Superman had searched high and low for Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson all weekend but to no avail. Yet he was more convinced than ever that his old adversary Lex Luthor had something to do with their disappearances. According to both the night guard at Wayne Enterprises and Bruce's loyal butler, Alfred, Luthor had sent his limo to pick up the billionaire businessman and his young ward Friday night and that was the last anyone had seen or heard from either one of them. But, unfortunately, he still had no idea where the evil villain could be holding the Dynamic Duo. His only clue was the license plate number Alfred had given him. After that, the trail turned cold. That is, until a few days later ....
As Clark Kent arrives at the Daily Planet bright and early that Monday morning after getting very little sleep the night before, he sees that his editor Perry White is standing there, waiting for him at his desk. "You're late again, Kent!" White growls, tapping his foot.
"Sorry, Perry. Let's just say I had a long night," Clark answers. "And before you start reading me the riot act, I know .... that's no excuse."
"Well, if you're not up to covering what could be one of the biggest stories in years, I can always give this assignment to Lane .... who was here on time, I might add. ... After all, I wouldn't want to disturb your beauty sleep, Rip Van Winkle!" Perry replies in a sarcastic tone.
"Biggest stories in years? ... Okay, Perry, whatcha got?" Clark asks, his curiosity piqued.
"I thought that might get your attention, Sleepyhead. It seems that big blowhard business magnate Lex Luthor is at it again. He has just scheduled a major press conference at LexCorp's corporate headquarters for first thing this morning. So why don't you grab yourself a cup of coffee to go and then haul your ass over there as fast as your tired legs can take you, Kent!" White barks.
"Wait a minute! ... Luthor is holding a press conference? .... Any idea what it is all about, Perry?" Clark inquires with increasing interest.
"I can't say for sure but, according to my sources, it's going to be a very important announcement .... Possibly another big merger. You know how LexCorp has been gobbling up practically every company in sight lately. .... All I can tell you is that every news agency in the country from the almighty Associated Press to the damn-blasted New York Times is going to be there to cover it. So you better hurry before all of the good seats are taken, Kent!"
Worried that this impromptu press conference could have something to do with his two missing friends, Clark tells his editor, "I'm on it! And thanks for the assignment, Perry." as he rushes down the stairs, then slips out the back door.
Not wanting to waste a single moment, Clark quickly changes into his Superman costume and then flies straight to LexCorp Headquarters at top speed. After switching back into his suit and tie, Clark enters the building and informs the front desk that he is there for the press conference. As the doorman hands him a press pass, he informs Clark that it doesn't start for at least another half hour or so but he is more than welcome to wait inside the reception hall along with the rest of the reporters.
Since he's a little early, Clark tries to sneak out of the lobby so he can take another look around the building. But the doorman is watching his every move. So Kent slowly makes his way into the reception hall and then takes his seat. The folding chairs are all facing the podium up on the stage. But, with the exception of a few security guards placed around the room, no executives from LexCorp appear to be there yet. While they wait, Kent asks a few of his fellow journalists if they have heard any rumors about what this big announcement might be. But this morning's press conference seems to have caught the rest of his colleagues by surprise as well.
Looking around for any clues, Clark takes off his eyeglasses for a moment and then uses his X-ray vision to peek behind the stage curtain in back of the podium. But he sees nothing unusual underneath there, just the rear entrance. So he nervously checks his watch again, "Five 'til nine. Well, I guess we'll soon find out what this all about!"
As the minutes seem like hours, Kent can't help but wonder what his ever-scheming enemy Lex could be up to this time. Clark's mind races as he considers the possibilities. When Luthor finally does enter the room, Clark can't believe his eyes. He stares in disbelief as he sees his good buddy Bruce Wayne follow Lex up to the podium. His worst fears appear to have just been confirmed.
The whole room is all abuzz as Luthor addresses the crowd, "Ladies and Gentlemen, both Mr. Wayne and I called this press conference this morning to announce the merger of two of this country's leading corporations. For we are pleased to report that Wayne Enterprises is about to become a part of the LexCorp family. Under the terms of this agreement, Wayne Enterprises will immediately cease operations and all of its corporate holdings shall now become the property of LexCorp International. And the reason we invited you reporters here is so that you can all witness the completion of this multi-billion dollar transaction. And now, without further adieu, Mr. Wayne, would you like to be the first to sign this legally-binding contract?"
"It would be my honor, Mr. Luthor!" Bruce Wayne respectfully replies as audible gasps can be heard from those in attendance.
