Wrong exit, p.11
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       Wrong Exit, p.11

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
 
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  Jen glanced around. “It’s going to get tricky if they keep heading this direction. We’re going to lose our cover traffic. They’re going to make us.”

  “I know. The two guys in the red Camry might be the van driver’s ride back from the dump site. I’d like to just follow these guys.” Nick let another car pass him. “All we have right now is a stolen vehicle charge. We need to know where they took Sharon. We know it wasn’t the brewery.”

  The street was now down to two lanes and all but three cars had turned off to side roads. John had been watching Nick’s black sedan through his rear view mirror. There were two people in the car. A man and a woman. Probably nothing. Still, he didn’t like it. They had been behind him too long.

  A small incline ahead of John marked the first of several rail lines that cut through the district. He reached the rail crossing just as the lights began to flash and the crossing bar lowered. His gut told him to make a move. He crashed through the crossing bar, floored the accelerator and made it to the other side with mere seconds to spare.

  Nick yelled, “Stay with the Camry!” as he slammed the car into park and bolted out the door.

  Jen watched as Nick sprinted into the tree line along the shoulder of the road, past the cars waiting at the crossing. Mere seconds after Nick disappeared into the trees she caught a brief glimpse of him as he ran alongside the train and jumped onto the platform of a passing freight car. She slid across to the driver’s seat, cursing, and focused her binoculars on the Camry occupants. They were in animated conversation and unaware they were being watched.

  Nick worked his way to the far side of the rail car’s platform, jumped and rolled into the tall grasses beyond the rails and sprinted back toward the crossing. A man on a Harley waited for the train to pass. Nick ran up to him, showed him his badge and handed him his card.

  “I need your bike!”

  The man was stunned but looked at Nick’s badge and then the card. “You’re Stryker? Take it!”

  He yelled, “Good luck!” as Nick turned the bike around and raced down the street. The man walked over to the grassy shoulder and dialed his boss. “Hey, I need a ride to work. You’ll never believe what just happened!”

  ******

  Heather fought the urge to succumb to self-pity. She was thirty-five years old and had lived a privileged life by most standards. As soon as her dialysis machine completed her treatment her phone rang. She could hardly believe what she was hearing. Her dad was telling her that her surgery was scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. He was on his way back to take her to the hospital to check in.

  Heather and her care nurse began to pack an overnight bag. Her care nurse kept telling her how lucky she was that a match had been found for her kidney and pancreas. Heather’s excitement and joy at the news was tempered by the knowledge that her good fortune meant that someone had died. Her doctors had explained to her that people need their pancreas to live.

  Heather couldn’t believe that her father had managed to find the money for her surgery. Sunrise Specialty Hospital was expensive, but they were the best.

  She wiped tears from her cheeks with the back of her hands, turned to her care nurse and smiled. “Dad must have found a way.”

  Her care nurse passed her a tissue. “It’s a miracle.”

  ******

  Jen watched as the last train car passed. The shattered crossing arm littered the approach to the tracks and the crossing arm for the other side slowly rose. She was three cars behind the red Camry. There was no sign of Nick anywhere. A man holding a motorcycle helmet stood on the shoulder of the road talking into a cell phone.

  Wayne called. “Sunrise Specialty Hospital is rated one of the world’s best private hospitals. Won every medical award out there. What else do you want to know?”

  Jen answered, “Do you mind sending us the address and contact number? Also, see if you can get the head administrator’s name.”

  “Are you guys going to be a while yet? Phillips from the FBI is still waiting to talk to Nick.”

  Jen laughed, “Last I saw Nick he was jumping onto a moving train but I think he took a guy’s motorcycle and is still on the van’s trail.” She saw the Camry turn off to the left up ahead. “Gotta go.”

  Wayne looked at Agent Phillips who had been listening to Wayne’s side of the conversation with interest.

  Wayne sat in his chair and said, “You’re stuck with me. Stryker is either on a train or a motorcycle. Either way, he isn’t headed here.”

