As they sped to the Gallo compound on Lake Placid, Bimonte and Montgomery struggled to process what Spanelli had told them. With an efficient and dispassionate efficiency, Spanelli provided the details of Taylor’s responsibilities and duties for the undercover operation that had become her life for the past eight years. In addition to actually serving as Anthony Gallo’s legal representative, Taylor was also responsible for monitoring and investigating any suspected criminal activity connected to FBI operatives, informants or agents, who were on the take or in other ways compromised. The fictional Taylor Bennetto was a mob lawyer and contract killer; the real Taylor Bennetto was a covert FBI operative responsible for performing tasks of which the government refused having any knowledge. The bottom line was that Taylor was a professional contract killer, efficient, deadly and untouchable. But in order for Taylor to function efficiently, it was necessary for her to exist completely separate from her former life. That meant leaving all that she was in the past and becoming totally immersed in the grey shadow world. As long as she never looked back, she was safe.
Michael Bimonte’s mother was the only person who refused to allow her grand daughters to slip away from their father’s reach after the divorce. Nana valued the bonds of family and was not about to concede the loss of her grand children. She put a great deal of time and effort into keeping the lines of communication open following Victoria’s exodus from Lake Placid and was the mastermind behind reestablishing Michael’s presence, however tenuous, in his daughter’s lives. Honoring Nana’s wishes and making her proud were the only family obligations Taylor continued to honor after she began her undercover life with the FBI. Since Taylor rarely contacted her family, she only learned of her grandmother’s death when she read her obituary in the newspaper she was reading on the airplane on the way to carry out the contract on Wallace Murphy. Taylor read the obituary over and over until the plane landed at Massena Airport; each time she read the accounting of her grandmother’s life a tie that bound her to her present form existence snapped. By the time the plane landed, Taylor had been set adrift and unable to maintain her present course. In the time it took to rent a car, Taylor altered her immediate plans and drove directly to her grandmother’s funeral with her entire world about to be thrown further into chaos.
Harmon had been spot on when he prefaced his report with the warning that what he had to say would be hard to hear.
Taylor contacted Alex Harmon upon her return to the city and announced her intention to scale back her activities for both the Bureau and the Gallo Family and eventually sever her ties with both and retire to private life. She became increasingly withdrawn and secretive. She refused to provide any reasons and Harmon knew better than to press her for information that she obviously had no intention of sharing. Finding the FBI mole supplying the Gallo’s with information would be that culmination of her responsibilities for the Bureau and she assured Harmon that separating from the Gallo’s would not present a significant problem; one of the benefits of deep cover assignments was that the deeper you were under, the easier it was to disappear completely. Things were proceeding on the schedule Taylor had set until she discovered that Steven Carson was the mole. Carson’s involvement with Andrew Simpson created a situation in which Taylor was forced to choose between putting her past behind her and starting over or to continue living a lie she could no longer endure.
“Carson is the last contract Taylor’s willing to honor,” Harmon said as he finished telling them about the plan to lure Carson to the Gallo’s estate.
Cal growled under his breath and stood up and glowered over the speaker phone.
“Why didn’t you just stall him at the hospital?” Cal made no attempt to be diplomatic. “He was right there. We could have him in custody.”
“What are you talking about?’ Harmon sounded more annoyed than confused. “Carson was never here. I haven’t spoken to the man sine before the shooting.”
Cal stepped back from the desk. “The admitting nurse said an agent was with you before you went into surgery.”
The sound of Harmon shifting in his bed was the only sound for a tense few seconds.
“Taylor was here with me,” said Harmon his voice heavy with reluctance. “She was here to finalize the plan to lure Carson into position. She came to say good bye”
Michael and Cal both exchanged concerned looks.
“Special Agent Spanelli,” ordered Harmon. “Make the Bureau’s formal request and let’s be done with this once and for all.”
“As far as the Bureau is concerned and substantiated by the evidence in your possession Commander Bimonte,” said Spanelli, “Field Agent Steven Carson has been verified as the FBI mole and is responsible for the murders of Andrew Simpson and Cynthia Burris. We also maintain that he is a person of interest in the attempt on both you and Section Chief Harmon and therefore are formally requesting your assistance in apprehending him.”
“Apprehend my ass,” hissed Michael at the speakerphone. “You expect us to collect the body, type the final report and say ‘case closed’.”
