If there was one thing that pissed Steve Carson off, it was being treated like someone’s errand boy. There hadn’t been any recent developments in the Simpson murder and Carson, who was beginning to tire of the pedestrian speed of life in the Adirondacks and needed a distraction. He had hopped a quick flight back to Albany in order to get a head start on preparations for the next phase of the investigation since Gallo’s time in Lake Placid was coming to an end and the focus of the investigation would shift back to the city. He had only planned to be gone a day, not that he needed to justify himself to anyone. Carson had been stomping around the Albany field office for a good fifteen minutes after receiving his latest “request” from Special Agent Bennetto. Even though Bennetto couldn’t have known that he would be processing the request, Carson still felt the twinge of resentment of her status with Harmon. He accepted that he was also a valued member of Harmon’s staff, he was well aware of where he stood in the pecking order. The more he thought about the role he had been given in this investigation, the more annoyed he became; the Staties were supposed to be assisting the Bureau in this investigation; not the other way around. Carson felt that he should be out in the trenches, furthering the investigation, instead of rounding up lab reports for the State Police like some probationary agent fresh out of the academy.
Carson angrily shoved the copy of the Bureau’s forensic report into the fax machine and pushed the send button so hard that the entire machine jumped on the table. At this particular moment, he really didn’t care whom Bennetto was related to, or blowing, or what ever it was she did that made her so damned special to Alex Harmon. Carson skulked back to his desk and logged into the FBI mainframe while he waited for the fax confirmation to print. He had wondered on more than a few occasions exactly why Taylor Bennetto had a special in with Harmon. More importantly, he wanted to know how an agent, with less time on the job than he, got assigned a sweet career making assignment like deep cover in the Gallo Family.
As he had done numerous times before, Carson carefully navigated the safety protocols and accessed Harmon’s executive personnel files. He scrolled through the list of active agents until he found Taylor Bennetto and opened her file. There was nothing on the screen that was unusual or extraordinary, just the basic stuff: high school and college education, family history, medical history; her employment dossier was innocuous, on the surface anyway. Carson knew full well that the information contained in this file wasn’t the entire Taylor Bennetto profile. Something about the way the file was currently arranged bothered him; everything seemed just a little too neat, a little too ordinary. He read and re- read the file, certain he was missing something. He double-checked; looking in other agent’s files to compare information and his suspicion was confirmed. All of the information pertaining to Taylor Bennetto’s aptitude testing and training scenario results had been omitted. To access the information he wanted, he needed high-level clearance and special access codes. To get what he wanted, Carson was going to have to attempt a hack into Harmon’s restricted files. It shouldn’t be too difficult; after all, Carson was Alex Harmon’s right hand man and managing computer files was his specialty. He closed the personnel files and began the process of securing the information he was after making sure he erased all evidence of his activities as he went along.
Carson realized that, although it was very unlikely, if he was caught attempting to access these restricted files he would be fired, and twenty years of busting his ass to make grade in the Bureau would evaporate in a keystroke. He was willing to risk it. There were things that gnawed at person’s mind, seeped into their soul and fueled a kind of obsession that could never be fully satisfied. Carson found that he was often driven by that kind of obsession. He craved order and explanation; this was exactly what made him an effective and efficient aide for Section Chief Harmon. Harmon relied on Carson’s strict attention to detail and order to keep his nice little black ops team of agents functioning in tiptop shape. All in all during his tenure as Harmon’s right hand man, Carson had been instrumental in orchestrating the apprehension of many high level operatives in both the worlds of organized crime and international terrorism. But as much as Harmon valued Carson propensity for organization and strategic planning, the section chief restricted Carson’s involvement to the behind the scenes support, research and acting liaison for interdepartmental or shared jurisdiction operations. He resented being relegated to the sidelines while others saw the real action. He craved more than what he was getting and he was determined to have that craving satisfied.
Although no one knew more about the agents under their command than Alex Harmon, there were things about Steve Carson that he would never have dreamed existed. But that was okay; Carson preferred to keep certain things to him self. It wasn’t often that a person found a way to have it all, but Steve Carson had discovered exactly that. The only thing that escaped Carson’s comprehension was why something so obvious had taken him so long to recognize and put into action. As he scanned the files, Carson thought back to the night when he took charge of his own destiny and put him on a collision course with Harmon’s pet agent, Taylor Bennetto.
