by Amanita


Disclaimer: Clark, Lex, Lana, Lionel, Martha, Chloe and Lois are property of DC Comics.

Lex Luthor opened his eyes on early morning sunlight. He was in a plush hotel suite lying next to a woman whose name he could not remember. Her breath on his face was unpleasant, but much less foul than the taste on his own tongue. Her curly blonde hair was now a ratted mess, and her carefully applied makeup had smeared over the pillow and over her face. Another night to forget.

She had seemed much more attractive in the club last night. Her name, he now remembered, was Judy and he noticed her immediately because she seemed out of place among the trust fund babies and poseurs. Though she had obviously dressed with great care, her designer knock-offs and assumed air of sophistication had failed to pass muster and she was alone and lost. Lex recognized the feeling and gravitated towards her. Although he was now appeared confident and in control at all times, he too had once been vulnerable and out of place. He felt contempt for the old self that had been bullied, but he was still capable of occasional acts of kindness and fellow feeling for people who were excluded by the "cool crowd." Besides, Judy was very pretty and they could make each other happy for a short period. She would appreciate a night's worth of attention from Lex Luthor more than one of the usuals would. Instead of a one-night stand, it would be a romantic adventure for a girl like her.

While she slept, Lex dressed quickly in yesterday's clothes. There was a flower shop in the lobby - one of the reasons he had chosen this hotel - and he arranged to have a bouquet of flowers sent up to the hotel room. He paid cash for both the room and the flowers, not wanting to leave a paper trail. He took a cab to his apartment building instead of calling for his driver.

Back at the apartment, Lex showered, changed his clothes, ate breakfast, and glanced through the morning mail. One of the letters still smelled faintly of perfume - a note from Lana, his wife, who was currently living in Paris, where she had opened an art gallery. The art gallery was merely the latest in a string of retail enterprises, beginning with the coffee shop that Lana had operated while still in high school, designed to show the world that Lana was more than the delicate princess in need of protection that she often appeared to be. Lana enjoyed the process of planning and designing, although she tended to lose interest in one of her projects after it had been operating a year or two. Then she would hand over the day-to-day operation to a competent manager and start up something new. In order to demonstrate her independence from her billionaire husband, Lana always operated her projects under her maiden name and made Lex promise not to use his influence and contacts to help her.

Lana's letter reflected her enthusiasm for her latest project and for the artistic circle of friends she had cultivated - particularly for Brian Jennert, an American artist living in Paris. She had developed feelings for the man, that was clear. Lana left the worst for last. She was suggesting a trial separation. This was not the first time Lana had separated from Lex. This time, Lex thought, Lana probably wanted to be free to pursue a sexual relationship with Jennert. She saw herself as a good girl and good girls do not commit adultery. Being separated from her husband was Lana's way of releasing herself (at least temporarily) from her marriage vows. Lex envied her ability to evade the weight of guilt.

Still Lana might have something more serious in mind than a fling. He had had all of Lana's friends investigated, and, still carrying the letter, went into his office to retrieve Jennert's file. In the photo the p.i. had provided, Jennert still looked like the high-school athlete he had once been. An artist in the body of a football player - pure catnip for Lana! Jennert looked vaguely familiar to him and he skimmed the rest of the report, looking for where he might have met the man. The answer was not long in coming - Jennert had attended the same boarding school as Lex. Now that his memory was jogged, Lex remembered him as one of Oliver Queen's cronies - the jocks who had made his already difficult existence an utter misery. This bad news, combined with the effects of the previous night's debauchery, made Lex feel nauseous. Even though it was only nine thirty in the morning, he poured himself a scotch.

Lana possessed a strong stubborn streak. If Lex told her that Brian Jennert was a brute and that she should avoid him for her own safety, Lana would turn to Jennert all the more. She would just accuse him of jealousy, the emotion of a weak man who was not confident of his wife's affections. Lex needed to be more subtle.

