SMALLVILLE: THE BLACK RIDER
EPISODE 2: BEING LEX LUTHOR
The Black Rider stood on the roof of a three-storey apartment building, watching the street below through the scope of his tranquilizer rifle. The rifle rested on the crumbling brick wall surrounding the rooftop. The black leather and Kevlar motorcycle gear he wore, along with his black helmet, helped him blend into the night. The sounds of the city drifted up to him: traffic, sirens, the thump of bass from tricked out cars, snippets of conversation as people walked by the building.
Lex Luthor shifted, leaning his hip against the wall. He was getting bored and impatient, waiting for the drug pusher's boss to drive up. He was working on extending the crime-free zone another mile. With the cooperation of occupants in one of the lower floor apartments of the building on which he stood, he'd set up video surveillance to record the action on the street. He had weeks of recordings for the prosecutor, and the occupants had agreed to testify. Now, all he needed to do was tranquilize the guy and leave him gift wrapped for the police.
Lex's helmet chirped softly near his ear. "Answer phone." The helmet, equipped with phone link, GPS, radio transmitter, and thermal imaging, activated the phone call with the voice command. He was still breaking in the new helmet. The old one had been fried.
"Good evening, Lex," Bruce Wayne's graveled voice said in Lex's ear. "I trust this is a good time."
"As good as any. I'm bored out of my skull. Why can't criminals be on time?"
Bruce chuckled softly. "And ruin the anticipation of waiting?"
"But my feet hurt," Lex whined. He ran the scope slowly over the street, checking for the gold El Camino that held his mark.
"Wear inserts." Bruce's humor was as dry, and dull, as the desert. "Jeremy Creek is in Africa."
Lex was surprised. "That's not someplace teens usually runaway to," he said.
"I've set up a foundation in a small, isolated village, to bring them electricity and satellite technology."
"Let me guess: Jeremy will be providing the electric current."
"Correct. It's a once or twice a day job in exchange for a home, an education, culture, doing good for people, a salary, and not being placed in prison."
"For how long?" Lex asked. He couldn't imagine being stuck in the middle of nowhere Africa for a month, let alone years.
"Until he's eighteen. Then it's his decision as to what to do with his life. If he chooses to stay there, I'll continue to pay his salary. As long as he doesn't harm anyone with his electricity, other than in self-defense, I told him that he would be free," Bruce said.
Lex didn't have a problem with it, and in fact wished he could've been the one who'd arranged it. He had the means and desire to do good. He believed strongly in the American justice system, faults and all, but Jeremy's case had been special. He wasn't sure how a person who could conduct electricity through his hands could be imprisoned anyway. Bruce masqueraded as the vigilante Batman and dealt with crazy things like that in Gotham on a regular basis, and there probably was a place for them there. Metropolis was home to normal criminals with normal crime.
Speaking of normal crime, the El Camino turned onto the street and slowed by the drug pusher on the corner. "Gotta go. Duty calls," Lex said.
"Be safe," Bruce told him.
"You, too. Phone off." The soft chirp in Lex's ear signaled the call being disconnected. He resettled his weight, braced the rifle properly against his shoulder, and peered through the scope. The scruffy driver of the El Camino was clearly visible as a wad of cash was placed into his hand. "Say goodnight, perp."
"Thank you for coming to see me," Lex said, motioning for Emma Richards of Richards Cleaning Service to have a seat on the leather sofa in his office. He'd set out a decanter of water and glasses on a serving tray on the glass coffee table separating the sofa from the matching armchair. No fire heated the hearth, nor cast flickering light on the garish coat of arms that hung above the mantle, as the October weather had warmed once again.
Mid-morning light streamed through the smaller stained glass windows on the east side of the office, adding blue and green hues to the natural woods in the room. The modern artwork hanging on the walls blended seamlessly with the period construction of the bought-and-paid-for "ancestral" manor. A library with two wingback chairs and a marble chess set made up a small second floor within the office. Lex's glass-topped desk displayed decorative office pieces, as he kept his work either locked away or on his laptop, which was in his bedroom.
Emma, a roughly fifty-year-old brawny woman, with brown hair that was starting to go gray at the roots, took the proffered seat. She wore dark blue jeans and a green button-down shirt with her name and the Richards logo stitched on the breast. She set the green business folder with the company name down on her lap. Folding her roughened hands over it, she got directly to business. Lex liked that in a person. "So, Mr. Luthor, you indicated you were interested in hiring us to clean for you on a monthly basis?"
"Yes, that's correct," Lex said, taking the chair across from her. He picked up the decanter and poured a glass of water. "Not the entire mansion. Between eight and ten of the rooms, depending if any guests are staying. I've done a background check on your company as well as your employees, and called a few clients. You've received glowing reports." He offered the glass to her. She declined with the lift of a hand.
"I'm pleased to hear it. I try to run a tight ship, Mr. Luthor," Emma said. "I believe I can give you a good estimate on the cost today, if you'd like."
"I would. But first, I must tell you that my father will attempt to bribe either you or your staff into spying on me for him," Lex said. He relaxed back into the chair with the water.
Emma was taken aghast by his statement. "Mr. Luthor, I would never accept such a bribe. Neither would my employees. I find it insulting that you might think so."
"Ms. Richards, there was no insult intended. I was merely stating a fact," Lex said. "He will attempt to bribe someone, and his bribes are very generous. If he doesn't get his way due to the high ethics of your team, he will resort to threats. I'm telling you this so you can decide if you would still like the job. I would like to hire local, since I live here now. However, the Shakespearean dramatics may prove too much for some."
"I... I'm not sure, Mr. Luthor," Emma said. She appeared put off, but it was kind of her not to get up and run out. "I would have to discuss it with my staff."
"Listen, if it's any help, you or anyone who works for you is welcome to accept the bribe. I've made up a list of things to pass on to him, so you really wouldn't be doing anything behind my back. I only ask that no bugs or cameras be placed in the house," Lex said. He took a sip of the water, waiting for her answer.
Emma still appeared put off, with the addition of being flustered. "Is it all right if I contact you another time, after I've spoken with everyone?"
"Of course. Saying no is perfectly fine. I'm not going to hold it against you or your company," Lex said. He rose, to give her the avenue of escape. "Thank you for your time. I'll wait to hear from you either way."
"Thank you, Mr. Luthor." Emma gave him a brief, tight smile. Lex escorted her to the front door and saw her off with polite goodbyes.
Once the door was shut again, Lex lightly banged his forehead against the heavy wood. He sighed loudly. Sometimes, it was a pain in the ass being Lex Luthor.
Lex ran his fingers over his bald head and ventured from the grand foyer to the equally grand kitchen. Dark wood cabinets with ornate handles stood tall above and hunkered beneath the black marble countertops. Chrome tap wear curved over the bowls at the main sink and the preparation sink. A stainless steel double refrigerator and freezer took up a good portion of one wall. A double confection oven nestled neatly into the cabinets nearer to the sink. Pots and pans hung from a chef's rack over the large island counter. Four black stools were tucked beside the island.
Lex sat the glass of water on the island and took a seat on one of the stools. Gertrude Donovan bustled about, her steel gray apron protecting her jeans and red-checked flannel. A hair net covered the tight, gray curls on her head. She used a stepstool to reach the lowest of cabinets. The retired Smallville Middle School cafeteria worker had been his first hire, and the best.
