Wrong exit, p.22
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       Wrong Exit, p.22

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
 
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  “Done.”

  ******

  Nick looked at his watch. The whole day was gone. He threw a paper-wad at Jen. “Do you see what time it is?”

  Jen stretched and glanced at the wall clock. “Wow. Putting those files together for Trisha was a killer.”

  Nick’s phone rang, it was the coroner’s office. “Hey Doc.”

  He listened for a while, said “Thank you”, and hung up. “Jen, new evidence on that little side lead we’ve been working on.”

  Wayne looked up. “You keeping secrets?”

  Nick told them both what the coroner had said.

  Wayne pushed his chair from the desk and shook his head. “Now that’s evil.”

  Jen said, “Let’s have Trisha verify the coroner’s findings with Scalla just to be sure. She can call us.”

  This case had Nick feeling like a caged lion. Instead of bars, he was constricted by laws. He’d love to dish out some street justice. It was a familiar temptation, an urge he fought to control. It was also one of his deepest fears. Someday he would snap. Someday, when no one was looking…

  Nick nodded, “Good call. I want every piece of proof nailed down.” Nick stood and checked his pistol. “Right now we have an arrest warrant to serve on Lucas Costellano. Who’s coming to the party?”

  ******

  J.T. glanced at his watch and decided to go home. Tomorrow he would begin an intensive search for Derrick Sanford. The FBI hadn’t found him so he was definitely in hiding. J.T. was confident his resources would flush Sanford out before the FBI.

  J.T.’s cell pinged that he had a message. He tapped on it. “Let’s play. Heather.”

  He looked at the message again. There was no identification of the sender. Wasn’t Sanford’s daughter named Heather? J.T. dialed his computer geek, Matt, in Indianapolis. “Check out who just sent me a message on my cell. I’ll hold.”

  A few minutes went by and Matt came on the line again. “There isn’t any message.”

  J.T. raised his voice. “I’m looking right at it! It says, ‘Let’s play. Heather.”

  “I’m telling you nothing is showing. You’ve been ghosted.”

  “What’s that?”

  “A problem.”

  “Well, un-ghost it!” J.T. didn’t even understand what Matt meant but he didn’t like the tone of Matt’s voice.

  “I’ll do my best. I’ll have to buy today’s dark web codes to even start.”

  J.T. rolled his eyes at the ceiling. “How much is that?”

  “About a hundred K.”

  “Do it.”

  It had to be Sanford. He was coming after him with the only tool he had, technology. J.T. thought about the comments Matt had made about Sanford’s program. The words brilliant and genius dotted every sentence. Could he win a tech war against Derrick Sanford with just Matt?

  J.T. grabbed his car keys and headed for the parking garage. It was going to be a long night. He started the BMW and turned the radio on low.

  A woman’s voice broke into the song, “Are we going home?”

  J.T. stared at the dash as the song returned to the radio. His gut told him this was the beginning of a very wicked game.

  CHAPTER 26

  Lucas stood staring out the front window of his estate. He could afford a statelier home but he didn’t want to draw attention to himself. This home was fine, considering he was single. With over four thousand square feet and situated on five acres in a gated community, he at least enjoyed some privacy. He sat his drink down on the coffee table and scanned the beautiful mahogany walls of the sitting room knowing it was the last time he would see them.

  In half an hour he would leave for the airport and on to Paris. Thank God he had an offshore account the Family hadn’t found. He could reestablish himself and disappear into the European masses. A glint of light flashed across the wall. There was a car out front. His security team had been reinforced anticipating an early visit from the Family hit team. He hadn’t expected them so soon.

  It was those two detectives with some other guy. He looked like a cop, too. One of his guards had stopped them. The driveway was the only way out and they had it blocked. He would have to deal with them.

  Lucas walked to the front entrance and stood in the threshold. He didn’t have time for this shit. He could tell from the expressions on the cops’ faces that they were here for serious business. Lucas wasn’t about to miss his jet. If he had to leave the country a cop killer, so be it.

  Nick walked up to Lucas and said, “I told you I had just begun. Lucas Costellano, you are under arrest. Turn around and put your hands behind you back.”

