Previous parts are archived here
by Marcus L. Rowland
"So that's Yu out of the way," Clark said an hour later, as he and Lois left the Metropolis Yacht Club, "no opportunity for two of the murders, and he isn't going to be bidding on the sword anyway."
"Get Jimmy to check his story," said Lois. "Or Cat. How come she didn't know about the divorce?"
Clark shrugged. "If his wife really did take his entire collection as part of the settlement, I'm not surprised that he doesn't want to start all over again."
"So he's collecting rocks instead, and he wants that ugly chunk from Nightfall," said Lois "Weird, but I guess some people have to be interested in meteor rocks."
"It's just a big lump of nickel," said Clark, "but it is authenticated by Superman." Even when they were alone he often found himself referring to himself that way. "One of the pieces he caught after he smashed it the second time."
"You're sure there's nothing odd about it?"
"Not a thing. The only reason I kept it was because I thought it was a nice door-stop, but it's really a little too heavy. After Jimmy broke his toe on it I decided to get rid of it."
"You don't think he'll suspect anything?"
"No, I've always said Superman gave it to me. As far as he's concerned I've given it to the auction, and Superman has added the authentication."
"So who's left?"
Jose Ramirez was staying at the Hilton, and didn't seem particularly pleased to see the press. His displeasure grew when their questions drifted towards his personal life.
"I am aware of these accusations," Ramirez said defiantly, "they are of course entirely baseless, spread by my business rivals."
"Then you'll be returning to Gotham City to clear your name?" asked Lois.
"There is nothing to clear," said Ramirez. Clark could hear his heart rate climbing, "all charges were dropped."
"Really?" asked Clark. "We'd heard otherwise... obviously our source was mistaken. Now about the Toledo Salamanca..."
"I will buy it, of course."
"You're not worried about the killer?"
"If this killer comes for me I will be ready for him," said Ramirez. He opened his jacket to reveal the butt of a revolver, a Colt Python. "He may wish to cross swords with me, but I am not so foolish."
"You have a license for that?" asked Lois.
"But of course. There have been threats against me in the past, the police have been informed. They thought it best that I should protect myself if necessary."
"That's... convenient," said Clark. "You practically have to bribe someone to get a concealed weapons permit. Let's hope that you don't have to use it."
"Better that he attacks someone who is ready to defend himself, than some innocent."
"Always assuming that bullets will stop him," said Lois. Clark looked at her, a little surprised.
"Why...?" began Ramirez. "Why wouldn't bullets work?" His heart was pounding like a trip-hammer.
"There's been an explosion at every crime scene," said Clark, "If the killer survived that he might not be too worried about getting shot."
"I... I was not aware of this... But it changes nothing," Ramirez said defiantly. "I will have the sword."
"Let's hope that if you win it you'll live to enjoy it," said Lois.
They asked a few more questions, got some unsatisfactory answers, and eventually left.
"Why did you mention that the killer might be invulnerable?" asked Clark.
"I wanted you to check his reaction, of course."
"About what you'd expect. Surprise and fear."
"So it isnt him?" asked Lois
"He's not guilty of that, anyway."
"And the other thing?"
"He's guilty as hell," said Clark, "and terrified of going anywhere near Gotham. I'd fly him there myself, but I'm pretty sure that the courts would consider it kidnapping, and that would get the case against him thrown out."
"I'll have to ask Inspector Henderson if..." Clark suddenly stopped, and said. "It'll have to wait. Can you handle Abdul Ben Ishmael by yourself?"
"I guess. What's happening?"
Clark gestured towards a TV in a shop window, and the CNN headlines. "747 with a landing gear problem on approach to Los Angeles International. I'd better get out there and see if I can help."
"Okay. I'll see you later." Lois kissed him, and he ducked into a convenient alley. A second later she heard the familiar "swoosh" as he flew off to the rescue.
"Okay," Lois said to herself, checking her notebook. "Let's see..." She leafed through and found Abdul Ben Ishmael's address, two blocks west of the Superman Foundation, and whistled for a taxi.
