The assassin crouched in the grass smiled as he smoked a cigarette and looked at the strange man sitting across from him. Sitting in his speedboat, he had taken his rifle and aimed the crossfire hairs at the forehead of his target, one Alexander Joseph Luthor, who was opening the Hong Kong branch of Lexcorp and speaking in front of a crowd of employees and members of the press. Waiting until the drumming started, he pressed the trigger only to have a blur of red and blue get in the way of his bullet. While the superhero seemed distracted by his concern for the intended victim, he had fled in his speedboat, dropping the weapon into the water and losing the police after ditching the boat on an isolated beach. He had thought he had gotten away with it until the man who had blocked the bullet stood in front of him and demanded that they talk. He agreed but only if he was allowed to smoke.
"I'm curious why you stopped me. I know that you are his enemy," he said, offering a cigarette to the other man.
Clark put up a hand and shook his head. While it wouldn't hurt him to smoke, he didn't particularly like the habit, either. "Why don't you tell me why you kill people?"
The assassin sighed, "Because I'm paid by bad people to kill other bad people. Who's to say who's doing more good?" He lit the cigarette and took a puff.
"Tell me . . . who hired you to kill Lex Luthor?"
The assassin raised an eyebrow. "Well, that's the name I was given."
Clark opened his mouth to protest but decided it was useless and furthermore, too revealing. This man was no ordinary thug but someone who seemed to have his wits about him. If so, perhaps he could lead him to the one who put a hit on Lex's life. Clark pulled out a picture of himself in his regular clothes. "Is this the man?"
The man looked at the picture and said, "I wouldn't know."
"Why? Was the hit ordered over the phone or was he wearing a mask?"
The assassin took another drag from his cigarette and studied the man in front of him. "What do you plan to do after I tell you?"
"There have been a dozen attempts on Lex Luthor's life the past three months. I've managed to stop all of them but I'm afraid that whoever's trying to kill him is going to eventually succeed."
The man smiled before blowing out a few perfect smoke rings. "You know, I think I'd really like to have you as my enemy."
Clark had to smile as he realized just how odd his relationship with Lex looked to someone who was used to things being a bit more straightforward. "If you lead me to the person who contracted the hit, I'll ignore your attempt on his life though I'm compelled to tell you that you need to quit this job of yours and I won't stop the police from finding you by other means."
"Fair enough," said the man, taking one last drag on his cigarette and stubbing it on a nearby rock, before stepping on it to put it out. "I have an agent who arranges things for me. He's the one who talked to your `Clark Kent.'" The man pulled out a cell phone from his pocket and punched in a number. After a short conversation, he clicked off. "I've told him to meet me at the usual place. However . . ."
"Is there anyway you could wear street clothes? What you're wearing isn't exactly . . ."
"I'm sorry I left my other clothes at home."
The assassin sighed.
"I did not try to hire anybody to kill Lex Luthor," said Clark as he sat in the interrogation room of the Metropolis police station.
"Then why did the hit man pick you out from a lineup?" said Officer Sawyer.
"I don't know."
"How did he know your name?"
"I don't know. Maybe he reads the Daily Planet. My picture is on top of the column," said Clark. "Why would I want to kill Lex Luthor?"
"You are noted for writing several columns criticizing Lexcorp. Stands to reason that after a while, you might want to take more direct action considering that time and time again, Lex Luthor has escaped prosecution for what you perceive as his various crimes."
"I disagree with Mr. Luthor on many issues. It doesn't mean I want him dead. After all, what would I have to write about if he were gone?"
The police officer did not find that remark amusing. "Are you willing to take a polygraph test?"
"Yes, I am."
"You meet your agent in a church?" said Clark as he sat next to the assassin in a church pew. The church was white inside, lit by dozen of candles and populated by several doves.
"I find it peaceful here and not too many people come here. Who expects a killer to talk business in a house of God?"
"Doesn't it bother you?"
"Doing what I do? Maybe God approves of what I'm doing."
"I hope you seriously don't believe that."
The hitman shrugged. "I know of a man who was head of a triad. The path he laid out before him was stained with blood. He was so ruthless that he even had family members rubbed out. Nobody cried when he died." He saw the disapproval in Superman's face. "I wasn't the one who killed him. I'm not the only assassin in this city. Here's a question for you?"
"What's so wrong with killing bad guys?"
Clark looked away. "Some bad guys weren't always so bad and some good guys weren't always good. Don't you regret ever becoming a hitman?"
The man looked thoughtful. "I don't think there's a man alive who hasn't regretted his decisions. I often think that God himself often regrets having created man. Do you ever regret being a superhero?"
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't."
"So being the good guy is overrated?"
"Mr. Luthor . . ." said Clark as he entered Lex Luthor's office.
"You probably know that I've been taken into questioning about the attempts on your life. You've got to believe me that no matter how things have been between us, I'd never . . ."
"Yes, I know," said Lex, who seemed rather distracted and a little anxious. I wouldn't allow you inside the building, never mind my office if you were."
"Do you have any idea who could possibly be impersonating me and trying to kill you?"
"I've already talked to the police about all possible suspects. I was wondering if you could shed some light on this."
"I'm sorry I haven't found anything."
Lex suddenly smiled. "I suppose it wouldn't bother you much if whoever it was actually succeeded."
"I take offense at that. Despite everything . . ."
"You should leave town."
"What? I thought you said . . ."
"Whoever is trying to shoot me seems to be targeting you as well. If you had a really good alibi then maybe he wouldn't impersonate you."
"Lex . . ." The name felt strange in his mouth. "I figured that he was using me because I just happen to have a history he could spin into motive. But I can't leave . . . I don't plan to leave."
"After all, who would write down the sins of Lex Luthor for the history books if it isn't the almighty Clark Kent? Is that it? Don't worry about that. Your partner will gladly take up the slack."
