Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in Cat-Tales by Chris DeeCat-Tales 71: The Knight of the Mirrors

The Knight of the Mirrors
by Chris Dee

ChapterKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 1: What Kind of Day Has it BeenKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 2: Putting it TogetherKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 3: IdolumKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 4: Black GoldKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 5: River of JanuaryKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 6: The Divided CityKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 7: Opening CeremoniesKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 8: Breaking News

Chapter 5: River of JanuaryRiver of January 


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Diogo pedaled hard through the busy street in Copacabana, clutching the expensive phone plucked from the fingers of a too-comfortable tourist.  At least he’d seemed too comfortable at first, like a dozen others with a dozen similar gadgets, bulging wallets and expensive watches, gold chains and sunglasses.  Diogo had seen him take a photo of the Olympics poster, check it and then step back to take a better one.  His eyes only on that task, oblivious to everything else around him, he’d seemed like another easy score—until Diogo lifted the phone from his fingers.  Half the time, they didn’t figure out what happened in time to associate it with the shirtless twelve-year-old in board shorts peddling down the street on his bike.  Of the few who did, only eight had ever chased him and no one had—damn, the guy was fast!  No one had ever been able to keep up.  Diogo jumped the curve and swerved to find a clear path along the shoulder where he could really open up and get away from the guy.  He shifted to stuff the phone into the side of his shorts to secure it for a morrrAIIIGHR!  A sharp clamp around his forearm yanked him back, to the side, and halfway off the bike.  The stranger had gone around and cut him off and must have… he’d come from nowhere, grabbed the front wheel of the bike with one hand and Diogo’s arm with the other. 

The guy took a wedge of silver, similar to the curved blades Diogo and his friends attached to their kite strings for kite fighting.  The guy’s eyes blazed with a fiery rage that made it hard to think or speak let alone move.  For a heartbeat, the boy thought he was about to die.  Instead, the man held the blade to the front wheel of his bike as a deep, menacing gravel spoke in perfect Portuguese:

“I’m going to be in this neighborhood for a week or more.  If you try anything like that again—and I will see if you do—I slash your tires.  It will take a lot of stolen phones and cameras and jewelry before you get enough money to replace them, and all that time, you’ll have to get away on foot.  Your chance of getting away every time without your bike are not good.  Do we understand each other?”

The shaking wasn’t voluntary, but Diogo managed to push the trembling upward into his neck to produce an erratic nod.

“Good,” the man said.  “Now.  You have a brother or sister?”

Diogo answered with another shaky nod.

“How many?”

Diogo held up two fingers, and the stranger altered his grip to pull him—not by his arm but by his ear—to one of the ubiquitous grocery store bars called botecos.  There he bought a bag of rice, beans and cassava flour for the fried dish called farofa, and told Diogo to come back to the spot tomorrow and they’d see about adding some fruit and protein to the mix. 

Diogo ran off and the stranger’s lip twitched as he watched him go. 

 

“Now we have eight,” Bruce announced when he returned to the apartment overlooking Ipanema beach.  “Boys who work Urca, Leblon, Botafogo, Santa Teresa…” 

“Your Baker Street Irregulars,” Clark said, handing him a glass of cloudy pink juice he said was watermelon, and that he also bought kiwi and that the juice bars here were amazing.

“That’s what you did with your time?” Bruce asked, downing the juice like a shot then studied the glass.  “Not bad,” he admitted.

“I also called Oracle a few times,” Clark said.  “Until Dick cut in and said bothering her won’t make the job go any faster.  He suggested I walk the beach, which I tried and it was driving me crazy.  So I went in the other direction and wandered the streets, saw the shops, and decided to pick up a few things for the fridge.”

The accounting of his time was more detailed than necessary, and when he ran out of words, a tense silence congealed.

“Where’s the new boy from?” he asked, just for something to say. 

“He was working Copacabana.  So probably Tabajaras; that’s the closest favela.  But the patchwork on his bike argues for Rocinha.  I’ll find out tomorrow.  I told you, they’re too scared for questions the first day.  After the first meal, when they’ve come back on their own, I get the full story: which neighborhoods they work and which favela they go home to.”

“You know you’re taking advantage of the skewed economic divide in this place,” Clark said. 

“You think I’m going to let the family starve if a boy doesn’t want to provide intel?”

“I… didn’t think that exactly,” Clark fibbed.

“I didn’t create the poverty in this city,” Bruce said curtly.  “And I don’t treat those kids like criminals.  I understand why they’re doing what they do, and for a while at least, I’m providing an alternative.  Most of them appreciate it and will talk.  It’s a tool like any other, Clark.  Rio is a big place and for the price of a little food going to people who need it, I get eyes and ears in up to twenty neighborhoods.  It’s not a bad deal for anyone.”

“I suppose,” Clark said, turning to look at the view as another tense silence descended. 

The data he’d scanned in the Demon office should have been decrypted by the time they landed in Rio.  It wasn’t.  There were several possible reasons, most of them innocuous: idiosyncrasies in a particular minion’s handwriting disrupting the OCR or some peculiarities with the humidity affecting the paper.  Even the speed at which Clark worked could have created irregularities in the data that slowed down the automated processing of the scan.  So Oracle was redoing the OCR manually, page by page, and as soon as it was done, they would let the Batcomputer try again.  If it decrypted the files the way it should have originally, fine, they’d know it was nothing more than anomalies in the scan.  But if it continued to fail…

“Do you think?” Clark asked.

Maybe.

…It was Luthor.  Demon didn’t innovate, Bruce made that clear.  If it wasn’t some fluke in the scan, then the decryption failures must be connected to LexCorp.  Clark could not believe it was a coincidence if Demon just happened to change their coding practices in an office where that logo appeared. 

“’Maybe’ isn’t an answer, Bruce.  I asked what you think.”

“I think I’m going to try the kiwi juice,” he declared in a light, almost foppish tone.

“Bruce!”

“Clark, we don’t know enough.  We just don’t.  There are only possibilities right now, and nothing to point to a single one as more likely than the others.”

“But that LexCorp address, the papers with their logo—”

“It’s Demon; they don’t buy Wayne Tech,” Bruce said simply.  “Or do business with any other Wayne subsidiaries if they can help it.  Not to be boastful, that limits the marketplace.  They could be buying toasters for all we know, without it having anything at all to do with Lex personally.”

“But what do you think?”

“Clark, do you know why this city is called Rio de Janeiro?  A false assumption.  The Portuguese who found it thought Guanabara Bay was a river.  The mouth of the Tejo in Lisbon was just as wide, so that was no reason to think it couldn’t be, but there was also no reason to assume that it was.  Let’s wait until we know enough to know.  If Lex is behind this, it’s not worth tipping our hand on a guess.”

“And if we do find out we’ve got a Demon-Luthor alliance on our hands?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Bruce said blandly.

Clark considered it.

“That’s true,” he murmured.  “And unlike Ra’s al Ghul, Luthor doesn’t like repeating himself.  Considering the way it ended for him last time, with Talia bankrupting LexCorp and the assassin failing to kill Clark Kent, it would be unlike him to try again.”

