The Nefarious Mr. X

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Chapter 35

35

Dust began to settle.

The air was heavy with the pall of sulfur, a result of the special FX explosives detonated. They were more for auditory and luminary effects than to cause mortal harm, but still extremely destructive if used correctly.

The remaining oxygen was laden with remnants of burnt electricity, melted rubber and sizzled copper, all blended by the stench of sweat caused by fear.

Puffs of drywall could be tasted in the back of throats as people breathed in with harsh pulls followed by hacking viciously with encrusted lungs of gypsum. Some coughed to themselves, spitting uncontrollably, while others, hardened smokers, were more annoyed there was no buzz to accompany the clouds that surrounded them.

Mostly simple confusion.

The sound of a low grade hissing could be heard from every direction as ventilation pipes cracked from the shockwaves which caused air conditioning pumps to increase in power, filling the void with circulated cold air, cleansing the environment, even if unintentionally.

After a few seconds, a white glow emanated from underneath a large mass on the floor nearest the first camera housing. It was much less bright than one would find in a star-filled sky, yet very welcoming in the shrouded darkness encompassing everyone in the studio.

A figure rustled, rising and getting off what appeared to be a smaller, female form under him holding the light.

Once freed, Catherine was on her feet. “First, Sir.” Sounding sarcastic and looking to Vertigo. “You’re going to start taking the stairs.”

Vertigo was brushing debris from his shirt and ignoring Catherine’s comments, thinking his physique was fine.

Catherine continued. “And this Flashlight App for my Smartphone really works.” She held it up for everyone to see she had light available to her.

“Kudos for you.” Annabelle gasped from the darkness, distress lacing her voice. She sidled up to Catherine, bending over to catch her breath, letting her hands fall to her knees for support. Her once beautiful hair was now frazzled and her blonde layers were a total web of disarray.

Annabelle looked like she stuck her finger in an open socket and waited for the current to run its course until her hair was between the point of hideous and ’Burn her at the stake.’

Yet, she still looked awesome.

Catherine tried not to, but she scowled in Annabelle’s direction.

Corigan returned from stage right, wiping his jacket and shirt of fallen devastation, as he had launched himself minutes before to shield Annabelle from potential shrapnel, exploding glass or any form of Claymore mine Mr. X may have set up to initiate his escape.

Within seconds, Corigan and Catherine quickly converged beneath the small pool of light coming from her phone, her constantly having to tap it to keep it from going to sleep.

Corigan pointed to the area where Mr. X was previously and the hallway which he likely had taken.

Catherine mentioned. “I have seventy-six percent of juice left on this thing and if it stays on, it’ll be drained in less than thirty minutes.”

As they had no idea how much damage Mr. X had done, or how long it would be for the studio to repair it, being lost in the darkness in a fortress-like studio, imagining thirty minutes from now, was not a desirable prospect.

Corigan had configured a plan. He explained, after having perused the blueprints, that all the studios had two doors, thus two modes of egress.

Vertigo asked loudly. “So where’s your Mr. X now?”

Corigan snapped in Vertigo’s direction, equally frustrated Mr. X had escaped, but needing to implement action, not blame. “First. He’s not mine…” He paused to take a breath. He was not happy at having snapped at his commander.

It was not Vertigo’s fault.

Corigan re-stated. “Not yet anyway.”

Vertigo joined Catherine and Corigan at the huddle.

Corigan repeated. “To be clear Captain. Mr. X is gone.”

Vertigo muttered only one word. “Shit.” He let Corigan take the lead since he was the only one who seemed to have all the pieces in this little game.

Tactically, Corigan was an excellent game player, but at this junction, he was at a disadvantage. He was playing on a board where his opponent could disguise himself as one of his own pieces and attack.

No rulebook for that.

Combined with, none of the other teams, Alpha, Beta or Cappa likely knew what was going on. They were not watching the show so all they knew was they heard explosions and the power was out.

And though the teams were tempted to enter, the orders were clear, no matter what happens, under no circumstance were they to enter this facility.

So since none of the teams saw Corigan reveal the quick-change-artist-killer on the air who impersonated him a week ago, he was still considered the enemy.

So having him call the troops to converge on the facility would fall upon deaf ears.

But then again, he had the Captain with him.

Corigan turned to Vertigo. “Sir. There’s still only three exits out of GTNN...”

Vertigo locked eyes with Corigan.

