Part I is here
By Marcus L. Rowland
"Lois was telling us about the sheriff's cousin," Jonathan Kent said that evening. "Did you learn anything more?"
"I'm pretty sure he's who he says he is," said Clark, helping himself to peas, "but he's hiding something."
"I knew it," said Lois. "Child abuse?" She glanced towards the stairs and the bedroom where their children were sleeping.
"I don't think so," said Clark. "It's something about Sunnydale. He said something like 'why should anyone dig into the whole Sunnydale mess?', which makes me wonder if there was more to the story than ever came out. There are a lot of questions I've never seen answered properly, like the reasons why the town was almost deserted when it happened, and why the evacuation didn't make the news before the town went under."
"I read up on it after the disaster," said Martha. "They had a lot of theories about the collapse, but nothing I'd call hard evidence. About the only things they've definitely ruled out are meteors and nuclear weapons. There wasn't any radiation or anything on radar, and the crater's all wrong for both of them. There's no explanation at all for why so many people left the town in the weeks before it happened, apart from some wild theories about subsonic sounds causing mass hysteria."
"You were there," said Jonathan, "Could you see anything unusual?"
"It was all over by the time I got there," said Clark. "Whatever happened was pretty fast. The crater's more than ten miles across and a few hundred feet deep, the town was smashed to rubble then started to flood from the sea. On all the evidence it just fell into a gigantic cave, a sudden collapse. As far as I could tell it wasn't volcanic, but I was more interested in looking for survivors. What about you? Did Jimmy come up with anything?"
"Did he ever," Lois said enthusiastically. "From the early nineteen-fifties up until the late nineties, on a per-capita basis Sunnydale led the USA in unsolved murders and missing persons. Pretty high on the list for gang related violence and non-lethal assaults. After ninety-seven or so things seemed to slacken off gradually, though the figures were still pretty high right up to the end. I think it was fourth after Gotham City, Chicago, and Washington DC. But for some reason it just never made the papers, and nobody knows why."
"The late nineties?" asked Clark.
"Around ninety-seven, ninety-eight. How old did you say Xander Harris's injuries were?"
"Some of them could be that old. Why?"
"Didn't you tell me once that Batman has scars on his scars?"
"You've met Batman?" asked Jonathan. "I always thought he was a myth."
"He's real," said Clark, "and as scary as hell."
"Any idea who he really is?" asked Martha.
"He knows," Lois said grumpily, "but he won't even tell me."
"It's not my secret," said Clark, "if he wants you to know he'll tell you."
"Does he know who you are?" asked Jonathan.
"They say he's the world's greatest detective," said Clark. "He knew who I was about an hour after I first met him, and could prove it at least three different ways."
"Anyway," Lois said firmly, "I think Xander Harris might be a vigilante."
"Talk about reaching..." said Clark.
"A lot of strange things happened in that town. An epidemic of laryngitis that coincided with some murders where the victims hearts were stolen, some weird thing where everyone started singing like they were in a musical, snow on Christmas day when the rest of Southern California was way too warm, a museum robbery where a guard was frozen alive, the mass exodus from the place before it collapsed... the place had Metropolis and Gotham beat for weirdness. My guess would be a master criminal behind it all, someone crazy like that Joker guy that Batman keeps fighting, only not so big on publicity, like Lex when he was running his rackets in Metropolis."
"It's possible, I suppose," said Clark. "Why didn't the government investigate? Why didn't anything come out when Sunnydale went under?"
"That's where it gets weird," said Lois. "If you read between the lines you get hints of a cover-up. Things got reported, but only in Sunnydale and the surrounding area, and even there the reportage was bizarre. When they had the singing thing, the local paper had a headline that read 'Mayhem Caused: Monsters Certainly Not Involved.' What the heck does that mean?"
"That monsters were involved but they can't say so?" Martha asked. The others stared at her. "Is it any odder than an alien invasion or a flying man?"
"I guess not," said Lois. "But monsters?"
Martha shrugged and said "Well, I'm sure I don't know, but hasn't Clark fought a few monsters over the years?"
"They usually turn out to be man-made," said Clark, "and if Lois is right about the murder rate something was going on there for nearly fifty years. That's a long time for someone to be making monsters."
"Maybe more," said Lois, "the statistics before the fifties are still on the high side."
"Why don't you ask the Harris boy?" asked Jonathan.
"Ask him?" said Clark. "It'd tip him off that we were interested, and I got the impression that he didn't want us investigating."
"Did you find out anything about his parents?" asked Martha. When Lois didn't reply, she added "Did you remember to look for them?"
