By Leanne Shawler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Original Air Date: November 9, 1997
Summary: Like the Phoenix, Lex Luthor once again rises from the ashes … and this time, he brought his bride. Episode 6 of S5.
The ghostly trunks of trees flared and disappeared as the limousine's headlights sped by them. The occasional low branch would brush its burden of leaves over the top of the car.
The driver slowed, seeing red signal lights ahead. The man in the rear, dressed in an elegant evening suit, leaned forward. "What's the matter, Frederick?" he asked.
"Warning lights up ahead, sir." They drew closer and they could see a Mustang convertible pulled off on the side of the road. "Looks like a breakdown." A figure appeared from under the hood. It was a man, extremely tall and thin. However, this was no figure in shirt and jeans. He wore a claret velvet jacket, tight brown breeches, thigh-high boots and a tri-cornered hat on his head.
"Poor fellow must be late for a party," Frederick's boss commented. "Let's give him a hand."
The chauffeur parked the limousine in front of the broken-down vehicle. Fred got out and approached the costumed man. "Need a hand, sir?"
The man whipped out a space-age-looking gun from within his long coat. "In the air. Both of them," came the gruff order. The accent was from Yorkshire, although the chauffeur was incapable of telling a Canadian accent from an American one. The chauffeur obeyed instantly. "Open the door, my good fellow."
Quivering, the chauffeur opened the rear passenger door. "I — I'm sorry, sir," he whimpered to his employer who looked out, puzzled, at his chauffeur. He paled as he saw the gun.
"You and the pretty little miss, get out," he ordered.
The rich man did as he was told, not bothering to help his female companion who had to awkwardly slide out of the backseat in her tight white silk gown. "Who are you?"
"They call me the Highwayman," he patted the top of his gun, "and this is Broad Bess." He glared at them and jerked a leather bag free of his belt. "Now if you would kindly place all cash, credit cards, jewelry and other valuables into this bag, nobody will get hurt."
The rich man tore off his platinium Rolex watch and threw it and two jewelled, heavy gold rings into the bag. At the Highwayman's cough, he threw in his wallet. The Highwayman coughed again. His cufflinks went into bag as well. The chauffeur dropped his gold cufflinks, which were part of his uniform, into the bag and threw in a couple of dollars. The girl was struggling to get off the string of pearls from around her neck. She succeeded, dropping it and the matching pearl drop earrings into the bag. A slender gold watch followed. She pulled at her wedding ring.
"You can keep that, ma'am," said the Highwayman stopping her. "I don't take items of sentimental value."
The girl looked at him, startled. "Thank you," she gasped.
"I hate to cause folks such hardship, especially the pretty ones." The girl dimpled. "Do you like my gun?" the Highwayman asked.
"It's … unusual," said the rich man.
The Highwayman beamed with pride. "Ain't it just? Go on, take a good look at it. You too, ma'am."
Obediently, they looked and the Highwayman fired. The three victims were bathed in a blue light and they jerked backwards in surprise.
The Highwayman slammed down the hood of his car and drove off. The blue light eventually faded. The rich man shook himself, as if he'd just dozed off. He recited:
*"The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight, over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding-
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door."*
At the Daily Planet, both Lois and Clark were hard at work writing up their stories. The occasional glance revealed Perry White pacing in his office impatiently. Simultaneously, they tapped the "SEND" key to Perry's desk and grinned at each other.
"Hey!" Jimmy's shocked exclamation had all the eyes of the newsroom upon him. He pointed to the television monitors suspended from the ceiling.
Lois turned pale, jaw dropped. Clark couldn't believe it either. Perry came barrelling out of his office. "Jimmy, turn that up right now!"
Jimmy scrambled for the remote. All eyes were on the screen. Standing behind a podium, in front of many microphones, stood the District Attorney and Lex Luthor. On their left stood the Chief of Police; on their right, a doctor still dressed in his white coat. Just over Lex's left shoulder, the face of a dark-haired woman could be seen.
"Lex!" gasped Lois, disbelieving. She and Clark gazed at each other, fearful, before turning back to the screens.
Jimmy finally found the remote control. The District Attorney had control of the microphone. " … turned himself in. His claim that a clone had stolen his identity was proven when we compared his fingerprints with those we took from the body that leapt from the top of Luthor's building in 1994. Further evidence revealed that it was the clone who committed the fraud involving the Daily Planet at that time and the evidence surrounding the case supports that. Mr. Luthor will now speak of his ordeal." The District Attorney stepped back to stand beside the Chief of Police, who looked sour.
As Lex paused, Perry exclaimed: "Frank Jersey, you better be in that crowd, or your name is mud."
"It is with great sorrow," began Lex, "that I have heard of the tragedies exacted by my clone. I will do everything in my power to recompense the city for its villainy. For three years, I have been incarcerated by a being I created in a foolish, vain attempt to allow myself, a man without children, — " Lois and Clark gave each other an incredulous look, " — to live on in perpetuity. I raised him as my second-in-command, teaching by example, virtually nothing was hidden from him." Lex's voice broke. "I was repaid by treachery.
"I have lived in darkness, fed occasionally by my captor and his minions, who never knew my true identity. I — " Lex stood straighter and continued with anguished nobility, "I was forced to eat rats and slake my thirst on water that fell from a hidden grate above. I lived like this for over three years, until my clone's death enabled me to escape."
Lex looked down upon the conglomeration of reporters and cameramen. "I found myself afraid of the light, shunning humanity, trying to bring back together the shreds of my own self. For the last six months I have been under secret and intensive psychotherapy with Doctor Young here from the Happy Hollow Rest Home until at last it was decided I was well enough to resume my place in the world."
Lois and Clark looked at each other, chills running up their spine.
RUN OPENING CREDITS
A reporter shouted "What evidence is there that it was really a clone?"
Lex smiled, unperturbed. "The fingerprints themselves are incontrovertible evidence. The current owners of Lexcorp have released certain documents to the police, which will now be made available to you, the press. These documents are from their research division and they show, in detail, human cloning experiments that occurred while I was in charge and that were stopped once the clone took over."
"What about Jaxxon Xavier and Lex Luthor, Jr.?" yelled another. "They're both your sons!"
"Atta boy, Frank!" Perry declared proudly.
Lex sighed, frowning. "I have heard of what those men have done to this city. Their mothers, unfortunately, were promiscuous, and despite the fact that the paternity tests turned out negative, were very insistent. I was the richest man of their acquaintance after all. I fear that the little financial help I gave them counted against me in that respect. They are not my sons."
"Will you resume your courtship of Lois Lane?" shouted another. Some of the reporters nearby cringed.
Lex became like stone. "Ms. Lane is a married woman, and I am a married man." He was barraged by shouted questions.
Lois and Clark turned to each other. "Married?" They were shushed by the other Daily Planet staff.
On the screen, Lex turned and gestured to the woman behind him. She shook her head, her straight black hair brushing her plain face, but eventually allowed herself to be cajoled forward. Lex still had his charm. "This is Beth, my wife," Lex announced, "and my saviour." More questions were verbally pelted towards the couple. Beth shook her head and backed away from the podium.
"To answer your questions, we were married yesterday and yes, we are very much in love."
Clark gave Lois a "yeah right" look. She frowned back at him.
Lex waved off further questions. "You will all receive printed statements and copies of the relevant documents, such as the LexCorp ones, within the hour. Any further questions can be directed to my office, LuthorCorp, or of course, to the District Attorney's office. All I want to do now is once more become a solid citizen of Metropolis and repay the debts incurred by my clone." He stepped back from the podium and looked directly into the camera, his face sad. Something sinister in his eyes made Lois shiver.
"Well, that's it, folks," shouted Perry, startling his employees. "Show's over! Now let's get to work!" Perry started giving orders. "Jimmy! I want you to see if we had any photographers down there. If not, head over to LNN and see if we can borrow some video footage — I want colour pictures for the morning edition!" He yelled a few more orders to his reporters, getting them on the various angles thrown up by this breaking story.
Lois and Clark stood at a loss until Perry subsided. "You two," he said, gruffly, "in my office now."
Perry sat behind his desk. The office was familiar to the reporting duo. They'd been hauled into his office many a time. "I have some things to say to the two of you," Perry began, "I don't want either of you working on any story that has a possible connection to Luthor, d'ya hear?"
Clark nodded, but Lois argued: "Perry, we're the best reporters you have and you're not going to put us on Metropolis' biggest story of the year?"
"Lois, you're both too close to the story. The things Lex — Lex's clone," Perry corrected himself, "has done to you two doesn't bear repeating. If I put you on the story, all you'd do would attempt an expose — "
Clark interrupted, "Isn't that what you want? Do you believe for a moment that he's telling the truth?" Clark's face was stony hard. "I mean, this would be the D.A.'s career making case. To arrest Lex Luthor and put him away once and for all. It just doesn't make sense!"
"Now, Clark," Perry reasoned, "you can't arrest someone if you don't have proof. That's false imprisonment. That's how the last D.A. got elected out of office." Perry added soothingly, "You have every reason to be angry, but at the moment, we don't have anything to go on. Stay away from Lex."
Clark replied, "This whole thing stinks if you ask me."
"Perry," Lois begged, "Clark and I both need to find out the truth. We won't rest until we do, we won't be at peace."
"I'll never be at peace until Lex Luthor is back behind bars where he belongs," growled Clark angrily.
Perry shook his head. "Listen to yourself, Clark. You don't have an open mind on the subject. I expect and get objective reporting. Until y'all calm down, you'll be writing the obituaries."
"Sorry, Chief," Clark looked down at his hands, but he was still tense with anger.
"If the two of you are done with that story of yours, why don't you go home and take the rest of the afternoon off?"
"Perry, won't you at least consider our working on the story?" Lois begged.
Their editor softened slightly. "Aw, Lois honey, you know I want the best for the two of you. Right now, your emotions are raw and you both need time out to take the edge off them. Why after Elvis left Priscilla, that's exactly what he did. Took some time out, and then came back as hot as ever. So go home, talk it over, take it easy, by which time we'll see whether we have a story here or not."
"But Perry — " persisted Lois.
"No more arguing, go home!"
It was an order, not a suggestion. Lois and Clark collected their coats and went home.
