Nine Lives - X
By Marcus L. Rowland
“What in the name of Elvis were you thinking?” shouted Perry. “This paper has a reputation for honesty to uphold, how can we do that when our reporters slant the news as part of a con game? And why didn’t you tell me what was going on?”
“I didn’t think you’d go for it if I told you,” said an unusually subdued Cat Grant.
“You got that right, at least.”
“There’s no real harm done, and we got a great story,” said Lois, “even if it wasn’t the one we were looking for.”
“And what about that? How did three reasonably competent reporters… no, let’s make that two reporters and one con-woman… How did you drop the ball so badly?”
“To be fair,” said Clark, “regardless of Cat’s distraction, we weren’t really getting anywhere with the decapitation murders. Grady wasn’t even on our radar, let alone whoever killed him. And you’ve got to admit that a con game set up by one of the richest men in the world has to be a pretty good story.”
“Right now,” said Perry, “that’s the main reason I’m not firing anyone… unless there’s something else you need to tell me? Rodriguez is
going to jail, right?”
“Between the money he spent on the sword, and some trouble he seems to be having with international currency transfers, he couldn’t even raise bail last night,” said Lois. “I don’t know about the final results, but he’s in jail for the moment.”
“They’ve got plenty of evidence,” said Cat, “and now that they’ve got him they can get a lot more; DNA, hair samples, that sort of thing. He’s going to go down.”
“Is there any reaction from Batman? Or from Superman?”
“Not a thing. I don’t think Batman talks to the press, and Superman’s still off in his ‘Fortress of Solitude.’” Lois mimed the quotes.
“What about Bruce Wayne? Has he admitted his involvement?”
“Yes and no,” said Clark. “He hasn’t said anything publicly, but last night Kerensky gave me a certified check for a hundred thousand dollars for the Superman Foundation, drawn on Wayne’s account. It’s what Wayne figures the Foundation lost because they let Rodriguez win the auction.”
“Great shades of Elvis! The man knows how to do things with style… why isn’t that in your story?”
“I thought it’d be a good hook for tomorrow’s follow-up. I think we’re the only paper that knows about it.”
“Won’t the Foundation announce it with the other auction proceeds?”
Clark pulled out an envelope from his pocket. “They would if they knew about it. I got Kerensky’s permission to hold on to it for a few hours. You’d better lock it in your safe for now; I can take it to the Foundation offices after we go to press tonight.”
“Outstanding. Now that’s what I call a real reporter’s instinct.”
“Actually it was Cat’s idea to delay handing it on so we got the exclusive.”
Perry frowned for a moment. “All right… well done, I suppose. Just remember that we report the news, we’re not supposed to be making it. Got that?”
“Got it, Chief,” said Cat.
“And don’t call me Chief! Now all of you get back to work. There’s a lot more to this story, and I want more on the decapitation killings too.”
They filed out of Perry’s office, and Clark said “You still haven’t said why you got involved in this, Cat.”
Cat seemed to ponder for a moment. “I really don’t like child molesters. A month or so before I came back to the Planet I was at Harvey Dent’s election night party in Gotham, and I happened to overhear Bruce and Paul Kerensky talking about Rodriguez. They were trying to figure out a way to get him to Gotham City. I suggested that it might be easier to handle it if he was already in the USA, and offered to help if that ever happened.”
“What made you think you could help?” asked Clark.
“I know men, and with guys like Rodriguez I know what buttons to press. The next thing was Russell Nash putting his sword into the auction. That really was his own idea, but as soon as Bruce heard about it he realised that Rodriguez wouldn’t be able to resist it. That was going to get him back into the country, so the next thing was to get him scared. Originally they were going to fake some Batman sightings, but I knew about the history of the sword and the New York murders, and when Weber and Davis were killed I came up with the idea of making Rodriguez think that the killer was after the sword.”
“So you tricked us into doing your dirty work.” Lois wasn’t quite scowling, but she wasn’t far off it.