  ******

  John felt the adrenaline race through his veins. Running that train barricade could have turned out bad. Maybe Tony was right; maybe he did have impulse control issues. He looked in his rear view mirror and exhaled. It looked safe now.

  He dialed Vince’s cell. “Look behind you. Is there a black sedan with a man and a woman in it?”

  Vince repeated John’s question to Juan who turned abruptly in his seat and studied the cars behind them.

  “No. Only got one black car and there’s just a woman driver.”

  Vince asked John, “You hear that?”

  “Yeah. I thought we were being followed.” John wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. “Just meet me at Logan’s Muffler.”

  Vince and Juan rode in silence for a few blocks when Vince said, “I’m lookin’ to quit this gig. John’s goin’ to do somethin’ squirrely and get us all busted.”

  Juan nodded his head in agreement. “Been thinkin’ that myself.”

  “Can’t just keep waitin’ for the hammer to fall. Look at right now…today. John left them body bags at the brewery, the cops found ‘em…then he shoots up that car…then the cops find our car dump…now he busts through a train barricade because he thinks we’re being followed. Ain’t stable, man. I don’t even want to pick him up!”

  Juan was looking at his phone. “I have a number for Lucas. What if I call him and tell him we want out? If we tell him why, he’ll understand. Shit, if John gets caught, that could screw Lucas, too.”

  Vince didn’t want to make any rash decisions but his gut was telling him it was time to cut his ties to John. “Do it. Call Lucas now. I’ll take the long way to Logan’s.”

  Vince listened as Juan told Lucas about the events of the day. When Juan had finished talking he spent a long while listening. Vince was starting to think that maybe they had made a mistake.

  Juan finally hung up and looked at Vince. “We did the right thing. Lucas says to tell you he owes us both a favor for the warning. He’s got a warehouse job we can start tomorrow over on Denver Street. Not as much pay, but no body bags for a while.”

  Vince asked, “So we don’t have to meet John?”

  Juan pursed his lips in a frown and said, “The way Lucas sounded makes me think ain’t nobody meetin’ with John ever again. Lucas is sending some of his boys to Logan’s to ‘take care’ of him.”

  ******

  Lucas Costellano did not like being lied to; Tony had lied to him. Not only wasn’t everything fine, but Tony’s people had made a series of mistakes that had the cops looking at them. It had to stop at John.

  Lucas called Logan’s Muffler. “Logan? Lucas. You’re going to take your guys and leave the shop right now. Leave everything open just get out of there. I’ll call you when you can come back.”

  Jimmy Logan felt the hairs on his arm stand up straight. If Lucas Costellano told you to leave, you should already be half gone. He yelled at his mechanics to get the hell out and not come back until he called.

  Old Stubby’s 250 lb. body creaked on the mechanic’s dolly as he rolled himself out from under a caddy. “What’d you say?”

  Jimmy yelled, “Lucas called and said for us to disappear! Now!”

  The whites of Stubby’s eyes glowed in contrast to his oil stained skin. “Shit!” He pulled himself up, tossed his wrench on the bench with a clang and grabbed his keys. His two other co-workers were already backing their cars away from the lot fence and heading for the gate.

&nbs
p; Jimmy Logan grabbed the large bills from his cash drawer and sprinted to his truck. Any theft or damage from whatever was going to happen would be made right by Lucas. It always was.

  ******

  Jen followed the red Camry in circles for three blocks. What the hell were they doing? Had they made her? Suddenly the Camry turned to the right, drove a few blocks and parked at what her husband would call a ‘titty bar’. Really? Jen tapped Nick’s number on her cell and listened to it ring six times and then go to voice mail. If he was driving that motorcycle he wouldn’t hear the phone.

  Now what?

  Jen left a message for Nick to call her. She watched the Camry from her spot at the grocery across the street. The information from the plates gave her Vince’s name and an address. Her fingers tapped on the steering wheel. They were running out of time. Sharon was running out of time.

