It was three in the afternoon. Clark, Diana and Bruce came out of the cafeteria and headed in the direction of the parking lot. Students were allowed to keep vehicles for transport in the campus, and Bruce had taken advantage of this rule.
“How is Cat feeling?” Diana asked.
“She’s really upset.” Clark said quietly. “She was still crying when she left with Lois to go to her room.”
“Things do look pretty bad.” Bruce said. “The biggest problem is that the gun which was found was unregistered. That makes it an even bigger felony. But it’s not over yet. Maybe there’s still some way we can help her.” He led the way to his car.
Clark was momentarily distracted by the sight of Bruce’s car. “You own a Lamborghini?” he asked in an awed voice.
“Sure.” Bruce grinned. “Bought it last month.”
Diana gazed at the jet black car. “Is it safe to have such an expensive car in the college Bruce?” She asked as she ran her hand over the shiny hood.
“I’ve got two more.” Bruce said with a shrug. They got into the car, the leathered upholstery sinking luxuriously under their weight. “I like the way this things handles under high speed.”
He started the ignition, and the car sprang smoothly to life. They backed out of the drive and headed onto the road.
“So you two are going to Cat’s dorm now?” Diana asked.
“She looked like she could use a little support.” Clark said. “Besides, this whole business is really fishy. We might find out something that could help her.”
“I wish I could come with you.” Diana said regretfully. “But we have a test today. Will you let me know if you find out anything?”
“Sure, we’ll do that.” Clark nodded. “We’ll see what we find today, and then we’ll drop by your place in the afternoon.”
“Is this it?” Bruce asked, pulling up next to a building.
“Yes, thank you, Bruce.” Diana said, getting out of the car and scooping up her bag. “Good luck, both of you. I hope you can help Cat.”
“Best of luck for the test, Diana.” Clark said. She waved to them as she left. Bruce started the car again, taking them to Cat’s hostel.
He parked the car in front of the hostel and the two went to Cat’s room on the second floor. They found Cat coming out of her room just as they arrived.
“Thanks for coming, guys.” Cat said. They could tell by her voice and bloodshot eyes that she had been crying again.
“No problem, Cat.” Clark said. “How do you feel?”
Cat shrugged. “I’ve been better.” she said, attempting to smile. “Still can’t believe this is all really happening.”
“I’m sorry.” Clark said softly. “Has the warden been here again?”
Cat nodded. “He told me to pack my stuff and vacate the room.”
“How many people have been to your room since they found the gun?” Bruce asked.
“Not many.” Cat said, wiping her eyes. “The warden came and found the gun. He kept the door locked till the police came. They had a look around the room once, and then they took me to the dean’s office and started asking me where I got the gun from, and what I’d been planning to do with it. It was so horrible.”
She was crying again. Clark handed her his handkerchief.
“Are you allowed to go into the room now?” he asked quietly.
Cat nodded, dabbing at her eyes with the handkerchief. “They’ve given me until tonight to get my stuff out of the room.” she said.
“You must be tired Cat, and you’re really upset.” Clark said gently. “Why don’t you go to one of your friend’s room for a while? You’ll feel worse if you stay here thinking about it.”
“Yeah, all right.” Cat said, still sniffling. “I’ll go to Lois’s room. She’s following up some leads, but she said she’ll be back soon. I’ll go wait for her.”
She left the two in the hallway in front of her room. Clark rubbed his eyes tiredly. “Lois must’ve gone to see what she can find out on her own about this business.” He said. “She might get into trouble.”
“There’s nothing we can do for her right now.” Bruce said. He looked at the door of Cat’s room. “The police don’t seem to have done a lot of investigating before charging Cat with the crime.”
“It’s a cut and dried case for them.” Clark said. “The weapon was found in her room with her belongings. That makes it a pretty straight forward crime of possession.” he looked at Bruce grimly. “Except that it can’t be her, Bruce. Cat’s not the type of person to do something like this. She’s being framed.”
“That’s what I think too.” Bruce said. “But what we have to find out is, who would want to do this to her?”
“Unfortunately, the list is a pretty large one.” Clark said. “Cat had a habit of snooping around. She knows a lot of student’s secrets that they want to keep quiet. Lois was telling me how Lex Luthor came to her house and Cat’s to scare them off writing the stories about him in the newspaper.”
“Luthor” Bruce said thoughtfully. “You think he might be the one who did this?”
“I would say it’s more than likely.” Clark said darkly. “I don’t trust that guy an inch. But we can’t prove anything unless we have evidence.
Bruce glanced at the door of Cat’s room. “Want to see if we can find out anything in there on our own?” he asked, jerking his thumb at the room.
Clark nodded. “Let’s go.” he said.
“At least the room didn’t have a lot of visitors to mess with any of the evidence on scene.” Bruce said as they entered the room together. “We might find something useful in here.”
The room was in a semi orderly state. The books were piled in a corner on the study table. The bed had not been made. It was obvious from the decorations that a girl lived there. There were various drawings and paintings that Cat had apparently made herself, and posters of two boy bands. It was a bright and cheerful room, but seemed to have a strangely desolate air, as though aware of the trouble that had occurred there.
At the time when the two boys were searching through Cat’s room, Lois was stepping out of her car and making her way to the old abandoned auditorium in a corner of the campus, which was deserted because of the construction work going on at one end. Ever since learning about Cat, she had been obsessed with finding out who the real culprit was. She refused to believe Cat was guilty. But an illegal gun was not something that could not be procured easily. She was here for a meeting she had arranged with one of the students whom she knew were involved with some of the shadier elements of the college. She was hoping the person she was going to meet would tell her who the students were who could have smuggled an unregistered gun into the college.
