Wrong exit, p.8
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       Wrong Exit, p.8

           Vicki Graybosch, Kimberly Troutman, Linda McGregor, & Teresa Duncan
 
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  Elizabeth stepped forward and offered her hand to Nick. “I’m Elizabeth. I’m sorry but I forgot your name.”

  Nick shook her hand. “This is Detective Jen Taylor and I’m Detective Nick Stryker.”

  Elizabeth limply shook Nick’s hand and smiled at Jen. “Please…come in and have a seat.”

  She turned, the scent of jasmine trailed her through the grand foyer and into a massive sitting room. The furnishings were contemporary, stark white and very expensive. Elizabeth Hull definitely had money. She gestured to a pair of overstuffed white leather chairs for them to sit as she folded her legs and her bare feet underneath her on the couch. A white wool throw was draped over the corner of the couch. Elizabeth tugged it to her and covered her lap.

  Nick recognized her posture as one of protection and insecurity. Elizabeth was scared. Jen was used to women immediately being taken with Nick’s good looks and instantly becoming flirtatious. Elizabeth wasn’t interested.

  Nick said, “Jen is going to record our interview if that is okay?”

  Elizabeth nodded. “On the phone you asked me about Marvin. Has something happened?”

  Jen placed the recorder on the glass top of the coffee table and answered, “When was the last time you spoke to Marvin?”

  Elizabeth leaned forward. “A few days ago. Thursday? He called me from the airport. He said they were going to visit mother and maybe do some sightseeing for a couple of days before coming here.” Elizabeth’s chin quivered. “Please, you’re scaring me. Is Marvin okay? Has something happened?”

  Nick leaned forward, “Marvin is dead, Elizabeth. We are trying to determine what happened.”

  “Dead? How? When? Why hasn’t Carla called me?”

  Jen glanced at Nick. “Carla and Allison are dead, too.”

  Elizabeth gasped and placed her hands over her heart. “Was it an auto crash? I don’t understand…you said you were detectives.”

  Nick shifted his body to reflect a more sympathetic posture. He placed his elbows on his knees. He made a teepee with his hands and rested his chin on his fingertips. This brought him closer to Elizabeth and allowed him to slightly lower his voice. There was no easy way to tell someone their loved ones were dead. “Their remains were discovered this morning. The circumstances are suspicious. We’re homicide detectives.”

  Elizabeth stared at Nick in disbelief and then glanced at Jen. “Suspicious? Are you saying they were murdered? Even…little Allison?”

  Jen fought back tears. The vision of the family stuffed in body bags flashed forward from her memory. “It’s very early in our investigation, Elizabeth. There isn’t much information we have been able to confirm yet.” Jen swallowed, “We should hear more from the coroner later today.”

  Nick said, “I know this is difficult for you but we need your help. Which airport did Marvin call you from?”

  “O’Hare.” Elizabeth’s hands were shaking and her voice was barely audible. A steady stream of tears trailed down both of her cheeks.

  Nick continued. “You said they were here for sightseeing and to visit your mother. What is your mother’s address?”

  Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Here. This is mother’s house. Our family owns Schultz Energy. I moved here a few months ago to help her out. She has medical issues right now and is staying at a private care facility.” Her eyes opened wide. “Dear God, this will kill her!”

  Nick asked, “Were you close to Marvin? Do you know of anyone that had a problem with him?”

  Elizabeth folded her arms over her chest and began slightly rocking. “Other than mother? She never forgave him for leaving the family business to become a public servant.” Elizabeth dabbed her eyes. “He was an environmentalist. We own an energy company.” She waved her hand in the air. “No one could have a problem with Marvin. He was gentle, sweet, kind…” Her voice choked off, she closed her eyes and raised her chin toward the ceiling. “Dear God, he died not knowing.”

  Nick asked, “Not knowing what?”

  “That he was really mother’s favorite. She admired his passion and humanity. Mother has trouble showing affection. She considers it as a sign of weakness. Marvin always felt mother abandoned him.”

  Jen felt a pang in her heart. She had been raised by a mother like that. Her mother had died and Jen never knew if her mother even liked her. She understood Elizabeth’s angst for her brother. Nick had grown up believing his mother had abandoned him. Was there any family that wasn’t dysfunctional?