Lex still had this problem in the back of his mind, when he addressed the press at a press conference to announce a joint venture with an Indonesian mining firm. He quickly scanned the faces of the assembled reporters and was surprised to see the familiar face of Clark Kent, his former friend. Clark Kent did not usually cover the business beat; the usual reporter for the Planet, Lois Lane, must be away or ill. Clark's presence had an effect on Lex, which he used all his skills at dissimulation to conceal. Once Clark had been his best friend and had even saved his life. Lex had been as close to him as a brother and he had even seen him as a saviour, rescuing Lex from the evil he sensed within himself. However, Clark had from the first been secretive, and had repeatedly shown himself to be unworthy of Lex's trust. In other instances, where Lex felt that he had been betrayed, he had been able to cut himself off from his former allies completely, telling himself that the pain of losing a false friend was simply a price that had to be paid. With Clark it was different. Lex still wanted his love and respect, little though he wanted to admit it. The connection between them, however twisted, had not been broken.

After Lex delivered his announcement, he allowed the press to ask questions. Clark had several pertinent questions that were supposed to trip him up. The Indonesian deal, however, like eighty percent of Lex Luthor's business, was strictly legitimate. ( He would hardly hold a press conference in regard to the other, more dubious twenty percent.) Lex remained calm in the face of Clark's onslaught, and then left the podium. His p.r. person had provided a table of sandwiches and coffee for the media as an incentive to favourable coverage. He joined Clark, who was looking suspiciously at the filling of his tuna sandwich, as if Lex might have doctored it with some substance - perhaps a formula to make reporters bend to Lex's will.

"Hello, Clark," Lex said. "I trust that Ms. Lane's absence does not mean that she has decided that LexCorp's fortunes are no longer of interest to the business community?"

"Lois is watching your activities very closely, Lex. We both know exactly the kind of businessman you are. One day, you are going to make a mistake, and we'll bring your criminal organization down."

The two men had drawn together, as if they were intimate friends rather than enemies. There was a curious intensity in the way the reporter and the bald billionaire glared at each other. No one would dare to interrupt them or come close enough to hear their words.

"Clark, such emotion, some vehemence! What have I done to bring your wrath upon me! You and Ms. Lane, and indeed all of your colleagues in the media, are free to watch me as closely as you are able. You won't find any signs of criminal activity, because there are none to find. With all of your poking and prying, you have never been able to prove me guilty of anything. Even Chloe Sullivan, a vastly more imaginative reporter than Ms. Lane, could not find any evidence of wrongdoing. Isn't it time to turn your collective efforts to something more productive?"

Lex had entered into conversation with Clark Kent simply because he enjoyed their verbal chess games. However, he realized that the one-time Kansas farmboy could be useful to him. Clark had been Lana's boyfriend in high school, and still felt protective of her. Ludicrously, he seemed to see Lex as a threat to Lana, despite the fact that Lex had never shown his wife anything but kindness. Indeed, he seemed to see Lana's life in France as a kind of exile - as if Lex had forcibly removed her from her friends in Smallville. A subtle hint that Lana was in trouble and Clark would run to her side, interfering with her incipient romance with Jennert. Such a strategy was not without risk. Lana and Clark's on-again off-again relationship might resume. Still, Lex had a great deal of confidence in Clark's high standards of ethics. Clark's black-and-white morality would not allow him to have a sexual relationship with another man's wife, not even the wife of a man he despised. Lex also knew that Clark had an uncanny knack for rescuing the people he cared about whenever they were in trouble.

To introduce the subject of Lana directly would be awkward and might arouse Clark's suspicions. It would have to be done through a third party - through Clark's mother, Martha Kent, perhaps. Lex actually liked Martha Kent, even though she did not trust Lex. Martha might even offer him a slice of her famous home-made pie.

Not a clue of Lex's thoughts appeared on his face as he met his adversary's hostility with a mask of indifference. After exchanging a few more harsh words, Clark stormed off, unable to rattle Lex's well-practised composure.

That afternoon, Lex was engaged in a meeting with one of his top researchers when his father, Lionel Luthor, entered Lex's office without knocking.

"I'm busy, dad." Lex said, without looking up.

"Your wife is making a fool of you, son. What are you planning on doing about it?" Lionel said.

