“You will not defeat me!”
Clark Kent looked up from the newspaper layout board at the declarative. At one of the Torch computer terminals, Pete Ross sat glaring at the monitor as if he wished he had a sledgehammer. “Problems?”
“No. Yes.” Pete pulled a face. “Chloe wants an article on Coach Walt, but I’m not a writer; I’m a sports reporter. ‘Whitney threw far,’ ‘Jennifer ran fast,’ and ‘Mike kicked hard’ is about all I can produce.”
“Chloe wouldn’t have given you the assignment if she thought you couldn’t do it,” Clark said.
“She only gave it to me because Coach tried to kill her and she thought she’d be too biased.”
“I suppose she would be,” Clark said. “What seems to be your problem with the article?”
“The writing it part.” Pete ran both hands over his closely cropped hair in frustration.
Clark crossed to a metal desk pushed against the wall, opened the top drawer, and took out a hand-held tape recorder. He checked for a tape, pressed record, and set it on the desk before facing Pete. His body blocked the hand-held as he leaned against the desk. “Tell me about Coach Walt.”
Pete looked at him funny. “You know who he was. You helped Chloe investigate him for weeks.”
“Pretend I don’t,” Clark said. “Who’s Coach Walt?”
“Coach Walt was the head football coach,” Pete said, obviously humoring Clark.
Clark wasn’t deterred. “Was he any good?”
“He was great, actually,” Pete said. “Two hundred wins in the twenty-five years he coached for the Crows. All the football players thought he was the best, even the ones who didn’t cheat.”
“Whitney said Coach was tough, but not abusive. Most of the others on the team agreed with him,” Pete replied. He picked up his notepad beside the computer and flipped through the pages. “I talked to some of the old players who still live in Smallville, too. Whitney’s dad said Coach was hard to please, and that made his praise even better to hear. Your dad, Clark, said winning was that much sweeter because of how hard they practiced. Wade Mahaney said that, to Coach, winning was everything. I guess that’s why things got out of hand, like the cheating and the former principal turning a blind eye to it.”
Pete tossed the notepad on the terminal desk. “Man, it’s like winning was a drug and Coach had to get it no matter what. He tried to fry Principal Kwan when Kwan wouldn’t lift the suspension on the cheaters. He almost toasted Chloe in the storeroom for writing that expose and continuing her investigation of him. You were trapped in the locker room when Coach lit the fire that killed him. What a waste of all that talent that brought the Crows to two hundred victories on the field.”
Pete shook his head sadly. “Coach Walt was a great football coach and there’ll probably never be another like him. Too bad he didn’t understand that he wasn’t great because he won a lot of games; he was great because he was a coach as the word was meant to be defined.”
Clark reached behind him for the hand-held and stopped the tape. He walked over to a surprised Pete and handed the recorder to him. “Type that up, use direct quotes when you talked about the other players, and you’ve got your story. Chloe will edit it with the necessary particulars.”
“Damn, that’s pretty clever,” Pete said, glancing at the hand-held. “How did you think of it?”
”Old reporter’s trick,” Clark said. “Sometimes the words get in the way of the story.” He glanced at the clock. “Shoot, I gotta go. My parents gave me my allowance check and I have to get to the bank before it closes.”
“Allowance check?” Pete scoffed. “You rich people are weird.”
“And you Rosses are short.”
Clark heard Pete’s stuttered cursing behind him as he headed out the door and grinned. Pete was so easy to rib it almost wasn’t worth it.
The short ride between the high school and downtown Smallville was made with the truck window open. November had brought colder weather and Clark loved it. He parked the truck in front of Nell’s Flower Shop and headed up the street to the Smallville Savings & Loan. Other people hurried past him, not enjoying the cold as he did, and he forced himself to tuck his hands in the pockets of his jacket and act chilled. He made a mental note to switch to his winter coat for appearance’s sake.
Clark waited for a car to pass by before crossing the street. The clock on the bank let him know it was almost closing time. He reviewed his account in his head. His auto insurance was due next month and the holidays were coming. He’d best only take out a small amount of cash until next allowance payday, though he was sure he had more than enough to cover expenses.
The bank door was shoved open as Clark reached for the handle, and even superspeed didn’t prevent the person exiting the bank from barreling into him. Clark grabbed the person by the shoulders for balance as he stumbled back a few steps. “Lex?”
Lex Luthor looked at him with wild eyes. He was dirt-free, dressed in overalls, and had a backpack slung over his shoulder. Without a word, he shoved Clark hard.
Clark was completely unprepared for the strength behind the shove. He flew backwards and crashed into the side of a car parked on the curb. He heard the crunch of metal impacting with his skull. Sprawled on the ground beside the car, he stared at Lex in shock.
And then his vision went wonky.
Suddenly, Clark could see through Lex and the things around him like an x-ray. Everything was a faint outline with solid portions of metal and bone. Clark could see Lex’s skeleton clearly and it was a smooth, totally green color. Inside the backpack, Clark could see the unmistakable shape of a gun and multiple, identical metal strips with the words “USA” and “Fifty” printed across them.
Clark squeezed his eyes shut and when he opened them again, his vision was normal. Lex took off running down the street, gym shoes smacking against the pavement. Clark heard police car sirens and the bank manager appeared at the glass bank door.
“Are you all right?” the manager mouthed.
Clark rubbed his head as he sat up, and nodded. He looked in the direction Lex had gone. What the heck had just happened?
“Do you think it’s a new ability?” Martha Kent asked, as she slid a prepared slide beneath the microscope. She peered through the eyepiece and adjusted the focus. Auburn hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, she glanced at her son leaning against the lab table.
Clark shrugged. “Either that, or I knocked something loose when I hit my head against the car.” He rubbed at a smudge on the surface of the table. The overhead lights in the greenhouse annex bounced off the shiny chrome. It was late, and Clark had missed dinner on account of having to give his statement to the Sheriff. “I’m more worried about what I saw.”
“Lex supposedly robbing a bank,” Clark said. He shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”
“Honey, how well do you know this Lex?” Martha said. She peered through the microscope again and jotted down her findings on a pad of paper beside her workstation. “You said you’ve only met him, what, twice?”
“Three times.” Clark focused on the wall opposite him, trying to bring forth the odd see-through vision again. He only managed to make his telescopic vision act up. “But he just doesn’t seem like a criminal.”
“Looks can be deceiving, you know that,” Martha said, not unkindly.
“I know. Still, there’s something off about what I saw.” Clark sighed unhappily and rubbed his eyes. “This is going to bug me until I figure it out.”
“You’re instincts are usually right, Clark. Try not to think too hard and it’ll come to you.” Martha gestured to the labeled bottles behind Clark. “Hand me the sodium hydroxide.”
Clark twisted, grabbed the right bottle, and passed it to her. “How are things with the meteorite experiment?”
“All right,” Martha replied. Carefully, she measured out a small scoop of the white powder and added it to a test tube of water. She capped the bottle, set it aside, and stirred the liquid with a stir stick. “We’re finding that they do have an anomalous effect in similar percentages to that of the blood test results you’ve given us.”
