“Tell him… Sean Devlin is here to see him.”
Clark Kent was amused by the novelty of being stopped from just walking in to see Lex. The unfamiliar security guard spoke into the phone nodded and hung up. “Mr. Luthor will be down in a moment.”
“Thanks.” Clark stepped aside as the glass doors opened behind him. A portly blonde delivery driver carrying a bouquet of seven black “Over The Hill” helium balloons with a candy weight bag approached the security desk.
The sterile lobby of the business offices of the Smallville Lexcorp Plant hadn’t changed since Clark visited last, except for the new security guard. Normally, Lex was at the castle when Clark got home from school. This year, however, Clark had gone to Mexico with friends at the end of term for a few weeks without a specific return date, so Lex wasn’t expecting him today.
The security guard signed for the delivery and the driver left. Clark studied an abstract picture on the wall, half-listening as the guard phoned a Mr. Morgan about the balloons.
The elevator dinged and Clark turned to see Lex Luthor emerge from the lift. The smooth, professional expression melted into surprised pleasure when he saw the twenty-one year old. “Clark,” he greeted warmly.
“Hey, Lex.” Clark grinned broadly, accepting the proffered hand and giving it a strong shake. The clap on his shoulder was unexpected; Lex had avoided physical contact as much as possible ever since the debacle with his deceased wife, Helen. Clark used the excuse to hold Lex’s hand longer than proper. His dark suntan made Lex’s skin seem that much paler.
“When did you get home?” Lex asked.
“A couple hours ago.”
Lex tucked his hands in his trouser pockets. “How was Mexico?”
“I don’t remember,” Clark answered with a sly grin.
Lex chuckled and indicated with a tilt of his bald head for Clark to follow. “Well, then how was second semester?”
“Decent,” Clark replied. “I think I aced every one of my classes except for Dr. Zolo’s, but he only gives As to those who blow him.”
“That sounds unpleasant.”
Clark nodded. “Especially because he looks like a cross between a monkey and Phyllis Diller.”
The elevator doors opened before Lex hit the button and a dark-haired man in a maroon shirt and crazy tie stepped out. “Mr. Luthor.”
“Mr. Morgan.” Lex let the man pass, entered the elevator with Clark, and pressed ‘two’ on the panel.
“That bastard,” Clark heard Morgan say laughingly before the elevator doors shut.
The elevator ride was made in silence. Clark took the opportunity to study his friend. He hadn’t seen Lex since Spring Break, but Lex looked the same as always. Dressed in a sharp black suit, lilac shirt and deeper violet tie, Lex stood with cool confidence and aloofness. His smooth pale skin was tight over his facial bones and skull, giving him a lean, predatory appearance. Faint lavender shadows beneath his eyes testified that he was tired, even though his gaze was as sharp as a hawk’s.
Clark had been friends with Lex for nearly seven years and had weathered a hell of a lot: lies and secrets, parents, friends, lovers, and femme fatales. They weren’t as close as they once were, mainly because Clark was in Metropolis a majority of the year, but whenever Clark came home from school Lex was the person he saw the most.
The elevator doors opened on the second floor and Clark trailed after Lex to his office. “Hi, Sophia,” Clark greeted Lex’s secretary.
The stern, blue-haired woman broke into a pleased smile. “Clark! It’s wonderful to see you, dear. Are you home for the summer?”
“I’d best begin rearranging Mr. Luthor’s calendar, then,” Sophia said with a wink.
Clark grinned at her, then headed into Lex’s inner office, shutting the door behind him. He flopped onto the black leather ‘catnap couch,’ as Lex called it - not that Lex would ever nap at the office - laid his head back, and stared up at the ceiling.
“How’s David?” Lex asked, closing folders and creating priority piles on his desk.
“You’d have to call and ask him. He doesn’t speak to me anymore.”
Lex’s head rose sharply. “You two broke it off?”
“David broke it off,” Clark said, lowering his gaze to look at Lex. “I stood there like a dork and let it happen.”
Lex glared fiercely off into space, as if David were standing there. “I thought this one liked you a lot.”
“He did, but apparently I didn’t like him the same way.” Clark waved his hand dismissively. “Doesn’t matter. It’s been months and I’m not heartbroken, or suffering from blue balls, or anything.”