  A red dot appeared on Lucas’ forehead. Nick yelled, “Sniper” the same instant he pushed Lucas to the floor of the foyer. A rifle shot cracked. Nick turned and took cover near a large concrete planter on the porch. Jen and Wayne took cover by their car. Nick saw two men charge from the corner of the house. Both men were shot. The flashes came from the tree line.

  Nick yelled at Jen. “Stay down.”

  One of Lucas’ security men began running across the lawn toward the tree line. Nick watched as a rifle shot took him down. The flash had been slight but Nick pinpointed it. The first sniper had a buddy thirty yards to the right.

  A car barreled down the drive toward the house and stopped. Two men with automatic weapons jumped from the vehicle and took cover behind the car doors. They pelted the planter in front of Nick and the car shielding Jen and Wayne.

  Nick rolled thirty feet to his right behind a row of short hedges, stood and landed a kill shot in each of their foreheads. He ran toward their vehicle as the sniper shots from the tree line followed him in rapid succession.

  Nick yelled to Jen and Wayne, “Stay there.”

  In her peripheral vision Jen saw movement to her left. A man emerged from the opposite corner of the house. He was aiming his weapon straight at them. She shot. Wayne glanced over and fired two more shots. The man dropped to the ground.

  Nick leaped over the dead shooter and jumped in their car. He twisted the steering wheel, floored the accelerator and headed straight for the tree line. Sniper shots shattered the windshield and blew the front right tire. Nick slid down in the seat, gave the accelerator one last push, opened the door and rolled from the car just before it slammed into a tree.

  He scanned the canopy of trees and spotted movement. His eyes narrowed as he waited and watched. Someone was there. Move, damn it. Suddenly a dark mass appeared and began scaling down the tree trunk. Nick fired. The mass dropped to the ground with a heavy thud.

  Nick turned around and worked his way to the right. There was another shooter somewhere near. A twig snapped behind him. Nick slowly turned his head. A man holding a rifle was carefully scanning the brush not fifty feet away. Nick shot.

  He called Jen’s cell. “You okay?”

  Jen answered, “Yes. You?”

  “See if you can make it to the house. I’ll cover you from here.”

  Jen and Wayne ran from behind the car through the open front door. No one tried to stop them. Nick watched for any signs of hidden attackers. He stood and listened to the sounds of the wildlife in the small strip of woods. It was over.

  Lucas sat in a recliner sipping a drink.

  He smiled at Jen and Wayne and said, “I see the good guys won.”

  ******

  Several patrol units and the coroner’s team arrived at Lucas’ home. Jen and Wayne filled in the responders on what happened while Nick sat with Lucas in the drawing room.

  Nick glanced at the suitcase in the foyer. “I see you had a trip planned.” Nick watched Lucas’ expression harden. “Seems your friends planned a ‘goodbye’ party for you.”

  Lucas finished his drink and stood. “I’ve got nothing to say to you.” Lucas turned around and put his hands behind his back.

  Nick clamped the cuffs on Lucas’ wrists and pointed him toward the door. “We finally agree about something.”

  Nick turned Lucas over to the patrol off
icers for transport. Jen shook her head as sirens filled the air and the expansive manicured lawn disappeared under an army of police vehicles. Red and blue flashing lights pulsated colored reflections on the stately windows of the mansion.

  Wayne walked over to Jen and Nick. “Hey, I commandeered a unit you can take on your next stop. I’ll be here at least three hours.”

  ******

  Nick and Jen waited in silence as the elevator rose to Nadine Schultz’s penthouse condo in the Waldorf Astoria. They already knew each other’s thoughts and feelings. Jen was exhausted but determined to see this case to the end. Nick was focused, his jaw set, the vision of Allison Schultz entombed in a blue body bag forever a part of his memory. An innocent victim of untethered greed.

  The elevator door opened. The faint fragrance of jasmine wisped through the air exactly as Nick remembered from his first visit. Elizabeth walked toward them from the sitting room. She gave Jen a cursory nod and said, “Mother really doesn’t have much time, Detective Stryker. It has been a very long and exhausting day. She really should retire for the evening.”

  Nick noticed Elizabeth was dressed in all black. “Have the funeral arrangements been completed?”

