Superman: Civil Rites

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#10 - “Line in the Sand”

By David Marshall

Lex Luthor climbed the front steps of his family’s Civil War-era mansion and stood on the front porch. The impressive portico ran the length of the home’s north face and wrapped around both sides of the building. Massive third-generation Southern Live Oaks, thick with Spanish moss, provided welcome shade from the scorching Mississippi sun. Unlike the prison inside, the porch was open for any passersby to see. It harbored no secrets, no shame. It was also the site of Lex’s favorite childhood memory.

When he was seven years old Lex’s family spent most of the year cooped up inside the condo in Metropolis. But summers meant three glorious months of playing in the green fields of Smallville. It was during one of those trips his parents hosted a dinner party at the plantation home. When in hostess mode his mother was quite the queen bee, slowing down only to lavish attention upon some wayward matter of decorum or social faux pas. His father held court on the porch not as a big fish in small pond, but as a blue whale in a puddle of mud with the blue bloods of Lowell County hanging on his every syllable. During the festivities, Lex tripped over someone’s big feet and crashed into one of the round tables covered with a white tablecloth. Both he and the table tumbled to the redwood-planked flooring with a loud crash. The party screeched to a grinding halt.

Lex fell on a broken wine glass and sliced open his right palm. Sprawled among the shards of glass, shattered dishes, and bloody cloth napkins folded like swans, the seven year old gave no thought to crying. Rather, one though gripped his young mind; his father was going to kill him!

But he didn’t. Instead he rushed to Lex and scooped him into his arms with no thought to the boy’s blood on his three-hundred dollar designer shirt. “Are you okay son?”

The compassion in his father’s shaky voice was uncharacteristic. It wasn’t often he lowered his guard in the presence of family, but before guests?

“Daddy!” Lex sobbed and threw his arms around his father’s neck.

At first the unexpected outburst startled his father but he wrapped Lex in his arms and cradled the boy’s head to his chest. All the while he ran his fingers through his son’s fiery locks.

Dr. Peppers (yes, that was his real name) broke up the hug to examine the cut. “It’s pretty deep, Lionel. I’m guessing it’ll need stitches. My bag is in my truck.”

Lex’s father carried him to the western side of the house and rocked him in a rocking chair until Dr. Peppers returned with his bag. Lex sat on his father’s lap and bit his lip to keep from crying as the country doctor sewed the gash shut.

It was the last hug Lex would ever receive from his father.

As that day’s memories blew away with the dandelions upon the warm, southern breeze, Lex reached for the door knob and turned it. He pushed the door open and stepped inside.

“Lex is that you?” his father called from his study.

“Yeah,” Lex hollered back. “It’s me.”

“Could you come here please?” his father asked.

Lex made his way down the hall and turned into his father’s study. He was met immediately by his father’s fist. Lex dropped to the polished oak floor and wiped the blood from his lower lip.

“Just who the hell do you think you are?” his father demanded. The elder Luthor’s eyes were filled with rage. His mouth was drawn taut. “That was a hell of trick you played and it took me a little while to figure it out, but you’re the one who brought these damned reporters here, aren’t you? Who else could gather the resources to convince the Klan to go on the warpath?”

Lex eyed his father. “You hit me!”

His father kicked him in the left shin. “Yes, I did! Now get up so I can do it again you arrogant, backstabbing son-of-a-bitch! How dare you stage an elaborate plot to impress your colored girlfriend knowing damned-well it would bring heat on me!”

Lex contemplated his options. “I don’t want to fight you.”

“I said get up!” his father shouted.

Before Lex made it to his feet, his father swung again. Lex blocked the blow with his left arm and countered with a punch to his father’s breadbasket. The blow doubled his father over.

Lex clasped his hands together and raised them high over his head like a club. He brought them down across his father’s back and slammed him to the floor. A swift kick across the old man’s jaw sent him sprawling.

“Don’t you ever hit me again!” Lex yelled as he stomped his father wildly. “Do you hear me, old man? Never again!”

His father coiled into the fetal position and cried out for mercy. “Please someone! Help me!”

Lex showed no compassion. A lifetime of anger exploded with every kick and stomp. He was determined to beat his father until his own pain disappeared or the old man was dead, whichever came first. He didn’t hear the bodyguards who rushed into the room. Two pulled Lex away while a third tended to his bloody mess of a father.

“Mr. Luthor, are you okay?” asked the lackey hunched over his father’s trembling body.

Even the famed Luthor pride was ill-equipped to handle the beating Lex administered. His father clung to the muscular bodyguard’s arms as the man helped him to his feet. “Get me away from this lunatic now!”

