Over the next couple of hours, the trio searched GTNN grid style, room by room. One person guarded the doors while the other two would examine the room from top to bottom with whichever illumination device they carried.
They searched under desks, around chairs, above loose ceiling boards, behind doors and under stairwells.
If anything could fit into it, under it or above it, they searched it.
Nothing would be left to chance.
Once fully vetted, they would engage the PBSi security lock, preventing entry and exit, and most importantly back tracking, and move on. All within the gloom-filled darkness and grim corridors of the now powered down GTNN building. It was almost a news story in itself that this once twenty-four hour powerhouse of world news was now demoted to nothing more than a haunted house for three determined cops and a phantom serial killer.
Where each sound could mean Mr. X was lunging at them from the shadows, wailing like a banshee on the Irish moors, hoping to snatch his victim unaware and drag them into his pit, screaming all the way.
And knowing how easily Mr. X could fool his adversaries, the three officers who faced him, having heard his voice changes and machinations, decided it was far wiser not to muddy the waters with more identities for him to assume.
Thus, only the three of them would conduct the search.
Would it take more time? Yes.
But less chance of escape? Equally yes.
Over the span of their investigation, there was the occasional report into their earphones of the capture of another employee leaving the building and more citizen complaints.
Vertigo had ordered radio silence, but only in making commands to one another.
Status reports were still permissible.
During the course of their search of the second floor, after the growing quiet between them getting longer, Corigan turned to Vertigo. “I guess I have a lot of explaining to do.”
Vertigo wanted to ask, but he chose to wait for Corigan. As a commander, Vertigo knew, one could not order his troops to reveal their innermost thoughts or ideas, especially until the time warranted it. “Ever think you could’ve called me?” His tone was tempered by disappointment.
Corigan could tell Vertigo wanted to know why he was kept out of the loop.
Corigan paused. Having his boss think he was not trusted was furthest from his thoughts. It was only happenstance. Corigan gently, but subtly, defended himself. “Sir. It wasn’t a matter of me thinking you wouldn’t believe me. I actually thought you would... After you shot me of course.”
Vertigo had known Corigan a long time. Comedy was a defense mechanism he used when nervous.
Corigan turned towards a squeaking sound in the vastness of the dark hall.
Vertigo leveled his weapon in that direction too.
Catherine held her light above them like a small square beacon.
An empty corner.
Corigan returned to Vertigo. “I know you’ve a lot of faith in your men, and in me, but let’s be honest, this was outside the box.”
Vertigo did not disagree.
Corigan opened the next door and moved into an adjacent hallway. It spilt into two forked paths, each leading to two more halls. Down each one, two more rooms and another hallway leading down. Sealing the portal behind them, they moved into the first office and cleared it quickly.
Corigan continued. “I had to show you what I was up against and in a way you could experience it. That and understand what Mr. X is and more importantly, what he’s capable of.” Corigan let it sink in. “Admit it. I couldn’t have pulled it off better than I did tonight?”
Vertigo nodded, appearing to understand.
Corigan added guiltily. “Plus, by using you as bait, the man who put me on the case and kept me on it, I suspected he’d try to discredit you. So by having you on the show with Annabelle, he could kill two birds with one stone. Kill the woman who attacked his legacy and destroy YOU in the process. It was a win-win for him.”
Vertigo let that permeate. “I hate to admit it, but you’re a brilliant man Corigan McAllistor.”
Catherine sighed. “I’ll never hear the end of this.”
Corigan pounced on that. “Brilliant enough for a raise?”
Vertigo turned to enter the next room. “I said brilliant… not valuable.”
Catherine muffled her laugh into her shirt sleeve to contain the burst.
Corigan was speechless. ‘Damn, set myself up for that.’
They searched the next grouping of rooms, yet still coming up empty.
A feeling of cold dread seeped into their minds.
What if Mr. X escaped? And now on the loose, each of them would spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders, staring into every vacant face, thinking they could be attacked from anywhere, by anyone, at any time?
It was mindboggling.
Patrick’s words came back to Corigan. ‘When I explain, you’ll understand. And when I’m done, I damn well bet you that you’ll start doing the same thing.’
Corigan refused to believe Mr. X had escaped. He had to.
Catherine held up an inflatable doll she found in a desk drawer.
Corigan spotted her discovery. “The seams tell you it’s cheaply made. That and the mouth is too small.”
Catherine gave Corigan a deep scowl. “I wasn’t asking for a product review.” She then looked down at Corigan’s trousers and back at the doll. “And from what I’ve heard, this is more that big enough.”