Mindy Church, head of Intergang, used a slim black remote to turn off the television. "Well!" she said. Her frown implied that things were anything but well, as did the tapping of her lacquered fingernails upon her desk. She pressed another button and the television disappeared upwards into a previously hidden recess. "So Lex is back," she drawled thoughtfully.
"What do we do?" The minion who had brought her news of the press conference cowered somewhere halfway between her desk and the door.
"Do?" Mindy asked as if anything needed to be done. "Why, we make him an offer he can't possibly refuse."
The underling shook his head. "He's an honest citizen!"
Mindy chuckled deeply. "Lex Luthor has never been an honest citizen. He's as honest as I am."
"But — "
"Freddy, I don't like it when people disagree with me." Mindy's baby blue eyes hardened.
"I — I'm just advising caution?" Fred said hopefully.
Mindy's eyes narrowed as she thought. "You could be right," she said. "Even if he's innocent, Lex would be under close watch by the police. We don't need to tip them off about what I'm up to." She gave Fred a smile that was almost a caress. "Good work, Joe. I shall have to reward you."
Fred sagged with relief and then paled again as Mindy rose from behind her desk and sashayed towards him, her lips pursed for a kiss. "Rewards aren't necessary!" he gasped.
Lois watched Clark change channels using the remote with short, angry jerks. Finally, she asked: "Clark? Do you want to talk about it?" She sat beside him and rested a hand on his thigh.
Clark continued to channel-surf.
"It's about Lex, isn't it," Lois prompted.
Clark turned off the television and tossed the remote onto the coffee table before them. "Yes, it's about Lex. I don't believe his story for a moment, do you?"
"Well, we know clones exist and the fingerprints … " began Lois.
"You believe him?" Clark asked, stunned. He stood and began to pace. "After everything that has happened, and still you believe him?"
Hurt, Lois stood and snapped back: "Clark, remember that clone of me? She had the same intelligence as I but her emotions and motivations were extreme. Why not Lex's clone?"
"Lois, it's simply too convenient."
"Explain how he survived the underground collapse then?"
"The same way he leapt off the tallest building in Metropolis and survived."
"The police have proof it wasn't him who jumped. Besides, that woman, Dr. Kelly, is dead."
"The technology isn't," Clark snapped back.
The phone rang. Clark pounced on it. "What?" He winced as he recognised the voice and spoke more calmly. "Oh, hi Mom." He listened briefly. "Yes, we saw it on the news too. Lois — "
" — must be incredibly upset that that man is back," Martha finished for him. "If I were her, I'd be wishing that what he said was true." Martha's reasoning hit home. "While Lex is around, I don't think Lois will ever feel safe."
"Don't worry, Mom, I'll look after her."
"You better, son," chimed in Jonathon, "she's our favourite daughter-in-law!"
"Let us know if you need anything, won't you, Clark?" Martha added.
"Maybe you could come out for a few days," Jonathon suggested.
"Maybe. I'll have to talk to Lois about it, Dad." Clark turned around and found that Lois wasn't standing there. "I'll call you later, ok?"
He hung up and called out, "Lois?"
Clark searched through the house at super-speed and finally found her curled up on their bed. "Lois, honey?"
Lois curled up even tighter, tensing.
"Lois, I'm sorry." Clark took a moment to pull his thoughts together. "It's just that I'm just as scared as you are." He soothingly stroked her back. "No more fighting until we find out the truth for sure, ok?"
"Oh Clark!" Lois uncurled herself just enough to throw herself into his arms. They held each other tight.
When she had calmed down enough to speak, Lois began, "Clark, I'm just so afraid for the two of us because of what he knows about you. If it was the clone who knew, then the clone is dead andwe're safe and I really want to believe that," Lois laid her hand on Clark's chest to accentuate her point, "but if this is the real Lex *and* the Lex who made a clone of me, then he knows who you are and we're all in danger. You, me, your parents, everyone!"
"I know, Lois, I know." Clark smoothed her hair soothingly. "That's why I'm scared too." His hand tightened around a lock of her hair. "I just want to get rid of him, send him to the Arctic, send him somewhere where he can never harm us."
"I want that too," Lois said, "but if he doesn't know, then it would be an unfair punishment. We — Superman — can't act without knowing for sure. That's scary too."
"Lois, we can't let Perry derail us on this. We have to find out; we have to know."
She looked up at Clark, smirking slightly. "It's not like we haven't gone behind Perry's back before!"
Clark smiled and kissed her smirk. "Speak for yourself!"
The Highwayman normally ignored the modern gadgetry which surrounded him in Metropolis, but he couldn't help but look at the television screens on display in the electronics store window, their flickering light attracting him in that dark hour of night. What he saw stopped him in his tracks.
He moved right up to the window and stared in disbelief. The late night news was running and the story of the day was the return of Lex Luthor. The Highwayman didn't care about that. "Bess!" he gasped, his eyes riveted to the dark-haired woman that stood at Lex's side behind the podium.
His fingertips lightly brushed the window. "Don't worry, my sweet," he whispered. "I will rescue you."
The next morning, Clark went out and bought every newspaper and news magazine on the subject, even international ones. Together, he and Lois sat down at their dining table and went through them all.
Many of the papers carried only the official story as released by Luthor. Others had comments from LexCorp scientists. Each article carried a variation on the same photo: Lex's face showing not only his sorrow but the hard lines of imprisoned life. No matter how they looked at it, for good or evil, Lex was back.
Clark blurted: "I don't believe it!"
Lois looked up. "What?"
Clark was reading BusinessWeek. "Luthor actually declared money he held in a Swiss bank account, so he wouldn't lose it to the IRS!"
"Yeah, it says here that he transferred it to another account and kept it secret from everyone, including his clone."
"Sounds a little … convenient." Lois and Clark shared a wry smile.
"The really amazing thing is that IRS is letting him keep most of it!"
"Wow," Lois breathed. "How did he manage that?
Lois looked at her watch. "We better get going."
"Are you sure you want to go into work today?"
"Clark, I am not going to run scared from Lex Luthor. I wouldn't give him the pleasure!" Lois' eyes flashed with frightened, but determined, fire.
Clark smiled. "I guess we better see what obituaries Perry has lined up for us."
Lois winked back. "And see what else we can dig up. Pun intended."
"Hey Jimmy!" Clark called out as soon as he realized Perry wasn't on the newsfloor.
Jimmy rushed up, his arms loaded with manila folders, binders and miscellaneous pieces of paper. "Look guys, I'm kinda busy right now. Perry's given me a lot of work to do."
Lois sidled up to Clark's desk. "Jimmy, we were just wondering if you had a copy of those LexCorp documents."
"On my desk." Jimmy replied, his voice short. Lois and Clark looked over at his desk and saw its usual messy state and then looked at each other. Jimmy caught the look. "Come on, I'll give it to you. I'm on my way there now."
They walked over with Jimmy. He dumped the material he'd been carrying on his desk and handed them the LexCorp documents. "What're you working on?" Clark asked.
"Perry's asked me to trace the LexCorp scientist who worked on the clone project. He wants a background story on clones. It's drudge work, but it's a start."
"What about Doctor Mamba?" Lois interjected.
"I'm working on that too. These records should give me some keys into some very interesting places on the network." Jimmy was itching to get started and they left him to it.
"Hey, hey, hey," Ralph breezed up with a grin on his face. "If it isn't our newest obit reporters."
Lois glared at him. "Can it, Ralph."
Ralph shrugged. He'd scored his point. "I'm off to get me an interview with the lovely Mrs. Luthor. Did I say lovely?" Ralph gagged. "That's a joke!"
"She looks a whole lot better than you," Lois snapped at Ralph's back. She turned to Clark. "Oooh, he makes me so mad! It's so unfair! How does Perry expect to get an objective report from Ralph?"
Clark shrugged. "Well, you gotta say one thing for Ralph. He certainly can sniff out the dirt!"
Lex Luthor opened the door of The House of Astrology, a neon-lit "hole in the wall" in a seedy part of Metropolis. The doorbell tinkled. Asabi bustled out into the main room from behind a beaded curtain. "I am sorry, but we're clo — " Asabi stopped in astonishment. "Luthor!" he gasped. "I saw you on TV. Who are you really?"
"Asabi, have you become cynical? I am who I said I am." Lex raised an amused eyebrow. "You have powers, Asabi. See for yourself."
Asabi nodded. He closed his eyes and focused inward for a moment. He raised his arms, eyes still closed, his hands hovering above Lex Luthor's head. He brought his hands slowly down until they were hovering just above Lex's hair. Asabi moved his hands slowly, feeling Luthor's aura.
He paused, frowning for a moment, before dropping his hands away and opening his eyes. "It's very strange."
Lex was immediately on guard. "Strange?"
"Barely a year ago, your soul was badly damaged. Very dark," Asabi explained. "I see your soul now — and it is almost like it once was." He smiled. "Welcome back, Mr. Luthor."
Lex relaxed slightly. "Thank you, Asabi. Now let's get down to business."
"Business?" Asabi looked perplexed.
"Business," repeated Lex. "You do want to work for me again, don't you." Lex didn't phrase it as a question.
"Yes, of course." Asabi gave him an Indian bow of respect and continued, "I have been waiting for you to return, as I knew you would."
"You worked for my clone," Lex remarked, his eyes cold.
Asabi shivered. "Yes, but I thought it was you. Souls can change so much sometimes … "
Lex cut him off with a wave of his hand. "I have a couple of problems that require your assistance."
"I need to start to rebuild, Asabi," Lex ticked off one finger. "See who is interested in coming back to work for me: scientists, businessmen — you know who used to work for me. Be very careful, I don't want any squealers."
"Yes, sir, I remember them."
"We'll have the outwardly respectable ones openly join LuthorCorp. As for the more shady characters," Lex smiled. "Be sure that I have a strong hold over them. Which brings me to the second item." Lex ticked off another finger. "I simply cannot have any shady connections to my person. Therefore, I need a place separate from my new corporate headquarters where I can do business with them." Lex levelled his eyes upon Asabi. "Find one — where I can't be followed or traced."
"A difficult task and one that may take some time in completing," complained Asabi.
"Done well, Asabi, and it should take you quite some time. We can meet at random places until then."
Asabi nodded and bowed. "Your will, sir."
Lex smiled for the first time. "Now, Asabi, do you have a pretty crystal that I can present to my wife?"
