By Leanne Shawler <email@example.com>
Original Air Date: April 5, 1998
Summary: Beth Luthor has a secret and the race is on … but who will discover it first? Lex? Intergang? Or Lois and Clark? Episode 17 of S5.
A heavy spring rain made the streets wet and slippery. Beth Luthor carefully stepped off the sidewalk and out onto the road, looking each way down the dark street as she did so.
An engine revved up and Beth turned, startled at the sound. Headlights blinded her and she flung up an arm to shield her eyes . She began to run, but she wasn't going to be fast enough, the car was heading directly for her. She drew in a breath to scream but before she could, a gust of air caught her up and away.
Beth opened her eyes. "Su— Superman?"
"Are you all right, Mrs. Luthor?" Superman asked as they hovered above the city streets.
"Y-y-yes," Beth stuttered. "Thank you."
Superman squinted, looking beyond her, before turning a kind smile to Mrs. Luthor. "Can I drop you somewhere?"
Beth nodded. "If it isn't too much trouble, I was on my way to see my uncle. It's at 15th and Wordsworth."
Superman flew the trembling woman to her destination. "Are you sure you're all right? I'll let the police know —"
He was cut off by more of Beth's stammering. "N-no! Please! I should have looked before I crossed. I'm always being stupid and clumsy like that."
Superman frowned at her disapprovingly, but didn't argue and flew off into the Metropolis night sky.
"Lois?" Clark alighted through their open bedroom window, having just completed his rounds for the evening.
"Lois?" A note of panic entered his voice, as she was nowhere to be found. Then he heard a heavy thud above his head. "Lois!" Very worried now, Clark zoomed for the attic.
He found Lois sitting on the floor. She looked up at him and smiled. Clark saw instantly that her smile was shaky. "Clark!" she exclaimed cheerfully, although her voice wobbled. "You're back!"
Clark dashed to her side and put his arm around her. "Lois, are you all right?" he asked. "I heard a loud bang. Did you fall? Are you ok?" He took a good look at her face. "You've been crying!"
"I'm fine, Clark," Lois reassured him, resting her hand against his arm. "I knocked a chair over when I was trying to make more room, that's all."
Clark looked around. Their attic was already crowded. Boxes of stuff from his travels jostled boxes and old furniture from Lois' grandparents' house. Lois had them rescued long ago and had kept them in storage until now. In cleaning out the nursery downstairs, it was somehow more expedient to store everything up in the attic.
"I was going through Gramma's chest," Lois said, patting the open oaken chest next to her. Clark now noticed that old letters tied up in faded ribbon had been stacked around the outside of the chest. "And look what I found!"
From her lap, she lifted up a heavy christening robe: old, creamy layers of silk covered by a gauzy material with lace stitching. Around the high waist threaded thin, cream silk ribbon which tied in a bow, the ends falling almost all the way down the long gown. Lois got teary-eyed again. "Isn't it the most beautifulest thing you've ever seen?"
"Yours?" Clark asked, gently reaching out to touch the old fabric.
"Mother's," Lois replied. "And there's more in the trunk too."
"This is what brought you up here?" Clark asked. Lois nodded. "You should be more careful, Lois. The stairs up here aren't exactly stable. What if you'd fallen?"
"Don't you trust me, Clark?" It was a rhetorical question. "I'm fine, Clark. *We're* fine." Lois took Clark's hand and laid it on her swollen belly. They could feel the child move vigorously inside. "This one lets me know when enough is enough."
Clark bent over and kissed his wife's forehead. Settling himself next to her, they nestled together, admiring the past and dreaming of the future.
Beth looked at the scene before her in dismay. Weakly, she leant against the doorjamb. Inspector Henderson gently supported her by the elbow.
"Mrs. Luthor?" he asked, "are you sure you want to see this?"
"I must," Beth replied. She had arrived at her uncle's office a matter of minutes before the police.
"This man was your uncle?" the detective asked.
"An old family friend," Beth replied. "I called him uncle."
Her deceased, corpulent uncle lay sprawled and half-naked on the floor of his office, surrounded by scattered books and documents. If there hadn't been such a mess, one would have thought the old man had expired during a moment of passion. But someone had been looking for something, possibly the same mysterious person who had invited her to the scene of the crime.
Did they find what they were looking for? Were they hoping for some reaction from her? Beth gave herself a mental shake. She had to stop thinking of "them" and "they" and start thinking "Lex". Who else would be so interested in her uncle? Uncle Sherman was an estates lawyer, partly retired. There were no controversial criminal cases, nothing that would spark a robbery, let alone a violent death.
Only one small, sworn affidavit telling the truth about Lex Luthor.
"Mind if I look around, Inspector?" Beth asked.
"Yes, ma'am. You would be disturbing the scene of the crime."
"Inspector, this is a matter of life and death. My life and my death." Beth's voice sounded shaky and upset, even to her. "I'll wait until your forensics people or whoever examine the scene, but I'm not leaving until I get to look around."
Henderson looked at her suspiciously. "Is there something you need to tell me, Mrs. Luthor?"
"Not right now, Inspector. But if what I suspect is missing *is* missing, then maybe we can have a nice chat."
Henderson gave his assent. Beth guessed that being married to a former underworld boss had its advantages. The disadvantage appeared to be that she no longer had a hold over him. The tables had turned and Beth doubted that the tables would provide much protection for her. Lex was charming, romantic, the perfect gentleman, a wonderful lover, yet Beth was under no illusions as to who came first in their relationship.
Beth wanted her dream to come true. She understood and accepted Lex's power-hungry drive but believed it could be channelled more acceptably.
She recalled what had happened after Lois interviewed her that first time.
"There," said Beth, as the door closed behind Lois, "that didn't go too badly, did it?"
"If you could get the upper hand on me, I don't know why I was concerned about Lois getting the better of you," Lex replied dryly.
Beth poked her tongue out at him. "Lex, I do not have the upper hand — unless you count the fact that I'm still alive."
Lex rose and took her hands in his. "If you love me so much, as you told Lois, when are you going to trust me?"
"Lex, loving you doesn't mean I'm blind to your faults." Beth sighed. "I trust you more and more every day."
"Then why do accountants still double-check my books? Why do I feel like I'm always being watched?" Lex vented his frustration.
"The accountants are so the city can learn to trust you," Beth said bluntly. Her voice dropped. "I want to be sure I've done the right thing." She looked into her husband's eyes, her own filling with unshed tears. "I want to be sure I haven't unleashed a monster."
"Is that what you believe me to be?" Lex asked brokenly.
"I don't want to believe that."
"Look at me, Beth," Lex gently commanded. She looked up. "You brought me back from insanity. Without you I'd still be a haunted criminal, and look where I am now."
"Lex, let me think a while. I'll let you know tomorrow."
Lex relaxed and smiled. "Very well, my love."
"I have a meeting with the—"
"Metropolis Board of Orphans, yes I know. Go now." Lex kissed her on the brow. She could feel his eyes on her as she left.
Beth turned her head away as the coroner's officers carried out her uncle's body. If her affidavit were gone, what should she do? Trusting Lex not to conveniently put her out of the way because he had her affadavit, her 'life insurance', was a bit too much. She was quite certain it was within his capabilities to arrange an 'accident', like the one she'd almost had this evening. She could take the step and personally reveal to the world, now, the whole truth about Lex. She could destroy him before he destroyed her. Lois Lane would love the exclusive.
But the truth was she loved him. She couldn't destroy him. She would punish him quite easily for killing her …
"God, I hate being a victim!" she murmured quietly to herself.
A letter — she would write a letter to Clark Kent, with the proviso it should not be opened until after her death. It was a risky thing — Clark just might try something heroic or let his hatred towards Lex cloud his actions.