Lex didn’t laugh. If anything, his severe frown deepened. “As long as you’re not unhappy…”
“I’m fine, Lex,” Clark said. Lex was borderline-obsessed with Clark’s love life and making certain he wasn’t hurt like Lex had been. Though Lex never said anything, Clark wagered that each of his lovers underwent background checks the moment Clark mentioned their names.
“Hmph.” Lex made a sound that meant he wasn’t reassured, but would drop it.
The phone rang, and Lex answered immediately. “Yes, Sophia?”
Clark watched as Lex’s features tightened and sat up straight. “Call the Sheriff. I’m on my way.” Lex hung up and strode to the door.
“What happened?” Clark asked.
“Morgan is apparently dead.”
Clark was on Lex’s heels as he headed quickly down the hall, passing other offices and curious employees. Near the end of the hall, a group had formed in front of one of the offices, speaking rapidly with each other in hushed voices.
The small crowd parted without being asked upon Lex’s arrival. Morgan, the man with the maroon shirt and crazy tie, was crumpled on the floor, his open eyes staring at nothing. The telephone receiver was off the hook, hanging over the edge of the desk near his legs. The six black “Over the Hill” balloons sat on his desk between a half-empty cup of coffee and a stack of unsealed envelopes. Smoke from a recently lit cigarette curled up from an astray near the phone.
Lex knelt beside Morgan and checked his pulse. “Who found him?” he asked.
“I did,” one of the men replied.
“Who was first on the scene after you?”
“That would be me,” another said.
Lex straightened. “You two stay. The rest, please congregate elsewhere but don’t leave until the Sheriff says you can.”
The hallway cleared, leaving Clark, Lex, and the two men alone with Morgan. “Heart attack?” Clark guessed, looking sadly at the body.
“Mr. Collins,” Lex addressed the one who found Morgan. “Tell me what happened.”
nodded. “Um, I saw Phil pass my office
with those balloons.” He gestured at
the six helium balloons floating on white strings attached to the candy
bag. “I finished my phone call, came
over here to razz him about his birthday, and found him on the floor.”
“I called his name and shook him. That’s when Warren showed up.” Collins indicated the other man whom Lex requested to stay. “I checked Morgan’s pulse, told Warren there was none, and Warren called Sophia on his cell phone per protocol.”
Clark found it even sadder that there was a protocol for finding dead people at the plant.
“Neither of you, or anyone else, touched anything other than the body?” Lex asked.
“No,” Warren answered. “Nothing was touched.”
“Very good. If you would both wait in Mr. Collins’ office for the Sheriff. Someone should be here shortly.”
The two employees left, and Lex shot a glare at Morgan. Clark half-expected Morgan to rise from the dead and apologize for troubling Lex. It was Lex, however, who apologized to Clark.
“I’m sorry, Clark, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be free for a while,” he said. “I’ll call you at home later.”
“Okay,” Clark said with understanding. “If I’m not at home, I’ll probably be at the Talon.”
Lex nodded absently, cell phone already at his ear. “Sophia, call legal and tell them we’ve had another death on company grounds.”
Clark was dismissed with Lex’s usual abruptness. He cast a final glance at the body and left.
The Talon was crowded for a Monday night. Nearly everyone was twenty-one or under and off school for the summer. Clark said hello to several familiar faces as he wove his way to the counter. It was warm inside even with the air conditioning. Conversation was lively and overpowered the music playing from the speakers. The wait staff hurried to place orders and clear tables for the customers.
Clark claimed a single open seat at the counter, rested his bare arms on the speckled marble surface, and people watched as he waited to be served. Lana still owned and managed the Talon, and it appeared business was booming. He was glad for her. They might not have worked as a couple, but their friendship had remained.
“Clark Kent,” the young woman in mind said from behind him. “I was wondering when you’d show up.”
Clark faced her with a smile. “Hi, Lana.”
“It’s good to see you,” Lana said sincerely. She gave him a short hug before waking behind the counter. “Your usual?”
“That’d be great.” Clark watched her as she poured a cup of plain coffee for him. She looked content, which was nice to see. He only wished happiness for her, since he couldn’t be the one to provide it.
