Shades of Gray

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Taylor remained quiet as they traveled back towards Lake Placid and Cal couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. He assumed that she was still angry about what had happened before they left and he really couldn’t blame her if she was. He had been way out of line; she was right. It wasn’t any of his business if she was involved with Mathew Gallo but he wasn’t going to apologize for the way what she had revealed was making him feel. He allowed his thoughts to travel back to a time when they finished each other’s sentences and could talk about anything. Even though that had all changed in the blink of an eye and Taylor had never explained why, now he knew that what they had still mattered to her as it still did for him.

Time and distance had initially helped him let go but then Taylor’s return nearly two years ago and the circumstances of the present situation had resurrected all the old pain and unanswered questions. He had tried to move on and for a while he thought he had, but what he had felt for Taylor had never gone away; but like many of the things people wish for; it had just been exiled to the land of hopes and abandoned dreams. It seemed like fate had decided that their history needed to be cleared and old ghosts needed to be put to rest. The embers of their past were still smoldering for both of them beneath the surface of the present. Cal wondered if he should be foolish enough to hope that there was a possibility of something more for him and Taylor once their past was finally resolved.

As they passed the spot where Taylor’s Jeep had gone off the road, Cal realized that if he hadn’t been right behind her, no one would have been able to detect that a vehicle had gone off the road. The road conditions and the steep drop over the shoulder of the road had left no signs of an accident. He noted as they navigated the doglegged turn that there were no skid marks and any damage to the trees would have gone unnoticed unless someone had a reason to look down the embankment. Without tell tale signs that her Jeep had left the road, there was no telling how long it would have been before the wreckage was discovered. Cal remembered Taylor’s words back at his cabin before they left and shuddered to think that Taylor could have quite literally been dead in the ditch and no one would have had a clue where to look. A chill shot down his spine as he found himself wondering how many times he could live through the sensation of losing her. He glanced out of the corner of his eye to see if she realized that they had just passed the accident scene, but her face was turned away, her head leaning against the passenger’s window.

Taylor could feel Cal’s eyes on her and she knew that he hadn’t finished pressing her for answers to questions of things past and present. Given the way she felt right now, it would be too easy to just give in and tell him everything he wanted to know. She almost had back there. Taylor had spent the better part of the last 15 years avoiding feeling anything at all; it was necessary in the line of work she had chosen in order to do the things that she had to do. But lately it was becoming very difficult to continue being detached. There were things that she desperately wanted to feel again and since her last visit her, since the night she spent with Cal after the funeral, it had become extremely difficult to keep that urge to feel again in check. Especially now, it was imperative that she maintain control and focus. When she got into the truck she had positioned herself so that she was as far from Cal as she could be without being too obvious. She leaned against the door of the truck; the cool glass of the window felt good and went a long way in helping the Tylenol ease the soreness that was struggling to settle into her muscles. Her reflection stared back at her against the rushing backdrop of wilderness and darkness. She closed her eyes to stave off a wave of dizziness from the concussion, as the loud ringing in her ears became the screams of her college roommate, Laura.

At first Taylor wanted to believe that the shrill cry was coming from an alley cat or maybe a loose belt on car pulling up outside the dorm but the thumping sounds of a struggle and Laura’s now muffled sobs coming from beyond the walls separating the two bedrooms made it impossible to explain as anything else; someone has broken into the suite and that someone was in Laura’s room. Taylor pushed the nightmare from her mind and focused her attention on trying to figure out how she could help her friend. At first, reality seemed to mirror nightmare as Taylor began rifling through what she had learned over the past six weeks at Quantico. She took a few deep breaths to set her focus and forced herself to approach this situation like she was completing a training exercise. Quietly she began to make her way to the door and used the sounds of the struggle to mask the sound of her crossing the floor and opening the door.

Taylor quickly surveyed the common area of the suite for something she could use as a weapon; her eyes alighted on a broom leaning against the wall the trashcan. She moved quickly to retrieve it, and then moved toward Laura’s bedroom. Taylor slammed the broom against the doorframe breaking the brush from the wooden handle and flinging the door completely open just as Laura screamed. The action seemed to monetarily startle the intruder, but only for an instant. As the man turned to regard his unexpected visitor, Taylor broke the broom handle across her thigh, snapping it into two pieces, jagged at the edges. She readied her stance tightly hold the broken pieces of the wooden handle in each hand. The creeper held Laura by the throat with one hand, dangling her about three inches off the floor, her feet flailing as she tried to find something to balance on and relieve the hanging sensation. He looked at Taylor and laughed out loud at the slight young woman brandishing pieces of a broken broomstick and cast Laura across the room as if she were a plaything he had tired of playing with. She landed with a sickening thud against the wall and slumped unconscious beside her bed. The creeper then turned his full attention toward Taylor.