  Nick and Jen left after an hour. Elizabeth was emotionally spent and asked them to let themselves out. Her sobs echoed in the cavernous room behind them as Jen and Nick entered the elevator.

  Jen pushed the button for the lobby and turned to face Nick. “This kills me every time.”

  “Every time.”

  ******

  Nick and Jen quickly began calling the auto rental businesses at O’Hare from the parking garage at the Waldorf Astoria. Nick was in the driver’s seat and Jen stood outside the car so her voice wouldn’t interfere with Nick’s calls. She opened the passenger door and got in. “Can you give me the VIN number please?”

  Nick hung up his call and opened his laptop. “Get the GPS code.”

  Jen nodded as she opened her small notebook and wrote down a number. “Thanks, Joel. I’ll let you know what we find.”

  Jen handed the number to Nick who quickly entered it into the GPS data base. They both stared at the screen as the cursor circled. Finally, a map appeared with a red dot and an address. Jen wrote the address down and frowned. “What’s over there? I thought it was mostly abandoned railroad buildings.”

  “Perfect place to dump a car.” Nick turned the ignition and backed out of the parking space. He handed Jen his laptop. “Write down the GPS history. Somewhere between the airport and this address, Marvin met his killer.”

  CHAPTER 9

  Monday, 4:00 p.m.

  Back at the 107th precinct Wayne slammed his desk drawer shut, stood and grabbed his keys. “That artist chick isn’t answering her phone. Pisses me off! I told them all to stay available. The people at the gallery say she isn’t there but I’m going over anyway. That painting didn’t ship itself here.”

  Sam pulled away from his monitor and said, “Yeah, fine. I’m going to be all year going through these plate numbers for that van. I’m still picking hay from the corporate haystack to get the real owner of the brewery and there’s nothing new from the coroner.”

  Wayne stopped at Sam’s desk. “Do you have the addresses for our three confessors handy? I might end up making some house calls.”

  Sam handed Wayne a copy of his report from this morning. “You might take a picture of that portrait over there with your phone.” Sam frowned. “These confessors couldn’t have picked a worse time to dump this shit on Nick. If this is some kind of joke they won’t be laughing when Nick figures it out.”

  “It better not be a joke. Nick won’t be their only problem.” Wayne stood in front of the painting and took a few pictures.

  Sam continued talking from across the room. “There’s something wrong with this whole hypnotizing mess.”

  “Ya think? Call me if you get anything on the van.”

  Wayne drove downtown to the gallery and waited for the gallery hostess to finish talking to an elderly man.

  She finally walked over to him, her expensive white veneers flashing a trained smile. “Can I help you find something special today?”

  “Yeah.” Wayne flashed his badge at her and watched her eyes widen and her veneers retreat behind pressed lips. “Cynthia Bronson. Is she here?”

  “Uh…no. She left with some friends a couple of hours ago. I can give you her number.”

  “I’ve got it. Her phone is turned off.” Wayne pulled up his photo of the portrait and turned it to face the hostess. “What can you tell me about this?”

  “It’s sold. Cynthia sold it this morning.”

  “With or without the bullet hole?”

  “With. She jus
t shot it this morning! That’s what sold it. Can you imagine? Just like Andy Warhol.”

  Wayne vaguely remembered the story about Andy Warhol’s Marilyn paintings. He asked, “Who bought it?”

  The hostess answered, “Some man. I’ve never seen him before.”

  Wayne looked around and spotted cameras. “Do you have a receipt?”

  “Of course, but he paid cash. Five thousand dollars. He had the painting wrapped and left.”

  Wayne walked over to the sales desk with the hostess and looked at the receipt she handed him. The purchaser name on the receipt was signed, Nick Stryker. “I’m going to need a copy of this. I want your camera feed for today, too.”

  The hostess rolled her eyes. “She has a permit to carry that gun you know and in Chicago that’s no easy thing.”

  Wayne frowned and pointed to the camera near the ceiling. “Camera feed, please.”

  ******

  Cynthia, Darla and Dolly sat outside of Peter’s house in Cynthia’s car.

  Darla finally said, “Are we going to go to the door or stalk him?”

