Flipping over the little paper tab, Lex compared his number to the one now being served. Only fifteen between him and a renewed license, he took a seat at the edge of the waiting area and fixed his attention on the scuffed floor.
An odd scent wafted through, a combination of Cheetos, baby formula, and overheated plastic, and Lex looked up when the source of the formula scent bumped his shoulder. A baby flopped back bonelessly in his mother's arms, reaching for Lex with outstretched fingers. "Bey!"
"I could be mistaken, but I don't think you're old enough to drive," Lex said, leaning back a bit when the baby blew thick milk bubbles at him.
The baby stretched his fingers, brown eyes widening and bubbles popping on his lips when he replied, "Bey!"
Rubbing the curve of his jaw, Lex shook his head. "If you feel it's discriminatory, you could write to your representative."
Suddenly the baby shrieked. Clapping his hands, he tried to wriggle around in his mother's arms to get a better, more right-side-up look at Lex. "BEY!"
Startled by the vehemence, the baby's mother shifted him, whispering, "He's not a baby, honey." Her cheeks took on a light blush, and she offered Lex an apologetic smile as she walked away.
In Warrior Angel 334, Devilicus tried to take over Battle World. In 335, the sirens of Alpha V gave Warrior Angel amnesia. No, wait... Lex frowned, folding and unfolding his number tab. The Amnesia Sirens were in 339, so what was 335? He'd worked his way through the other issues without problem, therefore, he had to know what came after Battle World.
Just in case he'd missed a unifying thread, he backed up a few issues. Rescuing the president's daughter, the return of Evilina, Battle World, then... Shifting in his chair again, he winced when a crack in the plastic bit his thigh. The pain didn't do anything to clarify the situation- what the hell came after Battle World?
Lex glanced at his number again, then tucked it in his pocket. Fourteen more to go- that would be more than enough time to figure out what issue 335 had been about.
Across the waiting room, someone small sensed Lex's discontent and shouted "BEY!" in solidarity.
The tune dug into Lex's brain. Simple up and down notes, canned and artificial, the Muzak poured into the empty place where Warrior Angel 335 used to be. Just out of universal spite (or as evidence that he'd taken one too many blows to the head,) he couldn't remember the name of the song either.
He recognized it; he could even hear Homer Simpson singing it, but he couldn't name it. Evilina, the Bey! Baby and Homer Simpson swirled chaos through his thoughts, mocking him and his incomplete memory. He tried mentally humming "It's a Small World," which Victoria once swore would cure any case of 'song stuck in the head' syndrome.
Unsurprisingly, Victoria was wrong.
The same two measures repeated over and over, sung by Homer, bleated by Muzak, and Lex finally pulled out his cell phone and dialed his secretary.
"LexCorp, Mr. Luthor's office, how may I help you?"
Lex kept his voice low. "Are you at your computer, Susan?"
"Yes sir," his secretary said, and the sound of a keyboard clicking filtered over the line. "What do you need?"
"A synopsis of Warrior Angel 335, and..." Lex checked to make sure no one was listening before continuing. "And the title to this song, if you could, please."
Aloud, he hummed the notes clanging around in his head, and ignored Susan's muffled giggle.
"'Girl from Ipanema,' Mr. Luthor." Very professionally, she typed away, then asked, "Would you like me to locate a copy of the lyrics?"
There were two hundred thirty seven green tiles and four hundred sixteen white tiles in the DMV's foyer. When Lex crossed his eyes a little, they made a pyramid that stretched out toward the counter where someone named Beatrice was now serving number fifty. If he tipped his head back and looked down his nose, the tiles made a butterfly. Okay, a mutant butterfly. Something that resembled a butterfly in an abstract-impressionistic fashion. Okay, it looked like sewage; Lex could admit defeat as long as no one was around to hear him do it.
Every so often his brain would offer up 'da da girl from IPAnema da da da' followed by 'it's a world of, it's a world of, it's a world of..." and the stark realization that it had only taken two and a half hours at the DMV for him to go completely insane. He had his laptop in the car, but the red glow of the 'now serving' light threatened him. He suspected if he left, even for a moment, they'd call his number, he'd miss it, and then have to start all over. Without the company of the Bey! Baby, which would be a loss, indeed.
