Marcus L. Rowland
"Lois!" shouted Perry, coming into the newsroom, "Have you got anything on the decapitation murders?"
"Nothing we didn't already know," said Lois. "Three killed so far, and the premises trashed. Henderson said it looked like bombs had gone off, but they couldn't find any explosive traces."
"Anything they aren't saying?"
"Well," said Lois. "Unofficially, they're pretty sure that the murder weapon is some sort of sword, probably something like a cutlass. Apparently they can tell by the way the cuts were made and blood spatter patterns. The other thing I've heard is that all three of the victims owned swords which were missing after the killings. Forrest Weber was a well-known collector, his best katana was missing, George Davis had an eighteenth century cavalry sabre on his office wall that was missing when they found the body, and the sheath from a Victorian sword stick was found under Roger Shaw's body. The police don't want any of that getting out yet, they're hoping that the killer won't ditch the weapons if he doesn't know the police are looking for them."
"Anything from Superman?" asked Perry.
"He told me he's checked out the crime scenes," said Clark, bringing Lois a coffee. "He said that he agrees with the police, he can't detect any evidence of explosives. It's not for publication, but he thinks that the main cause of the damage was electrical, something like lightning." He didn't share their other conclusion; something roughly human-sized had been in the centre of each explosion, creating voids in the patterns of broken glass and shredded papers that littered the floors of the crime scenes.
"It sounds like a weapon," said Lois. "Maybe some sort of energy gun, or someone with super-powers." Like invulnerability, Clark added mentally.
"I hope not," said Clark. Even Superman could sometimes be affected by electricity, although most people didn't know that. "The last thing Metropolis needs is another supervillain."
"It'd make a great story," said Lois.
"Anything else?" asked Perry. "Something we can hang some hard news on?"
"Jimmy's still tracing the victims," said Lois, "trying to find something they had in common."
"Where is he anyway?"
"Went down to the morgue," said Clark. "Said something about checking some old stories."
"Anyone seen the big dictionary?" shouted Cat Grant, standing and looking around the room accusingly. Clark still occasionally found himself doing a double-take when he saw her; she'd left Metropolis when Lex Luthor had the Planet bombed four years earlier, and spent most of the intervening time covering the society scene in Europe as a freelancer. Now she was back again, hired by Perry to replace a succession of lacklustre columnists, and it was as though she'd never been away. Despite her time away her looks and her taste in clothes, or lack thereof, hadn't changed. Clark wasn't sure if her return was good or bad; certainly the gossip column was a lot livelier, but the noise level in the newsroom sometimes seemed to have doubled.
"I've got it," said Clark, moving round to his desk opposite Lois. "What do you want?"
"What's a Toledo Salamanca?" asked Cat.
"Toledo's in Spain," said Clark. "So's Salamanca. Let's see... he leafed through Webster's Unabridged and found the right page, taking care to keep down to a fast but humanly possible speed. "If you put the two together you get an antique Spanish sword."
"What in the Sam Hill are you working on?" asked Perry. "I thought you were writing up the Superman Foundation charity auction."
"I am," said Cat, "One of the lots is going to be a fifteenth century Toledo Salamanca. There's a hundred thousand dollar reserve on it."
"Who in Elvis's name donated that?"
"Russell Nash," said Cat. "He's a New York antique dealer. I guess it's his way of thanking Superman for saving us from the asteroid."
"Hell of a generous thank-you," said Lois.
"Why did he wait so long?" asked Clark. "The auction's on the fifth anniversary."
Cat shrugged and said "Don't know. But he's loaded, so it could just be he thought it'd be a nice gesture."
"Maybe," said Lois. "Hey... all three murder victims owned antique swords, and that thing has to be the mother of all antique swords."
"Good point," said Clark. "If someone's killing people who own valuable swords, I'd hate to be the one who bought the Salamanca."
"You know," said Perry, "something about this rings one hell of a bell. Swords and decapitations, swords and decapitations.... must have been ten or twelve years ago..."
"Eighty-five," said Jimmy, coming in with a stack of files. "Five bodies turned up around New York, all of them decapitated using a sharp sword. There was a suspect for a while, an antique dealer called..."
"Russell Nash!" Lois and Clark interrupted in unison.
"That's right," said Jimmy. "How did you know? He was seen near one of the crime scenes, where a guy called Fasil was killed. But a couple of nights later someone got a look at the real killer, he was a weird-looking punk dude." He pulled out a police sketch of a bald monster, with safety pins pushed through a deep scar on his neck. "No way it could have been Nash, he's just an ordinary-looking guy. There was another killing then the murderer just vanished."
"Was a sword called a Toledo Salamanca involved?"
"Hmm...." Jimmy leafed through the printout then said "Yeah. It was found near Fasil's body, later identified as his."
"So how did Nash end up owning it?" asked Clark. Cat shrugged.
"Maybe you should ask him, Clark," said Lois.
"Hey," said Cat, "the auction's my story. Besides, I've met Nash, he'll talk to me."
"Pool your results," said Perry, "and if the sword turns out to be important in the murders Cat gets to write that part of the story." He went back to his office.
"Okay," said Clark. He turned to Cat and said "How do you know Nash?"
"Mostly I know his cousin in Paris," said Cat, "and I've run into Nash on trips to New York a couple of times. He's about the most exclusive antiques dealer in the city."
