Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Connections


After the morgue, Graham stopped at the crime scene for a first appraisal. It was almost what he expected to see. The almost straight row of chalk outlines that told the first officers on scene how the bank’s customers had been caught by surprise when they were shot down where they stood. Almost all of the alarm system’s connections had been neatly cut from the outside. And, the chalk outline for the security guard was at the security desk by the front door- where it would have been if the security guard had been surprised (instead of say an accomplice). It was a particularly cynical thought that a retired police officer-turned security guard might have been an inside man on a burglary like this, but it wasn’t unknown.

But, that was about the last aspect of the scene that met Graham’s expectations – almost everything else seemed strange. The pattern of shells didn’t match up with where you would expect suspects to stand before announcing a hold up. There were more piles of shells than he’d expected to find, also. One of the tellers told an EMT that there were only three suspects, one of whom died; but, there were enough piles of shells to account for two or possibly three more suspects… unless the first three changed positions. Also, the dead suspect had not been wearing a mask, so they didn’t expect to let anyone escape. But, then why did they take the remaining tellers back to the vault and tie them up with lengths of a utility cord they carried in with them… before shooting them down? To give them hope, possibly, that if someone opened the vault they might escape their customer’s fates?

Generally observant, methodical, and intuitive, Graham paid close attention to any detail that seemed off-kilter – regardless of the consequences… and there were always consequences. As it was, Graham, who also happened to be scrupulously honest and bit hard nosed—even by his own opinion—(but preferred it that way), had few friends on the Metropolis police force, fewer friends in the district attorney’s office, and had almost no friends in general outside of work. To say he was driven- would be a massive understatement. But, Graham had one quality that kept him from resenting the long hours, the dirty work, and infinitesimal gratitude he received for his work- Graham truly believed in the concept of justice and was firmly convinced that justice could be achieved by a individual officers doing their job completely. He wasn’t naïve enough to think that politics, racism, and greed didn’t influence and derail justice, but he was certain that if the detective investigating the crime were thorough enough to find every bit of evidence available the guilty would eventually be brought to justice and the innocent liberated. Well, perhaps he was naïve, but he preferred to believe it—even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. More than that, he preferred to act on it as though it were a supreme truth, and much of the time he was successful.

Acting on it today meant that Graham simply had to explain why the shell patterns failed to match shell patterns of usual scenarios. Calling to an on-scene officer who was interviewing the branch manager, who had been called in to assist in the investigation and the bank’s later rehabilitation, about the banks daily operations, he asked if there was a set of the banks schematics on hand and where the security videos could be viewed. Thirty minutes later, Graham had answered the question of the odd shell patterns- but turned up an entirely new question.

After Chloe finally left, Lana closed the Talon early, went upstairs, collapsed in a lounger, and cried herself to sleep. To see Clark like that hurt almost more than she could bear, but worse…for her, was to know how she still affected him. Somehow, over the past few months, Lana had managed to convince herself that Clark simply didn’t care about her as much as she thought… if he didn't care enough to finally be straight with her. And, strangely that had made it easier to accept that they weren’t together. Clark’s reaction to her kiss, though, destroyed that illusion: there was no doubt that he still cared for her when the slightest of kisses, far more innocent that many she had given Whitney, could immediately cut through the increasing effects of Clark’s panic attack to capture his entire attention. Covering her eyes with her arm as she sobbed, Lana went to sleep wondering how Clark could have told Lex about his feelings for Lana but left her in the dark, and how much else Clark had shared with Lex that he continued to hold back from her.

Chloe, on the other hand, left the Talon with the high energy that always came with a renewed mission. Tonight, hers was to finally get some answers about Clark.

Digging out her keys to the high school's front gate and her office, Chloe grinned remembering the battle it took to get her a copy of the keys and the alarm code. But, enough incidents the cops being called over her climbing the fence and breaking in to work on a late column plus a well-timed photo-op with the obliging Lex Luthor, when the sheriff was fed up enough to press charges, was enough to finally extend her privileges. Taking advantages of those privileges now, she waived to the security guard who asked how long she would be and assured him that she would only be an hour or so while she worked on a new lead. Intrigued, the security guard perched on the edge of her desk waiting for the scoop while she booted up Clark’s computer, keyed in his password, and began to search his email. To the security guard, Chloe’s leads were always interesting although a bit far-fetched, and more interesting for the fact that they often came true.

