Wrong exit, p.3
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       Wrong Exit, p.3

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
 
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  “You’ll have to get that from the coroner. I heard they’re all in pieces in hazmat bags.”

  Nick noticed the faded letters on the brick face of the building that read ‘Canton Brewery’. He stepped aside as two of the coroner’s staff left the building and opened the back of their truck for a gurney. Inside the building the air was damp and smelled rancid. A stream of light from the broken window illuminated the cavernous room. Those kids hadn’t lost a ball. The windows had been boarded closed from the inside.

  A voice yelled from the far dark corner, “Stryker, over here.”

  Jen and Nick slowly walked across the room. Jen adjusted the head gear of the hazmat suit and tightened her gloves.

  The coroner stood and finished dictating notes to his assistant. Jen counted four blue body bags marked ‘Bio-Hazard’ lined up along the wall. The coroner bent down and unzipped the one closest to Nick and Jen.

  “These are medical waste bags. We tested the fluids for toxins and they appear safe; we probably don’t need these suits.” The coroner shook his head. “The bags are supposed to be inserted into specially lined crates for proper disposal. Usually a crematorium.”

  Nick asked, “So do we have medical waste or bodies?”

  The coroner removed his head mask, handed it to his assistant and opened the first bag wide in order for Nick to see inside. A beautiful woman’s head and neck was attached to an empty torso. Nearly every organ had been removed.

  The coroner pointed to a large bag on the left. “We have two sets of legs in there. Professional job, surgical removal. Three people in total. My guess is the surgeries took place two or three days ago. I don’t see a cause of death on any of them. There are some signs of defensive wounds on the hands along with a head injury on the adult male. I can’t swear we have homicides here. I’ll have to get them on the table.”

  Nick asked, “No obvious trauma?”

  “Like I said, some evidence of trauma but not enough for an auto accident as an example. They look perfectly healthy; except they have no organs.” The coroner raised a bushy eyebrow and said, “That’s why I had them call you.”

  Jen looked at Nick, “My God. What kind of hospital doesn’t dispose properly of cadavers?”

  Nick leaned down and took a picture of the woman’s face. “Let’s run them through missing persons. I’ll call Sam and Wayne to help us with this one. Until we hear differently, these are homicides.”

  Jen unzipped the next bag and nearly got sick. The stench was overwhelming. This one was a man. He was a good looking man, maybe in his forties. He appeared to be sleeping until you looked below his neck. Jen used her gloved fingers to curl up the man’s lips. “Good teeth. Not homeless.” She gently moved his head and began taking photos.

  The coroner’s staff patiently waited for Nick and Jen to finish their photos and prodding. Nick, Jen and the coroner took off their hazmat suits and placed them in the disposal container.

  Nick headed toward the last body bag and the coroner said, “That one’s bad, Nick.”

  Nick glanced from the coroner, back to the bag. He couldn’t imagine this one being any worse than the others. He opened the bag and saw what was left of a beautiful little girl, maybe six years old. Golden threads of fine hair cascaded around her face. She looked angelic. He could feel the rage building in his chest. His gut told him the D.N.A. tests would confirm this had been a family.

  Nick took a picture of her face, quickly glanced at the damage to her little body and zipped the bag closed. He stood and fought to tamp down his anger.

  Jen walked over and stopped. She knew Nick’s expressions well enough to know that something had bothered him deeply. Nick showed her the picture. Jen gasped and quickly turned away. Nick waited a minute and then put his hand on her shoulder. “Are you okay?”

  Jen answered, “No.” She turned back and glared at the four body bags. “What kind of monster does this?”

  Nick answered, “The kind we’re going to catch.”

  Nick gave her shoulder a pat and said, “Take your time. I’m going to check out this building.”

  The building had not been used as a brewery for decades. From the street the building appeared to be two stories. Inside, it was only one story with twenty foot ceilings. It was dark and empty other than a stack of wood pallets and a push broom in the corner. The windows were covered in plywood other than the one the kids had broken through. Nick flicked on a light switch and two of the four lights in the ceiling came on. Someone was still paying to keep the power on. The floors were dusty but free of debris.