He had been conducting a review of some wire taps placed on one of the Calabriese’s top enforcers, a conversation in which the enforcer was making vague references to a police officer who was supplying information and occasional muscle for the family in exchange for some forgiveness of gambling debts. On the surface, this type of information was nothing new, in fact in was so passé that after Carson noted the name of the officer mentioned; he almost deleted the entire conversation. But as the enforcer hung up the phone, he made an off hand comment; something about what the family might be willing to pay for advance warnings of RICO stings and federal raids of various operations in the tri-borough area. Carson thought about the money that was being discussed. At the time he was a G4 pay grade, 25 years, and 50% final average salary retirement. What the mob was willing to offer some dirty cop with a gambling habit was more than he would make in five years. The more he thought about the inequities the more it gnawed at him. His parents had lived and worked a dead-end nine-to-five existence, scrimping and saving only to end up in a retirement community on a fixed income and if he weren’t careful, he’d end up the same way. He looked at the name he written down: Andrew Simpson, detective 3rd grade, 29th Precinct and asked himself: what if?
Carson logged on to the Bureau’s mainframe and searched Simpson. He had a fairly ordinary profile for a cop; 10 years on the job, graduated in the middle of class at the academy, decent arrest record, cleared most of his cases and had a clean disciplinary record until about 3 years prior. Three years before the night Steve Carson heard his name, Andrew Simpson had bullied, bought and finally begged his way into a series of underground poker games sponsored by the Gallo Family. At first Simpson had used his girlfriend, an exotic dancer in one of the strip joints the Gallo’s ran in the village, to get an invitation to one of the family run high stakes card games. Simpson was a fair poker player and won enough money at the game to earn another invite and while he didn’t win as big as he had at the first game, he was doing well enough that he couldn’t walk away from the seemly easy and fast money. What Simpson was too arrogant or stupid to realize was that the Gallo’s pit boss at the games was rating the games, using dupes and sharks to hook Simpson, allowing him to win just enough to keep coming back and then gradually draining his winnings, until Simpson had leveraged all his credit and was ass over teakettle in debt. In three years time, Simpson had acquired an addiction to Gallo Family hookers, drugs and gambling; they own him body and soul.
Could it really be that simple? Carson pulled the FBI file on the RICO investigation noting when and where the sting was scheduled and then placed a call to Andrew Simpson to set the hook. Using a voice scrambling device, Carson provided Simpson with information concerning the Federal investigation into his activities and warned him that he was going to be arrested in a sting operation a sting that, when the dust settled, would implicate Simpson as selling out the Gallo’s to the Feds. Carson promised Simpson protection in exchange for kickbacks and inside information. Naturally, Simpson was more than willing to cooperate with his anonymous tipster and so the funding for Carson’s retirement began. Eventually, Carson brought Simpson into the FBI’s informant family officially and both had enjoyed benefits that their partnership afforded. Carson, with Simpson’s help was able mine the Gallo’s for money and information and win the respect of his section chief at he same time, hiding in plain sight, he truly had figured out a way to have it all.
Things were moving along fine until prominent members of Gallo’s rival families began to disappear. Simpson informed Carson that the old man was getting suspicious and had contracted to an outside source to do some house cleaning. Carson pressed him for more information but Simpson couldn’t come up with anything. When two FBI deep cover agents washed up on the Jersey Shore, Carson, feeling the heat from within, pushed Simpson harder. To make matters worse, Simpson’s hooker du’jour got it into her head that Andrew shouldn’t let Carson run him like his own personal bitch and at her urging Simpson suddenly grew a set of balls, said that he had been withholding important information and planned on kicking Carson off the gravy train, finally threatening to expose Carson if he tried to arrest him. One thing Steve Carson was absolutely certain; no one was going to strip him of what was rightfully his and he had set in motion a plan to ensure his goals. Steve Carson wanted to make sure that Simpson understood exactly who was boss.
