The large manila envelope slid off the front seat and landed with a loud thump on the passenger floorboard as Michael Bimonte began to back out of his parking space. Michel quickly applied the brakes and shifted his car into ‘park’ in order to retrieve a package he did not remember placing on the front seat of his car that he was certain he had locked before he had gone in the diner. He handled the package carefully, turning it to examine it from all possible angles. There was no address or identifying writing visible which might indicate who had deposited it in his vehicle. Bimonte was not concerned about the package being dangerous; given the considerable weight, if the package had contained an explosive, it would have detonated upon impact with the floor. He carefully slid his penknife under the sealed flap and examined the contents. The envelope was filled with what appeared to be file folders.
Michael switched on the dome light of the car and slid the pile of folders out for closer inspection. The folder on the top of the pile froze Michael in his seat; it was his military service record, a dark brown folder bearing the Department of Defense seal on the cover, edged by a red security seal. The seal had been slit, indicating that someone with considerable security clearance had reviewed the file’s contents; DOD files were not easy to obtain, let alone removed from a secured storage location. The next file folder was grey and bore the emblem of the New York State Police Department: his personnel file or at least an official copy of it. Michael continued to leaf through the other folders in the pile. Each contained the case files of the seven major investigations that Michael had been involved with during his career as a New York State trooper; the cases in which he had distinguished himself and that had paved the way for promotion to his current position within the department. The last folder in the pile appeared to be a personal dossier, containing photos and personal information, everything, even copies of his birth certificate and his divorce decree. Michael stared through the windshield at the restaurant as it prepared to close, holding the complete history of his life in his lap. Some one was sending him a message; he had to figure out who it was and what they wanted.
Michael put the files back in their original packaging and got out of the car. He looked around the now vacant parking lot as the lights continued to go out in the restaurant. He was acting on instinct since his rational mind was still reeling from the knowledge that someone had placed his life on a dissection table and examined it from every conceivable aspect. A feeling of being violated swept over Bimonte and left a residue of paranoia in its wake. He moved around the car and tested the passenger’s door handle; it was still locked. Michael repeated the process, inspecting the rear doors and checking the trunk. Nothing, no trace was left behind to indicate that anyone other than himself had touched the vehicle. Next, Michael grabbed his mag-light from the back seat and popped the hood of his car to check for signs of tampering.
“Car trouble Mike?”
Startled, Michael turned and inadvertently flashed hid light in the eyes of one of the local police department’s officers.
“Hey Jim,” Michael said recovering. “No, no trouble. The car sound funny; like it didn’t want to start. I thought I might a have a loose battery cable,” Michael said closing the hood. “I was just making sure that everything’s connected right so I can make it home.”
“You want me to follow you home, just to make sure,” The officer asked.
Michael clapped the officer on the shoulder with a short chortle. “No, but thanks anyway. I should be fine.”
Bimonte moved back to the driver’s door and climbed back in his car as he watched the patrol car made a wide turn out of the parking lot. He looked at the seat beside him to confirm that the package was still there, and then he picked it up off the seat and stuffed into his brief case. As he started the car, he started to think that the offer the patrolman had made to follow him home suddenly seem like a good idea. Michael’s rational mind chased the thought away; whoever left that package on the seat had broken in to his car in a well lit, public parking space that bordered on a heavily traveled main street and managed to complete the entire operation without setting off his car alarm or even being suspicious enough to attract notice. Besides, Michael thought as he drove home, who ever had broken into his car obviously knew enough about him that they certainly didn’t need to follow him to find out where he lived. This was a professional and if who ever it was wanted to harm him, he doubted that one local patrol officer was going to present much of a deterrent. Michael remained on alert as he completed the drive home and only when he was satisfied that no one had followed him, did he pull into the driveway. As he crossed the lawn and approached the porch, Bimonte could not shake the sense of dis-ease that had settled over him. He lingered on the front steps of his porch, surveying the immediate area before he finally unlocked the front door and went inside.
“Now I see where Taylor picked up her technique for conducting briefings.”
