Wrong exit, p.15
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       Wrong Exit, p.15

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
 
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  Elizabeth blinked a couple of times and then stood. “I’ll go get him for you.”

  When Elizabeth had left the room, Nadine asked, “These leads you have…Do they point to a motive for why my son and his family were targeted, Detective Stryker?”

  Nick sensed that Nadine was unaccustomed to not being in control. “I can’t answer that question until I have more information. I notified Elizabeth earlier today at your home. She was concerned the news may worsen your health condition.”

  Nadine frowned. “Nonsense. Elizabeth is weak. Her only concern is selecting her fifth husband. Marvin is, was, a man of character. You’ll find no skeletons in his closets. He would fight to the death to protect his family, Detective. You found defensive wounds didn’t you?”

  Nick nodded. “There are numerous defensive wounds on both Marvin and Carla.”

  Nadine’s eyelids briefly closed and reopened. “I called little Allison my angel.” Nadine dabbed a tissue to her nose. “I was so looking forward to their visit.” Nadine smoothed her skirt, a tear slowly trailing down her cheek. “Please find the monster that did this.”

  Nick’s mind flashed an image of Allison in the body bag. “I will.”

  Nadine seemed to pull strength from some core reservoir in her soul as she straightened her shoulders back and asked, “Do you have a number I can use to reach you, Detective?”

  Nick pulled a card from his shirt pocket and handed it to her. Nadine’s demeanor was shifting. She was a warrior and her family had been attacked. “Call me anytime.”

  Nadine reached for Nick’s hand and gave him a squeeze. “You must find our Allison’s killer. You’ve lost valuable time here with me.”

  “I came here to the hospital on official business. I didn’t know you were here until I ran into Elizabeth in the parking lot.” Nick could practically see thoughts racing through Nadine’s mind in her intense stare.

  Nadine raised her chin and coldly stated, “Allow me a brief moment of reflection. A homicide detective comes to this hospital on official business. A detective working on a case where the victims are missing organs visits a hospital famous for transplants. Am I on to something? No matter Detective, you needn’t answer that. Merely the ramblings of an old lady’s deductive imagination. Detective Stryker, do you believe that Elizabeth and I are in danger?”

  Nick suspected that everyone at Sunrise Specialty Hospital was at risk. “It couldn’t hurt to get a second opinion on your medical condition from someone outside of Sunrise.”

  Nadine’s eyes narrowed. “A second opinion?”

  Nick squeezed her hand gently. “Yes, a second opinion.”

  Nadine slid her hand back to her lap. Her eyes never left Nick’s.

  Nick added, “Soon.”

  CHAPTER 17

  Sharon was keenly aware of the horror of her situation. She had to escape. Her eyes darted around the walls of the ambulance and landed on the medical box next to her head. Whatever drug they planned on giving her was in that box. The head of the gurney was slightly elevated preventing her from seeing her kidnappers. It also shielded her from their direct vision. She could tell they were about four feet behind her and engaged in a heated discussion about the Chicago Cubs.

  Her eyes glanced down at the straps that bound her. They had red release buttons similar to car seat belts. She inched her right arm out from under the strap freeing her right hand quite easily. Obviously they were counting on her being medically restrained.

  She pushed the red button on the strap restraining her left arm and caught the end of the strap before it dropped to the side. She slowly pulled herself up enough to the right to reach down and release the strap near her knees. One strap remained at her ankles. Her feet could easily slide out from under the strap when the time was right.

  With her right hand she carefully opened the door of the medical box. The needle was leaning against a bandage box in the center. She cupped it in her hand and closed the lid. Wanting to keep her left arm still in case they could see movement she used her thumb of her right hand to rub against the needle cap until she felt it ease off. Her heart pounded. Could she attack her kidnappers and survive?

  The ambulance was making a turn and slowing down. Were they at their destination? Had her time run out? The ambulance stopped. The roar of the motor beneath her silenced.

  Voice one said, “It’s been almost two hours driving around and I didn’t have lunch. I’m going to run in and get some food. Do you want something?”

  Voice two said, “Yeah. Get me a couple of burgers.” There were some rustling sounds and then voice two said, “Is ten enough?”