"We'll talk later, Dr. Fisher. I'm sure that the salinity problem can be overcome. Would you hand your written report to my assistant before you go? "

Dr. Fisher left the office, recipient of a juicy bit of gossip to share with his co-workers. Lex stood up and ushered him to the door, before facing his father.

"That was not appropriate," Lex said. "My staff does not need to know about my personal life."

"Well they will soon find about it anyway. Lana's behaviour is bringing dishonour on the Luthor name. She should be here, raising an heir, instead of making a fool of you on another continent."

"Our marriage is none of your business. Lana is in Paris to establish a business, which takes time. Even though that means I don't see as much as I would like, I can hardly ask her to spend all her time sitting at home, especially since my own hours are so onerous. She would be bored senseless."

"Give her a son to occupy her time, then. You need an heir."

The thought of raising a child in the Luthor family made Lex feel sick. His own mistreatment as a child and the death of his beloved brother Julian had made a strong impression on him. How could he raise a child in such a poisonous environment? He knew that his painful childhood had made him the strong man he was, but he would not willingly inflict such pain on a child of his own. Such thoughts could not be voiced, however.

"You're weak," Lionel said in disgust. "too weak to show Lana that you still want her. If you don't go to Paris and get her, you'll lose her."

"Thanks for the advice, dad. I'll keep it in mind. And now, if you don't mind, I have a meeting with the stockholders."

Lionel left the office. The meeting with stockholders was a lie to get Lionel to leave. Instead Lex poured himself another scotch and pulled a well-worn volume of Herodotus from the bottom drawer of his desk.

The truth was that he did not really know whether he actually wanted to be with Lana. Perhaps he had only fallen in love with her because Clark wanted her. Now that Clark had begun a flirtatious romance with his colleague, Lois Lane, Lana was no longer a prize in the contest between Lex and his former best friend. Lana was beautiful and intelligent, he told himself, but she was also emotionally draining. How many times would he have to hear the story of her parents' tragic death? How many times would he have to soothe away her tears and swear that he would always protect her and cherish her? Lana had never been particularly interested in anyone else's emotional traumas, but she demanded constant sympathy for her own hurts. Anyway, it hardly mattered whether or not he loved Lana, it would still be shaming to allow a violent oaf like Jennert to take Lana from him. He could not allow that to happen.

The next day, Lex drove out to the Kent farmhouse. He brought with him an Hermes scarf that he had had his assistant buy for him in a Metropolis boutique.

"Hello, Mrs. Kent," he said, smiling ingratiatingly at her.

Although she responded politely, the former state senator did not invite him in. Lex showed her a box. "Lana sent you a present from Paris. She wrote that she saw it and was reminded of you. I promised I'd deliver it for her."

Under the circumstances, Martha Kent could hardly leave Lex standing on the porch. Soon she and Lex were sitting at the kitchen table, eating peach pie. Lex felt very comfortable in the Kent farmhouse, much more comfortable than in the Luthor mansion. It was hard to believe that this was the home of his greatest enemy.

"How is Lana?" Martha asked politely. "We all miss her. The Talon isn't the same since she left."

"She says that she's fine," said Lex, injecting a note of doubt into his voice. "She's making a lot of new friends."

"Well, that's good certainly."

"That rather depends on the friends she's making. I have a lot of enemies and I'm afraid that one of them might try to hurt me through her. I warn her to be careful, but she is so trusting. I don't want to change her trusting nature - it's part of what everyone loves about her - but I'm afraid that it could lead her into trouble."

"Lana has always been level-headed," Martha said. "and I'm sure that you are doing your best to protect her."

"When she lets me," Lex replied with a smile. "Please open Lana's present. I want to be able to tell her how much you like it."

Martha Kent opened the box and pulled out the scarf. Although the Kent family was far from poor, they spent most of their money on pick-up trucks, farm machinery and other necessities. Beauty and luxury were scarce things in Martha's life, but that did not mean she was unable to appreciate them. Lex smiled approvingly. His assistant had done very well. The scarf brought out the colour of Martha's eyes and made her skin look radiant. Before he and Clark had become estranged, Lex had enjoyed buying the Kents presents and making their lives easier for them, despite the disapproval of Mrs. Kent's late husband, Jonathan.