Michael made the remark as he switched the table light on, tossed his keys on the stand and turned to deactivate the alarm system on the wall by the front door. Alex Harmon was seated in an armchair situated in the corner of Michael’s living room.
“I hope you don’t mind that I let myself in.” Harmon smiled. “I assume you found the envelope I left in your car.”
Michael retrieved the envelope from his briefcase, took three steps into the living room and tossed it on the coffee table in front of Harmon, then he casually stepped back, removed his coat and hung it on one of the hooks in his entry way.
“I didn’t notice your rental on the street or in my driveway,” Michael said keeping his voice as casual as possible.
“I took a cab.”
Michael continued into the kitchen and retrieved two beers from the refrigerator before returning to the living room. He placed one of the beers on the side coffee table next to the envelope and then settled down on the couch directly across from Harmon and opened his beer as if nothing was more natural than to discover that an FBI agent had broken in to his car, his house and was now sitting in his living room.
Harmon leaned forward and took the beer that Michael had offered him. He removed the cap and took a long pull from the bottle. He laughed as regarded Michael, sitting across form him.
“What, no chips and dip?”
“If I’d known you were coming, I’d have ordered a pizza and maybe we could have caught a pre-season Cubs game.” Michael responded sarcastically. “But then again you already know that I had dinner and that I’m a Mets fan.”
Harmon smiling sat back in his chair and took another drink. “I have always found a sense of humor a great asset in our business; helps take the edge off, keep things in proper perspective.”
“Is that what this is all about,” said Michael, his voice stern but even, holding his anger in check. “Breaking into my car, my house, the history of my existence in paperback, just one big joke?”
Harmon sighed and studied Michael’s face for a moment. He had Bimonte slightly off balance, annoyed, which was his original intention. However, Alex didn’t want this visit to escalate into a battle of wills; it was cooperation he was after, not confrontation. He placed the beer bottle back on the coffee table and resumed his original position.
“I have always prided my self on being a good judge of character. I know that you, of all people understand the importance of outfitting a team with talented people who know how to do their jobs and do them well. It is paramount in our line of work to have a team that is sharp and efficient. I have always found that I work better with people if I have a good understanding of who they are, their motives, what drives them,”
Alex began nodding toward the large envelope on the table. “Normally, I do not need to be so,” he paused looking for the right adjective, “through; as complex as most people like to believe their lives are, most tend to be pretty simple, straight forward, easily defined and categorized.” Harmon rose to his feet and began to walk about the room, his eyes documenting everything they observed. “But every once in a while, I encounter people who defy the normal conventions of understanding, those who resist definition.” Harmon’s smile returned as he regarded Michael on the couch, Bimonte’s probing expression mirroring his own. “When this occurs, rarely though it may be, it becomes necessary for me to resort to other means in order to maintain an efficient and effective means of conducting operations.”
Michel continued to watch Harmon as he spoke and paid close attention. He completely understood Harmon’s need for order and structure; these tenants were the foundation for his command and organizational structure as well. But Bimonte had never felt he needed to become so intimately familiar with people who were only remotely or temporarily involved in an investigation. Michael had had occasions during his career when his investigations had crossed jurisdictions with the FBI but those occasions had been few and fleeting. Harmon wanted something from him, but what was it? Michael did a quick inventory of what the two of them had in common that would make Harmon feel he needed to understand the inner workings of his mind.
“Whether you believe it or not,” Harmon continued circling the room. “I respect you and your accomplishments in law enforcement. You have demonstrated some impressive investigative work; your work on the Patterson and Harrison cases was exceptional, through and insightful.”
“Thank you, but I’m not interested in a job, if that’s where this is headed,” Michael said flatly. “I’m quite content where I am.”
Harmon chuckled. “I have no doubt that’s true and I am quite certain that you would not be happy taking orders as opposed to giving them.” Harmon eyed Michael knowingly. “Did you know that we served in Beirut and Kuwait at the same time?” Michael shook his head as finished his beer and got up. “You were a ranger and I was a seal,” Harmon added. “We have more in common than you could possibly imagine.”
