By Gerry Anklewicz <email@example.com>
Submitted: August 2001
Summary: Ever wondered what motivated the woman who successfully bid on Superman at the auction in the episode "I'm Looking Through You"? Not what you'd expect. As a result of that evening, Clark Kent and Lois Lane soon find themselves investigating an inexplicable death and an international mystery.
I always wondered who the woman was who bid $50,000 for a date with Superman in "I'm Looking Through You." Since I've never read a fic that satisfied my curiosity, I decided to write my own. I came up to several brick walls before my daughter started brainstorming with me, and we developed the character of Rachel McCarthy and then the situation that she found herself in.
I'd like to thank my beta-readers, ML Thompson, Nan, and Carol Malo for their great advice and thoughts on this story, Hazel for finding all of my missing commas, and Jude Williams who has put in almost as much time as I have editing and reworking it, including pleading with me to keep the ending satisfactory. Thanks very much.
The Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman characters don't belong to me. I was just playing with them. I also borrowed some Ninja Turtles for a little while. (This is not a cross-over fic).
I hope you enjoy this.
The rain finally stopped, but the humidity still hung in the air both outside the lavish Luthor salon and inside where many of the wealthiest women in the city of Metropolis, dressed in their finest, gathered around the elevated podium waiting for the next eligible bachelor to take his place to be auctioned. Rachel McCarthy glanced around her, looked at these matrons of society and chuckled to herself. Many of the women saw this as an opportunity for an interesting evening with a young, good looking man; it was an adventure of sorts.
She smiled as Lex Luthor, dashing as always, approached her and took her hand.
"You look lovely this evening, my dear," he murmured as he brought her fingers to his lips.
"And you look quite lovely yourself, Lex," she said coyly.
"I'm glad you could make it, Rachel," he said as he held her hand a little too long.
"I wouldn't have missed this for all the money in the world."
Rachel watched Lex confidently work his way up to the podium as Cynthia Browen, the chair of the charity auction, announced, "And here he is, Ladies, Metropolis's most eligible bachelor, and the fourth richest man…,
"…third," Lex corrected.
"Third richest man in the world," Cynthia edited without missing a beat. "Mr. Lex Luthor. Dinner and dancing next Friday night. Shall we start the bidding at…five hundred dollars?"
Rachel listened as the bidding for Lex went up from the five hundred dollar figure to ten thousand dollars.
"Sold! For ten thousand dollars!" exclaimed Cynthia as she banged her gavel on the lectern.
Stella Nowles, the widow of Jeremy Nowles, seemed pleased with her purchase. A date with Lex Luthor would spice up the matronly woman's life. After Jeremy Nowles died, she turned into a hermit of sorts, having little to do with friends or family. According to gossip, she had just started coming out of her shell. A date with Lex would definitely cheer her up. Lex, always gallant, beamed a smile at Stella, stepped off the podium, clasped her hands in his and brought her fingers to his lips.
"Always a pleasure, Stella. I'm looking forward to our evening together."
"Oh, Lex. How sweet."
Rachel watched Lex closely as he oozed charm at Stella.
And then all the attention shifted from Lex to the balcony where Superman had gracefully landed and was making his entrance through the open glass doors. He walked in confidently until a spotlight shone on him. He put his arm up to shield his eyes. Rachel was surprised. Superman appeared to be overwhelmed by the reception, the ooing and ahing of the women, the light in his eyes. He appeared boyish and shy, not like the confident and aloof superhero she saw in pictures or on TV.
A harp's glissando accompanied Superman's walk to the podium as Cynthia Browen intoned, "And now, something really special. A Super Date. A Sunday picnic in the clouds. So, ladies, what will you give me for the Man Of Steel?"
Women, who had been standing off to the side chatting and sipping champagne, moved closer to the podium. Rachel surmised that, like herself, this was the first time that they had seen Superman in person. And Rachel had to admit, as they probably did, that he was even sexier than on the news. A date with Superman would well be worth it. She wondered how high these women would bid for the opportunity.
"One thousand!" bid Andrea Della Santora. Rachel wondered how wide Daddy's tight pockets would open to satisfy his youngest daughter.
"Fifteen hundred!" came from a cute brunette dressed in an unpretentious, black cocktail dress. She definitely did not belong in this room and Rachel was sure that she would be outbid in a moment. The next bid of two thousand dollars came from Catherine Grant, the promiscuous society writer from the Daily Planet. Catherine Grant fleshed out the dictionary meanings of "tacky" and "slutty".
Rachel smiled when she saw the brunette say something to Cat and bid, "Twenty-five hundred!"
"Five thousand," Andrea upped the ante.
"Six," countered Cat.
The brunette leaned toward Cat and made some angry comment. She looked in her purse, probably hoping that the money would appear to outbid Cat Grant.
Andrea jumped in once more with eight thousand and Cat speedily parried with nine.
The brunette shrugged her shoulders and pouted. Andrea was considering her next move, while Cat beamed with pleasure. Rachel decided it was time to make her move and end the game playing.
"Fifty thousand dollars," she said.
Rachel could feel all eyes shift toward her. She kept her eyes on Superman. Did he seem surprised that she bid so much for him? But he also looked very…flattered. Rachel smiled at him and nodded her head.
"Fifty thousand! Going once, going twice…sold!" Cynthia pronounced.
Rachel took her eyes off Superman for a moment and turned to Lex. He lifted his glass to her and smiled. She nodded an acknowledgement and then shifted her eyes back to Superman.
He walked off the platform toward her. Rachel, knowing that all eyes were on her, moved confidently toward Superman.
"Rachel McCarthy," she said, extending her hand toward him.
"Nice to meet you, Ms. McCarthy."
"Rachel. That was a very generous bid. The children will appreciate your kindness."
"Well, it does serve a double purpose."
"I suppose we should plan our date. The organizing committee has given me a voucher for a picnic lunch from Callard's…"
"Whatever they've arranged is fine."
"Then I'll pick you up on Sunday at noon. Dress for the outdoors."
Rachel felt Lex Luthor's eyes on her just as she gave Superman her address.
"Thank you. I guess I better be going now." Superman was polite and attentive, but Rachel got the feeling that he would have preferred not to be there. She wondered if the idea of the bachelor auction bothered him. She placed her hand on his arm and walked him back to the balcony. She coyly leaned forward and grazed his cheek with her lips.
"I'm looking forward to Sunday, Superman," she whispered.
She turned around and walked back into the salon. Rachel felt two pairs of eyes on her. She looked over to see Lex Luthor speaking to the distracted brunette. She was surprised that the woman hadn't succumbed to his charms.
Never mind. It was more important that she had not succumbed to those charms. She had more consequential things to worry about. She walked over to Cynthia Browen and withdrew a thick envelope from her purse.
"Here's the fifty thousand dollars I bid for Superman, Mrs. Browen."
"Oh, my dear, you don't have to give me all this cash. A cheque will do."
"No, Mrs. Browen, I want to pay for this with cash."
"I need your address, then, for the tax receipt."
"No need, Mrs. Browen. I don't need a receipt." Rachel walked away and headed out the door of Luthor's penthouse apartment.
Riding down the elevator to the ground floor, Rachel wondered how much Luthor guessed about what she was doing, she wondered how much he actually knew, and she wondered how right her conjectures were.
Paris, France A Month Earlier
Rachel McCarthy sat in Professor Yvette Morreau's office waiting to learn the news. Both women looked at each other eagerly.
"Oh, Yvette. Open it up. We can either sit here and never know or you can open it."
"You're right, Rachel, cherie. The answer is either yes or no."
"So stop staring at the envelope. Open it."
"It's too important."
"Of course, it is. Now open it, or I will."
Yvette stared at the envelope in her hand. She delicately slipped her finger under the edge of the flap and slowly tore it. She then pulled out the paper inside, opened it and looked at it.
She looked up at Rachel and cried, "Yes! Yes! We got it! We got it!"
"Ohmygod," whispered Rachel. "We got it."
The two women stared at each other, got up and hugged, repeating over and over, "We got it! We got it!" They, from among all the other art conservationists, were going to restore the Mona Lisa.
Rachel started shaking with excitement and fear.
"A celebration is in order, Rachel."
"Yes, it's definitely cappuccino time."
Over the next few weeks, Rachel and Yvette quickly finished their other projects so that they could begin work on the Mona Lisa. Rachel added to her research on Leonardo and the Mona Lisa, filling her notebooks with her small, cursive letters. In her spare time, she left her workshop in the bowels of the Louvre and, sitting in front of the famous portrait, allowed her eyes to move across it millimetre by millimetre. She noted the face's realism, and she searched for traces of the layers of transparent glaze that heightened the effect of light and shade on that exquisite face. She lovingly memorized every colour and tone, every line and curve. At times, she devotedly copied those same lines and curves in her sketchbook noting nuances of shade and tone.
Finally, the day arrived when Yvette and Rachel stood in front of the Mona Lisa and watched the workmen delicately remove the painting from behind the glass, which protected the fragile oak board, and place it carefully into the lambswool-lined carton that would carry it down to the restoration workshop in the Louvre. They followed the men down the corridor toward the elevator, worshippers in a processional. In the basement, the women were left alone with their precious package.
"I can't believe that we're finally here," Rachel said impressed by the moment.
"Yes, it is quite fantastic, isn't it, cherie?" her mentor added.
"I want to touch, and yet I'm afraid to. I feel like I'm in front of a holy relic of some sort."
"I feel the same way, but it's a good feeling because as we work on it, we have to remember how important a painting it is."
The women gently removed the painting from the box and placed it on a prepared easel. Once again, they stood back and looked.
"I didn't expect to be in awe of the painting," Rachel interrupted the silence. "Knowing so much of its history and knowing how famous it is makes me nervous."
"You have bought into the mystique of La Gioconda. But, you know exactly what we have to do, and you know how to do it. You've…we've done it before and we'll do it again. Come on. Let's get to work."
After her first official day of working with the Mona Lisa, Rachel went home and relaxed in her apartment. She wished that her flat mate, Mike, was still in Paris with her instead of in Metropolis so that she could share her excitement with him. Mike had the opportunity to work with a private collector who promised to pay him "handsomely", the word that Mike used when mimicking his possible benefactor, if he could authenticate a painting for him. Mike was impressed by the payment he was offered. He could use the money. After graduating from university with a degree in Art Conservation, he was broke. He'd done small jobs working for galleries in Paris, but he often depended on Rachel and her trust fund to get him through paying back student loans, paying rent and buying food. Many people thought that they were a couple because they lived together since beginning graduate school. No, there was nothing romantic between them, but Rachel did miss Mike because she could share her excitement with him about her project.
She decided to dash off an e-mail to him.
She glanced through the series of e-mails he had sent her since he'd left Paris.
Rachie, Metropolis is okay if you like modern North America. Bagels are better in Montreal. Hotel room is good. Looking for a social life ;) Mike
Rachie, No decent bakery in Metropolis. Croissants suck. Job looks exciting. Sworn to secrecy ;) Congrats on La Gioconda. She must be smiling. Mike
Rachie, Called your parents. Getting free meal with them tomorrow. How's La Gioconda? How far have you gotten with spit swabbing? Describe! Working hours are bearable. But no time for social life :( Mike
Rachie, Met nice woman who jogs in park. She's adopting me. She thinks I'm a lost puppy. Where are nice, rich girls you promised to introduce me to? Does Mona have a crooked front tooth? Work is interesting and challenging. Still top secret ;) Don't like guys I'm working for, but money is good. Mike
Rachie, Can you send tracing of Mona's oak panel? I want to feel like I'm still back in Paris! Can't wait to get back. Miss you and the guys. Mike
Rachie, At least the money is good. Miss you. Ready to come home and have a decent croissant. What is distance between tip of Mona's nose to right index finger? Miss those French women. Mike
He'd kept in touch fairly regularly, asking about the progress of the Mona Lisa. She wondered if he was planning a new parody. While he kept asking about her work, he was very reticent about the work that he was doing himself. Usually, they talked about their individual projects in great detail. This time he told her that he was sworn to secrecy until his work was completed. Much more exciting, she thought to herself.
Over the first week, her work progressed slowly and carefully. Yvette and Rachel worked with q-tips and their saliva to gently remove the top layer of varnish from the painting. They caressed each millimetre of the Mona Lisa, careful not to chip any of the oils. When they finally finished cleaning the painting, they once again stood back and admired the painting.
"I feel like I've touched a small piece of heaven," Yvette murmured. "I've done this so many times, to works larger than this, perhaps having more artistic importance, but I've never felt this kind of awe for my work or anyone else's. The whole time that we were spit swabbing, I was afraid that something would go wrong."
She looked at the painting again and giggled. "I'd haven't had anything but healthy food for over two weeks just in case the wrong enzymes would end up in my mouth. When I think about it, I think I am crazy."
"I understand how you feel, Yvette, and this is my first important painting. I'm not even sure that I'm worthy of this kind of work. I'm so grateful and honoured that you chose me to work with you."
"Ah, Rachel. You are very good, and someday you'll replace me."
"Never, Yvette. Never "replace", but I would like to be your equal in this field."
"That's a noble ambition, Rachel," Yvette laughed and Rachel joined her.
As the women were talking, Rachel kept staring at the masterpiece in front of them and she saw what appeared to be a speck of dust or some discolouration on the edge of the painting. She professionally rolled another q-tip in her mouth and proceeded to remove it. It wasn't a speck.
"Yvette, look at this," Rachel remarked. She picked up the magnifying glass sitting on the work bench and positioned it to look at it.
"It looks like an old fragment of paper, a very old fragment of paper," Rachel described as she strained to understand what she was looking at. "Yvette, look. This isn't a single panel; it's two thin pieces of panel board. Was Leonardo known for doing that or did someone reinforce the painting with a second piece of panel board?"
"Why would anyone do that? A single panel board is enough," Yvette said as she began jostling for position so that she could see more clearly what Rachel was looking at.
In silence, the two women began to scrutinize the edges of the painting trying to understand why there were two boards. Neither of them could understand what they were seeing.
Rachel went back to the workbench and found a pair of tweezers. Carrying them, she moved toward the painting.
"Rachel, stop!" exclaimed Yvette. "What are you trying to do with those? You are not to touch that portrait."
"All I'm going to do is try to pull the paper out. Maybe it just got stuck when the panel boards were stuck together."
"I'm not sure that we should do this. Our job is to clean and varnish the painting, not to explore it. There are too many unknowns that aren't in our area of expertise. We'll need to see if the panels are from the same time period. We have to determine what damage could be done to the painting if we pull the boards apart. Be patient, Rachel."
"Yvette, don't panic. All I'm going to do is nudge the edge of the paper out from between the boards and daintily pull it out." With a delicate flourish of her arm, she demonstrated the 'little pull'. "If it doesn't budge, then I'll leave it. If it does, then we'll figure out what to do next."
"Rachel, be patient. Be professional. There will be time to look at this, but first we have to follow proper procedure. I'm going to call the director down to show him what we have found. I need you to record what we've done and what we've found up until this point."
"But Yvette, it's only one small tweak to see if it'll move and then we'll know…"
Yvette was no longer listening. She walked into her office and had her hand on the phone.
"The director," thought Rachel out loud. "What a tight-ass. He'll probably bring in his old cronies to take over our work and we'll be left out in the cold. I knew this was too good to be true."