As he took two or three slow steps towards her, Taylor took stock of her opponent the way the self-defense instructors at the FBI training academy had taught her. Everything about the creeper was huge. She approximated his height to be in excess of six feet five inches tall and from the wide set of his shoulders; she guessed his weight to be at least 250 pounds. He maintained his slow measure approach toward her, an unctuous leer spread cross his large round face, his posture menacing, his intent to terrify and intimidate his new target. The creeper stopped about three feet in front of Taylor and slipped one of his gargantuan arms behind his back, almost as if he intended to execute a courtly bow. When his hand remerged from behind his back, it held a very large Bowie knife that he brandished with surprising grace, spreading his arms wide as if to embrace her. Taylor took two steps back to increase the distance between them and allow for maneuvering space and possible means of escape; she did not want to become confined in the small bedroom.

The creeper read the intent to flee in Taylor’s wide eyes and continued toward her. Taylor continued to back into the living room area of the suite; since it was more open, she hoped that it would give here more maneuvering room. She was suddenly acutely aware of how unafraid she was and how sharp her thought process seemed to be at a moment when she should be abjectly terrified. She kept her eyes trained on the creeper’s as he continued to approach her, crouched and ready to spring; she watched the muscles in his arms ripple with anticipation and tension as one hand flexed its grip on the Bowie knife and the other curled into a tight fist. The creeper stopped his slow advance and regarded his target, assessing Taylor, as she seemed to be doing the same, search for a vulnerability he could exploit. As he studied his prey, his lips peeled back into a caricature of a smile and some sort of mutinous incarnation of a cackle issued from his maw. His assessment completed, his ghastly smug leer telegraphing the obvious, this tiny inconsequential woman posed no threat and would be quickly dispatched.

“Enjoying your self?” Taylor had stopped retreating and was now beginning a wide orbit of the creeper’s position in the middle of the living room. “It’s a bit different when you have to work for it, isn’t it?”

The creepers looked over his shoulder towards Laura’s bedroom door and then back at Taylor.

“What’s the matter? Can’t handle a little challenge?” Taylor rocked from side to side on the balls of her feet, reading herself to dart away if he lunged at her. “And here I thought you and I were getting along so well.” Taylor feigned moving toward the door to divert the creeper’s attention from the bedroom.

“Challenge; is that what this little dance is all about?” The creeper’s voice was surprisingly soft, almost sweetly alluring but the eyes were black as pitch, cold and abysmal in their depth. “I thought you were flirting with me. Most of my..,” he paused considering his choice of words. “Most of my playmates are usually so skittish and uncooperative.” He resumed his slow approach towards Taylor slipping the knife back into its sheath behind his back. “I’m looking forward to a more leisurely encounter this time. Once I’ve dealt with you, I think perhaps I’ll go retrieve my little rag doll in the other room and play with her for a while. I think it would make for a more entertaining experience to have a prelude to the main event, so much more exciting don’t you think?”

Instead of backing away, Taylor readied herself and steeled her resolve. She cleared her mind of any concern for her own protection and channeled her fear into a determination to stop this animal and save Laura. Clutching the broken pieces of wood so tightly that her hands ached, Taylor tensed every muscle in her body and prepared for the inevitable, understanding that there was literally no chance for success and only hoping that enough noise would be generated by the ensuing struggle to bring help, she moved to strike. With everything she had, Taylor launched herself at the creeper. She wasn’t heavy enough to knock him over, but he was unprepared for her rush at him and stumbled back a few steps tripping over the leg of the end table. Taylor came at him again as he fell hitting him on either side of his head and torso with the broken broom handles.

The creeper banged his head off the floor as he hit and grabbed Taylor’s wrist as she battered him about the sides of his body. Seizing her wrists tightly, he squeezed until he forced her fists to release the pieces of wood and then forced her onto her back. She struggled to get away from his grip but the creeper was too strong. The creeper pinned both of Taylor’s hands over her head and snickered as he rocked over her, slowly running his face along her body, sniffing and nibbling at her like a deranged grizzly bear. He kept enough of his weight on her to prevent her from bucking him off and buried his face in her hair and the nape of her neck and traced the path between neck, face and behind her ear with his tongue, spewing his sweat and saliva over her neck and face.