"Um... you know, I don't think I did," said Lois. "I got so wrapped up in the Sunnydale side of things..."
"I don't think I've done much better," said Clark. "While I was patrolling Metropolis I stopped off at the US Geological Service offices and picked up the preliminary report on the disaster, but I haven't really looked for his parents yet."
"He's Rachel's kin," said Martha, her voice sounding disappointed, "and over the years she's been a good friend to us."
"We'll see what we can find out," Clark said hastily. Lois nodded agreement.
"Good," said Martha, beaming at them. "More pie?"
"No credit cards," said Lois, looking up from the screen of her laptop "and no records of a car as far as I can tell. They have to be dead."
"Or out of the country, or living on a commune, or the witness protection program, or something we haven't thought of," said Clark. "Let's assume for now that Xander is right and they weren't in Sunnydale when it collapsed. Where would they be likely to go for a vacation?"
"Mexico or Vegas, both are only a day or so by road from Sunnydale, my guess would be Vegas," Lois instantly replied. "People who run up big credit card bills are often gamblers. Maybe they're only gambling that they'll be stay ahead and able to pay off the bill, but a fair proportion bet, one way or another, because they can't keep up any other way."
"Okay," said Clark, working on his own laptop. "Jimmy could do this a lot more subtly, but with a little luck their computers won't be set up to handle a brute force approach. Here's a list of Vegas hotels. Let's sort them by facilities first and discard the ones that don't have casinos, then by size, then..." He narrowed them down a little then began to type in passwords, his fingers almost invisible as they moved at blinding speed.
"Plug in the external keyboard, we don't want another broken computer. I know it's still in warranty but the dealer's getting a little upset with us."
Twenty minutes later Clark said "Got 'em. Anthony and Jessica Harris, Suite 2004, the Lexor Hotel. Lexor... why am I not surprised?"
"He owned businesses everywhere, not just in Metropolis. Are you sure it's the right Harrises? How are they paying for the room?"
"The hotel's comped them for the room itself, but they're paying cash for everything else," Clark said with surprise. "They're high rollers, spending a lot of money."
"Winning?" asked Lois, pouring them both cups of coffee.
"I'm not sure that they're actually gambling. They've dropped more than $150,000 this week on room service."
"Where on earth did they get the money? And how can they spend it that fast?"
"No idea," said Clark, tapping more keys. Lois had an idea of her own and began to search on the Las Vegas Times web site. Within a minute she said "Jackpot!"
"You've found something?"
"It was the search term I tried, 'Jackpot' with 'Harris' and 'Sunnydale'. They won a five million dollar jackpot at Caesars Palace a few days before Sunnydale collapsed. Anthony and Jessica Harris of Sunnydale CA, put five dollars in the slot, got six triple bars."
"Give me the exact date."
"May 17th," said Lois, peering over his shoulder.
"Okay..." said Clark, typing more passwords. "They deposited the check in the Lexor safe that evening, they've got through more than two million dollars in room service since then."
"In the last week they've spent eighteen thousand dollars on meals. Hairdresser, two thousand dollars. Ice cream, five hundred dollars. Jewellery, ten thousand. The list just goes on and on."
"It must be some sort of scam. Why else would they do something like that?"
"I think you're right," said Clark. "Every item on this list is about five percent of the hotel's weekly total take for that item. Room service averages around three hundred and sixty thousand a week, the hairdressing salon forty thousand, the ice cream parlour about ten thousand, and so on."
"Do you think that they're being forced to stay there and spend the money?"
"It sounds crazy. If they were going to do that, why not just fake up some gambling losses? There's a casino in the Lexor."
"That's easy," said Lois, "gambling's very carefully regulated. There's the Nevada gaming board, state and federal taxes, all sorts of checks and supervision. It'd be really hard to get away with anything. But I'd imagine that the pure hotel side of things gets a lot less attention."
"How do you know so much about it?"
"From CSI, of course. The thing is, provided the Lexor's owners declare the income nobody is going to care about a small increase in takings from the hotel operation. They may even be writing off the room rate as a tax loss. What worries me is what happens when the money runs out."
"They'd have no reason to keep them at the hotel after that, but they couldn't be allowed to talk. For all we know they might already be dead."
"I doubt it," said Lois. "Why would they keep a suite for them? My guess is that they're ready to produce them if there's any trouble, and have some hold on them to stop them talking or escaping."
"So who's 'they'? The management of the Lexor? Do we have anything on that?"
