"Can you two spare a few minutes?" asked Sheriff Harris, standing over Lois and Clark's table in Shaw's Malt Shop. They looked up from their sundaes, and Clark said "What can we do for you, Rachel?"
"Sorry to interrupt your vacation," said the sheriff, "but I was hoping that you could help my cousin. He's lost touch with his parents, and so has everyone else we've tried." She gestured towards an embarrassed-looking young man in an ill-fitting lumber jacket, with a patch over one eye, who was standing in the doorway.
"How did it happen?" asked Lois, getting out a notebook. The sheriff gestured to her cousin again and said "He can explain it better than I can, and I need to do a few things. Can you find your own way back to the motel, Alexander?"
"Take a seat," said Clark, "and tell us what happened, Mister... is it Harris?"
"Call me Xander," said the sheriff's cousin, taking a seat from an unoccupied table and sitting at theirs.
"So long as it isn't Lex," thought Clark.
"Mister Harris is my dad," Xander continued. "We're the California side of the family, I think I'm actually the sheriff's third cousin or something. I've drawn a blank with the West Coast side of the family, so I thought I'd head this way and see if anyone here had heard anything."
"How did you come to lose track of them?" asked Lois. "Did they move while you were serving overseas?"
"Serving overseas?" asked Xander.
"I assumed..." began Lois, then tapered off in confused silence.
"That I lost my eye in the army or something?" said Xander. "No, I work construction, some carpentry. This happened a few miles from home, in Sunnydale."
"Sunnydale?" repeated Clark. "The city that collapsed into caves?"
"That's the one," said Xander. "The trouble was that I wasn't close to my parents before I lost the eye. By the time I was out of hospital, a week or so before the disaster, I'm pretty sure that they'd left town like most other people. At least the house was empty and the suitcases were gone when I went round to check. But they didn't leave a note or anything."
"Didn't they visit you in hospital?" asked Lois.
"I doubt anyone would have told them I was injured, and it didn't make the papers. Look... I'm not trying to get back together with them, I just want to be sure that mom's okay." Both reporters noticed that he didn't say anything about his father.
"You must have been there pretty late," said Clark. "From the news reports I remember, the town was almost deserted when it started to collapse." He'd flown over as soon as the reports came in, but by then the crater was already half-flooded, one side open to the sea, with no sign of survivors. He'd found a few bodies, that was all.
"Call me stupid," said Xander. "Most of the people in town were having premonitions of doom and taking off on vacation, I just went on working. I was finishing off a job at the high school when the cave-in started, ended up on a bus full of injured kids, giving first aid with the street collapsing behind us."
"Wow," said Lois. "I'm surprised that you didn't get on TV news, your parents might have seen that."
"I didn't think of it soon enough. My ex-fiancee was one of the people that didn't make it out. We were beginning to get back together when the town fell apart, when it really sank in I lost interest in other things. By the time I thought of getting on TV it was old news. They'd already interviewed some of the girls from the bus, and the networks just weren't interested in me. Same for the papers, at least around Los Angeles, which is where I ended up."
"Are you sure that she's dead?" asked Lois. "Your girlfriend, I mean."
"She was one of the bodies Superman recovered. Anya Emerson. I had to identify her."
"Oh," said Clark. He couldn't put a face to the name. He wasn't sure if he should feel sorry about that, most of the bodies had been badly mutilated by falling debris.
"If we can find out a little more we might be able to get the Planet to run it as a human interest story," said Lois. "Do you have any pictures of your parents?"
"I'm afraid not," said Xander. "I lost nearly everything when the town went under. Don't even have a good picture of Anya."
"There might be charities that could help..." began Clark.
"I'm not looking for charity," said Xander. "Some friends have offered me a pretty good job. But it's going to involve a lot of foreign travel and I'd really like to get back in touch with my parents now, because I won't be easy to reach once I start work."
"What kind of work is it?" asked Lois.
"There's a British foundation that researches mythology and folklore. They're expanding, need people to do field work for them, I'd be co-ordinating that in Africa and recruiting personnel for them."
"That's an odd career move for a construction worker," said Clark.
"I got into it in my spare time when I was in high school, picked up a lot without really noticing, and the guy who runs the foundation these days liked the work I was doing and offered me the job after Sunnydale went under." Lois thought that Xander sounded defensive. Maybe he thought that the job offer was another form of charity.
"Actually," said Lois, "Getting back to charities, I was thinking more in terms of the charities being able to locate your parents. Have you tried that?"
"Yeah. No luck so far."
"How about tracing their car, or their credit cards?"
"I don't have any details. The last car I know of was a blue '97 Ford Taurus, kinda beaten up, but I can't remember the license number and I think he was planning to replace it the last time I talked to them. As for credit cards, forget it; they were always shifting from one card to another to avoid the interest."
"Let me have the names and their old address," said Clark, getting out a notebook, "There are ways to trace them."
"It's Tony and Jessica Harris... look, won't it be a load of trouble for you?" asked Xander.
"I think it'd make a good human interest story," said Lois, "especially if we can find them for you."
"Okay then. We used to live..." Clark noted down the details.
"I think that's about it," Lois said a few minutes later. "That's probably enough to trace them, if they aren't hiding out for some reason."
"Hiding out?" asked Xander.
"From the IRS, or someone else they owe money to. Or possibly for some other reason."
"I don't think there's anything like that. If anything, they're probably entitled to a pay-out from the disaster fund. I got twelve thousand and I didn't even own my apartment, but they owned their house."
"Are you sure they haven't already claimed it?"
"I asked when I got my check, and the guy in charge promised to let me know if they contacted him."
"Might be worth checking again, just in case. Give me the details." Xander pulled out his wallet, rummaged through the contents, and gave Lois the case number and contact information. As he did so Clark had a sudden thought and lowered his glasses a little to check the wallet out with X-ray vision. Behind it... He accidentally saw a little deeper than he'd intended, and scanned the rest of Xander's body, paying particular attention to his skeleton, while pretending to be deep in thought.
"Clark?" said Lois. Clark shook his head slightly and said "Sorry, just trying to think if I know anyone in California that might be able to help. Maybe someone on the LA Tribune. But I don't have the number on me, I'll have to check when we get home. Talking of which..."
"I'm sorry," said Xander, "I'm delaying you."
"We'll have to go soon," said Lois, picking up on Clark's lead, "Clark's parents are looking after the kids, and they're expecting us back in an hour or so. And we won't be able to do much to help you until we can get on line and talk to some of our contacts, so we really ought to start moving."
"Okay," said Xander. "Thanks. I really do appreciate it. I'll head back to the motel, try calling a few more relatives, see if that gets me anywhere. But I think I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel, so anything you can find would be really helpful."
Lois waited until Xander had gone, then said "What was that about? They don't expect us until six." Clark leaned closer and quietly said "I was curious about something and took a look in his wallet. While I was looking I accidentally saw more than I'd intended."
"And he has more scars and injury marks than most of the soldiers I've met, including at least a dozen healed fractures. Some of them look old, others are comparatively recent. The eye's barely healed, and he has an abdominal stab wound that still has stitches. Quite a few others. Healed fractures in both arms, his wrist, and his left leg, and I think his ribs have been broken four or five times."
"He's lying about what he does? You think he's a soldier, or some sort of agent?"
"Some of the injuries are maybe eight or ten years old, I can tell by how well they've healed. He would have been no more than fifteen or sixteen, maybe younger."
Lois felt sickened and said "You're thinking child abuse? I got the impression that he didn't like his father much."
"Maybe. Sports injuries are another possibility, of course, but they don't look like it, unless he's been trying some very dangerous sports."
"If it was child abuse, why does he want to contact his parents?"
"I can think of quite a few scenarios. Maybe he's legitimately concerned, but what if he has some idea of revenge?"
"Or he could be a complete imposter," said Lois. "You get that after most big disasters, people who try to take on a new identity by pretending to be a survivor. He might know that the real Harris is dead, and plan to eliminate the only other people who could identify him."
"That's why I was checking his wallet," said Clark, finishing his sundae, "but most of the papers look old, and the credit cards go back a couple of years. He doesn't seem to have replaced everything three months ago. That probably rules out an imposter, unless there was enough to gain from it to justify the expense of convincingly aged forgeries, or he stole the real man's papers."
"Compensation," Lois said excitedly, following him to the door. "He might plan to put in a claim for the house as their heir, if they were safely out of the way. With them missing and no proof of death it could take years to settle the estate."
"I doubt it somehow," said Clark, climbing into the passenger seat of Lois's Jeep. "If he planned something like that why risk talking to Rachel? Or us for that matter?"