"I have many crystals … " Asabi eagerly beckoned him over to his display case.
Clark rubbed his face tiredly. It was in the small hours of the morning. He and Lois had read the LexCorp clone documents.
"I may be Kryptonian, but this goes beyond my scientific knowledge," complained Clark.
"A job for Doctor Klein?"
"Looks like it."
Superman quietly entered S.T.A.R. labs and found Dr. Klein hunched over a computer, typing. "Dr. Klein?"
"Ah, Superman!" Dr. Klein looked up from the screen, glad for the break.
Superman held out the folder containing the LexCorp documents.
Dr. Klein took one look at the distinctive logo. "Ah yes."
"Could you look at them and see if they're legit?" Superman asked.
"Already have," Dr. Klein replied. He saw the surprised look on Superman's face and explained. "The D.A. handed it to S.T.A.R. Labs to decipher and seeing as I was leading the investigation into understanding what made Lois Lane's clone tick, I got landed with it. I haven't had a chance to sleep yet."
"So you told the D.A. they were legitimate?" Clark knew this would be a dead end. Lex wouldn't let out something that wasn't to his advantage.
"The technique was different to what I had observed in Lois' clone. This experiment had some unnatural apoptosis, or cell death, which caused weakness and eventually the clone's death. The experiments which dealt with improving that are incomplete."
"Yes, it has the modifications to the experimental design and some initial excellent results, but there it ends abruptly."
"Do you think that Luthor removed some pertinent information?" Superman folded his arms as he listened to Dr. Klein.
"If he did, then it was a superior job. There is a memo from Lex to close down the entire clone project. It's dated May 2nd, 1994."
"What?" Superman interrupted him. "That's the day Luthor took over the Planet."
"Luthor's clone," Klein reminded him. "When an experiment ends, you pull it apart or let it die a natural death. In both cases, a good scientist will detail the process. There's none of that. When I reported that to the D.A., he replied that they'd already established that the documents had not been tampered with in any way. They concluded that Lex's clone must have closed down the project."
"That's pretty sketchy."
Dr. Klein shrugged. "With the fingerprint evidence, whoever jumped off that building may have looked like Lex, but it wasn't him."
"But how? The fingerprints should be identical."
"Clones are just like twins," Klein explained. "They have the same genetic makeup. However, just like twins, they also have different fingerprints. Their genes ensure that the pattern is very similar, but as the clone embryo develops, the fingerprints change slightly."
Lois was waiting for him back at the Planet. "Well?" she asked.
Clark bent over, head close to hers. "Dr. Klein says the LexCorp files are kosher. He said the D.A. had had them examined already and found them untampered. They just couldn't figure out what they meant. So they asked Dr. Klein to look at them. He says they're real."
"Well of course they're real! Lex wouldn't give out something if they weren't!"
"Lois! Clark!" The two of them jumped guiltily. Perry was directly behind them. "Hellfire, I knew obituaries wouldn't keep you away for very long. I have a story for you."
"Perry," Lois said, "we've already started on the Luthor story, so why not keep us on it?"
"Because I don't want you getting hurt." Perry wagged his finger at them. "And I'm talking more than journalistic credibility here."
Clark gave up first. "What do you have for us, Chief?"
"There was a report on the wire just now. A series of strange robberies. The victims are found reciting poetry."
"Poetry?" they chorused in disbelief.
"That's what I said. See what you can find out." Perry left them.
Lois sighed. "I guess we better file a story." She began to dial.
"Who're you calling?"
"Henderson. If he isn't on the case, he knows someone who is. Besides, he might have something to tell us about Lex."
Inspector Henderson met them by the precinct headquarters. "What're you doing on this case?" he asked. "I thought you'd be working away on the Luthor one."
"Not us," Lois declaimed. "Perry thought we were too close to the situation."
"Luthor should be in jail, not walking free," declared Clark.
"Clark, I like it about as much as you do. There's not much I can do about it, except keep my eye on him. With computers wiped, books missing and employees still refusing to talk, we can't pin anything on him beyond the Daily Planet takeover anyway. I was there when he was fingerprinted. And it's impossible to change the prints we already had in the computer from the corpse."
"Impossible?" Clark asked.
Henderson nodded. "So what do you want to know about this robber poet case?"
"That's what you call it?" Clark asked.
"As good a name as any, until we get some sort of description of this guy."
"No description?" Lois echoed.
"None. All of the victims have lost about five minutes of their memory. It's been replaced with a verse of a poem that changes each time." Henderson rifled through his pockets. "Here, I brought you a copy of what we have of the poem so far."
Clark took it and read it through. "It sounds vaguely familiar." He passed it to Lois, who began reading it. Clark snapped his fingers. "It's called The Highwayman, by Alfred Noyes. I remember reading it in high school."
Henderson grunted. "That's right, Clark. It's more than likely he or she read it then too."
Lois looked disgusted at Clark. "Is there anything you don't know?"
Clark shrugged. Lois rolled her eyes at him.
Henderson was thinking. "No doubt our robber thinks he's the hero."
"Weird," said Lois.
"You said it!" Henderson replied, "and what's more, he appears to be a gentleman robber. Two of his victims have been women and both times he's apparently let them keep an object of sentimental value to them. Twenty carat gold wedding ring in one case, and a locket in silver and gold in another."
"Apparently?" Clark picked up on that.
"Like I said, the victims have no memory of the robbery. They come to and find all their money and valuables gone — but any time they attempt to think of what happened, out comes that verse. We have a hypnotist working on them, but to no avail."
"You think they've been hypnotized?" Lois asked.
"According to our hypnotist, yes, it's very much like a hypnotic suggestion. Usually, you can break through it. No luck so far."
"Can we meet these people?" Lois asked.
Henderson gave them another sheet of paper. "I knew you'd ask. However, you won't get much from them."
"If we get anything new, we'll let you know, Inspector," Clark promised.
Back in their jeep, Lois punched a number into her mobile phone.
"What are you doing?" Clark asked.
"Calling Jimmy." Lois hushed Clark as Jimmy answered. "Jimmy, could you get into the Police Records Database? The fingerprint records?" She listened. "Let me know, ok?" Lois hung up and turned the radio on. "Done. Let's go visit the Fitzroys."
Clark gazed at her in admiration. "The second victims?"
"This just in," the announcer's voice crackled over the car speakers. "Police crews have finished exhuming the assumed graves of Lex Luthor's clone and three others. These bodies had been retrieved from the debris of a collapsed underground cavern two years ago. Results of further tests on these bodies are still pending."
Lois checked the rear view mirror before pulling out into traffic. "Another piece of the puzzle," remarked Lois, her eyes on the road.
"I'll wager it'll fall just where Luthor wants it to," Clark growled. "He'll either have planted some evidence or he'll bribe the coroner."
"Like he did with Jack and the Daily Planet?"
"They saw through that one eventually," Lois reassured. "They'll see through this one as well."
Lois took a look at a street number. "We're here."
Lois parked their Jeep Cherokee outside an opulent mansion. Tall Ionian columns rose three stories to support the roof of the Southern-style building.
"Wow," Lois said. "That's rich."
"That's more than rich," Clark replied, as they got out of the car. "That's *old* rich."
They walked up the drive and knocked on the front door. A butler opened it and looked down at them. "Service entrance, please," he stated coldly.
Lois ignored him. "We're Lois Lane and Clark Kent of the Daily Planet. May we see Mr. and Mrs. Fitzroy?"
"Do you have an appointment?"
"I would appreciate you telling them we're here. We're doing a story on Metropolis' old families."
The butler looked as if he didn't believe it. He closed the door on them.
"Lois," Clark whispered, "we are *not* doing a story on Metropolis' old families."
"Do you think they'd see us otherwise?" Lois whispered back. "Besides, we can write up a piece. Perry would be pleased."
"Do you think they'd answer our questions about the — " Clark broke off as the front door reopened.
"Mrs. Fitzroy declines the honour of speaking with you about her family, which she regards as very private, but if you would like to talk about the robbery, you may come in."
Clark did his best to hold back a snicker.
"Thank you," Lois said primly, hiding her wounded pride as she went in.
They found Mrs. Fitzroy in a gigantic formal living room. Rich tapestries hung from the walls. A small fire roared in a huge marble fireplace. The furniture was all from the Queen Anne Revival era, elegantly shaped and curved.
Mrs. Fitzroy was perched on the edge of one of the sofas. The butler announced them. "So have you come about old families or the robbery, Ms. Lane?"
"The robbery," Clark replied for her. "My wife didn't think you'd see us."
"Quite so," Mrs. Fitzroy replied. "The Metropolis Star did a story on our family history last week. So I knew you were lying. However, I did decide to see you. You see, this wretched person must be stopped."
"You don't remember anything about the incident?"
As if a puppet-master had pulled her to attention, Mrs. Fitzroy stood stiffly and recited:
*"Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
Bess, the landlord's daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair."*
She came to her senses the moment the last word was out of her mouth. Mrs. Fitzroy put a quivering hand to her lips. "I did it again, didn't I?" she half-whispered.
"It's all right, Mrs. Fitzroy," Lois guided her back to her seat and sat beside her. "We understand that this happened on the way home?"
"Yes, not a mile from the entrance to our driveway. It's so bizarre. There's no damage to the car, no indication we were forced over. We must have stopped willingly for some reason."
"Where is your husband, Mrs. Fitzroy?" Clark asked.
"Poor Tony hasn't stood up to the strain of this very well. You see, he keeps forcing himself to try and remember what happened. I'm afraid he cracked under the strain. His doctor sent him off to a rest home."
"Which rest home?" asked Clark.
"The Happy Hollow Rest Home," she replied. "I went to visit him this morning. I'm afraid you won't find him very coherent."
At the name of the rest home, Lois and Clark exchanged surprised glances. This place was more of a mental institution than a rest home! It was also where Lex apparently had been treated.
Lois smiled. "We'll try there anyway, thanks."
The Highwayman stood before Mindy Church's desk. On the desk between them was a small pile of cash, watches and jewelry. Mindy pulled out a wallet and extracted three credit cards.
"These," she said, "are useless to us unless we can run them up before they are cancelled."
The Highwayman shrugged, not caring.
Mindy beamed at him. Her latest recruit was very tall, and rather thin, but quite handsome — and those tight pants! "But good work, very good work. The poor will be deeply grateful to you."
