Title: Someone to
Watch Over Me
Author email: email@example.com
Author webpage: http://www.watchersjournal.com/aelora/aelora.html
Genre: Het, Original character, Drama, Romance
Disclaimer: These characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Brothers. Except for Sinjun. She's mine.
Summary: Clark's cousin moves to town. Told between alternating viewpoints of Lex and Sinjun.
Warnings: Yes, there is sex in this. What did you expect?? It's Lex!!
WATCH OVER ME
Part One - Coming Home
Have you ever felt
Like your only comfort was your cage You're not alone
I can’t believe he gave you the job just like that,” Chloe commented over her latte with a shake of her head. “Although I will admit you looked like a pro on the news tonight.”
I rolled my eyes. “Uncle Jon was so completely unimpressed by that,” I told her while beside me Clark grunted in agreement. “Dinner tonight was like the Spanish Inquisition.”
Which was exactly why Clark had suggested we take a break from the house and head to the Talon for coffee and some relaxation. Chloe had been sitting by herself, working on an article when we had arrived, and she had gladly put her work away to join us in a chat. Apparently she had seen the news report regarding Mr. Carver’s unfortunate accident and her father, Gabe Sullivan, had told her all about the afternoon’s events between myself and Lex. She told me how funny her father thought my reactions were. I made a mental note to have a chat with good old Gabe the next morning.
“Mr. Kent doesn’t exactly keep his feelings regarding the Luthor’s hidden,” Chloe said with a smirk.
“Not exactly,” I agreed wryly.
“I just wish my dad would give Lex a chance,” Clark said, staring down at his empty cup. He looked up at us with an earnest gaze. “He’s a good guy. Not like his father at all. I don’t see why no one else seems to see that.”
I smiled. I couldn’t help it. Clark would bring a rabid raccoon home saying it wasn’t the raccoon’s fault it was killing everything in sight. “Clark, you see the innate goodness in everyone. The rest of us are just cynics.”
“Yeah,” Chloe agreed with a grin. “Money and power corrupt. And with the amount of money Lex has --”
“Absolute money corrupts absolutely, or something like that,” I corrected with a smile. “With that kind of money, corruption turns into pure, unadulterated sleaze.”
We both laughed heartily at that but Clark didn’t seem too pleased with my assessment of the situation, flashing us both an unhappy frown. “It’s not funny. Lex isn’t like that. He’s very generous. Look what he did with the Talon and other local businesses. And he always does what it takes not to lay people off at the plant. In fact, he’s increased jobs over there. Including, I might add, one director of PR.”
“Touché,” I replied, saluting my cousin with my spoon. “Clark, we’re just teasing.”
Chloe piped up, “I wasn’t.”
I grinned over at her. I liked Chloe. She was full of spunk. Turned back to Clark, I said, “Well, I am teasing. I don’t know Lex Luthor well enough to cast any judgment, except that he has given me this rather surprising position which leaves me slightly biased toward granting Lex his Sainthood.”
Chloe snorted. “Great. I can see it now. Towering statues all over Smallville of Saint Luthor.”
Even Clark found that funny. We laughed until other patrons started flashing us those “Aren’t you obnoxious!” glances, forcing us to muffle our laughter as best we could and try to steer the conversation elsewhere. Chloe seemed bound and determined to write an article about me and my return to Smallville to which I continually denied granting her permission to do so. Like any high school girl, she resorted to pouting which left her open for Clark to make a few well placed remarks. I sat back and watched the two of them trade barbs back and forth for a few minutes, wondering if my blockheaded cousin had any idea how much the blonde across the table cared about him. God, was I that obvious when I had a crush? I sure as hell hoped I had grown out of that.
It wasn’t too much later that I had the distinct pleasure of watching Clark turn into a bumbling idiot when his longtime crush, Lana Lang, walked over to say hello. I thought he would have gotten over her long ago. Apparently, I was mistaken in that assumption. Not that he could be blamed for his choice. Lana was the girl all high school boys dreamed of – tiny and beautiful, smart and sweet, former cheerleader dating the captain of the football team. She was the type of girl I used to sneer at as they passed me by in the hallway when I was sixteen. I glanced over at Chloe while Lana continued to chat with Clark and noticed how she appeared to fade herself into the background. Oh, how I understood that form of defense. I flashed her an encouraging smile. Did boys as men grow out of their stupidity? Somehow, I doubted it.
When I went to bed that night, I got very little sleep. I nodded off quite quickly, but then I began having nightmares. First of my parents’ accident. I had been forced to go to the coroners and identify the bodies, and I kept seeing their corpses, now transposed into the mangle that had been their car. Their sightless eyes always staring up at me, almost accusing in a way, like somehow it was my fault. That nightmare faded into a recurring dream that I had suffered through all of my life. I still could make little sense of it.