"One of your conquests?" asked Lois.
"I wish! He's gorgeous! But he's happily married, and that's something I don't usually mess with... though I'd make exceptions for a few guys," she said, batting her eyelashes at Clark. Lois looked at her suspiciously, Cat studiously ignored her.
"Okay," said Clark, "that's one possible lead. Did you find anything else, Jimmy?"
"The first guy that was killed, Forrest Weber... there's no record of him prior to seventy-eight."
"Didn't someone say he'd moved here from Los Angeles?" asked Lois.
"No records there either," said Jimmy, "But I talked to someone on the LA Tribune. She found a death notice for a Forrest Weber, aged six months, in nineteen forty-eight. Infantile paralysis, whatever that is."
"Polio," said Clark, "It was still a big killer then. So someone got a copy of his birth certificate, and used that to fake up the rest of his ID?"
"Looks like it. Whoever it was did a pretty good job," said Jimmy. "I don't think that the police are onto it yet."
"Could it be the witness protection program?" asked Lois.
"Doubt it," said Jimmy, "if it was there'd be paper to back up his story in LA."
"Take a look at the others," said Lois, "see if you can find anything similar."
"Already on it." He went back towards the morgue.
"Okay," said Cat. "I'll call Nash." She went back to her desk, dug into her purse, and pulled out a thick address book and began leafing through it.
"What do you make of this?" asked Clark.
"The way it's suddenly coming together?" asked Lois. "These things happen sometimes."
"I've a feeling that we're missing something," said Clark. "The sword thing looks obvious, but maybe it's just a red herring. The murder scenes looked like they'd been hit by a tornado. TV sets exploded, glass shattered, scorch marks everywhere but no actual burning."
"Do you really think someone with superpowers might be involved?"
Clark lowered his voice and said "I could do most of it with super-breath and heat vision, but I think electricity was used too. It's a weird combination of powers."
Over on her desk Cat was talking animatedly to someone. Clark listened for a second and heard her speaking in fluent French, saying "...wore a dress with weights around the hem to stop it blowing up. She spun round and nearly broke his knee..." It didn't sound much like a conversation about swords. He guessed that she was talking to one of her European contacts. On the next desk Lois was talking to the police again, but wasn't getting very far. He tuned out both their voices, and set to work running his own traces on the victims.
About fifteen minutes later Lois looked up to see Cat peering at Clark's screen over his shoulder, and said "Have you got something on the sword?"
"Umm... yeah," said Cat, "but it probably won't help us much."
"Okay," said Clark, glancing round. "Let's hear it."
"Well," said Cat, "it's pretty much a tragedy. I didn't speak to Nash, he's gone on some sort of retreat, but I called his cousin in Paris and he gave me the low-down."
"So what happened?" asked Lois.
"Okay... the first thing is that Brenda Nash died a few months ago. Some stupid car accident. Apparently she was a big Superman fan, so when the auction came up Russell decided to donate the sword."
"Why that sword?" asked Clark, making a mental note that Superman should write a 'Thank you' letter and offer his condolences.
"It was Brenda's; he bought it for her as a wedding present."
"He bought her a sword as her wedding present?" asked Lois. "A hundred thousand dollar sword? We mostly got cookware."
"Try a half million dollar sword," said Cat. "A hundred thousand's just the reserve, Russell paid five hundred and four grand for it. He could afford it, he's loaded."
"That's a lot of money," said Clark. "But why a sword?"
"It's what brought them together. She was the police metallurgy expert in the New York decapitation case, he was one of the suspects for a while. After he was cleared they found that they had a lot in common. Fasil's estate put the sword up for auction just before they married, and he bought it for her."
"That's so sad," said Lois. "And he's gone on a retreat?"
"That's what his cousin says. Some sort of monastic order."
"That pretty much excludes him as a suspect," said Clark, "unless it's all a cover."
"I don't think so," said Cat. "I know Duncan a lot better than I know Russell, I'm pretty sure he was telling me the truth."
"Know him?" asked Lois, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh yeah," said Cat, a gleam in her eyes. "Biblically... and lots of other ways too, including a couple that never made it into the Kama Sutra." She looked at Clark's screen again, pointed to the old news story he was reading, and said "Don't believe a word of that, it's a PR puff from Roger Shaw's press secretary. You can take anything it says about him with a pinch of salt. He was a mean SOB and most of his employees hated him."
"You knew him too?" asked Clark.
"Clark," Cat said patiently, "It's my job to know these people. I go to the same parties and shows, I eat with them, occasionally - and only when I really like them - I sleep with them. Not Shaw though, he really wasn't my type." She patted his cheek gently and wandered off towards her own desk.
"Shut your mouth, Clark," said Lois, "or your jaw will set that way."
"Yeah... it's just..."
"I know, Clark. I know..."
"She's..." Abruptly the part of Clark's brain that was always alert for sounds of trouble picked up sirens and an alarm bell. "Cover for me. I'm going to get some bagels." Lois got on with her work as Clark disappeared towards the supply closet. A second or two later she heard a soft sonic boom, and wondered what Superman would have to deal with this time around.
Footnote (which will be at the end of the completed story): Russell Nash was the alias used by Connor MacLeod in the first Highlander film. His marriage to forensic metallurgist Brenda and her subsequent death were mentioned in later films, as far as I can remember without details.
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