The Nefarious Mr. X

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Chapter 31

31

6:24 p.m.

One hour and thirty six minutes before “ShowTime.”

Inside the GTNN headquarters, on the first floor, at the end of a long corridor of dressing rooms, sat one of the infamous ‘Green Rooms’ known throughout the media world.

In GTNN, there were four such rooms.

They were often located near the main stage platforms, with direct access to the newsroom and interview areas, but also providing for a secondary exit which accommodated fast departures for personal security teams from the shows to covered parking docks for the more ‘fan-sought’ guests.

It was basically a high end apartment. An elegant suite outfitted from top to bottom with all the amenities; a washroom, a wraparound couch, a king-sized bed, a kitchenette, a fully stocked bar and guaranteed solitude as this was the preparation point for all guests for the upcoming program.

All these suites were specifically designed to welcome visitors for the big event. Making them extremely comfortable and most importantly, softening their resolves, thus turning difficult guests into better and more pliable material for the show.

All television interviews were basically a game of chess, with the winner being the one with the best moves, quickest decisions, and fastest retorts, not the one who played the longest game.

Any advantage was taken, used and exploited to the best of the talent’s abilities.

This green room, dubbed ‘B’, was one of the better locales. It was a high class vestibule which included a wide array of white roses split into crystal vases and placed at each entrance, a silver tray filled with home-made oatmeal cookies and freshly frothed cappuccino, for silent enjoyment.

But tonight’s guest chose only a bottle of chilled spring water to drink.

Corigan McAllistor took a deep satisfying gulp and placed it on the coaster to his right, a marble placeholder etched with the red and white GTNN logo.

Once relaxed, if he really could, Corigan quickly glanced at the sealed door to the hall.

He felt safe for now.

He was surrounded on all sides by the best officers the 14th division could provide, mostly his friends and some he considered family. He mused silently to himself. `What nut job would attempt to break in here against all this manpower and cause trouble?”

Then he smiled. ‘Oh yeah… Me!’

He got up and did a perimeter check.

He was alone.

Annabelle had explained no one ever enters the room of a guest before a show.

Especially without their express permission, preferably in writing.

Each and every celebrity had their own small ritual, be it unknown or painted on every wall for others.

Some required having constant fans at their beck and call, soothing their enlarged egos, with assistants pandering to them hand and foot.

Others, like rumoured for this Green room, was assigned to celebrities who wanted absolute peace to prepare for the upcoming program.

So Corigan had some freedom. Not much, but he knew his restrictions as he and Catherine had planned.

Most of the tactical forces were strategically placed outside the GTNN offices, not inside, with their sole goal of preventing entry into the building, and by extension, later stopping any escape.

But making very clear to the exterior teams, no officer should be seen patrolling the halls.

It was explained, the only reason officers were needed inside was to advertise that those outside had failed. And since this was a Public Relations inspired event for the Metro Police, to prove to the city the cops still had things well in hand, anything showing weakness was considered detrimental.

That and Corigan wanted as few police officers in the building as possible. He knew full well, very few of them, regardless of their history with him, would see him first and offer to help with his quest to catch a phantom menace no one knew about or believed was real. That and considering Corigan’s current stigma of having tried to kill their Captain, this basically ensured any officer who saw him would be duty-bound to shoot first, ask questions later.

“Thanks Mr. X.” Corigan muttered as he puttered about the room.

Corigan had to rely on his friends tonight and their trust in him and one head anchor looking for a scoop.

Once Corigan had the battalion outside ready, Annabelle confirmed for him there would be a complement of only thirty two staff that night to run the show.

To Corigan, it seemed like a lot, but she advised this was a skeleton crew at best.

She had explained, Sunday night television rarely warranted a large contingent of staff, such as camera crews, light technicians or producers, but a certain level was mandatory to maintain a good program.

However with as much influence as Annabelle could muster, granting free vacation days and sending people out on far away assignments, she was able to keep the onsite personnel to a minimum for the show.

As lead anchor, Annabelle had some pull.

Corigan made clear, his goal tonight was to ensure as few innocent bystanders as possible were in harm’s way. He was not there to protect her reputation.

She reminded him, she could take care of herself.

He believed her.

Corigan emphasized to Annabelle to remember the magic number, thirty five.

Thirty-two crew, including Annabelle, followed by himself, Vertigo, Catherine and of course, Mr. X.