It started with my walking down the hallway of this large mansion, which I had by now realized was the White House. Why I dreamed of myself there I have no idea. I’ve never been there, not even for a school trip. Anyway, I’m walking down the hallway and everything is kind of bathed in this white light, and there’s some beautiful music playing somewhere in the distance and vases of fragrant flowers and everything seems completely perfect and wonderful. I step into the Oval Office where everything is much the same except for silence. The music fades, and the silence soon becomes so suffocating that I run for the windows to open them, to step out onto the veranda. Only, I realize the windows, the glass doors, anything that might allow me to escape to the outside is barred against me. I’m locked in. This beautiful world in which I seem to inhabit is actually some sort of prison. I panic, knowing that if I don’t escape soon, I’ll go insane. I always wake up before that transformation occurs though. Guess I don’t want to have to deal with the after-effects. This time when I woke up, I couldn’t get back to sleep. It had been over a year since I’d had that dream and this time it felt more realistic than ever before.
After conversing with my uncle the night before, I was given the same chores around the farm that I always had in the past when I visited – feeding chickens, milking two of the dairy cows, helping aunt Martha with breakfast in the kitchen, and finally the dishes. I didn’t mind it at all, at least I felt as if I belonged there. It was the getting up at five thirty in the morning that kind of hurt. At least by the time I showered, dressed and left for work, I was wide awake. No chance of falling asleep at my desk and certainly no need to hit the caffeine hard.
True to his word, when I got to the plant I found that the door to Lex’s office was open. I stepped in, turning on the lights and stared for a long moment, acclimating myself to the fact that I was actually being given the chance to work here. It was a daunting prospect. I didn’t think someone like me belonged in an office like that and considered asking Lex for something a bit smaller and less… ostentatious.
I’d enjoy it while I was there though. I was no fool. I grabbed myself a bottle of Ty Nant – at $7.50 a bottle, I figured I might as well enjoy it – and sat down gingerly in the chair behind the desk. I’d never sat in a LazyBoy that felt that good. Grinning, I leaned back, enjoying the sound of the leather creaking against my back. Wow. A person could get used to living like this. I sipped the water, wondering why anyone would pay for something they could just as easily get out of the faucet for free. Obviously I wasn’t cut out to be filthy rich because I couldn’t understand the way their minds worked.
I jumped, as if I were being caught with my hand in the cookie jar, relieved when I saw it was Gabe who was entering the office. He was carrying a large box in his hands. “Hey, Gabe. What do you have there?”
He deposited his load onto the desk. “Lex told me to pull these for you this morning. Every file for the past twelve years on what’s been printed about the plant in the press.”
I made a face. Great. Reading.
“He also had me pick this up for you.” Gabe reached into the box grabbing something into his hand and tossing it to me.
I looked at it for a moment then at the plant manager. “A cell phone?”
Gabe nodded. “Lex is the only one with the number. Said he wants to be able to contact his PR director at a moment’s notice.”
“Why am I beginning to think I might regret this?” I muttered, wondering how safe it was for any employee to be a button’s push away from their boss’s beck and call.
Gabe seemed to nod at my comment, reaching into the box again and withdrawing a slim laptop to place it in front of me. “Best one out there today. Actually I had to beat my daughter down to keep her from taking it this morning.”
I laughed. “Tell Chloe she can have my job and the laptop, and I will go back to high school.”
“I’d prefer to leave my daughter where she is,” he told me with a raised brow.
Was that a warning? Gabe left the office before I could ask. Sighing, I glanced into the box at the files. There had to be a good two hundred or more folders stacked in there. I began digging through them, realizing they weren’t in any real order, which completely frustrated me. So I ended up yanking them all out onto the desk and began to put them in order by date. Only some of the folders weren’t dated so I had to read through them to find a date, then mark the folder correctly. The process was a long and drawn out one, and it only took a few hours before I had them scattered all over the office, on the floor, the bar, wherever I could find room to make some sense of the myriad of articles that had appeared in papers and publications throughout the nation on LuthorCorp Chemical Plant Number 3.
Not that I did not immediately discover there was some fascinating reading there. Not the articles themselves. They were your standard interviews and exposes, covering everything from the opening of the plant to accidents and layoffs, restructuring and innovations. Boring stuff really, until you read between the lines. There were certain omissions here and there of facts I thought would have been pertinent to any news article. There were other articles that obviously should have had follow-ups but instead seemed to simply die. Most of those had also been placed on the back page of the Life & Style section of newspapers. You know, places avid readers of the newspaper never look. I’m not saying there were obvious cover-ups going on throughout the twelve years of the plant’s life but… Okay, I am saying that. I wondered how many reporters Lionel Luthor owned. Only cynicism and plenty of James Bond movies would make a person even entertain such a thought. No company was this clean.