“What I expect,” replied Harmon after several seconds of tense silence. “Is that you get to Carson before Taylor does. I expect that you of all people will do everything possible to be sure she gets out of this alive.”
It was remarkable how the same information could send each man deep within himself to a place where neither could provide the other with comfort or advice. As they raced to apprehend a killer and render assistance to a fellow law enforcement officer in danger, Michael and Cal were fighting desperately to understand how someone they loved could possibly the killer they had been hunting.
Montgomery and Bimonte made no attempt to disguise their arrival at the Gallo compound nor did they bother to wait for Spanelli and Pryor who were acting as back up. There were two cars in the driveway. Cal recognized both vehicles immediately; one was the black Mercedes Taylor had identified as Anthony Gallo’s car; the second appeared to be Carson’s silver Taurus. The pair drew their weapons and cautiously approached the entrance to the house. As they neared the door, they saw it was slightly jar and just as they were about to push open the door and enter the house they saw someone stagger out and collapse onto the dock leading to the boat slip.
The two troopers sprinted to the dock, weapons drawn. Cal knelt beside the injured man and pressed his fingers to the man’s neck in search of a pulse. Finding none, he gently turned the man on his back and looked up at Michael.
“That’s not Carson,” said Michael looking down at the dead man.
Cal shook his head and pointed to the patterning of the gun shot wounds to the man’s bloody chest.
“Same spread pattern as yours,” began Cal. “Except this poor bastard wasn’t wearing a vest.”
As Bimonte looked down at the body, his attention was drawn to the blood trail on the dock.
“Look at this,” he said kneeling down and touching his fingers to the blood on the dock. “Two trails both come from that direction.” Bimonte jerked his head towards the boat slip. “One ends here and the other continue towards the house.”
The two men rose and cautiously followed the two trails into the boat slip. Their eyes widened at the sight of the stanchion and the signs of struggle as the same image; the image of Carson torturing Simpson’s girlfriend, filed their mind’s eye. There was no time to voice their individual fears or assumptions. They sprinted out of the slip and raced back to the main house.
“The second blood trail doesn’t lead to the house,” observed Bimonte. “I’ll follow the blood; you check out the house.”
Cal hesitated for a split second and Michael read the concern in his eyes.
“Go!” Commanded Bimonte.
Michael followed the blood trail through the grass and to the edge of the woods bordering the estate. He could make out the point where someone had made a trail through the underbrush towards a small stand of baby white pine trees. He followed the trail and came upon the spot where the wounded person had stopped fro a few moments. Michael knelt down to examine the small blood pool left by the small pine. The blood was still bright red and warm to his touch so he knew that he wasn’t far behind whoever it was, but he as he looked at the direction of the disturbed leaves and debris around the area, he made a surprising observation. The trail wasn’t leading away from the estate; it was doubling back toward the grounds. Michael stopped for a moment to consider who would be backtracking to the house and why, then he started quickly along the trail, noting the drops of blood on the door step as he opened the door to the rear entrance of the house. He followed the blood trail up a back stair case.
Bimonte drew his gun as he stood before a door with drops of blood on the jam. He carefully pushed open the door completely open to ensure that no one was behind it and proceeded slowly into the darkened room. The room appeared to be a library of sorts. Two large floor-to-ceiling book cases dominated the far side of the room and a large desk was situated by the windows on either side of the bookcase. He moved cautiously toward the desk and surveyed the room. As he approached the desk, Michael became aware of another presence in the room; he halted his advance across the room and just as he began to turn he felt a slight sting in his neck and then felt nothing at all.
On Michael’s command Cal turned and quickly proceeded to the house and assumed a defensive position off to the side of the door before he pushed open the door and proceeded inside. As soon as he was through the door, the breeze from the open French doors in the living room steered him towards the room where signs of a struggle were obvious. Cal considered the disarray of the room and was drawn to the litter of paper and photographs on and around the coffee table. As he bent down to look at them, his eye caught sight of the knife sticking out of the wall behind the couch. Cal moved to the couch and leaned toward the knife protruding from the wall; as he focused his eyesight on the blade, he thought he could discern a slight coloring on the blade’s edge but it was too faint to be easily identified with the naked eye. As he turned his attention towards the opened French doors, he heard the sound of other vehicles outside the house. Cal waited before proceeding further as Special Agents Spanelli and Pryor entered the vestibule of the house. Two more uniformed State Troopers followed the agents into the house.