Besides, writing Clark a letter and telling Lex would put both Clark and Lois in extreme danger. If he could take her life, he would take theirs too.
She could pretend there was a second copy hidden somewhere else. Beth half-smiled at the thought: the good old backup procedure. The fact that it didn't exist made it even more foolproof.
Yes, she could face Lex with that, if she could get to him before his operatives got to her. She had been keeping a close watch on him, yet she knew that a 24 hour watch was impossible — for her and the team of private investigators she had hired.
Beth had thought things through and felt calmer. She still needed to get that affidavit if it was still here. The police would love it if they got their hands on it.
Beth pulled out her portable digital phone and dialled Lex's direct number. He picked up on the first ring. "Hello, Lex," she said.
"Beth!" he exclaimed in surprise. "I was expecting you home earlier!"
"Something's come up," Beth replied tersely. "Uncle Sherman has been killed."
"Oh my darling, that's terrible. Are you all right?" Lex sounded truly concerned. Perhaps Beth had been wrong.
"I'm fine. I can't wait to get out of here and come home." Beth watched the police officers closely as she talked.
"You witnessed it?" Lex's voice was filled with dread.
"Oh no," replied Beth breezily, but not feeling it. "I want to be sure that the second copy of a personal document of mine is still here and hasn't gone missing." Beth lowered her voice. "And I certainly don't want the police to find it."
"A second copy?" It sounded like Lex couldn't believe his ears. "You made more than one?"
"Uncle Sherman wanted me to make triplicates but I thought that was one copy too many."
"You never told me about this."
"It wasn't important, Lex. What is more important is: what do we do if this copy is missing?"
"We'll discuss that when you get home."
"Ok, I'll try not to be too much longer."
"Darling, be careful."
"Don't worry, Lex. I will." Beth closed the telephone link.
Forensics were packing up. Henderson approached. "Mrs. Luthor, you may go in now, but please don't touch anything."
"I'll try not to." Beth took her first step into the office. "I know exactly where it was supposed to be."
"The place has been ransacked, Mrs. Luthor. Nothing is where it was."
"It was an unopened envelope. If it's in this … mess," Beth gestured to the paper-covered floor, "then I trust it will remain unopened?"
"If it's important to the case, it will be opened, Mrs. Luthor," Henderson reproved.
"If it's here, Inspector, I can personally guarantee you that it has nothing to do with your case."
Beth picked her way slowly across the floor, closely examining it for that envelope. She reached her uncle's desk. All the drawers had been pulled out and emptied. Beth touched a panel on the underside of the desk. A drawer popped open, disappointingly empty.
Whoever it was, they had been thorough. Lex only hired the best.
Beth straightened, pulling her mind from that thought. An even worse-case scenario presented itself: what if it *hadn't* been Lex?
Beth thought that she'd much rather it be her husband. Better the devil you know, after all. She thanked Henderson for his time and turned to leave.
"Mrs. Luthor?" Inspector Henderson called her back. "The letter? Did you find it?"
"No, Inspector," sighed Beth. "But let me know if you find it."
"I'm sure we will, Mrs. Luthor," Inspector Henderson replied. When she had gone, Henderson added quietly, "and with the full strength of the law."
"Here's what you were looking for, ma'am." The lean man in black placed the envelope on the vast expanse of desk in front of him.
A petite, elegantly manicured hand lifted the plain envelope with two fingers. "This is it?" a sultry voice asked.
"Yes, ma'am." The lean man rubbed his fingers nervously. "Unopened. It was exactly where you said it would be."
"Of course," Mindy Church smiled. "I saw it myself."
Mindy grinned as she recalled teasing the elderly lawyer with his tie, her curvy body curled up in his lap. With a little brandy and a little sex, she'd been able to get exactly what she now held in her hand.
She returned her attention to the hired cat burglar before her. "Nice job," she said. "Eric will pay you. See him on your way out."
The cat burglar exited swiftly. It was wise not to cross Mindy Church, nor indeed, to remain long enough in her presence for her to get ideas that maybe she'd been crossed after all.
"It's taken some time to find out about this," she mused aloud, taking little note of his hasty exit. She was quietly exultant. "But I now have Lex's head on a plate." Mindy pursed her lips. "And I am Salome. This will, I hope, teach him never to refuse me again. Salome had had her revenge against John the Baptist and so will I!"
Mindy slit open the envelope with a ornate silver letter opener. It contained Beth's confession.
*The Affadavit … *
The almighty thump startled me out of my reverie: I had been reading Stephen Lawhead's "Pendragon", so it took me a little while to realise what it was.
A number of successive, equally heavy thumps confirmed that my normally quiet neighbour was throwing something heavy against the wall.
I became concerned and more than a little irritated at being disturbed from my book. My neighbour was a man still in his prime, yet misfortune had brought him down; his unkempt hair and beard, his often tattered clothes, which he tried to keep as clean as possible, as well as the fact he resided in these apartments were clear signs of this.
I, at least, was here by choice. Granted, my job as a historian didn't pay well and my addiction to books (and to chocolate, I confess) substantially whittled away at my pay check. And while the neighbourhood was rough, the floors creaky, the walls damp (and I lived on the third floor) and the pipes shuddered throughout the entire building as water struggled to get through — the old place still had remnants of class and a certain decaying grace which I loved (forever being a sucker for old, beautiful architecture) even as I battled to keep my books free from mould.
I was too afraid to leave my apartment and bang on the door to protest the noise. Like I said, it was a rough neighbourhood. Now that I was listening more closely, I could hear a few grunts of pain and, more faintly, angry jeers.
I retrieved a broom from the closet and banged it against the wall, ignoring the plaster dust that fell from the ceiling. Querulously, I hollered: "Hey you! Keep it down in there!"
The noises ceased and a few moments later, someone kicked my door as they ran by.
I waited a few moments more and went to check on my neighbour. If anyone else was concerned, they hid it well: doors were resolutely closed down the hallway. Except for my neighbour's.
I stepped cautiously into his room, carefully moving around the debris. I had probably seen one too many detective shows (not to mention having read too many P.I. novels) but it seemed important not to disturb the "scene of the crime".
This was quickly forgotten as I heard a low moan. I hurried forward and found my neighbour slumped against the wall. He seemed barely conscious, yet when I touched him lightly on the shoulder, he jerked savagely, yet ineffectually, towards me, his eyes flashing with ire.
"It's alright," I said, my voice soft. "They're gone." He subsided back against the wall.
"I should call the police," I thought aloud.
"No!" His hoarse cry impelled me to remain still.
"No … " by neighbour struggled to speak. "Number by the phone. Marta."
I nodded and moved to the phone where it lay on the floor. It and the small table it had stood on had been knocked over. I dialled the number printed neatly on a pad nearby. It was answered on the second ring.
"Hello?" said a sleepy voice.
"Marta?" I asked.
"Ja," she replied. "Who is this? How did you get this number?"
I ignored her two questions. "There's a patient of yours at —" I gave the address and apartment number. "He's beat up pretty bad."
"How bad?" Her voice mirrored her deep concern.
"Bad. I haven't moved him," I told her.
"I'll be right there." She hung up and I put down the receiver.
"She's coming," I told my neighbour. "Not long now."
A grunt was my response.
"I'm your neighbour," I offered conversationally. "We've met a couple of times in the hall?"
He actually smiled. "Oh yes. Those cheery 'good morning's and 'how are you's. The happiest person on the block." He caught his breath painfully.
"Not quite," I said, with a grin. "Those college guys in 409 get pretty happy some nights."
He grunted assent.
"My name's Beth," I said.
He nodded, and began to close his eyes.
"You know, you should try to keep awake until the doctor comes."