“So, spill?” he urged, “Who’s your new target?”

“Clark.” She answered with a grin.

“Ho, ho, are he and Ms. Lang back on?”

While no one in town would have ever been rude enough to say it to their faces, the Kents were always a good source of gossip. Everyone liked them personally, but they seemed to be a magnet for both the best and worst events the town could offer, particularly since their adopted son Clark had saved the life of and become the best friends of Smallville’s only truly wealthy resident, Lex Luthor. And, while the attention it brought them from the town was usually silent in their presence, behind their backs, rumors ran rampant about whether Clark was having a greater effect on Lex or vice versa. It was almost a toss up- Lex had stepped up many times to prove that he wasn’t cut from the same material as his father while Clark had become increasingly involved in trouble since their friendship began and even ran away to Metropolis last summer after burning down the family’s barn and causing a car accident that ended Martha’s pregnancy. Everyone had sympathized with the family since then, and tried to make the transition easier for the troubled boy when Jonathon brought Clark back home. But, most of the town still wondered, if privately, how long it would be before he was in trouble again.

“No,” Chloe snapped, then grinned sheepishly as she continued, “Sorry, I’m a bit touchy on that point, I guess.”

“Then what?” he prompted.

“I don’t know, yet. But, when my star reporter starts on a story over at lunch, then disappears for four days…” she paused to collect her thoughts before finishing, “and needs to be hospitalized when he is found. Well, I have to think there’s a story there somewhere.”

Handing the barmaid a two hundred dollar tip, Eldritch collected a sketch of Clark Kent from the bar and tucked it into her black leather valise before she flipped her phone open and punched the speed dial.

“Connect me to Mr. Luthor… Okay, his answering machine then… No, I won’t leave an answer with you. Good, you do that… Now, put my call over to his machine. Mr. Luthor, I’ve come across some information you may be interested in about how MR. Kent spent his summer vacation… particularly when you consider that he went by the name Kal while he was here so now one back home would be the wiser. Call me if you would like to know more.”

Snapping the phone shut with a grin, Eldritch called the suddenly nervous barmaid back and ordered a whiskey sour, assured the girl that she wouldn’t tell anyone where the information came from, tossed back the drink, and left the bar.
Twenty minutes later, after watching the barmaid with binoculars from her car parked down the street, Eldritch finally revved the engine and pulled away from the curb—satisfied that the barmaid was only nervous about someone finding out that she had been Eldritch’s source.

Inside the bar, Carrie waited another half-hour just to be certain that the P.I. had truly left before digging a card out of her purse and asking the owner if she could use the phone in his office.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Chapter 20: Tug of War

The scene barely registered at the outskirts of Lex’s thoughts, which were almost entirely occupied with his earlier conclusion. The very possibility of Clark being Edge’s son both sickened and angered him. The cosmos must have had one sick sense of humor to give Clark and I such fathers... he thought to himself angrily.

When he first walked out of the Talon, Lex had intended to go home and rethink his friendship with Clark. Despite that intention, however, he found himself walking back to the hospital- driven by the need to see Clark… to confront Clark… to demand the truth even though he was certain it would not be forthcoming.

In some ways, Clark kept as many secrets as Lionel kept, and Lex was sick to death of secrets. As he stalked the hospital hall outside of Clark’s room, Lex tried to plan what he wanted to say.

There had been so many opportunities for Clark to tell him about Edge. At any point, Clark could have begged off helping me find Edge… I could have… Lex angrily realized that just like the radio report this morning, Clark would put up with something that personally disturbed him simply because another person desired it or needed it… and never say a word.

How many times has he risked himself for me? Even when I was being drugged, I knew I could count on him.

Somehow, that made Lex even angrier with Clark, and with the unquestioning self-sacrifice that distinguished his friend. Christ, even Lana’s necklace was made out of polished meteor stones. Clark’s cloak of self-sacrifice was almost alien to Lex, who Lionel had forced to look out for himself from an early age. In fact, it would probably have been completely beyond his understanding if Lex’s mother, in her attempts to overcome Lionel’s influences, had not taken care to discuss and applaud people like Clark, who had the strength to sacrifice themselves without comment or complaint. Thinking back on his late mother, Lex pulled out his wallet and staring at the picture that he had shown Lana this morning.