“I just… you know… made sure that you associated the ideas. Waited until you were talking about the murders; then asked about the sword, pretended I didn’t know anything about it, then followed your lead. That was really all it took to start the ball rolling. I thought it was going to fall apart after what’s-his-name was killed and the murders seemed to be over, but they already had the tape prepared, we just went back to that plan.”
“I guess it worked,” said Clark.
“Well… congratulations,” said Lois, with a marked lack of warmth. “You put one over on us. Don’t make a habit of it.”
Cat grinned. “How would you know?”
“Good point,” said Clark.
“Anyway,” said Lois, “that’s useful if we write more about Rodriguez, but it isn’t helping to solve our murder mystery. Where have we got with that?”
“I’ve got Jimmy running a check on women admitted to hospital since Grady was killed, looking for anyone whose background seems a little sketchy. Apart from that, the police are trying to trace whoever manufactured the storage cylinders. I’m guessing that they were all set up around the same time, which leaves me wondering how someone dug holes in the Hilton Hotel parking garage and the other sites without anyone noticing, maybe there’s something to find from that end.”
“Maybe they took advantage of legitimate construction work that was going on at the time,” said Lois. “Say someone was repairing the floor in the parking garage, it wouldn’t be hard to bribe someone to install the pipe at the same time.”
Cat listened and wondered how she could cover her tracks. She’d used hypnotism, not bribery, but Lois had the essential idea. There was only one answer, to get in first and muddy the waters. “Construction permits! I bet that if we check all the sites we’ll find that there were permits issued around the same time. Give me the addresses, I’ll head over to City Hall and see what I can find, that might give us a time frame for when they were installed, see if there was anyone involved who had access to all the sites.”
“Are you sure?” said Clark. “It doesn’t seem your sort of thing.”
“I know a guy in the planning department,” Cat purred, “I’m sure he’ll want to be… cooperative.”
“Okay,” said Lois. “Good plan. You look into that, Jimmy can keep checking the hospitals, we’ll follow up on anyone who looks suspicious.”
“That sounds like a plan,” said Clark.
After Cat had left, Lois said “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I hope… but I need to be sure of that. Jimmy!”
Jimmy looked up from his computer. “Yes, CK?”
“I’ve got another name for you to check out…”. . . . .
“Okay,” said Cat. “Four of the eight buildings had planning authorizations from April through July 1994. The other sites were places like that abandoned warehouse, where anyone with a pickaxe and some concrete mix could set the pipe things up without anyone noticing. I couldn’t find anything obvious to link the permits, apart from the dates, but I got copies.”
“You know,” said Clark, plotting the locations on a large city map, “there was another big construction project going on around that time; they were rebuilding the Planet, and we’re right in the middle of the area where Superman’s finding the swords.”
Lois sipped her coffee then said “why would there be anything here? The other places were public areas, more or less, but you need to work here to get into most parts of this building.”
“Might be worth checking the parking garage,” Cat said with pretended indifference, “but I saw the files, there must have been a couple of hundred projects going on around the same time. This is a big city.”
“I don’t know,” said Clark, “a lot of weird things seem to happen around here, I’ll ask Superman to check it out the next time we see him.”
Lois came over to look at the map. “Notice anything about the locations?”
Cat joined her and pretended to study it. “They’re spread out, but they’re all near busy areas; rich areas, the most expensive parts of the city.”
“She’s right,” said Clark. “So whoever we’re looking for maybe works in those areas, or spends a lot of time there, wants easy access to a sword, but doesn’t want to carry one all the time. Why not?”
“Easy,” said Lois, “it’s probably illegal, and even if it wasn’t Superman would probably spot it sooner or later.”
“So who needs swords in a hurry?” asked Cat.
“Vampire slayers,” said Jimmy. “You cut off a vampire’s head, it turns to dust.”
“You’re kidding, right?” said Lois.
“Well, it’s how it works on TV. Or you put a stake through their heart. There’s this new show called Buffy the…”
“Getting back to the real world,” Clark said firmly, “in which none of our murder victims have turned to dust, why would anyone want easy access to swords?”
