Wrong exit, p.5
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       Wrong Exit, p.5

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
 
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  He turned the ignition key and put the car in gear. He was grateful his car was still in one piece in this neighborhood. Just as he glanced in his mirror to pull from the curb he noticed a grey van with a red and black insignia pull into the entrance of the alley and abruptly stop. The driver must have noticed the police activity. The van’s reverse lights came on. It recklessly backed into the street and began to speed away. Every nerve in Kevin’s body told him this was the van the boys had seen. Kevin made a three point turn and pushed his accelerator to the floor to catch up. The van accelerated after the second corner. They were trying to lose him.

  ******

  John cursed the moment he turned the van into the alley. Cops were crawling all over the back of the brewery. He stopped the van, threw the gear into reverse and prayed the cops hadn’t noticed them. They must have found the body bags from Saturday. Tony was going to have their heads. He glanced to the back of the van where Sharon’s lifeless body had rolled to the side from his abrupt turn. Where in the hell was he supposed to take her now? All he could think of was to put as much distance between himself and the brewery as fast as possible.

  Some asshole in a blue Prius had done a U-turn and had screeched up behind him. John watched in the rear view mirror as the Prius followed him through three turns. It had to be someone from the brewery scene, maybe even a cop. He couldn’t shake the guy. There was no way he was going to let this guy follow him to the clinic. John quickly checked the surroundings. There was no nearby traffic in the rundown neighborhood. He slammed on the bakes, threw the van’s gear into park and yelled, “Give me the gun.”

  ******

  Kevin wrote down the first three numbers of the license plate before the van slammed to a stop in the middle of the road. The driver’s door flew open and a large man walked toward his car with an AK47. Kevin’s windshield shattered from the blast of bullets. Glass flew at him like missiles. He dove down toward the passenger seat as blood exploded from his face and shoulders and sprayed the dash.

  He could hear the sound of heavy boots crunching the glass on the pavement coming closer. He braced himself for that last final shot to the back of his head as he held his breath and tried to play dead. It seemed like an eternity before he heard the van screech away.

  Kevin slowly reached for his phone and punched in 911. “I’ve been shot.”

  ******

  Officer Ray Platt was talking to Wayne when he received the radio transmission that gunshots and injuries had been reported just six blocks away.

  Wayne whistled to Sam. “Let’s go! Something’s going down six blocks from here.”

  Wayne turned on his lights and he and Sam sped to the location. Two patrol units and an ambulance from the brewery location followed him. A blue Prius straddled the center line of the street. Shattered glass covered both lanes. A good Samaritan was redirecting traffic and an elderly woman was trying to open the locked driver’s door of the Prius.

  Sam jumped out as soon as Wayne stopped and ran over to the driver’s door. He told the woman to get back in her house and out of harm’s way. He looked inside and saw a man laying across the console moaning. Blood was spattered on the dash and what remained of the windshield. Sam used the butt of his pistol and broke the driver’s window, reached in and unlocked the door.

  Wayne motioned for the ambulance to move in closer just as the man in the car moved to sit up.

  Wayne recognized him instantly. “Kevin? What in the hell happened? Are you okay?”

  Kevin blinked a few times and wiped the blood from his face with his sleeve. “The van. The grey van those kids described. The driver shot me!”

  Wayne and Sam exchanged glances, Wayne asked, “The brewery kids?”

  The ambulance techs guided Kevin to sit on a gurney so they could inspect his injuries. As they removed Kevin’s shirt and dabbed his injuries with medicated wipes Kevin said, “I got the first three letters of the license plate. They started to pull in the alley and tore out when they saw the cop cars. Those kids told me a grey van with a medical insignia used that brewery. It was them! It had the medical insignia and everything.”

  Sam wrote down the letters from the license plate and the description of the van and called in a BOLO. Wayne checked out the blanket of casings on the street. Wayne looked at Sam, “See if that old lady noticed anything about the van or the driver.”

  The ambulance attendant stood back from Kevin and said, “I don’t think you’ve been shot. I don’t see any bullet wounds. I think this is all from the glass.” He commenced pulling shards of glass from Kevin’s neck and ears.

