Wrong exit, p.16
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       Wrong Exit, p.16

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
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  Sirus turned and pushed his cart to rest in the shade of the large walnut branch at the end of the lot. He spoke out loud in an aging voice, “I’m not going to look up ‘cause I know you be hidin’.” Sirus pulled a small folding canvass chair from his cart and slowly lowered his bent frame to sit. “I see them hoodlums that’re lookin’ for ya. I’ll do my best to keep ‘em away, Missy.”

  Sharon was dumbstruck. Could this old homeless man really be here to help her? Her throat tightened and she said, “Thank you. The police are on their way.”

  Sirus answered without looking up, “That be good news.”

  He rustled in his cart for a small paper bag and began eating a sandwich. One of the men was quickly walking across the parking lot toward him. Sirus’s eyes narrowed as he struggled to focus from such a distance. He saw the grip of a gun in the man’s waistband.

  Sharon held her breath. The 911 operator said the police were nearly there.

  Suddenly Sirus leaped up and pushed one arm out in front of him. He had some kind of spray can in his hand. “You best just turn around and leave me be or I’ll light up your ass right quick!”

  The man stopped. “Easy does it old man. I just want to know if you saw a woman running around here.”

  Sirus started walking toward the man, his can of wasp spray still held at arm’s length in front of him. “Blonde lady in a blue skirt?”

  The man’s eyes opened wide. “Yes! Where’d she go?”

  Sirus smirked, “My memory works best when I’m happy.” Sirus waved his can of wasp spray. “Money makes me happy.”

  The man cursed and reached in his pocket, “Here’s a ten.”

  Sirus tilted his head, “Ten don’t usually move me all the way to happy.”

  The man frowned and pressed his lips together. He pulled another ten from his roll and snarled, “Here’s twenty. If you waste any more of my time I’m just gonna shoot ya.”

  Sirus relaxed his attack position. “Just lay that money down right where you be and start backin’ up. I’ll tell ya where she is once that money’s in my hand.”

  Sharon was terrified. Good God the old man was going to sell her for twenty dollars!

  Sirus picked up the money and pointed South. “Saw her about five minutes ago runnin’ through the park. Looked scared as hell! Looked like she be headin’ for the ‘L’.

  The man quickly pulled a cell phone from his pocket and started running South. Sirus watched as the other men headed South too. He slowly walked back to sit on his canvass chair. He dropped his can of wasp spray back in the cart and said, “You stay put another minute or so. Want to make sure them guys are all the way to the park.”

  Sharon exhaled and leaned her head back against the tree trunk. She whispered into the phone, “I’m still okay. Where are the police?”


  Monday, 6 p.m., 107th precinct

  Wayne had just spent two hours in an interrogation room with a pair of Internal Affairs officers. Now, Agent Phillips of the FBI plopped in the chair across from his desk.

  Wayne frowned. “It’s six o’clock. Go home.” He had already put in a ten-hour day with no end in sight. “I suppose you want to waste my time too?”

  Phillips smiled, “I’m looking for Nick. Is he expected back here any time soon?”

  “Not if he’s smart.” Wayne leaned back in his chair. “Officer-involved shooting this afternoon. He’ll be glued to a desk until I.A. is done with him.”

  Phillips had spent the last few hours researching Dr. Derrick Sanford because of a tip received by the FBI Nick wouldn’t come back to the precinct until he had to. He was stuck with Wayne. “So who did he shoot?”

  “According to the incident report emailed to the Chief, two cars with four shooters attacked him at a muffler shop while he was making an arrest.” Wayne stuck a toothpick in the corner of his mouth and continued, “Apparently, they pulled in the parking lot and leveled AK-47’s at him and his prisoner. Nick killed two shooters and one driver at the muffler shop. Nick had his perp and the other driver brought here. Two associates of Nick’s perp were arrested by Jen and also brought here to holding.” Wayne leaned forward. “Then it got interesting. Some fella in a suit walks in here claiming to be the lawyer for Nick’s prisoner and his associates, goes back into holding and shoots them. Dead. Only dude left in holding is the car driver. I shot the pretend lawyer as he was leaving. How’s your day goin’?”