  Sharon heard the driver’s door open. “Back in a minute.” The door slammed shut.

  She held her breath expecting the passenger to step into the back to check on her. He didn’t. Sharon heard him talking on his phone. “I might be late tonight. Got a last minute gig from Lucas and I don’t know how long it’ll be.”

  There was that name again. Lucas. Sharon decided it was now or never. She freed her feet, swung her legs to land next to the gurney and leaped toward the front seat. The man in the passenger seat began to turn toward her. She stabbed the needle into his neck as his hand gripped her wrist and pulled. Sharon pushed the plunger of the needle and screamed in terror at his twisted expression. His eyes fluttered, his hand dropped from her wrist and his phone dropped to his lap. Sharon grabbed the phone and jumped out the back door of the ambulance.

  Her legs felt weak as she landed on the pavement. For a moment she thought they would fold under her. She inched her way past the ambulance and moved to hide next to a parked sedan. The parking lot was for an establishment called ‘Happy Burgers’. Through the tall tinted windows, she could see a man standing at the counter ordering food. He had to be her other kidnapper.

  A rush of fear washed over her as she imagined him glancing her way and beginning a chase. Behind the last row of cars in the parking lot was a group of old apartment buildings. Sharon forced her legs to run. A row of dumpsters sat at the side of the brick building and she squeezed between them for cover. It took all of her courage to glance back toward the ambulance. No one was chasing her yet.

  With one eye on the Happy Burger door and the other on the stolen phone she punched in 911. The 911 operator answered, “This is 911. What is your emergency?”

  Sharon gripped the phone tight, it was her only link to safety. “My name is Sharon Perez. I was kidnapped and I have escaped. Please send the police to come get me!”

  The 911 operator asked, “You are calling from a cell phone. Where are you?”

  Sharon realized the call center could only connect her to the nearest tower, if that. “I’m hiding behind some dumpsters behind the parking lot of Happy Burgers. My kidnapper is inside getting food.”

  The 911 operator asked, “Do you see a street sign anywhere?”

  Sharon inched out from her hiding spot and looked toward the street. There were no signs. “I don’t see any signs anywhere! I’m standing next to an apartment building that has a big ‘C’ on the bricks. I’m hiding behind the dumpsters.”

  The 911 operator said, “Can you check inside the dumpster for any mail? I need an address.”

  Sharon lifted the lid and was assaulted with the smells of garbage. A cloud of flies escaped and buzzed around her head. “Can I put the phone down? I need two hands to tear open a bag.”

  The 911 operator assured her she would stay on the line. Sharon carefully placed the phone on the ground, took a deep breath and flipped the lid of the dumpster bin completely open. She quickly glanced toward the Happy Burger door and saw her kidnapper walk toward the ambulance.

  She grabbed the top bag and tossed it to the ground next to her and the brick wall. She dropped to her knees and began tearing through the contents. Finally, she caught sight of an envelope covered in spaghetti noodles. She pulled it free and saw it was a disconnect notice for an electric bill.

  She picked up the phone, “Are you still there?


  “I’m here. Did you find something?”

  Sharon exhaled, “Yes. The address is 14438-C South Green Street, Chicago. You must hurry! The kidnapper has left the Happy Burger building and will start looking for me any minute.”

  The 911 operator said, “I am dispatching patrol officers to your location. Stay on the line with me until they get there.”

  Sharon peeked between the dumpsters and saw the ambulance man dash from the ambulance to the middle of the parking lot. He slowly turned his body in a circle and scanned all directions. He was looking for her! Suddenly he stopped and stared right at her. Sharon felt her heart pounding in her chest. She felt his stare burn a hole in her forehead. He started walking in her direction.

  Sharon whispered into the phone, “Oh my God! He’s coming right at me!”

  ******

  Lucas glanced at his watch, 6:30. He had spent the last hour answering emails requesting organs. People with money didn’t want to wait on a registry list. His problem with Tony made him reluctant to make any promises. He would only be able to stall the requests for a few days before the Family would get wind there was a problem in Lucas’ organization.