"I didn't think of that," said Lois, starting the engine. "Okay, what do you want to do?"
"Let's head back to the farm, then as soon as we're out of town Superman can fly back and watch him for a while. I'd better patrol Metropolis too, or people might wonder where I am."
"Let me off here," said Clark, once they were out of sight of the town. Lois stopped the Jeep, and he looked around for a second, making sure that nobody would see him, then spun into his costume, said "I'll be back in good time for supper if nothing comes up," and took off.
"Okay," Lois said to herself, putting her mobile phone into a hands-free holder and speed-dialing the Daily Planet as she started the Jeep again. "Jimmy... yes, I know we're on vacation... no, it isn't a story yet, but it might end up that way... see what you can dig up on a guy called Alexander Harris, calls himself Xander... X.. a.. n.. d.. e.. r.. from Sunnydale California... Yes, the cave-in. Parents Jessica and Anthony Harris, also of Sunnydale. See if there's anything in the morgue. Oh, and anything we have on the Sunnydale cave-in or the town before that happened..."
Several miles away and nearly two miles up Clark grinned to himself as he scanned Smallville, looking for Xander. They'd been vacationing for all of three days and Lois was aready desperate to find something to investigate. There probably wasn't anything to find, but that wasn't going to stop her. He spotted Xander entering a motel room, and watched with his X-ray and telescopic vision as he took his shoes off, lay on the bed, and dialled a long phone number. It began 011 44, which made it an overseas call to a number in Britain, the rest of the numbers meant nothing to him. Clark directed his hearing towards the room.
"Giles?... yeah, it's me... no, still no luck, but my cousin here's the sheriff, she had a good idea... no, Willow already tried that. No, my cousin knows a couple of investigative reporters from Metropolis, Lane and Kent from the Daily Planet, the guys who cover Superman. They're on vacation here and I've asked them if they can help..." There was a long pause, while Xander listened. At this distance Clark couldn't pick up the other end of the conversation, and if he tried to move in closer he might lose it completely. What he already had more or less proved that Xander was who he claimed to be, but Clark had a hunch that there was more. After listening for a while Xander said "Yeah, I know it's risking publicity, but nobody seems to be putting the pieces together. It'd be a neat human interest story if they find my folks, why should anyone dig into the background, or the whole Sunnydale mess?... Yeah, I know that... Okay, yes, I'll be careful. Talk to you soon... 'Bye." Xander ended the call and started to look through the H section of the county telephone book. Clark guessed that he wasn't likely to hear anything else that he didn't already know and headed for Metropolis.
"Lois was telling us about the sheriff's cousin," Jonathan Kent said that evening. "Did you learn anything more?"
"I'm pretty sure he's who he says he is," said Clark, helping himself to peas, "but he's hiding something."
"I knew it," said Lois. "Child abuse?" She glanced towards the stairs and the bedroom where their children were sleeping.
"I don't think so," said Clark. "It's something about Sunnydale. He said something like 'why should anyone dig into the whole Sunnydale mess?', which makes me wonder if there was more to the story than ever came out. There are a lot of questions I've never seen answered properly, like the reasons why the town was almost deserted when it happened, and why the evacuation didn't make the news before the town went under."
"I read up on it after the disaster," said Martha. "They had a lot of theories about the collapse, but nothing I'd call hard evidence. About the only things they've definitely ruled out are meteors and nuclear weapons. There wasn't any radiation or anything on radar, and the crater's all wrong for both of them. There's no explanation at all for why so many people left the town in the weeks before it happened, apart from some wild theories about subsonic sounds causing mass hysteria."
"You were there," said Jonathan, "Could you see anything unusual?"
"It was all over by the time I got there," said Clark. "Whatever happened was pretty fast. The crater's more than ten miles across and a few hundred feet deep, the town was smashed to rubble then started to flood from the sea. On all the evidence it just fell into a gigantic cave, a sudden collapse. As far as I could tell it wasn't volcanic, but I was more interested in looking for survivors. What about you? Did Jimmy come up with anything?"
"Did he ever," Lois said enthusiastically. "From the early nineteen-fifties up until the late nineties, on a per-capita basis Sunnydale led the USA in unsolved murders and missing persons. Pretty high on the list for gang related violence and non-lethal assaults. After ninety-seven or so things seemed to slacken off gradually, though the figures were still pretty high right up to the end. I think it was fourth after Gotham City, Chicago, and Washington DC. But for some reason it just never made the papers, and nobody knows why."
"The late nineties?" asked Clark.
"Around ninety-seven, ninety-eight. How old did you say Xander Harris's injuries were?"
"Some of them could be that old. Why?"
"Didn't you tell me once that Batman has scars on his scars?"
"You've met Batman?" asked Jonathan. "I always thought he was a myth."
"He's real," said Clark, "and as scary as hell."
"Any idea who he really is?" asked Martha.
"He knows," Lois said grumpily, "but he won't even tell me."
"It's not my secret," said Clark, "if he wants you to know he'll tell you."
"Does he know who you are?" asked Jonathan.
"They say he's the world's greatest detective," said Clark. "He knew who I was about an hour after I first met him, and could prove it at least three different ways."
"Anyway," Lois said firmly, "I think Xander Harris might be a vigilante."
"Talk about reaching..." said Clark.
"A lot of strange things happened in that town. An epidemic of laryngitis that coincided with some murders where the victims hearts were stolen, some weird thing where everyone started singing like they were in a musical, snow on Christmas day when the rest of Southern California was way too warm, a museum robbery where a guard was frozen alive, the mass exodus from the place before it collapsed... the place had Metropolis and Gotham beat for weirdness. My guess would be a master criminal behind it all, someone crazy like that Joker guy that Batman keeps fighting, only not so big on publicity, like Lex when he was running his rackets in Metropolis."
"It's possible, I suppose," said Clark. "Why didn't the government investigate? Why didn't anything come out when Sunnydale went under?"
"That's where it gets weird," said Lois. "If you read between the lines you get hints of a cover-up. Things got reported, but only in Sunnydale and the surrounding area, and even there the reportage was bizarre. When they had the singing thing, the local paper had a headline that read 'Mayhem Caused: Monsters Certainly Not Involved.' What the heck does that mean?"
"That monsters were involved but they can't say so?" Martha asked. The others stared at her. "Is it any odder than an alien invasion or a flying man?"
"I guess not," said Lois. "But monsters?"
Martha shrugged and said "Well, I'm sure I don't know, but hasn't Clark fought a few monsters over the years?"
"They usually turn out to be man-made," said Clark, "and if Lois is right about the murder rate something was going on there for nearly fifty years. That's a long time for someone to be making monsters."
"Maybe more," said Lois, "the statistics before the fifties are still on the high side."
"Why don't you ask the Harris boy?" asked Jonathan.
"Ask him?" said Clark. "It'd tip him off that we were interested, and I got the impression that he didn't want us investigating."
"Did you find out anything about his parents?" asked Martha. When Lois didn't reply, she added "Did you remember to look for them?"
"Um... you know, I don't think I did," said Lois. "I got so wrapped up in the Sunnydale side of things..."
"I don't think I've done much better," said Clark. "While I was patrolling Metropolis I stopped off at the US Geological Service offices and picked up the preliminary report on the disaster, but I haven't really looked for his parents yet."
"He's Rachel's kin," said Martha, her voice sounding disappointed, "and over the years she's been a good friend to us."
"We'll see what we can find out," Clark said hastily. Lois nodded agreement.
"Good," said Martha, beaming at them. "More pie?"
"No credit cards," said Lois, looking up from the screen of her laptop "and no records of a car as far as I can tell. They have to be dead."
"Or out of the country, or living on a commune, or the witness protection program, or something we haven't thought of," said Clark. "Let's assume for now that Xander is right and they weren't in Sunnydale when it collapsed. Where would they be likely to go for a vacation?"
"Mexico or Vegas, both are only a day or so by road from Sunnydale, my guess would be Vegas," Lois instantly replied. "People who run up big credit card bills are often gamblers. Maybe they're only gambling that they'll be stay ahead and able to pay off the bill, but a fair proportion bet, one way or another, because they can't keep up any other way."
"Okay," said Clark, working on his own laptop. "Jimmy could do this a lot more subtly, but with a little luck their computers won't be set up to handle a brute force approach. Here's a list of Vegas hotels. Let's sort them by facilities first and discard the ones that don't have casinos, then by size, then..." He narrowed them down a little then began to type in passwords, his fingers almost invisible as they moved at blinding speed.
"Plug in the external keyboard, we don't want another broken computer. I know it's still in warranty but the dealer's getting a little upset with us."
