Wrong exit, p.18
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       Wrong Exit, p.18

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
 
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  “Do you remember last year when I got sucked into that science case between the FBI and the C.I.A.?”

  Jen slowly answered, “Yes.”

  “There is an International Family mobster who was in the middle of that. He made a deal with the C.I.A. in exchange for anonymity. His name is J.T. Barrimore. Bad dude.” Nick paused. “Wayne found a frame on the gallery video that showed the purchaser of Cynthia’s painting. It was J.T.”

  Jen asked, “He’s the one that sent the painting to you? Why?”

  Nick answered, “Good question. Phillips says they have a tip that J.T. purchased this hypnotizing program from Dr. Sanford.”

  “Sanford? The same Sanford whose daughter just got shot?”

  “Yep. The FBI wants Sanford. J.T. Barrimore is not the kind of guy who should have that program.” Nick spoke his thoughts out loud. “Sanford needed a lot of money for his daughter’s surgery tomorrow. Selling that program may have been the cash cow. These two cases are connected by Sanford.”

  “So this hypnotizing program is the second train?”

  “Seems to be where this is going. Havin’ fun yet?”

  Nick’s cell rang with a message from Lacey, his fiancé. He glanced at the screen and smiled. She had written:

  I’m having a great time. REALLY miss you. LOVE you. Stay safe. Sending pic so you can see what you’re missing.

  Nick tapped on the attachment and frowned. Lacey’s selfie showed Lucas Costellano with a woman sitting at a table directly behind her.

  Jen pulled their car up to the east garage entry to Sunrise Hospital, put it in park and unbuckled her seat belt. The entrance to the hospital was swarmed with police vehicles. The coroner’s van sat in the midst of the chaos.

  Jen turned to Nick. “Heather Sanford got shot on the second floor and we’re heading for the basement. This is a very bad day for Dr. Anthony Scalla.”

  “He’s not the only one that’s having a bad day.”

  Nick held up his phone. “You want the good news or the bad news?”

  Jen said, “Good news.”

  Nick grinned, “Lacey still loves me. She sent me a selfie from Legends. She’s watching Buddy Guy.”

  Nick held the phone out for Jen to see. “Now the bad news. Look who’s sitting behind her.”

  ******

  Derrick gripped his steering wheel so hard his knuckles were white. He felt as if he was a character in his own horrific nightmare. Images filled his mind of Heather being shot and Gill Mackey pointing his pistol at them. The look on Gill’s face was like a knife to Derrick’s heart. He knew. He recognized Gill’s face from his program bio. Gill had been programed to shoot Derrick. The only person that could have done that was J.T. Barrimore.

  He couldn’t go back to his office; the FBI were there. Why? It had to be about his program. He didn’t care anymore, Heather was gone. He had to find Barrimore. All he could think of was the nightclub. Maybe he was there. Then what? He had no gun, no killing skills…he had a car. He’d wait for J.T. to leave the nightclub and run him down…over and over…as many times as it took. Or he’d follow him to his home, barricade the doors and set it on fire. Anything, anything that would make J.T. suffer.

  Cars blasted their horns at him and screeched their tires to let him pass. He willed himself to pay attention. He needed to live long enough to watch J.T. die.

  ******

  Kevin was leaning forward against his steering wheel. The old Ford struggled to maintain enough speed to keep up with Sanford. Darla gripped the dash and the shoulder strap next to her. She yelled to be heard over the screaming motor. “I don’t know whether to worry we’re goin’ to crash or that the engine’s goin’ to explode.”

  Kevin saw Derrick’s car turn off to the right up ahead. “Where are you going old man?”

  Darla held her breath as the gap closed between their car and the car in front of them. “Look out! They’re turning!”

  Kevin checked his mirrors, yanked the steering wheel to the left lane and immediately back to the right after they passed the turning car. Within yards he yanked the steering wheel to the right again where Derrick had turned. They took the corner too wide and too fast. Kevin worried the little car was going to roll over.

  Darla screamed, “I see him! He turned left at the light.”

  Kevin’s jaw set and his lips pursed. “He better land somewhere soon, we’re almost out of gas.”

  They turned left at the light and couldn’t see the S.U.V. anywhere. Kevin slowed the car way down. “He must have pulled off at one of these businesses.”

