Brutus set down the tray, saying, “It’s not much, but it’s breakfast.”
“Oatmeal?” Jason said. “But there’s no jicama…” Kala wrinkled up her nose; she wasn’t particularly fond of oatmeal.
“Sorry, kids,” Brutus said. “We don’t have a lot of choices around here.” He looked so dejected on their behalf that the twins hushed and ate their breakfast anyway.
For once, Brutus didn’t leave immediately. He sat down at the piano, idly plinking a few notes. Jason watched him thoughtfully as he finished his oatmeal. Swallowing the last bite, he asked, “You okay?”
Brutus seemed startled by the question. “Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m fine.”
But he didn’t act fine. He acted sad. And Jason had always known at least one sure way to cheer up any adult in his vicinity. Putting his spoon and bowl back on the tray, Jason went over to Brutus and hopped up on the bench beside him.
Kala, eating more slowly because she really didn’t like oatmeal all that much, paused to grin at the sight of them. Jason picked out a now-familiar tune, and Brutus grinned at him, playing the accompaniment. The big man caught Kala watching them, and gave her a cheerful wink.
Heart and soul, I begged to be adored. Lost control, and tumbled overboard…
“Mommy likes this song,” Jason said.
“It’s a neat one,” Brutus agreed. “You play it really good.”
“Thank you for seeing us without an appointment,” Lana said, giving Karla Smith-Bennett her warmest smile.
“This is about Luthor, isn’t it?” the attorney asked. She looked weary and sounded disgusted. “I’m sure you’re aware of attorney-client privilege.”
“We are,” Richard answered, his voice a trifle sharp. “However, I don’t think that you are aware your former client kidnapped my fiancée’s twins yesterday.”
“Allegations like that…”
Richard flipped open his own phone and showed her the forwarded text message. “Admittedly, he wasn’t kind enough to send his thumb print or signature, but we know it’s Luthor. He’s the only person with enough of a grudge to take it out on children. Children, Ms. Smith-Bennett. They just turned six this month. And their favorite presents – an iguana and a ferret, God help my uncle – are pining for them.”
The woman bit her lip, and for some reason glanced at Lana. “I’m sorry … this must be very stressful for you.”
Lana caught on before Richard did. Rather than deny the attorney’s assumption, she leaned forward and caught the blonde woman’s gaze demandingly. “Unless you have children, you have no idea. If you know anything that might help us find them … please.”
Her gaze, trapped between professionalism and ethics, shifted between the two of them. Richard held his phone out. “Read the message. He’s not kidding – my fiancée has dealt with him in the past, and she’ll tell you he’s perfectly capable of such a thing.”
“I don’t need to tell you, do I?” Lana said shrewdly, watching Ms. Smith-Bennett’s face go pale as she read the part about returning the twins in pieces. “You already know. That’s why you quit the firm. That’s why you do so much pro-bono work now, isn’t it? Trying to atone?”
“You know as well as we do that Luthor’s guilty of murder, at the very least,” Richard chimed in. “Prison didn’t rehabilitate him; if anything it made him worse. You couldn’t go on aiding a psychopath, and now you’re trying to expiate your guilt for your part in setting him free, aren’t you?”
Karla Smith-Bennett suddenly rose from her chair, turning her back on them both and pacing to the window. Her voice was taut when she replied, “If I help you, I could be disbarred.”
Lana touched Richard’s wrist lightly; this line belonged to her. “If you don’t help us, you could be a party to the murder of two young children. Jason and Kala need you.”
The blonde gave a short, bitter laugh. “All those damn lawyer jokes … sometimes I wish I was as self-interested as they portray us. You’re right – I’d rather lose my license and wash dishes for a living than have this on my conscience. Fine.” She came back to her desk and sat down, defeated. “I’ll tell you everything I know.”
Lois was pacing, twiddling a pen instead of raking her fingers through her hair. Nothing
Ms. MacKenzie came back out with an apologetic air. “I’m so sorry. My manager says I can’t track that down for you. It’s against the law…”
“What?!” Lois began, but
“Is there any way you can help us, Ms. MacKenzie?” he asked softly … very softly.
She gave a slight nod, nearly imperceptible. “I’m afraid not. But I have your mobile number,
Still hanging on to Lois, and ignoring the look she was giving him,
“He’s on-duty until eight o’clock,” the representative told him, a glimmer of relief in her eyes. “However, he takes lunch around five-thirty, so I wouldn’t call between then and six-thirty.”
“Thanks again, ma’am,”
She was still blinded by fury. “Dammit,
“She won’t have to,”
Lois blinked at him, and felt extremely sheepish. “
“You’re wound tight,” he said, giving her a small smile. “C’mon, let’s see what Perry and Jimmy have found for us.”