Lana returned with two cups, setting both in front of Clark. “Lex’s is on your left.”
Clark blinked in surprise. “I don’t know if Lex is coming here.”
“He will be,” Lana said. “You two are never far apart when you’re home.” She smiled mischievously. “In fact, most people think you and Lex are a couple.”
Clark’s eyes widened. “They do?”
Lana nodded. “It’s understandable. We see Lex all year and he’s much more pleasant when you’re home,” she said. “Then, there’s the space thing.”
“Space thing?” Clark parroted.
“Lex doesn’t let anyone come closer than handshake length to him now, except you.” Lana appeared thoughtful. “Sometimes it looks like he’s waiting for you to put an arm around him.” She paused. “It would take a very strong man to hold Lex Luthor.”
Clark could only nod, dumbfounded. Lana smiled suddenly with much amusement, looking past Clark’s shoulder. “I’ll talk to you later, Clark. Hi, Lex.”
“Lana,” Lex greeted, sliding between Clark and the next occupied stool on the left. Clark noticed immediately that Lex was standing close to him, leaving space on the other side.
Lex reached for the coffee cup at Clark’s left. “Is this mine?”
“Yes,” Lana replied. She picked up an empty wait tray. “If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen.”
Lana walked away and Lex looked curiously at Clark. “Everything okay? You seem shell-shocked.”
“I’m fine,” Clark said slowly. “Lana said people think we’re a couple, that’s all.”
Lex smirked. “Do they now?”
Clark glanced sideways at him. “Do you mind?”
“I can’t control what other people think,” Lex replied ambiguously and sipped his coffee.
Clark sighed. Lex was a pain in the butt sometimes. It would be novel if he actually answered a question forthright.
“So, how much of the world have you conquered since March?” Clark asked, verbally changing the topic, and as Lex launched into his favorite subject, Lexcorp, Clark thought about what Lana had said.
It had been a surprise, but Clark wasn’t upset. Heck, it was because of Lex that Clark had experimented with guys to begin with, to see whether he was attracted to men or if it was just Lex. And boy, had that changed things in his life. Clark chuckled silently. Although there was more to it, if he boiled it down simply: Lex had made him gay.
But just because he would happily tumble Lex into the nearest bed to sate his physical desires didn’t mean it was a good idea. While Clark suspected highly that Lex at least played for both sides, the fact that lovers could not go back to being close friends once that line was crossed deterred him. Clark would need to be very sure in taking that step.
“-Which is a rubber chicken factory-”
“Wait - a rubber chicken factory?” Clark was pulled out of his thoughts at the absurdity, though he didn’t let on that he was only half-listening. He leaned his chin on his fist and smiled gregariously. “This ought to be a comical story.”
Lex laughed, a rusty sound that turned people’s heads. Clark caught them looking out of the corner of his eye before they returned to their own conversations. However, his extra sensitive hearing picked up on one interesting thread from a pair of older patrons.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking for the flying pigs.”
“You heard Luthor laughing, didn’t you?”
“Heck, that’s nothing special when Kent’s around.”
Clark felt his cheeks heat as the newcomer was filled in on Clark and Lex’s supposed love affair. Lana had been right. He should win an award for obliviousness.
“That was lame, Clark,” Lex said, dimple showing as he smiled. “College has not improved your humor.”
“Yet, you still laughed,” Clark jibed.
“True,” Lex agreed good-naturedly. His blue eyes glittered over the rim of his coffee cup, and Clark realized he was going to notice this stuff now.
Clark took a large gulp of coffee. “So. Rubber chickens.”
Clark’s major was Journalism because he was a nosey busybody. He got that from his mother, who always wanted to know everything about everybody and whether there was some way she could help.
The Smallville Ledger had reported Phil Morgan’s death on Tuesday with the Sheriff still investigating the cause. Clark’s curiosity was instantly piqued when he read the article. If Morgan had died of a heart attack or other natural causes, wouldn’t it already be known?
So, after helping his parents on the farm, Clark booted up the computer and waited for the Internet to connect. Chloe had once given him the backdoor access codes to the County offices, including the Coroner. Chad the Morgue Assistant might accept bribes from Chloe, but he was too straight to take them from Clark.
