Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Chapter 39 Confronting Truths

Underneath Clark’s bluntness, Lex could see that his friend was deeply troubled and embarrassed, and he regretted that the difficult circumstances didn’t give him enough time to use kid gloves. While completely out of character, for Clark, Lex was certain there was more to the story than a teen’s wayward summer.

“That hardly sounds like you, but there’s more to this; isn’t there?” Lex asked as he gestured down the stairwell.”

Clark nodded grimly before continuing, “One night, after a bar fight, the man who gave me this…” Clark gingerly touched the cut on his temple, “followed me back to my apartment and asked if I wanted some real excitement.”

As he said “excitement”, Clark’s voice dropped into a harsh, self-loathing tone that immediately told Lex what his answer had been.

“There was a fight club downstairs. If you won enough fights, you got to come upstairs.” Clark said significantly, clearly hoping that Lex would understand the comment.

“A tobacco club?” Lex asked, referring to Metropolis’s euphemism for establishments where all forms of criminal activity were regularly bought and sold. Lex not only understood the reference, but had often frequented tobacco clubs during his visits to metropolis—occasionally to recruit special employees, but often simply to keep channels open with the type of individuals who had the skills go against his father’s employees in their many sparring matches. Despite his familiarity with these establishments, or really because of it, Lex found it even more difficult to believe that Clark had somehow made it past the first floor.

Certainly, Clark had an undeniable farm-bred strength, but the viciousness required to give the kind of beatings that would take him past the fight club—that was inconceivable to Lex. Even with the many years under his father’s callous tutelage, Lex had found it difficult and distasteful to muster the necessary quality in himself to make it through those battles. Even then, Lex had only managed it with the knowledge that he needed the connections he could make through the tobacco clubs if he intended to break away from his father’s control. Everything that he had come to believe about Clark was irreconcilable with this latest bit of information, but Clark’s confession was delivered with such sincere self-recrimination and self-loathing that it
convinced Lex.

What in the world could have driven him to this? Lex wondered to himself. Certainly not just a thirst for excitement. How far did he go? That, Lex decided was probably the crux of the matter: how far he went astray when he came upstairs.

“And?” Lex prompted.

“I… when I got upstairs… I…” Clark’s voice dropped to a strangled whisper as he started and broke off again. As Lex watched him with concern, Clark began to shudder violently. From the side, Lex noticed that Clark had begun to gulp and wondered if Clark was nauseous again, until he heard a broken sniff. Reaching his fingers into the gap between Clark’s bent arm and his cheek, Lex cupped his hand under Clark’s chin and lifted without resistance—only realizing as he did that his fingers were wet with the tears streaming silently down Clark’s face.

Wishing there was enough time to go more gently, and struck by guilt as he did, Lex nevertheless steeled himself and forced Clark to look at him as he sternly said, “Clark, we don’t have time for this. I need to know what kind of trouble we are dealing with here. Just say it.”


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