The Sunflower State

by LastScorpion

The Sunflower State
For Nerodi's Smallville Historical Fiction Challenge By LastScorpion
Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to any of these characters. This is just for fun. Please don't sue.

When I was a very young man, my proclivities in the areas of wine, women and song gradually made the East too hot to hold me, and so, like many another young man in the same situation, I headed West. I didn't know precisely what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be, but I knew what I didn't want, and his name was Lionel Luthor. So, as I said, I headed West, and sought my fortune.

I could have had fortune enough, of course, if I had stayed at home and satisfied my Father's requirements for me, but that would not have been mine, and I found myself unable to stand for it.

I discovered that, when the eventuality required it, I had a talent for poker that many men would envy. The question of whether it was matched by a corresponding unluckiness with the fairer sex may be answered by the fact that I have never been in love. In actual point of fact, only two women have ever loved me in any way, and my Mother and my Nanny are both dead now. May God have mercy on their souls.

It may seem unusual that I made my way from New York to Kansas without any serious threat to my life or physical well-being. After all, a man who makes his living by relieving other men of their money by dint of card-playing makes enemies as he makes dollars. Considering the drunkenness and ill-temper that pervade a typical card game in the West, one might well imagine that I had preserved my life in a dozen gunfights by the time my tale begins. However, I had not drawn my nickel-plated revolvers once in anger. A judicious display of marksmanship upon arriving in a new community, shooting at a card or other target in the sober light of day and in front of numerous witnesses, invariably sufficed to make men think twice about confronting me. Despite my Father's complaints, I always made a point of controlling my own more violent passions. I never drew first.

So my days passed, practicing at sharp-shooting, and so my nights passed, playing at cards. So I might have passed the rest of my life, I suppose, except for an accident that transpired at Smallville, Kansas.

Oddly enough, it was not the first time I had visited the tiny hamlet of Smallville. My Father had been attempting to dominate the railroad industry twelve years before, and he had brought my dear Mother and myself out to Kansas with him. The trip was an unmitigated disaster. A meteor strike flattened many of the crops, destroyed the preliminary stockpiles of ties and rails that my Father had begun laying down, killed a few townspeople, and literally struck me bald. I had been a sickly boy, and after Kansas I was strong and well, but my Father could never look at me with any complaisance again.

My Father abandoned that venture, and the train never stopped in Smallville. Now it was a tiny town, barely worthy of the name. It had a Post Office, which was its highest claim to fame, a Grange Hall (which also served as a grammar school and a church), and a minute shop where a sad-eyed, dark-haired lovely sold coffee and pie and dry goods. The town didn't even possess a saloon.

I was on my way to Dodge, which everyone spoke of as the place to be for gambling. The profits of the vast cattle-fields of the West were all funneling through Dodge City that year, and drunken cowboys never manage to win for long. Our train's engine, however, developed a fault of some sort, and we stopped in the middle of nowhere. Smallville was the nearest town, the conductor said, just a mile or so over yonder. He guaranteed that he would sound the whistle four great blasts an hour before setting off again, and so there was no need to stay put. Any who wished to walk out to Smallville, stretch their legs and get some air, were welcome to do so.

I was his only taker, it being an ungodly hot day for October, and soon enough the tiny settlement came into view. It was just as I remembered it -- small and dull. No one seemed to be out in the dusty little Main Street. The local inhabitants were no doubt inside in the shade, enjoying their noontime meal. I went into the shop, which boasted the unlikely name of 'The Talon' emblazoned in graying blue paint on a yellow pine board sign. Inside the shop was plain and neat. The proprietress, mentioned earlier, was named Lana Lang. She brought me a cup of coffee, which went down gratefully after my long dusty walk, and asked me if I'd like pie or cold chicken. I requested both, thanked the girl, and introduced myself.

"Lex Luthor?" she asked, blinking at me. I saw no point in denying what I myself had told her not one minute earlier. Miss Lang looked about the shop nervously, then excused herself and retreated to her kitchen, possibly to fetch my food.

A couple of big men with dirty blond hair and weather-beaten faces were sitting at the other little round table the place afforded, and they had both looked up in apparent interest when I mentioned my name. Now they came over to my table.

"Luthor, huh?" said the larger of the two roughnecks. "Heard of you."

"You have the advantage of me, sir," I said, as coldly as one accosted by a stranger has a right to speak.

The man barked out a laugh. "Advantage? You hear that, Jeb? We got the advantage of him."

"Jeb laughed too, just as coarsely as his companion. "Your daddy the one done took the advantage, Luthor. He done swindled our pappy outta his land, and the drink done et him up. Now Clem and I be just hired hands, when we shouldda had eighty acres each of farmland your daddy done took."

"What're you gonna do about it, Luthor?" Clem challenged.

I leaned back in my chair and took another drink of coffee. "If you know so much about me, you'll know that my Father and I don't see eye-to-eye on many issues. In fact, the man hates me very nearly as much as I hate him. If you wish to take out your frustrations on him, all I can do is wish you well, gentlemen." Suddenly I heard four blasts of a train whistle. The injury to the engine must have been considerably less than it had first appeared.

I rose from my chair and put four bits down on the table. "That's my train now. If you'll excuse me...."

For a few moments, I thought that I would actually make it back out of town unmolested. My conversation seemed to have stunned Jeb and Clem sufficiently that they didn't follow me out of the shop immediately. However, luck like that never lasts quite long enough. They caught up with me just past the Post Office.

"Think you're gonna just walk away, Luthor?" one of the thugs inquired. The other grabbed me. This was very bad. They were unarmed, so I couldn't shoot them, and each was considerably larger than myself. They had already laid hands on me, and a fistfight seemed unavoidable. I took a deep breath and prepared to give as good an account of myself as possible.

The fight went no better than I expected it to. Luthor Pride prevented my crying out, no matter what they did to me, and that seemed to infuriate them. Jeb and Clem had just gotten me down on the ground, and I was becoming rather more intimately acquainted with their boots than I ever would have in an ideal world, when somebody shouted, "Let him go!"

Jeb and Clem hesitated momentarily, and I heard the unmistakable sound of a double-barreled shotgun being cocked. Then a new pair of boots entered the fray, and Jeb and Clem left. I pulled myself to my knees and looked round.

A young Adonis in patched and faded flannel was between my attackers and myself, and a middle-aged sandy-haired man with a shotgun, unmistakably a farmer, stood beyond the young godling, glaring at my foes. "Run along home, now, boys. No harm done."

"But Mister Kent," whined one of the two thugs.

"Not another word, Ojabiah. What would your sainted mother say if she could see you now?" the farmer scolded.

