By Marcus L. Rowland <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted September 2007
Summary: When Lois and Clark investigate a series of decapitation murders, they find evidence of a strange conspiracy that seems to involve a mysterious crime fighter from Gotham City. Crossover with the Highlander TV show and Batman (film and comic versions).
This is a Lois & Clark / Highlander / Batman crossover. For Lois and Clark it's set a year or so after the show ended, and there are no spoilers. Clark Kent and Lois Lane are happily married; both are still investigative reporters. For Highlander it's after the end of the TV series, a little before the film Highlander: End Game. I've taken minor liberties with the timing of some events in the Highlander universe; see the end notes for details. For Batman it's a year or so after Batman begins his crime-fighting career (as shown in Batman Begins or the Batman: Year One comics). All characters belong to their respective creators, production companies, etc.; this story may not be distributed on a profit-making basis.
This story was originally put online as ten chapters, which I've retained in this text.
"Lois!" shouted Perry, coming into the newsroom, "Have you got anything on the decapitation murders?"
"Nothing we didn't already know," said Lois. "Three killed so far, and the premises trashed. Henderson said it looked like bombs had gone off, but they couldn't find any explosive traces."
"Anything they aren't saying?"
"Well," said Lois. "Unofficially, they're pretty sure that the murder weapon is some sort of sword, probably something like a cutlass. Apparently they can tell by the way the cuts were made and blood spatter patterns. The other thing I've heard is that all three of the victims owned swords which were missing after the killings. Forrest Weber was a well-known collector, his best katana was missing; George Davis had an eighteenth century cavalry sabre on his office wall that was missing when they found the body, and the sheath from a Victorian sword stick was found under Roger Shaw's body. The police don't want any of that getting out yet; they're hoping that the killer won't ditch the weapons if he doesn't know the police are looking for them."
"Anything from Superman?" asked Perry.
"He told me he's checked out the crime scenes," said Clark, bringing Lois a coffee. "He said that he agrees with the police, he can't detect any evidence of explosives. It's not for publication, but he thinks that the main cause of the damage was electrical, something like lightning." He didn't share their other conclusion; something roughly human-sized had been in the centre of each explosion, creating voids in the patterns of broken glass and shredded papers that littered the floors of the crime scenes.
"It sounds like a weapon," said Lois. "Maybe some sort of energy gun, or someone with super-powers."
Like invulnerability, Clark added mentally.
"I hope not," said Clark. Even Superman could sometimes be affected by electricity, although most people didn't know that. "The last thing Metropolis needs is another supervillain."
"It'd make a great story," said Lois.
"Anything else?" asked Perry. "Something we can hang some hard news on?"
"Jimmy's still tracing the victims," said Lois, "trying to find something they had in common."
"Where is he, anyway?"
"Went down to the morgue," said Clark. "He said something about checking some old stories."
"Anyone seen the big dictionary?" shouted Cat Grant, standing and looking around the room accusingly. Clark still occasionally found himself doing a double-take when he saw her; she'd left Metropolis when Lex Luthor had the Planet bombed four years earlier, and spent most of the intervening time covering the society scene in Europe as a freelancer. Now she was back, hired by Perry to replace a succession of lacklustre columnists, and it was as though she'd never been away. Despite her time away her looks and her taste in clothes, or lack thereof, hadn't changed. Clark wasn't sure if her return was good or bad; certainly the gossip column was a lot livelier, but the noise level in the newsroom sometimes seemed to have doubled.
"I've got it," said Clark, moving round to his desk opposite Lois. "What do you want?"
"What's a Toledo Salamanca?" asked Cat.
"Toledo's in Spain," said Clark. "So's Salamanca. Let's see…" He leafed through Webster's Unabridged and found the right page, taking care to keep down to a fast but humanly possible speed. "If you put the two together you get an antique Spanish sword."
"What in the Sam Hill are you working on?" asked Perry. "I thought you were writing up the Superman Foundation charity auction."
"I am," said Cat. "One of the lots is going to be a fifteenth-century Toledo Salamanca. There's a hundred thousand dollar reserve on it."
"Who in Elvis's name donated that?"
"Russell Nash," said Cat. "He's a New York antique dealer. I guess it's his way of thanking Superman for saving us from the asteroid."
"Hell of a generous thank-you," said Lois.
"Why did he wait so long?" asked Clark. "The auction's on the fifth anniversary."
Cat shrugged and said, "Don't know. But he's loaded, so it could just be he thought it'd be a nice gesture."
"Maybe," said Lois. "Hey… all three murder victims owned antique swords, and that thing has to be the mother of all antique swords."
"Good point," said Clark. "If someone's killing people who own valuable swords, I'd hate to be the one who bought the Salamanca."
"You know," said Perry, "something about this rings one hell of a bell. Swords and decapitations, swords and decapitations… must have been ten or twelve years ago…"
"'Eighty-five," said Jimmy, coming in with a stack of files. "Five bodies turned up around New York, all of them decapitated using a sharp sword. There was a suspect for a while, an antique dealer called…"
"Russell Nash!" Lois and Clark interrupted in unison.
"That's right," said Jimmy. "How did you know? He was seen near one of the crime scenes, where a guy called Fasil was killed. But a couple of nights later someone got a look at the real killer; he was a weird-looking punk dude." He pulled out a police sketch of a bald monster, with safety pins pushed through a deep scar on his neck. "No way could it have been Nash, he's just an ordinary-looking guy. There was another killing, then the murderer just vanished."
"Was a sword called a Toledo Salamanca involved?"
"Hmm…" Jimmy leafed through the printout then said, "Yeah. It was found near Fasil's body, later identified as his."
"So how did Nash end up owning it?" asked Clark.
"Maybe you should ask him, Clark," said Lois.
"Hey," said Cat, "the auction's my story. Besides, I've met Nash, he'll talk to me."
"Pool your results," said Perry, "and if the sword turns out to be important in the murders Cat gets to write that part of the story." He went back to his office.
"Okay," said Clark. He turned to Cat and said, "How do you know Nash?"
"Mostly I know his cousin in Paris," said Cat, "and I've run into Nash on trips to New York a couple of times. He's about the most exclusive antiques dealer in the city."
"One of your conquests?" asked Lois.
"I wish! He's gorgeous! But he's happily married, and that's something I don't usually mess with… though I'd make exceptions for a few guys," she said, batting her eyelashes at Clark. Lois looked at her suspiciously. Cat studiously ignored her.
"Okay," said Clark, "that's one possible lead. Did you find anything else, Jimmy?"
"The first guy that was killed, Forrest Weber… there's no record of him prior to 'seventy-eight."
"Didn't someone say he'd moved here from Los Angeles?" asked Lois.
"No records there either," said Jimmy, "but I talked to someone at the LA Tribune. She found a death notice for a Forrest Weber, aged six months, in nineteen forty-eight. Infantile paralysis, whatever that is."
"Polio," said Clark. "It was still a big killer then. So someone got a copy of his birth certificate, and used that to fake up the rest of his ID?"
"Looks like it. Whoever it was did a pretty good job," said Jimmy. "I don't think that the police are onto it yet."
"Could it be the witness protection program?" asked Lois.
"Doubt it," said Jimmy, "if it was there'd be paper to back up his story in LA."
"Take a look at the others," said Lois, "see if you can find anything similar."
"Already on it." He went back towards the morgue.
"Okay," said Cat. "I'll call Nash." She went back to her desk, dug into her purse, and pulled out a thick address book and began leafing through it.
"What do you make of this?" asked Clark.
"The way it's suddenly coming together?" asked Lois. "These things happen sometimes."
"I've a feeling that we're missing something," said Clark. "The sword thing looks obvious, but maybe it's just a red herring. The murder scenes looked like they'd been hit by a tornado. TV sets exploded, glass shattered, scorch marks everywhere but no actual burning."
"Do you really think someone with superpowers might be involved?"
Clark lowered his voice and said, "I could do most of it with super-breath and heat vision, but I think electricity was used too. It's a weird combination of powers."
Over at her desk Cat was talking animatedly to someone. Clark listened for a second and heard her speaking in fluent French: "…wore a dress with weights around the hem to stop it blowing up. She spun round and nearly broke his knee…" It didn't sound much like a conversation about swords. He guessed that she was talking to one of her European contacts. At the next desk Lois was talking to the police again, but wasn't getting very far. He tuned out both their voices, and set to work running his own traces on the victims.
About fifteen minutes later Lois looked up to see Cat peering at Clark's screen over his shoulder, and said, "Have you got something on the sword?"
"Umm… yeah," said Cat, "but it probably won't help us much."
"Okay," said Clark, glancing round. "Let's hear it."
"Well," said Cat, "it's pretty much a tragedy. I didn't speak to Nash, he's gone on some sort of retreat, but I called his cousin in Paris and he gave me the low-down."
"So what happened?" asked Lois.
"Okay… the first thing is that Brenda Nash died a few months ago; some stupid car accident. Apparently she was a big Superman fan, so when the auction came up Russell decided to donate the sword."
"Why that sword?" asked Clark, making a mental note that Superman should write a 'Thank you' letter and offer his condolences.
"It was Brenda's; he bought it for her as a wedding present."
"He bought her a sword as her wedding present?" asked Lois. "A hundred-thousand-dollar sword? We mostly got cookware."
"Try a half-million-dollar sword," said Cat. "A hundred thousand's just the reserve. Russell paid five hundred and four grand for it. He could afford it, he's loaded."
"That's a lot of money," said Clark. "But why a sword?"
"It's what brought them together. She was the police metallurgy expert in the New York decapitation case; he was one of the suspects for a while. After he was cleared they found that they had a lot in common. Fasil's estate put the sword up for auction just before they married, and he bought it for her."
"That's so sad," said Lois. "And he's gone on a retreat?"
"That's what his cousin says, some sort of monastic order."
"That pretty much excludes him as a suspect," said Clark, "unless it's all a cover."
"I don't think so," said Cat. "I know Duncan a lot better than I know Russell, I'm pretty sure he was telling me the truth."
"Know him?" asked Lois, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh yeah," said Cat, a gleam in her eyes. "Biblically… and lots of other ways too, including a couple that never made it into the Kama Sutra." She looked at Clark's screen again, pointed to the old news story he was reading, and said,"Don't believe a word of that, it's a PR puff from Roger Shaw's press secretary. You can take anything it says about him with a pinch of salt. He was a mean SOB and most of his employees hated him."
"You knew him, too?" asked Clark.
"Clark," Cat said patiently, "it's my job to know these people. I go to the same parties and shows, I eat with them, occasionally — and only when I really like them — I sleep with them. Not Shaw though, he really wasn't my type." She patted his cheek gently and wandered off towards her own desk.
"Shut your mouth, Clark," said Lois, "or your jaw will set that way."
"Yeah… it's just…"
"I know, Clark. I know…"
"She's…" Abruptly the part of Clark's brain that was always alert for sounds of trouble picked up sirens and an alarm bell. "Cover for me. I'm going to get some bagels." Lois got on with her work as Clark disappeared towards the supply closet. A second or two later she heard a soft sonic boom, and wondered what Superman would have to deal with this time around.
"…and I was just asking for extra cream cheese when the jewel store alarm went off," said Clark. "You'd think that by now people would know better than to try armed robbery in Metropolis, but apparently not. Anyway, Superman soon took care of things, and I've got the story."
"Lucky for us you were there to get it," said Perry, "and good work getting a quote from the robbers. Got anything new on the decapitation killings?"
"Still working on it."
"It'd be good to have something to run tomorrow morning," said Perry, heading for his office.
"We'll try," said Clark, "but I can't guarantee it."
"So your idea is that whoever buys the Salamanca tomorrow night will be the next target?" Lois said a few minutes later.
"It seems likely," said Clark. "It's about the only clue we have to go on right now, and the timing's about right. Even if the buyer isn't the target, the bidders will be sword collectors, and the target might be amongst them."
"Or maybe," said Jimmy, "someone's killing sword collectors to bring the price down. So whoever buys it will be the killer."
"Why would it bring the price down?" asked Lois. "We haven't printed anything about swords being stolen, neither has the Star."
"You know," Clark said slowly, "Jimmy may have a point. There hasn't been any publicity, but by now the police have probably talked to every well-known sword collector in Metropolis. If I heard something like that I'd think twice before making myself conspicuous by bidding. It's a nice sword, I suppose, but I doubt it's worth dying for."
"You wouldn't want to lose your head," said Cat, who had come up while they were talking. Everyone else groaned. "Well, I'm not so sure. I got Duncan to ask around, and it seems that there'll be some serious out-of-town bidding going on. About a dozen different museums are bidding, and maybe eight or ten private collectors. It's really that rare."
"So there are some out-of-town sword collectors in Metropolis right now?" asked Clark.
"I guess," said Cat with a shrug. "It's not really my scene. Collectors mostly tend to be fat rich old guys."
"And…?" Lois asked pointedly.
"Rich is always good, but fat and old are passion-killers. And you can forget them as murder suspects too; can you see a fat old guy chopping off someone's head?"
"Not really," said Clark.
"Damn right," said Cat. "There's a reason why the guys who sword-fight in movies are hunks; it takes agility and a lot of muscle."
"All of the murder victims were pretty fit," Clark remembered.
"I wonder if they went to the same gym," said Lois.
"Henderson couldn't find any evidence they'd ever met, but maybe that's one he didn't think of. I'll give him a call." Clark dialled, got through to one of Henderson's assistants, and asked a few questions. After a minute or so he shook his head, rang off, and said "No dice. Shaw had a weight room and gym in his basement, Davis belonged to the Metropolis Club, and Weber worked out at the YMCA."