“Umm,” he cooed into her skin. “You smell nice and you taste much better than your little friend in there.”

As he made another pass at her neck, Taylor turned her face towards his and latched on to one of his ears with her teeth, clamping down on it with all her might tearing away a sizable chunk of flesh. The creeper reared back in pain, forcing his knee into her abdomen.

“Bitch!” The creeper grabbed at his torn ear lobe. “If it’s pain you enjoy...”

The creeper reached for the clasp on his trousers and jiggled them open, and then he grabbed Taylor hard between her legs, his hand tearing at her like a threshing machine, ripping at the flannel or her pajama bottoms. Taylor bit down hard on her lip, breaking the skin, unwilling to give the creeper the satisfaction of hearing her scream as Laura had; tears streaming down her face.

As he knelt over her, Taylor stopped struggling for just an instant as the creeper shifted his weight to reposition himself in preparation to violate her. He rocked back just far enough to give Taylor enough room to move and she managed to plant one of her knees in the crotch of the creeper but, sensing her moving beneath him, he twisted just enough to minimize the impact of the kick and deflect her knee from its target. He shifted his grip on her arms and slapped her hard across the face. His actions separated their bodies enough for Taylor to squirm from underneath his body and wrench her arms free. She rolled deftly to one side and as the creeper got to his knees to pursue, Taylor gabbed his shoulders and landed on his back like a child getting a piggy back ride. The creeper swung violently from side to side trying to dislodge Taylor from her perch on his back as he struggled to his feet she grabbed him around his neck with both fore arms and rocked back with all her might before he could set his feet under him and regain his balance. Taylor released her left arm, squeezing tightly with her right and quickly grabbed for the knife sheath strapped to his back with her left arm as the creeper clawed at arm around his throat and twisted wildly to throw her off of him. As soon as she felt the knife handle in her hand, Taylor slid the knife out of the sheath and swung her arm back around the creeper’s throat and cut it from right to left. The creeper lurched forward, clutching his throat as if he could hold the pieces of his severed artery in place. He spun around on his knees and stared at Taylor with a mixture of shock and surprise before falling towards her in a bloody crumpled heap.

Taylor rocked back on her heels, folded her legs under her and sat trembling, staring at the bleeding mass of flesh in front of her. She ran her hands through her hair and over her face trying to process what had just happened, trying to understand why she had acted as she had. Why didn’t she run for help? Why wasn’t she shaking, crying screaming? How could she be so damned calm? Something poked hard at her mind as she sat there and an instinct began to take over, an icy calm demanding that she get a hold of herself; there were things that needed to be done. Taylor bent over the body and pushed down on the top of the creeper’s head until his chin touched his chest. Next, she quickly went to the bathroom and grabbed as many dark colored towels she could find and then returned to the living room and stuffed the towels around and under the bleeding corpse on the floor. Then Taylor returned to the bedroom to attend to Laura. She found her huddled in the farthest corner of the bedroom balled up against the wall in a seated fetal position, her face buried in her knees sobbing. Taylor turned on every light in the room and grabbed the comforter off the bed draped it around Laura as she knelt beside her.

“Everything is going be OK,” Taylor whispered in to Laura’s ear as she rubbed her shoulders. “He’s gone. He can’t hurt you anymore.”

Laura looked up with vacant tortured eyes, her face streaked with tears. She whipped her head around searching every part of the room for proof that what Taylor had said was true. Laura raised her hands to her throat to verify that the creeper no longer held her fast. Taylor could see the dark purple welts that were already clearly visible and blinked back the image of Laura suspended in the air by the creeper, struggling to get free. As Taylor brushed a few strands of hair away from Laura’s face, she saw the deep cut in her scalp left by the impact of when the creeper tossed Laura across the room. Taylor reached for a discarded sweatshirt on the floor near them and dabbed at the small trickle of blood near Laura’s hairline, then helped Laura to her feet and walked her back toward the bed. As soon as they reached the bed, Laura stiffened and became to cry again. Taylor tightened her grip around Laura’s waist and led her out of the room and being careful to shield Laura’s sight from the living room, took her back to the second bedroom. When they entered the room, Taylor turned on every light, eliminating any possibility of a dark corner where a monster might lurk so that Laura would feel safe. Laura smiled weakly understanding exactly what her friend was doing and allowed Taylor to lead her to the bed and cooperating as Taylor helped her in and then tucked the covers around her.

