Wrong exit, p.13
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       Wrong Exit, p.13

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
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  Jen pressed her lips tight and raised her eyebrows.

  Nick answered, “Yes, Chief.”

  “Internal affairs is crawling all over the precinct. They’d like a few weeks of your time.”

  Nick said, “We’re just walking into an interview, I’m thinking I won’t be back to the precinct until later tonight or sometime tomorrow. We have a kidnapping victim we’re trying to find before she’s murdered. I.A. will have to wait their turn.”

  There was a long pause before the Chief said, “I’ll let I.A. know that you aren’t available. Don’t make me regret holding off the hounds. It’ll help if you don’t add any more bodies to today’s count.”

  Nick repeated the Chief’s message to Jen. His phone rang again. “Stryker.”

  His fiancée Lacey was calling. “Nick, you’re late. Are you on your way?”

  “I’m late?” Nick glanced at Jen for help.

  Jen shrugged.

  Lacey sighed, “You forgot our dinner plans at Legends? Buddy Guy? My boss and his wife?”

  Nick moaned, that was tonight? “I’m tied up, I’m really sorry.” He hoped his heartfelt apology would stretch to cover the rest of the evening. “I can’t break away.”

  Nick could picture Lacey’s facial expression from the tone of her voice. “I understand. Be careful.”

  Nick grimaced, “I love you.”

  “Me, too.”

  Nick slipped his phone into his pocket.

  Jen asked, “So you and Lacey are okay?”

  Nick held the door open for her. “Oh, hell no.”


  Lucas pulled one of the leather chairs slightly away from Tony’s desk and sat. He unbuttoned his suit jacket and flexed the fingers of his right hand. “I have a problem.”

  Tony felt the hairs on his arms rise and his palms began to sweat. He had a nightmare that had started like this once, and it didn’t end well. He clumsily dropped the empty vodka glass into his bottom drawer and braced himself for the wrath that was sure to come.

  Lucas’ eyes narrowed and he leaned forward. Tony flinched. Lucas punctuated each word through clenched teeth. “You lied to me. I know every mistake John has made. So do the cops. They found the body bags at the brewery. Now they can tie the hospital’s van to the brewery.”

  Tony sputtered, “There’s no way they could have connected our van to the brewery.”

  Lucas slammed his fist on Tony’s desk. “Listen to me!”

  Tony felt light headed.

  Lucas curled his index finger for Tony to lean closer. Tony slowly leaned forward. Lucas grabbed a handful of Tony’s hair and slammed the side of Tony’s face onto the desk, mindful not to break his nose.

  Lucas leaned in and snarled, “Kids, Tony. Kids discovered the body bags at the brewery and called the cops. They also told the cops about the creepy grey van always coming around. The same creepy van that shot a reporter’s car to hell. Our whole operation is now at risk because of your idiot brother-in-law. You think I don’t have ears on the street?”

  Lucas released Tony’s head with a jerk and leaned back in his chair. He inspected his nails as he talked. “So let’s polish our spin on this. John is responsible for everything. He took advantage of your relationship. You are shocked and horrified that he would blemish the hospital this way. The end. That’s all you know. I’m told that Detective Stryker and an associate are parked out front right now. I’ll stay for your interview as your attorney.”

  Tony was more worried about what Lucas wasn’t saying. It all came down to how important he was to Lucas and to the Family. As far as he knew, this was the first time there had ever been a problem. Tony smoothed his hair and resisted the urge to rub the side of his face that Lucas had slammed into the desktop. This was not the time to look weak. The interview with Stryker would be his audition to keep living.

  Tony straightened his tie and said, “I’ll fix this.”

  Tony’s receptionist buzzed that Detectives Taylor and Stryker were waiting. Tony crossed the office to greet them. The door opened and Tony was momentarily stunned by the intensity of Nick’s stare. He watched as Nick’s eyes darted past him and scanned the office. It was as if the air was being sucked from the room. There was something different about this detective. A presence. A military posture that Tony found threatening.

  Tony extended his hand to Jen. “Dr. Antonio Scalla, and you are?”

  “Detective Jen Taylor. This is Detective Nick Stryker.”

