Wrong exit, p.6
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       Wrong Exit, p.6

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
 
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  Back in his car J.T. headed for the airport. He had business in Indianapolis to attend to before five. He was confident that Derrick would require some time before he finished a new beta test. Nick would need some time to consider the meaning of the portrait. It was important not to rush his decision. Nick had to be fed clues if he was to figure out Derrick’s program. Nick was J.T.’s safety check. If Nick couldn’t connect the dots, then J.T. would buy it.

  ******

  Derrick walked back into his office and headed toward the video room. Jason sat at his computer desk watching Derrick’s every move. After a few minutes Jason followed Derrick and caught him in the video program.

  Derrick jumped from being startled.

  Jason asked, “Do you mind if I take the rest of the day off? I’ve had some things surface I have to take care of.”

  Derrick was relieved. “No problem. Is everything okay?”

  Jason noticed Derrick had clicked his monitor to show a screen saver instead of what he was working on.

  “Everything is fine.”

  Derrick waited for the door to close and then he began his search of the daily news. Surely someone in Chicago deserved killing. Then he saw it. Headline: “Mayor Emanuel’s approval rating at an all-time low.”

  Why not? Derrick didn’t like politicians anyway. Peter could shoot the mayor.

  CHAPTER 7

  Nick left Dr. Reynold’s office, checked in with Jen at the precinct and headed back toward the brewery. He preferred to revisit crime scenes alone. Sometimes the stillness would whisper secrets if he listened. Subtle changes from the shifting shadows would reveal hints of the horrors that had happened. His mind harbored a gallery of victim faces. The little girl’s face in the body bag was now front and center, branded on his every thought.

  Wayne’s ID displayed on Nick’s ringing cell phone. Wayne asked, “Where are you?”

  “I had an appointment. I’m heading back to the brewery for another look. What’d you find out?”

  Wayne inspected one of the spent bullet casings from the street as he answered, “Got sidetracked. Sam and I responded to a shooting call six blocks from the brewery. Turns out it was Kevin, the reporter.”

  “Kevin?”

  “He’s okay but you’ll want to swing by here. Looks like it’s tied to the brewery.” Wayne gave Nick the address and turned around to listen to Kevin argue with the ambulance staff.

  “For the last time, I’m not going to a hospital. I have work to do, and these are just scratches.” Kevin wiped blood from the face of his watch with the corner of his shirt. He looked at Wayne, “Where’d my phone end up?”

  Wayne shrugged and walked over to glance inside the car. The phone was covered with a blanket of glass shards on the passenger seat. He carefully lifted it out of the car and handed it to Kevin. The EMT continued to tweeze glass shards from Kevin’s neck and face, frowning when Kevin moved to take his phone.

  Kevin said, “Thanks” and tapped Sharon’s number into his phone again. He let it ring until her voice mail picked up. He left another message for her to call him as he watched Nick’s car skid to a stop at the edge of the crime scene tape.

  Nick shut off his light bar and took in the scene. A blue Prius straddled the center of the glass covered street. Kevin sat on a bench in the ambulance with a paramedic tech attending to him. Patrol units had arrived and were redirecting traffic. Sam was crossing the street from a small bungalow and a civilian man stood at the curb watching the activity. Nick couldn’t imagine how this was tied to the brewery.

  He walked over to Kevin. “What happened?”

  Kevin frowned. “No, ‘How are you? Gee, you’re bleeding…’, nothing?” Kevin could see that Nick was not in a humorous mood and quickly regretted his flip answer. “Sorry. I’m not used to being a part of the story.”

  Kevin told Nick about bribing the two young boys and getting information about the grey van with the medical insignia. He re-told how he noticed a van matching that description pull partly into the alley, then back up fast and leave. He said he suspected they left because the cops were there. After chasing the van three blocks it stopped and a man jumped out and shot at his car.

  Wayne looked at Nick and said, “Kevin got the first three letters on the plate and a good description of the van and shooter. I put out a B.O.L.O. Sam interviewed an old woman that lives over there in the white bungalow but she claims she didn’t see it happen.”