Lois went towards the auditorium and stepped inside the deserted hall, feeling a shiver run down her spine that had nothing to do with the cold wind. She stepped over a pile of old lumber and made her way to a dark spot behind the wooden shack. There she stood and waited for her informant.
She did not know the informant had already told about her investigations to the people it concerned in return for a fee.
Suddenly, she heard a series of rapid footsteps behind her. Before she could turn, a hand was clamped over her face, covering her nose and mouth with a cloth that smelled of some strong chemical. She tried to struggle, but her head was swimming. Her legs buckled under her, and she sank to the floor, unconscious.
The moment Bruce entered Cat’s room a sea of impressions flooded his mind. His senses seemed to have sharpened, and almost unconsciously, a distant part of his brain began to notice the details of the room.
“Muddy footprints on the floor, recent and only partially dried, spaced two feet from each other, indicating a short person. The bed hasn’t been slept in. There are scratches over the keyhole in the desk drawer. The cupboard is open. Most of the contents of the desk drawer are in the cupboard. A pile of paper had been knocked to the floor. A few loose pages are still on the floor. Half of the papers in the pile were put back a little to the left, half a little to the right. The effect is very untidy. One paper left on the floor is folded into a specific pattern on the left side. Cupboard was unlocked and already open. It has the same lock as the one on the front door”.
Clark stood to one side, letting Bruce absorb the surroundings. He knew Bruce was a remarkably observant person, which coupled with his highly logical mind meant he saw a lot more into a situation than others. He waited for Bruce to finish inspecting the room.
Bruce leaned against the wall and stared around at the room. “Some points are fairly obvious.” he said. “There are footprints on the floor, and judging by their freshness and the length of the distance between them, they were made by the warden when he came here today. But what’s interesting is that Car wasn’t here the whole of last night. That means there was already plenty of time for someone to plant the gun in the room. The paper on the floor is twisted into a pattern, something the culprit seems to have done unintentionally while trying to come to a decision about where to put the gun. The pattern is on the left side, showing that the person is more comfortable with the left hand. So that makes the person left handed, not to mention someone who knew Cat well enough to know she did not use the desk drawer very often, and that would be a good place to hide the gun and not have her find out. That person was able to get away undetected and had access to illegal weapons. However, once the person was in the room, he or she then had a problem making up their mind whether to put the gun in the desk drawer or the cupboard, finally deciding on the cupboard.”
Clark nodded. “Good work. This information gives us something to work with, and narrows the down the list of suspects a bit. We should-.”
He stopped talking as his phone rang. Clark took it out and saw that it was Cat. He switched it on.
“Yeah, Cat?” Clark said. “Is everything okay?” he fell silent, and Bruce heard Cat’s voice on the other side, sounding anxious.
Clark closed the phone. There was a look of foreboding on his face. “That was Cat.” he said. “Lois still hasn’t come to her room. Nor is she answering her cell. And they can’t find her car either.”
The two looked at each other in silence for a moment.
“I’ll have to go and try to find her.” Clark said finally. “Maybe Perry or one of the other reporters knows where she was going.”
Bruce nodded. “Be careful.” He said. “This is a weird mess we’ve gotten into. Keep your eyes open.” Clark nodded as he turned towards the door.
“Wait, Clark.” Bruce said. Clark turned back in the doorway. “We’ll need to stay in contact. I’m going to try to get in touch with some people who might be able to help us get to whoever’s behind this. I’m going to the cyber cafe. I’ll need a computer with a safe IP address. If I find out anything useful, I’ll let you know.”
Clark nodded. “I’ll keep my phone on the whole time.” But Bruce shook his head.
“I don’t have my phone with me right now.” he said. “There are some extra features being installed in it by Lucius Fox, from Wayne tech. He’ll send me the set in a few days time. We’ll need some other way to communicate.”
Clark stood thinking for a while. “There’s a fax machine in the news office.” he said.
“And there’s another in the cyber cafe.” Bruce nodded. “Yeah, that should work. If I find anything, I’ll leave you a message.”
“Okay, here’s the number of the fax machine in the office.” Clark said, taking a sheet of paper from Cat’s study table and writing the number down on it. “If you need me let me know. Good luck.” He handed the sheet to Bruce and hurried out of the room.
Slowly, Lois’s mind was recalled from the depths of unconsciousness. She tried to open her eyes, but found she could not. She tried to sit up, but again, her movements were restricted. She could not even yell out. She tried to feel her surroundings with her body. As far as she could tell, she was in the back of a car. Her hands and feet were tied, her mouth was gagged and there was a blindfold over her eyes.
Her ears however, were still free, and that moment she heard a horrible sound, the breaking and tearing of metal against metal.
Lois began to struggle. She knew that sound. It was the sound the cars made when they were inside the trash master, which reduced the cars to scrap metal in minutes. She now knew that she was in the physics section of the science lab, where the trash master was located while the auditorium underwent renovations, and that in a few minutes the car she was in and all its contents were going to be crushed.
Lois struggled desperately against her bonds but they were too strong. She could not move them an inch. Her heart was hammering wildly in terror as the sound of the tearing metal grew nearer and louder. She was helpless and could only await the end.