"I am but a simple peasant," sad Abdul Ben Ishmael, picking up one of the 'phones on his desk and saying something in.. Japanese, Lois thought. He rattled off what sounded like a string of instructions and hung off.
"A simple peasant who graduated summa cum laude from Harvard?" said Lois.
"My father insisted that his sons should have a good education." He typed something into his computer, frowned at the screen, and pressed one of the buttons on an elaborate wrist watch.
"If this is a bad time..." began Lois.
"Not at all," he said. He clicked a mouse button, then hit enter, watched the time for a few seconds, and clicked the mouse button again. "Hah! Suck on that, son of a camel!"
"My apologies, but he had the effrontory to try to out-bid me!"
"For the sword?"
"Hardly. I doubt that the Superman Foundation will be selling that on eBay!"
"On... eBay? What's that? If you don't mind me asking?"
"An internet auction site. I'm surprised that you haven't heard of it. It opened nearly two years ago."
"I guess it just hasn't come my way," said Lois, thinking that Jimmy could brief her on it if it was important.
"Anyway," said Ben Ishmael, "There will be wailing and gnashing of his teeth. I have the prize and he does not."
"An original Rolls Royce Silver Lady radiator ornament of the nineteen-twenties."
"Oh. Is that good?"
"I collect vintage cars, swords, and modern art," said Ben Ishmael. "And the true collector must feel passionate about every purchase, regardless of its value. A hood ornament here, a sword there..."
"That's ..um.. nice," said Lois.
"You do not share my enthusiasm," Ben Ishmael said sadly. "Ah well, it would be a dull world if we were all alike."
"Getting back to the sword," said Lois, "Who would you consider the most serious bidders?"
"Myself, of course. Bruce Wayne, though he has sent his butler to bid for him. Kerensky possibly, though I suspect that buying it would leave him over-extended. Yu and Cowper, I suppose, though I doubt that either will go particularly high. Possibly the British Museum, but again I doubt that they can really afford it. If Lex Luthor were still alive I'd imagine that he would want it, but fortunately he is not."
"Ramirez?" asked Lois.
"That coward? He won't bid!"
"That's not what I've been hearing from other people."
"Perhaps you haven't heard the rumours."
"The Metropolis Police Department believes that a certain thief from Gotham City intends to steal the sword. Where the cat goes the bat will surely follow. And Ramirez has no desire to meet the bat."
"That's odd, I hadn't heard anything about that," said Lois.
"Well, it may take a while for the story to spread," said Ben Ishmael. "I only planted it two hours ago. But I will deny that if you quote me."
"Isn't that a little unethical?" said Lois.
"An innocent man would have nothing to fear. Ramirez lives in fear built on his own guilt. If you have met him you will know this to be true." Another 'phone rang and Ben Ishmael apologetically shrugged, picked it up, and began to talk in German, too fast for Lois to follow.
Lois noticed a flash of blue outside the window, and wasn't surprised when a secretary ushered Clark in a couple of minutes later.
"I'm sorry," said Clark, "got a little held up."
"A breakdown?" asked Ben Ishmael, ending his call and shaking Clark's hand. "Your transmission, perhaps?" At Clark's blank look he added "I smell hydraulic fluid."
"Darn," said Clark, "must have got some on my suit when I was fixing it. I thought I'd washed it all off."
"It is of no matter. Some coffee? Tea?"
"Tea would be good."
"We were just talking about the sword," said Lois. "You really think that Ramirez won't bid?"
"The man's like... like... like jello," said Ben Ishmael, "No, like one of those English desserts, a... a blancmange, that's the word. He wobbles and he wavers, he is all reaction and no action."
"He must have acted once," suggested Clark. "For so many people to despise him..."
"He has the morals and discretion of a rutting dog, and believes that money can buy anyone. It must have come as a shock to him when Wayne helped the girl press charges."
"I don't think that we've heard that before," said Lois. "Bruce Wayne was involved in the original incident?"
"The girl was the daughter of one of his friends, but Ramirez had good lawyers and of course he bribed the police. It would not be so easy now, Commissioner Gordon made many changes."
"You know him?" asked Clark.