"Rachel, enough. He's gone for the day. Now, listen to me. We're going home now. Don't tell anyone about this because it could very well be a piece of paper that was glued to the panels by accident when the frame was replaced. We don't want to sound like a bunch of amateurs. No, don't even suggest that we find out what it is now. No objections. We go home and we come back tomorrow and we call the director. That's it."
"That's it. No discussion. Go home."
Like a petulant child, Rachel packed up her notes and equipment. She watched Yvette in her office working quickly and diligently on her laptop, probably making notes on their day's work and on their find. Rachel decided to go home, check on her e-mail, and drop some kind of a cryptic message to Mike. She'd love to blurt out what they had found, but Yvette may have been right and the paper was just a scrap that got stuck on the panel during framing. It sounded logical. No, Rachel couldn't buy that theory. Why did it take five days for her to notice? She sensed that they had disturbed something while they were working. She'd make it until tomorrow by writing some long epistle to Mike.
She pictured herself pulling apart the two panel boards and finding a puzzle: A love letter from Mona Lisa to Leonardo. A love letter from Leonardo to Mona Lisa. No. That won't work. Any missive would do from that time period. Rachel smiled. "It's probably the bill from the guy who reframed the painting for the Louvre. Now there's an historic find," she said out loud, "or the bill to Mr. Gioconda for the original painting."
Curiously, when she got home there was a package addressed to Joey Gioconda in her mailbox, postmarked Metropolis, no return address. The package was from Mike since he was one of the few people who knew about Joey, Rachel's dog when she was a kid. She used to blame all her misbehaviour and misadventures on Joey. When things would go missing or when something broke, they blamed Joey. When Rachel wanted to get rid of a date, Mike would conjure up Joey and get rid of the unwanted caller. Joey became part of their lives, and now Mike gave him a last name, La Gioconda — the alternative name for the Mona Lisa. Rachel wondered why Mike had sent the package to Joey and not directly to her. She also didn't know whether she should open the package or not.
Hoping that she would find something to at least alleviate that mystery, she opened her e-mail and found a short, ambiguous note from Mike.
Rachie, Secret :o Package arriving. Pay rent. Hold on to rest. Work finished. Be home soon. Mike :)
The package was fairly thick and she was surprised that he didn't mention what he was sending along with the cheque. The e-mail gave her permission to open the package, which she did. Money. Cash. One hundred dollar bills.
She couldn't believe that Mike was stupid enough to send cash in the mail. She was composing the e-mail in her head: "What kind of an idiot are you sending cash in the mail?" Then she started counting the bills. Five hundred, one hundred dollar bills. Fifty thousand dollars. What was the man thinking? Hadn't he heard of bank accounts or money orders or even cheques?
Rachel looked through the package looking for a note or some kind of message that would explain why Mike was doing such a stupid thing, but all that she could find was the money. Five hundred, one hundred dollar bills.
"Idiot," she said to the money. She repackaged the cash and put it into the empty ice-cream container she kept in the freezer specifically for their passports and any excess cash. She wondered to herself, for the umpteenth time, how safe her passport, and now the money, were in the freezer, but she couldn't figure out where else to keep it until she had a chance to take it to the bank.
She glanced at the other ice-cream tub and decided that before she would e-mail Mike she would eat some. That might mollify her for all the frustration she had been feeling in the last couple of hours.
After she scraped out the container and licked the spoon, Rachel put on the kettle for some tea and started to think about the e-mail she would send to Mike. She was still thinking when she heard the familiar sound that announced that she had new mail. It was from Mike:
Rachie, Can't wait to get home. Will tell all…almost! Great experience. See you soon Mike
Rachel hit the reply command and wrote: EXPLAIN. She then hit the send key. She hoped that he was still on line and would get her message and write back immediately. After a half hour, Rachel shut down her computer and pulled out Timothy Findlay's novel, The Pilgrim. His take on the relationship and the identity of the Mona Lisa was very different and very fictional, but she was enjoying reading it.
Rachel glanced at her watch for the fifth time that morning. There was still no sign of Yvette and no sign of the director. She paced back and forth between the painting, where she'd examine the paper that was sticking out between the panels, and the tweezers that she'd left on the work table. She picked up the tweezers, weighed them in her hand, manoeuvred them open and shut, and put them down on the table. She then walked back to the painting and walked around it, looking for any hint or even a reason to snatch the paper away from the panels.
Rachel looked at her watch again. It was 10 a.m. already and Yvette wasn't there yet. This was not the time for her to go running off on one of her side explorations of possible pieces for some new restoration project.
Rachel returned to the worktable and picked up a q-tip. She'd put the finishing touches on the spit swabbing so that they could begin varnishing the painting as soon as Yvette came back and they told the director about the sliver of paper between the panels. She moved toward the painting and lovingly began to work away at the bottom right corner. It did not take her long to get absorbed in her work.
Rachel turned around and saw Jean-Pierre Lambert standing beside her. She straightened her body and stretched her cramped muscles. Rachel glanced at her watch and was surprised to see that it was a little after noon.
"Rachel," he repeated, "I need to speak to you."
"Yes, of course, M Lambert." Rachel knew that he wanted to talk about the paper, but she was surprised by his sombre tone.
"I just got a phone call from Yvette's son, Richard. Yvette was in a car accident last night." She let the information sink in when he paused. "They worked on her all night, but the injuries were too extensive. Richard said that she was making a left turn at an intersection and a new driver ran the red light. Her car was pushed through the intersection and rammed into another car."
"She's dead?" asked Rachel not comprehending what she heard.
Rachel looked around the workshop and it seemed so empty. She began to shiver. Yvette was her mentor, her friend, her away-from-home mother. Now, because of some quirk of fate, she wasn't there anymore. Rachel couldn't understand the emptiness that overcame her; she could feel the life drain out of her.
Lambert put his arm around Rachel. "Right now, go home or go over to Richard's house — the family is meeting there. We'll stop working for now and then we'll decide how to proceed with the Mona Lisa."
As Lambert spoke Rachel felt the tears begin to fill her eyes. He hugged her for a brief moment and murmured, more to himself than to her, "She was such a good woman, bright, talented, capable. She worked miracles with paintings and she worked miracles with people. What a loss!"
Rachel felt so alone when Lambert left the workshop. She knew she couldn't work. Her mind, her body and her hands did not feel steady enough. So, with the tears rolling down her cheeks, she began to clean up her work area. She gathered her equipment together and then went over to make sure that the Mona Lisa was secure for the next few days. Rachel was certain that she wouldn't be working on it soon.
"Well great lady, we've lost our great lady today," Rachel said to the painting. Mona Lisa only stared at her — the smile a sad acknowledgement of their loss. And then Rachel didn't know what got into her. She knew what she was doing was wrong; nonetheless, she could not stop herself. Her mind was going in one direction and her hands in another. She picked up the tweezers from the worktable and moved to the painting. She grasped the edge between the prongs of the tweezers and slowly began to pull the paper from between the panels. She helped ease it out by moving the thin boards apart. Slowly, the folded piece of yellowed parchment made its way out from its hiding place. There was no damage to the painting. She started to breathe again.
Now, without looking at the paper, she placed it in a sandwich baggie, then in her paperback novel, and put them into her backpack.
Rachel left the Louvre and headed toward Richard's house.
A few days later, Rachel opened the book where she kept the baggie and looked at it once again. She hadn't opened the paper since she had taken it from her workshop. Lambert had put her on another conservation project while he was choosing another conservationist to head the Mona Lisa project. He'd chosen Helmut Moering who then turned around and chose his own assistant. It didn't matter that Rachel had done all the preparatory work. Moering picked the people whom he liked to work with. So, she had packed up all her material and moved to another workshop.
She didn't tell anyone about the paper and she didn't want to look at it either. Looking at it would mean the same as really having taken it and she wasn't ready to admit that she did something wrong…yet.
And now she felt as if her whole world was falling apart. Mike was dead. According to the report she received from her parents, Mike committed suicide. He hanged himself. A maid from room service had come into clean up and found him hanging.
Something felt wrong about the whole episode. Mike had kept e-mailing her about how he couldn't wait to get back home. Then there was the package he had sent to her. The unexplained $50,000. She was sure that it was payment for the work that he had done, but $50,000 was an exorbitant amount of money for a novice conservationist. For most, it would be a year's salary, not payment for a few months' work. Unless the money meant something else. Perhaps in a way it was hush money, since Mike refused to talk about his project, which was highly unusual for Mike. Rachel had written him, gushing forth on every small piece of research and every millimetre of work that she and Yvette had put into the Mona Lisa. She'd then shared her disappointment with Mike in having been removed from the project after Yvette's death.
Mike, on the other hand, had said nothing. All she knew was that he was in Metropolis, working for someone who had a large, private art collection, and the work he was doing had to be kept a secret. Now with Mike dead, it was a bigger secret. "What if he was killed to keep the secret?" Rachel speculated. The thought stunned her. While she could not believe that Mike committed suicide, she could believe that he had been killed in order not to talk.
Why would any kind of art be that secretive? Perhaps the collector had acquired the art work illegally. That would put Mike in a bind since, ethically, he was obligated to report the whereabouts of any stolen art. Rachel thought about all the art treasures taken from Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War. A lot of those paintings and other art masterpieces hadn't turned up yet. Perhaps this person had been collecting stolen art and wanted it authenticated. Knowing Mike the way she did, Rachel could imagine this eating away at him. Enough to kill himself? No, she didn't think so. If it ate away at him in any way, his reaction would be to do something. Preventing him from revealing what he knew would be a motive for murder.
Murder. His family believed that he committed suicide. It was killing them to think that their son, who they believed was doing well and was satisfied with his chosen career and his life, would kill himself. If he was murdered, and she could prove it, then at least she could relieve part of the burden and the shame they carried as a result of his death.
How could she go about finding out? First of all, she had to leave Paris and go to Metropolis. There she would see what she could find. She was only working on small projects here in Paris and she could take a leave of absence. They would understand that Yvette's and Mike's deaths created a great deal of stress and she needed some time to relax.
She would treat this as she had any research project in the past. She would begin by finding out everything she could about Mike and the time he spent in Metropolis, about the kind of art that was available in the city, and about the people who dealt with art. She knew that she could do the research. She knew she had to do the research for Mike.
Going back to Metropolis was a good idea. She'd have her parents' support and their connections to get her into the best homes. Her mother would even welcome the idea if she suggested that perhaps it was time to settle down and meet a nice man. Her mother would make sure that she would get to meet the sons of some very prominent families in the city. Give her mother an endeavour like this and it would get done very quickly.
The past few weeks back in Metropolis had been productive for Rachel. First of all, being home was better than Rachel had expected. At twenty-seven, she had been independent for a number of years, only coming home for short visits. She hadn't realized how much she needed the support her parents had to offer. They pampered her in a way that she hadn't experienced in a number of years. Knowing that she was reeling from the two deaths, they spent many hours listening to her thoughts about Yvette, her suspicions about Mike, and her loss of the Mona Lisa.
She had the opportunity to go to Montreal to visit with Mike's parents. They were devastated by their son's apparent suicide and listened eagerly to Rachel's suspicions. They allowed her to go through his belongings that they collected from his lodgings in Metropolis. She wasn't surprised that there weren't any disks among his possessions. His parents weren't computer literate and didn't think to ask or look for them. His laptop had his favourite games and some copies of e-mails that he kept, but no mention of the work he was doing. She looked through his sketchbook and found etchings of places in Paris where they'd liked to draw, places in Metropolis that juxtaposed the old world places he had chosen in France, and the wonderful caricatures that he loved to doodle. Strangely, in many corners of his sketchbook, or superimposed on some familiar etchings, he had drawn pairs of eyes looking out through paint palettes. Rachel had never seen this motif in Mike's art work before. She wondered if it meant that he felt that he was being watched. That feeling intensified her suspicions that Mike was killed. Promising Mike's parents that she would return his sketchbook, she flew back to Metropolis.
Over the next few weeks, Rachel had the opportunity to visit several of the elegant mansions and condominiums that her parents' friends owned. She sat through dinners and cocktail parties, making conversation with eligible sons while at the same time starting her investigation by inspecting the art collections in the stylish homes. There were some interesting pieces here and there, but most of the work was modern, probably purchased by a collector/interior decorator. The art work tended to be placed where it would enhance the decor. Most names were up and coming young, North American painters and sculptors, nothing predating the middle of the century. Most of the art was good, but none seemed to indicate the calibre of art collection that would call for someone with Mike's talents.
That was true until a few nights ago, Rachel thought. She had been attending a cocktail party at one of her father's business associates when she found the most incredible paintings that she had seen outside of a museum or an art gallery. From her entrance into the penthouse, each step that she took led her toward another magnificent painting or sculpture. Each piece was carefully placed and proudly displayed. While her parents chatted with their amiable host, Rachel walked slowly through the cornucopia of sensual visual images that held her in awe. The dining room contained a lesser known Manet and a Renoir. The colours of the artists' palettes spilled over to the walls, the upholstery on the chairs and even onto the floral centrepiece. This wasn't art to decorate the room, but the room to decorate the art. Rachel had access to many wealthy homes because of her father's position in Metropolis, but this home had the most extensive art collection of lesser known works by well-known artists.
"Manet painted that after he spent the summer of 1873 studying the daily activity of seamen and fishing boats."
Rachel turned to see her host, Lex Luthor, standing directly behind her.
"You see here the opposition between the luminous black that Edouard Manet so admired and touches of vivid or delicate colour." He looked away from the painting. While he seemed very nonchalant while he spoke to her, she felt his eyes bore into her. "I've watched you admiring my paintings. You look at them in a very knowledgeable way. Most of my guests don't take such a professional interest in my art, Ms. McCarthy."
"I've studied some art history over the years, Mr. Luthor. I've visited many art galleries and museums," Rachel downplayed the truth, "and I've never seen such an extensive art collection in a private home."
"I like to own beautiful things, Ms. McCarthy."
"So I see, Mr. Luthor."
"Lex, please, and may I call you Rachel?"
"Of course, Lex. Do you mind if I wander around and look at your collection?"
"I have a better idea: why don't you drop by tomorrow afternoon and I'll give you a personal tour. I'll make myself free, say around 3 o'clock?"
"It will be my pleasure," Rachel said, disappointed that she couldn't look at the collection alone.
Rachel returned to the guests and watched her host dominate the room. He was always in the centre and the centre of attention. She had never met such a charismatic man before.
She wondered if he would appreciate her background. Many of the people in her parents' circle of friends didn't respect women who were independent. She had always been Edward and Patricia McCarthy's daughter — the only daughter of a family whose wealth dated back a century in Metropolis history. She was expected to be a debutante and then a wife. Intelligence was important because no man wanted an empty- headed woman on his arm, but spunk and independence were frowned on. Husbands, in the long run, had to make sure that they could control their wives. Rachel's education and work experience taught her that she wanted more out of life than being a smart and pretty charm at the end of some rich man's tether. That was all that was offered to her by Metropolis's upper crust. Lex Luthor was a good looking man, single, fifteen years her senior, but she guessed that he would offer a very short leash.
Nonetheless, her curiosity got the better of her and she decided to visit the next day.
That visit turned out to be very enlightening and set Rachel on the path she was now taking, she thought as she sat down at home with a cup of cappuccino. Stirring the foam on top of the coffee around the cup, she remembered her second visit.