Twenty minutes later Clark said "Got 'em. Anthony and Jessica Harris, Suite 2004, the Lexor Hotel. Lexor... why am I not surprised?"
"He owned businesses everywhere, not just in Metropolis. Are you sure it's the right Harrises? How are they paying for the room?"
"The hotel's comped them for the room itself, but they're paying cash for everything else," Clark said with surprise. "They're high rollers, spending a lot of money."
"Winning?" asked Lois, pouring them both cups of coffee.
"I'm not sure that they're actually gambling. They've dropped more than $150,000 this week on room service."
"Where on earth did they get the money? And how can they spend it that fast?"
"No idea," said Clark, tapping more keys. Lois had an idea of her own and began to search on the Las Vegas Times web site. Within a minute she said "Jackpot!"
"You've found something?"
"It was the search term I tried, 'Jackpot' with 'Harris' and 'Sunnydale'. They won a five million dollar jackpot at Caesars Palace a few days before Sunnydale collapsed. Anthony and Jessica Harris of Sunnydale CA, put five dollars in the slot, got six triple bars."
"Give me the exact date."
"May 17th," said Lois, peering over his shoulder.
"Okay..." said Clark, typing more passwords. "They deposited the check in the Lexor safe that evening, they've got through more than two million dollars in room service since then."
"In the last week they've spent eighteen thousand dollars on meals. Hairdresser, two thousand dollars. Ice cream, five hundred dollars. Jewellery, ten thousand. The list just goes on and on."
"It must be some sort of scam. Why else would they do something like that?"
"I think you're right," said Clark. "Every item on this list is about five percent of the hotel's weekly total take for that item. Room service averages around threee hundred and sixty thousand a week, the hairdressing salon forty thousand, the ice cream parlour about ten thousand, and so on."
"Do you think that they're being forced to stay there and spend the money?"
"It sounds crazy. If they were going to do that, why not just fake up some gambling losses? There's a casino in the Lexor."
"That's easy," said Lois, "gambling's very carefully regulated. There's the Nevada gaming board, state and federal taxes, all sorts of checks and supervision. It'd be really hard to get away with anything. But I'd imagine that the pure hotel side of things gets a lot less attention."
"How do you know so much about it?"
"From CSI, of course. The thing is, provided the Lexor's owners declare the income nobody is going to care about a small increase in takings from the hotel operation. They may even be writing off the room rate as a tax loss. What worries me is what happens when the money runs out."
"They'd have no reason to keep them at the hotel after that, but they couldn't be allowed to talk. For all we know they might already be dead."
"I doubt it," said Lois. "Why would they keep a suite for them? My guess is that they're ready to produce them if there's any trouble, and have some hold on them to stop them talking or escaping."
"So who's 'they'? The management of the Lexor? Do we have anything on that?"
"Their web site says that it's owned by a Los Angeles property consortium. Someone called Lee DeMarco manages the place, he used to be manager of the Tropicana."
"Doesn't mean much to me," said Clark, shrugging.
"Nor me." Lois began to search the Las Vegas Times site again. "Let's see if there's anything... hmm, about a year ago there was an incident at the Tropicana Casino which was investigated by local law enforcement and the FBI. One evening dozens of customers claimed to have been drugged or hypnotized into playing non-stop. There was no solid evidence to support the story and it was dropped after a few days, but the Gaming Board pulled DeMarco's licence to operate a casino. They can do that without evidence if there are enough complaints. After that the hotel had to fire him, he couldn't do his job properly."
"Doesn't the Lexor have a casino?" said Clark, taking another look at the hotel's records. "How could they hire him?"
"DeMarco doesn't run it, it's in another building and there's a separate manager. He's only responsible for the hotel operation."
"I think I've got something here," said Clark. "Three other suites with ridiculously high room service charges. Oh... make that two, one's the Sultan of Brunei with an entourage of twenty or so and he's only been there ten days. But we have two other rooms with people who don't seem to be gambling but are still getting through fifty to a hundred thousand dollar's worth of room service a week, and have been there several weeks."
"So DeMarco invents some sort of mind control," Lois said excitedly, "and uses it in the Tropicana casino. Something goes wrong and it wears off and they fire him, so he gets another job and starts to use it on wealthy customers at the Lexor. He must be picking people who won't be missed much, like Xander's parents."
"And the owners of the Lexor are happy because their profits are up about fifteen percent, which of course means that DeMarco gets some big bonuses."
"How are we going to prove it without tipping DeMarco off that we're onto him?"
"Xander," said Clark. "He can phone the hotel and talk to them. After all, he's their son."
"We'll have to brief him first," said Lois.
"Okay," said Xander, when Lois and Clark had explained the situation at his motel. "I get what you're saying. I can see my parents staying on if they won that sort of money, but there's no way they wouldn't be gambling."
"Would they have told the rest of your family?" asked Lois
"No way. Half of my relatives would be there the next day, looking for a handout."
"You don't seem to think very highly of them," said Clark.
Xander looked at the floor for a moment, then said "The reason that I didn't marry Anya... it was on the wedding day, I saw how they were behaving and realised that I was starting to act like the worst of them. I thought... I thought that she'd be better off without me."
"You changed your mind on the wedding day?" asked Lois.
"Pretty much at the altar. I just couldn't go through with it. I was a jackass."
"Well," said Lois, "if you were getting back together she must have begun to forgive you."
"Maybe." Xander didn't sound convinced.
"Let's get back to business," said Clark. "We need to find out what's really going on there. If there really is a problem and Lois and I start asking questions they might take steps to shut down their operation. We both think the first approach should come from you."
"How am I supposed to have found them?"
"I don't know," said Lois. "Maybe you could say they called you before they won the jackpot, and you only just got around to listening to your messages?"
"That oughta work. Okay, you got a number for the Lexor?" Lois gave him the details and he dialed. "Hello... I'm trying to trace my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harris, from Sunnydale, California. They were staying there about three months ago, they left a message on my voicemail, but I've been in hospital, only just heard it. Anyway, your hotel is the last address I have for them... You don't? Checked out? What date was that? Did they leave an address? Oh, okay... Thanks, I guess I'll have to ask my relatives, see if anyone knows where they are. Have a nice day." He hung off. "According to the hotel they checked out two days after Sunnydale went under, and didn't leave any other address."
"Don't you think you should have been a little more persistent?" asked Clark.
"What's the point when I'm a thousand miles away? All I can do is annoy them and maybe cause trouble for my parents. I'm going to have to go there and take a look for myself."
"To Las Vegas?"
"Sure. Let me make a couple of calls, I'll see if I can get an advance on my pay for a flight."
Clark thought for a second then said "Don't call yet. The Planet has an arrangement with the airlines, if we tell them we need tickets to Vegas and back to cover a breaking story and they have spare capacity they'll usually let us travel pretty cheaply, maybe free of charge."
"Wow," said Xander, "that's really generous of you."
"You'll have to clear it with Perry first," Lois told Clark. "I'll get our luggage and make sure that Jonathan and Martha are free to look after the children."
"You're coming too?"
"I think you may have dropped a major story in our lap," said Clark. "Of course we're coming with you. Or rather, we'll take the flight before yours and be waiting for you at the hotel. But I don't think we'd better go as ourselves."
Lois enthusiastically said "I have just the cover for us."
Lois and Clark got their first real look at the Lexor as their cab turned into the car-park. The hotel was a half-mile or so from the Strip, a gleaming tower block with grey glass walls. There was a terrace five floors up with what looked like a canopied outdoor restaurant, above that the glass was featureless. The casino was a separate building, linked to it by bridges on the third and fifth floors.
Inside the hotel was built around an atrium, reaching up ten stories. The reception desks were on one side. Looking around, Lois saw signs indicating that most of the hotel's convention facilities were busy; one suite had a wedding reception, most of the rest were in use for a film memorabilia convention. A full-sized replica of a Star Wars X-Wing fighter hung from wires about thirty feet up, under a banner reading "Filmorabilia IV".
"We've booked a room for two," said Clark. "Charles and Laura Kane. We're with the convention."
"Spelled like 'Citizen Kane?'" asked the receptionist.
"That's right," said Lois. "His dad liked the film, that's why they called him Charles." Privately she wished that Clark had chosen something a little less memorable, but he always swore that he'd forgotten about the movie when he selected it.
The receptionist smiled, said "Rosebud is a sleigh," and typed in a few letters, then looked at her screen and said "That's odd, it isn't showing up in the block booking for the convention."