"I've met him, and of course I move in the same circles as Wayne when I'm in Gotham. He seems to approve of the reforms Gordon has introduced."
"Did you ever meet Batman?" asked Lois.
"No. But I can show you something of his." He reached into the drawer of his desk and pulled out a leather case. "An orderly at one of Gotham's hospitals sold me this." He opened the box. Inside, nestled in red velvet, was a black stylised bat shape, about three inches long, made of some form of alloy, the wings ending in razor-sharp barbs. "Doctors took it from the arm of a mugger."
"Nasty," said Lois.
"It injected some sort of tranquillizing drug, I believe. The man was unconscious for several hours."
"I'm surprised you don't have it on the wall," said Clark. "It's an amazing souvenir." He inspected it with x-ray vision, noticing tiny reservioirs that must have once held the drug, weights that must have been used to keep it perfectly balanced, some electronic components and a silver power cell, beautifully curved surfaces that must have been machined by a master craftsman.
For a moment Ben Ishmael looked a little uncomfortable, as he said "As you say, it's a unique souvenir. But I began to wonder if displaying it was wise. For all I know the Batman is looking for it. I'd give it back if I could, I certainly don't want to annoy him by treating it as a trophy."
"Wow," said Lois. "I've met Superman, of course, but that's the closest I've come to proof that Batman even exists."
"Spend much time in Gotham and you will have no doubts."
"Getting back to the sword," said Clark, "have you heard about the attacks on sword collectors in Metropolis?"
"A policeman interviewed me about them earlier today," said Ben Ishmael. "Fortunately I have an alibi for the last; I was dining at the Mayor's fundraiser."
"That pretty much lets you out," said Clark, a little annoyed that Cat hadn't mentioned it. He repeated their theory about the Toledo Salamanca, and Ben Ishmael listened with grave attention.
"If I win the sword," Ben Ishmael said eventually, "it will go straight to the hotel safe until I am ready to send it to Saudi Arabia. I will make sure that the assassin knows that he will gain nothing by killing me."
"That sounds like a sensible precaution," said Clark. They talked for a few more minutes, the left for their next interview.
"So what happened to the plane?" asked Lois. "He's right, you do smell of something."
Clark grimaced, and said "There was a major hydraulic leak, I got drenched in fluid while I was fixing it. But it's a good thing I did, they were about thirty seconds away from losing the rudder and flaps."
"Over Los Angeles? You must have saved thousands of people!"
"Air traffic control had it diverted over the sea, but the passengers wouldn't have made it."
"Those guys from the Air Transportation Safety Board will want you to give evidence again."
"I left a written statement, it ought to keep them happy. As far as I could tell it was genuine mechanical failure, not sabotage. I did my best to leave the evidence intact."
"What did you make of Ben Ishmael."
"Well," said Clark, "he's smart, and I think he's pretty much on the level. I wonder if he realises that Batman knows exactly where his souvenir is?"
"There's a homing transmitter inside, sends a coded pulse every ninety seconds. I could feel it. It wouldn't have a huge range, but if he had it in Gotham you can be sure that Batman would be able to track it down."
"So Batman doesn't care?" suggested Lois.
"Maybe," said Clark, "or maybe he's waiting for the right moment to come looking for his property."
"Batman worries you, doesn't he?"
"I've flown over Gotham dozens of times since he first appeared and I've never even seen him. He's a lot more secretive than I am. Since he's been around street crime there has nearly halved, but he's accountable to nobody, and that worries me. What if he goes bad... what if he's already bad?"
Lois laughed and punched his arm, then rubbed her numb fingers. "You sound like Jason Trask. For all you know he's a perfectly normal guy who just happens to like dressing up as a bat and fighting crime. Why worry about it until something happens?"
"You're right," Clark said amicably. "Perfectly normal. Okay, I guess we've got more urgent problems and a murderer to catch. I need to go home and wash again, how about we go there by Superman Express? Then I can make us a proper meal before we try to track down Kerensky."
"Sounds good to me."
This will probably be the last part I post for a while, I'm a bit busy with other projects and need to update some of my other fanfic first.
Comments please before I post to archives.