Bruce grunted.  Clark had the speculation he wanted and the tacit reassurance that, whatever the situation turned out to be, Batman had a plan.

Of course that reassurance had echoes… Batman had a plan.  If Luthor teamed up with Demon, if he teamed up with Joker, if he teamed up with Bill Gates probably.  Possibly if he teamed up with Catwoman (though even Bruce might let it go at this point, after the way the last two rounds had turned out for Lex.) 

In a way, that was the issue. 

“Bruce,” he said awkwardly, “this really should have come up when Luthor tried to make an alliance with Selina during that Queen of the Underworld business.  It didn’t because, well—”

“Because we were busy staying alive in that trap he set at the World Bank,” Bruce cut him off curtly.  “And then the security of the Watchtower took precedence when we learned what his targets were.  Selina was involved by then and you wouldn’t want to bring it up in front of her, and by the time she and Lois were off celebrating Luthor’s defeat, you didn’t want to mention it when I was paying for their shopping spree.  But now—” he clapped his hands with a single enthusiastic strike “—you’d like to talk about Luthor’s resignation.  Again.”

“That Gotham-Metropolis alliance he tried to set up with Catwoman was retaliation, you know it was.  He targeted the two of us because of what you did, in complete violation of our agreement!”

“Our agreement was not to actively pursue Luthor while he was in office, to treat him like any other legally elected head of state unless he stepped over the line.  I abided by that.”

“You had a mountain of evidence against him, so that he had no choice but to resign!”

“Which I did not use until he sent a minion of Ra’s al Ghul to kill Clark Kent—”

“Created a security breach and ambushed him in the bunker—”

“We have had this argument, Clark.  We said we wouldn’t get involved unless he stepped over the line.  A President attempting to assassinate one of his citizens because he doesn’t like what was written about him is pretty far over that line.” 

“But you had the file ready, Bruce.  I know Luthor, probably better than anyone on the planet.  I know him better than you do, and I know the one thing he is not is a quitter.  The sheer tonnage of evidence you would have to drop on him to make that resignation happen, not even you could put that together in the… what was it, 48 hours between the assassination attempt and the resignation.”

“I’ve already admitted that, Clark.”

“It violated our agreement.”

“In your philosophy maybe, but not anywhere else.  It was a given Luthor would do something.  You say you know him, you can’t pretend you don’t know that.  So I had the file ready.”

“The spirit of the agreement.”

“In your philosophy.”

Clark sighed.

“Fine, in my philosophy.  You want to stick to the facts, the fact is he retaliated—which is why we made the agreement in the first place.  That is what the agreement was meant to prevent, and it was the best plot he’s launched against the League in recent memory.  It could have worked if he hadn’t brought it to Batman’s girlfriend.  Now here we are again!  Luthor is out there making alliances with your enemy and I shouldn’t worry about it because you have a plan.”

Bruce said nothing for a long minute.  Then he too took a long, sighing breath.

“Clark,” he began, “The movie is Batman versus Superman because studios have to make a profit for their shareholders; some idiot has issues with superheroes and some other idiot thinks people will pay to see it.  It’s bullshit.  You know it; I know it.  We’ve had our disagreements—some of them unfortunately public.  We’re reasonable men; we’ve settled them reasonably.  I would rather not rehash every one because an idiot with more power than sense is making bad decisions in Hollywood.

“Now I personally believe that Luthor’s Holce Concept scheme had little to do with the resignation and everything to do with being reduced to a state of drooling catatonia by a spark of pissed off cosmic Is.  He wanted to make an ‘I’m back’ gesture like a giant middle finger made of red neon fifty stories tall.  Maybe we did get lucky with him bringing it to Selina.  If we did, then we got lucky again, because we found the Demon cell here and the possible Lex connection.  If he’s here, we’ll get him.  Relax.”

Clark tilted his head.

“Relax,” Bruce ordered, pointing to the beach.  “It’s Ipanema, that’s what it’s there for.” 

 

From the desk of Lex Luthor
CONFIDENTIAL MEMO

To: Jessica Erics, Message Development
RE: T & M Consulting

Jess, I’ve used the smallest words I can with T & M and now I’m telling you.  No jokes.  Can I be plainer?  No humor, no witticism, no lightness, no snark, no frivolity of any kind.  Please pick up a thesaurus, open it to the entry for ‘fun,’ walk it over to the T & M office and bash them on the head with it as many times as it takes.

I do not want Superman made light of.  I want him feared.  Dreaded like Death.  Getting a bit in the Colbert monologue doesn’t get us there.  A sketch on SNL doesn’t get us there.  And a stupid campaign of captioned photos going ‘viral’ on social media does not get us there.  I don’t want the Alien ridiculed, I want him viewed as the greatest threat facing the human race since the Plague. 

In fact, I suggest you get T&M to look to that period for models.  The tone of the Inquisition would not be amiss.  “Laughing at evil means not preparing oneself to combat it.”  (Superman is that Evil.)  “Laughing at good means denying its power.”  (We are that good.  Get it?)  100% seriousness at all times and condemning anything that takes you off message. 

I want the public to fear Superman, and I want YOU to fear laughter.  Fear it like Death, Jess.  If anyone cracks a smile at any story involving Superman, it means you’ve fucked up. 

 

As a trained assassin, Ca’chasa was equally contemptuous of the drug gangs who ruled the favela before pacification as he was of the police force that cleared them out.  As a boy, he too had owned and used a weapon larger than he was, but he was disciplined.  He knew a weapon was a privilege and one of which a warrior must make himself worthy.  He didn’t poison his body with drugs that would corrupt his aim and undermine his patience.  As far as he was concerned, these drug lords were absurd children who got exactly what they deserved.

The police were a crack paramilitary battalion called BOPE.  Ca’chasa could appreciate their training and discipline, the product of one of the most brutal boot camps in the world and recognized as the most lethal military force in Latin America.  They carried their weapons properly and with respect.  He could admire their ruthlessness and skill.  But like all soldiers, they were instruments of a state that resisted Ra’s al Ghul, and like all soldiers, they were part of a unit, bound to their brothers in arms.  As a lone assassin, Ca’chasa had no such ties.  No partner, brother or friend competed for his loyalty.  The mission was all.  These soldiers, for all their ruthlessness, skill and discipline, were inferior.

Not that he was here to form an opinion.  He was sent only to document the changes since pacification.  Once the guns cooled, the police organized football competitions and made a community center in the drug lords’ former headquarters.  Ca’chasa noted that detail particularly, it was the kind of thing The Six would consider significant.  A political act.  Not the kind of thing Ca’chasa cared for.  A police band was playing for the opening of the community center.  There was face painting and, and females among the BOPE soldiers whom the children would run up to, laughing.  He didn’t like the way it softened their image.  Music, a football game, a playground, women and children, it all seemed so light and colorful and… not bleak.