“Damn, so the meteorites do cause mutations?” Clark said.
“Don’t swear, Clark,” Martha chastised. “And we don’t know that, yet. I can’t tell if the ‘unknown’ in the blood tests is the same as in our results, without directly testing the blood myself.”
“I could maybe get a sample for you,” Clark said. “Coach Walt’s body is still at the hospital morgue—”
“No,” Martha said. She dipped an eyedropper into the test tube. “It’s bad enough you got your hands on confidential information to begin with, which I in no way condone. I don’t want you stealing blood, too.”
“It’s not like he’d miss it.”
“Clark, no. We’ll work with what we have.” Martha let a single drop of the mixture fall on a new slide. She replaced the slide under the microscope with the new one. “Why don’t you go get yourself something to eat? There’s a plate warming in the oven for you.”
Dismissed, but not rudely, Clark headed for the house. He grabbed his dinner and a soda from the fridge before going up to the loft. Lights burned across the way at Lana’s house, and Clark could see Whitney’s truck parked in the driveway from the bale window. Clark set the plate and drink beside his computer, picked up his cell phone, and turned it on. It rang instantly, almost causing him to drop it.
“Where were you? What happened at the bank? Was there a shootout? Was anyone hurt?”
“Chloe, slow down,” Clark said into the receiver. He settled in his chair, kicked his feet up on the desk, and nibbled on a French fry. “Take a deep breath.”
“I’ll breathe later. Tell me everything.”
“How do you know I was even there?”
“Pete told me you went to the bank and I heard on the police scanner there was a robbery,” Chloe said over the line. “So, were you there?”
“Yes.” Clark made a face at the limp chicken fingers that were for dinner and ate another fry. “It was Lex Luthor.”
“No, I know. It doesn’t make any sense, does it?”
“Lex Luthor? Really? Are you sure?”
“Looked just like him,” Clark said. He frowned. “Except he was wearing shoes.”
“And this is weird?”
“Yes. Maybe.” Clark picked up another fry, brow furrowed deeply. His narrowed eyes unfocused suddenly. The outer layer of potato melted away between his fingertips. “Green bones.”
Clark blinked and his sight returned to normal. He stared at the crispy golden outside of the fry. “Why would Lex rob a bank?”
“Why not? He’s poor. You said it was weird that he had shoes,” Chloe said.
“Yeah, but why now? Why hasn’t he robbed the bank before?” Clark said.
“Maybe he needed new shoes.”
“Enough with the shoes.”
“You’re the one who brought them up to begin with,” Chloe said. “It’s the little details that end up being most important. Why would his shoes stick in your mind?”
“Because the three times I’ve seen him, he wasn’t wearing any,” Clark replied. He squinted at the fry. Nothing happened. He ate it. “Even when he got cleaned up to visit, he still didn’t have any shoes on.”
“Then he’s since developed common sense and got a pair.”
“I just remembered that he wasn’t dirty at all when he robbed the bank,” Clark said thoughtfully. “Why would he take the time to bathe before committing a crime?”
“He wanted to make a clean getaway?”
Clark groaned. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”
Chloe giggled. “You have a feeling it’s something else?”
“I don’t know. Let me get back to you.”
“Okay. But call me the moment you figure it out.”
“Will do. Bye.” Clark disconnected after Chloe’s goodbye and set the cell phone aside. He looked down at his plate. The fries were all gone. All that was left were the chicken fingers. He didn’t dare examine them more deeply.
Clark pushed aside his plate, turned on his computer, and opened his soda as he waited for it to boot up. He’d always used his computer for research on his articles for the Noblesville High newspaper, school reports, and his own interest, but since moving to Smallville, Clark was finding his favorites folder looked more like a list of tabloid sites than respected historical or medical journals.
Clark bypassed the individual folders he’d set up for Jeremy Creek, Greg Arkin, and Coach Walt Arnold, containing information both scientific and paranormal to explain their abilities, and went to the one he’d created for Lex Luthor.
Clark felt somewhat guilty about having done surface research on Lex, but he was an anomaly and a possible ghost (which Clark wouldn’t rule out, yet). Investigation was in Clark’s bones and mysteries made him itch. They weren’t really friends, either. As he’d told his mom, he’d only been in Lex’s company on three occasions. He hadn’t seen Lex since the incident with Arkin – unless Lex really had robbed the bank. That was what Clark wanted to find out, or so that was the excuse he used to soothe his conscience.
The folder on Lex was relatively empty. Saved pages from the Torch and the Smallville Ledger about the ghost of Lex Luthor, the meteorite strike, and a few articles from the Metropolis newspapers about the Luthor family made up its contents. From what Clark was able to piece together, Lex had been in Smallville since the strike and that would make him twenty-one years old. Prior to his disappearance, he’d attended a private school for gifted children in Metropolis, was the son of the biochemical up-and-comer Lionel Luthor (deceased) of LuthorCorp International, and didn’t smile in any of the photographs Clark had found. For about a month, Lex’s name appeared in the papers in 1989, and then there was no more mention of him until 1993, when Lillian Luthor died. Clark had no idea what Lex had been doing in Smallville for the past twelve years, except perhaps for saving scarecrows and robbing banks.
Clark opened a search engine, rubbed his hands together, and got busy researching. The number one rule for any investigation was to follow the money. LuthorCorp International had been a big company in the 1980s and Lionel Luthor had been a self-made multi-millionaire. When he’d died, the company had changed hands and Dominic Senatori became the new CEO. LuthorCorp International, having retained its name, went bankrupt in 1992 and its subsidies were sold off to the highest bidders.
The personal fortune of Lionel had gone to Lillian Luthor upon his death. Lillian had been a charity butterfly, volunteering on many committees and social boards. When Lionel and Lex had become casualties of the meteorite shower, she had withdrawn from society and had become reclusive. She had been pregnant when Lionel had died and Julian Luthor had been born in August 1990. In February 1992, Julian died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In 1992, Lillian had become sick and had been placed in long-term hospice care. She had passed away in January 1993 and what remained of the Luthor fortune had paid off her medical expenses.
Clark could find no trace of a trust account or any remaining valuables left to Lex. The Luthor estate had been auctioned and the documentation from the sale was the last record Clark found regarding the Luthors. In Lillian’s obituary, Lex had been listed as deceased.
The money trail having reached an end, Clark turned his attention to the ghost of Lex Luthor in Smallville. Lex’s first mention in the Ledger post-strike hadn’t been until October of 1993, long after Lillian had died and the Luthor estate had been dissolved. A picture accompanied the article in the Ledger, the same one that was on Chloe’s Wall of Weird. The dirty thirteen-year-old had assisted workers escaping from a fire that had occurred at the creamed corn factory. His picture had been snapped by the newspaper photographer at the scene and had been identified in the article as possibly being Lex Luthor.
A follow-up article on Lex had been written by the newspaper, a general chronicle of the Luthor family and its demise. A search for the young Lex had occurred, even the Division of Family and Children had gotten involved, but he hadn’t been found. Locals had stepped forward and had provided accounts of seeing Lex, some even having spoken with him. However, his limited interactions and disappearance had labeled him as a ghost.
