The rumble grew slowly, barely audible over the strengthening shower from overhead. It gained in power, however, and with each tremor rallied in loudness and strength. The water came faster and hotter, and the humidity, quakes and cacophony reached a coda that imploded of its own intensity.
Lionel was spending the rare evening watching a movie in his home theatre. It was a private screening of Mystic River, not due out in theatres for several months. He had invited several members of his upper staff, their spouses, and some personal acquaintances, including Alita. She was a firecracker of a businesswoman with a fresh MBA, who had met recently at a conference. She was also the excuse for the event.
The movie was beginning excellently, and the plot was both gripping and a commentary on the human experience - both things Lionel appreciated in a film. Carmen seemed to be enjoying it as well.
A flash of light appeared from the rear of the room, and then Lionel heard footsteps. "Am I entitled to a moments peace," he thought to himself, almost willing the sound away. After a tap on the shoulder, he looked up to find his security guard, Todd, standing over him.
"Sir, I have an urgent matter to inform you of."
"I strictly told you not to disturb me unless it was Black Tuesday part two." Lionel quipped. He turned and smiled at Alita.
"Sir, the matter concerns your son" Todd intoned. Somewhat shocked by this clarification, Lionel excused himself from Alita, and followed the guard out of the theatre into the hall.
"Now what is this pressing bit of information that Lex wants to share with me," Lionel said, "Let me guess, I'm not invited to the honeymoon either."
"Sir," the guard began. In the light, Lionel could see that Todd's face was grave, and his voice was strained. "Mr. Luthor is missing."
"He's on his honeymoon," Lionel replied, only half joking, "shouldn't he be?"
"The LuthorCorp jet Mr. and Mrs. Luthor were on went into distress mode about half an hour ago. Minutes later, we lost all of its signals." He paused. "We believe it crashed somewhere in the Atlantic."
Lionel was incredulous, "That plane was in pristine condition. I had it serviced before they left. My pilot is skillful - retired Air Force. Is there any chance they could have changed course and are outside of detectable reach?"
"Sir, I don't know all the details, but apparently the plane touched down in the Caribbean about 19:00 hours and took off 20 minutes later. It continued for 45 minutes before becoming distressed and then was lost."
Lionel's eyes narrowed and he clenched his jaw. "Call Aaron and tell him to meet me in the 900 conference room within the half hour.
Within the next 24 hours, Lionel mobilized and dispatched a private search operation unprecedented in scope and expense. He had several low flying jets combing the seas for traces of the jet or anyone adrift. He assembled and assigned a small army of groundmen to various Atlantic Islands and the entire east coast of South America, all searching for Lex and Helen, and take interviews from people who knew anything helpful. He dispatched several persons to check hospitals and asylums for persons suffering from amnesia, delusions or comas. From Metropolis, he created an ad hoc hotline - a private number for his searchers to report anything of interest. He failed to leave a single stone unturned, and soon islands around the Atlantic, not mention South America and Central America, we're teeming with his agents. All the while, he did everything in his power to maintain a stealth operation, hoping that kidnappers or others seeking ransom or reward money would be thwarted. A clandestine approach, he drilled to his chief strategist, Aaron, also meant he could stay in control.
Day One turned to Day Two, and Day Three did the same. A week went by with little progress. But Lionel was undeterred. "Lex is survivor" he would often say, and truly believed. It was something of this operation's mantra. Sometime into the second week, however, Aaron appeared with an update that turned the entire thing on its head: Helen was alive and well, and living in Smallville. Lionel called Lex's place immediately, and was presented with a tale of crime, tragedy, heroism...and suspicion. According to Helen, she had woke during the middle of the flight to discover the door open and the plane sorely damaged. Frantic, she woke Lex. Ever clear-headed, he opened the parachute bin to find only one parachute left. He insisted that Helen take it, and with a parting kiss, she left the plane. Assisted by kind islanders and the Grace of God, she had made it back to Smallville.
After the epic tale, Lionel hung up without a word. He was too busy reeling from the insanity of it all. He knew there was more to the story and that she was probably hiding something. He also knew he could never garner her as an ally. He would have to find Lex without her.
"...kind islanders and the Grace of God I even survived at all." It was Helen sitting on the set of "Wake Up America" dabbing her eyes with a facial tissue.
"What a tale of courage and love. Dr. Bryce-Luthor, this has been a very trying time for you. What have you done to maintain your hope that your husband is alive?" the interviewer implored.
"Lex is a very strong, intelligent person with a ferocious spirit. I know that if there were anyway he could have survived, he would have. I cherish that thought." Helen gave a delicate smile.