"Finished already?" Gertrude asked, taking out a plate. She set the plate on the island and began arranging a prepared Hoagie sandwich, chips, and a slice of pickle on it. She worked evenings and weekends, preparing him dinner nightly, lunch on Saturday and Sunday, and made him meals to take to work during the week. She shopped on Saturday mornings at the Farmers Market and the grocery store.
"She wasn't made of as stern of stuff as you, Gertrude," Lex said. He eyed the sandwich hungrily. "She said she needed time to think about getting into bed with the Luthors."
"After forty-seven years of middle school, nothing scares me any longer," Gertrude said. She pushed the plate in front of him. "Eat. You're skinny as a rail. I'm making strawberry cheesecake for dessert tonight."
Lex knew he wasn't thin; he took his fitness seriously. He had to, being the Black Rider. He dug into his sandwich, pleased he no longer had to eat his meals out. Diner food left much to be desired.
"Are you going to the game today?" Gertrude said, as she cleaned up her work area.
Lex nodded, chewed and swallowed before speaking. "Yes. It's the first home game since the coach died in that fire. I believe there's going to be a memorial ceremony before kickoff."
Gertrude nodded. "Poor man, God rest his soul. He helped out a lot of kids in this town."
"Hmm," Lex agreed noncommittally. Some of the football players hadn't turned out all that great. Luckily, they were all on home detention and Probation in punishment for their crime against Clark.
"I'll make you some snacks to take to the game and share," Gertrude said.
Lex smiled. "Thank you." He dug back into his sandwich. It was delicious.
Just before four o'clock, snacks in hand, Lex climbed into Porsche and started for the high school. He'd added a heavier, dark gray, wool sweater over his eggplant and light gray checked, collared shirt. His dark gray slacks, black shoes, and a thigh-length black leather jacket completed the football game ensemble. Even with a full, boisterous crowd, sitting in the bleachers got pretty cold after the first hour. He would likely have to add gloves and pocket warmers when the season ran into November.
Lex cruised toward town, radio tuned to the local station and pre-game show. The announcers conversed about the former coach and his best moments throughout his tenure. In Metropolis, a high school football coach would barely earn a passing mention in any media outlet. Lex found it both amusing and humbling to learn the difference with a small town.
Turning onto 500 West, Lex spotted a rusted, green Corvair with its hazards on, parked on the side of the road. Standing beside it was a young blonde woman in a Smallville High School letter jacket, looking cold and forlorn. Lex pulled up behind the car and greeted the slightly plump girl with a friendly, non-threatening smile when he got out of his vehicle. "Hi. Having trouble?"
She eyed him warily, but nodded. "It broke down again. You're Lex Luthor."
"Guilty," Lex said, joining her beside the car. He looked over the car. He had no clue what was wrong with it, besides being needed to be sent to a junkyard. "Have you called for a tow truck?"
"I don't have a phone," she replied, embarrassed. "I was hoping someone would come along before I had to walk."
"Along, I have come," Lex said. She snorted indelicately and promptly turned five shades of red. Lex chuckled. "I know. Not exactly my best material. Do you want me to call for the tow?"
She hesitated. "I'd better talk to my Dad, first."
Lex nodded. "We'll give him a call then."
"Can't." The embarrassment returned, along with shame. "He doesn't have a phone, either. He's waiting for me at the game."
"Then, we'd better get you there, so he doesn't worry," Lex said. "I was heading that way myself, Miss...?""
"Jodi," Jodi said. "Jodi Melville. With an I."
"I'll remember that," Lex said. He motioned toward his Porsche and had a brief pang of embarrassment himself for his largess before remembering he was rich and that gave him a reason to have nice things. Jodi shut off her hazards, locked the Corvair's doors, and joined him. He moved Gertrude's snacks off the seat to allow Jodi to get in.
The ride to Smallville High School was swift. Lex didn't try to fill it with conversation, and Jodi seemed content to listen to the radio and watch out the window. Lex followed the direction of the parking volunteers to a nice, muddy field spot. Overflow parking, as usual, but Lex wasn't about to get there two hours early to get a decent, paved parking spot.
Jodi waved to her father as they approached the entrance to the athletic field. John Melville stood taller than Lex, with graying hair in need of a cut, a tired-looking face, and wearing a frayed jean jacket that had seen better days. His happy smile when he saw his daughter dimmed with confusion when his gaze turned to Lex. Lex shifted the snack bag to extend his hand in greeting. "Lex Luthor. Call me Lex. I hope you don't mind that I offered your daughter a ride, Mr. Melville."
"The car broke down again, Dad," Jodi said by way of explanation.
"John Melville. Thank you, Lex," John said, shaking Lex's hand.
"It's no problem. We waited to call for a tow truck until we spoke to you," Lex said, gracefully sidestepping their lack of cell phones. "I have Mike's garage in my contacts if you want me to call."
John shook his head. "That's all right. Mike is probably here. I'll find him in the crowd."
Lex didn't press. "If you need anything, let me know."
John thanked him again, put his arm around Jodi's shoulders, and together they headed into stadium. Lex followed behind, buying his ticket at the gate. The bleachers were full to bursting, as the dedication ceremony and game were soon to start. The school colors were on prominent display in attire. The buzz of conversation warmed the air. Lex found a spot beside Art Lerner and in front of Gladys Steinholt and her two precocious ten-year-olds, three-quarters of the way to the top on the Crows' twenty-yard line. The twins practically dove for the snacks Lex offered.
"What do you two say to Lex?" Gladys said.
"Thank you, Mr. Luthor!" the two chimed in harmony.
"You're welcome," Lex said, surprised by the pleasure he felt from the simple action. Then again, the people of Smallville had pretty much welcomed him with open football-cheering arms. His honesty about the fertilizer plant's future had helped, too. He knew it could've gone much differently because of his money and his last name. He was glad that wasn't the way things turned out.
The opposing team, the Mustangs, and the Smallville Crows came out onto the field without fanfare. It was unusual, until the announcer came over the speaker. "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Mayor of Smallville, William Tate!"
The audience applauded politely, as William Tate walked onto the field. The Mayor was a stately man, with steel gray hair and a craggy face. His posture and stride spoke of confidence. He held a microphone and when he reached the center of the field, he addressed the Smallville side of the stadium. "Thank you. I'm standing before you today to honor Walter Arnold, beloved coach of the Smallville High School Crows."
The murmur of conversation that had continued when the Mayor first began speaking fell to a hush. Mayor Tate continued. "Coach Walt, as he was known, was a great man - a family man - with a great record. He may have rubbed some folks the wrong way, but no one can deny that he loved football and he loved these kids." Mayor Tate gestured to the Crows' football players on the sidelines. "He loved all of his 'kids', even the ones who are now parents of players themselves. So, in honor of his dedication to this school, to football, and to the students, and in his memory, I am pleased to announce that this stadium is hereby renamed to the Walter Arnold Memorial Athletic Field."
The roar of approval and thunder of thousands of feet stamping on the metal bleachers was deafening. The Mustangs' fans joined in. Although Lex hadn't known the coach long, his record and the reaction of the crowd had him clapping along as well. He almost was knocked off his feet by Art thumping his back.
"And now," Mayor Tate said over the microphone, "as we are all on our feet, let us continue our praise by singing the national anthem."
