The Martinelli Affair

by Linda Seaton

Chloe Sullivan knew it was a mistake when she bought it. And, now, it rests there taunting her. Rich and beautiful and fulfilling and just out of reach. Sensing a metaphor coming on, Chloe focuses all her attention on the bottle of Martinelli's apple juice. No metaphor to see here, move along. This is just about a product that encourages you to "drink your apple a day" and then seals the manna from heaven under a lid that will not come off.

Sitting alone in the Talon on a Saturday night, Chloe admires her hands that practically glow pink from the strain of trying the top. A moment ago, she had -- more or less discretely -- tapped the bottle against the table to break the vacuum. No go. And no help in sight. Pete was on a date and Clark was somewhere puppy-dogging after Lana. Earlier that afternoon, Chloe had heard the words "Lana", "Shakespeare" and "Metropolis" and had promptly started concentrating on naming all the Seven Dwarfs, all the reindeer and the entire periodic table.

"...fermium, mendelevium, nobelium..." Chloe murmurs as she surveys the male inhabitants of the Talon: Jock, Jock, Jock, Science Nerd, Boy Billionaire, Jock, AV Nerd. She knows that Roger the AV Nerd is her best shot but she cannot shake the image of him walking around school with his hands slid under the waistband of the back of his pants.

Making the decision that no one who fondles his own ass should touch her beverage of choice, Chloe hoists herself to her feet. She takes her bag, the juice, a breath and walks in an unswerving line toward Lex Luthor.

Stopping at his table, Chloe forces him to turn his attention way from a pile of invoices. She extends the bottle toward him with a shrug, "Grip strength issue."

Unsure of exactly what to do, Lex motions for Chloe to sit. "Please join me."

Chloe drops into the booth opposite him with the bottle still extended.

The two share a look and a moment of silence.

Chloe raises an eyebrow and offers, "I'm asking you to open this bottle for me because my girly hands aren't strong enough?"

"Oh?" Lex, a little out of his depth, takes the apple juice from her.

"Bottles arrive open in the Luthor world?" Chloe smiles.

"Or with the cap resting, only slightly screwed, on top."

"Now, I have absolutely no hope that I'll be drinking apple juice this evening."

"Ever heard the Chinese proverb, 'Stop up your mouth like a bottle...' " Lex begins.

" '...and guard your thoughts like a fort.' " Chloe finishes.

Chloe catches a trace of surprise on his face, which he covers by quickly finding the bottle completely fascinating. He tries to open it without any real effort. The lid stays tight. He tries again with some actual effort. Again, the lid does not budge. The third time he puts pretty much everything he has into it. The glass of the bottle squeaks in his grip. The lid waits for his next move.

"Sorry," Chloe offers.

A little red in the face, Lex glances up at her and asks, "For what, exactly?"

"Hurting your hands and possibly your pride."

" 'Pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts - not to hurt others'."

"George Eliot. Rather reassuring. It doesn't sound like you plan on braining me with the bottle." Chloe rakes her hair out of her face.

"I've been hit over the head about a dozen times since I moved to Smallville. I have no intention of braining anyone else."

"Maybe you should try tapping?"

More than a little confused, he lifts his chin, "What?"

"Tapping the bottle lid against the table to try to get the seal to break."

Fairly frustrated, Lex obeys. The knocking sound builds to a crescendo that would rival a construction site. Chloe glances around the Talon but all eyes are averted. The pounding stops.

Chloe watches Lex once more grappling with the bottle. He straightens and demands, "Who designed this bottle?"

"The same Nazi engineers who made the VW Bug?"

"Similar in overall shape and design. I think you might have something."

"But no apple juice."

They say the words in a kind of jerking tandem. Chloe laughs and Lex offers a few stutters that could be construed as a laugh by someone with a generous spirit.

"I like you better like this," Chloe says after a moment.

"Beaten and irritated?"

"Not trying so hard to be friendly."

Uncomfortable with her observation, he once again challenges the bottle lid. Chloe studies his thin hands struggling with the metal and glass.

A vein begins to twitch near his temple as he half-stutters, "I bet you wish Clark was here right now."

"Pete is actually more useful with bottle opening. Clark almost always breaks the top completely off."