Then a different crash occurred, as a heavy rod was slammed into the back window of the car. The glass on the window shattered, showering Lois with its fragments. Lois did not even have time to wonder what was going on before a pair of powerful arms reached in and pulled her out of the car, moments before the car was swallowed by the trash master.
It was an hour after dark, while Lois was lying unconscious in the back of the car, that Mace heard a knocking on his door and went to open it. Bruce Wayne stood outside.
“Hey, Mace.” He said. “Did you get my message?”
“Yeah, come on in Bruce.” Mace said, stepping to one side. Bruce entered the room. Unlike Cat’s overtly feminine room, this one was simply furnished. A large closet in a corner seemed to be enough to store all of Mace’s personal belongings. There were no hangings on the wall or any ornaments on the table. The study table was crammed with books on art and drama, with a copy of The Phantom of the Opera on top, and a chair kept next to the desk.
Bruce was lost in his thoughts as he looked around the room. He had always been used to acting alone in any problems he was dealing with. But it seemed that at the university the problems were too complicated to handle alone. The day at the science fair had confirmed this idea. Now he was realising that fact all over again today. But the problem was he had difficulty trusting anyone to such a personal extent. And yet, that was apparently what this sort of life demanded every day.
Trust is very important when you’re part of a group.
“Is Cat all right?” Mace asked anxiously as he closed the door.
“She’s hanging in there.” Bruce said. “This is a pretty grim mess she’s gotten herself into. But I’m hoping we can help save her. I’ve already sent Clark a fax about what I’ve found out. Now we need to get a few things straight about this business.”
“Okay, how do we do that?” Mace asked, sitting down on his bed. Bruce remained standing.
“We think Cat is being framed for this crime.” He explained. “Unfortunately, she was out with Lois last night covering some story, and only came back at nine today. The gun was discovered an hour later. So it could’ve been anyone who planted the gun in her room in that period. It’s likely that the culprit is left handed. Cat knew a lot of people’s guilty secrets, so the list of suspects is pretty large.”
Mace nodded soberly. “So how can I help?” he asked. “There can’t be that many students who can get a gun into the university.”
“My thoughts exactly.” Bruce nodded. “That’s the biggest clue we have. These illegal transactions have a certain order and method in them, just like any other business. So they’re probably arranged through one particular person, who must have some sort of paperwork on the dealings, unless it’s destroyed immediately upon completion of the work. It’s a slim chance, but it’s the best we have right now. I have an idea on how to smoke out whoever that person is. We’ll need a pen and a paper.”
Mace went to his desk and took out a sheet of paper students usually wrote their assignments on. He searched through his bag that was lying on the chair and located a pen. He shook it a few times and checked the nib to see if it was working.
“We’ll need it to look completely natural.” Bruce said thoughtfully. “The thing is we don’t even know the guys name. But I’m guessing the writer’s identity is written the same way in every letter, even the criminal ones. Just write Bruce Wayne, second year, Metropolis University first.
Mace carefully wrote the words at the top left corner of the page. “What do we write next?” He asked. “We need to make sure they don’t get suspicious or find out that we’re trying to trace them with the letter.”
“That’s okay” Bruce said quietly. “I found out what I needed to know anyway.”
“What’s that?” Mace asked, puzzled, bending over the paper.
Bruce strolled over to where he was standing and looked down at him. “You’re left handed, Mace.”
Silence filled the room. Mace stood frozen in his bent position. Bruce was still looking at him. Mace put the pen down and got up slowly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He asked. His voice had grown very soft, yet somehow more dangerous.
“I think the technical term is ‘the game is up’.” Bruce said quietly. “You’re not going to frame Cat with the gun.”
“Bruce, if you’re implying-”
“I’m not implying anything.” Bruce cut in. “I know. And soon the police will too.”
Mace had gone deadly pale. He was starting to sweat again, but seemed too preoccupied to think of his handkerchief now. Bruce went over to the closet and stood with his back to it.
“Should I spell out what you did?” He asked. Mace made no reply. Bruce spoke again.
“Cat dumped you yesterday. This caused you to go into a rage, and the only thought in your mind was that she must be punished for what she’d done to you. That’s when you decided to kill her. You came to her room last night. You had the spare key she’d given you, and the gun in your pocket. But at the last minute, you got scared. You couldn’t go through with it. Then you had another idea. You hid the gun in her room where it could be easily found. Then when Cat came into the room with Lois, you pretended you’d come to return the key. The next morning you told the warden that you’d seen the gun in Cat’s room, and begged him to keep your name out of the matter. They found the gun exactly as you planned and charged Cat with the crime. That was her punishment for dumping you. Does that cover everything?”
“I think it pretty much does.” Mace said. His voice had changed even more now, rougher and more sunken. “Looks like you’ve got it all figured out. Can I ask how you found this out?”
“Followed your thought processes.” Bruce said with a shrug. “From a psychological point of view your brain is a fascinating place. The fact that Mace is not your real name would be strange for someone who had nothing to hide. I had to get your school files from an old acquaintance. They were very informative. A split personality is a tricky thing to handle.” Bruce glanced sideways at Mace, who was still standing frozen. “You’re a long way from Gotham, Harvey Dent.”
What little colour remained in Mace’s face drained at Bruce’s last words. His knees shook, and for a moment Bruce thought he was going to fall. But he remained standing.