  Wayne used his knife to dig a bullet from the back of Kevin’s steering wheel. He walked it over to where Kevin sat on the gurney. “You are one lucky S.O.B. Your steering wheel stopped this. This one would have killed you.”

  Kevin refused to go to the hospital once he learned he hadn’t been shot. “The guy had an AK47 or something like that. He looked like Rambo walking toward me swinging that thing.”

  Wayne asked, “You decided to chase him? What were you going to do if you caught him? Ask him if he forgot some body parts at the brewery?”

  “I thought I was helping. At least I got a partial plate number.”

  Wayne was glad that Kevin hadn’t been hurt worse but annoyed that a reporter had become part of the case.

  Wayne asked, “How did you get those boys to tell you about the van?”

  Kevin was focused on pulling a long sliver of glass out of his wrist with his fingernails. “Twenty bucks. Damn, this hurts.”

  Wayne could almost feel Kevin’s pain as he watched the paramedic pull another piece of glass from Kevin’s scalp. “You don’t look so good. Where’s your friend? Didn’t you say some gal was coming to meet you?”

  Kevin finally extracted the glass shard from his wrist and handed it to the paramedic. He wiped the dripping blood from his wrist. “I have no clue where she is. I guess she stood me up.”

  “Smart gal.”

  CHAPTER 6

  Darla pushed the bag of Doritos to the side and moaned. “I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I’m sick of junk food.”

  Dolly nodded her agreement. “Me too.”

  Darla pushed herself to sit up straight on the couch. “We just ate a boat load of calories and wasted two hours trying to figure out how you three fruitcakes might know each other.”

  Dolly twisted her mouth in a frown and said, “Thanks.”

  “Why don’t we talk to the other fruitcakes ourselves? Maybe that art lady, Cynthia. If you two can talk directly you might figure out what you have in common faster than cops will.”

  Dolly was sucking the dry cheese from the cheese puffs off her fingers and nodding. “I heard her say she had an art exhibit downtown today. Maybe we can find her on the internet?”

  Darla walked over to Dolly’s desk top computer and began typing. A few minutes passed and she said, “I bet this is her. Cynthia Bronson, she has an exhibit this week downtown at the Nelson Gallery.” Darla looked at her watch. “Let’s move it! I’d like to get home sometime today.”

  ******

  Cynthia straightened the corner of the oil painting and watched as her only buyer wormed his way around the room and then slipped out the glass front door. Great, another waste of time. Everyone claims to be a buyer until they hear the price. At least she still had Mr. Woo to call back. She glanced at the large portrait she had done of him from a photo. It was one of her best works. Hopefully, it would impress him enough to represent her to the Chinese market.

  Cynthia walked back to her office and booted up her phone. She tapped the icon for the Mandarin app and leaned back in her chair. A quick refresher was in order before she placed the call. She wanted to impress Mr. Woo. He obviously had liked the picture she had emailed him of his portrait. This could be a life changing phone call.

  She hit the ‘continue lesson’ button on the Mandarin program app. Within minutes, she was transported to another world.

  **
****

  Derrick had been waiting in his car for the Mandarin program to signal that one of his three test subjects had logged in. He didn’t want to go back to his office and face more of Jason’s questions. It was an inconvenience to have to wait for the subjects to reconnect for new instructions. At the moment he considered this a flaw, but the beauty of strangers committing crimes for the benefit of some anonymous master was worth a few inconveniences.

  Finally, the signal alarmed. Derrick flipped through his program to find the user’s code. Good, it was Cynthia Bronson, the artist. He looked up her bio and wrote down the address of the gallery she had listed as her employer. He then initiated his cell phone tracker signal and saw that she was indeed at the gallery. He pulled out of the parking garage and headed toward downtown. If he was lucky, he might get to video her shooting someone. That would be all of the proof that J. T. should need.