The Highwayman waved a hand dismissively. "I do not do this for the recognition, madam. My reward is knowing that the poor and needy will be helped." A flicker of sadness crossed his features. "And knowing that my Bess would be proud of me."
"Bess?" Mindy's forehead crinkled in sweet confusion. "Isn't that your gun?"
"This?" The Highwayman retrieved the modified gun from somewhere within his greatcoat. "I named this in honour of my Bess. She was the grandest lass that ever was."
Mindy rose and walked around the desk to him. "She died? I'm sorry." She softly caressed his arm.
Her touch made no dint in his expression or stance. "I had to leave her." His fingers touched his gun like it was a woman. Mindy ran her hand down his arm to rest just above his wrist.
"Maybe you'll find her again one day," Mindy suggested.
The Highwayman nodded, giving her a crooked smile. "I have seen her. I will be with her again soon." With his index finger, he caressed Mindy's cheek. "Your kindness and generosity make you worthy of her."
Mindy managed to blush and flutter her eyelashes at him coyly. "Nobody could be worthy of your Bess."
He was unaware of her insincerity. "Doctor Sliverstein was. He gave me Broad Bess." He patted the gun. "Showed me how to use it." The Highwayman frowned. "Alas, he disappeared soon after. I never got the chance to thank him properly."
Mindy became immediately aware that she was with a highly dangerous man, but that just excited her more. "Don't you worry," she purred. "I won't leave you, and perhaps I can help you find your Bess." She smiled up at him. "We'll make a great team together."
The Highwayman looked down at her. Invisible sparks flew between them as he bent down to kiss her.
Lois and Clark walked through the rose garden of the Happy Hollow Rest Home towards the shallow pond at the foot of the hill, where Tony Fitzroy was awaiting them. Quickly, they reached the pond. Tony Fitzroy was sitting on a bench with a blanket over his legs. His shoulders were hunched and when they got close enough, they could see he was balding and had watery blue eyes. Clark pulled up a wrought iron garden chair for Lois and sat on the bench next to Fitzroy.
"Strong," Tony Fitzroy commented.
"I'm Clark Kent from the Daily Planet and this is Lois Lane."
"The famous reporters!" Tony drawled.
"We'd like to talk to you about the robber poet," Lois began, speaking gently.
Tony began to shake. "No … "
"Please, Mr. Fitzroy," interjected Clark, "we don't want to talk about the actual robbery. Just the effects it has had on you. We're writing a human interest piece on the case."
"The effect? The effect?!" Tony's voice rose in agitation. "This mind thing he's done to me has put me in the loony bin! That's what he's done to me! Not only has he robbed me blind but he's destroyed my life and career!" Tony rose, the blanket falling to the grass. "Stick that in your story." He stormed off towards the main building.
Clark looked at Lois wryly. "That went well."
She smiled back. "Didn't it?" She stood. "Let's see if we can find Dr Young, while we're here."
"By accident?" Clark asked, smiling.
"Is there any other way?"
"Doctor Young?" Lois stuck her head around the doctor's door.
Dr. Young looked up and smiled at her pretty face. "Yes. Can I help you?"
"I sure hope so, Doctor Young." Lois opened the door wider and walked in, followed by Clark Kent.
"We'd like to ask you some questions about your treatment of Lex Luthor."
Dr. Young's eyes widened in recognition. "Ah, I know who you are now. I'm sorry but I don't do interviews."
Lois sat down in a chair opposite Dr. Young. "Let's just suppose I'm a concerned citizen with a personal interest in Luthor's case. You *are* aware of his obsession with me?" Clark rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Lane," Dr. Young shook his head. "I must respect my patient's confidentiality."
Lois used her best "little girl lost" look. "So I'm safe?" she asked.
"Ms. Lane, he wouldn't be outside of this facility if he were dangerous."
Clark added, "Was he delusional? Did he say crazy things?"
Dr. Young sighed. "I'm sorry, but I've already told you I cannot tell you anything. Now, I'm a busy man, if you'll excuse me."
Lois and Clark looked at each other. It was a clear dismissal. Lois sighed and stood. "Thank you for your time, Dr. Young."
Outside his office, walking down the hallway, Clark said, "That was fruitful, wasn't it?"
Lois grimaced. "We could always break in later."
"Lo-is," Clark said warningly.
A high-pitched woman's voice whispered, "Superman!"
Lois and Clark stopped in their tracks.
A short, plump woman stepped into the corridor. She was dressed in a long black dress with lace frills. A bonnet held down her piled up hair, except for a few ringlets.
"Wanda Mae!" exclaimed Clark.
"Mrs. Lincoln to you, General Grant," Wanda Mae reproved.
Gently, Clark Kent steered her into a room. Lois followed him, her eyes round with surprise. "How are you doing, Mrs. Lincoln?" Clark asked.
"I'm very well, thank you," Wanda Mae replied, nodding her head. "So kind of you to ask."
"Mrs. Lincoln, why did you call out 'Superman'?" Lois asked, her brow furrowed.
"I knew it would get your attention." Wanda Mae smiled brightly.
Lois smiled, frantic. "Well, yes, Superman is a good friend of ours, so of course it would attract attention."
Wanda Mae beamed and winked at Clark. "He's more than just a friend, honey." She looked up at Clark. "You married her but didn't tell her?"
"She knows," reassured Clark, although worried himself. "Lois doesn't like other people knowing."
"Ah, I'm not the only one who knows," Wanda Mae suddenly frowned and pursed her lips. "You be careful. I like you."
Lois and Clark exchanged worried glances. "Thank you, Mrs. Lincoln."
Lex Luthor looked around the deserted warehouse. It was so quiet, you could hear the waves lapping against the piers underneath the building.
"This is the best you could do?" he asked Asabi, who hovered expectantly behind him.
"Given the small amount of time you left me to prepare for this meeting, Mr. Luthor, it is a most excellent choice, if I do say so myself." Asabi smiled. "I have trusted men on lookout."
"If they screw up, it's your life not theirs," Lex said coldly. He knew he was taking a big risk moving into the underworld so early. But that's what Lex lived for: the risk and the challenge of beating the odds.
Asabi bit his lip and went outside to await Luthor's guests.
Shortly thereafter, three men returned with Asabi and he introduced each of them in turn.
Enrico O'Reilly was the best and worst of both his heritages. No taller than 5'5" tall and whip-slender, he had a temper that burst into flame and smouldered afterwards. Enrico also possessed a keen intelligence, burnished by years on the streets. He smoothed back his black hair and slouched in a chair, looking comfortable in close-fitting jeans and leather jacket. He was the leader of a group of young toughs, an up-and-coming underworld figure, one whom Lex could groom as an able second-in-command.
Dressed in a grey business suit, Liu Ping was a member of one of Metropolis' Triads. Not in command, but ready to break away and establish a group of his own. In his late thirties, his dark eyes showed the glint of ambition.
The third man was dressed in tattered clothes and didn't offer a name. Everyone called him "The Old Man" and it was common knowledge in the underworld that he ran Metropolis' biggest begging ring — and that you stay upwind of him.
Lex clasped his hands in front of him, only to release them and hold his arms out. "Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you for agreeing to meet me this evening."
Enrico sat up straighter. He alertly looked around him. "What's the deal, Luthor? Is this for real or you working some scam with the cops?" He leant back. "I hear you're pretty tight with them now."
Lex raised an eyebrow at him and didn't deign to answer.
"I've invited you all here for a reason, something we all have in common," Lex began. "We've all had an offer from Intergang to join them — and we've all refused."
Liu Ping cleared his throat. "That may be, Mr. Luthor," he said respectfully, "but we're not about to sign up with you."
Lex smiled. "But I'm not suggesting that, my friend. What I propose is that we form a co-operative. We protect each other's back and form a front against Intergang. I don't want a single percentage of your profits." Lex paused. "I may, from time to time, pay you to do a job for me, and there may be something I can do for you in turn."
"Let me get this right," said The Old Man hoarsely, accepting a china cup from Asabi with surprising dexterity. He sipped the hot liquid. "When one of us starts getting squeezed by Intergang, the others come running?"
"We hit back. Intergang won't be expecting organized resistance. We'll set the example and then others will leave Intergang to join us in our co-operative. We'll be stronger and safer as a result."
"What's the catch?" Enrico demanded.
"There is no catch," Lex assured him, his voice and demeanour calm. "It's all a matter of survival."
The following morning at the Planet, Lois and Clark ran into Jimmy.
"Jimmy, how's the hunt for the clone scientists going?" asked Clark.
"One dead, one in prison." Jimmy counted them off on his fingers.
"Doctor Mamba?" asked Lois.
"In prison," replied Jimmy. "Perry's trying to get an interview set up with him." He lightly slapped his forehead. "Which reminds me, Perry wants to see you."
Lois nodded. "Sure. In a moment. That other thing I asked of you?"
"Cracking the database?" Jimmy yawned. "No dice. I was up all night with it. I called one of the sysadmins this a.m. It's actually a number of databases all cross-referenced and copied. To get in and manipulate the data requires a lot of inside knowledge." Jimmy grimaced. "Which, understandably, they refused to give me."
"An inside job?" Clark thought aloud. "It's time we paid a visit to the coroner's office."
"Er, guys?" Jimmy prompted, seeing the couple's minds click into action. "The Chief?"
They headed over to Perry's office.
"How's the story going, you two?" Perry asked, looking up from a stack of copy.
Lois refrained from asking 'which one?'. Instead she said, "It's going fine, Chief. The police have no details of the robber, the victims can't remember anything. It's really falling into place nicely."
Perry ignored the sarcasm. "Keep at it," he said. "I heard that another wealthy man was robbed by him today."
"We'll check it out, Chief," Clark promised.
"Now that's not the reason I wanted to see you. I know the two of you can do your job without any coaching from me. It's about the Metropolis Orphanage Charity Ball."
"What about it, Chief?" Lois asked. "Clark and I go every year. Superman is an orphan, you know."
Perry frowned and looked uncomfortable. "Would you consider *not* going this year?"
Clark looked at Lois and answered for them. "Out of the question, Chief. We *always* go."
"Lex will be there, won't he, Perry." Lois added intuitively.