Annabelle asked right away. “But that’s thirty-six?”

Corigan made a quick ‘Tsk-Tsk’ with his pointing finger. He explained to Annabelle, and later to Catherine, one of the thirty-two crew would be Mr. X, not the actual employee, so to count one less in the crew.

So until thirty five bodies left this building, the 14th were not to move from their stations under any circumstance.

And as Catherine told him, that was the order in place.

Corigan took another drink of his water and shook himself free of any jittery nerves. His enemy would pull out all the stops tonight. Corigan’s greatest weapon was preparation.

He snapped right at a rap on the door.

He stealthily approached. He spoke softly, deepening his voice. “Yes?”

Annabelle could be heard through the panelling, sounding impatient. “Open the door. I need to talk to you.”

Corigan unlocked it and pulled it open slightly, watching from the darkened recesses, creating space for Annabelle to enter, yet keeping himself undercover.

She quickly entered.

Corigan locked the door behind her.

Annabelle, comfortable in this room, crossed the floor and took a seat on the massage chair in the middle.

Once she was seated in front of him, she smiled and activated the controls on the remote for the Shiatsu rolling action.

Annabelle looked stunning as usual. She was dressed in a white low cut top, black crew cut trimmed blazer with short sleeves and a very short skirt.

But at this moment, she was staring at Corigan in fascination.

She finally smiled. “You look amazing.”

Corigan took his seat, turned and smiled into the mirror. “Thank you. Your makeup guys are spectacular. My idea of style is running my pillow over my head for static electricity to hold down my hair.”

Annabelle chuckled. She quickly surveyed the room. “For the most wanted cop in all of Toronto, you sure make yourself at home.”

Corigan grinned guiltily.

Annabelle, at this point, was turning in amazement at the table of goods, foods, snacks and treats. “When I gave you the craft services menu, I didn’t mean for you to spend a week’s budget on it.”

Corigan smiled sheepishly. “If this is going to be my last meal before prison, I want to make it good.”

“Don’t worry.” Annabelle smiled. “They’re more likely to shoot you.”

Corigan gave her a stern, yet mocking glare. “Thanks!”

“Just make sure it’s on the air.” She reached over and grabbed a strawberry.

Corigan on the other hand had scooped up a spoonful of cheesecake, digging from the middle to make the whole dessert his by invasion of the core. He downed a large mouthful, which took a few seconds to swallow.

Annabelle laughed loudly, her mouth opening widely, yet somehow still demurely.

Corigan looked in her direction, providing a quizzical facial expression to query as to the reason for her hilarity.

Once she gained a minute of control, she said he looked like a squirrel storing nuts for the winter. Annabelle had to take a few deep breaths to regain her composure.

Once they finished, Corigan picked the menu up again and said aloud while examining. “Hmmm. Russian Caviar? That would be good. But it sounds expensive…” Corigan snapped his fingers. “Then again, I’m not paying.”

Annabelle shrugged. “Then again…” Mocking his words, “I wonder what my story would lead with when I call out the door…” She pointed to the hall and paused for dramatic effect. “With a scream of course….”

Corigan nodded with a smirk. “Of course.”

Annabelle continued. “’Officers! Help me! I just saw Corigan McAllistor. He’s in Green Room ’B.” He has a face full of fish eggs for our guests tonight. Arrest him!” She took a breath. “By the way, who do I invoice at the station for this theft of our food since you were guarding the place?”

Annabelle put the back of her hand to her forehead as she spoke, acting melodramatically, and showing feigned fear.

Both smiled to one another, like predators in the Coliseum, one the lion, the other, the gladiator.

Stalemate.

They both laughed together again.

Once they were relaxed, Annabelle asked. “You’ve kept me in the dark on your end game. What do you have planned?”

“To be honest, I have none.”

Annabelle looked at him with some displeasure.

Corigan allayed her concerns. “Right now, I’m playing it by ear. I’ve put all my cards on the table. So I’m hoping for the best. And as for the bait, I hope with all my might it attracted him.”

Annabelle was impressed with the risk Corigan was taking.

The energy and planning involved had to be overwhelming.

As a result, she could see, Corigan looked tired.

He was energized by his plan, but tempered by the prospect of possible failure.

