Doctor Lopes relaxed. “When Weathers was a guest of this facility, for the first little while, the amnesia kept everything that he once had out of reach.”
“Had to be frustrating for him?” Corigan noted.
“You’re underestimating it. It was maddening. And as a psychiatrist, I’d know. “
Corigan looked up to confirm, Doctor Lopes was not making a joke.
Doctor Lopes continued. “But over time, an amazing thing transpired. He started doing re-enactments.”
“Practicing and pretending. Giving himself little identities, even if for only a little while. Imagine giving a small taste of heroin to an addict while they’re searching for a full dose. Of course they’ll take it if it soothes the pain of withdrawal.”
Clinically efficient in his description, Corigan thought.
“And like any great method actor, he worked hard on the structure before he assumed the role. As I said, I’ve no idea how he retained these skills, yet lost his core identity, but again, the human brain is a vast mystery.”
“So he started acting out?”
“Acting is the operative word.” Doctor Lopes waited. “Now I’m a ’nurture versus nature’ scientist, whereas I feel everything we are, we learn. Now some scientists are ’nature versus nurture’ whereas everything we are, we’re born with. They feel natural talents are ingrained into our genetic makeup. So if you were born to a doctor, you have it encoded genetically to become one. I felt this was nonsense as my father was a bricklayer. But after having crossed paths with Weathers, he shook the foundations of this belief.”
“He had all the skills of his identity return without any memory of his life.” Doctor Lopes said it with such incredulity, he seemed to doubt the words. ”It was baffling. He could mimic the staff to near perfection, both in voice and physical presence. He’d watch a program on television, supervised, and when complete, he’d be able to impersonate the characters with such perfection, you’d have to wonder if he was originally offered the role.”
Corigan was impressed.
“And Weathers was an avid researcher. He rarely took on a role without learning about it first. As he avoided impersonating staff until he observed them for a while. He wanted more than to simply mimic them like a parrot. He wanted to become them.”
“For his escape?”
“Unlikely. At the time, it gave Weathers substance to his life. Again, temporarily.”
“Until he could…” Corigan let the question hang in the air.
Doctor Lopes finished the sentence “…live in the real world again. He never understood, it was impossible.” Doctor Lopes frowned. “In the hospital, he had food and shelter, so when an identity drifted away, he was safe to recuperate. But now, in the world, he discovered taking on an identity was much harder. People aren’t readily offering them up, so to become a person, he had to learn about them. And due to the fact he knew he couldn’t hold the identity for long, to be certain to do it effectively, even if only to decimate their lives, he had to follow them, watch them and then become them. His research was the gunpowder and his acting, the bullet.”
As Corigan knew, from reports, Mr. X liked to follow his victims for days, changing identities with each stake out. An infinite number of agents, all under his command and all him.
Doctor Lopes remarked. “He’s a chameleon. Several times I’d call down to the wards and the staff let him answer. He’d discourage me coming down using their voices. Little did they realize, nor I, they were helping him to restore the very skills he formulated to escape us.”
“I recall seeing the video. I remember watching you, actually him, escape.”
“Not one of this institution’s finer moments. It was our first, only and last escape.” Doctor Lopes softened his tone to indicate his annoyance in having lost so vital and intriguing a patient. “But, be warned, before he escaped, other skills returned as well, seemingly out of nowhere. He must have been trained in them, but to have them all resurface without his identity was eerie, if not outright frightening.”
“Makeup application for one. Before he escaped, a few of the female staff found him in their purses, borrowing their makeup. Rather than be angry, as we never get angry with our patients, they supported it, just not his stealing. But they quickly discovered, he knew exactly how to apply it, sometimes better than they did. Each time they claimed it enhanced his appearance, altering it with the little he had available to him. It impressed them, but worried me.”
Corigan remembered having seen the success of that in the face of the fabricated Timothy Albom.
“And I shouldn’t forget, his mastery of special effects.”
“Special effects?” Corigan queried with some surprise.
“He was rumoured to have had a photographic memory. He drew upon it with the clarity of reading a textbook. And because he was known as a master of special effects; pyrotechnics, smokes and explosives. One staff member of mine dubbed him the ‘Jack of all trades’ of the movie industry. He warned me of this when Weather’s gifts started resurfacing.”