While the one bodyguard escorted Lex’s father from the study, one of the remaining men pinned the struggling young man’s arms behind his back. The other unloaded a hard right hand into his abdomen.

Lex struggled to catch his breath but it wouldn’t come. He would have collapsed if not for the man behind him holding him up.

The man who hit him placed a stubby index finger beneath Lex’s nose. “Anything like this ever happens again and we’ll forget you’re Mr. Luthor’s son. Are we clear?”

Lex answered with a nod. The oaf behind him shoved him to the floor.

The bodyguards left Lex alone in a crumpled, pitiful heap. When he was finally able to move, he slinked upstairs to his bedroom and sunk into the floor at the foot of his bed. Tears stung his eyes as he rocked back and forth and rubbed his bald head over and over.

And the demons began to whisper.

The Smallville Colored Hospital Cafeteria

“Mind if I sit next to you?” Clark asked.

Lana looked up from her tray. “Please go away, Clark. I’ve had enough visitors for one day.”

The smile faded from Clark’s face. “Huh? Have I done something wrong?”

Lana took a deep breath then shook her head. “No, Clark you haven’t. I just don’t need one of your I-told-you-so lectures about hanging out with Lex.”

Clark placed his tray beside Lana’s and hoped he didn’t misunderstand Lana’s comment as an opening if it wasn’t. “That’s the last thing on my mind, Lana. We haven’t talked for what seems like forever.”

Lana looked away. “I know. I’m… sorry.”

“I’m the one who should apologize,” Clark replied. “Things have been odd since that day in the field when I…”

Lana placed her hand on Clark’s. “Just don’t speak of it. Okay? It was weird.”

Clark wanted to ask what was so weird about him trying to kiss her. He was a boy and she was a girl. He found her attractive. Didn’t she feel the same? He wasn’t sure. “Sorry to hear about your folks.”

Lana squeezed his hand. “Thanks, your dad too.”

“Mr. Tyler’s big city lawyer got him out of jail yesterday,” said Clark.

Lana released his hand. “You still mixed up with those white folk? They’re nothing but trouble, Clark.”

Clark shook his head. “Not all of them. Mr. Tyler and Mr. White have been good to me and my family and to you too. Mr. Tyler took care of your medical bills.”

Lana looked shocked. “What? I thought Lex…”

Clark tapped his fist lightly on the table. It was hard to hold back when he wanted to splinter it, but it was sufficient to make Lana jump. “Him again?”

“Don’t do that, Clark!” Lana huffed. “I’ve had enough people to snap at me and victimize me lately and I won’t allow it to happen again! Not even from you! Not from my best friend too! Do you hear me?”

Tears welled up in Lana’s deep, brown eyes as she sobbed inconsolably.

Clark pulled her close as her cries attracted the attention of hospital staff. With a gesture and a glance, Clark assured them everything was okay and they backed off. “I’m sorry, Lan. Please forgive me. This has been difficult on us all.”

Lana pulled away and wiped her eyes with her nightgown. “Besides, I have no romantic interest in Lex Luthor now.”

Clark smiled. “That’s good.” Did he dare hope?

Lana’s eager smile lit up the room. “My heart belongs to Superboy!”

Clark bit his tongue. How easy it would be to confide his secret to Lana. She wanted Clark and didn’t know it. “Speaking of heroes...”

“Yes, Clark?” Lana asked.

Clark almost let the truth pour out of him but remembered his promise to his father. “Dr. King is in town!”

Again, Lana lit up! “I know! Isn’t it wonderful? I saw it on the news!”

It was hard to switch gears when he was so close to telling her his secret but Clark soldiered on. “You going to the rally?”

Lana shook her head. “I’d give anything to meet him, but I’m still a patient for a few more days.”

“Too bad,” Clark added. “I was hoping we could march together.”

Lana shrugged. “Rain check?”

“Let’s pray this storm doesn’t blow this way again,” said Clark.

Outside Smallville, the Next Day

Clark Kent stared across the length of the Shuster Bridge and wiped the driving rain from his eyes. Two-hundred and ninety-seven feet stood between the crowd of protesters, led by his father and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the north end of the bridge. That was the boundary the local authorities proclaimed as their “line in the sand”.

The heavy downpour kept some away but the crowd was nearly two-hundred strong besides the media frenzy documenting the march and for the black community in Smallville that was an excellent turnout despite the circumstances. Everyone knew the march could end in disaster just as easily as in victory.

Clark wished the feeling of dread in his stomach would go away. The crowd was unusually hushed. He hoped it would get louder as they walked, if for no other reason than to calm everyone’s nerves.

