Previous parts are archived here
by Marcus L. Rowland
"So Cowper's not the murderer," Clark said as he and Lois walked from the Lexor Hotel. "With arthritis that bad there's no way he could get any power into a sword blow."
"Are you sure?" asked Lois.
"I took a good look at his hands," he said, tipping his glasses down a little to indicate that he'd used his special vision, "poor guy's fingers are practically immobile. Anyway, the police think that the killer is a lot taller. He'd have to stand on a box!"
"Oh well, it was worth a try."
"I guess," said Clark. "And I know what he looks like and where he's staying now, which will make it easier to keep an eye on him if he buys the sword. The next one isn't far anyway."
"I'm surprised he isn't staying in the Lexor too," Lois said as they entered a block of luxury apartments.
"Wayne Industries must lease the apartment for visiting executives," said Clark, approaching the security desk and asking for Alfred Pennyworth. "I suppose it's cheaper if they use it a lot."
The security guard called upstairs then asked them to sign a visitor's book, adding "Eleventh floor, apartment 1105. Sign out when you leave, please."
"Okay," said Clark pulling the book towards him, as Lois pointed towards the plate glass windows at the front of the lobby and said "isn't that kid scratching the glass?"
As the guard looked round Clark riffled through the pages at super-speed, memorising twenty-four pages, and Lois said "my mistake, he's gone now." By the time the guard turned back Clark was signing the book. It was one of the tricks they'd developed over the years, and occasionally it paid off. Lois asked "Spot anything interesting?" as they went up in the elevator.
"Yes," said Clark. "Pennyworth had a visitor here yesterday. Paul Kerensky."
"The Russian Mafia guy?"
"If that's what he really is."
"Weird," said Lois.
"Maybe," said Clark. "Kerensky's a millionaire and Pennyworth works for a billionaire, it could be a perfectly straightforward business meeting."
"I'll see if I can slip in a question without arousing suspicion."
The man who opened the door was tall, impeccably-dressed, and grey-haired. He said "Ms. Lane and Mister Kent?" in an accent which irresistibly reminded them of Luthor's servant Nigel. Clark said "We're writing a background piece on the bidders at tomorrow's charity auction."
"Of course," said Pennyworth. "Please, come in. Can I get you some tea? Or coffee? The kettle's on." He showed them into a comfortable-looking lounge, with deep armchairs arranged in a semi-circle around a wide fireplace. Flames flickered over the logs, and a gentle heat filled the room. Clark noticed a pair of swords crossed above the mantelpiece, which he recognized as cavalry sabers.
"Tea please," said Clark, as Lois said "coffee." Pennyworth smiled and went out of the room, leaving them to take seats.
"I'm surprised they can have an open fire here," said Lois, "but I guess that if you're rich enough you can bend the pollution laws." Clark was busy scanning the swords for signs of blood and didn't reply.
"Actually," said Pennyworth, coming in again with a tray holding jugs of milk and cream, sliced lemon, and three different types of cookie, "it's a hologram, the heat source is infra-red. Mister Wayne is very conscious of environmental issues." He went out again, and they heard a soft clatter from the kitchen. Clark gave up on the swords, there was nothing on them, apart from just enough dust to make him reasonably sure that they hadn't been used or cleaned in several days.
"The fire looks so real," said Lois, taking a double chocolate chip cookie. "He's kidding, right?"
Clark put a hand over the flames, keeping it as high as a normal human would, and said "No, it's true. Feels like there's more heat coming from above my hand than below it." Pennyworth came back with their drinks and a cup of tea for himself, saying "be careful, you can be burned if your hand stays in there too long."
"I can feel it," said Clark, pulling his hand back and blowing on it as though it were a little scorched, "but I think I'm okay. That's an interesting toy, is it really practical?"
"Mister Wayne thinks so," said Pennyworth, sitting in one of the chairs and pushing a button on a remote control. The fire vanished, replaced by the BBC's satellite news service, its sound low, and Lois realised that the fireplace surround had the same proportions as a widescreen TV. "Wayne Industries will be selling them later this year."
"Do you think widescreen TV will catch on?" asked Lois.
"It's becoming quite popular in Britain," said Pennyworth, "Maybe in a few years the same will be true here. Now, what can I do for you?" He pressed a button and the fireplace reappeared.
"As you may know," said Clark, "the sword that's coming up for sale tomorrow has an interesting history. We've heard that you'll be bidding for Mister Wayne, and we were wondering if he had any concerns about owning it?"
"Most of the weapons in his collection have been used in anger. This one more recently than most, I'll grant you, but there's actually no real evidence that it's ever taken a life."
"That's true," said Lois, "but doesn't the fact that a previous owner was murdered worry you, especially now that there are similar murders happening in Metropolis?"
"Assuming I bid on it," said Pennyworth, "if I were successful I would take it back to Gotham City, and Wayne Manor has excellent burglar alarms. Wayne Industries make them."
"How about the other bidders?" asked Clark, "is there anyone who might be after it?"
"There are several possibilities. Paul Kerensky, of course, he's been after one for years, as has Timothy Yu. Then there's Cowper, though I expect he'll drop out of the bidding early. Abdul Ben Ishmael... oh, and possibly Ramirez, if he has the courage for it." There was an edge to his voice that hadn't been there when he mentioned the others.