Tinny music rang over the speakers, and voices warbled in unison, as everyone, with their hands over their hearts, faced the American flag and sang. Lex was glad to be a part of it all.
Bolstered by the dedication, the Crows won the game 21 to 14. It had been a close game until the fourth quarter, when the quarterback snapped a pass to a running back, who ran it to the goal line for the Crows' third touchdown. A successful field goal gave the Crows the extra point, and the Mustangs couldn't recover before the buzzer signaled the end of the game.
Lex's snacks were long gone, his ass sore, and his body cold, as he made his way out of the stadium beside Art. Art Lerner was a lanky man in his late thirties, who wore his hair cropped short, his mustache neatly trimmed, and sweatshirts bearing tractor logos when he wasn't working. They discussed the finer points of the game as they joined the throng of people heading towards their cars.
Two Sheriff's Deputies approached Lex and Art, in full uniform, their hands on their holsters. Deputy Oscar Campbell looked hardly older than Lex and like he was playing dress up in Sheriff's browns. Deputy Hank Monroe appeared like he took the stereotype of cops loving donuts seriously. "Detective Lerner," Deputy Monroe said with a nod to Art. He then looked at Lex. "Lex Luthor, you're under arrest for robbery."
Lex was stunned. "I'm what now?"
"What's going on, Hank?" Art said, as Deputy Monroe walked around behind Lex, intending to cuff him. Deputy Campbell kept on alert, as if he expected Lex to flee.
"The Savings and Loan was robbed around five this afternoon. Eye-witness statements backed up by the bank's video prove Luthor here is the culprit," Deputy Monroe said.
"But I was here!" Lex kept his wrists out of reach. He'd never been handcuffed in his life and didn't intend to start now. "Tell him, Art."
"It's true. Lex was beside me for the entire game. Never left, not even to hit the can," Art said. "You sure it was him?"
Deputy Monroe nodded, but stopped trying to cuff Lex. "Saw the video myself. I don't know of any other bald men in fancy duds in Smallville."
Art looked flummoxed, but gave Lex the benefit of the doubt. "Listen, I don't know what's going on, but I know Lex was with me and a couple thousand others. His alibi is pretty solid," Art said. He turned to Lex. "Do you mind not leaving town until we get this straightened out? Hank's not gonna arrest you, but I want to follow procedure 'til this is settled."
Lex nodded. "I won't go anywhere." He'd promise almost anything so as not to be arrested when he hadn't done anything. "I'll contact my lawyer and have her review what you have on this robbery. That way we can keep our personal lives separate."
A scream interrupted Art's response, and all four of them spun toward the sound. A cheerleader ran toward them, fear etched on her pallid features.
Chasing her was a swarm of bees.
People screamed and scattered. Lex didn't stop to think. He whipped off his coat and ran straight for her. Art and the two Deputies shouted. Lex reached the cheerleader, flung his leather jacket around her back and over her head, and pulled them both to their knees. He covered her with his body as well as his coat, trying to protect her from being stung.
The bees didn't appear to be going after anyone else, even though there were an abundance of targets. They swarmed Lex and the cheerleader. Lex closed his eyes as hundreds of insects landed on him. He fought against flailing as tiny legs walked on his bare scalp, where his face was exposed, and on his hands. Their buzzing blending into one loud, frightening noise. He braced himself to be covered in stings, but not a single one struck him.
Suddenly, the bees flew off. Lex cautiously opened his eyes, to see the swarm zip over the roof of the school. His gaze drifted downward, and he spotted a lone female teen glaring angrily in his direction while everyone else was still darting for their cars in panic. He cataloged long, brown hair, glasses, and pink button-down sweater before she spun around and stalked out of sight.
"You alright?" Art asked, hovering beside Lex. The two Deputies dispatched with a word to try and calm the crowd. More off-duty police were attempting to do the same. Sirens could be heard in the distance. "Ambulance is coming."
"I'm okay." Lex straightened and helped the cheerleader unfurl from beneath his coat. Tears streaked her mascara and her nose ran unprettily. The coat caused her hair to stick up on end. "Were you stung?"
She shook her head, sniffing. She glanced around with fear. "Are they gone?"
"They're gone," Lex affirmed. He helped her to her feet and offered her the extra napkin in his pocket that was leftover from the snack bag. She wiped her nose.
"Do you know what happened, Felice? Why they were after you?" Art asked, though he sounded more like a worried parent than a cop. "Did you kick a nest?"
"I- I don't know," Felice stammered, clutching Lex's jacket more firmly around her. "I was talking to my boyfriend over by the cafeteria doors and the bees, they came out of nowhere."
Though it wasn't unheard of for bees to be active in late October, or for them to swarm if a nest is disturbed, what Lex had witnessed was anything but normal behavior.
The incongruity of the Smallville Ledger headlines on Sunday greeted Lex when he fetched the newspaper from the front walk. LEX LUTHOR ROBS BANK! LEX LUTHOR SAVES TEEN FROM KILLER BEES! Unflattering photos accompanied the articles: one a cell phone capture of "him" fleeing the bank and the second a cell phone capture of him covered in bees.
Lex had already been on the phone with his lawyer, briefing her on both incidences; the former for his alleged culpability and the latter in case Felice's father attempted to sue. He'd also used the software Bruce had given him to review the police case notes on the cases. He'd been surprised to see Clark Kent's name as a principal witness to the robbery. They weren't best friends, but Clark knew Lex well enough to spot an imposter. Lex planned to hunt down Clark later and find out what he'd seen. But first, he was going to head out to the high school and see if he could find the bees.
The rest of the news wasn't as scintillating as the front page. A recap of yesterday's dedication ceremony and football game filled the bulk of the paper. Animal mutilations plagued the town. There was an upcoming Halloween haunted hayride and corn maze. Nell Potter's flower shop was having a sale. Two for the price of one drafts were being offered at The Roadhouse.
Lex snagged the lunch tray Gertrude had made for him and retreated to his office, where he'd deposited his laptop earlier. He dropped the newspaper on the glass topped desk between the decorative gold enameled fountain pen and the modern art sculpture. The mid-day sun refracted through the pink and purple stained glass windows, painting the leather sofa and chair in obnoxious colors. The ornate monstrosity hanging above the fireplace mantle still hadn't put itself out of its misery. The modern art hanging on the walls blended with the period wood throughout the room. The marble chess set on the small second floor balcony library, framed by two wing-backed chairs, was in the beginning stages of new game.
Lex took a seat in his leather desk chair and keyed in his password on the laptop with one hand while he spooned chicken dumpling soup into his mouth with the other. Two ornate swords guarded him from the display table behind the desk as he started researching bees.
The bees of Kansas didn't help in corn production like he'd suspected. Corn was actually a grass and didn't produce flowers. The wind knocked the pollen from the stalk at the top of the corn plant down onto hairs of the ear. Each of the hairs went to a kernel. If it germinated, corn happened. It was weirdly interesting, and Lex became distracted for a bit until he wrangled himself back to the bee information gathering.