She was admitted to Lex's penthouse the next day, by a tall, grey haired gentleman who spoke with a British accent. He seemed somewhat familiar, but he wasn't the butler who admitted her and her parents into the penthouse the previous evening. That had been a very tall, thin Indian man. In fact, the grey-haired gentleman who ushered her in, she learned later, was Lex's executive secretary, Nigel St. John.
Lex then took her around the penthouse and showed her the art work. She felt that she was in an art history lecture, but instead of looking at slides, she could see the actual painting. Lex had an incredible mind. He listed detail after detail about the ownership and technique relating to the paintings on the wall. Rachel wondered, at one point, if he ever bought a painting because he simply liked it rather than for its history, significance or even its value. No, Rachel thought to herself, that wasn't fair. Lex never put a dollar figure on any of the paintings that he talked about.
Rachel listened carefully to the lecture deciding that she wouldn't reveal her background or her purpose. Because she wasn't sure what she was doing at this point, she didn't want Lex, or anyone else, to wonder. And yet, she realized, she was suspicious of Lex. She couldn't quite put her finger on why. Perhaps it was that he had such an extensive art collection and he seemed to be the kind of person who would call for expert help. But then he could afford a lot more than a novice art historian and conservationist. Perhaps, someone had stolen a painting from him and that person hired Mike? That made more sense. Rachel thought about the security of the paintings.
"Your collection is very valuable, Lex," she had probed. "How do you protect it?"
"I have a very tight security system here. You'll understand, Rachel, if I don't explain how it works to you."
"Of course, but do believe me, I wasn't planning on stealing it. Just curious."
Lex laughed, put his hand on the small of her back and led her to another Manet. It was at that point that she probably made her mistake. Lex was talking about the controversy over 'Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe' where Manet has a nude woman sitting with two clothed men in a contemporary setting.
"Actually," she said, "'Le Dejeuner sur l'herbe' isn't the only painting that Manet did in that style. There's a much lesser known one that is sitting in the vault at the Louvre that I've seen that uses the same harsh frontal lighting and elimination of mid tones." Once the words were out of her mouth, Rachel knew what she had said. Very few people had the opportunity to view what was in the Louvre's vaults. How would she have gotten there? She was sure that she blushed when she realized her mistake. She couldn't look Lex in the eyes. She tried to cover her tracks. "I had an art history prof who had excellent slides of the painting."
Sitting at home that evening, nursing her cappuccino, Rachel hoped that she had not given herself away. Lex had continued the discussion, but he watched her very closely for the rest of the time she spent there. Lex never asked her about her knowledge of the works in the Louvre's vaults. He offered her a drink after the tour, but she was too uncomfortable after her slip to stay.
She took a sip of her cappuccino. Mike was her main purpose and she wondered if she could connect Lex's art collection with Mike's death. Lex was the only one who had enough of an art collection to hire someone like Mike. But Mike was inexperienced. And yet, Mike was very talented and enthusiastic. He was the best conservationist in her class. Anyone who had seen Mike's work or who had worked with him would give him a glowing recommendation. Assuming that Mike was working for Lex, what was he doing that cost him his life, and how could she connect Lex to Mike? Rachel thought about the $50,000 payment he received. She wondered if the killer was looking for the money.
Restless, Rachel moved over to Mike's laptop and started looking through it. There was nothing out of the ordinary on it. She wondered if there was some disk out there somewhere, probably erased or destroyed, that would have had his notes or his diary. She'd never know.
She walked away from her desk and glanced through his sketchbook. She looked at his drawings of Paris. For a moment she was sorry that they hadn't been lovers. She could have looked at their favourite spots as only a lover would. Instead, she looked at places that she, Mike and other friends had frequented, usually parks, gardens, interesting intersections, restaurants, cafes. She enjoyed his caricatures that he interspersed with the landscapes and landmarks.
She laughed at his parodies of famous paintings. She loved the one with the Mona Lisa. She must have inspired that one. But the eyes were wrong. Instead of looking off to the side, her eyes were looking down at her hands. She loved his irreverent look at the classics.
She continued to flip through the sketchbook and recognized the Daily Planet logo, LexTowers, the Metropolis Museum of Art and the courthouse. Interspersed with these buildings were the caricatures that Mike loved to draw. There she was, Yvette, Mike's father with his large ears, and a man who could be Lex Luthor's executive secretary, Nigel St. John. Rachel looked at the picture again. Yes, it was Lex's secretary. Mike had distorted the man's face and goatee and gave him what could be described as a sycophantic grin. Nigel St. John. Well, that could mean that Mike knew him. He could have stolen a painting or some paintings from Lex or he could have hired Mike on behalf of Lex. Rachel wondered if she was letting her imagination run away with her.
Toward the end of the sketchbook Mike made a pen and ink drawing of Superman seated with his hands on his lap.
And in that moment, Rachel began to formulate a plan. "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king."
The bidding for Luthor had ended and Clark was relieved that Lois hadn't bid for him. He realized that the date he really wanted, even as Superman, was with Lois. He also knew that as Superman, he would never date Lois, and Lois would never go out on a date with Clark Kent. As he drove Lois home from their interview with Helene Morris earlier that day, he wished that he could tell Lois about his disguise and he wished that he could use his parents' relationship as an example of a successful marriage, but he knew that she wouldn't listen to him. Clark Kent was still an invisible man. He also knew that she would bid for Superman and be disappointed because these women, from what Cynthia Browen had told him, came with a lot of money to bid for the city's eligible bachelors. What Lois would never know was that he was disappointed as well.
He was uncomfortable with the whole idea of the Bachelor Auction. Even before he entered the salon, he felt exposed and exploited. He was sorry that he had allowed Cynthia Browen to talk him into being a part of it. He had promised himself to remain aloof as Superman and only help out in emergencies. The Blind Children needed the money, but that couldn't be considered an emergency. He really needed more control over this part of his life.
Here he was standing on the ledge of Lex Luthor's balcony, the highest building in Metropolis, watching the doors open to admit him. He heard a gasp of admiration from the guests. The sound of a harp's glissando ushered him into the large salon. He shaded his eyes from the glaring lights with his arm. Surreptitiously, he glanced over to where he sensed Lois to be and saw her modest, radiant beauty contrasted against the pretentious materialism around her. For the children, he thought to himself.
He brushed past Lex Luthor as he walked to the podium and glared at him. That was part of his discomfort, he knew. This was Lex Luthor's territory, his home. Well, at least Lois hadn't bid for him. Third richest man. As if money mattered that much.
And then he heard Cynthia intone, "And now, something really special. A Super Date. A Sunday picnic in the clouds. So, Ladies, what will you give me for the Man Of Steel?" Clark looked around the room. Many women were gathering and moving closer to the podium. At that moment, all that Clark could think of was that he would like to hear a bid for more than Luthor's ten thousand dollars. He realized that his thoughts were petty, but here he was, only wearing spandex tights and a cape, standing in front of all these women. That sight alone ought to be worth more than ten thousand dollars.
"One thousand!" came the first bid. It was decent, Clark thought.
"Fifteen hundred!" bid Lois. Clark kept hoping that Lois could go higher. It would be the best date ever. He'd take her flying. It would just be Lois and Superman. He'd worry about Clark later.
"Two thousand," Cat interrupted his reverie. Oh, no, not Cat. He didn't think he could handle a date with her. She wouldn't leave him alone for a minute.
"Twenty-five hundred!" Lois countered. Way to go Lois, he thought.
"Five thousand," the first woman upped the ante.
"Six," parried Cat.
Lois looked in her purse and obviously knew that she didn't have the money to top Cat's bid. Clark wanted to yell out that he'd lend her the money, but he knew that was impossible.
The first woman jumped in once more with eight thousand dollars and Cat speedily offset her bid with nine thousand.
Lois looked dejected. She had reached her limit. The first woman was quiet. Cat looked triumphant. Wait, ladies, thought Clark, somebody has to bid ten thousand.
"Fifty thousand dollars."
Clark's eyes shifted to the woman who bid fifty thousand dollars for a date with him. She stared at him confidently. How could anyone bid that much money for a date with anybody? But then the money was going to charity, and she probably had the money earmarked for the cause.
"Fifty thousand! Going once, going twice…sold!" Cynthia pronounced.
Clark couldn't help gloating just a little bit. Fifty thousand dollars. He looked at Luthor and saw him raise his glass to the woman who bid for him. Luthor smiled at her in a strange way. What was he up to?
Stepping off the platform, Superman walked toward his date.
"Rachel McCarthy," she said, extending her hand toward him.
"Nice to meet you, Ms. McCarthy."
"Rachel. That was a very generous bid. The children will appreciate your kindness."
"Well, it does serve a double purpose."
Clark felt a little uncomfortable making small talk, so he got right to the point. It was one of the benefits of being Superman: No one knew what to expect from him. "I suppose I should tell you a little about our date. The organizing committee has given me a voucher for a picnic lunch from Callard's…"
"Whatever they've arranged is fine."
"Then I'll pick you up on Sunday at noon. Be prepared for the outdoors, although I can't really promise a picnic in the clouds."
Clark felt Lois's eyes on him as he took Rachel's address.
"Thank you. I guess I better be going now." Clark was polite and attentive, but he wanted to get out of there. Lois was looking pouty and he planned to come back as her friend and escort her home.
Rachel placed her hand on his arm and walked him back out to the balcony. She leaned forward and grazed his cheek with her lips.
"I'm looking forward to Sunday, Superman," she whispered.
Superman took off into the sky and landed on the roof. He quickly changed and headed back down the flight of stairs to the penthouse where he found Lois moping over a drink at the bar.
"A date with Superman, huh?" he asked as he sat down behind Lois.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, playing with her glass. "Barn dance let out early?"
"I filed the Morris story. You're very welcome." Clark realized that he might as well have been talking to himself. Lois really wasn't paying any attention to what he was saying. She was too involved in the evening's lost dreams.
"I was saving for Tahiti. But a date with Superman…that would have been a real adventure." Clark wanted to shout that he was Superman and that he would take her to Tahiti. They would have wonderful adventures. But he knew that he wouldn't tell her.
"Oh, Clark," Lois sighed. "He doesn't even know I'm alive. Maybe it was stupid of me to think that he really cared."
Clark wanted to tell Lois how aware he was of her. He heard each heart beat, every breath and every sigh. But he knew that he wouldn't tell her.
"Not so stupid, Lois," he said instead. "Did you ever think that maybe Superman was afraid to reveal himself…his true feelings?"
But Lois was deep in her own thoughts and didn't seem to hear him.
"Come on. I'll put you in a cab," he said gently.
Lois let Clark escort her to the door, where he picked up her coat, and led her to the elevator.
"I wonder who she is?"
"The woman who bid $50,000 for Superman."
"I'll look into that tomorrow," she said. Clark heard the change in tone. Lois had a mission.
Clark helped Lois into the cab, gave the driver her address and closed the door behind her. He smiled. He was sure that she'd learn a great deal about Rachel McCarthy before tomorrow was over.
He also wondered about the date and how he would handle it. He didn't want it to be one big publicity stunt. He supposed that he would have to allow a reporter and a cameraman to be present when he picked up Rachel. He wondered if she wanted a splashy date with him. She had bid a lot of money for the date; at least, it should be a memorable one. Cynthia had said that they would have a picnic in the clouds. He could accommodate the picnic. They would just have to fly through the clouds on their way to somewhere else. Maybe Lois's research would help him decide where the 'somewhere else' would be.
"Rachel McCarthy," Lois announced to Clark the next day, "is another rich man's spoiled daughter. Her father is Edward McCarthy, son of James McCarthy, owner of Trinity Limited. Her mother is Patricia Ann Barrett McCarthy whose grandfather made oodles of money running speakeasies during Prohibition, and the family has lived off the interest since. Hubby does a grand job investing the money from both families. Her brother, James Edward McCarthy, is CEO for daddy's firm. Looks like Daddy handed over the money for a fun afternoon."
"So, that's the family, Lois? Have you found out anything about Rachel herself?"
"Well, I suppose if the date works out, Superman won't have to worry where his next meal will come from."
"He says he doesn't need to eat, Clark," Lois said. "Don't you read any of my articles?"
"Are you planning to follow up on the Bachelor Auction and the date for the paper?"
"No way. I don't do dog shows." She flipped through the papers in front of her and looked at Clark. "But I do wonder how someone could spend so much money on one date."
"What's your explanation?" asked Clark.
"Bored with the Metropolis social calendar, Rachel got a chunk of money and blew it on one date. Why?"
"What would you have bid, Lois?" Clark challenged.
"My savings. What's your point, Kent?"
"Maybe Rachel felt the same way."
"You're right. A date with Superman. That would be worth a lot of money," Lois mused dreamily.
"If you really would like a date, Lois, we could go out for dinner."
"I was dreaming about a date with Superman, Clark. Not with you."
"I thought I'd give you chance for a date," he said with a glimmer of a smile.
"When you turn into Superman, I'll go out with you."
Clark chortled and went back to his desk.
Clark collected the picnic basket from Callard's Sunday morning and flew it out to the location where he had decided to picnic. He felt strange planning an afternoon with a woman he didn't especially want to date, while trying to figure out how to get the woman he really wanted to date interested in him. He knew that she'd go out with Superman faster than a speeding bullet, but he didn't want that kind of a date. Too many problems and complications. He was going to have enough trouble with the press as it was. This Superman thing wasn't working out exactly as he had planned it.
Shortly before noon, Superman arrived at Rachel McCarthy's house. Photographers were hanging around in the driveway and the family servants were clustered just away from the front door. Clark had never felt so on display before. He sucked in a breath, released it, and knocked on the door. Rachel, dressed in hiking boots, jeans and a plaid shirt with a lambswool vest, answered the door.
"Rachel," Clark acknowledged.
"Would you please come in? There are a lot of people who would like to say hello to you. I hope you don't mind."
"No," Clark said curiously, hoping that there weren't any reporters inside.
Rachel called the servants over, introduced them by name to Superman and told him something about each one of them. When he finished shaking their hands, he paid attention to the whispering and giggling that he heard coming from the other room. He walked toward the room. Rachel's voice called out, "You can come out now, children." At that point, Superman was surrounded by about a dozen children of different ages.
"When the employees' children heard you were coming to the house, they all wanted to see you. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all. Can you introduce me to them?"
Rachel introduced all the children and Superman took a minute to say something to each of them.
Rachel then escorted Superman into the library where he met her parents and her brother. They chatted for a while until Superman took Rachel by the hand and walked her out to the front of the house.
"Unfortunately, we're going to have to make a photo op out of this. The press is waiting for us on the driveway," he said as he led her to the block of reporters. They answered a few questions, posed for a few pictures and then Clark scooped Rachel up and flew her to their picnic destination.
It was October and the fall colours blanketed the land below them. Clark flew them northwest over New Troy, upper New York State and Lake Ontario. He continued to fly them north. He pointed out sights on their travels and Rachel marvelled at the brilliant colours of the leaves as they sparkled in the autumn sun.
"It's like the earth is on fire. It's incredible. I've never seen anything like this."
Clark smiled. "It is an amazing view."
Not long afterward, they descended through the magnificent leaves into a clearing in the forest. Beside them was an old cabin, a picnic table covered with a gingham tablecloth and the picnic basket.
"At least the bears didn't get at the food while I was away," Clark observed.