"Perry, you can't protect us from Lex for the rest of our lives," Lois protested.
"Or him from you, I imagine," remarked Perry wryly.
"What's Lex doing at this charity ball anyway?" Clark asked. "It's supposed to be a respectable gathering."
Perry rolled his eyes. "This is exactly what I mean, Clark. No objectivity. Can't you see that for all intents and purposes Luthor *is* respectable?"
Both Lois and Clark looked like they were ready to throw up. Lois leapt to her feet. "Perry! How can you say that?"
"Honey," replied Perry calmly, "in this country, people are innocent until proven guilty. And Lex has been proven innocent. The man has been through a lot: years of privation, the loss of his reputation as a sterling citizen. People are falling over themselves to make it up to him." Lois subsided back into her seat. "Now Alice and I would be more than happy to buy the tickets from you … "
Clark cut him off. "We're going, Perry."
Lois smiled. "Alice, Chief?" she asked, hoping to put him off the track. "You guys got another hot date?"
Perry actually blushed. Even Clark smiled, despite his sour mood. "Alice wants to take things slowly and well, that's what I'm doing. It's no use trying to derail this conversation either, Lois. " He sighed and leant back in his comfortable leather chair. "Just don't go doing anything crazy at this ball, ok? I need my best reporters."
"Sure thing, Perry," Lois said. Perry knew this wasn't so reassuring coming from Lois.
The couple left Perry's office. "Lois," broached Clark tentatively, "are you sure you want to go to this ball?"
"It's an opportunity we can't miss. We have to know, Clark."
Clark agreed. Lois sent him a grateful grin before heading off to her desk to phone Henderson about the latest attack by the robber poet.
The Assistant Coroner, a dark-haired, brown-eyed woman, was very helpful. They sat in her small office. "Normally we do autopsies the moment the body is brought in. However, it was a very busy day the day Luthor jumped. With Superman not turning up at rescue scenes, quite a few people didn't make it." Both Lois and Clark winced. Lois laid a reassuring hand on Clark's arm. The Assistant Coroner, not noticing, consulted her notes. "The pileup on Interstate 8 didn't help that's for sure."
"So how come the police have fingerprints for Lex Luthor's body?" Lois asked.
"The clone's body was examined in two stages. We were doing that with all the bodies that were coming in that day. We work in pairs, to cross-check each other. One team does an external examination, which includes taking fingerprints. This is followed up by a full autopsy conducted by myself or one of the other doctors. Unfortunately, we hadn't done this when the clone's body was stolen."
"Do you keep copies of the fingerprints?" Lois asked. "I know they are scanned into the computer but there must be originals or copies somewhere."
"They're filed downtown at our Investigative Unit Headquarters and I should have a copy here."
"Do you?" Clark prompted. "May we see them?"
The Assistant Coroner frowned. "I assure you they are the same." She rose. "I'll be back in a minute."
She returned a few minutes later. "Can I call you?" she asked. "It seems Janice has misfiled them."
"Janice?" Lois asked.
"She did the fingerprinting on the corpse. She was in charge of the fingerprinting and filing."
"May we see her?" Lois leaned forward eagerly.
The Assistant Coroner shook her head sadly. "Janice died in a car crash three months ago."
"She was a reliable worker?" Clark asked.
"All my workers are!" exclaimed the Assistant Coroner in indignation. "Janice could be a little skittish at times but she did her work well."
Clark rose. "Give us a call and let us know if you find anything."
Outside, Clark asked, "What do you think?"
"I think Lex paid Janice to switch fingerprints. She's on the inside and she knew what to do," was Lois' impassioned statement.
"Aside from the missing fingerprints, we don't have proof." Clark frowned. "Why don't we do some investigating into Janice's background?"
Later that evening, Lois and Clark were curled up on the sofa together watching the news. They were really only half-watching as they had heard most of the news already during the day. Clark was speed reading through printouts, occasionally slowing down to read something more carefully and set it aside. Lois was typing at her notebook computer. Perry would need an article about the robber poet soon.
"Now live from the Metropolis Justice Building, we have Kate Green." Lois and Clark looked up and saw the news anchor turn to a virtual monitor. "Kate, what's happening down there?"
Kate Green, a petite blonde with green eyes, smiled into the camera. "Well, Sue, any moment now, the District Attorney is going to make a statement regarding the Lex Luthor case." A hubbub of noise distracted her. "Something's happening now." Kate beckoned to the cameraman and they pushed towards the front of the crowd, joining the rest of the press contingent.
The cameraman focused on a podium outside the Justice Building. Behind it, the District Attorney was waving for silence. Lois and Clark looked at each other and reached out to grip hands.
At last, the noise subsided. "I have a statement to make regarding the Luthor case," began the D.A. "As you all know, we've dropped the charges against him. Earlier, we exhumed four bodies from their graves. These four bodies had been retrieved from the underground cavern where the man we thought was Luthor had held Lois Lane hostage two years ago.
"We found four bodies: two as yet unidentified. The other two matched the DNA of Lois Lane and Lex Luthor." The D.A. took a deep breath. "We can therefore only assume, in the light of this evidence and all other evidence that the Lex Luthor among us today is innocent. With the DNA match and with the two different fingerprints, there can be no other conclusion that the one who is dead is the one who committed the crimes. We can draw only two conclusions: that Luthor is telling the truth and the clone has died; or Luthor is lying and the original Lex Luthor is dead and it is his clone living in Metropolis now, also innocent."
"No!" exclaimed Clark as he and Lois stared at the television set, aghast.
"Yes!" Lex and Beth threw their arms around each other in the privacy of their penthouse suite.
Lex smiled. "Thanks to you." Their embrace tightened and they kissed passionately.
A reporter called out. "What about the crimes of fraud committed while Lex ran the Daily Planet?"
"Again, these crimes were committed by either the real Lex or his clone, one of which is dead. LexCorp documents before Luthor's takeover of the Daily Planet show that repeated cloning experiments had already occurred, along with a succession of Luthor clones. We have data on all the failure of all the clones except the last. There is proof that the clone itself halted all funding to the project when it took over LexCorp."
Lois' hair ruffled in an impossible, but familiar, breeze. "Clark?" She turned to her husband.
He was no longer there.
Superman, arms folded, hovered outside Luthor's penthouse window, watching his nemesis read over some files behind his desk.
Luthor looked up, suddenly aware of being watched. His smile was catlike as he went over and opened the French doors. "Why, Superman, how nice of you to drop by."
Superman floated right up to the window, but did not cross the threshold. "Remember a conversation we had a long time ago, Luthor?"
"Was this with me or my clone?" Lex replied with a soft laugh.
"I warned you then that I would be watching you. I'm warning you again. All you have to do is look up." Superman floated above the balcony. " And stay away from the Kents." Gazing all the while upon his enemy, Clark flew upwards, gradually increasing speed until he shot out of sight.
"You did what?" Lois couldn't believe it. "You went and threatened him? Clark, are you crazy?"
Clark, still in his suit, folded his arms tightly. "He couldn't be allowed to think he's gotten away with this, Lois."
"So you challenged him? Threw down the gauntlet?" Lois covered her face with her hands and tried to calm down. Finally, her hands dropped and she said, "You do realize that if this is the Lex that kidnapped me, he knows your secret and could hurt all of us?"
Clark looked down at his hands. "I'm sorry, Lois. I was angry, I didn't think this thing through. I should call my parents, warn them … "
"Superman shouldn't be getting so involved, Clark," Lois pointed out, taking his hand in hers. "We can't act until we get more evidence on him."
"And now that'll be even harder to get. He'll be covering his tracks more carefully." Clark's shoulders slumped.
Lois put her arms around him and gave him a hug. "It's all right, Clark. We'll get through this together as we have done everything else. I was just so scared … "
Clark exhaled a huge sigh.
"Besides," Lois added rationally, making her husband look into her face. "If it is all a hoax, we both know Lex will be after us anyway." She kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Let's go call your folks."
Beth watched her husband from the shadowed doorway. He stood staring upwards at the sky. "Lex?" She stepped into the room.
Lex turned slowly, his face thoughtful. "Yes, my dear?"
"You have to be careful, Lex." Beth walked towards him. "Superman is a very powerful enemy."
Lex moved to caress her shoulder. "Beth, there's no need to worry. Superman will get bored watching me, I promise you. There's no chance that I'll do anything to keep his attention."
Beth smiled into her husband's eyes. She poked him in the arm, causing Lex's eyes to fly wide open with surprise. "You better not!" she said with a grin.
Lex got the same look of mischief about his eyes and gave her a poke back. "And who would stop me, if perhaps I did?" he challenged, smiling.
Beth held his hands at his side, stepping even closer, nose to nose. "I would, Lex," she whispered, serious now. "You know it."
Lex shook himself out of her grip, frowning. "Yes, I believe you would." He turned away from her and went back to his desk, his back to her.
"Lex," Beth came up behind him, her soft voice begging, and lightly caressed his stiff shoulders. She got no response.
Lois and Clark stepped out of the taxi and entered the grounds of the Burnhild Mansion Hotel. The historic building was set back from the road and the drive arced elegantly across the green lawn.
"Coming through!" The Kents were startled by a bunch of young boys and girls dashing across the driveway, screaming and laughing their lungs out. Lois managed to note that they were dressed in little suits and frilly dresses before they vanished into the trees.
A young woman in a severe grey uniform came puffing up. "Which way?" she gasped.
Clark pointed helpfully.
"Children?" Lois asked before the woman could dash off.
"Luthor's idea. 'Why should the fundraisers get all the fun?' he said." The woman rolled her eyes and attempted to put her hair back in some order. "I don't see him out here trying to keep up with the wretches! Excuse me." She ran off into the bushes.
Lois and Clark exchanged puzzled looks and walked on.
The ballroom was jam-packed with people. Women in silks, satins and other exotic materials, mingled and chatted with men looking dashing in tuxedos. Three large chandeliers glittered above the dance floor and a carved wood balcony ran around a mezzanine level of the room. Heavy blooms of orchids, carnations and roses overflowed from strategically placed vases, adding to the air's perfume.
Perry steamrolled towards them, Alice in tow. "Lois, Clark, just so you know, there's no sign of him yet."
"Thanks Perry," Clark replied as Lois murmured hello to Alice. "Unfortunately, I think he'll show up."