"Of course he does," Lex practically grunts under the strain of testing the bottle.

"Lex, please, just forget it."

He looks her directly in the eye.

Chloe shakes her head, "Okay, so you're not going to forget it. Can we try something else?"

"I am open to suggestions," Lex concedes as he places the bottle between them.

"A knife would work. A metal butter knife."

"How?" Lex rubs his hands.

"You slide the blade between the lid and the glass and you apply pressure until the vacuum pops. We just have to find a knife."

Producing a heavy metal letter-opener from his pile of papers, Lex almost grins, "How about this?"

Chloe reaches for the letter-opener; Lex pulls back.

"I'm going to finish this," Lex flips the bottle over. "What do I do?"

"You see where the lid protrudes. You pick a spot between the protrusions and slide the blade in. Then rock the knife back and forth. Or wiggle it. Or whatever works for you."

"If I weren't so exhausted I'd tease you about those innuendo laden sentences."

"If you're exhausted from just trying to open a bottle of juice I don't think I want you to tease me."

Surprised, he looks up at her just as the lid of the juice gives with a very audible POP.

She flashes her best smile as she takes the bottle from him, removes the lid and drinks. She offers him a sip but he shakes his head.

"Too sweet. It's what they give people in rehab to ease them onto a sugar high."

Much too abruptly, Chloe turns and focuses on the nearly deserted street just outside the window.

Lex shifts a little in his seat as he realizes that he has given something away. His voice is lacking any inflection when he speaks, "It looks like you have the makings of a real exclusive."

"I can see the headline 'Luthor Beaten by Martinelli Apple Juice Bottle. Must Rely on Girl Technique to Open Lid'."

"Long headline."

"Hey, I'm the editor and half the staff. I can do anything I want." Chloe forces herself to turn from the window. "And the other isn't my business."

"What happened to the take-no-prisoner's reporter?"

"You hit it lucky. It's Saturday, 'Subtlety Saturday'. I'm trying to learn to be subtler. I only recently found out there was a "b" in the word."

"A lot of people would try to use what I said to their advantage."

"If it confirms your distrust of all humanity I could come to you for all my bottle opening needs. It takes you awhile but you sure are determined." Chloe tries a reassuring smile. "And your past problems aren't exactly part of my preferred oeuvre."

"Not a meteor mutation just a generic human weakness?"

"Exactly," Chloe states as she resumes her detailed study of the street. "My Dad has my car and should be picking me up soon."

"Your father is a good man. I envy you."

Chloe faces Lex and speaks quickly, "When I was seven at a LuthorCorp picnic your father purposely stepped on my toes. Dad maintains that it was an accident but I don't think so."

"You probably seemed too happy and my father wanted to squash you."

"It must have been hard growing up with that possibility looming over you at all times."

The blast of a car horn pulls Chloe's gaze back to the street. Spotting her father, she waves at him as he parks the car. "There's my ride. And thanks for the assist."

All energy and motion, she is almost to the door when she swivels back around to face him. "I do like you better now. When you're just being and not trying to be."

Lex shifts a little and when he speaks his voice is sharp. " 'The hearts of small children are delicate organs. A cruel beginning in this world can twist them into curious shapes. The heart of a hurt child can shrink so that forever afterward it is hard and pitted as the seed of a peach.' "

Recognizing the trace of a threat in his voice, Chloe backs toward the door. She realizes she is being warned away. A little angry, she shoves open the door and steps outside.

Lex watches her at the door as she motions for her father to wait. She yanks a small notebook from her bag and writes with both speed and purpose. She tears the page free, scurries over to the window and holds up the paper that reads: "Carson McCullers."

He half-smirks at her. She flips the page where she has scrawled the rest of the quotation which reads: 'Or, again, the heart of such a child may fester and swell until it is misery to carry within the body, easily chafed and hurt by the most ordinary things.'

She darts off leaving the paper clinging to the glass.


Still in her pajamas, Chloe settles down in her bed with a copy of the Sunday Daily Planet. Her eyes fix on something on the page. A smile almost seems to light up her face. She drops the paper to the floor and grabs a pillow to smother her laughter.

A small headline on the front page of the business section reads, "LuthorCorp Acquires S. Martinelli & Company."