Business was slow at the Coroner’s Office. The autopsy was completed, even though only a day had passed. Clark skimmed the report, found what he was looking for, and rubbed his jaw as he pondered the information.
Potassium cyanide had been found in the mouth, esophagus, and lungs. Morgan had been poisoned.
From his pocket, Clark retrieved his cell phone - a required item for any normal college boy - and speed-dialed Lex’s cell number.
“Morgan was murdered.”
Clark was surprised. “You do?”
“The homicide Detective in charge of the case just left.”
“Did the Detective tell you he was poisoned?”
“Yes. But how do you know?”
I access the Coroner’s report.”
Clark chuckled. “What can I say, I can’t let a mystery rest.”
“Neither can I.” Lex paused significantly and Clark began to squirm before Lex went on. “I’ll meet you at the plant in fifteen.” He rang off without saying goodbye, as usual.
Clark disconnected, shoved the phone in his pocket, and scrubbed a hand over his face. He really should just tell Lex the truth, had wanted to for a while, but his father’s voice in the back of his mind saying, “You can’t trust the Luthors,” guilted him into holding his tongue.
Clark blew out a frustrated breath, closed the Coroner’s report, and searched the County server for the Detective’s report on Morgan. Angsting over telling Lex wasn’t going to solve anything, since he’d been doing that for years. His mom once told him he’d just know when it was right, which made no sense considering how they reacted to his telling Pete.
Maybe he’d flip a coin and leave the choice to chance. But with his luck, the coin would end up under the couch.
Clark ducked under the yellow police tape across the doorway and joined Lex in Phil Morgan’s office. The business offices of the plant were closed due to Morgan’s death, Lex having given his employees the day off, leaving them alone. They were both wearing driving gloves so as not to disturb any evidence. There wasn’t much left, the Detective having collected what he needed for the investigation earlier that day.
Lex stood in the center of the tape-marked body outline, a frown creasing his brow. He stared hard at the mostly cleared desktop. “What was on the desk when Morgan was found?” he said without a hello.
“Telephone, ashtray and lit cigarette, coffee, balloons, and envelopes,” Clark rattled off. “Plus a half-dozen files, a pen, and a paperclip chain.”
Lex glanced over at him. “How did you know that?”
Clark ruffled the papers in his hand with a grin. “Printout of the Detective’s report.”
Lex held out his hand and Clark passed over the pages. As Lex began leafing through them, Clark poked around, looking for anything the Detective might have missed. “Scale of one to ten, Lex.”
“Eight,” Lex murmured as he read. “Morgan was about to close a deal with Brown County Co-op.”
It was not the first time someone had been murdered at Lexcorp, nor the first time Clark and Lex had played investigators. They didn’t lack confidence in the Sheriff’s Department, but Lex was impatient and an unsolved homicide, or any crime, was bad for business. The scale system was based on how annoyed Lex was by the crime, ten being the highest.
Lex would investigate with or without Clark’s assistance, but he also tended to get into trouble on his own. Criminals didn’t like getting caught and had a habit of injuring Lex in his pursuit of them. Clark wanted to prevent that whenever possible. Besides, investigating was fun.
you think Morgan was murdered because someone wanted a promotion?” Clark said,
sifting through the files on the desk.
“No. He was commission-based sales,” Lex said.
“Someone wanting his accounts, then?”
“Possibly.” Lex flipped the pages in his hands. “Okay, we can rule out the coffee as the source of the potassium cyanide because there was no residue in the stomach. The envelopes and pen can also be omitted because the poison was not contained to the mouth. That leaves the cigarette, six helium balloons-”
“Seven,” Clark said. “I was in the lobby when they were delivered. There were seven balloons.”
He and Lex exchanged looks. “It has to be deflated,” Clark said, moving papers with a purpose.
Lex folded and tucked the pages in his suit coat pocket. He turned slowly in a circle until he faced the door. “It’s not in the office.”
Clark caught on immediately. “Or it would have been on the evidence list.”
Lex ducked under the yellow police tape, with Clark right behind him. “I’ll take the hall and the trash cans,” Clark said.