  Nick walked over to a set of overhead doors that backed up to an alley. Two of the overhead doors were rusted shut. The door in the center easily opened when Nick released the lock. Oil droplets, scuff marks and tire tracks confirmed the building had recently been used. The narrow alley behind the building had probably been used for pickups and deliveries back when the brewery was operational.

  Nick squatted down and inspected faint drag marks on the dusty concrete floor. The marks continued the length of the delivery bay and disappeared around a corner. A small windowless room sat at the end of the short hall. A large padlock hung loose from an iron bracket affixed to the wall. A heavy bar was positioned to slide across the entire doorway. Inside the room heavy chains were bolted to the concrete floor and curled in the corner.

  Nick pointed his flashlight at the pile of chains and saw a glint of color from the corner. He walked over and used his pen to dislodge a small pink hair clip from the broken mortar where the bricks met the concrete floor. The push broom by the pallets in the large room had probably pushed the hair clip into the corner.

  Jen came up behind Nick and said, “I don’t like the looks of this.”

  Nick held up the hairclip. His flashlight highlighted two long strands of fine yellow hair attached. “The first time she was here; she wasn’t in a bag.”

  Nick dropped the hairclip into a small evidence bag. He squatted down and let his mind take in every inch of the room. He could imagine the entire family chained and cowered into the corner. He could sense the terror they must have felt. He could almost hear the little girl’s whimpers.

  Nick’s jaw set in determination. Fate had sent him another monster.

  The Crime Scene Unit techs dusted for fingerprints around the overhead door, the door to the small room, and on the body bags. The senior tech looked at Nick and shook his head.

  Wayne and Sam arrived and volunteered to canvass the area and interview the two boys that had broken into the building.

  Wayne chewed on a toothpick and waited for Nick’s assessment of what had happened.

  Nick finally said, “Three bodies, looks like a family. Dad, Mom and little girl. All merchantable organs surgically removed. Doc says no more than two days. He’ll call when he has a cause of death. For now, we’ll assume these are ours.

  So far we have a hair clip and two hairs. The techs aren’t finding many prints. The ones they are finding are small and probably belong to those kids that broke in. Identifying the victim photos and finding out where those medical bags came from might be all we get. I didn’t see any cameras in the street out front or in the alley. This neighborhood is close to gone.”

  It was decided that Nick and Jen would begin working missing persons and Wayne and Sam would work the neighborhood.

  Nick and Jen walked back to their car. Jen got in the passenger side and buckled her seat belt. Nick waited for Jen to say something. “I’m going to drop you off back at the precinct and keep my appointment with the shrink. Are you going to be okay?”

  Jen looked out the passenger window and then took a deep breath. “If these were legitimate organ donors their families would have their bodies for burials. They wouldn’t be crammed in medical waste bags. None of these people looked like they had been living on the street so there are families out there. These are homicides. How do you snatch a whole family from this city and no one notices?”

  Nick said, “The bodies a
re fresh. The families may not even know they’re missing yet. I’d start with the reports for the last few days. Hopefully, we’ll hear from the coroner in a couple of hours.”

  Jen said, “I’ll call the medical facilities that do transplants. Surely someone would remember an entire family.”

  ******

  John and the two men with him arrived at the first intersection at the end of Exit 141. They put their orange florescent vests on over their clothes and unloaded their ‘Detour’ barricades from the back of the van. One sign would direct drivers to stop as soon as they came to the end of the Exit. One man would stand in front of the ‘road closed / detour’ sign and direct all cars with anything other than one woman driving to turn left. Additional arrow signs down the street would lead those cars back to the main road.

  John waited for a car with just a woman driving. He would flag her to turn right. At the first stop sign the remaining two men would carjack her. She would be drugged and her car driven away to be abandoned. The van would follow the victim’s car to the dump site and retrieve the driver. They would then transport the woman to the holding cell at the brewery. The driver of the van would have reloaded the detour signs and corrected the GPS signal. Easy and clean.

