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 SUPERMAN: THE LIVING LEGEND: LAST SON OF KRYPTON: CHAPTER 14

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Chapter 14
THE CROOKED PHILOLOGIST


Luthor sat in his private study, poring over the document with Elvin Lovecraft, the Central Intelligence Agency's code expert.

"Got anything yet?"  Luthor was testy.

"No," Lovecraft said, "but it kind of reminds me of a code British Navel Intelligence once used.  I cracked that."

"Aren't the British on our side?"

"Sure they're on our side."

"Then what were you doing cracking their spy code?"

"What do you think?  They send us bulletins about their state secrets?  They're like everyone else.  This code, see, it was based on the brand names of Moroccan coffee manufacturers."

"Come again?"

"Coffee manufacturers.  There are twenty six companies listed with the Moroccan government as licensed to distribute coffee, one for each letter of the Italian alphabet."

"Why Italian?"

"Italian was picked at random, also because the Italians are preoccupied enough with their own instability.  They wouldn't be interested in the affairs of the British government."

"What happened with the coffee companies?"

"Oh.  Well, they looked up each coffee company in the Moroccan financial journal and got the first word in the name of the company three listings below the coffee companies.  These were listed in reverse alphabetical order and each stood for one letter of the alphabet."

"The whole word stood for a letter?"

"Yeah.  Really unwieldy.  Like the word 'and' came out spelled, 'texture-consolidated-general' or whatever its equivalent was in Moroccan and Italian."

"And this code from Einstein reminds you of that?"

"Yeah"

"How so?"

"That one was impossible to crack too."

The code expert turned back to the document and his notes, huffing and snorting and crossing things out.  Luthor stared at him trying to decide whether to feel amazed, confused or disgusted.  He couldn't make up his mind so he went into the next room to watch a videotape of the news that B.J. had prepared for him every day.


The thirty-sixth floor of their Galaxy Building was bleached white with tiling on the floors, porous ceilings that ate sound, glass doors, and marble wall paneling broken only by carefully selected prints of abstract paintings with stainless steel frames.  Jan Schlesiniger perched in the chair behind the reception desk, pleasant but not friendly, attractive and not sexy.  The last girl to sit behind that desk was dismissed when she came to work one day wearing argyle socks.

When a swirling spout of earth-coloured clouds formed in front of Jan and then consolidated into the form of a grinning, four armed man about five feet tall she was sure she was being tested.

"May I help you, sir?"

"My purpose I will not hedge, I've come to speak with Morgan Edge."

"Yes, sir.  Do you have an appointment?"

"Just tell this Edge that Towbee's here, and he will see me, never fear."

"Mr. Edge is only available by appointment, sir.  Galaxy Communications is a very large company.  If you would write a letter specifying what you would like to talk to Mr. Edge about I'm sure it would be a better idea."

"T-O-W-B-double E, tell him that and he'll see me."

"Towbee?"

"That's my name.  The very same."

"Just a moment, sir." Jan pressed a button on her desk's inter-office picture phone and addressed the facelift that flashed on the screen.  "A Mr. Towbee here.  He says he's sure Mr. Edge will want to see him."

"Towbee?" the facelift said.  "Did you say Towbee?"

"Yes, uh, T-O-W-B double E."

"Does he have four arms and a moustache and speak in rhymes?"

This has got to be a test, Jan thought.  Keep your cool, girl.  "Yes, he does," Jan said.

"Stand by a second."  The screen flashed a test pattern, Jan heard shuffling and some sort of clanking down the hall and she smiled at the minstrel's pleasantly grotesque face.

The test pattern was replaced by the facelift with a smile clamped to her cheeks.  "Jan, please direct Mr. Towbee to Mr. Edge's office."

She told Towbee to turn left at the corner and go through the door at the far end of the corridor.  He followed her directions, and she allowed herself a wide grin while no one was looking.  Her job was secure.

The five minute news summery that originated sixteen floors below Jan three hours earlier at 11:00 A.M. was videotaped in Luthor's penthouse and now he was watching it.  B.J. sat behind the television as he watched, reading from a red file folder.

Jimmy Olsen was on the screen saying, "You may remember that Towbee was the name of an alien who loosed an apparently harmless flying lizard on Metropolis some years ago.  The only one who actually met that Towbee at the time was Superman, and there has been no word from him as to whether that alien and the space minstrel who appeared in the city today are one and the same.  But here is what the minstrel had to say today."

"Underground with the diesel mole?" B.J. asked.

"No," Luthor answered.  "He's on an upper level."

"Shatter the wall with a sonar gun?"

"No, too spectacular."

"Disguise him as a guard?"

"Needs too much planning."

Towbee was on the screen now, singing, "And a path to arm's rule he is treading..."

"Smuggle in jet boots?" B.J. asked.

"He's not athletic enough."

"Hot-dogging with a helicopter?"

Luthor thought a second.  "Simple, direct, not something I would be immediately suspect of, maybe.  Yes.  Who's the best pilot not serving time?"

"Macduff."

"Give him a schematic of their prison and send him in here for his working orders," Luthor said, as Towbee was replaced on the screen by the face of Jimmy Olsen, "and rewind that tape.  I want to hear what the spaceman said again.  The part about a prophesy or something."


Edge was close to fifty, everyone knew, but no one would have guessed that.  He smiled a lot, the way a cobra smiles.  A few strands of gray salted his brown hair.  He affected a holder with a cigarette, which he occasionally lit.  He was quite experienced in dealing with potential recording stars, and he considered the fact that this one was alien to the planet irrelevant.

"Quite a show you put on today, Mr. Towbee."