Corigan frowned back at her. “Then let me confirm this for you. It’s not Mr. X.”
Vertigo shook his head. “And they ask why I don’t support the ‘Bring your kids to work day’ Why when I have all the infants I need to care for.”
Catherine and Corigan smiled to themselves, ignoring Vertigo’s mutterings.
Catherine shoved the doll back in the drawer, wiping her hands, but leaving part of it exposed, making it evidently clear to the owner, it had been seen.
The trio continued along the next grouping of doors, searching cleaning closets and storage vestibules.
Still, there was no trace of Mr. X.
Corigan, in the lead, as his goggles gave him the widest visual expanse, moved forward, shrinking the remaining search grid.
Catherine leveled her weapon at a wardrobe door before swinging it open. Finding nothing, she closed it. She was curious. “If Mr. X came here to kill Annabelle and do so as the Captain to discredit him, why didn’t he? He had the shot. What made him hesitate?”
“Weathers made him pause.” Corigan responded with a grin, sounding cryptic.
“Excuse me?” Catherine asked confused.
Corigan expected the rebuke. “It was Doctor Lopes’ suggestion.”
“What was?” Catherine continued.
Vertigo entered the men’s washroom.
Seconds later, a flush could be heard.
Vertigo exited. “Do you know how much water they put in that green room?”
They all laughed as Corigan tossed him the key card to secure the door.
Corigan continued. “Doctor Lopes’ suggested I use Weathers against himself.”
Both Vertigo and Catherine stopped in mid-stride.
“But he is Weathers isn’t he?” Catherine asked puzzled.
Even Corigan had a hard time wrapping his head around Doctor Lopes’ idea, but then again, Doctor Lopes was a man of many degrees on the human mind, so if anyone could play around with it, he could.
“Yes, he is. But remember, that was the point of this evening. To draw him out. Originally, Annabelle and I planned to have Weathers be a no show. Making lots of accusations and him being too much of a coward to appear on air. I mean, with all the other rumours, this would be the cherry on the sundae.”
Vertigo was always fascinated with the mind and workings of sociopaths. “What changed?”
“When I told Doctor Lopes my plan, he offered an alternative. And I have to admit, who better to do it?” Corigan looked to them both. “Doctor Lopes theorized the best option was to have Weathers show up, me in disguise as it were, and purport to be him.”
“And this was designed to…?” Catherine let the question hang.
“Doctor Lopes said if I came on stage, as the real Jonathon Weathers, as though I really was him, I would warp his perceptions.”
Vertigo was starting to understand it now.
Catherine was half getting it.
Corigan walked Catherine through it, as he too had needed it repeated a few times.
“Doctor Lopes explained that Mr. X has never actually been told emphatically he is Jonathon Weathers. He’s been shown files and seen pictures, but he’s has had to rely on third parties for this information since coming out of his coma.”
Catherine was getting it now. She admitted it was devious.
Corigan checked his clip on instinct. “So the good doctor felt if Mr. X saw Weathers on stage, and then seeing the cast and audience actually believe I was the real Weathers, it would be devastating.”
Catherine threw in. “Because Mr. X would have to wonder, what if I was really never Jonathon Weathers? What if I’m the imposter? Followed by the inevitable. ‘Then who the Hell am I?’”
Corigan nodded in agreement. It was ingenius.
Corigan had gambled that Mr. X would never believe that he, Corigan McAllistor, a wanted man, could orchestrate such an elaborate façade as this and as fast as he did.
Underestimating Corigan yet again.
Catherine and Vertigo were impressed with Corigan’s strategizing skills in the face of these obstacles.
Corigan was not done. “So when he had the shot, he paused, seriously wondering if it really was his legacy he was defending.”
“Mr. X wanted to be sure you were a fake and his existence was not a lie.” Catherine whistled.
Corigan nodded. “Remember, Doctor Lopes had Weathers with him for several years. He knew exactly what buttons to press.”
They all froze.
Another announcement over the audio from the Beta station. They had arrested man number thirty two.
Catherine stood ram rod straight, looked to Corigan and stated with authority. “That’s our magic number. Mr. X has to be out there as one of them.”
Vertigo stopped searching, unaware of this number.
Corigan motioned for her to continue. “I’m afraid not. The thirty-two caught are regular employees.”
Catherine glared. “But you told me he would come in as one of the staff?”
