Chapter 32: Guests
Lois tripped over another tree root in her high heels. Her stockings were shredded and she cursed at the scrapes and scratches that added to the pain of her already sore feet. Mitchener pushed Lois ahead of him, shining a flashlight on the dust in front of her. “Onward, Ms. Lane. Those shoes can’t be very comfortable, but it can’t be helped…” But neither his rough assistance nor his condescending manner were making the hike any easier. Angrily, she thought, If it weren’t for the gun at my back…
Lois grimaced. You would what? Make a break for it? In the middle of nowhere? She knew that bound and gagged as she was, there was little hope that she would be found – or that she could even call for help. But her head was still pounding, she was starting to feel a little faint from the lack of food, and her throat had long since become parched, giving her tongue the consistency of sandpaper. She had already twisted her ankles at least twice on the rough dirt road…
As dizzy as she felt, she didn’t even know how long they had been walking. It could have been ten minutes… it could have been an hour… it seemed interminable. My God, is he going to just march me to death? she thought wearily.
The battle in her mind between the impulse to escape, the need to survive this ordeal for Jason’s sake, and the desire to get to the bottom of this story was raging full throttle. At this moment, although she had chosen the opposite course of action only minutes ago, she decided that the moment she even got the tiniest break, she would scream bloody murder for Clark, to hell with the consequences.
Suddenly, she broke out of the trees, with Mitchener looming behind her like an ever-present silent menace. They were in a clearing, and in the center of the clearing was a charming wooden cabin, porch light aglow.
“Here we are,” Mitchener announced as he gently shoved her forward. She could hear him digging in his pockets for the keys, and then he came around to the side, making a show of the gun for her benefit. “Please move a few steps back, Ms. Lane.” He gestured smoothly with the pistol. “I assure you that I have plenty of practice using this.”
As Lois moved backward, desperately seeking a way out of this situation, he lifted the keys toward the lock. Then Mitchener paused and turned his head to the right, gazing at the empty gravel driveway. Lois followed his gaze with her own. For a moment, his expressionless façade slipped, a puzzled frown coming over his handsome features. Then, fleetingly, they morphed into an expression of incredulity and rage before hardening back into the rigid mask of polite indifference. Had he expected to see something there?
The keys dangled from his slack hand, glinting in the porch light. Is this my chance? Lois thought, and tensed her muscles, preparing to aim a kick at his fingers… but he whipped his head back toward her just in time. He fitted the key into the lock quickly, and turned it with a snap of his wrist.
As he opened the door, she could see into the room beyond. The living area was tastefully furnished with a set of dark leather armchairs and matching sofa. Placing an unwelcome hand on her upper arm, he steered her into the cottage. On the rustic wooden coffee table, Lois could see two wineglasses – one empty, one half-full – and a few used dinner dishes. There was even a smaller plate resting on the floor beside the table, a mess of half-eaten food still on it.
Mitchener stopped short again. He turned his face away from her so she couldn’t see his expression, still keeping a restraining hand on her arm. He must have guests. He must be bringing me… to… someone. She could only imagine who that might be, and shivered.
He broke himself from his trance. “This way, Ms. Lane,” he requested shortly, his polite veneer cracking, urging her ahead of him toward the back of the cabin. She craned her head around as quickly as possible trying to take a mental photograph of her surroundings… Plush floor rugs on the hardwood floor, expensive-looking wilderness paintings, a well-appointed kitchen… What is this? Lifestyles of the Rich and Villainous? …but she had little time to see anything else as she was hustled into a long hallway which seemed to lead back to the master bedroom.
With a more and more anxious feeling, Lois found herself at the dead end of the hallway, facing a large, heavy-looking metal door. To the right side was a small keypad – some sort of entry code must be required. Are Mitchener’s guests behind that door? she thought worriedly.
“Just a little farther, Ms. Lane, and then you can rest those weary feet…” Shielding the keypad with his body, he quickly tapped a series of numbers. There was a buzz and a click, and then Mitchener pulled the handle on the doorway to reveal a windowless room. As the door swung slowly open, she could hear some sort of sound coming through, but she couldn’t quite make out what it was… The interior of the room was illuminated with soft track lighting, and one side was covered in pine bookshelves. A richly covered, but unmade bed sat flush against the far wall. But she could see no one inside.
As they came fully into the room, it was obvious what the sound had been. A full, throaty bass voice rang out of the speakers of a Bose CD player on the edge of one shelf:
Pentiti, cangia vita!