“There’s a body down on the dock,” Cal directed his comment at the troopers. “Go through the boat house and document the scene. Get forensics up here to start processing the room in there and the area around the body.”
The two uniformed officers nodded their understanding of Montgomery’s directives and left the house. Spanelli and Pryor exchanged a look.
“It’s not Carson,” Cal added quickly as the look on their faces indicated that they were about to make a false assumption. “I think the dead man is one of Gallo’s people. I recognized him from the other night.”
Pryor split away from Spanelli and Montgomery moving into the larger room off the entryway; the other two men followed behind.
“We found two blood trails down by the boat slip,” said Montgomery. “I also found this just before you got here.” He indicated the knife protruding from the wall.
“No signs of Carson or Bennetto,” Pryor asked as he moved to take a closer look at the knife.
Cal shook his head. “The second blood trail leads way from the house. Given the amount of blood, I think it’s safe to assume that we have at least one other gun shoot victim. Commander Bimonte is following the trail.”
“And possibly another wounded individual.”
Spanelli knelt over several of the displaced photos on the floor rubbing the thumb and forefingers of his right hand together. He raised them up and displayed them to the others as the approached him.
“Blood Sergeant Montgomery,” repeated Spanelli rising to his feet. “There are several large drops of blood here like cast off from someone trying to stop a wound from bleeding. If I was a betting man, I’d say that given the looks of this room, Carson and Bennetto got into it and someone got jabbed with that knife over there.”
Cal nodded at the open doors leading to the deck; before he could say anything more; his cell phone began to vibrate in his pocket. The screen indicated he had a text message. It was from Taylor.
Carson in the house. Armed.
Cal felt a sense of relief wash over him with the knowledge that she was close and, at the very least, alive. He was also aware that he was being stared at; he looked away from his phone to see Spanelli and Pryor studying him suspiciously.
“Carson’s somewhere close, possibly wounded,” began Cal. He wanted to take Carson himself for what he had done to Michael and for what he tried to do to Taylor. “You two go that way,” Cal indicated the open French doors, “I’ll search the house. There’s a lot of blood out there. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
The two FBI agents nodded and moved off to search as Cal backed into the vestibule and drew his gun. The front door was a jar when he and Bimonte arrived and he assumed that if Carson had made the decision to enter the house to avoid detection, Carson would pick a spot where he could see what was going on outside. That meant he was not on the ground floor, but somewhere upstairs. Cal made a quick cursory check of the other two rooms off the entryway then slowly proceeded up the staircase. As he neared the top of the stair case, a smudge on the hardwood flooring at the edge of the rug runner caught his attention. He touched the smudge with his finger tip. It was blood and it was still tacky.
Not only was Carson in the house, he was among the wounded.
Cal rose slowly and surveyed the landing at the top of the stairs. The stair case exited on to a circular landing which was framed with large bay windows providing a breathtaking view of the estate’s grounds and the lake beyond. Cal cautiously eased on to the landing; from here he could see the two search teams, Spanelli and Pryor off to the right, the two uniformed troopers off to the left scouring the grounds and the third team by the boat house. There was no way Carson was going out front without being seen.
Next Cal stepped back in the direction where the hallway leading to the bedrooms branched off of the stair case landing. The hall was wide with two doors one each side ending with another large picture window overlooking the rear of the estate. He moved slowly, looking and listening for any indication as to where Carson could be hiding. He was nearly to the end of the hall when he thought he heard movement coming from the behind the last door on his left. As he drew closer t the door he could see slight blood smudges on both the door knob and the area just above the knob where Carson had probably eased the door open. Cal gripped his gun firmly and entered the room. The first thing he saw was Michael’s body sprawled on the floor three feet to his right. Cal rushed to where Bimonte lay; as he lowered his gun and checked Michael’s neck for a pulse, he felt the barrel of a gun pressed against the base of his skull.
“Nice to see you Sergeant Montgomery,” Carson’s voice dripped with distain as he pressed the gun harder into spot where Cal’s spine met the base of his skull. “I can’t begin to tell you how happy I am to see you.”