  ******

  Jason had spent the last two hours hacking Derrick’s video code before he figured out it was integrated with a hypnotic/dissociative link to their Mandarin program. Jason leaned his chair back and stared at the code on the screen. Why in the world was Derrick doing this? He was triggering dissociative episodes through hypnosis from the Mandarin program. Jason noticed the program also triggered back ground and personal bio databases. Derrick had developed a selection program that allowed him to filter out select subjects. It was genius. It was also very illegal and dangerous in the wrong hands. Derrick could order the test subjects to do anything. Had someone commissioned it or had Derrick developed it as his own to sell? There had to be a reason he was keeping it secret. Who would his buyer be? The government? The mob? Terrorists?

  Jason knew that most of their current customers were mob affiliated. He hacked Derrick’s cell records and entered each number into their tracking program. One of these recent contacts had to be Derrick’s buyer. Jason felt no guilt for what he was doing. Derrick had violated their agreement by using the Mandarin program of which Jason was a half owner. Besides, if Derrick didn’t want his work hacked, he shouldn’t have hired a convicted hacker.

  ******

  Dolly and Darla arrived at the gallery and were greeted by the gallery hostess. The wall of glass facing the street sparkled with gold lettering and expensive lighting. The floor of the gallery held large art pieces on pedestals and easels. Each piece was bathed in an orb of light from a spotlight above. A tall cube announced the works of Cynthia Bronson were in the main exhibit room beyond.

  Dolly smoothed her skirt and whispered to Darla, “This is pretty fancy. We didn’t exactly dress for this.”

  Darla smiled, “At least your orange finger tips match the flowers in your dress.”

  Dolly glanced at her cheese stained fingers and slipped her hands into her sweater pockets.

  Dolly explained to the hostess that they had personal business with Cynthia Bronson. The hostess smiled and escorted them to Cynthia’s open office door.

  The hostess gestured with her arm to the doorway. “Go on in. Cynthia loves company.”

  Dolly and Darla stepped into the office. Cynthia was staring at her phone. Dolly softly knocked on the open door. Cynthia didn’t move. Darla looked at Dolly and shrugged. Dolly cleared her throat and Cynthia looked up at them.

  Dolly inched forward and said, “Miss Bronson? May I speak with you? I was at the police station this morning, too.” Dolly nervously smoothed her dress folds over her hips.

  Cynthia went pale. “I saw you there.” She stood and gestured for Dolly and Darla to take a seat across from her desk. “You confessed, too.”

  Dolly sat, leaned forward and folded her hands on her lap, trying to hide the orange stains. “This is my friend Darla. We think that if we just talk to each other, we might be able to figure out what’s happening better than the cops.”

  Cynthia nodded, “I agree. This has been very upsetting.” Cynthia looked at her notepad with Mr. Woo’s phone number. She really didn’t want to keep him waiting for too long. “Would you mind if I make a quick phone call first? It’s fairly important and then we can talk as long as you’d like.”

  Dolly and Darla both rose from their seats. Dolly said, “We’ll just walk around the gallery until you’re ready.”

  Cynthia smiled, watched them walk out of the office and dialed Mr. Woo.

  He answered on the second ring. “Yes?”

  “Mr. Woo, this is Cynthia Bronson returning your call from earlier.” Cynthia carefully followed that introduction with a greeting in Mandarin that conveyed how honored she felt that he had called.

  Mr. Woo paused for a moment and then said, “Ms. Bronson, I would appreciate your restraint in contacting me. I am not interested in your work, nor do I believe that there is an American market for it, let alone one in China. You have failed to develop even a modest following from what I can tell. If your name is ever in Chicago headlines you can call me then. Good day.”

  Cynthia stared at her silent phone in shock. Mr. Woo had managed to dismiss her and insult her in just a few sentences. Her hurt was quickly replaced with rage. What a pompous asshole. Cynthia stared at her purse. She retrieved a small revolver from inside and walked out to the gallery where Mr. Woo’s portrait hung under three spot lights. She raised her arm, aimed, and shot a bullet between Mr. Woo’s eyes.

  Darla and Dolly both screamed and grabbed each other in a desperate bear hug. Cynthia stood staring at her revolver in her limp hand and then suddenly dropped it.

  Darla ran over to her, “Cynthia! Cynthia!”

  Cynthia had a blank expression on her face and slowly turned to face Dolly.

  She whispered, “I don’t know why I did that.”