“I did.” Corigan lifted a desk and looked under it. “But that was before the Captain here kept going in and out of the GTNN headquarters tonight, gallivanting about the three exits without a security detail….”
Vertigo argued. “I wouldn’t call it gallivanting.”
“It was gallivanting.” Corigan rebuttled. “Regardless. With all the confusion, inspections and re-inspections, and the constant wardrobe changes, which of the stations do you think would have stopped a frantic Vertigo, who looked and sounded like him, trying to get back inside to the show.”
All three knew, none of them would.
Catherine wanted to grab Vertigo by the lapels and yell. ‘See. If you’d trusted us to hold down the fort, this never would have happened.’ But she also surmised, an ’I told you so.’ would be entirely unwelcome.
Corigan ended the conversation with, “Either way, Mr. X used the confusion to come in as Vertigo and planned on using that same confusion to leave. He was relying on the on-air murder by Vertigo to create a furnace of chaos. What he didn’t realize was, I was behind it. A snare hidden within a trap.”
Vertigo quickly stated, avoiding what he had done. “Room is clear.”
They bolted the doors and moved on, shrinking the Mr. X zone with each room they eliminated.
“I hope we find this Mr. X soon. My phone battery is down to thirty-three percent.” Catherine mentioned.
Corigan turned. “That or someone could splice some wires together for us to have some lights.” He looked to the ceiling. No huge hand from the cosmos extending down to touch the walls and fill the room with illumination.
Not even a burning bush.
Corigan resumed his motion. Admittedly, he had no idea how Mr. X had damaged the lighting, but with his expertise, likely in a way not easily repaired.
They reached the end of a long corridor. There were two doors. One with a stairwell leading down to the first floor, the last level, and one to the third floor, already cleared.
Before moving to the final floor, they had the storage section to search. Based on the blueprints, it was originally slated to be a studio for a large scale documentary, but due to the financial crisis, GTNN had closed down the project, making elementary learning a secondary goal.
Corigan could see the door was ajar. He entered first, gun at eye level, his night vision goggles giving him a full three feet in every direction.
Catherine was at his flank, her aim low for crouching assailants, her smartphone at shoulder level.
Vertigo had the rear.
As the trio entered, even with the dim visions of light they carried, they were awestruck.
It was more than a storage room. It was a cavern. A 747 could fit in there, presuming there was not one already.
It was more than old props and costumes. It was chaos. From wooden crates to tracks of lighting, from production furniture to backgrounds and much more.
It was essentially a gigantic theatrical dumping ground and based on the blueprints, one hundred feet long, sixty feet wide, twenty feet high and filled to capacity.
From their vantage point, it was a huge search zone. It included seventeen individual steel racks running the length of the room, each parallel to one another. The units were comprised of seven shelves rising three quarters of the way to the ceiling.
It reminded Corigan of that Sci-Fi show of a secret government warehouse in South Dakota filled with ancient magical artifacts.
And with no power yet, it seemed as deep as an endless ocean with fathoms of forgotten shows and a possible shark swimming within, ready to kill.
Corigan could see ladders along the walls, all leading to trestles above and a maze of pathways for lighting technicians.
Corigan’s first thought. ‘We’ll need a month for this.’
Seconds later, they heard a bump, something sliding, and all three, backs together, weapons raised forming a perfect triangular pattern.
Corigan took the lead. “Who’s in here?”
A voice yelled back. “Guys. I’m so sorry. It’s me.” Lakos voice was unmistakable.
Catherine lowered her weapon. “Jesus Lakos. I thought you were canvassing the place for employees.”
“I got lost.” Embarrassment in his tone. “I tried calling the stations, but no one’s responding.”
Catherine was about to ask how much of the room had he canvassed when Corigan raised his hand and covered her mouth. She would have punched him had she not seen the severe look on his face.
Corigan yelled into the darkness. “Well, we need you back at the Delta station, pronto.” Corigan offered a quick amused laugh, somewhat forced. “Think you could find your way back now?”
No hesitation. “Sure thing.”
Corigan and Catherine exchanged looks. They turned to Vertigo knowingly and he returned the gesture, a silent conversation passing between them, one only true colleagues could share.
Corigan handed Vertigo the keycard and nodded.
Vertigo knew what to do.
Vertigo closed the double doors behind them followed by the telltale beep giving confirmation the emergency security lock was engaged.
Vertigo’s mission was to seek out the first exit and bring in the cavalry.
After he was arrested of course, as per his own orders.
Corigan and Catherine took deep cleansing breaths.