"Thank Lana for me. This is gorgeous!" Martha said, with genuine enthusiasm.

"I'll let her know. Maybe you can tell her yourself when she comes back to Smallville."

"Is she coming back soon?" Martha asked.

"She was coming back to Kansas in a couple of weeks, but her plans changed. She mentioned problems that she was having with one of the artists her gallery represents. She said he's difficult to handle, and she didn't want to leave her assistant to have to deal with him."

"That's unfortunate." Martha said. "I've received a couple of e-mails from her, but she didn't mention any problems."

"I actually know the artist," Lex said. "He attended the Excelsior Academy at the same time as I did. His name is Brian Jennert, and he was a couple of years ahead of me. He used to have a violent temper. I remember one of the younger boys made a joke at his expense, and he waited until after school to get his revenge. There was a lake on the grounds of the Academy. He and a couple of his friends took one of the school rowboats and threw the boy into the lake. They wouldn't let the boy back on to the rowboat and they blocked him whenever he tried to swim to shore."

"What happened to the boy?" asked Martha.

"Well, a group of students were gathered on the shore, watching the fun when one of the schoolmasters happened by. He swam out and rescued the boy. The school treated the whole incident as a harmless prank. The younger boy was very unpopular, and Jennert was a favourite of the headmaster. I've always wondered whether Jennert might have let the boy drown if the schoolmaster hadn't come along."

"That's terrible!"

"Adversity builds character, the headmaster used to say. Maybe he thought the younger boy needed a lesson in respecting his elders?" Lex smiled to defuse the tension. He really didn't like bringing up unpleasant incidents from his childhood, but this time it was necessary. Martha had definitely taken against Jennert.

"Does Lana know about Jennert's behaviour?" Martha asked.

"I mentioned it to her. She says that Jennert was probably suffering from some sort of adolescent hormonal storm, and that I'm exaggerating the importance of one incident that occurred years ago. He seems perfectly normal, if a bit argumentative. She thinks I'm overprotective. "

"But you don't?"

"I'm really worried about her. I suggested adding another man to the security detail to protect Lana, but she turned me down. I said that I'd go to Paris to look after her, but she knows that I'm in the midst of negotiating an important deal right now. She refused to let me jeopardize the deal on her behalf. She can be so stubborn."

Lex took a last bite of delicious peach pie and prepared to leave.

Martha wasted no time in telling Clark. The young reporter showed up unannounced at LexCorp the next day, demanding to know what Lex was doing to protect Lana from Jennert.

"Lana is not your responsibility," Lex said. "My security team is perfectly able to deal with any situation which might arise."

Clark forbore to comment that Lex himself had been kidnapped and attacked on numerous occasions despite the best efforts of his security team. He slammed the door and strode out.

Clark had, for some time, tentatively been exploring a new power. Now was the time to try it out for real. He went to the top of one of Metropolis's highest buildings and leaped off it, prepared to grab onto a flagpole or one of the ornamental gargoyles if his experiment in flight did not work. (Although Clark was invincible, the pedestrians below were not.) Fortunately, he was successful and he was soon heading northeast at an extraordinary speed. The sensation of flight was extraordinary ; Clark felt liberated from the weight of all his worldly cares and secrets.

Clark realized that he wasn't sure of Lana's home address. He did know the name of her gallery and went to see her there. Despite their previous disagreements, Lana was happy to see a familiar face and hugged Clark tightly. Her eyes filled with unshed tears. Being in his former girlfriend's arms stirred Clark's emotions - Lois Lane was a great girl and a lot of fun, but Lana Lang would always be his perfect princess.

Clark spotted the security personnel that Lex had assigned to Lana. They were outside on the street - too far away to be of assistance if Jennert attacked Lana in close quarters. This distance was undoubtedly Lana's decision; she thought that her husband's obsession with her security bordered on paranoia.