Rachel walked around in awe. "This place is breathtaking. It's like walking into a Tom Thomson painting."
"Well, Rachel, in a way it is. This is Algonquin Park, Canoe Lake, and this is Tom Thomson's cabin."
"How did you know?"
"A bit of research really. You were an art conservation student at Queen's University, so I knew you would know something about Thomson."
"Oh, thank you very much. I don't know what to say."
"Well, you did spend $50,000 for this date, so I thought I should take you somewhere special."
"It's so beautiful here. I wish I had a camera. I'd like to have some images that I could paint when I get home."
"Your wish is my command." Clark reached into the picnic basket and pulled out a camera.
Rachel started wandering around the area looking for good views to photograph. Clark enjoyed watching her as she explored the cabin, finding interesting angles and scenery. When Rachel started to climb a tree to get a different perspective on the lake, Clark went over to her and lifted her up to a variety of heights. After an hour and several rolls of film, they returned to the picnic basket, which still hadn't been attacked by a bear.
"If I had known this date would bring me here, I'd've bid $100,000. This is incredible."
"The scenery, not the ride?" Clark teased.
"Oh no. I didn't mean that."
"Tell me, why did you bid $50,000 for this date? You could have had the date for a lot less money, I'm sure."
"No, it had to be that specific amount of money. I was looking for a reaction."
"Did you get it?"
"Yes, I think I did."
"I'd rather not say."
"$50,000 is a lot of money just for a reaction."
"Yes, it is. It's a complicated story."
"I can listen while we eat, as long as no bears come along to disturb us."
Lunch was sliced chicken and roasted vegetable sandwiches on foccaccio bread, veggies and dip, and red wine. Rachel talked a bit about growing up in Metropolis and her parents' expectations, going to grad school, some of her friends, and working in Paris. Clark listened, not feeling the need to reveal anything about himself.
Then he noticed that Rachel was quiet, playing with the food on her plate.
"Is everything all right?" Clark asked, concerned.
"Yes, everything is fine. I was just thinking."
"About?" Rachel hesitated, making balls out of the crumbs left by the foccaccio bread and moving them around on the plate.
"About a friend who went to school with me, worked with me in Paris and is now dead."
"Do you want to talk about her?"
"Him." Once again, Rachel hesitated and played with the crumbs on her plate. She looked up at Clark. "Actually, that's the reason I bid for the date. I was wondering if you could help me?" she asked tentatively.
"How?" Clark asked, a bit confused about where Rachel was heading.
"I came back to Metropolis," Rachel began, "after my friend Mike committed suicide. It was a rough time for me. My mentor, Yvette, had just been killed in a car crash a few weeks before. We were in the middle of cleaning up the Mona Lisa."
Clark raised his eyebrows at the non sequitur, but he didn't say anything, sensing that Rachel would fill in the gaps at her own speed.
Rachel paused, remembering the day she learned that Yvette was dead. Then she continued, "The director told me that Yvette was dead and that I would no longer be working on the Mona Lisa. Needless to say, I was heart broken. I had never experienced such a high as reviving that painting. Being here in Algonquin Park near this cabin is a heady experience, but it's not the same. That was the Mona Lisa!"
She paused for a moment reliving the excitement she had felt. The she went on. "Professionally, it would've been good for me to have the experience under my belt. Personally, it was like taking care of a very famous lady.
"Anyway, a few weeks after I was fired — I wasn't really fired, it just felt that way — I got a phone call from Mike's mother saying that Mike, my friend, had committed suicide. They found him hanging in his hotel room. His mother called after the funeral. She didn't have a lot of information. I found myself consoling her most of the time, when I just wanted someone to console me."
"It must be hard to lose someone like that. How did you deal with it?"
"I don't know. I just felt like I was dismembered. First Yvette, then Mike. Later on, as I mulled it over, I realized that there was some kind of mistake. Mike wasn't the suicidal type. He loved life. His cup was always full. Everyday revealed something new for him. I've…I'd known him for four years and he was never depressed or anything like that. He took his work seriously. He wasn't frivolous or anything. He just lived. Suicide just didn't seem right. He had sent me an e-mail a few days earlier saying that he had finished his latest project, he was coming back to Paris, excited about what he found. His e-mail was optimistic.
"He also sent me an e-mail telling me that I'd receive a package with some money in it and to hold it for him. He wasn't very 'fiscally responsible' as he called it. Rent always got paid and there was always food on the table because I had the money. Whenever he had some, he'd give it to me to pay what he owed and then I'd hold the rest for him until he needed it. I wasn't surprised that he was sending me his pay cheque. It was typical of Mike. But this time a package did arrive…not an envelope, but a package addressed, not to me personally, but to Joey Gioconda, a fictitious person that we made up. There was $50,000 in cash in the package. I was supposed to pay the rent and hold on to the rest of it. I held on to all of it."
"That's the $50,000 you bid for this date?" Clark asked.
"Go on," encouraged Clark, finding Rachel's story intriguing.
"When I heard about the suicide, I took a leave of absence from the Louvre, which wasn't hard since they knew I had lost two people who meant a lot to me. I came home to Metropolis. I wanted to find out who hired Mike and what happened to him. Mike was also an art conservationist; we did our grad work together. At this stage in our careers, we weren't worth that much money. For a month's work we should only get $5,000. Even Yvette wouldn't get $50,000 for one project."
"So, what have you done so far?"
"Two things. Once in Metropolis, I went to the police and talked to the person in charge of Mike's case. She told me that the case was closed. Suicide. Simple as that. When I mentioned the e-mail that I got and the type of person Mike was, she said that I was too close to the deceased and that I wasn't being rational. I wanted to scream, but instead, I very calmly told her that I was far from being irrational, I was being realistic because I knew Mike Feldman and she did not."
"She was not impressed, I assume."
"No, she was not. I realized that I was not going to get anywhere with her, so I started looking for anyone who would have the interest in art and the kind of money to hire someone like Mike. I wanted to find out what Mike was doing and who he was working for."
"And what did you find out?" Clark interrupted as he poured some more wine into their glasses.
"There are a few gallery owners who have some ruthless business practices, and I've been looking into them. Also, my parents and I went visiting many homes that had art collections, but the only collector that could even come close to needing Mike's expertise was Lex Luthor."
Clark's ears perked up.
"Yes, I tried probing. He talked knowledgeably about his extensive art collection in his penthouse. He basically boasted about its size and its uniqueness. As a collection, I realized that it had a lot of depth and breadth to it, but I didn't see anything there that had or would soon need the expertise of an art conservationist. I asked him if he had any collections not yet unveiled for public consumption, but he said no."
"He's a dangerous man," Clark warned Rachel.
"Yes, I believe that, although I have to admit that he was extremely charming all afternoon. I only began to suspect that he might know something about Mike when I recognized his private secretary, Nigel St. John. In fact, St. John is the only connection I have between Mike and Lex. Mike did a lot of crazy doodling in his sketchbook. He liked to draw caricatures, and St. John was one of them."
"That's a pretty tenuous connection. I've seen St. John and I can see that he has a face that lends itself to caricatures."
"Yes, I know, but that's all I had to go on. So I decided to take a chance. I got the idea when I saw a sketch that Mike made of you. Would Lex Luthor make a connection between me, a $50,000 bid for a date with you, and Mike's pay? I think he did."
"I don't think Luthor would give himself away if he knew you suspected him."
"Well, I watched him very carefully during the auction. He was watching you for a short time and then he turned his attention to a woman who was standing beside the Planet's society writer, you know, the tacky one."
"Cat Grant?" Clark wasn't sure how much he should know.
"That's right. Anyway, he was watching the other woman, an attractive brunette. He couldn't take his eyes off of her until I bid the $50,000. He was startled in a very subdued way. He lifted his eyebrows and turned to face me. When he caught my eye, he lifted his wine glass as if to toast me. His smile was cold and his glare left me chilled. I'm sure he made the connection."
"You could have misinterpreted his reaction because you were expecting something like that."
"Possibly," she explained, "but later, after you left, I overhead him speaking to St. John and telling him to find out as much information as he could on 'her'. I'm guessing he meant me, rather than Stella Nowles or the brunette."
"Again, that may be your imagination."
"You didn't see the cold, hard look he gave me."
"If what you say is right, then you are in a lot of trouble. Luthor is a very dangerous man and I don't think he likes to be crossed."
"I think I found that out. Four days after the auction, I received a phone call from my landlady in Paris. She said that my apartment, that I shared with Mike, had been broken into and ransacked. It was more vandalism than a regular burglary. Rather than stealing my stereo and computer, they trashed them. They scattered my books on the floor, uprooted my plants, disembowelled the mattresses and sofas. Mme Boudreau said that the apartment was a disaster area. They left nothing untouched. They even emptied out the refrigerator. Ironically, they didn't touch the freezer which is where I kept the money when I had it."
"Sounds like they were looking for something."
"That's what I think. It was either the $50,000, which I'd already given to the auction, or something else that Mike might have sent me."
"You think Luthor is connected to this?"
"Absolutely. I think that it proves that Mike's death was not a suicide. He has, or had, something that someone wants. I think that someone is Luthor."
"Do you have any idea what that could be?" Clark asked, intrigued by Rachel's story.
"No. The money's spent. Maybe they were looking for a note from Mike that revealed what he was doing."
"Do you have a note?"
"Nothing. Mike was very secretive about the work he was doing in Metropolis."
"So, what do you expect me to do?"
"I'm not sure exactly. I guess, once I realized what I had done and that I had this date with you, I hoped that I could tell you the story, and maybe you could help me find out what really happened to Mike."
"I don't investigate. I usually try to save people from disasters. But, I'm worried that you could be in danger." Clark thought out loud. "I could keep an eye out for you, but I can't be everywhere at once. Would you consider allowing me to tell some friends about Mike and seeing what they can find out?"
"Clark Kent and Lois Lane. They're investigative reporters for the Daily Planet."
"Not Lane. I've heard rumours that Luthor has been dating her. She's too close to him."
Clark didn't want to give away his connection to Lois. He paused for a moment considering. Finally, he said, "All right. Just Clark Kent then. I'll fill him in. He'll probably call and talk to you."
"Here." Rachel reached into her backpack. "This is Mike's sketchbook. You can give it to Kent. See, this is St. John. And this is a picture of the Mona Lisa with my face that he drew."
"Yes, isn't it?"
"Come, it's getting late. It's time I took you back to Metropolis."
When Clark went over to speak to Rachel the next day, she told him the same story that she told Superman. Clark probed for more details, but in the end, the problem remained the same: He had to try to prove that a young man who had a love of life did not commit suicide even though the evidence seemed to say that he did. His next stop was the coroner's office where he got more details of Mike's death.
He spent some time trying to track down Mike's movements and acquaintances in the time he was in Metropolis. He used his friendship with Bill Henderson to get a list of the phone numbers that Mike called regularly from his cell phone and from the phone in his hotel room. He talked to workers in the hotel and found out his daily schedule and his movements. He spoke to restaurant workers to find out his eating patterns and habits. By the end of the week, Clark had no idea how Mike spent a large part of his working day. He did know that Mike had used a credit card to pay for most of his expenses in Metropolis.
Clark sat at his computer going over the information that he had collected. There were eight or nine hours in the middle of the day that were unaccounted for. Clark assumed that this was the time that Mike was working on whatever project it was that he was hired to do. But he couldn't find links to Nigel or Lex.
He photocopied the caricature Mike made of Nigel St. John and took it around to the places that Mike frequented, but no one recognized St. John, nor could they remember seeing anyone with Mike.
He felt the frustration of coming up to a brick wall every time he guessed at a possibility. He wished that he hadn't promised Rachel that he wouldn't talk to Lois about this. There was a way that they played around with a problem: working on it together, they made the waters part until the solution stared them both in the face. It felt as if they had both intuitively known the answer, but they needed the other to part the water.
As Clark thought about the puzzle, he thought about their differences in investigative styles. Lois rushed in, often without testing the water, while he, Clark, patiently waded through the evidence collected and tested every millimetre. Maybe, if he was going to handle this by himself, he'd have to jump in without testing the water. He knew, as Superman, he wouldn't drown or bump his head.
What worried Clark as well was that Rachel didn't want Lois on the trail. Rachel also sensed that something was happening between Lois and Lex. That bothered Clark because an outsider had validated his suspicions. Clark didn't like the growing relationship between Lois and Lex. He didn't trust Lex, and although he didn't have evidence that could be corroborated, he did know that Lex was evil — he enjoyed manipulating people and using them to his advantage.
Clark knew that Lex was a dangerous man without any scruples. He had proved that when he had callously ordered Toni Baines' helicopter blown up and when he casually had a woman thrown off a roof in order to test Superman. Clark worried that Lois might just be another trophy on Lex's shelf and that when he was finished with her, or even worse, when he was crossed by her, Lex would not hesitate to harm Lois. For whatever reason, Lois was important to Lex at this point. Moreover, Clark realized that he was jealous of Lex because Lois saw Lex as a potential date, whereas he, Clark, was just her partner at work. Most of the time, she didn't see him as a man at all.
Clark shook his head. Once again, he'd lost sight of the problem and let his mind wander.
"I didn't know that you were an artist," Lois said as she peered over his shoulder.
Clark jumped at the sound of her voice. He had been staring at one of Mike's sketches of a playground in a park when Lois had crept up behind him.
"What are you up to, Kent?" Lois asked again, suspiciously.
"Just looking at this sketchbook. I like this one." He didn't like lying to Lois.
"That's Canmore Park over near Eighth Avenue. It's a busy playground."
"Oh, I didn't realize that's what it is."
"I was there once, about two years ago. There was this huge demonstration when the city wanted to tear down the park and the playground and put up a strip shopping mall. The neighbourhood was in an uproar. It was one of the few times when the people won over the city."
"Before my time."
"So, what are you up to, Kent?"
"Just staring before I get moving on our story."
At lunch, when Clark was able to get away from Lois, he went over to Canmore Park and sat down watching the children playing on the monkey bars. He kept looking around willing something to appear to help him out, but nothing did. He pulled out the sketchbook and looked at the differences between the picture and the real place. No children. The sand at the base of the playground was undisturbed. Everything seemed neater. Mike must have sketched it when no one was there. He wondered if someone actually cleaned up the playground in the evening. And he wondered what time of day Mike would be there.
The next morning, on a hunch, Clark went over to the park. It was 7.30 in the morning. In his investigation, Clark found that Mike disappeared at approximately this time every day. The park was in walking distance of his hotel. Clark sat down on the bench and opened the sketchbook. Once more, he used his x-ray vision to peer at the area in front of him. Once again, he found nothing.
"Do you sketch, too?" asked a woman who sat down beside him. It appeared that she had been either running or walking and needed to sit down. She jumped in before Clark could answer her question. "I have a friend who used to sit here and sketch the same view. As a matter of fact," she said leaning toward the sketchbook, "You seem to have the same style as he does."
"This isn't my sketchbook," said Clark. "This may have belonged to your friend. Could you tell me about him?"
"First, who are you and why do you have someone else's sketchbook?"
"Sorry. I'm Clark Kent, a reporter for the Daily Planet. This book belonged to Mike Feldman. I'm…"
"Belonged to? Past tense?"
"Yes. Did you know Mike?"
"I used to see him sketching on this bench and I'd join him after my walk. We got to talking. Why do you say, 'belonged'?"
"He died a month ago."