Carson was waiting outside the club where Simpson’s hooker worked watching as the strung out whore walked to her car. He approached her as she unlocked the door and pushed her into the car. To her credit, the sleaze had a bit of spunk and tried to fight Carson off, but he handed a sharp right cross to her jaw, knocking her cold. Carson then drove her car to an abandoned warehouse near the waterfront and prepared for his demonstration of control. Once in side, he suspended the girl by her wrists from a loading crane’s hook like the piece of meat she was and, with videotape rolling, Carson began a systematic torture of Simpson’s girl friend. Over the next two hours, Carson beat all the information he wanted out of the girl and then when he had exhausted her store of knowledge, broke her neck for good measure. He threw her body off the loading dock and sent the tape to Simpson as a warning: don’t fuck with me. Simpson heeded the warning and the two resumed their partnership in an atmosphere of fear and mutual respect. Things were operating smoothly even as Anthony Gallo decided to scale back his involvement in the day-to-day operations of the family’s businesses, slowly relinquishing responsibilities to his womanizing son, Mathew. The problems didn’t arise until Old –man Gallo decided his son needed a new lawyer; someone Steve Carson would make it his business to know very well.
Carson exited the Bureau’s main server and turned his attention to the hard drive on Harmon’s computer. The information he had already seen in the personnel files stated that Taylor Bennetto had been a student in one of Harmon’s criminal justice classes during the fall semester of her sophomore at the University of Virginia. This in itself was not new or interesting information; in fact Carson already knew this. His answers lay in the information that was missing from her official Bureau personnel file.
Shortly before Harmon had been promoted to Section chief, Alex split his time between Quantico and teaching classes at the University of Virginia. The teaching assignment was a convenient way for the Bureau to scout and recruit potential agents. It was also around this time that Carson was assigned to Alex Harmon as his field partner. Carson had been pleased to learn that Harmon had specifically requested him as a partner following his annual personnel review. Carson had been commended for his exceptional organizational skills after realigning several of the Bureau’s computer databases so that information could be accessed in a more efficient manner. One of Harmon’s special talents was his ability to find and recruit people with unique abilities, agents who could provide both he and the Bureau with an edge in whatever sphere of operations was needed. His uncanny knack for selecting these types of “specialist” agents is what enabled Harmon to become one of the youngest section chiefs ever in the Bureau.
Carson knew that Alex had sensed early on that Bennetto had talents that the Bureau could exploit for their benefit and went to work on recruiting her. When Harmon had first expressed a more than academic interest in Taylor Bennetto, Carson thought he was sleeping with her; Harmon wouldn’t be the first or the last red blooded man to take advantage of a pretty college girl. But it became obvious quickly in the way he would refer to her that Harmon was interested in this particular student for reasons that went beyond sex. He often remarked how impressed he was with Bennetto’s performance in various training scenarios and exercises designed to weed out the want-to-be recruits from the candidates with real agent potential. He was equally fascinated by her apparent lack of interest in becoming an FBI agent. Most of the student recruits were beyond joy when they were approached to participate in the screening process and recruitment training and did their best to show case their talents, pushing themselves to perform to their highest abilities. Bennetto not only kept pace with the most eager recruits, she often exceeded expectations, all the while insisting that her aspirations went no farther than completing the training program. It was clear that Harmon liked what he saw and was chomping at the bit to put Taylor Bennetto’s talents to work for the FBI.
It wasn’t easy going at first, in fact for a while it seemed that the promising young recruit would sooner bathe in molten lava than pursue a career in law enforcement. Taylor seemed flattered by Harmon’s interest, but she maintained, in light of her family history, that chasing criminals around and fighting the battle against good and evil was not part of her plans for her future. Harmon admired her stubborn determination to be her own person, a trait he personally related to, and set in motion events which would help him achieve his goal and eventually Harmon won her over.
But how did he do it?
Carson was never sure what happened to change Bennetto’s mind and it was something that had always bothered him. When Harmon was promoted to Section Chief, he made sure that Taylor Bennetto was assigned to his team. Carson was now certain that his answer lay somewhere in the training and recruiting files that Harmon kept. Harmon had nick named them his “I-Files.” Harmon’s I-Files were like personal diaries containing Alex’s impressions, insights and intentions for the special recruits that would eventually comprise Harmon’s black operations teams.