Corigan continued. “So there’s no way Mr. X can escape this facility unless it’s past one of our men.” Saying ‘our’ like he was still a part of the team. Knowing they were already pissed Weathers got in, they would be extra vigilant on those departing.

But Mr. X still had skill and surprise on his side.

Corigan emphasized. “We have to lock this place down tight. We do that and I guarantee you, we can corner and catch Mr. X.”

Vertigo was a proud man, a veteran of many battles, vain in some things, pliable in others, but he was also an intelligent one and trusted his instincts.

And right now, he knew he may not know what was happening, but he did know, his faith in Corigan had not been misplaced. In that second of revelation, trust was restored and Vertigo knew what he had to do.

Vertigo reached over and pulled the hand microphone from Catherine’s wrist and drew her toward him.

Catherine took a quick step to keep her balance.

Vertigo flicked the switched and commanded into the device with the firmest voice he could muster in this situation. “This is Captain Vertigo Creel.”

Vertigo paused to let it sink in.

Catherine shaking her head for Vertigo to hurry, her arm was getting sore.

Vertigo continued. “To any and ALL the officers surrounding GTNN.” Another pause. “You will, without hesitation, secure all exits from this facility. If it walks on two legs when it comes out a doorway, I want them detained. And I mean EVERYBODY.” He waited knowing how the next part would sound. “Including ME!” He let it permeate. “Let me make this absolutely clear, if I walk out any door and am not in handcuffs seconds later, the officers at that door will be patrolling every senior’s facility in Toronto.” He let the threat float in the air for dramatic effect. “And I promise you, you’ll keep that duty until you move into one.”

Corigan and Catherine knew Vertigo would do it.

As did the rest of the force.

Corigan clenched both his fists. ‘We finally gotcha you son of a bitch.’

Vertigo lowered the microphone, Catherine leaned in by extension of the fact she was attached to it and turned in Corigan’s direction. “Now he’s got no place to go.”

’Effective,’ Corigan thought. ‘Effective.’ Within seconds, another thought came to him and he asked Vertigo to make one more command.

Vertigo pulled the microphone to his mouth, Catherine’s arm draped forward like she was hailing a cab and he bellowed. “From this point forward, you’ll maintain absolute radio silence. The perpetrator we’re after has a voice modulator and can sound like anyone, so if you hear any commands from the radio, presume them to be false.”

Vertigo handed the device back to Catherine, relieved to have her hand back.

The four huddled around the dim glow of the phone as it now included Annabelle.

Corigan turned to Annabelle. “Does this place not have back-up generators?”

Annabelle sounded surprised at the question, staring into the blackness now soaking around them. “We do. In fact, they’re supposed to go on within seconds of an outage. This shouldn’t be happening.”

Corigan knew.

Mr. X had taken them all out. As a man who worked in the field of entertainment; he knew about lighting and back-ups. Nothing would be left to chance.

Corigan quickly explained it to the others, making mention of the fact Mr. X must have been sneaking into GTNN all this week when security was sparse, likely as one of the technicians and setting up his plan of escape.

Corigan surmised for next time, not to give his opponent a week to prepare.

Then again, Mr. X would never fall for this again.

Tonight was a one shot deal.

All or nothing.

Corigan could hear the remaining staff milling about the floor and shuffling into one another, swearing in muttered breaths.

Corigan looked to Annabelle. “When we’re done here, you need to lead everyone out via the Cappa station. The opposite direction to Mr. X’s departure.” Now the hard part. “And you’ll have to explain to everyone, they’ll be detained.”

Annabelle saluted, not worried about the crew grumbling. It was the price of big news. She nodded her understanding of the orders, but first, she needed to hear the plan.

Corigan turned back into the huddle.

Vertigo had pulled a thin coiled wire from his pocket, which extended down to a button. He pressed it and a bright blue light emitted, glowing proudly for its tiny size. A book lamp.

Everyone turned to look at Vertigo.

“What? So, I like to read. Is that a crime?” Vertigo looked back with annoyance. “Plus my wife says it’s not polite to read when she’s sleeping.” He smiled. “A lot brighter than what any of you have.”

Catherine looked at her phone in mock depression.

Corigan of course, had nothing, so he had to agree. They were about to go stalking through the GTNN maze, in the dark, with no power, minimal firepower, searching for a serial killing madman who could assume any identity he chose, so in his estimate, a book light would be considered a treasured commodity right now.

Annabelle snapped her fingers as a bulb went on in her brain.