"It wouldn't," said Lois. "Last minute change of plans, we only booked yesterday, much too late to get the convention rate." She gave Clark a look intended to give the receptionist the idea that she thought he was to blame.
"Okay..." said the receptionins, pressing more keys. "Here we are, a room for two. May I see your driver's license and scan your credit card?"
"Of course," said Clark. Their identities and credit card accounts had been set up legitimately by the Planet for use on undercover assignments, with IRS and FBI knowledge, and a routine computer check would show 'Charles' working as an engineer for Metropolis Power and Light, 'Laura' as a freelance interior decorator. They had other papers, less well authenticated, that were sometimes useful if they wanted to go under cover without government knowledge of their movements.
"You have room 1532, if you'd like to follow the bellboy with your luggage he'll show you where it is."
As they were going up Lois noticed that the elevator buttons only went up to 19. She took a chance and pointed towards them, saying "I thought this place had twenty-two floors."
"Top three floors are penthouses and the big suites for celebrities," said the bellboy. "There's an express elevator."
"Oh, right. Anyone famous here now?"
"Sorry, the Lexor respects its guests' privacy."
"What do you make of the place?" Lois asked once they were upstairs and Clark had tipped the bellboy and checked the room for bugs. It was a modestly-sized bedroom for two, with a tiny bathroom and a drinks refrigerator only slightly smaller. The TV offered the usual range of pay channels, including shows from the Strip and the latest films.
"It's much more modern than the Metropolis Lexor, and there's the dark glass and windows that don't open," said Clark, hanging some clothes in the wardrobe.
"Will that be a problem for you?"
"It might make it a little harder to get out in a hurry if there's an emergency. One odd thing..."
"The glass must have a high lead content. I can see through it well enough with my normal vision, but it's blocking my special abilities."
"What about the internal walls?"
Clark experimented, and said "No, I can see right through them. It's just the outer glass."
"And the ceiling? Can you see up to the twentieth floor?"
"Let's see..." Clark took off his glasses and looked up, his gaze penetrating one floor, then the next, then... He hastily looked away from the bedroom three floors above, blushing, and tried another direction. Eventually he said "I'm fine up to the nineteenth, then nothing. It looks like there's a layer of lead under the twentieth floor."
"I'll bet Lex had a suite up there."
"The glass is clever. He probably had a hand in that too."
Lois leafed through the hotel guide on her dressing table, and said "Here we are... yes, 'all windows are fitted with N-Tempered(R) Lexon(TM) glass to filter out harmful wavelengths. Lexon is a trademark of LexCorp International.' Clark, you might need to be careful, it sounds like you won't be able to recharge your powers properly indoors."
"You're right," Clark said after a moment, "it feels like I'm in a concrete bunker. A little's coming in, but much less than usual. Not a problem unless I'm exposed to Kryptonite, it takes me days to run out of energy."
"I wonder if that's what Lex had in mind? If he had some Kryptonite here you'd..."
Clark put his arms around her and said "Lex is where he belongs, Lois, and we've got two hours to kill before Xander gets here. I'm sure we can find a more interesting way to pass the time than worry about might-have-beens."
"Mmmmm," said Lois. "Unzip me." She wriggled out of her dress, kissed him, then pulled out of his embrace and began to put on jeans, a 'Kill Bill' T-shirt, and a 'Stargate' baseball cap and said "Let's check out the elevator to the penthouses and the service elevators and stairs, see if we can find a way up there without tipping off their security. And we need to check in at the convention. You need to dress the part too."
"Okay," said Clark, watching her as she put lock picks and a tiny digital camera into her bag, and pulling on his own 'Incredibles' T-shirt, "that wasn't quite what I had in mind, but I suppose it's interesting..."
"Security's pretty good," Lois said about an hour later, catching up with him on the fifth floor landing of the central atrium and glancing round to make sure that they couldn't be overheard. "I got a glimpse inside the service elevator when the maid was loading a trolly, there's at least one surveillance camera and you need a key-card to operate it. But there are buttons for all the floors and a helipad on the roof. It's the same for the express elevator. You need a key card to operate it, and I'm willing to bet that you have to be hotel staff or staying on those floors. How about the stairs?"
"The stairs and escalators in the atrium only serve floors one to seven, the convention facilities and restaurant and so forth. Above that it's bedrooms and the only stairs are next to the service elevators. There are cameras and motion sensors."
"That's a little paranoid," said Lois, "they must get a lot of false alarms."
"Most people never think of using the stairs, I guess," said Clark.
"Can you get past them?" asked Lois, then noticed one of the hotel security men looking in their direction and guessed that they might be attracting attention by staying still while the bustle of the hotel went on around them. A little more loudly she added "And I'm telling you, Charlie, there's no way that you could get Arnold Schwarzenegger and a horse into one of those glass elevators, any more than someone could slide down one of those banners."
Clark picked up on the cue and said "That wasn't 'True Lies', Laura, that was 'Commando.'"
"We haven't even checked into the con yet, and you're already arguing about films."
"I guess we'd better check in then." He looked around, pretended to spot the security man, and went over to him and asked "Is the convention check-in around here somewhere?"
"The membership desk? It's on the second floor."
"I told you we'd come too high," said Lois, and turned towards the escalator.
"I thought I told you," said Clark, just loud enough for the guard to hear. He gave Clark a look of compassion, Clark did his best to look henpecked and followed her down.
"Think he bought it?" murmured Lois.
"Why not? I don't think he was suspicious anyway. Let's just hope that none of the media fans recognise you."
"You. The famous one." During Lois's second pregnancy she'd finally completed her novel and sent it to an agent. Two weeks later the film rights had sold to Woody Allen for a hundred thousand dollars. Filmed as a romantic comedy, 'Wanda Detroit' had been a huge success. An unforeseen side effect was a whole new level of fame, over and above her reputation as a journalist; the novel had Jimmy's best picture of Lois on the cover, and they occasionally ran into fans. At a media convention that seemed more likely than usual and fans were likely to wonder why she was there incognito.
"Why did you think I'm wearing a cap, Charlie?" She pulled down the brim of her cap a little, to make it even less likely that she'd be recognised, dug him in the ribs with her elbow, and spent the next couple of minutes rubbing her funny-bone and wishing that she hadn't.
"Let's hope it's enough."
An hour later Lois and Clark were in the lobby, wearing their convention badges and pretending to discuss sightseeing tours, when Xander arrived. As they'd arranged he glanced past them without any obvious sign of recognition bar a tiny nod, and Clark again wondered about his background. Most people would have been unable to resist reacting more openly. Soon Xander was telling the story they'd agreed:
"..been in hospital, came home minus an eye to find the entire goddamned town destroyed and my parents missing. Doctors didn't tell me earlier because they were worried I might have to be sedated. So I finally remembered to check my voicemail and they said they'd won the jackpot and were staying here. I checked the date you said they checked out and that's the same day they left the voicemail, so I think that they would have said if they were leaving, especially since they didn't have a home to go to. Someone's giving me the run-around. Where the hell are they?" Xander smashed his fist down on the counter with his last word, rattling a nearby vase.
"Just a moment sir, I'll check again," said the receptionist, going into a back room.
"I think the CSI tour sounds good," said Clark, in case anyone was listening, "They might even be filming if we take it on Monday."
"I want to do the James Bond tour," said Lois. "Diamonds Are Forever is a classic, and we can do it tonight." She was listening to Xander through a tiny radio, concealed under her cap. The transmitter was concealed in Xander's pocket.
"It's the Star Wars memorabilia talk tonight," said Clark, looking at the convention programme, "we don't want to miss that."
"We don't?" said Lois, raising her eyebrows. Clark gave a tiny nod towards the reception desk, where the receptionist had returned with an older man. He focused his hearing on the desk, and heard "...delicate situation. Your parents gave instructions that they were not to be disturbed by anyone, especially... and I'm quoting here... 'my money-grubbing family.'" Clark focused on the man's badge and saw a familiar name, Lee DeMarco.
"Well," Xander said more loudly, "I don't want a nickel from them, I just want to make sure that they're okay and remind them that they need to make a claim on the disaster fund. If they leave it too long they're going to lose out. They must be entitled to a half million or so including dad's business." It wasn't true, the real amount was much less since a huge chunk would go to pay off mortgages and other debts, but if DeMarco was as greedy as they thought the extra money might be attractive.
"I'll pass on the message, sir."
"And I'll wait here until I get a reply."
"In view of this situation, the Lexor will be delighted to comp you at the bar or one of our fine restaurants while you're waiting."
"Okay, I'll take you up on that."
DeMarco scribbled something on a card, and handed it to Xander. "Give that to the barman, or to the waiter if you choose to take a meal."