  Elizabeth’s clacking high heels on the marble floor stopped abruptly and she turned, “We spent hours at that dreadful funeral home today.” She forced a small smile. “I’m afraid my mood has been damaged. Forgive me if I seem short.”

  Nick nodded and he and Jen followed Elizabeth into the expansive sitting room. Jen walked over to stand next to the marble fireplace. From that position she could see all of their faces. Nadine sat in the wing back chair near the window. Nick remembered his first meeting with her at Sunrise Hospital. Her suite at the hospital had been a close duplicate of this room. That day she had sat near the window, too. She stood to greet them. “Detective Stryker, Detective Taylor, I have been looking forward to your visit.” Nadine glanced at Jen and then back to Nick. “Please have a seat. Would either of you care for a beverage?”

  Jen shook her head.

  Nick said, “No, thank you.”

  Nick sat opposite of Nadine at the marble table by the window. Elizabeth sat at the end of the white couch and studied her manicure. Nick waited for Elizabeth to glance his way. Eventually, Elizabeth noticed the extended silence and looked up.

  Nick asked her, “Did you see Marvin and his family when they arrived in Chicago?”

  Elizabeth huffed, “No. I told you that he called me to tell me their jet had arrived safely.”

  Nick noticed Elizabeth’s tone and demeanor change to defensiveness. “Right. That’s when you gave him directions to the museums?”

  “Right.” Elizabeth shot an expression of annoyance toward Jen.

  Jen realized Elizabeth expected her to stop Nick’s questions. This was going to get ugly, fast.

  Nick raised an eyebrow, “We have a copy of the directions Marvin wrote down from your call. I’m puzzled. Why did you tell him to take Exit 141?”

  Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed. Her diction became more staccato. “I don’t know that I did. I’d have to go to google maps again to see what I told him.” Elizabeth glanced back at her nails. “Maybe he wrote it down wrong?”

  Nick answered, “No, you told him Exit 141.” Nick turned to face Nadine. “I’m sure you’ve heard this morning’s news about Sunrise Hospital? What you might not have heard is that Sunrise developed a software program that interrupted GPS Innocent people were directed to Exit 141 only to become kidnap victims. Their cars were dumped and their bodies ravaged for saleable organs at Sunrise.”

  Nadine’s eyes fluttered and her face flushed. Hearing Nick’s description of the crimes was almost more than she could bear. The idea that someone had conceived such a diabolical plan was incomprehensible.

  Nick softened his voice as he spoke directly to Nadine. “We’ve arrested almost all of the main players in this. You’ll be safe after today.”

  Nadine nodded. “I’m most grateful to you both.”

  Nick turned to look directly at Elizabeth. “We found twelve cars at the hijacking dump site used by Sunrise Hospital’s kidnapping team. All twelve of the vehicle owners have been reported missing. We believe they are all victims of Sunrise. Strangely, the only car at the dump site that didn’t use GPS directions to Exit 141, was Marvin’s.”

  Elizabeth sat up straighter. “Are you saying that Marvin simply took a wrong exit and ended up murdered?” Elizabeth’s chin began to quiver, “Do you think I gave them the wrong directions by mistake?”

  Elizabeth’s performance didn’t impress him.

  Nick’s tone was flat. “How much money do you stand to inherit if something happens to your mother?”

  Elizabeth shook her head. “What…what does that have to do with anything?” Elizabeth looked at Nadine. “Mother, say something! Do you realize what he is insinuating?”

  Nadine clutched her hands together in her lap. “Did I mention that I received a call regarding my medical report from Dr. Ames, Elizabeth? It seems my heart is perfectly fine. There was trace evidence, however, of a chemical substance in my toxicity report. It seems around the time I had my ‘heart attack’ I’d been given a nearly lethal dose of something. They’re still doing tests.” Nadine coldly asked, “Wasn’t that the night you prepared my dinner?”

  Elizabeth leaped up from the sofa. “Have you gone mad? Now you’re accusing me of poisoning you?”

  Nick spoke before Nadine could respond. “I couldn’t figure out how having Marvin and his family disappear would help you. Without the bodies, you would have to wait seven years to have them declared dead. But then I realized if Nadine was dead, you would be in charge of all of the corporate assets, even if Marvin was simply missing. There was plenty of corporate money to steal without Marvin’s insurance money, wasn’t there?” Nick stood and faced Elizabeth. “Your boyfriend, Lucas Costellano, simply arranged to do you a favor, didn’t he?”