"I want it to stop and it's only going to stop when the perpetrator's found. I can't just sit somewhere and wait for the police to find him."
"If it's a matter of money, you know I can take care of it . . ."
He really does want me to leave, Clark thought. "I better be going," he said as he got up from his chair.
"Take my advice for once . . . Clark."
Clark hesitated as he stood facing the door. "His impersonation of me is the only lead the police have. It might be the only shot you got at getting him." Then he walked out of the room.
Clark was in his hotel room, looking in the mirror. The agent had confirmed that the client looked just like Clark Kent, paying not in money but in high-grade diamonds like the man in Metropolis had.
Whoever is paying all these assassins must have access to resources far beyond the man on the street. He had wondered if Lex was paying assassins to target himself. But no . . . he himself knew that there was only a few feet between Lex and those bullets before he stood between them and their target. If he hadn't been there, Lex would've been killed. There was no sense in that and he had heard and seen Lex's involuntary reactions, the increase in heart rate and his pupils dilate. Whatever was being planned was not being planned by Lex.
He had interviewed many of the people in Lex's past in the guise of his alter ego. Victoria had laughed as she stood in the New York gallery where she had found work as a salesperson after she had been financially ruined. Lucas was in Amsterdam and pointed out that he had signed papers relinquishing his share of the Luthor empire in exchange for a very generous stipend that would be curtailed the second Lex died. He even found Helen, who had survived her unplanned parachute jump in the middle of nowhere and was hiding under an assumed name. While many of them had issues with Lex, none had the resources and none of them even remotely looked like the man ordering the hit. He had even gotten Chloe to help him on this case even though she was busy being chief editor of the Metropolis Journal. Still, it hadn't gotten him any closer to who was trying to kill Lex.
There was a possibility that he hadn't wanted to consider. A few days before the first assassination attempt, he had destroyed another of Lex's secret laboratories. He was sure that he had managed to fly away from the cloud of debris that had risen from the wreckage but . . . He hadn't known exactly what had been in that laboratory but considering that Lex did considerable experiments with different kinds of Kryptonite and each type had different effect on him . . . He couldn't help but wonder . . .
Was there something at the laboratory connected to all the attempts on Lex's life? An unpleasant thought came to mind. Was it something that had affected him? He knew about his frightening loss of control when under the influence of red Kryptonite and seen what the green and the black had done to the people of his hometown. Could it be that somehow he was arranging the hits without being able to remember it? It would explain why the client looked just like him and as for the diamonds, he knew that he could squeeze coal into those precious gems.
But no . . . he thought. Lex wouldn't ask me to simply leave town if I was the one and I haven't noticed anybody tailing me from his corporation. No . . . I don't want him dead. I've hated him, hurt him and cursed him but I never . . . He looked out at the scenery and leaned his head against the window. He needed to talk to him as . . . Superman.
Lex turned around and saw him. "You've got to leave now."
"I know that trust is a word that has no meaning between us but I'm telling you that . . ."
Clark felt a stabbing, burning pain as he felt something tear into his back and gasped. There was only one substance that could do this to him. He looked up to say something to Lex when he saw that someone had actually shot off Lex's ring finger. Lex was grabbing his hand and yelling in pain.
Someone looking very much like Clark was walking towards Lex. He was dressed in a black leather jacket and matching pants. "I'm sorry about that last shot but it was necessary so I could talk to you freely. I know that you're capable of growing yourself a replacement."
"What is it that you want? Have you finally come to kill me?" Lex said.
"If I wanted you dead, you wouldn't have made it to Hong Kong."
"Who is he, Lex?" said Clark.
The man turned to Clark and said, "You know how sometimes in evolution, the superior causes the inferior to be extinct. I'd say this is the situation for you, Kal-El."
"I suggest you explain yourself," said Lex, trying to distract the doppleganger by moving so that the man's back was to Clark while Clark tried to pull the bullets out of his body.
"I remember when I was in the tank developing, how you'd come by every single day and tell me of all the things that you wished for, all the things you wanted me to help you do. Someone to help you knock Superman off his pedestal, someone to pull the rug out from under Clark Kent's feet."
"I don't remember asking to be assassinated or have my finger shot off!"
The man scowled, "I'm trying to give you everything you could ever want. Your worst pest framed for your attempted murder and completely discredited, your nemesis eliminated and someone with all his powers at your disposal. Isn't that why you made me?"
"That lab . . . I destroyed," said Clark. "Is that where he came from?" Lex had always been interested in cloning but he had . . . cloned him?
"This is not what I wanted to happen . . . Are you listening to me?"
The man disappeared for a second before coming back with a long thin piece of rope that he instantaneously wrapped around Clark's wrists and ankles.
"What are you doing?" said Lex. "I told you to stop."
The man looked at him and said, "After I'm done, you'll thank me." He threw Clark over his shoulder. Clark tried to struggle against his bonds and his captor but it was useless. "I'm going to give the sharks a nice little snack."
"Stop!" yelled Lex as his creation flew off with his nemesis.
The killer held the rifle in his lap. It was a product of one of Lex Luthor's secret laboratories. It could fire a single bullet from two miles away into a target the size of a grapefruit. All that power, he thought, in such a small package. He held the strangely green bullets in his hand and loaded them into the rifle.
He looked through the scope and saw his target. He was tall, beautiful and was standing behind Lex. For a second, he thought that he reminded him of that superhero he had met the day he had tried to kill his present client. Of course, that was impossible because his client had told him Superman had been killed by the man he was targeting today.
He sighed and thought about the conversation he had with him about being an assassin. It's ironic that this is the only way that justice can be served for your murder, he thought ruefully. He said a little prayer for the soul of the man who could fly before pulling the trigger.
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