He remembered a time when the restraints against his torso hurt every time his chin hit his chest as he slept. Those same restraints, pinning his wrists and ankles to the chair, forced him to be still then the skin broke, causing an infection in his untreated wounds. Hendrick had done little to properly clean the skin, but what little he had done at the time helped… for a day. He was sure he could see puss covering part of the wires, but he was so tired and exhausted he couldn’t tell. He finally learned to stay as still as possible, but it was hard to do so when his back cramped after being in the same position for so long.
Richard leaned his head back, feeling the base of his skull rest on the top of his spine. The glaring light above him gave him another headache, but he was so tired he didn’t care. He felt like grime, his clothes sweat and vomit-stained, rank with a combination of scents he’d never experienced before and hoped he never would again. Hendrick had never cleaned the area around him. In the evenings, chills ran up and down his spine when he could hear the scratching of mice across the floor, forcing him to make noise instead of sleep like he so desperately desired.
Three things I immediately want when I get out of here: a shower, my family, and the biggest burger with the most calories anyone can find.
The door opened and closed again. Richard was so used to hearing it he didn’t move. He recognized the footfalls; Hendrick took his time emerging behind the crates, fumbling with something in his hands as he entered. Richard didn’t care anymore. He sighed deeply, trying to stop the pain and ache that seemed to come from everywhere…
“Going to be like that, are you? Fine. I expected it anyway.”
As he spoke, Richard faintly heard another noise, one he recognized having heard it only a while before. He didn’t have time to lift his head and look before the gun went off.
Searing pain shot into his knee. He screamed louder than he ever remembered doing before, wrists, ankles and torso pulling against the restraints. His groans came out in pants. When he was finally able to open his eyes, his vision was blurry, his mind hazy with pain, but he could clearly see the blood splattered across the floor and dribbling down his leg. It felt like Hendrick had blown his kneecap.
Hendrick’s hand roughly gripped Richard’s hair, forcing his head upward, bringing his face so close Richard could smell his breath. What unnerved him the most was how calm Hendrick looked. If there was a hurricane of fury behind the man’s actions, one couldn’t tell. The smile he gave Richard was friendly and warm. Sickening.
“Congratulations, Mr. White. You’re the first person to manage to clean out every last bit of patience I own. You see, I was thinking the other day…” Something cold and sharp pressed against Richard’s cheek. In the middle of screaming in pain, Hendrick had replaced his gun with a knife. “… About my actions. What was I doing? I knew you weren’t going to say anything. I knew you were just… biding your time…” Hendrick slowly dragged the knife from Richard’s cheekbone to the corner of his mouth. Blood immediately began to flow from the wound. Richard clenched his jaw, trying to move as little as possible so the wound wouldn’t be worse.
Hendrick seemed to stare at Richard thoughtfully. He pulled the knife away, slowly shaking his head after a moment. “It’s a shame, really. I keep thinking about all the potential you have. You could be my mole, you know. At the Planet. I could… quadruple what you make now. Anything you want would be yours. Yet, I know you won’t do it. You’re too good. Noble.” He sighed, and then whispered. “Which is why you’re going to die today.”
“Tell me something… I wasn’t suspecting.” It was hard to get the words out, but Richard managed to do so and not move his cheek too much.
Hendrick chuckled. “A blown knee, a large laceration on your cheek.” The drug lord dragged a finger over the wound, making Richard groan. “And you still manage to have a sense of humor. You, above all others, are the most valiant I’ve ever met.”
“Forgive me if I don’t care that much.”
“I didn’t expect you to.” Hendrick stared at Richard silently for a long time, his brown eyes almost calculating. Richard couldn’t help moaning every now and again. The pain in his face and his knee were too great, and he was too weak to resist the throbbing response his body had. Hendrick seemed to take this all in. Then he released Richard’s hair gently, standing slowly, and grinned. “Would you like to know how your family is doing?”
“Is that supposed to provide some comfort before you kill me?”
“Theoretically.” Hendrick turned and set the knife down on one of the crates, lifting a manila folder with the other hand. Must have been what he was playing with when he walked in here. He licked a finger and pulled out two photographs. “These were taken two nights ago. Do you know how fortunate you are that the river next to your house allows speed boating late into the evening? It’s been a wonderful way to keep an eye on your family.” Lifting one photograph, Richard, his mind hazy with pain, could barely see it. “It looks like there’s another woman helping Miss Lane while she’s immobile. Does your fiancée have a sister? They look remarkably alike.”
Lucy. Richard couldn’t see her very clearly, but he recognized the curtains to know that she was standing in the window of Jason’s bedroom. Fury boiled inside of him, momentarily easing the pain coursing through his body. “What do you plan to do with them… after you kill me?”
“Hmm, I’d rather not say. At this moment, that shouldn’t be something you concern yourself with.” Hendrick lifted the other, holding it to Richard’s face. “Here’s one you’ll recognize. It seems Miss Lane is looking for something. Do you think she realizes her nightgown is missing yet?”
Richard stared at the profile of Lois craning her neck to look back at their bed. The resiliency he had so bravely shown, at the sight of his fiancée – probably his last – finally broke. His chin fell to his chest. Exhaustion, hunger, anger, pain, adrenaline, stiffness… all of it was too much. He couldn’t feel his leg. Part of him wished he couldn’t feel anything at all. “You leave them alone,” he said, ashamed at how weak his voice was.