"Rats," said Lois, turning to Cat. "Any chance of getting a list of potential buyers for the sword?"
"Way ahead of you," said Cat. "Duncan's finding out, he'll fax me the details as soon as he knows."
"Once we get it maybe you can help us weed out the fat old guys," Lois said sarcastically. "Then we should be left with the young hunks."
"Sounds good to me," said Cat, without a trace of sarcasm in her voice. "I've got to get some more work done on my column; talk to you when the fax comes." Once she was sure that Lois and Clark were busy with other things she slipped out of the newsroom.
The woman who called herself Cat Grant in this city and decade walked down to one of the less convenient ladies rooms, on a floor that mostly held storerooms and the Planet's network file servers, checked that she was alone, and kicked a small wedge under the door. It wouldn't keep out someone determined, but it ought to give her warning if someone tried to get in. Alone, she suddenly looked much more mature, though it would take another immortal to sense the thousands of years of experience she possessed.
Cat was worried; Lois, Clark and Jimmy were already shining light into corners she'd prefer were kept dark. Her only consolation was that they'd be doing that anyway if she wasn't there. With her 'help', if she played things just right, they wouldn't see anything that led beyond the immediate murders. The only alternative was to quit the Planet, drop out of sight, and establish a new identity somewhere else, but she wasn't ready to do that yet. She liked working here, she had fun playing the part of Cat, so much more frivolous than her real personality, and she was damned if some punk head-hunter, too wet behind the ears to cover his trail properly, was going to drive her away.
She reached down to a pipe about four inches wide, protruding a couple of feet from the floor near one of the wash basins, painted an inconspicuous off-white and topped by a solid metal cap apparently secured by several paint-covered bolts. It looked like a disused drain, certainly nothing that anyone using the ladies room for its normal purposes was likely to want to open, while a plumber would find the bolts unmovable and better access to the plumbing under one of the basins. Cat pushed a thin metal rod into an inconspicuous hole below the cap and twisted it. There was a soft click and an inner cylinder rose into view, made of aluminium with a clear plastic front. Inside she could see the sharkskin-covered hilt of a gleaming sword, the blade running down into the pipe. For a few seconds she thought of taking it, then decided against it and pushed the cylinder back down into the lead-lined pipe until the locking mechanism clicked to hold it closed. For now it was enough to know that it was there, and the others like it she'd concealed around the city since Superman's arrival. She breathed deeply for a few seconds, gradually submerging her true personality in the persona she assumed for Cat, then kicked the door wedge out of the way and spent the next few minutes freshening up before heading back up to the newsroom.
"Okay," Cat said an hour later, "remember that these are only the ones that Duncan knows about, there's going to be a lot more people at the auction, and maybe some of them will want the sword. Anyway, these three represent museums." She put crosses against their names on the fax.
"I thought you said that a dozen museums were interested," said Lois with a hint of accusation in her tone.
"Three sent representatives," Cat said patiently, "the others will be bidding by phone, of course."
"What about the rest?" Clark asked.
Cat ran a long scarlet nail down the list. "This guy… and him… oh, and her, they're all business agents for overseas collectors. They wouldn't know which end of a sword to hold if they had to do it for themselves."
"It sounds like we can rule them out as murder suspects," said Clark.
"I guess," Lois said dubiously.
"I'll check them out anyway," said Jimmy.
"Let's see; who's left?" said Cat. "Okay, Carstairs is a hippo. He collects swords but he wouldn't be able to use them properly. Hopkinson's eighty and pretty feeble, you can forget him. And Muller had a stroke a few months ago, he's half paralyzed. There's no way he could swing a sword." She added three more crosses to the list.
"Any of them could be victims if they buy the sword, of course," said Clark.
"I'm not so sure," said Lois. "All of the victims were fit and in excellent shape. I think the killer likes a challenge."
"If Lois is right," said Clark, "who does that leave?"
"Let's see… Peter Cowper. Don't know much about him, he's apparently a British collector, but Duncan doesn't think he has the money if the bidding gets serious. He won't be in Metropolis until tomorrow. Abdul Ben Ishmael is a Saudi oil millionaire, he's certainly fit enough. He plays polo, has a handicap of eight."
"Is that good?" asked Lois.
"Ten's the maximum handicap, only two or three players in the world are that good," said Cat. "Eight could get you onto a national team. Apart from that he's a rich playboy, collects vintage cars, swords, and abstract art, doesn't seem to be up to anything too out of the ordinary."
"Is he in town?" asked Clark, noting down the names.
"He arrived a week ago, just before the first murder. But I wouldn't read too much into that, his company has its US offices in Metropolis."
"Okay, anyone else?"
"Jose Rodriguez is an Argentinean collector, he's pretty fit too; plays squash and golf, that sort of thing."
"And you don't like him?" asked Lois. There'd been something in her tone of voice.
"The down-side of my job," Cat said after a short pause, "is that you hear a lot of things you can never prove. Some of them are pretty ugly. There are rumours that he likes underage girls. Strong rumours. But he's got a lot of power in Argentina, he's scared or paid off anyone who could say anything in court. He's only been in town three days so he's probably not the murderer. But I guess he could be the target." She sounded remarkably cheerful about the idea.
Clark made a mental note to keep an eye on Rodriguez while he was in Metropolis.
After a moment Lois asked "Any others?"
"Three more," said Cat. "Timothy Yu owns half the orange groves in Florida. He's pretty fit, sails and goes in for martial arts, including fencing. He can't be the murderer, he was competing in a yacht race until a couple of days ago; only got in from Hawaii last night, but he'll be a strong bidder."
"Okay," said Clark, making more notes. "And the next?"
"Alfred Pennyworth is Bruce Wayne's butler from Gotham City," said Cat. "I guess he's bidding for him; Wayne collects swords and armour. Pennyworth was some sort of soldier, I think, but he's pushing sixty. Still pretty fit though."
"Bruce Wayne?" asked Clark. "Is he any relation to Wayne Industries or the Wayne Foundation?"
"He owns them, plus WayneTech and a few other companies. He's Gotham's most eligible bachelor." She smiled reminiscently.
"A notch on your bedpost?" asked Lois.
"I wish… but I've come close a couple of times."
"Let's stay focused," suggested Clark. "Any others?"
"Last but by no means least," said Cat, "Paul Kerensky. Russian multi-millionaire, has his fingers in a lot of pies. There are stories about him too, the one I kinda lean towards says he's Russian Mafia. He's supposed to have served with Spet.. Spets…"
"Spetsnaz?" asked Clark. "Russian special forces?"
"Them, right," said Cat. "He was with them in Afghanistan, got wounded and invalided out in 'eighty-six, then dropped out of sight for a while and came back loaded. Bought a couple of European soccer teams, now he's trying to buy the Metropolis Cubs."
Clark remembered seeing something about it on the sports news, and said, "He's been in Metropolis for at least a month, well before the first murder."
"He sounds the most likely candidate," said Lois.
"If there was money in it," mused Clark, "but I can't see killing someone just to get a nineteenth century swordstick. You can get them for a few hundred dollars if you shop around."
"I don't think it works that way," said Jimmy. "I think that whoever it is wants the swords as trophies, and maybe to show he's a better swordsman than they are."
"Sounds plausible," Lois said approvingly.
"So what do we do next?" asked Cat.
"I think we take a look at all of them and see if we can spot anything. Failing that, we'll have to wait for the auction."
"So Cowper's not the murderer," Clark said as he and Lois walked from the Lexor Hotel. "With arthritis that bad there's no way he could get any power into a sword blow."
"Are you sure?" asked Lois.
"I took a good look at his hands," he said, tipping his glasses down a little to indicate that he'd used his special vision. "Poor guy's fingers are practically immobile. Anyway, the police think that the killer is a lot taller. He'd have to stand on a box!"
"Oh well, it was worth a try."
"I guess," said Clark. "And I know what he looks like and where he's staying now, which will make it easier to keep an eye on him if he buys the sword. The next one isn't far, anyway."
"I'm surprised he isn't staying in the Lexor too," Lois said as they entered a block of luxury apartments.
"Wayne Industries must lease the apartment for visiting executives," said Clark, approaching the security desk and asking for Alfred Pennyworth. "I suppose it's cheaper if they use it a lot."
The security guard called upstairs then asked them to sign a visitor's book, adding, "Eleventh floor, apartment 1105. Sign out when you leave, please."
"Okay," said Clark, pulling the book towards him as Lois pointed towards the plate glass windows at the front of the lobby and said, "Isn't that kid scratching the glass?"
As the guard looked round Clark flicked through the pages at super-speed, memorising twenty-four pages, and Lois said "My mistake, he's gone now." By the time the guard turned back Clark was signing the book. It was one of the tricks they'd developed over the years, and occasionally it paid off. Lois asked, "Spot anything interesting?" as they went up in the elevator.
"Yes," said Clark. "Pennyworth had a visitor here yesterday. Paul Kerensky."
"The Russian Mafia guy?"
"If that's what he really is."
"Weird," said Lois.
"Maybe," said Clark. "Kerensky's a millionaire and Pennyworth works for a billionaire; it could be a perfectly straightforward business meeting."
"I'll see if I can slip in a question without arousing suspicion."
The man who opened the door was tall, impeccably-dressed, and grey-haired. He said, "Ms. Lane and Mister Kent?" in an accent which irresistibly reminded them of Luthor's servant Nigel.
Clark said, "We're writing a background piece on the bidders at tomorrow's charity auction."
"Of course," said Pennyworth. "Please, come in. Can I get you some tea? Or coffee? The kettle's on." He showed them into a comfortable-looking lounge, with deep armchairs arranged in a semi-circle around a wide fireplace. Flames flickered over the logs, and a gentle heat filled the room. Clark noticed a pair of swords crossed above the mantelpiece, which he recognized as cavalry sabres.
"Tea please," said Clark, as Lois said "Coffee." Pennyworth smiled and went out of the room, leaving them to take seats.
"I'm surprised they can have an open fire here," said Lois, "but I guess that if you're rich enough you can bend the pollution laws." Clark was busy scanning the swords for signs of blood and didn't reply.
"Actually," said Pennyworth, coming in again with a tray holding jugs of milk and cream, sliced lemon, and three different types of cookie, "it's a hologram, the heat source is infra-red. Mister Wayne is very conscious of environmental issues." He went out again, and they heard a soft clatter from the kitchen. Clark gave up on the swords; there was nothing on them apart from just enough dust to make him reasonably sure that they hadn't been used or cleaned in several days.
"The fire looks so real," said Lois, taking a double chocolate chip cookie. "He's kidding, right?"
Clark put a hand over the flames, keeping it as high as a normal human would, and said, "No, it's true. It feels like there's more heat coming from above my hand than below it."
Pennyworth came back with their drinks and a cup of tea for himself, saying "Be careful, you can be burned if your hand stays in there too long."
"I can feel it," said Clark, pulling his hand back and blowing on it as though it were a little scorched, "but I think I'm okay. That's an interesting toy, is it really practical?"
"Mister Wayne thinks so," said Pennyworth, sitting in one of the chairs and pushing a button on a remote control. The fire vanished, replaced by the BBC's satellite news service, its sound low, and Lois realised that the fireplace surround had the same proportions as a widescreen TV. "Wayne Industries will be selling them later this year."
"Do you think widescreen TV will catch on?" asked Lois.
"It's becoming quite popular in Britain," said Pennyworth. "Maybe in a few years the same will be true here. Now, what can I do for you?" He pressed a button and the fireplace reappeared.
"As you may know," said Clark, "the sword that's coming up for sale tomorrow has an interesting history. We've heard that you'll be bidding for Mister Wayne, and we were wondering if he had any concerns about owning it?"
"Most of the weapons in his collection have been used in anger. This one more recently than most, I'll grant you, but there's actually no real evidence that it's ever taken a life."
"That's true," said Lois, "but doesn't the fact that a previous owner was murdered worry you, especially now that there are similar murders happening in Metropolis?"
"Assuming I bid on it," said Pennyworth, "if I were successful I would take it back to Gotham City, and Wayne Manor has excellent burglar alarms. Wayne Industries make them."
"How about the other bidders?" asked Clark. "Is there anyone who might be after it?"
"There are several possibilities. Paul Kerensky, of course, he's been after one for years, as has Timothy Yu. Then there's Cowper, though I expect he'll drop out of the bidding early. Abdul Ben Ishmael… oh, and possibly Rodriguez, if he has the courage for it." There was an edge to his voice that hadn't been there when he mentioned the others.
"You don't like him?" asked Lois. "We've heard rumours, of course…"
"Ah yes, from Miss Grant of course… In the unlikely event that he was to visit Gotham again," said Pennyworth, "he would not be welcome in Mister Wayne's home."
"On his last trip to Gotham there was an incident… it's believed that at least one police officer was bribed to look the other way; there wasn't quite enough evidence for his arrest at the time, although more has since been found. Not quite enough for extradition, unfortunately. Meanwhile, our local vigilante went into business and demonstrated an… intolerance… of certain types of crime, so it's rather unlikely he'll return."
"But Rodriguez is in Metropolis," said Clark. "He's not afraid of Superman?"
"Superman usually seems to be content to let the law take its course," said Pennyworth, "whereas by all accounts Batman is less… patient."
"What about the other bidders? Kerensky, for example?"
"Oh, Paul's certainly after it," said Pennyworth, "but he wants the Hockney painting too, so hopefully getting both will stretch his budget."