Lex nodded and crossed the hallway to the office opposite Morgan’s. Clark found a light switch and flipped it. The fluorescent overhead lights flickered on. Removing the lid of the hall trash, Clark wrinkled his nose at the smell from a disregarded sack lunch. Luckily, as Lex had given everyone the day off, the janitors hadn’t been by the empty the bin, vacuum, or otherwise clean. If the balloon had been found yesterday, another employee might have thrown it out.
Clark grimaced, reached in, and began sifting. Searching through garbage was never his favorite activity, though it was one of the best ways to find information. It was amazing what people threw out, thinking it would never be discovered.
“Got it, Clark,” Lex said, emerging from the office with an envelope in his gloved hands. He strode purposely for the stairwell.
Clark put the trash can back together, shut off the lights, and jogged after Lex. They went down a flight and into the plant.
The plant labs were relatively empty, with only a few scientists working on their projects. They greeted Lex respectfully as he and Clark passed.
Lex led the way to a currently unoccupied lab room. Clark eyed the stainless steel tables and science equipment with ingrained trepidation. The sterile smell choked him more than the garbage had done. He shoved his hands in his pockets and affected a nonchalant pose leaning against the counter Lex was stationed.
Lex traded his driving gloves for rubber gloves, took out a bottle of liquid, a rack of test tubes, long q-tips, and an empty tray. He filled three test tubes with the clear liquid. Then, he dumped the deflated balloon from the envelope into the tray, took one of the q-tips, and swabbed the inside of the mouth of the balloon before dipping the q-tip in one of the test tubes.
“Potassium cyanide,” Lex declared, tapping the test tube with his finger. The liquid inside was no longer clear.
“So that means Morgan inhaled the poison from the balloon,” Clark said.
“And whomever sent the balloons knew Morgan,” Lex surmised, repeating the test for potassium cyanide twice more with the remaining test tubes. “The odds against Morgan sucking the helium are too high-”
“-Unless it was something he always did, and only someone who knew him well would know that fact,” Clark finished with an agreeing nod. He remembered Morgan’s response upon delivery and it fit with what they theorized. “So somehow we have to figure out who Morgan’s friends were and what motivated one of them to kill him.”
“Premeditated murder is caused by money, sex, or power, or any combination of the three.” Lex began cleaning up, putting the balloon in a ziplock bag for the Detective. “I reviewed Morgan’s personnel file this morning. He was not married and I found no notation of him having a significant other.”
“This was seriously planned out, so a jealous lover of any new relationship wouldn’t make sense,” Clark said. “You also said before that it couldn’t be promotional, but maybe an account thing.”
“However, with the evidence of the balloon, that’s ruled out. Morgan had only been employed here for nine months and before that he lived in Topeka all his life,” Lex said. “My other sales executives at this plant are Smallville natives.”
“If he’d only been here nine months, it would have to be someone from his past.”
Lex pitched the rubber gloves in the trash and pocketed the bagged balloon. “We’ll see if he had a phone book. Although, close friends’ numbers would be memorized-”
“The phone!” Clark exclaimed abruptly, straightening quickly. “The phone had been off the hook, remember? Morgan had been on the phone with someone when he died.”
“Someone who he’d talk to in a helium-high voice,” Lex said. “Unless, of course, someone had called him.” He removed the printouts of the Detective’s report from his pocket, unfolded, and skimmed them. “The Detective notes the phone off the hook, but nothing else.”
“The phones have redial, don’t they?” Clark asked.
“Yes.” Lex stuck the papers back in his pocket and started out of the lab. “Let’s go see if Morgan called his killer.”
No one answered the phone on the other end of redial. Morgan’s telephone also didn’t have a number display, but that didn’t prohibit Clark from obtaining the number.
“Each button has a different tone on a telephone,” Clark told Lex. He put Morgan’s phone on speaker and hit redial again. A melody of computerized beeps filled the air. “Ten numbers, which is one, plus area code, plus the phone number. One three-one-six five-five-five two-one-five-three.”
Lex’s brows arched. “Where did you learn that skill?”
“Journalism class,” Clark replied with a straight face.