  Darla whipped her head to the right. “Turn around. I bet I know where he went.”

  Kevin made an illegal U-turn and glanced at her. Darla pointed to a neon sign of a cocktail waitress holding a martini glass. Kevin frowned. “You really think he was in that kind of hurry to come here?”

  Darla shrugged, “Call it a hunch. All we gotta do is drive slow through the parking lot. What can we lose? We’ve already lost him.”

  A tall row of finely manicured hedges lined the street and shielded the parking lot from street view. Kevin was shocked at the number of cars in the parking lot. This was a thriving business. The brick and brass building was modern and well maintained. If the sign had read ‘Fine Dining’ he would have believed it. “This sure doesn’t look like a strip joint.”

  Darla’s eyes scanned a group of men entering the building. “Those dudes are all wearing suits. Look, there’s even a valet!”

  Kevin’s glance followed Darla’s pointing finger toward the glass front doors. A muscular man stood like a statue with his hands folded at his waist. “Looks more like a bouncer to me.”

  Darla pointed to a row of cars on the far left. “Isn’t that Sanford over there? Just sittin’ in that S.U.V. staring at the door.”

  Kevin squinted, “I think you’re right.”

  The parking lot lights snapped on creating rows of amber orbs above the cars. Dusk was surrendering to the shadows of night.

  Darla looked at her watch. “It’s almost eight o’clock! He best do something soon, I’m starving. Think Granny has any food in this car?” Darla reached to the back seat and began ruffling through the stacks of clothing and craft bags.

  Kevin kept his eyes on Sanford’s S.U.V. as he parked directly across the lot from him. His mind swarmed with everything he needed to do, yet here he sat in a strip club parking lot. Sanders didn’t look like he was going anywhere fast. He was just glaring at the front entrance.

  Kevin said, “Maybe he’s meeting someone?”

  “If we’re gonna just sit here, I’m gonna find us some food. Gotta be a candy bar or somethin’.”

  Darla squealed, “Yeah, Granny! Got a whole box of Twinkies back here and some bottled water. I think it’s her survival kit for winter storms. Got some battery operated socks and gloves too.”

  Kevin’s stomach growled. “What’s the expiration date on the Twinkies?”

  “Everybody knows Twinkies don’t expire!”

  ******

  Inside the night club J.T. answered a call from his security manager. “A couple of cars in the lot are acting odd. Check out camera’s two and five.”

  J.T. tapped the app for his security cameras and watched a couple in an old Ford eating. He moved to camera 5 to a man in an S.U.V. just staring at the nightclub entrance. J.T. adjusted the camera to zoom in on the image of the man’s face. It was Derrick Sanford. J.T. looked at his watch. Obviously, Sanford hadn’t been killed by Gill Mackey. Something had gone wrong.

  J.T. logged into the Chicago Police Central Control call log. There was a homicide call for Sunrise Hospital 45 minutes ago. Victim, Heather Sanford. J.T. switched back to camera two, the couple was still eating and showed little interest in the nightclub. Camera five showed Derrick still staring at the entrance.

  J. T. studied Derrick’s face. He was agitated, crying. He knew his daughter had been killed. He may have figured out that J.T. had ordered the shooting using a program subj
ect. In that case, he was here for revenge.

  J.T. spoke into his phone to his security manager. “The man in the white S.U.V. needs to disappear. Get rid of the S.U.V., too.” He watched his camera feed as three of his men rushed Derrick’s S.U.V. and held him at gunpoint.

  One man had Derrick at gunpoint and had him get out of the S.U.V. The man with the gun and Derrick both got into the back seat. Another man took over as the driver. The third man followed Derrick’s S.U.V. out of the parking lot in another car.

  J.T. deleted the last ten minutes’ camera feed on camera five. Derrick Sanford was the only link between him and the program. Sanford was going to die tonight but not on J.T.’s property.

  ******

  Kevin shouted, “Holy shit! What’s happening?”

  Darla snapped her seatbelt back on and cinched it. “Seems the FBI ain’t the only folks who want Sanford.”

  Kevin waited until Sanford’s S.U.V. and the car following had entered the traffic on the main road before he pulled from their parking spot.