Cal raised his arms in submission offering up his weapon. Carson took the gun and shoved Montgomery towards Bimonte’s position on the floor keeping his Glock trained on Cal. Cal maneuvered around Michael’s body so that he was facing Carson. He gently rolled Michael from his side to his back to assess his condition but could find no visible signs of injury. Then he noticed a raise red welt on Michael’s neck indicating the injection site. He traced it lightly with his finger, and then shifted his touch to measure Michael’s pulse.
“You don’t honestly think you’re going to get out of here,” Cal asked.
“To be honest Cal; you don’t mind if I call you Cal?” Carson smiled and trained both his and Cal’s gun on the two troopers before him. “To be honest, I had my doubts until you came through that door. No I don’t think I’m going to walk out of here; I know I’m going to walk out of here.”
Cal snorted disgustedly. “You’ve really lost your grip on reality Carson. There are State Police teams as well as FBI out there. We’re in possession of evidence that proves you’re a rogue agent and a murderer. Officially, present circumstances not with standing, it’s my duty to inform you that you’re under arrest.”
Carson laughed like Cal had just performed a comedy skit. “You’ve got nothing.”
“We’ve got Wallace Murphy’s files.” Cal paused and let the information sink in.
The smug smile evaporated from Carson’s face.
“Taylor hid them in Bimonte’s office the night she got here,” Cal continued. “Those files, the video and that body out there, we have everything we need to get you a date with a needle or see you locked up for the rest of our natural life.”
“Your girlfriend has proved to be more than just a minor annoyance of late. I should have turned her over to the Gallo’s the minute I found out she was the FBI’s inside source.” Carson was speaking more to himself that to Cal. He rubbed his neck wound “That hardly matters now as Dear Ms. Bennetto has inconvenienced me for the last time.”
Carson darted over to where Cal knelt and kicked Bimonte’s unconscious body so hard that it rolled towards the wall. He saw the cords in Cal’s neck tighten as he balled his hands into fists, preparing to spring. Carson took a step back and aimed the gun he had taken from Taylor at Michael’s head.
“Don’t try it,” Carson cautioned. “Not even a twitch or else dear old dad will be just as dead as his little girl.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
Taylor appeared through a door which connected the library to the nearest suite on the floor. Her face was pale and she looked haggard. Cal couldn’t help but notice the wet dark stain on her lower abdomen. Taylor moved slowly into the room, her gun trained on Steven Carson.
“Seems you and I still have some business to conclude.”
Carson’s face brightened. “I thought you were bullet proof for a while. How nice to see you’re human after all.” He took a step back, established a firm stance and took aim at both Cal and Michael.
“You’re quite right. Let’s get down to it. One of these two gentlemen is going to be my ticket out of here; one is going to join you in the sweet here after. You, my dear have to make a decision. You have to choose. Your life or one of theirs and I hope you realize that you can not save them both.”
Taylor kept her eyes fixed on Carson and made her choice in the same instant as Cal made his to spring. Cal’s managed to knock the gun pointed at him out of Carson’s hand just before Carson began firing striking Cal in the shoulder; his Kevlar vest prevented the bullet from penetrating his skin but the force of the impact of the bullet knocked him backward into the shelving. Then Carson trained his sights on Taylor
For an instant, they stood squared off, no one having an advantage, guns pointed at each other. Taylor turned and looked at Cal as he scrambled to his feet, in the same instant that Carson opened fired. Four bullets ripped through Taylor’s body armor and sent her crumbling to the floor as Cal pulled his back up pistol from the holster strapped to his leg and open fired from the front as Michael, having grabbed the gun Cal knocked to the floor, began firing from the floor behind cut Steven Carson down in a hail of bullets where he stood.
Cal rushed to where Taylor had fallen ripped open her shirt. He immediately recognized the light weight body armor that SWAT teams sometimes wore. Blood was welling from the holes in the body armor where the armor-piercing bullets Carson had been using had penetrated the fabric. Cal instinctively put his hands over the wounds applying pressure where he could in an attempt to slow the stream of blood. Taylor stared up at Cal, her eyes a vacant stare.
“No!” Cal yelled the blood seeping through his fingers. “Don’t do this T! Not now.”
Cal slid his hand up to her throat to check Taylor’s pulse rate; it was sporadic and weak but at least her heart was still beating. He traced his fingers over the silver chain around her neck, following its path until they brushed against the ring resting on her chest. He recognized it instantly as the engagement ring he had meant to give her long ago. He brushed her hair from her face and cradled her gently in his arms. Then he pulled her tightly against his body and felt the warmth of her blood soaking into his clothes.