"It can be so lonely living in another country. I am so happy just to hear another American talk. I love Paris, but Parisians can be difficult!" Lana smiled. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming?"

"I didn't know," Clark said. "I was sent here on short notice because their European correspondent for the Planet had a heart attack. I'm just supposed to fill in for a while until they find a replacement."

"You will have to let me show you around. I know all the best places! There is this little bistro near my apartment that serves the best steak frites. Promise me that you will let me take you to dinner."

"I should take you, since you are kindly showing me around."

"Oh, but I am a rich married lady now," Lana said teasingly. "The billionaire's wife always pays; it's a rule."

Clark left the gallery, agreeing to meet Lana at six p.m. He told her that he was sight-seeing. Actually he stayed close to the gallery waiting to see if Jennert would appear. Clark's patience was rewarded in the mid-afternoon, when a man he recognized as Jennert from a photograph on the Internet entered the gallery.

Jennert was blond, athletic and tall. He reminded Clark of Lana's first boyfriend, Whitney. He carried a large canvas with him.

Clark went to an alley next to the gallery so he could use his super-hearing to overhear the conversation. Listening in on the conversation was sneaky and an invasion of Lana's privacy, but he wanted to make sure she was safe.

"Voila," said Jennert theatrically. Presumably he was unveiling his painting. "What do you think of this?"

"I love the use of colour," Lana said. "It's bold and dynamic. The brushstrokes are so muscular and self-assured. It's a very confident piece."

"May I see?" said a third voice. Clark assumed this person was Lana's partner or her assistant in the art business. "Hmmm - a Parisian cafe scene - how very traditional. The colour is striking, rather than subtle - rather a lot of orange, I see."

"What's the matter with orange?" Jennert asked.

"Orange can be a bit obvious, a bit "striving for effect." It demands an emotional response from the viewer through force that can be better obtained through more skilful means."

"If an emotional response is elicited," Jennert argued, "does it matter whether it is obtained by force or with delicacy? You admit my piece generates an emotional charge."

"It's a very angry piece. You convey your anger to the viewer adequately. Personally, I think that there is a great deal of anger in the world, and that generating additional anger is neither difficult nor justified. That is simply my opinion."

"Now that you mention it," Lana said "I do see that all the cafe patrons do seem rather angry. It's not just the colour but also the way they are positioned."

"You can see all the tension in their sinews," said the assistant. "It is as if they are waiting for a referee to ring the bell, so that the bloodbath can begin."

"I don't know what you are talking about," Jennert said. "It's a picture of people drinking wine in the sun, not a no-holds-barred wrestling match! Will you display it or not?"

"I dislike it but it is saleable," said the assistant. "I do not have to like everything we display."

"I think it is very forceful, " said Lana. " The gallery will certainly hang it."

"Now that that is settled, may I ask you out to dinner to celebrate?"

"I'm afraid that an old friend of mine has come to town and I've promised to have dinner with him. We'll have to make it another time."

Jennert left the art gallery, and Clark considered following him. However, it was his first time in Paris, and he had not had a chance to see any of the sights. He only had a couple of hours until dinner with Lana, but with his super speed he could squeeze a lot of sight-seeing in. Besides Jennert had seemed quite harmless. Lana's assistant had been quite tactless in his dismissal of Jennert's work, but Jennert had not been violent or lost his temper.

Clark returned at six, just as Lana was putting on her coat. Her assistant, a tall weedy-looking fellow with a moustache like a disappointed caterpillar, would keep the shop open a few more hours, since a party of American tourists was expected. Lana led the way to her favourite bistro, where the steak frites were every bit as delicious as she had promised.

"I didn't know a potato could taste this way!" Clark said.

"Was it worth coming to France to find that out?" Lana asked playfully.

"I think for food like this I would go to the moon."

Clark and Lana soon finished the main course and settled back to drink their after-dinner coffee. Clark felt awkward talking to Lana. How could sweet Lana have married a man he despised - whom he knew to be a ruthless criminal?

"Lana, I don't understand, " he said. " Do you love Lex? If you really wanted to be married to him, would you be living so far apart? Are you afraid to ask him for a divorce?"