Carson became aware of these files by accident. He and Alex had been enjoying a casual dinner following the successful apprehension of a key figure in a money laundering operation. The operation’s success was do in no small part to Carson’s ability to track the operation’s international banking transactions through a complicated maze of wire transfers and hidden off shore banking accounts. Harmon had been complimenting on Steve his fine work and let an off hand comment slip into the compliment.
“Excellent work Steve,” said clinking beer bottles in the booth of the Legal Seafood restaurant on F Street North West DC. “Of course, now that I think about it,” Harmon had said laughing. “I should have known you’d crack this case. It’s all in your ‘I-File.’”
Carson had laughed along, not entirely convinced that Harmon was serious about this ‘I-File’ and seemed to let the whole matter drop right then and there as they moved on to their next celebratory beer. But, as always, his attention to minute details locked his focus on the reference to the “I-Files” and he made a mental note to discover exactly what these files were, if they actually existed and where they were kept. It hadn’t been easy; Carson had underestimated Harmon’s IT skills and was very surprised that his section chief was much more adept at protecting the personal files on his computer than Carson had anticipated.
Luckily for Steve Carson, his section chief trusted his partner and his IT skills; after all that was the reason Harmon had wanted him as his partner. Whenever Harmon’s computer needed maintenance or an upgrade, he relied on Carson to handle whatever work was needed to keep his computer at peak performance capacity. It didn’t take a lot of convincing on Carson’s part to convince Harmon that his computer might benefit from a systems upgrade and Steve was granted an entire afternoon with his supervisor’s computers. After several carefully executed scans of both Harmon’s Bureau desk top computer and his personal lap top, Carson learned that Alex didn’t keep the I-files on his Bureau computer at all; the files were stored on an encrypted data stick that Harmon probably kept with him at all times. Once Carson discovered this information, he concocted a scheme to copy the files from the data stick at a time when they were being accessed by one of Harmon’s computers.
The basic process Carson would use for obtaining copies of the files was fairly simple, but doing it without leaving a record was more complicated. Most people believe that deleting or copying files is as simple as pressing a button. Quite the contrary; pressing “delete” may remove a file from the computer’s surface memory, but the file still exists in some form in the executive program files of computer’s hard drive. Copying files to a removable disk may change the location of the file, but a record of both the file’s existence and its location is still left on the originating computer. In either case, the manipulation of files leaves a data trail on the computer’s hard drive that can be traced by anyone with the proper expertise and the right software. When Carson preformed his “systems upgrade” on Alex Harmon’s computers, he hid a data-tracking program behind some executive command files in the computer’s core operating system. Whenever Harmon accessed his I-files, the tracking program would create and send copies of the files to a special folder then e-mail the folder to Carson’s personal data device. Carson designed the tracking program, which was similar to the Department of Defense’s wipe program, with a feature which would erase the program from Harmon’s computer once the I-files were copied and transferred to their new location; safe and sound on Steve Carson’s Blackberry.
Carson logged onto his personal work station just as the fax machine spit out the confirmation notice of the State Police in Ray Brook receipt of the lab results. His Bureau email account indicated that he had received a report from the State Police. He opened the message. Wonderful; another request for a compassion analysis of a state police ballistics report. Carson gave a disgusted huff as he wondered if the Staties were capable of doing investigative work without outside assistance. He didn’t really mind this request though; in fact he was looking forward to seeing what their lab had to say about poor Mr. Gallo’s unfortunate accident. He forwarded the email to the forensics lab and then refocused on his initial task.
He opened his office schedule and moved to the screen that indicated what was on Alex’s Harmon’s agenda for the day. Since he felt he could trust Carson to over see and advise him on the progress of the Upstate investigation, Harmon had returned to DC earlier in the week to clear up some personal matters. Harmon’s Bureau calendar indicated that he was scheduled to visit George Washington University followed by a luncheon hosted by the Dean of the law school. Carson knew that Harmon and his wife were going through a rough time and assumed that part of Alex’s activities in DC would involve trying to smooth over some of their troubles.