He opened his eyes and a raised eyebrow asked volumes.
"You know," I stumbled. "Just in case."
He obliged me by keeping his eyes open, but remained silent.
I looked around, not wanting to stare back at him and feeling uncomfortable under his gaze. His apartment was much like mine: a single room with a tiny kitchenette, a sofa (now tipped over) to divide the room. We were by the bed, which abutted the wall we shared.
I gathered up a blanket from the bed and put it over his bruised and battered form, trying not to notice the older scars upon his body through his torn shirt.
"Thank you," he said.
I sat by him, fumbling with a corner of the blanket and waited for Marta to arrive.
I didn't have to wait long. Marta, when she arrived, was a large Aryan woman with blonde hair pulled back into a tight bun. She wore old grey track pants, a matching sweater and trainers.
My neighbour was again amused. I could tell by the way his mouth quirked. "Did I interrupt something?" he asked.
"My sleep," Marta replied abruptly, drawing off the blanket to better examine him. "I just came off a 16 hour shift."
"E.R. again?" He winced and sucked in breath through his teeth as Marta gently prodded his sides.
"Ribs fractured." She frowned. "You'll need an x-ray."
"Just strap me up, Marta, I'll be fine."
He endured a more careful examination. "Bad bruising," she declared eventually. She flashed a pen-light into his eyes. "No concussion," she murmured, surprised.
"I tried to keep my head out of the way," he said modestly. I noticed that since Marta's arrival, he behaved more confidently. It was so unlike what his exterior suggested, that I also examined him more closely.
I kept my conclusions to myself, however, after Marta reached her final diagnosis.
"You need to go to hospital," she told her patient firmly, in her unusual verbal shorthand. "Ribs could be worse, organs maybe ruptured, could be bad."
My neighbour started gently shaking his head from the moment she said 'hospital'. "No Marta. No hospital."
"Perhaps the clinic?" Marta persisted.
My neighbour thought for a moment. "Yes. Yes, all right. The clinic. It's closed now, correct?"
"I have key!" Marta smiled triumphantly.
"I'll clean up," I offered, "what I can for when you get back."
My neighbour opened his mouth to reply but was cut off by Marta. "What about *her*?" Her tone brooked ill — that is, if she had anything to do with it.
"Nothing," he said, looking at me. It felt as if he was looking right into the heart of me. It felt like he knew I knew. I steeled myself to give away nothing. He couldn't know, only suspect, but maybe that was enough.
"Marta," he turned his gaze to the doctor. "Can you get me downstairs now?"
Marta shook her head. "Need gurney," she replied. "Be right back." She left, delivering me another glare as she departed.
"Marta doesn't like to waste words," my neighbour said, breaking the silence that followed.
"I know who you are," I blurted, my voice trembling.
He became utterly still and fixed me with one of his penetrating looks. "You do?"
"And what are you going to do with that knowledge?"
Heaven help me, I became confused. "I … I don't know."
His mouth twitched in amusement but he didn't allow himself to relax. He said nothing, waiting for me to continue.
I tried to put my thoughts in order and began. "You are a great man, a creative genius that should not be lost to Metropolis and yet … " I trailed off. Here was the quandary. One that I had battled over since his first public downfall all those years ago. The man I had admired, a true citizen of Metropolis had become, well … "You've orchestrated many deaths, robbed a bank, threatened lives and livelihoods … you ought to have been punished and yet … " I attempted a smile. It didn't work. "It just seems such a shame that all of that creative talent is now going to waste, that you're stuck *here*."
"Who says it's going to waste?"
"I do," I declared. "You should be doing good things for the city, not undermining it. You *can* become the city's benefactor and the ruthless businessman you were before." The last to let him know my head wasn't completely in the clouds.
"How?" he asked, genuinely curious, but oddly distant as if we were talking about someone else.
"If there was money still —" My neighbour painfully gestured at his ruined apartment as if to suggest 'would I be living in this if I did?' I wasn't fooled and continued, ignoring the pathetic gesture, "— then I know of a way to get back all you have lost, Lex." It was the first time I had spoken his name to him and I shivered. "Except Lois Lane, of course."
His eyes darkened and he frowned. "There's no 'of course' about that."
I shook my head. "But there is. And the sooner you realise it, the better."
"Better for whom?" he challenged.
"For you," I replied, calmly. "Your hanging on to her is skewing your vision." I took his hand gently. "Love is the hardest thing in the world to let go. *I* know that. If you love her truly, her happiness comes first and her happiness means you have to let her go and move on."
"I … can't," he grated, anguished.
I gently caressed the back of his hand to soothe him. "You can. You just need a little help, that's all."
"From you?" Another challenge.
"I was thinking more along the lines of professional help."
If Lex had had the strength to physically lash out at me, I'm sure he would have. "That's what I got in prison."
They had been painful times, I could tell. "Perhaps Marta could recommend someone trustworthy, more … sensitive … to your needs." His frown deepened and he closed his eyes, dismissing me.
"Fine," I said, "but it was a necessary part of my plan."
Lex Luthor opened an eye. "What would you get out of this plan?"
"A house full of books," I sighed before I could stop myself. I shook my head. "No, I just want you to fulfill your potential and serve this city to the best of your ability."
"So altruistic," he jeered, but I had hooked him, I knew. "So what is this great plan of yours?"
"I'm not telling," I responded robustly. "The Lex Luthor that exists now would take that idea and run, preferably leaving the creator dead. No thanks. I'd like to stay alive."
Lex regarded me with renewed interest.
I continued: "Let me put my life insurance plan in place and then I will tell you all, I promise."
"I believe you would," he said. "But in the meantime, you hold a secret. How can I let you out of my sight with that?"
"I have other secrets and I have kept them," I told him. "Besides, I don't fancy becoming the object of your revenge."
"Wise lady," Lex replied, as sure of me as I was of him.
Marta returned and with her two assistants took Lex to the clinic. The time of Lex's return was indefinite, so I didn't have much time in which to prepare for his return by writing this affadavit.
I have written my story here as a prelude to the plan I have already written out, in the hope that the reader may understand the whys and wherefores of when I met Lex Luthor and therefore my untimely demise.
My plan was this …
Mindy put down the last sheet of paper, her eyes wide. "Beth Luthor," she said aloud, slowly and musingly, "and here we all thought you were the stooge."
Her smile as she thought was slow, deliciously sensuous, like a cat who knew the cream was just within her reach.
"Ugh!" exclaimed Cat Grant. She was standing by the coffee machine and looking down into a milk carton. "All right," she called out to the Daily Planet staff within earshot, "who used the last of the non-fat creamer?" Not one staff member looked in her direction, pretending not to hear. A Cat without her cream was, well, it was like getting in the way of Lois Lane when she wanted a story.
The elevators opened. Lois and Clark exited. "But Clark," Lois said, "why wouldn't she want the police to know? Who would want to try to kill her?"
Clark shrugged. "Lois, I don't know. Superman followed the car with his eyes until it went into an underground garage and he couldn't see anymore. He went back to investigate after he quickly dropped off Mrs. Luthor, but all trace of them had gone." They had reached Lois' desk. "Do you suppose we could do a series of stories on how lead paint affects health and crime control? I-*Super*man's rather tired of losing people in those damn garages!"
Lois patted his hand reassuringly and lowered herself into her chair. "Well, honey, I can't go near lead or those nasty fumes in *my* condition!"
"Lois! Clark!" Perry called to them as he approached the couple from his office. "Do I have news for you!" He handed the piece of paper he was holding to Lois.
It was a press release from the Metropolis Police Department. Lois scanned the first few lines. "You want us to follow this case?" she asked, frowning, not seeing why Perry was so excited.