As Clark began relating to Perry the conversation they'd had with the nursemaid, Jimmy and his girlfriend Penny walked up. Jimmy, like all men, looked sweetly handsome in his rented tuxedo. Penny wore a spaghetti-strap black dress that came to mid-thigh.
"Jimmy!" greeted Perry.
"Hey, thanks for the tickets!" Jimmy said, grinning. "Wow, this is great!"
"Thank you, Mr. White," added Penny politely, her eyes also dazzled by the evening's glamour.
The lights dimmed and then brightened. The noise level dropped low.
"Ladies and gentleman," announced a middle-aged woman in a loose-fitting blue gown. She stood almost at the top of the staircase that ran to the mezzanine level. "I introduce to you, Mr. and Mrs. Luthor!"
She turned and began applauding as the couple came into view above her. Most of the crowd joined in the applause. Beth wore a simple white satin gown. She clung nervously to her husband as they walked past the woman and down the stairs.
The middle-aged woman raised her hand for silence and spoke up again. "Lex Luthor has donated much to the Orphans of Metropolis in the past, and tonight, he has just donated the considerable sum of $100,000!"
"Where did he get that?" Lois hissed at Clark, who stood there glaring angrily at the Luthors.
"Coming at a time when he has barely an iota of the wealth he once had," the woman continued. Lois noticed Lex hurriedly conceal a wince, "his dedication to a cause that once thrived under his patronage is to be commended! On behalf of the Orphans of Metropolis, I thank Lex Luthor for his generosity." She began clapping again. The crowd applauded enthusiastically, including some whistles.
Perry, who managed to clap politely for appearance's sake, grumbled under his breath, "The scent of money … "
They watched the Luthors descend the staircase, Lex nodding in recognition to certain people in the crowd, until they disappeared into the crush of people themselves. The orchestra started up again and couples began to dance.
Lois turned to Clark. "Come on, Clark, let's dance."
Clark's frown disappeared and he made the effort to smile. "Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight, Mrs. Kent?" Lois was wearing a sleeveless floor-length red satin gown. She looked stunning.
Lois drew him out on the dance floor, with a flirtatious smirk. "Why don't you tell me again?" She winked at their companions. "See you guys later."
The couple slowly danced on the dance-floor, moving only slightly. They had eyes only for each other. Clark bent down to kiss Lois and their lips lingered.
Watching them from the sidelines, Alice murmured to Perry, "I think they're going to be just fine."
Perry turned his worried gaze from the young couple to Alice. He caught her concerned look and his face softened. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, I'm just worried about those two." He smiled. "May I have the honour of this dance?"
Alice beamed. "You may."
Meanwhile, the Kents had resumed dancing a little more respectably. Clark stiffened.
"What is it, Clark?" Lois asked, giving him a reassuring squeeze.
"Luthor," Clark whispered, not looking at Lois, his eyes on the Luthors.
Lois turned her head to look. The Luthors were dancing nearby. Lois turned back quickly to look up at her husband's stern features. She'd caught Lex's eye. "We're OK, he can't do anything to us here," she said, trying to sound reassuring.
Clark frowned. "They're dancing very closely together." He did a half-turn so Lois could see without appearing obvious. She was already craning her neck to look.
"So are we." Lois pointed out.
"You don't think he actually *loves* her, do you?" Clark asked.
Lois shook her head. "But she may love him and they *do* have to keep up appearances here in public."
The Luthors were indeed dancing very close to each other, sending out a signal that they did not wish to be disturbed. Although half the room seemed intent on ignoring them, a good number surrounded the Luthors, waiting for a moment to ingratiate themselves with the prodigal son of Metropolis.
Lex leant forward to brush kisses along Beth's neck. "Enjoying yourself?" he whispered.
Beth grimaced back at him. "My shoes are too tight, it's too hot in here and if those people step any closer to us, I may reward them by fainting." She gave him a quicksilver grin. "I'm fine, really. I'm here with you."
Lex took her in a few quick spins that sent some of the watchers scattering. "Better?" he asked, amused.
"Much." Beth kissed his cheek.
"Should I leave you to yourself for a little while?" Lex asked. His finger lightly traced an escaped strand of hair against her neck.
"You can trust me, Lex. Need to work the room a little more?"
Lex nodded. "Re-establish some old contacts. I'd love to dance with you all night, but -"
"Duty calls." Beth nodded. "I understand. I might escape and see how the children are doing. I wouldn't mind some of that ice cream cake we ordered for them either." She grinned impishly.
"Save some for me." Lex smiled back. He kissed her lightly and she left him.
Lois peeped over Clark's shoulder. "She's gone."
Clark followed her gaze. Lex was surrounded by a small group of men and women, smiling and pumping hands. "Looks like Lex is getting down to business."
They watched as he led Mindy Church out of the group and began to dance. "Now what on earth would he have to say to her?" Lois wondered.
"She was married to the head of Intergang," Clark reminded her, watching as well.
"Maybe she was more than just married," Lois speculated. She saw Lex's face darken with anger. "Look!" she whispered urgently.
"I am," replied Clark. Amazed, they watched a furious Luthor stride away from Mindy Church, leaving her stranded in the middle of the ballroom.
"Interesting," Lois drawled.
"Indeed," Clark remarked, looking down at Lois. Her eyes were bright with scheming. He knew that look.
"Why don't you go find out?" Lois asked.
"Dance with her," Lois prompted. "It could give us a clue."
"I don't want to leave you alone."
"Don't worry about me, I'll go find Perry or Jimmy."
"Clark, I have a good set of lungs, you'll hear me if I get into trouble."
Clark bent to kiss her. "Just be careful."
"I will." Lois watched Clark move through the crowd towards Mindy Church, who was nonchalantly walking towards the staircase. Lois looked around for Perry.
A hand touched her elbow. "Mrs. Kent?"
Lois jumped and turned, startled. "Lex!"
"I'm sorry if I startled you," Lex Luthor said. "You were alone. I thought you would like to dance with an old friend?"
"An old friend?!" Lois hissed, outraged but not willing to make a scene. "After what you've done!?"
Lex's face fell. "Lois, that wasn't me. I would never treat you or your friends so shabbily. Believe me. We need to talk about that." He gestured towards a nearby room that opened from the ballroom.
Lois shook her head. "I'd rather stay here in public."
"Afraid?" Lex challenged.
"Careful," was Lois' sharp response.
Lex looked amused. "Dance with me."
"I'm not sure that comes under my definition of careful," Lois replied, bristling.
Nevertheless, she allowed Lex to dance with her, being sure to keep some distance between them. He wouldn't dare do anything to her in such a public place, and this could be her chance to find out the truth.
"Lois." Every time he used her name in that soft, smooth voice of his, it made her shiver. "You know the last time I saw you I had just proposed to you. In the plane, you remember?"
"It hurt me to know that he had proposed to you again and you accepted. He visited my prison and told me all about it. He gloated that he was going to take everything that was mine. Including you."
They danced in silence for a moment, Lois digesting this news, both watching each other with wary eyes.
"Are you happy, Lois?" he asked abruptly, his eyes penetrating.
"Very," Lois replied, her body stiff. "And you and your wife?"
"In love." Lex's face softened. "You were the first woman I ever completely fell for — " Lois attempted to escape his grasp, but Lex tightened it. "Beth is the second. I should like you to meet her some time. I think you'll like her."
Lex relaxed his grip and Lois took the opportunity to step away. Her voice trembled. "Lex, we can never be friends or acquaintances. There's too much history, too much hurt. Every time I or Clark look at you all we can think of is what you — " Lois puffed in exasperation " — your clone — did to us."
"But you came through." Lex didn't attempt to recapture her. He gazed at her seriously.
"Yes, Lex. We survived and are more deeply in love than ever." Lois raised her chin proudly.
Lex's snake-like gaze bore into Lois. "Be sure that Clark is careful too."
Lois' eyes opened wide in horror. 'Did he know?' In her state of shock, Lex took her into his arms again, and resumed dancing. "What do you mean?" she gasped.
Lex turned on the charm and smiled lazily. "A beautiful woman like you, Lois. If I wasn't a married man … "
Lois narrowed her eyes. "You wouldn't get anywhere. I intend to spend the rest of my life with Clark, nobody else." It was a clear warning. She added accusingly, "And what about your new bride? You shouldn't even be thinking like that!"
Lex raised an amused eyebrow, pursing his lips before he replied. "Beauty alone is hollow, unsatisfying." Lex's voice gentled. "Beth is brilliant, intelligent, passionate. It makes her beautiful to me."
Lois stared at him. One moment, Lex was making a pass, and the next he was extolling his wife's virtues as if he really meant it! Lex gazed deep into her eyes; a gaze that seemed to penetrate the darkest depths of her soul. Finally, he said, in a mocking tone, "Perhaps I better let you go back to your husband."
He released her and Lois turned and fled in search of Clark, suddenly fearful that something had happened to him. She was unaware of the satisfied smile on Luthor's face.
Clark was in trouble all right. He was still dancing with Mindy Church, trying to get some sense out of her. "Mrs. Church," he said, interrupting her chatter about the importance of this evening's charity, "you haven't told me yet."
"But Mr. Kent," Mindy batted her eyelashes at him. "I *am* telling you. I was telling Luthor exactly the same things as I'm telling you now and he dropped me like a hot potato. You would think that his little donation was more important than mine. Why I give to the Metropolis Orphans Foundation all the time and he thinks his little donation is so much better than mine."
"Every little bit helps," Clark managed to get in.
"So true, Mr. Kent." Mindy's hand slowly caressed the front of his tuxedo jacket until Clark coughed nervously. She allowed it to rest there on his chest. "But I had to give him a little dose of reality, didn't I?"
Clark nodded, his eyes desperately searching the room for Lois. He needed to be rescued. He saw her and their eyes met across the room. He frowned in concern. Lois was biting on one lip and her eyes were wet.
Lois hurried over to them. "Excuse me, Mrs. Church, but I believe this dance is mine." Lois rudely cut in and allowed Clark to whirl her away from the stranded Mindy.
"Thanks, honey, I needed that," Clark murmured.
Lois gave him a watery smile. "So did I. Lex just gave us a warning."
Clark was startled and gazed down at his wife in concern. "Are you sure?"
"No," Lois sighed. "He was too ambiguous. Lex is good at that."