There were close to 20,000 known types of bees, and that didn't include their flying cousins, the wasps. Eleven of them were commonly found in Kansas. (There was also a wasp called a Cow Killer, which freaked him out.) The big American Bumble Bee was a summertime friend, whose back legs had pollen baskets - pouches used to hold pollen collected from flowers. The shiny metallic green color of the Augochlora Sweat Bee made it stand out among the more usual yellow and black coloration of other bees. They were more tolerant of cooler weather, but they tended to be solitary. The fuzzy coats of the Common Eastern Bumble Bee kept them warm, gifting them with a slight advantage in cooler weather. They were social and their buzzing loud. Honey Bees only swarmed when mating and though the male bees lacked stingers, they tended to be killed after mating season. Their number directly effected the amount of produce harvested.
Lex continued reading from various sources until he felt well versed enough to venture out. Bees in nature tended to nest in old wood and in areas sheltered from the elements. They avoided areas where insecticides were used. There were areas near the school that fit the bill.
Contrary to popular belief, Kansas had a lot of woods. Settlers who had turned the plains into farmland planted trees as windbreaks and property dividers. Over time, as larger parcels were divided down, more trees were planted. Suburban development included parks and trees, as did neighborhood beautification. It made for a lot of ground for Lex to cover.
He spent the afternoon wandering around the woods bordering the school property.
Green leaves had given way to yellows, oranges, reds, and purples on the tall trees with various types of bark. The undergrowth was a mishmash of fallen leaves, branches, mud, and moss. Mushrooms poked from rotting logs and made shelves on the stumps. The sun tried to breach the thick canopy, in vain, making the woods feel gloomy. The smell of earth and dampness permeated the air and his clothes. Tiny gnats flew constantly around his head, no matter how much swatting and arm waving. Squirrels chirped and complained at his trespass, and bird calls sounded in the distance. Spider webs didn't remain artfully spun in corners, but spanned across everything with one or two hidden lines at face-level.
Lex learned two things on his woodsy adventure: Italian leather shoes were not made for traipsing through the woods, and neither was Lex. He didn't find any beehives, either.
Returning home, Lex warmed up with a shower, a cup of coffee, and an apple turnover fresh from the oven, which was to be part of his dessert after dinner but he was an adult and he could eat dessert any time he wanted. He'd changed into a periwinkle v-neck sweater paired with fossil gray trousers and new black shoes. He'd thrown out the shoes he'd worn in the woods. Lex prided himself on his appearance, after years of being bullied by his boarding school classmates because he looked different. His lazing around the house clothes were as impeccable as his business dinner attire. Being slovenly was not a part of him.
Lex filled a stainless steel travel mug with more coffee, grabbed his keys, and left for the Kent residence. Evening was settling around Smallville, the sun setting earlier and earlier as the year grew long. Light posts only decorated downtown and around the schools, leaving the county roads black as pitch once night fully descended. Corn was slowly being harvested in the fields, creating swaths of barren farmland. Paved roads turned into limestone gravel drives that led to brightly colored farm houses.
The Kents' two-storey home was painted bright yellow with white trim. A white picket fence ran around the neatly trimmed grass of the front yard. Plants and late blooming flowers sprouted alongside the paving stones that led to the wraparound porch. A white porch swing hung in one corner. The windows stood open, framed by white shutters.
Lex parked his Porsche next to an old red pickup and a modest, sensible dark blue SUV. Clark and Jonathan Kent came out the back door, both wearing checked flannel and faded jeans. Clark smiled in greeting. Jonathan scowled. "What do you want?" Jonathan said, quite rudely.
"A 'hello' would be proper," Lex said. Biting his tongue wasn't his strong suit. "Downright courteous, even."
"Hi, Lex," Clark said, stepping in front of his father. The elder Kent looked ready to punch Lex for his cheek. "Ignore my Dad. My Mom was almost hit by a car today."
"I hope she's all right," Lex said, immediately filled with concern. He didn't take injury lightly. But since they weren't at a hospital and grief didn't shroud them, Lex hedged that she was okay.
"She's fine. A little shaken up, but okay," Clark said.
Jonathan harrumphed, as if he didn't like the fact Clark had shared anything with Lex. He turned to the door. "I'll leave you two to your business. Don't take too long. Dinner's almost ready."
The screen door slammed behind him. Clark stuffed his hands in his pockets and shrugged as if to say, "What can you do?" Fathers weren't the easiest of creatures to deal with, as Lex well knew. "So, what brings you by?" Clark asked.
"You're listed as a witness at the robbery yesterday at the Savings and Loan," Lex said. "Since I have a rock solid alibi, being at the football game at the time, I thought I'd come and ask you what you really saw."
"It looked like you, Lex," Clark said. "It really did. But since someone who looked like me tried to run over my Mom today, I know now it hadn't been you."
Lex's brows climbed. "That's... pretty unbelievable."
"I know. It's the truth, though."
Lex looked out over the farm as his mind turned. A tractor was parked near the peeling red barn where the Black Rider had met Clark at the beginning of the month. Black and white dairy cows gathered in clumps in the open field stretching beyond it. A couple of buzzards circled in the distant sky.
"Do you think the two are connected?" Lex asked. He couldn't figure out how someone who looked like him and someone who looked like Clark, but weren't them, were committing crimes in Smallville. Doppelgangers? Plastic surgery? Well-crafted masks?
"Yeah, maybe," Clark said. "My Mom saw a backpack full of cash at the antique store in town. Soon after she left, Not Me tried to run her over with a truck. I think the cash was from the robbery."
"Did you report it to the police?"
Clark shook his head. "No."
"Why not?" Lex was shocked, and flabbergasted. "That's why we have police: to report crimes or suspicious activity."
"Mom didn't want to make a big deal of it."
"A big deal!" Lex sputtered. "Seeing a bag of cash and nearly being run over is a big deal. What are you guys, anti-authoritarian?"
"Um... no." Clark looked uncomfortable. "They just don't like drawing attention to me- to us."
Lex was astoundingly disappointed in the Kent family, but of Clark in particular. "'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good to do nothing.' Edmund Burke. Smart man." He took out his cell phone and thumbed through his contacts for Art's number. "I thought you said you had the makings of a hero, like the Black Rider. I guess I was wrong."
Lex left Clark standing there, staring dumbly after him, as he strode to his car. He put through the call to Art. "Art? Hey, it's Lex. Listen, I just received some information that might be pertinent to yesterday's robbery."
Lex swung by the Sheriff's Department to give a statement to the FBI Special Agents assigned to the robbery. Art had phoned them to meet Lex after he and Lex had finished their call. Lex's information would be deemed hearsay in a Court of law, but the agents would follow up on it nonetheless. If they found the cash and obtained testimony from Martha Kent, their case would be more solid against the criminal once found. Being the Black Rider, Lex had studied the ins and outs of criminal law to better assist the prosecutors so the criminals he'd detained wouldn't go free. It didn't always work out, but at least he tried.
Unlike Clark Kent.
Aside from the disappointment, Lex was hurt that Clark wouldn't stand up against crime after saying he was proud of people like the Black Rider for doing exactly that. It was as if Clark had been lying to Lex's face; that he, like his father, really abhorred what Lex did as the Black Rider. The elation he'd felt at someone being proud of him for the first time had been crushed by falsehood.
The Sheriff's Department stood snug between City Hall and the Smallville Library on Cherry Street. The tuckpointing of the brickwork needed to be done, but the squat structure was a sound testament to craftsmanship of the past. Across the road, identical two-storey red brick buildings lined side-by-side and housed a variety of tenants. A dentist and orthodontist had set up shop next door to a law firm. A salon and spa tucked itself cozily beside a scented candle store. A hip boutique posed on the corner of Cherry Street and Main Street.