"Okay," said Xander. "Thanks. One question, how will you find me when my folks are ready to see me."
"When you use the card I'll be informed."
"Right. Thanks... and tell my folks I'm really not after their money."
He looked at the hotel plan displayed near the reception desk and strolled towards one of the escalators. As he went up he murmured "Headed for the bar and grill on the fourth floor."
"Did you get that?" asked Lois. Clark nodded, and in a louder voice said "Let's go eat." If they took the lift they'd get to the bar at about the same time as Xander.
Clark was a little worried that Xander might drink too much and say something indiscreet at the bar. Instead he showed the card and got the next free table, and ordered a twelve-ounce steak with a baked potato, salad and a Coke. Lois and Clark had a slightly longer wait, but were eventually seated a few tables away.
"Xander?" said a surprised voice. Lois heard it over her radio, Clark with his super-hearing.
A man about Xander's age was standing by his table, a blond wearing a convention badge and a head band with wobbly antennae on spring stalks. Clark focused on the badge, and read 'Andrew Wells, Sunnydale, CA.'
"Andrew?" said Xander, "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I'm here for the con, of course, same as you."
"Umm... actually... Hey, I thought you were headed for Italy with Buffy and Dawn."
"That's next month," said the stranger, sitting down opposite Xander. "Meanwhile there's a guy in the dealer's room with the rare Jabba the Hutt action figure. Jabba, Xander, the ultra-rare glow in the dark variant, it's boxed and immaculate. Can you lend me two hundred and fifty dollars?"
"Any idea who he is?" whispered Lois
"Andrew Wells," murmured Clark. "I've a feeling I saw the name somewhere... one of the news stories about Sunnydale, maybe."
Meanwhile Xander said "Not a chance. Although... that's actually pretty cheap, are you sure it's authentic?"
"Silly man," said Andrew. "That's the down-payment. It's twelve-fifty."
"No way. You need to hang on to your money, save up some, unless you're planning to spend the rest of your life sleeping on people's couches."
"But it's the ultra rare..."
"Andrew, you lost most of your collection with Sunnydale. Let go of it, find something else to obsess about."
"But... it's Star Wars," Andrew whined.
"So was Jar-Jar Binks," said Xander. "Find something else."
"He was one of the passengers on the last bus out," murmured Clark, searching his near-perfect memory, "when they reached LA he was arrested on an old theft warrant, but all of the evidence went down with Sunnydale, they had to let him go."
"That was cold, Xander," Andrew said after a pointed pause.
"Maybe I'm not in a good mood."
"Still nothing on your parents?" guessed Andrew.
"He doesn't look like a master criminal," Lois whispered, "are you sure?"
"He was an accessory," murmured Clark, "The ring-leader double-crossed everyone else involved, a year or so before Sunnydale went under. Nobody's seen him since."
"That's why I'm here," said Xander. "They're supposed to be staying here, but they don't want to see me."
"How come?" asked Andrew.
"They won a big jackpot, now they're living it up."
"Harsh. If you need help getting in to see them, I've still got some mojo. Just cast the right spell..."
"Andrew," Xander hastily interrupted, "this is my family, not a D&D game."
"But I could summon..."
"No you couldn't. Go away, go haggle for the Hutt. Show the dealer your badge, tell him how you lost everything in Sunnydale. Maybe he'll feel sorry for you. If you can get the price down below seven-fifty I'll lend you the deposit. But I'll want it back, plus ten percent of whatever you eventually sell the figure for."
"Cool!" Andrew got up and left before Xander could change his mind.
"Sorry about that," murmured Xander, "he's a nice guy but he's kinda obsessive, has trouble telling reality and fantasy apart. We really don't want him getting in the way."
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch that," said the waiter, arriving with Xander's order.
"Sorry, I was just.. um.. talking to myself."
"Okay, sir," said the waiter, eyeing Xander uncertainly and leaving as rapidly as he could.
"Works every time," muttered Xander, and tucked into his meal.
"What do we do about Wells?" whispered Lois.
"Nothing," said Clark, "he isn't wanted now, and it doesn't look like he's up to anything crooked."
"Famous last words," said Lois, a little louder than the rest of their conversation had been.
"'The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.'" quoted Clark, spotting a waitress approaching with their order. "'And like that, he's gone.'"
"Umm... 'The Usual Suspects,'" said Lois, realising that he was getting back into his role as a media fan. "My turn. 'The unknown future rolls toward us...'"
"Too easy - 'Terminator 2,'" interrupted Clark. "Okay, let's try..." He pretended to notice the waitress for the first time. "No, let's eat."
"Works for me," said Lois. They tucked in, enjoying the meal and each other's company. At his table Xander ate alone, occasionally turning the pages of a paperback and muttering to himself in a foreign language.
"What is that he's saying?" whispered Lois.
"It's Swahili," said Clark. "I think he's trying to learn it, but he's not doing very well. His accent's terrible. 'Where are the... um... demons?' He must have meant to say something else."
As Xander was finishing his dessert a bell-boy came into the restaurant with a note. Xander read it, and from a distance so did Clark. 'Your parents are willing to see you. The bell-boy will escort you to their room.'
"Okay," said Xander, "Want to give me five minutes to finish here, or is this a now or never thing?"
"The boss said now," said the bell-boy.
"Thought so," said Xander, taking a last spoonful of ice cream and draining his coffee. "Well, it was nice while it lasted." He followed the bell-boy out.
Lois had already paid their bill, so she and Clark followed as soon as they were out of sight. Over the radio Xander's voice said "I thought they were on the twentieth floor, why are we going down?" Looking across the atrium, they could see Xander in one of the glass elevators, heading down towards the lobby. The bell-boy said "Gotta take the express elevator." They took another elevator, and arrived in the lobby only seconds after Xander.
"We'll lose the signal as soon as he goes past the lead shielding," muttered Clark. "We need to get up there now."
"There," said Lois, nodding towards a group of men leaving the express elevator. Clark's eyes widened, but he said "I'll just get the brochure," and wandered across the lobby towards the reception desk, somehow failing to notice that they were on a collision course. One of the group fended him off, and for a second Lois thought that she glimpsed several hands moving towards guns, but Clark simply said "Sorry, man, wasn't looking where I was going," and went on innocently towards the desk. By the time he came back Xander was in the elevator and on his way up.
"Any luck?" asked Lois.
"Had to settle for what I could get," said Clark, "but I think it'll be okay." He lifted the brochure to show a key card underneath, gold rather than the silvery-grey they'd been given. "We ought to be all right," he added, "I doubt that the Sultan uses his card much, those bodyguards probably open doors for him."
"You stole the Sultan of Brunei's personal key card?" Lois whispered incredulously, pushing the elevator button.
"Borrowed," murmured Clark. "He seemed the best bet, he wasn't as alert as his bodyguards. Though I was a little worried he might recognise me, I interviewed him last time he was in Metropolis. Cover your name badge before we get in the elevator, there's a camera inside above the buttons, and keep your cap low."
They got in as soon as it returned, and at super-speed Clark used his breath to coat the camera lens with a little ice, enough to reduce the image to a soft blur. "Don't look up," he said, "there's another camera in the ceiling, if I take that one out too someone's sure to notice, but it can't see our faces under the caps." He pushed the key-card into the slot, and pressed the button for 20.
"Any bugs?" murmured Lois.
"Couple." They stood in tense silence as the elevator rose rapidly to 20. As the door opened Lois began to hear Xander's voice again, although the sound seemed muffled and distorted. "There's more lead in the walls," said Clark, trying his special vision. "You were right, Lex must have planned to use it as one of his headquarters."
"..so what's wrong with my folks?" asked Xander. "They look kinda paralyzed." Clark tried to focus on the source of the sound, confused by the lead and the soundproofing of the luxury suites, and pointed in the general direction, down one of the corridors.
"It's a form of cryogenic stasis," said another voice, so distorted as to be unrecognizable. "Quite safe, provided you know exactly how to free them."
"And if anyone else tries they die?" Lois and Clark stopped in the corridor, listening intently.
"Exactly, mister Harris."
"And my guess would be that you've got some kinda fail-safe, that's going to kill them if anyone tries to hurt you?"
"Good guess," said the voice. "But you've been in situations like this before, of course."
"Not exactly," said Xander. "To be honest, I'm a little disappointed."
"With all this build-up, and the elaborate plot to lure me here that never actually got around to doing any luring, and the necro-tempered glass on the windows and everything..." Lois looked at Clark, confused, and he shrugged to indicate his own lack of comprehension.
