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       Wrong Exit, p.7

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
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  Kevin nodded. “Gotcha. Bury it in the back and leave out details.” Kevin shut the car door and spoke through the open window. “You know; Jack is going to think I’m the worst reporter in Chicago. Not only was I on the scene, I was a victim, and still didn’t get any info?”

  Nick chuckled, “Tell him you passed out.”

  “Yeah, I could probably convince him I’m both a wimp and an idiot.”

  Nick watched Kevin walk up the porch steps and ring the doorbell. A short, grey haired woman opened the door and greeted him with a bear hug. Nick pulled away from the curb and headed back to the precinct. He was anxious to go through the ledgers and videos from Charles’ house and track down the grey van. He glanced at his watch and wondered if the coroner had an ID yet on the family. Probably not.

  Just then Nick’s cell buzzed with a call. The ID announced it was the Coroner’s office.

  “Hey Doc. What’ve you got for me?”

  The coroner answered, “We got lucky. The adult male prints were in the government system data base. Postal employee…out of Dayton, Ohio. I did a census search with the I.R.S. and got the family names. Marvin Shultz. Wife is Carla, daughter is Allison. I sent the info to Jen just before calling you.” There was a long pause, “I haven’t determined a cause of death yet. I wanted to get you these names.”

  Nick asked, “Anything else you can give me now?”

  “A skilled surgeon did the removals. I’m running tissue and tox screens but I’m not expecting much. Their organs would have been useless if they died of poisons or gasses. Physical trauma would have left marks. There’s only so many ways three people die at the same time. That brings me back to you, Nick. I’ll call you when I have more.”

  Nick pressed the accelerator. The coroner’s words echoed through his thoughts, “There are only so many ways three people die at the same time.” He could feel the adrenaline racing in his veins, anger pumping in his temples. This family was murdered. His jaw set. The image of the little girl’s face flooded his mind. Allison, her name was Allison.


  Dolly and Darla watched as Cynthia closed her eyes and sniffed at her fist full of cash. She stuffed the five thousand dollars into an envelope and then giggled as she crammed it into her purse. She seemed to be totally unaware that Dolly and Darla were still there.

  Darla gently kicked Dolly’s ankle and tilted her head toward Cynthia.

  Dolly moved her leg away and asked Darla, “What?”

  Cynthia looked up to see Darla frowning at Dolly.

  Cynthia asked, “What?”

  Darla exhaled loudly and blurted out, “I was hoping you’d explain why you shot that painting.”

  Cynthia lowered her purse to the floor and shrugged. “He pissed me off. Mr. Woo.” Cynthia smoothed her hair back with her hand and said thoughtfully, “I never planned to shoot the painting. It just happened.”

  Dolly raised her eyebrows and lowered her voice. “Do you make a habit of shooting people that piss you off?”

  Cynthia gasped, “Of course not! I told you I don’t know why I did it!”

  Darla touched Dolly’s arm, “Let’s not get all excited here.” She was clearly worried about Cynthia’s temperament and the fact that Cynthia’s gun was within easy reach.

  Cynthia wiped a tear from her cheek. “That man insulted me and my art! He could have single handedly made my career with very little effort. But no…he had to crush me! I even learned Mandarin to impress him!”

  Dolly jumped up and said in Mandarin, “I’m learning Mandarin, too! Are you using the Sanford program?”

  Cynthia’s eyes opened wide and she answered in Mandarin, “Yes! I’m using the phone app.”

  Dolly raised her voice, still speaking Mandarin, “Me too! That’s it! That’s what we have in common!”

  Cynthia’s eyes opened wide, still speaking Mandarin, “I opened that app for a refresher just before I called Mr. Woo.”

  Darla jumped up and waved her arms at the two of them. “What the hell are you two saying? What’s all this woo, chum, tang junk? Am I having a stroke?”

  Dolly was so excited she grabbed Darla’s shoulders and shook them. “We figured it out! Cynthia and I are both using the same Mandarin language program on our phones! That must be how we are being hypnotized!”

  Darla sat back down, fanning her face with her hand. “Thank God.”

  Cynthia and Dolly sat back down and stared at each other.

  Darla asked, “Now what?”