The other one, Clem it must be, sneered and said, "He won't shoot us. We can take the three of 'em, Jeb."

Adonis seemed to swell in size a little at that. Jeb looked unconvinced -- he must be the smarter of the two. The farmer said, "One o' these barrels is nothin' but rock salt for the varmints, Clement. You qualify, and I never hesitate to shoot a varmint. You just run along, hear me?"

Clem glowered silently, but Jeb wanted to keep talking. "But Mister Kent! He's a Luthor!"

I hope never again to see such a look of loathing come over a previously friendly face. The farmer gritted his jaw, however, and repeated, "You boys run along home."

The ruffians obeyed, leaving me with my rescuers.

Maintaining as much of my tattered dignity as possible, I staggered to my feet. Farmer Kent kept his distance, but he did me the favor of at least lowering his shotgun barrel. The youngster picked up my hat and returned it to me, absent-mindedly dusting it off against his own dusty sleeve.

"Thank you," I said, as politely as my dear Mother could ever have wished. "You gentlemen preserved me from a worse beating, if nothing more, and I am wholeheartedly grateful. I'm Lex Luthor." I offered my hand, but the farmer was having none of it. His son, if that's who the young giant was, looked at him in surprise.

"Stayin' long?" the farmer asked coldly.

I allowed my hand to drop. "No, sir, not if I can still catch my train. The conductor said he would allow an hour to elapse between sounding the signal and departing, and he blew the whistle just before those two caught up with me."

At my answer, some sort of tension seemed to leave the man. He secured his weapon, and said, "I'm Jonathan Kent. That's my boy Clark."

"Howdy!" Clark greeted me, beaming.

"Well, I won't keep you, Mr. Luthor. Come along, Clark." Mr. Kent turned aside to go into The Talon.

I started the long limp back to the train. I hoped the hour would not elapse before I got there. I could think of nothing worse in that moment than being stranded in Smallville.

"Pa?" I heard Clark say to the older man. "Pa? He ain't gonna make it to the train by hisself."

"Don't say 'ain't' Clark. It's none of our concern."

"Pa? If he don't make it back to the train in time he'll miss it."

I pretended I didn't hear the Kent family conferring about me. No matter how accustomed I think I've become to hearing people talk about me behind my back, it still pains me at unexpected times, like an old wound.

The farmer sighed. "One hour, Clark. And behave yourself!"

"Thankee Pa!"

A big, exuberant puppyish farmboy galloped up to my side. "May I walk you back to your train, Mr. Luthor?"

The bright, good-natured grin on the boy's face entirely did away with any idea I might have had of snubbing him. Besides, I wasn't entirely certain that I would be able to make the trip unassisted. "Thank you, Clark," I answered.

"My pleasure!" he replied.

It wasn't long before I was grateful for the boy's assistance. Jeb and Clem had practiced masterfully upon my ribs, and I think a few were broken. The sun beat down like the vengeance of God, and the dust from our walking rose up like the cries of the damned. I walked like a man in a dream, trusting young Mr. Kent to lead me. Presently I noticed I was leaning heavily on his arm, and he was speaking to me.

"Mr. Luthor? Mr. Luthor?" I don't know how many times he'd said it already.

I roused myself from my daze, shaking my head. "No," I told him. "It's Lex. Don't call me Mr. Luthor."

"All right." Even the boy's voice was smiling. "We're about halfway there. Do you want to sit and rest a little while?" He gestured invitingly at a large stump half-concealed in the prairie grass.

I wanted to rest, but I wanted to catch my train more. "Perhaps we should continue," I suggested, pulling myself up straight. The ribs weren't getting any worse. It's rather astonishing how many injuries I withstood in my younger, wilder years, and I heal surprisingly fast. No need to stop here.

"All righty, then," the boy agreed. We continued towards the tracks. "Where you from?" Clark asked. "If you don't mind me askin'."

I smiled. It was oddly endearing that he was supporting almost my whole weight as we walked, but he was hesitant to strike up a conversation. "Back east. My father owns quite a bit of property in New York."

"New York's pretty far. You know, I might be from there. Originally."

I raised my eyebrows at him inquiringly, and the youth positively blushed. "I'm an orphan," he explained. "Come out on the train."

"Oh. How old were you when the Kents took you in?"

"About three, they reckon. They've always treated me just like their own, though. Not like some."

"I'm glad to hear it. Loving parents are a greater treasure than gold."

Clark beamed at me again. "That's right!"

We walked on in companionable silence for a while, and presently I heard the approach of a horse. Clark's head whipped up attentively, like that of an eager young hound when he hears the hunting horn.

Our acquaintances Clem and Jeb rode up, seated bareback one behind the other on a large plow horse. They swung down to the ground and puffed themselves up.

"Thought you could just leave it like that, Luthor?" Clem challenged. "I don't think we's a-finished with you yet."

Clark interposed himself between myself and the two yahoos. "My Pa done told you two to run along."

"Well, your Pa," spat out Jeb, "ain't here, boy. You run along home and cry to him why don't ya, leave your elders and your betters to their business."

"No," Clark stated.

I didn't relish the idea of a rematch with these cretins, but it was comforting to have Clark Kent on my side. He seemed terribly young for such a large fellow, but boys do fight, and he might be good. It would certainly be more even than the earlier encounter.

In actual point of fact, Jeb and Clem were absolutely no match for Clark Kent. He must have been a wonder for heaving feed and hay about, down on the farm, for he tossed the two men around like straw dolls. I didn't suffer one single additional blow, and our two attackers seemed about ready to give up and go home when I heard the cold, familiar sound of a revolver being cocked.

Jeb had succumbed to reason and was just re-mounting the horse when Clem evidently decided that, if he couldn't beat me to death, then he would simply shoot me. His pistol was large and old-fashioned, but well-kept. I cursed myself for allowing this rural idiot to get the drop on me. I must have been more badly injured than I'd supposed; I hadn't even noticed he was armed.

"Clem!" Jeb gasped.

"Shaddup, Jeb," Clem growled.

Clark stared at the gun with big eyes. I damned the day I ever came to Smallville. My desire to stretch my legs was going to get this brave boy killed. He was breathing hard, but he stood tall and didn't whine when he said, "Mr. Mahaney, you don't want to shoot anybody."

"Yeah I do," Clem snarled, gesturing with the gun. "I wanna shoot Luthor, and I wanna shoot you, you little pissant Luthor-lover. And I'm a-gonna, too." The man took aim and fired.

The next part cannot have happened the way I remember it.

