Wrong exit, p.17
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       Wrong Exit, p.17

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
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  Nick pointed, “There she is.” He sprinted toward the couple with Jen at his heels.

  Nick’s eyes scanned the area for the ambulance driver as he ran. He knew he was near.

  Nick stopped when he reached Sharon. At first glance she looked disheveled but in good health, “Sharon Perez?”

  Sharron nodded her head and answered, “Yes. Are you the police?”

  Jen answered, “Chicago P.D., are you okay?”

  Sharon turned her head abruptly, her eyes darting in several directions. “Yes, but there are men looking for me! They’re all over the place!” Sharon’s eyes were intense and focused on Nick. “I was kidnapped this morning and taken to some kind of medical place. They doped me but it has worn off.”

  Sirus looked at Nick. “I told ‘em she went to the park. Four of ‘em came in that blue Chevy parked over there at the burger joint.” Sirus pointed his long, boney finger toward the Happy Burger lot. “Another one came from that ambulance.”

  Nick glanced to the parking lot and saw the Chevy. If they could get Sharon and the patrol officers out of there quick enough, they might be able to catch the kidnappers.

  Nick looked at Jen and said, “She has to be checked out. Let’s have patrol take her to the hospital and stay with her until we get there. If we can clear the scene these guys might come back. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

  Jen spoke to Sharon, “Can you run? We want to get you out of here fast.”

  “I can run.”

  Nick watched as Jen sent the patrol unit away with Sharon and took a position at the back of the burger building in a dark corner.

  Nick patted Sirus’s shoulder. “Good job. Might be a good idea to get out of here.”

  Sirus lowered his head in a sign of determination and gave his cart a shove. “I’m already gone.”


  Sal Cutler stopped his men on their way back to get their vehicles. The search of the park had produced nothing. They either missed her or the old man lied. Now, a block away, he had a narrow sight line between buildings and had seen a patrol car leaving the Happy Burger lot. It might be nothing. It might be a trap. The ambulance driver was walking up behind them, cursing under his breath.

  Sal turned around to face him. “Look, get that ambulance with your buddy in it out of here and we’ll keep on looking. You drive around a few blocks north…maybe she went that way.”

  The ambulance driver nodded and quickened his pace toward the Happy Burger lot.

  Sal told his guys he suspected a trap and instructed them to take cover. He maneuvered his way toward Happy Burger careful to hide behind cover every thirty feet or so. He made his way to the corner of building C and crouched behind the row of dumpsters. Between the dumpsters he had a good view of the Happy Burger lot and the back of the ambulance. He slowly glanced around but didn’t see anything suspicious. Maybe the patrol car had just gone through the drive through window. He saw the ambulance driver reach for the driver’s door and a woman rush up behind him. She slammed him against the door, raised a gun to his temple with one hand and pulled cuffs from her waistband with the other.

  Cop. They had the ambulance. Sal twisted his head to slowly scan the area again. There were no signs of anyone looking for the girl. They already had her; the girl had been in the patrol car.

  Sal remembered Lucas’ order. Dead or alive. He had to find out what was going on. He took out his cell phone and dialed his connection at the Chicago P.D. “This is Sal Cutler. Find out which patrol just took a call at Happy Burger on Green Street. Find out what happened, I’ll hold.”

  Sal’s mind raced. He couldn’t go back to his car, the woman cop would be calling for backup and the entire block would be crawling with cops in minutes. His connection at the Chicago P.D. came back on the line, “Patrol is taking a civilian to Memorial Emergency. That’s all I could find out.”

  “You’re sure…Memorial emergency? Man or woman?”

  “Of course I’m sure. Just a minute.” A few moments later he answered, “Woman.”

  “Thanks.” Sal glanced around. Nick was standing right behind him. Sal slowly raised his hands over his head.

  Nick said, “Get up slowly and keep your hands in the air.” Nick took Sal’s phone from his hand and reached down and pulled the gun from Sal’s waistband. “You a felon, Sal? Shouldn’t have this gun.”

  Sal’s mind froze. How long had this cop been behind him? What did he hear?

  Nick snapped cuffs on Sal and nudged him toward the Happy Burger lot by prodding him forward with the pistol in his back.