"Lex and I love each other, but it's not easy living with him. He's been hurt so often, and he distrusts the world so much. He thinks that if he gets enough power, no one will ever be able to hurt either of us again."

"He's a criminal, Lana!"

"I know. "

"You broke up with me because you thought I had too many secrets. What about Lex's secrets! How many lies has he told you?"

"Lex lies; Lex has secrets. I know. I even know that you are a better person than he is. But Lex needs me and you don't. For you, I'll always be the girl you save from whatever horror Smallville conjures up. Lex and I save each other."

"He's not faithful to you. I've heard what he gets up to in Metropolis. He pays off the society columnist so none of it gets into print, but everyone on the Planet knows the stories. I don't want to seem spiteful and unkind, Lana. I just think you should know the kind of man you've married."

"Clark, you think I'm an innocent. I'm not. I know the kind of man I married. He's capable of great good as well as great evil. I don't need you to save me this time. Lex Luthor is not one of the Smallville meteor monsters."

"Lana, sometimes I think he is the worst one there is."

Furious, Lana leapt from the table and headed toward the door. Clark put a handful of bills on the plate, hoping that he had paid enough but not too much. He could not use his super speed because there were too many witnesses. By the time he reached the door, Lana was out of sight, although he could still hear her angry footsteps all the way back to her apartment.

Clark regretted the way the evening had gone. Lana was angry with him and he had been so busy confronting her about her marriage to Lex that he had forgotten to quiz her about Jennert. He thought the artist was harmless. Martha was concerned only because of a story she had heard from Lex, who was probably making it up. I can check up on that part, Clark thought. Oliver Queen was a student in the academy at the same time as Lex. If this incident really happened, he would remember it.

Oliver did not appreciate being awoken by a phone call in the early hours of the morning, but he agreed to answer Clark's questions.

"Yeah, I remember Brian. He was a darned good football player. He's a talented guy too. He was always top of the class in art."

"Lex mentioned an incident with a rowboat."

"Trust him to bring it up after all these years. He carries a grudge like a turtle carries a shell! There wasn't much too it. Lex made some smart remark, and Brian decided to teach him a lesson. Lex could be truly obnoxious. Brian and a couple of friends tossed Lex into the pond. They were teasing him a bit, not letting him go back to shore. Lex wasn't a strong swimmer and he panicked. He went under and before Brian or one of his buddies could save him, one of the teachers jumped in and pulled him out. Lex made such a big fuss; you'd think he'd been the victim of attempted murder instead of a prank! Finally, the headmaster called Lex's father, who wasn't too pleased with the way he son was acting. You could hear them all the way in the common room! He said that whining was undignified and that no true Luthor would behave the way Lex behaved. "

"What happened to Brian and his buddies?"

"Two weeks' detention, I think. That was the usual punishment for playing pranks or roughhousing. Oh, but I almost forgot the last bit. There was a big game scheduled that Brian was going to miss because of detention. He begged the headmaster to let him go, but the guy was adamant. So that day, when the teacher monitoring the detention left the room, Brian decided to make a run for it. He tried climbing out the window and shimmying down a nearby tree, but he lost his grip. He tore his knee and sprained his ankle, which pretty much destroyed his sporting career. "

"Did he blame Lex for that?"

"I don't think so. It would be pretty irrational for Brian to blame Lex. After all, Brian was the one who decided to climb down the tree."

"Thanks very much for the information. Now, I'll let you go back to sleep. Bye."


Clark hung up the phone. The conversation had him confused. It appeared that the account Lex had given Martha was correct, though Lex had deliberately left out his own part in the incident. Lex certainly had motive for distrusting Jennert. However, if he were really afraid of Jennert hurting Lana, Lex would have come to Paris himself. No business deal would get in the way if he thought she was in danger. Clark knew that Lex was not a coward, and that he would put himself in harm's way to protect Lana. Clark needed to confront Lex directly. By telephone would be no good. Lex was such an accomplished liar that Clark would need the evidence of all his senses to determine whether he was telling the truth. Clark flew back to Metropolis.