  Lucas slipped his suit jacket on and tapped in the number for his current girlfriend. “I’m leaving the office soon; do you still want to go to Legends tonight?” Lucas smiled at her enthusiastic answer and responded, “I’ll pick you up within the hour.”

  In the parking garage his car lock chirped the exact moment his cell rang. He slid onto the leather seat and answered as he turned the ignition. A voice on the other end said, “Mr. Costellano? She escaped! I don’t know where she is!”

  Lucas rested his elbow on the arm rest and rubbed his temple. He made every effort to keep his voice free of the rage he was feeling. “Where are you?”

  Lucas listened as the ambulance driver told the story of Sharon’s escape at Happy Burger. Today had been cursed by some unknown evil. He already had ordered three of his men shot and four others had been killed by the police. He had to find this girl before she talked to anyone.

  “I’m sending a crew. Find her!”

  Lucas ended the call and tapped in the number for one of his street leaders. “How many men are with you?”

  “Three.”

  “Get over to Green Street in the 14000 block. Happy Burger parking lot. A girl escaped our guys from an ambulance.” Lucas took a deep breath. “I’ll send you her picture. I want her found. Dead or alive. Do it!”

  ******

  Tony had returned to his office from his visit with Nadine Schultz. That stupid cop had gotten her all upset. She had insisted she wanted to go home until after the funeral of her son and his family. Tony helped Elizabeth pack a small bag for her and escorted them to Elizabeth’s car. It seemed everything had gone wrong today.

  His cell phone rang, it was Lucas. “Tony.”

  “We have another problem. Sharon Perez has escaped. Can she identify you?”

  Tony thought back to when he did the tissue sample and Sharon opened her eyes. “She opened her eyes for a minute but I drugged her again right away. She was probably too drugged to focus.” Tony was secretly glad that Lucas had a problem with his men today, too. Maybe he’d be a little more forgiving about John’s mistakes.

  Lucas said, “Okay. When we catch her we’ll try to keep her alive. I’ll call you when we’re bringing her back.” Lucas paused. “The surgery is still on for tomorrow, right?”

  “Right.” Tony wondered what they would do if Lucas didn’t find Sharon but he wasn’t going to ask.

  ******

  Sharon watched as the man from the ambulance stopped walking toward her and put a cell phone to his ear. He began to pace and wave his arm in the air. As soon as he turned his back to her she decided to run. She glanced to her right and guessed it was about one hundred feet to cross the apartment building lot to the rusted chain link fence. On the other side of the fence were some houses and businesses. Surely there would be some place for her to hide over there.

  She whispered to the 911 operator, “I’m going to run to a safer spot. Don’t hang up!”

  Sharon peeked around the side of the dumpster from her crouched position one last time as she slipped the phone into her blazer pocket. The man was still not facing her. She darted from behind the dumpster and began to run for her life toward the chain link fence. A large, low hanging branch of a walnut tree hung over the fence on her side. She jumped and grabbed the branch with both arms, swinging her legs up to hug the branch and pull herself into the cloud of green leaves. She climbed up two more branches and balanced in the crotch of the tree’s main trunk and a large limb. Thank God she had been a tomboy when she was a child. It seemed she had spent most of her childhood up trees.

  This would have been much easier in slacks than her skirt. Her thighs had been scraped by the bark and blood was running down her legs. Sharon felt like a frightened child peeking through the foliage for a glimpse of her enemy. She exhaled slowly to calm herself and pulled her phone from her pocket.

  “Are you still there?”

  “Yes. Where are you now?”

  “Same address I gave you but now I’m in a walnut tree.”

  ******

  Nick and Jen met back at their car in the hospital parking lot. Jen tossed Nick the keys and slid into the passenger seat. “I got the plate I.D. on that white SUV in the corner. It’s registered to Costellano Enterprises.”

