Michael and Cal rode in relative silence in to the crime scene, with periodic interruptions of the unmarked cruiser’s scanner broad casting periodic updates from the scene. Neither spoke the disappointment that they were feeling over the unexpected developments in their case. Michael sat tight lipped and brooding, listening to the crackling broad casts. He was mentally trying to reconcile the latest development that seemingly their only suspect had now become a victim. Cal occasionally looked in the rear view mirror the FBI agents who were following them to the Flume, who would then take the lead on the investigation. Even from this distance, Cal could make out the smug, self-satisfied grin on Harmon’s face.
Activity at and around the crime scene was starting to increase as they pulled up. Curious on lookers, two marked State Police cruisers and several civilian cars, at least one presumably belonging to the tourists were scattered through out the immediate area. As they we getting out of their car, Michael groaned as the local news station’s vehicle drove by and, noticing the obvious police activity, executed a perfect u-turn to return to the scene.
Michael motioned one of the uniformed troopers and instructed him to keep any reporters or cameras away from the scene. As he watched the FBI agents pull into the parking area, he momentarily considered extending the order to include federal agents. Neither Cal nor Michael waited for their federal counterparts; instead they proceeded directly to the first responding officers and followed them to down the narrow path where the coroner and his aide were pulling the body out of the river.
Dead bodies were never easy to look at and this one was no exception. The woman lying in the dirt of the river bank bore little resemblance to the exotic description given by the two horror struck teen aged boys beyond her gender, hair color and cup size. The naked pallid body was almost entirely covered in purplish-black bruises from being washed down the rock-laden rapids of the west branch of the Au Sable River. As the coroner repositioned the body to begin his preliminary assessment, the victims head lolled to the side, her dead grey eyes giving the appearance of staring at the assembled law enforcement officers. Michael nodded at the officers and forensics team and asked the coroner for his initial impressions.
“She has a lot of broken bones and abrasions, most likely caused post mortem by her trip down the river.” Dr. Vargas shifted the body slightly to search for any tell tale tool marks or other signs which could indicate the use of a specific weapon and ran his one of his hands along the back of her neck.
“I’m certain that her neck is broken; I can feel a distinct separation between the C-2 vertebra and the posterior axis, could have happened in transit, but if I was a betting man, I’d say the separation was deliberate. I do not think this death was accidental and of course neither do you. Obviously, the water will most likely have washed away any trace evidence, but I’ll scrape her nails when I get her back to the morgue. Time of death is going to be difficult to pin point due to the temperature of the water this time of year, but given the limited amount of decomposition, she died within the last 12 to 14 hours.”
Michael caught the FBI agents out of the corner of his eye. Neither Harmon nor Carson showed the slightest bit of interest in the body. Carson casually walked around the area that afforded a clear view of the Flume like some sort of Canadian tourist, while Harmon looked quite bored with the entire process; almost as if being there was some sort of major inconvenience. As he listened to Vargas’ comments he casually turned to see Harmon on his cell phone again, smiling arrogantly before he turned and walked away from the scene all together, Carson on his heels. His apparent lack of interest irked Michael. Michael motioned Cal aside.
“Take the rest of this. I have something I need to do.”
Michael caught up with Harmon and Carson as they were getting into their car.
“I’d like a moment,” Michael barked. “If you don’t mind.”
Harmon nodded for Carson to remain in the car; his self satisfied look still installed solidly. He straightened his suit coat casually and covered half the distance separating him from Michael.
“Something I can do for you?” Harmon’s smugness was mixed with irritation.
“Trying cutting the bull shit.” The gloves were off and Michael made no attempt to be diplomatic.
Harmon remained calm, though the smile disappeared. “What exactly would you like to know?”
“How about why I think that you knew that our mystery woman wasn’t the killer or how about your apparent lack of surprise that our prime suspect has become collateral damage?”
“Take it easy Commander,” said Harmon sternly. “You need to remember that my investigation was underway long before you got involved and there’s a lot more going on here than you realize.”
“Enlighten me,” Michael pressed.
“I knew as soon as I heard the witness’ description of your suspect that she wasn’t the killer. Your ‘killer’ is- was -Cynthia Burris or better known as Candie Cane. She worked as a stripper at one of the Gallo family’s clubs in New York; Simpson had been banging her, on an off for about a year. I don’t know what your eye witnesses think they saw, but the only way that whore could have killed anyone were if she fucked them to death.”