Clark frowned. "Ready to go home?"
Lois nodded, looking very much like a scared little girl.
Asabi knocked on Lex's study door. "You have a call on line one, sir."
Lex looked up from his papers. "Thank you, Asabi. Be sure that the scrambler is on."
"It is, Mr. Luthor." Asabi bowed and left, closing the door behind him.
Lex picked up the receiver. "This is Luthor speaking."
Mindy Church was at the other end of the line. She sat in her underground, concrete-walled office. She spoke to Luthor through the speaker phone system. Sitting opposite her was the Highwayman, who was languidly cleaning his weapon. "Lex, I'm offering you one last opportunity."
Luthor sighed impatiently. "I wasn't interested in any of your previous offers."
"Luthor, you won't survive alone in Metropolis." Mindy grew angry. "Not any more. This city's a whole different place since you were put away. It's time you realised that there's a new boss in town."
Lex snarled silently. "You're new at this Mrs. Church, and your enthusiasm is to be applauded, even rewarded. How about you join me? I could use talent like yours."
"You must be out of your sad, sorry little mind." Mindy hung up on him.
Lex replaced the receiver and leant back in his chair. "Well, that went very well," he said to nobody in particular. "You find the sticking point in a person and you stick it, repeatedly," he jabbed the air with an imaginary dagger, "until you force their hand and they reveal themselves for who they truly are." He chuckled.
"He has gone too far," Mindy pouted. She paced, twirling a blonde curl around and around one finger until it was pulled tight.
The Highwayman sensed her agitation and raised himself up from his languid position. "He has impugned your honour, my lady?" he asked.
Mindy freed her curl and turned to face the Highwayman. "Yes!" she exclaimed, her green eyes flashing. "He refused me!"
The Highwayman rose, his face darkening. "Then my lady will be revenged. I know of Luthor. Tell me where to find him and all will be avenged."
"Got it!" Clark exclaimed. He brought a printout over to Lois' desk. They'd called the coroner's office to get Janice's surname. "Her credit statement shows that for the last year she was in debt, almost bankrupt. Then three months ago, she got her debt cleared."
"And then she died?"
"Right." Clark nodded, grim.
"What about the payment that cleared the bad credit?"
"There was no one payment. Suddenly, she was paying back her debts, plus a little more."
"This is still not enough proof, Clark." Lois thought for a moment. "Maybe the lost fingerprints will have her fingerprints on them."
"They should anyway, Lois. She was the one who filed them."
Lois nodded, and added, "I just got a call. The ones in the downtown files do match the computer printout."
Clark looked like he really wanted to swear.
"Lois! Clark!" Perry greeted them with a shout from across the busy Daily Planet's news floor. "You got us an exclusive! My office, pronto!"
They followed Perry into his office. Perry was excited but he was not forgetful of the situation. "Now, Lois, you don't have to do this if you don't want to … "
"What is it?" asked Clark, just before Lois said, "It's to do with Lex, isn't it."
"Luthor's bride wants you to interview her."
Lois and Clark exchanged a puzzled look.
"We've been doing some reading, Chief," said Clark, "she hasn't spoken to the press at all."
Perry rubbed the back of his neck, reluctant to continue. "Now, Mrs. Luthor has requested that only Lois interview her."
Clark interrupted. "Didn't you tell her that we're a team?"
"Yes, Clark, I did." Perry sighed. "She wants to talk woman to woman."
Lois caressed Clark's arm from where she sat. "Don't worry, Clark, I'll be fine." Clark frowned and folded his arms.
Perry handed her a manila folder. "I've already had Ralph check out Beth's background. This is all he could come up with." It was a thin manila folder. "She's as clean as a whistle. The worst he could find was that she nearly failed physics in high school. A couple of boyfriends, who refused to comment, a late-bloomer. No criminal records, not even a traffic violation. But then," Perry added with a grin, "she was a historian."
"Lex married a historian?" It was impossible to conceive.
"An innocent duped, or she's not what she seems. It's up to you to find out."
"From experience, mild-mannered folk usually have a big secret," Lois smiled nostalgically over at her husband, who smiled back briefly before resuming his frown.
"If anyone can find it out, you can, Lois."
Lois Lane nervously straightened her jacket as she waited to be shown into Lex Luthor's office. It felt strange that he was back, and stranger that he was restored into society's good graces. This Lex was *so* much like the Lex she had almost married, not the Lex that had pursued her obsessively to the extent he was willing to take Wanda over Lois and had almost destroyed all that she held dear.
Lex began with a number of charitable donations as well as setting up his business activities again. LexCorp was still out of his reach but as he'd said in an interview in Time magazine: "That was only a matter of time and continued success."
The intercom buzzed at the receptionist's desk. The woman, who looked to be around sixty, picked up the phone, nodded and said to Lois: "You can go in now."
Lois rose and entered the office. It was well-decorated to Lex's tastes, if subdued. The black leather, plush executive chair turned around.
It was Lex.
"I came to interview your wife," Lois said sharply, taking a step back, fearing a trap.
"You don't mind if he sits in, do you, Ms. Lane?" Mrs. Luthor stepped in from another door. Spatters of freckles stood out from her pale, plain face.
"Well, I had thought this would just be 'woman to woman' … " Lois, still disturbed, accented the quoted words.
"I'm sorry, Ms. Lane. I'll be just as frank with you with or without him and he's promised not to say a word." She directed her gaze at Lex. "Right?"
Lois was astonished at the deeply loving looks they shared. Had Lex looked at her like that?
"I'm sorry I wasn't here when you entered," Mrs. Luthor continued, "but I had a sudden urge to — ah, powder my nose. I'm not used to being interviewed, you see." She smiled, blushing a little.
"That's fine," Lois said reassuringly. "If having Lex here makes you more comfortable, then that's fine too."
"I'm glad you said that, Ms. Lane — "
"Call me Lois."
" — Lois."
"Why are you glad?"
"Oh, has the interview started?" asked Mrs. Luthor, directing Lois to a couch where they could sit together and could both keep an eye on Lex. Lois noticed that. "Please sit down."
They sat and Lois waited. "Mrs. Luthor? You didn't answer my question."
Mrs. Luthor flushed, embarrassed. "I'm sorry. Call me Beth, please."
"All right, Beth." Lois pulled out her tape recorder, set it in front of her and turned it on. She looked up at the shy woman. "So why are you glad Lex stays here?"
Beth appeared astonished by the question. "Because he is my husband. Being near him makes me glad."
Lois concealed the desire to throw up. "How did you meet Lex?"
Beth smiled over at her husband. "Well, it wasn't precisely romantic. I found him just after he'd been beaten up by some thugs."
"I had just escaped from my clone's prison," Lex supplied.
"Long straggly hair, unkempt beard, torn clothes. The works!" added Beth.
"And you knew it was Lex?" asked Lois.
"Oh no," replied Beth, "not immediately. He wasn't quite himself, he wasn't even like his clone's self like I read in the papers. Lex was very subdued. I kept him talking until help arrived and that's when I realised who he was: it was a sense of charismatic power that tipped me off."
"If you knew then, why didn't you turn him over to the police?"
Beth looked down at her lap and back up at Lois. "He told me his story, and I believed him." She looked up. "After what happened to you and Clark, Lois, it wasn't any less incredible."
"And then you married?"
"Yes, but that wasn't until just before Lex's press conference." She smiled a little sadly. "It was the last private thing I did."
"What made you marry him?"
"Well, he asked me," Beth said with a grin. Her smile vanished and she replied seriously. "When I first met Lex and helped him, I had absolutely no intention of marrying him. Why would he be interested in someone like me? But I visited him frequently at the clinic … There were good days and bad days and he let me see them. " Beth shrugged. "I got to know him intimately and fell in love."
"I love her for who she is," Lex interrupted. "She keeps me honest." Beth and Lex shared loving, knowing looks.
There was a lot more to their story than either of them were saying, Lois was certain. "Honest how?"
Lex narrowed his eyes. "Is that a question for me, or for Beth?"
"Either. Both." Lois looked at both of them.
Beth answered. "Lex means that now he's married, his eyes don't wander. His hands don't either." She spoke with perfect confidence.
Lois could have responded that Lex's eyes had wandered all over her the previous night at the ball but it would ruin the rapport she was trying to establish with Beth. Her aim was to get Beth's story and if possible, a contact, a friend. Who knows? One day Beth may need it.
"I understand you gave up your position as historian at the Metropolis Museum," Lois began.
"Yes," Beth replied, happy to be on safer ground. "I still do some personal research as time allows, but now I work at building up our own personal library. We both love to read. Lex's was most extensive but unfortunately the city and LexCorp have ownership of that now."
"It's more Beth's library than mine," Lex said, looking up from some papers he was reading. "Our reading tastes are a little different."
Beth threw him a carefree grin and rolled her eyes. "Lex has excellent, challenging tastes. I'm a little less discriminating. I also help out with Lex's charities," Beth continued. "All that behind the scenes stuff. You certainly get to meet some interesting people!" Lois nodded. "If you like, I can get you a list. You can talk to my supervisors. It might help your story."
"Do you have you their names and numbers?" Lois asked.
Beth turned to Lex. "We have a list somewhere, don't we?"
"They're all in your address book, my dear."
"Ah." Beth turned back to Lois. "Well, I can't give you my address book but I can type and fax them to you after this interview."
"Margaret could do it," Lex suggested.
Beth looked back over at him. "It's no problem, Lex. I'll do it."
Lois sensed a rising tension and couldn't understand why.
Unexpectedly, Beth explained. "Lex thinks that now I'm married, I should let others do things for me. Delegate them to his secretary and so on." She shrugged. "I like to do things for myself, small though they may be."
"Lex hasn't changed that much then," Lois blurted.
"He's an old-fashioned gentleman in that regard. Being married to Lex is a full time job; everything else is a hobby. Like working at LNN." The last statement indicating that Beth understood perfectly.
"Do you regret losing your independence?"
"I haven't lost my independence, Lois," Beth gently reprimanded. "I've become part of a team. Sometimes he's the dominant partner. Sometimes I am. Sometimes we just don't know!" She smiled.
Lex broke in. "Do you have any more questions, Lois?" He found himself the recipient of two mildly annoyed glares.