  Cynthia tapped her pen on her desk and asked, “What do we do now? Talk to the cops or go find that Peter guy?”

  Dolly answered, “Let’s talk to Peter first, just to be sure.”

  Darla reached her hand out to Cynthia. “Until we confirm you two aren’t crazy, I want your gun in my purse.” Darla turned to face Dolly. “I know you’re packin’, too. Hand it over.”

  Dolly and Cynthia both handed their pistols to Darla.

  Dolly frowned, “Last time you had a gun in your purse it didn’t go so well.”

  Darla zipped her purse closed. “The judge said it wasn’t my fault.”

  Cynthia cursed in Mandarin as she googled Peter’s address.


  Monday, 2:00 p.m.

  John was relieved to finally pull the van into the safety of the receiving bay garage at the hospital. He was finally hidden from the cops. He glanced back at Sharon to make sure she was still unconscious and then dialed Tony. “We’re here. You want me to take her downstairs?”

  Tony glanced at his watch, it was already two in the afternoon. He had ordered the janitorial staff out of the isolation basement until further notice. He had also posted bio hazard posters outside of the service elevator, warning no entry. It should be safe.

  Tony’s voice clipped out, “I’ll meet you in the basement. Just you and the girl.” He hung up.

  John swallowed. The prospect of being alone with Tony in that basement sent a shiver up his spine. John turned to Juan, “You bring that gurney from the corner over there and help Vince strap her in. I’ll take her down myself and see what Tony wants us to do. Stay inside here! We don’t need hospital staff spotting you hangin’ around and callin’ security.”

  John lit a cigarette and paced near the elevator door as Vince and Juan lifted Sharon’s limp body onto the gurney. Tony was furious. John took a long draw on the cigarette and then dropped it onto the polished concrete floor. He twisted his shoe on the cigarette butt, picked the butt up and placed it in his pocket. The air conditioned bay did little to slow the beads of sweat forming above his brow. His stomach cramped and his head was pounding. He gave each of the three straps holding Sharon a strong cinch and swiped his identification ID at the elevator’s sensor. As soon as the button turned green he pushed it and shoved the gurney into the elevator and against the far wall.

  He turned, his finger paused over the ‘down’ button and said, “One of you call me in fifteen minutes. If I don’t answer, get the hell out of Chicago!”

  The elevator door closed.

  Vince looked at his watch and then glanced at Juan. “Shit!”


  Tony watched the elevator door open and looked at the girl on the gurney. He glanced up at John, “At least you got this right.” He grabbed the gurney and pushed it toward the wall that held the life monitoring equipment inside of the isolation room.

  Tony glared back at John through the glass walls of the room. He decided to hook up Sharon to the monitors after he got rid of John. He walked out of the room to where John nervously shifted his weight from side to side. He pushed John hard against the far wall and pressed his forearm tight to John’s throat. Spittle flew from Tony’s mouth as he snarled, “I don’t have time to deal with you right now. Scrub that van, use different plates and drive it somewhere to dump it. Then put the original plates back on it and call me. Got it? I’m going to report it stolen in one hour!”

  John felt his throat crushing under Tony’s force and nod
ded as best as he could. There was no way he could speak.

  Tony released his grip with a jerk and pointed to the elevator. “Get out of my sight.”


  Sharon felt the sensation of leaving a dream unfinished. One by one her senses were trying to break free to consciousness. What was that smell? Bleach. Bleach and antiseptic. Her thoughts were trying to climb out of a deep dark hole. Her throat was dry, her tongue swollen, her lips couldn’t move. Was she paralyzed? Why wouldn’t her eyes open?

  That smell… stronger now. She tried to cover her nose but neither of her arms would move. Her legs wouldn’t move either. That smell was creeping into her mind through her nostrils. She could see it’s sneaky vapor twisting its way through her head. A sickening sweet, metallic rope twisting through her thoughts.

  Movie-like scenes flashed from her mind to the back of her eyelids. Something had happened. She concentrated on the flashing images, willing them to focus, slow down. Her car…a man…a gun. A distant voice in her head screamed, ‘Danger! Escape!’. It was her voice. Her heart began to pound.