  Tony extended his hand to Nick. Nick firmly gripped Tony’s hand and then quickly released it. Nick felt the clammy sweat of Tony’s palm and began watching his body language.

  Tony ushered them into the office where Lucas stood next to the desk.

  Tony gestured toward Lucas. “At your recommendation, Detective Stryker, I invited my attorney, Lucas Costellano, to join us for this interview.”

  Lucas simply nodded and sat back down in the seat. He made no attempt to shake hands but had placed his business cards on the desk for Nick and Jen. Tony returned to his seat behind the desk.

  Lucas asked, “What is the nature of this visit, Detective Stryker?”

  Nick had lifted the card from the desk. “I notice there is no title on your card, Mr. Costellano.”

  Lucas said, “In most circles my name will suffice. I assure you, I represent Sunrise Specialty Hospital. Again, what is the nature of this visit?”

  Nick ignored Lucas and asked Tony, “I mentioned to you this afternoon that John Miller was arrested with incriminating items in your hospital van. Can you explain his relationship to the hospital, please?”

  Jen had opened a small spiral notebook and began taking notes.

  Tony didn’t even glance at Lucas and answered, “John has worked for Sunrise for a few years now. His primary job is to transport medical waste to our crematorium.”

  Jen asked, “Where exactly is your crematorium located?”

  Lucas interrupted, “Our hospital brochure provides that information. I’ll see that you get one before you leave.”

  Nick ignored Lucas and asked Tony. “Can you think of any reason John would have an AK-47 in the hospital’s van?”

  Tony shook his head. “I can’t imagine. We have over two hundred employees, Detective Stryker. Like I mentioned in our phone conversation, John Miller had some personnel issues that were recently brought to my attention…”

  Nick interrupted, “Isn’t he your brother-in-law?”

  Lucas’ eyes darted to Tony.

  Tony’s left eye twitched. “He is…he is, but John is a difficult person to get close to. Outside of work I seldom spend time with him.” Tony’s mind raced. Should he say more?

  His heart was pounding but he tried to look casual. He was waiting to see if Nick accepted his answer. What else had John told this cop?

  Nick noted that Tony’s body language had just displayed four ‘tells’ that he was lying. “Let’s go back to his job duties then. Is there any reason he would have road construction signs in the van?”

  Tony cleared his throat and his brows furrowed. “Clearly, John was using the hospital’s van for unauthorized purposes.”

  Nick asked, “So he had full access to the van after his regular work hours?”

  Tony nodded his head. “Oh yes. Our drivers consider that one of their benefits.”

  Nick leaned forward. “Then why did you report it stolen?”

  Tony stammered, “I…I thought John was driving one of our other vans.” Tony could feel beads of sweat running down his back. This detective wasn’t going to let go.

  Lucas interrupted. “I believe it’s obvious that Mr. Miller has been engaging in activities unrelated to his employment. Therefore, Mr. Scalla would have no knowledge.”

  Jen asked, “This hospital is most famous for organ transplants, is that correct?”

  Tony answered, “Yes. Our reputation is above reproach.”

  Jen leaned forward, “Who coordinates a patient’s need for an organ and an availab
le donor?”

  Tony answered, “That’s part of my duties as administrator. Sunrise has long established relationships with numerous donor programs around the world.”

  Lucas raised his palm. “Perhaps we can speed this up. Exactly what do you want to know?”

  Nick shot Lucas a laser stare. “I want to know where in this hospital Sharon Perez is being held. I have evidence that John kidnapped her and brought her here.”

  Tony went pale.

  Lucas smiled. “Obviously, your evidence is flawed.” Lucas stood. “If Mr. Miller is indeed guilty of your accusations, he would not dare to conduct illegal activity here. You are wasting our valuable time with your speculations, Detective Stryker. Do you have a search warrant for this hospital?”


  Nick continued to stare. He didn’t like his read on Lucas. Lucas was confident and cocky. More than a lawyer, he had the black, dead eyes of a sociopath. His expensive suit and manicure did little to mask the fact he was a soulless thug.

  Lucas continued to smile. “In a gesture of good faith, I will allow a staff member to give you a tour of the facility. I’ll instruct them to take you anywhere you want to go. Would that satisfy your curiosity, Detective Stryker?” Lucas’ eyes narrowed in hawk-like concentration.

