CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: COUP (Thursday)
See Chapter 1 for story headers.
Lois had looked at her watch for the fifth time. It was already 6:57; she had been sitting in her car on South Market for a full twelve minutes, and there was still no sign of Lex. She was due to meet Dresnell at 7:00; Lex knew that. All the confidence she had spent the day amassing was dissipating by the second. It was little comfort that Lex was patently unpredictable, all but unreachable, clandestine in his intentions, and...virtually amoral. It was a combination that had made her question her judgment (if not sanity) for weeks. And she didn't like the answer she was getting.
Her phone rang. The caller ID simply read "Unknown caller." She answered.
"Lois?" the voice on the other side said.
"Speaking. Who is this?" Lois asked.
"I am very nearby," Lex replied, ignoring the question. "I think it would be better if you met Dresnell alone."
"I had no intentions of having anyone accompany me," she responded. "And where are you?"
"It's best you don't know my location, although rest assured I am watching you even as we speak," he replied. Lois instinctively looked at her surroundings. The street was lined with buildings. He could be anywhere. "It's already 7:00," Lex said, "you should be going."
"Wait!" Lois yelled.
"I'm still here," Lex replied.
"Why did you come by my office this morning? You really put me in a compromising position."
"Am I that toxic?" Lex replied.
"I had to know if you were still committed…with my own eyes."
"Committed to what?" Lois asked, offended.
"To what we're doing. After last night I wasn't...sure."
"Jesus Christ, Lex," Lois said. "This is my thing. How would I not be committed?"
"I'm convinced. You need to prepare yourself for Druitt," Lex said and hung up.
Collecting herself, Lois left her car, opting to bring just her keys and phone. She'd hidden her purse under the driver's seat. She glanced around as she walked towards the rear of the grocery. She couldn't help but wonder where Lex was. She found the alley small, but mercifully dry and void of rodents. Wary of making the same mistake of leaving too soon, she stood and waited.
An hour had gone by and, growing impatient, Lois suddenly realized that she didn't have any way of contacting Druitt at will. She didn't have his number and calling the textile company was too risky. She didn't have Lex's number either, but at the very least she could call LuthorCorp. Maybe they would… tell her what car he was driving when he'd left for the evening. That way she could search for his car.
After a couple transfers, she reached his receptionist. "Hello, this is Karen Parks," Lois lied. "Did Mr. Luthor mention where he would be for the afternoon? I was expecting him for a meeting and he never showed."
"Sure, he's right here. Would you like to hold?"
"Wait," Lois said. "Lex…I mean, Mr. Luthor is in? Right now?"
"Yes," the receptionist said. "We were not informed of the meeting. He would no doubt be willing to reschedule. Would you like me to transfer you to him?"
Lois hung up. She could feel anger rising in her head. If Lex was in the office that meant…that meant he was the one that wasn't committed. All his ranting about Lois meeting Druitt was just so he wouldn't have to be there. When he had called over an hour ago, it had probably been from his office. That's why it had taken him so long to call. The bastard. He'd feigned interest in the entire project all along to….what? Get in her pants? She stormed to her car, fuming the whole while. She started the engine, ready to speed off when it dawned on her:
What happened to Douglas Druitt? Even though Lex had never shown, why hadn't he? Druitt had seemed eager to meet with her, and she was sure that he and Lex would never conspire…their objectives were at odds. If Druitt had come, what had kept him from meeting Lois? She sat thinking. Staring through the windshield, she caught sight of a father lifting a toddler, mid-tantrum, from a shopping cart and dragging him to the car. That's when it hit her.
Lex had kidnapped Tom Dresnell.
AN HOUR EARLIER
"I thought my father killed you over twenty years ago," Lex said, spinning in his chair. Two burley men, Walker and Casey, strong-armed Tom Dresnell into a chair planted directly in front of Lex and strapped him in.
Dresnell looked at Lex with a cool derision. "Your father's assassins always took money from the highest bidder…or both bidders." The statement provoked Lex's barely-repressed rage, and he rushed towards Dresnell, stopping within an inch of his face.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't put you out of your misery right now?" Lex sneered, frighteningly serious.
