Please note: I have changed the name of one character – from Ramirez to Rodriguez – to distinguish him from Sean Connery’s role in the original Highlander film. On sites that allow easy editing I have changed the name in previous chapters.
By Marcus L. Rowland
"What on earth did you say to Rodriguez?" Lois asked Cat in the powder room a few minutes later.
"Moi?" asked Cat.
"You. Just before he bid."
"You really want to know?"
"Yes, of course I..." Lois began angrily, then she softened her tone and said "Look, Clark and I have figured out that you're playing some sort of trick on Rodriguez, and we know that he's slime. If you tell us what's going on and it isn't illegal we can stay out of the way."
"You really want to know?" Cat repeated. When Lois nodded, she said "He just needed a little push to bid again. All that I said was that a real man wouldn't let an old man and a cripple outbid him. It loses a little in translation, maybe."
"And just by saying that you got him to spend more money?"
"Trust me on this," said Cat, "I'm good at getting guys to spend money, and with guys like Rodriguez I know exactly which buttons to press." What she didn't mention was that she'd added a little hypnotic compulsion when she spoke - it was one of the talents that had kept her alive for five thousand years.
"But what's the point?" asked Lois.
"Money. That's most of his liquid assets committed for the next few days."
"And if Batman's on his trail..." Lois began. "Or is that a bluff, like the story about Catwoman?"
"Draw your own conclusions," said Cat. "Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to mingle and get some reactions from people."
* * * * *
Clark checked with the video operator and found that the insert with the girls’ names was on the tape that was supposed to have been supplied by the Superman foundation. When he looked closely he could see that the printing on the tape’s label wasn’t quite the same as the usual Superman Foundation logo; it was close, but there were small differences in the typeface and colours. The only fingerprints on the tape were some gloved smudges and the operator’s own prints. He eventually spotted another cassette tucked behind one of the curtains, and guessed that at some point someone had swapped them. Too many people had had access to the room in the run-up to the auction, and it would have only taken a few minutes to copy the tape and add in the extra section. It was probably a dead end.
He spotted Alfred Pennyworth and decided to see if he could be persuaded to say something. "What I don't understand is why you suddenly stopped bidding. It looked to me like Rodriguez was about to cave in, I think you would have got it if you went to seven hundred thousand."
"Mister Wayne's instructions," said Pennyworth, touching his hand to a small earphone. "He told me not to go above six-fifty."
"It seemed to me," said Clark, "that you warned Kerensky not to bid too."
"Why on earth would I do that? He can afford to make his own decisions."
"It seemed to me that you wanted Rodriguez to spend as much money as possible."
"And why would I do that?"
"Liquidity," said Lois, coming back from the powder room. "Once he spends that money he won't have much in the way of liquid assets, not until he sorts out his affairs. What I don't quite understand is why you're assuming that he'll pay out the money now, rather than waiting a few days and arranging things more sensibly."
"I would imagine," said Pennyworth, "that he would want to avoid any impression of being scared or shamed by that remarkable display. I recognized one or two of the names; he has reason to be both. Spending the money would be his way of defying it."
"Do you really think so?" asked Clark.
"Hypothetically, I might possibly have a psychologist's opinion to that effect."
"Hypothetically," repeated Lois.
"Exactly," said Pennyworth. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to pay for the items I secured for Mister Wayne, and arrange for their shipment to Gotham."
He went off towards the treasurer’s table. Lois watched him for a moment, trying to work out what was going on. Eventually she murmured “I think I’m beginning to get the idea, Clark.”
“I’m darned if I can figure it out.”
“They’re trying to get Rodriguez to panic, and keep him from his assets. What I can’t figure out is why.”
“They must want to drive him out of the country.” Clark thought for a moment then added “Although I can’t see that being enough to satisfy Batman. Everything I’ve heard from Gotham says that he doesn’t like to see people get away with their crimes.”
“There has to be more to it than scaring him off. We’ve just seen two wealthy collectors let someone else win one of the rarest swords in the world. Batman must really have something on them to get them to agree, and I can’t see him doing it for something so… so petty.”
“Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. I think it all goes back to Bruce Wayne. Rodriguez abused his hospitality, and some people don’t take that sort of thing lying down. We’ve no real evidence that Batman is really involved; maybe it’s just Wayne pulling the strings, with Kerensky lending a hand. They’re business partners, after all.”
Lois shook her head. “I’m not convinced. Wouldn’t that annoy Batman? If I lived in Gotham that’s the last thing I’d want to do.”
