The apartment that once belonged to Tony Anderson was located in a building that was a mile from the police station and several blocks away from the nearest market. Its biggest window looked out into an alley, and the neighborhood that surrounded it reminded Clark of the alley where he and Lois were mugged on his first day of work. The room itself looked cheap; the kitchenette, bedroom, and sitting area were all visible from the front door. Clark had no idea what the smell was that smacked his senses as soon as he stepped through the threshold, but if he couldn’t identify it, he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what it was.
Officer Ledford stepped into the room after him, immediately assigning areas for the rest of her crew to look with a simple hand motion. She handed Clark a pair of latex gloves. “Please don’t touch anything until we’ve gone through it first, okay?” The look she gave him seemed to be the opposite of the tone in her voice.
“Oh, sure!” he nodded, juggling his pen and notepad in one hand while taking the gloves from her. The writing tools momentarily found a home in his suit pocket while he snapped the gloves over his wrists. The team was already beginning its sweep across the small apartment when he pulled the pen and paper out again. He committed to walking behind them, only checking out areas that had been previously checked by the team. His vision provided a sneak-peak of the area he was going to walk towards - nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. In fact, the entire apartment looked very clean.
A voice ahead of him confirmed muttered a curse. “Everything’s clean here, Officer.”
Ledford grabbed another investigator. “Go into the bedroom and take any DNA samples you can – the bed sheets, the urinal, door handles, cabinet knobs, anything. I want everything you can get me out of this room, and I want it all before we leave.”
The worried tone in her voice made Clark turn from the kitchen. “Is something wrong, Officer?”
The older woman took a look around before lowering her voice. “This isn’t the first time we’ve entered an apartment and found it clean. We have suspicion that the same person is doing it, but we don’t have a name.”
“Someone’s been tampering with evidence?”
“Someone’s been doing it for a while now. There’s no real connection. Every now and then we come across an apartment or a vehicle that’s as spotless as you can imagine. Even if we know for a fact that the owner is missing or deceased, it always seems as though they were using it the day before.”
“Did the same thing happen with Richard White’s seaplane?”
She nodded. “Everything was clean save for Mr. Anderson’s fingerprints. For all that we know the person who cleaned the seaplane might be different from who cleaned the apartments.” She shook her head. “I really just don’t know. It’s too strange to not be coincidental.”
Clark capped his pen and stuck his notebook back in his suit. “Do you mind if I have a look around?”
Ledford put her hands on her hips and sighed. “Anything we’ve already gone through, Mr. Kent.”
Clark nodded and walked back to the doorway, ignoring the muttered, “If you’re ready to prove your credentials, now’s the time to do it.” He waited until Ledford turned her back on him, questioning another officer about his technique, before letting his eyes feast on the apartment around him. Every detail – the dust on the walls, the particles that floated in the air when someone moved – was met with his amplified vision. Taking a step forward, trying to appear merely observant, his eyes met with a pair of boots on the floor. A more intense scan showed that the boot had mud – barely there, but enough to investigate – wedged between the grooves. As if she’d read his mind, Ledford immediately stepped in and squatted before him, slipping the boot inside a bag.
Making his way into the kitchen, he wasn’t surprised to see it as spotless as the rest of the apartment. Investigators were currently fishing through cabinets and taking samples from pots and pans. He simply put his hands behind his back and tried to peer over their shoulders, jumping back slightly when they turned and stared at him, irritated at their space being invaded. “Do the rooms always look this clean?” he asked no one in particular, noting the lack of dust on the computer desk.
“Not quite,” Ledford answered, slightly distracted. She was still peering at the boot, turning it around in her hands. “Usually they’re a little cleaner than this. Not that this isn’t a superb job; there might be one or two details…” she trailed off, lost in thought.
Clark continued on through the apartment, careful not to disturb the others, amplifying his vision where he could. When he got to the bedroom, he studied the other working bodies, noting how they moved and their method of gathering information. If he wasn’t intent on gaining information himself, he might have been fascinated just to watch them. So precise, so accurate and careful not to tamper with…
He blinked. Waiting until he was alone in the room, he used his vision to scan the floor just around the bed. Resting on the hardwood floors, untraceable to the naked eye but visible to forensic technology in use, were small traces of fabric. He kneeled, using the back of his pen to fold one side of the sheets, pretending like he was staring inside. Amplifying even more, he discovered the fabric was fine but numerous, stretching out into an arc that had other particles with it. What exactly they were, he didn’t know, but he was sure they could give a lead into the investigation.