The more he looked at it, the more he was certain that Clark was suffering from the same cause that eventually took her life- guilt. The Doctor’s might have called it cancer. But, Lex knew, now… more than ever, that she had never worked through her guilt over Julian's death, and it overcame her—from the inside out.

While Lex only had a few suspicions about possible sources of Clark’s guilt, he was certain that it was the root cause of Clark’s condition. Until that was done with, Lex knew that there could be no satisfactory closure on the question of Clark’s relationship with Edge and what it meant for their friendship.

Turning on his heel, Lex decided that he still had too much to think over before he saw Clark again and left the hospital without saying a word to anyone… not knowing that Clark, turned on his side away from his parents, had glumly watched Lex’s angry pacing and misinterpreted Lex’s departure as a decision against him.

Watching Lex from the window, Clark had tried to figure out how he would do what his parents asked. He didn’t trust Jor-El and didn’t know if he believed what Jor-El had told his father: that he could die if he didn’t share at least some of his secrets with someone. But, he couldn’t deny that he was being overwhelmed by what he knew ... and felt more alone than he could ever remember—even now that his recent emersion in Dr. Garner’s tank had returned some of his memories of the long-lonely journey from Krypton.

Even then he had the recorded Jor-El as company—a voice and a presence that he then trusted to ease the journey. Now, he felt not only completely alone with his secret, but threatened with permanent isolation from the family he loved if he told them. The look he had seen in Jonathon’s eyes was more than Clark could bear when Jonathon had turned away from him in the hospital room after he caused the accident that killed their unborn child… and he was certain that, at the time, Jonathon knew his intentions had at least been to protect the family.

Clark couldn’t imagine what it would be like when they found out that he had… As he thought about the prospect of telling them, Clark could feel his heartbeat beginning to pound in his ears and a choking feeling began to rise in his throat. He quickly shifted his thoughts off of his parents, trying to calm his breathing and heart beat before something showed on the monitors that would keep him in the hospital even longer.

Turning his thoughts to the others he might have trusted, he immediately ruled out Pete. Pete might be up to a trip to Smallville just to wish his friend a speedy recovery, but Clark knew that reason his oldest friend hadn’t been “around for him”, even for as much as answering his phone calls, was more related to the fact that he couldn’t handle the secrets he already knew than to the fact that he had moved away from Smallville.

Chloe was marked off of the list fairly quickly after that, it wasn’t that Clark believed that she would put him up on the Wall of wierd; although, he had to admit that it was a possibility, Chloe had no hesitation about keeping Lana on the board long after they became friends and roommates. Instead, Clark was afraid that once she had the tip of the iceberg, she’d keep going… investigating and investigating until she brought out every little detail regardless of the consequences… like when she had promised to stop investigating his adoption, but still emailed Dunlevy. Although Clark never called her on it, he had often wanted to point out that she kept just as many secrets going as he did… and not always her own. But that would be like baiting a hungry lion, something Clark desperately wanted to avoid.

Then, there was Lana. He had wanted to confess all of his secrets to Lana so many times, but held back because he was afraid of looking in her eyes and seeing horror or worse hatred. He wasn’t certain, maybe she could have accepted him when he was only an alien, even though he was connected with the meteor shower that had killed her parents. But, Clark was absolutely certain, remembering the look in her eyes from when he was under the influence of red kryptonite and just recently when she admitted to him from her recovery bed that he was right and she wasn’t safe around him, that Lana could never accept him if she found out what he had done. There was no way that she could ever trust him or feel safe around him knowing that he had killed so many people.

Lex was literally the only companion and possible confidant that Clark had left. But, how can I confide in Lex when he’s so closely tied with and against Lionel. … But he’s all that’s left. As Clark watched him pace the hospital hallway, he hoped that the mistakes Lex had made in his own past would be enough of a basis for Lex to find some compassion toward him… some acceptance.