“This is about more than drug trafficking.” Michael wasn’t asking. “Someone inside your investigation is involved.”
“We have lost eight deep cover agents or informants who were investigating several separate operations in the last three years; nine now that Simpson’s been killed. Every time we think we’re getting close, something like his happens. We think that the same contractor is responsible for the mob hits and it’s starting to look like the contractor is someone connected to the investigations. It might even be someone inside the Bureau.”
“Was Simpson on to something?”
“He told us he didn’t know who the contractor the Gallo’s had hired was yet, only that it was someone outside the organization and he knew where he was supposed to be meeting Gallo. He said that whoever this contractor was, they were connected, high up.” Harmon started to pace; Carson looked impatient in the car behind him.
“I’m still listening.” Michael wasn’t budging until he had more answers.
“Old man Gallo has two vacation homes one on the Upper Saranac and one on Lake Placid. He and his son are currently in negotiations to buy a large portion of old Lake Placid Club properties. One of his grand daughters rides in the Lake Placid Horse Show every year. Simpson found out that the contractor was going to be here, meeting with Gallo’s son. Harmon ran his hands through his hair and rested them on his hips.
“That’s what Simpson was doing here. He was supposed to accompany the family here and provide security for the kid. Before he left New York, Simpson claimed to have some thing important, copies of files that he believed could verify Gallo’s involvement in the drug trafficking operation among other things. He was certain that he over heard Gallo’s son on the phone, confirming that the pay off for the Murphy hit and the meeting with the contractor.” The agent sighed and looked Michael squarely in the eye.
Michael furrowed his brow, digesting the information. He still had the feeling that Harmon was holding something important back “I want to be involved in everything that happens here from now on.”
“Fair enough,” conceded Harmon. “Gallo’s son and his crew have booked accommodations at the Mirror Lake Inn in Lake Placid. I was thinking maybe you and Montgomery might want to introduce yourselves by notifying Gallo that one of his employees has met with an unfortunate accident.”
“You think he doesn’t know about any of this?” Michael scowled.
“No, I don’t. I don’t think that the Gallo’s sanctioned Simpson’s death. Gallo isn’t even scheduled to arrive until later today. Simpson was supposed to come ahead of the family and complete the arrangements for their stay here. I had Simpson’s cell phone activity checked. It shows several missed calls from Mathew Gallo’s personal number.”
“We’ll make some inquiries and set up a meeting with Gallo after he arrives,” said Michael as he offered his hand to Harmon, who shook it, establishing a temporary truce.
“Fair enough.” Harmon turned to leave. “I’m going back to Washington this afternoon. Carson will be acting as liaison between the Bureau office in Albany and your team. He’ll coordinate things between your men and our contact inside the Gallo’s organization.”
Michael watched Harmon get in the car and noted that Carson seemed agitated by what ever Harmon was telling him. Cal appeared at his side as the car was pulling away.
“Good riddance for all the help they were here,” Cal said coldly. “There’s something about that guy, and the other one, Carson, that I just don’t trust. I keep getting the feeling that they’re holding out on us.”
Michael nodded in agreement. “I know what you mean, but if we’re going to catch whoever this ‘contractor’ is, we’ll just have to deal with it.”
“At least they helped speed up the forensics lab in Albany.” Cal was smiling as they made their way to their cruiser. “St. Louis called. He loves all this “CSI” stuff. The forensic report from the Simpson murder just came through.”
The update did little to lift Michael’s mood. His gut was telling him that there were more surprises in store for this investigation. There was something about the way Agent Harmon approached him, something that felt like a territorial challenge. No, not territorial, but observational, like Harmon was trying to dissect him, put him on a slide and examine him, to see how he measured up. Now more than ever, he was certain that they all needed to be at their best; if they weren’t more people were certainly going to pay the price.
