By Marcus L. Rowland
"It's gone quiet," said Lois, making a minute adjustment to her low-cut black dress. "Too quiet." She paused expectantly. Nothing happened.
"That only works if you're not expecting trouble," said Clark, watching the guests arrive in the ballroom of the Metropolis Hilton. "And anyway, Henderson thinks that the killer is dead."
"Well, someone must have killed him," said Lois, "and it looks like it was a woman, so there go all Cat's theories about guys with bulging muscles."
"I've been thinking about that," said Clark, "and I've got my own theory. We know that the New York murders ended after a woman was kidnapped by that Kurgan guy. Henderson thinks that she was bait in a trap for him, but what if she killed him?"
"A vigilante?" said Lois. "Super-swordswoman? Tracking down these guys and killing them."
"Like The Princess Bride," said Clark, "'Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my...' well, whatever, but with Buttercup the one carrying a sword."
"You have a weird mind sometimes," said Lois. "I guess it's possible, but that doesn't explain the explosions at the crime scenes."
"Interesting theory," said Cat, who had arrived while Clark was talking and was sipping a glass of champagne. She'd rejected Lois' advice and was wearing a revealing blue silk dress.
"That's a nice dress you're almost wearing," said Lois. "Not worried about blood stains, I assume."
"I thought about it," said Cat, "but they're looking for a woman now, and women have too much sense to start a sword fight with a couple of hundred people watching. Especially when they're wearing their best clothes."
"I can't argue with that," said Clark.
"Not if you have any sense of self-preservation," Lois agreed. She thought for a second, then said "Maybe Cat's right. But whoever killed that guy last night is still out there somewhere. The police think she's injured, they're checking hospitals, but for all we know that was just the first name on her hit-list."
"Do we even have the guy's real name?" asked Cat.
"He was calling himself Grady," said Clark, "but his ID was forged, just like the other victims, only not as well. Henderson thinks that he must have killed some other people before he hit Metropolis, they found seven swords in his room, not just the three we knew about. There were traces of blood on most of them. Not enough to determine much about the victims, unfortunately."
"So Grady's a serial killer, finding swordsmen and killing them," said Cat, "and we've got a woman vigilante after him, the same one who killed that Kurgan guy. It almost makes sense. Maybe Jimmy can run some sort of trace, find women who were in New York in 1985 and in Metropolis now." Cat liked that idea - she'd stayed well clear of New York during the Kurgan's rampage. "If she's got her man maybe that's the end of it," Cat added, knowing full well that she had no plans to kill anyone else.
"Until the next time," said Clark. "But it leads a lot of unanswered questions. Why was there so much electrical damage? Why kill them in the first place? And our vigilante must have the same powers, or she took them from Grady, there was an explosion after he died too. And why are there swords stashed around Metropolis?"
"Swords?" asked Cat. "More than one?"
"Superman found a sword stashed in a lead-lined pipe at the crime scene," said Clark. "So he took a look around the city with his x-ray vision, found another seven caches that look the same. All of them hidden in alleys, parking garages, disused warehouses, places like that. There was even one in this hotel's parking garage. The police are investigating now."
Cat realised with a chill that hiding so many swords the same way had been a bad mistake. Yes, there'd been one there when she wanted it, but now it was obvious that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to hide them. The idea that Grady's killer was a stranger to Metropolis couldn't possibly hold water. A good detective might even be able to trace the pipe assemblies back to their source, a small factory on the outskirts of the city; the trail would go cold there, but it would still be apparent that their mysterious purchaser wasn't a stranger to the city. The only consolation was the number of swords Clark had mentioned - Superman must have missed four others, probably including the one at the Planet. Maybe he didn't want to look in the ladies room. She said "That's weird."
"Isn't it," said Lois. "I love mysteries like this."
"Just thinking about it is starting to give me a headache," said Cat. She looked around the room again and said "The place is filling up a bit, maybe we'd better go mingle."
* * * * *
"...I'm sorry that I can't be there in person," said the recording Clark had made several days earlier in his Superman persona, "but I'm in the middle of some delicate experiments in my Fortress of Solitude, and I won't be able to leave unless there's a real emergency. I'd just like to end by thanking everyone who has worked or donated material to make this evening a success, and remind everyone that all of the money raised tonight will go to the charities supported by the Superman Foundation; the auction's sponsors are paying all expenses. Please bid as much as you can afford, it's all for some very good causes. Thank you." The projection screen dimmed for a moment, then brightened to show a short documentary about the work of the Foundation.