"Died? He was so young…so full of life. What happened?"
"Apparently, he committed suicide."
"No. How could that've happened? He was looking forward to going back to Paris, to working. He spoke about his friends and parents. He anticipated seeing them. No, I can't believe it was suicide."
"He was found hanging in his room."
"How awful. No. Not suicide."
"How can you be so sure, Mrs…?"
"Doctor, actually. Doctor Susan Jamieson," she offered. "I don't usually give my title, but in this case I think it's important. I was a psychologist at Metropolis General where I worked with a lot of young people who attempted suicide. Mike wasn't like them. He didn't show any of the symptoms of someone who was depressed or thinking about suicide. He was excited about his work, looking forward, as I said, to going back to Paris and being with his friends. He said that he made a lot of money on his last job and he was planning to do some travelling and spend some of the money, as well as paying off some student debts."
"Did he tell you about what excited him about the work he was doing?"
"No, he just said that he had the opportunity to see some exquisite art work and do some work that he had expected to achieve much later in his career. That was all that he said."
"What else did you talk about?"
"He talked about some of his plans and my plans now that I'm retired. He said that if I was ever in Paris, he would give me a personalized tour of the Louvre. I seriously started to think about taking that trip. His stories of the art there really intrigued me."
"Where did he go when he left here?"
"A car picked him up here every morning at 8 a.m."
"Do you know where he went?"
"No. He never told me and I never thought to ask."
"What did the car look like?"
"It was a black Lexus. I can't tell you much more about it since I don't know too much about cars."
"Do you remember the license plate number?"
"Actually, I do. It was PALETTE."
Clark continued to talk with Dr. Jamieson a little longer. He was glad that he had met her because she helped corroborate Rachel's feeling about Mike. He also had an important clue that brought him closer to Mike's killers. Who was the owner of PALETTE?
"I've got the information that you asked for, CK," Jimmy announced as he walked toward the lunch table where Clark and Lois were eating.
"What information?" asked Lois as she looked at Clark quizzically.
"Just something I'm looking into on my own time." Then Clark realized that was a mistake to say, since it would only pique Lois's curiosity. "Go ahead, Jimmy." Clark decided that if he made Lois feel as if he weren't holding anything back, she would leave it alone. He didn't want to betray Rachel's trust.
"PALETTE is registered to Oleg Piryanski whose address is 4955 East Summit Blvd. He's an art dealer who owns a gallery named 'The Artist's Palette'."
"Did you find anything about Piryanski?"
"He runs the art gallery which doesn't make too much money, just enough to clear a small profit. He drives a Lexus and he owns an SUV. He has a home address in a posh condo near Riverside."
"Sounds like his income is more than the gallery would account for," added Lois who was taking a growing interest in Clark's research.
"I'm sure it's nothing too exciting," said Clark.
"Well, Clark while you're bothering your pretty, little head about Mr. Piryanski, I'm going to do my private research on Rachel McCarthy, Superman's date."
As Clark and Jimmy left the lunch room, Lois thought back to the night of the Bachelor auction.
The rain finally stopped, but the humidity still hung in the air both outside the lavish Luthor salon and inside where many of the wealthiest women in the city of Metropolis, dressed in their finest, gathered around the elevated podium waiting for the next eligible bachelor to take his place and get auctioned off. Lois Lane stood to the side of the podium, beside Cat Grant, waiting for Superman to show up. Beside her, Cat, wearing a dress made up of wide bands of gold-coloured material crisscrossing her chest, sipped champagne and took note of the women who had come to the auction. Lois observed that once again Cat was relying on her memory to write up the event for tomorrow's society section.
Lois watched Lex confidently work his way up to the podium as Cynthia Browen, the chair of the charity auction, announced, "And here he is, Ladies. Metropolis's most eligible bachelor, and the fourth richest man…"
"…third," Lex corrected.
"Third richest man in the world," Cynthia edited without missing a beat. "Mr. Lex Luthor. Dinner and dancing next Friday night. Shall we start the bidding at…five hundred dollars?"
Not interested in the bidding, Lois glanced over and decided it was time to get the smug look off Cat's face.
"Couldn't you afford a whole dress?" she asked sarcastically.
"Less is more, darling," Cat said as she eyed Lois's tasteful basic black dress. "Sometimes," she added.
Lois wasn't surprised by what Cat said. She often thought that her name was more a comment on her personality than an abbreviation of Catherine.
"Sold! For ten thousand dollars!" The mistress of ceremonies' voice interrupted Lois's thoughts about Cat. Lois noticed that an older woman had purchased a date with Lex for ten thousand dollars. She smiled to herself thinking that she didn't have to pay for a date with Lex.
He was such a gentleman. He walked over to his date and took her hand. He was so courteous. The woman seemed to beam with pleasure. 'Good for you, Lex,' thought Lois as she watched him make small talk with her.
But soon her attention shifted to the balcony doors where she saw Superman standing. She smiled, waiting for some recognition as he entered the salon. He walked in confidently until a spotlight shone on him. He put his arm up to shield his eyes. The confidence that he seemed to exude left him as a shy grimace appeared on his face. The other time she seemed to remember a similar look of discomfort was a few weeks ago when he was presented with the key to the city. The crowd and the noise seemed to overwhelm him then as well. Lois was pleased that he wasn't comfortable with the situation. It made him seem more boyish, more approachable.
A harp's glissando accompanied Superman's walk to the podium as Cynthia Browen intoned, "And now, something really special. A Super Date. A Sunday picnic in the clouds. So, Ladies, what will you give me for the Man Of Steel?"
That's what she wanted. A date with Superman. She was willing to give all of her savings so that she could have the opportunity to be with Superman and not just be rescued. On a date, he wouldn't leave her and run off on some rescue. Yes, a date with Superman, that's what she wanted.
The first bid was one thousand dollars from one of the society women.
"Fifteen hundred!" Lois responded.
"Two thousand!" Cat countered.
Lois couldn't believe this. She was actually bidding for Superman against Cat. Meanwhile, Superman hadn't even acknowledged her. He didn't even know that she was on the floor.
"Twenty-five hundred!" came Lois's next bid.
"Five thousand," offered the first bidder.
"Six!" Cat parried.
Lois couldn't believe what she was hearing. Why would Cat be doing this to her?
"All right, you've made your point. Now…butt out," Lois demanded.
"What's the matter, Lois? Too rich for your blood?" asked Cat.
The first woman bid eight thousand and then Cat countered with nine. Lois didn't know why she looked into her purse, but she did. She knew that she couldn't match the price and all her hopes of a date with Superman were gone. She wilted. To make matters worse, it appeared that Cat would end up with the date. Poor Superman. A date with Cat. He'd probably need all his superpowers to keep her in check.
"Fifty thousand dollars," said a voice behind her. Lois turned to see the beautifully dressed woman who had bid so much money for a date with Superman. She was proud that Superman was able to bring in so much money for the blind children, but she was disappointed that he still hadn't acknowledged her. When she looked at Superman she noticed that he was surprised by the bid…and did he seem to be flattered?
"Fifty thousand! Going once, going twice…sold!" intoned the mistress of ceremonies.
Lois watched Superman walk off the podium toward his future date. She had been willing to bid all of her savings for the date. She wondered if this woman, who had so much money to throw around, would even appreciate the date. Meanwhile, Superman hadn't even noticed her. Lois knew that her feelings were childish, but she decided to indulge in them for a while longer.
"A pleasure to see you again, Lois."
Lois looked up to see Luthor coming over to her and taking her hand.
"And you, Lex," she said. "I'm sorry I had to cancel our lunch. It's just that Superman is such a big draw and…"
"Yes, and apparently not only for you," he said as they both glanced at Superman who was standing close to his future date and talking.
"Can we reschedule?"
Lois, looking at Superman, decided that a date with Luthor might be the only one she would have in a long time.
"Yes, I'd like to very much."
On the afternoon of Superman's date with Rachel McCarthy, Lois sat at home scrubbing the tiles in her bathroom and kitchen, rearranging her linen closet, her dresser drawers, washing her curtains, and vacuuming her carpets. By the time the six o'clock news came on, she was exhausted by her autumn cleaning. She hadn't, unfortunately, gotten the date out of her mind. She sat down and flipped channels until she found the local news. The top story of the day was Superman's date. 'Her date', she thought ungraciously.
The camera crew got film of Superman landing in front of the McCarthy house and then being invited in by Rachel. The footage cut to Superman and Rachel, dressed very casually, coming out of the house. The reporter promised more footage and an interview with the couple at the end of the show. Lois put down the remote and went into the kitchen where she removed a tub of chocolate ice cream from the freezer and took it back to the living room. She watched the rest of the news until the reporter came back with the follow-up on the date.
Superman led the casually dressed Rachel to the camera crew and let them ask some questions. Yes, he was pleased that Miss McCarthy's bid was so substantial that it helped add special facilities to public schools. Yes, she was looking forward to this date with Superman. No, she didn't know where they were going. No, he wasn't going to tell the press because he'd like it to be a surprise for Miss McCarthy. And then with a wink, he promised the press to bring her home before her curfew. And with that, he excused himself and Rachel, lifted her and slowly flew into the white fluffy clouds.
Lois thought he looked as detached and business-like as he usually did, except for that one moment when he winked at the camera and showed a side she had never seen before. Devilish humour. She liked that in him.
Lois was still curious about Rachel. She knew about her family, but she wanted to know more about the woman who was willing to pay so much money for a date with Superman. She headed for the shower resolved that she would find out as much as she could about the woman.
The next day, acting on her resolve, she sat down and began researching Rachel McCarthy. What she found, using techniques that Jimmy had shown her, was very interesting. Rachel wasn't just a Miss Spoiled Brat; she had a bachelor's degree from Rutgers University and a master's degree in art conservation from Queen's University in Canada. After graduation, she worked for several small art museums in Europe before she was hired by the Louvre to work under Yvette Morreau where she'd been for the last number of years. She lived in Paris with Mike Feldman who had a similar art conservation background.
She remembered the name Mike Feldman. She met him at an art opening for a young Metropolis artist at the MacTavish Gallery. He was about her age, a friendly young man who seemed to handle the cocktail-type party very deftly. He had an entourage of women who surrounded him constantly. Lois could see that it was his impish grin and his ability to make every woman feel as if she was unique that made him so popular at that kind of function.
She remembered him because, about a month ago, she had been surprised to see his name on an obituary list that funeral homes sent the paper. Because she had found him interesting, she checked with one of her police sources and found out that he committed suicide. It was not what she would have expected from the glimpse she got at MacTavish's, but you never could tell what a person was really like.
That afternoon, Clark left around lunchtime, and Lois continued gathering information on Thaddeus Rourke, the man she had seen talking to Congressman Harrington while she and Clark were on a stake-out. When the phone rang on Clark's desk while he was out, she answered it.
"Clark Kent's desk," she answered with her proper telephone voice.
"Is Clark back at his desk yet?" asked a female voice.
"No, he's not. Can I take a message?"
"Yes. It's Rachel McCarthy. I forgot to tell him something when he was here a short while ago."
"And that was?" asked Lois hoping to get Rachel to fill in the blank.
"Just have him call me, please. He's got the number."
"I'll give him the message when he returns," Lois ended quickly.
Lois hung up the phone not quite understanding why she was so disturbed. Probably because she suspected that Rachel had given Clark an exclusive interview. That made sense. 'The woman,' thought Lois, 'can't keep her hands off her Superman, and now she was giving Clark the exclusive.' No, Lois didn't like this at all. She left the message on his desk and decided that she would look into the connection between Mike and Rachel, and find out what Clark was up to with his exclusive. Clark didn't have to know what she was doing.
A few days later, Lois once again answered Clark's phone when he was away from his desk. While taking a message, she broke her pencil and reached into his desk drawer for one. There, standing out and calling her name was a black book with Mike Feldman's name embossed on it. She took out the sketchbook and looked through it, not sure why it was in Clark's desk in the first place. She waited impatiently for Clark to show up. She pounced on him as soon as he walked out of the elevator.
"What's up with you and Rachel McCarthy, Clark?"
"Lois, you know that according to the First Amendment, I don't have to divulge a source."
"Then is it business?" she paused and looked at Clark. "Or is it personal?"
"I can also swear on the fifth, so I won't incriminate myself."
"Come on, Clark," Lois pleaded. "We're partners. What's going on?"
"We're only partners when it's convenient for you."
"Touche! But it's not like that anymore," Lois whined a little and then changed tactics. "Come on, Clark, spill it," she bullied.
"Do you always have to know everything, Lois? Or are you jealous that another woman is calling me?"
"Another woman? As if I was interested." She looked at him and thought she saw a hopeful look. "You wish, farmboy."
When she saw that she was getting into a discussion that she didn't want to touch, she took another tack. "What was Mike Feldman's sketchbook doing in your desk drawer?"
"What were you doing in my desk drawer?" asked Clark taking the offensive.
"Well, if you wanted it hidden, you should have a secret compartment or something."
"Excuse me, Lois, but if I put something in my desk, I don't expect you to be snooping. Most people understand the concept of privacy."
"I wasn't snooping," she countered. She recognized that Clark was only semi-angry with her. He had that another-typical-Lois-move look that she was getting used to seeing. He'd be angry for a second, chuckle and then let her go on. There, there was the chuckle.
"All right, Lois, go on with your explanation."
"Well, I was looking for one of those beautifully sharpened pencils that you keep in your desk drawer, and all of a sudden, there, in front of me, was Mike Feldman's name embossed on this book, so I took it out and opened it. As a result, I've been doing some research on Mike."
"Because when I made a connection with him and Rachel McCarthy, I was curious."
"And what did you find?"
"Well, they've known each other since grad school and they live together, so they're a couple. Anyway, they lived and worked in Paris, for the Louvre. They both worked under Yvette Morreau, a renowned art conservationist. About two and half months ago, Mike left the Louvre and came to Metropolis. That's about all that I could find out except that he committed suicide about a month ago. I actually met him at MacTavish's for an opening. He didn't seem the suicidal type to me. Happy-go-lucky, charming, a ladies' man. Not suicidal."
"You're the third person who's told me that." Clark was relieved that Lois had found this information on her own. He felt that he could fill her in on the necessary details, except for the Luthor connection, and he wouldn't betray Rachel. He hoped Lois would make the connection to Luthor herself. He continued to tell her what he knew.
"Rachel actually asked me to look into Mike's death because she also doesn't believe he could commit suicide. That's why I've got his sketchbook. She thought that there might be some clues there. I ended up in Canmore Park where I met this retired psychologist who said she knew Mike and also felt that he did not appear to be a suicide candidate. She was the one who said that he got into a car with the PALETTE license plate."
"You've managed to do a lot so far, Clark. You're not bad for a rookie. I think it's time that we take a closer look into The Artist's Palette."
"Yes, Clark, we. There's no point in each of us going over this ground separately when we can cover it together. Now, what are we doing about The Artist's Palette?"
Clark let out a breath.
"I've got Jimmy trying to get into their records," Clark offered.
Lois just smiled at him and patted his shoulders. "No, Clark. To look a little closer into this, you have to get into Piryanski's office and look at his records to see what he's got."
When Clark noticed that Lois went out of the newsroom for a short period of time, he called Rachel, feeling a bit guilty that Lois was now taking an active part in the investigation. He realized that he really needed Lois's help, and he admitted to himself that he enjoyed working with Lois.