  Jen had the driver of the ambulance cuffed and sitting on the curb. The other ambulance guy was still passed out. Nick had Sal sit on the curb next to the ambulance driver.

  Jen asked, “We need to call transport.”

  “Yeah. We’ll need an ambulance and a guard for the one with a needle in his neck. These other two can go to the precinct and wait for us.”

  Jen glanced at Sal and the driver on the curb and smiled, “Do you think lock up has been cleaned out yet?”

  Nick smiled back. “I hope so.” He turned to Sal. “Lucas killed three of his guys this afternoon in our lockup. Hope you two have better luck.”

  Sal and the ambulance driver looked at each other.

  Nick tapped Sal’s phone. “You got Lucas’ number in your contact list by any chance?”

  Sal pressed his lips together tightly.

  “Never mind, I found it.” Nick tapped the number next to Lucas’ name. “This is Sal; I have the girl.”

  Sal’s eyes opened wide. Nick had just signed his death certificate.

  Lucas answered, “Good. Take her to Sunrise. Use the East garage. The code for the elevator is 4270. I’ll call Tony.”

  Nick ended the call and smiled at Jen. “Lucas wants her taken to Sunrise.” He looked at Sal and said, “Your next meeting with Lucas might be awkward.”

  Nick took the cell phone of the ambulance driver and found Lucas’ number there as well. He wouldn’t be denied a warrant now. He used his own phone and called the D.A.’s office.

  “This is Nick Stryker. I want a search warrant for Sunrise Hospital. I just got direct orders to take a kidnap victim there.”

  The assistant D.A. answered, “We just issued a warrant for there. Detective Graham from the 106th precinct. Seems they had a homicide there half an hour ago.”

  Nick cringed. He wondered if Lucas had killed Tony. “I want my own warrant. Same as my earlier request for items related to kidnapping Sharon Perez. Do we have the name of the homicide victim?”

  “Heather Sanford.”


  Derrick Sanford listened in shock as Gill Mackey sputtered apologies through his sobs. He told the responding police officer that he didn’t know why he shot Heather. That he was a lawyer, a good person. A thought slammed into Derrick’s brain as suddenly as if someone had slapped him.

  Derrick turned to face Gill and asked in Mandarin, “Why did you shoot my daughter?”

  Gill answered in Mandarin, “I don’t know.”

  The patrol officer frowned at Derrick. “What did you say to him?”

  Gill shouted, “He asked me why I shot his daughter and I told him I don’t know. It’s the truth, damn it! What the hell! I’m sorry!” Gill could hardly stand he was so shaken. “This is crazy! I don’t even know where I am!”

  Derrick looked at the officer, “I need fresh air, excuse me.”

  The officer moved away from the door so Derrick could leave the room. “I need to get a statement from you, Dr. Sanford. Please stay nearby.”

  Derrick took one last glance at Heather lying in a growing pool of blood. He felt numb. No one was allowed to touch her. The coroner was on his way. The hall outside of Heather’s room was packed with medical staff and police. The world was crashing in on him.

  A black cavity filled his chest where his heart had been. His mind churned a white hot blaze of hate that grew with each breath he took. A warping pressure pounded in his
ears distorting the voices and sounds around him. Gill Mackey was a name he knew well; he was one of Derrick’s subjects.

  It was so obvious now. He should have anticipated that J.T. would cover up the fact he had purchased the program. J.T. meant for Gill to kill him. Instead, he had killed his beautiful Heather. The elevator door shut enclosing him in a vacuum of silence. He had a single mission. Revenge on J.T. Barrimore.


  Tony had just hung up from talking to Lucas. Thank God they had the girl back. He glanced at his watch. Two glasses of vodka had helped him push the horrors of the day to the back of his mind. He saw that he had a few messages flashing on his office phone. He must have dozed off. The messages could wait until he had Sharon secured and drugged again. He decided to head for the basement and make ready for her arrival.

  An orderly rapped quickly on the door as he burst in. “Mr. Scalla? There has been a shooting in room 239! Heather Sanford is dead!” His eyes were opened wide and his chest heaved from running. “The police want to talk to you.”