The Daily Planet and Inquisitor in Metropolis had made noise about the former Luthor heir, but without money attached to the name, it was merely a human-interest story that disappeared under the next wave of news. No attorneys offered services in re-obtaining the estate and no friends of Lillian Luthor stepped forward to foster Lex if he was found.
Nothing had been in print regarding him for another two years, a lack of reward or further interest from Metropolis having faded Lex from the public eye. In 1995, another picture of Lex had been published, part of a panned shot taken at the First United Church’s food drive. There had been no follow-up.
Lex-sighting must’ve become commonplace, because the last article Clark found had mentioned the ghost of Lex Luthor like he was a local character, like Kyle Tippett, an artistic recluse that lived in Burnham Woods. The article was a tourism write-up and Lex had been cited: “…For budding epidologists, there are several ghosts in Smallville prime for hunting, including the ghosts of Union Soldier Buddy McKinney, Elias Small of the Smallville Smalls, Old Matron Genevive Quatraine, young Lex Luthor, and the schoolchildren at the remains of the Smallville Schoolhouse, which burned in 1865…”
Lex seemed to have been forgotten about over the years, which was sad considering he’d been a child when he’d first gone missing. Chloe had been wrong in thinking that the Daily Planet would jump at the chance of posting a current article on Lex. Lex had no money, either, from what Clark could tell, but also no juvenile or criminal records. He wondered how Lex survived all these years with no one looking out for him.
Clark shut off the monitor and leaned back in his chair. He had more questions now than answers. He was going to have to speak with Lex personally if he wanted to get to the bottom of things. If he could find Lex. Where did a ghost make his home these days?
Clark felt extremely foolish, but it was the best idea he’d come up with so far. “Lex? It’s Clark. Clark Kent,” he called into the drainage pipe beneath the Loeb Bridge. “Um, I need to see you, if you get a chance.”
The river ran low behind him, the early morning sun reflecting against the underside of the bridge. Clark made his way across the rocks up the incline, back to his truck parked on the side of the road. He’d tried going back to the field where he’d been tied up as the scarecrow, only to realize he had no clue on how find Lex. He thought that because Lex had disappeared under the bridge, perhaps there was a hidey-hole nearby Lex used. If not, well, it didn’t hurt to try, as his dad always said.
Clark climbed in the truck, started her up, and pulled onto the road. He didn’t know what to try next and he really did need to speak with Lex. The Ledger had run a composite sketch of Lex in that morning’s Saturday edition and a warrant was out for the arrest of “John Doe, a/k/a Lex Luthor.” Clark couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong about that and he frowned heavily at the empty road.
“Aagh!” Out of nowhere, Clark felt like he was hit solidly between the eyes by a hammer. His vision went completely black, then brilliant white. He swerved the steering wheel and slammed on the brakes. The truck skidded to a stop.
Clark pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes. The pain faded as quickly as it had hit. Carefully, he lowered his hands. The world around him was in black and white like an x-ray, the same as yesterday. He could see shadows and outlines, the individual bones in his hands and thighs, and the metal of the truck around him. He blinked, and his vision returned to normal.
Clark gnawed on his lower lip, staring blankly out the front window of the truck. It was definitely a new power. He’d had a similar experience when he’d gotten his telescopic vision, with it coming and going sporadically at first until he’d learned to control it.
Clark concentrated on what he’d been doing when the ‘x-ray’ vision struck. He put both hands on the wheel and looked out the window down the road. Nothing happened. Widening his eyes triggered his telescopic vision, bringing the highway sign up ahead into sharp focus. He closed his eyes and opened them again to regular sight.
Clark lifted his gaze to his reflection in the rearview mirror. “You can do this.” He narrowed his eyes in challenge at himself – and the world darkened abruptly, leaving Clark to see everything like an x-ray.
Clark blinked, glanced around at the normal view, and then narrowed his eyes again. At first, it didn’t work, but then it was like x-ray specs dropped in front of his eyes. With a blink, his vision changed back again and his eyes watered.
Clark rubbed his eyes and got underway again. The side of the road wasn’t the best place to play with a new power. He hoped he could re-create the trigger again when he got home.
Ten minutes later, Clark parked in the driveway and stopped in the house for a snack. A note pinned to the fridge indicated his parents had gone into town. He retreated to the loft, removed his cell phone from his pocket and laid it on the desk before flopping onto the couch. The bag of cookies resting on his stomach, Clark narrowed his eyes as he stared at his shoes.
“Damn,” Clark grumbled, biting into a cookie. He made crumbs on his chest.
“Arp,” Clark coughed, caught the bag as he sat up quickly, and brushed the crumbs from his shirt. He swallowed and called, “I’m up here.”
He heard the soft tread of feet on the steps and smiled crookedly when Lex Luthor came into view on the landing. “Lex, hey. I was looking for you.”
Lex paused at the top of the stairs, holding tight to the rail. He glanced around with open curiosity, but made no move to enter Clark’s room. “I heard you call,” he said.
“You did?” Clark was surprised. Yelling in the drainage pipe had worked?
Lex’s piercing blue eyes landed on Clark and he stared with childlike solemnity. “No one’s ever called for me before.”
“Oh, well, um…” Clark felt awkward suddenly. “Want to come in?”
“I’m not dressed for company,” Lex said, though it sounded like he really wanted to accept.
“That’s okay,” Clark said. He held up the bag of cookies as a bribe. “I have cookies.”
Lex hesitated a moment longer, then walked on bare feet across the loft and sat on the end of the couch nearest the steps. He was dirty again, streaks of mud painting across his scalp, cheek, and hands, and pasting the small bit of hair flat to the backside of his head. He wore a faded red flannel shirt beneath his overalls with too short sleeves, however, and a pair of scuffed plastic pads strapped over his knees. He smelled unshowered, too, but not overly so.
“So,” Clark said, offering Lex the bag and trying not to appear as uncomfortable as he felt. “How are you? I haven’t seen you since that day you came by.”
“You didn’t invite me back,” Lex said. He took a cookie and examined it.
“I’m sorry?” Clark said, uncertain.
Lex bit into the cookie, chewed, and swallowed. “This is good. May I have a glass of milk?”
“Uh, sure. Be right back. I have to go to the house.” Clark stood, put the cookies on the couch, and went downstairs and outside. He pushed aside the guilt he felt for not extending an invitation for Lex to come over again. Where he came from, friends just dropped by or called when they wanted to hang. In the house, he filled a glass with milk, snagged a soda for himself, and returned to the barn.
“Here you go,” Clark said, handing Lex the milk.
“Thank you.” Lex sipped the milk, watching Clark above the rim of the glass the whole time.
Clark’s discomfort returned tenfold. What was it about Lex that made Clark feel exposed like an ill-mannered dweeb? He walked over to the desk, set his drink down, and fiddled with the books and papers on the surface. That morning’s Ledger was on top of the pile. “Um… so. You heard me call you.”
“Were you by the Loeb Bridge?”