"I have a very difficult question to ask you, Dr. Bryce-Luthor. If your husband, Lex, is in fact dead, what will you do from here?" With this Helen broke into a silent sob, covering her face. The interviewer patted her shoulder, and offered to retract the question. "No," Helen responded "I'll answer. Lex has always been interested in philanthropy, and despite his fortune and success, he has always sought to foster small businesses, not crush them. If my worst nightmare were to come true, I would try to continue this tradition through a foundation in his honor."
"What a wonderful legacy that would be. Thank you for being with us, Dr. Bryce-Luthor" the interviewer said "Next up, how to fight the summer barbecue blues. We'll have barbecue expert Simon Holbrook join us after this commercial break."
Lionel turned off the TV in disgust. From his worst personal tragedy to date, Helen had only seen a way to eke out 15 minutes of fame. Worst yet, the media was beginning to compare her tear-stained productions with his own reclusive and decidedly more stoic demeanor. To compound matters, reports of LuthorCorp jet sightings and covert investigators begin trickling back to the States. The 900 conference room, where the daily update meetings were held, was quickly becoming a war room damage control center. Paparazzi and story hungry reporters were bombarding LuthorCorp, Lionel's home, and even his advisors, for answers. But Lionel stonewalled and demanded silence out of all of his staff, with the threat of immediate termination. Frustrated and thirsty, the junkets with less integrity were the first to crack.
Aaron entered Lionel's office with the Inquisitor in hand. He slammed it onto Lionel's desk, breathless. Lionel stood and looked down. The headline read "Is Lionel Behind This? - Lex's Mysterious Disappearance Linked with Agricultural Titan."
"I don't even know if I can expect more from them," Lionel said with an amused abandon, and turned to the window behind him. Aaron approached him with a harried anxiety.
"Lionel," he started, "It may be time you considered..." he dropped off.
"What? Giving the media what it wants?" Lionel said.
Aaron dropped his head and looked up again. "The truth would explain all the unanswered questions, would let people see you for the concerned, persevering, anxious father you are. It can't be worse than what they are drumming up about you."
Lionel looked at Aaron for a second. "Larry King called for an interview last night."
"I think you should take it," Aaron said.
"I did," Lionel replied.
"It's good to have you back on the show, Lionel, despite the unfortunate circumstances." Larry began.
"It's good to be back." Lionel had been on the show several times, but never for a personal matter.
The first minutes of the interview went typically. Lionel recounted the horror of the night he discovered that Lex was missing. He (gently) expressed his bewilderment when Helen returned to Smallville alone. He refuted arguments that his pilot was somehow involved or responsible for the plane crash. He answered questions on his method of search, and explained the presence of LuthorCorp jets in the Caribbean and South America.
"Lionel," Larry finally said, "We all know of your estrangement from Lex, which you partially acknowledge. For example, you all have occasionally been business rivals and you weren't invited to his wedding. We also know that you paid for and provided the jet for Lex's honeymoon. There's a question that the public is crying out to have answered. Do you have any connection, whatsoever, with Lex's disappearance?"
With a firm and steely glare, Lex answered no.
"Then why," Larry continued "did it take you so long to come forward with your story. Don't you think candor would have assisted your search and directed less suspicion towards you?"
Lionel gave a long sigh before answering. "I have a long and storied history with the media. While there are many media agents, such as yourself, who seek truth, many are out for a sensational story, no matter the cost. Additionally, my wealth, while enhancing my life in many ways, has made me a target of deranged individuals who seek to harass, assault, and abduct me, my family and members of my staff for monetary gain. You might recently recall Rachel Dunlevy."
"Yes, I do." Larry responded.
Lionel continued "When she abducted Lex, it proved to be a harrowing experience for all of us, and I take every measure possible to discourage such flagrant acts of violence and intrusion. Lex's disappearance has been one of the most trying events of my life, and I was understandably hesitant to make it a public spectacle."
"With mixed results" Larry said. With that they went to commercial break.
Two months of the search had gone by, and the grind of managing the search and LuthorCorp was taking its toll. Admittedly, the search was running itself. Daily meetings had turned to semi-weekly meetings, and now they were only called at Aaron's or Lionel's discretion. Still, Lionel always had the search in the back of his mind.
It was two months into the search, After holding a meeting that had finally been held, after two cancellations, Lionel approached a committee chair.
"Thanks for your input on the Central American Initiative, Greg."
"No problem, Mr. Luthor. I see a lot of promise for our product in that region," Greg replied.
