The Man for the Job
Metropolis was big news these days, what with Superman and all the expanding LexCorp was doing. The lobby of the LexCorp HQ in Metropolis was every bit as ritzy as Pete Ross had envisioned it being every time he saw the building looming high in the background of Channel 10's Nightly News broadcasts. Fine embroidered upholstery on the sofa in front of the receptionist's desk. Flowers on a crystal vase on a glass stand in the corner. Black marble floor.
Lex certainly had done well for himself while his father rotted in jail for all his past transgressions. Pete had to at least give him that much.
"Mr. Ross," the receptionist said. She set the phone receiver back in the cradle and smiled her brilliantly perfect smile at Pete. "Mr. Luthor is ready for you now. If you'd be so kind as to follow me, please."
She stood up and so did Pete, though he hesitated to follow. "You wouldn't know why Lex wants to see me, wouldn't you?" He hadn't seen Lex Luthor except on television since he left Smallville to live with his mom.
"No, Mr. Ross. I do not." Her smile hadn't moved off her face as she said it, however, and her hips swayed as she walked in front of him down the hall to the elevator that would take him up to her boss's penthouse.
It was a private elevator. All-glass interior that made Pete feel like too many eyes were watching him. Of course, they were all his own eyes, and their expression was bewildered. He had no clue what he was doing here.
"Why me?" Pete asked when Lex told him why he'd been sent for. Lex was running for mayor of Metropolis--spearing his political career--and he wanted Pete to be his campaign manager.
Lex stared at him with a practiced blank look. Unemotional and revealing nothing of his plans. "Are you questioning my judgment, Pete?" he inquired, sounding mildly amused by the thought of some lowly peon questioning what he, the Great Lex Luthor, had deemed right.
"I just don't see why you want me to be your campaign manager." The last election campaign Pete had run had been Clark's bid in high school. Sure, he had worked on other campaigns since then--but as a volunteer. Why didn't Lex want someone with more experience? Better yet, why didn't he want someone who at the very least supported his politics? Because Pete sure as hell didn't.
"Let's just call it two old friends doing each other a favor, shall we?"
It was glimpse of Lionel Luthor that Pete saw in the chilly look that accompanied Lex's words, and he had to wonder if this wasn't the same look of confident triumph that had witnessed the loss of his family's creamed corn factory once upon a time. The very last time he'd seen Lex Luthor, it had been the day Lex saved his life from a supposedly rogue FBI agent. Among other things, Lex had said he knew Pete would have done the same if he could. Maybe that was true, but Pete wouldn't have expected anything from Lex in return. But Luthors were like mob families; once you were indebted to one, you were indebted for life.
"So that's it then? You save my life and now you want me to sell out as a favor to you?"
About that time, two incredibly buff female bodyguards entered the penthouse. They were gorgeous, but exuded an air of untouchable lethality. They didn't say anything, but each found a corner to hover in menacingly.
"You are the best person for the job, Pete," Lex told him flatteringly, ignoring the barb. "I can make it worth your while."
"How?" Pete's suspicion receded a little at the thought of being "the best man" for any job. It was possible that Luthor really did consider him a choice campaign manager. 'In theory,' the cynical part of his brain came back. Sure, Pete had come up some great ideas in the past, but when it came down to brass tacks, he had never been the go-to guy.
"Naturally, I can't expect you to pack up and move to Metropolis without accommodations. I have a penthouse suite waiting for you in LexCorp B, which is every bit as spacious as this one. And fully furnished. You'll need a new car, as well. All you need to do is shake my hand."
LexCorp B was the old LuthorCorp building.
"And if I don't?" he asked stubbornly, although he thought he knew the answer.
Lex smiled, and it was kind of Luthorian smile Pete remembered from Lionel Luthor. "Of course, you need time to think about it. Take as long as you like, but I know you won't disappoint me, Pete."
A company car bearing the LexCorp logo dropped Pete off at LexCorp B. He had been given a pager with which to summon the driver should he need to go anyplace and an electronic key card to get into the penthouse and it's private elevator. The building was every bit as magnificent as the one he'd just visited. People bustled about the offices and partitions, paying no attention to Pete as he followed the driver to the elevator.
"If you need anything, Mr. Ross--" the driver began to reiterate.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Use the pager." Pete didn't think he'd be using it tonight. He'd had along day and Lex had given him a lot to think about.