"You don't like him?" asked Lois. "We've heard rumours, of course..."
"Ah yes, from Miss Grant of course... In the unlikely event that he were to visit Gotham again," said Pennyworth, "he would not be welcome in Mister Wayne's home."
"On his last trip to Gotham there was an incident... it's believed that at least one police officer was bribed to look the other way, there wasn't quite enough evidence for his arrest at the time, although more has since been found. Not quite enough for extradition, unfortunately. Meanwhile our local vigilante went into business and demonstrated an... intolerance... of certain types of crime, so it's rather unlikely he'll return."
"But Ramirez is in Metropolis," said Clark. "He's not afraid of Superman?"
"Superman usually seems to be content to let the law take its course," said Pennyworth, "whereas by all accounts Batman is less... patient."
"What about the other bidders? Kerensky, for example?"
"Oh, Paul's certainly after it," said Pennyworth, "but he wants the Hockney painting too, so hopefully getting both will stretch his budget."
"You know him?" asked Lois.
"His father and I were old comrades." At their looks he laughed and said "Oh, not in the Soviet sense. I'm an old soldier. Can this be off the record?" Lois hesitated then said "okay", and Clark nodded his agreement.
"In the sixties," said Pennyworth, "Paul's father was a GRU agent based at the Russian embassy in London."
"GRU?" Lois asked.
"Soviet military intelligence. A slightly less politicized organisation than the KGB. Although relationships between our governments were generally rather strained, we did occasionally work together, and with some other governments, on some projects of mutual interest."
"Oh, the odd Nazi here, an indiscriminate terrorist there, that sort of thing, I'm sure that you can imagine. Everyone was doing it then... us, the Israelis, the French, and of course your own government."
"Assassination?" asked Clark.
"Actually we usually tried to capture them, corpses can't answer many questions. The Russians were especially keen, they loved show trials. Of course it all ended in tears... Paul's father insisted on going after a particularly repulsive war criminal his superiors regarded as an intelligence source, we caught up with the fellow in Spain and handed him over to the Israelis. Kruschev wasn't pleased, and Paul's father ended up in Siberia. It ruined his health, killed him in the end. Paul spent most of his teens in state institutions, then he joined their army. I think he felt he had something to prove - he's the fourth or fifth most decorated survivor of Afghanistan."
"And now he's a millionaire?" asked Lois.
"Wayne Industries' leading trading partner in Eastern Europe," said Pennyworth.
"On your recommendation?"
"Mister Wayne helped him with some of his initial funding. And yes, it was on my recommendation."
"So the rumours of Russian mafia involvement...?" said Clark
"Are nonsense," Pennyworth said firmly. "Believe me, Wayne Industries is very careful about its trading partners. His business is entirely legitimate."
"Could we use that?" asked Lois. "It'd be useful background for any stories we run on him."
"The financial details? Of course, it's all in the Wayne Industries corporate reports."
"Do you see much of him?" Clark asked casually.
"I'm hoping to get together with him at the reception before the auction," said Pennyworth, "Now, if there's nothing else?"
"Just one thing," said Lois. "You were in the British army, you must have some sort of idea of the training Kerensky must have had. Would it include sword fighting, anything of that sort?"
"Undoubtedly knife fighting, although I think I'm right to say that Spetsnaz generally preferred to use the sharpened edge of an entrenching tool... a small spade," he added at her puzzled look. "It does leave a rather nasty wound."
"How about you?" asked Clark. "Do you fence?"
"I've dabbled," said Pennyworth, "although I always preferred longer range weapons in my military days. Am I a suspect?"
"The police don't really tell us that sort of thing," said Clark, "but unless you've been here more than ten days it's unlikely."
"No, I only arrived on Wednesday."
"Five days," said Lois.
"Well," said Clark, "we'd better be getting along. You might want to be a little careful if you do win the sword. The killer does seem to be choosing victims who can fence, there's a theory that he's trying to re-enact some of the New York murders. If so he'll probably come after whoever buys the Toledo Salamanca."
"I'll bear it in mind. One question, though - why do you assume that the murderer is a man?"
"I'm really not too sure," said Clark. "It just seems a little... messy... to be a woman."
"Perhaps you're right," said Pennyworth. "Do help yourself to more cookies before you go."
Lois guiltily looked at the empty plate that had previously held the double chocolate chips, while Clark said "Thank you for your time."
"If you have any more questions do please call again."
"Count on it," said Lois.
On the way down Clark said "Well, that was interesting."
"You mean the way he lied to us?"
"About Kerensky? Yes. The odd thing was that I'm pretty sure that he wasn't lying about anything else. His heart rate didn't change much when he was talking, except when he was a little angry about Ramirez and about Kerensky's father."
"It could be something harmless," said Lois. "He really did seem like a nice old guy... Maybe too nice. Get Jimmy to check him out, find out what he was when he was in the army. My guess is that he was special forces too."
"Probably," said Clark, getting out his cellphone and checking the display. "I'll call once we're out of the building, there's no signal in here."
"And if we see Pennyworth at the auction, see if you can get the recipe for those cookies, they were absolutely gorgeous."
Up in apartment 1105 Alfred Pennyworth picked up the telephone, dialled a Gotham City number, and said "Master Bruce? There's been a small complication..."
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