It was also, he reminded himself, not his place to have an opinion.  He was sent here to observe, and he made a note of the traffic cameras and their locations, the wires and electrical paths...  A young man whose tattoos clearly identified him as part of a gang was trying to stir up a crowd about the ‘disrespect’: Surveillance cameras invading their privacy, the state watching them 24/7 as if they were criminals… 

Ca’chasa turned to hide his smile.  He knew they were exactly the same cameras that recorded the major thoroughfares of London, Paris, Gotham and Tokyo, and Rio itself.  Even those in the crowd who worked in the city knew what a traffic camera was for, and that they peppered affluent and working class neighborhoods alike.  Still, some who had never been outside the favela felt the imagined insult, and Ca’chasa would be the last to tell them that in the modern world the cameras meant the neighborhood was seen as a part of the city rather than living apart from it.

 

From the desk of Lex Luthor
CONFIDENTIAL MEMO

To: Jessica Erics, Message Development
RE: No more focus groups

Jess, I don’t need to focus it, I know who these people are.  They’re losers.  Insecure, self-doubting nobodies who will grab at any idea that makes them feel superior. 

That’s why you don’t paint the Alien himself, you paint those who admire him.  Paint the Superman fan club as naïve, childish and gullible (It shouldn’t be hard, they are) and watch the rubes line up behind you. 

There is no inconsistency here.  You don’t mock Superman.  He remains too terrible to make light of.  But mock the hell out of the people who like him.  If you do your job, that will bring over the bulk of the losers.  Once we have their numbers it will swing the lemmings, they absorb whatever opinion is popular.  Convince them it’s what ‘everybody’ thinks (or how everybody feels or what everybody knows) and they’ll believe it heart and soul. 

 

Superman had flown high over Sepetiba Bay to avoid being spotted again in Brazil while he watched the huge bulkship being loaded with iron ore—the same ore they’d seen mined near Ouro Preto.  He was less cautious in the Netherlands an hour later, watching a similar ship that had left Rio weeks before as it docked for unloading in the Port of Rotterdam.  He made a quick tour of the other iron ore ports profiled in the pdf he’d scanned at that first mine, and he allowed himself to be seen and photographed in Tasmania, Calcutta, Chenai and South Africa—establishing for anyone keeping track of such things that Superman only popped up in Brazil to help with the forest fire and had long since moved on to other things.  Then he called Lois.

..::Daily Planet. Lane,::.. came the crisp greeting that always made him smile. 

“Morning, Lane.  Managing okay without your husband?”

..::Well that depends, Smallville.  Every time he leaves town I ask him to bring me back a scoop, and I usually get a sea shell.::..

It felt good hearing her prattle.  Lois had moved on from whatever horrors she'd seen in Gotham as soon as the effects of the toxin dissipated.  He knew that before he’d left; but it was reassuring to hear it in her voice.  On the surface, there was same studied casualness as when she was faking: when she was worried and didn’t want him to know… “Hey, Smallville.”  Or when she was relieved because she had been worried and didn’t want him to know that either… “Hey, Smallville.”  And when she was angry or frustrated or defeated or depressed, but hid it because didn’t want to dump another problem on him…“Hey, Smallville.”  And then there was the one that made it all worth it: when she was sincerely including him on something because he was a part of her life, even though the something wasn’t important.  That was what he heard today.

She had been enjoying the passive-aggression of the Gotham press since her coverage of Man’s Reach.  Some reporters would be offended or irritated, but Lois was reveling in it.  “All because I didn’t waste the opportunity finding myself in a hospital with a lot of recovering Gotham socialites, imagine!”  Anyone who knew how to do the job (she said modestly) could have pieced together an equally detailed picture of the complicated scene with so many accounts at their disposal from so many different points around the museum.  And anyone who had even half an instinct for what makes a story (she said unassumingly) would have thought to do a side piece on the hospital, from the ER staff’s account of Superman flying in the first of the wounded one at a time to the waves of toxin cases arriving in ambulances (and still recovering when Lois herself woke up—dovetailing into the main report). 

And if her personal go-round with Scarecrow toxin allowed her to convey the experience better than Gotham reporters ever had (she said, finally allowing herself a hint of superiority) well, that was being a better writer—which she knew was a bitter pill to swallow from the many times she’d encountered better writers and reporters.  But on those occasions—and this was the crucial difference—she had behaved with dignity and grace.  That Gotham crowd were so transparently put out about it all.  They really should learn to hold their cards closer to their chest…

It was exactly what Clark needed.  A light guided tour of the Man’s Reach episode and its aftermath, focused on the many facets that had nothing to do with him. 

…Kyle was looking on her as his special charge (she prattled on) since he’d brought her back to Metropolis in the immediate aftermath of the incident.  He checked on her twice yesterday, and while she knew better than to be angry, she wasn’t going to let it pass.  So now, any time he came over, she sat him down for a snack and went to work on him.  Result: there was going to be a detailed, insider’s account of the archaeological digs on Gliese 581-D (that would be running in the Sunday supplement and should get picked up by some science mags) and the full story on the Green Lanterns’ role in tidally locking its moon and the other planets orbiting Gliese 581.  Once that story ran, Lois expected it to finally score her an interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who’d been ducking her for months…

It was exactly what Clark needed.  Moving on from the Gotham incident entirely and moving on to other aspects of people’s lives that had nothing to do with Superman.  Then it all crashed. 

…:: It’s such a shame about that fire.  The usual suspects are doing their thing.  WLEX says Superman was starting a stampede to punish drug traffickers in the area and they wound up dragging smoldering branches as they went, burning down a national park.  Perry made sure a real translation of the Brazilian news reports got out there, but you know how it is.  The ones who don’t want to believe it just won’t believe it.::..

“I see,” was the best Clark could manage.  He knew there was more.  It was in her tone; she was angry the way she only got on his behalf.

…:: The ones condemning Superman are obviously in the tank for Luthor and nobody with a scrap of sense even listens.  It’s the ones who like it that make my blood boil.  They believe Luthor’s bull but they don’t see anything wrong with it.  ‘Superman started a fire that endangers lives and property’ is supposed to make you hate Superman.  They think it’s ‘bad ass.’::..

Her wry amusement with the ‘transparently put out’ Gotham press began to sound a little different.  ‘They really should learn to hold their cards closer to their chest,’ indeed. 

“Don’t worry about it,” he told her in the same tone he’d reassured Bruce.  “News isn’t meant to be remembered anymore, right?  It’s just entertainment.”

Their new household mantra.  What had begun as Perry White’s indictment of the sad state of journalism had become their half-joking hymn of solace when another handful of mud was flung at Superman’s name.  What they both should have bemoaned as an embarrassment to their profession was now an article of faith: Whatever was said about him, true or false, no matter who was quoted and with what authority they spoke, what fictions they concocted to support their lies, what once respectable publications picked up the story, no matter how often it was tweeted or what bloggers did a victory dance repeating it… none of it would outlive the news cycle. 

In the time it took him to list all those galling details that didn’t matter, he’d returned to the apartment and the bitter codicil flashed through his mind while the doorknob turned in his hand: Nothing he dug up on Luthor would outlive the news cycle either.  Trying to expose the truth about either of them was seeming more and more… quixotic. 