I was stretched out on the floor, my second bottle of Ty Nant beside me, perusing through an extremely interesting article regarding the non-existent Level Three, which was explained to be little more than a basement when I had the inexplicable feeling that I was being watched. I looked up towards the door and felt myself blanch.
“So this is what my son has decided to spend my hard earned money on in his latest venture to get my attention, is it?” Lionel Luthor strolled into the office, staring down at me. “A PR Director who lounges around on the floor, destroys my office and helps herself to my water.”
I would have been really grateful if the floor had swallowed me whole right about then. Unfortunately, it didn’t. Instead, I was forced to scramble to my feet before Lionel Luthor walked over and kicked me, which I am certain was his actual intent.
“I… erm… was just going through the PR files from the past twelve years, Mr. Luthor, and – “
He snatched the file I currently held in my hands away from me. “And what makes you think you have that right?”
I blinked. This man really did not like me. “I… Lex asked me to – “
“Lex is not the owner of LuthorCorp,” Lionel sneered at me. “I am. As such, I make the decisions as to who is going to work for me and who is going to handle the PR for LuthorCorp, and I can guarantee you that will not be done by a college dropout from Smallville, Kansas!”
I was about two seconds away from complete and total hysteria.
“Not fair, dad,” Lex’s voice called out smoothly from the door. “You make it sound as if Miss St. Claire wasn’t carrying a four point oh GPA in her studies at Metropolis U.”
Lionel continued to stare down at me, and I felt I was shrinking the entire time. I swear he was looming over me. In the space of a few minutes, the man went from an average height to giant size. I felt like a bug being properly squashed. It was not a pleasant sensation.
“Lex,” Lionel replied, still not turning from me. “You’ve overstepped your boundaries this time in your bid to get back at dear old dad. I’m not going to let you destroy my company’s reputation because you thought some pretty bit of fluff would make a cute PR manager.”
Pretty? Was that a backhanded compliment or insult? For someone who wasn’t used to such compliments, especially from billionaires, I decided to let myself believe it was the former.
“Consider yourself fired, Miss St. Claire,” Lionel told me firmly.
Well, that was the shortest job I had ever held.
“Ignore that, Miss St. Claire,” Lex countered, suddenly standing beside me. I don’t know how he got there. I must have been too focused on the fury in his father’s expression. “I hired you, remember.”
The Battle of the Luthors. I really didn’t want to be in the middle of this.
Trying to ignore the darkening of Lionel Luthor’s eyes as he glared at his son, I glanced over at Lex. “Sorry about the mess I made.”
Lex shrugged, his gaze locked with his fathers. “It’s good to see you hard at work. It makes my decision that much more warranted.”
“Lex – “ His father began but Lex turned to me, ignoring him.
“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off?” He told me. “Don’t worry about the files. They’ll still be here when you get back in the morning.”
Yeah. Like I believed I would have a job to come back to. I was happy for the dismissal though. I wanted out of there. Calmly – I was very proud of myself for that – I moved around the desk and grabbed my purse, preparing to make a hasty exit.
“Miss St. Claire?”
I turned and looked back at Lex who was holding my half-empty bottle of Ty Nant out to me. Sheepishly, I took it from him. “Thanks.”
He nodded, then returned his gaze to his father. I watched them both for a moment longer, knowing that there was an enormous battle of wills silently going on. Oh to be a fly on the wall! What exactly did billionaires quarrel about anyway? Having really no inclination to find out, I did my best not to sprint for the door and simply walked sedately out into the main office, closing the door to the Luthor office behind me.
Gabe walked in just as I did so. He frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“Lionel Luthor,” I whispered.
His eyebrows shot up. “Here? Now?”
“Well, good thing I still have to do work in the warehouse.” He turned to leave.
“I’ve been told to go home for the day. If I don’t see you in the morning… Well, thanks for hiring me.”
Gabe looked back at me and smiled. “I think you need to give Lex a little more credit than that.” He opened the door to make his escape. “See you tomorrow, Sinjun.”
Yeah. Tomorrow. First though, I had to get through today.
And it really wasn’t my day at all.
Aunt Martha had work to do on the farm so she told me to take her car into work that morning. The only problem was, as I was making my way back to the farm after being summarily dismissed from the plant by Lex and his father, her car decided to die on me. Just like that. Luckily, I did manage to get it off the road the moment it began to cough and sputter and roll into a coast.
Unfortunately, not being a mechanic by trade, when I opened the hood, I couldn’t make any sense of what might be wrong with the vehicle. Everything looked fine to me. But of course it wasn’t because it wouldn’t start. So here I was, stuck on the side of the road. This is Smallville. Kansas. Meaning the next bit of traffic that passed by could be in an hour or two. If I were lucky. It was the perfect end to a perfect day. And the day wasn’t even over yet. I was beginning to wonder if this was Smallville’s way of welcoming me back home.