  Nick turned back to Kevin, “You’re lucky you didn’t get killed. The van info will help us but it’s not worth you getting shot. Your car’s going to be towed to impound as evidence. Do you need a ride somewhere?”

  Kevin nodded his head. “Yeah, thanks. I could go to my grandma’s house. She’ll let me use her car.”

  Nick said, “Finish getting patched up and I’ll drive you there as soon as I’m done.”

  Nick walked over to look at the inside of Kevin’s car and the glass in the street. He stared down to the corner and saw a small strip mall sign peeking past the apartment building. He walked over to Sam who was interviewing the good Samaritan that had been directing traffic away from the scene.

  Nick listened to the man explain that he heard the shots and ducked down behind his dining room table. When the shooting stopped, he came out, saw Kevin’s car and called 911. He looked at Nick and said, “Ain’t you Stryker? I’ve seen your picture a million times in the paper.” He smiled wide and extended his hand to shake. “My name’s Raymond.”

  Nick shook his hand and smiled back. “Any chance you caught a glimpse of the vehicle or the shooter?”

  “Naw. It was long gone by the time I got out here. Tell you the truth, I ‘spected that guy was dead for sure. Sounded like at least thirty rounds fired.”

  Nick looked down the street. “What’s down that way? Any businesses?”

  “Yeah. Liquor store, corner grocery, all the usual.”

  Nick turned to Sam, “You and Wayne check over there for cameras when we finish here. We might get lucky.” Nick asked, “Does Jen have the vehicle info?”

  “Wayne called it to her before you got here. She was going to have the techs compare plates to registered vehicles of medical establishments first. C.S.U. is taking shell casings and bullets. The coroner just left the brewery, so it’ll be hours before he gets back to us.” Sam glanced back at Wayne and said, “Seems all we have is this partial plate number.” Sam slid his small notebook into his jacket pocket. “And the fact that this van matches the kids’ description of the brewery van.”

  Nick said, “That’s more than we had an hour ago. Shooter was not a pro. He only had to take a couple of more steps to make sure Kevin was dead.”

  Nick turned slowly, taking in the neighborhood. A three story apartment building was on the corner. Some windows were boarded over; some had curtains. Grocery carts dotted the overgrown landscaping next to the brick building’s parking lot. Grocery carts were often ‘borrowed’ by the elderly to transport staples from local stores. Too poor to own vehicles, the senior citizens often found that the only way to transport their groceries was to walk. In Chicago, pushing a grocery cart for blocks in the snow meant that the feeble depended on the charity of their neighbors.

  The neighborhood homes, while screaming deferred maintenance, defiantly displayed pride with the occasional flag on the porch and potted flowers. It was just one of many forgotten neighborhoods consumed in poverty and trying desperately to hold back the inevitable infestation of crime. Nick saw a neighborhood watch sign in the window of a small blue house across the street. The house stood out from the others because of the meticulous yard.

  Nick walked back to Raymond. “Your neighborhood watch guy home in the mornings?”

  Raymond shook his head. “That’s Charles. He died two days ago from a heart attack.” Raymond suddenly smiled, “But he’s got a damn good camera on his porch! Points right this way!”

  Nick finally felt that buzz he got with a good lead. “Any chance you know ho
w we can contact a family member to get that camera?”

  “That would be me. Charles ain’t got no family, but I was his best friend. He put that house in my name a couple of years ago so’s not to have to pay property taxes.” He held up a set of keys. “Got the key right here, you can take anything you need.”

  Nick motioned to Wayne and Sam. “Might have a camera across the street.”