Most of the businesses were closed or closing for the night, as Lex walked from the Sheriff's Department to his car parked on the side of the road. He caught a glimpse of someone dressed in a yellow button-down sweater emerge from the boutique before a loud buzzing drew his attention upward. A swarm of bees flew over the top of the boutique's building and arrowed right for him.
Lex clicked the locks open on his Porsche with a chirp, intending to dive into the vehicle. He changed his mind at the last moment, not wanting to trap any of the bees inside with him. He'd already had to replace the Porsche once this month. He also knew the bees couldn't harm him, even if he were to be stung.
And so he stood there beside his car and let the bees come.
Like yesterday, the bees swarmed over him, landing on his skin and clothes, covering his body from head to foot. He didn't move, keeping his eyes and mouth closed. His exhalations caused the bees to remain clear of his nose. The buzzing blocked out any other sound on the street. The tickle of their legs moving on his bare skin made him itch. He felt a single sting on his inner wrist where a bee seemed to become trapped between the cuff of his coat and his skin. Otherwise, as abruptly as they came, the bees flew off, cresting over the store and disappeared once again.
Voices of panicked police officers running from the Sheriff's Department greeted him when he could hear again. Lex didn't turn, instead focusing on the dark haired teen across the street, standing in the shadowed doorway of the boutique. She was the same girl Lex had seen at the school when the bees last struck. The expression on her pale, rounded face not hidden by her glasses was a mixture of anger and fear. She took off running around the corner onto Main Street and out of sight.
"Are you all right?" Deputy Carl Hineman was first to ask as he reached Lex.
"Ambulance is en route," another officer piped up.
Lex offered them a nod. "I'm fine. I wasn't hurt." A little lie, but the sting on his wrist was already fading.
"These crazy bees certainly seem to have it out for you."
"Maybe," Lex said, looking in the direction the girl had run. "Maybe not."
Lex spent the next forty-five minutes giving his statement about the bee attack to the Sheriff's Deputy. He included a description of the girl he'd seen but Deputy Hineman dismissed her as a customer of the boutique. Lex thought there was more to her, and he ventured across Cherry Street to Delilah's Designs after leaving the Sheriff's Department.
A cheery bell dinged when he opened the shop's door a few minutes before closing. Soft lighting lit the small boutique. Mannequins posed in the front window and along the edges of the store, displaying haute couture designs. Skinny shelves of fashionable hats and purses were interspersed between circular dress racks. Black display hands held necklaces and bracelets on the counter near the rear of the store. A mauve-curtained fitting room nestled into the corner, surrounded by full length ornate mirrors.
A stylish woman in her fifties, with cropped jet black hair and matching cat's eye glasses emerged from the back room discreetly concealed by a mauve beaded curtain. She wore an ivory tailored boucle jacket with black piping over a black cashmere turtleneck. She matched it with a black pencil skirt, black back-seamed sheer stockings, and heeled ankle boots. Fashionable rings adorned her fingers and graced her ears.
"Good evening. Welcome to Delilah's. I am Delilah. How may I assist you?" Delilah said, with a dark bourbon voice that matched her well.
Lex smiled broadly. It was nice to meet someone else to whom appearance mattered. "I'm Lex Luthor. I'd originally intended to come in and ask if you knew the young lady's name who was in here about an hour ago, wearing a yellow button-down sweater, but now that I've seen the inside of your store, I'm hoping you'll tell me you sell men's clothing as well."
Delilah smiled in return, her even white teeth contrasting with the deep red lipstick she wore. "I do have a small selection. Most of the professionals choose to shop in Metropolis, but a few fashion-minded young men frequent my store," she said.
"I'm pleased to hear Smallville's couture isn't all t-shirts and jeans," Lex said.
She led him to the section of hanging clothes near the fitting room. "Here we are. I do keep a catalogue of designers I carry, if you're so inclined. Now, what is it you wish to know about Sasha?"
Lex browsed through the offerings as he spoke. "She's witness to a bee swarm that happened earlier. I'd like to provide her name to the police, to follow up on what she saw."
"Terrible thing, these swarms." Delilah clucked her tongue and then lowered her glasses to study him. "It was quite heroic of you to step in and protect Felice Chandler."
"Anyone could have done it," Lex demurred. Inwardly, he felt a swell of pride.
"But you're the one who did," Delilah said. "That makes you top notch in my book, despite what the Ledger printed about you robbing the bank."
"Thank you," Lex said. "The police have a lead as to the true perpetrator. We'll see what happens."
Lex left Delilah's with Sasha Woodman's contact information, a mulberry colored mock turtleneck, and a new friend. He checked his watch. It was coming upon eight o'clock, too late to pay a visit to a teenager without seeming creepy. Lex had promised not to leave town, so the Black Rider couldn't become involved. He'd have to talk to her tomorrow after school let out. Besides, he was hungry and had dinner waiting for him at home.
Lex didn't get too far out of town when he came upon a rusted, green Corvair parked on the side of the road. The hazard lights weren't on. The car hadn't been there when Lex had headed into town earlier, and it was a different road than yesterday. Concerned about Jodi, or John, having broken down again and needing help, Lex pulled off and set his hazards blinking.
Night enshrouded the area in its dark embrace. Stars studded the clear sky. A sliver of moon provided the only light over the road and the cornfields awaiting harvest. Ears of corn weighed heavily on the tall, green stalks on either side of the road and rustled with the evening breeze. Lex's shoes crunched on the gravel berm as he approached the Melvilles' car.
"Jodi? John?" Lex called as he approached the Corvair. He cupped his hands and peered through the driver's side window. No one was inside.
Lex straightened and looked around. It was possible either or both of them had already walked for help. Still, he called out again. "Jodi? John? It's Lex."
Movement shook the corn stalks to his right, drawing Lex's attention. A moment later, the Porsche's headlights caught a well-horned buck as it exploded from between the rows. It darted across the road and into the next field. There was more movement and noise from the cornfield, and Lex waited for additional deer to emerge.
Jodi Melville burst from the field, startling Lex with her appearance. The Porsche's headlights highlighted the blood that covered her mouth and chin, and coated the front of her ratty, pink Kansas State sweatshirt. Her blonde hair was snarled in a rat's nest. Her gaunt face and wild eyes spurred as much worry in Lex as the blood.
"Jodi!" Lex rushed toward her, arms extended. She must've gotten gored by the buck. The buck's horns had looked wicked sharp. He needed to get Jodi to his car and to the hospital, fast.
Jodi grabbed Lex's arms when he was within reach. Her grip was punishing. Her sunken wild eyes focused on Lex before Jodi yanked him forward and sunk her teeth into his shoulder.
Lex cried out in agony as muscle and tissue were torn. Instinct kicked in, and he dropped to the ground like deadweight, breaking her hold on him. He scrambled around her on hands and toes before pushing to his feet. Black spots danced in front of his eyes, and his shoulder was on fire. Blood gushed from the wound, an entire chunk of his shoulder gone.
Oh fuck, I'm going to become a zombie, Lex thought with an edge of hysteria. He clamped a hand over his wound, staunching the flow of blood. He needed to get to his car. He needed to get away. He needed to... stop Jodi before she infected others.