I was sitting on the trunk of the car, debating the amount of time it would take for me to hike to the farm in my heels when the black Ferrari sped around the corner of the road, cutting it dangerously at about seventy miles an hour. It took every ounce of will I had not to leap from the car and dive for cover in fear for my life as the vehicle screeched to a stop in front of me. Obviously I already knew who it was, since I doubted there were that many Ferrari’s being sold in Smallville. So I just continued to sit there on the trunk, chin in hand, watching as the driver side door opened and Lex, once again looking cool and composed in all black, emerged.
“Car trouble?” He asked, making his long-gaited way over to me.
I realized I was staring and quickly averted my eyes. “I guess. It died. Now it won’t start. Not being a mechanic I can only assume it’s dead.”
“Need a lift to the Kent farm?” Lex offered.
“Only if you promise not to drive like you were just a moment ago.”
A smile. “Demands from the woman whose job I just saved? Tsk. Tsk.”
I reddened. “You mean I still have an office to come back to in the morning?”
Lex shrugged. “Who else am I going to get to pick up that mess?”
I laughed. I had never expected this teasing from the man I thought was Lex Luthor. Maybe Clark’s claims about him were reasonable after all. He reached out to help me down from the car and I took the offered hand, my heel immediately getting caught in a rock, throwing me against him. I didn’t plan that. I really didn’t. I promise. I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do such a thing. Not that I was complaining. For as thin as he appeared to be, the body I was leaning against seemed to be comprised of nothing but solid strength. And he smelled as good as he had the day before. It was like a mixture of mint and brandy and spices that was probably created for the sole purpose of having women throw themselves against him the same as I just had. Only I hadn’t. Not on purpose anyway.
Glancing up at him, I found that he was watching me, his expression once more unreadable, guarded. Then the faintest touch of a smile touched his lips. “Good thing you didn’t try walking home, hmm?”
And then he pulled back from me, quite quickly actually, so that I was in danger of losing my balance again, but I quickly saved myself from doing so. After all, I didn’t want to look like a complete idiot. I watched as he walked over to the passenger side door of the Ferrari, held it open for me. Wow. A gentleman, too. Who knew? I moved over to the car and gracefully lowered myself into the seat – gracefully, ha! – immediately securing the seatbelt into place as Lex shut the door. Then he was sliding into the driver’s side, and the engine roared to life. Oh yeah. I had forgotten that I didn’t get that promise out of him.
Gripping the cushion of my seat until my knuckles turned white, I tried to turn my focus off of the road and to the man beside me. “So… does your father turn up like that often?”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lex frown and realized that maybe I shouldn’t have brought the topic of his father up. “Often enough. Actually, this was just another one of his power trips. He doesn’t like it when I get one up on him. He just needed to remind me how much I disappoint him as a son.”
“Ah. One of those Hallmark type father/son relationships,” I commented, trying to lighten the dark mood that suddenly descended from my question.
Lex looked over at me but said nothing. I refrained from telling him to keep his eyes on the road. He turned his gaze back to the road in time to see the blind curve and take it sharply. I just closed my eyes, not opening them again until I felt something in my lap. I looked down to see the cell phone sitting there. I turned to look at Lex.
“You left it in the office. My cell is programmed in as the second number. My home as the third and the plant as the fourth.”
“And the first?” I asked, picking the tiny thing up and examining it.
That was considerate of him. Another point for Lex. I was beginning to join with Clark in the question as to what the hell was it that my uncle had against him.
“So what kind of name is Sinjun anyway?”
I smiled. “What kind of name is Lex?”
Lex kind of smiled in reply. “It’s short for Alexander.”
“I won’t hesitate to guess that your father named you after Alexander the Great,” I commented.
“Why do you think that?”
I shrugged. “He just seems the type. The question is, are you living up to your namesake?” I looked over at him.
“I will,” he replied, turning to meet my gaze. “And you haven’t answered my question.”
I sighed. “Unfortunately, though my parents may not be able to compete with yours financially, they also had lofty expectations for me. My mother was obsessed with Joan of Arc but she hated the name Joan. So my father, who is… was a huge James Bond freak, as well as anything British, suggested taking Saint Joan and giving it the same pronunciation as the British pronounce St. John – Sinjun. And thus created a legacy of being teased at school.”
“I like it.”
I looked up to see Lex flash me a quick smile, which I found myself returning. “Thanks.”
The next few minutes were silent between us as Lex pulled up the drive to the farm. Putting the car in park, he turned to regard me, and I once more felt myself fidgeting under his steady gaze. It would have been easier if I could have read what he was thinking.
“I hope my father didn’t overly upset you today,” he told me quietly.
