Part 1 is archived here
by Marcus L. Rowland
"...and I was just asking for extra cream cheese when the jewel store alarm went off," said Clark. "You'd think that by now people would know better than to try armed robbery in Metropolis, but apparently not. Anyway, Superman soon took care of things, and I've got the story."
"Lucky for us you were there to get it," said Perry, "and good work getting a quote from the robbers. Anything new on the decapitation killings?"
"Still working on it."
"It'd be good to have something to run tomorrow morning," said Perry, heading for his office.
"We'll try," said Clark, "but I can't guarantee it."
"So your idea is that whoever buys the Salamanca tomorrow night will be the next target?" Lois said a few minutes later.
"It seems likely," said Clark. "It's about the only clue we have to go on right now, and the timing's about right. Even if the buyer isn't the target, the bidders will be sword collectors, and the target might be amongst them."
"Or maybe," said Jimmy, "someone's killing sword collectors to bring the price down. So whoever buys it will be the killer."
"Why would it bring the price down?" asked Lois. "We haven't printed anything about swords being stolen, neither has the Star."
"You know," Clark said slowly, "Jimmy may have a point. There hasn't been any publicity, but by now the police have probably talked to every well-known sword collector in Metropolis. If I heard something like that I'd think twice before making myself conspicuous by bidding. It's a nice sword, I suppose, but I doubt it's worth dying for."
"You wouldn't want to lose your head," said Cat, who had come up while they were talking. Everyone else groaned. "Well, I'm not so sure. I got Duncan to ask around, and it seems that there'll be some serious out-of-town bidding going on. About a dozen different museums, and maybe eight or ten private collectors. It's really that rare."
"So there are some out-of-town sword collectors in Metropolis right now?" asked Clark.
"I guess," said Cat, with a shrug. "It's not really my scene. Collectors mostly tend to be fat rich old guys."
"And...?" Lois asked pointedly.
"Rich is always good, but fat and old are passion-killers. And you can forget them as murder suspects too, can you see a fat old guy chopping off someone's head?"
"Not really," said Clark.
"Damn right," said Cat. "There's a reason why the guys who sword-fight in movies are hunks, it takes agility and a lot of muscle."
"All of the murder victims were pretty fit," Clark remembered.
"I wonder if they went to the same gym," said Lois.
"Henderson couldn't find any evidence they'd ever met, but maybe that's one he didn't think of. I'll give him a call." Clark dialled, got through to one of Henderson's assistants, and asked a few questions. After a minute or so he shook his head, hung off, and said "No dice. Shaw had a weight room and gym in his basement, Davis belonged to the Metropolis Club, and Weber worked out at the YMCA."
"Rats," said Lois, turning to Cat. "Any chance of getting a list of potential buyers for the sword?"
"Way ahead of you," said Cat. "Duncan's finding out, he'll fax me the details as soon as he knows."
"Once we get it maybe you can help us weed out the fat old guys," Lois said sarcastically. "Then we should be left with the young hunks."
"Sounds good to me," said Cat, without a trace of sarcasm in her voice. "I've got to get some more work done on my column, talk to you when the fax comes." Once she was sure that Lois and Clark were busy with other things she slipped out of the newsroom.
The woman who called herself Cat Grant in this city and decade walked down to one of the less convenient ladies rooms, on a floor that mostly held store rooms and the Planet's network file servers, checked that she was alone, and kicked a small wedge under the door. It wouldn't keep out someone determined, but it ought to give her warning if someone tried to get in. Alone, she suddenly looked much more mature, though it would take another immortal to sense the thousands of years of experience she possessed.
Cat was worried; Lois, Clark and Jimmy were already shining light into corners she'd prefer were kept dark. Her only consolation was that they'd be doing that anyway if she wasn't there. With her 'help', if she played things just right, they wouldn't see anything that led beyond the immediate murders. The only alternative was to quit the Planet, drop out of sight, and establish a new identity somewhere else, but she wasn't ready to do that yet. She liked working here, she had fun playing the part of Cat, so much more frivolous than her real personality, and she was damned if some punk head-hunter, too wet behind the ears to cover his trail properly, was going to drive her away.
She reached down to a pipe about four inches wide, protruding a couple of feet from the floor near one of the wash basins, painted an inconspicuous off-white and topped by a solid metal cap apparently secured by several paint-covered bolts. It looked like a disused drain, certainly nothing that anyone using the ladies room for its normal purposes was likely to want to open, while a plumber would find the bolts unmovable and better access to the plumbing under one of the basins. Cat pushed a thin metal rod into an inconspicuous hole below the cap and twisted it. There was a soft click and an inner cylinder rose into view, made of aluminium with a clear plastic front. Inside she could see the sharkskin-covered hilt of a gleaming sword, the blade running down into the pipe. For a few seconds she thought of taking it, then decided against it and pushed the cylinder back down into the lead-lined pipe until the locking mechanism clicked to hold it closed. For now it was enough to know that it was there, and the others like it she'd concealed around the city since Superman's arrival. She breathed deeply for a few seconds, gradually submerging her true personality in the persona she assumed for Cat, then kicked the door wedge out of the way and spent the next few minutes freshening up before heading back up to the newsroom.