Clement Mahaney aimed his revolver directly at me and fired. In that self-same instant, Clark Kent was suddenly between me and the gun. He made a startled grunting sound, but he didn't fall. Blood did not blossom from a bullet hole in that strong young body. Clem fired again and again, and finally his gun just made the clicking noises that a revolver makes when it is out of bullets. Clark must have been hit half a dozen times, but he was still standing. Jeb and the farm horse were long gone.

"Well," said Clark, in his father's voice. "For a feller who fancies hisself a badman, you sure ain't much of a shot. Aren't."

Clem stared unbelieving at Clark for a moment longer, then took to his heels.

Clark crossed his arms over his chest. When he turned around I told him, "I could have sworn he hit you."

The boy shook his head, eyes focussed far away. "If he had, I'd be dead." He blinked twice, then looked directly at me. "Better get that train, Lex."

It wasn't long before we reached the tracks. The locomotive was still there, and I was grateful. I was surprised that Clark didn't help me up into the car -- he'd been so attentive all the way along, but he didn't uncross his arms after the little contretemps with Jeb and Clem. The conductor arrived promptly. He put down a step for me to board and clucked over my disheveled state.

"Goodbye, Clark," I called to him out my window. "Thank you for saving my life."

"Goodbye, Lex," he answered. The beaming grin was back. "You'll have to do the same for me some day!"

The train pulled away. I twisted round in my seat to watch the boy waving to me. It almost appeared that his shirt was blackened over the chest, as if the bullets really had hit him. That, however, would have been impossible.

My name's Clark Kent. I'm a deputy sheriff for Lowell County, Kansas. Don't ever believe someone who tells you different, especially if he's a ghostly voice in a painted Injun cave. I'm an American, and we don't have kings or overlords here.

When I was young, I thought I was an orphan, sent out on the train by the Sisters of Mercy. People say that they have a little white cradle in the front room of their nunnery in New York City. They say if a girl has a baby and no husband, or if a woman's too poor to take care of even one more, she can set that new baby or very little child in that white cradle. No one will say anything to her about it, and the nuns will pick it up out of there when it starts to cry, and take care of it or find it a new home somewhere else. There's another group, too, sends out bigger young'ns that have been living in the streets, Children's Aid Society I think they're called. I always figured I'd been set in that faraway white cradle, once upon a time, 'cause I know I was so little when the Kents got me that I couldn't even talk yet.

Smallville's a funny town; some might say as it's cursed. Blazing green fire done rained down upon us, once or maybe twice in years gone by; the ground's poisoned in a couple of places that I can feel, and maybe some others, too. A whole mess of people ain't -- aren't -- exactly normal here, including me.

My Pa (Mister Kent that is) says normal's not the same as good, and abnormal's not the same as bad. He has a point there, same as he most always does. Some of the worst people I ever done met have been as normal as dirt. Some of the abnormal ones, even the really dangerous madmen, have been nice people underneath it all, just blighted and cursed by the meteor shower that hit here all those years ago, or by the poison it done left behind.

Lex Luthor, that done blew through town here one day about five years ago, he was here when the rocks hit, and he was changed but not drove mad. I always figured I was like that, fast and stuff because of the rocks that hit when I was little. Turns out that wasn't the case.

I'd never have known it if Clem Mahaney hadn't tried to shoot me to death that day I helped Lex Luthor get out of town. I told him he missed, but it was a fib. He hit me with every dang shot. I went home and put my arm in the big laundry fire (it was washday) and it burnt my shirtsleeve clean off, but it didn't hurt me at all. I told Pa everything, and he took me to the far storm cellar and told me everything, too, and to keep it to myself.

It turns out that I was put in a little cradle all right, but it wasn't white and it wasn't in New York City like I thought. No, it was made of some sort of metal you can't mark with a hammer, or fire, or nothing else I ever been able to think of. It came down from the sky in that big firestorm of '65, with all them poisonous rocks, and it's possessed by a ghost that says it's my father and I'm supposed to rule the world.

Pa says a man don't necessarily have to do what his own daddy set out for him to do, even if it's him. He says old Hiram Kent didn't want him to marry Ma, and he says Ma's daddy, Mr. Clark, and him done got into a genuine fistfight when he went to ask for her hand in marriage. He says that marrying Ma is the best and smartest day's work he ever done in his life, and people's fathers aren't always right.

Sometimes I think he wishes I'd stop quoting him all the time.

Pa was proud but not pleased when I took a job as a peace officer. The way it happened was this:

The Rosses are a family of Negroes that done lived in this part of Kansas for years and years. They started off as escaped slaves, before the war. Old Rodger Small (Mayor Henry Small's grandfather) that started the town, done gave them and some others the land and stuff to get started out here, because Slavery's a sin. He was an abolitionist from way back. Mayor Small's daddy died at Harper's Ferry with John Brown, and Mayor Small done kept up the family tradition -- he settled land on some Exodusters, too, after the war was over. Some of the Negroes the Smalls have settled here sold out and moved on over the years, but the Rosses are a solid farming family with more land than they started with and seven sons. The youngest one is Pete -- he's just about my age, and we been friends since as long ago as I can remember.

Well, one day old Mrs. Fordman, who is a widow-lady that runs the post-office, was found in her office beat most to death, and with a lot of mail gone. Some of the men in town, chief among them Clem and Jeb Mahaney (their granddaddy was a Missouri man), said it was Pete Ross that done it and they seen him leaving the post-office at the time. The men that bore witness against Pete was mainly what my Pa calls ne'er-do-wells and drunkards, but old Sheriff Ethan took their word for it over the Rosses' word and locked Pete up. (I think ordinarily no sensible person would've decided it thataway, but the trouble was that old Sheriff Ethan had his eye on Miss Lana Lang to be the second Mrs. Sheriff Ethan -- Old Ethan's wife having been gone at that point about four or five years -- which you mightn't think would be a problem, except that Lana had her eye on Pete, which Lana's Aunt Nell says just goes to show. See, Mrs. Laura Lang had Lana while Louis was away at the war, and Nell always thought that Lana's real daddy was Henry Small.)

That first night that Pete was in jail, Clem got together a bunch of his friends, and they thought they'd have a necktie party, but I heard them blabbin' about it from a long ways away (which I learnt how to do right about that time) and I come and stopped them. The whole rest of the time Pete was locked up, I stood guard myself in front of the Sheriff's Office, slept on the ground at night and all. Pa said it was the right thing to do, too. A Circuit Judge was s'posed to come by eventually, and old Ethan said they'd have a nice legal hanging then after the trial. What he didn't expect was that Widow Fordman done woke up afore the Judge ever come round, and she said it was Clem and his cronies that robbed and beat her, and Pete wasn't there at all. Ethan didn't want to let her have her say, 'cause the Mahaneys were friends of his from way back, and he had that grudge against Pete like I said. As it happened though, my Ma and Lana's Aunt Nell and all the other women of the town spread the word, and Clem and most of his gang took off, and Ethan didn't have a leg to stand on.