“That’s true enough. Okay, so Batman must be in on it, but he’s got Wayne and Kerensky helping him. Maybe Wayne suggested it. It still doesn’t tell us what their plan is.”
“The only thing I can think of is that they’re going to get him to Gotham City somehow. Kidnap him and stuff him in a trunk or something.”
“Any half-way decent lawyer could get him off if he was taken there against his will, there’s no extradition warrant for him. But I think you may be on to something. We saw Kerensky at the airport yesterday; maybe they’ve got a private plane waiting to fly him to Gotham.”
“That runs into the same problem,” said Lois. “They’d have to force him aboard, and that would make any arrest illegal.”
“We’re missing something, I just can’t figure out what it is.”
“I’ll bet Cat knows.”
“Okay. You keep an eye on her, see if you can get her to talk, I’ll watch Rodriguez.”
* * * * *
Clark speed-dialled Lois and murmured “Rodriguez just arranged a money transfer; the sword is his property now. I think he’s planning to take it right away, he called someone a few minutes ago and arranged for an escort.”
“He’s staying at this hotel, why would he need an escort?”
“To take the sword to the hotel’s safe-deposit vault?”
“That’s where it would be stored anyway if he wasn’t collecting it tonight. No, he has to be running. Maybe he planned it when he thought the murderer was after the sword, but now that Batman’s in the mix he’s probably terrified. He’ll be heading back to Argentina, or to some sort of safe-house.”
“You’re right, of course.”
“I guess. Not much happening at this end, Cat’s talking to Pennyworth and Kerensky, the only oddity I’ve noticed is that all three of them seem to have an eye on the time; between them they must have checked their watches half a dozen times. I think they’re waiting for… Hold on a second…”
Clark was already moving across the crowded room as fast as he could without using his powers. Someone had just screamed.
* * * *
“The elevator doors opened and they were just lying there,” said Lois. “Are they dead?”
“Unconscious,” said Perry, checking one of the bodies. “Who in Sam Hill are they?”
“That uniform’s Guardian Security,” said Clark. “Someone must have wanted an escort.”
“Batman must be in the hotel,” Cat said loudly. Another elevator arrived; the hotel’s own security people and two uniformed police sergeants.
* * * *
“I am missing my flight,” said Rodriguez. “My embassy will make an official complaint.”
“This shouldn’t take much longer,” said one of the sergeants. “Now, let me get this straight, you hired these guys to escort you to the airport after the auction.”
“Correct. They were waiting in my room for my call.”
“Why did you need an escort?”
“I knew that I would win the sword, and I have heard that there are thieves after it.”
“I see… nothing to do with Batman, or this list of names everyone is telling us about?”
“Nothing whatever, it’s just a bizarre coincidence.”
“Okay… I don’t think we need to trouble you further,” said the sergeant. “Have a safe flight.”
“But… but I need my escort,” said Rodriguez. “How can I be sure that the sword is safe? How can I be sure that I will be safe?”
“It’ll be a couple of hours until they wake,” Sam Lane looked up from examining one of the guards. “They’re not in any danger, but it looks like they were injected with a powerful tranquilizer.”
“Perhaps you should put the sword in the hotel vault and stay here until the morning,” suggested Clark. “That’ll give the police more time to find whoever is responsible for this. And as you say, if those names are nothing to do with you, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“That was cruel,” murmured Lois. In the crowd behind Rodriguez, Cat was nodding approvingly.
“Perhaps I might have a suggestion.” Clark looked around, and saw Pennyworth standing with Kerensky. “Mister Kerensky has a car here, and we’re both former soldiers and so is his chauffeur. I think that we might be able to get you to the airport without too much risk, and stay with you until you board your aircraft.”
“I could come along too if you like,” said Clark. “I’m pretty fit.”
“And I know martial arts,” said Lois.
“It’s a big car, let’s make a party of it,” said Cat. “We can see you off then go out for a meal.”
“Works for me,” said Clark. Rodriguez stared at them with a cornered look, then nodded his agreement.
* * * *
Cat sat in the front passenger seat next to the chauffeur Vanya, chatting to him. Listening, Clark realised that she was telling a long and extremely dirty joke in fluent Russian. He wondered why he’d never realised just how accomplished a linguist she was; it was an aspect of her personality he’d never noticed in his first year at the Planet… but of course so many other things had been going on that year, a herd of elephants could have stampeded through the Planet newsroom and he would have hardly paid attention.