  Agent Phillips said, “Well, that explains the improved security downstairs. They’re actually checking for weapons. It also explains the podiums on the stairs out front.”

  Wayne frowned. “Shit. We’ve got press?”

  “As far as the eye can see.” Phillips leaned back in his chair. “It sounds like your Chief gets to explain how four people can be shot dead inside the precinct building.” Phillips pushed his chair back upright. “We got a tip about a hypnotizing software program developed by Sanford Enterprises. This puts new creds on this morning’s confessors. Particularly since the mayor has already been named a target.”

  Wayne turned to his computer monitor and clicked on a photo. “Remember I told you the video was scrambled? I found this one frame on the art gallery video. Pretty good face shot of the guy that bought that painting and then sent it here.” Wayne turned the monitor to face Phillips. “Anyone you know?”

  Phillips’ jaw set as he leaned forward for a closer look. “Damn.” Phillips kept staring at the image. “Make a copy of this for me.” He tossed a flash drive to Wayne.

  Wayne put the flash drive in his computer, hit copy, waited for it to finish and tossed the drive back to Phillips. “Well? You going to tell me who this is?”

  “J.T. Barrimore, New York Family.” Phillips slipped the flash dive into his pocket. J.T. Barrimore having control of a software program that could make people do anything he wanted was more than a threat. Their tipster was dead on. Phillips felt an ominous curtain of dread envelop him. This case just became very real, and very dangerous.

  Phillips said, “We call this guy ‘The Secret Keeper’. He’s bad news.”

  Wayne tapped his pen on his desk pad. “Why would he send that painting to Nick? Why scratch on Nick’s door?”

  “I don’t know. He and Nick have some history.” Phillips wondered how deep this was going to get. Who tipped the FBI? Why? How did Dr. Sanford ever hook up with J.T. Barrimore? How was Nick involved?

  Wayne broke the silence. “This can’t be good for Nick.”

  “It’s not.”


  Kevin and Darla were nearly to Dr. Sanford’s office.

  Darla glanced over to him. “How do we get Dr. Sanford to admit he’s hypnotizing people?”

  Kevin turned into the parking garage for Sanford’s office. “I doubt if we can. I’m just hoping we’ll pick up on something that helps the cops figure out the guy is a nut case.” Kevin held out what looked like a flash drive. “This is a tape recorder. I’m going to leave it in the office somewhere and try to get it back later.” Kevin slid the button to ‘on’ to start the recorder, and slipped it back into his pocket. “This will record for about three hours. Maybe he’ll say something the cops can use.”

  Darla grinned. “You’re going all James Bond on this ain’t ya? I like it.”

  A large brass plaque in the parking garage listed Sanford Enterprises as being on the third floor, Suite 301. In the elevator Kevin noticed Darla examining Cynthia’s camera with a puzzled expression.

  “You don’t have a clue how to work that, do you?”

  “Nope.” Darla squinted to read the small letters next to all of the dials.

  “Well, if you plan on faking it, remember to take the lens cap off.” Kevin reached over and tapped it.

  “Got it.”

  Darla held it away from her and attempted to take a selfie. A blinding flash barely preceded the opening of the elevator door.

  Kevin moaned, “Oh brother.”

  They stepped out of the elevator and
stood in a wide hall with gleaming white floors. A brass wall plaque arrow for Suite 301 pointed to the left. They walked to the end of the hall where another arrow pointed to the right for Suite 301. A double glass door engraved ‘Sanford Enterprises’ sat squarely at the end of the short hall.

  Kevin held the door open for Darla and whispered, “Let me do the talking.”

  Darla frowned.

  A soft chime was followed by a mechanical voice. “Please stop. You will be greeted momentarily.” A grid of red laser lights crisscrossed the hall directly ahead of them.

  Kevin cleared his throat. Darla raised her camera and flashed a picture.

  Jason Little appeared from around the corner and stood on the far side of the lasers. “Can I help you?”

  Kevin held up his press badge. “I’m here to interview Dr. Sanford for a science article for the Chicago Tribune.”

