Cal was barely aware of the trip back to his cabin. His mind was drift, caught in a rip tide of emotions and memories. By the time the cruiser pulled into his driveway a chill had settled over his body caused by his wet blood soaked shirt. Like a sleep walker, Cal entered his house and went directly to the wooden box on the mantle and opened it. He dug through the mementoes until he touched upon the box that had formerly housed the ring that he now held in his hand. Cal wound the sliver chain around his hand like a bandage and picked the box out of its nest of memories. He carefully placed it on the mantle beside the other box and gently pushed open the lid and revealed a dried white rose bud which resurrected the memory of the day at the cemetery. Cal brushed his finger over the delicate artifact and realized that it was propped up from underneath. He lifted the bud from its artificial support; nestled in the crease underneath it was USB flash drive.
Cal heard Alex Harmon’s disembodied voice telling them that Taylor had decided to leave the Bureau, wanted to disappear but wouldn’t say why forcing Harmon to dig through her family history to find his answers. He remembered something being said about missing files and assumed that this flash drive contained those missing files. Harmon had no way of knowing what had happened after the funeral and Cal knew that Taylor would have never told him. Cal thought back to the moment he saw her on his deck. He sensed then that she was at war with herself, but he had attributed it to losing Nana. Now knew where she had gone after the funeral, knew what she had done. He looked into his palm and rolled the ring around his palm; he looked at the flash drive. When she took the ring, Taylor had accepted his promise of an unfulfilled dream and left a token of faith in its place. She was giving him a chance to have the answers to all to their unanswered questions. She was offering him a chance to really know who she was before officially accepting his proposal.
Cal closed his hand around the necklace and squeezed hard until he felt the ring bite into his palm. He quickly went to the bathroom, stripped out of his bloody clothes, quickly showered and changed his clothes without once letting go of Taylor’s necklace. He returned the rose to its original position in the ring box, put it back in it resting place and returned the hand carved box to its position on the mantle just as he heard the sound of his truck pulling into the driveway. He grabbed a jacket from the hooks by the door and left before Michael had a chance to turn the truck off and get out. He climbed into the passenger’s seat and the two left with out exchanging a word. Words weren’t necessary right now. Right now Cal needed to know Taylor was alive then he would worry about what else he may or may not need to know about her.
When Cal and Michael arrived at the hospital and proceeded directly to the intensive care unit. Michael went straight to the nurse’s station to learn the Taylor’s status. Cal paced back and forth like a tiger in a cage in front of the security doors separating the waiting area from the operating suite of the ICU. He startled at the alert sound as the automatic door swung open and was even more surprised to see Alex Harmon being wheeled out of the surgical wing. Michael also turned at the sound and moved toward Harmon who motioned for the agent pushing the wheel chair to stop.
“What the hell were you doing back there?”
Michael glared down at Harmon with an intensity that made Harmon visibly uncomfortable and caused the agent assisting Harmon to step between them. The agent assumed a defensive position as Cal stepped to Bimonte’s side.
“Easy Commander,” Harmon said from behind the intervening agent. “We’re all on the same team, remember?”
Cal was unaccustomed to seeing Michael lose control of his emotions and raised his hand to Michael’s shoulder and pushed him back a step so that Harmon’s body guard would relax. The tension rolled off Bimonte in waves as he repeated his question.
“Let’s take this conversation to a less conspicuous location shall we?”
Harmon motioned to the nurse’s station and the alert sound for the security doors sounded again and the four men proceeded back into the surgical suite. Once the doors closed behind them, Harmon directed the agent to step away so they could talk privately.
“In order to maintain the integrity of our undercover operations and present a realistic front,” Harmon began. “As dictated by proper procedure and protocols, Spanelli notified Mathew Gallo about the incident at the Gallo compound. Taylor is Gallo’s legal counsel and employee. The dead man was identified as George Nolan, Anthony Gallo’s body guard. I don’t need to tell you that both father and son quickly denied any involvement with Carson and naturally they were quite upset when we informed them of Taylor’s condition. It’s my understanding that they are on their way here as we speak. There are arrangements that need to be made before their arrival. There isn’t much time.”
Michael and Cal both looked at Harmon as if he were speaking some sort of foreign language.
“What do you mean; ‘informed them of her condition’? What arrangements? The ICU nurse told me that Taylor was still in surgery, her condition is critical,” said Michael.
Harmon took a moment to gather his thoughts before beginning again.
“In order to fulfill my agreement with Taylor, it is important that the Gallo’s believe that Taylor has died from her injuries.”