Lex snorted. “Well, it’s faster than trying to obtain phone records.” He jotted the number on the write-on area of the ziplock bag containing the balloon.
Clark glanced at his watch. “I need to be getting home. Mom and Dad expect me for dinner.”
“We’ll drop this off at the Sheriff and I’ll take you home,” Lex said.
Clark followed Lex, and after a short detour to Lex’s office for a manila envelope and to write a note to include with the balloon, they headed outside. Lex locked up the business portion of the building, and the two got into Lex’s car and they were on their way.
Clark noted, as he addressed the envelope to the Detective in charge of the case, that Lex didn’t question where Clark’s car was or how he’d gotten to the plant. He searched back and realized Lex hadn’t asked about Clark’s appearance on foot in a long time. In fact, now that he thought about it, except for the occasional comment about Clark’s being ‘mysterious,’ Lex had stopped questioning all together. Clark had the sudden desire to know why.
“Why don’t you ask anymore?” he said.
“About me. About how I do things or the answers to ‘mysterious’ events.”
Lex glanced at Clark and returned his eyes to the road. “What brought this up?”
“Because I want to know,” Clark said. “And don’t sidestep by asking questions or telling me some historical anecdote.”
Lex was quiet for a long minute, and Clark thought he wasn’t going to reply, when he spoke finally. “I trust you implicitly, even with the secrets and lies.”
Clark dropped his gaze, crumpling the edge of the manila envelope with his hands. He felt guilty, and said hesitantly, “I’ll tell you, if you still want to know.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lex’s jaw tighten but otherwise didn’t visibly react. Lex said nothing.
The silence was uncomfortable and tense, but Clark didn’t break it. Lex turned into the lot and stopped in front of the Sheriff’s Department. Clark opened the car door, but Lex’s hand on his arm made him pause. He looked at Lex, who met his gaze intently.
“I want to know, but I don’t need to,” Lex said seriously. “Our friendship won’t end if you never tell me.”
A slow smile spread across Clark’s face. “I’m glad.”
Lex nodded slightly. “Go take that inside and then let’s get you home.”
Clark helped around the farm again most of the next day. He regretted telling his dad about the murder investigation the moment the words left his mouth because he had to hear “let the Sheriffs do their job” and “it’s the Luthors’ fault” on repeat. Finally, around four o’clock, Clark was free and after a quick shower and some food, he ignored everything his dad has said, and settled in front of the computer in shorts and a t-shirt to do some work on the Morgan murder.
The Detective, according to his updated report, had contacted Lex earlier in the morning in regards to the balloon. Progress notes indicated the phone number they’d obtained was listed for Joshua Hedge of Topeka and that the Topeka police had been contacted for cross-jurisdiction assistance.
The Internet was a fascinating bit of technology, where any information could be found if you knew how to use it. Clark had been sleeping with a hacker freshman year and had learned all about the wonders of the world wide web.
Starting with the easiest way to find information, Clark typed Joshua Hedge’s and Phil Morgan’s names into the Google search engine. There were sixteen hits that had some mention of those names. Clark skimmed the list. One was a sex link, naturally, and a few had only one last name or the other. Clark clicked the mouse icon on the most promising candidate and waited for the page to load.
Dialup stunk, but Clark still hit paydirt. Delta Gamma Phi had their twenty-fifth reunion at the University of Missouri - Kansas City four years ago and both Morgan and Hedge were pictured. Clark recognized Hedge right away - he was the delivery driver who’d brought the balloons.
“Bingo,” Clark said. Mini-biographies were listed on the webpage for each of the fraternity brothers. Black Tea, LLC was listed under both Morgan and Hedge’s names.
Clark backtracked and entered the corporation’s name in the Google search engine, with no results. Instead of trying another broad-based search engine, he routed into the IRS with a few handy tricks and codes - thank you, Steve - and Clark was looking at the pertinent information of Black Tea, LLC.
Black Tea, LLC consisted of four partners who co-owned the rights to a fairly lucrative oil well in the State of Texas. The IRS, Clark saw, had already noted Morgan’s death. There was another notation that caught Clark’s eye: survivor’s rights; the IRS was to watch the remaining partners’ tax forms for an increase in personal revenue.