  ******

  Nick sprinted up the two flights of stairs at the doctor’s office instead of waiting on the elevator. Incorporating fitness exercises into his daily schedule was becoming increasingly more difficult. Their increased workload had meant little time for the gym or target range.

  He and Jen were required to take the department psych evaluation tests every six months instead of annually like everyone else. The Chief was forced to that concession to comfort his superiors and the department insurance company in light of the number of ‘incidents’ Nick and Jen seemed to get into.

  Nick was only five minutes late for his appointment but Doctor Reynolds stood by his receptionist’s desk with a frown on his face.

  Nick was quick to explain. “Sorry, Doc. Got a last minute call. Nature of the beast.”

  Dr. Reynolds forced a smile and pointed to the open door to his office. Having the contract with the city was lucrative but often annoying. “Perfectly understandable, Nick. I was just noticing that you and Jen are overdue for your evaluations.”

  Nick mumbled something that Dr. Reynolds ignored.

  As Dr. Reynolds sat in his chair he said, “Make an appointment before you leave. On the phone you said you had questions about hypnosis. Are you thinking about using hypnosis for something?”

  Nick explained this morning’s confessions by Dolly, Cynthia and Peter. Dr. Reynolds had a puzzled expression on his face.

  Nick asked, “Doesn’t it sound like they were hypnotized or something?”

  “Something. Ordinarily, a person would have consented to being hypnotized and would know exactly when it had happened. You’re quite sure these people haven’t had a recent experience or some mutual friend playing a joke on them?”

  Nick shared the results of the polygraphs and the interrogations with Dr. Reynolds. “The only thing they had in common was that they all three said they felt compelled to come into the precinct by 10:00 a.m. and confess. For some reason each of them felt that punctuality was important.”

  Dr. Reynolds rubbed his chin and then asked, “Did they say if they were compelled to do anything else in the near future?”

  Nick shrugged, “I asked them that and they all said no. They all woke up with the memory of having shot me in a dark alley last night, disposed of the gun in a dumpster, and a compelling need to confess this morning.”

  Dr. Reynolds twisted his chair to pull a book from his library shelf. He opened it, read a moment and then said, “They seem to have experienced a dissociative episode.”

  Nick was familiar with the term when used to explain people with multiple personalities. “These people didn’t claim some other personality did this.”

  Dr. Reynolds said, “I don’t mean to suggest that. What I mean is that we all have dissociative episodes of varying types. Many people experience driving across town with no memory of even checking traffic lights, etc. That is a form of the conscious mind allowing the subconscious to take over. For all outward appearances they are fine. They usually perform known behavioral habits. Sleep walkers experience similar episodes. They can competently prepare entire meals and even do homework while asleep.”

  Nick glanced at his watch. “Since I have three people that all did the same thing at the same time I’m still thinking they had to be hypnotized.”

  Dr. Reynolds nodded. “Or both. I wonder if a hypnotized person could be triggered to have a dissociative episode?” Dr. Reynolds leaned forward and said, “Let me do a little research and get back to you. This is fascinating.”

  Nick stood to leave and said, “Don’t get too fascinated. If the Chief doesn’t approve your bill, then I’m paying it.” Nick smiled and the doctor just shook his head.

  Dr. Reynolds’ expression became very serious. “Nick, the fact that all three of these people were possibly instructed to confess to murdering you, at your precinct, may very well be some sort of veiled threat.”

  “I’ve thought of that.”

  CHAPTER 4

  Kevin gave Peter a ride home from the 107th precinct. “I can blow off work today and keep you company.”

  Peter grabbed the car door handle and waited for Kevin’s car to come to a stop at the curb. “I’ll be fine. I’m going to spend some time reflecting on the list I gave to Detective Stryker to make sure I didn’t forget something. There has to be a logical explanation for this and I’m going to figure this out.”