“Every thing is going to be all right,” Taylor said calmly. “It’s all over.”

“Are you sure? Oh God Taylor,” wailed Laura. “I woke up and he was standing over me. I tried to get away but he, but he…,” Laura’s eyes were filled with panic and fear. She clutched at Taylor’s hands and held them tightly. “How can you be sure he’s gone?”

“I’m sure that he won’t bother anyone anymore. Look Laura, I need you to do something for me. I need you to stay here while I go call for someone to come and help us. Can you do that?”

Laura nodded her head; Taylor backed towards the door, gauging Laura’s reaction to being left alone, then she stopped at the doorway.

“I’m going to leave the door open and turn all the light on in the hall. You’ll be able to see and hear me in the living room, ok?”

Taylor waited a few seconds to make sure that Laura was as comfortable with the arrangement as possible before moving in to the living room. She stood over the dead body of the creeper and studied it for several minutes. The blood around the body had soaked most of the towels that Taylor had stuffed around it, but luckily it had not spread any further on the floor. She decided that she must be in shock and waited for the horror of the attack she had just survived to register. Then she felt a strange ripping sensation in her head and all through her body, as if something was struggling to emerge, pushing aside the person Taylor was hours ago and asserting someone entirely different. Taylor started to shake as if she had been suddenly submerged in an ice bath, her stomach knotting in on its self; she was collapsing under the weight of what had happened and she knew she needed help. She dashed across the room as quickly as she could on legs that were turning to jello and grabbed for the phone, dialing from memory a number she swore she would never use. The line clicked after only one ring.

“Alex, its Taylor.” Taylor’s legs gave out and she sank to the floor clutching the phone against her face, her voice sounded far away in her ears, like she was under water.

“I’m at my old college suite.”

“Taylor,” Harmon’s voice was urgent. “What’s happened?”

“I...Can you come…The creeper…tried to hurt Laura… I just killed someone.” A loud roaring in her ears suddenly drowned Taylor’s voice out and then everything faded to black.

“T,” Cal repeated shaking Taylor’s shoulder. “T, we’re here.”

Taylor shook her head, bringing her focus back to the present.

“This is ridiculous T,” Cal huffed. “You need to see a doctor.”

She looked into Cal’s concerned face and smiled. “This isn’t the first time someone has tried to convince me that my head needed examining.”

Taylor took a couple of deep breaths and then opened the door. The rush of cool night air cleared the cobwebs from her mind and made her feel steadier on her feet as she got out of the truck. She looked back toward the lights at the end of the camp’s driveway and readied her self. Cal watching her movements carefully; he rolled his eyes and followed her as she started down the dirt road toward the driveway leading to main house of the Gallo camp.

“Really T?” Cal shook his head exasperated. “This is all one big joke to you isn’t it?”

“Believe me,” she said as they made their way through the dark. “I don’t think there’s anything funny about any of this. Either way, this will be all over soon.”

Forty miles away, Steve Carson’s plane landed at Plattsburgh International Airport. He gathered his carry on bag and hurried through the gate flashing his FBI credentials to expedite the process. Given the hour and the fact that there were only three other passengers on the plane, his actions probably appeared more like a show of bravado than anything else. Carson didn’t really care how his actions were perceived; he was acting out of habit by badging his way through airport security but from this point forward, he would be operating on instinct. He had spent the 30-minute flight formulating how he would proceed from this point on; things had veered completely off his carefully planned course leaving him scrambling to minimize damage and weigh the probability of turning things around. He barely finished putting his wallet back into his jacket pocket, when the pair of uniformed State Troopers approached him. The gate attendant gave him a confused and apprehensive look, unsure whether the pair was there to arrest or assist Carson until one of the troopers announced that they were there to drive him to the Troop B Barracks. Carson shook hands with both officers and thanked them for their assistance. It was time to put his damage control plan into action.

“If it’s all the same to you officers,” said Carson flashing his most diplomatic smile, “I still have my rental car parked outside. I had only intended to be away for the day. I do appreciate your coming out but since I have my own transportation, there’s no need for you to take me to Raybrook.”

“Commander Bimonte was very specific,” said the larger of the two Troopers. “We were to get you to the barracks as soon as possible.”

Carson kept the smile on his face, hoping that the amount of force he was exerting to keep control of his facial muscles wasn’t obvious. “I’m sure that the Commander didn’t realize I had my own car.” He pulled his Blackberry from his jacket pocket. “I’ll just call him and clear this up; no point in wasting your time on such a silly errand.”