“Is that right?” Michael wasn’t about to disguise the distain he felt as Harmon appeared to be flaunting what he had learned about him as he stalked past him. He didn’t like the fact that Harmon had studied him as if he were a subject in a lab experiment. There were things about that time in his life that weren’t documented in any file, things that Harmon would never know, no matter what level of security clearance he possessed.
For a moment, Michael’s mind drifted back to the events surrounding the bombing of the Marine instillation in Beirut and the subsequent military operations put in place following the attack on the US Embassy in Kuwait. If he allowed himself to, he knew that the sounds of the explosions and the sound of gun fire would return, that he’d see the faces of friends twisted in pain and feel the pain of molten lead burning through his body. He forced the memories back to the far recesses of his mind and refocused his attention on the present as he returned to the kitchen and tossed the empty bottle in the trash.
“I wouldn’t have access to that information.” Michael took up a defensive position with the island counter space between them as Harmon moved in to the room.
“It’s very ironic, given our present circumstance. Our missions in Kuwait ran parallel to each other, same objective approached from different angles, each in support of the other. And now, here we are in a similar situation, conducting parallel investigations which are part of a larger operation”
“Why the interest in me; what can your investigation possibly gain by laying my life bare?”
Harmon’s answer was an intense stare, almost as if he was willing Michael to come to seemingly obvious conclusion.
“Unless this isn’t about me at all,” Michael said as things started to become clear. “Taylor,” Michael said piecing it all together. “This is all about Taylor.”
“Did you know that in the beginning, Taylor was quite adamant about not joining the FBI?” The condescending tone had returned to Harmon’s voice. “In fact, she seemed totally averse to joining any branch of law enforcement and she had options; Secret Service ATF, CIA.” Harmon chuckled. “Taylor was one of the most gifted students I have ever had and she almost threw it all away. Luckily, I was able to show her where her true talents lay and how desperately they were needed.” Harmon leaned back and regarded Michael as if he were making a comparison. “I always wondered where that intense personal discipline and fierce protection of privacy came from. The two of you would make an interesting study of the old ‘nature versus nurture’ theory.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Michael snapped as his feelings of indignation began to build.
“It means that now I have a better insight into where Taylor’s investigative talents stem from, how her system of reason works. Like you, Taylor can be quite elusive; there are areas of her life, her mind, to which no one is allowed access. You should be quite proud of the fact that you and she share many similar characteristics. I may have molded her into what she is today, but you provided the raw materials and the blue prints.”
“Taylor has been working for the Bureau almost the last fifteen years and more than eight for you specifically,” Michael pushed away from the counter. “Why, after all this time do you need added insight into how her mind works?”
“From the very first, Taylor was one of my best agents, smart quick and eager to learn, with very particular skills and instincts for things that couldn’t be taught. Once she’s focused, nothing gets in the way of her objective. She’s become one of my best agents.”
Harmon’s face was lit with a paternal sense of pride, fueling Michael’s building sense of resentment toward him. Instead of making him feel like a proud parent, the thoughtful description of Taylor as one of Harmon’s agents only brought back feelings of regret and loss.
“Lately, there have been subtle changes,” Harmon turned and took a few steps back toward the living room, his concern obvious. “Things like miscommunications, lies of omission and other minor things, very uncharacteristic of Taylor’s usually precise professionalism.”
“You mean she’s started compensating for screwing up?” Michael was surprised to hear the defensive tone in his voice.
“No, I mean quite the opposite,” said Harmon shaking his head puzzled. “Taylor has been at the peak of efficiency lately but she’s also become more secretive, evasive. She’s been keeping more and more things to herself lately, taking on added responsibilities that could be handled by other operatives. If I didn’t know better I’d say she was becoming paranoid.”
“Classic symptoms of deep cover burn out,” Michael noted somberly more to himself than to Harmon. “I noticed it myself, when we spoke after the explosion at Gallo’s camp.”
“Explosion at Gallo’s camp,” Harmon was genuinely surprised. “What explosion?”