“Stay with me T,” he said rocking back and forth. “Just stay with me.”
Michael struggled to his feet, still reeling from the effects of the sedative and staggered over the crumpled body of Steven Carson as the back up teams stormed through the bedroom door.
“We need a bus,” Bimonte yelled at one of the responding officers. “Get the paramedics in here!”
The officer repeated the order into the radio he was holding as Bimonte brushed off another officer’s attempt to steady his stance. He made his way to where Cal sat with Taylor and slumped to his knees beside them.
Cal kept Taylor tight against his body until the paramedics forcibly peeled his arms from her body.
“She’s still alive,” said Michael placing his hands on Cal’s shoulders shaking him. You have to let them help her. You have to let her go.”
Cal released his grip on Taylor and allowed the paramedics to ready her on the gurney for transport to the hospital and stayed by their side as they removed her from the house. Before they loaded the gurney into the ambulance, Cal bent over her and kissed her forehead then he reached behind Taylor’s neck and unhooked the necklace. He followed the medical team through the house and out the front door to a waiting ambulance. Just before they lifted the gurney, Cal approached the side of the gurney and took Taylor’s hand. Then he bent over her and kissed her gently on the lips reluctantly stepping back as the medics lifted the gurney and placed her in the ambulance. As he watched the ambulance hurry away down the drive, a pain began to consume him so completely that he barely noticed that the stone of the ring he was squeezing so tightly had cut into his palm.
Cal slipped into a kind of disassociative haze as watched the ambulance disappear, obvious to the flurry of activity around him as forensic technicians and state police and medical personnel continued with the business of clearing and processing the scene. He was only vaguely aware of an EMT expressing concern over his bloodied appearance and asking him to sit down on the front stoop of the house so he could assess the extent of Cal’s injuries. As the medic pulled open Cal’s shirt and released the Velcro straps securing the Kevlar vest, Cal watched over the EMT’s shoulder with a detached curiosity as the coroner wheeled a gurney bearing a grey body bag shrouding the body of Steven Carson out of the house and loaded it into the Medical Examiner’s van. He noted the increase in the number people milling around the area, everyone with a job to do, everyone with a purpose; everyone but him. Absently he registered a notification that he could button his shirt. Some part of his brain responded and reminded him that the cold, wet, sticky substance on the buttons was Taylor’s blood. A strong hand on his shoulder and the sound of his name being repeated shook him out of his reverie.
The sky had faded to a dull grey as the last of the afternoon sun streaked the clouds gathering in the sky and EMT had somehow morphed into Michael kneeling in front of him. He shook his head to gather his thoughts before he spoke as the coroner finished loading the body of the man they found on the dock into the van and shut the doors. Cal dropped his head and concentrated the hand that was still clenching Taylor’s necklace then he looked up into Michael’s stolid face.
“Dead,” Michael shifted his attention from Cal’s face to the bit of sliver chain his clenched hand. “According to Spanelli, by the directive of Section Chief Harmon, the case is officially closed. Carson gets all the credit for the information leak and the murders.”
“Guess that wraps things up nice and neat for the FBI.” Cal shook his head in disgust and drew a deep breath. He wanted to look Michael in the eye before he continued but couldn’t. “How bad,” Cal couldn’t finish the question.
“It’s impossible to tell,” Michael sat down on the stoop next to Cal. “She’s still alive. All we can do is wait for her to come out of surgery and hope that her body armor did its job.”
Michael reached for Cal’s hand; at his touch Cal relaxed his grip and opened his hand. Michael looked at the bloodied chain and ring, nodded his understanding and closed Cal’s hand.
“I need to be there,” Cal said standing up. “I have to know.”
“Go home and get cleaned up,” said Michael nodding his understanding and rising with him. “She’s probably going to be in surgery for a while.”
Cal started to balk and Michael pushed him towards the cruiser they arrived in and motioned for the nearest uniformed trooper over to the car.
“Take Sergeant Montgomery to his house.”
Cal started to protest but Bimonte stopped him.
“If you walk into the hospital looking like that, they might send you straight to the ER. Go home. Regroup. I’ll as soon as things are settled here, and after I’ve called Allison, I’ll come and get you and we’ll go to the hospital together.”