“You told them she’s dead?” Cal balled his hands into fists as Harmon spoke his worst fear.
The agent assisting Harmon could not help but notice the increased tension; he made a protective overture towards their position, but Harmon waved him off.
“It’s imperative that that is exactly what they believe,” Harmon interjected quickly. “I’ve already spoken with the hospital administrator and we have their full cooperation on this.”
“What if they want to see the body,” Cal snapped and then looked at Bimonte for validation and support. “She is still in surgery, right?”
Harmon actually smiled like the cat that swallowed the canary. “Then we show them the body. Follow me.”
Harmon signaled his assistant and the three men proceeded to the elevators situated at the back of the operating suite. Both Montgomery and Bimonte were familiar with these particular elevators; they lead to the morgue in the hospital’s basement. The group exited the elevators at the basement level and proceeded in the general direction of the morgue until they reached an area which resembled a small waiting room. Harmon stopped in of a large window which separated the waiting area from the morgue. Both Bimonte and Montgomery knew what was obscured by the draw curtain on the opposite side of the window. Family members no longer had to endure actually being in the same room to make an identification of a body. Now the body was presented behind a window or on a monitor, actual contact with the body was very rarely permitted.
Harmon pushed the intercom and identified himself.
“Dr. Varga. We would like to run through the identification of Agent Bennetto before the Gallo’s arrive. Would you please present the body?”
Michael and Cal shifted uncomfortably. Even though they both knew that Taylor was, for the moment, alive, the icy impersonal tone of Harmon’s request and the fact that they were in the morgue gave this little fiction unnerving sense realism. They heard faint sounds from behind the shaded window and actually stepped back startled as the curtain was drawn back. Situated in the rear of the room behind the window was a gurney in which lay a body covered with a white sheet. A Monitor situated on a rolling cart was situated directly in the center of the window commanding the attention of who ever was looking in. The morgue attendant situated the body on the gurney under something resembling an overhead projector, pulled the sheet away from the corpse’s face and turned the device on. Almost simultaneously, the monitor in front of the window flickered on.
“We took some pictures of Taylor when she arrived at the hospital and scanned them into the imaging device’s memory,” said Harmon looking through the glass. “Not even family members are allowed physical contact with the body, so it Gallo should be satisfied that that is Taylor on the screen.”
Both Bimonte and Montgomery were taken a back by the image of Taylor’s pale and lifeless face; Cal turned away and cursed under his breath as he stomped back toward the elevator. Michael paused for a moment, certain that if he hadn’t known for sure that Taylor was still in surgery, fighting for her life, even he would have believed that he was looking at her face. As he turned to follow Montgomery, Harmon reached over and stopped him.
“As Taylor’s father, you will have to give your consent for Gallo to view the body. You’ve already had contact with Mathew Gallo so we’ll have to make sure that you only speak with his father.”
Michael nodded. “Let’s just hope that I don’t have to give my permission for them to actually see Taylor on that screen,” he said as he turned his back on Harmon and went back to the elevators.
The next several hours passed in a surreal mixture of fact and fiction, anxiety and anticipation. Allison Bennetto arrived and after Michael did his best to explain the circumstances which resulted in their present situation, a temporary truce was declared for the purpose of mutual support. Special Agent Spanelli came to notify Michael that Anthony Gallo had arrived and, as expected, wanted to meet Taylor’s father and express his condolences. Michael was uncertain how to complete his part of the charade without upsetting Allison when he left. He walked Spanelli back towards the hallway and told him he would meet them in the morgue shortly. Michel couldn’t help but notice Allison watching the entire exchange with suspicious eyes. Rather than give her too much information to use as kindling for a argument, he simply apologized to Allison, explaining that he had to attend to matters concerning the case.
“Some things never change, do they,” she said sadly as Michael stood to go.
Even though there was no way Allison could know that he had to leave to protect Taylor, her accusing remark gave Michael pause and he had to fight the instinct to tell her exactly where he was going, what it was he had to, but here wasn’t time and this wasn’t the place to argue with her. When the elevator doors opened, Spanelli was right there to meet him with the first good news of the day.
“Mathew Gallo didn’t accompany his father,” Spanelli began excitedly. “Apparently he and little girl are too distraught, so the old man came alone.”