  Dolly opened the back door of the car and said, “Let’s go. If we’re right about the Mandarin software, we can’t take the chance he turns it on and does something stupid.”

  Darla glanced at Cynthia and said, “Like shooting everyone that makes him mad?”

  Cynthia looked back at Dolly. “She’s right, you know. We don’t know what kind of state of mind he might be in. He might have already signed into the program again.”

  Dolly grunted as she hefted herself out of the car. “Whatever. We’re not helping anything sitting in the car.”

  Darla was the first to arrive at the massive mahogany door and pressed the doorbell. They waited a few minutes and Darla pressed it again.

  Peter opened the door and squinted his eyes from the blast of afternoon sun. “Why are you here?”

  Dolly cleared her throat to speak but Darla beat her to it. “We think we know what turned you three into fruitcakes.”

  Peter stood motionless.

  “Well? Can we come in?”

  He stepped back and watched as the women walked into his living room. As he closed the door he heard one of them shriek, “Oh my God!”

  Peter spun around and quickly joined them. “What?”

  Cynthia stood in the middle of the room pointing to the wall. “That’s mine! You bought one of my paintings!”

  Peter smiled and walked over to stand next to her. “I didn’t realize this morning who you were. I love that painting. Sometimes I sit here with a scotch and just stare at it. I pretend I’m there. As you can see, it is the only painting in the room.” Peter gazed at the mountain landscape and sighed. “Every time I consider buying another painting, I decide it isn’t worthy to be hung near yours.”

  Cynthia dabbed a tear from her eye and lunged to give Peter a bear hug. She whispered in his ear, “You have no idea how you’ve touched me.”

  Darla cleared her throat. “If you two are finished gushing over each other we came here for a reason.”

  Dolly sat on Peter’s couch and said, “You might as well sit down. We think we know what’s going on.”

  Peter sat on the couch next to Cynthia.

  Dolly asked, “By any chance are you studying Mandarin with the Sanford program?”

  Peter blinked a couple of times and answered, “Why…yes, I am. How do you know that?”

  Cynthia and Dolly both started speaking Mandarin to him. Peter joined in.

  Darla shouted, “Not again! English, people!”

  Peter looked at Cynthia. “You think we are being hypnotized through that program?”

  Cynthia nodded and said, “All three of us have been studying the same program. I don’t know about you, but Dolly and I have been logging in regularly for over a month now.”

  Peter said, “Me, too.”

  Cynthia continued, “The developer of this program, Dr. Derrick Sanford, is also a shrink. He wrote a paper that’s online about hypnotism and dissociative behavior experiments. Most of his peers think he’s a nutcase. All three of us confessed to the murder of Detective Stryker exactly the same way. Dark alley, throwing the gun in a dumpster…” Cynthia turned to face Peter closer. “This afternoon I logged into the program to refresh my vocabulary before I called a Chinese art agent. I had done a large portrait of this agent to impress him. When I talked to him on the phone, he insulted me. I was hurt and mad. Real mad. The next thing I knew…”

  Darla interrupted. “She took out her gun and shot the painting. Right between the eyes.”

  Peter leaned back and frowned. Could this be true? Could they all be part of some hypnotic experiment?

  Dolly said, “Now neither one of us can find the program on our phones. It just vanished!”

  Peter stood. “Mine’s on my laptop. Let’s see if it’s still there.”

  All three woman jumped up. “No!”

  Cynthia said, “We looked up hypnotism before we came over here. It says that the most effective method is to engage your subject for long periods of time over several segments. Sanford’s paper said that, too. If we’ve been hypnotized, it isn’t safe for any of us to watch that program again.”

  Peter looked at Darla. “Maybe she could look at it and tell us what she sees.”

  Darla glanced at each of their expectant faces. “Fine. Where is it?”

  Peter ushered them all into his dining room and pointed to a laptop on his table. “There.”

  Darla cracked her knuckles and sat in front of the laptop. “So you think since this is my first time looking at this it won’t affect me like it would you, right?”

  They all nodded.

  “Here goes.”

  She quickly found the icon for the Mandarin program and double clicked to open it. At first she thought something was wrong. The screen filled with Chinese symbols and faint music. She clicked the audio off in case it was part of the problem. After a few minutes she was ready to declare their mission failed when the face of Mayor Emanuel filled the screen.