He saw a note from Bruce on the refrigerator: the manual OCR was done and the first batch of documents decrypted.  Taken with the closed door to Bruce’s room and the half pot of liquid in the coffee maker, it didn’t take the world’s greatest detective to figure out that he was working on the first batch of data. 

Clark scanned the coffee with a critical eye.  It was the one thing Bruce could make passably well, at least in the Watchtower kitchen where the coffee machine and the coffee itself were on par with the Daily Planet’s breakroom.  In Brazil, where coffee was a religion second only to soccer, it seemed a pity.  The apartment’s residential kitchen was equipped with an absolute jewel of a coffee maker and he’d bought a tin of locally grown Arabica.  Using them for Bruce’s passable-for-breakroom-coffee seemed a waste.  He poured out the stale liquid and made a fresh pot, smiling to himself at one of those secret thoughts he would never share with a living soul: neither Bruce nor Lois could fly, so they didn’t.  When there was flying to be done, they left it to him.  How he wished they would do the same when it came to the kitchen.

With time on his hands, Clark filed a story on the colorful new cable car system that allowed the residents of favela Complexo do Alemao to commute to the city proper in ten to fifteen minutes, compared to the hour it took them previously.  Then he created a queue of interviews: There was a woman who came down to cook at one of the big hotels.  She started cooking at age 5, she said, going to the big houses where her mother was paid by the day to work as a housekeeper.  Having no home of their own at the time, those hours in the kitchen was where she felt at home…

Clark heard Bruce’s voice talking on the phone, his door still closed.  Clark went back to work. 

There was the young man who “was never on the drug gangs’ payroll himself, but had good friends he hung out with who were” and he “held their guns from time to time.”  He was a huge fan of the skycars but said that his mother, like many older people, was afraid of them.  But he was able to work in the city, making good money by favela standards, and still have time with his wife and daughter.  His mother liked that part, and also that his little brother knew they were living better with money earned from a safe, respectable job…

Bruce’s door had opened, followed by kitchen noises, and now it was closed again.  Presumably he’d just come out for more coffee, or maybe the new fruta do conde or soursop juices he’d bought.

The final interview was with the first female in the elite special force called BOPE who were the first into a favela to take on the drug gangs.  Famed for their fierceness, she and the other female officers were bringing a new face to BOPE, an important step forging a relationship between the police and the communities… There were a few additional notes he’d taken, not for the printed interview but for Bruce: about how the force confiscates drugs and guns from the gangs when they go into a neighborhood, and how they’d deliberately cultivated a nasty reputation that scared many of the drug barons into fleeing rather than fighting…

The last he sent to Batman’s partition at the Watchtower.  The rest went to the FoS system to transmit on a time delay to the Daily Planet, the delays he placed on each two-part interview providing several days of cover and freeing him to give his full attention to the case. 

While he was finishing the last interview, Bruce’s door had opened again and he was now sitting out on the terrace, so Clark assumed he was done working through the documents.  “Well?” he asked, looking up from the laptop. 

“It’s a tangle,” Bruce said, though he said no more until he’d come inside with the door closed behind him.  “I have a theory where Demon is getting its money, and what Luthor is doing in the region, but it’s too complex to go into without some confirmation.  Too much isn’t adding up.  Data can lie; even satellite photos can lie, but those lies should be consistent.  This isn’t.  I go to an outside source to find the other end of a transaction, sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not.”

Clark began to grin at the mention of satellite photos.

“Keyhole photos can be replaced or manipulated,” he agreed.  “But flying in and seeing with your own eyes…”

“Exactly.  We’ll need to go back to the mining sites in Minas Gerais, then check the port of Shanghai, Guangzhou and a few other spots in China.  Travel time?”

“Traveling at a slower speed for your comfort, probably twenty minutes,” Clark said.  “Unless we’re expecting Luthor precautions; then double it if we have to land.” 

“Double it,” came the ominous gravel.

 

Hotel Towervue, Office of the General Manager

To: Guy Siffani, Café Basque
Re: Magnate Magazine

Guy, I don’t need to tell you what a coup it is that Lex Luthor has resumed his old habit doing coffee and papers at Café Basque.  It’s more than our location, it’s the atmosphere and service you and your staff present.  You do us proud, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Please be aware that I’ve just got a call from Mercy Graves.  There’s a profile on Luthor in this month’s Magnate and it’s not at all to his liking.  She suggests removing the magazine from those available at the entrance off the lobby, strictly for this one issue, but I say we lose it for several months at the very least.  For this month, lose Fortune, Forbes and Barons as well, just to keep it from looking conspicuous, but after this issue, the rest of them can come back.  Magnate, we should flush for at least six months, possibly a year.  You didn’t hear it from me, but Luthor can hold a grudge like no man alive and if he’s really pissed, no good can come of reminding him the article ever happened.

 

Fai’gal had taken the bus for thirty minutes from the city to the North Zone, to the Mercado Municipal where foodstuffs of all kinds from all over Brazil were bought and sold.  There were few restaurants, churrascarias, galeterias, botecas, juice bars or fruit stands whose ingredients didn’t come through the 100,000-meter marketplace.  Fai’gal straightened his shirt as he passed one of the fish mongers, the smell from the mounds of shrimp and octopus reminding him of home—or rather, of the fishing village where he had begun his life before finding his true home with the Demon. 

The smell of fish gave way to a more popular aroma in this part of the world: that of grilling meat.  As that admittedly mouthwatering smell hit his nostrils, Fai’gal adjusted his hat and abandoned his Demon-name to become Paolo once again.  Paolo worked at a churrascaria in the market, a type of restaurant that is quite simply a temple of meat.  All kinds, whatever is available, from plump sausages to beef to lamb to pork, rotating on skewers over hot grills like a magnificent assembly line of animal protein.  Unlike the upscale churrascarias in the city with loaded buffets and a large staff of waiters, this was a working man’s joint.  Paolo himself would run out from the kitchen most of the time, brow beaded with sweat from his position before the hot fires turning skewers in a constant rhythm like a nightclub dj.  He would take a few orders and return to his post to help make them.  The lunchtime customers were almost exclusively market workers and, among them, Fai’gal’s fellow minions assigned to find jobs in the various stalls.

In the next hour he would observe all the men with the mark of the One Fang under their thumbnail, confirming they were still employed where they ought to be.  If he chose, he might make contact by displaying his own tattooed wrist—though this was at his discretion.  Today’s mission was only to make sure the men were in place.

 

From the desk of Lex Luthor
CONFIDENTIAL MEMO

To: Murray Pew, Publisher, Magnate Magazine
RE: Petrochemical Dinosaur?

What the fuck is going on at Magnate, Murray?  There’s no byline on that so-called profile you’re running on me, so I assume it’s one of those ‘citizen journalists’ that White idiot is always going on about.  Even a blind sow occasionally finds an acorn, because if that’s the kind of barely sentient, semi-literate who can avail themselves of your masthead to lend credence to their so-called thoughts, then for once the excrescence at the Daily Planet has a valid point. 