"Actually," said the voice, "I was expecting Miss Rosenberg to find your parents much earlier. Though the money has been useful."
"Miss Rosenberg?" muttered Lois.
"Another passenger on the bus," whispered Clark.
"She's been kinda busy," said Xander. "Took her a while to get round to it. Anyway, as I was saying, with the big fancy plot and the necro-tempered glass in the windows, keeping out those nasty old rays, I was expecting some sort of evil overlord, I just never figured it would be you."
"Sure. Vegas, didn't really think it'd be your scene. I was thinking more Elvis, or maybe Howard Hughes."
"Both of whom are dead," said the voice.
"Well, not really a problem for some people, is it? You ought to know. So tell me, Lex, how's being a vampire working out for you?"
"Lex?" Lois whispered incredulously.
"Vampire?" Clark responded. He tried to look through the door and found that it was lined with lead like the walls.
Over the radio Lex's voice, now clearly audible, said "Mister Luthor, you insolent..."
"Uh huh huh," said Xander. "My guess is you want me alive and in one piece. Tearing my throat out isn't going to get the job done."
There was an odd noise, like ripping cloth, and Lex said "What do you imagine the job to be?"
"Well, everyone knows you want Superman dead, and the pretty green rock you have there tells me that hasn't changed."
"Xander's playing this beautifully," whispered Lois. "He knows we're listening, must have guessed we'd call Superman."
"Doesn't tell us how to rescue him," Clark replied. "If there's Kryptonite in there..."
"Go on," said Lex.
"You'd be one of the clones, right?"
"There is only one Lex Luthor!" Lex said emphatically.
"Clone!" whispered Clark, Lois nodded her agreement.
"Whatever," said Xander, his voice exuding disbelief. "Okay, so you got attacked by a vampire... no, I remember now, you clone guys die in a few months. You didn't want to die, so you found an alternative. Shame it meant losing your soul."
"My patience isn't inexhaustible," said Lex. "Are you going somewhere with this?"
"What you need me for, of course," said Xander. "Now this is where I'm a little shaky. You got my parents, and you're using them to get me. That cryogenic trick doesn't come cheap, I remember when the nerds used it to rob the museum... never mind. Anyway, obviously you want something, and it's probably something that comes from Sunnydale. It can't just be a vampire or a demon, you can find them other places. That pretty much leaves me and my friends."
Clark whispered "Find Xander's friend Andrew. He's probably still in the dealer's room." Lois hesitated, then went towards the elevator. Clark tried to adjust to the idea that vampires and demons existed, if it wasn't all some sort of elaborate trick, and ached to tear into the room. He forced himself to listen and wait.
"Now it isn't me, I'm just a carpenter, and I kinda doubt that you want a vampire slayer, so that leaves..."
"Rosenberg, of course," interrupted Lex.
"Willow? You want Willow to.. to.." Xander began to laugh. After a few moments there was a loud slapping noise, and Xander said "Hey! That hurt."
"Then don't try my patience. Superman is known to be vulnerable to magic. Willow Rosenberg is the most powerful witch..." Xander interrupted with "Wicca, not witch.", and Lex said "Very well, the most powerful Wicca in the Western Hemisphere. With her help I could..."
"Rule the world?" said Xander. "Do I get a maniacal laugh now?"
"I was going to say kill Superman, you moron," said Lex. "Others can rule, provided that they do so as I wish."
"Why on earth would Willow help you?" said Xander.
"To save you and your parents, of course. I'm sure she wants to. Don't you, Miss Rosenberg?"
"Um... who are you talking to?" asked Xander.
"Miss Rosenberg, of course. Did you really think we wouldn't notice your transmitter? DeMarco, have you found her yet?" There wasn't an audible reply, and Clark guessed he was using the phone.
"Transmitter?" said Xander. Clark guessed that things were about to go downhill, and racked his brains for a way to handle the situation.
Lois looked around the huge dealer's room, trying to spot Andrew in a sea of similar-looking nerds. She had a feeling that Clark was about to do something dangerous, and wanted to be there to back him up. Would Andrew even be useful? She doubted it... though she was starting to wonder about his talk of magic, and suspected that he hadn't just been talking about Dungeons and Dragons. She put her feelings to one side and concentrated on the hunt, paying special attention to anyone with blond hair and antennae, muttering "No... no... there you are!"
Andrew was standing by a table loaded with Star Wars memorabilia, arguing with a heavily tattooed man dressed as an extremely overweight Han Solo. "...and then the bus started to skid across the road, and I could feel my whole life passing before me. And I remembered that my action figures were still in my apartment..."
"Eleven hundred and not a penny less," the trader said as Lois reached Andrew, who seemed on the verge of tears.
"Xander needs your help," said Lois.
"My help?" said Andrew, "He wasn't giving me much help when..."
Lois reached up, grabbed his ear, and twisted, pulling his head down until it was level with her mouth, and said "He needs your help with a vampire."
"Me? Uh... okay, I guess. And owww." Lois let him go.
"Come on, there isn't much time."
"Okay. Does he have weapons?" asked Andrew, following her towards the entrance.
"We need something made of wood... over there." He let Lois towards a table where a cheerful British woman was selling pyrographed wooden plaques, and grabbed a handful of carved walnut letter openers. "These ought to do..."
"That'll be forty-five dollars," said the trader, counting them. "If you want names on them, that's two dollars per name."
"They're fine as they are," said Andrew. "Pay her, I'm broke."
Lois grabbed a handful of bills and dropped them on the table, took Andrew's arm, and pulled him towards the elevators, saying "Cover your badge and keep your face away from the controls when we get inside, there's a camera. And don't talk, it's bugged."
"Okay," said Andrew. "Where are we headed?"
"One of the suites. Xander's parents are being held there."
"By vampires?" asked Andrew. Lois nodded. "That's bad. Do they know who he is?"
"I think so."
"Crap." The elevator arrived before Lois could ask him what he meant. The journey up was tense, with Andrew obviously itching to say something. As they got out he finally said "You're Lois Lane, aren't you?"
"Dawn and Vi and I loved 'Wanda Detroit', though I kinda thought you shouldn't have killed..."
"Maybe this can wait for another time." Lois said hastily.
Over the radio she heard Xander say "Well, okay, maybe Willow is around somewhere, but she's not just gonna walk in without knowing the score."
Andrew said "If you're here, does that mean that you're with Clark Kent and Supe..." He stopped, mouth open, as they turned the corner and saw the corridor that led to suite 2004. At three points security cameras dangled down from recesses in the ceiling, half-melted, and a blur of red, yellow and blue was moving along the wall, somehow removing the plaster without damaging the layer of lead foil underneath. Before either of them could say anything Superman went through the door of another suite, leaving a wrecked lock behind him, used diamond-hard fingernails to cut a section of grey glass from the window, then flew back to the wall and began to peel off the lead, rolling it up like wallpaper. Somehow he was doing it with no more noise than a vacuum cleaner.
"That's..." said Andrew.
"Superman," whispered Lois. "Clark must have called for help."
Superman suddenly stopped in front of them and quietly said "Clark's gone to to call the police from outside the building. You're Harris's friend?" Andrew nodded. "His parents are in some form of cryogenic suspension. From something Harris said Clark thinks that you might know something about it."
"I helped build a freeze ray once. The hard part's thawing people out afterwards, but there's a nifty spell we used..."
"So if I keep them frozen they'll be all right until you can revive them?" Clark interrupted.
"I guess so."
"Okay," said Clark. "Show time." Faster than the eye could follow he used his nails to cut the lead into pieces, and in seconds had them formed into an oversuit, similar to the style worn by fire-fighters, with lead mittens and a grey glass face-plate. He folded and crimped the seams with his fingers then climbed in, saying "Fold the back opening closed, I can't reach it by myself." He tucked the rolled remainder of the lead under his arm.
Lois started at the top, Andrew at the bottom, and betwen them they managed to get the suit shut. He strode to the door and knocked, waited for the light coming through the peephole to darken slightly, then punched through the door.
Clark levitated over the unconscious bell-boy, lying on the floor with a pistol by his side, and into the suite's lobby. He couldn't move too fast without damaging the lead or tearing it open, so the Kryptonite had to be his first priority. There was another door, then he was in a room that looked like a cross between a lounge and a laboratory, built to a grandiose scale. To one side four couples stood, apparently paralyzed and frozen, in transparent plastic tubes bathed in an eerie blue light. To the other were comfortable couches, a coffee table, and a bar. Xander sat on one of the couches, bruised and handcuffed, Lex stood over him, holding his shoulder, turning to look at the door as Clark entered. Above the bar, in a mock-antique lantern, was a small chunk of glowing green rock. Clark braced himself for the impact of the rays, but felt nothing worse than a mild ache, the lead and lead-loaded glass absorbing most of the effect. He flew towards it at a fraction of his normal speed.