  “Try to write down that car’s license number when I catch up.”

  Darla dug in her purse for paper and pen. She watched through the windshield as the S.U.V. got farther ahead of them. Her chin dropped and she turned to face Kevin. “I could run faster than this! Just how do you expect me to ever read their plates?”

  They hadn’t driven more than four blocks when their car’s engine started to sputter.

  Kevin slapped the steering wheel. “Well, that’s it, we’re done. Sanford is on his own.”

  He eased to the far right lane and pulled into a gas station as the little Ford glided to a silent stop in front of the pump.

  Darla said, “This here is a sign from the Heavens. We’re not meant to follow that trouble.” She opened another Twinkie and took a bite. “I’ll call that FBI dude.”

  Darla handed Kevin Agent Phillips’ card. “On second thought, you’d better call. Try to leave out the part about me warning Sanford the FBI was in his office.”

  CHAPTER 21

  A patrol officer waited at the east garage entrance of Sunrise Hospital to hand Nick his search warrant. Nick thanked him and handed the warrant to Jen. “See if it is signed by Judge White.”

  Jen smiled and flipped to the last page. “Yep.” She tucked the folded document into her jacket. “The pressure just went up. If Sharon hadn’t escaped, we wouldn’t have this.”

  Nick glanced at his notebook for the code Lucas had given Sal for the garage and elevator at Sunrise. Inside the garage a steel gurney was pushed against the far wall. Every surface gleamed and reflected the bright lights from the ceiling. He entered 4270 on the touch pad outside the elevator. The large steel elevator doors opened with a hydraulic hiss and Jen and Nick stepped in.

  Nick could feel his adrenaline pumping. The rage had been building in his heart since the discovery of the Schultz family bodies at the brewery this morning. He knew they would not have made it this far in their investigation had it not been for a series of lucky breaks. He prayed that they continued just a little bit longer.

  Nick looked at Jen. “The GPS history showed that Sharon was here this morning, there has to be some kind of proof.”

  Jen asked, “What restrictions are on our search warrant?”

  Nick pushed the down arrow button. “None. After I told the Assistant D.A. what we had on this place, she gave us unlimited authority and wished us luck. Crime techs are on their way to swab this whole hospital if we want.”

  “These guys have a lot to lose. I’m worried they’ve covered their tracks.” She glanced at Nick. “That could be a problem.”

  Nick nodded. “You don’t think the Chief will appreciate it if we come up dry? Not to mention Judge White will have my head.” He thought about the hell that already awaited them when they returned to the precinct. “I guess we better find something then.”

  The elevator doors opened and Tony was standing over a metal tray of instruments next to a gurney. Without turning around, he filled a needle from a vile and said, “Bring her over here.” He tapped the side of the needle and placed it on the tray.

  Nick’s eyes scanned the expansive room filled with gurneys and sophisticated equipment. Behind large glass windows an operating area sat dark and sterile waiting for the next patient. The specimen room held rows of treasured human organs being kept viable in large cylinders. The air smelled of antiseptics and there was the faint beeping of monitoring equipment.

  Jen touched Nick’s arm and pointed to a rack of folded, empty blue body bags.

  Nick said, “So this is where it happens?”

  Tony whipped around and stared at Nick and Jen. The blood drained from his face. “Wha…what are you doing here?”

  Jen stepped closer and asked. “You expecting someone else?” She wanted to beat him to his last breath and stab him with whatever was in that needle. The vision of Allison from this morning was burned in her mind.

  She shoved a folded blue document toward him. “Search warrant.”

  Tony opened the search warrant and scanned the first page. His hands were shaking. “There’s going to be hell to pay for this.”

  Nick took another step closer to Tony and leaned in. “We have Sharon Perez. It’s over.”

  Tony stepped back. Lucas said he had Sharon. Did they have Lucas, too? Nick’s stare was like two ice blue lasers. The man was terrifying. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I want my attorney.”

  Nick removed Tony’s cell phone from his jacket pocket and patted him down. “You’re not under arrest, yet.” He slipped Tony’s phone into his own pocket.

  Tony took another step backwards. “I have an emergency upstairs. I have to leave.”