"Keep reading, Lois."
Lois did so and her eyes grew wide. "Clark! Beth Luthor's godfather was killed last night!"
"What?!" Clark couldn't believe it. "But—" He took a breath and while he got a hold of himself, Lois filled Perry in.
"Mrs. Luthor was almost killed last night herself."
"Great Caesar's ghost!" exclaimed Perry. "What happened?"
Clark had regained an outer appearance of calm. "Superman rescued her just as she was about to be hit by a speeding car. Which, according to Superman, kept speeding off until it vanished into an underground parking garage. I believe he said he left Mrs. Luthor at her uncle's."
"Could it be the same guy?" Lois asked. "Or perhaps they were unrelated? It puts Mrs. Luthor at the scene of the crime, very nicely."
Perry frowned. "Lois, are you saying that Mrs. Luthor *killed* her own godfather?"
Lois shrugged, her expression clearly saying 'people have done worse.'
Clark took the press release from Lois and quickly scanned it himself. "I don't think so, Lois," he said finally. "According to this report, there was an element of sexual intimacy in this murder."
"So?" Lois wasn't ready to give up the point yet. "He was her godfather, that doesn't mean they're related! I mean, he could have been abusing her and that was the last straw!"
"Clark," Perry said, "Inspector Henderson is on the case. Why don't you pay him a visit and see what he has to say?"
"Sure thing, Chief." Clark shrugged back into his coat.
"Wait, I'm coming too!" Lois said, giving Perry a 'don't you try to stop me' look.
Their departure was halted by the arrival of Alice White, bearing a large, flimsy cardboard box.
Perry smiled expansively, his arms held out in greeting. "Alice! I didn't expect to see you here!"
Alice nodded. "I dropped by to remind you about lunch, and," she turned to Lois, "to give you these." She handed the box to her.
Lois looked down at the box in bemusement. "Alice, you shouldn't have … "
"Nonsense, my dear. It's just some old clothes my boys used to wear, nothing fancy, although you'll have to give them yet another wash. I could still faintly smell mothballs on them this morning." Alice smiled at Lois. "They're for when the baby is older and crawling. You don't want them messing up their new clothes unnecessarily." Her smile widened. "Even though they invariably do!"
"Thanks," uttered a stunned Lois.
Alice nodded, still smiling and turned to Perry. "See you at one?" she asked, her hand resting for a moment on his coat lapel.
Perry nodded and watched her leave. He turned back to see that both Lois and Clark had their eyes on him. "What're you waiting for?" he growled, good-naturedly. "You've got a story to write!"
"We're on it, Chief!" Clark ushered Lois to the elevators.
Lex Luthor sat behind his desk, gazing up at his wife who stood before him.
"Have you heard anything?" she asked, her fingers twisting nervously around each other.
Lex shook his head. "No, nothing as yet." He frowned, looking at the telephone. "Whoever has it, wants to take advantage of it."
"Maybe it was still in all that mess at my uncle's?" Beth asked hopefully.
Again, Lex shook his head. "The police would have found it by now and we'd both be behind bars." He rested his chin upon clasped hands. "We'll just have to wait and see."
The intercom buzzed, making Beth jump. "Mr. Luthor?" Lex's secretary's voice crackled over the speaker. "There are two reporters from the Daily Planet to see you."
The Luthors looked at each other, Beth in shock. "Do you think—?" she started.
"No." Lex disagreed. "Boy Scout Kent would have us in jail at the first opportunity. Let's not give them anything to make them suspect more."
Beth nodded, while Lex pressed the intercom button. "Send them in."
Lex settled back in his big chair. Beth hitched up her skirt a little and sat on the corner of his desk.
Lois and Clark entered. Lois, in a dark maroon knit maternity dress, looked fabulous in this advanced stage of her pregnancy. Clark was dressed smartly in a charcoal business suit.
"Lois!" Lex greeted them with a practised smile. "You look so … radiant!" He nodded at Clark. "Kent."
"Luthor," Clark returned, his voice clipped.
Lois lowered herself into a chair, unasked, and got down to business. "Mrs. Luthor," she began.
Mrs. Luthor interrupted her with, "Beth, please."
"Beth," Lois continued. "Do you know of any reason why your godfather might have been murdered last night?" Lois was direct, her face stern.
Beth shook her head, tears threatening. "I don't understand it at all! He was retired. He used to do deceased estates. He did some pro bono work on the side, but nothing to get himself killed over!"
"Was that why you were there that night? Pro bono work?" Lois asked. Clark, arms folded, watched Lex watch his wife deal with the interrogation. Luthor seemed distantly amused, perhaps curious. He showed no concern.
"I— I—" Beth stuttered. "He was my uncle! Why shouldn't I go visit him?"
Lois nodded, her smile cat-like. "That's right. You hadn't seen him in a long time, had you? Almost a year?"
Beth nodded and licked her lips nervously.
It was Clark's turn. "Do you think that your uncle's death was connected with the attempt on your life that same night?"
"What?!" Lex sprung out of his chair and to Beth's side, his arm going around her. "Darling, you never told me about this!"
Beth shook her head. "I guess I … forgot, after I found my uncle and all." She looked up at Clark. "How did you find out?"
"Superman told us," Clark replied. "It was his impression that it was an intentional hit-and-run."
Lex looked over Beth's head at Clark. "Superman? You two must be awfully," his eyes narrowed, "close."
Lois and Clark looked at each other with a touch of speculative fear. Clark shrugged. "Lois was the one who broke the exclusive on him, Lex. Why wouldn't we be close?"
Lex frowned and let the subject drop. "Would it be possible that her uncle's death and the attempt on my wife's life are connected? That they're trying to get to me?"
"Who would want to kill you, Beth?" Lois asked. She caught the strange look Beth gave her husband and wondered at it.
"I don't know," Beth replied, her hand resting on Lex's. "Maybe Lex is right and someone is jealous or angry at our good fortune."
Standing together, the Luthors' tension was obvious, but it was just as clear that Lois and Clark would get no further with them in this round.After t hey left, Beth asked, "Do you think they suspect anything?"
Lex moved away. "But of course, my dear. They're the best investigative team in Metropolis."
The phone rang. Beth watched as Lex answered it and listened.
Mindy murmured huskily into the telephone receiver. "I know the truth, Lex. If you don't want the whole world to know it, I think you should consider becoming a member of Intergang, subordinate to *me*. You have 24 hours. You know where to contact me."
Mindy hung up, leant back in her chair and smiled, satisfied.
Lex turned to his wife. "That was the call we were waiting for," he told her. "They want two million dollars for the affidavit."
"Who does, Lex?" Beth asked.
"Intergang." Lex's lip curled in disgust. "We have 24 hours to give them what they want."
Beth sagged. "I suppose there's no point in going to the police, is there?"
"How right you are, my love." Lex put his arm around her. "Don't worry. Now that I know who has it, it should be easy to retrieve."
Beth's forehead furrowed. "How? Steal it back?"
Lex nodded. "If we're to stay free, my love, we must!" He smoothed back her hair. "Now, Beth, why don't you go rest and let me take care of things?"
Beth nodded. "Yes, Lex." She moved to kiss him on the cheek, but Lex caught her chin and turned it into a full kiss.
As Lois and Clark crossed the floor of the Daily Planet, Lois grumbled. "Clark, we have to print this!"
They passed by Cat who was flipping through a fashion magazine. "Lois, you know Perry won't let us. There's not enough corroborating evidence. As much as I hate to say it, Luthor will sue our butts off."
Cat looked up. "Lois, printing rumours is my job!" Lois turned, eyes flashing. They each met the other's gaze steadily, and slowly a speculative smile crossed Lois' face. Cat saw and understood. "See what Perry has to say first," she advised.