  CHAPTER 13

  Nick stayed a few blocks behind the van. There was no sign of the red Camry in his rear-view mirror. Suddenly the van turned to the left. When Nick reached that block his choices were: a small strip mall, a three story apartment building and a junk yard boasting a muffler repair shop. Logan’s Muffler was surrounded by a ten-foot chain link fence topped with barbed wire. It took up the remainder of that city block and was deep enough to go all the way to the street running parallel behind it. Thick weeds and vines clung to the fencing and obstructed any view from the street.

  Nick turned at the corner and slowed the Harley down to a crawl as he searched for a sightline through the fence. At the end of the street there was three-foot spot where someone had attempted to kill the brush with spray. A large cement block building grew out of the back of the small muffler shop. Three large overhead doors were open and exposed mechanic bays. Bright lights illuminated the undercarriage of a truck lifted up on a hoist.

  The inside of the lot was lined with dilapidated cars and trucks. A monster of a machine that Nick recognized as a crusher, sat silent in the far corner. Stacks of crushed metal sat stacked in the back of a flatbed trailer guarded by an ancient lift truck. Another large gate sat at the far end of the gravel lot. The grey van was parked at the first bay. The driver’s door was open. Nick watched for a moment. A tall figure paced inside of the dark garage bay.

  Nick drove into the lot and parked the Harley squarely behind the grey van. Nick could hear John yelling for Logan in the distance. He glanced into the van’s interior. Glass shards peppered the driver’s floorboard and the butt of a rifle peeked from under a blue scrub shirt on the passenger seat. Nick pulled the AK47 to the driver’s seat and closed the van door.

  He followed the sound of John’s voice and met him in a dark hall near the shop’s office.

  Nick asked, “Logan’s not here?”

  John was noticeably startled. Nick watched as John’s eyes search him. John glanced toward his van and saw the Harley parked behind it. “You look like a cop. Bike cops wear suits now?”

  Nick smiled, “Sometimes. Where is everybody?”

  John nervously glanced around. He wanted to run. He sure as hell didn’t want to talk to a cop. “Beats me. You’re gonna have to move that bike, I’m leaving.”

  Nick pulled a pair of cuffs from behind his back and held them up. “I don’t think so.” Nick grasped John’s arm.

  John twisted and turned to lunge for the van. Nick kicked the back of John’s knee and chopped the side of John’s neck as he started to fall. Nick planted his knee in the small of John’s back as he yanked his hands one at a time to the cuffs.

  John spit the cement dust from his mouth and yelled, “What the hell’s your problem?”

  Nick grabbed John’s shoulder and said, “Roll over and get up.” Nick was frisking John for weapons as John pulled his knees under him to stand.

  Nick tilted his head toward the van. “Lean against the hood and explain to me why you’re driving a stolen van.”

  John suddenly relaxed and smiled. “Oh that! That’s a misunderstanding. I just talked to my boss and he said he was going to call the cops and let ‘em know. He didn’t realize I’d taken the van for the weekend is all. Go ahead and call him.” John was still smiling.

  Nick smiled back. “What’s his name and number?” Nick had pulled a small notebook from his pocket.

  “Tony Scalla. He’s the administrator at Sunrise Security Hospital. He’s also my brother-in-law.” Tony stopped. He probably shouldn’t have said that. “Anyway, he’ll explain. Can you take these cuffs off?”

  Nick shook his head. “Not yet. What’s the number?” Nick dialed Tony and waited three rings for an answer. “Mr. Scalla? This is Detective Nick Stryker. I found the van you reported stolen but the driver insists that there’s been a mistake. The driver is John Miller.” Nick was studying John’s driver’s license as he talked.

  Tony fought the urge to curse. Now the cops were calling him. His only recourse was to talk Stryker out of arresting John. “Detective Stryker, I am so sorry. I was just getting ready to call the police and admit my mistake. John is my employee. I didn’t realize he had ‘borrowed’ the hospital’s van for the weekend.”

  Nick asked, “So your statement now is that he is a trusted employee of the hospital and this has been a mistake?”

  Tony smiled. This was easier than he thought it would be. “Yes, yes…I’m very sorry. John’s a good man. I take full responsibility for this, detective.”