Let’s begin with the headline that appeared on my reader this morning directing me to this travesty.  “Not just your father’s LexCorp”

Just implies the entity so modified is lacking. You may recall the infamous ‘Just a housewife’ remark that eliminated my rival in the primary. It’s that bush league an error.  No real reporter, press secretary, pundit, or even that asswipe Kent would make such a blatantly not-ready-for-the-NFL blunder.

• Apart from that, it’s riffing on the ancient “Not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign which failed.  Your anonymous dickhead knows it’s memorable, but isn’t aware that it completely failed to change the image of the Oldsmobile brand.

• If none of that were true, it devalues the old LexCorp, which is so insulting it should not need explaining—to anyone except the arrogant child who wrote it, an individual of no accomplishment, obviously, with no respect for the giants on whose shoulders they stand in order to make spectacles of themselves and their epic ignorance.

That’s three ways to get fired from the Luthor White House or the LexCorp press office.  Three, and I haven’t clicked the link yet.  Before we do, let’s have a look at that description underneath the 3-strike headline..

“Transformed an aging petrochemical and heavy machinery dinosaur…”  Overlooking a repeat of the headline’s transgressions dissing LexOil, LexAir and other early LexCorp incarnations and subsidiaries—and overlooking a dismissal of heavy industry that would be staggeringly ignorant in the pages of the Gotham Post let alone a once-respected business journal—overlooking it all, we still have that pejorative dinosaur.  About an oil company.  A petrochemical dinosaur.  We made those jokes in the fifth grade, Murray, and they weren’t terribly funny then. 

Maybe it’s just as well I only have you to hold to the fire for devaluing the Magnate name—the Magnate that is one of my assets, my property, and it’s now worth less because you let people with no sense or judgment use its name.  What’s the point in owning Magnate when this crap in the current issue is as bad as the hit piece Boardroom did on Talia Head all those years ago? 

As I say, maybe it’s for the best the trash is unsigned, so I can hold the proper person accountable.

 

Batman and Superman returned to Rio in time to see the crowd applaud the sunset at the famous seaside wall in Urca.  Beautiful cariocas, bronzed and exhilarated from a day of surfing and sun worship, were perched in groups of two and four around cold beers and fried pastels to catch an early evening buzz and make plans for the night ahead.

A green hill with two long, yellow buildings rose at the end of the bay, and Bruce seemed more interested in it than the sunset or the crowd.  Before long, a dot of orange rose up behind the nearest building, then bobbed before being joined by a red dot, then a green, a blue and a yellow. 

“Miniature kites,” Clark noted, and Bruce nodded as the green lurched towards the red—and the yellow fell like a stone.  Bruce grunted. 

“Kite fighting,” he explained.  “When pacification began, the drug lords would set off firecrackers and sometimes even waste bullets firing their guns into the air to signal where the police had been spotted.  So stupid.  Throughout the world, you can count on criminals to be stupid, but coked up teenagers with machine guns are in a special category.  Beating their chests and snarling at the very time they should have kept quiet.  Spread the intelligence silently without letting their enemy know what they knew.

“Their non-criminal counterparts, just as young and younger in many cases, were a lot smarter,” he said, nodding to where the colored dots continued to bob and play.  “Those kites: silent, small, light, completely portable, completely innocuous, and so familiar in the favelas as to be completely invisible, make for a powerful communications system.”

“Also reporting on the police?” Clark asked, “Or…”

“I couldn’t say for sure; they don’t tell me everything.  But I would guess the grapevine includes all kinds of information, including BOPE movements.  No one wants to wander into a firefight on their way to school.” 

Clark queued at a popular spot for a cup of seafood chowder while Bruce went around to the back to meet one of his Baker Street Irregulars.  They rendezvoused when the sunset crowd had moved on and all that remained along the promenade were a few stubborn fisherman.

“Well?” Clark asked.  “You’v­e seen the mines again, followed the ore being loaded here and unloaded in China, and now talked to your ‘eyes and ears’ in Rocinha.  You ready to share your theory?”

Bruce nodded.

“Beginning with the parts that are now proven,” he said.  “The farm that started this: the money Demon used to pay off the note came from the sale of iron ore to a Chinese company.  A real, legitimate transaction: real ore sold to a real firm, shipped to a real steel mill, and in all likelihood, now building a hotel casino in Macau.”

“Got it, everything’s real,” Clark said, noting the repetition.  “As opposed to what?”

“First the bad news,” Bruce said.  “The ore they sold did come from Luthor.  He’s the source of the recent cash infusions, this transaction and over a dozen like it going back months.  Selling iron ore to China, ore they get at no cost from…”  He paused as if to prepare himself, as if saying the next word would cause him physical pain.  “LEX-cavations,” he pronounced flatly.  “One of the largest mining concerns in Brazil.”

“I see,” Clark sighed.  Lois kept a list of Luthor’s worst puns naming his companies and product lines.  She would be happy for a new addition, at least. 

“That’s where the reality of the Demon ore comes in,” Bruce continued.  “Did you see anything with that name at the mines in Minas Gerais, or the name of any Luthor outfit?”

“No,” Clark admitted.  Even being attuned to the Luthor name and logos and having better vision than Bruce, he’d seen nothing.  “That does seem strange if it’s really such a big operation.”

“Implausible to say the least,” Bruce said.  “And the companies he’s selling to in China don’t appear to exist either.  Only the one Demon sold to checks out.  And the ore for that transaction—the only ore that appears to be real—that Luthor bought from a different mine.”

“Wait a minute,” Clark said.  “Luthor is Demon’s new sugar daddy.  He gives them ore which they then sell as a way of raising cash—but rather than take it from his own mines, he’s buying it from someone else?  Meaning what that…”  Clark’s head bobbed back very slightly as the penny dropped.  “His mines don’t really exist, do they?  He’s invented a phantom mine to sell phantom ore to a phantom company…”

Bruce nodded.

“That’s how he’s bringing his secret funds out of hiding, turning them into LexCorp income so he can use them openly,” Clark murmured, and again Bruce nodded.  “If there’s solid proof, it will make a great story.  Not my favorite way of taking Luthor down, but it’s close.”

Bruce looked out at the water.

“It’s ‘money laundering’ essentially, just on a scale and with a level of hubris that’s pure Luthor.  The proof is solid, but it is fairly complicated international accounting.  Since you can’t break a story you don’t understand, that patient woman from the Planet’s business pages will have to have another go explaining BRICS to you… when you get back.  That should give Selina enough time.” 

Clark recognized the devious smile curling the edge of Bruce’s lip, less subtle and more persistent than the twitch.  The first time he saw it, it gave him nightmares.

“Enough time for what?” he asked guardedly.

“To get out of her funk,” Bruce said, turning back to face Clark as if to change the subject.  “So we found out where the Gang of Six are getting their money,” he prompted.