Anthony Gallo went straight to Michael and Spanelli as soon as they came into view of the waiting area. Michael was surprised at he level of emotion evident in Gallo’s voice as he offered his condolences and regret at having to meet Taylor’s father under such tragic circumstances. Anthony Gallo was visibly shaken with tears in his eyes as the morgue attendant repeated the same procedure as Michael had witnessed earlier in the day. Dabbing at his eyes with a monogrammed linen handkerchief, Anthony Gallo turned and extended his hand to Michael.
“I am very sorry for your loss Mr. Bennetto,” he said, his voice tight with emotion. “Taylor meant a great deal to me and my family, especially my grand daughter. She will be sorely missed.”
Michael thanked Gallo for his kindness and Spanelli quickly ushered Gallo away allowing Michael to return to the ICU. Rather than take the elevator back, Michael opted for the stairs; he wanted time to gather his thoughts before he faced his ex-wife’s disapproval. He was surprised when she met him at the entry to the waiting room with a cup of hot coffee and a compassionate expression.
“Here,” she said extending the paper cup. “You look like you could use this. Cal and I took a walk to the cafeteria while you were gone.” Allison took a sip of her coffee as Michael took the cup meant for him. “He told me what you had to do.”
He looked over Allison’s shoulder at the far end of the room where Cal nodded at him raising his own cup of coffee before he turned away and looked out the window. Michael understood that Cal needed to be by him self and joined Allison on the couch to wait for news of their daughter. Two hours later, the doors to the operating suite opened and a very haggard looking doctor emerged, approached Michael and Allison who stood as the doctor advanced toward them.
“You’re Ms. Bennetto’s family,” asked the doctor.
“Her parents,” confirmed Michael as Cal appeared at his side.
The doctor took a deep breath to ready himself before her began.
“Your daughter sustained multiple gun shot wounds to her chest and abdomen. There were also indications of fractures to her rib cage which were associated with some sort of recent blunt force trauma as well as significant blood loss.”
Allison leaned into Michael’s side and he hugged her tightly to his body as she pressed her face into his shoulder. Cal and Michael exchanged pained looks. The doctor paused to allow then to absorb the information before he continued.
“Although her injuries are quite significant,” continued the doctor. “The body armor your daughter was wearing absorbed the mushroom effect of the bullets limiting the amount of damage they caused when they entered her body. She is in stable but serious condition; one of the bullet fragments passed very close to the pericardium.”
“What does that mean exactly?” The question came from Cal who was unable to remain silent any longer.
The doctor eyed Cal suspiciously for an instant and looked at Michael for permission to answer the question. Michael nodded his consent and the doctor continued.
“It means that there is a possibility that the bullet fragment may have nicked the lining around Ms. Bennetto’s heart. We will be monitoring her closely through the night for signs of fluid build up.”
“When can we see her,” asked Allison.
“She will be in recovery for another hour or so before we move her to the ICU cardiac wing. Once she’s been brought to the ICU, you may see her for a few moments. Please don’t expect too much,” cautioned the doctor. “Your daughter’s condition is still very serious.”
The doctor’s proclamation hung in the air for a long time after he left Taylor’s concerned family. Cal, Michael and Victoria waited in silence at opposite ends of the waiting room, each wrapped in their own thoughts and fears, until the ICU nurse notified them that Taylor had been moved and that her parents could see her one at a time. Allison went in to see Taylor first and Michael, realizing that he and Cal had not spoken since after the shootings, took the opportunity to reconnect with his friend. Cal had stationed himself directly across form the ICU bay where they had installed Taylor’s bed. Michael joined him at the window and together they watched as Allison took her daughter’s hand and began to cry. Michael and Cal’s worried reflections started back at them through the glass.
“Taylor’s strong,” Michael offered with as much conviction as he could muster. “She’ll come through.” He clapped Cal’s shoulder as a comforting gesture and left him to join Allison by Taylor’s bedside.
Cal remained stoically silent, thumbing the necklace still wrapped around his hand like a rosary. There was so much going through his mind at the moment that he found that he was having difficulty deciding what he should do or say. Should he tell Michael about the flash drive Taylor had left him? What was he supposed to do with the knowledge of what Taylor’s life had been? Could he accept the fact that she had made her living as a contact killer; was that the kind of life someone could simply walk away from? The question that was weighing most heavily on his mind was the one that frightened him the most. If Taylor survived, was there a future for them? It seemed to him that she was leaving that decision up to him. As Cal watched Michael and Allison comfort each other, he slipped the tip of his finger through the engagement ring and circled it around with his thumb. Through the window, Cal saw Michael pull a weeping Allison close to his chest and gently kiss her forehead, all the old pain they had caused each other pushed aside, they had been brought back together by a new hurt but reunited in hope. His reflection stared back at him and he made his decision.