Come the next Sheriff's election, he lost to Carl Adams, a nice old gent from over Grandville way. The real sheriff work after Carl got the job was mostly done by his maiden sister Nancy, who is a little woman who's tougher than nails. Why, I've seen her disarm two drunken cowboys with nothin' more than the sharp of her tongue, and drag them off by the ears to jail to sober up. Well, she didn't really take to me much right at first, 'cause I have a tendency to be what Ma calls a vigilante myself. For instance, there was one time when some passing cowhands were givin' Lana trouble, and I beat them up instead of calling for the law, even though Nancy was right across the street. She made me clean up and paint the whole downtown for that, and my Pa just laughed at me when I said it wasn't fair, and didn't let me off chores or nothin'. After that she liked me better, though, and when I was nineteen she made her brother offer me a job as deputy, and I took it. Nancy says I'm a trustworthy man. It's enough to make me proud, even though I know in my heart I'm not really a man at all, not being a human being. Not to mention that, when you come right down to it, all the skyfire and cursedness that Smallville suffers from is my fault.

But anyhow, after that I was a lawman, and my Pa said he wished I could've stayed at home and been a farmer like him, but that he understood a man's got to do what a man's got to do. I told him he'd just have to make sure that Cara got herself the right kind of husband in about twelve years, and she said she druther be a farmer all by herself and never marry nobody and kicked me in the shin. Well, I pretended it hurt me and hopped all over the kitchen on one foot, and she laughed so hard she fell over.

A little sister's a blessing and no mistake. Ma says that if all the bad things the meteors brought are my fault, then I gotta take credit for the good as well. I know better than to contradict her out loud.

So things went along in Smallville. I still helped Pa out some with the farm, and did everything old Carl and Nancy told me to for the county, and it was fine, 'cause I find as I get older I don't really need much sleep. Pete married Lana (which Mr. and Mrs. Ross weren't too pleased about it, neither -- they knew a nice Exoduster girl from Tennessee they druther have for a daughter-in-law), and they made the Talon into a going concern, with a nickelodeon machine that drew people from miles around. Cara got bigger and bigger, and learnt to read and write.

Then one day when I was almost twenty-two, I heard the name Lex Luthor again.

A circular came out from the County Seat sayin' that Lex Luthor had been positively identified as a member of a gang that robbed the stage going into Grandville. The stage robbers shot the driver, but a passenger name of Mr. Dominic Senatori done grabbed the reins and drove the stage safely into town. The driver, Mr. Morgan Beales, died before they made it back in. Mr. Senatori, a jeweler from Back East who'd been riding up on the box, said he'd seen one of the robbers full-face, and it was Alexander Luthor, alias Lex Luthor, a man he was acquainted with from before.

It wasn't so much that I didn't think Lex Luthor was capable of murdering a man, or even of robbing a stage. After all, I only knew him for the one day. But even that slight an acquaintance led me to believe that Lex would have shot the horses and got the money, rather than shootin' the driver and lettin' the money get away. Moreover, it struck me as funny that this Mr. Senatori was the one feller in a position to see exactly what happened, and he was also the one who just happened to know Lex Luthor by sight. "Back East" isn't much information to know about a man, neither. I was a little concerned, so I thought maybe it'd be for the best if I happened to be the one brought Lex in.

Nancy and old Carl didn't mind. They said I could go, but I'd have to be satisfied with the reward money, if any, 'cause Lowell County wasn't gonna pay a young man a salary to go off gallivantin'. That suited me fine, 'cause I am not in this for the money. If I was right in my suppositions, then there wouldn't be any reward money anyhow.

When I go, I go -- no changin' horses or wirin' ahead for nothin'. I can run all day, and I'm faster than a locomotive. I've run to both oceans and back for a Sat'day lark, so it didn't take long to go up to Grandville and find out more about this so-called stage robbery. First off, there was no money missing from the stage. The only cargo discrepancy was a crate of mineralogical samples supposed to be going to the Natural History Museum in Chicago. Mr. Senatori's story didn't mention anything about desperate gunmen rummaging the stage for boxes of rocks. Secondly, the only other passenger to see anythin' was an old lady from Iowa who was peekin' out through the curtain and watched the whole thing. She was staying a couple months with her married daughter at a farm just outside Grandville, to help out with a new baby, and I got a chance to talk to her about it. Mrs. Riley said she couldn't even swear that any of the robbers was bald, and that she heard a lot of low conversation before the one shot that was fired. Mr. Senatori was apparently gone "Back East" but he'd left a forwardin' address with the stage company. I pinned my star on good and tight and ran back to New York to check it out. Turned out that Senatori's Jewelry was a nice little shop located on the ground floor of the Luthor Building.

Now I knew somethin' was up. I remembered that Lex had said his father and him didn't get along, and I determined that Lex wouldn't be snookered if I could help it. Lionel Luthor was known to have plenty of resources and hardly any scruples, so I thought I ought to even things up a little.

The first thing to do was find Lex. It wasn't hard; he wasn't hiding. What with the not-needing-to-sleep and the speed and endurance, there's not many places in Kansas, Missouri or Colorado where I don't have my sources. Lex was in Leadville, as it turned out, playing poker in a saloon that was a little shabbier than I'd have expected, but with a pile of silver in the middle of the table that made it pretty clear where the attraction lay.

I figured I'd let the gentlemen finish their hand, then ask Lex to come along peaceable, but something happened first instead. I was minding my own business, sitting quiet-like by myself at the bar and keeping an eye on the poker game in the reflection behind the barkeeper.

Suddenly a ruckus bust out at one of the other gambling tables. Some fellers were accusing each other of taking the bets, hiding high cards, and stealing stuff. They sounded drunk, and mad. I got up and headed over to check it out. Men were fighting, and somebody drew a gun.

Well, we weren't in Lowell County, but I sure wasn't going to let somebody get shot if I could help it. I didn't want no Mexican Standoff, so I didn't draw a weapon, just waded into the mess and tried to keep myself between all the bullets and all the targets.

I wasn't doing too badly, blocking a pistol with each of my hands, and holding my body directly in front of the other one. Looking bashful and apologetic and young and really really large seemed like a pretty good way to mollify everybody, and some of them were getting right sleepy, from the alcohol they'd been pollutin' themselves with since who-knows-when. Nobody'd fired yet, and the drunkards seemed to be content to mostly yell at each other. I probably would've managed to calm the whole situation down without anybody getting killed, though it would've taken a while.