Clark glanced over his shoulder. “How did you hear me, then?”
“Through the pipes,” Lex said, finishing his cookie. He didn’t make crumbs, which Clark thought was unfair.
“And you came right over?” Clark said. Lex nodded. “What were you doing?”
“Lemongrass, huh? Not hiding money?” Way to be subtle, Clark.
Lex appeared confused. “What money?”
Clark picked up the newspaper and gave it to Lex. “The money you supposedly robbed from the bank yesterday.”
Lex’s confusion became wide-eyed shock when he saw the main story. “I didn’t steal anything.”
“I was there, Lex. The person looked just like you,” Clark began.
“I didn’t do it.” Lex stood up abruptly, the newspaper falling from his hand. He held the glass tightly with his other hand. “You can’t blame me.”
“They have you on camera—”
Lex banged the glass down on the wood arm of the couch. Milk splashed out of it onto the cushion. “I thought you wanted to be my friend.” Hurt and anger contorted his voice.
Clark straightened and narrowed his eyes at Lex. “One has nothing to do with the other.”
With an almost audible click, Clark’s vision switched suddenly and he was staring at Lex’s skeleton – Lex’s non-green skeleton. Tiny black lines crossed Lex’s bones in many places, healed breaks from the past, and he had his pocketknife in the front pocket of his overalls.
“I’m going home,” Lex said.
Clark blinked twice rapidly and his sight regulated. He held up his hands. “I’m sorry. Don’t leave. You’re right. If you say you didn’t do it, I have no reason to accuse you.” Now, anyway.
“I didn’t do it,” Lex repeated, his jaw set and his own eyes narrowed. His skin had flushed in anger, making his entire scalp a mottled pinkish-red.
“I’m sorry,” Clark repeated placatingly. “Calm down, and we’ll get to the bottom of this.”
The cell phone rang, startling them both. Lex was about to bolt. “Don’t leave,” Clark pled, fumbling for the cell on the desk. He answered the call. “Hello?”
“Hey, do you want to write your firsthand account of the bank robbery for the next issue? I have space on page two for it.”
“Chloe, now is not a good time,” Clark said into the phone.
“Why? What’s going on?” Chloe asked.
“Lex is here,” Clark said. “He didn’t do it.”
Clark looked directly at Lex. “Positive. Lex didn’t rob the bank.”
“Then someone who looked just like him did.”
“And we’re going to figure out who,” Clark said. “I just don’t know where to start.”
“Well, does Lex have an alibi? That would help.”
Good point. Clark covered the phone with his hand and addressed Lex. “Where were you yesterday afternoon, around five o’clock?”
“In my garden,” Lex replied.
“Did anyone see you there?”
“He doesn’t have one that’ll hold, Chloe,” Clark said into the receiver.
“All right, I’ll get working on it,” Chloe said. “I’ll call if I get any leads.”
“Thanks, Chloe. Bye.” Clark disconnected and set the cell on the desk. “That was my friend, Chloe. She’s going to start a search for the real felon. In the meantime, though, to keep you out of jail you should stay out of sight.”
“But only bad guys go to jail,” Lex said, a small frown between his brows.
Clark was stymied by Lex’s confusion. “We both know you didn’t do it, but everyone else thinks you did. You should avoid being seen until the real thief is caught. Does the Sheriff know where you live?”
“No, I suppose he wouldn’t, considering you’re a ‘ghost,’” Clark said, more to himself. “Does anyone know where you live?”
“No.” Lex stared at Clark a moment, then tucked his hands in the sides of his overalls, lowered his chin, and looked shy all of a sudden. “Do you want to come over?”
“You’re inviting me to your place?” Clark said, surprised. “When, now?”
Lex nodded again and scuffed his bare toe at the edge of the throw rug on the loft floor.
Clark didn’t think people actually scuffed their feet outside of television or grown adults appear so bashful without being coy. He felt a small flip in his stomach and shoved his hands in his pockets. With a falsely casual shrug, he said, “Okay.”
Lex appeared as though he hadn’t expected Clark to say yes. He blinked a couple times. “Okay.” He didn’t move.
Clark waited, growing more amused by the moment. Finally, he said, “Shall we?”
Lex started, but didn’t seem embarrassed by his spacing. “Do you need to ask your mom first?”
“No, she’s not home,” Clark said, pocketing his cell phone. “I’ll leave a note. Do you want me to drive?”
“I have my board.”
Apparently, Lex wasn’t one to expound much. Clark followed Lex down the stairs and out of the barn. He gestured towards the house. “Wait here. I’ll go leave a note.”
“Okay.” Lex seemed content to stand in the driveway, oblivious to the cold November air, as Clark jogged into the house.
Clark glanced out the kitchen window, shook his head, and wrote a note to his folks. Pinning it to the fridge underneath theirs, he grabbed a coat and returned outside. “All set. Where’s this board of yours?”
“In the pipe,” Lex said, as if Clark should’ve known that. He started down the driveway towards the street.
“What pipe?” Clark said.
“The drainage pipe.”
Clark followed Lex down the embankment across Hickory Road, by the Johannson’s driveway. A three-foot diameter drainage pipe cut through the ground beneath the driveway, and Clark could see out the other side if he bent down.
Lex dropped to his knees and crawled into the pipe. Clark’s brows shot up as he stared at the opening. Lex’s head popped out and he squinted up at Clark in the morning sunlight. “Come on.”
Clark felt foolish, which wasn’t a first for the day, as he knelt and crawled into the drainage pipe. Shadows played in the ridges of the metal tube, which formed a T-juncture, much to Clark’s surprise. The new opening led under the road, a dark mouth to the unknown.
Lex turned on a flashlight, which he strapped to his head with a spelunker’s band. Clark averted his eyes. A multi-wheeled, scuffed purple skateboard – though, it looked more like a miniature surfboard than a skateboard – with a battery and motor mounted to the back sat in the T-juncture of the pipe. It had two curved handlebars arched like bug pincers in front with buttons and twist-grips. A foot-long steel cable extended behind it, attached to a second board with four pivoting wheels. An airplane seatbelt was buckled across the top of the second board.
“You can’t be serious,” Clark said. “A motorized skateboard?”
“It’s a reinforced steel, shaped skateboard with eighty millimeter composite wheels at eight key points, two in front, two in back, and four on the sides. The wheels are on spring mounted, soldered trucks. A car battery runs the adjusted motor, the belts turning the axles beneath the board for front and back-wheel drive, protected by a removable plate, because sometimes I have to change the belts.”
Apparently, Lex could expound, if he wanted.
“The trailer board can carry up to three hundred pounds, so I know I can pull you,” Lex continued. “I’ll go slowly, even if I strap you on.”
“Strap me on?” Clark was getting worried. “How fast can you go on a skateboard?”
“Unloaded, seventy-three-point-two-five miles per hour without overturning,” Lex said proudly. “I’ve been working on a new motor that’ll give me more horsepower without increasing the size of the housing, but it’s not finished yet.”
He unbuckled the seatbelt. “Lie down with your chest on the board. You’ll hold onto my legs, so your arms won’t be in the way.”