“Earlier this afternoon, Gallo was taking his daughter for a boat ride before some party that he was giving. It appears that someone took a shot at him and hit the engine of his boat instead.”
Michael surprised Harmon’s abrupt change in demeanor. It was obvious that Harmon was not accustomed to being uninformed regarding significant changes in the status of an investigation. Michael understood what Harmon had meant moments ago about Taylor’s lapses in procedure. She should have notified the agent in charge as soon as she finished talking with State police.
“I was traveling from DC to here,” he said more to himself as he attempted to make sense of the new information Michael had supplied. “I hadn’t been informed of any explosion.”
He pulled his Blackberry from his jacket and checked his messages. There were none from either Taylor or Steve Carson. He did his best to disguise his surprise at this very unusual development; Taylor should have reported this incident to him immediately. As he began wonder why she hadn’t notified him, Harmon’s demeanor seemed to quickly transition from confusion to panic as the implication of what Bimonte had told him registered in his rational mind.
“Was Taylor on the boat?” His voice conveyed a sense of urgency.
Michael shook his head realizing that Harmon had misinterpreted what he had told him. “Taylor wasn’t there when it happened; she arrived about 45 minutes after the explosion.” He looked into Harmon’s eyes and read the assumption there. “That morning in my office, you said someone was targeting agents; do you think that Taylor was the target and not Gallo?”
“It’s a possibility.” Harmon’s voice was grave but there were signs of relief. “You said she wasn’t there when the explosion occurred. Do you know where she was? Do you know where she is now?”
Michael reviewed the events of the day through his minds eye, trying to remember how each unfolded, searching for connections and explanations. “I don’t know where she was before the explosion, but I have a good idea who she was with.”
Harmon read the thought processes at work in Michael’s eyes waited for him to continue
“You just said that Taylor had been acting differently recently.” Michael shifted uncomfortable discussing his suspicions concerning an agent with her supervisor. “At the crime scene, I got the distinct feeling that Taylor knew more about the circumstances surrounding the explosion than she was letting on, like she was withholding information.”
Harmon snorted impatiently. “She’s undercover, working an investigation centering on drug trafficking being conducted by an organized crime family. You of all people should know that there would be things she couldn’t divulge.”
“I thought we were working together?”
“We are cooperating with you on your murder investigation. You didn’t really expect to be involved beyond that?”
Harmon’s comments only served to confirm Michael’s earlier suspicions. It was obvious that Harmon wasn’t going to anymore forth coming than Taylor had been earlier. They were at a stand off, neither willing to reveal any more than was necessary, but if Taylor was in danger, there was no way Michael was going to stand by while someone tried to kill his daughter. He decided to offer an olive branch in the spirit of cooperation.
“As I said, I felt that Taylor knew more about what was going on than we did, so I had her followed.”
Harmon smiled. “And what did you or Officer Montgomery learn?”
“How did you know Montgomery was the officer I assigned to follow her?”
“Who else would you send to try and rattle Taylor?” He forced a sarcastic laugh through his tight lips. “Did it work?”
The question was rhetorical and Michael bit down hard and took the condescending insult as he considered his options. He did not want to alienate Harmon but he was also not ready to divulge more than was necessary until he was comfortable that they were actually on the same page.
“I think it’s time for us to put our cards on the table, work together instead of dancing around each other. I going to call Cal, we’re going to find Taylor and then we are going to hash this out whole thing out, together.”
“Fair enough,” Harmon replied, nodding his assent.
Michael crossed the room and retrieved his cell phone from his jacket pocket and dialed it as he returned to the kitchen passing Harmon who stalked across the room and took a position by the front window, began dialing his phone as he moved. Michael remained in the kitchen to afford both of them some privacy for their respective phone calls. He couldn’t help but over heard Harmon chewing someone, Agent Carson he assumed. Michael was just as annoyed; If Cal had followed his instructions, Michael would know where Taylor was; now both he and Harmon were back to square one, suspicious of each other and with more questions than answers, but at least for the present, they were working together.