Rubbing the tips of his fingers together in time to 'a world of laughter, a world of tears,' Lex began his plot to overthrow the DMV. He'd start small- dropping suggestions into a few well-placed ears about privatization and revenue, then he'd engineer the argument. There were op-ed columnists he could... persuade, and they'd listen over cocktails to Lex's very reasoned explanations. Train companies, he'd say, are responsible for laying and maintaining their own tracks, airline companies are responsible for maintaining their own runways. Why would the government oversee interstates? For the revenue, of course. City to city commerce is important, pleasing one of the nation's largest industries is also important.
A warm, happy glow spread through Lex as he enjoyed his imaginary meal with imaginary columnists- in his fantasy, they were all well-kept, and didn't ask intrusive questions. Therefore, if the overriding value in encouraging automobile use is primarily financial, rather than philanthropic, wouldn't it make more sense to contract the messy and complicated task of licensing automobile owners to industries with experience in streamlining databasesindustries that could cut operating costs and provide more efficient service?
He'd go on, and they'd hang on every word. Lower overhead equals higher profits, which benefits not only the government, but taxpaying citizens. Taxpaying citizens, by the way, who'd much prefer to spend an afternoon playing ball with their dog, or taking their children to a park, as opposed to wasting away in a dingy license branch.
Smiling a little, Lex tapped his forefingers together. Some of them would agree, some would disagree, but it would start the conversation. People would be swayed by the tempting promise of shorter waits, and profits- always profits, less taxes, more money to keep- everybody loves money, whether they admit it or not. With a few influential favors, it would become a bill, on Capitol Hill, and...
Suddenly, Lex had Schoolhouse Rock stuck in his head.
Lex blinked at the Tupperware container shoved beneath his nose. It was, indeed, full of dried apricots, thick fleshy slices that reminded him of earlobes. Lex caught a glimpse of the man holding the container- he couldn't tell if he was a farmer or a drifter. His fingernails were decorated with half-moons of dirt, and Lex suspected that he kept small flocks of swallows in his beard. With a gracious smile, he shook his head. "Thank you, no."
The man shrugged, dropping the container back in his lap. "Suit yourself." Plucking up one of the earlo... er, apricots, he ripped it in half with his teeth, then sighed happily. "Organic, you know. Grew 'em myself."
Well, that answered one question. Distaste wrinkled Lex's brow, but he managed to smooth it to nearly neutral. "How are things on the farm this year?"
The farmer shrugged, chewing and smacking his lips. "Welp, the storm didn't do us any good. Ripped out about four acres of apple trees, and that's gonna hurt come October. And it stirred up enough of the topsoil that we're gonna have to lay new down once the rains are over. Erosion, you know."
Lex didn't, but he nodded anyway.
"But, I reckon we'll settle up all right in the end. Disaster relief helped some, and I guess we've got a pretty good shot at a subsidy this year." The farmer shook his head and tore another apricot lobe in half with his teeth. "I guess you don't have to worry about that sort of thing much. Friends in high places and all that."
Leaning back in his chair, Lex made out the butterfly in the tiles again. "LexCorp opted out of recovering our losses from government relief. We felt it would be better spent on the individual and small business owners who might not have disaster insurance." He paused, and took an apricot. "We've made donations to the relief fund, however."
The farmer raised his brows. "No shit?"
"No shit," Lex said, and actually smiled.
Still seeing spots from the camera flash, Lex paid for his new license and forced himself to walk slowly toward the door. Checking his watch, he decided that there wasn't enough day left to justify going to work... perhaps he'd stop by the Kent farm, and bother Mr. Kent with questions about erosion until Clark had to separate them. Wicked pleasure trilled through him just thinking about it.
Lex stopped with his hand on the door, and turned back. "I have a plan to get you that license."
With a bounce, the baby grabbed a handful of his mother's hair and gummed it cheerfully. Nodding agreeably, Lex waved, since he was too far away to shake his small, grimy hand. "It was a pleasure meeting you." He nodded again, then left, grinning when he heard a tiny, excitable voice yowling behind him. "BEY!"
Bey! Baby and The Farmer would support his bid for privatizing the DMV, and with that cheerful thought of conquest, Lex hummed 'Girl from Ipanema,' and left tire tracks in the parking lot as he sped toward the outskirts of Smallville.
The cop who stopped him for speeding said it was the best license picture he'd ever seen.
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