Annabelle normally lunged upon vulnerability in her show, but tonight, in Corigan, she felt it slightly attracted her. She only wanted to be his friend, not his reporter. Not his interviewer, but his confidante. To coddle him, relax him and ready him for the fight ahead.

She knew it would lead to a better story if Mr. X was real.

Besides being a trained and experienced interviewer, Annabelle had a Masters in Psychology. She felt it helped her immensely with hard-core guests and tightly held secrets. That and she was a great sounding board.

Annabelle charmingly mentioned. “What if he doesn’t show?”

Corigan spoke with firmness, gaining some needed confidence. “First of all, I assure you, he’s here already. I can feel it.” Corigan was hoping more than doubting.

Annabelle trusted his instincts.

She had heard about Detective Corigan McAllistor long before he became her source. His hunches, innuendos and dumb luck ability to see what others did not, solving cases considered unsolvable, was a well-known secret spread to all Toronto crime reporters. If Corigan made a guess, it was likely sound.

Annabelle nonchalantly asked. “So what do we do now?”

“We wait.” He turned to her. “He’ll retaliate. Of that I’m sure. Doctor Lopes explained that Weathers….” Corigan paused. “Mr. X likes the thrill of a challenge. And most importantly, his identity is on the line.”

“His identity?” Annabelle was confused. “I thought you said he no longer had one?”

Corigan knew this was too deep a subject to go into with her at this time. Not that Annabelle needed it ‘dumbing’ down, but right now, time was of the essence. “He does and he did. Moreover, he had an identity and he knows it. Based on his injury, he cannot live it. However by that same token, he has done nothing to harm it.”

“So he knows who he was, but no idea who he is?” Annabelle was genuinely interested. “So in all his machinations, the one thing he left untouched by his new life was his old one?”

“Until now.” Corigan pointed out. “Until you.”

Annabelle raised her right eyebrow. “Me? Why not you?”

“I gave you the stories. You relayed them.” Corigan nodded. “For the past week, he’s been watching you, and only you, tear away at his past. Rip up his reputation and piss on his career. Doctor Lopes has theorized he’ll be furious.”

“Wonderful.” She seemed slightly annoyed by that.

Corigan rubbed his hands together, ignoring Annabelle’s expression of worry as he felt he had things under control. “Remember. Anger leads to reaction. So our job tonight is to keep him angry. Keep that up and it will lead to mistakes. And with an enemy like this, we need all the mistakes he can make or we may never catch him.”

Annabelle knew the risks, but she had never faced an enemy like this before.

“Weathers doesn’t understand the motivation behind your story. So he‘ll wait to find out first what you’re up to and why. And correct that which you’ve done on the air.”

“Really?” Annabelle sounded skeptical. “I like the ‘On the air’ part though.”

“Trust me. He will. With vengeance on his mind, he’ll be bloodthirstily seeking revenge on the one who caused all this.”

“Me again?” Annabelle said with some reservation.

“Yes, you.”

“So I was the bait all along?”

Corigan shrugged. “Makes for a good story does it not?”

Annabelle did agree. She was not concerned with what she said or how she said it as that was the premise of news. It was the repercussions of Mr. X she was worried about. If Mr. X was even half the threat Corigan made him out to be, she prayed to God he never made it out of this studio alive tonight. “Just what I wanted. A serial killing madman with a God complex who can become anyone he wants to and with me in his sights.”

Corigan tried to console her. “I’ll protect you.”

“You damn well better.”

“Remember, he got me first.”

“Wow. Maybe we can form a club.” She said sarcastically.

Corigan remembered what Doctor Lopes had told him, about all the victims, some known and unknown. “It would be a large club.”

She decided to let this topic slide. A story for another day.

Annabelle gestured to the mirror. “Well, you still look perfect

“Thanks.” Corigan looked to the mirror and admired what he saw. “As I mentioned, your make-up squad are phenomenal. This is the third disguise they’ve provided me this week and they all work.”

“They’re miracle workers. And once I told them you were my confidential source, they vowed silence and to do anything you asked.”

Silent witnesses were usually considered gold mines for the news.

Corigan re-examined his face.

It really was fantastic. He felt his eyes scrunch up beneath the polymorphic rubber.

Annabelle asked. “Why do you look so paranoid? Do you think someone recognized you?”

“That’s just it.” Corigan replied forlorn. “No one did. All I wore was a GTNN printed ID, which I could have created at home with a scanner and a colour printer, and I’ve been going in and out of this place without any difficulties.”