I looked out the windshield in front of me, uncomfortable under those pale blue eyes. “Upset? Nah. Unless you consider almost puking because the hysteria has built up so quickly within you that you’re sure you’re going to start screaming at any moment as not being overly upset.”
Lex laughed. He had a really nice laugh, and I felt myself relax a little, enough that I was able to look at him again. “Well, you didn’t show it and that scored points with my father if nothing else.”
“Really?” I raised a brow. “I was positive I must have appeared as a blur I was shaking so much.”
“No.” Lex shook his head. “You held up well. Just one more point that I was correct in my decision.”
His praise embarrassed me. I have never taken compliments well. And, well, these were coming from an extremely good-looking and charming billionaire. Good thing uncle Jonathon can’t read minds, or he would probably kill me at dinner tonight. I really needed to get away from this infatuation with the man who was now my boss.
Already knowing the answer, but remembering my manners anyway, I asked, “Would you like to come in?”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” he replied, shaking his head. “Your uncle isn’t exactly fond of me.”
As if I didn’t know. I couldn’t help but notice the tone of Lex’s voice when he said that, though. It had been soft, slightly sorrowful, self-deprecating. I couldn’t help but wonder what someone like Lex Luthor would be doing worrying about Jonathon Kent’s opinion of him. Taking a deep breath and reminding myself that it really wasn’t any of my business what my boss was thinking, I unlocked my seat belt and opened the door to get out.
“Thanks for the ride,” I said, turning back and leaning down to face him.
He smiled. “You even survived it.”
I smiled back at him.
“Don’t forget. I expect you to be back at work on those files first thing tomorrow morning,” he reminded me.
I stepped back and watched as the Ferrari tore down the driveway and sped away from sight down the dirt road. Maybe having that much money made you feel secure that nothing would ever happen to you. I could never drive like that. It was almost as if he were trying to get himself killed. You know, live fast, die young, leave a beautiful corpse. Of course, Lex Luthor didn’t seem to be the suicidal type. There seemed to be a little too much drive to him, like he meant what he said about living up to his namesake. I could only suppose that with a father like Lionel Luthor, there would be little other choice in how you would turn out. That thought led me to the confrontation in the office between father and son. Obviously, things had turned out in Lex’s favor – as well as my own – but I couldn’t help but wonder at what cost to each of them. What a strange relationship. Oh well. It wasn’t really any of my business anyway.
When I entered the kitchen through the back door, aunt Martha, uncle Jonathon and Clark were all seated around the table, talking. They fell to silence the moment I walked in. That made me pause. It wasn’t the first time in the past few days that this had happened. Ever feel like someone’s keeping something from you? I mean, either they were talking about me, which I highly doubted because the Kent’s just weren’t like that. Or they were hiding something from me. Which I kind of doubted as well because, like I said, the Kent’s weren’t like that. But what other explanation was there? They would clam up and all three look guilty, unable to look me in the eye, staring at various areas around the room like they were doing now. It was enough to give somebody a complex.
“Interrupting something?” I asked, dropping my purse on the counter.
“No,” aunt Martha smiled. “We’re just a little surprised to see you home so early.”
“Long story,” I replied, not really wanting to give my uncle another reason to start in on the Luthor’s. “Unfortunately, on the way home your car died on me, aunt Martha. It’s a few miles down the road.”
“You didn’t walk all of that way, did you?” My aunt asked, her brow furrowed with concern.
“No, I.. uh… got a ride… from Lex.”
Clark grinned. “Lex does things like that.”
I could tell he was commenting on our conversation the night before. I stuck my tongue out at him.
“Come on, Clark,” uncle Jonathon said, leaving the table to walk past me to the door. “Let’s go see what’s wrong with your mom’s car. We’ll be back.”
I wandered over to the refrigerator for a can of pop as they left. Aunt Martha began preparations for dinner. Looked like we were having chicken. Glad to see I missed the allocation of said chicken. Sitting at the table with my diet Pepsi and grabbing an apple to munch on, I asked, “So what was that all about?”
Aunt Martha looked at me for a moment, and I could swear I saw her carefully considering her words. She replied, “One of the boys in Clark’s class drowned this morning in his family’s pond. They were able to revive him thankfully. He was an old friend of Clark’s. They used to fish in that pond all of the time.”
“Glad to hear he’s okay.” I ate a few bites of the apple, thinking. Frowning, I glanced over at my aunt. “How’d he drown? I mean, didn’t he know how to swim?”
Aunt Martha shrugged. “He and Clark used to go swimming in the river all of the time. I don’t know what happened. Clark didn’t go into too much detail.”
