Title: Metropolis Confidential
Disclaimer: The truth is out there. And the truth is? They ain't mine.
Category: Utterly Ridiculous
Summary: "Seriously, Chloe, I had the weirdest dream."
Author's Notes: My sincerest apologies to Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett.
He wasn't a blond. Or a brunet or a redhead, he was bald. Bald as a billiard ball, bald as the lies a dime-a-dance girl tells you on lonely Saturday nights, and he wanted my help. Everybody did, I was the answer man, the fix it man, sometimes the garbage man, but for the uncreative, the uninitiated, they just called me Superman. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and after a busy day of playing knuckle music on the coconuts trying to make trouble in my city- able to leap tall buildings in a single bound to make it home in time catch the game on my trusty radio set.
That's what I do, you see. Make the world safer, one mindless palooka at a time. You'd think they'd learn that it's the hoosegow or a wooden kimono for them in Metropolis now that I'm on the job, but if there're two true things in this world, one's that criminals were raised up on stupid juice. The other? It's never as good as the first time, and that's got a dose of the stupid juice all its own. I don't drink whiskey, but I don't need to when Lex Luthor comes knocking.
"What do you want, Lex?" Smooth, that was me, looking him right in the eye. I could play it ice-box cool all day with him. Unlike me, he couldn't see under my skin, the way the old ticker kicked it up a notch from an everyday waltz to a double-time samba just from being close enough to smell his cologne. Rich, filthy rich, just like him, and emphasis on the filthy- I'd been deep down dirty with Lex Luthor, and that's something even I can't ignore. No matter how many molls and dolls decorate my arm, I've never been dizzy with a dame like I am over Lex. He's my only weakness- well, the only one you can't find laying dime a dozen in a Kansas cornfield.
He sat down to set up shop and bend my ear. "I think someone's been following me."
Tell me something I don't know. On any given day, Lex has more tails than Scheherazade. Everybody wants something from him: a little grift, a little attention, a little bit of anything as long as it's signed with the LuthorCorp seal of approval- in other words, the cabbage, the dough, the mazuma. Still, this had to be something big enough that it caught his eye, and even if he didn't have a mouth that I'd consider killing kittens to get to, he'd still have my attention. "What's different today?"
"They broke into my penthouse, Clark."
Yeah, that's right. Clark. When you can make the man of steel melt, you get to skip the formalities. "What did they take?"
"Nothing. As far as I can tell, they had a roast beef sandwich, enjoyed the view, and left." Lex smiled when he said it, and that smile was a lie.
It would be one thing if the mystery bunk had busted in to do a box job, but a social call with no social and a little snack? Sounded like some goofy goon gunning for the inside wire on Lex's day-to-days, and that meant troublecapital T, with no song and dance number to pep it up. It was official. I was on the case.
Now Chloe? Chloe was a stand up dame, gams that went on forever, and a mouth that would make an angel forget to pray. I'd know, I kissed her once, but that's between her, me and the deep blue sea. What can I say? Lex is the jealous type. Chloe sang torch in a little dive downtown when she wasn't pushing her pretty button in places it didn't belong, and I could count on her to drop a dime or two my way if she was feeling generous.
"What do you know, Joe," she asked, leaning over the bar to give the paying customers an eyeful of a heavenly body they didn't need a telescope to see. Dolled up in a little red Chinese number, Chloe knew that every schmo there was trying to work her angle and that meant more tips to take home at the end of the day. She was one cheongsam away from a down payment on that little house in the country she and Pete had their peepers on, so who could blame a gal for going that extra mile?
"Lex thinks somebody broke into his place..."
She didn't let me finish. "Again? Has he thought about buying a padlock company?"
Funny baby, that Chloe. "I'll mention it." Tipping back a glass of tepid tap water, I scanned the joint for misfits and malcontents. Technically, I was still on the Daily Planet's dime, but it never hurts to keep a leg up on the torpedoes. "Anything you can put me wise on?"
"Same old, same old," she said, catching a boozehound in a better than average suit with her lashes and taking a deep breath to make all that red silk shimmy. Here's some advice for you- never stand between a dolly and her dream house, you could lose an eye that way. When she finally rolled her pretty head back to look at me, she shrugged. "I heard Bruce Wayne's in town. Check him out. If you ask me, the billionaires are bigger goons than the mollucks around this place."