  Jason glanced at Darla’s camera. “You can’t bring a camera into this office. Dr. Sanford isn’t here.” Jason added, “Do you have an appointment?”

  Kevin lied. “Yes.” He glanced at his watch. “Our appointment is for 6:30 so we’re a little early.”

  Jason couldn’t imagine why Derrick would have agreed to a newspaper interview. Practically everything they did was illegal. “What’s this interview about?”

  Kevin glanced at the notes he had taken when Peter had talked about Sanford Enterprises applying to the Chicago Board of Trade’s Security Division to take the company public.

  Kevin flipped a page in his notebook and then looked up. “Dr. Sanford was going to explain why he withdrew the application to take the company public. Something to do with a Mandarin program.”

  Jason couldn’t believe his ears. Derrick had no right to take the company public and offer the Mandarin program to shareholders without his permission. He was half owner of the Mandarin program. Jason definitely wanted to hear more from Kevin.

  Jason reached around the corner of the wall and disarmed the security lasers. “You can wait in here until Der…Dr. Sanford returns.”

  Kevin and Darla followed Jason into a tidy waiting area flanked by two glassed in offices. Jason’s desk sat like a sentry in the middle of the room blocking access to the doors beyond. Jason motioned for Kevin and Darla to take seats across from his desk.

  Kevin heard the faint sound of music coming from Jason’s desk. The Eagle’s song ‘Desperado’ escaped the mass of computer equipment and drifted in the air like falling leaves in slow motion.

  Jason sat in his chair and the music abruptly stopped. “What makes you think that Dr. Sanford wanted to take the company public?”

  Jason was getting angrier by the minute. Not only had Derrick used the Mandarin program as a host for his ‘parasite’ program without getting Jason’s permission, but evidently he had also entertained the idea of going public. It didn’t make sense. The money they were making from the Mandarin program was substantial but everything has a shelf life. Eventually the profits would level off. After all, there were only so many people that wanted to learn Mandarin.

  Kevin answered, “It’s public record. He withdrew the application in December. I believe he cited client reluctance as the reason.”

  Jason frowned. “That doesn’t even make sense.” Jason retrieved a cell phone from his pocket and tapped it. He turned from his desk and walked toward the window. Kevin quickly reached in his pocket, cupped the flash drive in his hand and pushed it to rest behind the monitor on Jason’s desk.

  Darla’s eyes darted between Jason and Kevin anticipating Kevin getting caught.

  Jason turned back to face them. He slipped the phone into his pocket. “Dr. Sanford isn’t answering his phone. I left him a message you were here.”

  Jason began to feel his anger at Derrick solidify. What else had Derrick done that he didn’t know about? “You know that I am one of the developers of our most successful program?”

  Kevin smiled. “Maybe I can start the interview with you then?”

  Jason’s eyes looked past Kevin and Darla and opened wide in horror. A shrieking siren beep filled the air with ear piercing pulses. Kevin and Darla twisted in their seats to look behind them. Four men in black suits burst into the room with guns drawn. They quickly flanked the desk and assumed the stance to fire their weapons.

  One man’s booming voice shouted, “FBI, hands in the air.”

  Kevin, Darla and Jason all thrust their palms toward the ceiling.

  Darla slowly turned her head to face Kevin and mumbled, “Plan B, Mr. Bond?”


  J.T. leaned back in the leather seat in his private booth at the club. It had been an eventful day. He pressed a buzzer and ordered his second drink as he counted his weekly cut from the club. He listened on his cell phone as Matt explained that a video had been sent to Gill Mackey to shoot Dr. Derrick Sanford.

  J.T. wanted some assurances that Gill would be successful. “Why did you choose him?”

  Matt could hardly contain his enthusiasm. “This guy is perfect! He’s a lawyer. I love stickin’ it to lawyers. He’s a short shit with a Napoleon complex and is learning Mandarin to enhance his political resume. I did a lot of background on this guy…not a soul on this earth who likes him.”

  J.T. grinned as he listened to Matt. “Has he watched the video?”