“Which is what we came here for,” Clark said as if returning a volley.  “But I’m not ready to say ‘case closed.’  If you’d rather go back to Gotham and continue monitoring Demon like you have been…”

“No.  Luthor will want something for his money, sooner or later.  He may have something in mind that’s already underway, or that’s yet to begin, or he might have just seen that they were vulnerable and decided to pick them up for later.  If I was willing to leave it at that before talking to Raoul, that’s the boy I just met with,” Bruce said pointing back towards Bar Urca, “his information put an end to it.”

Instead of reacting, Clark once again tilted his head and seemed to listen. 

“We’ll finish later,” he said, and flew off. 

 

From the desk of Lex Luthor
CONFIDENTIAL

To: Drew Thessfoil, T & M Consulting
RE: Renewal/Termination of your LexCorp Contracts

Drew, we go back a long way and even if we didn’t, it’s important to me that the new LexCorp maintain the relationships of the original.  There’s going to be a lot of news-related initiatives in the coming months, even more than during the campaign, and I would hate for you to miss out.

I’ve enclosed a list of the employees with whom my people have reached an impasse.  Whatever their credentials, they simply do not seem to understand the goal.  I also include a list of individuals who have, in my opinion, the best understanding of the media landscape today and the best track records molding public opinion in the current climate.  Many are former LexCorp employees and I would recommend any of them, without hesitation, to fill vacancies that might arise in your organization.

People who understand that there is one message we need to get across and one message only: The Alien is an embodiment of whatever you fear in the world and those who like him are the epitome of what you don’t want to be.

 

The volcanic eruption in Indonesia wasn’t the worst Clark had seen as far as the death toll.  The Chilean earthquake was forever seared into his memory for sheer numbers.  Sifting through tons of rubble only to retrieve body after body.  This wasn’t the worst for numbers; it was worse for having happened today.  Four killed and seventy injured—compared to 312 killed and over 1200 injured in Chile.  But when two of the four were that mother nursing her baby, and that nursery was so…  He shut his eyes as if it would shut out the memory of what they’d seen.  That Disney wallpaper.  The excitement they must have felt picking out that wallpaper. 

Clark flew high into the air, towards a certain patch of desert in Montana, then came crashing down to pound his fist into the earth in frustration.  Then he sat.  That wallpaper would be with him forever, he knew it.  All civilian deaths haunted him, but some… there were always some that just ate into his soul.

He looked towards Metropolis and considered the time.  Ben would still be at the firehouse, but it was a little late to disturb him.  Clark knew he’d be welcome but something held him back.  They would want to hear the real story about the forest fire in Brazil, and that might well lead to the footage from Gotham and… and, and, and.

He really didn’t want to talk.  To anybody.  He was tired.  And there was a vague churning in his stomach that had become familiar in recent months… He took off and headed back to Brazil.

 

Naramoon made his way through the area called Loco-cacabana, where the residents displayed the kind of eccentricity that Demons and the more conservative cariocas could agree was weird.  Street musicians played and people danced, the Bossa Nova competed with Brazilian Thrash from the ‘80s, and the drunks pouring out from the clubs would weave easily and with peculiar rhythm from one to the next.  The whores were here, those that worked in brothels and clubs and those that walked the street.  Naramoon hid his disgust, for whores marked that part of the city that never slept.  Loco-cacabana was active 24-hours a day.  The whores and the johns, the dealers and drunks, the street musicians and club kids, the disillusioned, the artists and the rebels… All that congregated here had already served the Demon’s plan, for the Demon had seen a great truth that united them all: Everybody loves chicken.

His mission tonight was to confirm the continued existence of a galeteria, a particular chicken restaurant specializing in the grilled young birds called galeto.  It had been in business for 45 years, so Naramoon was sure it would be the simplest of missions.  Find the address, see it was open, check the box—and then go inside and enjoy a good meal.  He would then bring back a bird each for N’Pal, and Mir’dang, and six for Pi’mifz who was Italian.  He’d told them galeto was brought to Rio from his homeland to use in the recipes for game birds, and if Naramoon would bring him enough, he would make them his mother’s special ragout of quail. 

Of course, technically, Pi’mifz should have forgotten the recipe along with the unworthy female that birthed him, just as Fai’gai should have forgotten Moroccan bouillabaisse and the rest of his former life, and Naramoon the mole poblano of his own childhood.  But as Gr’oriBr’di, the one-time overseer of Gotham had said, “There really is no harm in a guy having a good dinner.”  And then, so the story went, he called for the menus of the restaurants of Gotham’s Chinatown and ordered himself a plate of spare ribs from the Ho Sai Gai.  His men were invited to partake, and all did agree there was no disloyalty in the act. 

Naramoon reached the galeteria, saw that though it was nearly four in the morning, they were not only open for business but packed with people enjoying chicken.  He dutifully checked the box on his pad. 

 

From the desk of Lex Luthor
CONFIDENTIAL

To: Matt Montrasante
RE: Would you consider joining us?

Matt, you were the only one of my advisors who got the basic underlying truth.  The Alien is a menace.  It’s not a convenient line to advance my agenda.  It wasn’t on the campaign bus, it wasn’t in the White House and it’s not today.  Please come and save me from these cheap salesman that think ‘hating on’ Superman is the Luthor brand.

Look, I know you promised your wife you’d sit out a few rounds but I’m prepared to make it worth your while.  It’s not like you can be any use to her before the baby comes.  And after, your new LexCorp salary will easily cover the cost of a nanny.  From what I’ve seen of children, there’s nothing to be gained letting the thought of them get in the way of what you want to do. 

Just say you’ll think about it, Matt.  After all, the kid may not get his father’s smarts.  If you absolutely must make him a consideration in this adult conversation, consider that.  You have enough to send him to Harvard, I know, but wouldn’t it be nice to know you can also donate a building on the off chance he doesn’t get in?

 

“Indonesia?” Bruce asked when Clark returned to the Rio apartment.  He had a glass of fruit juice already poured and handed it over like an experienced bartender at one of the exclusive Wall Street watering holes the evening after a market crash.

Clark shook his head in despairing acceptance.  Of all the places he could have gone: home to Lois, to the firehouse, to the farm in Smallville, even to the Watchtower, he’d chosen the one where he thought he was least likely to be burdened with conversation.  And here was Bruce, letting him down. 

“If you took that Tae-Vrroshokh survey today, I don’t think the Indonesian responses would be too flattering,” he said hoarsely.

“I had suited up,” Bruce replied.  “Contacted the Watchtower.  Wally’s on monitor tonight; gave him a head’s up.  We figured it must be the volcano, given the timing and that it looked like you heard something before you took off.  He was waiting in case you called it in.  J’onn and Diana were on stand-by.”

“There was nothing you could have done,” Clark said simply.  “I would have called it if there was, you know that.  There’s nothing any of you could have done.”

Bruce’s eyes glared their answer with the burning ferocity they directed at criminals.  Then there was nothing you could have done either, was their clear message.

“You know, it’s nights like this, I really wouldn’t mind hitting one of those guys calling me a god.  Hitting them hard,” he added defiantly.  “A god wouldn’t be facing this.  Always able to get there in time: stop the plane crash in Perth and the bank robber taking hostages in Vancouver at the same time as the landslide in India, Nillachi warlord pinning Green Lanterns down on Isimor-6, the Mexican cartel beheading people and Boka Haram kidnapping little girls.”  He snapped his fingers.  “No sweat.”