Clark filled Rachel in with what he had learned and with what Lois had found out. Rachel was skeptical about Lois helping out, believing that she would share some of her work when she was out with Luthor. She'd heard that Lois and Luthor had been seen going to the theatre and dining together several times over the last few weeks. Clark managed to convince Rachel that Lois was trustworthy and professional. With his promise not to mention their suspicions about Luthor to Lois, Rachel reluctantly agreed to bring Lois into the investigation.
"But Lois," Clark whispered, "this is breaking and entering. It's illegal." He looked around the dark alley behind the Artist's Palette.
"Relax, Clark. No one will ever know the difference. All we're going to do is look at a little paperwork."
"What if someone shows up?"
"Clark, stop being so apprehensive. It's three in the morning. No one is going to show up."
Clark wondered how Lois would manage if he didn't have his superpowers to support her. Listening for other people, feeling combination locks clicking, looking through filing cabinets: all these powers had helped Lois get the information they needed and kept her out of trouble. He shrugged his shoulders as he heard the door open and followed Lois into the Piryanski's office.
"What specifically are we looking for, Lois?" Clark asked.
"You'll know when you find it."
"Thanks a lot."
"Just look in the file cabinets and see what you can find. I'll take the desk."
The two reporters worked quietly and quickly but methodically, looking for scraps of information that would help them. When they finished, they crept out of the office and the gallery and headed toward Lois's jeep.
"See, I told you Clark. No one showed up. We got away with it."
"This time," he muttered.
"Look at this, Clark," Lois said as she looked at the print-outs of the pictures they had taken the night before from Piryanski's office. "According to this, Piryanski had a trust fund that he used to disperse funds. Here's the fifty thousand he gave to Mike, and six weeks before that, he gave fifty thousand to a Jean-Pierre Lambert."
"I don't know. We'll have to find out."
"Maybe Rachel knows?"
"I doubt it."
"Lois, cut it out. She's a very nice person. I don't know what your problem is with her. Anyway, look. Apparently the money coming into the trust account is from a MetroArt Inc."
"What's that?" she asked glancing through more papers.
"I don't know yet, but I'm still looking." Clark paused and stared at a small file of papers. "Lois, I've got credit card bill here with Mike Feldman's name on it and addressed to 4955 East Summit Blvd. That's The Artist's Palette."
Lois moved closer to Clark and looked over his shoulder. When he finished examining one page, he passed it to Lois.
"Looks like hotel, restaurant, cabs…those kind of expenses," Lois remarked.
"As if they gave him a credit card to cover any of his expenses while he was here in Metropolis," Clark added.
"He didn't seem to abuse it," Lois said.
"No, look through the papers and see who paid the bills."
"Why am I not surprised?" asked Clark.
"I think we better get Jimmy to look into MetroArt, and we'll go visit Rachel."
When Lois and Clark arrived at the McCarthy house, Rachel led them into the library. Clark once again looked around and appreciated the fine furniture, tasteful decoration and the eclectic nature of the books on the shelf. The well-lit room had a lived-in appearance where someone could come and curl up with a good book.
One of the servants brought in a tray of tea and coffee and quietly left the room. Rachel first asked Lois and then Clark what each preferred to drink. As she poured, she spoke.
"Jean-Pierre Lambert is the director of restoration and conservation at the Louvre. He allocates assignments to the various conservationists and their teams."
Lois accepted her cup of coffee and asked, "Did he assign work outside of the Louvre?"
"No, but he could have recommended Mike for something on the side. I've heard that private commissions come across Lambert's desk and he assigns some of his favourites to them. The assignment also depends on where they happen to be in the Louvre's work roster."
"Would this be a perk or a rap on the wrists?" asked Clark.
"Usually a perk since you could earn some extra money and you get to see more than the dungeons of the Louvre," Rachel said with a smile.
"So, Lambert thought he was rewarding Mike with this position?" Clark probed.
"I don't think so, although fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money. Lambert didn't like Mike. He thought he was irreverent. He knew he was good, but he was a pain in the butt."
"What do you mean by irreverent?" Lois asked.
"He drew caricatures. Lambert was one of his favourites. He had jowls and a bulbous nose that lent itself to a cartoon spoof. He would also make a "parody", for want of a better word, of some of the classics. Like a kid putting a moustache on the Mona Lisa. Mike would give her a buzz cut or spiked hair and a nose ring. The rest of the drawing, or sometimes painting, would keep the integrity of the original piece of art. He was so good that he occasionally sold these illustrations and paid the rent for another month. I have one of Mike's parodies here in my studio. Come. I'll show you."
Rachel led them toward the back of the house where they entered a room filled with canvasses hanging on or stacked against the walls. There were several canvasses with works in progress standing on easels. A table in the centre of the room held rags, cans, paint brushes and tubes of paint. Rachel took them over to one wall where Cezanne's The Card Players was hanging.
"I've seen this painting before," said Lois. "Is this the original?"
"No, the original is in the Barnes Collection in New York City," Rachel corrected. "Look closely at the cards."
Clark and Lois examined the cards in the players' hands.
"Those are hockey cards, aren't they?" asked Lois.
"Look, the one on the right is a Wayne Gretsky," observed Clark. "Look at the 99 on his jersey. This is great."
"That's the kind of work Mike did. People loved it because the painting was good enough to pass a cursory inspection, but on a closer look, they found his changes."
Clark roamed around the room and stood in front of one of the easels.
"This is beautiful," he said amazed at how well Rachel had captured the colour and light of that crisp, autumn afternoon shining over the glassy lake. In the bottom right hand corner, a solitary tree stood beside a rock covered with the fallen autumn leaves. The centre of the painting was Canoe Lake with a reflection of Thomson's cabin shimmering in the water. The water picked up the yellow, brown and red leaves that covered the trees in the background of the picture. One solitary, red maple leaf appeared to be floating across the lake.
"Yes. It's from Algonquin Park. I was up there not long ago and had the opportunity to take some pictures that I'm hoping to use as a basis for a series of paintings."
"You do beautiful work, Rachel," Clark complimented her.
"Why do you work at the Louvre?" Lois asked.
"For two reasons: I love the restoration and conservation, working with the masters, keeping the history alive; and it's very difficult to make a living as a painter."
Lois, still skeptical about Rachel's motives, wondered why such a rich woman would be concerned about earning a living. Obviously, money was not a problem. So, why the job? But then she thought about herself. During the Nightfall scare, as she called it, Lex had offered her an opportunity to survive the devastation of the falling asteroid. It hadn't taken her very long to decide that what she needed to have was the excitement of covering the story, not the protection and luxury of Lex's shelter. His offer was very generous and kind, but no matter what elegance he offered her, she needed the concrete indications of real life. She turned him down. She needed her work; it was her identity. Maybe she did understand Rachel McCarthy.
Lois walked around the room looking at the paintings on the easels and the photographs that Rachel had tacked to the walls. They were all of Algonquin Park.
"That's Superman!" Lois exclaimed.
"Yes, that's how I got up to Canoe Lake. That was our date. The cabin that Superman is standing beside belonged to a painter named Tom Thomson who went up to his cabin one year and just disappeared. People aren't sure whether he drowned or he was murdered. It's something that we'll never know, but he left a rich legacy to the art world. Superman made it possible for me to get some photographs from some interesting angles."
"Mmm." Lois stood mesmerized in front of the Superman photograph. "What was it like to be on a date with Superman?" she asked.
"Lo-is! I think it's time we went back to work," Clark interrupted, sensing that he would be uncomfortable with the direction the conversation might take. He put his hand on the small of Lois's back and gently pushed her toward the door. "Thank you, Rachel. We'll work on what you've told us and see where it gets us."
Clark dragged his partner away from the photograph of Superman.
"What's your problem, Kent? Jealous?" Lois taunted.
'Yeah, of myself,' Clark thought.
The next morning was a busy one for Lois and Clark. They were following several leads for other breaking stories and they had to put Mike's death on the back burner. It wasn't until later that evening, when they each sent off their stories to Perry, that they were able to talk. Clark sat on the edge of Lois's desk, facing her. Lois was leaning back in her chair, chewing on her pencil.
"Lois, I think what we need to do is find out what MetroArt is since it paid Lambert and Mike money," suggested Clark.
"But Jimmy couldn't find anything on MetroArt and if he can't find anything…"
"Then no one else can," agreed Clark. "Maybe we need to take this from another angle. I've been thinking about asking Lawrence Kay what he knows. He's worked at the Planet as the art critic for a lot longer than either of us has been around and he'll probably know something."
"Sounds like a plan. Let's see if he's in his office."
Lawrence Kay was a pretentious, middle aged man who spent most of his days wandering from gallery to gallery allowing young artists to ingratiate themselves with him. In the evening, he made sure that he was seen at all the right cultural events in the city. He gave off an air of knowledge and pomposity. But he knew his art and he knew the art scene in the city far better than anyone else Lois and Clark knew.
Lawrence Kay had some personal office space on the floor with other specialty critics and syndicated columnists. He looked up from his computer when Lois and Clark entered his office.
"To what do I owe this pleasure? I don't often get to see reporters from the city room over here," he said sarcastically.
"It's always a pleasure to talk with you, Lawrence," Lois sniped back.
"Mr. Kay, Lois and I would like to ask you some questions. You're the only one who could know this," Clark said politely. He put his hand on Lois's arm, hoping that the body language would let her know that they needed Kay at that moment, and it wasn't a good idea to antagonise him.
"Clark Kent, I assume? I don't think that we've met before."
Clark held out his hand and grasped Kay's hand firmly. "It's a pleasure to meet you. I've read your work. I enjoyed your article on the Lee exhibit so much that I went to see it and I agree with your take on it."
"Enough flattery, Clark. What do you want to know?"
"First of all," interjected Lois, "what do you know about MetroArt?"
"Never heard of it, Lois. What is it?"
"We don't know. We were hoping you would," said Clark.
"Do you know anything about Oleg Piryanski and The Artist's Palette?"
"Now, that I know about, Lois. Piryanski is an upstart, nouveau if you will. I don't know where he came from, but he opened up The Artist's Palette and managed to keep it afloat. It's only been recently that he's started to have some success.
"He's been in the news lately because of a censorship issue. He committed the gallery to show the paintings of a feminist artist, Nicol. She worked as his office manager and 'girl Friday'. He knew her style very well and he knew what to expect. About three weeks before the show opened, he bumped her. When she asked why, he said something about decency. He didn't want his gallery tied to the kind of controversy that her style of work caused. His was a family gallery. Instead, he brought in a fairly prestigious, but tame, show by a group of artists that had been travelling around the country. It was successful, but boring."
"What was the problem with Nicol's paintings?" asked Lois.
"The theme of the show dealt with, well, how do I say this, nicely?" Kay hesitated. "The theme of the show dealt with women's issues."
"And the problem with that is…?" Lois directed.
"Well, it was…gynecological in nature. It dealt with female parts," Kay whispered.
"Like vaginas?" Lois said loudly enough so that she could be heard in the next office. She watched Kay turn red. "So what's the problem with that?"
Clark smiled. Lois really had a knack for making someone feel uncomfortable.
Nicol wasn't hard to find. She was exhibiting her paintings at a small co-op run by artists like herself. The paintings were definitely unusual. Clark picked up a brochure that described Nicol's exhibit as "vaginas trying to find an identity of their own in a world drowning in testosterone".
Lois and Clark found Nicol, an elf-like woman in a long, flowing robe. They started asking her about her paintings and why her exhibition was bumped from The Artist's Palette.
"Piryanksi is a weak, lily-livered coward," she proclaimed.
"Why do you say that?" asked Lois.
"Piryanski has no taste in art. He's a slime bucket. He lets other people make decisions for him."
"Who?" asked Clark.
"He hasn't made the money he expected from the gallery, mainly because he has no vision of what art is, so he's turned to more nefarious methods of making it. He's become a middleman dealing with people you'd rather not know. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm glad he dumped me. I don't think that I want to be associated with him in the end."
"Can you explain what you're talking about?" asked Clark.
"Sure. Piryanski buys paintings from some ex-Nazi in Buenos Aires and sells them to some secret buyer here in Metropolis."
"How do you know that?" Lois's interest was piqued.
"I overheard him talking to this guy."
"What guy?" asked Clark.
"This young guy, cute, an art specialist of some sort."
"What were they talking about?" inquired Lois.
"The young guy was talking about colour pigment and rings on an oak panelling. Something about the painting being 'the real thing'. And then he started asking about where it came from and who it belongs to."
"Did Piryanski give any clues who it belonged to?" asked Lois.
"No, he told him it was none of his business. He was being nicely paid to verify its authenticity, but the bulk of the payment was to keep his mouth shut."
"Did they say anything else?"
"I don't know. I heard them moving and I didn't want to be found eavesdropping. Piryanski had told me a couple of days before that he was dumping my show and I didn't want him to see me loitering around the office."
"Do you know who the young guy was?"
"Sort of. He was from Paris or something, which I found strange since he spoke English without an accent. He could've lived around the corner all his life. He came in every morning for about a month and left quite late in the afternoon, sometimes in the evening."
"Did this happen everyday?"
"I guess it did. Sometimes I came in late and left late. Other times I came in early and left early."
"Did he ever speak to you?"
Clark pulled out a picture of Mike and showed it to Nicol.
"That's the guy who was talking to Piryanski."
Clark thanked her for her help and was about to leave when she stopped them.
"Don't you want to know what I found out next?" Nicol asked.
"Next?" Lois and Clark repeated.
"Yeah, when I decided to get the goods on that slime bucket, Piryanski."
"Sure," they both answered.
"Well, I was really angry at him because he was such a jerk about scrapping my show and I thought I had something on him because of the secret stuff. A couple of nights later, I was closing up after everyone else left. That was ironic. He dumped me and then he trusts me to close up."
Lois and Clark looked at each other and smiled.
"His office was unlocked and I decided to look in the files that I'd never seen before. There's a worktable with a drawer that he kept locked. I once asked him about it and he said it was his private stash of vodka that he didn't want the help to get their hands on. I believed him then. Anyway, I picked the lock. It was a cheap, easy lock. I won't go into where I learned to do that. It's enough that I could."
"A girl after my own heart," Lois murmured.
"Huh?" "Never mind. Go on with your story, Nicol," Clark deflected the aside.
"I got into the drawer without any problems and there was the bottle of vodka. So, he wasn't a complete liar. There was also a pile of files in an unmarked folder. When I looked inside I found letters, invoices, and bills of lading. Most of them were items that were coming from either Buenos Aires from a guy named Gunther Schmidt, or to MetroArt with no address."
Once again Lois and Clark looked at each other. Another link to MetroArt.
"It all looked legitimate," continued Nicol, "so I couldn't understand why Piryanski kept it hidden."
"How do you know what his legitimate files looked like?"
"I basically ran his office and worked in the gallery whenever I was needed."
"Do you have any idea who Gunther Schmidt is?"
"No, just a name in a file. There was also a mention of a JPL Exports in Paris."
"Do you know anything about JPL Exports?" asked Clark.
"No, that was the first time I saw the name."
"Thanks, Nicol, you've been a great help," Lois said as she grabbed Clark by the arm and led him out of the gallery.
