrance wound to the chest and the other an exit wound through the back of the skull. Due to the close proximity to both the Canadian border and the Mohawk reservation, the BCI had to coordinate with several law enforcement agencies to determine who the victim was and why he was murdered. Michael planned on using this case as the basis for his training session on the proper way to coordinate state police investigations with local law enforcement.

Michael had never minded working in conjunction with the tribal police or the RMC on those rare occasions that investigations into events crossed jurisdictions. Most of the time, the cases Troop B handled were simple cut and dry instances of drug smuggling or parole violations and as a rule, homicides were rare in northern New York. But it became clear early in the investigation that the circumstances surrounding this case were going to attract federal attention. And Michael did not welcome the federal intrusion into his case. The less he had to do with the FBI the better he liked it.

As it turned out, this case did not warrant too much attention from the feds. While no clear motive for the homicide had been determined, the BCI was able to rule out any involvement by the victim in smuggling, drugs anything overtly illegal really. Once that determination was made, the feds did send two agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Fire Arms just to confirm the findings. Satisfied that they weren’t needed, the ATF guys left the remainder of the investigation to the locals. But there were things about the case that Michael couldn’t get past, inconsistencies that gnawed at him. He found this case unusual for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that it didn’t really seem to bother anyone that the man was obviously executed. The simple and very frustrating picture that emerged from the investigation was that the victim had no obvious enemies, did not appear to be involved in any criminal activity at all and by all accounts was a quiet, model citizen. The only problem victim had that the investigation had been able to verify was that someone shot him and set his cabin on fire to cover the crime. The case had been active for about 18 months and, as all available information and leads had been exhausted, was due to be moved to the inactive/cold case files.

Michael turned his attention to assembling his notes for his lecture. This late in his career, most of his duties were administrative in nature and in a way he was irritated because he felt he was becoming more of a bureaucrat than a law enforcement officer. Not that he wanted there to be a sudden outbreak of violent crime in the great Adirondacks, it was just sometimes he longed for the old days of chasing speeders up and down the back roads or the Northway or conducting undercover operations into drug activity or smuggling across the Canadian border. He allowed himself to steal glances at the photos on the walls and decided maybe it was better not to spend too much time waxing nostalgic on the past. The past was comprised of too many grey areas. Michael preferred things black and white. Clear definitions brought order and consistency; the less likely things were left to interpretation, the less confusion and disorder and more control.

“Morning, Boss.”

“Jesus,” said Michael. “Is it seven already?”

“7:30,” responded Trooper Carl St. Louis. “Your door was shut so I didn’t want to interrupt.” St. Louis gave a quick glance at the computer screen. “Tell me you’re not still picking that St. Regis case apart again.”

“I keep thinking that there’s something we missed.”

“If you don’t find another hobby, we’re going to start calling you ‘Captain Ahab’.” St. Louis’s smile was tight as he realized he was straying into a place he shouldn’t intrude upon. “It’s not like you didn’t have a lot on your mind when that happened.”

Michael bristled a bit at the reference to the funeral of his mother and continued to gather his materials. Officer St. Louis noticed his commander’s obvious discomfort and moved back towards the doorway. Sensing he may have misspoken, St. Louis turned back from the door and attempted to lighten the suddenly tense atmosphere.

“Got the conference room set up for your orientation. A few of the gung-ho newbies have been here since I clocked in at 7:00. The rest are starting to filter in now.” St. Lewis snorted, “Rookies, looking to make a good first impression.”

Michael rose from his desk, logged off the server and stuffed his lecture materials into his leather portfolio. Looking very imposing in his pressed uniform as he rose from his desk, he straightened to his full six foot three inch stature and addressed Trooper St. Louis is a semi-serious tone. “I remember a rookie, who looked a lot like you, arriving for his orientation about two minutes after I usually get here in the morning.”

“I remember him too, but he was much better looking than anyone in this bunch.” St. Louis laughed, relieved that his faux-pas had obviously been forgiven.