“Because they expected to be in a sword-fight,” said Lois, “and it’s not something you can carry around all the time without attracting attention.”
“All of which brings us back to some sort of secret duelling society.” Clark poured more coffee. “We’ve found no real connection between the victims, except that they had swords, and no connection to Grady. But somehow Grady found them, and whoever killed Grady found him.”
“Classified ads?” suggested Cat. “Mad duellist seeks similar, object decapitation?”
“They do seem to have fought by mutual consent,” said Lois. “There’s no evidence that any of the victims was unwilling to fight, and all of them were fit guys with swords.”
“Except that we think whoever killed Grady was a woman,” said Clark, bringing a tray of mugs back to the table. “And the evidence suggests that she was involved in hiding the swords. They’re all the same, so are the cylinders, and she knew how to find one and open it.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Lois. “Unless… unless the killer didn’t find Grady, Grady found her. He was killed in a place that she had a sword stashed. My guess is he followed her there, thinking she was unarmed, and got a nasty surprise.”
“So the rules are different when it’s a girl,” said Cat. “That figures. He probably thought she’d be an easy victim.”
“So let’s say that she was pursued from… let’s see, where’s the nearest wealthy area… Here,” said Clark, pushing a pin into the map. “Why does that look familiar?”
“Wayne Industries have their apartment near there,” said Lois.
“Of course they do. So our easy victim heads off in this direction, and gets to this deserted warehouse here, where she turns the table on Grady. That was a pretty bloody killing, so afterwards she must have gone to ground somewhere in this area, maybe an apartment.”
“Cat, don’t you live somewhere around there?” asked Jimmy.
“Two… no, three blocks further north, I guess.”
“It’s weird that you didn’t see anything,” said Clark. “You visited Pennyworth that evening, you must have been on your way home about the time that Grady was being killed, and that warehouse is right on your route.”
“If I’d walked I would have tried to stay out of those back streets, but I took a cab anyway.”
“Really? That’s not what Superman said.”
“I did see Superman that evening, before I found a cab, but…”
“He says you were already heading north,” said Lois, “on foot. And no cabs had passengers for your apartment block that evening.”
“You’ve been checking up on me?” said Cat.
“Too many things didn’t add up,” said Clark. “The whole Salamanca thing was well-staged, but I gradually realised that you were distracting us from the murders. I don’t think that was your original plan, before the murders started, but you suddenly emphasised the idea that the killer was after that sword; so much so that you must have come close to scaring Rodriguez off. It made sense if you wanted us looking away from the real motives for the murders.”
“Now that’s what I call reaching,” Cat said calmly.
“Then we come to the sword that was hidden in the lady’s washroom downstairs,” said Lois. “Superman was by this afternoon, I got him to take a look around. You’d need to be a member of the Planet staff or an authorized visitor to get to it. It didn’t fit the pattern of the other hidden swords. It only made sense if the person who hid it spent a lot of time in this building.”
“Or you. And I’ve got a family in Metropolis, plenty of relatives around to say that I’m who I say I am. What have you got?”
“A birth certificate for Catherine Grant, born February 1959,” said Jimmy, “and a death certificate dated April the same year. And your personnel file says that you have the same blood group that the police found in the warehouse.”
Cat got to her feet and stretched, then took off her jacket and unbuttoned her blouse to reveal a flawlessly smooth tanned torso and a lacy bra. A dozen other reporters around the newsroom suddenly forgot their own stories. “Nice theory, but notice the distinct lack of bandages and band-aids... It’s rude to stare, Jimmy. I’ve no idea what the death certificate’s about, but my guess would be someone else with the same name, it isn’t that uncommon. As for the cab, who says I was headed home? I do have other irons in the fire, you know.”
“That’s it?” said Lois, “that’s all you’ve got to say?”