"Just write your signature on the top line .... Excellent, Mr. Wayne. .... And I will just put my John Hancock on the bottom line .... " There is a noticeable hush throughout the entire reception hall as they both sign the contract, thus cementing the deal. "There, now it's official. Yes, my friends, for you have just witnessed history in the making. Wayne Enterprises has just been absorbed by its chief competitor, LexCorp to form what has now become the single largest business conglomerate in the world today! Now. if there are any questions? .... "
Clark Kent barely waits for Luthor to finish the sentence before he shouts out, "Forget the pomp and ceremony, gentlemen! Why don't you tell us the real reason behind this merger? .... "
Luthor puts on his innocent act for the sake of the crowd, "The real reason? ... I am not sure I know what you are getting at, Mr. Kent .... "
Kent persists, "Well then, I'll direct my next question to Mr. Wayne. If you recall, Mr. Wayne, I spoke to you on the telephone Friday morning just before your first meeting with Mr. Luthor. And you told me then that you wouldn't even consider doing business with him. In fact, you were quite adamant about it. So that means something pretty significant must have occurred over the course of the past three days that made you change your mind ... "
Before Bruce can answer, Lex interjects, "Just what are you implying, Mr. Kent? ... "
Clark doesn't back down, "I didn't mean to imply anything, Mr. Luthor! I'll say it flat out! There's no way a respectable businessman like Mr. Wayne here would just hand over his entire company to an unscrupulous corporate raider like you! .... Nor do I believe that Mr. Wayne would ever give up a business he worked so hard to build from the ground up without a fight! So what kind of unethical business practices did you resort to this time, Luthor? .... Blackmail? .... Extortion? ..... A hostile takeover?"
The security guards are about to remove the disruptive reporter from the room. But Lex waves his hand, gesturing for them to back off, before he responds to Clark's accusations, "I resent your insinuations, Kent! It was strictly a business decision .... nothing more! Why, Mr. Wayne wanted to make this deal as much as I do! Isn't that right, Mr. Wayne?"
"Right, Mast ... errr .... Mister Luthor." Bruce agrees, correcting his little slip before anyone notices, "This merger is what's best for both LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises. ..... "
Clark can hardly believe what he is hearing, "Surely you can't be serious, Mr. Wayne! Can't you see that the only one that will benefit from this little business arrangement of yours is Luthor! Don't you realize that such a merger would give LexCorp a virtual monopoly on the international marketplace? With his chief competitor out of the way, that means Luthor is now in a position to dictate the prices of most of the goods they produce. Why, he could singlehandedly cripple the world's economy if this shady deal goes through!" Clark warns Bruce, hoping he can knock some sense into him.
Luthor scoffs, "Your whole hypothesis is utterly absurd! Why, these unsubstantiated claims are nothing more than pure conjecture! .... "
Clark isn't about to let up, "Oh, are they now? Well, you may have fooled Mr. Wayne but you are not fooling me, Luthor. I think we both know the real reason you've been absorbing all of these smaller companies ... Why you were so determined to acquire Wayne Enterprises. ... It's all about control, isn't it, Luthor? .... A guy with all of your drive and ambition just couldn't be happy until you had taken complete control of the entire industry! ... Could you, Mr. Luthor?"
Lex loses his temper, "Sit down and shut up, Kent! .... Stop making a fool of yourself! .... You don't know what you're talking about!"
But Clark does not relent, "Oh, you know exactly what I'm talking about, Luthor! .... You always like to be the one in charge! ... Calling all the shots! .... Running the whole damn show! .... Don't you, Luthor? ... That's because the only thing that matters to you is money and power! You don't care how this little merger of yours will effect the average consumer. A ruthless businessman like you only cares about one thing .... turning a bigger profit .... even if it means turning the screws on the rest of us!"
("Oh, you don't know how right you are, you loud-mouth reporter!" Lex thinks to himself. "For I've already screwed Mr. Wayne many times this weekend. And, if all goes according to plan, I thoroughly intend to screw you next, Mr. Kent! ... That is, after I have you under my complete control as well!")
But Bruce cannot just stand idly by and let Clark put down the man he loves, so he quickly comes to Luthor's defense, "But you got him all wrong, Mr. Kent. Mr. Luthor is a fair and honorable businessman. And I trust him to make the right decisions for me and my company .... for everybody concerned. .... In fact, there is no one's opinion I respect more than his."
Clark is growing more and more frustrated with Bruce's newfound loyalty to Lex, "Have you lost your mind, Mr. Wayne? The man is a convicted criminal. His record speaks for itself! I don't know how this silver tongued charlatan talked you into merging your two companies together but I'm willing to bet that he isn't going to have as easy of time talking the Federal Trade Commission into approving this blatant scam!"