Bruce had thought of Mace as just an ordinary nerd at first. It was that day at the picnic that he had noticed something strange about him. The rapid and frequent changes in his manner were extremely puzzling. The way he had transformed almost instantaneously from passive to angry indicated a strangely disturbed mental state. It was this behaviour that had drawn Bruce’s attention to him. The way he had started talking about the most beautiful woman in the world and then abruptly and without the slightest pause begun to talk about the extremely violent beating of the gang member showed a disquieting split in his mind. When Wally and Arthur had dared him to jump down the stairs, he had exhibited that split in his personality again, in the way he had gone to jump, yet pulled back at the last moment because of fright. It showed the way his mind worked alternately as careful and reckless. Bruce had resolved to keep an eye on him because of the signs of bloodthirstiness he had shown while talking about the beating of the gang member, not to mention the excessive and unnatural anger he had exhibited later, when he thought he was being made to look like a fool in front of Cat.
When Bruce had been discussing the possibility of Cat being framed, his mind had jumped immediately to Mace. When he asked Cat about the last few days, and she told him about dumping Mace, his suspicions had been confirmed. When he had inspected Cat’s room in the morning and seen the paper put in a hap hazarded pile on the desk, as though the unknown person was unsure as to which was the right angle to put them in, Bruce had known it was Mace’s indecisive personality coming through in his actions again.
Now he stared at Mace, waiting for him to make a move. Mace remained standing frozen.
Bruce heard the door of the closet open behind him. He was aware of someone rushing at him from behind. It would have been easy to step out of the way.
The figure crashed into Bruce, sending him sprawling to the ground. A shower of kicks rained down on him, catching him in his stomach and ribcage, until a voice called out “That’s enough”
The figure stepped back to join the others, and Bruce looked up to see Mace standing next to Lex Luthor and Kalibak.
Lex was staring down at him with a mixture of anger and triumph. “You think you’re very clever don’t you?” He growled. “Feeling heroic now?”
Bruce was staring at the three of them. “I knew Dent was too scared to do this all on his own.” he remarked as he pulled himself into a sitting position on the floor with his back to the wall.
“It takes brains to form these plans, Wayne.” Luthor said with a smirk. “Brains like mine. I was the one who thought of putting the gun in that girl’s room. I planned it down to the last second. It would’ve worked too, if this freak had just followed my orders. But that’s okay. We can make up for that mistake now.”
Luthor reached inside his pocket and took out a knife. It was the best weapon he could lay his hands on at such short notice, but it should get the job done. This business was supposed to have been over long ago, but it had all gone wrong. And only because of Mace’s unpredictability.
When Lex had been busy making connections with the people that would be of use to him in college, he had come across a student who had known Mace in Gotham. From him Lex had learned about Mace’s split personality. He had stored the information in his mind for future use. Then when he heard about his break up with Cat, Lex had realised it was the perfect opportunity to get rid of two thorns in his side.
He had gotten the unregistered gun from Lobo, who had connections with every type of lowlife in Metropolis. The gun had been given to Mace, and he had been made to see how cruel and unjust Cat had been in dumping him, and that death was the only punishment she deserved. When Mace had gone to Cat’s room, Lex had also told a junior to tell Lois that Cat had called her. Mace would have had time to kill Cat, and time for Lois to come to the room. Mace would have been forced to kill her as well. When the crime would have been discovered, it would be Mace that the police would catch. Once they had his record examined, they would have found out about his mental illness. And who would have believed his story of having Lex as his accomplice when he was clearly crazy, and Lex had been nowhere near the scene of the crime, and had alibis to prove it?
But then Mace had screwed everything up. The rage that had been driving the violent side of his personality, blocking out every thought from his mind except that of revenge, had been replaced by the weak side. At the last moment he had gotten cold feet, and made a new plan. Even then the gun in the room frame up was a pretty good idea. At least it would have taken Cat Grant out of his Lex’s way. The frame up had worked, but then Bruce and Clark had gotten mixed up in the whole thing, and Lex had known there would be trouble. He would have to become directly involved. When Mace had told him that Bruce wanted to see him alone in his room, Lex had decided to be on hand just in case something went wrong.
Now Lex stared down at Bruce, while Kalibak panted next to him. He had had the satisfaction of kicking Bruce several times in the ribs and had gotten payback for the time that Bruce had beaten him in the cafeteria. Even now he was itching to have another turn.
Lex bent and searched roughly through Bruce’s jacket. He took out a folded piece of paper. It had Bruce’s writing on it. It was a short message.
Make sure to gather as many Manchester books related to the main subject as possible from the Archetypal college library. obviously, we’ll need all the Chlamydomonous help we can get to survive this Exorbitant term.
Lex stared at the letter, his eyes growing hard. He gave another kick to Bruce’s fallen form.
“So you knew it was me, big deal.” He spat. “This was supposed to be a secret message? A child of eight could’ve broken it. And you brought it here with you. You’ve given this to Kent? Great, now he’ll waste his time in my hostel on the other side of the campus, and we’ll be in here finishing our work. You’re not as clever as you think you are, Wayne. You really think you’ll get out of this room alive now?”
“We need to get away.” Mace said in a whisper, his face sweaty again. “It’s not safe here anymore.”
“Shut up, Dent.” Luthor snapped at him. “You’re the one who screwed the plan up in the first place. We’re doing this my way now.” he stared down. “Any last words Bruce?”
Bruce was saying something in a low voice. Luthor leaned in to hear.
“Trust ” Bruce whispered. “Is very important.”
Lex stared at him in confusion, and a sudden suspicion sprang in his mind. He checked the message again, his eyes scanning the page rapidly. A look of comprehension dawned on his face. He swung around on the other two.