“It’s enough, isn’t it? Now, since it’s obvious that you’ve got it into your heads that I’m part of some conspiracy I’m going to go home and leave you to it. Good luck with that.”
She fastened her blouse, put her jacket back on and picked up her bag, and walked to the elevators.
“What do we do, CK?” Jimmy asked as the doors closed behind her.
“Damned if I know. Pass it on to the police, I suppose. I was hoping to shock her into saying something, but really it’s all theory and circumstantial evidence. Apart from anything else, I couldn’t see any sign that she’d been injured. There could be something under her clothes, but we saw enough of her that I doubt it.”
“Down, Jimmy,” said Lois.
“What in Elvis’s name was that about?” asked Perry, coming out of his office.
“We think that Cat knows more about the decapitation murders than she admits,” said Lois. “We tried to confront her, but she called our bluff.”
“And the strip-tease?”
“Showing us she hadn’t been injured in a sword-fight.”
“Well, don’t just sit there!”
“Get after her and apologise, before she decides to quit or sue the Planet!”
“We still think she knows more than she’s saying,” said Clark.
“And you really think that you’re going to find out about it more easily if she isn’t here?”
“I guess we’d better get after her.”
Suddenly the lights dimmed, brightened, and dimmed again, then went out.
“Now what?” said Perry. “Are the computers all right?”
“I think so, Chief. They’re on a protected circuit.”
"Everyone check your stories!"
They were still working their way through the files when Clark’s phone started to ring. “Kent speaking.”
“Mister Kent, this is Benson down at the security desk. There’s been an accident… uh… Mister White isn’t answering his phone… uh… could you tell him that Miss Grant has been hurt.”. . . . .
Lois and Clark watched as the Medical Examiner shook his head and covered the body, and the paramedics lifted the stretcher into the back of an ambulance.
“We were just talking to her a couple of minutes earlier,” said Lois. “I can’t believe it.”
“I was washing that patch of floor,” said the shaken janitor, “there must have been four signs saying to walk around. She just stormed through, slipped, and skidded into the display case where we keep the journalism awards. She broke the glass, and I guess she must have touched a live wire.”
“With the wet floor that was probably enough to kill her,” said the ME. “We’ll know more after the autopsy. Does anyone know why she was in such a rush?"
"I think she was a little upset," said Lois. "We had an idea that she might have been involved in some criminal activities. I guess that we'll never know now."
"One thing's for sure," said Clark, as they went back up in the elevator, "it wasn't Cat that killed Grady. The killer was unharmed by a huge electrical explosion; she was killed by a hundred and ten volts."
"Then we've got the whole thing wrong, and Cat died because we made a stupid guess.". . . . .
Cat came back to life in a room that smelled of blood, disinfectant, and burned flesh, and spent a few seconds listening before she opened her eyes. She had a feeling that she wasn’t alone, and most of the possible onlookers spelled big trouble.
"I was wondering how long it would take you to recover," said a familiar voice.
“Me too," said Cat, "I've never deliberately electrocuted myself before. What the hell are you doing here?"
“Helping, of course," said Alfred Pennyworth. "Things seem to have gone as I assume you planned, you’re believed to be dead. You can't stay in Metropolis, of course. And I would strongly advise you to steer clear of Gotham City, Master Bruce would certainly recognize you if he saw you. I assume that you’ll use another of your identities?"
“How do you know… you’re a Watcher?”
Pennyworth smiled and pulled his watch up his arm, revealing a small blue tattoo underneath. “Someone has to keep an eye on master Bruce, his liking for extreme sports will be the death of him one of these days… then I’ll have the job of explaining why it isn’t. But that’s not relevant right now. How do you plan to cover your body’s disappearance?”
“I don’t; I’ve bribed a few people…” Cat carefully didn’t mention the hypnosis that would ensure their loyalty and forgetfulness “…the autopsy report will say accidental death, the results of electrocution and a previously undiagnosed heart condition. There'll be a closed coffin funeral; a lead-lined coffin, of course, in case Superman happens to take a look.”