“Penny for your thoughts son,” said Dr. King.

Clark looked up. “Huh? I’m sorry, Dr. King. I was a million miles away.”

“Not a bad place to be at a time like this, huh?” Dr. King asked.

Clark shook his head. “No, sir. I didn’t mean I wish I was a million miles away. I was thinking. That’s all.”

Dr. King smiled. “I know what you meant, Clark. I go there often. I call it my Fortress of Solitude. One day I hope to visit it enough to be the kind of man God called me to be. Find your own Fortress in the cleft of the Rock, Clark and stay there until you know your calling.”

“You know my name?” Clark asked.

“That impresses you?” Dr. King replied.

Clark felt his cheeks getting red. “Yeah, I mean yes sir. You’re an important man.”

Dr. King chuckled and pointed heavenward. “Don’t be impressed that I know your name. Be impressed that He does and that he has a plan for you.”

“Let’s hope His plan calls for a clearing of the weather,” Clark answered.

“Indeed, Mr. Kent,” Dr. King shot back with an eye to the heavens. His soft laugh seemed more relaxed than before.

Clark’s father pushed his way through the crowd and joined Dr. King. “Everyone’s ready to move.”

Dr. King held up his right hand and directed the crowd northward. “For equality!”

“For equality,” the crowd echoed as it matched Dr. King’s pace.

As the crowd grew closer to the end of the bridge Clark instinctively searched the wooded area beside the road. He was surprised to find it clear. His was the first foot to cross the line. He was careful to make sure of that.

He wasn’t sure what he expected but was relieved no unseen attackers poured out of the wooded area on the north side of the bridge. Maybe the march wouldn’t be as bad as everyone believed. What could it hurt to let a couple hundred black folk march to the county courthouse?

“We shall overcome! We shall overcome! We shall overcome someday!” sung a brave soul in the crowd whose off-key caterwauling was never more welcome. A choir of angels wouldn’t have sounded more beautiful. The crowd quickly joined in. The ensuing symphony of imperfect harmonies and melodies lifted everyone’s spirits greatly. The lack of opposition probably bolstered spirits too.

“Oh deep in my heart. I do believe. We shall overcome someday!”

Dr. King was the first to slow his gait as the group approached a steep curve ahead in the road. The joyous strains of music died slowly as everyone understood the potential danger a blind curve represented.

“Jonathan?” Dr. King asked.

“They’re watching us now,” Clark’s father replied.

“Want me to scout ahead?” Clark asked as he stepped past the others.

Dr. King pulled him back. “Of course he doesn’t, son! What kind of father would send his son into such danger?”

The kind with a son from the stars who is impervious to bullets, Clark wanted to say.

“Dr. King’s right, son,” Clark’s father added, obviously winging it. “Why don’t you… fall back with the younger kids?”

Clark’s first thought was to protest but then he realized his father was laying cover for him. “Sure, Pop. Whatever you say, sir.”

As Clark pressed back through the crowd he heard Dr. King tell his father what a fine, respectable son he had. It almost made Clark feel guilty for the ruse. Clark reached the back of the throng and let it pass him by. He slipped into the woods and into his costume. Moments later he hovered in the treetops, but remained hidden. From his vantage point he saw the Klan gathered around the curve. A man dressed in ornate green and red hooded robes with a golden dragon emblazoned on the front readied his hateful charges. They waited behind him with their rifles drawn. Things were about to get ugly.

His father and Dr. King stopped the others and talked for a moment amongst themselves before approaching the curve. An FBI officer pressed through the marchers and advised them. Clark wanted to warn the civil rights leaders about the imminent danger but realized they recognized the deeper danger of turning back. Watching the two men he admired most round the curve with the FBI officer, he understood courage in a way that was more real to him than any he’d ever witnessed.

The protestors met the Klan opposition but held their ground.

“You were warned not to march on the courthouse, King!” yelled the Grand Dragon.

“It was a free country last time I checked,” Dr. King shot back.

“For real men,” the Klan leader replied. “Do you know what we do with your kind in these parts?”

Dr. King’s eyes narrowed. “I do and I pray the Lord have mercy on your immortal soul for such atrocities.”

“I’m not sure God harkens unto the prayers of the lower species,” the Klansman countered.

King wiped his forehead. “His eyes are on the sparrow that falls.”

The Grand Dragon seemed to enjoy the public debate. “But fall he shall.”

“You can’t kill a dead man,” Clark’s father replied. “For though I be dead unto my flesh, I am alive in Christ!”

“I suggest you turn around if you don’t wish to test that theory,” the Klansman replied.