  Nick, Raymond, Wayne and Sam walked over to Charles’s house, unlocked the door and stepped into a time machine. The furnishings were decades old but tidy. The only adornment to the living room walls was a yellowed wedding picture that hung next to a large cross and a few cob webs. A low bookshelf held dozens of notebooks and a small television. The faint odor of bacon grease hung in the air. Nick could see through to the kitchen where a short stack of folded laundry waited on the corner of the chrome legged kitchen table. A single plate and cup rested in the dish drainer on the counter. The morning sunlight bounced from the sink faucet to the deep green leaves of a sweet potato vine cutting birthing from a water glass on the windowsill.

  Heavy drapes were pulled open at the front picture window. A foldout card table and chair faced the street beyond. This had been Charles’s perch to watch the neighborhood. A pair of binoculars sat proudly next to a calendar filled with scribbles, a cordless phone and a small alarm clock. An index card holder was filled with names, phone numbers and addresses, mostly people living in the neighborhood. A stack of small spiral notebooks sat on the corner of the table. One notebook was placed face down and open. Nick began flipping the pages back. The last entry was dated two days prior.

  Nick glanced at Wayne and smiled. “He kept a journal.” Charles had made dozens of entries for each day. It seemed his meticulous lawn was simply an opportunity to provide a better vantage point for neighborhood observations. Nick noticed an entry from three days ago. He glanced at Raymond.

  “Charles has an entry here that says ‘Remind Raymond to close his blinds at night. My, my’.”

  Raymond slapped his forehead. “Dang it all!”

  Sam’s voice came from the corner of the room. “I’ve got the video from the camera, and it’s been running. Sweet set up. Video storage automatically goes to a cloud for retrieval.”

  Nick and Wayne walked over.

  Wayne asked, “Can you back it up and play it on this monitor?”

  Sam pressed his lips together in concentration and began entering commands on the keyboard. Soon they were watching a man with an AK47 blanketing Kevin’s car with bullets. The angle didn’t show the plates but they got a good picture of the shooter.

  Raymond said, “I’ve seen that van before. Goes down the street a couple of times a week. Charles was real mad at ‘em. Said they were always speedin’. Nearly ran over Ruby. He sprayed ‘em once with his garden hose, right through the driver’s open window.” Raymond shook his head and laughed. “Thought for sure they’d pull over and beat the crap out of him.”

  Nick reached for the stack of notebooks. “How long ago was the garden hose incident?”

  Raymond scratched his head. “I’d say about a month ago. Didn’t stop ‘em from racing through here though. Charles called the cops on ‘em all the time.”

  Nick met Wayne’s smile with his own. “We just caught another break.”

  ******

  John cursed as he threaded the grey van through traffic as quickly as he could without actually speeding. The last thing he needed was for the cops to pull him over with an AK47 and a doped up woman in the back of the van. He glanced at the two men with him, Vince and Juan. He could tell from their expressions they were worried, too. He should have just out run the damn Prius instead of shooting it. Impulse control. Wasn’t that what Tony kept saying he lacked?

  John slapped the dash in anger. What the hell was he supposed to do now? He was afraid of Tony’s crazy temper. He knew that Tony being his brother-in-law had limits. The cops wouldn’t have the body bags if he’d done his job Saturday.

  Vince cleared his throat and said, “Maybe we should dump that girl somewhere before the cops stop us.”

  John glanced at him, “And be seen dumpin’ her? Besides, Tony expects a delivery. Gettin’ the girl is the only thing we’ve done right.”

  Vince persisted. “Somebody must have seen you shoot the hell out of the guy back there. You know damn well every cop in Chicago is lookin’ for this van. I say we dump the girl and the gun.”

  John snarled, “The cops were at the brewery which means they have the body bags, idiot. We’re already screwed.”

  Just then a police car sped up behind them with lights flashing. John cursed and started to pull the van over to the curb. The cop passed them and kept going. John’s heart pounded in his chest. Vince was right, he couldn’t just keep driving around Chicago. He took out his phone and called Tony. John explained everything that had happened. After a moment John slipped his phone into his pocket and glanced at the others.

  Vince asked, “Well? How mad is he? What’d he say?”

  Juan stopped picking at a sore on his arm and waited for John’s answer.