“Are you sure this is safe?” Clark said, even as he slowly did as told. He was an indestructible alien. He shouldn’t be scared.
“I haven’t hurt myself in four months,” Lex replied. The click of the seatbelt across Clark’s back echoed in the pipe. He pulled the excess slack tight. “I’ll go slow.”
“Great.” Clark’s legs extended off the board, the curved point of the back end digging into his groin. He craned his neck so he could watch Lex position himself on the first board, straddling the motor and battery housing. Clark lowered his head as Lex lay down on his stomach on the front board.
“I won’t be able to hear you after I start the motor,” Lex said, hooking his legs over Clark’s shoulders. Clark wrapped his hands around Lex’s knees, above the kneepads, and didn’t think about how muscular Lex was beneath his overalls. Thankfully, Lex’s scent this close up wasn’t pleasing. “It takes five minutes to get here at sixty miles per hour, but it’ll take much longer to get to my place since we won’t go as fast.”
“That’s okay,” Clark said, and was that panic he heard in his voice?
Too late to back out now, because Lex started the motor and it buzzed loudly in the drainage pipes, echoing off the metal walls. It was surprising no one could hear it outside, but then again, large farm equipment working in the area tended to blanket the area with engine sounds. Clark hadn’t thought to ask, either, what road they were taking to get to Lex’s, but apparently it didn’t matter because they weren’t taking the roads. Clark’s head was turned, his nose pressed against Lex’s leg, and he opened his eyes as they started to move further under the street.
The odd transportation picked up speed, the bumpy drainage pipe smoothing out to plain steel, and Clark rocked on stomach-wobbling wheels behind a maniac on a modified skateboard. The light from Lex’s headlamp made the darkness all the more pressing, and offshoots of other pipe junctures zipped by with looming shadow-monsters. Clark closed his eyes again as they banked a corner like slalom racers and promised to be a good alien if he got out of this crazy ride alive.
Eventually, Lex slowed and Clark risked opening his eyes again. They came to a stop in front of a closed grate. Lex shut off the motor and unbelted Clark. “We’re here,” he said, and pushed the grate open on its side hinge. It didn’t squeak, and Clark could see in Lex’s headlamp that the hinge was well greased.
Clark crawled after Lex. “Are we just leaving your board behind?”
“It’s fine,” Lex said. “Water doesn’t get into this part of the drainage system, unless the factory floods.”
“The factory?” Clark saw light ahead. “Where are we?”
“The creamed corn factory. I imagine it’s called KentCorp now,” Lex replied. He came to another grate, pushed it open, and crawled into a bedroom-sized concrete room. He stood and offered a hand to Clark. “We’re under it.”
Clark accepted the help to his feet and looked up. Artificial light shone between a crossbar grate about two-foot wide in the ceiling, with a steel rung ladder sunk into the wall leading up to it. He could hear the sounds of the machinery up above.
The room lit suddenly around Clark and he turned in surprise. Lex removed his headlamp and set it on a board stretched between two sawhorses, cluttered with tools and mechanical equipment, stacks of written-on paper and carpenter’s pencils, and a partially completed motor. A workman’s spotlight on a tall pole shone on the area. Another board balanced between two rusty barrels held jars, bottles, bowls, beakers, and tubes filled with powders and liquids meticulously labeled. A collection of toothbrushes sat in one of the jars. Clark saw what looked like an experiment being conducted on the table. A familiar-looking canister of bugspray was propped against the wall beneath the makeshift table.
In one corner was a pile of blankets with four books stacked next to them. A plastic-wrapped half-eaten sandwich with an orange price tag on it and an unopened bag of chips sat beside the books. An old-fashioned chamber pot was farther away, with a cloth draped over the top. Folded clothing peeked out of an open steel box at the end of the pile of blankets.
“You live in the basement of the factory?” Clark said, staring at the evidence in disbelief. “Why?”
“It’s too cold outside,” Lex said, fiddling with a screwdriver.
“But why do you live here at all?” Clark said.
Lex put the screwdriver down and shoved his hands in his overalls. “I got lost. Mom says if I get lost, I’m supposed to stay put until someone comes to get me. No one ever came.”
“Oh.” Clark welled with sympathy, his perspective changed from the articles he’d read. Lex hadn’t gone missing by choice. “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” Lex glanced at him questioningly.
“I just am,” Clark said, feeling horrible for researching Lex like a mystery, when the events were a tragedy. He wanted to change the subject and gestured at one of the tables. “So, er, what are you doing here? It looks like an experiment.”
“I’m making a pesticide,” Lex said, perking visibly. He crossed to the table and motioned for Clark to join him. “KentCorp is producing organic fertilizer up in the factory, and I got the idea when I came back from using my bugspray on Greg Arkin, remember? The aracnis agelenidae?”
“I remember,” Clark said.
Lex shifted a pestle bowl of pulverized lemongrass and moved a sheaf of notebook paper in front of them. Large, left-handed printing filled the lines with scientific equations and drawings that Clark understood from Advanced Chemistry class. “I thought that someone using organic fertilizer wouldn’t want to use a chemical pesticide, so I tried to come up with a formula that mixes natural oils and extracts to create an organic pesticide.”
“What are you using?” Clark asked, interested. It sounded like something his parents would love to hear. And apparently Lex could expound a lot, complete with diagrams.
“Soybean, citronella, lemongrass, geranium, potassium sorbate mold, water, citric acid from lime, and xanthum gum from corn sugar,” Lex rattled. He glanced at Clark. “I grow most of it in my garden. Do you want to see it?”
“Sure,” Clark agreed.
“Okay. It’s outside. Follow me.” Lex went over to the wall ladder and started to climb. He pushed open the grate in the ceiling and entered the factory.
“I don’t think we’re supposed to be in here,” Clark said, as he trailed behind Lex, after he’d closed the grate again. They wove through the HVAC machinery to the back of the building, where a steel fire door stood. The door wasn’t alarmed and there weren't cameras visible. Obviously, creamed corn security hadn’t been an issue before the Kents bought the factory, and Clark doubted his parents would change anything.
“No one ever comes down here,” Lex told Clark, before pushing the door open and going outside. They were at the side of the factory, where the outdoor portions of the air conditioning units stood sentry. Lex headed away from the building, walking into the uncut, high weeds surrounding the property towards Schuster Woods. Clark could see the scarecrow post where he’d been tied in the distance, in the neighboring cornfield.
They entered the woods a good ways. Clark saw the familiar sight of a garden staked out with sticks and twine, various plants growing in neat rows, over a large cultivated area. There were rusty gardening tools, buckets, and a refuse pile, and another steel barrel for burning. He saw a broken piece of thin wood with awkward writing burned onto it nailed to a tree and he moved closer to read it.
Mom and Dad - I’m at the factory. Lex.
It was a note, and Clark knew suddenly what a heart-pang felt like. Lex had left a note for his parents, telling them where he was located.
“Lex, why didn’t you ask someone for help when you went to the factory?” Clark had to ask, touching the sign.
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.”