Hendrick knelt before him, tossing the pictures to the side. “Finally… he breaks.” His voice was a whisper, leaning forward to make sure he could see Richard’s eyes. “You are a man of incredible valor. To the likes I’ve never seen before. It’s at no consolation to you, but you’re one I’ll remember, Richard White.”
Crying made the cut on his face burn, but he could no longer help himself. “What do I need to do… to know you won’t hurt them after this?”
“Oh, Mr. White. You already know the answer to that.”
Fear made a deep pit in his stomach. Even through the fog in his mind, his brain slowly breaking down after so long in captivity, he could tell what was going to happen. Lois and Jason had no way of knowing, besides his absence, that he had been taken somewhere and tortured for information he didn’t have. Lois was brilliant and would try to hunt down all the details that she could for a while, but with her limited mobility, she could only get so far. Clark would help. But they were both only human. So many little details would go unseen. And Jason…
Oh my God. Richard took a deep, shaky breath, trying to calm himself. Be strong, little guy. You’ll need to help Mommy get through this for a while.
“Your fiancée was set up, you know.”
Richard blinked his eyes slowly, staring at Hendrick. “Wha…?”
“I figured you should know. That little place you like to take your plane by the docks? It’s mine.” Hendrick paused, then spoke again, almost conversationally. “It really surprised me how well it happened. I’ve been planning your kidnapping for several years, Mr. White, and I knew the one way to get you was to go after your favorite hobby. So I planted that repair shop, let it grow for a few years, earned your trust, and set my plan in motion. Your plan was sabotaged from the beginning. The island you crashed on was no coincidence.”
Richard’s mind tried to work furiously. The resignation of death made his mind sluggish, but he willed himself to keep thinking. “You own… the building? Your name… is in the records. You could… be easily found.”
Hendrick waved a finger in his face. “I thought of that, too. I do own the building, but it’s not in my name. Two men hid your seaplane after you were captured. One of them shared your fascination with aviation, a Mr. Nick Hader. Another was there to help cover their tracks, Mr. Tony Anderson.” He gave Richard a toothy grin. “Don’t you remember them? They died by your side in this room.
Don’t frustrate me, Mr. White!
Richard stared back at Hendrick, trying to keep up with all of the information. “The building…”
“One of my men informed the city that Nick Hader had been killed in a car accident outside of the country. The building was swept clean and taken care of my men, with a few minor details. It had been in disarray for a while, but calculations showed that it would collapse before the city deemed it unsafe to stay erected. Knowing the reputation of Lois Lane, it was only a matter of time before she went to the building herself, be it in ruins or with her beneath it.” Hendrick looked off into the corner of the room. It seemed a thought suddenly stuck him. “We’re really very fortunate that happened, actually. It couldn’t have gone better if we tried. Of course, Miss Lane is probably intent to find out how it’s all connected, your disappearance and her injury. It’s a good thing we decided to kill her a long time ago. Or maybe we won’t, if you can just tell me one thing.”
“How do you think… you can cover this up… if she lives?”
Hendrick turned back to the reporter. His grin was filled with pride. “I’ve made a career out of covering my footsteps. I’m very good at it.”
“People know I’m missing.”
“There are a lot of people who are missing. Just because you happen to be popular doesn’t mean you’re special.” Still kneeling, Hendrick turned and regarded Richard’s wounded knee as if he were reading one of his business papers. He lifted a hand and held it just over the swollen wound. “This will be the last time I ask you,” he whispered. “What do you know about Underground?”
Richard had always heard that saying about how your life flashed before your eyes when you die. Sitting there, bound to a chair for God knew how long, malnourished, bleeding, broken and exhausted, he finally felt as though he had nothing to lose. Losing Lois and Jason was going to be the hardest thing he’d ever dealt with, but at least he wouldn’t be dealing with it for long. Superman would never let anything happen to them. If I die, they’re in the best hands possible. The thought, though painful, was enough of a comfort. Glancing down at the hand hovering over his leg, Richard looked back at the brown eyes of his captor and did the one thing he had dreamed of doing since first waking up here.
Gathering what little he could, Richard spat in the face of Christopher Hendrick.
Hendrick didn’t falter, apparently ready for the reaction. The moment the spit landed on his cheek, he dropped his hand over the wound and squeezed it as hard as he could. Richard’s head was thrown back in a scream, stars dancing before his eyes, the sound pulsing louder in his ears than ever before. He didn’t know when Hendrick had released his leg, but he never saw the punch coming. High and hard, he felt his eye begin to swell immediately. It was followed by a second, a third, each harder than the last, a ring – or metal of some kind – bruising each new part of flesh it hit. Hendrick was cursing him with every punch, his patience finally gone, the true terror and beast unleashed in Richard’s final moments. He lost count of how many times he’d been hit, but when the blows finally stopped, his head rolled to the back of the chair. Blood oozed down his throat when he tried to breathe. He coughed, tilting his head forward, another headache splitting his skull in two. His nose was clearly broken, his left eye swollen shut, but he wasn’t so far out of it that he missed the sound of Hendricks gun being pulled once again.
He raised his good eye. The drug lord stood before him, bloodied fist grasping his silver handgun, face impassive. Business as usual. Fear gripped him one last time. Staring at the face of death, Richard mouthed more than whispered, “I swear to God, I don’t know anything.”
Hendricks mouth quirked. “Good-bye, Mr. White.”