  Dolly reached down and picked up the gun from the gallery floor. The stunned gallery patrons were silent and slowly backing away from Cynthia. Dolly held the gun at her side and smiled. “This performing art segment is a tribute to Dorothy Podber, the crazy photographer that shot Andy Warhol’s Marilyn paintings. If it’s good enough for Andy, it’s good enough for Cynthia.”

  Several people watching noticeably relaxed and one woman even started clapping.

  Cynthia gave Dolly a weak smile of gratitude.

  Dolly whispered through clenched teeth, “Bow.”

  Cynthia quickly folded in a short bow.

  Darla whispered to Dolly, “Let’s get this fruitcake back in her office.”

  ******

  Derrick had only been in the gallery a few minutes before Cynthia entered the large room, aimed a pistol at a large portrait of a Chinese man, and shot it. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Obviously his video had not been specific enough. It wasn’t going to impress J.T. to see Cynthia’s bullet hole on a portrait.

  Derrick eased his way out the front door and back to his car. He was going to have to prepare another, more specific video. This time he would message Peter’s phone that an update awaited, that way he could control the timing of the next experiment. Derrick realized he had to make sure this next video was successful. There had to be a specific target with step by step instructions. His mind raced as he drove back to his office and glanced at his watch. He was running out of time.

  ******

  J.T. had a tracker placed on Derrick’s car while he was at the strip joint during their first meeting. After challenging Derrick to provide another beta test, J.T. had decided to follow him and gauge the results for himself. Sellers had a way of leaving out details that didn’t go as planned.

  J.T. knew that one of Derrick’s chosen subjects worked at the gallery so when Derrick entered the gallery and left so abruptly, J.T. decided to go in himself. He initiated his cyber scrambler to prevent the gallery security cameras from capturing his image. He had also ordered his cyber staff to scramble the city cameras for that block.

  J.T. glanced around the gallery and eventually walked into the main exhibit room. Soft music played over the speakers as a small group of people stood staring at a portrait that had a bullet hole. J.T. listened to the group long en
ough to hear that the artist, Cynthia Bronson, had just shot the portrait. He smiled to himself at Derrick’s obvious failure. No wonder he left in such a hurry. It would be interesting to see what choices Derrick made now.

  The gallery hostess asked J.T. if he wanted an exhibit pricing guide. J.T. answered, “How much is this portrait?”

  The gallery hostess consulted the guide and said, “This one had been priced at five thousand dollars prior to being shot.” The hostess sounded apologetic.

  J. T. smiled, “I’ll take it.”

  ******

  Cynthia, Dolly and Darla sat in Cynthia’s office trying to piece together what might have triggered Cynthia to shoot the portrait.

  Dolly asked, “Have you ever done something like this before?”

  Cynthia slowly shook her head. “I’ve never even shot this gun away from the shooting range. I have it for protection. It’s been in my purse forever. I’m surprised it was even loaded.”

  Cynthia looked at Dolly. “I’m so grateful you popped up with that Warhol reference. I was mentally blank. You found the perfect thing to say.”

  The gallery hostess walked in and waved a fistful of bills. “Sorry to interrupt but I think you’re on to something here. Some guy just bought your Mr. Woo, cash.”

  Cynthia abruptly stood and took the money from the hostess. With her eyes opened wide she fanned it out and waved it at Darla and Dolly. “You know what this means?”

  They both shook their heads.

  “Now I have to go out there and shoot the rest of my exhibit!”

  ******

  J.T. glanced at his cell tracker and saw that Derrick had returned to his office. He chuckled as he imagined Derrick’s frustration at Cynthia shooting a painting. At least J.T. now knew what type of beta test Derrick was working on. J.T. pulled his car from the curb and said, “Back to the drawing board, Doc.” He glanced at the painting wrapped in brown paper and resting on his passenger seat. A U.P.S. store was off to the left in a short shopping mall. J.T. pulled up and checked his phone for an address. He found it. He initiated his scrambler to prevent the U.P.S. camera from getting his image and took the painting inside. J.T. instructed them to deliver it to the 107th precinct, to Nick Stryker.

 
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