“Excellent, but it won’t explain the decapitation murders.”
“I’m not planning to explain them,” said Cat, rummaging under the dissection table where her body had been left and finding a travelling bag with a change of clothes, nothing like her normal choices, a makeup kit, and a dark wig. “Turn your back while I dress… thanks. When Superman started to find swords I realized that I’d have to move on, sooner or later they’d connect them to me. I thought about faking up some sort of electrical gun and letting them find it after I died, but it’d raise more questions than it answered. It’d be nice to give everyone closure, but it’s safer to leave it as just another unsolved mystery. If it’s left that way, when some other immortal is killed and word gets back to Metropolis the whole story won’t come unravelled.”
“That’s a good point.”
“How do I look?”
Alfred turned. She was virtually unrecognizable. He clapped soft applause. “Would you like a lift anywhere?”
“No thanks. It’s probably safer all around if I head out of town on my own.”
“You’re resuming the Colby identity?”
“Please… that’s so over! No, I think I’m ready for something new. I’ve already got things set up on paper; I just need to start living the part.”
“Well, if you happen to feel like letting the Watchers know your new address, it would save us some time finding you. Do feel free to drop me a line.”
“I really don’t think so, Alfred.” She kissed his cheek. “But if Bruce becomes immortal spread the word, you’ll probably hear from me pretty soon. He’s a good guy, and he’ll need some help learning to fight.”
“Oh, I’ve a feeling he might surprise you, Miss Cassandra.”
“See you around.”
“Indeed, Miss Cassandra.”Epilogue
“I expected to see more people,” whispered Clark. “Cat knew everyone, or at least that’s how it seemed.”
“Maybe… but I always thought she was a little lonely,” Lois replied. “I’d guess that a lot of her society friends will have breathed a sigh of relief that she’s gone without a huge scandal. And there’s no family at all. I’m still convinced she stole the identity, I guess we’ll never know why.” There was a hint of guilt in her voice; she and Clark were still half-convinced that they’d driven Cat to her death.
The chaplain finished his sermon, and the coffin slowly sank into the ground.
“That was a good service,” said Paul Kerensky. “She will be missed.”
“It was good of you to come,” said Perry. “And your friend, mister… um…”
“Wayne,” said the stranger. “Bruce Wayne. Without Cat’s help we would have never brought Rodriguez to justice. It’s just too bad it ended this way.”
There was a hollow thud as the grave diggers began to fill the hole, and for a moment everyone seemed to pause. Then the conversations resumed, and the mourners slowly dispersed.
Early the following morning a dark-clad figure moved through the cemetery, found the newly-dug grave, and began to push a long rod into the soil. Eventually it hit wood, and a small but powerful drill chewed its way inside. Once it was through the wood and the lead the cutting head was withdrawn, replaced by a fibre-optic endoscope linked to a digital camera. The tip of the endoscope swivelled around, and the camera took a series of photographs.
“Would you mind telling me what you’re doing?”
The intruder looked around. Superman was gliding down to the ground behind him. He held up the camera and said “see for yourself.”
Clark cautiously came closer, and looked at the screen. “Bricks?”
“The accident seemed a little unlikely, and I really couldn’t imagine Miss Grant wanting a closed-coffin funeral, it just wasn’t like her. I was expecting to find evidence that she’d been murdered, but I think we’ve both been deceived.”
“Yes…” Clark looked at the camera. “That’s an unusual toy for a billionaire, but it’s the sort of thing I might expect a high-tech vigilante to use.”
“I could say that’s an unusual costume for a reporter… but I think we both have our own secrets, don’t you?”
“I guess we do. I won't tell if you don't. Shall we forget about them for now and talk about Cat’s secrets instead?”
“Suits me,” said Bruce Wayne.
“And me. You know,” Clark quoted, “this could be the start of a beautiful friendship.”
“I really doubt that, but I’ll settle for a useful alliance.”
“Good enough. Call me if you get anything more, I’ll see what I can find from my end…”The Beginning…