Carson could tell from the waves of surprised tension that suddenly started to radiate from the two uniformed officers that these Troopers were used to following Bimonte’s orders to the letter no matter how ridiculous they thought they might be; before either one of them could protest his request, he spun away from them and pretended to place a call to Bimonte. He stayed far enough away so that they couldn’t be sure whether he was actually speaking to anyone but spoke loud enough to hopefully sell his performance.

“Right Commander,” Carson adlibbed. “Sorry about that. Really there’s no need, I can get there on my own. Yes sir. Thank you, I’ll tell them.” He ended the pretend call and turned back to the officers. “There, misunderstanding all clarified. You boys are off the hook.”

Carson offered his hand in thanks. Both officers exchanged glances that were a mixture of relief and confusion as the insisted that Carson at least allow them to escort him to his car. After they left Carson at his rental car, he noticed that they waited until he had settled into his car and had started the engine before they returned to their marked cruiser and left the parking lot. He quickly placed a real call to Alex Harmon to explain in the event that Starsky and Hutch called Bimonte to verify that they had in fact been relieved of their responsibility. Harmon seemed satisfied with the modified version of the story Carson had sold to the troopers although Carson could tell that Harmon was still pissed at him. Carson assured him that he was on his way as Harmon once again hung up on him before he could finish. Steve Carson exhaled relieved; phase one completed and now on to the rest. He took a moment to construct a time line of events and organized the information he could verify in order to plan how he should proceed.

Carson was unaccustomed to making careless errors but he could not waste time chastising himself for his arrogance. One of the things he had most enjoyed about his role on Alex Harmon’s team was working with smart people who were the best in their fields of expertise; it was environment that allowed him to hone and refine his skills and allow him to pursue his private agenda. He simply failed to consider that Harmon, who prided himself on being such an excellent judge of character, could possibly have another player on his team who was as devious as he. Carson had always been able to move comfortably through the community of the FBI faithful, a wolf in sheep’s clothing; it pleased him to know that he had finally found a worthy adversary amongst the field of easily manipulated pawns. He had assumed that Taylor Bennetto would become collateral damage, a footnote in saga of Carson’s extracurricular activities. Clearly, Ms. Bennetto was much more dangerous than he had realized; it was a shame that they couldn’t work together, they certainly would make a lethal combination, but only one would emerge from this battle for supremacy. Carson felt his adrenaline surging as he began to review the events leading to this showdown and fine-tune his plans for winning the battle.

Steve Carson had gone to great lengths to shield his identity from Gallo, using Wallace Murphy and Andrew Simpson as protective blinds. It had been easy, effective and very profitable. Simpson used Murphy to do the dirty work, obtaining information on pay offs and hits for the Gallo’s then he, in turn funneled the information to Carson, his official FBI handler. In return, Carson provided advance warnings to Gallo, through Simpson, about pending investigations and other FBI operations that could interrupt the smooth functioning of Gallo family business while remaining happily anonymous. It had worked flawlessly until Wallace Murphy got greedy and started skimming from both sides smuggling operation. Murphy was stupid and careless and when he figured out that Mathew Gallo knew that Murphy had been screwing him, he got scared and begged Simpson to arrange for the Bureau to bring him in from the cold. Carson had always view Murphy as an unreliable paranoid burn out which was why he used Simpson as a barrier. He never believed that Murphy was smart enough to figure out who was really controlling the flow of information between the Feds and the Gallo’s. When Murphy disappeared, Carson ordered Simpson to track Murphy down find out exactly what Murphy knew or thought he knew. But before Simpson could get any information out of him, Gallo’s contractor took care of the situation and in the process may have discovered Simpson’s role as FBI informant.

With Mathew Gallo on high alert, Carson could no longer afford to rely on go betweens to protect his interests. He decided to literally eliminate the middle man and deal with Mathew Gallo himself. Without Andrew Simpson’s knowledge, Carson made a series of overtures to Mathew Gallo, anonymous gifts of information on raids on Gallo businesses and wiretaps, to establish a relationship of limited trust and respect. Carson began keeping Simpson on a very short leash and gradually reduced any involvement Simpson had in his extra curricular to the bare minimum. The new situation proved to be just as profitable as the previous arrangement had been until Carson learned that not only had Anthony Gallo given his son more authority in the family business, but had provided Mathew Gallo with a new lawyer to assist him. Having Taylor Bennetto in such close proximity to his activities, forced Carson to be very vigilant. The last thing Carson needed was having Harmon’s star student suspect that he was anything more than Simpson’s handler. It also necessitated the discovery of what information Murphy might have had discovered before Gallo’s contractor silenced him.

