Richard jolted into full awareness when the large door was opened hours later. His head snapped back quickly enough that a crick developed seconds later, but he ignored it to the best of his ability, squaring his shoulders and staring defiantly when Hendrick passed the large wooden crate and entered the room. In his hands he had a manila folder, which he quickly set beside the brown bag he had discarded earlier. Taking a look at Richard’s tired and weary face, Hendrick shook his head.
“You didn’t get a very good night’s sleep last night, did you?” Hendrick said quietly. The man who had entered behind him chuckled softly, the shadow of a smile creeping on his face.
Richard met Hendrick’s eyes, anger blazing forth in waves. “I’m a reporter. I’ve learned to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations. Didn’t you say that yourself?”
Hendrick turned to the man behind him. “He has sarcasm. You wouldn’t think so from the way you were screaming last night. According to my sources, before you fainted in that chair, you were crying like a baby. Interesting. A minor dose makes you hallucinate, but a larger does makes you believe you’re living in your own nightmare.”
“Aren’t I supposed to be?”
Hendrick chuckled loudly, revealing a set of perfectly white teeth. “Of course not, Mr. White!” He looked around the room, gesturing to the large crates and the single light above. “I doubt this has anything to do with your nightmares. That’s not my purpose in keeping you here. I just want a simple answer to a simple question.”
Richard, in his exhaustion, had let his eyes droop ‘til he was staring, oddly mesmerized, at the pristine white of Hendrick’s pant leg. He closed his eyes, listening intently to the sounds in the room and trying to get his jumbled thoughts put back together. They had drugged him again last night. After Hendrick had stated his question, Richard had responded in blunt honesty that he had no idea what Underground was. Hendrick, frowning, had left it at that and ordered ‘a higher dosage this time’ before he left for the night. Two men had watched as Richard felt his world caving in on him, his greatest fears taunting him for hours on end until exhaustion forced him to sleep. However, once there, his dreams were nowhere near as merciful. It wasn’t until he had fainted, completely spent and emotionally withdrawn, that he actually got a few hours of precious, dreamless sleep.
The cooler opened and closed. Richard opened his eyes and looked at Hendrick. He had another water bottle in his hands. Opening it carefully, he held it to Richard’s mouth like last time, but here he was a little more forceful. The plastic top knocked against his teeth, making him impulsively jerk back. The water dribbled out of the bottle and onto his lap. Sighing irritably, Hendrick grabbed Richard by the jaw and set the top of the bottle into his mouth, forcing him to drink. “I hope you take advantage of this,” he said quietly, slightly smiling while Richard fought to restrain his coughing. “It’s a limited supply, I’m afraid.”
He pulled back and put the cap back on the bottle. Richard struggled to swallow the last of the water, and then coughed when he was finally done. Taking a few deep breaths, he lifted weary eyes and watched Hendrick toss the water bottle back into the cooler. “It’s not going on the floor again. Not that it did you much good the first time.” Hendrick slowly walked over to Richard’s chair and gestured to the spot where the aforementioned water had been. “Did you even try to get it while it was there? I’m very curious to know that answer.”
“No,” Richard quietly whispered. He met Hendrick’s gaze head-on. “I wouldn’t have been able to get the chair back up.”
For a full two seconds Hendrick merely looked back at him. Then he burst into laughter, letting his head fall back while his deep voice rang throughout the room. He took his index finger and tapped it against his head. “You’re a brilliant man, Mr. White. I’ll give you that. Many others would have been so desperate to get to the destination… only to look back and see their mistake.”
The room fell into silence. Richard, try as hard as he could, couldn’t get himself to stop twitching. Adjusting himself in his seat was painful enough with the binds on his hands and feet, but the twitches… he couldn’t be detoxing so early, but maybe his system was getting used to whatever they were giving him.
“Why are you making this so difficult, Mr. White? There’s no reason for this to be going to the extremes that it has. I just want a simple answer.”
“I gave you a simple answer,” Richard whispered, surprised by how loud it sounded in the crowded room. “It just wasn’t the answer you want.”
“I’m not a fool, Mr. White. And I don’t believe you’re in the position to take me for one. It’s written in this paper, bold and clear. When you have Reuben Atticus and Underground in the same sentence, it’s not a coincidence. I want to know how you connected the two, and who told you everything.”
“It’s not going to be the answer you want to hear. I told you, I don’t know anything.”
Hendrick stood before Richard and crouched down before him. His brown eyes, moments ago filled with life and laughter, were the coldest thing in the room. They glared back at Richard with a quiet hatred and intensity that made the young reporter freeze in his seat.
“You really have no idea who you’re dealing with, do you?” The voice was just as cold as the gaze that stared him down. Then, with a blink, it was gone. Hendrick stood and went over to the brown bag. He pulled out another paper, similar to the first but with a different headline. “This paper came out three weeks after yours. This particular story was all over the news for the next three days. It’s not a very good photograph, but do you recognize the man on the front?”