“Lock the door” he roared. “Lock the door now”
Kalibak was startled by the panic he heard in Lex’s voice. He rushed towards the door to lock it. But it was too late.
The door was thrown open with an explosive force by someone on the other side. Kalibak rushed at the intruder, but was sent flying back with a punch. The next moment Clark Kent had entered the room.
Three boys rushed at him together, and the next few seconds were a whirlwind of punches and throws. Mace was thrown back first, his body flying headfirst into a wall. Lex followed soon afterwards, the knife he had been carrying not of very great use in such intense physical fighting at close range. Kalibak remained in the fight for seven seconds more, but a final straight left to the jawbone rattled every bone in his head. He staggered back and slumped to the ground. Clark stood alone surveying the room.
It was at that moment that Bruce truly understood for the first time how much Clark had changed, and how little Bruce really knew about him. No trace remained of the boy he had known for two years. The warm and friendly light usually present in Clark’s eyes had disappeared, replaced by a look of cold fury that was frightening to behold. The lips that were always to ready smile were pressed into a thin grim line. Waves of power seemed to roll off the broad shoulders. The strong hands were clenched tightly into fists, the muscles in his arms taut and defined. The tall figure seemed to dominate the room, and the fallen forms of the three shrank back against the wall under his gaze.
Clark looked over at Bruce, and the look of fury died from his face, to be replaced by concern. He walked over to Bruce and bent over him.
“You okay?” He asked quietly, checking his body for injuries.
Bruce nodded. “Nothing serious. I’ll live.” Clark stood up and offered him his hand. For a second Bruce hesitated, but then he took the hand and slowly got to his feet.
“We’ve got what we needed.” Bruce said. “They’ve confessed. Now we need to get to the police.”
“I’ve taken care of it.” Clark said. “I managed to get a message sent to them before coming here. They should be here any minute now.”
Just then, the door opened and a man in a police uniform entered the room. He had grizzled hair and a squat body, with eyes that seemed slightly strained but alert.
“I heard a pretty awful racket coming from this room.” He said pleasantly as he entered. “Thought I’d look in to see what the noise was about.”
“Are you here for the gun possession case, officer?” Clark asked.
“That right, son. Dan Turpin, Metropolis police department.” He said, showing them his badge. “I’ve got your Dean with me.” he turned to the doorway. Two other policemen entered, followed by the dean of the college.
Mr. Dak Syde entered the room. He was a very tall man, taller even than Clark. His skin was rough and hardened, and looked as though it was made of stone. A cunning brain was housed behind the massive forehead. His huge frame gave people the mistaken idea of bulk, but it was in fact all muscle. He was a physically imposing man. However, it was the eyes that got people’s attention, and once you looked into his eyes you forgot the rest of the body. They were cruel and pitiless, like twin black holes, devoid of any feelings or warmth. Those eyes were what those who met him remembered afterwards.
He entered the room now, his dark eye sweeping over the area. He stared at the people in the room, his eyes lingering on Kalibak, who looked terrified. Then he looked at Officer Turpin.
“What’s seems to be the problem here, Officer?” he asked. He had a deep voice that was as smooth as it was cold.
Officer Turpin gestured towards one of his men. “Steve came to me a few minutes ago saying that he had received word from a student that a crime was taking place in this room, and that we needed to come here immediately. It might have been a prank but what with finding the gun just today in one of your other student’s room, I thought I’d better come and make sure. And I told Mark to fetch you here too. Looks like we have another crime on our hands.”
“I sent the message.” Clark spoke up. “We needed your help, officer. I gave the junior the message to get you here.”
“You did?” Turpin said, looking at him keenly. “Well, I’m here now, son. What did you want to tell me?”
“You found a gun in Catherine Grant’s room today and charged her with illegal possession.” Bruce said. “But Cat is innocent. These three are the real culprits.” he gestured towards Mace, Kalibak and lobo.
Dak Syde looked at Bruce. There was a menacing look in his eyes “I would be careful if I were you.” he said coldly. “Do not make wild and unsupported accusations at your fellow students, or believe me, expulsion will be the least of your worries.”
Officer Turpin was scratching his chin dubiously. “That’s a pretty big thing to accuse someone of, son.” he said to Bruce. He looked at the three. “You boys want to say something for yourself?”
“We don’t know what he’s talking about, officer.” Luthor said smoothly. “We were sitting here in our friend Mace’s room when these two came and started assaulting us without any explanation. You can see how brutally Clark Kent has beaten my friend.” he gestured towards Kalibak, who had a large bruise on his jaw. “We could not even call out for help because they overwhelmed us. It’s a good thing you came when you did.”
Turpin looked at Clark and Bruce. “Their story seems to put a different complexion on things.” he said. “Anything you boys want say about these accusations?”
“That they are complete and total lies.” Clark said calmly. “I only hit them in self defence, and to save my friend Bruce, who was being savagely beaten by them.”
“That’s your story, Kent.” Lex hissed. “Looks like it’s your word against ours.”
“But that’s just what it’s not.” Clark said with a smile. “We also happen to have proof.”
Luthor’s eyes bulged. He stared in horror as Bruce reached inside the lining of his jacket and pulled out a video camera, which had a tube with a tiny lens at the end attached to it.
“Optical fibre tubing.” Bruce explained, running his hand over the tube. “It’s a Pinhole camera with ten mega pixel resolution. Near three sixty degree bending capability. Pretty good audio recording too.” he selected a recording, put the video in full screen mode and turned the volume up to maximum. He raised the camera up so that everyone could see the screen.