"You can't kill me, Lex," he responded cooly. "This is a public building."
"This room is soundproof, fireproof, bullet proof and lined in lead. As far as anyone knows, you were never here." Walker and Casey nodded in agreement.
"Lex, this was a side project that I was going to let you know about as soon as I perfected it."
"Ahhh," Lex intoned facetiously, rising and taking a casual stroll around his office. "Perfected it. That is what you said, right?"
"I know it seems -"
"Shut-up," Lex demanded. Dresnell complied. "So, you decided to skip a little step called clinical trials and took it upon yourself to wreak havoc on Greater Metropolis - in my name. Of course, clinical trials aren't really performed for deadly microbes - so you were really thinking outside of the box on all counts, weren't you?" The man gazed at Lex silently. "Answer me!" Lex roared.
Dresnell mumbled something that was barely audible.
"Please, gentlemen." Lex motioned to Casey and Walker. "Help our guest speak more clearly." Casey and Walker lifted the chair and turned it upside down, with Dresnell dangling from it. "There," Lex said. "That might help the words come out more easily."
"The microbe was never meant to get out, Lex," the man began frantically. "It was a project to find a microbe or bacterium, or, or, anything so insidious that it could sabotage the immune system of anyone." Dresnell paused. "Including Superman."
Lex, for the first time in the conversation, had stumbled upon a fact of interest. It was a...pleasant...surprise. "Really?" He asked. Dresnell nodded. "And what were your findings?" But before he could answer, Lex amended the question, "Don't tell me that's why Superman's been conspicuously missing from his village of choice."
"Um." Dresnell gulped firmly, then coughed. His nose began running, and he started a cycle of sneezing, coughing and sniffling. "We never actually got to infect, um, Superman. To our knowledge, we never, um, infected, or um, got to infect, uh, Superman."
"To your knowledge," Lex echoed, while nodding. "To your knowledge," he repeated. "Meanwhile, every governmental agency this side of Jupiter wants me strapped to an electric chair. But, to your knowledge, you never infected Superman." The man closed his eyes, no doubt involuntarily. "Put him down," Lex commanded. Walker and Casey unceremoniously dropped the man back into the upright position.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Tom, Tom, Tom," Lex called. "How we do go back." Tom, meanwhile, was gasping for air. "Don't tell me you've forgotten…Uncle Thomas." Lex advanced further until he was standing right next to him. He began to stroke Dresnell's hair gently, as if he were petting a cat. "Don't worry, Uncle Thomas," he began. His voice was calm, eerily so. "I never told my mother. I never told her about the shots or the enemas." Lex leaned into his ear, whispering. "I didn't tell her about the poking or the prodding, the vile potions, the vomiting, the shooting pain, the blistering cold or the feverish heat." He grabbed Dresnell's face in one hand, gripping it tightly. Dresnell winced from the pain. "I never even told her about what you did to me in our private sessions. That, Uncle Thomas, was our little secret." Lex punctuated the sentence by spitting in his face.
"Lex, I will give you anything you want," Dresnell pleaded. "Copyrights, patents, staff, access to my labs—you name it." Lex could smell the panic, and perhaps urine, emanating from the man.
"Well, there is something…I want," Lex said.
Lex ambled over to his desk and produced a white box. He gingerly opened the lid, gazing at the item inside a moment before lifting the contents and placing it on the table before him.
It was a gun.
Dresnell visibly jumped at the sight. "Do you know why I have this gun here?" Lex asked. Dresnell was in cataplexy and absolutely unable to respond. "No guesses? Well I'll just tell you. It is the gun I was going to kill you with," Lex said.
The man's countenance was awash with an impossible mix of sheer horror and profound relief. Lex took the gun and placed it back in the alabaster box. "But now - I think you're worth more alive."
"What do you want?" Dresnell just managed to ask, battered and eagerly cooperative. Lex strolled to Dresnell, stooping in front of him and meeting him eye-level.
"I want the cure."
Lex handed him a voice recorder. Dresnell took it. "What is this?" he asked.
"You will say exactly what I tell you to."