I couldn't argue with that, especially considering that Bruce had a funny habit of dressing up in a dame's black dance tights in his free time. Not that I had room to talk, it was red and blue for me, but at least I had more going for me than a belt full of doodads and a one way ticket to temper town. Still, when he wasn't busy alley-crouching and glowering, the dark rodent did legitimate business with Lex. I figured if he wanted something from my own private Luthor, he'd just ankle through the front gate. "Thanks, sweetheart. I'll give it a gander."
No dice at the giggle water shack, it looked like I was tooting the wrong ringer. No skin off my nose, Chloe's place was just the first stop on my list. I dropped her a double sawbuck and started for the door. For old time's sake, I gave -her- a gander on my way out. No harm in a look-see when the looker was looking to be seen- even Lex couldn't hold that against me. Well, he could, which is why I was planning on keeping this little gum flapping session under my hat. Mystery's good for a relationship, or so I hear.
It might sound like bragging, but there's nothing on this great big ball of dirt better than a piece of my mother's apple pie. Wash it down with some fresh-squeezed moo juice, and that's the definition of a heaven dopes like me only hope we'll see one day. But, since my mother was a stone's throw from the middle of nowhere, and I was mucking it up in the Big Town, I made do with a slice of imitation heaven from Pete's diner. It wasn't bad.
"I don't know why you bother," Pete said, mopping up slop from the lunch counter. This spoon was as greasy as any of them, but Pete insisted that everybody got their own grease. He was generous like that. "Face the facts, gee, as long as there's a Lex Luthor, there's going to be somebody chasing him down like the dog he is."
Here's a bullet everybody saw coming- Pete didn't cotton much to Lex, and as far as I knew, the feeling was mutual. Me, I've gotten good at playing the middle, what with the Clark Kent by day and Superman by night lay, so I just let the attitude roll and stuff my yap with pie. "There's got to be an easier way to get a roast beef sandwich, Pete."
Pete finished up the lunch counter, then turned away to beat some pancake batter like it was a red-headed stepchild. "Sure there is, until LuthorCorp buys the patent on cows, and then we're all singing for ham."
Another bust, and I'm not much of a gambler, but it seemed to me I should either pack it in, or give the one armed bandit of pot-shot luck two more bits before calling it a day. There was cold root beer in the ice box at home, and if I was lucky, a tall, bald gink waiting to make a little night music in my bed, so I can tell you which one I was bucking for. If you're guessing a little more gumshoeing, you need to give the gin mill a gate. It was time for me to take a powder. "Thanks for the pie, Pete."
"Try Lana," Pete bit out, sounding like he was chewing his own tongue off just for saying it. That was Pete: he could nurse a grudge like a day old baby at the teat, but when it came down to the tacks, he was loyal as hell. "She knows every goose and hood in Metropolis."
If she didn't know them by reputation, she knew them by palm print. Lana'd come to Metropolis with a suitcase and stars in her eyes, and all she'd gotten for her big blinkered optimism was a shiner. Back home in Kansas, she'd been crowned more times than a racehorse, but she found out the hard way that the Big Town has a homecoming queen for every square mile of dirty concrete. The only thing keeping her on the right side of the coppers was a preternaturally pretty mug and a naturally occurring gift for the two step and Charleston.
It was dark in the dance hall, same as it always was, make believe night time for make believe lovers, and it was crawling with low-life greasers sucking down gaspers and giving the girls grief for a ten penny slice of their time. Lana was better than all that, and I'd put that bug in her ear more times than I could count, but she wanted to make her own way, even if her way left her wilting like a mown daisy after a long summer day. I found her easy enough, haunting the bar and hitting a hooker of whiskey between jingles.
"Buy you a train ticket home," I said, sliding up beside her.
She gave me the slippery eye and drained her glass. "Buy a dance instead, I'm already home."
So I did, something slow, where she didn't have to do much but hang on and think about the school gym lit up with colored lights and balloons. All this city life had made her jingle brained, and I suspected a couple more years in a joint like this, and she'd be chasing the dragon all the way to Amnesiaville. But, God helps those who help themselves, and even if you could argue God wouldn't be caught giving the Broderick to a bum on this side of town, Lana wasn't looking for divine intervention, or mine. Best just to drag for the dope, and leave her to her delusions. "Anybody new on the bricks I should know about?"
"You paid to dance, not talk."
Coughing up a C note- the hero lay doesn't pay so hot, but being hot for Lex has its bennies- I watched her light up like Christmas in Metropolis Park. A century would pay for a lot of beer to cry in, a little less whiskey, but the buzz would last longer, and she didn't hesitate to stuff the lettuce down the front of her blouse. "Nobody to speak of, Clark. Just the same bad pennies turning up over and over, just like you."