Lex Luthor had a quicker way.

I heard two revolvers being cocked behind me, and a throat being cleared genteelly.

"Gentlemen," came a familiar voice. "I believe you're all aware of my prowess with these implements. I suggest that you disarm yourselves promptly, and submit your dispute to the objective judgment of some disinterested bystander. The bartender, perhaps. Now."

The drunkards looked at each other, and at me, and at Lex, and at the bartender, and at Lex again. Then pistols were hastily stowed away, cards and coins were gathered up, a couple of half-hearted wipes were made at my disordered clothing, and the whole shebang up and went over to the barkeep.

"Clark Kent?" Shoot. I was a little unnerved. Lex Luthor had the drop on me. Old Nancy would've boxed my ears. He didn't seem at all inclined to press his advantage, which just made me more sure he wasn't guilty of the crime he'd been accused of. He clapped me on the shoulder, which was a ways up for him, and said, "It is Clark Kent, isn't it? From Smallville?"

I turned around and smiled at him. Meeting up with a fugitive actually shouldn't make a body feel so happy, I reckon, but I couldn't help it. Besides, I was pretty sure he was innocent, anyhow. "That's right. How you been keeping, Lex?"

"Well enough," he replied. Patting his black leather satchel, he added, "I'm ten thousand dollars ahead for the night."

"My, my. Is that so?" I murmured politely. Pa Kent would take about twenty years to make ten thousand dollars profit on the farm.

Lex chuckled a little. "It is so," he admitted. "What brings you to Leadville, Clark?"

This here was going to be the hard part. "I'm a deputy sheriff for Lowell County now, Lex."

He didn't look surprised or guilty. I was more convinced than ever that he hadn't ever tried to rob no Grandville stage. "Congratulations," he told me. "No wonder you waded right into that brawl -- I imagine that's how law enforcement is done in Smallville. You realize you shouldn't have, don't you? Those men had guns, and you could have gotten yourself killed."

"Oh, I reckon I wouldn't have come to no harm. Just a bunch of good ol' boys." Lex guided me over to the bar, and bought me a whiskey. I thanked him, but I didn't drink it. I turned round to face him.

"Lex, I'm right sorry to have to do this, but the law's the law." He quirked a pale ginger eyebrow at me, but made no move to run for it. "Alexander Luthor, alias Lex Luthor, you're under arrest on a charge of murder and attempted robbery."

Lex didn't choke on his whiskey, but it was a near thing. "What the devil!" he exclaimed, as soon as he quit sputtering. I patted him on the back some more, gently, as if he was Cara. "Leave off of that!" he snarled at me for my trouble. Then he slugged down the rest of his drink and turned on me like a cougar. "What the hell do you mean, murder and attempted robbery? I've never killed anybody yet, and I certainly never robbed anyone!"

I told him the whole sordid story, while he ordered and drank several more glasses of liquor. I considered telling him that wine is a mocker, and strong drink a raging (Proverbs 20:1), but I thought better of it. By the end of my tale, I was starting to think he knew what he was about at that. Lex looked cool and composed, and he was able to ask me very calmly, "And what was the name of the man who says he saw me there?"

"Dominic Senatori," I told him.

Well, then all hell broke loose. It was like when Cara was two years old, except if she'd been near six feet tall and had plenty of glassware ready to hand. In short, Lex Luthor pitched a fit to end all fits, and the tantrum he threw led to a mess of broken glass. I grabbed him around the middle and hauled him out of there, just like I used to when Cara was little and she'd get mad in the hen-house. I didn't stop to let him draw breath until we were well out of town, and he was gasping in the altitude.

"What did you do that for?" I yelled. He'd made me a mite upset, particularly with all the kicking he'd been doing. It didn't really hurt me, but he didn't know that!

Lex sat right down on the ground. He looked 'round, and I handed him his leather satchel, which he'd dropped in all the excitement, about two blocks from the saloon.

"Thank you," he panted, grabbing onto his bag like it was his last hope of salvation. He set there breathing for a little while longer, then said, in a desperate tone of voice, "Whatever my father's paying you, I'll double it. Just give me a few days to get the money together."

"Pardon?" I asked. I didn't know what he was talking about.

"I know this is a frame-up, Kent! You can't possibly believe I wouldn't be able to tell! My father may have promised you the moon, but believe me, his operatives are far more likely to see the business-end of a long-arm than they ever are to see any cold hard cash! I can...."

I cut him off at that point. "Lex!" I exclaimed, with my hand over his mouth. "I'm not working for Mr. Luthor, Senior. But I'm pretty sure Dominic Senatori is."

Lex quit struggling. He looked up at me with big eyes, glinting silver in the moonlight and the nearby lights of the town. I kept my hand over his face, partly because I didn't figure he'd let me have my say otherwise, and partly because I just liked how it felt. "I traced Mr. Senatori back to New York. His jewelry shop is in your father's building. Another witness who was riding on the stage tells a story that doesn't gibe with his. And, since you're in Colorado now, and it's pretty far from Grandville, I was kinda hoping you might have an alibi."

I helped him up and let go of his mouth. His upper lip had a scar on it, smack dab in the middle. That wasn't important right now, though.

He took a couple of deep breaths, and then he said, "So you don't believe I did it."

Now he was getting it! "No sir, I don't."

"So you'll let me go?"

"No, the law don't work that way. You'll have to come back to Lowell County with me and explain it all to a judge."

His face, which had been starting to look a little hopeful before, fell right down to the ground again. "There's not a judge alive my Father can't buy," he whispered.

That put my back up a mite, although I'm sure that there are some judges that do get paid off from time to time. I just didn't like him insinuating that any of them were in Lowell County! "Don't take on so!" I scolded him. "As long as you're officially in my custody, it don't make no nevermind how long we take to get back to the judge. If you have any evidence, witnesses or what-all, we can get some affidavits afore'n we head back to Kansas." I took his chin in my hand and carefully, gently, made him look me in the eye. "Don't worry. You didn't do it, did you?" I let him go.

He kept his eyes looking right into mine. I saw him swallow. "No," he breathed.

"Then you won't be found guilty," I reassured him.

Lex stood up tall and straightened out his clothes, and I watched him turn himself from a scared youngster back into a worldly-wise gambling man. It took him a little while, and then a little while longer to finish catching his breath. Leadville is known for its terrible thin air. If it weren't for the silver, probably no one would bother to live there.