Before going around to the driver’s side, Lois stood on tiptoe and kissed
Just as she was putting it into the lock, her cell phone rang. Lois tried to grab it, nearly dropped the keys, got the phone out and nearly dropped the purse, started to fumble in her haste – and
Lois could hear her voice, and snorted derisively as she unlocked the car. Toby continued without waiting for an answer, “I’ve got a live one for you, I hope.”
“Way back when Gertrude Vanderworth’s husband was alive, they owned a vacation house in
“We found that in the tax rolls; it was sold last year,”
“Aha, the house was, but what about the land?” Toby said. The phone started to beep as she continued, and
“Toby, you’re a lifesaver,”
His tone and his words made Lois snap to attention, holding the door partly open and staring hard at him. Toby sighed in aggravation. “Unfortunately, no. My guess would be somewhere in Buzzard’s Bay. The
“It’s good enough for me,”
“Caped help? Good deal,” Toby said. “I’ll keep looking, but that sounds like your best bet.”
“Let’s go,” Lois said. “That’s about six hours by car, so we’d better fly.”
“Fifteen,” Lois said dryly as she revved the engine and looked at the traffic. “Twenty, tops. Buckle up, Kal-El.”
“Dammit,” Richard growled, flipping the phone closed. “She never answers the bloody phone.”
Lana, in the co-pilot’s seat beside him, eyed the instrument panel warily. “Richard, are you sure it’s a good idea for us to just fly out?”
Lana settled the large earphones delicately, and her voice came over the mic as Richard started the seaplane’s twin engines. “I just hope they’re not after the same lead as us.”
His reply crackled with static as he taxied out onto Hobb’s Bay. “Probably not. The land north of
Lana had been half listening to him and half bracing herself against the bumpy acceleration the waves caused. When Richard pulled back on the yoke and the nose of the seaplane began to rise, however, she was silenced by the immediacy of this flight. Nothing like a big jet, where everything was smooth and gentle… The designer’s nails clenched in the leather-covered seat, and her eyes widened.
Breakfast was long over, lunch too, but Brutus came back with the twins’ dinner. He’d somehow managed to make burritos for them, and Kala and Jason were overjoyed. The last of their reserve seemed to have dissolved, and Jason was more than happy to sit beside the big man and go through his repertoire of songs. Brutus even managed to teach him a new tune, Chopsticks.
Kala was getting a little bit bored, though, and she wandered over to the couches across the room to draw. Brutus had also managed to sneak some copier paper and colored pens in for them – not the best artistic materials, but they’d made do with all kinds of office supplies at the Planet before.
Jason had nearly gotten the new song perfect, and Brutus patted his shoulder. “Good work, Jason. You’re a natural; you pick this stuff up way faster than me.”
“Thanks,” he replied, beaming. Of course, the distraction made him miss a note, and Jason scowled as he started over.
Brutus just chuckled. “You work on that for a minute, okay? Let me see how your sister’s doing.”
At first Jason watched him sitting beside Kala, the pair of them leaning over her drawing. But then the little boy got caught up in the music, trying to make the notes perfect. He was getting really good at it; pretty soon he’d be almost as good as he was with Heart and Soul.
The first hint Jason had of trouble was Kala’s voice rising shrilly. “No!” she shouted, leaping off the couch, but Brutus had hold of her wrist and she couldn’t leap far. “Lemme go!”
Jason stopped playing, standing up to see what was happening. His eyes felt like they were bulging out of his head, and his breath started to whistle in his throat. Why was Brutus, who had been so nice, suddenly holding Kala’s arm so tightly? He was telling her, “Shh, shh, it’s okay, it’s just a game, don’t yell…” Jason didn’t like it; didn’t like the way Brutus was bending over his sister, didn’t like to see Kala throwing her whole weight against his grip on her wrist.
“Hey, it’s all right, hush now,” Brutus said, and Kala kicked him in the shin, hard.
At nearly the same moment she brought her little fist down on the hand that held her opposite wrist and Brutus’s grip loosened enough for her to eel away and run, still yelling. “Don’ touch me! Don’t you ever touch me!”
Brutus followed, and now he was scary-quick, Jason’s chest tight, seeing the large man’s powerful hand clamp down over Kala’s face. Her eyes wild, fighting for air, Brutus holding her arm and shushing her, but his hand covering her mouth so she couldn’t breathe, and Jason’s heart thumping loudly, his little hands squeezing down on the piano, squeezing…
Over the roar of his own pulse, Jason heard a few faint pops, the source of which he couldn’t trace. His vision was growing dark from lack of oxygen, his throat closed in terror. Kala tried to scream, but her voice was muffled, her eyes so full of fear…
Echoes from the recent past. Kala’s voice: I won’t let anybody take my brother away. Even if you are a boogerhead. And Jason’s own: I love you, too, Kala. I’ll never let anyone take you away from me either.
Nobody hurts my sister! With that thought renewing his determination, Jason managed to take a noisy, rasping breath.
Brutus turned at the sound, just in time to see the piano, airborne…