"Their web site says that it's owned by a Los Angeles property consortium. Someone called Lee DeMarco manages the place, he used to be manager of the Tropicana."
"Doesn't mean much to me," said Clark, shrugging.
"Nor me." Lois began to search the Las Vegas Times site again. "Let's see if there's anything... hmm, about a year ago there was an incident at the Tropicana Casino which was investigated by local law enforcement and the FBI. One evening dozens of customers claimed to have been drugged or hypnotized into playing non-stop. There was no solid evidence to support the story and it was dropped after a few days, but the Gaming Board pulled DeMarco's licence to operate a casino. They can do that without evidence if there are enough complaints. After that the hotel had to fire him, he couldn't do his job properly."
"Doesn't the Lexor have a casino?" said Clark, taking another look at the hotel's records. "How could they hire him?"
"DeMarco doesn't run it, it's in another building and there's a separate manager. He's only responsible for the hotel operation."
"I think I've got something here," said Clark. "Three other suites with ridiculously high room service charges. Oh... make that two, one's the Sultan of Brunei with an entourage of twenty or so and he's only been there ten days. But we have two other rooms with people who don't seem to be gambling but are still getting through fifty to a hundred thousand dollar's worth of room service a week, and have been there several weeks."
"So DeMarco invents some sort of mind control," Lois said excitedly, "and uses it in the Tropicana casino. Something goes wrong and it wears off and they fire him, so he gets another job and starts to use it on wealthy customers at the Lexor. He must be picking people who won't be missed much, like Xander's parents."
"And the owners of the Lexor are happy because their profits are up about fifteen percent, which of course means that DeMarco gets some big bonuses."
"How are we going to prove it without tipping DeMarco off that we're onto him?"
"Xander," said Clark. "He can phone the hotel and talk to them. After all, he's their son."
"We'll have to brief him first," said Lois.
"Okay," said Xander, when Lois and Clark had explained the situation at his motel. "I get what you're saying. I can see my parents staying on if they won that sort of money, but there's no way they wouldn't be gambling."
"Would they have told the rest of your family?" asked Lois
"No way. Half of my relatives would be there the next day, looking for a handout."
"You don't seem to think very highly of them," said Clark.
Xander looked at the floor for a moment, then said "The reason that I didn't marry Anya... it was on the wedding day, I saw how they were behaving and realised that I was starting to act like the worst of them. I thought... I thought that she'd be better off without me."
"You changed your mind on the wedding day?" asked Lois.
"Pretty much at the altar. I just couldn't go through with it. I was a jackass."
"Well," said Lois, "if you were getting back together she must have begun to forgive you."
"Maybe." Xander didn't sound convinced.
"Let's get back to business," said Clark. "We need to find out what's really going on there. If there really is a problem and Lois and I start asking questions they might take steps to shut down their operation. We both think the first approach should come from you."
"How am I supposed to have found them?"
"I don't know," said Lois. "Maybe you could say they called you before they won the jackpot, and you only just got around to listening to your messages?"
"That oughta work. Okay, you got a number for the Lexor?" Lois gave him the details and he dialed. "Hello.... I'm trying to trace my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harris, from Sunnydale, California. They were staying there about three months ago, they left a message on my voicemail, but I've been in hospital, only just heard it. Anyway, your hotel is the last address I have for them... You don't? Checked out? What date was that? Did they leave an address? Oh, okay... Thanks, I guess I'll have to ask my relatives, see if anyone knows where they are. Have a nice day." He hung off. "According to the hotel they checked out two days after Sunnydale went under, and didn't leave any other address."
"Don't you think you should have been a little more persistent?" asked Clark.
"What's the point when I'm a thousand miles away? All I can do is annoy them and maybe cause trouble for my parents. I'm going to have to go there and take a look for myself."
"To Las Vegas?"
"Sure. Let me make a couple of calls, I'll see if I can get an advance on my pay for a flight."
Clark thought for a second then said "Don't call yet. The Planet has an arrangement with the airlines, if we tell them we need tickets to Vegas and back to cover a breaking story and they have spare capacity they'll usually let us travel pretty cheaply, maybe free of charge."
"Wow," said Xander, "that's really generous of you."
"You'll have to clear it with Perry first," Lois told Clark. "I'll get our luggage and make sure that Jonathan and Martha are free to look after the children."
"You're coming too?"
"I think you may have dropped a major story in our lap," said Clark. "Of course we're coming with you. Or rather, we'll take the flight before yours and be waiting for you at the hotel. But I don't think we'd better go as ourselves."
Lois enthusiastically said "I have just the cover for us,"
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