  Tony couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “The police are here? When did this happen? Who shot her?”

  The orderly shook his head and paced in the doorway opening. “It just happened. We thought you had left for the evening; you didn’t answer your phone. The man who shot her is still here, the police have him. I think he’s a lawyer.”

  Tony sat heavily into his chair. “Tell the police I’ll be there in a minute.”

  The orderly left, closing the door behind him.

  Tony rested his elbows on his desktop and began rubbing his temples. What the hell? A lawyer killed Heather Sanford? Here? Why? The police would be crawling all over the hospital and Lucas was having Sharon Perez delivered in the middle of it all. Lucas had to be warned.

  He tapped the number for Lucas on his cell and listened as it went directly to voice messaging. Tony paced his office for a few minutes and tried Lucas again. Nothing. Lucas had turned off his phone. Now what? Did he race to the basement or upstairs to room 239?


  Lucas stood to clap for Buddy Guy and his band as his date slipped her hand across the table and turned off his phone. She was sick of him taking calls every fifteen minutes. He was supposed to be paying attention to her.

  Lucas sat down, lifted her hand and twisted her wrist tightly. She gasped and a look of terror filled her face. He leaned in and snarled into her ear. “Don’t ever touch my phone again!” Then he kissed her temple and released her hand. He turned his phone back on and slipped it into his jacket pocket. Lucas signaled one of his men over.

  “Take her home.”


  7 p.m. Monday, 107th precinct

  Nick and Jen raced back towards Sunrise Hospital, sirens blaring. Jen drove so Nick could make some calls. They both worried every passing moment gave Tony a chance to destroy evidence. Nick pulled his cell phone from his pocket and tapped the number for Wayne.

  “Are you still at the precinct?”

  “Yeah. Sitting here with your FBI buddy, Phillips. He has some shitty news for you.”

  Nick groaned, “Let me bring you up to speed on this organ case first. We’re sending you a couple of new ones for lockup.”

  “Oh, goody. Are you heading here, too?”

  “Not yet. Jen and I have a couple of stops first.” Nick told him about finding Sharon and arresting the ambulance guys and Sal.

  Wayne chuckled. An update call from Nick was like identifying a mountain range by only counting the peaks. “I can’t wait to see the faces of the I.A. guys when they finally corner you. I have an update on your three confessors from this morning. It seems a Dr. Derrick Sanford developed a ‘Learn to speak Mandarin’ program that they all took. What they didn’t know was that they were being hypnotized by this program to do all kinds of crazy shit.”

  “Did you say Dr. Sanford? Does he have a daughter named Heather?”

  “Let me check my notes…there is a daughter…yep, name’s Heather. I pulled up a press interview he did a couple of years ago and she was in the picture with him. How did you know?”

  “She was murdered at Sunrise Hospital less than an hour ago. The 106th got it.”

  Wayne cursed. “You better tell Phillips. He’s got people looking for Sanford.”

  Nick turned to Jen, “Ever get that feeling you’re about to watch two trains collide?”

  Jen’s eyebrows went up as she skillfully steered through traffic. “There’s a second train?” At some point tonight she was going to have to call her husband, John, and tell him not to wait dinner. They still had to interview Sharon and get her somewhere safe, then interview the ambulance guys and Sal. Then she remembered one of the drivers from the Muffler shop shootout was in holding. She learned Nick’s style years ago. He chased each lead with a laser focus and sorted out the debris later.

  Nick knew he wouldn’t get back to the precinct for some time. “Get extra guards for these guys in lockup. They have the same boss as the ones that were shot earlier. I’m just going to let them stew for a few hours.”

  Wayne said, “No problem. Look, based on what Phillips is going to tell you I think I’m going to hang around. You and Jen might need an extra gun.”

  “That’s an attention-getting statement.”

  Wayne added, “Phillips says you’re in the wrong crosshairs.”

  “Great. Can you put Phillips on?”

  Agent Phillips took Wayne’s phone. “Stryker? Do you remember J.T. Barrimore?”


  Kevin and Darla took the elevator back to the parking garage in Dr. Sanford’s building in silence. The last hour had been more than a little frightening under the interrogation of the FBI agents. Kevin’s training as a reporter quickly confirmed to him that Jason was not an innocent bystander. Especially when the FBI found the three flash drives in his pocket.