“That’s good is it not?”

“But I was allowed entry with only my picture and my verbal assurance I was who I claimed to be.”

“Yes but only within the limits of sanitation staff access. You still need security cards for the rest.”

“Still, I’m simply amazed at how easily I could convince others of who I am when it’s not real. Before the police cordoned off the GTNN station on Friday, I could come and go as I please. In fact, now, the officers think they know me, so I’m part of the background.”

As Doctor Lopes said, ‘It’s the inherent trust Mr. X preys upon and with great success.’

Annabelle tried to console Corigan in return. “The men, the ones you were made up to look like, are the maintenance staff who clean floors and change garbage bins. We barely notice them most of the time. But thanks to you, and me, they have some unexpected vacation time. And the amusing thing is, instead of getting these guys in trouble by becoming them, when they come back, they’ll still have all their vacation days. I mean, for all intents and purposes, they were here.”

Corigan smiled. Helping people, even benignly felt nice. “I hate it was so damn easy, that’s all. Worse, your make-up crew never asked any questions.”

“Of course they did.” Annabelle gave a non-committal shrug. “But I told them you were undercover. That’s all they needed to know. Sure they asked why you chose to go undercover as the most reviled man in Toronto?”

Corigan looked insulted. “I don’t think most reviled man in Toronto is who I’m assumed to be?”

Annabelle grinned. “Would you prefer most despised? How about most abominated? I’m partial to most abhorrent, but it sounded harsh.”

Corigan squeezed his eyes shut. “Thanks Madame Webster.”

“People don’t look for problems. If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, we assume it’s a duck.”

“You shouldn’t.”

“We will. Face it, we see it, hear it and naturally, we’ll trust it.” Annabelle raised her hands. “It’s reality.”

“I would have preferred at least one raised eyebrow. One little, ‘Can I see that ID again?’”

Annabelle sighed. “It’s time consuming to be suspicious. Plus no one has ever crossed paths with a guy like this.” Annabelle being the devil’s advocate. “He is who he is by choice, controlled or not. He’s the bad guy, not us. He creates an invasion that is unheard of, even in my circles, and mine are vast, and destroys all that he touches… for fun.”

Corigan nodded. “More misdirected revenge.”

“Either way. Don’t chastise yourself or us for not spotting him before. Applaud yourself for finding out who he is and what he’s been doing, especially if you bring him in.”

Corigan didn’t want to start giving himself backslaps just yet.

Annabelle tried to lighten the mood. “I was over by your Beta station, weird names by the way.”

“I bet Lakos provided the codenames. A Sci-Fi nut.”

“Well they claim Weathers isn’t here.”

McAllistor looked at her quizzically. “Then who do they think is in this room?”

“No one. Staff were instructed Weathers wanted absolute secrecy before the show. We gave it. “

“What about all the food I ordered?”

“They assumed his press manager ordered it. Sure they think Weathers is a pig, but considering all the other stuff we called him this week, a pig is a compliment.”

Corigan chuckled. They had really raked Weathers’ reputation over the coals.

Annabelle finally asked the question. “Seriously though, will you confess if he doesn’t show?” She didn’t want him to, but with all the press, he might have to.

Corigan turned to her, fortitude in his tone. “Trust me when I tell you, he’ll show. I’ll bet my salary for a year he’s here already. The real question is, ‘Who is he?’

“What salary? Are you still getting paid? I’d love to do a story on that. Killer Cop… Still on Payroll.”

Corigan gave her another nasty glare. “Aren’t I supposed to get a gift basket or something? With Maple syrup and smoked salmon?”

Annabelle got up. “The station provides it AFTER the program. Plus I don’t think you will be able to carry it with handcuffs on.”

Corigan’s eyes tightened in annoyance. “Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

Annabelle knew he was kidding, but he was right.

She had a show to prepare for.

Corigan locked the door after she departed.

He took a deep breath and whispered aloud. “Damn you Mr. X. Let’s see who’ll win tonight. The man with no identity who can become anyone he wants … Or the man who has an identity, one to live for, who can become someone others can believe in…”

Corigan took a second.

No response to either question.

Corigan knew, tonight, it was more than his life on the line.

It was the lives of every future victim Mr. X would destroy.

Corigan needed to win.

He had to.

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