The image showed Bruce’s face for a second as he turned on the video recording. The screen shook briefly as the phone was concealed in his jacket. The view in front of him was still clearly visible as he knocked on the door of Mace’s room.
The rest of the video showed the events that took place inside the room. Luthor, Kalibak and Mace stared in horror as the video showed Mace admitting to the frame up, Lex and Kalibak throwing Bruce to the ground and then kicking him viciously, Luthor declaring his crime in front of Bruce, and then Clark’s arrival. The video continued till the appearance of the officers. Bruce turned off the video.
“That was the important part.” he said quietly.
Dak Syde was breathing heavily, his eyes narrowed. He did not say anything as Bruce put the mobile back in his pocket.
“It seems that you two were telling the truth.” He said finally in a soft voice, the anger apparent in every syllable. “In the light of this newfound evidence it is obvious that Miss Grant was framed by these three. They have been proven to be criminals. You will want to take them with you to the police station, officer.”
“Father” Kalibak whispered in a trembling voice. He inched slowly towards the dean, his eyes full of fear. He was practically grovelling. “Father, please. I… I’m sorry…”
In a sudden, swift motion, Dak Syde slapped Kalibak hard across his face, sending him sprawling to the floor.
“You are not my son” Dak Syde roared. “You are nothing to me. I have no son.”
He looked at Officer Turpin. “You can take them away, officer.” he said coldly. “And I hope they will be dealt with severely.”
At a sign from Turpin, the other two officers took out there handcuffs and moved towards the three. Kalibak continued calling out to his father. Mace was looking as though he had gone into shock. Luthor said nothing as they handcuffed him. He was staring at Clark and Bruce, who stared back. As he was led out of the room, he shot a look of pure hatred at Dak Syde. Finally there was only the dean, Officer Turpin and Clark and Bruce left in the room.
“We’ll need that video and you two as witnesses for the court hearing.” Turpin said to Bruce and Clark. They nodded. “That was some good work you boys did here. You’ve got a pretty useful right hook.” he added to Clark.
“Thanks” Clark said with a smile.
“Well, I’ll see you in your office, Mr. Syde.” Turpin said to the dean. “We’ll need to do the paperwork for this case all over again.”
“You can wait in my office after you have left those three at the station, officer.” Dak Syde said. “I shall join you there shortly.”
The officer nodded and left. Clark and Bruce were left alone in the room with the dean.
Dak Syde looked at the two boys. “It seems you two have saved the university from making a grave error.” He said softly. The two boys returned his gaze.
“Cat’s our friend, sir.” Clark said. “We had to help her when we knew she was innocent.”
“Then Miss Grant is fortunate to have two friends such as you.” Dak Syde said. “You put yourself in grave risk in order to help her.” the way he said it, it was clear the statement was not a compliment.
Those merciless eyes bored into Clark and Bruce, and suddenly they knew. Dak Syde was not happy with how the events have turned out. The disclosure of the events in that room would bring public embarrassment upon the dean because of his son, and upon the college for levelling false accusations against a student. All because of Bruce and Clark. In that moment, the two knew they had made a new enemy.
The two met Dak Syde’s gaze steadily. “Life’s fun with a little danger now and then.” Bruce remarked. “Especially if you’re doing it to help someone.” He was not feeling particularly worried. He didn’t care whether this man liked him or not.
“Indeed” Dak Syde said quietly. “But you should both be careful. In these types of situations people have a strange tendency to… slip.” the last word was spoken as a hiss. “And the fall can be very painful indeed.”
Clark rubbed his reddened knuckles. “You don’t think of those things when your friends are in danger.” he remarked quietly. “It’s really a question of how far you are willing to go to save those you love.” He did not turn away from Dak Syde’s gaze. Although there was something about the man that made Clark’s skin crawl.
Dak Syde gazed at the two, sizing them up. “Then it seems you two have already decided where your loyalties lie.” he said softly. “Perhaps we shall meet again, although I hope not in such dangerous circumstances again.” his tone clearly showed that that was exactly what he did hope for. “I wish you both a good night.”
He turned on his heel and left, leaving a silence in the room for a few moments. Bruce looked at Clark. “Number one rule of making college life more fun- Make the dean your personal enemy.”
“Beat up his son and then show him the recording.” Clark agreed. “I don’t think he’s going to let that go anytime soon.”
“Yeah, I don’t either.” Bruce said. He smirked. “And we’ve still got three years to go in this place.”
“But at least Cat is safe now.” Clark said. “Let’s go tell her the news.”
The two came out of Mace’s room and made their way down to the parking lot, where Bruce’s car was kept.
Clark’s phone rang. He picked it up. “Hey Diana.” he said. “Yeah, I know it’s late and we said we’d come by to fill you in. I’m sorry. We just got a little side tracked. We’re outside Boys Hostel Two right now. You’re near here too? Great, come by the parking lot and we’ll meet you there.”
He switched off the mobile and turned to Bruce. “Diana’s coming.” He said. “You sure you’re not hurt?”
“Positive.” Bruce said.
They found Diana waiting outside the parking lot. It was night time, and the lot was deserted. They went over to her, and Diana stared in surprise at their dishevelled appearance. “What on Earth have you both been doing?” She asked.
“Long story.” Clark said with a sigh. “We’ll tell you about it in the car.” They walked together towards Bruce’s car. Clark glanced at Bruce’s jacket, which had become extremely dirty and dusty from the kicking he had received.
