TOC http://www.bluetights.com/cgi-bin/ubb/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=11&t=000029

From Part 23

“I love you.” Joe touched Cat's cheek lightly, trying to break through to her.

“I know. I love you, too.” Tears welled up in her eyes as she stared at him helplessly. He watched as she struggled to control her emotions. “Joe, we have to talk.”

That didn’t sound good, he thought worried. That didn’t sound good at all. “I didn’t scare you, did I? I was pretty angry.”

“What? Oh, no. Not at all. You could manhandle Ralph all day long and I’d be fine with it. No, it’s not that.” She looked over at Lois who, having hung up her phone, was moving towards them. “But we can’t talk here. We both have to get to work. I’ll meet you, okay? Just like we said.”

“Okay,” he told her, feeling troubled. He didn’t want to leave, but Cat was right. They couldn’t talk here, and they both had things they had to do. “See you later,” he said, bending down to kiss her lightly.

His heart almost broke when he felt her flinch as his lips touched her. “I love you, Joe,” she whispered.

It didn’t reassure him. It didn’t reassure him at all.

END PART TWENTY-THREE

“I think we need some kind of a plan, sir,” Mrs. Cox pointed out.

“I agree,” Lex said, leaning back in his comfortable leather chair and puffing on his cigar. “Any suggestions?”

“I suppose we could just call for him.”

He grimaced. “He has no reason to trust me. He might get suspicious and use his vaunted x-ray vision. I’d hate for him to discover the Kryptonite prematurely.”

“He can’t see through lead.”

“No, but he can see the presence of lead. I don’t think we can afford to underestimate him. He does have a certain amount of raw intelligence.” He knocked ash from the end of his cigar. “I’ll have to think about this some more, try to figure out what would be good leverage. In the meantime, would you mind typing up those letters I dictated to you earlier. I can’t afford to let the day-to-day details pile up.”

“Of course, sir. I’ll get right on it.” Mrs. Cox demurely left the room.

Lex watched his assistant as she closed the office door behind her. Not for the first time, he thanked his lucky stars for having had the good sense to hire this woman. Not only was she one of the most efficient assassins a man could ever hope to meet, but she was the most organized secretary he’d ever had. She was also pleasing to the eye, and appropriately grateful when he deigned to give her his personal attention. What a treasure Mrs. Cox was.

His thoughts turned back to his enemy. Other than Kryptonite, what weaknesses did the man have? He was faster and stronger than anyone else in the world. He could see danger before it arrived. No, Kryptonite was the only credible physical threat - at least at this point in time; things could change in the future as weapons became more sophisticated.

It was obvious. The only way to bring Superman down, to lure him into any kind of trap wherein he could be physically destroyed, was to prey upon his vaunted moral sense, and his soft, weak, underbelly - namely his concern for people, for those whom he considered ‘friends.’

Luthor snorted contemptuously. ‘Friends.’ What did friendship and base emotion have to do with power? He, himself, had found it all too easy to let friendships die and family connections wither away to nothing when he’d started his climb to the top. It was better that way. There was nothing worth being distracted over, nothing that would keep him from achieving his goals, and no one who could be used as a weapon against him.

Superman, on the other hand, had developed more friendships in the past few months than Lex Luthor had in a lifetime. Perhaps one of those friendships could be used, he thought. It would be ironic if someone Superman cared for could be used to cause him harm.

He didn’t want to use Lois, however. Lois was the one woman he’d met who had tempted him to break his own rules. She was the one woman whom he found entirely captivating and charming. She was beautiful - feminine and yet still quite surprisingly capable. Intriguing creature. No, he couldn’t use Lois in such a way. She was too valuable to be disposed of in such a trivial fashion.

Who would be a better choice? he mused.

Mrs. Cox buzzed him.

“Yes,” he answered.

“Sir, Mr. Kent is here. He hopes that you might spare him a moment. Shall I ask him to wait?”

“No,” Lex said slowly. “Tell him I’d be happy to meet with him tomorrow afternoon.”

“You would?” He could hear the surprise in his assistant’s voice.