Weird. But then, weird things always happened in Smallville. It was one of the reasons my father had been eager to take the position offered to him by Lionel Luthor to move to Plant Number One. He had wanted out of Smallville. I had never understood it and never asked why he had such an aversion to his hometown. It always took an argument from my mother to even get permission for me to visit the farm every summer. When I had tried questioning her about my father’s reluctance, she had answered with something about overgrown vegetables and mutant animals that my father was afraid I could be exposed to. I always thought it was something more than that but never had the nerve to bring it up. Now I guess I never can.
Clark and uncle Jonathon returned a few hours later having repaired aunt Martha’s car but saying it still needed some work done to it. That would mean uncle Jonathon would need to give me a ride to and from work each day. I really needed to save up and buy a car. Over dinner, Clark suggested I ask Lex for a company car, at which time my uncle almost had a coronary, and I had to quickly tell Clark that the position and raise were quite enough and I really couldn’t ask any more of Lex. That seemed to mollify my uncle, even though he was none too pleased about the cell phone. He wondered what possible reason Lex would need to get a hold of me at a moment’s notice. I had wondered the same thing but didn’t need to add my suspicions to my uncle’s or the next thing I would know, I’d be working at some boutique store on Main Street.
It was after midnight, in the middle of my recurring dream when I am just entering the Oval Office, that a strange whirring sound woke me up. I opened my eyes, wondering if it was my imagination when it went off again. Sitting up, I stared into the darkness, listening to this whirring sound, wondering what the hell it was, when I remembered the damn cell phone. Scrambling out of bed, I searched in the darkness for my purse, stubbing my toe twice in the process before I found it. Digging through it, I pulled the obnoxious little bugger into my hand, stared at it for a moment looking for a button that might make it stop whirring, before I noticed the one that said “talk”. I pushed it and blessedly the thing went silent before I finally put it to my ear.
“It’s Lex. Did I wake you?”
“No. I’m normally wandering the house at,” I glanced at the clock, “Two o’clock in the morning. I figured I’d start feeding the chickens early or something.”
“Your sarcasm is duly noted,” came the reply. Maybe there was even a hint of a smile. “Be outside in five.”
I blinked. “You’re joking, right?”
“No. There’s been a break-in at the plant. I want you there.”
“A suicide one day and a break-in the next?” I asked in exasperation as I flipped on the light, groaned at its brightness and began tugging on my jeans. “That’s not a very good track record, Lex. Something you wanna share with me?”
“Yeah. You’ve got less than four minutes.”
“Hell.” I hung up the phone, tossed it into my purse – ignoring the fact that I just hung up on Lex Luthor – and quickly finished getting dressed.
There really wasn’t time to look as professional as I wanted, so I had to opt for jeans and a nice blouse. My hair was another matter altogether. I didn’t have time to go through my hair accessories for something to pin it up with, so I quickly wound it into a knot and stuck a pen through it. You never knew when you might need a pen handy. Tugging on some flats, I grabbed my purse and darted down the stairs just as I heard the Ferrari roar into the drive. Just as I was headed out the door, I heard Clark call out behind me from the stairs:
“Hey, what’s going on?”
“Something at the plant. Hopefully I’ll be back soon. Go back to bed.” That said, I hurried out the door and over to the waiting sportscar.
“You hung up on me,” Lex commented as I slid into the seat.
“It was that or go to the plant in my flannel pj’s,” I snapped.
“Note to self: Miss St. Claire is not a morning person.”
I rolled my eyes. “It’s Sinjun, please? And it’s not morning. It’s obscene.”
I glanced over to see Lex smile. In the illumination from the dashboard lights on his pale skin, he appeared almost diabolical. Still extremely good-looking, but not quite of this world.
“I’m glad you find this so entertaining,” I told him. “But you aren’t the one who has to get up at five-thirty to do chores, only to then spend the rest of your morning and afternoon reading through extremely tedious files.”
“And don’t forget cleaning the mess you left with the files,” my boss added.
“You’re really making me rethink this whole promotion, you know.”
Lex smiled. “Are you always this entertaining?”
I shrugged. “I try. Sarcasm prevents me from telling my boss exactly what I would like to say to him at, “ I glanced at my watch, “Two ten in the morning.” I quickly covered a yawn, then asked, “So what is this all about?”
“No telling. Could be just some kids breaking and entering. Could be something more. Nothing appeared to be stolen but… “
I raised a brow at that. “But?”
Lex sighed, flickered his gaze toward me. “Did you get to anything about Level Three in those files yesterday?”
“Yeah. The “supposed” Level Three which your father claims was never anything more than the basement. Sure did. Why?”
“Well, whoever it was that broke in apparently spent most of their time in that area. Barrels were knocked over, doors opened, empty crates smashed.”
“But nothing ever happened down there,” I commented ironically.