È l'ultimo momento!
As he registered the words, something flickered in Mitchener’s eyes for a brief moment. Then he frowned again, and waved the weapon toward the bed. “Please sit, Ms. Lane.” The door shut behind them automatically with a smooth click.
No, no, ch'io non mi pento,
Vanne lontan da me!
The deputy mayor stalked over to the player and shut it off with a furious jab of his finger, his face now positively stormy. Raking his free hand through his hair with a rough, impatient gesture, he stared sightlessly at the floor for a few moments.
Lois found that her curiosity was displacing her fear. Unless there was another room she hadn’t seen, whoever had left the dishes, the unmade bed and the music still playing was clearly gone. And Mitchener was very unhappy to discover that fact.
As he stood there, frozen in place, Lois studied the room. In addition to the bookcases and bed, there was a small table flanked by two small leather armchairs, several wooden crates lining the opposite wall, a kitchenette, a large wardrobe and a nightstand. And on that nightstand was a highball glass, melting ice cubes and the dregs of a brownish liquid at the bottom. There was still condensation on the outside of the glass, another sign that the room had been abandoned quickly... and recently.
At the sight of the glass, her raging thirst came back with a vengeance. It didn’t matter that this glass obviously had belonged to someone else, right now, Lois would have lapped water from a dirty puddle if it meant that she could get the dry, sticky feeling out of her throat.
Mitchener lifted his head and turned his attention back to her suddenly. She jerked her head toward the glass in supplication. He shook himself slightly. “I'm terribly sorry, Ms. Lane, what a rude host I’ve been.” He walked quickly over to the kitchenette, took a glass out of the cupboard, and filled it with water from the small sink. She wanted to jump up and kick him, but a dizzy spell hit her again as she realized afresh how thirsty she was.
When he walked over to set the glass on the nightstand and then began to remove her gag, Lois almost couldn’t believe her luck. She tensed, her mind racing. What’s the catch? Is he really going to… When the gag finally came away from her mouth, she saw that it was some sort of… torn sleeve?
With her hands tied, Mitchener had to hold the glass to her lips. It was humiliating to have to accept this help from her captor, but she took a long gulping drink, wondering if it would be her last, but feeling at least some energy coming back into her body. And then finally the moment that she had been waiting for came. As soon as the glass left her lips, Lois sucked in a deep breath and screamed as loudly as she could, “SUPERMAN!!”
Lois braced herself, expecting to be backhanded at the very least, or possibly shot, but fervently praying for the longed-for rush of wind… But there was absolutely no result. No Superman… no violent reaction from Mitchener.
She looked up at him, eyes defiant, but with a hint of question in them as well.
Her captor regarded her with that annoyingly superior look on his face again. “Glad you got that off your chest. You’ve probably been waiting to do that for a while,” he commented blandly, although his face was beginning to gleam with sweat. “As much good as that will do you… not here…” Mitchener gestured indifferently around him. “He made very sure that this would be a safe hiding place.” He then moved the water away from her to set back on the counter, with the air of punishing a naughty child.
“How?” Lois’ voice croaked out, raspy with lack of use. She had almost asked, From whom? but at the last moment had managed to bite back the betraying question. She still wanted to say more, such as: What do you mean by ‘he’? Why won’t shouting do any good? Why is this place ‘safe’? But she had to try to keep the impression that she really did know more than she actually did, hoping to trick him into giving something away while pretending she had it all figured out.
“Oh, please don’t be coy, Ms. Lane. You know as well as I do that there is only one way to keep a place off of Superman’s radar.”
He’s soundproofed this room… and lined it with lead? Lois could hardly believe that the man had gone to so much trouble, unless… Her eyes widened… He knew that he had to be safe from Superman…
But the timeline didn’t make sense! Superman had only returned to Earth a few weeks ago – the time it would take to soundproof a room and line it with lead… How long had he been prepared for this? More than five years?
Suddenly the clues coalesced in her mind. Two plates, two wineglasses, Italian opera playing in a soundproofed bedroom… Oh, my God… Had Luthor been here? And with his girlfriend, that Kitty person? She had to keep Mitchener talking, to try to get as much information from him before he decided to gag her again, or… She swallowed, throat still too dry. Or before he shuts me up more permanently. Her heart heaved in her chest as Jason’s, Clark’s, and even Richard’s faces swam through her mind.