  Nick wasn’t about to let him out of his sight. “We heard about that. I want to check that out, too. Heather Sanford, wasn’t it?” Nick glanced at Jen, “I’m going with him. Call me when you find something.”

  Nick and Tony rode the interior elevator up to the second floor in silence. Nick watched as Tony used his jacket sleeve to dab beads of sweat from his brow.

  Tony pressed himself against the wall of the elevator and glared at Nick. He could feel Nick’s hate. “You’d better think about this. You’re making a big mistake.”

  Nick’s expression remained unchanged. Tony was a coward. A weak man that had mistakenly been given power. A thug in a suit. Nick had imagined a dozen ways to kill him since the elevator door closed. He wouldn’t do it…but he wanted to.

  Tony blurted, “This hospital performs miracles every day. We save lives that everyone else has given up on. You have no idea how much trouble you are in.”

  The elevator door opened to a hallway of chaos. Nick saw two patrol officers guarding a man in handcuffs. Yellow crime scene tape had been used to section off the hall. Hospital staff stood in small groups watching the scene with expressions of horror. The coroner’s team was in room 239 bent over the body of a young woman.

  Nick recognized Detective Graham from the 106th precinct taking notes while interviewing a nurse. A janitor stood to the far side of the crowd guarding his bucket and mop. Nick thought his expression of boredom spoke volumes.

  Tony walked up to Detective Graham. “Are you the detective in charge? I’m the Hospital Administrator, Dr. Scalla.”

  Detective Graham glanced at Tony and then noticed Nick. “Stryker? You don’t get enough homicides of your own?”

  Nick smiled, “I’m here on something else. What do you have?”

  Detective Graham pointed at the handcuffed man. “Lawyer, Gilbert Mackey. Walks in with a pistol and shoots Heather Sanford, patient.” Detective Graham frowned. “Dumbest defense story I ever heard. Go figure, a lawyer. Mackey claims he doesn’t even know the Sanford gal. Doesn’t know why he did it…doesn’t know why he’s here.”

  Nick glanced over at Mackey and thought about Dolly, Cynthia and Peter. How many people were walking around Chicago under this program’s spell?

  FBI Agent Stephen Phil
lips walked up next to Nick and nodded. “Hello gentlemen. Seems I’m late to the party.” He looked at Detective Graham and held up his badge. “My case now, sorry.” Nick and Phillips exchanged concerned glances.

  Phillips said, “Mackey’s story is probably true. He was probably hypnotized.”

  Detective Graham frowned. “What?”

  ******

  Jen slowly walked around the surgical table and imagined the horrors that had happened there. She forced herself to stop and focus on finding evidence. Her hopes were sinking. Every surface was sterile and gleaming. She directed the Crime Scene Technician team to swab every surface and instrument in the entire area. In addition to wanting proof that Sharon had been there, there were a dozen missing persons still unaccounted for. GPS histories from their cars and the grey van suggested they had been brought to the hospital. There had to be something.

  She walked over and sat at the desk that was in the corner. She snapped on latex gloves and carefully began to sift through the papers on the desk top. Most of the markings seemed to be unrelated doodles, dates and medical stats.

  One of the documents was a roster of surgeons. Jen took a picture of the document and exhaled. How many staff knew what was really going on? Would they be able to tell a legal donor from a victim? A surgery schedule showed Heather Sanford’s surgery was set for tomorrow afternoon. Kidney and pancreas.

  The top drawer contained a laptop computer, a bottle of aspirin and a roll of Tums. The computer was password protected. The forensic techs would mine that field later. A small drawer on the right had a variety of pens, paper clips and notepads along with a pair of scissors.

  Jen rolled the office chair back to scan the floor. A small, blue hazard bag rested on the floor and leaned against the desk leg. She slowly pulled the bag toward her and began unzipping it. Her heart quickened as she gingerly removed the contents, one item at a time.

  ******

  Nick’s cell rang. It was Jen. Her voice cracked when she said, “I found Sharon’s purse and her cut-up I.D. cards in a small hazard bag by the desk. We’ve got ‘em.”

  Nick sighed with relief. This was proof, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Sharon had been brought to Sunrise. “I’ll wrap this up. We can head to Memorial to interview Sharon.”

 
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