"You know him?" asked Lois.
"His father and I were old comrades." At their looks he laughed and said "Oh, not in the Soviet sense. I'm an old soldier. Can this be off the record?"
Lois hesitated, then said "Okay," and Clark nodded his agreement.
"In the sixties," said Pennyworth, "Paul's father was a GRU agent based at the Russian embassy in London."
"GRU?" Lois asked.
"Soviet military intelligence; they were a slightly less politicized organisation than the KGB. Although relationships between our governments were generally rather strained, we did occasionally work together, and with some other governments, on some projects of mutual interest."
"Oh, the odd Nazi here, an indiscriminate terrorist there, that sort of thing, I'm sure that you can imagine. Everyone was doing it then… us, the Israelis, the French, and of course your own government."
"Assassination?" asked Clark.
"Actually, we usually tried to capture them; corpses can't answer many questions. The Russians were especially keen; they loved show trials. Of course it all ended in tears… Paul's father insisted on going after a particularly repulsive war criminal his superiors regarded as an intelligence source; we caught up with the fellow in Spain and handed him over to the Israelis. Kruschev wasn't pleased, and Paul's father ended up in Siberia. It ruined his health, killed him in the end. Paul spent most of his teens in state institutions; then he joined their army. I think he felt he had something to prove — he's the fourth or fifth most decorated survivor of Afghanistan."
"And now he's a millionaire?" asked Lois.
"Wayne Industries' leading trading partner in Eastern Europe," said Pennyworth.
"On your recommendation?"
"Mister Wayne helped him with some of his initial funding. And yes, it was on my recommendation."
"So the rumours of Russian mafia involvement…?" said Clark.
"Are nonsense," Pennyworth said firmly. "Believe me, Wayne Industries is very careful about its trading partners. His business is entirely legitimate."
"Could we use that?" asked Lois. "It'd be useful background for any stories we run on him."
"The financial details? Of course, it's all in the Wayne Industries corporate reports."
"Do you see much of him?" Clark asked casually.
"I'm hoping to get together with him at the reception before the auction," said Pennyworth. "Now, if there's nothing else?"
"Just one thing," said Lois. "You were in the British army, you must have some sort of idea of the training Kerensky must have had; would it include sword fighting, anything of that sort?"
"Undoubtedly knife fighting, although I think I'm right to say that Spetsnaz generally preferred to use the sharpened edge of an entrenching tool… a small spade," he added at her puzzled look. "It does leave a rather nasty wound."
"How about you?" asked Clark. "Do you fence?"
"I've dabbled," said Pennyworth, "although I always preferred longer range weapons in my military days. Am I a suspect?"
"The police don't really tell us that sort of thing," said Clark, "but unless you've been here more than ten days it's unlikely."
"No, I only arrived on Wednesday."
"Five days," said Lois.
"Well," said Clark, "we'd better be getting along. You might want to be a little careful if you do win the sword. The killer does seem to be choosing victims who can fence, there's a theory that he's trying to re-enact some of the New York murders. If so he'll probably come after whoever buys the Toledo Salamanca."
"I'll bear it in mind. One question, though — why do you assume that the murderer is a man?"
"I'm really not too sure," said Clark. "It just seems a little… messy… to be a woman."
"Perhaps you're right," said Pennyworth. "Do help yourself to more cookies before you go."
Lois guiltily looked at the empty plate that had previously held the double chocolate chips, while Clark said, "Thank you for your time."
"If you have any more questions do please call again."
"Count on it," said Lois.
On the way down Clark said, "Well, that was interesting."
"You mean the way he lied to us?"
"About Kerensky? Yes. The odd thing was that I'm pretty sure that he wasn't lying about anything else. His heart rate didn't change much when he was talking, except when he was a little angry about Rodriguez and about Kerensky's father."
"It could be something harmless," said Lois. "He really did seem like a nice old guy… maybe too nice. Get Jimmy to check him out, find out what he was when he was in the army. My guess is that he was a Special Forces soldier too."
"Probably," said Clark, getting out his cellphone and checking the display. "I'll call once we're out of the building, there's no signal in here."
"And if we see Pennyworth at the auction, see if you can get the recipe for those cookies, they were absolutely gorgeous."
Up in apartment 1105 Alfred Pennyworth picked up the telephone, dialled a Gotham City number, and said, "Master Bruce? There's been a small complication…"
"So that's Yu out of the way," Clark said an hour later, as he and Lois left the Metropolis Yacht Club. "No opportunity for two of the murders, and he isn't going to be bidding on the sword anyway."
"Get Jimmy to check his story," said Lois. "Or Cat. How come she didn't know about the divorce?"
Clark shrugged. "If his wife really did take his entire collection as part of the settlement, I'm not surprised that he doesn't want to start all over again."
"So he's collecting rocks instead, and he wants that ugly chunk from Nightfall," said Lois. "Weird, but I guess some people have to be interested in meteor rocks."
"It's just a big lump of nickel," said Clark, "but it is authenticated by Superman." Even when they were alone Clark often found himself referring to himself that way. "One of the pieces he caught after he smashed it the second time."
"You're sure there's nothing odd about it?"
"Not a thing. The only reason I kept it was because I thought it was a nice doorstop, but it's really a little too heavy. After Jimmy broke his toe on it I decided to get rid of it."
"You don't think he'll suspect anything?"
"No, I've always said Superman gave it to me. As far as he's concerned I've given it to the auction, and Superman has added the authentication."
"So who's left?"
Jose Rodriguez was staying at the Hilton, and didn't seem particularly pleased to see the press. His displeasure grew when their questions drifted towards his personal life.
"I am aware of these accusations," Rodriguez said defiantly, "they are of course entirely baseless, spread by my business rivals."
"Then you'll be returning to Gotham City to clear your name?" asked Lois.
"There is nothing to clear," said Rodriguez. Clark could hear his heart rate climbing. "All charges were dropped."
"Really?" asked Clark. "We'd heard otherwise… obviously our source was mistaken. Now about the Toledo Salamanca…"
"I will buy it, of course."
"You're not worried about the killer?"
"If this killer comes for me I will be ready for him," said Rodriguez. He opened his jacket to reveal the butt of a revolver, a Colt Python. "He may wish to cross swords with me, but I am not so foolish."
"You have a license for that?" asked Lois.
"But of course. There have been threats against me in the past, the police have been informed. They thought it best that I should protect myself if necessary."
"That's… convenient," said Clark. "You practically have to bribe someone to get a concealed weapons permit. Let's hope that you don't have to use it."
"Better that he attacks someone who is ready to defend himself, than some innocent."
"Always assuming that bullets will stop him," said Lois. Clark looked at her, a little surprised.
"Why…?" began Rodriguez. "Why wouldn't bullets work?" His heart was pounding like a trip-hammer.
"There's been an explosion at every crime scene," said Clark, "If the killer survived that he might not be too worried about getting shot."
"I… I was not aware of this… But it changes nothing," Rodriguez said defiantly. "I will have the sword."
"Let's hope that if you win it you'll live to enjoy it," said Lois.
They asked a few more questions, got some unsatisfactory answers, and eventually left.
"Why did you mention that the killer might be invulnerable?" asked Clark.
"I wanted you to check his reaction, of course."
"About what you'd expect; surprise and fear."
"So it isn't him?" asked Lois.
"He's not guilty of that, anyway."
"And the other thing?"
"He's guilty as hell," said Clark, "and terrified of going anywhere near Gotham. I'd fly him there myself, but I'm pretty sure that the courts would consider it kidnapping, and that would get the case against him thrown out."
"I'll have to ask Inspector Henderson if…" Clark suddenly stopped, and said, "It'll have to wait. Can you handle Abdul Ben Ishmael by yourself?"
"I guess. What's happening?"
Clark gestured towards a TV in a shop window, and the CNN headlines. "747 with a landing gear problem on approach to Los Angeles International. I'd better get out there and see if I can help."
"Okay. I'll see you later." Lois kissed him, and he ducked into a convenient alley. A second later she heard the familiar "swoosh" as he flew off to the rescue.
"Okay," Lois said to herself, checking her notebook. "Let's see…" She leafed through and found Abdul Ben Ishmael's address, two blocks west of the Superman Foundation, and whistled for a taxi.
"I am but a simple peasant," said Abdul Ben Ishmael, picking up one of the 'phones on his desk and saying something in… Japanese, Lois thought. He rattled off what sounded like a string of instructions and rang off.
"A simple peasant who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard?" said Lois.
"My father insisted that his sons should have a good education." He typed something into his computer, frowned at the screen, and pressed one of the buttons on an elaborate wristwatch.
"If this is a bad time…" began Lois.
"Not at all," he said. He clicked a mouse button, then hit enter, watched the time for a few seconds, and clicked the mouse button again. "Hah! Suck on that, son of a camel!"
"My apologies, but he had the effrontery to try to out-bid me!"
"For the sword?"
"Hardly; I doubt that the Superman Foundation will be selling that on eBay!"
"On… eBay? What's that? If you don't mind me asking?"
"An internet auction site. I'm surprised that you haven't heard of it. It opened nearly two years ago."
"I guess it just hasn't come my way," said Lois, thinking that Jimmy could brief her on it if it was important.
"Anyway," said Ben Ishmael, "There will be wailing and gnashing of his teeth. I have the prize and he does not."
"An original Rolls Royce Silver Lady radiator ornament of the nineteen-twenties."
"Oh. Is that good?"
"I collect vintage cars, swords, and modern art," said Ben Ishmael. "And the true collector must feel passionate about every purchase, regardless of its value. A hood ornament here, a sword there…"
"That's… um… nice," said Lois.
"You do not share my enthusiasm," Ben Ishmael said sadly. "Ah well, it would be a dull world if we were all alike."
"Getting back to the sword," said Lois, "who would you consider the most serious bidders?"
"Myself, of course. Bruce Wayne, though he has sent his butler to bid for him. Kerensky possibly, though I suspect that buying it would leave him overextended. Yu and Cowper, I suppose, though I doubt that either will go particularly high. Possibly the British Museum, but again I doubt that they can really afford it. If Lex Luthor were still alive I'd imagine that he would want it, but fortunately he is not."
"Rodriguez?" asked Lois.
"That coward? He won't bid!"
"That's not what I've been hearing from other people."
"Perhaps you haven't heard the rumours."
"The Metropolis Police Department believes that a certain thief from Gotham City intends to steal the sword. Where the cat goes the bat will surely follow. And Rodriguez has no desire to meet the bat."
"That's odd, I hadn't heard anything about that," said Lois.
"Well, it may take a while for the story to spread," said Ben Ishmael. "I only planted it two hours ago. But I will deny that if you quote me."
"Isn't that a little unethical?" said Lois.
"An innocent man would have nothing to fear. Rodriguez lives in fear built on his own guilt. If you have met him you will know this to be true." Another 'phone rang and Ben Ishmael apologetically shrugged, picked it up, and began to talk in German, too fast for Lois to follow.
Lois noticed a flash of blue outside the window, and wasn't surprised when a secretary ushered Clark in a couple of minutes later.
"I'm sorry," said Clark, "got a little held up."
"A breakdown?" asked Ben Ishmael, ending his call and shaking Clark's hand. "Your transmission, perhaps?" At Clark's blank look he added, "I smell hydraulic fluid."
"Darn," said Clark, "must have got some on my suit when I was fixing it. I thought I'd washed it all off."
"It is of no matter. Some coffee? Tea?"
"Tea would be good."
"We were just talking about the sword," said Lois. "You really think that Rodriguez won't bid?"
"The man's like… like… like jello," said Ben Ishmael. "No, like one of those English desserts, a… a blancmange, that's the word. He wobbles and he wavers, he is all reaction and no action."
"He must have acted once," suggested Clark. "For so many people to despise him…"
"He has the morals and discretion of a rutting dog, and believes that money can buy anyone. It must have come as a shock to him when Wayne helped the girl press charges."
"I don't think that we've heard that before," said Lois. "Bruce Wayne was involved in the original incident?"
"The girl was the daughter of one of his friends, but Rodriguez had good lawyers and of course he bribed the police. It would not be so easy now, Commissioner Gordon made many changes."
"You know him?" asked Clark.
"I've met him, and of course I move in the same circles as Wayne when I'm in Gotham. He seems to approve of the reforms Gordon has introduced."
"Did you ever meet Batman?" asked Lois.
"No. But I can show you something of his." He reached into the drawer of his desk and pulled out a leather case. "An orderly at one of Gotham's hospitals sold me this." He opened the box. Inside, nestled in red velvet, was a black stylised bat shape, about three inches long, made of some form of alloy, the wings ending in razor-sharp barbs. "Doctors took it from the arm of a mugger."
"Nasty," said Lois.
"It injected some sort of tranquillizing drug, I believe. The man was unconscious for several hours."
"I'm surprised you don't have it on the wall," said Clark. "It's an amazing souvenir." He inspected it with x-ray vision, noticing tiny reservoirs that must have once held the drug, weights that must have been used to keep it perfectly balanced, some electronic components and a silver power cell, beautifully curved surfaces that must have been machined by a master craftsman.
For a moment Ben Ishmael looked a little uncomfortable as he said, "As you say, it's a unique souvenir. But I began to wonder if displaying it was wise. For all I know the Batman is looking for it. I'd give it back if I could, I certainly don't want to annoy him by treating it as a trophy."
"Wow," said Lois. "I've met Superman, of course, but that's the closest I've come to proof that Batman even exists."
"Spend much time in Gotham and you will have no doubts."