  Nick glanced at Jen. They now knew that Sharon was already dead, or had been moved. Still, Nick wanted to see the layout of the hospital. “I appreciate the tour. One last thing, John Miller is dead. He was shot shortly after his arrest.”

  Nick watched Tony and Lucas’ facial expressions. Tony didn’t know that John was dead. Lucas did.

  Lucas shrugged. “It seems Mr. Miller had both issues and enemies. You take your tour detectives. Take your time.” Lucas furrowed his brows and glared at Nick. “After today, if Sunrise Hospital is bothered with this nonsense again, I’ll start calling people much more powerful than your superiors.”

  Nick took one step closer to Lucas, invading his personal space. Lucas pulled his head back.

  Nick flatly stated, “You may as well start making your calls. This has just begun.” Nick stared long enough for Lucas’ upper lip to twitch.

  Nick turned to Jen, “Let’s take our tour.”

  Lucas opened the door, pointed to an orderly and instructed the orderly to assist in a search of the premises. Heat was rising up his neck. His hands had clenched into fists. He exhaled slowly as he watched Nick, Jen and the orderly enter the elevator.

  Lucas walked back into Tony’s office closing the door behind him. Detective Stryker was either a fool or a threat. He needed to find out which.

  Tony was incredulous. “We can’t let them search!”

  Lucas answered, “I had her removed. I just got the text from my ambulance driver that they have her. Don’t worry, I’ll have her back in time for her noon surgery tomorrow. You just make sure there are no more screw ups.”

  “She’s due for medication!”

  Lucas sneered, “So what if she comes to? There’s nothing she can do.”

  Tony had to tell his sister she was a widow. Lucas hadn’t wasted any time eliminating John. “You killed all three of them?”

  “They’re replaceable. Call me tomorrow when Heather Sanford’s surgery is completed.”

  Tony watched as Lucas left his office. He reached in his bottom drawer for his vodka. All he had to do was make it through tomorrow with no more mistakes.

  Tony dialed his sister, June. She answered, “Tony?”

  Tony took a deep breath. “Look, there’s no easy way to say this, Sis. John’s been shot and killed.”

  There was silence.

  June asked, “You promised me you wouldn’t kill him! Why did you do it?”

  “Lucas had it done. The police are going to be at your place any time now. I’m counting on you.”

  June answered, “I’m counting on you! I’m going to need a lot of money. You’re taking care of me, right?”


  Tony drummed his fingers on his desktop and then paged his admissions office.

  “This is Dr. Scalla. Has Heather Sanford checked in yet?” He waited a moment and then said, “Let me know when she arrives.”

  June Miller dropped her phone on the couch cushion and mindlessly resumed stroking her cat. She knew that Tony did business with dangerous people. At first, it excited her that Tony had brought John into her life. It didn’t take long for her to discover Tony merely wanted John under June’s watchful eye. John was a screw up. His childlike tantrums were a bore. She knew this day would eventually come. At least while he worked for Tony he had been a good provider. Tony would take care of her now as long as she kept the heat off from him. That was the deal.

  June pushed the cat from her lap as she stood. If the police were coming she needed to get ready. She glanced down at her tight sweater with the plunging ‘v’ to her cleavage and sighed. She didn’t want to look like a tart to the cops. What in the world did she have that was fitting for a grieving widow?


  Nick had planted a bug under the edge of Tony’s desk. It was illegal and useless in court but it might help him find Sharon. He listened to Lucas and Tony through an earpiece as the orderly guided them through the halls of the hospital.

  Nick asked the orderly, “Where are the donated organs received?”

  The orderly stopped walking. “There is a secure area in part of the basement where those surgeries take place. The organs are delivered through a special garage bay and elevator.”

  Nick said, “I want to see that. Let’s start outside at the garage.”

  The orderly looked worried. “I don’t have the special codes required to get into those areas.”

  Nick said, “Let’s go there anyway.”

  Nick listened to Tony’s side of the phone conversation to his sister. Tony had warned his sister the police were coming and said, “I’m counting on you.”