"Oh, but you're mistaken, Mr. Kent! For this is no scam! It is a perfectly legitimate business deal. And let me assure you, the FTC will indeed approve this merger. You can quote me on that." Lex states with the utmost confidence.
"Oh, so who did you bribe this time, Luthor? .... Care to give us a name or two?" Clark hits back.
Fed up with Kent's constant interruptions, Luthor has had just about enough, "I thought reporters were supposed to be objective! Apparently that is not the case, as you have just proven with your slanderous attacks on me and my character. You should just consider yourself lucky that I don't sue your paper for libel, Kent! And now that this pest from The Daily Planet has taken up everyone else's allotted time, this question and answer session has come to an end. And I'm afraid so too has our press conference! You will each be given a copy of the press release from our public relations department before you leave. Please take the time to read it first before you broadcast or publish your stories, whatever the case may be. It will provide you with a few more details that we didn't have a chance to cover here, thanks to Mr. Kent's unprofessional, unsolicited outbursts. Hopefully the rest of you will practice a little more journalistic integrity than your obviously bias colleague here! Good day!"
With that, Lex abruptly leaves the stage with Bruce in tow and the members of the press are quickly ushered out of the room. They are then escorted to the exit. But Clark manages to break away from the rest of his fellow reporters so he can stay behind and do a little more investigating. He spots a large group of men standing in the lobby. Clark works his way over to them and then blends in with the crowd so he won't be detected by the security guards. Looking at their name tags, he soon realizes that they all are employees of Wayne Enterprises. Or at least they were. He then notices a sign on the door in front of them. It reads "Reorientation Session starts at 10 AM".
("So this must be a orientation session for Wayne Enterprise Executives only. Well, Lex certainly doesn't waste any time. No sooner does he takeover a company than he starts retraining their entire staff to come and work for him. Maybe if I attend this private personnel meeting, I might be able to learn some inside information about this so-called merger .... " Clark thinks to himself.)
Removing his press pass, Clark then turns to one of the other guys in the group and says, "Hey, I lost my name tag! Do you know where I can get another one?"
"Just ask the secretary again. I'm sure he will give you a new one." the former Wayne Enterprise executive replies, pointing at the man behind the desk.
"Thanks," Clark says as he walks over to desk and asks the male secretary, "Excuse me. But I seem to have already lost my name tag somehow. May I have another?"
"Of course, Mr ..... ???"
Careful not to give his real name, Clark must make up a phony alias fast, "Clark ... son. .... Ken Clarkson."
"Clarkson? ..... I don't seem to ... Ooh .... Oh yes, Mr. Clarkson." the smiling male secretary replies as he writes him a new name tag with a black magic marker, then hands it to Clark. "Here you go!"
Clark clips it on the front of his jacket, "Thank you. ... Thank you very much." Then he quickly rejoins the other men huddled together in the atrium. Clark can't believe he got away with it. "This is going to be easier than I thought", Clark tells himself. But Superman shouldn't let his guard down just yet.
("Ken Clarkson, huh? .... Just as thought ... there is no one by that name on the Wayne Enterprises' payroll!" The suspicious male secretary thinks to himself as he checks his list again, "Well, it looks like we have ourselves an unexpected guest ... And a rather handsome one at that. .... So you want to crash our top-secret meeting, do you, Mr. Clarkson? ... Okay, if you're so curious, I'll let you sneak in .... I am not sure what your little game is ... But you have no idea what you have just gotten yourself into! .... ")
Calling his editor, Kent says, "Perry, This is Clark. ... Listen, I am not going to make it back to the office right away. ... No, I've got a lead on the LexCorp deal that I am following up on. .... Yes, as soon as I find out anything, I'll let you know. Bye." As he turns off his cellphone, Clark sees the male secretary is still smiling at him from his desk. He smiles back as he thinks to himself, "I sure hope he hasn't figured out that I'm not supposed to be here." Then Clark turns his head and starts talking to a few of the other executives, trying to look like he fits in.
But Luthor's loyal secretary never lets on that he knows there is an intruder in their midst. He just keeps leering at Clark, undressing him with his eyes, as he says to himself, "Oh yes, I think this handsome hunk of man could prove to be quite an asset to our company! .... And once he gets a good look at our perspective hire here, I'm sure Mr. Luthor will agree that this unsuspecting applicant would be just perfect for the position, no matter what his previous occupation was! ... But not before the alleged Mr. Clarkson or whatever his real name is receives all of the necessary retraining he will need to perform his new job, that is! .... After all, we can always use another tall, good looking employee like him working here at LexCorp!"
To be continued ...Next page