The undercurrents of energy that flowed beneath the aircraft after it left the tarmac in Alberta was rocky, choppy at points, causing the smaller jet to drop quickly in mid-stride, yet within seconds, catch the lift under the wings and force it to sail forth on a dark sea of pulsating winds.
It seemed ironic the air was being as unrelenting as the tempest of attention on Corigan’s actions back in Toronto.
A hurricane of news, with Corigan at the eye, building momentum.
But as he knew, it had not been him.
It was Mr. X.
But to the Ontario news media, reporters, bloggers and pundits, it was him and him alone.
They trusted their eyes, their eyewitness accounts and more importantly, their scandals.
News agencies had Corigan’s face posted on websites and plastered on television channels in a constant barrage of imagery, many using the same stock photos the Toronto Police Department had provided in their press kits when Corigan was forced to make public statements On-Air.
The big smiling face of Detective Corigan McAllistor, looking calm, cool and relaxed, sporting a clean black turtleneck, brown blazer and well-trimmed haircut, staring back at the audience with the running text underneath, “Rampage At Police Precinct In Toronto. Suspect Sought.”
’Sure am glad I gave them a good pile of those press packages.’ Corigan thought.
Added to that, a few hastened interviews with team members, on break or leaving work, turning from the cameras quickly with remarks like, “No comment.”, “Ask Public Relations.” Or his personal favourite, “We’re still investigating.”
More like ’still hunting’ Corigan snarled in a hushed tone, more to himself than anyone else, sounding like a feral grunt.
Gary had his hands on the steering column. He kept one eye on the skies and his other locked on the co-pilot’s seat, patiently waiting for Corigan to open up.
Time and silence was a pilot’s friend, so holding tight was something Gary could easily manage.
Even with the windows shaking like an earthquake, the howling winds outside baying like wolves on a full moon, the torrents of watery pellets assaulting the windshield like little woodpeckers on a telephone pole hunting for dinner, saturating the glass before him, Gary flew with relative ease.
And amazingly, it barely caused Corigan to twitch.
He had other more pressing concerns than a plane crash.
Corigan knew that Mr. X’s actions had changed the playing field in unpredictable ways.
Mr. X’s move, by putting the very police Corigan worked for onto his tail and taking the heat off Beckham, was phenomenally played.
With one exception.
Mr. X was presuming Corigan would give up his chase for Beckham’s innocence and focus on his own.
Like rats on a ship. Save yourself!
Problem was, and Mr. X could not have estimated, he was wrong.
Mr. X was making decisions on the fly, taking actions without knowing his adversary, making guesses when conclusions were needed.
Besides crime fighting, Corigan was a master of marketing and by extension, the media, which was why he was half of the Special Investigations team.
That and Corigan cared more about winning than appearances.
Reputations can be rebuilt, success is forever.
And because Corigan now understood Mr. X’s obsession, thanks to Doctor Lopes, he knew he had to keep his focus on Beckham’s innocence, not his own.
As long as Beckham’s identity remained untarnished, Mr. X would swarm around him like killer bees seeking another opportunity to kill.
So as long as Corigan kept mending the tears of innocence and balancing the books on Beckham, it would only infuriate Mr. X in incalculable ways.
And most importantly, if done fast and furiously, may lead Mr. X to make more mistakes.
Each second Corigan kept Beckham safe was a second he had to catch Mr. X.
And of course, save himself.
Corigan made some calls to news stations on new cells he’d bought to claim the station attack was pre-planned. It’s goal, to get the focus off the frame of Beckham. He left the reporters to do the dirty work with that piece of chum.
But sand was sliding fast from the top of the hourglass.
Corigan knew his team, co-workers of many years, were damn smart and catching him was only a matter of time.
Criminals like to imply some cops are hired thugs, brainless muscle who do nothing more than shoot first, ask questions later.
Corigan knew, some men on the force were like that.
It was unavoidable.
Like Timothy Albom.