Combined with what Lex said earlier about staying put when lost, his statement that only bad guys went to jail, and now this, Clark was starting to be concerned about Lex’s mental capacity, which made him feel perverted for any lustful thoughts he’d had about Lex. “You haven’t talked to anyone besides me?”
Lex gave him a look that clearly indicated Clark was an idiot. “I meant then, I wasn’t suppose to talk to strangers. I was nine-years-old, lost, scared, and alone, and I was going to follow the rules exactly until my parents came for me. They never came, I learned to take care of myself.”
“Sorry,” Clark said somewhat sheepishly. Perhaps it was just the straightforward way Lex spoke that made him seem young.
“You keep apologizing.” Lex frowned at him. “I don’t understand why.”
Or not, Clark thought with despair. How far had Lex been thrown by the meteorite shockwave? Had the accident caused brain damage? How long had Lex waited in the woods until he’d sought shelter? Had exposure injured him mentally?
“Never mind,” Clark said, temporarily ignoring the questions rattling in his mind. He’d research head injuries, exposure, and the psychological effects of being abandoned later. “This is a great garden.”
Lex studied him a moment longer, then said, “Thank you. I used to garden with my mom at home. She says nature makes better chemicals than dad can in a lab.”
“Your dad was a biochemist, right?” Clark said, moving away from the sign to poke around the outside of the garden.
“Yes,” Lex replied. “He made a lot of business deals and took meetings, but I don’t remember him working too much in a lab.”
Clark’s cell phone rang and he smiled apologetically at Lex before answering it. “Hello?”
“Chloe wants me to go to the Sheriff’s Department and ask to view the bank robbery tape,” Pete said without greeting over the line. “I’m recruiting you to come with me.”
“I doubt they’ll let us see it,” Clark told him.
“That’s what I said, but you know Chloe,” Pete replied.
“I’m starting to,” Clark said with a smile in his voice. “Pick you up?”
“Yeah. I’m at home. Big blue house on Judson Street.”
“See you in fifteen. Bye.” Clark disconnected and tucked the phone in his pocket. “I have to go. It’s best if you stay indoors until I come and tell you everything’s been taken care of.”
“Where are you going?” Lex asked, looking disappointed.
“Home first,” Clark said, pushing away the sudden urge to baby Lex. “Then, I’m going to find your impersonator.”
“Hey, you’re home.” Clark closed the door behind him as he entered the house, greeting his parents. Jonathan and Martha were sitting at the kitchen table, mugs of coffee in front of them. “Guess what? It is a new power I have. Evidently, I can now see through things.”
“Anything?” Jonathan asked, interest warring with concern.
“Seems that way.” Clark retrieved a mug from the cabinet and poured himself a half-cup of coffee. “Good timing, too. I now know Lex is not the bank robber.”
Martha and Jonathan exchanged glances. “Honey,” Martha began. “Lex Luthor nearly ran over me in town.”
“What?” Clark shook his head. “That’s impossible. I’ve been with Lex for the past hour.”
“Maybe he has a twin,” Jonathan said.
“Maybe,” Clark said. “Was it an accident?”
“It might have been,” Martha replied.
“That maniac drove up on the sidewalk, Martha,” Jonathan said, covering her hand with his own. “If I hadn’t pulled you out of the way…”
“Why?” Clark said, brow creasing in thought. “If it was purposeful, why was mom the target?”
Martha and Jonathan exchanged glances again, grabbing Clark’s attention. “Tell him, Martha,” Jonathan prompted.
“I’m sure the two aren’t related,” Martha said. “Sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.”
”What is it?” Clark pressed.
“Just before the incident, we were at the antique shop in town,” Jonathan said. “Your mother found a stack of money under one of the dressers.”
“Have you told the Sheriff?” Clark said.
“Rose Greer said she was paid in cash,” Martha said. “It’s a logical explanation.”
“It would be, if the bank wasn’t robbed yesterday.” Clark set aside his untasted coffee and headed for the door. “Call the Sheriff and tell them what happened, the money and the near-accident.”
“Where are you going?” Jonathan called after him.
“To pick up Pete,” Clark replied over his shoulder. “We have a mystery to solve.”
Clark and Pete both cupped their hands against the window and peered into the closed antique shop. The shop was cluttered with furniture and collectibles. Daylight shone in the front windows of the shop. A counter ran along one side of the store, partially blocking a beaded doorway to a back room. A set of stairs led up to the living quarters. Nothing seemed out of place.
Clark narrowed his eyes. His sight flickered black and blinding white for a moment before slipping like a notch into x-ray. The outlines of the furnishings, metal edges, hinges and springs stood out in relief against a shadowy background. The inner workings of a grandfather clock were clearly visible. A real silver backing to an antique mirror was a solid block of white in a scrollwork black and white frame. A skeleton was positioned awkwardly in a steamer trunk with metal corners and hinges.
Startled, Clark pulled back abruptly and blinked his vision clear. He must’ve seen wrong.
“What? Did you see something?” Pete asked, glancing at Clark before looking though the window again.
“Maybe.” Clark tried the door and found it locked with the closed sign turned. After making sure Pete was still preoccupied, he broke the lock and opened the door. A bell jangled above the door.
Clark smoothed the broken lock quickly and flipped the sign to open. Having been in places he wasn’t supposed to be before, he found he could fake innocent trespassing if signs, or lack thereof, supported him. “Let’s go,” he said quietly to Pete.
The lights in the shop area weren’t on, but enough daylight came in through the front wall of windows. Clark headed directly for the steamer trunk. Pete started poking around the other antiques. “What are we looking for?”
“The backpack described in the police report, or stacks of money,” Clark said. They hadn’t been able to see the video, as Clark had guessed, but one of Pete’s brothers was a Deputy Sheriff and he’d allowed them to read the police investigation report.
The steamer trunk was locked, but that wasn’t a problem for Clark. He opened the lid and stared silently at the trunk’s contents. He hadn’t been wrong about the skeleton, only it was still wearing flesh, and clothes.
Footsteps sounded as someone came downstairs. Clark closed the lid and moved away from the trunk as fast as humanly possible. He stuck his hands in his back pockets and smiled harmlessly at the teenage girl with long, dark-hair. “Um, hi.”
“Hey, Tina,” Pete said, not quite pulling off the innocent vibe. “Clark, do you know Tina Greer? She goes to school with us.”
“No, sorry,” Clark said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Hi,” Tina said, appearing suspicious and somewhat anxious. Wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and a coat, she glanced at the door. “Um, we’re closed today.”
“Really? The sign says open,” Clark said. He frowned in fake confusion. “And my parents were in here earlier today.”
“My mom had to go out and she closed the shop. It must’ve been after your folks left,” Tina said.
“Oh, well. Then, I guess I’ll have to come back,” Clark said. He narrowed his eyes and, as he spoke, his x-ray vision kicked in. “Unless maybe you know what my parents were interested in buying? Christmas is coming and I’m looking for ideas.”
“No, I don’t know,” Tina said – or rather, Tina’s green skeleton said. Jackpot.