The last thought crystallized before he reached the cornfield he had been about to bolt into, in panic. Though his body was telling him to run and keep running, his mind knew he had to help save the people of Smallville. Helping people was what he did, was a part of who he was, and the zombie apocalypse wasn't going to change it.
Lex shifted course, aiming for his car. He fumbled for his keys in his coat pocket with his bloody hand. The trunk held a tire iron and a few free weights to keep his Porsche grounded on icy roads when winter hit. The trunk lid popped with a press of a button. Lex shoved it open the rest of the way, grabbed the first thing he could reach, and spun around, preparing to smash Jodi in the head with a ten pound weight disk.
Jodi wasn't about to pounce and eat him, though. She was on her knees in the middle of the street, face buried in her hands, crying her eyes out.
"Jodi?" Lex questioned, though he didn't approach her. His weapon remained at the ready, arm straining. His other arm hung limply at his side. Blood soaked his clothes. Adrenaline was keeping Lex from passing out.
"I'm s-s-s-s-sorry," Jodi sobbed. "I didn't m-m-m-mean to."
Lex grew extremely confused. Zombies couldn't talk. "Are you a zombie?"
"What?" Jodi raised her head. Bloody handprints added to the gore on her gaunt face. Her eyes were no longer wild, though, as she stared at him in bewilderment. "A zombie? Why would I be-- oh." Her chin wobbled and she sniffed loudly. Tears sprung up. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to bite you! I was just so hungry, and I was after that deer, and then you- you- you--" She broke into sobs again.
Lex dropped the weight onto the ground. She wasn't a zombie. Just a hungry teenager. His knees wobbled as the adrenaline faded with the threat being gone. "I'm going to pass out now. Don't call an ambulance. I'll be fine in a few minutes," Lex said. He caught a glimpse of her bloody face again before his eyes rolled back and he crashed to the pavement, unconscious.
Lex came to with Jodi hovering beside him on her knees. He noted she'd wiped off her face as best she could. "You're awake!" she said, worry and fear evident in her tone. Her hands flitted around him but she didn't touch. "What should I do? I didn't call an ambulance."
"Help me sit up," Lex said. He groaned as she did, wincing in pain. His arm was still on fire and his head throbbed with a vicious headache. Leaning against the low-slung bumper of the Porsche, he eyed his shoulder wound. The bleeding had stopped and the shine of new muscle knitting together was visible. Another five to ten minutes and it would look like nothing had happened, minus the tear in his clothing. "I liked this coat."
"Wh- what?" Jodi stammered, and sniffled.
"Never mind," Lex said. He reached out and laid a tentative hand on her arm. "Are you all right?"
"Me? You're the one who's hurt. Who I hurt." Jodi's chin wobbled again.
"Hey, now. No more tears. I'll be fine," Lex assured, squeezing her arm lightly. "I'm more worried about you. I don't think you run around biting people on a normal basis."
Jodi shook her head, wiping her damp eyes with her blood-stained sleeve. "No."
"So what happened?"
Jodi looked down and picked at the ratty hem of her sweatshirt. "I went on a new diet and it made me lose a lot of weight fast. But now I'm so hungry all the time. Like, really hungry. Like, I eat cows and deer without cooking them first."
"The animal mutilations in the newspaper," Lex said. "That was you."
Jodi nodded, and sniffed.
"And you believe the diet started it?"
"I don't know. Maybe," Jodi said. "The hunger started around the same time, so I think so."
Lex turned the information over in his mind. "It's probably safe to say this new diet bites."
Jodi snorted, and then covered her mouth with her hand in embarrassment. Lex smiled faintly at her. "Still not my best material," he said. "Is your Dad at home?"
"If he doesn't know about the effects of the diet, he needs to be told." Lex used the bumper to push himself to his feet. No spots appeared in his vision, and he could deal with the pain. "We need to figure out how to fix it."
"But what about your shoulder?" Jodi said, getting up as well.
"I'll throw a bandage on it. I heal fast," Lex said. He fetched the first aid kit out of the open trunk and closed the lid. "I'll follow you to your house."
"If you're sure...," Jodi said.
Lex nodded, and he waited until she started for the Corvair before moving.
Zombie apocalypse averted.
Beethoven's 1812 Overture blasted in Lex's bedroom as the alarm went off, jolting him from sleep. He smacked the offending clock's snooze bar, cursing soundly. Mondays sucked. Getting up early to go to work sucked. He'd made a point not to schedule any classes before 10:00 A.M. at the earliest while he was in school. Now, he had to get up at 6:30 A.M., five days a week.
His father sucked.
Lex grumbled, stretched, and forced himself out of the warm nest of blankets. His shoulder had healed completely, leaving no mark or trauma as to what had happened last night. It was a good thing that it had been Lex that Jodi had bitten, otherwise events would have unfolded much differently.
But everything had turned out all right. Lex, John, and Jodi had formulated a plan to put Jodi on a water-based cleanse and keep her housebound until she stopped wanting to eat the neighborhood. Because money was tight for the Melvilles, Lex would supply racks of meat during the interim, until the cleanse began working. A proud man, John refused to take charity, and so he and Jodi would work off the butcher debt by acting as a cleaning service at the same rate Lex would've paid Emma Richards. They'd been warned about the bribe and threats they'd receive from Lionel Luthor and had declared the first they would decline and the second they would report to the police. It was a win all round.
Lex worked out, showered, dressed, and headed down to the kitchen. Clouds blocked the morning sun outside the arched windows. The double confection oven and stainless steel refrigerator gleamed under the recessed lights. The deep wood of the cabinets and walls warmed the room. Hot coffee awaited him in an automatic brewer Gertrude had set the night prior. He snagged an apple from the fruit bowl on the large, black marble island counter and took a bite while getting a mug.
Coffee in hand, Lex ventured out front to fetch the newspaper. The Smallville Ledger's headline above the fold declared: TEEN ARRESTED FOR BANK ROBBERY, MURDER. That got Lex's attention. He quickly scanned the article. Tina Greer had been arrested when the bank money and her mother's body had been found at the antique store in town. The FBI had taken her into custody pending trial. The article didn't say anything about how she appeared as Lex, or as Clark. Curious that detail had been omitted.
Below the fold, an article had been written about Lex's second brush with bees. Thankfully, no picture accompanied the story and the details seemed to be gleaned from the police blotter. The publicity didn't bode well for the bees of Smallville. He needed to speak to Sasha and find out if she was connected somehow.
He had to go to work first, though. And with that thought, he tucked the newspaper under his arm and went back into the mansion.
Lex had seriously thought about using toothpicks to keep his eyelids open at work that day. Writing reports for his father and ensuring the changes he'd made at the fertilizer plant went smoothly was pretty much the extent of his duties. Gabe Sullivan, the plant manager, took care of the day-to-day stuff. Jennifer Gaines, the resource officer Lex had hired, worked tirelessly to help the employees find other positions. Six percent of the plant's workforce had already moved on to more secure pastures.
Lex cut out of work at 4:30 in the afternoon and drove through town to the Woodman residence. The two-storey white house with hunter green trim was located in a nice family neighborhood that butted against the Elbow River. Similar houses in structure and design, with healthy green lawns and the occasional strewn bicycle, lined both sides of the street. The leaves on the maple trees were vivid with the colors of fall. The sun had broken through the clouds.