  Elizabeth was fuming. “Who? You’ve gone completely mad. I don’t know anyone by that name.”

  Nick pulled up a picture on his phone and showed Elizabeth. It was the selfie Lacey had sent him. In the background of the picture Elizabeth was touching Lucas’ cheek and smiling. “This guy.”

  Elizabeth stared at the phone and went pale. “So what? You can’t prove any of this! This is just speculation.”

  Nick said, “It’s over Elizabeth. We have Lucas. Dr. Anthony Scalla is cooperating with the D.A. We know everything.”

  Nick took a step closer to Elizabeth. He was in her personal space and could sense her fear. He struggled to keep his voice steady. “The part that got to me was when the coroner called and told me they found D.N.A. on Marvin’s cheek. D.N.A. from a family member… saliva. Our tests will confirm it’s yours. You assumed the bodies would be cremated, not discovered, didn’t you? Dr. Scalla will testify that you insisted on seeing their bodies. You kissed Marvin’s cheek before you watched Dr. Scalla zip up the body bag.” Nick leaned in even closer. “You whispered ‘Gotcha’, didn’t you?”

  Nadine gasped.

  Elizabeth snarled, “You think you’re so damn smart. Nobody will believe Tony. Lucas knows people. He’ll walk, too! Your life will be in ruins. I’ll get the best lawyers money can buy and bury you!”

  Nadine stood. “Not with a penny of my money. You’ll have a public defender and I’ll testify for the prosecution. When did you become so cold, Elizabeth?” Nadine’s quivering chin rose. Her voice was nearly a whisper. “The devil is waiting to kiss your cheek.”

  Elizabeth threw her head back and laughed. “Ha! You should know what ‘cold’ is mother. Always favoring Marvin and keeping me on some meager allowance, like a child. You didn’t love us. We were your disappointing spawn that you wanted to keep hidden.” She glared at Nadine and her voice became louder. “Why wouldn’t I want you dead? You’re useless. Nobody loves you. They love your money. My money! Face it mother; if you want to protect your precious reputation, you have to protect me. I
m all you have left.”

  Nadine closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. When she opened her eyes again, tears streamed down her cheeks. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth. After your father passed I saw my role as the family protector. I thought I was teaching you character and love. Obviously, I have failed you.”

  Nadine looked at Nick. “Do you have enough now?”

  Elizabeth’s eyes widened as Nick pulled a recorder from his pocket and clicked it to stop. “Yes, I do.”

  Elizabeth lunged toward Nadine, her hands extended like claws. Nick grabbed her and twisted her arm behind her back. Elizabeth screamed, “You bitch! You’re helping them? I don’t believe this!”

  Jen tapped her cell phone and said, “Come get her.”

  Jen was shaking with hatred. She forced herself to calm down.

  The elevator doors opened and two patrol officers walked straight to Elizabeth.

  Nick said, “You’re under arrest for the murder of Marvin, Carla and Allison Schultz and the attempted murder of Nadine Schultz.” He turned to the officers, “Get her out of here and make sure she understands her rights.”

  Nick leaned in close to Elizabeth’s ear. “Gotcha.”

  Nick and Jen exchanged glances.

  Nick turned to Nadine. “I’m sorry this happened to your family.”

  Nadine opened the palm of her hand and showed Nick a tiny picture of Allison that was cupped there. “When you called me for my help, I truly believed you were mistaken. I know my daughter. I can tell when she’s guilty. My Allison gave me the strength to help you, Detective Stryker. My little angel, Allison.” She dabbed a tear from her cheek. “I know Elizabeth expects I will save her in spite of it all.”

  Nadine took a step back and lowered herself on to her chair. She straightened her shoulders and said, “May she rot in hell.”

  ___________________________________

  Author note to reader:

  We would like to thank you for purchasing and reading ‘Wrong Exit’. If you enjoyed our story we would appreciate a brief review on this book’s product page on Amazon. Reader reviews are extremely important to a book’s success. A full list of our other books follows the ‘List of Characters’. Thank you again and happy reading!

 
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