“Was he dangerous?”
“Once we discovered the skill had resurfaced, we took measures. For instance, he’d gotten hold of some ammonia from a mop closet and iodine from the medical supplies. He later combined them to create ammonium triiodide crystals.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Neither had we. Charles found it on the Internet when he discovered the empty bottles. It’s basically a purple crystal that decomposes under the slightest amount of heat, friction, or shock. Can be quite explosive if created correctly. Once found, we disposed of it carefully. Then all industrial chemicals were removed.”
“You learned a lot from him.”
“We had to. We needed to be prepared for his continual emerging talents. Sure, with his temper he was a concern, but with medications, I assumed he was contained. I never even fathomed he could escape, nor want to try for that matter. Even if he had, with his lack of identity, I figured we’d find him wandering the streets in search of shelter. Never did I suspect he’d be taking on new identities and destroying them. He outsmarted us all.”
Corigan was learning just as Mr. X did.
Doctor Lopes added. “I suspected he would be found eventually, but more importantly, returned to me. Then I’d be better prepared to take care of him. Knowing my enemy as it were.”
Doctor Lopes for the first time in their discussion, appeared genuinely angered. “Yes. I consider him my enemy. The day he went after my wife.”
Corigan was thunderstruck by this revelation. Patrick never mentioned it, nor likely knew. He looked directly into Doctor Lopes’ eyes, curiosity outweighed by compassion. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. She’s alive, but not before he sent a wrecking ball through her career.”
“What did he do to her?”
Corigan tried to imagine what he could do.
Doctor Lopes explained. “Luckily, if I could call it that, he attacked her livelihood.”
Doctor Lopes chugged down the last of his Scotch. He rose, refilled to two more fingers full and returned to his seat. “Excuse the drink, but when talking about this, I need to calm my nerves.”
Corigan was not judging. “Whatever it takes.”
Doctor Lopes took a deep pull on his glass. “It was last year. Nearer to the holidays when Weathers initiated step one.”
“His research stage. As I mentioned, he never likes to take on a role without learning about it first, so he can get to know the routine, the tics and the eccentricities of his target.”
“Sounds like a lot of work.”
“It is. But once he takes on the identity, it’s nearly flawless. He becomes that person in essence and spirit.”
“Mind you though, when becoming someone else, there are risks involved. Like any unique personality, any deviation, fault or unrecognizable trait could bring down his house of cards.”
“I’ve seen his work. He’s good”
“Remember that he relies on two of the greatest factors of our humanity, our eyesight and our hearing. Fool those, and you have your deception.”
“I know you read about that lawyer who emptied his trust account and it was Mr. X right?”
Corigan recalled, “Yes.”
“Well when Weathers entered the bank as the lawyer, he did it less than an hour after the real one had departed.”
“He had no ID. Nothing. Yet, he walked up to the teller the real lawyer spoke to and told her point blank he had lost his wallet and he needed to make a withdrawal for a big case coming up.”
“She did. The lawyer was a big client of theirs. And a regular. She trusted her eyes. She heard his voice. She’d never have imagined it was anyone else. She stands behind her testimony. It was him.”
“Anyway, back to my wife. I’d returned home that evening and found her in my office. She said she’d lost her pass and pin code for the safe at the store. She was a pharmacist. She owned three stores before I married her, six after. She managed them all. She had a master pass for each of the locations to access the narcotics.”
“As a safeguard?”
“There are very strict protocols for pharmacies when handling these types of drugs. Both for inventory purposes and to prevent trafficking.”
Corigan had heard numerous stories from Vice of pharmacy grade chemicals finding their way into the streets. It was hard to track but easy to nail them once located because usually each batch was chemically marked per owner.
“So I thought nothing of it. I got her the spare card with the codes on her cheat sheet. I trusted my eyes. I trusted my ears. She was my wife after all.”
“It was him?”
“I didn’t know that at the time. The arrogant bastard gave me a kiss on the cheek, the way she always does. When I saw my wife later that night, my real wife, I never even thought to ask her about the request for the card. I mean why would I? To remind her of losing something? Was she testing me? Of course not. That’d be ludicrous.”