Lex parked the Porsche on the street, walked up the front sidewalk, and rang the Woodmans' doorbell. The hunter green front door with a Halloween witch hanging on it opened, and a woman in her forties wearing a floral sweater and jeans appeared behind the screen. "Yes? May I help you?" she said.
"Hi. I'm Lex Luthor. I'm here to see Sasha. Is she home?" Lex said, giving her his best it's-not-weird smile. It helped that he was dressed in a sharp brown suit with a rose dress shirt and Trinity knotted, complimentary tie. "I'd like to speak to her with regard to an event she may have witnessed yesterday."
The telephone rang in the house. "I'm Maria, Sasha's mother. She's around back. Do you think you can find your way?" Maria said, glancing over her shoulder in the direction of the ring.
"Of course. Thank you," Lex said. Maria closed the front door, and Lex followed the sidewalk that lead around to the rear of the house.
Tall sunflowers loomed in the backyard, interspersed with benches and grass. Shorter fruit trees, their fruit souring and crimson and gold leaves starting to fall, were positioned in rows around the edges of the wood-stained fenced yard. In the rear of the yard, hidden behind a row of blackberry bushes, nine white, wooden beehives stood evenly spaced. Bees buzzed around each hive, busy with activity. Sasha Woodman walked between the hives, stopping to check on the honey, without wearing a beekeeper suit.
Sasha pulled out a tray on one of the beehives with her bare hands, bees flying around her, and checked the wax honeycomb. She was dressed in a beige, button-down sweater, blue jeans, and white sneakers. She pushed the tray back into the drawer and slid open another.
Lex approached, unafraid. After having a bite taken from his shoulder - a first for him - bee stings would be like nothing. "Sasha?"
Sasha turned swiftly, brown hair swinging around her slightly rounded face. She shoved it away from her glasses. Her brown eyes widened when she saw him. "You!" she exclaimed. The bees flying around her began to form a swarm.
Lex held up his hands. "I come in peace. Please don't send the swarm after me," he said. "You are controlling them, aren't you?"
"What- I- no- that is--," Sasha stammered and gestured, and finally slumped. "Yeah." The bees dispersed, going back to doing what bees did.
Lex lowered his hands. "That's pretty neat," he said, and it was... when the bees weren't swarming him. "Any idea how you do it?"
Sasha shrugged, shoving her hands into her jeans pockets. Her sweater bunched at the hem with the action. "I just can."
"It's an enviable ability." Lex walked to one of the low, stone benches nearby, unbuttoned his suit coat, and took a seat. He hadn't expected to find the source of the swarm so easily, and the fact that Sasha was controlling them was amazing. First Electric Boy and now Bee Girl - who was looking at him like a sullen teenager about to be scolded.
"You're not in trouble," Lex assured her. "Neither Felice nor I were stung. I'd like to understand why you sent the bees after us."
"Felice is a bitch." Sasha shut the open beehive drawer, wandered over, and sat down beside Lex. "I just wanted to scare her, and scare you because you helped her."
"Well, you succeeded. But do you really think it was a good idea?" Lex said. "People are going to be killing bees now, spraying insecticides on everything. The newspaper indicated the Sheriff's Department was thinking of closing down beekeepers and exterminating the hives."
Sasha appeared horrified by that news. "No, they can't!"
"If it's to protect the citizens of Smallville from bee swarms attacking people, they can and will."
"Oh, no. What have I done?" Sasha buried her face in her hands.
Lex let her stew for a minute, letting it really sink in that her actions had consequences. Finally, he spoke again. "I think the Sheriff's Department won't act if there are no more attacks."
"There won't be! I promise," Sasha said quickly.
"I'm glad," Lex said. He watched the bees buzzing around their hives. "It would be a shame to lose them. Bees seem to be dying out, or so I read. Colony Collapse Disorder."
"Yeah." Sasha picked at her fingernails. "Do you plan on telling anyone about what I did? What I can do?"
"No," Lex said. "Some abilities should be kept private. A lot of people wouldn't understand."
"Yeah, no kidding," Sasha agreed.
"Do you know how you got the ability?"
Sasha nodded. "I found this cool green rock on the ground over by the hives. When I picked it up, there was a ground hive underneath it. One of the bees stung me, and a few hours later, I could control them."
"Cool green rock?"
"Yeah. Do you want to see it? I'm using it as a paperweight." Before Lex could answer, Sasha was jogging for the house. Lex was surprised by her forthrightness. Then again, he'd caught her with her hand in the cookie jar, or beehive as it were. Or perhaps she was glad to have someone to share with, who didn't judge her or think she was a freak. Lex had Bruce, but otherwise no one knew that when Lex said "I heal fast," he meant it literally.
Sasha returned, rejoining him on the bench. She handed him the rock. "I love how it seems to glow in the light," she said.
The paperweight looked like a geode at first glance, with one side rocky and the other made of green crystals. However, it had irregular edges, instead of being round like geodes normally were. It was also fairly heavy. The crystals did appear to glow faintly green in the light. The rocky side was a rusty brown in color and thin lines scored the surface.
Lex's major was chemistry, not geology, but he had taken a semester on mineralogy as it dealt with the chemical properties of minerals. The course had included crystal chemistry and classification of minerals. He didn't remember seeing anything that had looked like this in class.
Lex handed the paperweight back to Sasha. "I'll agree that it's cool," he said. He looked at the wooden beehives and their busy colonies. "Do you have any plans to study bees in college?" The reminder of the course he'd taken made him miss school.
"I'm actually going to major in agriculture," Sasha said. She played with the paperweight in her hands. "Then, I was thinking I could go to Africa and plant crops to help feed everyone. There are a lot of starving people there."
Lex was impressed, and said so. "I'm impressed. Not many kids your age, or even my age, think about others."
Sasha shrugged, as only a teenager could. "It's no big deal."
"It is a big deal," Lex told her. "In fact, I'm going to make a few calls and see if I can line up some scholarships and sponsorships for you. My friend Bruce Wayne recently started a program in Africa. I think he'd be thrilled to have you on board."
A flush of happiness highlighted Sasha's rounded cheeks. "You don't have to do that."
"No, I don't, but I want to," Lex said. "I like helping people when I'm able to do so."
Sasha ducked her head, hiding her smile behind a wave of dark hair. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," Lex said. He motioned to the beehives and gave her a small grin. "So, any chance I could get some fresh honey?"
Lex called Bruce from the car after he left the Woodman residence and filled his friend in on Sasha, her powers, and her future. Three small mason jars of honey sat on the seat beside Lex. He navigated the Porsche through the neighborhoods towards downtown.
"A boy who controls electricity and a girl who controls bees," Bruce said over the line. "Interesting."
"Don't forget about the non-zombie who tried to eat me," Lex said.
"Yes, it wouldn't do to forget that," Bruce said drolly. "It sounds like Smallville might ended up needing the Black Rider."
"Maybe," Lex said. He turned onto Main Street and searched for a place to park. "I'm not sure how I'd get him here without arousing suspicion. Passing through only works once as an excuse."
"You'll think of something."
Students and folks needing a pick-me-up after work crowded the Beanery. Pendant lights illuminated homework splayed on the high, round tables. Groups congregated and gossiped on the curved, orange couches. Framed, dated movie posters decorated the garish orange walls. The aroma of coffee floated in the air along with the hum of conversation. The bell over the door tinkled, announcing the arrival of more customers.