“If you could do that,” Bruce said quietly, “you would actually be the monster that’s your worst nightmare.  Clark, I know it’s no great consolation, especially tonight, but your limits are what makes you ‘human’ in the ways that matter.  You can’t be everywhere and save everyone.  You have limits, and that means people will die and others will be hurt, and there’s nothing you can do about it.  And you have to live with that, just like I do; just like we all do.  It’s what makes you one of us.  You’re the one who can fly, but you are one of us.  A god would be alone.”

Clark looked out the window, not to the black surf crashing on the beach but to the favelas on the hill… all that want behind the flickering lights, where Bruce’s foundation did what it could to alleviate some suffering but for all his wealth, he simply couldn’t do it all.

“Would Luthor’s Alien be alone?” he wondered suddenly.

“Luthor is alone,” Bruce noted.  “And the Alien is his creation so… probably.”

Clark nodded. 

“I’m going to sleep at home tonight,” he said, swallowing the juice in a gulp.  “Have breakfast with Lois and I’ll be back in the morning.”

“Give her my best,” Bruce said as Clark—now Superman—flew off the balcony.

 

From the desk of Lex Luthor

To: Patrick Tatoson, Message Development
RE: Corporate Identity

Rick, I’m at a loss.  I’m looking at a proposed LexCorp logo out of a Schumacher film.  Tell me we didn’t pay for this.  Tell me we didn’t hire somebody who wants to put three colors of pastel neon in my lobby like the Popcorn sign at the local multiplex.  That’s what this is, Rick, I recognize the font. 

I want a list of the people who saw this and bumped it up until it reached my desk.  Then I want you to give them all a good talking to, and in the course of that talk, tell them about the list.  That I asked for it, and that their name is on it.  The top five should be informed of their exact placement on that list.  Are we understanding each other?  Good.  Now that we have achieved this blissful state of simpatico, I will reiterate what you obviously didn’t grasp the first time: LCII was a company in transition and meant to be viewed as such.  In resuming the LexCorp name, we are announcing that transition is over.  This is not a stopgap or a temporary measure; this is reclaiming our corporate identity and our rightful place as an economic power.  The logo is to reflect that.  If you are employing children who cannot grasp that level of gravitas, that is your error and you should fix it as soon as possible.  Ditto if you’ve employed proles who don’t recognize tackiness when they see it.  I will hold you, not them, responsible if I see second-rate sophomoric shit again associated with the LexCorp name.

 

Third Fang of Six, by the hand of Bi­mar, Ajax First Class

All the scouts have returned and the reports are positive.  Little has changed and I see no reason we can’t proceed as planned.  I should say I see no reason but 2d Fang’s doubts.  Superman has not been sighted anywhere in Rio de Janeiro and he has been seen many places around the world since his appearance in the north.  It is clear his turning up was nothing but happenstance.  It has nothing to do with us and ought not to figure into our plan.  The objection has been raised and answered.  Let us hear no more about him, his cape, his flight, his strength, or his appearance to fight a forest fire.

The Second Fang is what the Americans call gun shy.  I understand that.  Falstaff was a disappointment to us all.  I cannot count the hours of sleep I lost after his failure.  My heart sunk as low as any of the Six, and I grieve that we must toil still when the matter could have ended then and there.  If we had been victorious, Ra’s al Ghul would be among us now, the brain of the Demon as before.  As it is, we must make what we can of his musings in the book of wisdom.  I have consulted the relevant passages.  I say again, his teachings make Rio de Janeiro the ideal location for this operation, he describes it as if by name.  It is true he speaks ill of progress and technology, but Third Fang, it is generations past that those pages were writ.  In this very lifetime, he made an alliance with Luthor of Metropolis.  The tech of the West is not forbidden to us.  This point like the last has been raised and answered.

I understand Second Fang is afraid.  I cannot be without fear after Falstaff.  My hopes have soared only to end in ashes.  But there is no fear in the musings of the Great One, and if we are to have him lead us again, we must emulate him and be bold.

 

From the desk of Lex Luthor
CONFIDENTIAL

To: P’tar Gkai
RE: Project Breaking News

It was a pleasure talking to you this morning and to finally deal with someone who can follow simple instructions.  This note confirms that Nabha Gulati will be arriving from the LexCorp Call Center in Mumbai.  He believes he is instructing your English tutors.  That is, he knows this Lndau and M’qan aren’t techs themselves and won’t be manning the phones.  He thinks they’ll be teaching the men who do how to sound like they’re from Ohio.  To help them do that job, he’ll show them how to use a tablet and perform a few simple operations – the ones we discussed – so they have some understanding of what the techie guys are talking about.

You should already have received the shirts to help them look attached to a LexCorp call center.  I know I don’t need to tell you to destroy them as soon as he leaves.  Regrettably it has happened that some charitably minded underling decides to donate such things to the locals.  One formerly shirtless youth goes running in front of a traffic camera and LexCorp’s presence is exposed.  I’m sure you wouldn’t have such sentimental nitwits in your operation, but it can’t hurt to make sure.  Burn the shirts as soon as Gulati leaves.

 

Bruce didn’t want to tip the known Demon and possible Luthor agents in Rio to Batman’s presence, so he didn’t risk an appearance in costume.  He did make a quick foray in ordinary dark clothes and a simple cloth mask.  It was “for the exercise” he told himself, though he did intercept a crate of guns and a very small shipment of coke.  The former were easily destroyed.  The latter could have been but seeing that it was headed for Star City, he decided it would be more effective to clear a nest.  He inserted a tracker and sent it on its way, returned to the apartment, and forwarded the tracer key to Green Arrow.  Then he went to bed.

He awoke to voices, the smell of coffee, and Psychobat’s acidic observation that if he was half the detective he was said to be, he would have expected this.  He put on a robe and opened the door to the party atmosphere any detective should have foreseen: Clark had returned with Lois, and Selina, a bag of Gotham bagels from Pola’s, and apparently six more kinds of fruit juice. 

“Morning, ladies,” he managed with a grin that was cheerful (enough) for the hour.

Lois looked at him with an expression as horrified as it was astonished.  “My God, he just woke up and he’s got that flirty mode engaged.”

“That’s because he just woke up,” Selina confided.  “Room full of people when he wasn’t expecting it, the playboy kicks in like a reflex.”  She turned to include him and said in a louder tone, “Good morning, darling.  Surprise.”  She added the last apologetically, and Bruce sensed she hadn’t had any more sleep than he did.  It was good news in her case; it meant she was fully recovered from the toxin and had been out prowling.

“How early did he get you up?” Bruce asked, coming to the table, kissing Selina’s cheek and nodding pleasantly at Lois before helping himself to a large glass of juice.

“There was a ball of fire in the sky,” she answered.  “These friends of yours claim it’s there every day.”

The two morning people laughed and Bruce assured her it was a myth started by Metropolis anarchists. 

