Shades of Gray

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

“Taylor and Carson,” repeated Bimonte.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s have a look shall we?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh my Christ,” gasped Michael.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Which we now know he was,” interrupted Cal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not running from…”

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

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

“What are you talking about,” demanded Michael.

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

Cal and Michael exchanged worried looks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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