“So you didn’t try to defend yourself at all when they were kicking you?” He asked.
“I was using my arms to protect the camera.” Bruce explained. “Otherwise it would’ve broken from all the kicks Kalibak gave me. But at least we got th-”
A sharp sound rang out from the darkness. Bruce stopped talking abruptly, clutching his shoulder. He collapsed on the ground.
“Bruce” Clark and Diana shouted, rushing to his side. They bent over him and stared in horror at the bullet lodged neatly in his shoulder, the blood beginning to seep out slowly.
Clark looked around in the darkness. It was impossible to tell where the shot had come from. “We’re in danger here Diana.” Clark said. “We need to get him to a hospital. Help me get him into the car.”
Clark bent and put his hands around Bruce. He lifted him off the ground, feeling his head loll to one side sickeningly. Diana ran to open the door of the car. Clark placed Bruce inside the car and went to the driver’s seat.
“Get me the keys from his jacket, Diana.” Clark called out. Diana searched through the pockets until she found the keys. She tossed them to Clark.
“Open the dashboard” She said.
Clark obeyed. He opened the lock with the keys. “What for?”He asked.
Diana rummaged in the tiny compartment. “He’s losing blood, Clark. He’ll die if he doesn’t get some treatment. I may be able to stop the bleeding if I can get some bandages. Someone as paranoid as Bruce is sure to have some type of medical supplies- yes! Here it is.”
She took the box of first aid kit and set to work on Bruce’s shoulder. Clark started the car, half expecting more gunshots, but the night remained silent. He drove the car as smoothly as he could so as to do minimum damage to Bruce’s wound.
Diana removed Bruce’s jacket and tore off his shirt. The blood was flowing freely now, and had drenched the shirt. Diana ignored the blood and focussed on the wound. She had found forceps and an antibiotic in the bag as well. A distant part of her mind wondered if Bruce had actually prepared for the possibility of getting shot at someday. Carefully, she took the bullet out, thankful that the smooth running of the Lamborghini protected them from any unexpected bumps during the ride. The bullet had missed the bone but was buried in a mass of nerves. She applied the cotton to the wound and wrapped the bandage over it, taking care not to let any air into the wound. She checked his breathing, since there was a possibility that the blood loss had resulted in a collapsed lung. But he was breathing steadily. There was nothing else she could do. Bruce was still unconscious. She made sure he was in a comfortable position. Then she went to sit in the front next to Clark.
“How is he?” Clark asked without taking his eyes off the road.
“I think he’ll be all right.” Diana said. “The bullet missed any vital spots and the bleeding has stopped.” She looked at him. “What was this all about, Clark?”
She sounded bewildered. Clark couldn’t blame her. He told her everything that had happened that day, to the investigation they’d done, to Bruce’s suspicions, to what had happened in Mace’s room. Diana was amazed to hear about the new side to Mace’s character.
“Is Lois all right?” She asked.
“Yeah, I got to her in time.” Clark said. “Lobo thought she would be killed without him having to dirty his hands. But I guessed that that was where he would take her when he took her car as well. There was only one place on campus where you could dispose of a car as well as a body.”
“So you knew Mace and Luthor were the ones responsible?” Diana asked. “How did Bruce let you know?”
Clark took out a piece of paper and handed it to Diana. It was a fax of the message Bruce had written. Diana studied it in silence.
“It’s in code.” Clark offered.
“I can see that…” Diana said slowly.
Clark looked at her. Despite the gravity of the situation, he couldn’t help a small smile from appearing on his face. “You don’t think it’s particularly clever?” he asked.
Diana looked at him apologetically. “Well, no. not really.” She said. “And how did it tell you about Mace? I can only see the underlined words spelling Luthor is the one…”
“Take another look.” Clark said, his eyes back on the road. “Ignore the underlined words. Notice anything strange about the message?”
Diana studied the message intently. “The only thing I see odd is that there are four words here that seem to be completely irrelevant.”
Clark nodded. “Manchester, Archetypal, Chlamydomonous, and Exorbitant” he said. “Four words, all completely unrelated to each other and the message, and all with capital first letters. Take the first letter from each word in the order they’re written and you get…”
“MACE” Diana said slowly. She nodded, impressed. “That is very clever.”
“Just a little misdirection to hide the true meaning of the message.” Clark said. “The problem was that we had no actual evidence that could save Cat or convict Mace. We needed to get him to confess. Bruce gambled on using his split personality situation to get him to admit the truth, and get Luthor out in the open. We needed evidence that could prove beyond doubt that it was them. So Bruce sent a message to Mace telling him he was coming to talk to him, giving him enough time to tell Luthor about it and for Luthor to come to the room. But I had to save Lois before she was killed, and because of that I was almost too late to get to Bruce. We managed to get the situation under control till Officer Turpin came. I thought we were safe then. But now…” he trailed off, with a glance towards Bruce unconscious form.
“Who could’ve shot him?” Diana asked, worried. “Lex and Mace and Kalibak must be with the police right now.”
“My guess is Lobo.” Clark said grimly. “He was the one who’d kidnapped Lois. He would’ve killed her right there, if it wasn’t for the construction work going on nearby. The workers might have heard the shot. He was also the one who’d gotten his hands on the gun used to frame Cat in the first place. I wondered where he was tonight when we were in Mace’s room. I think Luthor kept him as a look out. When Lobo saw the police coming with the dean he must’ve taken off to save his own skin. Then he saw us and took the shot. I can see why he’d be angry. We’ve made him an accomplice in an attempted murder case.”