Carson pushed away from his workstation and crossed to the window overlooking the plaza of the government center and watched the state employees filter out onto New Scotland Avenue. No doubt Harmon was trolling the student body at GW for potential recruits; at least Carson hoped that was what the Section Chief was doing. Carson looked at the clock; it was well past six. If this was a recruiting trip, Harmon would follow his well established pattern: review information provided by who ever was recommending the candidate, observe the potential candidate in a neutral setting, evaluate potential, and if he found something he liked, arrange for a formal interview with the potential candidate. If Harmon had identified a prospective recruit, he would create a new I-file and as soon as he did that, Carson would have access to the information he craved. He hadn’t realized how long he had been standing there until he realized that his reflection was staring back at him through the tinted glass with the evening shade behind it.
Carson’s Blackberry began vibrating loudly on his desk. He picked it up and smiled at the notification of an incoming e-mail. He quickly connected the Blackberry’s USB cable to his personal min laptop. He was now only a data transfer command and a few keystrokes away from all the information on Taylor Bennetto he wanted. Once the link to Harmon’s I-File folder was established, Carson executed the data transfer and copied the files directly to his encrypted hard drive. As soon as the files were copied successfully, Carson erased his email folder on his PDA and cleaned all traces of the transaction using specially designed software. He then shut down his mini laptop and prepared to leave the office. He still had over an hour before he needed to at the airport ready to catch his return flight to Lake Placid. He was looking forward to relaxing and enjoying his trip through Alex Harmon’s I-Files. As he made a final visual sweep of the office, his phone began to ring.
“Where the hell are you?” Alex Harmon’s voice was sharp and filled with distain.
“I’m in Albany,” Carson was put off by forcefulness of the section chief’s voice and he was scrambling to put together a coherent report that Harmon usually expected from him. “I came back this morning to get things organized so there will be a smooth transition when the investigation shifts back to the city.”
“Get your ass back to Placid,” ordered Harmon. “There’s been trouble at Gallo’s camp, some sort of explosion and I can’t locate Taylor.”
“What,” he tried to put as much surprise in his voice without sounding like a ham actor. Carson cursed under his breath; he had made a critical error. The only way Harmon could know about the explosion was if he were in Lake Placid and not Washington.
“I’m on the next flight to Plattsburgh Boss,” Carson said in his most compliant voice.
“Meet me at the Troop B Barracks as soon as you can get there. I’ll arrange for a car to transport you as soon as your flight arrives.”
The phone went dead before Carson could respond. He stood with the silent phone to his ear, chastising himself for being so careless although he was at a loss as to how he could have made such a blunder. Harmon was a creature of habit; he followed his schedule and routines with an almost obsessive devotion. Carson had always been able to count on his section chief to be where he said he was, when he was scheduled to be there which enabled Carson to pursue certain outside interests with relative ease and conduct his activates without impunity.
Carson left the office and quickly walked the three blocks to his apartment, retrieved his suitcase case and phone for a cab to the airport. As he waited for the cab, he phoned the airport to change his air commuter flight to the earliest possible departure. His luck seemed to be improving; a flight was scheduled to depart Albany for Plattsburgh International at the top of the hour. He arrived at the airport, checked in and arrived at the gate with ten minutes to spare. The recent turn of events had Carson feeling very unsettled and craving an explanation or at the very least a distraction to improve his mood. He took his mini laptop from his brief case and powered it up as the boarding of the plane continued as the last of the passengers boarded the plane.
Carson tapped the sides of the mini laptop impatiently waiting for the device to boot. As soon as the operating system completed the start sequence, Carson eagerly located and opened the newly created folder contain the down load from Harmon’s Blackberry. He stared at the contents of the folder in stunned disbelief, instantly understanding where Harmon’s agitation had originated. Instead of containing copies of the expected thirty or more I-files which he had conspired to obtain, Steve Carson was looking at two e-mails which, instead of being delivered to the in-box of Alex Harmon’s Blackberry, had been rerouted to his PDA by the tracking program he had installed. Both were from Taylor Bennetto, but only one was meant for Alex Harmon. The other was addressed to him.