But other cops were very intelligent, many in specialized fields, and a fountain of knowledge. And when combined with other specialties each law enforcement official offered, it blended and created a mass of unstoppable force.
The smartest criminals are never facing one cop. They are facing the Borg of law enforcement and there is always one officer with that single little idea, one that can spark the bonfire of investigation and focus the others.
The question was, could Corigan prove his innocence in that window of opportunity before being assimilated.
He hoped so or it would be a welcome medical career with Doctor Lopes or a pine box with a twenty-one gun salute.
Most likely the latter, and all in his direction.
Corigan leaned back in his seat, letting out a sigh.
Gary said nothing, remaining stoic and patient.
Corigan knew he had to tell Gary, but also knowing by dragging him into this, his friend needed to be fully armed.
Mr. X was devious.
In the span of thirty minutes, Corigan told Gary everything as he did Catherine.
Corigan walked Gary through from the start, leaving no details out, up and until Gary picked him up.
Gary listened as he flew, nodding at several opportunities, a few times whistling aloud and once, he threw in, “Fuck me.”
Twice Gary asked for clarification on some points, if only to confirm how diabolical this Mr. X was, but in the end, he took it all in.
Gary leveled the flaps and checked the gauges. “Well bud. You really know how to pick them huh?”
Corigan laughed. “That’s exactly what Catherine said.”
After several minutes of calculating, Gary mentioned Corigan still had some high cards in his deck against this enemy.
First: Mr. X’s previous victims were arrested AFTER they discovered what had been done to them. They were forced to start their battle from inside the justice system out, fighting a wall of public perception and evidence that made for a very disheartening challenge, which over time, broke down even the most ardent barriers of faith.
Combined with the fact, they had no idea who their enemy was. How could they suspect the existence of this nebulous spirit of vengeance when they had never crossed paths with him in the first place.
Second, Corigan was a cop.
He knew how cops worked.
Cops started from the foundation of the suspect’s life, his home, his relationships, his family, his friends, his job, his assets and his lifestyle. From there, once under control, they expand out like a web, wrapping everything in an invisible thread, ensnaring everything their victim holds dear, hoping it to quiver whenever the suspect makes contact, sending signals down the line to the nest, triggering the trap, until there was nothing left but the spider coming for them.
With that knowledge, Corigan could keep ahead of the police and focused on Mr. X.
Gary handed Corigan a couple thousand dollars from his personal lockbox in the office, noting to him, more was available, knowing Corigan could not use his personal credit cards or he would be tracked instantly.
“So what is your great plan?” Gary asked.
Corigan cracked his knuckles. “First of all, keep Beckham’s scandal on the front burner. Do that and Mr. X will stay in Toronto. Mr. X cannot let this go once he’s designated an identity needs to be destroyed.”
Corigan shook his head. “Actually, no. As Doctor Lopes explained it, I’m simply collateral damage. Yes, technically, he’s trying to destroy my identity, but I wasn’t his primary focus. I just got in the way. So he’s only doing enough damage to clear the path and finish the work he started.”
Gary pulled back on the yaw. “So shooting you in the head wouldn’t have been more effective. I mean, did he not kill that other detective?”
Corigan took a drink of beer Gary brought with him.
Though Corigan was never a fan of beer, the alcohol was soothing.
“Yes, but he killed Patrick because he was trying to tell me about Weathers. Had Mr. X more time, he might have gone for the frame up, but then again, Patrick had been hunting him for years and telling lots of people about his theories. So bringing that type of focus against his only known adversary, in the form of a perfect frame, would’ve only inspired potential press. Something Mr. X avidly hates.”
“I see.” Gary did not really understand, but he was consoling. “He sure got a lot of press at the university though?”
“Yes, but the press reported it as an angry student seeking revenge. Common news, sadly to say, with Patrick being an innocent bystander.” Corigan explained. “But, a seasoned detective framed for a crime he claims he didn’t commit and searching for someone he told the world about who does just that…”
“This is the makings of a movie. So go with random and forgettable. Result, Mr. X’s greatest enemy is gone with no one thinking to investigate it.”