Lex was in his office drinking coffee.

"I spoke to Lana. I thought you were in Paris. How did you get back so quickly?"

"Never mind that," Clark said forcefully. "I'm here to ask about Jennert."

"What about him?"

"Is he violent? Is Lana in danger?"

"He was violent when I knew him. He tried to attack me many times when we were at school together, but usually I managed to avoid him. I have no reason to think he's changed. He doesn't like me, and if he knew Lana was my wife, it's possible that he might try to get at me through her. Lana uses her maiden name when she does gallery business and avoids the press, so I don't think he knows we are married. I told Lana to watch out, and not to him let him know about us. As long as our relationship stays a secret, she'll be safe."

"If you think he's violent, why didn't you go to Paris to protect her, or get her to come back to Metropolis?"

"My presence would be a danger to Lana; Jennert might see us together, which would make her a target. I tried to get Lana to come back to the States, but she refused. She thinks I am overprotective and interfering in her life, and that I'm jealous of Jennert. I thought of having my security force deal with him, but Lana would find out. She hates when I resort to criminal methods, as she calls them. So I sent you to scare him off instead. I can in no way be held responsible for your actions, since we are known to dislike each other." Lex smiled in appreciation of his own cleverness.

"You could have told me directly. " Clark said. "If you had told me it was about Lana, I would have listened."

"I try not to lie to my wife. If she asks me directly whether I sent you to look after her, I have to be able to say `no'. As they say in the CIA, it's all about plausible deniability." Lex shrugged, and drank the last few drops of coffee. When he raised his eyes from his cup, Clark was already gone. Somehow, this did not surprise him.

Clark launched himself from the roof of Lex's building. Flying was exhilarating; it was tempting to swoop and soar, enjoying his freedom, but Lana might be in danger. When he arrived in Paris, the sun had just risen, and Clark headed toward Lana's apartment. He had followed the sound of her footsteps the previous night, and knew where it was. Clark used his x-ray vision to make sure that she was safe. She was still asleep, curled up in a ball like a kitten. Next he headed toward Lana's art gallery. There he had an unpleasant surprise. Lana's assistant was dead, beaten to death. It looked as if he had surprised a robber. Papers had been scattered and the cash drawer was open and empty. The killer had locked the front door behind him.

Meanwhile, Jennert was in a nearby cafe, drinking an espresso. Espresso was not good for his nerves, but it was too early in the day to order alcohol - the bartender might remember the order. He did not feel at all guilty for the crime he had just committed. His actions were entirely justified since the weedy assistant had spoken to him without respect. He was well aware that the gendarmerie might think differently, however, and wanted to cover his tracks. He had tried to make the murder look like a robbery, but Lana could identify him as a suspect, so she would have to be gotten rid of. Guns are not easy for a foreigner without criminal contacts to obtain in Paris, so Jennert decided to hide in the art gallery and then strangle Lana with his necktie when she came to open it up. He had enjoyed flirting with Lana, and did not want to cause her pain by beating her to death. Strangulation would be kinder.

Jennert broke one of the back windows of the art gallery. Lana's assistant had not yet set the alarm when Jennert had returned to kill him, so no alarm sounded. The murderer brushed off the broken glass on the window sill with his coat and climbed through the window. Suddenly someone grabbed him and pulled the tie out his arms. This unseen person then used the tie as a blindfold. Grabbing Jennert by the arms, he forced him into a chair and secured his arms and legs using picture wire. With every movement, the strong wire cut into Jennert's skin. Jennert was furiously angry. He would be still more furious later when he learned from his lawyer that the woman he had planned to kill for no other reason than to prevent discovery was actually the wife of one of his oldest enemies.

Clark placed a quick call to the Paris police before heading back to Metropolis. He could not let Lana see him. If pressed, Clark might be able to explain why he had been seen Metropolis only a few hours after he had left Lana, (the intervention of a friendly military jet pilot perhaps?) but not another quick return trip back to Paris.

Lana and Lex had him puzzled. They resorted to manipulation when open communication was so much more effective. He was glad that all his own relationships were so much more straightforward.

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