He swiped the elevator with his card key and the doors slid open. Just his luck, more glass. This time the eyes that stared back at him were filled with bitter frustration. Luthor had been so confident and such a jackass like his father. Because he knew he had Pete over barrel. Pete owed him his life. That is, if it was meant as coercion. Pete kept going back to what Lex had said about him being the best man for the job. A part of him was flattered, his ego stroked that his work had been noticed by someone. But another part of him was equally disturbed, because it meant that somehow, Lex must have kept tabs on him. It wasn't as if they had ever really been friends. Pete had hated Lex, both for being a Luthor and for trying to steal his spot as Clark's best friend. And if Lex was spying on him all this time. Pete had to wonder why.
He was still scowling when the elevator doors opened and he got his first view of the penthouse he'd be staying in for the night.
More marble, high vaulted ceiling in the foyer, a sweeping staircase like something out of an old movie. The kind his mom used to love to watch. Big chandelier and shiny brass on all the other light fixtures. Mahogany and marble on most of the furniture.
A copy of the Daily Planet lay on one of the coffee tables. Pete picked it up and left the foyer in search of anything that might resemble a living room. Clark Kent's name was on the byline.
"Are you getting out, mister?" The cab driver asked as the meter ticked away another minute that they'd sat in front of the Daily Planet building.
Clark Kent was another person Pete hadn't seen since he left Smallville, except on the news. But that wasn't really Clark, now was it? That was Superman, all bold and in everyone's faces. Pete had trouble with the fact that no one seemed to know the true identity of the Man of Steel. Clark didn't exactly do enough to hide it.
Except for sever all ties to practically everyone who knew him best. Pete, for one, and Lana... and Chloe... Pete didn't want to think about how badly Clark had let Chloe down. There was still too much bitterness there, at least for Pete, even after all this time.
"No," he said finally. "Just take me back to LexCorp Plaza."
"Your nickel, bub," the cabbie quipped as he merged back into traffic.
Pete awoke the next morning to find that Lex had his entire day planned for him starting with a gourmet breakfast prepared by the head chef from one of the finest restaurants in the city. Pete couldn't even afford to eat the table scraps from this joint and here the head chef was willing to make him whatever he wanted.
Pete asked for eggs Benedict, Canadian bacon, fresh croissants, a bowl of fresh fruit, milk, orange juice, and coffee. And some chocolate chip pancakes. Then he ensconced himself in the dining room with the news paper until the chef came--carrying a huge tray in one hand--to announce in his thick French accent that it was served.
After gorging himself on the most important meal of the day came a two hour session with one of Lex's personal masseuses. Vivica. Tall, coffee-colored skin and deep brown eyes. She was friendly and flirted outrageously. Which was infectious and Pete couldn't help flirting right back at her. He found her phone number written on one of the terry cloth towels she'd left him to dry off with after it was over. If he stuck around, maybe he'd give her a call. Living like this certainly had some great perks!
When his massage was over, he entered the foyer to find box tickets to a Sharks game sitting on one of the end tables. The note with them said that Lex hoped he enjoyed them. All these years and the Sharks still sucked, but who was going to give up box tickets if they had them?
On an impulse, he finally did break down and call Clark up. He was the only Kent in the phone book, after all.
They met at the stadium. Clark hugged him and acted like it hadn't been well over ten years since they'd seen or otherwise spoken to each other. They caught up somewhat during the game, chatting about college and their lives since. Pete had been surprised that Clark had gone into journalism and there'd been weirdness when Clark told him why. Pete had tried to shrug it off--Chloe would have been proud of spurring Clark into the career she would never have--but couldn't and that started a downward spiral.
It continued as their chili dogs arrived and the conversation moved from Clark's life--though not Superman's--and into Pete's. Clark asked what brought Pete to Metropolis and Pete told him. Clark's eyes flared and he immediately started in on Pete about how bad Lex was. Had Pete forgotten everything he'd ever told Clark all those years ago? He didn't even bother to stop and ask Pete if he intended to throw his lot in with Lex. He just assumed.
And then, after a lecture about Luthors and choosing his friendships more wisely, Clark left.
After stewing about it for the rest of the game, and most of the next day, Pete asked to meet with Lex. Lex, at least, had shown some kind of faith in Pete.
A week later, Pete Ross was a bird in a gilded cage. A soft, plush-and- marble cage, rather. True to his word, Lex Luthor had not only come through on the penthouse, but a fancy new car and designer clothes... everything his new campaign manager needed. But nothing to ease the more cynical part of his conscience--the one that still insisted he didn't know why Lex had picked him in the first place--about the deal he'd made when he and Lex had finally shaken hands.
It was an offer he found he couldn't refuse, but had it been made with the devil? Only time would tell.