“Yes. By his actions, a new enemy was formed.”
“Me.” Corigan said with cold conviction.
Gary adjusted some knobs, turned dials and descended a touch. “So why didn’t he shoot you? Why all the effort to frame you?”
“As Doctor Lopes put it, arrogance is most likely. But think about it. If you’re a sniper, you use a rifle. If you’re a farmer, you use a pitchfork. As for Mr. X, his weapon of choice is impersonation and deception. So he fired at me using the tools of his trade.”
“Vicious and horrible.” Gary felt the same chill Corigan did. “So if Beckham gets convicted, he’ll forget about you?”
Corigan pursed his lips. “Even Doctor Lopes is unsure of that. He’s studied Weathers for years and he believes Mr. X can only focus on one thing at a time, like an obsession, but he may have evolved. He might simply vanish, leaving me to clean up the mess or worse, make me his new primary target.”
“So why not give the press proof you were in Alberta at the time of the attack now?”
“Two reasons. One, if I’m cleared too quickly, Mr. X may have no choice but to attack someone else to draw my attention. I can’t risk that. And two, if I bring the evidence I have, I could direct Mr. X back to the man who’s helping me, and currently, he’s using all his influence and money to protect Mr. X’s previous victims. So I need to safeguard him as well.”
“Is there a Saint Corigan yet? I could recommend you”
Corigan smiled. “Have I told you to ’Shut the Fuck Up today? If not, consider this it.”
Gary chuckled, then shifted to serious. “And if he’s not finished with you?”
Corigan drew in a breath. “If he becomes focused on me, because I’ve made this personal, I have to be ready.”
“And it gives me more time to catch him.”
“That’s a dangerous gamble.”
Corigan grinned. “You always lose if you never play.”
Gary smirked back and asked the obvious question. “Then why not `fake’ convict Beckham and make him go away.”
Corgian took a breath. “If he gets away, I’ll be doing what Patrick did. Seeking out the framed after they are destroyed. I can stop him, here and now and I plan to.”
Gary could see the Hamilton lights in the distance. “Here’s the million dollar question… How?”
Corigan smiled, that charming smirk that meant his devious little strategic mind was at work. “I’ve an idea.”
“As long as the press thinks Beckham is framed by cops, they won’t convict him. Trust me, I’ve done Public Relations for years. As long as I keep dumping chum into the shark infested waters, the reporters will gorge on it. I know exactly what to say and in the ways to drive urgency to keep searching.”
Gary started his descent.
“Then, I’ll unleash my rook, bishop and finally my queen.”
“Chess references. Nice.”
“He has me in checkmate but the king isn’t dead yet.”
“I want to be the rook. I have no desire to be the Queen.”
Corigan laughed as he shrugged the last remnants of beer. “I always thought you’d make a good Queen.”
“Do you know where the parachutes are? If not, open the first door on your right. It’ll seem kind of windy, but just jump in and you’ll find it.”
Both men bellowed in laughter.
Gary handed him three more phones as he was asked to procure. “I have ten more for you at the hanger.”
Corigan stared at his friend. “Ten? You paranoid much?”
“Coming from a guy who just got framed by a man everyone thinks is dead and no one believes exists, and you, forced to hide in the shadows to seek justice, on the run from not one, but three police agencies, I find the accusation of paranoia rather surprising.”
“Touché.” Corigan replied.
His friend had him there.
Corigan dialed. The phone was answered by an automated system. With little patience for the directory, he pressed zero for the receptionist.
Even at this time, they would answer right away.
An older female voice answered. “Good evening. GTNN.”
Corigan began. “Good evening.”
“How can I help you sir?” in a British accent.
Cutting to the chase. “I need to speak to Annabelle Veracity.”
“And may I ask who’s calling.”
“Tell her, it’s Detective Corigan McAllistor and I have an exclusive for her.”
The receptionist, used to importance, replied with authority. “Please hold for a second. I’ll transfer you to her cell.”