  John gave the van a little more gas. “He said to bring the girl to the hospital. That’s all he said.”

  ******

  Sunrise Specialty Hospital was a private facility that sat proudly in the center of a ten-acre manicured plot, only minutes from downtown Chicago. Dr. Antonio Scalla, Tony, left a prestigious surgical practice to become part owner and administrator for the facility six years ago. The decision had been an easy one at the time, more money than he had ever imagined with only one caveat; he was partnered with the mob.

  The main hospital structure was a massive brick three story covered in ivy and looking more like a residential mansion than a hospital. Two single story wings protruded from the back of the main building. One was for recipient patient intake and the other was for receiving organ donations. The organ donor receiving station had automatic doors that allowed for vehicle entry only into a large holding bay. At the end of the bay was a secured elevator that went to the isolation portion of the segregated basement. Entry to that basement area was closely supervised and restricted.

  Wealthy patients from around the world gladly paid outrageous sums to ensure Sunrise catered to their needs, often insisting on protected identities. With state of the art equipment and the world’s best surgeons vetting for staff positions, Tony could well afford to offer the best of the best.

  By all measures Sunrise Specialty Hospital had earned its prestigious reputation within the medical community. Groundbreaking procedures had brought world fame to Chicago, the surgery staff, and to Tony. Only a small handful of people knew the truth about the source of some of the organ donors; two senior surgeons, the ‘snatch team’, Tony and Lucas.

  Tony paced his office after he hung up from talking to John. He had to regain his composure, he wanted to shoot all three of them as soon as they arrived. Unfortunately, he needed them. He inhaled deeply and slowly released his breath through pursed lips. He would have to wait for revenge.

  Now he had two huge new problems. The cops had found medical waste at the brewery and John had shot some guy that had been following the van. Tony plopped into his office chair and rested his head in his hands. He began an analysis of the situation. The medical bags could have come from anywhere. The cops couldn’t link them to him. John said no one had seen the shooting. It was possible but in a city of cameras he’d rather be safe. He decided he would get rid of the van and report it as stolen.

  The girl. John had her in the van. She would have to be held in the hospital’s isolation basement now that the brewery had been discovered. Tony glanced at his watch, he would need to drug her again soon. It would be tricky to keep her alive for any length of time. The longer she was held at the hospital the more likely someone would notice her. All medical and janitorial staff would need to be kept out of the basement. Tony drummed his fingers next to his desk phone and debated calling Lucas.

  How coul
d he speed up this surgery without alerting Lucas something had gone wrong? Lucas wouldn’t authorize scheduling the surgery until he got paid. Tony began to pace again. He would have to be careful. He had survived because he didn’t make mistakes. Lucas was a scary character. He wasn’t just ‘connected’ to the Chicago mob, he held a position with the international Family.

  One word from Lucas and Tony was dead.

  ******

  Nick and Kevin were almost to Kevin’s grandma’s house when Kevin said, “I’m not going to run that story about those people coming in and confessing they killed you.”

  Nick glanced over, “Good. What made you change your mind?”

  “Peter’s my brother. We have the same mom.” Kevin twisted in the seat belt to face Nick better. “He’s upset about this; he doesn’t need to read about it in the paper. We think he was hypnotized.”

  “Could be.”

  Kevin leaned back against the seat. “Then the question is ‘why’, right? If somebody had that kind of power over people wouldn’t they have them do something for real? Not confess to something they didn’t do?” Kevin pointed to a small white house with potted flowers draped over the porch banisters. “We’re here.”

  Nick pulled over to the curb and parked. “Someone was able to get to Peter. Do you have any ideas?”

  “None. He doesn’t have a life. All he does is work.” Kevin winced as he unbuckled his seat belt and lifted himself out of the car. He looked back at Nick. “What do you want me to report about this shooting?”

  Nick rested his forearm against the steering wheel. “It would be nice if you didn’t mention we had a partial plate or connect it to the brewery case.”

 
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