It was a sophisticated man of the world done asked me for the exact date and time of the robbery. When I told him, he looked relieved. He even smiled. It was a nice smile.

"Good fortune is a god among men, and more than a god," he said. "As it happens, I bought some property here in Leadville on that same day. The title papers will have signatures and dates."

"We can get sworn statements from the witnesses, too, I reckon," I added. "No one can think you was here in Leadville signin' papers and way over by Grandville murderin' a man on the same day."

A cloud passed over his face. "Unless my Father has already gotten to the men I dealt with, and dealt with them."

"Don't fret," I comforted him. "He probably don't even know where you are exactly."

Lex took another deep breath. "Let's go find the gentlemen I had business with now, before anything can happen."

"Hold hard there." He looked at me in surprise. "Afore'n we go any further, you have to give me your word you won't try and get away."

"My parole?" he asked, looking amused.

"Yes, sir."

"Must I yield up my weapons?" Lex was almost laughing at me, but I didn't mind.

"Your hand on it's good enough for me." I smiled at him as he clasped my hand, and kept him from takin' it back until he promised.

"I solemnly swear that I will not try to escape; that, if liberated, I will return to your custody, and that under no circumstances will I take up arms against Lowell County, Kansas, until such time as you, Clark Kent, release me from this parole."

I shivered. I couldn't help it. With his hand in mine, and that look in his eyes, it seemed like a whole 'nother kind of promise.

"Well, then," I said. My voice was kind of hoarse. I swallered hard and tried it again. "Well, then. Let's go on into town and rustle up them witnesses."

It turned out there was plenty of people in town, even at that late hour, willing to swear out an affidavit that Lex Luthor had been in Leadville, Colorado on the day that Mr. Beales' stage was held up. We went back to the bar where I'd found him first, and after seeing the amount of silver he lay down for the damage to the glassware, it made perfect sense why shopkeepers all over the city was favorably disposed towards him. By dawn we had the sworn words of a dozen upright Leadville citizens written down on paper, that Alexander Luthor, also known as Lex, had been in Leadville all day on the date Mr. Senatori said he'd been shootin' a man to death. We even got the Leadville town marshal to attest that these people were, in fact, residents of Leadville, Colorado, and that, as far as he knew, none of them was wanted for anythin'. Our best one was the title transfer for the piece of property Lex had bought, which was signed, dated and witnessed. No way that Judge Reynolds would let him be convicted in the face of that.

Lex had been selling out as we went around town, too. He owned a mess of property all over the city, it turned out, and he said if he was heading back to Kansas he better realize his profits while he could. A few pieces he couldn't get the price he wanted, so he signed them over to local hotel owners and saloonkeepers for settlement of his credit-line. I didn't really understand how it worked, but everybody seemed satisfied, so I didn't say nothin'. I guess that's how businessmen deal with one another.

By sunup we was pretty much done there. I had a mess of sworn statements tucked up safe inside my old sheepskin jacket, and Lex had a mess of currency inside his black leather satchel. Lex asked if'n he could have a last sleep in his hotel and then pack up, or if we had to leave right then. I told him to go ahead and take his time, just remember he was on parole. It actually suited me fine that he wanted to rest up, because it occurred to me that I didn't have a horse yet.

There's two ways to get a horse that I know of. One is to buy it, and the other is to catch it yourself. (We will leave out rustlin'.) I'm faster and stronger than a horse, and there are plenty of them in Colorado even today that don't belong to no one.

If Lex needed six or eight hours to sleep, I reckoned I had time enough to catch a break a mustang. My own personal record is three hours. There was a time when what I thought about most in the world was how to get Lana Lang to smile. (Pete does it easy as pie, every single day. That's how I know they was meant to be together.) Anyhow, the way I mostly got money to buy her little presents and such was catching wild horses in Colorado, breaking them in a little, and selling them for whatever the market would bear in Independence, Missouri. It ain't -- isn't -- particularly hard if you're a lot stronger than the horse is, and it knows you're not really trying to hurt it.

So I cast around a little and found a herd, picked up on a nice big strong mare what didn't have no suckling foal, and caught her. Then I spent a few hours getting to know her, and convincing her that it was all right for me to ride around on her back (I didn't have no tack, which I never know if it makes it harder or easier.) A little past two o'clock in the afternoon, the new horse and I (I named her Daisy) fetched up to the hotel in Leadville, and I hitched her to the post out front, using a little piece of rope I had.

I went in and spoke to the desk-clerk. He said two men from the Pinkertons done come and hauled Lex away.

Well, that struck me as unlikely for a couple of reasons. One, the Pinkertons don't hardly concern themselves with this sort of a thing. If anybody were going to be after Lex for attempting to rob the Grandville stage (asides me, that is) it ought to have been Wells Fargo. The other thing was that the warrant was issued in Lowell County, just a day or two before. I was on the job for Lowell County, and the people there knew it. Pinkertons is based in Chicago, I believe. They wouldn't have been out here this fast for that, even if they were on it.

That left at least a couple other possibilities. Suppose old Lionel Luthor had hired Pinkertons to bring his son back regardless of any Lowell County warrants, as a missing heir or some such thing. Or maybe it was somebody else looking into the attempted stage robbery for reasons of their own. It was even possible that the same band of criminals that tried to rob the stage and shot Mr. Beales had decided to kidnap Lex to prevent him ever clearing himself.

Whatever the case might be, I was deputy sheriff for Lowell County, and Lex Luthor was officially in my custody. I couldn't let them just have him.

I got the best descriptions of the men that I could, and a general direction. They only had about two or three hours start on me.

It didn't take too long to find them, although I got a mite sidetracked by the fact that the horse objected to my route. It was a powerful steep pass I tracked them to. Either they knew somethin' I didn't, or they didn't know much at all. Sensible people (and Daisy seemed to count herself in that number) just didn't go thataway. Finally I had to give up on riding her. Once she got used to being carried, and quit kicking so much, we made good time.

I kept a good listen out, and it was about half an hour before sundown that I heard my quarry ahead of me a little ways. I set Daisy down and told her to be a good horse. (Pa and Cara always say that don't do any good, but Ma and I agree that it don't do any harm.) I snuck up on them, quick and light as I could, and got a good view down at them from behind a rock. They had Lex's hands tied behind him and a black sack over his head. He looked like an aristocrat going to the guillotine in an old story, the way he sat his horse so proud and doomed-like. One of the Pinkertons (so-called) was riding in front of him and one in back. The track they were on wasn't wide enough for anything but single-file, with one humdinger of a drop-off to the side. They was squabbling with each other about when to set up camp. Lex didn't make a sound. I looked at him real close, and his bones weren't broken, but he looked like he'd been pretty thoroughly beaten not so very long before.