  “In that case I’m going to ask you to remain at your office until I can get there to interview you. John has an AK47 in the van along with evidence he was involved in an armed assault this morning.”

  Tony sputtered, “What? That son of a bitch has issues! I don’t know anything about any assault!”

  Nick said, “I’ll call you when I’m available. I expect you to wait at the hospital. You might want your lawyer there.” Nick wanted to spook Tony into running. If Tony took off, Nick might have some grounds for a search warrant. Tony would cast himself as a co-conspirator.

  Nick hung up and glanced at John’s shocked expression. “You went from trusted employee to mental case in one sentence. Your brother-in-law just threw you under the bus.”

  Through the van’s windshield Nick could see a bright orange detour sign leaning against the side wall of the van. Nick leaned in close to John’s face. He hoped John could see every ounce of hate he was feeling. “Here’s the big question, where is she, John? Where did you take her this morning?”

  The blood drained from John’s face. He had never seen eyes like Nick’s before. This cop was crazy.

  John swallowed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” John mentally made a quick inventory of what was in the van. The gun, construction signs, his IPad with the GPS code interceptor, and probably any number of human hairs in the back from his ‘passengers’. Shit. He was going down for a lot more than a stolen vehicle.

  Nick took a deep breath and tapped his phone for Control Central. “This is Stryker. Send a patrol cage unit to Logan’s Muffler, four hundred block of Western Avenue. I need a prisoner pick up.”

  Nick knew a hundred ways to make John talk before the patrol unit arrived. John was watching his every move, flinching each time Nick changed positions. He expected Nick to hurt him. Nick took a deep breath. He had to find Sharon and he had to do it by the book. There were more people in this than John.

  Nick slipped his and John’s phones into his jacket pockets as two cars slid into view from around the corner of the building. They stopped twenty feet from the service bay doors. The dust from the gravel settled as the passenger doors of each car flew open. The passengers were armed with automatic rifles and began to slowly walk toward the garage bays flanking the van. Nick knew that their eyes were scanning the dark interior of the garage for their target. It explained why no one that worked at the garage was there. It was a hit.

  Nick hissed at John, “Any rounds left in that drum?”

  John’s eyes were opened wide watching the men walk toward them. He didn’t know if they were
there to save him or kill him. John decided they were there to kill him. He answered Nick, “40 round drum, probably half gone.”

  Nick pushed John to the floor. He drew his pistol and shot the shooter on the right in the knee. The shooter dropped to the ground and rolled just long enough for Nick to open the van door and pull out John’s rifle.

  The shooter on the left began spraying the side of the van with bullets. Nick saw the shooter on the right begin to rise up on one knee, his rifle pointed at Nick. Nick squeezed off a short spurt of bullets to the man’s head. The driver’s door opened and the driver took cover behind the car door and started shooting. Nick could tell that the shooter on the left was beginning to circle more to the left. It would only be moments before he and John were exposed.

  Nick dropped to the floor and shot both legs of the shooter on the left from under the van’s undercarriage. He turned and landed a shot to the driver on the right through the car window. Now he only had the driver and shooter from the left. The shooter was screaming and rolling on the concrete floor. Nick watched as the driver of the car on the left aimed and shot his own shooter in the back of the head.

  The driver jumped back in his car and floored it in reverse. He slammed the brakes, put the car in drive and nearly ran into the arriving patrol unit head on. Nick signaled the patrol officer to stay in his car. He turned his attention back to the shooter’s car and shot the two tires facing him and the windshield. The driver put his hands in the air.

  ******

  Jen tapped Nick’s cell number again on her phone. Nick answered on the second ring.

  Jen asked, “Are you still with the van?”

  Nick brought her up to speed on what had happened at Logan’s Muffler. “I’ve got a couple of patrol units bringing the grey van driver and the shooter’s driver to the precinct. What kind of luck did you have with the Camry?”

  Jen explained she was watching the Camry from across the street. The car was legal. The driver, Vince Thompson, had a warrant for failure to appear on a traffic violation.

 
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