“Okay. I’ll check with your mom another time,” Clark said, blinking his vision back to normal. “C’mon, Pete.”
“Later,” Pete called to Tina, and followed Clark out of the antique shop. He had to almost jog to keep up with Clark’s rapid, long stride. “Did you find something in that trunk?”
Clark nodded, his features tense. “A dead body.”
“What?!” Pete exclaimed. “We have to call the Sheriff.”
“Here.” Clark handed Pete his cell phone and truck keys. “Call and wait in the truck. I’m going to keep an eye on Tina until they arrive.”
“Why Tina?” Pete looked at him wide-eyed as they came to a stop on the sidewalk. “You don’t think she killed the dead person?”
“I don’t know, Pete,” Clark answered, which was the truth. Tina had been the one to rob the bank, of that Clark was certain. “Just call and go wait in the truck.”
“How are you going to keep an eye on Tina?”
“I’m going back inside and buy something,” Clark said.
“Be careful, man,” Pete said.
Clark nodded and headed back up the sidewalk to the antique shop. Tina hadn’t flipped the sign to closed and the broken door lock had apparently gone unnoticed. Clark went inside, the bell above the door ringing. Tina was nowhere to be seen. He pointedly did not look at the steamer trunk.
“Hello?” he called, stopping near the counter. “Tina?”
Tina came downstairs a moment later, looking displeased and anxious. She carried a backpack, which Clark recognized from the robbery. She hung it on the banister post.
“I told you, we’re closed,” Tina said, unfriendly.
“I know, but I wanted to buy something I was looking at,” Clark lied. “I figured you wouldn’t mind.”
“I can’t take credit cards,” Tina tried to dissuade him.
“That’s okay. I’m paying in cash.” Clark pulled his full wallet from his jeans pocket and took the bills from the billfold. He was glad he’d gone to the bank that morning before starting his search for Lex.
Tina eyed the money, hesitating over saying no again. “What are you interested in?”
Clark looked around without seeming desperate and settled on an ugly stained glass lamp. “The lamp,” he said, gesturing at it. “My grandmother would love it.” Which was true, Grandmother Clark collected ugly crap like the lamp and other things he wasn’t allowed to touch.
Tina went over to the table lamp, picked it up, and carried it back to the counter. She removed a small, round sticker from the edge of the glass shade. “That’ll be three hundred dollars.”
“Okay.” Clark didn’t have that much on him, but started counting twenties. “Can you box it for me?”
Tina nodded and disappeared into the back room. Clark remained non-panicked. If Tina were going to run off, she would’ve taken the backpack.
Speaking of backpacks, Clark narrowed his eyes and peered at the one on the floor. His x-ray vision kicked in. Just like during the robbery, lines of “Fifty” and “USA” were visible, along with the gun, inside the bag.
Tina returned and Clark saw her green bones again before blinking his vision clear. He offered her a bland smile. She had a box and a roll of shipping tape in her hands, which she set on the counter.
The bell above the door jingled. Sheriff Ethan Miller and Deputy Gordon Gregg came into the antique shop. Tina tensed visibly.
Clark saw Pete hovering outside the shop window as he greeted the officers. “Hello Sheriff, Deputy Gregg.” He hoped he didn’t get into trouble for being there.
However, Sheriff Ethan didn’t comment on Clark’s presence. “Clark, if you could excuse us. We’d like to speak with Miss Greer.”
“Sure,” Clark said. He stuck his wallet in his pocket and started for the door.
Deputy Gregg took off after her, through the beaded doorway into the back room. Sheriff Ethan looked at Clark. “Where’s this body you found?”
“In the trunk,” Clark said, pointing. He then pointed at the backpack. “And I think that’s the bag used in yesterday’s robbery.”
There was a crash from the other room. Deputy Gregg shouted and suddenly came sailing through the doorway. Beads spilled everywhere. He slammed into the antique mirror, shattering it.
Sheriff Ethan rushed over and checked Deputy Gregg. “I’m okay,” the bigger Deputy said, sitting up.
“Clark, go home,” Sheriff Ethan directed, removing his weapon from the holster. “Deputy, call for backup.”
“Be careful. She’s strong,” Deputy Gregg warned, holding a hand to his bleeding forehead. Glass bits dotted his hair and shoulders.
The Sheriff headed for the back room. Clark checked on the Deputy, helping him to his feet. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” Deputy Gregg said. “Do as the Sheriff said and go home, son. We’ll contact you if we need your statement.” He pressed the radio clipped to his shoulder and spoke into it. “This is Deputy Gregg requesting backup.”
Clark didn’t waste any more time inside. He exited the shop and waved off Pete. “Get the truck and watch for Tina. If she comes around front, call the Sheriff and follow her.”
“Where are you going?” Pete called after Clark, as Clark began running up the block. He rounded the corner of the block, looked both ways, and blurred into superspeed. He circled the row of buildings, dodged past the garbage cans and dumpsters, and came to a short halt behind the shops in the back alley. Tina ran right into him.
Clark grabbed her arms, impeding her flight. “Not so fast, Tina. I think the Sheriff wants to talk to you.”
“Too bad,” Tina said, and shoved him hard.
Clark went airborne, flying backwards at the powerful shove. He crashed into the side of a dumpster, denting the chipped green, rusty metal. Tina took off running again.
Clark scrambled to his feet and superspeeded after her. This time, he wrapped his arms around her from behind, pinning her arms to her sides. She struggled against him, kicking her heel into his shin, which actually hurt. Her slamming her head back into his nose hurt worse.
“Ow!” Clark released her in a pained surprise and cupped his sore nose. She spun around and he caught her punch just in time.
Sheriff Ethan’s voice came down the alley from behind Clark. “Hands on your heads, the both of you.”
Clark glanced over his shoulder. Sheriff Ethan had his gun drawn and pointed at them. His hands were steady, as he barked, “Now!”
Cracking and popping drew Clark’s attention forwards again and his eyes rounded in horror. Tina’s body shifted, stretched, and changed shape right in front of him. Her hand grew larger in his grasp, her hair shortened and face widened, her shoulders broadened and she became taller, until Clark was staring at a duplicate of himself.
Suddenly, Tina-Clark grabbed Clark’s wrist and spun them in a tight circle. She ended up throwing him again, and he knocked over a trio of garbage cans with a loud clatter. Garbage was strewn, the lids skidding across the ground towards Tina-Clark. She turned to the Sheriff and pointed at Clark. “Quick, arrest her!”
Clark knew what she was doing and it was a clever idea – only, her clothes hadn’t changed along with her physical features. She still wore her coat, sweatshirt and jeans. Sheriff Ethan wasn’t fooled, either, nor did he appear startled by her change. He kept the gun trained on her. “I said to put your hands on your head.”
“Why are you talking to me? She’s right there,” Tina-Clark insisted, gesturing emphatically at Clark.
“This is your last warning,” Sheriff Ethan said, moving steadily closer. Sirens could be heard in front of the buildings.
Tina-Clark didn’t comply. She bent quickly, grabbed a garbage can lid, and chucked it like a Frisbee at the Sheriff. He threw up his hands to block as the lid hit him.