Well, I always try the direct approach when I can. I shined up my badge, whipped around ahead of them, and set myself on their path. "Halt!" I hollered, holding up my hand. "I'm Clark Kent, deputy sheriff of Lowell County, Kansas, and that man with you is a prisoner in my custody!"

They sure enough didn't halt. I didn't budge neither. Lex startled and called out, "Clark! Look out! They're working for my Father!" and the man behind him danced his horse up and around a little and walloped Lex up side the head. Lex rocked but didn't fall. I got mad.

"Leave off, there! And stop, in the name of the law!"

"Get out of the way, boy!" yelled the man in the lead. "You don't know who you're dealing with, and the best thing you can do is just run along home!" He kept advancing his horse on me, too. I'd lost my temper already, but a funny feeling of sickness was coming over me as the party approached. Suddenly I noticed he had a stickpin in his neckcloth with a big square green stone in it. The other one did, too. The lead man's stone was glowing, and it was making me sick. The meteor rocks only glow around me, and, while they do other people harm and are some sort of poison for sure, I'm the only one that gets weak and queasy near the dang things right off.

Of course, that was no excuse to not do my duty.

I made sure they could see my star plain. "Gen'men, I got to tell you. You're attempting to obstruct the law here, and it ain't gonna fly. Isn't. Just let Mr. Luthor down, and I'll take him back to Lowell County to face the judge."

I felt so sick that I was actually doing pretty well to be standing my ground. I didn't have a snowball's chance to get out of the way when the first horseman whipped a carbine out from behind his saddle and shot me. The impact knocked me clean off the edge of the path there, and I plummeted into empty space.

I could hear Lex yell, "No!" and I could hear someone hit him again. Then I heard the second man arguing with the first man. He didn't seem to hold with the shooting of lawmen. Then I heard another shot, and the body of the second horseman plunged on down past me and crashed like a melon on the rocks below.

That's when I noticed I was flying.

Well, floating might be more apt, 'cause I wasn't going anywhere much, but still. This was something brand spanking new, and I'd have liked to take a couple minutes to get used to it. Unfortunately, I didn't have the time right then. Lex and that murdering scoundrel up on the ledge were getting into a real shouting-match, and I had to get back there before Lex ended up dead.

As soon as I knew what I absolutely had to do, it suddenly come to me how to go about it. I shot up like a rocket, snatching a couple of rocks from the cliff-face as I went, and as soon as Lex and that imitation detective came into view, I took aim and threw.

My first stone caught the no-account ruffian on the shoulder, which I was pleased to note messed up a blow he was trying to land on Lex's head. My second shot spun him clean off his horse. All three of the horses crowded on that path were getting pretty het-up at that point, and it ain't -- isn't -- surprising that Lex's mount trampled the man underfoot like a cavalry charger, plunged up and down, and came up again with blood on his hooves. He did it so well I might've thought Lex made him do it on purpose, but Lex was blindfolded and didn't have his hands free to the reins. It must have been an accident. Anyhow, the man was dead.

The horses were even more upset now, with the smell of blood all around. It took some quick work on my part to catch them all without getting too close to the body and its poisonous green stone, and by the time I had them, Lex was looking spooked as well.

"Hang on, there, Lex," I said soothingly, as I finally got the reins of his horse. It didn't want to be caught, and it didn't naturally flee the corpse so much as the other two did.

"Clark?" he asked. "You're. I heard the shot. They said you were dead."

By the last word I had his hands free and his face uncovered. I helped him down off the fractious horse.

"I just dodged off the edge of the path for a spell," I told him. It was even mostly true. "They didn't look over to see if they got me before they started fighting amongst themselves," I pointed out.

Lex rubbed his arms against each other, trying to get the circulation back I suppose. He had a prime shiner coming up, too. "My Father paid them to find me and bring me back to New York, no questions asked." He went over to the trampled corpse and started going through the dead man's pockets.

I had to keep my distance. "Mind that green rock," I advised Lex. "They're thick on the ground back in Smallville, and they're poison, through and through."

"They must be from my Father, then. Everything that comes from him is poison." He pulled out a thick and only slightly blood-stained sheaf of papers from the man's coat, paged through it for a bit, then went on. "Yes, here it is. 'Please accept this trifle,' he writes. 'All my operatives will wear the green stone at all times and return to New York City to consult with Stephen Hamilton' -- that's the child of one of his concubines, who previously belonged to a French scientist; he's brilliant but quite mad -- 'at monthly intervals. Failure to comply with any of the directives contained herein will result in the most severe consequences.' There are quite a few directives," Lex added, leafing through more of the papers. "My Father insists on absolute control of his business operations."

"Not everything that comes from him is poison," I said. "You ain't. Aren't."

Lex swallowed hard and didn't say anything for a spell. He kept looking through the document his own pa had sent to the dead man. Presently he said, "The charge of murder and attempted stage robbery was instigated by my father. He must have directed Dominic to kill that man and testify as he did. It's supposed to be an incentive for me to return to him in case his other operatives fail to secure me. As, in fact, they have." He stared off in the distance and added, "Thanks to you."

"I still got my own papers right here," I said, patting my coat. "We got evidence that it wasn't you, and Judge Reynolds is a fair man. Let's just head on back to Kansas and get it all cleared up."

I could see Lex was starting to shiver. The sunset was well started now, and it was getting windy. He didn't have a coat, just a loose shirt and trousers on. His black satchel was bound up onto the back of one of the badmen's horses. I guess their orders allowed them to steal money when convenient.

"Come on, Lex," I repeated. He still stood there, looking mighty lost for a feller that had just been looting the slain like a veteran. "All righty then, just pluck off that there poisoned stickpin and chuck it over the cliff, and then I'll be able to come over and help you."

He looked at me with startled eyes, but then he did it. It was quite a relief. "Thankee, Lex," I said, and led the horses over to him. "It's a funny thing about them there stones," I mused aloud. "There's a heap of people back in Smallville done lost their minds or caught some sort of horrible growths from them dang things, but I'm the only one in town breaks out in hives over them. Is there anything else you want from this feller afore I tips him over the edge? Besides his coat, which you ain't saying no to, Lex Luthor, not shivering like you are."

"I'm fine," he said. He didn't sound fine, but when I got the dead man's coat off and tried to give it him, he shied away and made a little noise. "There's blood on it."