Lex flashed me an expression I would soon come to recognize and know well. It was a cross between “Don’t go there” and “Perhaps you’re too smart for your own good”. Normally such a look would have sent warning beacons flashing in my mind but at that moment I was just too tired to care. Every major corporation had its skeletons to hide. That was why the profession of Public Relations was created in the first place. I seriously doubted that LuthorCorp was any different. The problem was, if Lex and his father did have things that they would prefer to keep out of the public knowledge, then I needed to know what those were. For now, if Lex wanted to continue to play “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, I’d let him.
When we arrived at the plant, Gabe was there along with plant security and two of the local deputies. Luckily no press had arrived yet, which was kind of funny to me since I always considered them to be night creatures – you know, vampires. Gabe met us at the entrance and immediately led us down the hall to the elevator and finally to Level Three, which had been reopened since the incident with Earl Jenkins but not yet used for anything. He explained that there were absolutely no signs of forceful entry anywhere and security was emphatic that everything had been locked securely. When I asked how they knew there was a break-in at all, he said that the two guards on duty had heard noises during their scheduled patrol. That was what had led them to find the mess in Level Three. Lex appeared slightly agitated, so I left Gabe to deal with him when we reached the basement while I wandered off to do some investigating of my own. I started with the security guards, who were currently in discussion with the deputies. I recognized Roland Chalmers as the guard who was always on his way out in the morning as I got in. He was the first one I approached.
“Miss St. Claire.” He turned to me, nodding. “I heard about your promotion. Congratulations.”
News travels fast. “Thanks. What happened here?”
“Good question.” He took off his cap, scratched his head. “Rob and I were just doing our regular walk around the place when we heard something like the sound of barrels being knocked over down here. So we split up and took separate routes down to the floor but when we got here, there was no one around. Just this mess.” He spread his hands, indicating the scattered remains of wooden crates and knocked-over barrels. “That’s when we began looking for signs of entry or exit or something but couldn’t find any.”
“And you’re certain there was someone here? I mean, this couldn’t have happened at some other time? Maybe a daytime employee getting curious?”
Roland shook his head. “No. You see, that’s the strangest part about this. I was down here, on the floor, when I still heard someone moving around. In fact, I could swear I had seen movement. But when I turned my flashlight in that direction, there was nothing there.”
“What about the other guard – Rob?”
Roland called him over and introduced us. I asked him the same questions as Roland and he gave me pretty much the same answers.
I sighed. “And that’s it? There’s nothing else?”
Rob frowned. “Well, this might sound a little weird.”
“I can handle weird.”
“Well, I heard a splash.”
Rob must have noticed the frown I was giving because he quickly elaborated, “Yeah, a splash. Like water hitting something. Like a lot of water hitting something all at once. Can’t really explain it except it was like taking a bucket of water and suddenly dumping it onto the floor.”
I looked over at Roland. “Did you hear this, too?”
He shook his head. “No. But then, we were at opposite ends of the room.”
“And where were you when you heard this, Rob?”
“Okay. Thanks, guys. I’m sure Lex will want to speak with you next.” I glanced at Roland. “Mind if I borrow your flashlight?”
Taking it in hand, I walked away from them, toward the direction Rob had pointed me in. I spent the next several minutes searching for something – what, I had no idea, but I knew that something had to be there to give us a clue as to what was going on. I was just about to give up when I turned the light to my right and noticed something out of the corner of my eye on the floor. Frowning, I moved closer, more than a little surprised when I discovered a small puddle of water. Cocking my head to the side in curiosity, I walked over and crouched down beside it. There wasn’t quite enough there to constitute a “splash” such as Rob had described, but the simple fact that it was there at all was enough to confuse me. I began pointing the flashlight around me, searching for a sensible source that the water would have come from. There was a drain a few feet away on the floor that I focused on.
I started at Lex’s voice, muttering under my breath about people sneaking up on me in their expensive Italian shoes. He leaned over beside me.
“Just this puddle,” I replied, pointing. “Has this level flooded recently?”
Lex turned to look over his shoulder, calling out, “Gabe? Come here a moment, please.”
Gabe walked over to us. “Yeah?”
“Has there been any recent flooding down here?”
“No, sir.” Gabe shook his head, looking at both of us quizzically.
“Can you explain where this water may have come from?” I asked, pointing the light at the puddle.
He shook his head, then looked up and Lex and I followed his gaze. Unfortunately, there were no pipes directly over us. No sign of water on the ceiling above either.
“Curiouser and curiouser,” I commented softly, once more glancing from the drain to the puddle.
“What do you think happened, Alice?” Lex asked quietly beside me.
I looked over at him and we grinned at one another for a moment. “While I doubt any of this has to do with white rabbits and magic mushrooms, I am willing to admit I’m stumped. I think I’ll leave this one to the experts.”
“That’s not what I was hoping to hear,” Lex told me with a frown.