Shortly after Murphy’s body was discovered, Simpson had told Carson that Gallo was still very anxious that there might be more to Murphy’s activities than Gallo was aware. Carson wasn’t surprised when Gallo himself contacted his anonymous benefactor sometime after that and indicated that he would be very grateful for assistance his friend within the FBI could supply in regard to discovering whom Murphy had been using within the Gallo family organization. Carson then started pressuring Simpson for information concerning Murphy’s final days and what was the source of Gallo’s new interests in Murphy’s associates. Simpson remained elusive, claiming not to know anything beyond what the Bureau had already uncovered about the smuggling operation for the hydroponic marijuana and Murphy’s connections to the eastern European Syndicate. Carson tried to impress upon Simpson that it was in both their interests neither of them be connected to anything Murphy was involved in. But Simpson maintained he knew nothing. Convinced that Simpson was holding out on him, Carson decided to employ a technique that had proved very effective in the past when dealing with Andrew Simpson. He’d start with Simpson’s latest stripper girlfriend and then move on to Simpson himself.

Carson learned from the girl’s roommate that Simpson’s girlfriend was planning on surprising him at some cheesy motel before Simpson joined Gallo and his family in Lake Placid. The happy couple had been fighting lately over her suspicions that Simpson was cheating on her; apparently Simpson had become very secretive lately and she planned to confront him and the new hooker in his life. When little miss stripper arrived she was more than a bit surprised to find Steve Carson in the motel room. He took the girl to an abandoned fishing shack he’d scouted specifically for this encounter and set to work obtaining whatever information the girl could provide. For all his efforts, the girl could tell him nothing beyond the fact that Simpson had made a deal with someone to sell some files that Murphy had given him for safe keeping. When Carson pressed her for the name of the person Simpson was meeting, she denied knowing anymore than she had told him even after he had broken most of the bones in her body. Carson disposed of the body and removing all traces of the girl’s arrival at the motel. He had only just arrived back at his modest apartment in Albany when Alex Harmon called to tell him that someone had run a homicide victim’s fingerprints through IAFIS. He was more than a little surprised that the homicide victim was Andrew Simpson. Carson did take comfort in the irony of the situation; by assisting the State Police in their investigation, the State Police would lead him to the information and the person he was after.

Carson had originally intended to take care of Mathew Gallo and his “lawyer” at once. His intention had been to prove to the arrogant Mr. Gallo that he was just as vulnerable as those Gallo had hired him to silence and demand that he show the proper respect. As for Ms. Bennetto, it wouldn’t hurt to have her on the defensive as well, prove to Alex Harmon that his favorite agent was human after all. When Gallo arrived at his father’s camp accompanied by his daughter and not dear Ms. Bennetto, he was forced to improvise, the operation becoming two stages as each now had to be dealt with separately. And if someone happened to die in the process, well then that was one less worry for Special Agent Carson. Clearly he had miscalculated the time it would take for the hydraulic lines to fail on Bennetto’s Jeep and was genuinely surprised that Taylor Bennetto had emerged from her ordeal apparently unscathed.

Before he pulled out of the parking lot, he accessed his in box and reread the email that Bennetto had sent him. The four words spoke volumes and answered many questions. He used them to stoke his ire and hone his focus; it was imperative that he remain calm. Carson noted the time stamp on the e-mail; it had been sent shortly before the angry call he received from Harmon.

I have Murphy’s files.

There was no indication that Harmon knew anything about the files that Bennetto claimed to have and it was reasonable for him to assume that because Harmon had not been in contact with her. Carson may not have the information that he wanted from Harmon’s I-files but he would settle for what new information this simple message contained. There was only one way Bennetto had gotten those files, but how much did Bennetto know? She definitely knew about his foray into Harmon’s computer files, but how? Wallace Murphy had been dead for almost two years, how long had Bennetto been on possession of his files? Steve Carson had been quite comfortable playing the role of puppet master and deeply resented another’s attempt to pull his stings. He had never been one to back away from a challenge and this situation was no different. Bennetto was calling him out and he couldn’t wait to see who was left standing at the end of the challenge. He pulled out of the airport’s long term parking area and started towards the Northway; he patted his briefcase and congratulated himself for being Alex Harmon’s ever faithful, thorough and efficient right hand.

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