  “Surprise, surprise.” Nick glanced at his watch. It was nearly seven. Lacey would be at Legends by now sitting next to an empty seat. His. Nick’s mind spun back to the problem at hand. “Judge White isn’t going to give us a warrant to search this place unless we have it tied up with a bow. We need more.” Nick held up the receiver for the bug he left in Tony’s office. “Lucas is waiting for his men in the SUV to call and say we left before he has Sharon brought back here.” Nick thought about the fate awaiting Sharon at the hospital. “I suppose we could leave, circle back and wait.” Nick glanced toward the SUV. “I’m not in the mood to waste time. We have to find that ambulance.”

  Jen wanted to change the subject so Nick had more time to decide what he wanted to do. She trusted his instincts and right now she was out of fresh ideas.

  Jen asked, “How did Mrs. Schultz take the news?”

  “She’s a tough lady. I think she’s worried her whole family has been targeted. Rich and powerful people are paranoid for a reason. She’s going home tonight to plan the funeral.”

  “Is she healthy enough to go home?”

  Nick turned the ignition key. “I think every patient here would be safer at home.”

  Nick’s tone sent a shiver down her spine. Their suspicions about the hospital were horrific. What if they were right?

  Jen passed a granola bar to Nick and opened one for herself. “Do you think they have their own little organ farm here? How creepy is that?”

  Jen’s cell rang. After a minute she asked, “Where? How long ago?” a moment later she said thanks and hung up.

  “Our BOLO on the ambulance paid off. 911 got a call from Sharon that she had escaped. The 911 operator entered her name into the system and got a hit on the BOLO I ordered. They just sent me an alert. She’s on South Green Street!” Jen punched the address into the city map screen on their dash monitor.

  Nick hit the light bar and siren. “Hold on.”

  ******

  The ambulance driver stood in the middle of the Happy Burger parking lot terrified. If he didn’t find that girl Lucas would have him killed. She could be anywhere. He studied the few cars that were parked. They probably belonged to the employees or customers eating inside. He began running up to each, looking inside. He crouched down to see if maybe she was hiding between the vehicles. Nothing. He had no idea what to do next.

  He was nearly hit by a car with four men that screeched into the Happy Burger parking lot. They slammed to a stop just feet from him and jumped from the car. Sharon watched through the leaves of th
e tree branch as four men began shouting and pushing the ambulance man. He started pointing all around and shrugging his shoulders. One of the men cold cocked the ambulance man sending him to the pavement. The four men each took a different direction and began searching.

  Sharon realized they were looking for her. She frantically whispered into the phone, “There are more of them now! Four more men have shown up! Where are the cops?”

  ******

  Sirus Corn pushed his overfilled cart down the alley to the back of the three box-like apartment buildings facing Green Street. He stopped at the glass door of the back entrance to Building A and studied his reflection. His clothing was clean and fit properly thanks to the Veterans Blessings box at the American Legion post. They offered free dinners on Mondays but Sirus always swept the floors of the meeting rooms before accepting a sandwich and a carton of milk to take with him. He didn’t believe in handouts.

  Four local merchants let him wash their store windows for cash each week. That money not only paid for his necessities but insulated him from having to beg. He would never beg. He smoothed his thinning grey hair in place and tried to straighten his stooped shoulders. He found it hard to believe that he was 72. Or was it 73? He glanced at his twisted arthritic fingers and sighed. Winter was going to be tough this year.

  The dumpsters here were usually good for any number of still useful household goods. While the neighborhood was poor, it wasn’t nearly as bad as those just three blocks down. He had spent far too long washing the barbershop windows this afternoon, but he wanted to do a good job. Now it was nearly dark. The gangs would soon be trolling the streets. His arms and legs ached from pushing his cart. He didn’t have a choice; his whole world was stuffed within those rusted wires. He decided the dumpsters would be his last stop today. He had to get back to the safety of the tunnel community before dark.

  He caught a flash of movement in his peripheral vision. A young woman was running across the parking lot with a look of terror on her face. She was in a blue skirt but pulled herself up onto the old walnut tree branch at the end of the lot. Sirus pushed his cart toward the dumpster and saw a group of agitated men arguing loudly in the Happy Burger parking lot. Suddenly the men broke off into different directions and began looking in the parked cars and heading closer to the apartment buildings. Sirus had lived on the streets long enough to recognize the posture and facial expressions of street thugs. Those men were looking for that girl.

 
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