Lois nodded and turned to head for Perry's office. Clark shook his head. "You two scare me when you communicate like that without talking," he said with a smile hovering about his lips.
Lois rolled her eyes at him and entered Perry's office. "Perry, we gotta print this!" she began.
Perry White took one look at Lois' excited face and Clark's doubtful face and guessed what his answer would be. Nevertheless, he went through the motions. "Now, Lois, show me what you've got."
Lex picked up the phone and dialled. After a short moment of waiting, he was connected. "Mrs. Church, I was just returning your call."
"So soon?" Mindy's voice at the other end sounded surprised.
"There's no point in delaying matters. What do you need me to do?"
"I'll send a limo to get you now. We can sit down, sign a contract and maybe have a drink to celebrate?"
In the Daily Planet's editorial office, Perry White was shaking his head. "Lois, I'm sorry, but this is all merely supposition. Write me a story with the hard facts that Henderson gave you—"
"But Chief!" Lois interrupted. "Even Henderson was suspicious of what was *really* going on behind the scenes—"
Perry cut her off with a wave of his hand. "Lois, until you can give me more evidence, I'm not printing the story and that's final."
Lois exited Perry's office in a huff, followed by Clark. When she had reached her desk, Lois turned to him, pouting. "Clark, this story will be old news by the time Perry lets it get to print." She stopped in mid-tirade. Clark was tugging at his tie.
"Sorry, honey," Clark said. "Gotta go. You take it easy, ok?"
"Don't worry, Clark, I'm watching my blood pressure." She watched him leave. With a sigh, she gathered up the notes on her article and headed into the conference room for a bit of peace and quiet.
Cat poked her head in. "No go?" she asked.
Lois looked up from her work. "None whatsoever." She held out a piece of paper. "Here. I've written all the basics down."
Cat came in, took the paper and read it. "Is this a conspiracy *against* Lex, or *by* Lex?"
"Against, if you listen to him," Lois replied, "meaning that it has to be the exact opposite."
"OK, Lois." Cat tapped the paper with a long fingernail. "I'll see what the gossip-mongers can come up with." She flashed Lois a wicked smile. "And I wonder if Perry will let *my* story go to print?"
Lois laughed and stuck her tongue out at her. "Yeah, right!" she said, and returned to her work.
Half an hour later, a timid knock on the conference room door startled Lois. Instinctively, her hand went to her swollen belly as she turned to see who had disturbed her. Her eyes widening with surprise, Lois gestured to her guest to enter.
Beth Luthor entered, her fingers trembling against the doorknob. She closed the door behind her and clutched them together tightly. "Lois, I'm sorry to disturb you, but I had to come."
Lois' voice was cautious. "Please, Beth, sit down."
Beth sat opposite Lois and tried to compose herself. Finally she looked up at the Daily Planet reporter. "Lois, I — I need your help."
"Help?" Lois gently prompted, scenting a break on the story.
Beth took a deep breath. "I'm being blackmailed. Intergang wants two million or … " Beth closed her eyes, took another steadying breath and continued, "There is something in my past. Something that can disgrace Lex!" Beth bit her lip to stop it from trembling. "After all that he's been through, Lois, it's so unfair that it all could be ruined by something I've done!"
"What did you do?" Lois asked softly.
Beth shook her head. "I can't tell you, Lois. Believe me, I've had to live with my actions every single day since then. I never killed anyone or anything like that, Lois, but I did betray a certain moral standard." Beth wiped the tears from her face. "Lex would be devastated if he knew."
Clark entered the conference room, fixing his tie. "Mrs. Luthor?"
Lois turned to her husband. "Clark, Beth says that she's being blackmailed by Intergang."
"Blackmailed?" Clark looked at Beth. In her grey crepe suit she didn't look like she had anything to hide. "What can we do to help?"
"Intergang has a personal letter of mine, the only incriminating evidence that exists." Beth clasped her hands together. "I wrote it to my uncle, a while ago, unburdening myself." She shook her head. "I should never have written it, let alone sent it."
"Is that why you went to visit your uncle?" Clark asked, resting his hand on Lois' shoulder.
Beth shook her head. "No. I got a phone call asking me to come."
"Who from?" asked Lois.
"I don't know," Beth replied. "That's why I went."
"But Beth, what do you want us to do?" Lois asked, feeling sympathetic toward the tearful woman.
"If you could find out where the letter is, it could be retrieved, and all this could be avoided!" Beth exclaimed, adding, "This could be a big story on Intergang for you."
"Beth, I'm sorry," Lois shook her head, "but I'm not sure we can help you."
"But you're the best investigative team in Metropolis!" Beth exclaimed.
"It could be a big story, but we haven't got Intergang figured out yet," Clark pointed out. "It could take a long time. Longer than you have."
Beth uttered a very small "oh."
Lois relented. "I promise you I can look into the Intergang angle, but Beth, I can't promise to keep you out of it."
Beth closed her eyes, wincing. With a heavy sigh, she rose. "Can you promise me one thing?"
Warily, Lois replied, "Depends."
"If you find the letter in your investigations — don't open it?"
Lois frowned. "Beth, I don't know if I—"
Beth interrupted, agitated, "You don't understand! It would be my death sentence if any word of it got out!"
"Death sentence?" chorused Clark and Lois.
Lois added, "I thought you said you hadn't killed anyone?"
"I haven't," Beth confirmed. "But … certain people … won't like it if that knowledge is made public — for it involves more than me, you see — and they'll take their revenge. And believe me," she added intensely, "they would find me in any witness protection plan anywhere." She took a deep breath. "I took a big risk just coming to you with this, but I had nowhere else to turn. Please, don't betray me."
Clark answered for both of them. "All right, Mrs. Luthor. If the letter turns up, we'll return it to you and trust that *you* do the right thing with it."
Beth nodded sadly. "Thank you." She looked at her watch. "I have to go. I don't want Lex to get worried about me." She looked at each of them in turn. "Thank you again."
Lois waited until she had gone. "How could you promise her like that?" Lois exclaimed. "What if that letter contains something that will harm others? These dangerous people she's afraid of certainly shouldn't be allowed to run around Metropolis!"
Clark rubbed her shoulders from behind, giving her an awkward hug. "You don't trust her?"
Lois shrugged and then tilted her head to the left. "There was something not quite right, didn't you think?"
Clark sat down on the table and looked down at her. "I don't know, she seemed genuinely afraid for her life. But in the meantime," he smiled. "She promised us a great story. Let's see if we can sniff it out!"
Perry settled into the chair opposite Alice and gestured to the waiter for a menu. It was a fine spring day and Alice had chosen to wait for him in the outdoors section of a small Italian cafe. "Sorry I'm late, honey," he murmured, stashing his coat over another chair.
Alice put down her menu with a snap. "Yet another breaking story?" she asked.
"Well, it's not as if I'm seeing someone else." Perry grimaced. "Lois wanted to run a story. It wasn't anywhere near ready and I had to explain—"
Alice cut him off with a wave of her hand. "Excuses, Perry, it's always excuses. You say you want us back together and yet you keep making the same mistakes that split us up!"
Perry looked down at his empty plate. "I'm sorry, Alice. I'm trying, I really am. You can't change me overnight."
Alice ran a hand through her red curls. "Maybe it's true what they say about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks," she said dully. She gazed seriously at him. "Why are we even trying? We'll just get back into the same old rut like we did for the last thirty-two and a half years."
"We won't, honey," Perry leaned over and took her hand. "In the old days, we never used to have lunch together and you were lucky to see me before midnight each evening. Look at us now. I mightn't be on time, but you're seeing a lot more of me than you used to."