“Do you have some experience in the field, Mr. Kent?”
Ledford’s voice startled him from his thoughts. Staring at her wide-eyed, he paused a moment before shaking his head slightly. “No, no,” he said quietly. “I just wondered if there wasn’t anything in the bed. You know… lumpy sheets and all.”
“No one’s touched it yet. Could you please be careful around the area?”
Clark stood, scribbling a few notes on his notepad before pocketing pen and paper. “Yeah, absolutely. I do have a question for you, though: I noticed you staring at the pair of boots in the entryway. Would you be able to find out if those boots had been anywhere else? If he’d kept them under the bed or something?”
Ledford seemed to think about it. “It’s an idea. Worth checking into.”
“I’m sure it’s protocol. I was just thinking… Americans put their shoes under their beds all the time. I didn’t know if you… did the same thing here or—“
“Hey, McAlister!” Ledford turned her back on him. A red headed woman quickly turned and nodded.
“Find out what’s on the bottom of those boots and see if there aren’t any traces anywhere else in this apartment. Do it now.”
McAlister nodded and went straight for the boot. Ledford turned back to him. “It’s protocol, yes. I usually tend to do it a little later. It drives Officer Meline crazy, but it’s a bad habit of mine.”
Wondering if this meant the woman had warmed up to him, he grinned. “Everything happens in stages, right?’
To his surprise, Ledford turned her back on him again. “No. They don’t.” She marched out of the bedroom, leaving behind a blinking reporter and a quiet McAlister. Clark turned to her with a small grin. “Is she like this all the time?” he tried to ask conversationally.
McAlister continued working, a slight nod of her head the only sign that she heard what he said. “I don’t think she trusts you,” she muttered.
Clark stuck his hands in his pockets and looked around the room again. “Oh, she can trust me. I was specially assigned to this investigation, after all.”
“With all due respect, Mr. Kent,” McAlister took out a cotton swab and dipped it into a solution, rubbing the chemical on the floor. “Just because you were assigned to this investigation doesn’t mean you’ve immediately earned our trust.”
Clark pretended to look around the room while rocking on his heels. “That’s understandable. I’m just a reporter for the Daily Planet. Why should that give you reason to trust me?”
“Glad you understand.” McAlister stood from her crouched position on the floor and put the swab in a vial, mixing it together with a flick of her wrist. “So, have you done a lot of cases?”
Clark watched her wrist jerk, mixing the chemical with the items from the floor. He hoped he didn’t appear like he was staring too intently at her hands. “Well, I am a senior reporter.”
“Well, anyone can be a senior reporter nowadays, can’t they?”
He blinked at her, concentration momentarily lost. “Um, not really. At least, not that I know of.”
“Well, I guess what I mean is, how long have you worked at… what was the name again?”
Clark took a hand out of his pocket and rubbed his chin. “The Daily Planet.”
“Yeah. Popular paper in America?”
He finally caught the rhythm of her movements. If he stared just a little bit harder, he could probably tell what particles were in the vial… “Can’t say I know a popular British paper to compare it to.”
“We have an affiliate here, don’t we?”
Clark tried to keep his tone light. What was that swimming in the solution? “Yes, you do. Actually, the man I’m looking for used to work there several years ago. Perhaps you’ve heard of him – a Richard White?”
McAlister, he suddenly noticed, was being polite. Immediately, she shook her head. “Nope. Never heard of him.” Her wrist finally stopped moving. The color of the vial had changed colors while she had twisted it around. While Clark initially didn’t know what that meant, he could only guess she had stopped because she had found the same thing he had. Her brow furrowed. Suddenly, she blinked. “Inspector?”
Ledford, in the kitchen, immediately turned and walked into the bedroom. “What is it? Have you found something?”
“I can’t say for sure, ma’am. It’s worth looking in to, though.”