Tina-Clark pivoted to run, but Clark tackled her before she got a foot. They scrabbled on the ground, rolling and shoving at each other. Finally, Clark played unfair, fisted his hand in her hair, and slammed the back of her head on the pavement. She went out like a light.
Clark climbed off her. Kneeling at her side, he half-turned towards the Sheriff and put his hands on his head. “She’s out.”
Sheriff Ethan holstered his weapon and approached. “You can put your hands down, Clark,” he said, crouching cautiously beside Tina-Clark. He checked her pulse and pulled his hand away fast, as before their eyes Tina-Clark changed back into herself with cracking and popping sounds.
“Sheriff, what’s your 20?” a male voice said over the radio.
“I’m in the alley behind the shop,” Sheriff Ethan responded to the radio call. He took out his handcuffs and secured Tina’s wrists.
“What’s going to happen to her?” Clark asked.
“Miss Greer’s not the first person we’ve arrested in Smallville who’s been somewhat peculiar,” Sheriff Ethan said. “Don’t worry, son. We’ll deal with her.”
Clark studied Tina’s slack features. She could mimic anybody if she wanted. “Lex was with me this morning, when my mom was almost run over.”
“So Martha informed me.” Sheriff Ethan signaled to the Deputies emerging into the alley several doors down. “If we find the bank money in that backpack, there’ll be no problems.”
“Good,” Clark said. “Am I free to go?”
“You were supposed to leave earlier, when I told you to,” Sheriff Ethan said. His mustache twitched as he suppressed a smile. “Try and listen better next time.”
The Sunday Ledger reported the homicide of Rose Greer and the finding of the stolen money from the Smallville Savings & Loan in the antique shop. Tina Greer was charged with the felonies, however, the Federal Court retained jurisdiction due to the Savings & Loan being a federal bank. She was transferred to Belle Reve Sanitarium pending trial, due to her “unstable condition.” Lex was off the hook.
Clark found the side door to the KentCorp factory unlocked and still not alarmed. He went inside, his ears assaulted by HVAC machine noise. Crossing to the grate in the floor, he called down before pulling it open. “Lex, it’s Clark.” He popped his head into the hole and spotted Lex in front of one of the tables.
“Come in,” Lex invited, tilting his head back to look up at Clark.
Clark climbed down the ladder, making sure to close the grate overhead. He hit the concrete ground with a short jump from the last few rungs and turned to Lex.
His breath caught. Lex was smiling in welcome, a broad smile with white teeth and crinkled corners of his piercing blue eyes. Clark understood what sudden lust felt like, but this was magnified a hundred times and made him light-headed. He knew it was wrong, too, in light of Lex’s possible mental age.
Disgusted with himself, he shifted his eyes away from Lex’s smile to something less appealing, like the dirt streaked across Lex’s cheek, nose, and head. The streaks were in the same spots as yesterday, which meant Lex hadn’t bathed. The scent also clued him in. Added to the dirt was a perfect palm print on the right side of Lex’s bare scalp, as if he’d rested his head against a filthy hand.
“You came back,” Lex said with bright surprise. He was sans shirt under his overalls again, bare feet peeking out under the long, ragged hems.
“I said I would,” Clark managed to respond. He spotted the motor on one of the two tables in further repair than yesterday and focused on it. A repair manual was open on the table beside the motor. “You’re in the clear. Tina Greer was arrested for robbing the bank and the homicide of her mother.”
Lex’s smile disappeared. “Rose is dead?”
Clark was surprised, and turned to Lex. “You know her?”
“Yes.” Lex looked perturbed.
When Lex didn’t continue, Clark asked, “How did you know her?”
Lex blinked several times and dashed his hand across his eyes. Clark realized he was crying. “A Union encampment was set up in Smallville during the Civil War, near Hobs Pond. I found some things for Rose to sell in her shop. She made me a sweater.”
He crossed to the footlocker, knelt, and began tossing clothing out of it. “It’s purple, my favorite color,” he said, in a watery tone. He found a hand-knit sweater in deep purple and held it up. It looked small in size, like made for a younger person. “Rose couldn’t pay me unless something sold, so she made me a sweater.”
Clark walked over, crouched beside him, and laid a hand on his shoulder in comfort. “It’s a nice sweater.”
Lex spread the sweater across his knees and stroked his hand across the knitted front. He rubbed his damp eyes again, making streaks in the dirt on his face, and turned to Clark. “Are you sure it was Tina?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“Tina should be the person who apologizes,” Lex said tightly. He cleared the roughness from his throat. “She knew better than to pretend to be other people. Rose probably scolded her and she lost her temper.”
“Wait, you knew Tina could change her appearance?” Clark said.
“How?” Clark said. “I doubt Tina would’ve told you.”
The corners of Lex’s mouth curved in what would be a smirk, if it were someone else. “I’m the ghost of Lex Luthor. People don’t always see me when I’m around.”
“Tina changed into you. Twice,” Clark pointed out, dropping his hand.
“I didn’t say that she didn’t know me,” Lex returned. “Rose is a friend,” his voice caught and he looked down at the sweater, “I’ve known her a long time. Therefore, I knew Tina.”
“Because Tina is Rose’s daughter,” Clark said, understanding.
“Tina never liked me. She told me once that I was a creepy freak and wished I would disappear like a real ghost,” Lex admitted. He smiled wobbly, but with humor. “I thought she was the creepy one.”
“Me, too,” Clark agreed. Lex’s smile grew wider, teeth exposed, and Clark had to clamp down on the inappropriate reaction it caused.
“I like you, Clark,” Lex said simply, and began folding the sweater neatly.
Clark didn’t know what to say, other than the truth. “I like you, too, Lex.”
Lex smiled even brighter, eyes crinkling in the corners, though he ducked his head shyly. He put the sweater carefully back into the footlocker, and as he did so, the smile faded. He settled back on his heels and scratched his dirty fingernails against his overalls. “The mutants are becoming more problematic recently.”
“Mutants?” Clark was confused by the non-sequitor.
Lex turned to Clark. “Greg Arkin, Tina, Walt Arnold, Tom Boyd, Christine from the Dairy Mart, Mrs. Milsap and her dog, Beau. They’ve all done bad things in the last three weeks.”
“I know the first three, but who are the others?” Clark said, surprised. He hadn’t known Lex knew about Coach Walt.
“Tom has an eyeball that he can take out and put places to spy on people,” Lex said. “He’s been using it at the Athletic Club in the ladies’ locker room and Mrs. Rumpkin saw it and had a heart attack.”
“Is she okay?”
“Yes.” Lex went on. “Christine has been replacing the fresh milk at the Dairy Mart with milk from her own udders. Mrs. Milsap and Beau have been climbing trees and killing squirrels in their nests, leaving squirrel bodies everywhere.”
Clark sank onto his rear on the concrete floor with an incredulous expression on his face. “How do you know all this?”
This time, Lex’s smile was undoubtedly sly. “I told you, I’m the ghost of Lex Luthor. People don’t always see me when I’m around.”