Alice relented, smiling at him. "I'm sorry. I just find it hard to trust your promises and when you're late … " She let that thought remain unsaid and continued brightly, "Let's order, shall we? I think I'll have the clam linguine. How about you?" She handed the menu over to him.
Perry perused the menu. "Hmmm … "
Alice smiled. "Let me guess: spaghetti and meatballs?"
Perry gave her an amused look. "Maybe I am getting predictable in my old age."
Alice chuckled. "I knew that was what you wanted when you asked me to meet you here. You love the food at this place almost as much as Betty's Burgers. How long have you got for lunch?"
Perry grinned. "As long as you like." He looked down at his watch and then gazed back at her, guiltily. "Well, actually, I'll need to be back by four. They can live without me until then."
Alice laughed. "Oh, Perry! You old hound dog!"
"Mrs. Church!" a young Intergang minion exclaimed, dashing into Mindy's office. "Lex Luthor is here!"
Mindy looked up, quickly hiding her emotions behind a droll mask. "Send him in, Eric."
Eric turned to open the door and Luthor strode powerfully through it. Eric quickly made his escape, closing the door behind him.
"Lex," Mindy drawled. "How nice of you to drop by."
"The affidavit," Lex growled. "I want it now."
Mindy arched an eyebrow. "You're willing to concede to my demands?"
Lex collapsed into a nearby stuffed leather chair, willing the tension out of his body. "Of course," he said, his smile urbane.
Mindy opened a drawer and pulled out a rolled piece of paper. She untied it and rose, laying the paper out on the desk in front of her, her hands spread over the top and the bottom. "I've had a contract already prepared. You just have to signon the dotted line."
Lex rose and slowly moved to the desk, removing a pen from his pocket. He looked down at the paper, reading it swiftly. He looked up, his gaze shifting momentarily to her decolletage. He laid one hand lightly over hers. Their faces were just inches apart. His voice husky, he asked, "Where do you want me to sign again?"
Mindy widened her eyes and then leant in for the kiss. A dry brush of the lips at first, before their mouths fused together in a torrent of dark passion.
Lex broke off the kiss first, leaving Mindy panting. He smiled. "But first, my dear, I must see the affidavit."
Mindy's free hand reached for the desk drawer and then halted, as her lust died away. "No, Lex." she disagreed. "You will sign first and then you will get your heart's desire." She sensuously licked her lips.
Still smiling, Lex gently retorted, "But how do I know you have it?"
Mindy grew impatient. With a toss of her head, she flicked back her long blonde hair. "Lex, that little minx of a wife of yours was the genius behind your return." Lex's face began to lose its urbane cheer. "Oh yes, now I know you were living like a bum when she found you, and that she took you to a psychiatric hospital and planned the entire clone story. Bribing the coroner's assistant to switch the fingerprints was a brilliant idea on her part. Must've been all that strategy and tactics in those history books of hers. Is that enough evidence for you?" she spat.
Grimly, Lex nodded and took up the pen again. He signed the contract with a flourish, while Mindy looked on with increasing triumph.
Lex straightened up, putting his pen away and holding out his hand. "Now, the affidavit?"
"Of course," Mindy replied. She opened the upper desk drawer and removed a plain envelope, laying it on the desk instead of putting it in his hand. "But first," she said, taking his hand into hers and walking around the desk, closer to him, "why don't we consummate our deal?"
Lex's charismatic smile sent delicious shivers down Mindy's spine. "Why don't we indeed?" He took her into his arms and they kissed passionately, leaning back onto the desk.
Alone, Mindy fastened the last button to her tight dress and went to retrieve the contract where it had somehow ended up on the floor. She read it over, smiling. The smile turned to one of horror as she noticed Lex's signature had vanished. "No! Invisible ink!"
Back in the safety of his limousine, Lex opened the envelope, unfolding the paper that it contained within. "Blank!" he exclaimed, and then leant back and smiled in wry amusement. The game was tied.
At a roadside cafe, Lois and Clark were eating with Bobby Bigmouth. That is to say, Lois and Bobby were eating, while Clark watched.
Bobby put down the last chicken bone, bare of any flesh, and sighed, patting his stomach.
Clark looked at Lois, who was still wolfing down garlic mashed potatoes. He sighed too, turning to Bobby. "OK, Bobby. What's the latest word on Intergang?"
"You expect me to answer that with your wife gobbling down half my pay here?" Bobby Bigmouth replied, outraged.
Lois spoke up through a mouthful of food. "Who're you callin' a gobbler?"
"Ms. Lane," Bobby replied, leaning towards her, "if you weren't a lady in an expectant state, I'd *tell* you who's callin' you a gobbler."
"Be fair," Clark interrupted, lightly pushing Bobby back. "I ordered triple your usual fee."
Bobby nodded grudgingly. "All right. So what do ya need to know?"
"The location of Intergang headquarters," Clark replied, deadpan.
"Yeesh! For *that* I get dessert!"
While Clark called over a waiter, Lois leaned forward eagerly, wiping her mouth. "You know?"
Bobby shrugged. "I have a pretty good idea. It might not surprise you to know that Luthor was very anxiously searching for that very same location just this morning."
Clark turned back from the waiter, having ordered. "Luthor? This morning? Did he find it?"
Bobby shrugged again. "That I can't say. In fact, I won't say until dessert arrives."
Clark tapped his fingers against the metal table as they waited impatiently. Bobby looked on in disgust as Lois finished off the gravy and peas.
Triumphantly, the waiter arrived, placing one slice of Mississippi mud cake in front of Bobby and, just as Lois started to protest at missing out on this chocolate extravaganza, another piece was placed in front of her. She grinned at Clark, who smiled back as simultaneously, she and Bobby tucked in.
Bobby stopped halfway through eating. "OK, Clark, Lois. This is *very* excellent cake."
"Agreed!" mumbled Lois through a mouthful.
"So you'll tell us now?" Clark prompted.
"As far as I know, Luthor hadn't found their HQ. The last thing *I* heard about Intergang's HQ location was that it was in some sub-basement of a Costmart somewhere downtown." Bobby resumed eating.
"That's it?" Clark exclaimed.
"That's all I got."
"Can I eat the rest of his cake?" Lois asked, not pleased with the response either.
Bobby held his dessert plate out of reach. "Hey, my information's better than any one else's on the street!"
Clark nodded and rose. "C'mon, Lois. We have some work to do." He helped Lois up out of her chair and they went to call a cab. Relaxing, Bobby resumed chowing down.
"Don't you find it odd," Lois was saying as they exited from the elevator and into the Daily Planet's newsroom, "that Lex would be looking for Intergang HQ too? When, according to Beth, he wasn't supposed to know about it?"
Clark frowned. "Yeah, but maybe he found out about it somehow. Intercepted a ransom call from Intergang, perhaps?" His frown deepened. "Or perhaps, they're *both* using us in some way to get at Intergang."
"Using us as part of some underworld plan to get at Intergang?" Lois frowned. "There was something odd about Beth today but … she doesn't seem like the type who … " Lois chewed her lip. "She *is* married to Luthor after all." She glanced sidelong at Clark. "Perhaps we should open that letter if we find it." Pretending to ignore Clark's 'we promised' look, she babbled on. "Of course, if this is all a part of some 'get Intergang' plan, then perhaps that's what they want us to do." They had reached their desks. "Clark?"
Clark was scanning the newsroom. He stopped and looked down at Lois. "You're second and triple guessing them, Lois." He smiled. "Not to mention babbling." He saw Jimmy over at his desk. "Jimmy! We need your help!"
Jimmy Olsen took one look at the newly-developed photos he had just arrayed on his desk, heaved a sad sigh and went to join his friends, a smile on his face. "What's up, guys?"