"Getting back to the sword," said Clark, "have you heard about the attacks on sword collectors in Metropolis?"
"A policeman interviewed me about them earlier today," said Ben Ishmael. "Fortunately I have an alibi for the last; I was dining at the Mayor's fundraiser."
"That pretty much lets you out," said Clark, a little annoyed that Cat hadn't mentioned it. He repeated their theory about the Toledo Salamanca, and Ben Ishmael listened with grave attention.
"If I win the sword," Ben Ishmael said eventually, "it will go straight to the hotel safe until I am ready to send it to Saudi Arabia. I will make sure that the assassin knows that he will gain nothing by killing me."
"That sounds like a sensible precaution," said Clark. They talked for a few more minutes, then left for their next interview.
"So what happened to the plane?" asked Lois. "He's right, you do smell of something."
Clark grimaced, and said, "There was a major hydraulic leak; I got drenched in fluid while I was fixing it. But it's a good thing I did; they were about thirty seconds away from losing the rudder and flaps."
"Over Los Angeles? You must have saved thousands of people!"
"Air traffic control had it diverted over the sea, but the passengers wouldn't have made it."
"Those guys from the National Air Transportation Safety Board will want you to give evidence again."
"I left a written statement; it ought to keep them happy. As far as I could tell it was genuine mechanical failure, not sabotage. I did my best to leave the evidence intact."
"What did you make of Ben Ishmael?"
"Well," said Clark, "he's smart, and I think he's pretty much on the level. I wonder if he realises that Batman knows exactly where his souvenir is?"
"There's a homing transmitter inside, sends a coded pulse every ninety seconds. I could feel it. It wouldn't have a huge range, but if he had it in Gotham you can be sure that Batman would be able to track it down."
"So Batman doesn't care?" suggested Lois.
"Maybe," said Clark, "or maybe he's waiting for the right moment to come looking for his property."
"Batman worries you, doesn't he?"
"I've flown over Gotham dozens of times since he first appeared and I've never even seen him. He's a lot more secretive than I am. Since he's been around street crime there has nearly halved, but he's accountable to nobody, and that worries me. What if he goes bad… what if he's already bad?"
Lois laughed and punched his arm, then rubbed her numb fingers. "You sound like Jason Trask. For all you know he's a perfectly normal guy who just happens to like dressing up as a bat and fighting crime. Why worry about it until something happens?"
"You're right," Clark said amicably. "Perfectly normal. Okay, I guess we've got more urgent problems and a murderer to catch. I need to go home and wash again; how about we go there by Superman Express? Then I can make us a proper meal before we try to track down Kerensky."
"Sounds good to me."
"Okay," Lois said to her cell-phone, "he told us some of that, but thanks for letting us know." She disconnected and put the phone back in her handbag.
"Anything important?" asked Clark, coming in from the kitchen with bowls of soup and a loaf of bread.
"Cat," said Lois. "Telling me about Yu's divorce settlement."
"A little late; didn't she know?"
"Apparently everyone thought that he owned the collection, so when they separated they just assumed he'd keep them. But in reality his wife was the big collector, Yu was just buying them for her."
"He can't have been too happy about that," said Clark, dipping bread into his soup.
"According to Cat the collection was valued at a little over three million. But the total divorce settlement was about seventy-five; if he hadn't handed over his share of the swords he would have just had to give her something else; the yacht, maybe. It must be nice to be that rich."
"Eat your soup," said Clark, "paupers like us can't afford to waste food."
Lois flicked a chunk of bread at him; he caught it effortlessly and dunked it in his bowl, then paused with it halfway to his mouth and said, "I wonder where she is right now."
"Cat? She was calling from the Planet."
"No, Yu's ex-wife. Is she going to be bidding in the auction? Yu was after a Toledo Salamanca before the divorce, maybe she still wants it."
"I'll call Cat back and ask," said Lois.
"Eat first," said Clark. "When you talk to her, see if you can get her current name and a description."
"Do you think she could be the killer?"
"It's not impossible. She'd have to be really fit, but Yu's an athlete, maybe his wife is too."
"An athlete?" said Cat, slowly spinning round in her chair. "Sure, she plays tennis, and she fences… About five-nine, five ten, taller in heels… No, I don't think so, let me double check." Cat picked up the latest list of guests invited to the auction and leafed through it. "She's not listed, but I've got a hunch… yeah, the Metropolis Museum is bidding and she's on the board of directors. She's gone back to her maiden name, Chelsea Newman… Okay, talk to you later. Oh, wait a second; Jimmy said to tell you that Pennyworth was in the Special Air Service. He resigned in 'seventy-one, went to work for Wayne's father, and stayed on after he died."
Lois rang off, and Cat nibbled her lip, a little worried. It didn't sound like Lois and Clark were getting any closer to the killer, and she really couldn't afford to drop more hints. She thought for a moment, then stretched, a move that attracted most of the male eyes in the office, and shouted, "Jimmy! I need you to dig up a couple of unlisted numbers for me!"
"Why is Kerensky dodging us?" Lois asked two hours later, as they crossed the nearly empty car park at Metropolis Stadium. "That's four times we've missed him so far. We've tried his hotel, his company's offices, the airport, and the stadium; we don't even know where he's going next. He must have something to hide."
"Maybe," said Clark, "but I'm just getting the impression he's really busy. He's trying to buy the Cubs, he's brokering deals in Russia and the USA, and he seems to like the hands-on approach to business. He probably doesn't even know we're trying to reach him."
"That or he's a multiple murderer," said Lois.
"Sure… but why would a murderer make himself so conspicuous?"
"That's right," said Lois, "confuse me with logic." They reached her Jeep, and she reached into her bag for her keys. There was the roar of a powerful engine, and a maroon Rolls Royce Phantom V swerved across the car park towards them. Clark moved in front of Lois, ready to protect her if it tried to run her down, but at the last second the driver slammed on the brakes, made a bootlegger turn, and slid into an adjoining space.
"What the heck…" said Clark.
The rear door of the Rolls Royce opened, and a stocky man in a grey suit got out and said, "Clark Kent? Lois Lane?"
"That's right," said Clark.
"My apologies, Vanya learned to drive in an armoured battalion, he doesn't always remember that this isn't a tank. I'm Paul Kerensky."
"We thought we'd missed you," said Lois.
"You did," said Kerensky, "but I had to call my office and they told me you were looking for me; after that I just retraced my steps a little."
"Thanks for taking the time," said Clark.
"I can spare twenty minutes," said Kerensky, "then I have to leave for my next appointment. Come into my car, it's more comfortable than the car park."
Lois hesitated, then at an almost imperceptible nod from Clark said, "Okay." She guessed that he'd scanned the car and hadn't seen anything suspicious. "This is a beautiful car," said Lois, taking one of the folding rear-facing seats to get a better view of Kerensky. Clark took the other.
"They're surprisingly cheap if you buy them second hand in Britain," said Kerensky. "Of course the shipping and insurance are a… a bitch, as you say. I have one here, and another in Moscow."
"Your English is very good," said Clark.
"I learned it in the army, it's a useful skill if you're going to go behind enemy lines. But they trained me for the wrong enemy; it wasn't much use in Afghanistan. Now then, we have…" he glanced at his watch, "…eighteen minutes left. What did you want to know?"
Lois took the lead for the next few minutes, covering his past and current business interests; then Clark asked some questions about his plans for the Metropolis Cubs. Eventually Kerensky said, "All of this you could find out easily enough without an interview, and it isn't a big enough story to be worth the time of Lane and Kent."
"Okay," said Lois. "Have you heard about the decapitation killings?"
"Of course; am I a suspect?"
"Not especially," said Clark, "but we're looking at everyone who might be bidding on the Toledo Salamanca tomorrow night. There's a theory that the killer might be after it."
"Or plan to kill whoever wins it," added Lois.
"Well, I don't expect to win it," said Kerensky. "Bruce Wayne wants it and he has a deeper pocket than I do. Yu and Ben Ishmael are after the sword too, of course. But I'll be bidding on other things… the Hockney, and some of the other antiques, I think I'll be lucky there."
"So why bid on the sword?" asked Clark.
"Why not? For all I know the others will drop out, and if it's expensive and someone else wins it they'll have less money to bid against me in the other auctions."
"What about the other bidders?" asked Clark. "Rodriguez, for example?"
Kerensky shrugged. "I suppose that if Superman can fly, a pig can too, and Rodriguez will win the sword when pigs fly. If he's heard that the murderer wants it, he won't be bidding much."
"Nobody seems to have a high opinion of him," said Lois. "Why is that?"
"He's scum. Oh, everyone will be cordial to him tomorrow night, but he won't be invited to their homes. If the murderer really is after the sword, I'd love to see him win it. But it won't come to that." He glanced at his watch, and added "And now, I think, our time is almost up. Are there any more questions?"
"Do you fence?" asked Clark.
Kerensky laughed, and said, "Nothing so gentlemanly, I'm afraid. I was trained to kill, not play games. Now if you'll excuse me?"
"Thank you for your time," said Lois. They climbed out, and Kerensky said a few words to his chauffeur in Russian. He leaned out of the window and said, "Will you be at the auction?"
"We wouldn't miss it for the world," said Clark.
"Then until we meet again…" The Rolls Royce glided away.
"What was that he said to the chauffeur?" asked Lois.
"He told him to drive to Pennyworth's apartment."
"Those two are definitely up to something. What did you make of him apart from that? Any reactions to your questions?"
"Nothing," said Clark.
"That's odd," said Lois. "Most people would react to being told that someone might want to kill them."
"Most people aren't fitted with a pacemaker."
"He's got a pacemaker?"
"From the scars I'd say he was hit by shrapnel. It must have clipped his heart. I'm not sure he'd be up to a strenuous activity like fencing."
"Darn it," said Lois. "I was sure it would be him. Wait a minute, what about the driver?"
"Artificial leg," said Clark.
"We're going round in circles here," said Lois. "The killer has to be pretty fit, and has to have been in Metropolis for more than a week. None of them match the profile."
"Then the killer isn't going to be bidding, or there's something wrong with the profile."
"So…" said Cat Grant that evening. "It looks like things are coming to the boil."
"Apparently," said Alfred Pennyworth, pouring coffee for his guests. "Although I'm rather concerned about the involvement of your colleagues."
"It's one hell of a coincidence," said Cat. "Two weeks ago everything was looking okay, then we got this damned head-hunter, and suddenly Lois and Clark are all over anything to do with swords." It wasn't entirely truthful, but Cat had no plans to tell her co-conspirators the real story.
"They have a formidable reputation," said Paul Kerensky. "I am not sure that we can continue to pull the wood… no, the wool… over their eyes."
"It'll all be over in another twenty-four hours," said Cat. "I have to admit that it's gone a little faster than we expected, but they aren't even close to guessing the truth. And my sources tell me that Rodriguez is terrified, it'll just need another nudge or two to get him where we want him."
"Ben Ishmael's little stunt is helping things along, of course," said Alfred. "The Catwoman, indeed! I wonder if he would have done it if he knew what this was really about."
"I think you could count on it," said Paul. "Why didn't you involve him in the first place?"
"Three people can just about keep a secret. Any more than that, and sooner or later something slips out."
"Do you think the killer really is after the Toledo Salamanca?" asked Cat.
"There's no reason to think so," said Paul. "Unless there is something I am missing."
"I'm just a little worried," said Alfred, "that all this publicity might put the idea into the killer's head."
"It's possible," said Cat, "but I really doubt it. I've checked. None of the guys that were killed had any security to speak of, but anyone who can afford the Salamanca will be well-protected."
"Anyway," said Kerensky, "our concern here isn't the sword. It would be nice to own it, of course, but there are others. Sooner or later one will come onto the market. Sooner, if things go as planned."
"Not my problem," said Cat, warming her hands against the holographic flames. "My worry is that Lois and Clark will figure out what we're really up to before the auction. They might go along with it, but I doubt it."
"Another worry," said Alfred, "is that we may be diverting attention and police resources from the killer."
"Not so far. Lois and Clark are totally into it, of course, but they're not going to let the police in on their theory until they have to. And even if they do, we can set things right easily enough."
"What about Superman?" asked Paul. "He's a friend of Lane and Kent; won't he follow their lead?"
"It's possible, of course," said Cat. She hoped so. That was her aim, to keep him focused on the Salamanca and off the trail of the head-hunter. "If he does, it might actually help us." She explained how.
"Good evening, Miss Grant," a familiar voice said half an hour later, as Cat left the apartment block. She looked around then up. Superman was gliding down towards her.
"Uh… hi, Superman!" said Cat, giving him her most seductive smile.
"How's the social whirl?"
"I'm not really whirling right now," said Cat. "This sword business is taking most of my time. I guess Lois and Clark must have told you about it."
"I've just left them," said Superman, landing on the sidewalk. "They mentioned Mister Pennyworth's involvement in the story; I'm a little surprised to see you here."
"I invited myself to drinks," said Cat, "pretended I thought Bruce Wayne was staying there. But Alfred was having a business meeting with that Russian guy; I didn't learn anything useful."
"You'll keep Lois or Clark posted if you find anything, I hope."
"Don't worry; they're the first guys I'll call."
"Be careful," said Superman, "there's a maniac with a sword out there somewhere. I really don't want to see anyone else get hurt."
"I see anyone with a sword, I'll scream 'Help Superman!' so loud it shatters glass."
"I can believe it," said Superman. He looked around, seeming to focus his attention elsewhere, then said, "Mugging. I'd better go."