Of course. She couldn’t see what he saw because her vision wasn’t amplified. Clark couldn’t exactly ask into the forensics office to peek in on the testing – particle, mineral, DNA, whatever it was – but he was sure he could hang around and get the first word on whatever might be found. If his suspicions were correct, however…
“Inspector? Just… wondering if I can ask something?” He waited for Ledford to turn to him, appearing intimidated by her intense stare. “You’ll be checking out the soles of those boots, won’t you? W-when Superman the plane wreckage, he also found a set of footprints that had been badly covered. Is there a chance we could get some information faxed back to Metropolis?”
Ledford raised an eyebrow. “You honestly believe we wouldn’t do that? This is a kidnapping done by someone from Her Majesty’s nation, Mr. Kent. Of course we’re going to do all we can to help you.”
Clark blinked and pushed his glasses up, slightly shocked by her frankness. “I’m n-not suggesting you wouldn’t help, ma’am. I just wanted to be sure I understood all the details.”
She nodded steadily, voice significantly softer this time. “You’ll have to forgive me. As I told you earlier, this isn’t the first time someone has tampered with evidence. When you begin to see the same dead end repeatedly, you tend to get a little impatient.”
Clark waved a hand sporadically. “Oh, no need to apologize, ma’am. I might be crossing the line between reporter and curious hang-around. If there’s a chance, though… could I possibly find out what’s in that vial?”
“It depends on what my superiors have to say. I must ask you, though…”
Clark’s eyes widened when Ledford folded her arms and looked at him curiously. She looked down at the floor, then around the rest of the room, before turning to him and asking, “What made you think about checking under the bed? Some… memory from a previous case?”
Clark chuckled nervously. With a shrug, he adjusted his glasses again and grinned bashfully. “Uh… wild guess. It’s been a while since I’ve done this.”
Ledford’s skeptical sigh was loud in his ears. With a slight shake of her head, she turned and walked out of the bedroom. Her mutters fell on deaf ears. Clark had looked down at the floor one more time, staring at the footprints that dirt and minerals left behind.
He could see at least three different pairs of shoeprints twisting and turning from where he stood. One hew knew for sure was his. The other had to belong to the boots he found earlier. His perfect memory clearly saw the boot prints in the mud next to the seaplane wreckage, their unique size and pattern a perfect match.
The last pair, however, was extremely different. Where the boots had a larger, thicker pattern to them, this one was just a bit sleeker, not quite as wide. If the London Met had regulation footwear, this set of prints didn’t belong to them.
He could feel frustration slowly mount inside of him. As much as he wanted to point out particulars, he knew there was no way he could mention the footprints without giving himself away. Or at least making myself look incredibly strange and close to insane. Taking another glance behind his shoulder, he crouched down and stared more intently at the unfamiliar shoeprint, breaking down as many particles as his sight would allow. Dust from the air covered the outline of the shoe, but it left so many traces of so many different things. Grit, dirt, the barest touch of water…
Then, out of nowhere, he realized that a small part of the pattern that he believed was the sole of the shoe was, in fact, a hair. Small enough to not be seen by the naked eye, probably from someone who had a buzz cut.
He slowly released a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. It seemed impossible to leave Superman out of the picture now. DNA evidence could be sitting right in front of him with no way of being tracked unless the police were informed of such. Clark Kent couldn’t do it. Superman, at the risk of controversy, could.
Ledford’s impatience was clear. To make it seem as though he had no idea she was coming, he jumped, careful not to move any of the evidence beneath him. “Y-yes, Officer?”
“We’re moving out.” She was obviously irritated, too. “In case you’re going to ask, nothing was found. Trash was removed, dust was cleaned, floor were wiped…” She sighed, having seen this numerous times before. “It’s just like all the other times. Nothing significant was found, save for whatever McAlister can come up with in that vial of hers. I suggest you come with us back to the station.”
Her words did little to comfort the tension in his mind. If she noticed his lack of optimism, she didn’t say anything about it. Taking one last look at the apartment, Clark followed Ledford and her crew out the door. Superman, it seemed, might have little choice. His place in this investigation was necessary.