Clark opened a new window and linked to a legal dictionary. Survivor’s rights meant that when one person died, the others divided the excess equally amongst them. Which meant if only one person was still alive they got everything.
Clark grinned. He’d found the motivation behind Morgan’s death.
In a flash, he retrieved his cell phone and returned to the computer. “Hey, Lex,” he greeted when Lex answered the call. He typed in Morgan and one of the other partners’ names of Black Tea, LLC in the Google search engine. “Are you busy?”
“Somewhat,” Lex replied over the line. Clark could hear someone questioning who was calling in the background. “Can I call you back?”
“Okay. I just wanted to tell you I found out the motivation behind Morgan’s death.”
“That’s good,” Lex said impassively, and Clark suddenly had a bad feeling. He knew Lex, and the other man would never be this disinterested when it involved his company.
“Well, um…” He glanced at the computer. The IRS screen stood out at him. He blinked twice as he put the pieces together, disconnected quickly from the Internet, picked up the house phone, and dialed Hedge’s phone number. “I guess I’ll talk to you later, then. Oh, wait.”
“Yes?” Lex said, but Clark was more interested in the phone ringing in the background.
“What the heck are you doing at Hedge’s house?!” Clark exclaimed. “The Detective here has contacted the Topeka police and they should be there soon!”
“The police!” was bellowed, but not by Lex. Joshua Hedge had answered the ringing phone and heard Clark at the other end.
Clark cursed himself for neglecting to disconnect before, and did so now. He could still hear Hedge through Lex’s open line.
“You’re with the police!”
Lex’s voice cut off and the phone clattered loudly before going dead.
Clark swore viciously as he disconnected and shoved the cell phone in his pocket. He was extremely glad he hadn’t closed the IRS window when he’d disconnected from the Internet. Hedge’s address was listed on the page. Clark super-speeded for a map of Kansas, found the street in Topeka, ran outside, and took flight.
He was at Hedge’s house in two seconds, one of which was spent reading the addresses to find the residence. He passed a cop car driving up the street. Lex’s Porsche was at the curb across the street from Hedge’s ranch house.
Clark landed barefooted on the back stoop after x-raying the house. Lex and Hedge were in the living room, near the front door. Clark didn’t have a plan, other than to get Lex out of the house before something happened to him, like it always did.
Better yet, if he got Hedge out of the house, the police could pick him up without needing to enter the residence and therefore covering Lex’s presence without explanation or a suspicious disappearance. Of course, Lex would wonder how Clark got here, but he could always lie about being in Topeka to investigate Hedge.
That decided, Clark pushed open the back door, breaking the lock with his strength, and strode through the kitchen into the living room. Lex, dressed in a full business suit, was seated on the couch with a briefcase on the low table in front of him. His phone was cracked on the floor. Hedge, the portly blonde delivery guy, was peering between the curtains out the front window.
“Hi, Mr. Hedge,” Clark said cheerfully. He didn’t look at Lex as he walked up to Hedge, grabbed his arm, and with extra strength, forced him to stumble-walk to the front door.
“Who are you?” Hedge said panicking, trying to escape from Clark.
“Your neighbor.” Clark unlocked and opened the front door, ‘urged’ Hedge outside, and closed the door firmly behind them. The police officers were at the curb, getting out of their vehicle.
“I’ll be happy to mow and water your lawn, Mr. Hedge,” Clark said loudly, pulling Hedge away from the door. “I’ll start this Saturday and do it every weekend while you’re gone.”
He faced Hedge, his back to the approaching officers, took Hedge’s hand, and pumped it generously. “Thanks for the job, Mr. Hedge.”
He released Hedge just as the officers reached them. “Joshua Hedge?” one of the two uniformed police said.
Hedge shook visibly and suddenly bolted. Clark stayed put as the officers chased after him. They caught him immediately on the front steps, cuffed him, and while one officer led him back to the squad car, the second stopped to speak with Clark.
“Who are you?” the officer asked.
“I’m Mr. Hedge’s neighbor,” Clark said, gesturing widely towards the house next door. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing you need to be concerned with,” the officer said. “You should head home now.”
“Okay.” Clark nodded in agreement, but didn’t move as the officer walked around Clark to the squad car, climbed in, and pulled away with Hedge seated in the back.