It was obvious to Clark that Lex was angry as he paced, Clark had seen that stalking pace before… when Lex was trying to react to yet another of his father’s persistent manipulations. When Lex paused to glare at the blind that Clark was looking through, Clark’s heart sunk. He’s mad at me. Just come in, Lex. just please, give me a chance to explain… Clark thought to himself, wanting to call out to Lex as he passed.

When Lex pulled out his wallet and stared at the picture, the sinking feeling returned as he wondered who Lex was staring at: Lionel, maybe? Helen? So many people have lied to him. Is it any wonder that he is the way he is? And he knows that I have been… and has put up with it, for what two years? I don’t know why he does when he knows I am, and I know he knows; but he always just accepts it and just goes on with what he’s doing. But, If I tell him about Metropolis? What then? At least before, my secrets didn’t hurt anyone? Clark ended his internal monologue on that t

Friday, January 07, 2005

Chapter 19: Misgivings

As the door closed behind Lex, Lana and Chloe exchanged significant glances.

“There’s something there?” Lana asked, “Isn’t there?”

“You’d better believe it. But what?” Chloe asked sharply, “It couldn’t be the burglary though, could it? Clark hasn’t been Kal for months and he was here to help with the charity auction this weekend. So what else was it?”

“Do you think Lex knows something else about Metropolis?” Lana suggested.

“How could he? He was… wait. It’s Edge, it has to be! Lex always does his research. Maybe he found out something about Clark as Kal. But, what?”

Lana stared at Chloe, certain that she was right, but still had one question: “How do we find out? We can’t ask Clark.”

“Why not?” Chloe’s question was rhetorical, at best. Asking Clark to give a straight answer about himself was like asking a squirrel for the time of day- if you got a straight answer, it wouldn’t be one you could understand. Why their friendship persisted had often puzzled Chloe, but as much as she disliked Clark’s lying to her, she also had to admit she enjoyed the mystery of what the farm boy’s deepest-darkest secrets might be. Aside from that, she and Lana both knew in their heart of hearts that whatever his secrets were, he would do anything and everything he possibly could to protect them. He was and had been their white knight on many occasions- even if his armor was a bit tarnished. In some ways, that made it harder for them to cope with at times like this, when he was sick or in trouble, because although he had saved them so many times—they knew there was almost nothing they could do to help him… and he still wouldn’t tell them what was going on. Chloe startled Lana by slamming her fist into the table out of frustration.

“Dammit, Lana, I am so sick of the male ego. Why won’t they just admit they need our help.”


On every floor, the nurses’ stations were almost buzzing with quietly whispered conversations, bets, and debates about whether Ms. Chapen would follow through on her well-known desire to fire Kelly. Kelly had walked into Chapen’s office only moments before and the entire wing was on watch for any sign of what happened- answering the calls from nursing stations on different floors also curious Kelly’s fate.

“No news yet.”

“No, she hasn’t showed.”

One of the braver nurses peaked in at the edge of Chapen’s window, but Chapen immediately lowered the blind.

Finally, when it seemed like the whole station had held their breath for interminable minutes, Kelly walked out and waved cheerily to the other nurses, who jointly breathed a sigh of relief and started to call the other floors with the good news. Before their first calls could even connect, though, the elevator doors opened and two security guards that Chapen must have had waiting appeared to confiscate Kelly’s I.D. badge and key ring before escorting her to the locker room, searching her things, and escorting her to the first floor exit.

The grumble that followed was unmistakably angry with Chapen. Despite the fact that Kelly was a favorite of patients, staff, and Doctors alike, hospital policy guaranteed autonomy to all of its department heads. In addition to that, Chapen had reduced the nursing staff’s budget for three years straight, ensuring her carte blanche as long as she kept the board of directors happy, which she had. There was nothing that could be done to dispute the dismissal while Kelly’s immediate supervisor was out of town, and once done, it was very unlikely to be undone.

Fifteen minutes later, when Kelly finally reached the first floor, she met a crowd of well-wishers each waiting to give her a hug and a parting kiss. As the news had spread from station to station and floor to floor, any of the nurses who could get away from their station collected any doctor, intern, staff member, or patient who could spare five minutes to see Kelly off and led him or her down to the entry. As a result, Lex could barely see the petite nurse pass by as he tried to make his way through the noisy crowd.