"Goodni…" said Cat, then realised that she was talking to empty air. After a moment she shrugged, pulled her coat closed, and set off towards her apartment.
"I'm worried about Cat," Clark said later that evening, as he and Lois were relaxing after supper. "I think she's got an idea of solving this one before we do, to show that she's a real reporter."
"Cat?" said Lois. "Are you kidding? She wouldn't know a clue if it bit her."
"Then why did she go to the Wayne Industries apartment?"
"It is a little odd," said Lois. "She knew Wayne wasn't there, and Pennyworth's a little old to be her type. I wonder…"
"Yes?" said Clark, looking up from the police files he was reading.
"Jimmy mentioned that Cat asked him to find a couple of unlisted numbers."
"And of course you asked him what they were?"
"Would I do that?"
"Of course you would," said Clark.
"Okay… well, if you really must know… someone called James Gordon in the Gotham police department, and a Gotham DA called Harvey Dent."
"Why would she… Oh! Rodriguez, of course. Has to be. Ben Ishmael said that Gordon's a lot more honest than his predecessor, and I think Dent only got the DA's job a couple of months ago. If you wanted a dream team to prosecute Rodriguez, that'd be it. But why would Cat care?"
"Cat said something once," Lois said hesitantly. "Back when there was that Smart Kids thing, she said she never thought about her childhood, that it was like it was thousands of years ago. I think… I think maybe she was abused as a child. Most people cherish their childhood memories; why else would she try to forget hers?"
"So if Pennyworth and Kerensky were plotting something against Rodriguez and she found out, just maybe…"
"It'd depend what it was," said Lois, after thinking about it for a minute. "I don't think she'd help them kill him."
"Of course not," said Clark, "but let's say they planned to kidnap him and get him to Gotham. Pennyworth was in special ops, he and Kerensky's father specialised in that sort of operation. Would Cat blow the whistle?"
"Not a chance," said Lois. "If anything I think she'd offer to help."
"What's this got to do with the sword? Or the murders?" Clark asked, getting up from his chair. "Another coffee?"
"Not for me, thanks, it'll keep me up all night. You're the one with the Kryptonian stomach. I could go for chocolate, though. Anyway, what about the sword?"
"The Salamanca?" asked Clark, coming back in from the kitchen a few seconds later with two mugs of chocolate sprinkled with little marshmallows. "It got Rodriguez onto US territory. And our killer may still be after it."
"Do you really think so?" asked Lois. "We've got no reason to think so, apart from pure guesswork."
"We've got no reason not to," said Clark. "It might just be a coincidence, but if the killer really is a sword collector it'd have to be the best prize ever."
"You might as well come out," shouted Cat, looking around the abandoned warehouse four blocks from her apartment. "I know that you're following me. I can feel you there."
"That's right, lady," a rough voice said from the shadows. "Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and nowhere to hide a sword in that tight little dress or that cute little coat."
"Yeah, lady, you guessed it." A shabbily-dressed stranger walked into the light, a katana in his hand. She breathed a sigh of relief as she realised he wasn't anyone she knew, and backed away from him.
"I heard you were killing people to steal their swords," said Cat. "I haven't got one."
"No, lady, I'm just upgrading when I get the chance. The sword shops don't sell the good stuff, not for the money I can give them."
"Thought so. Who are you, anyway?"
"What do you care? I've been killing my way across America for about twenty years, you think I'm going to stop because you ask my name?"
"Not really," said Cat, backing against an old section of disused piping that jutted up from the floor. "I just like to know people's names before I kill them."
"Well, if it really makes you think better," said the stranger, stalking towards her. "I'm David Grady, out of Pittsburgh."
"Cassandra," said Cat, pushing a thin metal rod into a hole in the pipe, "out of Troy." There was a soft click.
"New Troy?" asked Grady. "Guess you haven't travelled far." He laughed at his own joke. Metropolis was the New Troy state capitol.
"No, the original." Suddenly there was a sword in her hand, and she smiled grimly as she added, "There can be only one."
"Thanks for calling us," said Clark, pretending to shiver a little in the early morning chill.
"You've played ball with us so far," said Henderson, "least I can do, especially since we've solved most of the case." He nodded past the crime scene tape towards the chalked outline of a headless body on the concrete floor, and the circle that marked the final resting-place of the head a few feet away. Technicians in white overalls were still searching the scene. There was surprisingly little blood. "He died fast — heart stopped pumping before he bled out, and the ME says it looks like the wounds were cauterized by something, maybe the electrical damage we saw with the other victims."
"You know who killed him?" asked Lois
"No… but it looks like he's the guy that killed Weber, Davis, and Shaw. He's got Weber's katana, and there was a hotel key in his pocket. When we checked the room we found seven swords including the others that were stolen, and his fingerprints match the unknowns we found at Davis's place."
"Any idea if any of the other swords had been used in anger?" asked Clark.
"Forensics is still checking."
"So he met someone here," said Lois, "maybe set up a meeting, maybe followed someone, and the other guy was ready for him."
"Feels that way."
"Some sort of underground society of duellists?" asked Clark.
"Don't quote me," said Henderson, "but I'm beginning to think it's a possibility. We were thinking a lone killer, but it's looking more like some sort of Martial Arts cult."
"Any connection to the New York murders in 'eighty-five?" asked Lois.
Henderson took a deep breath then said, "Maybe. Lots of similarities, including — and don't print this — the same sort of electrical damage after the killings. But the guy they were after for that just dropped off the map."
"Got a name for us?"
"Kurgan, no first name or middle initial, no records apart from a signature in a motel register. Five or six witnesses saw him at the crime scenes; guy that looked like something from a horror movie. NYPD have sketches, but I think they're hoping they never see him again. They traced his movements, found his motel room and talked to a couple of prostitutes who were able to confirm that it wasn't a mask. But he just left the motel and never came back — accounts are pretty confused, but they think he snatched a girl a couple of hours later. She was seen in the car, screaming, when he ran a kid on a motorbike off the road, but she was never found or identified. After that the killings stopped. My guess, for what it's worth, is that one of the New York mobs offered him money to snatch her, and had him whacked when he showed up with her."
"Out of the goodness of their hearts?" asked Lois.
"Out of getting rid of someone who was really bad for business," said Henderson. "NYPD had a lot of extra manpower on the streets and looked under a lot of rocks for that one, made some major arrests in unrelated cases. Organised crime took a hammering."
"But nobody like that's been seen here," protested Clark. "I've seen the sketches; if a monster like that was running around town people would remember."
"That's true," said Henderson. "It can't be Kurgan, but maybe Kurgan had some sort of gizmo that gave him the electrical powers, and it fell into this guy's hands."
"But why the swords?" asked Lois. "If you had a weapon like that, why would you need a sword?"
"Maybe the electrical attack doesn't kill," said Clark. "It zaps the victim, maybe paralyzes him or slows him down, but the killer has to finish the job."
"We thought of that, but no," said Henderson, "so far as we can determine, the electrical damage has been post-mortem. Not much doubt about it. There's broken glass and charred paper on top of the bodies but none underneath them, blood spatter is already in place when the ashes settle, that sort of thing."
"That makes no sense at all," said Lois. "Unless it's something like that magnetic guy, what was his name?"
"Deathstroke," said Clark. "You mean a power that he could control until his victim was dead, then had to release?"
"That could make sense, maybe," said Henderson. "There are a lot of weird things about this one. You know that the earlier victims had forged identification?"
"We knew about one," said Lois. "Jimmy's still working on the others."
"Well, it's either two or all three of them — but don't quote me on that. Two of them used classic faked ID methods: find a kid that died young, get a copy of the birth certificate, and use that to apply for a Social Security number. Once you've got that you can open bank accounts, pay taxes, get a driving license, that sort of thing. It's not quite as easy as it used to be; there are too many computerised records, but it can still be done. Back in the sixties and seventies it was simple."
"They go that far back?" asked Clark.
"Forrest Weber moved to Metropolis in seventy-eight, using the identity of a kid who died in LA in forty-eight. George Davis set up his business in sixty-nine; his ID goes back to a kid who died in Denver in thirty-five. Roger Shaw is still a little uncertain; he's supposed to come from Washington; we think he took the identity of a kid killed in a house fire in forty-four, but the kid's death certificate is missing from the archives there. My guess is that Shaw was just a little more careful than the others. He's been in Metropolis since sixty-five."
"Isn't it odd to find three faked identities like this?"
"In a single case?" asked Henderson. "I've never known anything like it. But it isn't that uncommon, there must be thousands of people using faked ID nationwide."
"Inspector!" said one of the technicians. "We've got something. Blood stain on this pipe, looks like it's cut in half."
As Henderson went to examine it Clark casually lowered his glasses to take a look. The stain was the top half of a circle, bisected by a hair-thin join in the pipe, about six inches below a strong metal cap. Beyond that… he could see nothing. Now why was a steel pipe lined with lead…? He followed it down into the floor with his x-ray vision. To his surprise it was just a stub, ending a foot down, and wasn't connected to any of the other pipes around it.
"Could there have been something in front of it?" asked Henderson.
"It dried like this," said the technician, "if there was something there it must have mopped up the blood, without leaving any traces I can see."
"Get photos," said Henderson, "check for tape. Maybe something was fixed to the pipe."
"Anything else for us?" asked Lois.
"It's enough, isn't it?" said Henderson. "If you see Superman, let him know, he wanted to be kept informed; otherwise I think we're done."
"Let's get back to the office," said Clark, "we need to file on this in time for the late edition."
Twenty minutes later Clark flew to the crime scene as Superman, leaving Lois working on the story in the newsroom. He was supposed to be contacting an informant; he supposed that Henderson just about fitted that description.
"Inspector, Lois said you wanted to see me."
"Glad you could make it," said Henderson, and began to explain what they'd found. It took several minutes for him to mention the stain on the pipe, once he did Clark examined it openly and said, "There's a hairline crack circling the pipe at the level of the blood stain. And the pipe doesn't connect to any of the other plumbing around it, and it's lined with lead. I think that the top part lifts out, maybe it wasn't there when the blood hit it."
"Can you get the whole thing out of the floor?"
"No problem," said Clark, getting a pair of gloves from one of the technicians, to avoid leaving fingerprints. He pulled it out, leaving a jagged hole in the concrete, and turned it over curiously. The other end was a blank steel plate. Experimentally he tried to twist the top of the pipe, using ordinary human strength, but got nowhere. He used his x-ray vision again, and realised that the cap was actually welded to the top of the pipe. Beyond that the lead hid everything. He told Henderson what he'd seen.
"You'd better not try to open it," said Henderson. "If it's lined with lead there's no telling what's inside. Could be radioactive, could even be Kryptonite."
"I hadn't thought of that," said Clark.
"Leave it with us; we'll get the bomb squad to open it."
"You might want your scientists to check when the concrete around the pipe was mixed," said Clark. "I think it's a different mix to the rest of the floor; if it's later than my arrival in 1993 my guess would be that it was built to hide something from me."
"Can we do that?" asked Henderson.
"Sure," said one of the technicians. "But it'll take a couple of days."
Cat Grant dropped a bag containing several old pairs of shoes into the Goodwill collection box a couple of blocks from the Planet building and went on in to work. The rest of the clothes she'd worn the previous evening were in the washing machine in her apartment, having a nice cool biological wash that would remove any bloodstains. She'd been careful to wipe down the shoes too, of course, but she didn't want to risk anyone matching them to a footprint. There wasn't much that she could do about her own blood — Grady had cut her twice before she finished him off, and there were bound to be traces in the warehouse — but her blood type wasn't on record, and anyone checking her for wounds would find nothing. If it came to that point she'd probably have worse things to worry about. Again she wondered why she was so determined to stay in Metropolis and maintain her identity as Cat — she had a dozen others ready around the world, and in most other places the Watchers would discreetly clear up after a fight. They'd pulled out of Metropolis once the full extent of Superman's powers became clear; it was just too risky to operate there.
Almost the first person she saw in the newsroom was Lois, busily typing. She got herself a coffee then went over to make a nuisance of herself.
"Hi Cat," said Lois, typing furiously. "There's been another one."
"Killing," Lois said impatiently. "Same method, but the police think he's the one that killed the others. They found Weber's katana near the body, and the other stolen swords in his hotel room."
"Sounds… convenient," said Cat, putting as much doubt into her voice as she could.
"Convenient?" said Lois.
"Now the cops will be concentrating on the guy they've found, and trying to find out who killed him. Nothing wrong with that, but for all we know he's just some stranger the real killer found on the street and framed for the other murders."
"It's possible," said Lois, her typing slowing, "but the police seem pretty sure that he's their guy… and they found his fingerprints at Davis's place."
"Okay, that makes it pretty definite," said Cat, cursing inwardly. She'd hoped to spread a little uncertainty and confusion. "Where's Clark?"
"He went out to meet one of our sources," said Lois. "He hopes he'll get some extra details Henderson hasn't given us." It was close enough to the truth to satisfy her conscience.
"So the question I've got to ask," said Cat, "do I dress for a swanky auction or a murder tonight?"
Lois thought about it for a moment then said, "Wear black. It'll look smart either way, it won't show bloodstains too badly, and if the worst comes to the worst you're already in mourning."
"Good thinking," said Cat. "But I think I'll take my chances and go with something a little brighter."
Two hours later Clark took a call from Henderson, who wanted him to pass on a message to Superman.
"Okay," said Clark, "let me just write this down… oh, okay, I'll tell him that. Any fingerprints…? I see. Yes, I realise it isn't for publication. What…? Okay, yes… I see… If I see him before you do, I'll certainly pass it on."