Clark told him. "We need blueprints for every downtown Costmart." At Lois' confused look, he added, "It's for our story's corroborating evidence. I'll get Superman to take a look at them all."
"Plus, any permits that Costmart may have filed with the city for making alterations," said Lois, adding, "although, Intergang's HQ may not be on any map."
"True," replied Clark. "Let's hope that they made some use of an existing structure."
Jimmy looked back and forth at Clark and Lois. "I want a photo exclusive," he bargained.
Lois and Clark turned to look at him. "Done!"
Jimmy smiled. "Then I'll get right to it!"
He dashed off, heading for his computer and the online City Archives, exclaiming an apology as someone bumped into him.
That someone didn't pause but bore down on Lois and Clark, who were bent over at Lois' desk going over their plan.
"What have you done with my wife?" Lex Luthor, that someone, demanded.
Clark's head snapped back to look at him; Lois' head turned, equally startled by his appearance.
"Lex!" Lois breathed.
"Where's my wife?" Lex repeated, almost beside himself with anger.
Lois shook her head, confused. "I don't know what you're talking about. We haven't seen—"
Lex cut her off with a wave of his hand. "Don't go giving me any cockamamie story about not having seen her. I *know* she was here. What I want to know is what you've done with her."
Jimmy tapped in the login password for the fifth time and glanced at his watch. "Not tonight!" he groaned. He picked up the phone and dialled.
Through the receiver he heard, "Hi! I'm not in right now, but if you leave your name and number, I'll get right back to you."
Jimmy groaned again. "Penny, it's Jim. Look, something's come up at work. It looks like the City's archive mainframe's down again. I'm gonna have to go downtown. Sorry, sweetheart, but I'm going to have to take a raincheck. If you're not too mad at me, come down to the City Archives, eh? I'll be in the Planning section. Love you."
Jimmy hung up, grabbed his jacket and headed out, missing the altercation occuring over in the Kent area of the newsroom.
Keeping his anger under control, Clark asked, "What makes you think we've done anything with her?"
"She's gone," Lex replied, his voice rough.
"Gone?" Clark frowned. "Luthor, perhaps you'd better come into the conference room where we can talk privately."
Clark led Luthor into the conference room, waving a curious Perry White away. Perry nodded understandingly and watched in concern as Lois followed the two men.
Clark waited until both Lois and Lex were seated and began. "Luthor, tell me why you think your wife is missing."
"She went out this morning, to see you, as I later found out." Luthor frowned mildly. "When I returned home and found she wasn't there … I found she'd dismissed the chauffeur I'd given her and gone solo. She didn't call or leave a message. The best I can work out is that she was last seen here. With you."
Lois nodded reluctantly. "She left us just before lunch, Luthor."
Lex's eyes were dark. "What did she tell you?"
"Beth told us that she was being blackmailed for a letter she'd written," Lois replied. "We know you know because we heard on the streets you were looking for Intergang."
Lex nodded, his body tensing. "I didn't find them." He brushed invisible lint off his shoulder. "I'm surprised she came to you. Did she tell you what was in the letter?"
Lois' eyes narrowed. "No, she didn't. Just that it would mean her death if it got out."
The lines of Lex's body relaxed and he rose from his chair. "Perhaps you're right, Kent," he said. "I'm getting worried too soon." He looked down at Lois and then back up to Clark. Their faces were politely disbelieving. "I'm sorry I disturbed you."
Clark watched the door swing shut after Lex Luthor.
"Do you think he knows where she is?" Lois asked. "He's here throwing us off the scent, right?"
Clark shook his head. "Luthor's often a mystery to me, but this time I have to say he doesn't know where Beth is. And that's worrying him."
"I think it's possible Lex got too close to Intergang and they snapped her up in retaliation. We have to find that HQ, Clark."
Clark nodded. "Let's see how Jimmy's doing."
Lois shrugged. "Well, we know that the HQ is in a Costmart downtown. So why don't we go and take a look?" She did their secret flying hand signal.
"*We*, Lois?" Clark folded his arms.
Lois grinned and sighed. "Well, it was worth a try, right?"
Clark couldn't help but smile back. "I'll be as quick as I can." He looked over his shoulder to ensure the conference room blinds were closed and then spun into the Suit. "You can go check on Jimmy."
"Don't forget," Lois reminded, nodding. "The HQ's probably lead-lined!"
Clark nodded. "If lead blocks my view, I'll know something's up." He bent over and kissed her forehead. "Love you."
Lois tilted her head back, encouraging him to give her another kiss. Clark didn't need any encouragement. "Love you too," Lois said finally.
Beth's eyelids fluttered drowsily as she woke. Suddenly, her eyes shot open and her body jerked. Beth moaned softly in pain. Her movements had been hindered by rope and she discovered she'd been strapped in a standing position. She looked down at herself, and saw that she was bound tightly in thick rope.
Her arms were tightly bound to her sides. Her hands were free. Beth wriggled them experimentally but could only rotate them from the wrist. There was no knot within reach.
She looked around at her surroundings. The decor was stark: black walls, a black lacquered desk, black leather furniture and hints of chrome.
One of the blank wall panels slid open.
"Mrs. Church!" exclaimed Beth. "Quick! Help me out of these ropes! Before they come back and … " Her voice trailed off uncertainly.
Mindy Church looked at her captive like she was crazy. "Why should I? I put you there."
"You … you kidnapped me?" Beth's voice grew small. "Why?"
Mindy laughed. "Because your husband is a bad, bad man, Mrs. Luthor."
Beth tried to hide her fear and spoke up bravely. "You have him mixed up with his clone, Mrs. Church, I assure you. Lex is a good man."
"Dream on, girl," snapped Mrs. Church. "I attempted a transaction with your husband just this afternoon and he *cheated* me! I don't like men who cheat on me."
"Who does?" Beth replied. "I understand the ruthlessness of the business world, but isn't this—" somehow she managed to gesture to her wrapped-up condition "— a little extreme?"
"Ah," Mindy moved closer. "Not really. Not when I discover who is the true mastermind behind Mr. Luthor."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean *you*, Mrs. Luthor. You put him back where he is today."
Beth's stomach sank as it slowly dawned on her that Mindy Church knew. Nevertheless, she replied bravely. "I nursed him to back to health, helped him take his rightful place in this society that he — his *clone*! — had virtually destroyed for him!"
Mindy smiled sweetly. "And you did so much more, didn't you?"
"I don't know what you mean."
Mindy spun around and headed to her desk. Beth watched closely as Mrs. Church retrieved something from her desk drawer. She waved it gently. "Oh yes you do, Mrs. Luthor. Yes, you do."
Beth bit her lip and gazed at the letter, her thoughts in turmoil. "You've sent for the police?" she squeaked at last.
"Why should I do that, when I can make a profit from it?" Mindy asked, lazily returning the letter to its safe place.
"You! Intergang?!" Beth exclaimed.
Mindy tossed back her mane of blonde hair and laughed. "You'll never be able to prove that." Her eyes darkened. "No matter what your dark horse of a husband does to save you and his name. Never."
Mrs. Church smiled. "I'll leave you to think on that." She leant over her desk and pressed a buzzer. "And while you do, you can look on the face of the man who murdered your uncle. You'll never be able to prove I know about *that* either."
The door slid to one side again and revealed a man dressed totally in black. "Peter, keep an eye on our guest, will you? I have some business to attend to."
Flying over the city of Metropolis, Superman scanned the first Costmart building. By now, he was used to sorting out the various elements that made up a building, and focused in on the basement. It appeared normal and he could see the city's power lines running beneath it. Looking even deeper, he focused on the sandy soil particles that made up the substrata of Metropolis.