“Why yes, of course,” he answered, all the while knowing that there was no way Kent would be around to make the appointment. “Tell Mr. Kent that I’ll be looking forward to seeing him again.”

“Yes, sir,” Mrs. Cox replied, sounding puzzled. “I’ll tell him.”

Lex propped his feet up on his desk and blew a stream of smoke into the air. He did so love it when a plan took shape. He was sure that Mrs. Cox would do her usual efficient job when it came to Kent’s abduction. She would have to be prepared, however, in case the man managed to make an untimely fuss that might attract Superman’s attention.

Lex turned to the lead box on his desk and opened it to study the glowing green crystal. It had the look of a gemstone, he decided. It would look quite elegant against Mrs. Cox’s dark skin. Earrings? No, a pendant. He’d have to phone Signor Antonio and arrange for a rush job. Not too rushed, however. Nothing but the best for Mrs. Cox - and Superman.

***

When Clark left Lex Luthor’s office complex, he wasn’t terribly disappointed at not having been able to see the man. If he had his way, he’d never see Lex Luthor again. On the other hand he was pleased and a bit proud of his own ingenuity. He’d asked Mrs. Cox if she had any biographical information on Luthor. She’d said ‘no’ but she had located some glossy brochures about LexCorp.

He’d been happy to accept them from her, knowing that her fingerprints would be prominently displayed on the shiny paper. Rizzo should be able to do something with those!

As he’d watched Mrs. Cox in the office, he’d had to remind himself that she was probably the person who had brutally killed at least two men and who knew how many others. It was hard to believe. Clark couldn’t even begin to understand that level of evil. He hoped that he never would.

***

“Let me do all the talking, okay, Lois?”

“Yeah, fine,” Lois said dismissively.

Joe sighed. “I mean it. I could get in a lot of trouble taking a reporter along on an interview. I need you to cooperate.”

“Okay, I get it,” Lois replied.

He rang the doorbell. “You promise?”

“Enough already! I promise!”

The door opened, and Rizzo identified himself to the servant who’d answered it. They were shown into a sitting room, all formal and elegant and pristine. It didn’t look like it had ever been used for anything but a setting for a period play.

Julia Hawthorne kept them waiting for ten minutes before she deigned to make an appearance. “What do you want now, Officer? Is this going to take long?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Rizzo said, his tone sardonic. “I suppose my visit isn’t important. I’m only investigating your fiancé’s murder.”

Julia’s cheeks reddened. “I’m sorry,” she stuttered as she gracefully sat down on a couch. “Of course your visit’s important. What can I do for you?”

Rizzo didn’t acknowledge the apology. Instead he opened his notebook and started. It didn’t take long to solicit the information he needed from Julia.

Yes, Chesney had purchased an unusual statue from a rather Bohemian artist who was currently on the fringe of the art world, but would soon be a full and active member of it judging by her talent. The statue had been a striking example of post-modernist angst yet the artist had chosen to express herself in a traditional medium. It had been fascinating. Julia had tracked down the artist and purchased other pieces of her artwork, although the statue had been the most interesting piece she’d seen. It had been a crime what had happened to it.

“What did happen to it?” Rizzo asked, his demeanour not changing at all. Lois was impressed by his equanimity.

“The shipper dropped it. Poor Brandon was so distressed when they called him.”

“Was it badly damaged?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t accompany him to inspect the damage, but it can’t have been too bad. He wasn’t upset at all when he came back. In fact, I’ve never seen him so bubbly and so happy as he was that day. Strange. He was excited about something.” Julia gazed off into space, remembering.

Rizzo and Lois exchanged a quick glance.

“Who did Brandon use to ship the statue?” Lois asked casually. “I’ll have to remember not to use them.”

Julia thought for a moment. “You know I’m not sure. But there’s a LexMail outlet just a block away on Oneida Avenue. I would imagine Brandon went there.”

Rizzo nodded, made another note and continued asking questions about Chesney’s last days. Lois could tell, though, that he was only going through the motions so that his questions about the gift for Rahsanjani would be buried in the middle of a myriad of others.