  Kevin regretted that he and Peter weren’t closer. They shared the same mother but certainly led very separate lives. Kevin and his mother had led a fairly simple existence. They struggled financially to keep their heads above water. When Kevin was four years old he went to live with his grandmother. His mom promptly married Peter’s father and gave birth to Peter nine months later. After that, everything changed. Kevin’s mother became distant, consumed by her new life and new baby. In spite of his grandmother’s attempts to mask his mother’s abandonment, Kevin grew up feeling inferior to Peter and unworthy of his mother’s love.

  Peter grew up in an affluent home with private tutors that guided his exceptional intelligence toward early independence and success. He completed graduate school with a Master’s degree at nineteen years old. He was the youngest broker to have ever been listed at the Chicago Board of Trade. All Kevin had ever heard of Peter was how smart and successful he had become.

  Kevin was surprised when Peter began showing up at his apartment to just ‘hang out’. It started about two years ago and quickly became a weekly ritual. Listening to Peter talk during their visits, Kevin realized that Peter’s life hadn’t been as storybook as Kevin had imagined. Peter’s father was a demanding, controlling task master and Peter pushed himself to excel in order to leave home sooner. Peter eventually confessed that Kevin was the only person he felt close to or cared about.

  Kevin asked, “Okay with you if I stop back with pizza later? I know you never have food.”

  Peter grinned, “Sure. Pick up some beer too.” Peter started to reach in his pocket for money.

  Kevin put his hand up. “I can manage beer and pizza. Save your money for when I ask you for that BMW.”

  Kevin watched as Peter walked up the front steps of his townhouse and disappeared behind the large mahogany door. He wished he had thought of something clever to say that would have made Peter feel better. There had to be a logical explanation.

  Kevin turned on his police scanner and listened to the dispatcher report bodies found at the old brewery. He tried to force his mind to focus on business as he headed for the brewery to get the story. His thoughts kept drifting back to Peter’s problem. It didn’t make sense. Three people didn’t all go crazy on the same morning, did they?

  ******

  Cynthia arrived at the gallery and ignored the questioning stare
s of the gallery staff waiting to arrange her art for the exhibit. She hoped she didn’t look as frazzled as she felt. So she was late, so what? Cynthia had no obligation to disclose anything about her life to them. Then she remembered she had asked them all to come in an hour early to help set up the exhibit display. Drat.

  She walked over to the small group and began giving them instructions for the placements of the art display. “Hey, I’m sorry I’m so late. Something unavoidable came up. You can all leave two hours early today.”

  One of the gallery interns leaned close to her and whispered, “I’ll stay ‘til closing. You can’t do this by yourself. You got a phone call from Mr. Woo. He asked that you call him when you get a moment.”

  Cynthia nearly squealed with excitement. She had been practically stalking Mr. Woo for almost a year to get his attention. He was a prestigious art dealer that could introduce her art to the Chinese market. She knew he was scheduled to be in Chicago this week. He was the whole reason she had decided to learn Mandarin. Cynthia practically skipped to her office to return the call. Just before dialing, she decided to sign into her Mandarin app on her phone and refresh her memory of some of the more important greetings and phrases. A soft knock on the door stopped her.

  One of the gallery interns stated that an art buyer had come into the gallery and had a question about one of her pieces. Cynthia’s heart began to pound. She needed a sale. Maybe today wouldn’t be a total loss after all.

  ******

  Dolly Weston walked out of the 107th precinct and just sat in her car watching the patrol officers rush in and out of the building. She felt as if she were coming back from an out-of-body experience of some sort. Whatever had possessed her to come here and confess to murder? She glanced at her reflection in the rear view mirror and asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

  Dolly dialed the library where she worked and told her manager she was taking a sick day. Then she called her best friend, Darla, and told her what she had done. Darla made her repeat herself twice. Dolly quickly realized that there was no way to explain what she had done in a logical fashion and told Darla she would talk to her later.

 
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