  Darla shifted the camera strap on her shoulder and sighed, “At least I remembered Agent Phillips’ name from this morning. You could say I saved us from being arrested.” She glanced quickly at Kevin’s frown.

  “You saved us? Was it when you told the FBI we were illegally ‘spying’ on Dr. Sanford or when you told them my brother and your friends had confessed to murder?” Kevin took a deep breath as the parking garage elevator opened for their floor. “Oh, wait! Maybe the fact that you had two guns in your purse is what convinced them we were innocent!”

  Darla shrugged, “Like I said, good thing they called Agent Phillips. Dolly’s going to be mad they kept the guns.”

  Kevin couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “Did you see that agent’s face when you said the guns were okay, they were properly registered…just not to you?”

  “At least I didn’t leave a hidden recorder going.”

  They reached the car and Kevin let out a big sigh. He had a picture of Derrick taped to the dash. “I guess we don’t need this anymore…”

  Darla interrupted him. “Look at that man walking to the elevator. It’s him!”



  Kevin glanced first at the picture and then back to the man. “Holy shit. You’re right.”

  Darla had her hand on the door handle. “We should stop him. Once the FBI has him we won’t be able to ask him any questions.”

  Sanford was nearly to the elevator. Kevin didn’t see the benefit of stopping Sanford. He wasn’t going to talk to them and looked to be in a hurry. Just then Kevin felt a rush of fresh air enter the car and saw Darla running toward Sanford screaming.

  “Dr. Sanford, freeze! FBI!”

  Sanford stopped dead in his tracks and slowly turned to face Darla. He had a frenzied look on his face.

  Darla shrugged. “Well, I’m not FBI but they’re waiting for you in your office. I have some questions for you about your Mandarin program…”

  Sanford started walking toward Darla. When he got within a few feet of her he lunged and pushed her to the pavement. Kevin watched through his windshield in ho
rror as Sanford ran to his S.U.V., pulled out of his parking space and floored the vehicle toward Darla. She saw the S.U.V. coming at her and rolled off to the side. Sanford kept going.

  Kevin leaped from the car and ran to Darla’s side. “Are you okay? What the hell were you thinking? What did you say to him?”

  Darla grabbed Kevin’s hands for a boost up and started running for the car. “Come on! We’re gonna catch that wacko!”

  Kevin ran after her, started his car and began their chase as Darla pounded on his car’s dash.

  “Did you see that? He almost ran me over!” Darla kept thumping the dash with her palms. “He’s got that crazy look in his eyes, you know? The kind they have in mug shots…all buggy and weird.”

  Kevin was getting a headache. “Can you stop hitting the dash? It isn’t making us go any faster.”

  Darla exhaled, “I noticed. What kind of reporter drives a four-cylinder Ford with knitting baskets in the back seat? I thought you guys were ambulance chasers.”

  Kevin struggled to keep Sanford’s S.U.V. in his sight. “This is my Grandma’s car, remember? Mine got shot up this afternoon.” Chasing Sanford made Kevin think about Peter. If the FBI was after Sanford, Peter may be in more danger than he thought. “What’s our plan if we catch Sanford?”

  Darla tapped her index finger on her chin. “I don’t know. I guess we keep him cornered and call the FBI or something. You’re the reporter…we get a story.”

  Darla mentioning ‘getting a story’ made Kevin remember that Jack had ordered him to do a story on being shot and also on the shooting at the 107th precinct. He moaned at the thought of the tongue lashing Jack would have waiting for him. Kevin’s mind suddenly flipped to Sharon. Surely Stryker had some kind of news by now.


  Nick’s conversation with Phillips had been troubling. If J.T. Barrimore was involved in the hypnotic software case, it certainly amped up the stakes. J.T.’s company provided security and sophisticated intelligence data for the international crime Family. Both the FBI and the C.I.A. were aware of J.T.’s business but had failed to prove anything against him. It was foolish for J.T. to tease Nick with the painting; but J.T. was no fool. Something else was going on.

  Nick glanced over to Jen, he knew she was waiting for an update.

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