The thing that had once been Lex Luthor's clone snarled, eyes yellow and mouth suddenly fanged, and leapt at Clark. To anyone else it would have been blindingly fast; to Clark it seemed to move in slow motion. Somehow that added to the horror. He swerved to dodge it, getting closer to the Kryptonite and feeling the first real pain, slowing a little as the rays seemed to drain his energy, and snapped the roll of lead foil open like a roller blind, forward and up so that it wrapped around the lantern, then quickly rolled it into a ball. The pain faded as the layers of lead built up.
Meanwhile Lex turned and smashed his hand through the plastic wall of the tube containing Xander's parents, and the light bathing all four couples flickered and died. Lois ran in, with Andrew stumbling behind her. Andrew shouted "Xander!" and ran forward with the knives, while Xander was trying to wrench a leg from the coffee table. Lois looked around, saw a heavy silver tray on a side table, and hurled it at Lex like a frisbee.
Clark had ripped his face-plate off and was blowing cold air and ice into the tubes, cooling the prisoners to cryogenic temperatures, as Lex batted the tray from the air and turned on her, snarling his anger. Andrew tried to duck to one side, but Lex easily caught him and grabbed him by the neck, shouting "Surrender now or he dies!" Andrew tried to stab him in the heart, but succeed only in cutting Lex's arm.
Lois grabbed another tray, but Xander shouted "Silver doesn't work! Use wood!" There was a 'snap' and he ran forward with the broken table leg clutched in both hands, the sharp end towards Lex. About six inches from his back it stopped, shattering to splinters against Clark's hand, while Clark clapped his other hand against the nerves in Lex's elbow. Andrew fell from Lex's limp hand. Before Lex had a chance to react Clark tied him with cords torn from the window blinds.
"That won't hold him for long," said Xander. "He's stronger than anyone human." There was a 'whoosh' as Clark flew to the bar, ripped off the brass rail that ran the length of it, wrapped it around Lex's arms and torso, and welded it with his heat vision. "That ought to work," said Andrew.
"Curse you!" shouted Lex, and tried to bite into Clark's arm, ripping the lead a little before his fangs shattered. Clark peeled off the rest of the lead and wrapped it around the Kryptonite, compressed it to a ball, then flew back to the room where he'd damaged the window, scanned the sky for planes and satellites, threw it into space, and zipped back to suite 2004, just in time to stop Xander from stabbing Lex with one of the letter openers. Lois had an arm lock on Andrew, who'd had the same idea.
"Okay," said Xander, giving in to the inevitable. "If you're not gonna let us finish him he's your problem. His fangs will grow back in a couple of days, then he can start killing people again. What are you planning to do with him?"
Clark stared at Lois, and Lois at Clark. Neither of them had any idea.
"I wonder if Las Vegas has a leash law," said Xander. "You're probably gonna have to muzzle him too. And make sure he can't get his hands on anyone, he's stronger than a gorilla."
"What?" said Lois. Most of her attention was on the mirror over the bar, which reflected all of the contents of the room except Lex. Looking back at the real.. whatever he was... was like looking into the past. He seemed little older than when they'd first met, ten years earlier, and still had all his hair. But of course this had once been a clone, not the original man. Meanwhile Xander was talking again.
"Well, if Superman's going to keep dangerous pets he has to take responsibility. You'll need a litter tray, a big one. Then the food's gonna be a bitch..."
"When I get free," shouted Lex, "you'll take a month to die!"
"Reminds me," said Xander, holding up his hands, "any chance of getting me out of these cuffs?"
"Do you promise to behave?" said Clark.
"I guess. But you're making a big mistake. He's already dead, he just isn't lying down yet."
Lex laughed harshly, and said "He's too noble to kick a man when he's down. Sickening, isn't it? As for her, the woman that betrayed me... where is your precious husband anyway?"
"Calling the police," said Lois.
"That's not such a good idea," said Xander. "The police aren't really set up to handle vampires, neither are the courts. Mostly they try to pretend that they don't exist."
Clark carefully broke the cuffs without hurting Xander. As he was working on them there was a shout in the corridor outside and four security guards burst into the suite, guns in their hands. Andrew and Xander dived for the floor. Before the guards could aim the pistols were red hot, and they dropped them with yells of pain. Three fell harmlessly, the fourth was hot enough for the the bullet in the chamber to explode, and the recoil made it fire a half-dozen shots. Clark managed to field five of the bullets without anyone getting hurt. The sixth somehow evaded him and hit the full-length window, cracking it from top to bottom. There was a momentary hush as everyone waited for it to shatter, but nothing happened. Clark quickly finished disarming the guards and tied them with more of the cords.
Andrew picked himself off the floor and began to draw complex markings on the cylinders with a felt-tipped pen. "This is gonna take a while," he said, "try not to interrupt."
Clark said "I'd better round up DeMarco. Were any of the other hotel employees involved?"
"I only saw the bellboy," said Xander, "but they've got the whole building fitted with tinted glass, there could be an army of vampires here. Probably some humans helping them too. And a few more prisoners, they'd want a source of fresh blood." Clark was horrified by the implications. Xander added "But it's more likely he was using the casino as an all-you-can-eat buffet, he'd just need to get people outside, drain them, and dump the bodies somewhere."
"I can check the lower floors and casino for vampires easily enough," said Clark, "now that I know what to look for. But these top three floors have lead in the walls and floors, I'd have to break into every room."
"DeMarco probably has a master keycard," said Lois.
"Don't forget the basements," said Xander, "if he has any minions or prisoners that's where he might keep them."
Clark nodded and streaked off outside. Xander turned to Lois and said "Wow! He's kinda... um..." and trailed off into silence.
"He sure is," said Lois, with a smile.
"I suppose he'd object if I took care of things," said Xander, picking up one of the knives and giving Lex a hostile look.
"I think you can count on it," said Lois. "Superman doesn't kill."
"And that's why I'll win," said Lex. Brass creaked as he tried to bend the rail away from his body.
"Shut up," said Xander, "or I'll be tempted to risk annoying him. And you know that I know you're already dead."
"How does that work, exactly?" asked Lois.
"For publication?" asked Xander.
"No idea what you're talking about."
"All right, off the record."
"He's dead, and a demon is animating the corpse. Looks like him, has the same memories, but there's nothing left of the original soul. It's just a monster, a vicious killer held together by magic. You break the spell if you stake them through the heart, then they just crumble to dust."
"I guess it isn't really that much of a personality change," said Lois. Lex glared at her.
"That's the way the demons like them," said Xander. "They kinda boost the nastiest traits of the people they take over. The more vicious the original guy, the nastier the vampire."
Out of the corner of her eye Lois glimpsed something, and spun round to see the bellboy entering the room, gun in hand, leaning on the door frame to support himself. His face was bloody from the impact when Clark had broken in, and there were foot-marks on his jacket where he'd been trampled by the guards as they entered. Xander threw one of the knives at him; it hit him hilt-first in the shoulder, and spun off into the wall. The bell-boy aimed the gun at Xander with a wavering arm, ignoring Lois. She dodged to one side, then tried to kick the gun out of his hand. There was a 'crack' as it fired, and a much louder crack as the second bullet finished the job the first had started, shattering the window that ran along one side of the room. Glass hailed down the side of the building, and harsh desert sunlight filled the suite. Lex screamed and writhed in his brass prison, then began to smoulder, black smoke pouring from his hands and face.
"Do something!" said Lois, following up her first kick with another to the bell-boy's stomach. He doubled up and vomited on the floor.
"Too late," Xander said calmly. Suddenly Lex was engulfed in flames then disintegrated, first to a skeleton, then to dust. He added "I guess he got away. Must have jumped out the window while you were fighting the bellboy. Maybe he had a miniature parachute or something."
"You know that isn't true," said Lois.
"Really?" said Xander. "It's a lot more likely than vampires."
"Do you expect me to lie about this?"
"No... but you can be selective about the truth. Or work for the National Whisper or the Weekly World News, because they're the only ones that'll print the story."
Clark appeared at the window while Xander was speaking, his arms full of shards of glass, and said "It's a good thing I was checking the terrace just then. Where's Luthor?"
"He was kinda allergic to sunlight," said Xander. Clark stared at the circle of ash on the floor and the empty knot of brass pipe, and said "Who did this?"
"He did," said Lois, pointing at the bellboy. "He was going to shoot Xander and I kicked his arm..."