“He never came back?”
“No. But after the incident, I pieced it together. Worst of all, I realized it was with my help that the crime for which my wife was framed was orchestrated.”
“What did Mr. X do?”
“That weekend, my wife and I, on our annual vacation, chose to drive up to our cabin. Keep the love alive as it were. And one of the things we always do is leave our cell phones and our laptops at home. When we leave, work stays behind.”
“I do the same thing.”
“While out of contact, for two full days, Weathers, as my wife, started step two, the intervention. He attended each of her pharmacies and took possession of the narcotics.”
“All of them?”
“Most of it. Codeine, Vicodin, Hydrocet, Morphine, Oxycodone, any opiates he could grab and a few others I don’t recall.”
“God no. Mr. X isn’t a drug addict. He procured them all for one dastardly purpose. To sell on the streets, as my wife.”
The darkness behind the plan started to materialize.
“And in broad daylight, in the busiest hours of each store, cameras caught her coming in, using her master cardkey to open the safes, a key only she should have, with a pass code only she possessed, all provided to her by the only other person who shared this knowledge, her husband.”
The guilt in Doctor Lopes’ eyes was unmistakable. He was devastated by having helped, even if inadvertently.
“Sure some of the technicians protested, we had numerous arguments on video, even one staff member being fired, with my wife, in the centre of it all, clear as day, on location, while at the same time, with me at the cabin. Weathers, as her, walked out with everything. She was ultimately the boss and the owner. How could they stop her? Protocols may be set by the government, but she was the one entrusted to enforce them.”
“We were out of contact. No way to reach us. Like many of his frames, he knew where we were and how long we’d be gone. The next thing we know, he was peddling the drugs on street corners, to schools, in night clubs and alleys. He sold to everyone; to kids, adults, anyone with a dollar and a need walked away with pure narcotics from what would only be known as a specialist in the field, a pharmacologist.”
Corigan could only imagine. Procuring even one such tablet was hard enough, but the real stuff had to be a dream come true for addicts.
“And of course, they all remembered my wife. Bringer of dreams.”
Corigan leaned back, comprehending the magnitude.
“By the time we returned, the disgruntled employee who was terminated had called the police, and they were waiting for us. She was arrested, but after a few days, I was able to prove her innocence, thanks to a tape of her and me in a local restaurant on the night she was in the store making a withdrawal.”
“What did the police think?”
“They were still suspicious of course, but they couldn’t argue the evidence. It was from an impartial source. They had to presume my wife had a remarkable double or at least someone out there who had plastic surgery to pull off the crime. As for the voice pass keys and codes, the double must have stolen them. They felt it was a well-planned scheme. And because they felt this woman had stolen over half a million dollars in over-the-counter drugs, street sales exponential to that, it would have justified the costs of the surgery.”
“As leads turned into dead ends, the investigation fizzled out. Luckily, none of the users died or overdosed, or my wife would have been revisited again by the police.”
“Mr. X never returned?”
“Surprisingly, no. But I suspect this is only a matter of time. Unlike his other frames, my destruction will be bittersweet, something to savour, so one win on my side is no skin off his nose.”
“But, not to lessen the impact, I thought you said he ruined her life.”
“Oh he did. You see, my wife tried to return to work. But the stares she got, the hidden whispers behind her back, the frequent visitors off the street coming in and asking her for more of the ‘good stuff’, drove her into a deep depression. Alhough she was cleared of the crime in the eyes of the justice system, she was not so easily freed by the court of public opinion. Remember, the staff saw her, with their own eyes, heard her with their own ears and though no one spoke it, none of them believed it wasn’t her.”
Corigan lowered his head. “Terrible.”
“She finally sold all the stores to a pharmacy chain in Toronto. She received a nice package mind you, but they had no interest in hiring her. She was damaged goods. Sure she banked a few million, even donated a couple hundred grand to the city to help with drug clinics by those affected by Mr. X’s drug fire-sale, but she knew she could never return to pharmacology again. Her reputation was tarnished and in her field, that was paramount to disaster.”
“What does she do now?”