The second Costmart also revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Clark quietly hoped that the third would be the one. Otherwise, he and Lois would have to search from the beginning again.
The third Costmart was in the sleaziest part of downtown, which when Clark thought about it, made sense if it was going to be doubling as a crime headquarters. He slowly scanned over the building, piercing each floor until he hit the basement, then the sub-basement, then … nothing.
Superman hovered in the air, his gaze again attempting to penetrate the depths of the Costmart building. "Bingo!" he said, with a small, triumphant smile.
He climbed higher into the air, searching for a good entry point. Spotting a bare space in the parking lot, he dove, barrelling downwards, punching a hole in the asphalt and tunneling a tight hole into the ground.
Guessing at the depth of the sub-basement, he turned and dug horizontally through the earth. The earth became concrete. He pushed against the four foot thick cement, causing it to crack, until finally the sheer pressure he exerted against it created a hole.
Superman stepped through it, dusted himself off, and looked around. He stood in a tunnel. Heavy concrete surrounded him on all sides. It was lit by a steady stream of fluorescent lamps. He looked up, using his x-ray vision and saw … nothing. The top had been covered with lead.
"There must be a sheet of the stuff covering the place," Superman murmured to himself, his head slowly moving from left to right. His x-ray sight confirmed that theory.
He sped west down the corridor, certain that the deeper he got beneath Costmart, the closer he would get to Intergang Headquarters.
Behind the warehouse shelves of Costmart there was a service elevator. The employees used it to go upstairs to their breakroom and the administrative offices.
Mindy Church sat upstairs in her office, signing papers that would keep the Costmart chain running successfully. Putting them in her out-going tray, she opened a desk drawer, revealing a small monitor and keyboard. She flicked on the monitor.
The black and white, flickering picture showed Beth still tied up to a convenient pole. She watched with a smile as Beth struggled within the strict confines of the ropes.
Mindy clicked on a key and the view changed. It showed the thief Peter sitting at his desk reading … Mindy clicked on a different key a couple of times as she zoomed in on him. A Spiderman comic.
She murmured aloud, "Whatever happened to that Dark Knight series he was reading?"
Tapping a key again, she panned up the long hallway that led to the Intergang lair. "What?!" she exclaimed, as she saw Superman zipping down the corridor.
Swiftly, Mindy yanked the monitor and keyboard out of its drawer. She stuffed it into a shopping bag. The false bottom that had rested in the cupboard behind her and a stack of hanging files concealed the loose wires. Without further ado, Mrs. Church picked up the shopping bag, her purse and coat and headed out.
Down the end of the hallway was a door. Superman wasted little finesse and simply broke it down, crashing into the room beyond.
"Superman!" gasped Beth Luthor as Superman lowered his powerful fists and straightened up.
Peter fell off his chair, the comic flying back over his head, and quickly tried to make his escape.
In one swift movement, Superman had hauled him back by the scruff of his collar. "Not so fast, mister."
Superman hastened to Mrs. Luthor's side and one-handed, quickly broke the ropes around her. He used them to tie up the hapless villain.
At last, he turned to Beth. "Mrs. Luthor, are you all right?"
"All pins and needles," Beth replied, rubbing at her arms.
Superman nodded took her gently by the arm. "Your husband is worried about you, we have to get you out of here."
"Wait! The letter!" Beth exclaimed.
Superman allowed his hand to drop and watched her rifle the drawers of the desk.
She found the envelope and pulled out its contents. A smile transformed her face. Quickly, Beth tucked the envelope and its contents back into her coat pocket.
Superman took a long look at her coat pocket, then shook his head. "Let's get you home, Mrs. Luthor, and this … man to jail."
"Here," said Jimmy, dropping the stack of blueprints onto the conference room desk.
Penny mimicked his actions and dropped a tall pile of crammed manila folders onto the table as well.
Seeing the way Jimmy looked at Penny and then guiltily at the recently delivered pile, Lois replied, "Thanks Jimmy!" Abashed, she looked up at them. "I just heard from Superman. They've nabbed the guy who did it."
Jimmy and Penny's faces dropped. "Then all this was for … nothing?" Jimmy said.
Lois shook her head. "No, it'll help immensely with the story, and the police will love having this evidence on hand for the case." She smiled up at them. "If you hurry, you'll still get that photo exclusive." She handed him the address.
Jimmy and Penny smiled. "Great!" said Jimmy. "C'mon, Pen, we don't want to miss this!"
Penny rolled her eyes at Lois, grinning, before being dragged off by her boyfriend.
Superman watched as Lex Luthor wrapped his wife up in a warm embrace. "I thought I'd lost you," Luthor murmured.
Superman left them to it and flew off into the night.
Lex pulled Beth out of their hug, holding her at arm's length and deeply perusing her face. "What happened?" he asked her.
"Mindy Church had the letter," Beth told him. "She'd kidnapped me! And left the man who murdered Uncle Sherman to keep watch!"
Beth smiled and pulled it out of her pocket. "I have it," she said.
Lex held out his hand for it. "May I?"
She didn't give it to him. "Lex, you told me Intergang had the letter."
Lex looked at her, deadpan, waiting for the rest.
"Mrs. *Church* had the letter! Lex, if only I could prove it!"
Lex smiled at Beth's frustration. "Then, my dear, we have to apply ourselves to doing that." Beth nodded. "The letter?"
"Take it," Beth said, handing the envelope and its contents to him. "Read it, keep it, burn it, do whatever you want with it. I trust you now."
Lex took the letter and tucked it inside his jacket. "There is still the other letter though, isn't there?"
Beth just smiled.
"Good job, Clark, Lois!" Perry proclaimed.
"But Chief, we didn't get Intergang," Lois complained, discreetly rubbing her lower back. It had been a long day.
"No, but you got the murderer," Perry replied. "With his fingerprints at the scene of the crime, at least something came out of it." He grinned at her. "Unlike that theory of yours, Lois."
Perry looked at his watch. "Hell's bells!" he exclaimed. "I've got to go pick up Alice." He rose and reached for his coat.
Clark smiled, his hand on his glasses as if he were about to lower them for some x-raying. "Are things OK with you and Alice?" he asked tentatively.
Perry grinned happily at them. "Things are great, Clark." He winked at Lois. "But they're about to get even better." He headed out the door.
Lois grinned at Clark. "That must be some hot date he's going on!"
Clark nodded in agreement with a wicked grin of his own. Lois and Clark made their way back to their desks. Seated once more, Lois looked up at Clark. "Did you get a look at the letter?"
Clark shook his head. "We promised not to, Lois."
"You didn't look?!" Lois was astonished. "But why not? What if it contained something that we needed to know for our safety?"
"And if it didn't," Clark reminded her. "We'd be invading Mrs. Luthor's privacy. She trusted us, Lois."
Lois frowned and sighed. She clearly didn't like it, but there was nothing she could do about her husband's decision now.
Clark smiled and began lightly massaging her shoulders. "How about we go home and I give you a foot rub, hmm?"
Lois smiled up at her husband. "Sounds just perfect." Suddenly, she winced and gasped. "Oh!"
Clark was on his knees by her side in an instant. "What is it?" he asked, his voice rising. "Lois?"
Lois looked down at Clark. "It kicked, real hard!"
Clark pulled up Lois' shirt, peeking under it. He glared at the unseen baby, a grin lurking at the corners of his mouth. "Bad baby," he remonstrated, waggling his finger.
Lois giggled. The baby kicked again, causing Lois' stomach to ripple.
Clark's eyes widened. "Whoa! That's some kick!"
Lois smiled and took his unresisting hand and placed it on her belly. Their eyes met, caught in the wonder of their unborn child.
"Love you," they whispered to each other.
Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 5 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1998 to the author.