Once they’d eaten, both women made it clear that they weren’t leaving before “the briefing,” a word they both used in such a way that conveyed the subtlest hint of mockery.  ‘The League and their quasi-military jargon’ Lois’s said with the slightest brow-raise and faintest suggestion of a smile that meant a husband’s foibles must be tolerated.  Selina was subtler still, merely the gleam of feline eyes assuring you that you were an adorable idiot.  Bruce shot a spike of silent rebuke at Clark, reminding him that they’d once agreed, via this same telepathy of partners, that the World’s Finest would never again operate as a co-ed quartet. 

His only answer was “Oh here, let me do that,” because Selina had stood and was reaching for a plate to clear the table.  In a blink, the table was clear but the blur of Clark taking charge continued crisscrossing the room for several additional seconds.  When it stopped, the living room was subtly rearranged into a bizarrely homey briefing room.  A pad, pencil and fluffed pillow indicated where each of them might sit on the chair and sofa now facing the TV.  The TV now had Bruce’s laptop attached with one of those crystal boxes Bruce knew was a Kryptonian router.  In the center of the coffee table was a pitcher of water and a stack of glasses, just like at the Watchtower, but next to it was a bottle of the pomegranate juice that seemed to be Lois’s favorite… With a lip twitch, Bruce led the procession to take their seats for the briefing.

Clark began with a summary of the case so far, from the subsistence farm through the final proof that LexCorp was propping up Demon.  Bruce filled in some additional detail on the financial side, which prompted one question from Selina and a series from Lois (during which Clark realized she was ‘arranging her facts,’ as she put it, i.e. appropriating the story that would eventually come out of this).  She concluded with a snort that would certainly never be heard at a League briefing, though Clark could imagine it at a parallel discussion at the Sinister Citadel (and wondered if Selina would be offended if he asked her to confirm it).

“It’s just so Luthor,” Lois laughed.  “No sooner does he shake off that spell he was under, he turns right around and pockets Selina’s idea.”

All three of them blinked at her.

“Well, you are the one that pointed out Demon was vulnerable,” she said, to which Selina quietly replied “Go me.”

Clark could tell by the discrepancy between her smile and her biorhythms that Bruce hadn’t invented the story about her flagging confidence. 

“I mean think about it,” Lois went on, “how many times must it have happened over the years?  These guys routinely stake everything on one big operation that fails.  We congratulate ourselves on averting disaster, Clark and I write it up and I get the Pulitzer, and then we all go back to our lives until next time.  Nobody ever stops to think how LexCorp or Demon or Kobra is in real trouble and takes the time to pounce.  I say ‘Well done, Selina.’”

“Back to Luthor,” Bruce said with the same brusque tone he used at the Watchtower to keep a briefing on topic.

“Yeah, still not clear on what he’s getting out of it,” Lois noted.  “Assassination?  Some kind of industrial sabotage?”

Bruce’s lips receded to a thin line of contempt and his eyes took on a glint of calculating detachment fueled by keen intelligence.

“Demon is vulnerable,” he said, a hint of Luthor’s Midwestern accent softening his natural vowels.  “That’s something to capitalize on, just as he would with a company.”  An aura of menace came with it, as if in that barely perceptible loss of a North Eastern twang, the safety had been removed from a dangerous weapon.  “There are three things to look at: What use can they be put to?  If they can’t provide any useful service, what do they have that’s worth taking?  And what do they need that he can offer them?  The last is easy: money.  All the trouble he’s going through to get his secret funds back into play and here’s a place he doesn’t have to launder it.  They’re assassins, the lowest criminal scum, he can hand them the dirtiest funds.”

Lois blanched a little at the transformation, and even Clark looked less than comfortable at spirit of his enemy being conjured to sit among them this way.  Predictably, Selina had no reaction whatsoever.

“What they have is trickier,” she said, turning to Lexian Bruce conversationally and possibly with villain-to-villain candor.  “He’s tried using their assassination services before and it cost him the White House.”

“Unable to kill one lousy reporter,” Bruce muttered.  “No.  Never again.  Literally the last place he would ever go to take out a hit on someone.  The last.  He’ll go to that Olsen kid first.  To Lois.  To Superman himself before he would consider the League of alleged super-assassins that couldn’t take out one guy in glasses.”

“You might even consider getting off your lazy tush and doing it yourself,” Selina teased, which brought a glare of such sizzling contempt it would have reduced Eel or Wally to ash.  

“The only way Demon is useful is to use them my way,” he concluded.  “Never let them know what they’re actually doing and for what purpose.”

His eyes continued boring into Selina’s, but now the burning malevolence was punctuated with an unnerving lip-twitch.

“So you look over the menu of operations in progress and find something interesting you can work with,” she smiled like a cocktail waitress offering list of after-dinner cognacs and anticipating a large tip.

Bruce inhaled, his head tipping back slightly and his fingers shifting to form a triangle, the atmosphere of Lexian possession giving way to one of concentration, a librarian asked for an obscure reference.

“Something in progress, here in Brazil,” he said thoughtfully.

“Is it?” Clark asked.  “Just because they’re moving money doesn’t mean this is where the criminal operation plays out.”

“Don’t forget, the GO6 is here too,” Selina started to say when Batman’s crisp meeting gravel cut her off.

“There’s more,” he said without a hint of the Luthor mindset remaining.  “The boy I talked to last night is from Rocinha.  He said there are cameras installed all over the place since pacification.  It’s one of the first things the state does once they take back a neighborhood, and it’s a big issue among the residents.”

“Just like when they go up in every city,” Lois said.  “I remember in Metropolis there were students staging all kinds of protests in front of them.  I interviewed this one ‘theatre troupe’ that performed an abbreviated version of Waiting for Godot with flashcards in front of the one in Planet Square.  And the political cartoons, God Almighty, the overwrought references to 1984…” 

“Perry finally declared a moratorium on the word Orwellian,” Clark added.  “We still have to clear it with him on a case-by-case basis.”

“Amusing,” Bruce graveled.  “But hardly relevant to the residents of a favela who have never left it.  The cameras were new and the subject of scrutiny, which led Raoul to notice a detail that no one else has.  They’re made by LexCorp.  All the cameras installed in the favelas, and in Leblon and Santa Teresa, those are the neighborhoods he works here in the city.  All the cameras installed around Rio for the World Cup are Luthor’s.”

For a moment, no one spoke.  Clark reached for the water pitcher and poured a glass, then Bruce continued.

“Like I told Clark when he spotted the logo in Ouro Preto, it’s a large company.  They make a lot of stuff, and any particular organization buying a LexCorp product isn’t conclusive.  But…”

Clark tossed his Justice League communicator onto the table as if completing Bruce’s thought.  “But if it were a Wayne Tech product we were talking about, you know the possibilities.”

To be continued...


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ChapterKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 1: What Kind of Day Has it BeenKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 2: Putting it TogetherKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 3: IdolumKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 4: Black GoldKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 5: River of JanuaryKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 6: The Divided CityKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 7: Opening CeremoniesKnight of the Mirrors Chapter 8: Breaking News

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