"Okay," Cat said an hour later, "Remember that these are only the ones that Duncan knows about, there's going to be a lot more people at the auction, and maybe some of them will want the sword. Anyway, these three represent museums." She put crosses against their names on the fax.
"I thought you said that a dozen museums were interested," said Lois, with a hint of accusation in her tone.
"Three sent representatives," Cat said patiently, "the others will be bidding by phone, of course."
"What about the rest?" asked Clark.
Cat ran a long scarlet nail down the list. "This guy... and him... oh, and her, they're all business agents for overseas collectors. They wouldn't know which end of a sword to hold if they had to do it for themselves."
"It sounds like we can rule them out as murder suspects," said Clark.
"I guess," Lois said dubiously.
"I'll check them out anyway," said Jimmy.
"Let's see, who's left?" said Cat. "Okay, Carstairs is a hippo. He collects swords but he wouldn't be able to use them properly. Hopkinson's eighty and pretty feeble, you can forget him. And Muller had a stroke a few months ago, he's half paralyzed. There's no way he could swing a sword." She added three more crosses to the list.
"Any of them could be victims if they buy the sword, of course," said Clark.
"I'm not so sure," said Lois. "All of the victims were fit and in excellent shape. I think the killer likes a challenge."
"If Lois is right," said Clark, "who does that leave?"
"Let's see... Peter Cowper. Don't know much about him, he's apparently a British collector, but Duncan doesn't think he has the money if the bidding gets serious. He won't be in Metropolis until tomorrow. Abdul Ben Ishmael is a Saudi oil millionaire, he's certainly fit enough. He plays polo, has a handicap of eight."
"Is that good?" asked Lois.
"Ten's the maximum handicap, only two or three players in the world are that good," said Cat, "eight could get you onto a national team. Apart from that he's a rich playboy, collects vintage cars, swords, and abstract art, doesn't seem to be up to anything too out of the ordinary."
"Is he in town?" asked Clark, noting down the names.
"Arrived a week ago, just before the first murder. But I wouldn't read too much into that, his company has its US offices in Metropolis."
"Okay. Anyone else?"
"Jose Ramirez is an Argentinean collector, he's pretty fit too. Plays squash and golf, that sort of thing."
"And you don't like him?" asked Lois. There'd been something in her tone of voice.
"The down-side of my job," Cat said after a short pause, "is that you hear a lot of things you can never prove. Some of them are pretty ugly. There are rumours that he likes underage girls. Strong rumours. But he's got a lot of power in Argentina, he's scared or paid off anyone who could say anything in court. He's only been in town three days so he's probably not the murderer. But I guess he could be the target." She sounded remarkably cheerful about the idea.
Clark made a mental note to keep an eye on Ramirez while he was in Metropolis. After a moment Lois asked "Any others?"
"Three more," said Cat. "Timothy Yu owns half the orange groves in Florida. He's pretty fit, sails and goes in for martial arts including fencing. He can't be the murderer, he was competing in a yacht race until a couple of days ago, only got in from Hawaii last night, but he'll be a strong bidder."
"Okay," said Clark, making more notes. "And the next?"
"Alfred Pennyworth is Bruce Wayne's butler from Gotham City," said Cat, "I guess he's bidding for him, Wayne collects swords and armour. Pennyworth was some sort of soldier, I think, but he's pushing sixty. Still pretty fit though."
"Bruce Wayne?" asked Clark. "Any relationship to Wayne Industries or the Wayne Foundation?"
"He owns them. Plus WayneTech and a few other companies. Gotham's most eligible bachelor." She smiled reminiscently.
"A notch on your bedpost?" asked Lois.
"I wish... but I've come close a couple of times."
"Let's stay focused," suggested Clark. "Any others?"
"Last but by no means least," said Cat, "Paul Kerensky. Russian multi-millionaire, has his fingers in a lot of pies. There are stories about him too, the one I kinda lean towards says he's Russian Mafia. He's supposed to have served with Spet.. Spets..."
"Spetsnaz?" asked Clark. "Russian special forces?"
"Them, right," said Cat. "He was with them in Afghanistan, got wounded and invalided out in eighty-six, then dropped out of sight for a while and came back loaded. Bought a couple of European soccer teams, now he's trying to buy the Metropolis Cubs."
Clark remembered seeing something about it on the sports news, and said "He's been in Metropolis for at least a month, well before the first murder."
"He sounds the most likely candidate," said Lois.
"If there was money in it," mused Clark, "but I can't see killing someone just to get a nineteenth century swordstick. You can get them for a few hundred dollars if you shop around."
"I don't think it works that way," said Jimmy. "I think that whoever it is wants the swords as trophies, and maybe to show he's a better swordsman than they are."
"Sounds plausible," Lois said approvingly.
"So what do we do next?" asked Cat.
"I think we take a look at all of them and see if we can spot anything. Failing that, we'll have to wait for the auction."
Footnote: Tracy Scoggins played Cat Grant in Lois and Clark, and the immortal Cassandra in the Highlander TV series.
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