“Better get this show on the road.” Michael checked to see that everything on his desk was in order as he rounded it to leave.

“That reminds me Boss,” St. Louis said as he followed. “Cal called. He said to make sure to remind you that he wouldn’t make it to the commander’s briefing at 9:00. He and Steph have a meeting at the high school.”

Trooper Calvin Montgomery was Michael’s adjutant, partner and general right hand man. They had a history that went beyond the police brotherhood. They couldn’t have been closer if they were father and son. They had known each other since Cal was a teenager. Michael had gone to high school with both of Cal’s parents. He had actually dated Cal’s mother Victoria, before the Montgomery family moved to town and Cal’s father, Jack, stole her heart. Somehow the two remained friends and Jack and Michael found a way to peacefully coexist the rest of the way through high school. Jack also planned to enlist in the Army to help pay for college and eventually he and Michael became good friends at boot camp and remained close for the duration of their Army careers. When they were deployed for Desert Storm, Victoria made Michael promise that he would bring Jack home safe and sound. He was only able to honor half the promise. Jack returned from the Middle East safe, but not sound. Jack returned home, married Victoria and took over the daily operations of his father-in-law’s hardware store. When Cal was five, Jack was throwing some soft toss to him in the back yard when he collapsed. Tests were conducted and the verdict was passed. Two years later, Jack was dead from complications of Gulf War Syndrome.

“Jack in trouble again?”

Following Jack’s death, Michael had felt honor bound to help Victoria and Cal cope with their loss. When ever possible, Michael tried to fill the void in Cal’s childhood. He helped with baseball teams and rights of passage like shaving, the arrival of pubic hair, pimples and other adolescent issues as Cal transitioned into high school. None of these chivalrous activities met with Michael’s wife’s approval. Always threatened by the presence of his former high school girlfriend in their lives, Allison viewed this involvement in the Montgomery’s existence as an unnecessary addition to the stress her marriage to a Trooper had already. She felt that Michael should focus on the fact that he had a wife and two daughters of his own and that his presence was needed at home on more than a part-time basis. Wasn’t it enough that she that she was already widowed to revolving shifts of a State Trooper’s patrol schedule? How many times did she have to be the one to shoulder all the responsibility of maintaining the house and their daughters? Sometimes she secretly wished that Michael were having an affair with Victoria. If that were true then she would have a bona-fide reason for being so angry with Michael all the time rather than face the fact that she was just lonely.

Allison had been in love with Michael since he had wandered into the wrong classroom the first semester of their freshman year in college. He was tall and handsome, focused on the future and gentleman, a huge departure from the other hippie yahoos she had been dating who were only focused on how long it was going to take before they got in her pants. During their courtship, he opened doors, pulled out chairs and actually asked permission before he kissed her for the first time. She fell for Michael Bimonte quickly and fell hard. They were married a little less than a year after their first date and pregnant with their first child by the end of her junior year of college. When she saw how happy Michael and his parents were at the news of their impending arrival, Allison happily put the rest of her college on hold to become mother and wife. The couple was happy for the first five years, welcoming their second daughter on their second wedding anniversary.

Tough times followed soon after. Michael began working double shifts, overtime to compensate for Allison staying at home to raise their daughters. As the years progressed, the couple grew further and further apart both emotionally and environmentally. Unable to cope with an absent husband and father, and sinking deeper into depression, Allison presented Michael with divorce papers for what should have been their 15th wedding anniversary. Michael had arrived home that evening to find the girls and Allison completely moved out and a legal sized manila envelope on the perfectly set kitchen table, his dinner warming in the oven. She had written a simple request, a plea, and an apology on a post-it note on the front of the envelope: Please sign. I’m sorry.

“Sorry, Boss. What was that?”

Jolted back the present, and unsettled at his lapse into the grey areas of his past, Michael grumbled, “Nothing. I’m late,” Michael sidestepped the very confused Trooper St. Louis. “Tell Cal I want to see him as soon as he gets here.”

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