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.

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