Hendrick held the paper out to him. It took Richard a moment for his eyes to adjust and focus. The man in the photograph was an older gentleman with a generous amount of gray in his hair and beard. Lean, with cold eyes, his very stance demanded obedience from everyone around him. All of this was seen perfectly, even with the splatter of mud on his face and clothing. The photograph was obviously taken in a raid of some kind. Below the picture, a headline in bold stated, Drug Lord Reuben Atticus Found Dead
Richard didn’t need to be told who the man was. “He was your father,” he stated simply.
“Yes, he was. He never mentioned the event where this photograph was taken to me so I have no idea what it means, but the article below it… well, it says more than the photograph, doesn’t it? Three weeks after your article was written, Reuben Atticus was found dead in a river in this city. The autopsy didn’t say very much, just that he had been miserably drunk and lost all inhibition. I find that funny.” He stared thoughtfully at the photograph for a moment. Tucking it under his arm, Hendrick paced the small space in front of Richard’s chair, gesturing every once in a while to the paper under his arm. “You see, when my father became in charge of this corporation, he told me the single most important thing we could do to ensure its safety is to make sure every leak is plugged and all interferences are taken care of. And it worked. It worked amazingly well. Soon we had gentlemen from every nation imaginable wanting our business. Prosperity, Mr. White, is an amazing thing to live with. We kept this corporation from the prying eyes of investigative reporters for years.” He stopped his pacing, staring at a point behind Richard, his eyes glazed over in memory. “Then Reuben got caught. It was a very, very interesting period for me. Suddenly all of this,” he gestured to the room around him. “Was mine and mine alone to take care of. That’s a very daunting task for a young man to take on.”
Trying to keep the interest out of his voice, Richard swallowed and cleared his throat. “So what did you do?”
“What the headlines said. Reuben Atticus was released due to lack of evidence. Your article might have been accurate, but that doesn’t mean it was enough to keep a drug lord behind bars. He came back here, and we told him he was no longer welcome. He had become an interference, and he understood that as soon as soon as we spoke the words. He gave me a hug, told me how proud he was of me for following his guidelines and he left. But not before we gave him a complimentary bottle of wine. Little did he know it had more in it than just the white zinfandel marked on the label.”
Through the haze still floating in his mind, it took a moment for Hendrick’s words to connect with Richard’s brain. When all the pieces slowly clicked together, Richard met Hendricks eyes in shock. “You murdered your father?”
“Don’t say it like you’re surprised. You honestly didn’t see this coming? Everyone else in this room did.” He turned to the man behind them, who grinned broadly when Hendrick’s smiling gaze met his. Turning back to Richard, he tossed the newspaper on the crate with the brown bag. “The truth of the matter is this, Mr. White: there are no limits. We will do anything to keep this corporation secret. It doesn’t matter that you work for the Daily Planet. It doesn’t matter that your fiancée is the most famous woman in Metropolis. There are no limits.”
He stood up straight and went to the brown bag, picking up the manila folder he had discarded earlier. “Speaking of your fiancée, would you like to know how she’s doing?”
Richard froze. His eyes followed Hendrick’s every movement. Feeling his heart thud harder in his chest, he watched Hendrick pulled out two papers. His captor didn’t reveal what they were, but Richard had a good enough idea – the smile playing on Hendrick’s face spoke volumes.
“It’s certainly been an interesting time for her,” he said, turning the paper around and allowing Richard to see it. The cold fear he had felt moments earlier burned away in light of his bubbling anger. It was a photograph taken outside of Metropolis General Hospital. Lois was being wheeled to a cab by Clark. It looked like Lucy was holding open the cab door, but Lois had his attention completely. An arm and a leg in a cast, in a wheelchair, cuts covering her face…
“This was taken just outside Metropolis General. A few weeks ago, actually. Odd… that’s around the same time you went missing, isn’t it?”
Richard’s blazing green eyes met Hendrick’s even stare. “What in God’s name did you do to her?”
“That’s a little presumptuous of you, don’t you think? You automatically assume I had something to do with this?”
“I get kidnapped and she gets hurt in the same week. That can’t be a coincidence.”
“Be careful, Mr. White. You’re not exactly in the position to make those kind of assumptions.” He shuffled the pictures and showed Richard the one underneath. “Especially considering that we’ve been making sure your family’s been doing okay.”
Richard, frozen, stopped breathing. The last photograph was of Jason, his face turned toward the camera as he listened to a friend talk, one arm on the door handle of the SUV. He was getting ready to go to school.
Slowly, Richard’s eyes met Hendrick’s once again. Though he was tired and exhausted, the fury within him was evident with every word. “Hendrick, if you lay a hand on my son…”
“You’ll what?” Hendrick sneered. “Make useless threats? The only way this is going to get better for you is if you do what I ask. You know what I want from you, Mr. White. Until I get it, I can promise you close scrutiny of your family.” Standing straight once again, Hendrick turned Jason’s picture around and stared at it thoughtfully. Richard’s hands balled into fists, trembling against the armrests with the intensity of his anger. The wire around his wrists cut into his flesh, but he hardly felt it. Then, with a small, admiring smile, Hendrick turned back to him.
“Your son has very pretty eyes, Mr. White. How would you like for him to lose them?”