"Luthor was dead anyway," said Xander, with a shrug.
"I've got to finish checking the building," said Clark, dumping the glass in a corner. "Try not to do too much damage before the police get here."
"Is Clark okay?" asked Lois.
"He's fine," said Clark. "He's waiting downstairs for the police."
"Before you go," Andrew said nervously, "I'm kinda ready to thaw these guys out now."
"Are you sure they'll be all right?" asked Clark.
"Not really... but I've given it the best shot I can. They need a lot of heat now, spread evenly through the body until they're back at normal temperature but no higher. Can you do it that accurately?"
"Of course he can," said Lois, "he's Superman."
"I've done it before," said Clark, "but it doesn't always work. A lot depends on how quickly they were originally frozen."
"The spells ought to help," said Andrew. "They strengthen the cell membranes, keep things from turning to mush. Kinda like anti-freeze."
"Let's try," said Clark, sweeping his heat vision backwards and forwards across the first tube. The couple inside sagged to their knees, coughed, and looked around, confused. Lois hastened to unlock it. Satisfied, Clark quickly repeated the procedure on the other tubes, checked that everyone was alive, and flashed off to look for DeMarco and finish searching the hotel.
Xander went to the second tube, found the control that opened it, and said "Hi mom. Dad. Feeling okay?"
Hovering in the atrium, slowly rotating as he used his special vision to scan the hotel for DeMarco, vampires and their victims, Clark was attracting a lot of attention. Dozens of cameras flashed and whirred. Gradually he eliminated the upper floors, working his way down towards the convention areas and the basement. Nothing... Eventually he spotted DeMarco in one of the offices behind the reception desk, dressed as a cleaner and shovelling money from a safe into a large mop bucket on wheels. Clark kept an eye on him as he finished checking the building, then streaked round to intercept him as he headed for the car park. In the distance sirens were howling, getting closer by the second. Clark grabbed DeMarco, leaving the mop bucket to fend for itself, and flew back up towards Lex's suite.
"...If I find out you had anything to do with this," Tony Harris shouted at Xander, "I'm going to press charges. You and your friends are a menace to... to..." His jaw dropped as Clark flew in through the broken window, carrying DeMarco.
"I think you owe your son an apology," said Clark. "If it wasn't for him you'd all still be frozen. If you want to blame someone, I think that mister DeMarco may have some explaining to do."
"I'm gonna sue!" said Harris senior. Clark sighed. He had a feeling that clearing this one up was going to be complicated, and that it would be a while before he could take off the suit and get back to being himself.
"I think you owe us an apology," said Clark, catching up with Xander as he was waiting for a cab outside the hotel.
"I know," said Xander. "I should have called for backup, instead of getting you guys involved, I underestimated what we were dealing with. It's a good thing that Superman helped us out."
"He's pretty good at that," said Lois. "So... what really happened today?"
"You probably know more than I do," said Xander. "Didn't DeMarco give you some sort of explanation?"
"He hasn't said a word," said Lois, "apart from asking for his lawyers."
"Let me guess," said Xander. "Wolfram and Hart?"
"How did you know that?" asked Clark.
"Call it a wild hunch."
"We could talk to Andrew," said Lois. "He's really not the strong silent type. Wouldn't you prefer to give us your own version of things?"
Xander sighed, and said "Off the record?"
"No guarantees. If you can convince us, okay."
"Want to go back inside?" asked Xander. "This is going to be a long story..."
"...and that's about it," said Xander, taking a sip of his beer in the outdoor restaurant. "There's all kinds of weird stuff going on, but it stays pretty much hidden. Clone guy must have learned about it somehow, my bet is that someone in Wolfram and Hart told him. Wouldn't surprise me if they supplied the vampire that turned him. But there's no way to prove that, you can't even ask because he was probably one of their clients."
"They're really that bad?" asked Clark, nibbling on a pretzel.
"They were. There's new management, some guys who used to be in the demon-fighting business, and I'm hoping that they're gonna clean house. If they don't get corrupted first, of course."
"That still doesn't explain why DeMarco and the clone wanted to trap you," said Lois.
"My guess is that they got into it more or less by accident," said Xander. "Tony and Jessica really did win the jackpot, but they trusted exactly the wrong people with their money. Luthor had them put on ice and got to work siphoning the cash, then he must have found out that I'm their son, and that I'm a friend of Willow."
"She's that famous?"
"You'd better believe it," Xander said proudly. "Most powerful Wicca in the western hemisphere, maybe the world. Anyone who knows magic probably knows her name." He took another sip of beer.
"What I don't understand," said Clark, "is why the clone wanted magic at all. He had Kryptonite, it must have been one of the samples the original Lex stole from Star Labs. Superman said it was probably enough to kill him."
"Simple," said Xander. "Kryptonite's short range. Magic can hurt you at a distance, and it isn't blocked by lead. Willow could probably cast a spell on Superman without ever actually meeting him. Of course she wouldn't, but clone guy didn't know that."
"What would she have done if she'd been with you?" asked Lois, stirring her coffee.
"Rescued us, of course," said Xander. There wasn't a trace of doubt in his voice. "Of course she might have made more of a mess than Superman did, so it's probably just as well she wasn't here."
"Getting back to demons," said Lois. "Are there really a lot of them around?"
"I can't prove it here, unless you want me to get Andrew to summon one. I really don't recommend it."
"And you've been fighting them since you were fifteen?" asked Clark.
"Mostly fetching donuts for the people who were doing the fighting, but yeah, that's about it."
"It's an extraordinary story," said Lois, "but you haven't really given us much reason to keep quiet about it."
"I guess not," said Xander. "But do you really want to kill innocent people?"
"I don't understand," said Clark.
"Willow did the math once. Putting together everything we know about the breeding habits of demons, there's about a one in forty chance that anyone you meet, anyone human, has some demon blood. Maybe only from a great-great grandfather or something, but you do enough of the right tests and it's easy enough to detect. And most of them are just regular guys, nothing out of the ordinary, don't even know that there's a skeleton in the closet. But you get enough people stirred up and looking for demons, sooner or later they're gonna start running those tests. Won't be long before the first lynchings. And they could justify it because the people they'd be killing really wouldn't be entirely human."
"One in forty?" said Lois.
"Maybe one in twenty in a hundred miles or so radius of Sunnydale. And that takes in most of Los Angeles."
"So what are we supposed to do?" asked Clark. "Keep out of it? Surely Superman could... well, do something."
"Right now," said Xander, "things ought to go quiet for a while with Sunnydale gone. The only other Hellmouth in the US is in Cleveland, and that's near enough to Metropolis that the demons there keep a low profile, they really don't want to attract his attention. It keeps things managable, means that the ones who go on killing sprees tend to be the stupid ones, and my friends and I can handle them. But if Superman was actively hunting them that'd upset the balance of power. The Powers That Be couldn't stop them from calling in their big guns, the hell gods and demon lords that normally have better things to do than mess around with this dimension. And those guys are probably as powerful as Superman is, they've got magic to back them up, and they wouldn't go away once he was dead."
"Won't that happen now?" asked Lois.
"Shouldn't think so," said Xander. "That was pretty much a bush league operation, as far as the demon lords are concerned, They don't even like vampires much, so taking one out isn't gonna upset anyone. But start doing things on a bigger scale and you'd see one Hell of a reaction. And I really do mean Hell, with a capital H.
"You win," said Clark. "We'll try to come up with an explanation that avoids the supernatural, and persuade Superman to stay out of it."
"Are you sure?" asked Lois.
"It isn't just us," said Clark. "Think about the children. If something powerful enough to kill Superman invaded our world, what sort of life would they have?" Lois nodded her agreement.
"That's about the size of it," said Xander. "Okay... I guess that you're anxious to get home. If you don't mind I'll tag along, my car's still in Smallville. Share a cab?"
"Why not?" said Clark. "We'll need half an hour or so to pack and check out, if you don't mind waiting."
"No problem," said Xander. "And I'd better check that Andrew's okay, he had Jabba down to nine hundred dollars an hour ago, by now the guy's either killed him or caved in completely..."
"Well?" asked Martha. "Did you find out what really happened to Sunnydale?"
"Pretty much," said Lois, putting down her carry-on bag, "and you were right. It really was monsters."
"You're joking," said Jonathan.
"Not this time," said Clark, carrying in the rest of their luggage. "Vampires and demons. Oh, and witches and magic."
"Sounds like you've got a tale to tell," said Martha.
"After the kids are asleep," said Lois. She and Clark knelt to hug the children as they came running in from the yard. "After all, we don't want to give anyone nightmares..."