  Darla said, “Oh shit! Don’t look! Go in the other room. I have to turn the volume back up.”

  Peter, Dolly and Cynthia walked back to the living room and waited.

  After about twenty minutes Darla appeared in the doorway.

  She looked pale and terrified. “Holy shit!” Darla sat down. “Well, the good news is as soon as that ‘lesson’ finished the whole program deleted itself from your laptop. I checked twice. It’s gone.”

  Peter quietly asked, “And the bad news?”

  Darla waved an envelope from Peter’s desk she had filled with notes. “There are some serious instructions here for you to follow that end up with you shooting Mayor Emanuel!”

  ******

  Kevin parked his grandmother’s car in front of the Tribune building and walked to Sharon’s desk area. She wasn’t there. Her boss, Chester, walked down the hall and stopped when he saw Kevin. “What in the hell happened to you?”

  Kevin had removed most of the bandages from his face but his forehead and neck were still covered in the bloody rectangles.

  “I was behind a car windshield that was blasted with an AK47.”

  Chester’s mouth dropped open.

  Kevin asked, “Do you know where Sharon is?”

  “She’s supposed to be with you.”

  Kevin winced as he yanked another bandage from his neck. “She never showed.”

  Chester motioned Kevin to follow him back to his office.

  Chester pulled a file from his cabinet and said, “Let’s call her.”

  “She’s not answering.”

  Chester closed the file and frowned. “I don’t like this. She was very excited to meet you. She told me you were letting her help with a story. I watched her run out of the building.”

  Kevin rested his arms on Chester’s desk. “The last time I talked to her she said she was on her way and should be there in about ten minutes.”

  Chester opened Sharon
s file. “She lives with her grandmother. Maybe something has happened.” Chester dialed Sharon’s grandmother’s number and waited for her to answer. “Mrs. Perez? Is Sharon there with you?”

  Chester shook his head at Kevin, said goodbye to Mrs. Perez and started tapping his pen on the folder. “Let’s start calling hospitals.”

  ******

  Wayne pulled up in front of Peter’s house. By now he was furious. He hadn’t been able to reach Dolly or Cynthia by phone and neither were home. He decided to surprise Peter with a visit. He walked up Peter’s steps and rang the doorbell.

  Peter answered right away. “You’re one of the detectives from this morning aren’t you?”

  Wayne answered, “Yes. We need to talk.”

  Peter nodded and said, “Sure. The other gals are here, too. We think we’ve figured out what’s happening and it isn’t good.”

  Wayne’s heart sunk. How bad could this day get?

  Peter said, “I’m being told to shoot the Mayor.”

  Wayne walked in and listened to them explain Cynthia’s shooting of the painting, how they were all taking the Mandarin program and how Darla had watched the last transmission on Peter’s laptop.

  Wayne rubbed his temples and dialed the department geek used for cybercrimes. After a long muffled conversation in the dining room Wayne returned to the others. He was carrying Peter’s laptop.

  He looked at Darla. “Give me your notes from this video you watched. I need all of your phones and I need you all to meet me at the station. Our tech will download this information, we’ll take statements and then you can go home.” He raised his voice. “Then leave your friggin’ phones on! If I need to find you and can’t, I’ll slam your asses in jail. Got it?”

  Darla unzipped her purse and asked, “You want my phone too? I never even took that class.” Wayne nodded and Darla dumped her purse on the couch to find her phone. Cynthia and Dolly’s guns dropped out and Wayne drew his pistol.

  “Do not move!”

  CHAPTER 10

  Nick and Jen were within two blocks of the GPS signal on Marvin’s rental car. They had passed the last habitable home two blocks back. Next, was a full block of boarded up houses, then vacant lots. The street ended two blocks from where they were. A red brick three story building sat vacant with partially boarded over windows. A large Conrail sign hung precariously from one corner on the broken chain link fence to the vast parking lot beyond. The railroad had vacated the building decades ago but still owned the property. Ghostly remnants of the cargo warehouse buildings gallantly fought to remain upright. The evolution of their surrender to gravity littering the tangle of terminal tracks. Only the weeds and shrubs breaking through the cracks in the pavement prospered in this neighborhood.

 
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