"What did he say?" asked Lois.
"They found a hidden catch in that pipe; when they opened it a sword came out. It looks like the pipe was built to conceal it."
"The murder weapon?"
"They think so, there's blood. It might have been there for years, just waiting until someone wanted to use it."
"Nothing. Henderson thinks that there was something covering the hilt; after the fight the murderer must have removed it."
"And that's it?" asked Lois.
"Not quite," said Clark. "They've tested the blood stains. Most of it is the victim's, but they've found a woman's blood on the floor and on his sword."
"It's gone quiet," said Lois, making a minute adjustment to her low-cut black dress. "Too quiet…" She paused expectantly. Nothing happened.
"That only works if you're not expecting trouble," said Clark, watching the guests arrive in the ballroom of the Metropolis Hilton. "And anyway, Henderson thinks that the killer is dead."
"Well, someone must have killed him," said Lois, "and it looks like it was a woman, so there go all Cat's theories about guys with bulging muscles."
"I've been thinking about that," Clark said, "and I've got my own theory. We know that the New York murders ended after a woman was kidnapped by that Kurgan guy. Henderson thinks that she was bait in a trap for him, but what if she killed him?"
"A vigilante?" said Lois. "Super-swordswoman? Tracking down these guys and killing them."
"'Like The Princess Bride,'" said Clark. "'Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my…' well, whatever, but with Buttercup the one carrying a sword."
"You have a weird mind sometimes," said Lois. "I guess it's possible, but that doesn't explain the explosions at the crime scenes."
"Interesting theory," said Cat, who had arrived while Clark was talking and was sipping a glass of champagne. She'd rejected Lois' advice and was wearing a revealing blue silk dress.
"That's a nice dress you're almost wearing," said Lois. "Not worried about blood stains, I assume."
"I thought about it," said Cat, "but they're looking for a woman now, and women have too much sense to start a sword fight with a couple of hundred people watching. Especially when they're wearing their best clothes."
"I can't argue with that," said Clark.
"Not if you have any sense of self-preservation," Lois agreed. She thought for a second then said "Maybe Cat's right. But whoever killed that guy last night is still out there somewhere. The police think she's injured; they're checking hospitals, but for all we know that was just the first name on her hit-list."
"Do we even have the guy's real name?" asked Cat.
"He was calling himself Grady," said Clark, "but his ID was forged, just like the other victims, only not as well. Henderson thinks that he must have killed some other people before he hit Metropolis; they found seven swords in his room, not just the three we knew about. There were traces of blood on most of them. Not enough to determine much about the victims, unfortunately."
"So Grady's a serial killer, finding swordsmen and killing them," said Cat, "and we've got a woman vigilante after him, the same one who killed that Kurgan guy. It almost makes sense. Maybe Jimmy can run some sort of trace; find women who were in New York in 1985 and in Metropolis now." Cat liked that idea — she'd stayed well clear of New York during the Kurgan's rampage. "If she's got her man maybe that's the end of it," Cat added, knowing full well that she had no plans to kill anyone else.
"Until the next time," said Clark. "But it leads to a lot of unanswered questions. Why was there so much electrical damage? Why kill them in the first place? And our vigilante must have the same powers, or she took them from Grady; there was an explosion after he died too. And why are there swords stashed around Metropolis?"
"Swords?" asked Cat. "More than one?"
"Superman found a sword stashed in a lead-lined pipe at the crime scene," said Clark. "So he took a look around the city with his x-ray vision, found another seven caches that look the same. All of them hidden in alleys, parking garages, disused warehouses, places like that. There was even one in this hotel's parking garage. The police are investigating now."
Cat realised with a chill that hiding so many swords the same way had been a bad mistake. Yes, there'd been one there when she wanted it, but now it was obvious that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to hide them. The idea that Grady's killer was a stranger to Metropolis couldn't possibly hold water. A good detective might even be able to trace the pipe assemblies back to their source, a small factory on the outskirts of the city; the trail would go cold there, but it would still be apparent that their mysterious purchaser wasn't a stranger to the city. The only consolation was the number of swords Clark had mentioned — Superman must have missed four others, probably including the one at the Planet. Maybe he didn't want to look in the ladies room. She said, "That's weird."
"Isn't it," said Lois. "I love mysteries like this."
"Just thinking about it is starting to give me a headache," said Cat. She looked around the room again and said, "The place is filling up a bit, maybe we'd better go mingle."
"…I'm sorry that I can't be there in person," said the recording Clark had made several days earlier in his Superman persona, "but I'm in the middle of some delicate experiments in my Fortress of Solitude, and I won't be able to leave unless there's a real emergency. I'd just like to end by thanking everyone who has worked or donated material to make this evening a success, and remind everyone that all of the money raised tonight will go to the charities supported by the Superman Foundation; the auction's sponsors are paying all expenses. Please bid as much as you can afford, it's all for some very good causes. Thank you." The projection screen dimmed for a moment, then brightened to show a short documentary about the work of the Foundation.
Clark regretted the lie, but there was no way he could cover an event like this for the Planet and simultaneously star as Superman; someone was sure to notice that Clark wasn't around. Making an excuse seemed the best compromise. And if someone wasted time looking for a mythical Fortress of Solitude, it would probably keep them from other forms of mischief…
"I wonder what else he does in that Fortress," said Cat. "He's mentioned it a few times now, but nobody even knows where it is."
"He said solitude," said Lois. "I guess that means nobody else goes there."
"Maybe, but I'll bet it's cosy. He probably has a Jacuzzi there, chills out whenever he needs a break from supervillains. And maybe a big bed…"
"A fortress doesn't sound very cosy," said Clark.
Lois added, "It's probably made of steel and concrete, and hidden in some God-forsaken spot like Alaska or the Moon."
While they were talking the documentary finished, and the screen switched to a magnified view of Perry White, who was acting as guest auctioneer. "Right," said Perry. "Now, as you all know, we're here to raise money for charity, so let's all dig deep. We're going to start with a very special item, just to get the ball rolling." Two porters lifted up a glass case containing a dull silver-grey rock about the size of a football. "Donated by Clark Kent of the Daily Planet, and given to him by Superman himself, this is a fragment of the Nightfall asteroid, one of the pieces Superman intercepted after he smashed it. The lot includes the rock itself, the case, and a certificate of authenticity signed by Superman. The only others like it are in the Smithsonian and the Metropolis museum. Would someone like to start the bidding at five thousand dollars…" In the third row of the audience Yu raised a numbered card. Perry nodded and said, "And ten… fifteen… twenty… thirty… forty.,." The auction was under way.
"Lot eighty-seven," said Perry. "Our final item tonight. Now, I'm no expert on swords, but those who are tell me that this is the Toledo Salamanca… one of the rarest and finest swords ever made, and fully authenticated. The last time it was sold, in 1985, it fetched five hundred and four thousand dollars. Now I know that we have some of the world's most prominent collectors here tonight, and some very worthy causes to support. Let's see if we can break that record!"
Bidding started at ten thousand dollars, but soon passed the hundred thousand dollar reserve. Cowper dropped out at a hundred and fifty thousand, the last of the institutional bidders and the others Cat had mentioned folded at three hundred and fifty thousand, and Ben Ishmael gave up at five hundred thousand. The only bidders left were Kerensky, Rodriguez, and Wayne.
"Okay," said Perry. "At six hundred and twenty-five thousand with Mister Kerensky. Anyone want to make that six hundred and fifty?" Pennyworth seemed to hesitate then raised his card again.
"That's six hundred and fifty thousand dollars from Mister Wayne. Let's try for six seven-five. Anyone?" Kerensky began to raise his card then seemed to think better of it. Lois thought that she had noticed Pennyworth shake his head almost imperceptibly. She turned her attention to Rodriguez, and noticed that Cat had moved behind him, and seemed to be saying something.
"Going for six hundred and fifty thousand… going once… going twice…" Perry paused and raised his hammer, as Rodriguez raised his card with a jerk. "…and six hundred and seventy five from Mister Rodriguez. Anyone want to make it seven hundred thousand dollars?" There was a pause that seemed to go on for hours. "No? Six seven five going once… going twice…" Perry slammed down the gavel. "Sold to Mister Rodriguez for six hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. And that concludes tonight's auction; we'll know how much we've raised in fifteen minutes or so, but I can tell you now that it's over ten million dollars."
As he said the last words the overhead screen began to fade to black, then a yellow oval appeared, with a dark jagged shape inside it. It took Lois several seconds to realise that the symbol was a stylised bat. From their murmurs, most of the other guests realised at the same time. A list of women's names, mostly Latino, began to scroll up the screen, followed by the words "Not forgotten." The screen dimmed again then began to show another film about the work of the Superman Foundation.
Rodriguez sat down hard, his face white. Behind him Cat was smiling savagely as she turned away from him and vanished into the crowd.
"My guess," said Lois, "is that the evening isn't over yet."
"What on earth did you say to Rodriguez?" Lois asked Cat in the powder room a few minutes later.
"Moi?" asked Cat.
"You. Just before he bid."
"You really want to know?"
"Yes, of course I…" Lois began angrily, then she softened her tone and said, "Look, Clark and I have figured out that you're playing some sort of trick on Rodriguez, and we know that he's slime. If you tell us what's going on and it isn't illegal we can stay out of the way."
"You really want to know?" Cat repeated. When Lois nodded, she said, "He just needed a little push to bid again. All that I said was that a real man wouldn't let an old man and a cripple outbid him. It loses a little in translation, maybe."
"And just by saying that you got him to spend more money?"
"Trust me on this," said Cat, "I'm good at getting guys to spend money, and with guys like Rodriguez I know exactly which buttons to press." What she didn't mention was that she'd added a little hypnotic compulsion when she spoke — it was one of the talents that had kept her alive for five thousand years.
"But what's the point?" asked Lois.
"Money. That's most of his liquid assets committed for the next few days."
"And if Batman's on his trail…" Lois began. "Or is that a bluff, like the story about Catwoman?"
"Draw your own conclusions," said Cat. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to mingle and get some reactions from people."
Clark checked with the video operator and found that the insert with the girls' names was on the tape that was supposed to have been supplied by the Superman foundation. When he looked closely he could see that the printing on the tape's label wasn't quite the same as the usual Superman Foundation logo; it was close, but there were small differences in the typeface and colours. The only fingerprints on the tape were some gloved smudges and the operator's own prints. He eventually spotted another cassette tucked behind one of the curtains, and guessed that at some point someone had swapped them. Too many people had had access to the room in the run-up to the auction, and it would have only taken a few minutes to copy the tape and add in the extra section. It was probably a dead end.
He spotted Alfred Pennyworth and decided to see if he could be persuaded to say something. "What I don't understand is why you suddenly stopped bidding. It looked to me like Rodriguez was about to cave in; I think you would have got it if you went to seven hundred thousand."
"Mister Wayne's instructions," said Pennyworth, touching his hand to a small earphone. "He told me not to go above six-fifty."
"It seemed to me," said Clark, "that you warned Kerensky not to bid too."
"Why on earth would I do that? He can afford to make his own decisions."
"It seemed to me that you wanted Rodriguez to spend as much money as possible."
"And why would I do that?"
"Liquidity," said Lois, coming back from the powder room. "Once he spends that money he won't have much in the way of liquid assets, not until he sorts out his affairs. What I don't quite understand is why you're assuming that he'll pay out the money now, rather than waiting a few days and arranging things more sensibly."
"I would imagine," said Pennyworth, "that he would want to avoid any impression of being scared or shamed by that remarkable display. I recognized one or two of the names; he has reason to be both. Spending the money would be his way of defying it."
"Do you really think so?" asked Clark.
"Hypothetically, I might possibly have a psychologist's opinion to that effect."
"Hypothetically," repeated Lois.
"Exactly," said Pennyworth. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to pay for the items I secured for Mister Wayne, and arrange for their shipment to Gotham."
He went off towards the treasurer's table. Lois watched him for a moment, trying to work out what was going on. Eventually she murmured, "I think I'm beginning to get the idea, Clark."
"I'm darned if I can figure it out."
"They're trying to get Rodriguez to panic, and keep him from his assets. What I can't figure out is why."
"They must want to drive him out of the country." Clark thought for a moment then added, "Although I can't see that being enough to satisfy Batman. Everything I've heard from Gotham says that he doesn't like to see people get away with their crimes."
"There has to be more to it than scaring him off. We've just seen two wealthy collectors let someone else win one of the rarest swords in the world. Batman must really have something on them to get them to agree, and I can't see him doing it for something so… so petty."
"Maybe we're looking at this the wrong way. I think it all goes back to Bruce Wayne. Rodriguez abused his hospitality, and some people don't take that sort of thing lying down. We've no real evidence that Batman is really involved; maybe it's just Wayne pulling the strings, with Kerensky lending a hand. They're business partners, after all."
Lois shook her head. "I'm not convinced. Wouldn't that annoy Batman? If I lived in Gotham that's the last thing I'd want to do."
"That's true enough. Okay, so Batman must be in on it, but he's got Wayne and Kerensky helping him. Maybe Wayne suggested it. It still doesn't tell us what their plan is."
"The only thing I can think of is that they're going to get him to Gotham City somehow. Kidnap him and stuff him in a trunk or something."
"Any half-way decent lawyer could get him off if he was taken there against his will; there's no extradition warrant for him. But I think you may be on to something. We saw Kerensky at the airport yesterday; maybe they've got a private plane waiting to fly him to Gotham."
