It's been a long time since I've updated this - previous parts are here
Nine Lives - VI
"So..." said Cat Grant that evening. "It looks like things are coming to the boil."
"Apparently," said Alfred Pennyworth, pouring coffee for his guests. "Although I'm rather concerned about the involvement of your colleagues."
"It's one hell of a coincidence," said Cat. "Two weeks ago everything was looking okay, then we got this damned head-hunter, and suddenly Lois and Clark are all over anything to do with swords." It wasn't entirely truthful, but Cat had no plans to tell her co-conspirators the real story.
"They have a formidable reputation," said Paul Kerensky. "I am not sure that we can continue to pull the wood... no, the wool... over their eyes."
"It'll all be over in another twenty-four hours," said Cat, "I have to admit that it's gone a little faster than we expected, but they aren't even close to guessing the truth. And my sources tell me that Ramirez is terrified, it'll just need another nudge or two to get him where we want him."
"Ben Ishmael's little stunt is helping things along, of course," said Alfred. "The Catwoman, indeed! I wonder if he would have done it if he knew what this was really about."
"I think you could count on it," said Paul. "Why didn't you involve him in the first place?"
"Three people can just about keep a secret. Any more than that, and sooner or later something slips out."
"Do you think the killer really is after the Toledo Salamanca?" asked Cat.
"There's no reason to think so," said Paul. "Unless there is something I am missing."
"I'm just a little worried," said Alfred, "that all this publicity might put the idea into the killer's head."
"It's possible," said Cat, "but I really doubt it. I've checked. None of the guys that were killed had any security to speak of, but anyone who can afford the Salamanca will be well-protected."
"Anyway," said Kerensky, "our concern here isn't the sword. It would be nice to own it, of course, but there are others. Sooner or later one will come onto the market. Sooner, if things go as planned."
"Not my problem," said Cat, warming her hands against the holographic flames. "My worry is that Lois and Clark will figure out what we're really up to before the auction. They might go along with it, but I doubt it."
"Another worry," said Alfred, "is that we may be diverting attention and police resources from the killer."
"Not so far. Lois and Clark are totally into it, of course, but they're not going to let the police in on their theory until they have to. And even if they do, we can set things right easily enough."
"What about Superman?" asked Paul. "He's a friend of Lane and Kent, won't he follow their lead?"
"It's possible, of course," said Cat. She hoped so. That was her aim, to keep him focused on the Salamanca and off the trail of the head-hunter. "If he does it might actually help us." She explained how.
* * * * *
"Good evening, Miss Grant," a familiar voice said half an hour later, as Cat left the apartment block. She looked around then up. Superman was gliding down towards her.
"Uh... hi, Superman!" said Cat, giving him her most seductive smile.
"How's the social whirl?"
"I'm not really whirling right now," said Cat. "This sword business is taking most of my time. I guess Lois and Clark must have told you about it."
"I've just left them," said Superman, landing on the sidewalk. "They mentioned Mister Pennyworth's involvement in the story, I'm a little surprised to see you here."
"I invited myself to drinks," said Cat, "pretended I thought Bruce Wayne was staying there. But Alfred was having a business meeting with that Russian guy, I didn't learn anything useful."
"You'll keep Lois or Clark posted if you find anything, I hope."
"Don't worry, they're the first guys I'll call."
"Be careful," said Superman, "there's a maniac with a sword out there somewhere, I really don't want to see anyone else get hurt."
"I see anyone with a sword, I'll scream 'Help Superman!' so loud it shatters glass."
"I can believe it," said Superman. He looked around, seeming to focus his attention elsewhere, then said "Mugging. I'd better go."
"Goodni..." said Cat, then realised that she was talking to empty air. After a moment she shrugged, pulled her coat closed, and set off towards her apartment.
* * * * *
"I'm worried about Cat," Clark said later that evening, as he and Lois were relaxing after supper. "I think she's got an idea of solving this one before we do, to show that she's a real reporter."
"Cat?" said Lois. "Are you kidding? She wouldn't know a clue if it bit her."
"Then why did she go to the Wayne Industries apartment?"
"It is a little odd," said Lois. "She knew Wayne wasn't there, and Pennyworth's a little old to be her type. I wonder..."
"Yes?" said Clark, looking up from the police files he was reading.
"Jimmy mentioned that Cat asked him to find a couple of unlisted numbers."
"And of course you asked him what they were?"
"Would I do that?"
"Of course you would," said Clark.
"Okay... well, if you really must know... someone called James Gordon in the Gotham police department, and a Gotham DA called Harvey Dent."
"Why would she... Oh! Ramirez, of course. Has to be. Ben Ishmael said that Gordon's a lot more honest than his predecessor, and I think Dent only got the DA's job a couple of months ago. If you wanted a dream team to prosecute Ramirez, that'd be it. But why would Cat care?"
"Cat said something once," Lois said hesitantly. "Back when there was that Smart Kids thing. She said she never thought about her childhood, that it was like it was thousands of years ago. I think... I think maybe she was abused as a child. Most people cherish their childhood memories, why else would she try to forget hers."
"So if Pennyworth and Kerensky were plotting something against Ramirez and she found out, just maybe..."
"It'd depend what it was," said Lois, after thinking about it for a minute. "I don't think she'd help them kill him."
"Of course not," said Clark, "but let's say they planned to kidnap him and get him to Gotham. Pennyworth was in special ops, he and Kerensky's father specialised in that sort of operation. Would Cat blow the whistle?"
"Not a chance," said Lois. "If anything I think she'd offer to help."
"What's this got to do with the sword? Or the murders?" Clark asked, getting up from his chair. "Another coffee?"
"Not for me, thanks, it'll keep me up all night. You're the one with the Kryptonian stomach. I could go for chocolate though. Anyway, what about the sword?"
"The Salamanca?" asked Clark, coming back in from the kitchen a few seconds later with two mugs of chocolate sprinkled with little marshmallows. "It got Ramirez onto US territory. And our killer may still be after it."
"Do you really think so?" asked Lois. "We've got no reason to think so, apart from pure guesswork."
"We've got no reason not to," said Clark. "It might just be a coincidence, but if the killer really is a sword collector it'd have to be the best prize ever."
* * * * *
"You might as well come out," shouted Cat, looking around the abandoned warehouse four blocks from her apartment. "I know that you're following me. I can feel you there."
"That's right, lady," a rough voice said from the shadows. "Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. And nowhere to hide a sword in that tight little dress or that cute little coat."
"Yeah, lady, you guessed it." A shabbily-dressed stranger walked into the light, a katana in his hand. She breathed a sigh of relief as she realised he wasn't anyone she knew, and backed away from him.
"I thought you were killing people to steal their swords," said Cat. "I haven't got one."
"No, lady, just upgrading. The sword shops don't sell the good stuff, not for the money I can give them."
"Thought so. Who are you anyway?"
"What do you care? I've been killing my way across America for about twenty years, you think I'm going to stop because you ask my name?"
"Not really," said Cat, backing against an old section of disused piping that jutted up from the floor. "I just like to know people's names before we fight."
"Well, if it really makes you think better," said the stranger, stalking towards her. "I'm David Grady, out of Pittsburgh."
"Cassandra," said Cat, pushing a thin metal rod into a hole in the pipe, "out of Troy." There was a soft click.
"New Troy?" asked Grady. "Guess you haven't travelled far." He laughed at his own joke. Metropolis was the New Troy state capitol.
"No, the original." Suddenly there was a sword in her hand, and she smiled as she added "There can be only one."
Comments please before I post to archives.