  She tried moving her arms again, nothing. Flashes of light were peeking through her eye lashes. Fluorescent bulbs blasted down on her from above. That smell. Was she in a hospital? Her car…she had been kidnapped…and drugged. She must be safe now, in a hospital…her eyelids closed again and she dreamt of falling. Falling into an endless black hole.


  Tony sat at the desk in the corner going through Sharon’s purse. He removed twenty-three dollars from her wallet and stuffed it into his pocket. He used scissors to cut her charge cards and personal identification. He tossed it all into a waste disposal bag for delivery to the crematorium later.

  He twisted his chair to glance toward the gurney. He still had to get blood and tissue samples to confirm a compatible match. He prepared a metal tray with a syringe and scalpel. The clock on the wall reminded him she was due for more drugs to keep her out. He pulled the nearly empty vile from his pocket and loaded a second syringe with the remainder of the drug. This would only last another hour. He would have to get more from the hospital pharmacy.

  He carried the metal tray to her bedside, loosened the top two straps and began cutting tissue from the underside of her arm. Sharon winced from pain and jerked her arm from Tony’s grip. Her face now turned toward Tony, her eyes opened wide as she tried desperately to focus.

  Tony startled. The metal tray clanged as it crashed to the floor and skipped to the wall. His scalpel flew from his hand. He quickly bent down to grab the syringe of drugs. He grabbed Sharon’s arm with such force his fingers were turning white as he injected her with the remaining three ccs. Sharon’s eyes stared at him in terror as her lips tried to form words. Finally, her eyelids fluttered and began to close.

  His heart pounded. His hands shook as he cinched the straps tight on the gurney and backed away. He took a few deep breaths. That was too close.


  Nick entered the Homicide room to find Wayne, Sam and Jen engrossed in their monitor screens. He walked over to his desk and waited for Jen to finish. Jen leaned back and shook her head. “This is going to take a while to find this van.”

  Nick asked, “Is that what Wayne and Sam are working on too?”

  Sam answered, “I’m reading over traffic reports to see if anyone bothered to follow up on the complaints Charles called in.”

  Nick noticed Jen had written the names of the body bag family on their big white murder board. Marvin, Carla and Allison Schultz. Nick pointed at the board and asked, “Have we gotten anything else from the coroner?”

  Jen shook her head. “Nothing yet. I sent the video from your neighborhood watch guy to the FBI for facial recognition on that shot of the shooter.”

  Wayne held up a scrap of paper. “I called the Post Office in Dayton and got Marvin Shultz’s emergency contact number. It’s a sister here in Chicago. I haven’t called yet.”

  Nick walked over and took the paper. “I’ll call her now.” He sat looking at the name on the paper. Elizabeth Hull. Nick entered the number into his phone and waited.

  On the third ring a woman’s voice answered, “Hello?”

  “This is Detective Stryker, Chicago P.D. Are you Elizabeth Hull, the sister of Marvin Schultz?”

  There was a long silence. “Yes. What’s wrong?”

  Nick answered, “I need to ask you some questions about Marvin if I could please come to your home now?”

  Another long pause. Finally, she gave Nick her address and stated she would wait for him. “Can you at least tell me if Marvin’s okay?”

  Nick glanced at Jen who was listening and then said, “I’d rather discuss this in person with you Ms. Hull. I’ll be there within the hour.”

  Nick exhaled after the call ended.

  Jen asked, “Can I come with you?”

  Nick tossed the unit car keys to her. “You drive and I’ll read over some of Charles’ journals. She’s not that far from here.”

  Nick stood to walk over to Wayne’s desk and noticed the brown paper package leaning against the back of his desk. “What’s this?”

  Jen glanced over. “U.P.S. delivered it about an hour ago.”

  Wayne yelled over, “Make sure it isn’t ticking!”

  Nick lifted it onto their small conference table and tore off the brown wrapping paper. A large portrait of an elderly Chinese man stared back at him with a bullet hole between his eyes. Nick glanced at the lower right hand corner artist signature. It was Cynthia Bronson.

  Wayne walked over and looked. “What the hell?”