In the rear seats Rodriguez was flanked by Pennyworth and Kerensky, and still extremely nervous. Lois and Clark sat facing them, separated by the car’s tiny bar. Eventually Clark said “Do we still have time for you to make your flight?”
“Maybe,” said Rodriguez, “but we will be cutting it fine.”
“Faster, Vanya,” said Kerensky.
The car accelerated a little, then slowed again as Vanya swore in Russian. Clark looked around, and saw that they were at the tail end of a long queue of cars. Not a crash or anything that might need Superman’s attention, just the usual congestion near any busy airport. If Clark had been driving there he would have taken a different route, but he had a feeling that Kerensky wanted Rodriguez to miss his flight.
* * * *
“I’m sorry, senor Rodriguez,” said the harried-looking Aerolíneas Argentinas receptionist, “Flight 305 to Buenos Aires has already left the boarding ramp, it’s going to be taking off in a couple of minutes.”
“Do you know who I am?”
“Of course, Sir… But there is nothing I can do. It would take ten minutes to stop the takeoff. It is already too late.”
“Maybe there’s another flight?” suggested Pennyworth.
“Not from Metropolis,” said the receptionist, checking his computer. “But there is a flight at two tomorrow morning from Chicago, and I can arrange a connecting flight… at our expense, of course.”
“Do it,” said Rodriguez.
The receptionist started to type again. After a minute or so he looked up, smiling, and said “United Airlines flight 326; it boards in fifteen minutes, if you go to their desk now and pick up the ticket there’s just time for you to get aboard.”
* * * *
“Well,” said Clark, watching Rodriguez’s plane take off, “that was a little anticlimactic. Right now I imagine he’s breathing a huge sigh of relief.”
“Perhaps,” said Pennyworth, “but I doubt it.”
“Do you remember the old Mission Impossible TV show? Somewhere near the end of every episode there was a moment when everything seemed to be going the villain’s way. Only it wasn’t, of course…”
“So what’s going wrong for Rodriguez?” asked Lois.
“Right about now,” said Cat, “the stewardess will be announcing their arrival time… at Gotham International. It isn’t a direct flight to Chicago.”
“It’s odd that the Gotham stop wasn’t shown on the departures board or announced when they were boarding,” said Pennyworth, “I’d imagine that WayneTech will receive some complaints about that, someone must have made a mistake in programming the software.”
“His reaction ought to be interesting,” said Kerensky, “especially since he’s sitting next to a plainclothes police officer, who just happens to be a cousin of the young lady he assaulted.”
“They didn’t let him take his gun aboard, of course,” said Lois, “but he’s got that sword. What if he tries to use it?”
“Then the other five police officers in the surrounding seats will remonstrate with him,” said Pennyworth. “And they are armed, of course.”
“I could almost feel sorry for him,” said Clark. “Almost…”
“I don’t,” said Kerensky.
“What about Batman?” asked Lois. “Isn’t he going to be annoyed that you took his name in vain?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” said Pennyworth. “He has reason to be happy with the outcome, I doubt he’ll complain.”
“But he knocked out the security guards!”
“Did he?” Pennyworth said blandly. “Miss Grant said so, but all that we actually know is that they were unconscious. It might be that one of them drugged the other two, or that all three of them were persuaded to participate in a harmless deception.”
Kerensky grinned. “Now then, one of the advantages of being a rich man is the opportunity to treat my friends to an expensive meal occasionally. Perhaps you would all like to join me? By the time we finish Rodriguez ought to be arriving in Gotham, and you can return to your office and break the story.”
Lois looked at Clark, who shrugged and said “Why not? It looks like we’ve got a reason to celebrate. Let me just call our Gotham office, make sure that someone will be at the airport tonight.”
* * * *
“They must have bribed a couple of dozen people to pull that one off,” Clark said three hours later, as a call from Gotham confirmed the arrest. “The clerks who issued the tickets, the guy who supervised the gate at the airport, flight attendants, the security guards, and so forth.” Cat smiled but didn’t comment.
“But nobody forced Rodriguez aboard the plane,” said Lois, “and I guess nobody lied to him about where it was going. They were just a little… economical with the truth.”
“It’ll hold up in court,” said Cat. “Some very expensive lawyers say so.”
“Meanwhile,” said Clark, “we still have a story to write, and a murder to solve. Rodriguez is out of the picture, and so is the Salamanca, but somewhere out there is the woman who killed Grady, or whatever his name really was. This isn’t over.”
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