"That runs into the same problem," said Lois. "They'd have to force him aboard, and that would make any arrest illegal."
"We're missing something; I just can't figure out what it is."
"I'll bet Cat knows."
"Okay. You keep an eye on her; see if you can get her to talk, and I'll watch Rodriguez."
Clark speed-dialled Lois and murmured, "Rodriguez just arranged a money transfer; the sword is his property now. I think he's planning to take it right away; he called someone a few minutes ago and arranged for an escort."
"He's staying at this hotel; why would he need an escort?"
"To take the sword to the hotel's safe-deposit vault?"
"That's where it would be stored anyway if he wasn't collecting it tonight. No, he has to be running. Maybe he planned it when he thought the murderer was after the sword, but now that Batman's in the mix he's probably terrified. He'll be heading back to Argentina, or to some sort of safe-house."
"You're right, of course."
"I guess. Not much happening at this end. Cat's talking to Pennyworth and Kerensky; the only oddity I've noticed is that all three of them seem to have an eye on the time. Between them they must have checked their watches half a dozen times. I think they're waiting for… Hold on a second…"
Clark was already moving across the crowded room as fast as he could without using his powers. Someone had just screamed.
"The elevator doors opened and they were just lying there," said Lois. "Are they dead?"
"Unconscious," said Perry, checking one of the bodies. "Who in Sam Hill are they?"
"That uniform's Guardian Security," said Clark. "Someone must have wanted an escort."
"Batman must be in the hotel," Cat said loudly. Another elevator arrived; the hotel's own security people and two uniformed police sergeants.
"I am missing my flight," said Rodriguez. "My embassy will make an official complaint."
"This shouldn't take much longer," said one of the sergeants. "Now, let me get this straight, you hired these guys to escort you to the airport after the auction?"
"Correct. They were waiting in my room for my call."
"Why did you need an escort?"
"I knew that I would win the sword, and I have heard that there are thieves after it."
"I see… nothing to do with Batman, or this list of names everyone is telling us about?"
"Nothing whatever, it's just a bizarre coincidence."
"Okay… I don't think we need to trouble you further," said the sergeant. "Have a safe flight."
"But… but I need my escort," said Rodriguez. "How can I be sure that the sword is safe? How can I be sure that I will be safe?"
"It'll be a couple of hours until they wake," Sam Lane looked up from examining one of the guards. "They're not in any danger, but it looks like they were injected with a powerful tranquilizer."
"Perhaps you should put the sword in the hotel vault and stay here until the morning," suggested Clark. "That'll give the police more time to find whoever is responsible for this. And as you say, if those names are nothing to do with you, you've got nothing to worry about."
"That was cruel," murmured Lois. In the crowd behind Rodriguez, Cat was nodding approvingly.
"Perhaps I might have a suggestion." Clark looked around, and saw Pennyworth standing with Kerensky. "Mister Kerensky has a car here, and we're both former soldiers and so is his chauffeur. I think that we might be able to get you to the airport without too much risk, and stay with you until you board your aircraft."
"I could come along too if you like," said Clark. "I'm pretty fit."
"And I know martial arts," said Lois.
"It's a big car, let's make a party of it," said Cat. "We can see you off then go out for a meal."
"Works for me," said Clark. Rodriguez stared at them with a cornered look then nodded his agreement.
Cat sat in the front passenger seat next to the chauffeur Vanya, chatting to him. Listening, Clark realised that she was telling a long and extremely dirty joke in fluent Russian. He wondered why he'd never realised just how accomplished a linguist she was; it was an aspect of her personality he'd never noticed in his first year at the Planet… but of course so many other things had been going on that year, a herd of elephants could have stampeded through the Planet newsroom and he would have hardly paid attention.
In the rear seats Rodriguez was flanked by Pennyworth and Kerensky, and still extremely nervous. Lois and Clark sat facing them, separated by the car's tiny bar. Eventually Clark said, "Do we still have time for you to make your flight?"
"Maybe," said Rodriguez, "but we will be cutting it fine."
"Faster, Vanya," said Kerensky.
The car accelerated a little, then slowed again as Vanya swore in Russian. Clark looked around, and saw that they were at the tail end of a long queue of cars. Not a crash or anything that might need Superman's attention, just the usual congestion near any busy airport. If Clark had been driving there, he would have taken a different route, but he had a feeling that Kerensky wanted Rodriguez to miss his flight.
"I'm sorry, senor Rodriguez," said the harried-looking Aerolíneas Argentinas receptionist, "Flight 305 to Buenos Aires has already left the boarding ramp, it's going to be taking off in a couple of minutes."
"Do you know who I am?"
"Of course, sir… But there is nothing I can do. It would take ten minutes to stop the takeoff. It is already too late."
"Maybe there's another flight?" suggested Pennyworth.
"Not from Metropolis," said the receptionist, checking his computer. "But there is a flight at two tomorrow morning from Chicago, and I can arrange a connecting flight… at our expense, of course."
"Do it," said Rodriguez.
The receptionist started to type again. After a minute or so he looked up, smiling, and said, "United Airlines flight 326; it boards in fifteen minutes; if you go to their desk now and pick up the ticket there's just time for you to get aboard."
"Well," said Clark, watching Rodriguez's plane take off, "that was a little anticlimactic. Right now I imagine he's breathing a huge sigh of relief."
"Perhaps," said Pennyworth, "but I doubt it."
"Do you remember the old Mission Impossible TV show? Somewhere near the end of every episode there was a moment when everything seemed to be going the villain's way. Only it wasn't, of course…"
"So what's going wrong for Rodriguez?" asked Lois.
"Any minute now," said Cat, "the stewardess will be announcing their estimated arrival time… at their first stop, Gotham International. It isn't a direct flight to Chicago."
"It's odd that the Gotham stop wasn't shown on the departures board or announced when they were boarding," said Pennyworth. "I'd imagine that WayneTech will receive some complaints about that; someone must have made a mistake in programming the software."
"His reaction ought to be interesting," said Kerensky, "especially since he's sitting next to a plainclothes police officer, who just happens to be a cousin of the young lady he assaulted."
"They didn't let him take his gun aboard, of course," said Lois, "but he's got that sword. What if he tries to use it?"
"Then the other five police officers in the surrounding seats will remonstrate with him," said Pennyworth. "And they are armed, of course."
"I could almost feel sorry for him," said Clark. "Almost…"
"I don't," said Kerensky.
"What about Batman?" asked Lois. "Isn't he going to be annoyed that you took his name in vain?"
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said Pennyworth. "He has reason to be happy with the outcome; I doubt he'll complain."
"But he knocked out the security guards!"
"Did he?" Pennyworth said blandly. "Miss Grant said so, but all that we actually know is that they were unconscious. It might be that one of them drugged the other two, or that all three of them were persuaded to participate in a harmless deception."
Kerensky grinned. "Now then, one of the advantages of being a rich man is the opportunity to treat my friends to an expensive meal occasionally. Perhaps you would all like to join me? By the time we finish, Rodriguez ought to be arriving in Gotham, and you can return to your office and break the story."
Lois looked at Clark, who shrugged and said, "Why not? It looks like we've got a reason to celebrate. Let me just call our Gotham office, make sure that someone will be at the airport tonight."
"They must have bribed a couple of dozen people to pull that one off," Clark said three hours later, as a call from Gotham confirmed the arrest. "The clerks who issued the tickets, the guy who supervised the gate at the airport, flight attendants, the security guards, and so forth." Cat smiled but didn't comment.
"But nobody forced Rodriguez aboard the plane," said Lois, "and I guess nobody lied to him about where it was going. They were just a little… economical with the truth."
"It'll hold up in court," said Cat. "Some very expensive lawyers say so."
"Meanwhile," said Clark, "we still have a story to write, and a murder to solve. Rodriguez is out of the picture, and so is the Salamanca, but somewhere out there is the woman who killed Grady, or whatever his name really was. This isn't over."
"What in the name of Elvis were you thinking?" shouted Perry. "This paper has a reputation for honesty to uphold; how can we do that when our reporters slant the news as part of a con game? And why didn't you tell me what was going on?"
"I didn't think you'd go for it if I told you," said an unusually subdued Cat Grant.
"You got that right, at least."
"There's no real harm done, and we got a great story," said Lois, "even if it wasn't the one we were looking for."
"And what about that? How did three reasonably competent reporters… no, let's make that two reporters and one con-woman… How did you drop the ball so badly?"
"To be fair," said Clark, "regardless of Cat's distraction, we weren't really getting anywhere with the decapitation murders. Grady wasn't even on our radar, let alone whoever killed him. And you've got to admit that a con game set up by one of the richest men in the world has to be a pretty good story."
"Right now," said Perry, "that's the main reason I'm not firing anyone… unless there's something else you need to tell me? Rodriguez is going to jail, right?"
"Between the money he spent on the sword, and some trouble he seems to be having with international currency transfers, he couldn't even raise bail last night," said Lois. "I don't know about the final results, but he's in jail for the moment."
"They've got plenty of evidence," said Cat, "and now that they've got him they can get a lot more; DNA, hair samples, that sort of thing. He's going to go down."
"Is there any reaction from Batman? Or from Superman?"
"Not a thing. I don't think Batman talks to the press, and Superman's still off in his 'Fortress of Solitude.'" Lois mimed the quotes.
"What about Bruce Wayne? Has he admitted his involvement?"
"Yes and no," said Clark. "He hasn't said anything publicly, but last night Kerensky gave me a certified check for a hundred thousand dollars for the Superman Foundation, drawn on Wayne's account. It's what Wayne figures the Foundation lost because they let Rodriguez win the auction."
"Great shades of Elvis! The man knows how to do things with style… why isn't that in your story?"
"I thought it'd be a good hook for tomorrow's follow-up. I think we're the only paper that knows about it."
"Won't the Foundation announce it with the other auction proceeds?"
Clark pulled out an envelope from his pocket. "They would if they knew about it. I got Kerensky's permission to hold on to it for a few hours. You'd better lock it in your safe for now; I can take it to the Foundation offices after we go to press tonight."
"Outstanding. Now that's what I call a real reporter's instinct."
"Actually, it was Cat's idea to delay handing it on so we got the exclusive."
Perry frowned for a moment. "All right… well done, I suppose. Just remember that we report the news; we're not supposed to be making it. Got that?"
"Got it, Chief," said Cat.
"And don't call me Chief! Now all of you get back to work. There's a lot more to this story, and I want more on the decapitation killings too."
They filed out of Perry's office, and Clark said, "You still haven't said why you got involved in this, Cat."
Cat seemed to ponder for a moment. "I really don't like child molesters. A month or so before I came back to the Planet I was at Harvey Dent's election night party in Gotham, and I happened to overhear Bruce and Paul Kerensky talking about Rodriguez. They were trying to figure out a way to get him to Gotham City. I suggested that it might be easier to handle it if he was already in the USA, and offered to help if that ever happened."
"What made you think you could help?" asked Clark.
"I know men, and with guys like Rodriguez I know what buttons to press. The next thing was Russell Nash putting his sword into the auction. That really was his own idea, but as soon as Bruce heard about it he realised that Rodriguez wouldn't be able to resist it. That was going to get him back into the country, so the next thing was to get him scared. Originally they were going to fake some Batman sightings, but I knew about the history of the sword and the New York murders, and when Weber and Davis were killed I came up with the idea of making Rodriguez think that the killer was after the sword."
"So you tricked us into doing your dirty work." Lois wasn't quite scowling, but she wasn't far off it.
"I just… you know… made sure that you associated the ideas. Waited until you were talking about the murders; then asked about the sword, pretended I didn't know anything about it, then followed your lead. That was really all it took to start the ball rolling. I thought it was going to fall apart after what's-his-name was killed and the murders seemed to be over, but they already had the tape prepared; we just went back to that plan."
"I guess it worked," said Clark.
"Well… congratulations," said Lois, with a marked lack of warmth. "You put one over on us. Don't make a habit of it."
Cat grinned. "How would you know?"
"Good point," said Clark.
"Anyway," said Lois, "that's useful if we write more about Rodriguez, but it isn't helping to solve our murder mystery. Where have we got with that?"
"I've got Jimmy running a check on women admitted to hospital since Grady was killed; looking for anyone whose background seems a little sketchy. Apart from that, the police are trying to trace whoever manufactured the storage cylinders. I'm guessing that they were all set up around the same time, which leaves me wondering how someone dug holes in the Hilton Hotel parking garage and the other sites without anyone noticing; maybe there's something to find from that end."
"Maybe they took advantage of legitimate construction work that was going on at the time," said Lois. "Say someone was repairing the floor in the parking garage, it wouldn't be hard to bribe someone to install the pipe at the same time."
Cat listened and wondered how she could cover her tracks. She'd used hypnotism, not bribery, but Lois had the essential idea. There was only one answer, to get in first and muddy the waters. "Construction permits! I bet that if we check all the sites we'll find that there were permits issued around the same time. Give me the addresses; I'll head over to City Hall and see what I can find. That might give us a time frame for when they were installed; see if there was anyone involved who had access to all the sites."
"Are you sure?" said Clark. "It doesn't seem your sort of thing."
"I know a guy in the planning department," Cat purred. "I'm sure he'll want to be… cooperative."
"Okay," said Lois. "Good plan. You look into that, Jimmy can keep checking the hospitals; we'll follow up on anyone who looks suspicious."
"That sounds like a plan," said Clark.
After Cat had left, Lois said, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, I hope… but I need to be sure of that. Jimmy!"