Once they returned to the barracks, Michael and Cal spent the remainder of the afternoon completing their background research on the two victims and constructing a timeline of events leading to where they now stood in the investigation. Inquiries into Simpson’s credit card activities indicated that he left New York City in a rented SUV at some point two days ago and traveled the Adirondack Northway to Wilmington, NY and checked in to the Holiday Lodge under the name of Mr. Wallace Simpson. A phone call to the Holiday Lodge confirmed that Simpson had booked a room for the following week and that Mr. Simpson had in fact arrived and checked in with his “wife” the day before yesterday. The front desk clerk had told them that Simpson had asked for recommendations for fishing and camping and the clerk had suggested that they try the areas along the Notch because of its easy access and even recommended that they speak with one of the local Adirondack guides as Simpson didn’t strike her as the real outdoors type.
Next they focused their attention on the missing SUV that Simpson had driven to the North Country. Since the vehicle was a rental, it wouldn’t be too hard to locate because most, if not all rental cars came equipped with a low-jack GPS tracking devices. All they needed to do to locate the vehicle was to contact the rental company Simpson used and have them run the vehicle’s identification information through the low-jack system. They traced the GPS tracking signal to the Plattsburgh International Airport parking lot. The Plattsburgh Airport was an ideal place to ditch the vehicle because the lot was always busy and no one had noticed when the car had been left there or who had been driving. Arrangements were made to have the Plattsburgh substation impound the SUV and process it for evidence.
So far the contactor hadn’t deviated from the established pattern. Aside from the dead bodies, there was literally no trail, no evidence, and no witnesses. They might as well be chasing a ghost. Cal placed two phone calls to the Mirror Lake Inn; first to the reservations desk that confirmed that a Mr. Mathew Gallo had in fact reserved two rooms for the week; however they did not confirm the party’s arrival until Cal identified himself as a police officer. Next, he asked to be connected to Mr. Gallo’s room. He set up an appointment with someone claiming to be Gallo’s personal secretary for four o’clock that afternoon.
The Gallo family’s reputation was among the most infamous in the annals of organized crime. Once the enforcers for the Gambinos and Genoveses families, the Gallo’s broke away from the syndicate just as the federal government began its war on the racketeers. Although the family managed to put up a good front as law-abiding entrepreneurs, they still remained full ensconced in the organized crime underworld. They masked their money laundering, and smuggling activities by financing various legitimate small, but successful businesses in the tri-state area. Always just under the radar of the Federal RICO investigations, the businesses owed by the Gallo’s profited and flourished while most of the old order passed into oblivion. Mathew Gallo’s official occupation was chief operating officer of a property management company. The company’s properties included several vacation rentals in the Adirondacks, all of which were owned by either Mathew or his father, Anthony. The company was currently in negotiations to buy one of the oldest privately owned hotels in the area in order to further diversify their holdings.
Cal and Michael knocked on the door of Suite 17 of the Heritage House at the five star resort, the Mirror Lake Inn at precisely 3:59 pm. A well dressed young woman, presumably Gallo’s personal secretary answered the door and escorted them into the sitting area of the room. Mathew Gallo, the oldest son of Vincent Gallo, the current head of one of the oldest crime families in New York, sauntered into the room and extended his hand in welcome.
“Gentlemen,” he began as he motioned for them to sit on one of the sofas positioned in the middle of the room. “My assistant said you’re from the State Police. Is there a problem with one of our properties?”
“Mr. Gallo,” Began Cal, taking a small notebook out of his jacket pocket. “Do you have a man by the name of Andrew Simpson in your employ?”
Gallo nodded. “He is employed by my company. Mr. Simpson is a security specialist. He is providing some personal security for my daughter during her stay here for the horse shows coming up.” Gallo shifted in his seat. He had placed at least three phone calls to Simpson’s cell phone since his arrival and had been unable to reach him. Trying not to appear too anxious, Gallo wondered what trouble Simpson had managed to get himself into now.
Both Michael and Cal notice the flash of concern that crossed Gallo’s face. “When was the last time you spoke with Mr. Simpson?”
“I believe we last spoke two days ago, shortly before we left New York,” Gallo considered his next statement. “I had asked him to come ahead and arrange for our accommodations.”
“And you haven’t seen or spoken to him since that time,” Cal continued.
“No, I haven’t. As a matter of fact I have been trying to reach Mr. Simpson since we arrived. I’ve called his cell a number of times and haven’t been able to reach him.” Gallo had the distinct impression that the trooper knew why.
“Mr. Gallo, do you know a woman named Cynthia Burris?”
“No. Should I?”