I shrugged. “So sue me. I’ve only been awake for little over half an hour. My brain isn’t exactly functioning at the moment.”
“Hopefully it’s functioning enough to put together something plausible for the press by morning,” Lex replied, standing. “I’m going to have a word with the deputies.”
“Slave driver,” I muttered as he walked off.
Sighing, I found my gaze drawn to the puddle once more. There was something about it that bothered me. I tapped my fingers against the flashlight for a moment then reached out and touched the water. It was cool to the touch and felt slightly… well, slimy actually. Like how your skin feels covered in soap. I rubbed it between the pads of my fingers for a moment before holding them up to my nose and sniffing it. I made a face. It smelled like… fertilizer. Nothing too significant in a plant that made fertilizer daily. I mean, I swore I walked away from there each day smelling like the stuff. But still, something about it bothered me. Maybe I was just becoming a naturally suspicious person. Maybe that article about the non-existent Level Three was hovering on my conscious. Either way, I had the feeling this couldn’t be ignored. Climbing to my feet, I glanced over my shoulder as Lex called out that he was going up to the office and would meet me there. I nodded and returned to the task at hand.
Forty-five minutes later, Lex and I climbed back into his car. Nothing more had been discovered. Again, nothing seemed to be stolen. It simply appeared as if someone had somehow snuck their way into Level Three and had a temper tantrum. I could tell the whole situation was bothering Lex, but he didn’t know or trust me well enough to confide in me. Not that it bothered me greatly. I had a feeling there were probably more than a few secrets regarding LuthorCorp that I didn’t want to know. Digging into my pocket, I found what I was looking for and held it out to him.
Lex glanced briefly from the road down to my hand, which held the tiny vial. “What’s that?”
“A sample of that puddle that was on the floor. I figured you probably knew a scientist or two who could check it out.”
He took it from me, held it up to the light. “You think there’s something to this?”
“Don’t know.” I shrugged. “It smelled very
strongly like fertilizer – “
“Everything in there smells like fertilizer, Sinjun.” Lex gave me a perturbed look.
“And it felt funny. Look, it’s just curious, is all. I doubt it’ll be a great burden to you to have it looked at.”
Lex pocketed it into his jacket. I fidgeted in the seat beside him, knowing I wasn’t going to get anymore sleep that night. I sincerely hoped he didn’t decide to make a habit of this. I was already beginning to feel the need to take a vacation.
The rest of the drive was silent; I’m sure Lex was as involved in thinking about this weird break-in as I was. Although probably for different reasons. I kept wondering what I was going to tell the press tomorrow when I began to receive phone calls. To say there was a break-in but there was no evidence of anything stolen or forced entry would leave the community asking too many questions. It would make security at the plant look under par, raise questions as to safety concerns and bring up too many speculations regarding the whole Level Three fiasco. That left lying. I was a horrible liar and didn’t think I could pull that off. Besides, one generally got caught in lie anyway, especially when it came to lying to the press. Nosey buggers.
I snapped out of my reverie when the car came to a stop and I noticed my uncle’s farmhouse out the window. There were lights on in the kitchen. Obviously one or all of my relatives were waiting up for me.
Lex noticed it too because he commented, “Looks like someone is worried about you.”
I half-smiled. “After two years at college on my own, I have to admit this can be a little stifling. Still, I know they mean well. They’re like another whole set of parents.”
I looked over to see Lex frowning. Not at me, not really at anything. Just frowning, looking unhappy about something. I was dying to ask him what he was thinking about but didn’t have the nerve to do so. Opening the door, I said, “Well, talk to you in a few hours I suppose.”
He looked over at me as if he had just remembered I was there. “Have any idea what you’re going to tell the press?”
“I don’t know. Think we could start a rumor about the ghost of Level Three?”
That got a smile as intended. “Somehow, I think that will defeat our purpose.”
He had a point. I sighed, glancing once more at the farmhouse, noting the swinging of a curtain in the kitchen window. Obviously someone wondering what was taking so long. Looking back down at Lex, I asked the question that had been hovering in my mind since earlier that day. “Is… is there anything I should know about Level Three, Lex?”
His expression hardened as he looked at me and I realized I had stepped a little too far over the invisible boundaries. “No,” he replied smoothly. “Why would there be?”
I shrugged. “Just doing my job, Mr. Luthor.”
Another dark look. I realized I was pushing, and I don’t think he was used to being pushed. “Lex.”
“Yeah. Right. Sorry. Lex.”
Lex shifted the car into gear, signaling the end of our little chat. “I’ll call you in the morning, Miss St. Claire.”
“Yeah. Right. Sorry. Sinjun.”
I pushed the door shut and watched him speed away. Two words came to mind at that moment: Plausible deniability.
Continue to Chapter Three
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