I pitched the coat off the cliff with the dead man and gave Lex my big sheepskin one to wear. It didn't fit him at all, but it wouldn't let him freeze, I hoped. I made Lex look through his bag to make sure his money was all there, and he said it was, although I don't think he looked very carefully. I strapped it up behind the saddle on his own horse, the bloody-footed one, and I took all the tackle off the horses Lionel's gang had been riding and slapped their rumps. They took off down the trail like good'uns. I reckoned they'd be okay.

As I helped Lex up onto his horse, he frowned at me and asked, "What are you going to ride?"

"Oh, I left my horse back there a little ways," I told him, gesturing vaguely. I hoped Daisy didn't decide to follow the two I'd just let loose. Maybe I'd better hurry back and fetch her. "You continue up hill a ways. Take it careful, and I'll go get her and catch you up before the top of the pass. We probably want to get over before it's full dark."

Lex nodded at me and started his horse walking up the trail.

"Your affidavits are in the coat!" I called to him. "If we get separated or something, just find Judge Reynolds in Grandville and tell him the whole story!"

I ran off before he could argue with me, although he looked as if he wanted to.

I beat them other two horses back to Daisy, scooped her up, and headed back to where I'd left Lex. She seemed happy to see me, and was really taking to this mode of travel. Maybe I'd keep her when this case was done. A horse that's not easy to spook is a boon to a lawman, particularly to a lawman with as many peculiarities as I seem to have.

Flying. Well, I'll be.

I should not have been even slightly surprised at the news that my Father's minion had murdered a man in cold blood and accused me of the crime. However, I was. My dear Mother had once loved Lionel Luthor, despite his many and obvious flaws, and I suppose I must have granted her opinion, even posthumously, more weight than it truly deserved.

I was grateful to be rescued from my Father's henchmen. Clark Kent, bigger and bonnier even than he had been seven years before, had risked his life to do what was right, to clear my name, and to save me.

He seemed to fight exclusively without weapons. He rode a horse that was little more than a wild beast of the open range, without saddle or bridle. He gave me his coat, and appeared to feel the cold no more than the rugged crags and boulders around us did. Whenever the bitter cold and the encroaching darkness forced us to make camp in that remote inhospitable wilderness, he proved able to build a campfire from the most meager of fuels, even in the raging wind that sweeps the high country.

My Father's brigands had not allowed me to pack the sparsest essentials. I had neither food nor bedroll. Clark could catch game no matter how forbidding the terrain, and his bodily heat warmed the inadequate stony shelters he found for us as efficiently as any stove.

If I were a woman, I certainly would have fallen in love with him.

Nevertheless, I could not feel as optimistic about my fate as Clark seemed to. I was well-acquainted with Lionel Luthor, after all, and I didn't know this Judge Reynolds, reputed to be such an un-bribable paragon of virtue, from Adam.

We rode in silence for the most part. I do not know what thoughts consumed my companion's attention. I'm certain he noticed that my injuries were healing more quickly than was reasonable, but he did not mention it. I contemplated running away more times than I would like to admit, but I knew he could catch me again easily, and that I stood little chance of survival without him.

I've never heard of anyone more suited for a peace officer. He could live off the land like an Indian, and had tracked me for hundreds of miles. I knew of my own sure knowledge that he'd been shot at by wrongdoers at least twice. He was obviously not well-off, and yet money seemed to hold no interest for him. He had such faith in truth and justice. Perhaps it was for the best that I could do nothing but leave my fate in his large, capable, yet curiously unmarked hands.

We were well into Kansas, perhaps two days' steady riding away from Grandville, when Clark suddenly pulled up his horse.

"Look around you, Lex," he said forcefully. "What do you see?"

I looked. There was nothing for miles around except for rolling fields. They were planted in something, which seemed unusual given the season.

"I see farmer's fields," I told him. "I don't recognize the crop."

"It's winter wheat -- Turkey Red. The Mennonites brought it with them from Russia a few years back. They came to Kansas with nothing, and started a new life for themselves, with something no one had ever thought of around here -- wheat you plant in the autumn and harvest in the spring. Crops here used to mainly just fail; there ain't - isn't - enough rain. But there's enough for this, and it grows fine."

Clark had obviously been thinking hard. Unfortunately, I couldn't grasp what it was that he was attempting to communicate. For days, no, for my entire life, I had been tired, and frightened, and most probably doomed. I sighed wearily and asked him, "What do you want me to say, Clark?"

He smiled at me and shook his head a little. "Don't you see it, Lex? People come out West all the time, with nothin' more than their own brains and bodies and an idea for the future. You don't have to be what your pa wants you to be, and you don't have to spend your life running from him, neither."

"They had the wheat, and they had...."

He didn't let me finish. "One bushel of wheat per family, and enough money to buy a little land. That's what I heard tell the Mennonites started with." He pointed to my bag. "You got a sack full of silver and gold, and a mind that most men would envy. I seen you doin' business back in Leadville. You got a talent for it, and no mistake. Whether that talent comes down from your pa don't matter; you're a grown man, and you don't necessarily have to do what your daddy wants anymore."

I laughed bitterly. "Who told you that?"

He beamed at me. He had a smile like the sun in the winter-time, bright and warm and welcome. "Pa Kent. He wanted me to take the farm after him, not be a deputy, but he didn't try and stop me. Now he's gotta wait 'til Cara grows up and see what happens with her, but he says he knows life's a gamble. You ought to agree with him there, anyhow."

"Well," I argued. "He can speak that way because you are adopted. He knows your real father was probably a big-city reprobate of some sort, a criminal or a fancy-man. He's pleased to have you take any honest course, and feels no personal interest in your actions because you are not his own blood." I knew I was treading on thin ice, but I had been so upset for so long that I felt I had to strike out at someone.

Much to my surprise, he smiled at me. "Even if my original daddy had been all-powerful and wanted me to rule the world with stren'th, what Pa says would still be true. A man makes his own choices and lives his own life."

"My Father won't stop," I confided in a rush. "He won't let me get away so easily. The only way to ever escape his influence would be to kill him." The last two words were almost a whisper. I swallowed nervously. I had never let anyone know that I'd thought of this, planned my father's death countless times in the dark reaches of the night.

Clark's laugh surprised me again. "Nah," he said. "Time'll do for him, like it does for us all. The old man can't live forever, and Kansas is hundreds of miles from New York. He'll keep trying, maybe, can't fault a man for persistence. We'll stop him, though."

"We?" I asked.

"Sure," he said. I let myself luxuriate in the warmth of his smile.

He started his mount back up again. I followed suit.

"Clark Kent and Lex Luthor," he mused. "I like the sound of that. It'll all work out, Lex. Just wait and see."

I decided I would.

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