Clark regretted the lie, but there was no way he could cover an event like this for the Planet and simultaneously star as Superman, someone was sure to notice that Clark wasn't around. Making an excuse seemed the best compromise. And if someone wasted time looking for a mythical Fortress of Solitude it would probably keep them from other forms of mischief...
"I wonder what else he does in that Fortress," said Cat. "He's mentioned it a few times now, but nobody even knows where it is."
"He said solitude," said Lois. "I guess that means nobody else goes there."
"Maybe, but I'll bet it's cozy. He probably has a jacuzzi there, chills out whenever he needs a break from supervillains. And maybe a big bed..."
"A fortress doesn't sound very cozy," said Clark.
Lois added "It's probably made of steel and concrete, and hidden in some God-foresaken spot like Alaska or the Moon."
While they were talking the documentary finished, and the screen switched to a magnified view of Perry White, who was acting as guest auctioneer. "Right," said Perry. "Now, as you all know, we're here to raise money for charity, so let's all dig deep. We're going to start with a very special item, just to get the ball rolling." Two porters lifted up a glass case containing a dull silver-grey rock about the size of a football. "Donated by Clark Kent of the Daily Planet, and given to him by Superman himself, this is a fragment of the Nightfall asteroid, one of the pieces Superman intercepted after he smashed it. The lot includes the rock itself, the case, and a certificate of authenticity signed by Superman. The only others like it are in the Smithsonian and the Metropolis museum. Would someone like to start the bidding at five thousand dollars..." in the third row of the audience Yu raised a numbered card. Perry nodded and said "And ten... fifteen... twenty... thirty... forty.." The auction was under way.
* * * * *
"Lot eighty-seven," said Perry. "Our final item tonight. Now, I'm no expert on swords, but those who are tell me that this is the Toledo Salamanca..., one of the rarest and finest swords ever made, and fully authenticated. The last time it was sold, in 1985, it fetched five hundred and four thousand dollars. Now I know that we have some of the world's most prominent collectors here tonight, and some very worthy causes to support. Let's see if we can break that record!"
Bidding started at ten thousand dollars, but soon passed the hundred thousand dollar reserve. Cowper dropped out at a hundred and fifty thousand, the last of the institutional bidders and the others Cat had mentioned folded at three hundred and fifty thousand, and Ben Ishmael gave up at five hundred thousand. The only bidders left were Kerensky, Ramirez, and Wayne.
"Okay," said Perry. "At six hundred and twenty-five thousand with mister Kerensky. Anyone want to make that six hundred and fifty?" Pennyworth seemed to hesitate, then raised his card again.
"Six hundred and fifty with mister Wayne. Let's try for six-seven-five. Anyone?" Kerensky began to raise his card, then seemed to think better of it. Lois thought that she had noticed Pennyworth shake his head almost imperceptibly. She turned her attention to Ramirez, and noticed that Cat had moved behind him, and seemed to be saying something.
"Going for six hundred and fifty thousand... going once... going twice..." Perry paused and raised his hammer, then Ramirez raised his card with a jerk. "And six hundred and seventy five to mister Ramirez. Anyone want to make that seven hundred thousand dollars?" THere was a pause that seemed to go on for hours. "No? Six-seven-five going once... going twice..." Perry slammed down the gavel. "Sold to mister Ramirez for six hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. And that concludes tonight's auction, we'll know how much we've raised in fifteen minutes or so, but I can tell you now that it's over ten million dollars."
As he said the last words the overhead screen began to fade to black, then a yellow oval appeared, with a dark jagged shape inside it. It took Lois several seconds to realise that the symbol was a stylised bat. From their murmurs most of the other guests realised at the same time. A list of women's names, mostly Latino, began to scroll up the screen, followed by the words "Not forgotten." The screen dimmed again, then began to show another film about the work of the Superman Foundation.
Ramirez sat down hard, his face white. Behind him Cat was smiling savagely as she turned away from him and vanished into the crowd.
"My guess," said Lois, "is that the evening isn't over yet."
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