Nothing of course to brighten the room.

She bounced up and over to her desk, diving beneath it.

The three officers looked to one another in confusion.

Corigan threw in. “I think she dropped her chapstick.”

“Fuck you, Corigan!” could be heard from under the desk, muffled, but easily understood. No fines now.

Annabelle stood up, carrying a small plastic basket, the kind one would procure at a dollar store. It was filled with trinkets, bits and bobs, whatchamacallits and do dads.

Annabelle ruffled through it, confident she knew something of importance was in there. She smiled as pulled it out and handed it to Corigan. “Here!”

Corigan took it, staring at it beneath the glow of Vertigo’s light. “You’re giving me a pair of sunglasses? You’re aware there’s no sun, yet alone any light.”

“Jackass!” She grabbed and pushed them onto Corigan’s face. His world went from semi-grey to utter darkness.

“Yep. I can see this was a great idea.” Corigan chided.

Annabelle turned to Catherine. “Is he always like this?”

“I’m afraid so.” Catherine replied.

Annabelle reached forward and pressed a button on the side of the glasses.

In seconds, Corigan watched as the pitch black world faded away, getting smaller and smaller, being pushed outward from the centre by a green blob of hungry energy, eating away at the shadows like a Pac Man munching down ghosts. He could not see far, but he could see a good few feet in front of him.

He shifted to Annabelle, who was as radiant as ever, except with skin as green as Captain Kirk’s favourite playgirl. “Night vision glasses?”

Annabelle shrugged innocently. “Every three weeks, we bring on Mr. Gadget. He does a science program for kids. He recently started up a toy line called ‘SPYwear’ for youths. It includes a few things; motion detectors for when parents are coming down the hall, hearing amplifiers for listening in on present wrapping and of course, night vision goggles for late night adventures.”

Corigan smiled. He had to admit, looking around the studio like it was a green sunny day, he was warming up to ‘Mr. Gadget’. In fact, after this case, he might even check out his website.

Catherine glared at Corigan. “Don’t even think of buying any of that shit.”

Corigan hated his partner could read him like that.

Annabelle interjected. “This is just a kid’s version of real night vision goggles. That and I’ve had them under my desk for a few months, so I’ve no idea how long they’ll last.”

Corigan took her warning to heart.

“Corigan?” Vertigo, as a military man, had to mention his thoughts. “If your Mr. X had planned his escape beforehand, and knew he would be dousing the power in the process….” Vertigo let his words hang in the air.

They all knew.

If Mr. X took out the power intentionally, there was no way he would risk stumbling around in the dark in hopes of finding an escape by chance.

Mr. X was far too smart for that.

In this type of darkness, he would be sporting a pair of night vision goggles as well. The difference was, his were probably military-grade.

Corigan retracted his last thought and replaced it with. ‘Damn you Mr. Gadget. Couldn’t you do better than this?’

Corigan, maintaining his leadership role, started in. “This place is huge. We need to move through it grid style, room by room and weed his ass out.”

Corigan knew he had Mr. X trapped in the building, but that was far from having him in custody.

An animal was at its most dangerous when it was cornered, fighting for its life, and in this case, its freedom.

Corigan theorized, if Mr. X got away, this nightmare would start again, and next time, Corigan might not be there to stop him.

“Okay.” Corigan looked to Catherine and Vertigo. “We stay together. We search each room thoroughly and make absolutely sure Mr. X is not in them. Our goal tonight is to push him towards an exit.”

Catherine interjected. “This place is huge. Some rooms have two exits. We can only see as far as a few feet. What if he gets past us and goes into one of the rooms we’ve already searched?”

Within seconds, Annabelle reached down the front of her blouse.

All three officers turned in her direction, their eyes squinting.

Actually, only Catherine’s were.

Corigan couldn’t help himself. “Look Annabelle. I don’t think we have time for that right now.” He gestured to her digging in her breasts. “Maybe later, at my place, over some wine?”

Annabelle took her free hand and gave Corigan a gentle, but firm, open handed slap across the fleshy cheeks of his face. “Keep your head above your waist.”

Corigan, genuinely surprised, blushed as he stuttered a response. “You know, that was assaulting a police officer.”

“I didn’t see anything.” Catherine threw in.

Vertigo raised an eyebrow. “It’s pretty dark in here.”

Corigan looked to his Captain. “Et tu Brute?”