"Lois," said Beth with a smile, turning back to her and ignoring Lex, "have you found that since you married you can't say 'Men!' like you used to?"
Lois grinned back, suddenly enjoying herself. "Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."
Lex groaned. Lois looked across at him and found he was smiling also, although he quickly concealed it.
"I think I have just one more question," Lois said, knowing she had plenty of background material. It wasn't going to be the hot story she scented, that she'd hoped for, but she'd write a puff piece now if it meant a hotter story later. Mrs. Lex Luthor could turn out to be a fine contact. She asked, "Do you love Lex?"
Beth's raised eyebrows and her brief hesitation were the only indication of a tart answer. Instead she replied, "Heaven help me, yes I do."
Lois wondered at Beth's choice of words. However the interview was at an end and she wouldn't get anything more concrete out of Beth unless she were Dr. Friskin. She thanked them both for their time and left.
Night in Metropolis: the streets were slick and black from a recent fall of rain, the city lights reflecting in the puddles and oily sheen of the road's surface.
Lex and Beth, dressed for dinner, stepped into the limousine. "Drive on," Lex said to the driver.
The limousine moved off. Lex leant back next to Beth, his hand resting on her arm. Beth rested her head on his shoulder.
Suddenly, Lex leant forwards and tapped on the window that divided them from the driver. He opened the little glass door. "Where are you going? The turn off to the mayor's house was — "
Lex stopped. He was staring down the barrel of a very unusual but big gun.
"Sit back. You'll be where you're going soon enough," a gruff male voice advised them.
Lex obeyed and the glass door slid shut. Beth clutched her husband's arm. "Lex?"
He turned to her, his eyes unable to hide the shock. "Don't fear, my dearest. We'll get out of this."
Beth wished he would sound more certain of that.
"Disappeared?" chorused Lois and Clark.
Perry skimmed through the police report in front of him. "They were expected at dinner with the mayor and never showed up. Police found their limo on a deserted wood road. No sign of them, not even a footprint." Perry looked up. "Of course with the rain last night, that's hardly surprising."
"Perhaps someone discovered that Lex's story was a phony and they skipped town," Clark suggested coldly.
Lois was less sure. "Beth — Mrs. Luthor — didn't seem like that. If Lex has skipped town, you can bet Beth didn't go with him — which would mean she's hurt somewhere, or dead." Her face was sad.
"Or they really are in trouble," Perry added sternly. "Stop thinking up desirable fates for them and get out there and get me their story."
"Isn't that a job for the police?" Clark asked, dragging his feet.
"Now, Clark," Perry began angrily. "I assign the stories, not the Chief of Police. You go out there and find out what's happened to Luthor. Get Superman to help, if necessary. Now get going!"
Clark's face was like stone as he left Perry's office, followed by Lois.
"Clark, we have to talk," Lois said, tugging on his sleeve. She led them to the conference room. Closing the door behind them, she leant against it. "Clark, what does Superman stand for?"
"Truth and justice," Clark replied, sitting on the edge of the conference table.
"Helping those in need?" Lois prompted.
"Yes," Clark replied, beginning to see where she was going.
"With no regard to colour, sex or creed?" Lois continued. "Or crime record?" She didn't wait for a reply this time. "And it's up to the Metropolis Courts to be judge, jury and executioner, not Superman?"
"Of course." Clark sighed. "Lois, I get your point. But if Lex isn't in any danger … "
"We won't know that until we find it out. The circumstances are pretty damning."
Clark stood. "I'll look." He crossed the floor and kissed her forehead. "For you, I'll look. We'll feel much safer knowing where Luthor is anyway." He left, loosening his tie.
Lois watched him leave. "Do it for the ideal of Superman," she whispered, hoping he could hear her. She saw him turn and give a little nod.
Hours and hours after their abduction, their kidnapper nudged his tired victims through a ramshackle barn doorway with prods of his gun. Lex held Beth protectively to him. She stumbled, her head buried against his shoulder. They were pushed all the way to one wall of the barn, piled high with musty old bales of hay.
They turned to face him. "Who are you?" Lex demanded arrogantly, in spite of his dirty and rumpled suit. Beth had not fared much better.
"I am called the Highwayman and this here is my Broad Bess, my trusty weapon." He slapped the barrel of his gun, which was much more than a mere gun.
"What do you want?" Lex challenged, as Beth peeked, frowning curiously. "If it's money I can give it to you. A job? A vacation? Your own highway? Just ask."
Their kidnapper laughed and pulled down the black kerchief that had concealed his face. "I only want one thing," he snarled derisively. "Your wife."
Beth raised her head, her face red and wet from weeping. "Joe?" she hiccoughed.
"Bess!" Joe, the Highwayman, exclaimed. "Come to me and be free of that wretch!"
"Bess?" echoed Lex, looking at his wife.
"A nickname," she whispered back. To Joe, Beth said, "I don't want to, Joe."
He rubbed one-handed at his face, surprise that Beth refused his bidding. "Why not? What … what are you doing with him?"
"What happened to you?" Beth asked, still clinging to Luthor. "The boy I knew did not tote guns. Let alone name them after a former girlfriend!"
Lex shook his head. "Girlfriend?" he murmured in weary amusement to Beth. She caught the gleam in his eyes.
The Highwayman had not heard Lex. "You were lost to me. I honoured your memory by naming my most treasured possession after you. But I see now that that honour was misplaced. My new lady is far more honourable than you. How could you marry that … that evil creature beside you?!"
Broad Bess trembled in The Highwayman's hands, his face contorted with disgust and anger. Beth trembled too. Lex tensed, communicating his wariness to his wife.
Beth exclaimed, her voice rising, "Your gun is more honourable? Are you *nuts*?
"Beth, darling," warned Lex, barely moving his lips, his eyes fixed on the gun.
The Highwayman's laugh drowned him out. "No! My new patroness! So beautiful, so fair! Together she and I have been taking from the rich and giving to the poor." He gazed earnestly at Beth. "But I can save you, Beth. Just one taste of Broad Bess' fire and you'll be mine again, cleansed of any taint from this man."
"And then what?" Beth's folded her arms, trying to appear unimpressed, but the quiver in her voice gave her away.
"Then I will cleanse Metropolis of that scourge who stands beside you." The Highwayman flicked a switch and the gun hummed into life. "With this I take a person's memory of the event, so that I may never be caught — and they do not need to be harmed. But if I turn it all the way up — " He did so, the gun pulsing louder. "Memories are a person's life. Without them there is no life."
"But amnesiacs — " Lex began.
"Usually retain some memory, even subconsciously," the Highwayman continued, ignoring Beth's growing look of horror. "I take all of them, even your memory of being born. Thus, you have no reason to exist."
Superman swooped down and landed between the Highwayman and the Luthors. "Don't move!" Superman ordered.
The Highwayman paused, stricken.
Superman turned and called over to another haystack. "All right, Mrs. Church, you can come out now."
Mindy appeared from behind some bales of hay.
"You!" accused Lex, pointing at her. "You're his new lady!"
Mindy looked at him with wide, blank eyes. "Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, with the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high! Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat, when they shot him down on the highway, down like a dog on the highway, and he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat."
The Highwayman looked at her, anguished.
Superman turned on him angrily. "How many more people were you going to kidnap and take their memories?" He moved slowly towards The Highwayman.
The Highwayman shook his head. He looked beyond Superman to Beth, who watched with her hands clutched to her chest. He looked over at Mindy, who recognized him not at all. "No!" he cried, agonised. "I am betrayed!" He held the gun out at arms' length as if to drop it. He spun it and fired it at himself.
"NO!" Beth and Superman cried, leaping forward. Lex held Beth back.
Superman knelt down by the prone form of the Highwayman and checked for a heartbeat. He looked back over his shoulder. "He's alive."
The Highwayman came around and slowly sat up, aided by Superman.
"Are you all right?" Beth called from where Lex held her, his arms hugging her protectively.
The Highwayman raised his eyes to Superman. "The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees," he began and continued to the last line of the ballad, whereupon he started over again.
Beth turned and hid her face against Lex's chest. Lex looked beyond the aghast Superman to Mindy, who smirked at him and winked. Lex's eyes narrowed and he nodded in acknowledgement.
Waiting on their upstairs patio, Lois turned to see Superman land. She caught the closed look on his face. "You found them?"
Superman nodded and spun out of his suit and into casual clothes. "Just in the nick of time too." Clark grimaced. "It just eats at my guts to have to rescue Lex when he's such a danger to us."
Lois laid a soothing hand on his arm, guiding him to the patio chair. They sat, Lois putting an arm around him. Clark rested his head on top of hers. "You know," Lois said softly, "it shows great strength of character that you would save a life -"
"Three lives actually, Clark interrupted. "Lex, his wife and Mindy Church."
"Mindy?!" Lois slipped out of their embrace to look at him, startled. "What was she doing there?"
"Another victim of the robber poet," Clark told her. "He's alive but he turned his gun on himself and wiped out all his memories before I could stop him."
Lois could hear the anguish in his voice. "Oh, Clark."
He shifted so that he lay down on the lounge chair and Lois snuggled up with him, resting mostly on Clark.
"I talked briefly to the doctors at the Happy Hollow Rest Home, where I left the robber poet and Mrs. Church," Clark continued. "They said Mindy and the victims might not get their whole memory back, but they will at least be able to function as normal citizens."
"And the Highwayman?" Lois asked.
"Too early to say," Clark replied. "He certainly did greater damage to himself than he did to his victims."
They lay in silence for a moment before Clark kissed her hair and she looked up. "How are you feeling?" Lois asked.
"Better." He smiled down at her. "Thank you for listening."
Lois squirmed up his body and kissed his cheek. "That's what I'm here for, among other things. That poor man though. I hope someone can help him."
Clark sighed. "The doctors will do what they can." He hugged Lois tight. "I just wish I could've done more."
"You did all you could, Clark." Lois rubbed her hand over his chest, soothingly, and changed the subject. "If only we knew what had happened to those fingerprints!" she sighed. "Well, at least we know *something* is up with Lex's story even if we have no proof."
"We won't rest until we figure that one out. For everyone's sakes." Clark bent his head and kissed her softly on the lips.
"So … " Lois fingers tiptoed down his shirt. Their lips met and the kiss deepened as Clark floated them inside.
Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 5 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1997 to the author.