“Cynthia Burris or Candie Cane worked as an exotic dancer in a club,” Cal consulted his notes. “The Beaver Dame owed by your family’s corporation.”
“My family operates many businesses,” Gallo answered smugly “You don’t really expect me to know the name of every single person in our employ?”
Cal bristled slightly at Gallo’s attitude. “Did you know that Ms. Burris or Ms. Cane accompanied Mr. Simpson on his trip here?”
Gallo was beginning to become annoyed. “I do not make it my business to involve myself in the personal lives of my employees, officer.” He crossed his arms across his chest impatiently. “I would appreciate it if you would come to the point as I have an important meeting shortly and I need to prepare.”
Michael looked Gallo squarely in the eyes. “Mr. Simpson and Ms. Cane are dead. Mr. Simpson’s body was discovered yesterday morning; Ms. Cane’s earlier this morning.”
Gallo kept his expression steady while in he cursed Simpson in his head; damn that bastard and his hookers. Mustering all the false shock and concern he could put into his voice, he asked, “That’s terrible. What happened?”
“Mr. Simpson’s body was discovered at a fishing spot along the Au Sable River,” Cal began as Michael watched Gallo’s reaction. “He is throat was slit from ear to ear. Ms. Cane’s body washed over the Flume this morning.”
“Do you know of anyone who may have wanted harm to come either of these people?” Michael asked.
Gallo snorted, stifling a disgusted sort of laugh. He shook his head in disbelief. Michael and Cal exchanged a confused look regarding Gallo’s reaction.
“Are we missing something, Mr. Gallo?”
Gallo rose to his feet and started pacing about the room, agitated, like he was trying to make sense of the information he’d just received.
“Well,” he began, “To answer your first question; I have no idea who would want A.J. dead. He provided private security services for my daughter and me as well as miscellaneous odd jobs for some of our night clubs in the city.” He returned to his seat on the sofa across form the two troopers, appearing to be still mulling things over. “And as for what you’re missing; well gentlemen, I can assure you that A.J. Simpson was many things, but a ‘fisherman’ wasn’t one of them. He was city boy, born and bred. His idea of fishing was take out from Long John Silver’s!”
Michael felt his face redden a bit and choked back the bile rising in his throat. Whoever this contractor was, was obviously a master of misdirection. The campsite wasn’t Simpson’s; it was a body dumpsite. He stood extending his hand to Gallo.
“Thank you for your time, Mr. Gallo,” Michael and Cal turned to leave. “We may need to speak with you again.”
“I’d be very happy to help, in any way I can, but I do have several pressing matters to attend to in the coming days and will be quite busy.” Gallo ushered the two officers to the door. “If you could direct any further inquiries through my lawyer,” He handed Cal a business card. “It will be the easiest way for you to reach me, should the need arise.”
Summarily dismissed, the two officers left the suite. Cal turned to his commanding officer and to say something as soon as the door shut behind them but Michael held him off with a raise his hand so he would wait until they had gotten in the elevator.
“He sure lawyered up quick,” said Cal looking at the card handed him. “I guess he…,” Cal’s suddenly lost his train of thought as he stared at the business card. Neither officer seemed to notice the others silence until the elevator’s door opened into the parking garage.
“I can’t believe I hadn’t considered that,” Michael said more to himself as they left the hotel and moved toward their car. “Of course it was a dump site. A guy like Simpson wouldn’t know the first thing about anything that had to do with camping or fishing. I wonder what else we’ve overlooked or what surprises are in store ahead.” He was suddenly aware that Cal was not listening; Cal was still looking at the business card, his face ashen. “What is it?”
Cal handed Michael the card and then silently got behind the wheel of the cruiser, gripping the steering wheel tightly. He stared straight ahead as Michael read what was on the card and, equally thrown, finally understanding what was going through Cal’s mind. Michael ran his fingertips over the black and gold embossed letters of the very elegant, very expensive business card that read:
Androlini and Associates.
Attorneys at Law
Taylor Bennetto, Associate Counsel.
Michael got in the car and briefly looked at the man beside him, then pulled out his cell phone and dialed the cell number on the card; the cell number of the person they now understood to be the FBI’s deep cover contact within the Gallo crime family. After two rings, a smooth calm voice answered the phone, momentarily knocking the wind from Michael’s chest, stopping him cold, as only this person could.