"The show's not the important part.  I need a stage to make my art."

"Of course.  And you feel the recording division of galaxy is the proper forum for that art."

"To Galaxy I'd make a gift of songs and tales your souls to lift."

"A gift.  Of course." He wasn't so different from artists and creators Edge already knew.  Talking about bestowing their vision upon the world like a gift from Heaven.  In the halls of this building Towbee and his kind were just talent.  Not talented people, just talent, a commodity.  Talent had a market value based on demand, like eggs or cars or information or any of the other commodities in which merchants dealt.

"Just show me to a microphone, I'll sing and show you worlds unknown."

"Yes.  Well, I'm afraid you'll have to work out the particulars with Clete Mavis, the president of our recording division.  He's on the west coast right now, but I will direct him to work out a deal with you as to—"

"You speak to me of deals, good man?  Vulgarity is not my plan."

The preposterous little creature was offended.  He was standing up, ready to leave when Edge's business sense piped up with, "That's just an expression we use.  A euphemism.  Deal.  Like in a card game." Edge wasn't sure of what he meant by that, but Towbee seemed to like it.

Towbee sat down again and told the executive that he was relieved.  He had one request to make of Edge, however...  He wanted to know where he could find back issues of the Daily Planet.  Edge asked a secretary to take Towbee to the records room on the sixth floor.

Towbee poured over copies of the Planet printed in the past several days.  He picked up a copy from two days ago that had a large picture of Lex Luthor on the front page.  He stared at it intensely for several seconds, turned into a puff of smoke and vanished.


Luthor gave Macduff his instructions a few minutes before three in the afternoon.  On Clark Kent's broadcast three hours later, following the lead story of Towbee, there was an account of a spectacular escape from the Pocantico State Correctional Facility.  A helicopter touched down in the prison courtyard and an obscure little man named John Lightfoot scurried in to take off before some of the guards could even turn their heads and see.  The armored hull of the copter pinged with bouncing bullets as it sped upward at a 60-degree angle, possibly toward a mother craft, maybe a jet circling above, before prison hardware could be brought into play against it.  The escape was daring, apparently flawless and nearly successful.

While the copter was still within sight of the prison grounds it began to weave in the air.  It coughed, spluttered and lost altitude.  It crashed in the woods less than a mile from the Pocantico facility.  In the wreckage were two bodies, charred beyond belief.  Lightfoot was a professor of linguistics who was once unfortunate enough to become involved in a scheme with a collection of incompetent industrial spies.  In less than a month he would have become eligible for an almost sure parole.  No one understood how he could have known anyone who would attempt such an escape, or why the linguist would agree to dangerous adventure this late in his sentence.

Some prison guards who saw the crash claimed to have seen a kind of swirling colorful mass envelope the helicopter before it went out of control.  This was obviously an illusion caused by the distance.

"Damn!" Luthor told the television.  B.J. realized that if he had a choice between talking to a mechanical object or another person in a room Luthor would invariably address the object.  "Is that birdseed brain still working in the study?" This was a non-rhetorical question, which meant Luthor was talking to her.

"He hasn't come out.  Last time I was in there he hadn't made any progress."

"Cretin hasn't even decided if it's a code or some kind of foreign language.  Now that Lightfoot's gone we're stuck with—whuzzat?"  Someone below the penthouse was banging on the floor.

"Somebody's banging on the floor," B.J. observed.

"Very good.  Tomorrow we begin pottery training.  Tell me something."

"What?"  He banged again.

"Has anyone new moved in downstairs?"

"No"

And again.

"Is anyone in this penthouse dancing or moving furniture or doing anything that would annoy someone downstairs?"

"No."

The banging was constant now.

"Have we ever in the past had downstairs neighbors who bang on our floor just to be cranky?"

"No."

"Then why the flying moose ears don't you send somebody downstairs to see what somebody's trying to tell us?"

Six minutes later Luthor was presented with the smiling figure of John Lightfoot, linguist extraordinaire, wearing a coat over ragged prison fatigues and slicing his face with a smile.

"Explanation?" Luthor said crisply.

"I made it out of the helicopter in time and landed in a tree.  It was horrible."

"Macduff?"

"The pilot?  He's gone, poor boy."

"The news reported two charred bodies."

"Did they?  Well, I don't suppose they want to admit the loss of a prisoner.  The authorities like the public to believe in poetic justice, you may have noticed."

"Very smooth, fella.  You haven't told me yet how you managed to find me.  Let's hear it."

"Where else was I to go?  I hitched a ride with some young people and—"

"Hang the ride.  How'd you find my headquarters?"

"Oh that.  Pygmalion."

"Scuse me?"

"Pygmalion.  My Fair Lady.  It was the reason I became interested in philology.  I read George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion when I was a boy and was impressed with the man who was able to tell where people lived by their regional accents.  I always wanted to be able to do that."

It was the sort of contrived story that so fascinated Luthor that he had to accept it.  "You compared the idiosyncrasies of my speech with those of other people on my staff, and you determined what part of the city we frequent.  Brilliant."

"Yes.  So I came here and saw only three buildings in the area that had penthouses.  The pilot, rest his soul, had time to mention we were going to a penthouse.  I counted fifty-three floors from the outside of the Zephymore building, but only fifty-two were listed on the elevator.  I hope you didn't think me too bold when I knocked on your floor."

Maybe Luthor had underestimated the mousy little man he'd met in prison.  Maybe, dare he hope, there would be someone around here intelligent enough to hold a coherent conversation.  "Not too bold at all, Lightfoot."

"Shall we go to work?"

"Fine idea."

 

 

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