“Mostly charity work. Helping children and young parents. She’s a wonderful woman. It’s why I love her as I do. I’ve loved her for twenty-five years and I’ll love her for twenty-five more.”
Corigan wished he could find someone like that.
“Once we moved past that phase, I had both our home and our offices outfitted with the biometric monitors as you were analyzed with today.”
“I saw them and yes, was scanned by them.”
“One advantage of having had Weathers under my care was I have his DNA on file and a scan of his retinas. My security have strict instructions, if the scanner goes off, no matter who it is, shoot to kill.”
Shoot to kill. No matter who it is. Corigan remembered what Patrick had said to him in that restaurant that afternoon. And when I’m done, I damn well bet you that you’ll start doing the same thing.
Corigan rose, thanking Doctor Lopes immensely for his time.
Doctor Lopes rose to shake Corigan’s hand in return.
But then a question occurred to Corigan. “Does Mr. X have a victim profile?”
Doctor Lopes shrugged his shoulders while nodding his head back and forth. “Sadly no. There is no victim-ology you can use to template and track down his victims before he assaults them. Basically, if they breathe, they’re a target.”
’Great. Another dead end.”
Doctor Lopes paused. “Not exactly.”
Corigan sensed a revelation coming. “What do you mean, not exactly?”
“I mean, from the recent cases I’ve had heard about, your Mr. X is escalating.”
“That’s for certain.”
“What started as minor frames with inconspicuous people has transformed to higher profile targets with more limelight and more news.”
Corigan agreed. His victims of late were blatantly bold.
“I highly doubt he’s seeking capture. I think he’s making more of the game.”
Corigan did not like the idea Weathers could consider this a game.
“But there’s one thing I think everyone has overlooked.”
“Yes?” Corigan asked, anticipating.
“Remember, the first thing Weathers did when he escaped? He revisited his bank as himself.”
“We discussed that.”
“True, don’t you find it odd, there were no theatrics, no telltale destruction, no damaging the reputation of Jonathon Weathers.”
“But it was himself.”
“Exactly. That day, he was quiet and inconspicuous, and Jonathon Weathers. Nothing more.”
“And this helps how?”
“Because everyone else he became, he destroyed. It’s significant to me the one identity and reputation he left untouched was his own.”
Corigan envisioned it.
An idea. A chink in the armour. An Achilles heel.
“You’re saying I can’t attack Mr. X because he doesn’t exist. But if I attack Jonathon Weathers…” Corigan left it unfinished.
“Remember, tapping on a spider’s web always invites trouble.” Doctor Lopes reached under his desk and handed Corigan a file, thick with documents. “Everything I know.”
Great, more files, Corigan thought.
Corigan casually asked, “What about doctor / patient confidentiality?”
Doctor Lopes looked him straight in the eye and smiled. “The advantage one has with an individual who has no identity and chooses to live his life as such, no matter how minuscule, the persona he chooses each day is not my patient. And if he’s not my patient, I’m not betraying him.”
Corigan grinned. “You’re a master of technical flaws.”
Doctor Lopes returned the smile. “Not really. The moment he went after my wife, he became my enemy and I’ll never protect my enemies.”
Corigan thanked Doctor Lopes again.
By the time he reached the road, he was formulating a plan to draw out Mr. X.
Corigan looked down at the van seat and now two files, the X-File and the psychiatric file on the totality of Jonathon Weathers. He smiled and said aloud. “Thank you Doctor. Jonathon Weathers is the man I’m going to use to find Mr. X.”
Corigan reached into his jacket pocket and reactivated his cell.
After several seconds, the touchscreen rebooted.
The phone started to ring, not a ring indicating an incoming call, but the blaring sound denoting a recorded message.
Corigan turned to read the menu.
Within seconds, his face scrunched up and he slammed the brakes on the van, screeching the vehicle to a halt in the middle of the countryside road.
Black burnt rubber trails blazed their way behind him, tracing their way to his position leaving smoke plumes in the air. A thick pungent smell of cooked rubber flowed about the van.
But Corigan hardly noticed as he read on the screen. ‘Sixty-two messages’
“What the Hell?”
Corigan listened to the first message and his blood ran cold.
It was Catherine.
She was asking him to surrender.
He was wanted for a triple homicide.