  Nick rubbed his finger over the bullet hole and inspected the gunpowder residue on his finger. “Fresh.” He turned to Wayne, “It seems Ms. Bronson still has murder on her mind.”

  Jen had walked over to look. She glanced at Nick. “Why would she shoot her painting and then send it to you?”

  Wayne spoke before Nick could answer. “You two go talk to Marvin’s sister and I’ll get to the bottom of this. I’ll call you.”


  Jen entered the address for Elizabeth Hull into the GPS of their unit. “Elizabeth Hull lives in the crown jewel of the Gold Coast.”

  Nick smiled, “I noticed that. Waldorf Astoria. She said an escort would direct us to her private elevator.” Nick winked. He knew that Ms. Hull having a private elevator would set Jen off.

  Jen twisted her mouth and said, “She has her own elevator? The building John and I live in barely keeps the one and only elevator working.” She pulled into traffic and headed for the North side of Chicago. “I wonder what she does for a living? I read a real estate ad for one of those residential units at the Waldorf; 4000 square feet of luxury and a price tag in the millions!”

  Nick had grabbed a couple of Charles’ journals before they left and now opened one. “Talk about contrasts in life styles. Listen to this entry two weeks ago in Charles’ journal; ‘Cut myself today trying to open toothpaste tube to get the rest out. Razor nearly took off my thumb.” Nick glanced at Jen. “He deeded his house to his neighbor because he needed the property tax and insurance money to live on.”

  Jen stared straight ahead as she twisted through the downtown traffic and reflected on life’s inequities. “This case makes me sick.”

  Nick looked up from the journal. “My sister’s name was Allison.”

  Jen nearly lost control of the car. When Nick was nine years old his six-year-old sister had been caught in crossfire in a mob fight and died in Nick’s arms. A year later Nick’s mom had gone into the FBI witness protection program, alone, and Nick had grown up with just his dad. Nick had lived twenty-five years believing his mom had abandoned him. It wasn’t until last year that Nick found out his mom had left to protect Nick and his dad and had become an undercover agent for the FBI making cases against the mob. She retired and reunited with Nick and his dad just months ago after the death of Chicago Westside Crew leader, Dominick Guioni.

  Jen had forgotten all about Nick’s li
ttle sister. Nick had reunited with his mother and she had assumed his childhood scars were healed. She had stopped thinking of him as having a wounded soul.

  The tone of his voice just now made her realized she was dead wrong. There was a fire in Nick’s heart that was audible in his voice. The fire that drew him into becoming a decorated Navy SEAL. The fire that drove him as a homicide detective to relentlessly hunt down monsters. Now she knew the fire’s name. Allison.

  Jen pulled their car into the visitor parking garage, and parked at the closest spot to the lobby elevator. She turned to Nick and said, “I get it, Nick.”

  Nick reached for his door handle and said, “I wish Lacey did.”

  Jen was surprised Nick mentioned his fiancée. He was very private about their relationship. This was an admission that something was wrong.

  Jen asked, “Can I help?”

  Nick shrugged, “She’s lonely and I make her feel insecure. I don’t blame her…this is all on me. She claims I choose to chase killers instead of spending time with her. It’s worse than that but she doesn’t know. I don’t even think about her when I’m on a case.”

  It sounded harsh hearing Nick state it that way. Jen knew he was being completely honest.

  She said, “I don’t have an answer.”

  “I don’t think there is one.”

  The sadness in Nick’s eyes made her want to cry for him. It made her think of John, her husband, when he admitted to her last year that he nearly asked her for a divorce. He felt ignored and trapped until he discovered he enjoyed writing. His escape into writing fiction novels fed a passion for him that bought her some time to work on their problems. Lacey wouldn’t be that easy. Lacey loved Nick and expected him to change. Nick was right; there wasn’t an easy answer.

  As they walked to the lobby desk Jen said, “Don’t underestimate the power of love.”

  Fourteen stories above the lobby Nick and Jen were greeted by Elizabeth Hull in a large mahogany foyer. Nick was surprised by her casual appearance in such posh surroundings. She was tall, lean and barefoot. She wore an oversized T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Her long black hair was scrunched into a loose bun on top of her head and reminded him of Lacey whenever she was taking a ‘lazy day’.

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