Finally, he fell silent and stood up. “Thank you, Miss Hawthorne. You’ve been very helpful. Once again, I’m sorry for your loss.”

She nodded.

Lois gathered up her purse and was halfway to the door when she stopped and turned to face the other woman. “I met your father,” she said simply.

Julia’s expression congealed. “And that concerns me how?”

“He asked me to give you a message if I saw you.”

“What?”

“He wanted me to tell you that he loves you and that he wants to help you.”

“Fine. Thanks for telling me.” Julia turned to Rizzo. “So, if there’s nothing else, I’ll say goodbye.”

“No, that’s it. Thanks,” Rizzo answered.

“I thought he was a wonderful man,” Lois said.

“Fine.” She was curt.

“I really liked him.”

“Oh, yes, good old Dad can be very charming,” Julia replied, laughing dismissively.

“I also admired him a great deal.”

“You admired him? Fine. Ask him to adopt you.”

Lois took a small step forward. “Look, I know it’s none of my business, but what happened? Why is there such a rift between you?”

“You’re right, Ms. Lane. It is none of your business. I hope you will forgive me for not answering.” Julia’s lips tightened into a not very convincing smile. “Once again, if there is nothing else...” She waited in a tense silence.

Lois gave up. It looked like this was one of those times when she’d just have to give in and resign herself to not knowing everything. But she didn’t have to like it.

She and Rizzo took their leave of Julia and left the room. After all, they had the information that they had been after. There was nothing else they could do here.

***

Julia Hawthorne watched the detective and the reporter go. She wished that Lois Lane hadn’t said anything about her father. It brought back too many conflicted feelings.

Once upon a time she’d admired her father, too. He’d been her hero. But then her mother had explained how he hadn’t taken his rightful place in society. Her mother had said she could have lived with him associating himself with a charity, but he hadn’t done that, instead preferring to work with the unwashed masses directly. She’d explained how every time Julia’s father had given away money he’d been taking money out of his own family’s mouth. He’d been selfish, her mother had said. He’d not even bothered to get tax receipts! Obviously he’d loved grubby, pathetic, needy people more than he’d loved her or her mother.

But had he? Had he really? Julia wondered, for the first time questioning the sentiments her mother had drilled into her for years. What had he done that was so bad? They’d always had plenty of money, both before and after the divorce. They’d never lacked for any material possession.

Julia flinched, suddenly remembering the bitter, hateful things she’d said to her father the last time she saw him. And yet he’d told Ms. Lane to tell her that he loved her. He loved her still, even after everything she’d said. He’d said that he wanted to help her if he could.

Her mother hadn’t. Instead, after Brandon had been so horribly murdered, she’d fussed about the scandal and the contact Julia had been forced to have with the police. Her mother hadn’t put her arms around her and held her close.

Not that Julia was devastated. She’d never loved Brandon. But she had been fond of him, and it was very upsetting knowing that he had been murdered in such a gruesome way. She shuddered just thinking about it.

Oh, how nice it would be to be a little girl again. To have her father hold her in his arms, snug and happy on his lap, and hear him say that everything would be all right.

But it wasn’t all right, and it never would be again.

***

Clark wasn’t able to get any solid information from the Oneida LexMail outlet where Jeremy Dobson had worked. Dobson’s supervisor had been ‘unexpectedly transferred’ just two days before, and the other employees had no idea where the man could be reached. No one knew whom he should talk to at the head office about it either. None of them had any idea why Dobson had been singled out to go on a training seminar. In fact, a couple of them were quite incensed, pointing out that they had more seniority than Dobson.

Clark doubted that they’d be quite so angry if they knew exactly what Dobson had been singled out for.

Finally, Clark gave up, realising that he wasn’t going to get any useful information out of this crew of lacklustre employees. Cutting his losses, he headed for the Planet, detouring long enough for Clark to drop off the brochure to Rizzo for a fingerprint check and for Superman to check on Julius Grubner and make sure that the security arrangements were solidly in place.

END PART 24

Part 24 - Comments http://www.bluetights.com/cgi-bin/boards/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic&f=10&t=000046&p=
_________________________
My idea of housework is to sweep a room with a glance.