Rachel was disappointed when her friend called to say that she couldn't make it to the opening at The Ninja Turtles. Rachel, curious about the gallery's name and about the changes that had occurred to Hobbs River Harbourfront while she was in Paris, decided that she needed a break from playing detective. She deserved a night out, and if her friend couldn't make it, she would go alone.
Hobbs River Harbourfront had changed from a seedy area with abandoned warehouses and demolished buildings, to a brightly lit locale filled with trendy shops, private art galleries, bistros, and jazz houses.
It was hard to miss The Ninja Turtles. The large gallery window acted as a canvas for the figures of the cartoon Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo, in their ninja garb and stance, painting one of their namesakes' famous illustrations.
Once inside, looking at the illustrations and sculptures, she understood why the exhibit was called Classic Clones. The artists mimicked the work of the masters. She chuckled to herself as she walked around the exhibit. The statue of David who was wearing a football helmet and shoulder pads, had his genitals covered with a jock strap. The Venus de Milo had a jewellery box filled with rings in front of her. As much as she respected the masters, Rachel was enjoying the exhibit as much for the artistry as for its irreverent humour.
She walked around smiling to herself until she entered an alcove that contained four paintings. She gasped and whispered, 'Mike.' These were his works, beautifully displayed. As distraught as she felt, she couldn't help but giggle at Mike's interpretation of Modigliani's Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne Seated in Profile. Instead of the artist's mistress sitting in profile, her hands on her lap, her hair swept up in an inverted cone, Mike had placed Marge Simpson, with her blue hair and yellow face, in Hebuterne's place. 'Only Mike,' she thought as a solitary tear trickled down her cheek.
"It's true what they say," said a voice behind her.
Rachel turned around to see a tall, thin man, with curly brown hair in desperate need of a trim, standing, looking over her shoulder. "Excuse me?" she asked.
"What they say, you know. The value of the work goes up when the artist is dead."
Rachel stared at the man, trying desperately to control her tears, but hearing Mike's life trivialized reinforced the distress she felt and the tears fell, unrestrained.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I guess that's a pretty callous thing to say. I can be really stupid sometimes," he sputtered. He moved away from her for only a moment and returned with a glass of wine and some napkins.
"They're not as soft as tissue, but I didn't want to leave you alone when you're so upset. I'm so sorry."
Rachel took the napkins and dabbed at her eyes. The man seemed even more distraught than she was. The tears slowed down and she began to take deep breaths in order to calm herself. She sniffed and used the napkin to blow her nose. Once she was calm, the man handed her the wine. She took a sip, breathed in, and took another sip.
"Thank you, I think." She wasn't too sure what to say.
"I don't know why I said that. I thought I was being witty."
"I knew Mike Feldman."
"Oh! I'm sorry. My comment then was not only thoughtless, it was insensitive, too. I'm so sorry."
"Thank you. I'm Brad Morrison, owner of The Ninja Turtles."
She extended her hand. "I'm Rachel McCarthy, friend of Mike Feldman."
Brad and Rachel spent the next few hours talking about the state of art in the modern world, the role of government in supporting the arts, their favourite art work and how they would parody it, and the success of the opening night of Classic Clones. After the gallery emptied out, they cleaned up the leftovers of the wine and cheese, threw out paper cups and plates, and then Rachel watched Brad lock up. She was surprised when she saw that it was 3.30 in the morning. Brad Morrison turned out to be good company after he got his foot out of his mouth.
He called a cab for her, then walked her to the cab and gave the cabbie her address.
At the first traffic light, the cabbie stopped. A man came up to the driver's door and knocked on the window.
"Diya gotta dollar, mister?" he asked.
Rachel was surprised that the police allowed panhandlers on the street so late at night. She just wanted to go home, get in bed, and think about her evening with Brad. She smiled when she thought about the clever way he learned her address under the pretence of giving it to the cab driver.
The cabbie was yelling at the man, telling him to get out of the way, but before Rachel realized what was happening, the panhandler opened the door and dragged the cabbie to the road. At the same time, someone opened the back door of the cab and grabbed Rachel. She struggled to get loose, but her assailant was too strong. He pulled her out of the car and started dragging her toward another car. She squirmed in an attempt to fight off her ambusher.
He grasped her arm harshly, twisted it back and growled, "You're lucky lady dat du boss wants ya alive. I don't have no trouble killin' ya."
Rachel tried to get her teeth in the arm that was holding her. Her assailant just squeezed her tighter and snarled, "Lady, dat don' mean I can't hurt ya. Understand?"
Rachel quieted down just as she heard a car's motor shut off. She thought she heard a car door close, and maybe someone running…
The thug pulled a rope tightly around her arms. He stopped when he heard his companion call.
"I gots anudder wun here. What should I do with him?"
"Kill 'im," her assailant said without hesitation. He then turned himself and Rachel around to face the thug who was waving his gun at Brad.
"Noooooo!" Rachel screamed.
Before she uttered the last syllable, she felt a strong wind brush past her. The thug no longer held the gun. In one fell swoop, Superman bent the gun in half and bound both of the attackers. He knelt beside Rachel.
"Rachel, are you all right? What happened?"
"I'm fine now. Thank you, Superman. These men attacked me while I was riding home in a cab." With Superman's help, she stood up slowly. "It was a deliberate attack. That one over there," she pointed, "said that his boss wanted me alive."
Rachel looked around until she saw Brad.
"What are you doing here?" she said to the man who was the target for the attacker's bullet.
"After I put you in the cab, I wanted to see you again. I didn't want to wait until tomorrow." Brad shrugged bashfully and continued, "So, I tried to catch up with the cab so I could take you home. I saw the cab with its doors open. That scared me. I called 9-1-1, and got out. The cabbie was unconscious. I heard a voice and started to search for it." Brad moved toward Rachel. He took her hand in his as he continued to talk. "This guy over there found me and dragged me over here. I thought I was dead, but then Superman appeared." He looked at the superhero. "Thank you for helping me."
Superman left the scene not long after the police arrived. Brad stayed with Rachel, promising to drive her home.
Later that day, Lois left Clark to pursue the Argentinean connection while she met with Rachel to find out more about the attack on her in the early morning and about JPL Exports. Rachel assured Lois that the incident that morning unsettled her, but she was generally fine. She only had some scrapes and bruises. Lois, uncharacteristically hovered over Rachel.
Rachel, feeling uncomfortable with Lois's obvious concern, diverted her attention.
"Lois, one thing I learned from the police was that these two men don't know Piryanski and never heard of MetroArt. They got their instructions by phone, from a man with an accent, but not a British one," she hastened to add. "They got paid through an internet bank account that's being traced now."
"Well maybe we can make some connections on our own. I'm sure Piryanski's the one who wants you dead. We're getting close to Mike's killer."
The two women directed their effort into investigating JPL Exports. They were able, through business transactions and from some connections Rachel had in the Paris art world, to connect JPL Exports to Jean Pierre Lambert, the director of conservation and restoration at the Louvre.
According to their sources, Lambert had access to paintings that had not been available for over fifty years. Lambert was selling these paintings through middlemen like Piryanski and dispersing the paintings all over the world.
The question that concerned Rachel and Lois was where the paintings were coming from and if there was some connection with Gunther Schmidt in Buenos Aires. Rachel put in a phone call to a friend with the Surete in Paris to see if he could do a background check on Lambert.
While they waited in her studio for the return call, Lois wandered around looking at Rachel's works in progress.
"That date with Superman must have been spectacular," mused Lois as she stared at the portrait of the superhero.
"Is this an interview or a chat?" teased Rachel. She was glad that Lois was in on the investigation. The woman was intelligent, quick-witted and trustworthy. Rachel felt that it would not be difficult for her to become close friends with Lois Lane; nonetheless, she wasn't sure how much of the 'date' Superman wanted to make public. She was so thankful that he introduced her to Clark Kent and that they were looking into Mike's death that she didn't want to say the wrong thing.
"A chat. Totally off the record…I'm just curious…I…uh…um…bid for the date as well, but I didn't have anything close to fifty thousand dollars." Lois wanted to stop herself because she knew she sounded like a sixteen-year old with a crush.
"Neither did I," chuckled Rachel. "That was Mike's money. I needed to get Superman's attention so that he could help me," Rachel prevaricated.
Lois felt relieved. "What was it like?" she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.
"Superman was polite and distant, very formal. He was nice enough to come into the house and meet the people who worked here. He was especially nice to the children who were clamouring around him. He was very considerate. He must have found out something about me to take me to Algonquin Park. It was a site that interested me, but I never would have thought of actually going there. Tom Thomson's history enthralled me and being at the cabin was fantastic. Superman was considerate enough to bring a camera so that I could take pictures of the landscape and the cabin."
"Did he talk about himself?"
"No. When I gushed over the scenery, especially when we flew over the brightly coloured forests, he told me about some other beautiful sights he's seen while flying, but he never really talked about himself. A few times, I saw a hint of a sense of humour, but overall, I'd say that my impression of Superman is of a kind person very much in control all the time."
"Oh," Lois said thinking about the way Superman smiled at her, the way he had told her the morning after the auction, in Clark's apartment, that he noticed her and that she was special because she was the first woman who had interviewed him, and the way he had held her when he rescued her from the gold depository vault. She realized that she knew a different Superman, the less formal, less public Superman. Perhaps, it didn't matter that Rachel had outbid her for the date. She had already seen more than a random glimpse of the man beneath the suit. Superman was still hers.
The phone interrupted Lois's thoughts. Rachel answered it and listened for a few minutes. When she hung up, she told Lois the gist of the phone call.
"My friend did a background check on Lambert and found nothing about him before he entered the Sorbonne where he did his undergraduate degree in Art History. From there he got a masters' degree in Business Administration in Buenos Aires. He's bilingual: French and Spanish. He returned to Paris and began working in small art galleries as business manager until he was hired by the Louvre, about ten years ago, to work in acquisitions. He was very successful, unearthing some lost art work by some French masters, and he finally was appointed head of the conservation and restoration department. He still does some brokering on the side."
Rachel's exposition was interrupted when the butler announced that Clark was at the door. When Clark entered the room, his excitement was obvious to the two women.
"Perry told me you were here, Lois, so I hope you don't mind that I came over?" Clark didn't wait for her answer. "I just got ba…some information from a source in Buenos Aires about Gunther Schmidt. His real name is Heinz Mueller. He arrived in Buenos Aires in 1947."
"Why did he change his name?"
"According to my sources, he was an SS captain during the Second World War. As the Nazi forces occupied major European cities, Mueller and his bunch had orders to round up all the wealthy Jews, ship them to the ghettos in Poland and confiscate all their valuables. From the ghettos, most of them were shipped to concentration camps. Once the valuables were collected, they were catalogued and distributed to various hiding places in occupied France and Germany. Eventually, Mueller was in charge of the cataloguing and hiding of the art work. When it seemed obvious that Germany was losing the war, Mueller, along with many other Nazis like him, shed his identity and made his way to South America where he assumed a new identity, remarried and raised a new family. He ended up in Buenos Aires."
"Are you suggesting that Piryanski and MetroArt are dealing with stolen art treasures?" asked Lois.
"Yes, Lois, but let me fill in all the blanks because there are some very interesting things that I haven't told you, yet."
"Sorry. This is good stuff, Kent."
"My sources aren't sure how Mueller made money in the beginning. He probably had some gold jewellery to sell, but over time his bank account started growing. He travelled frequently between Buenos Aires, Paris, New York, and Frankfurt. That's when people started getting suspicious. Recently artifacts and paintings, now on the market or in public galleries, have been identified by Holocaust survivors. There's a lot of investigating being done at this point."
"So why haven't they arrested Mueller at this point?" asked Lois.
"Because there isn't a direct link to Mueller, yet. The paintings that are being sold are coming from France."
"MetroArt?" asked Rachel.
"No, I think that it's JPL Exporting. Let me go on with my story. Mueller had a son, Johannes, who disappeared when he finished high school. He wasn't a runaway or a kidnap victim. The police weren't notified or anything. There just is no record of him. I think that if we can find out where he went or who he is now, we might have a substantial clue."
"How do you know all this stuff?" Lois interrupted.
"Oh, Lois, let's just say that I know people, who know people…" Clark reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a snapshot of a young man. "This is the last photograph that my informant could find of Mueller before he disappeared."
Rachel looked at the picture that Clark passed to her. "When did he disappear?"
"1962," Clark answered.
"Bingo!" Rachel exclaimed. "This looks like Lambert. Actually, the picture reminds me of Lambert's younger son, Paul."
Lois, in one of her intuitive leaps of understanding, jumped in and said, "Jean-Pierre Lambert first appears at the Sorbonne in the fall of 1962. Lambert is Mueller's son. So Mueller is padding his old age pension with money from stolen art that his son, Lambert, is selling. All we need now is tangible proof."
"But what is the connection with Mike's death?" Rachel asked.
Clark thought for a moment and then offered, "Do you think that Mike could have been authenticating an important or well-known painting — one so well known that it couldn't be sold on the open market? Once it was authenticated, Mueller or Lambert wouldn't want him around."
"Making the death look like suicide is a good way of deflecting any investigation or suspicions," said Lois, completing Clark's thoughts.
"Rachel," asked Clark, "could Lambert arrange it so that Mike would come to Metropolis to do the verification?"
"Yes, he could have. It makes sense. Lambert had no patience for Mike and it would get him out of the way. Maybe that is why he chose Mike rather than a senior member of the staff. Mike was good, but he was also dispensable."
"They probably offered Mike the $50,000 to entice him to keep quiet while he worked and then gave it to him to lull him into acquiescence until they were ready to kill him," proposed Lois.
"They probably expected to find the money either in a bank account or in his hotel room," added Rachel.
"So now we look for the paper trail to Mueller and Lambert and for Mike's murderer."
"Clark," whispered Lois, "I can't believe we're doing this again and it's your idea this time."
"Neither can I, Lois, but I can't see any other way of getting the documents." A high-pitched wail kept buzzing in Clark's head and he had a hard time concentrating on what Lois was saying. "Sh-sh. Just follow me." He knew that the wailing was on a frequency that only he could hear. He wanted to know what it was so that he could turn it off somehow.
The two reporters had once again jimmied the lock to the back door of The Artist's Palette and were quietly moving along the narrow corridor toward Piryanski's office. The incessant wailing was giving him what he only could describe as a headache. Clark put his hand on the office door and turned the knob. He silently opened the door, looked around quickly, and stepped in, allowing Lois to follow him. As he moved toward Piryanski's desk, he heard Lois gasp and yelp. He turned around to quiet her when he saw the shadow of a man standing behind her with a gun to her head.
Two men came into the room behind the first. One turned on the light to the office. Oleg Piryanski.
"Tie them up," he ordered. "Then we can get on with the work that we started here."
Clark cursed the wailing noise for obstructing the sound of the men who were already in the office. He looked around the room and found a walkie-talkie type communicator lying on Piryanski's desk. He assumed that the high-pitched sound was coming out of it. While one hoodlum who was holding him was watching the other one struggling to get Lois tied up, Clark looked over his glasses and aimed a thin beam of his heat vision at the communicator. It worked. The noise stopped.
The thug finished tying Lois up. She looked at Clark with an annoyed smirk on her face. He could picture her wondering why he was so docile while the man was tying him up. When she rolled her eyes at him as if to say, "Are you just going to stand there and take it?", he managed to control the expression on his face. He couldn't tell her that he had to bide his time and find the right moment.