Diana stared in silence at the road. “At least Cat is out of danger now.” She said. “Although it might take her a little time to recover from this experience.”
“Cat’s a pretty resilient sort of person.” Clark said with a smile. “I’m sure she’ll bounce back from this incident and be back to her old self soon.”
“I hope the same will be true for Bruce.” Diana said worriedly. The smile slipped from Clark’s face as he glanced back at his unconscious friend.
The rest of the trip passed in silence, the worry over Bruce casting a damper on conversation. They arrived at the hospital in less than five minutes. Clark and Diana sprang out of the car and ran towards the management area of the hospital. The head nurse was informed about Bruce’s condition, and two medics arrived with a stretcher to take him to the operating theatre.
The operation lasted for half an hour. Clark and Diana waited in the hall. Finally the surgeon came out of the room.
“He’ll be fine.” He said in answer to their questions, removing his bonnet and running a hand through his hair. “The bullet missed any vital spot. Who was the one who gave him first aid?”
Clark gestured towards Diana. The doctor smiled at her. “Well done” he said. “If the bullet had been left in the wound it might have caused lead poisoning. And the bandage prevented excess bleeding. You probably saved his life today.” he saw the relief on both their faces and continued. “He’s still unconscious but he’ll probably wake up soon. You can wait in his room with him if you want.”
The two nodded at once. They followed Bruce as he was carried to a private room and deposited on the bed. They bent over him. He looked extremely pale and his shoulder was wrapped in a bandage, but other than that he looked fine and was breathing deeply and evenly.
“I’m going to get some coffee, you want some?” Clark asked as he stood up.
“Yes, thank you.” Diana nodded. “I’ll call you if he wakes up.”
Clark left the room, and Diana bent over Bruce again. A part of her had been afraid that her inexperienced hands might have done more damage that good when she had given him first aid, and it was an enormous relief to know that he was going to be all right.
Bruce woke to an intense pain in his shoulder. He knew he was hurt. He kept his eyes closed, taking stock of his physical condition. The rest of his body seemed to be in working order, and only his shoulder was hurting. He slowly opened his eyes.
He half expected to see Alfred in front of him, who had nursed him through every illness and every sort of accident ever since he was a baby. But it was not the butler’s bald and wrinkled face he saw. He saw a girl with the face of an angel bending over him. A curtain of hair darker than the night itself fell past her waist. A soft and rosy hand was pressed lightly to his forehead, the large gray eyes full of concern. They stared at each other. He wanted to say something to ease the worry on her face but for some reason Bruce was struck dumb. His brain didn’t seem to be able to process speech.
Diana saw him open his eyes and stare at her. She smiled in relief. “Clark” she called out. “He’s awake.”
Clark rushed into the room holding two cups of coffee, managing not to spill a drop, to see Diana holding Bruce down.
“You need rest, Bruce. Don’t try to get up” he heard her say.
Clark grinned broadly in relief and came to stand on the other side of his bed.
“Gave us quite a scare there.” He said to Bruce, handing Diana her coffee.
“What’s going on?” Bruce asked weakly, looking around the room. His memory was returning. He noticed the bandage on his throbbing shoulder. He looked at Clark. “What happened to me? How did I get here? Last thing I remember is walking towards the car with you.”
Clark told Bruce about everything that had happened after he became unconscious. Bruce listened in silence.
“It had to be Lobo.” he said finally.
“That would be my guess as well.” Clark nodded. “But I really doubt we’ll find him at the university now. He supplied Lex with the gun, and tried to kill Lois. I’m betting he took off tonight and plans on lying low somewhere for a while.”
“Pity.” Bruce said, flexing his hand slightly and feeling the pain shoot up his shoulder. “I would’ve liked to have had a talk with him about this little matter of shooting me.”
“The important thing is that you’re out of danger now.” Clark said. “The doctor said your blood loss was minimal and the bullet missed any vital spot. He says it’s really remarkable how slightly the bullet penetrated into your skin.”
“The jacket I was wearing had a meshwork of leather and Kevlar. It’s a pretty strong material.” Bruce said with a shrug. “It was a prototype my company was developing for more durable clothing. I brought a sample piece here with me. It seemed likely that things would get rough in Mace’s room so I thought it would be a good time to try it.”
“Well, your instincts saved you from a very nasty accident today.” Diana said with a smile. “You’ll be as good as new in under a week.”
Again Bruce found himself strangely tongue tied, and simply nodded. “Is my car all right?” He asked, although he wasn’t really interested in the answer. But it gave him some time to think.
“Oh yeah, it’s totally fine.” Clark reassured him. “I have to say, that is one nice car to drive. Although you might want to replace the back seat covers. There were some pretty interesting patterns made with your blood on them by the time we got you here.”
“Good. That’s good.” Bruce muttered distractedly.
“I think this incident deserves a front page article in the newspaper.” Clark mused. “But I’m not sure if we should let out the details about it yet, the matter’s still not completely resolved. There’s still the court hearing left, and we’ll all need to attend that…”
Bruce nodded absentmindedly, but his mind was elsewhere. He was watching Diana as she sipped her coffee. Strange emotions were stirring within him. Feelings that he had not experienced for a long time were suddenly shooting to the surface, upsetting his orderly brain. A thought came to him that seemed to grow more attractive the longer he thought about it.
Maybe it was time to change his single status.