The days following Taylor’s surgery were filled with frustration and worry for her parents and Cal. She did not regain consciousness for two days and then suffered a collapsed lung following the removal of fluid that had started to build up around her heart. After a week, her condition improved enough for the doctor to begin to remove most of the tubes and once Taylor’s status was upgraded from serious to stable; she was moved out of the critical care ward of the ICU and to a standard room. Cal, Allison and Michael took turns at Taylor’s beside. Michael requested a two week leave of absence from work and he Allison stayed at the hospital throughout the day. Cal preferring to take the late night shift, always arrived at the official end of visiting hours and stayed until he had to get ready for work the next morning. By the end of the second week, Taylor continued to improve allowing everybody experience a huge sigh of relief and raised spirits. She was able to stay awake for longer periods of time and once she was able to sit up, her IV’s were removed so she could start eating solid food again.
Cal had taken to wearing Taylor’s necklace wrapped around his wrist like a bracelet and carried her engagement ring in his pocket, waiting for the right time to talk to Taylor about why she had it and what he wanted to do with it now. They had spoken since she regained consciousness, but he hadn’t mentioned having the ring and Taylor hadn’t been strong enough to carry on an extended conversation. Cal was quite content to wait, but Taylor took it upon herself to set the time of their conversation. She chose the night Cal met Allison in the hall as he approached Taylor’s room. For the first time in weeks, Allison was smiling; she stopped when he asked her him to give him an update on Taylor’s progress. He had no idea that Taylor had asked her mother to go and find Cal so that she could have a private conversation with him.
“She’s feeling well enough to start being difficult,” Allison said. “She’s insisting that she won’t go to bed until she speaks with you.” She shook her head. “For a moment I thought she was six years old. She always was a willful child.”
They both laughed.
“I’m grateful that she’s still with us, being as willful as ever,” she added wistfully
Cal hugged Allison affectionately.
“I’d better get in there before she forces them to sedate her,” he said smiling.
He arrived in her doorway to find her propped up and arguing with a nurse who was insisting that she lie down.
“If you can’t behave yourself,” Cal said in his most stern trooper voice. “I’m going to have to arrest you for disturbing the peace.”
The nurse rolled her eyes at Cal’s remark, equally unimpressed with his attempt at humor as she was at his flouting of hospital rules by spending every night in Taylor’s room. She stomped past him, issuing a warning that some one would be back directly to see that Taylor went to bed.
Cal scowled at Taylor, who was smiling obviously enjoying watching the nurse throw a tantrum. He sat down beside her on the bed and leaned toward her to fluff the pillows propping her up.
“Guess I’m right next to you on her shit list now,” he laughed and kissed her tenderly.
Taylor ended the kiss quicker than Cal would have liked and he did not like the look she gave him when she did it. She rubbed his forearms and placed her hand over her necklace wound around his wrist and traced it with her fingers.
“We need to talk,” she said firmly fixing his attention by staring deeply into his eyes. “About this… about a lot of things.”
Cal lowered his eyes to where her hand rested on his wrist and then looked into her face, serious and focused on his own.
“We don’t need to do this now,” he said. She had caught him off guard and he wasn’t ready to have this conversation.
“I think we do Cal,” Taylor said touching the silver chain. “If you have this then you found the flash drive. You know everything; you must have questions. So ask me. I’ll tell you any thing you want to know.”
Cal looked away for a moment to get a hold of what he wanted to say and how he wanted to say it.
“Yes, I found the flash drive. I haven’t done anything with it; no one even knows I have it.”
Taylor looked pained and confused.
“Because there’s nothing on it I want or need to know. But I would like you to answer one question for me.”
“I told you,” she took his hand in hers. “Ask me anything.”
“Remember the last night we were together? You told me that I wanted things you couldn’t give me. Do remember what I told you?”
“All I wanted then or now, was you.”
Cal took the ring from his pocket and held it in the space between them. They both looked at it. Cal lifted her left hand and slid the ring on her ring finger.
“You took this for a reason. Are you ready to give us our chance?”
Taylor’s eyes welled up and she looked away.
“Stay with me T,” he said turning her face back toward his. “None of what happened matters if you tell me you’ll stay.”
“Yes,” she said touching her forehead to his and looking down at her hand in his as a tear splashed on their joined hands.
“I’m ready. Yes, I’ll stay.”