Lex approached the long, dark wooden coffee bar. Carafes and coffee urns lined the wall behind the counter. Two harried-looking teenagers wearing waitress aprons scurried back and forth, filling requests. Lex placed his order and moved to the side to wait.
"Hi, Lex." Clark Kent walked up beside him, broad shoulders hunched beneath his tan jacket and red t-shirt. His hands were shoved in the pockets of his worn blue jeans. Dark fringe that needed to be cut hid his hazel eyes.
"Clark." Lex nodded to him in polite, if distant, greeting.
"I, uh, wanted to let you know that I- that the real robber was caught," Clark said.
"I know. I read about it in this morning's newspaper."
"Oh. Okay." Clark shifted uncomfortably on his feet.
Lex took a tiny bit of pity on him. "The Ledger didn't mention anything about how Ms. Greer managed to look like either of us."
If anything, Clark appeared more uncomfortable with the statement. He shifted again, looked around surreptitiously, and leaned closer to Lex to whisper, "She was a shapeshifter."
Lex's brows rose in surprise. "That's different," he said. Then again, he'd been talking to Bruce not ten minutes ago about Electric Boy and Bee Girl. "May I ask how you know?"
Clark hemmed and hawed before admitting in another confidential tone, "I saw her do it."
Lex collected his coffee when his name was called. He motioned for Clark to join him at a table for two along the wall. He unbuttoned his suit coat before sitting on the tall stool. "How did this come about?" he said.
Clark sat down across from Lex, somehow making himself look small despite his large frame. He glanced around again before speaking. "I... kinda went to investigate the store myself. After, uh, you stopped by the house yesterday." Shame tinted his sharp cheekbones.
"That was dangerous," Lex chided, but gently. He could tell Clark was trying to make amends.
"I know," Clark said. "But if my Mom wasn't going to say anything to the police, I needed to see it myself so that I could report it. I found the backpack and Mrs. Greer stuffed in a steamer trunk at the store. I called the police, and Tina showed up at the same time as the officers did. Tina shapeshifted into me to try and confuse them."
"Since she's in custody and you're in front of me, I take it that it didn't work," Lex said. He gave Clark a crooked smile. "Unless you're not really Clark."
"No, I'm me," Clark was swift to proclaim, causing Lex to chuckle.
"Don't worry, I believe you," Lex said.
Clark slumped in relief. "Good."
Lex took a drink of his pumpkin spice coffee. He swiped at a drip on the table with a napkin. "There's a lot of weird in this town."
"Tell me about it," Clark said. "Chloe has a whole wall devoted to it. She calls it her 'Wall of Weird'."
"Chloe Sullivan. She's a friend, and the editor of The Torch."
"She must be Gabe Sullivan's daughter," Lex said. "Gabe's the plant manager at the fertilizer factory."
"I know," Clark said. "Chloe's not happy that she's going to have to move when the plant closes." He didn't sound accusatory, but there was a note of unhappiness for the future loss of a friend.
"There's not much I can do about it," Lex said. "My father owns the plant. He stuck me out here so that Smallville would have a scapegoat when he closes it. He's done it before, at other plants."
"That's just... mean."
Lex smiled at the term. "I agree," he said. "Tell me more about this 'Wall of Weird'."
"It's exactly that," Clark said. "Chloe's been collecting clippings and pictures and stories about all the strange things that have happened in Smallville. She writes articles about it for The Torch Online. You... um... you're on it."
"I am?" Lex's brows rose questioningly.
"Yeah. It's an article from when you were a kid, from when you, uh..." Clark waved his hand above his own head, appearing uncomfortable again. "...You, uh, lost your hair."
"Hm. I didn't realize being bald was weird."
Clark's face flamed red, and Lex hid his impish grin behind his coffee cup. "I didn't mean- I mean--"
"It's okay, Clark. I'm only kidding," Lex said.
"Oh." Clark looked around like he wanted to find a hole to crawl into. "Okay."
Lex chuckled softly. "Don't worry, Clark. Being bald at the age of nine without any illness to accompany it is weird. But it's a part of who I am now, part of what made me who I am, and I don't detest it. Not anymore, anyway."
Clark took Lex's napkin and began plucking it into pieces. "I think you look good with no hair."
Lex smiled at the compliment. "Yeah? So do I."
Lex arrived home to find an unfamiliar car in the driveway, but a familiar person scowling at him from the front steps. The estate was located on the western outskirts of town, separated from the fertilizer plant by thick, landscaped woods and a lake. The stone monstrosity stood out indecently in the moderate landscape of Smallville. Gargoyles perched on parapets, smiling grotesquely down upon the curved, limestone gravel drive. Ornate hedges circled the mansion, occasionally broken by a thick, oak exterior door. The windows were a mix of tempered, leaded and stained glasses set into the stone masonry. Curved steps cut a path to the front door.
Lex parked behind the black Saab with dark, tinted windows and Metropolis license plates. He smiled mockingly at his guest as he got out of the Porsche. "Been waiting long?"
Dominic Sanatori's scowl deepened. He was in his mid-thirties, tall and lean from regimented exercise. His face was framed by a trimmed blonde mustache and goatee. His blonde hair was thinning at the top. Beady brown eyes glared at Lex from beneath knotted brows. His charcoal pinstriped suit, set off by a teal shirt, tie, and pocket square, had wrinkled from his trip. He held a brown leather folio in his hand.
"Yes, and I do not appreciate having to stand on the doorstep like a common visitor," Dominic griped. "Where is your staff?"
"I fired them first thing, after I arrived," Lex said. He knew Gertrude was inside, preparing dinner, but she had instructions not to answer the door. Lex didn't plan to let Dominic inside, either. "Now, why is my father's lackey standing on my doorstep?"
Dominic bristled. "I am not a lackey. I'm Lionel's assistant, as you well know."
"Tomato, tomahto." Lex enjoyed winding up Dominic. It was almost too easy. He would have thought his father would have an assistant with thicker skin. "What do you want, Dominic?"
"Aren't you going to invite me inside?" Dominic said.
Dominic prickled again, and Lex grinned brazenly. Dominic opened the folio and whipped out a clear-covered, bound folder. He thrust it at Lex. "Lionel is disappointed in your reports. He expects you to reduce the workforce at the plant by twenty percent by Friday."
Lex had been expecting it. Still, he said, "He does know that profits have increased since I've been here."
"By one percent, and your expenditures are through the roof." Dominic tutted, as if it were his company instead of Lionel Luthor's. "Your business sense is abysmal."
"At least I'm not a secretary."
"I am not--" Dominic cut off his defensive, agitated response. He glowered at Lex. "You have until Friday." He pivoted on his heel and stalked down the steps towards his car.
Lex lifted an impertinent hand in a wave. "Have a safe trip."
The car door slammed, the engine turned over, and Dominic peeled out of the driveway with a spit of gravel.
Lex dropped his arm and looked at the folder in his other hand. He sighed. Jennifer was going to have her work cut out for her the rest of the week.
Lex started to head down the steps to move his car to the garage, but paused. He turned toward the front door. It didn't take long for him to find the small, wireless camera inserted in the decorative knotwork that framed the doorway. He plucked it out and crushed it beneath his heel. "Bastard."
Just another joy of being Lex Luthor.