“Why go to all this trouble? I’m sure that you didn’t take all these precautions just for little old me.” Although she was almost certain exactly who they were talking about, she bluffed her way ahead. Mitchener, she now saw, had made a colossal blunder in seizing her, clearly thinking she knew more about his mysterious guest than she did. Well, she wasn’t about to disabuse her kidnapper of that notion at the risk of enraging him. “He couldn’t have known that I would find out about you.” Her thoughts were racing and whirling with half-formed questions. She hoped desperately that she could get Mitchener to say something to confirm her suspicions about his involvement with Luthor. Obviously it went much further than they’d ever suspected. He was what… hiding him? Helping him escape both the law and Superman? Her blood boiled at the thought of the wreckage all over the city, the collapsed buildings, and the trapped people, dying too quickly for even Superman to rescue them.
Mitchener shrugged dismissively, refusing to give anything away. “Everyone knows about your close relationship with Superman. Protecting this place from him just happens to have a double benefit. He did, however, warn me about how nosy and persistent you are.” Still holding the gun carefully in his right hand, he turned away from her and walked over to the wardrobe, opening the doors. She saw his back stiffen in alarm, and his fists clench at his sides, as he began muttering something softly under his breath. Over his shoulder, she could see that there was nothing inside but a few hangers dangling askew on the rod.
“I take it you were expecting to find someone here, Mitchener?” she called to him, not able to resist the jab.
He paused for a beat, and when he turned back to her again, he looked like he was straining to keep his composure. “Oh, don’t worry about me, Miss Lane. I can handle unexpected situations.” There was a barely perceptible note of sarcasm and false bravado in his response. “I was simply hoping to get some… advice.”
“But instead he … left you in the lurch?” she continued to needle him.
His eyes narrowed with annoyance. “It’s none of your business.” He began to tidy up the kitchenette, turning away from her once more. He was too far away, and she was still feeling too dizzy, to try to attack him… with her feet anyway.
Well, as long as he’s leaving the gag off, she thought, I might as well take a chance… “You know, when I first started looking into L & V Construction, I had a feeling that the company had some sort of connection to the building collapses all over Metropolis.” She leaned forward, trying to catch a glimpse of his face. “A feeling that there had been gross misconduct… or mismanagement somewhere…” He kept his back to her, and she plunged forward. “When I discovered that you were one of the owners of the company, I immediately suspected that under-the-table deals were made, maybe building code restrictions relaxed…”
Still no response. Lois ground her teeth in frustration. He must have decided the silent treatment was safest.
“But the company’s name… from the beginning, my partner and I wondered if maybe a certain well-known criminal might be involved…” In a flash of intuition, a thought hit her, and as crazy as it was, she spoke it aloud. “I would hate to think that with what almost happened to Metropolis, that these building inconsistencies were… intentional… and the collapses deliberate.”
He whirled and rushed back to her before she could even react. She caught a flash of panic in his eyes as he leaned over her. Then, snatching the makeshift gag from the bed, he tied it tightly around her mouth again, all pretense of politeness gone. “Everything he warned me about you is true, but I didn’t really believe it until now. You are even more…” Mitchener yanked the gag extra tight with each word, “…annoying and pushy than he told me you were, Ms. Lane.”
The deputy mayor dragged her roughly to a chair, and with a strength born of self-preservation, roughly tied her fighting feet to each leg individually. As she struggled vainly, he wrapped her chest several times with a cord, her hands still pinioned painfully behind her. His forced composure earlier was gone, and now he seemed dangerously unstable.
Mitchener then pulled a small device from his pocket and pointed it toward the door. It popped open with a click, and she noticed with alarm that there was no handle or knob on her side of the door.
“I’ve had a change of plans,” he said curtly. “I will be back for you – after I’ve made some preparations.” He went through the door, pausing in the threshold, one finger poised over the light switch. “All of these ‘precautions’… as you termed them… have become necessary after all.”
The lights snapped off, blinding her for an instant, and the door clicked shut, sealing her into what felt like a vault. When her eyes adjusted, she realized that the room wasn’t pitch black, despite the lack of windows. She twisted her neck around toward the light source, and her heart nearly stopped.
Emanating from the row of open crates along the wall was a sickly greenish glow.
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A/N: The Italian lyrics come from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the penultimate scene of Act II.
Next: Chapter 33: Searching