Jimmy looked up from his computer. "Yes, CK?"
"I've got another name for you to check out…"
"Okay," said Cat. "Four of the eight buildings had planning authorizations from April through July 1994. The other sites were places like that abandoned warehouse, where anyone with a pickaxe and some concrete mix could set the pipe things up without anyone noticing. I couldn't find anything obvious to link the permits, apart from the dates, but I got copies."
"You know," said Clark, plotting the locations on a large city map, "there was another big construction project going on around that time; they were rebuilding the Planet, and we're right in the middle of the area where Superman's finding the swords."
Lois sipped her coffee, then said, "Why would there be anything here? The other places were public areas, more or less, but you need to work here to get into most parts of this building."
"Might be worth checking the parking garage," Cat said with pretended indifference, "but I saw the files; there must have been a couple of hundred projects going on around the same time. This is a big city."
"I don't know," said Clark, "a lot of weird things seem to happen around here; I'll ask Superman to check it out the next time we see him."
Lois came over to look at the map. "Notice anything about the locations?"
Cat joined her and pretended to study it. "They're spread out, but they're all near busy areas; rich areas, the most expensive parts of the city."
"She's right," said Clark. "So whoever we're looking for maybe works in those areas, or spends a lot of time there, wants easy access to a sword, but doesn't want to carry one all the time. Why not?"
"Easy," said Lois, "it's probably illegal, and even if it wasn't Superman would probably spot it sooner or later."
"So who needs swords in a hurry?" asked Cat.
"Vampire slayers," said Jimmy. "You cut off a vampire's head, it turns to dust."
"You're kidding, right?" said Lois.
"Well, it's how it works on TV. Or you put a stake through their heart. There's this new show called Buffy the…"
"Getting back to the real world," Clark said firmly, "in which none of our murder victims have turned to dust, why would anyone want easy access to swords?"
"Because they expected to be in a sword-fight," said Lois, "and it's not something you can carry around all the time without attracting attention."
"All of which brings us back to some sort of secret duelling society." Clark poured more coffee. "We've found no real connection between the victims, except that they had swords, and no connection to Grady. But somehow Grady found them, and whoever killed Grady found him."
"Classified ads?" suggested Cat. "Mad duellist seeks similar, object decapitation?"
"They do seem to have fought by mutual consent," said Lois. "There's no evidence that any of the victims was unwilling to fight, and all of them were fit guys with swords."
"Except that we think whoever killed Grady was a woman," said Clark, bringing a tray of mugs back to the table. "And the evidence suggests that she was involved in hiding the swords. They're all the same; so are the cylinders, and she knew how to find one and open it."
"That doesn't make sense," said Lois. "Unless… unless the killer didn't find Grady, Grady found her. He was killed in a place that she had a sword stashed. My guess is he followed her there, thinking she was unarmed, and got a nasty surprise."
"So the rules are different when it's a girl," said Cat. "That figures. He probably thought she'd be an easy victim."
"So let's say that she was pursued from… let's see, where's the nearest wealthy area… Here," said Clark, pushing a pin into the map. "Why does that look familiar?"
"Wayne Industries have their apartment near there," said Lois.
"Of course they do. So our easy victim heads off in this direction, and gets to this deserted warehouse here, where she turns the table on Grady. That was a pretty bloody killing, so afterwards she must have gone to ground somewhere in this area, maybe an apartment."
"Cat, don't you live somewhere around there?" asked Jimmy.
"Two… no, three blocks further north, I guess."
"It's weird that you didn't see anything," said Clark. "You visited Pennyworth that evening; you must have been on your way home about the time that Grady was being killed, and that warehouse is right on your route."
"If I'd walked, I would have tried to stay out of those back streets, but I took a cab anyway."
"Really? That's not what Superman said."
"I did see Superman that evening, before I found a cab, but…"
"He says you were already heading north," said Lois, "on foot. And no cabs had passengers for your apartment block that evening."
"You've been checking up on me?" said Cat.
"Too many things didn't add up," said Clark. "The whole Salamanca thing was well-staged, but I gradually realised that you were distracting us from the murders. I don't think that was your original plan, before the murders started, but you suddenly emphasised the idea that the killer was after that sword; so much so that you must have come close to scaring Rodriguez off. It made sense if you wanted us looking away from the real motives for the murders."
"Now that's what I call reaching," Cat said calmly.
"Then we come to the sword that was hidden in the lady's washroom downstairs," said Lois. "Superman was by this afternoon; I got him to take a look around. You'd need to be a member of the Planet staff or an authorized visitor to get to it. It didn't fit the pattern of the other hidden swords. It only made sense if the person who hid it spent a lot of time in this building."
"Or you. And I've got a family in Metropolis, plenty of relatives around to say that I'm who I say I am. What have you got?"
"A birth certificate for Catherine Grant, born February 1959," said Jimmy, "and a death certificate dated April the same year. And your personnel file says that you have the same blood group that the police found in the warehouse."
Cat got to her feet and stretched, then took off her jacket and unbuttoned her blouse to reveal a flawlessly smooth tanned torso and a lacy bra. A dozen other reporters around the newsroom suddenly forgot their own stories. "Nice theory, but notice the distinct lack of bandages and band-aids… It's rude to stare, Jimmy. I've no idea what the death certificate's about, but my guess would be someone else with the same name; it isn't that uncommon. As for the cab, who says I was headed home? I do have other irons in the fire, you know."
"That's it?" said Lois, "that's all you've got to say?"
"It's enough, isn't it? Now, since it's obvious that you've got it into your heads that I'm part of some conspiracy I'm going to go home and leave you to it. Good luck with that."
She fastened her blouse, put her jacket back on and picked up her bag, and walked to the elevators.
"What do we do, CK?" Jimmy asked as the doors closed behind her.
"Damned if I know. Pass it on to the police, I suppose. I was hoping to shock her into saying something, but really it's all theory and circumstantial evidence. Apart from anything else, I couldn't see any sign that she'd been injured. There could be something under her clothes, but we saw enough of her that I doubt it."
"Down, Jimmy," said Lois.
"What in Elvis's name was that about?" asked Perry, coming out of his office.
"We think that Cat knows more about the decapitation murders than she admits," said Lois. "We tried to confront her, but she called our bluff."
"And the strip-tease?"
"Showing us she hadn't been injured in a sword-fight."
"Well, don't just sit there!"
"Get after her and apologise, before she decides to quit or sue the Planet!"
"We still think she knows more than she's saying," said Clark.
"And you really think that you're going to find out about it more easily if she isn't here?"
"I guess we'd better get after her."
Suddenly the lights dimmed, brightened, and dimmed again, then went out.
"Now what?" said Perry. "Are the computers all right?"
"I think so, Chief. They're on a protected circuit."
"Everyone check your stories!"
They were still working their way through the files when Clark's phone started to ring. "Kent speaking."
"Mister Kent, this is Benson down at the security desk. There's been an accident… uh… Mister White isn't answering his phone… uh… could you tell him that Miss Grant has been hurt?"
Lois and Clark watched as the Medical Examiner shook his head and covered the body, and the paramedics lifted the stretcher into the back of an ambulance.
"We were just talking to her a couple of minutes earlier," said Lois. "I can't believe it."
"I was washing that patch of floor," said the shaken janitor, "there must have been four signs saying to walk around. She just stormed through, slipped, and skidded into the display case where we keep the journalism awards. She broke the glass, and I guess she must have touched a live wire."
"With the wet floor that was probably enough to kill her," said the ME. "We'll know more after the autopsy. Does anyone know why she was in such a rush?"
"I think she was a little upset," said Lois. "We had an idea that she might have been involved in some criminal activities. I guess that we'll never know now."
"One thing's for sure," said Clark, as they went back up in the elevator, "it wasn't Cat that killed Grady. The killer was unharmed by a huge electrical explosion; she was killed by a hundred and ten volts."
"Then we've got the whole thing wrong, and Cat died because we made a stupid guess."
Cat came back to life in a room that smelled of blood, disinfectant, and burned flesh, and spent a few seconds listening before she opened her eyes. She had a feeling that she wasn't alone, and most of the possible onlookers spelled big trouble.
"I was wondering how long it would take you to recover," said a familiar voice.
"Me too," said Cat. "I've never deliberately electrocuted myself before. What the hell are you doing here?"
"Helping, of course," said Alfred Pennyworth. "Things seem to have gone as I assume you planned; you're believed to be dead. You can't stay in Metropolis, of course. And I would strongly advise you to steer clear of Gotham City; Master Bruce would certainly recognize you if he saw you. I assume that you'll use another of your identities?"
"How do you know… you're a Watcher?"
Pennyworth smiled and pulled his watch up his arm, revealing a small blue tattoo underneath. "Someone has to keep an eye on Master Bruce; his liking for extreme sports will be the death of him one of these days… then I'll have the job of explaining why it isn't. But that's not relevant right now. How do you plan to cover your body's disappearance?"
"I don't; I've bribed a few people…" Cat carefully didn't mention the hypnosis that would ensure their loyalty and forgetfulness. "…the autopsy report will say accidental death, the results of electrocution and a previously undiagnosed heart condition. There'll be a closed coffin funeral; a lead-lined coffin, of course, in case Superman happens to take a look."
"Excellent, but it won't explain the decapitation murders."
"I'm not planning to explain them," said Cat, rummaging under the dissection table where her body had been left and finding a travelling bag with a change of clothes, nothing like her normal choices, a makeup kit, and a dark wig. "Turn your back while I dress… thanks. When Superman started to find swords I realized that I'd have to move on; sooner or later they'd connect them to me. I thought about faking up some sort of electrical gun and letting them find it after I died, but it'd raise more questions than it answered. It'd be nice to give everyone closure, but it's safer to leave it as just another unsolved mystery. If it's left that way, when some other immortal is killed and word gets back to Metropolis the whole story won't come unravelled."
"That's a good point."
"How do I look?"
Alfred turned. She was virtually unrecognizable. He clapped soft applause. "Would you like a lift anywhere?"
"No thanks. It's probably safer all around if I head out of town on my own."
"You're resuming the Colby identity?"
"Please… that's so over! No, I think I'm ready for something new. I've already got things set up on paper; I just need to start living the part."
"Well, if you happen to feel like letting the Watchers know your new address, it would save us some time finding you. Do feel free to drop me a line."
"I really don't think so, Alfred." She kissed his cheek. "But if Bruce becomes immortal spread the word; you'll probably hear from me pretty soon. He's a good guy, and he'll need some help learning to fight."
"Oh, I've a feeling he might surprise you, Miss Cassandra."
"See you around."
"Indeed, Miss Cassandra."
"I expected to see more people," whispered Clark. "Cat knew everyone, or at least that's how it seemed."
"Maybe… but I always thought she was a little lonely," Lois replied. "I'd guess that a lot of her society friends will have breathed a sigh of relief that she's gone without a huge scandal. And there's no family at all. I'm still convinced she stole the identity, I guess we'll never know why." There was a hint of guilt in her voice; she and Clark were still half-convinced that they'd driven Cat to her death.
The chaplain finished his sermon, and the coffin slowly sank into the ground.
"That was a good service," said Paul Kerensky. "She will be missed."
"It was good of you to come," said Perry. "And your friend, mister… um…"
"Wayne," said the stranger. "Bruce Wayne. Without Cat's help we would have never brought Rodriguez to justice. It's just too bad it ended this way."
There was a hollow thud as the gravediggers began to fill the hole, and for a moment everyone seemed to pause. Then the conversations resumed, and the mourners slowly dispersed.
Early the following morning a dark-clad figure moved through the cemetery, found the newly-dug grave, and began to push a long rod into the soil. Eventually it hit wood, and a small but powerful drill chewed its way inside. Once it was through the wood and the lead the cutting head was withdrawn, replaced by a fibre-optic endoscope linked to a digital camera. The tip of the endoscope swivelled around, and the camera took a series of photographs.
"Would you mind telling me what you're doing?"
The intruder looked around. Superman was gliding down to the ground behind him. He held up the camera and said, "See for yourself."
Clark cautiously came closer, and looked at the screen. "Bricks?"
"The accident seemed a little unlikely, and I really couldn't imagine Miss Grant wanting a closed-coffin funeral; it just wasn't like her. I was expecting to find evidence that she'd been murdered, but I think we've both been deceived."
"Yes…" Clark looked at the camera. "That's an unusual toy for a billionaire, but it's the sort of thing I might expect a high-tech vigilante to use."
"I could say that's an unusual costume for a reporter… but I think we both have our own secrets, don't you?"
"I guess we do. I won't tell if you don't. Shall we forget about them for now and talk about Cat's secrets instead?"
"Suits me," said Bruce Wayne.
"And me. You know," Clark quoted, "this could be the start of a beautiful friendship."
"I really doubt that, but I'll settle for a useful alliance."
"Good enough. Call me if you get anything more; I'll see what I can find from my end…"
Russell Nash was the alias used by Connor MacLeod in the first Highlander film. His marriage to forensic metallurgist Brenda and her subsequent death were mentioned in later films. In canon she died after two years; for the purposes of this story she lived somewhat longer.
Tracy Scoggins played Cat Grant in Lois and Clark, the immortal Cassandra in the Highlander TV series, and Monica Colby in Dynasty and The Colbys. As Cassandra her abilities included extremely powerful mind control similar to hypnosis.
In the Highlander TV series the Watchers are a secret society of scholars who watch the Immortals and cover up their activities; they aren't supposed to take sides, but often do. During the series their secret became common knowledge amongst immortals.