Before anyone could offer another remark, Annabelle pulled from the front of her outfit a security keycard. Unlike all the ones Corigan had seen before today, this one was different.

Annabelle handed Corigan the card, no thicker than a cracker, with a red stripe diagonally across it with GTNN, but behind it, a tiny Norse hammer encompassed by an engraved barrage of lightening, the edge noting the text, ‘PBSi’

Annabelle pointed to it. “I assume you’ve seen the keypads on all the doors?” Posed as a question like she was testing their observation skills.

“Yes.” Corigan replied. “It’s unmistakable.”

“Excellent. That’s the PBSi security lockdown system.”

“PBSi?” Catherine queried.

“PowerBroker Securities Incorporated.” Annabelle answered with some pride. “They do all our security.”

Corigan turned the card over in his hands. “And what does this card do that the others don’t? Unlock the secret food and beverage area?”

Annabelle looked at him with displeasure. “Considering all the food you ordered tonight, how can you possibly be hungry?”

Vertigo casually pointed out. “If the station gets the tab for that Corigan, it’s coming out of your paycheque.”

Catherine laughed.

Annabelle smiled too, but explained. “With the ratings bonanza you reaped on to us tonight, I’ll personally foot the tab if I have to.”

Corigan tried to look offended as they all discussed his dietary habits.

“Anyway, before I was so rudely interrupted.” Annabelle let her eyes fall in Corigan’s direction. “If you were to wave one of these cards over the security pad and key in the number 5625…”

Corigan cut her off with a chuckle. “Seriously, your pin-code is LOCK?”

Annabelle was impressed with Corigan’s skill to translate the numbers to letters so fast in relation to a telephone keypad, but she continued, ignoring his intrusion. “Yes. But when you use this card, it will engage the emergency override lock.”

“The what?” Catherine asked.

Annabelle spoke proudly. “The emergency override for each of the electronic locks outfitted into every door.”

Corigan knew he was going to regret saying it. “You know we have no power right?”

Annabelle chastened him with a look. “The locks run on an independent lithium battery. The main power has no connection to the security system.”

Vertigo was impressed. “Very elaborate.”

Annabelle continued. “It’s basically a titanium deadbolt which once engaged cannot be reopened except by remote from the outside party monitoring the security system.” Annabelle took a breath. She wasn’t done. “Added to that, the call has to come from one of the three master keycard bearer’s personal cell phones to authorize the release. The News Director, the station manager or me. No one else.”

Corigan looked at the card with an impressed nod, but amusedly added. “Paranoid much?”

Annabelle shrugged. “A few years back, we had a crazed viewer come in with some of his armed friends. And because of the way this building was set up with limited modes of escape, the men stalked through the place and amassed a huge group of hostages. Some of the employees tried moving into other areas to hide, but the bastards found them.”

Annabelle let the anger of what happened in the past ingrain itself into her tone. “Anyway. It took four days, six police shifts and cost the lives of five GTNN employees to get these guys into custody. Our news director was so distraught, he vowed never to let that happen again and employed the PBSi system to protect the station.”

Corigan remembered the incident from years back. He had not been a part of the taskforce assigned to the matter at the time as it was considered a standard hostage / negotiation situation and not in need of Special Investigations.

Vertigo nodded an understanding of the News Director’s actions. He would have done the same thing, but as he was publicly funded, he knew the city would never authorize the costs for such a high end upgrade.

Annabelle, now feeling she was an integral part of the team, continued. “So, as you clear a room, simply engage the PBSi lock.” She cautioned. “But remember this, do not use this card unless you want it sealed. Once bolted, it will remain locked until we call the security company to release the bolt.” Annabelle looked to all their faces. “And trust me, if you’re locked away within this system, you’ll be giving your Mr. X ample time to escape.”

All three officers nodded in unison, understanding the repercussions of such an error.

Before they departed, Corigan turned to Catherine. “I almost forgot. Did you bring it?”

Catherine looked at him for a second a bit confused and suddenly remembered. She reached into her back fanny pack and pulled out a small round cylindrical object. She passed it to him. “What good is it now?”

Corigan shrugged, pocketing it. “We’ll see.”

Annabelle saw the pass off and partially heard the conversation. She asked loudly. “What the Hell was that?”

Corigan replied with a wink. “Insurance.”

Catherine with her smartphone flashlight, Vertigo with his book-light and Corigan with his child operated night vision goggles, weapons in hand, took chase.

Tonight they would end the spree of Mr. X.

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