Once the men bound Clark, they sat him up against a file cabinet across the room from Lois. He watched as Piryanski opened his desk drawer and pulled papers from inside.
"What are you doing, Piryanski?" Lois challenged. "Destroying the evidence?"
Piryanski remained silent. He shoved papers from his desk into his briefcase and then removed folders from his filing cabinets and scattered them on the floor. He took the vodka from his desk and liberally sprinkled it over Lois and then Clark.
"I once read in a newspaper," Piryanski addressed one of his thugs, "how, during a robbery, the owner of the shop was tied up and gagged. The gag, covering his mouth and nose, suffocated him."
"Got it, boss," the thug responded.
"Aren't you going to tell us why you're doing this, Piryanski?" Lois dared.
"This isn't a movie, Ms. Lane. I don't have to explain myself." Piryanski checked his briefcase and looked around the room. "You two know what to do. Your payment will be at the drop-off point." And he left the office.
Clark remained quiet, watching for an opportunity when he could get up and move. The thugs brought in some painters' rags, brushes, paints and turpentine and put them to the side of the room. One thug removed the top from a large can of turpentine and let the liquid flow out onto the rags, papers and the floor. As they worked, they spoke.
"He sure knows how to make things look like an accident."
"This one ain't gonna look like no accident."
"The last one did. That was clean."
"This one ain't. Two bodies."
"The kid didn' know what was happenin'."
"Shuddup, willya? Let's get outta here."
"Naw, ya gotta admit, it was good. We come in, he don't know what hits him, we string 'im up and he's gone. Nice 'n clean and no one knows the difference. Too bad we can't do this one like that."
"Gag 'em an' let's get outta here. Cover their noses and mouths."
The thugs checked the ropes on Lois and Clark and then put duct tape over their mouths and noses. Clark knew that if the thugs didn't get out of there soon, he would have to reveal himself and save Lois. He only had a short time.
Clark watched in horror as Lois struggled for breath. He tried to communicate to her through his eyes, pleading with her not to struggle and use up her air. She was looking at him, trying to tell him to move, not to be so calm, but she wasn't reading his eyes. She kept on moving and squirming.
The talkative thug then threw a match onto the pile of rags, which immediately burst into flame. The two men abruptly left the office.
It had only been a minute, but Clark could see the colour draining from Lois's face. She was beginning to pass out and the flames were spreading quickly. Clark broke the ropes that were tying his hands and quickly removed them from around his legs. The fire was spreading quickly and he worried that the alcohol Piryanski splashed on them would help ignite their clothing faster. He had to move. He had to get them out and get Lois breathing again. He took off at superspeed, untying Lois, removing the tape from her mouth and nose, and getting her out of the building. He gently placed her on the sidewalk and gave her mouth-to-mouth until she was breathing on her own. He was glad once again that he had taken First Aid and CPR courses so many years ago. He needed to get back into the office to stop the fire, but he didn't want to leave Lois alone which was impossible anyway because she hung onto him so tightly.
"Sh…sh," he whispered to her over and over again, "You're all right. You're all right." Clark sat on the sidewalk cradling Lois in his arms, rocking her back and forth. They didn't say anything but clung to each other. Around them, flames crackled and brightened the nighttime sky. Soon lights began flashing; sirens began blaring. Clark looked around. No one was in danger. The fire in The Artist's Palette seemed contained and controlled by the fire fighters. Superman was not needed, but Clark Kent was. "Sh…sh," he whispered to her over and over again, "You're all right. You're all right."
"Well, that's quite a story you have to tell there," gloated Perry as he sat in his office with Lois, Clark and Rachel the next morning.
"Yes, Clark was quite the hero," Lois admitted. "He managed to untie himself, get me out of that building, and give me CPR."
"Not CPR, Lois," Clark corrected. "Just gave you some air."
"How'd'ya get out of them ropes, son?" asked Perry.
"I was lucky enough to find something sharp behind me and used it to cut the ropes when the two thugs were distracted."
"Well, boys and girls, so where does that leave us?" Perry asked.
"Well, we know who killed Mike. I don't think that we could have found proof about Mike's death if Piryanksi's henchmen weren't so stupid," said Clark.
"Piryanksi knew enough to keep his mouth shut," said Lois, "but one of the brutes basically spilled his guts as if he needed that cleansing. He ended up giving Henderson all the details."
"Just to let you know, Rachel," added Clark, "Lambert was arrested on charges of selling stolen goods as was Gunther Schmidt. They'll each be tried in their separate countries. Police are looking for the paintings and are looking for heirs to the original owners."
"So that leaves everything solved except for who and what MetroArt is," said Rachel, "and why Mike was killed."
"Jimmy's tried all different kinds of searches for MetroArt and he hasn't found any links to a specific company or person. Whoever incorporated it buried it deep so as not to be found," Lois said.
"What are you going to do now, Rachel?" Clark asked.
"I've got two plans. First, I'd like to put together my own exhibition based on the paintings I started from Algonquin Park. Secondly, I'd like to go back to the Louvre. I have a puzzle to solve from there."
As Rachel stood with Clark waiting for the elevator to arrive, she said, "My only regret in all this is that we haven't been able to link Lex Luthor to any of this."
"Do you still think he's involved? The only link we had was the caricature of Nigel," Clark said.
"Yes, I think Luthor's involved. It's based on instinct. It was the look in his eyes when he saluted me, after I bid the $50,000 for the date with Superman. He knew."
"I wouldn't be surprised if he was MetroArt and he choreographed Piryanski. He's smart enough not to leave a trace. I'll keep looking. I promise. The man is not what he appears to be."
At that moment, they heard the elevator ding. Rachel leaned in and placed a kiss on Clark's cheek.
"Thank you very much and thank Superman for sending you to me."
Clark put his arms around her and hugged her warmly. "It's been a pleasure knowing you, Rachel. Good luck."
Rachel got on the elevator and the doors closed between them.
Lois watched the leave taking and Clark's response to Rachel's kiss. She wondered what women would bid for Clark at a bachelor auction. She had a feeling that he could demand quite a nice sum of money.
Several months later…
Clark's senses were tuned into his globe that had been stolen from his apartment. He was hearing the fourth message from the globe which explained how and why he arrived on Earth. He was determined to find it this time. He also hoped that whoever had the globe, also had Jack. The boy deserved saving. He deserved a second chance.
The globe was activated and he knew, as he flew over the heart of the city, that he was getting closer. Like a Geiger counter, its pulse got louder and louder. He realized that it was coming from far below the Metropolis Museum of Art. X-raying the layout of the museum, he found the least destructive way of getting in. Diving feet first, down into the depths of the museum, he penetrated each succeeding level, still hearing the alarm clanking in his ears and the pulse of the globe beating with his heart. He kept plunging down, one, two, three levels below the basement of the museum. He then shifted directions and crashed through three more barriers until he finally broke through a steel door.
Jack sat tied up in a chair. He seemed to be fine. Clark went over and untied him. Clark focussed on the alarm panel on the wall and froze it with his breath. The alarm stopped, leaving an unexpected silence in the vault. He then reached for the globe which was hovering above his head. Knowing where it belonged, the globe lowered itself into Clark's grasp. He held it in front of his eyes, relieved to have it back, and then clutched it to his chest. All was right in the world.
Once he had accustomed himself to having the globe back in his possession, he looked around the room. Incredible. Arms from a statue. A Gainsborough, but a boy dressed in yellow. Beethoven's Tenth Symphony. Van Gogh's Ear? He remembered Mike Feldman's satirical illustrations. Then he turned and saw the full length Mona Lisa. He thought of Mike's sketchbook: Mona Lisa's face where Mike had drawn Rachel's; Superman sitting in the same position as Mona Lisa. He knew this was the real thing. He realized all at once that this was what Mike must have been working on.
And it was a secret because whoever the owner was, probably the same man who owned a certain sword that belonged to Darius III, didn't want anyone to know of its existence.
Clark took Jack out of the vault. As Superman, he informed the police and the museum about the cache of art in the vault. He gave them a statement and flew off, returning as Clark to write up the story for the Planet.
Back at his apartment, he took out Mike's sketchbook which he had meant to return to Rachel but never got around to. He flipped through the pages until he came to the illustration of the Mona Lisa, the one with Rachel's face. Clark smiled.
He checked his watch and saw that it wasn't drastically late in Paris. Rachel picked up after two rings.
"Rachel? It's Clark, in Metropolis," he said.
"Clark? How are you?"
"Very well, Rachel, very well. I think I know why Mike was killed."
"Tomorrow, in the International Daily Planet, there'll be an article about a treasure trove that Superman found under the Metropolis Museum of Art."
"One of the paintings was a full length portrait of Mona Lisa, very like the sketch in Mike's sketchbook. He saw it. He must've authenticated it. Whoever purchased the painting didn't want anyone to know that it existed. After the owner knew it was real, he killed Mike. He didn't want anyone to know that he possessed it."
"Oh my goodness! The full-figured Mona Lisa?" Rachel gasped and she was silent for a few seconds.
"Rachel? Are you okay?" Clark could hear Rachel's breathing over the phone.
"Clark, you're not going to believe this," she inhaled and the words came tumbling out. "That painting is real. When I was working on the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, before all this happened, I found a sketch between the panel boards. I didn't tell anyone. It was the same as Mike's drawing except it had Mona Lisa's face." Rachel paused for a moment before adding guiltily, "I've sort of cheated by keeping it to myself. I meant to tell someone, but once Lambert was arrested, I waited."
"Slowly. Fill in the details."
Rachel took a deep breath and spoke slowly, "That day, after I found out that Yvette had been killed, I pulled out a piece of paper that was between the two oak panels."
"Yes. The Mona Lisa is painted on what was thought to be one oak panel. It was really two stuck together. And there was a piece of paper between the panels."
"What was on the paper?"
"It was a sketch and there was a note, in Italian, in that mirror writing that Leonardo used, saying that the sketch was the first painting and a note about a second smaller one that he would transport to France."
"And the paper is real?"
"Yes, I had a corner of the parchment analysed and it dates from the same time."
"What does that mean?"
"It is very likely that Leonardo sketched it and painted the full length one."
"The one Superman found in the vault?"
"Yes, ohmygoodness. This is so exciting," she gushed, but then calming herself down again, she continued. "Then Leonardo probably took it to France with him. The small painting was acquired by Francois I, but someone else must have bought the larger painting. While the small one remained in the royal collections and then went from Versailles to the Tuileries and finally to the Louvre, the larger painting must have gone into a private collection and since it wasn't signed, its pedigree was lost."
"A Jewish family," surmised Clark, "must have taken possession of it sometime in the next few hundred years."
"They may have considered it to be a fanciful imitation."
"When the Nazis confiscated the art work," Clark continued, "they probably didn't know what they had. Schmidt must have sold it off as a very good imitation, but the purchaser must have suspected that he had the real thing."
"I don't think so, because his only contact was Piryanski and he was surprised about the painting."
"Mike must have figured that it was real," Rachel said. "He may have been asking questions. That's why he asked for the tracing of the Mona Lisa's panel."
"I'm not following you here," Clark interrupted.
"One way to prove that a painting is real is to locate a panel from the same workshop. You do that by looking at the rings on the wood. It's like a fingerprint. One tree; one pattern of rings. Mike knew."
"Who knew about the paper?"
"Just me. I was so shaken up by what happened to Yvette and Mike that I put it into my freezer for safekeeping, and then forgot about it. Luckily, the thieves who ransacked my apartment didn't search the freezer."
"Lucky? Or were they looking for something like that paper?" Clark speculated.
"Impossible. Only I knew about it. Yvette died before I…sort of…lifted it."
"Then why do you think your apartment was vandalized?" Clark continued to probe.
"I thought that Luthor wanted to know what Mike might have told me. He wasn't looking for the fifty thousand because I had given it to Browen the night of the auction. But," Rachel speculated, "I think it was Luthor. He needed to find any loose ends that Mike might have left."
"I know what you think, Rachel, but until we can prove it, we can't do anything. I am glad, at least, that we know why Mike died."
"Me, too. Thanks again, Clark. Au revoir." Rachel hung up the phone.
Clark didn't pay attention to the second click of the line when he hung up the phone. He was in a hurry to fly to Smallville to share the globe with his parents.
The next day the Daily Planet's headlines screamed: SUPERMAN UNEARTHS TREASURE TROVE BENEATH METROPOLIS ART MUSEUM by Lois Lane. Lex Luthor and Nigel St. John stopped at the newsstand and looked at the headline.
Nigel saw the concern on his employer's face and commiserated, "You could always visit them on exhibit, I suppose."
"Wouldn't be the same."
"No. Quite right." Nigel looked at Lex. "If I may say so, sir, you seem surprisingly composed considering your loss."
"Give and take, Nigel. Win some; lose some. One step backward; two steps forward. Before we were so rudely interrupted by Superman, I had just learned that a Kryptonian infant, the last Kryptonian infant, was about to be sent here." Lex paused for effect. "Superman didn't arrive when we assume it did. It arrived here as an infant; it was raised as a common earthling."
Nigel stopped to absorb what he heard. "But if that's true…"
"He walks among us," Lex finished his sentence. "And when I discover his earthly identity as I will, he and all the people who share his secret will be at my mercy."
Nigel opened the car door and Lex entered the car. Nigel walked around to the other side and got into the driver's seat. He carefully pulled out of the parking spot and eased into the traffic.
"We still have a few problems."
"Taken care of, sir."
"MetroArt is deeply buried. There are no links to Lex Corps or to you."
"Good, Nigel. Let sleeping dogs lie." Lex sat quietly for a moment and then said, "But the young Mr. Feldman had contact with you."
"Indeed, he did, sir. As you know, Mr. Piryanski had him, let me say, taken care of in a manner fitting a good painting. Hanging."
"True retribution, Nigel. My compliments to a master."
"Thank you, sir."
"And the $50,000?"
"Alas, sir, that money went to the Blind Children at the charity auction. I was unable to find it before Ms. McCarthy gave it away."
"Ah, yes, on a date with that nuisance, the superhero. Ah, well, the blind children benefited."
"My sources, Nigel, tell me that M. Lambert is now in a jail cell. I think that you should, discreetly, make the evidence that you have available to the authorities in Paris about M. Lambert's connection to the burglary at Rachel McCarthy's flat and to Yvette Morreau's death."
"Yes, sir. Discreetly, of course."
"I am curious to know what that piece of paper that Morreau and Rachel found between the panel boards was."
"According to Lambert, sir, on the day she was killed, Morreau told him that she had found what looked like a piece of paper sticking out from between the panel boards. Lambert did not want anyone else to see it since it might be valuable so he planned that accident. He also removed Miss McCarthy from the project. When he couldn't find the paper, he arranged for Miss McCarthy's flat to be searched."
"Yes, more examples of Lambert's bungling. One of the drawbacks of having to deal with fools."
"I understand, sir."
Lex took a cigar out of the humidor. "And Miss McCarthy, herself, Nigel?"
"She has returned to Paris, but she will not be a problem much longer. I will take care of that." "No, Nigel, leave her be. She really doesn't know anything that can be linked to me." He leaned back in the car and looked at the cigar in his hand. Slowly, he put it in his mouth and savoured the taste.
"Good," he said as he exhaled, "Now I think I'll get Miss Lane on the phone. Dinner and an evening at the opera. That should get her mind off Superman."
"A pleasing thought."