  “He did. I’m tracing his calls and tracking his phone now. He called Dr. Sanford’s office and found out he was at Sunrise Hospital helping his daughter settle in. He told Sanford’s office that he was Sanford’s attorney and had an urgent message. His phone put him at the hospital about fifteen minutes ago.” Matt chuckled, “We should hear any minute that Sanford has been shot.”


  Gill Mackey was on a mission. He was focused on finding Heather Sanford’s room before Dr. Derrick Sanford had a chance to leave. For a brief moment in the elevator to the second floor he felt confused. Some woman in scrubs smiled at him and said something. Her voice sounded as if she was speaking under water. He didn’t respond. She was a distraction. Obviously planted to keep him from his mission. She wasn’t part of his plan.

  He pressed his right palm against his side where his jacket hid the pistol in his waistband. He was a professional. The best. He would do his job and then wait for his next order. Simple. The elevator door opened to a bustling floor of hospital employees and a busy nurse’s station. Signs on the hall walls pointed him to room 239. He walked quickly down the hall avoiding all eye contact and stopped at Heather’s door.

  There sat Dr. Derrick Sanford talking to a young woman he assumed was Heather and a nurse that was adjusting medical equipment next to the patient bed. Heather was placing some folded clothes into a narrow closet. Dr. Sanford stopped talking to her and stared at Gill.

  The nurse turned and looked at Gill. “Can I help you?”

  Gill gave her a quick glance and then focused his gaze back on Derrick.

  Derrick had a puzzled expression on his face as he watched Gill pull a pistol from his waistband.

  Heather saw a look of terror wash over the nurse’s face.

  Derrick stood, his voice cracked. “What are you doing?”

  Heather turned around, saw Gill, and stepped in front of Derrick.

  The gun went off. Heather grabbed at her chest.

  The nurse screamed.

  Gill stood motionless., He dropped the pistol and began blinking. His ears were ringing and the room began to spin. He fainted.

  Derrick sobbed, “No!” as he grabbed Heather’s shoulders and rolled her over to face him. He pulled her lifeless body to his chest and wailed.


  Sirus slowly rose from his canvas chair and took a few steps away from his cart, staring at the Happy Burger parking lot.

  Sharon pleaded, “Don’t leave!”

  Sirus turned and shuffled back to the tree branch and looked up. “You can come down now, Missy. I was just checkin’ that the coast is clear. There be cop cars at the burger joint.”

n scrambled down the branches. Sirus helped steady her for her final drop to the pavement. She looked at Sirus’ leathered face with the wide grin and gave him a bear hug.

  “You saved me. How can I ever thank you?”

  Sirus pointed to the burger place. “We ain’t got you saved yet. Let’s go get them cops.”


  Nick and Jen pulled into the Happy Burger parking lot the same time a patrol unit did. Nick parked behind the ambulance in the lot and signaled patrol to stay back. He pulled his service pistol and walked up to the driver’s door. Jen walked around the side and came up to the passenger door. Inside a man lay slumped against the door. A hypodermic needle in his neck was precariously rising and falling with each breath.

  Nick climbed into the ambulance. His eyes scanned the interior of the driver’s cabin. It was surprisingly void of personal items. He pocketed the ambulance keys and then moved to the back. The gurney had definitely been occupied recently. Small droplets of blood stained the cheap liner sheet. The interior of the ambulance was dated and void of first aid materials. It obviously had been retired from active use some time ago.

  Jen opened the back door of the ambulance. “The driver is around here somewhere.”

  Nick hopped out the back. He turned to the two patrol officers. “Stay with this guy and keep an eye open for his partner.”

  Nick called the 911 dispatch center and was patched through to the operator talking to Sharon.

  “Where is she?”

  The 911 operator answered, “She’s at the back of an apartment complex next to the Happy Burger parking lot. There’s a large walnut tree at the fence line with an elderly man guarding her. She’s in the tree.”

  Nick turned to face the apartment complex and saw an old man quickly pushing an overstuffed shopping cart with a woman jogging next to him. They were heading towards the Happy Burger lot.

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