  The name Heather Sanford had surfaced twice in the conversation between Lucas and Tony. She had a scheduled surgery tomorrow and was expected to arrive tonight. Lucas mentioned returning Sharon in time for a noon surgery. Heather Sanford was likely the planned recipient of Sharon’s organs.


  Peter brought a beer from his refrigerator and handed it to Kevin. Kevin took a few gulps and sat it down on the coffee table. Peter raced over with a coaster and wiped the coffee table with his sleeve. He frowned at Kevin and said, “Were you raised in a barn?”

  Kevin winced, “Close. You ought to know!”

  Peter felt a wave of guilt wash over him. How could he be so insensitive? He looked at Kevin and said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. There isn’t a thing I own more important to me than your feelings.”

  Kevin gave a dismissive wave with his hand. “Don’t worry about it. It was a cheap shot for me to say what I did. My childhood wasn’t your fault.”

  Kevin was obsessed with worry about Sharon. He was getting a headache. Finally, his thoughts focused on Peter’s problem. Peter, the solid, boring stockbroker that had confessed to murdering Nick Stryker for no reason.

  He looked at Peter and asked, “Why are you guys all together again? Did something else happen?”

  Peter pointed to Darla as the group’s spokesperson since she would have interrupted him anyway. When Darla had finished, Kevin took another gulp from the beer.

  He covered his mouth and belched. “So the FBI isn’t going to do anything? Even though the mayor’s been threatened?”

  Cynthia said, “Agent Phillips pointed out that the only people that have broken the law are us.” She glanced at Peter and smiled. “Peter thinks we can at least do some investigating on the developer of this program. We’re hoping to find something the police can use. There must be a reason it was developed in the first place.”

  Peter said, “I’ve already started investigating through my business resources. The intellectual property copyright of the Mandarin program is to Dr. Derrick Sanford and Jason Little.
The company is very small from what I can find; just those two people. Dr. Sanford considered taking his company public last year and filed the financials with the Chicago Board of Trade. The financial numbers for this program are impressive. The Mandarin program has obtained worldwide sales and recognition. It was perfectly positioned for stock investors. Less than a week after filing his request, his application to go public was withdrawn. He mentioned in his withdrawal request that his clients preferred that he stay private.”

  Kevin asked, “I’m not sure I understand. Why wouldn’t his clients want him to go public?”

  Peter raised an eyebrow. “Only two reasons I can think of. He’s doing, or is expecting to do, some dirty work his clients don’t want discovered. Or, he decided to sell this Mandarin program with the hypnotic twist to some shady group instead of taking on stock investors. He probably can get a decent piece of change for a program like this. I just don’t know what to do next.”

  Kevin said, “Why don’t I call him? I’m a reporter. I could tell him I’m working on a science piece for the paper. I could tell him I’ve heard of his research; appeal to his ego.”

  Darla jumped up from her seat. “Ooo! That sounds good. I could go with you as your assistant. If there’s only two employees, I might be able to do some snooping.” Her eyes lit up. “I could use Cynthia’s camera! I could be your photographer!”

  Dolly frowned at Darla. “There’s a whole lot of opportunity for something to go really bad in that plan.”

  Darla said, “It’s gotta be me and Kevin; they know everything about the rest of you.”

  Kevin glanced at his watch. “It’s getting late. Why don’t I go ahead and call and see if he’s still there? What can it hurt? I need to do something to take my mind off Sharon for a while or I’ll go crazy.”

  Kevin’s cell rang. His caller I.D. didn’t display a name. “Hello?”

  “Hey Kevin. This is Brian. Judge White’s bailiff?”

  Kevin had a lot of people that fed him news stories. Brian was a trusted source and Kevin had spent years and many hours at the bar convincing him to give up news.

  “Hey, Brian. What’s up?”

  “I know you’re hip deep in the crime news these days. This might be nothing but Nick Stryker is trying to get the judge to give him a search warrant for Sunrise Specialty Hospital. Can you believe it? That’s the most prestigious hospital in Chicago. Judge White won’t do it though. He says Stryker’s playing hunches. You know the expression ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire? I thought you could snoop it out. I think the judge is more than just mad, I think he’s worried. Stryker doesn’t make many mistakes.”

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