"There's a lot however that we have to consider still. The demand is great in that region, but their seems to be some gaps in the logistics of the suppliers. Basically, we need more research done on the feasibility of getting it to market. See if you can get Simona to work the numbers on efficacy of the project. We might even need to set up a team for that express purpose."
"Sure thing, I'll get to work on that." Greg went to leave, but turned again "Mr. Luthor. Any word yet on Lex?" Lionel was caught off guard by the question.
"Ummm, we continue to, well, the search continues." Lionel stammered. Grey looked at him with concern.
"When do you plan on calling it off?" Greg asked. Lionel felt further assaulted. He had never considered such a scenario - at least not awake, not in broad daylight, and not in public. And definitely not to an employee. Lionel froze.
"Lex is a survivor." The words crossed Lionel's mouth before he could snatch them back. Greg just nodded at the non-sequitor.
"He's in our thoughts," Greg said and walked away. Lionel could smell the pity oozing from the man, and loathed it. That little outburst was the closest he had ever come to wearing his distress on his sleeve. And he hated it.
Lionel hadn't heard from Aaron in over three days. He called for a meeting with him at 6 PM.
Six PM rolled around and Aaron and five other staffers trickled in to the conference room. Aaron begin his update by handing out bound booklets, filled with maps, charts and various statistics. He then launched into referencing easel charts with tables, graphs, statistics and pie charts, many of which matched those in the booklet. He held up maps showing various longitudinal and latitudinal positions, plotting possible locations and scenarios. Lionel attention was diverted for a moment. He could only hear what Aaron wasn't telling him - new information. As Aaron spoke, Lionel watched his demeanor - he seemed edgy, like maybe someone would notice that he didn't have any clothes on. He was also just a little bored. Aaron droned on a few more minutes before finally ending. Everyone looked at Lionel silently, as if to ask "What next?" Lionel panned the assembled group, stopping at each man to look into his eyes. He stopped on Aaron.
"We're done," he finally said. They all said thank you's, while rising and collecting papers, and making throw away comments about the next meeting.
"NO!" Lionel yelled, unintentionally. All heads snapped back to him. Starting again softer, he said "We're done," he dropped his eyes, avoiding contact, "Thank you Aaron, all of you, for your continued support and determination in searching for my son over the past ten weeks," he went to continue, but stopped. "But - we're done."
The men replied with a distressed silence, but no one protested. They all left the room.
Lionel slowly looked around the room. He himself was even taken aback at his tacit acknowledgement: Lex would not be found. He took a pitcher of water to pour himself a glass, but instead, threw it against the far wall, soaking the carpet and spewing ice. He then pushed all the papers off the table with one wide sweep, and picked up a chair and hurled it at the still standing easel. In his final act of rage, he turned over the entire conference table. It made a huge crashing sound as chairs crumbled underneath it. The door flew open, and the floor receptionist called to him.
"Mr. Luthor, are you alright?"
"Yes," Lionel replied, breathless. He gingerly stepped over the fallen table, and headed to the door, before calmly looking over his shoulder "Would you have someone clean up this mess?"
Lionel had gone straight home after the meeting. He had been sitting in his study ever since, nursing a bottle of scotch. The same thoughts tormented him and played over and over in his head: the wedding, Helen, the search, the interviews...and Lex. He scarcely heard the classical music playing in the background, and the scotch was doing nothing to soothe him. Slowly he got up and strolled around the room.
He stopped at the bathroom door and went in. He looked into the mirror. Lex had always looked like his mother, but now, even Lionel could see the ways in which Lex resembled him: the way his sides of his lips crinkled down and the way his forehead was set. He turned away from the glass.
He moved over to the shower, slid the door open, and, fully clothed from head to toe, stepped in. He turned the knobs, and closed his eyes. The hot water poured down on him, soaking his hair, then draining down his neck, through his suit, and down his pants, before finally collecting in his Bruno Maglis. he tilted his head back, and pools of fluid formed in his eyes, lips and in his mouth. The steady stream of water was stark and pounding, and created what seemed to be an impenetrable force field around him. It shut out the facade out there, and trapped the tempest within. As the water soaked through his clothes and down to his skin, so did the truth. Lionel began shivering. The shivers grew stronger before they became tremors. He felt dizzy, and lowered himself down into the tub. The shaking turned to full body convulsions. Lionel sat in the tub, prostrate with emotion, and shielded his eyes with his fists. He whispered "Lex...Lex" to himself. The chanting faded into dry sobs and moans. Someone else might have cried. But for Lionel, even the shower could never produce tears enough to purge him of the pain he was feeling.
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