Clark waited until the car was out of sight before storming up the walk and into Hedge’s house. Lex was still seated on the couch.
“Let’s go. Now,” Clark barked, holding open the front door.
Lex’s brows climbed, but he stood, gathered his briefcase and broken cell phone, and proceeded out of the house. Clark closed the door, followed Lex to the car, and plucked the keys from his hand. “I’m driving.”
“You’re not wearing any shoes,” Lex pointed out. Clark glared hotly at him and he raised a hand in mock defense. “Fine. You’re driving.”
Clark wanted to floor it, but he forced himself to drive the speed limit. He drove until he found a supermarket, pulled into the lot, and parked the car. After shutting off the engine, he pried his left hand from the wheel, ignoring the dents he’d made with his fingers, faced Lex, and bellowed, “What were you doing?”
Lex wasn’t fazed. “Conducting business.”
“With a murderer?!”
“Not everyone is perfect.”
Clark sputtered and was sure his face had turned purple.
“Clark, I was going to turn Hedge in to the police after he signed,” Lex said.
“Signed what?” Clark grated, clenching his thighs with his hands so as not to throttle Lex.
“Signed me on as a partner of Black Tea, LLC,” Lex replied.
“It’s a very prosperous oil well,” Lex said with a casual shrug.
me guess, you blackmailed Hedge into selling you a large portion of his shares
in the corporation.”
“Not so much as blackmailed as persuaded,” Lex said. “Only you called before I completed the deal.”
Clark closed his eyes and thumped his head against the headrest. “You are a piece of work.”
“You expected differently?”
“No. Why do you think I knew you were here?” He waited a minute to see if Lex commented about his appearance in Topeka, barefootedness, and lack of car, but Lex said nothing. He opened his eyes, rolled his head on the headrest, and looked at Lex. “How did you know about Black Tea, LLC?”
The corners of Lex’s lips curved. “You’re not the only one who can hack the planet.”
Clark rolled his eyes and straightened. “The other two partners, Simmons and Anderson; I take it they’re not involved?”
“No,” Lex said. “From conversation, I gathered Hedge would have killed off both of them further down the line.”
“So, three days and case solved,” Clark said.
“It would’ve taken longer if you hadn’t remembered the number of balloons delivered,” Lex said. “The janitors would have gone through and vacuumed the office across the hall this morning and the deflated balloon would’ve been gone.”
“I guess we were lucky, then.”
“Lex - you’re pouting.”
“I beg your pardon? I am not pouting.”
“You are.” Clark grinned. “You’re pouting because you didn’t close the deal.”
Lex glared at Clark. “I don’t pout.”
“Then, what’s this?” Clark reached out and brushed a finger across Lex’s lower lip.
Lex inhaled sharply and stared unblinkingly at Clark. Clark slowly dropped his hand, his eyes lowering to Lex’s mouth as a pink dart of tongue ran along his bottom lip. Clark’s breath caught as he lifted his gaze and met Lex’s eyes.
Clark was drawn forward without conscious thought, and he met Lex above the center console in a kiss. Lex’s lips were firm and wet from licking. Clark could feel the contours of the scar bisecting Lex’s upper lip. Hot air gusted against his skin with every quickened breath Lex took through his nose, his breathing sounding abnormally loud in the confines of the car, underscored by the pounding of Clark’s heart. His features were blurry so close up.
Lex pulled back first, their lips making a light kissing sound as they parted. Clark licked his lips and watched as Lex did the same. Lex’s chapstick was cherry.
“This is a bad idea,” Lex whispered in a low tone.
“Okay,” Clark said, leaned forward, and kissed Lex again in a less chaste manner. Lex protested but not very much, and he was holding on to Clark before they were through.
“Something for me to remember,” Clark murmured in a gravelly voice as he broke away.
He sat back on the driver’s side and chuckled when Lex cleared his throat and shifted in his seat.
“What’s the joke?” Lex asked, sounding off-center, but only to someone who knew him.
Clark smiled slowly. He was very strong, very sure, and his mother had been right. “Knock knock.”
Lex glanced sidelong at him, brows raised. “Who’s there?”