So the kitten had claws after all. I took a step back, packing a peace branch and trying not to pity how sour this puss had gotten. "I'm only trying to help."
"Go climb your thumb, I don't need your help..." She rose up to spit a little venom right in my ear. "Superman." Clapping a hand on my cheek too hard to be friendly or fond, she jerked a nod at me, then took a fade. Philosophers'll tell you there's no fury like a woman scorned, but between you and me? They never met a homecoming queen with a disillusionment tiara.
The mugs who say no news is good news never pounded a mill for the Planet or had to take a big fat zero to their main squeeze instead of a dozen long stems. Still, that didn't stop me from taking the Kryptonian Express to the penthouse instead of my own two-bit wikiup. It drove Lex crazy that I kept my own place, but I like to think the distance just made him want me more. I hoped I was right, or this little drop in would be a trip for biscuits, and I was already stuffed full of pie and floozy dust.
Lucky for me, the skies opened up to wash that away, at least. I like flying in a storm, it's better than a good belt of fresh lemonade or picking up a stray mobster before a tricky dick can slip in to swallow the ticket and Jimmy Olsen's front page snap. Thunder roared like it was pumping metal, dodging lightning kisses that'd be as happy to fill me full of daylight as strike the radio towers. A dark and stormy night, like something out of those books where dames were always walking the moors in white nightgowns, and the joes were just jigged up crazy.
Soaked to the bone and eager for a little consolation prize for all that pavement pounding I'd done, I landed on the balcony and went to let myself in. Maybe Lex had stopped to rap with Chloe himself, because the only door Lex left unlocked, seeing as how I was the only one who could reach it, wasn't. Rain ran in chilly rivers down my face as I pressed a hand to the glass, peeping into the penthouse. Nothing but dark inside, but a lack of lights never made much of a difference if I was up for a game of hide and seek.
Lightning flashed, filling everything up with heaven's own whitewash, and when the glare faded, I found myself staring right at Lex through the glass, pale as pearls and wearing nothing much but a mug shot smile. He put his hand up to mine, close enough to touch except for that slab of glass between us. "Looks like rain," he said, making no move to get me out of it and into him. I gotta hand it to him, Lex always did have a knack for observation.
"No kidding, baby. Why don't you open the door?" Sure, I could have yanked the door off its pins and let myself in, but when you've got a man like that dressed in pale skin and rainwater shadows, promising all kinds of all night fevers with a glance, you learn to play his game. He had better odds than Atlantic City, and more tricks than a sideshow magician- give him a chance, and he could make the whole bunged up planet disappear in an instant.
"I've been thinking, Clark," he said, his breath steaming the window with kisses that should have been mine. If the Inquisition had had a couple more jobbies like my Lex, we'd all be saying Hail Marys and taking communion. I know I was ready to get down on my knees for a couple of sacraments, and all I was going on was skin, memory and the sound of his voice. "There are only two ways in and out of this penthouse, and Mercy never left her post."
Of course she didn't. Mercy stuck to Lex like a remora, down to the hinky black eyes that seemed to look everywhere at once. I was surprised he didn't have to peel her off at the end of the day. Rubbing my thumb near his, watching his mouth caressing words instead of me, I was seriously reconsidering my position on game playing. One good yank, and everything'd be jake, body on body, mouth on mouth, and the two of us could be pitching woo like Metropolis Stadium fast balls. "Lex..."
Lex was made out of stone, or just chewed it for breakfaststanding there in storm light, watching me pant like a greyhound at the races for him, he probably could have kept ringing my bell all night long. Probably would, too, if I didn't grab air and give him what he was after. His smile went on and on, and if it was driving him to Looney Town keeping me on the wrong side of the glass, he wasn't showing it. "Yes, Clark?"
The jig was up, and what with me not having a taste for masochism, it was time to give up the dingus and confess. I sang. I sang like a canary, like a soprano, like a choir boy itching for a jolt of the electric cure. Smearing my paw against the glass, I wiped away the fog so I could look him in the eye, but got nothing but a glimpse of my own ugly kisser when another shot of lightning made the skies cry for heaven. "It was me. I like watching you sleep."
Hey, when he came to me, I only -said- it sounded like a goon, and this little flim-flam gave me a chance to dip the bill, catch up on my pals, and waste a little bit of the newspaper's cabbage. Even the man of steel plays hooky sometimes, and besides, I knew he'd figure it out.
He buys the roast beef for me.
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