The FBI officer walked forward and fingered the walkie-talkie attached to the shoulder of his uniform. “Situation critical around the curve. Push the marchers back.”

“Copy that,” the walkie-talkie crackled. “Do you require backup?”

“Roger that,” the FBI officer responded. “Keep your guns ready but holstered. Do you copy?”

“It seems we have reached a stalemate,” hissed the Grand Dragon. “What say you good folks turn around and go back the way you came and we can all go home to our families?”

Clark’s father shook his head. “We both know that’s not going to happen whether we turn around or not.”

The additional FBI officers made their way onto the scene. As requested their guns were holstered.

The Klansmen laughed when they saw the holstered guns.

“Like ducks in a gallery,” said the Grand Dragon. “How do you know these woods aren’t line with fine, southern gentlemen ready to rid this world of the lot of you?”

The lead FBI officer smiled. “Because that’s where my men are stationed.”

Clark peered into the woods with his x-ray vision. FBI officers did indeed lie in wait every few yards on both sides of the road.

The Grand Dragon shot nervous glances to the left and right. “You’re lying.”

“Try me,” said the officer.

Dr. King stepped forward. “Let us pass!”

The stalemate was interrupted by the lead officer’s walkie-talkie. “Sir, we have someone here you need to listen to.”

“Kinda busy right now, Parks,” the officer replied.

The officer on the other end was insistent. “Go ahead, kid. Tell them what you know.”

The walkie-talkie blared to life. “Sir, my name is Lex Luthor.”

The Grand Dragon gestured for his men to lower their weapons.

“The man responsible for the carnage last week was my father, Lionel Luthor. He is the billionaire hillbilly before you in the Grand Dragon Halloween costume.”

The FBI officer smiled. “Oh really? Go on.”

“Yes sir,” Lex continued. “I found out last week when he had his men beat me senseless for befriending a local girl of color. I’ve struggled with what to do for a week but I can’t allow all these innocent people to die, even for dear old Dad.”

“Looks like your time has run out, Luthor,” said the FBI officer. “Coming quietly?”

The Grand Dragon removed his hood.

From his vantage point behind the trees Clark gasped along with everyone else. His people long suspected Luthor funded the local KKK and was probably a member but they never dreamed he was their leader!

“Why Luthor?” Clark’s dad asked.

Luthor laughed. “My erstwhile progeny is playing you for fools! I had no hand in the massacre of the black community! He was responsible!”

“The Luthor kid said he would try to shift the blame onto someone else,” came a voice over the walkie-talkie. “He said to check the banks and see who controls the money. Kid doesn’t have an account to pay anyone off with.”

“Do you expect me to believe a mere boy could plan and fund such an elaborate plot?” the FBI officer asked Luthor. “Besides you’ve already tried to shift blame to Kent here and was willing to let him take the fall for the Klan violence.”

Luthor grew indignant. “I’m telling you my ungrateful offspring was behind it!”

The officer shook his head. “And yet you’re the one standing here in your hooded robes trying to shift the blame to your teenaged kid. Lionel Luthor, you’re under arrest for multiple crimes against society including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, property damage, insurance fraud, and whatever else we can find in the book to throw at you.”

“Don’t let them take you alive boys!” Luthor shouted. “For Dixie!”

Clark heard the first bullets explode from the barrels of the guns and raced into action. To his eyes, the fiery ammunition hung in the air in slow motion as it raced toward its targets. Though seemingly in slow motion there were so many Clark only hoped he could get them all. The first came dangerously close to Dr. King’s heart but Clark caught it at the last minute. He barely knocked the second one away before it tore into his father’s upper lip. There were just too many at once. Unsure what else to do, Clark took a deep breath and released it with the fury of an Atlantic hurricane. The mighty gust not only scattered the Klansmen but overturned several of their vehicles as well. One pickup truck rolled onto the bed of another and spun around and demolished the cab of the one underneath.

“What the hell?” asked the FBI officer in charge of the operation.

Clark’s dad puffed out his chest. “Welcome to Smallville, gentlemen - home of Superboy!”

The officer rubbed his eyes as Clark descended from the skies. “I read about him but didn’t believe it until what I just saw!”

“Get Dr. King and Mr. Kent to safety!” Superboy shouted to a couple of officers. “The rest of you follow me to search for the Klansmen!”

A few FBI agents did what they were told without looking to their superior officers. Seeing someone descend from the skies and scattering vehicles with a mere breath was certainly conducive to taking orders.

The rest of the FBI moved in quickly to assist Superboy.

“Where’s Luthor?” asked the lead agent.

“No sign of him,” said Superboy. He picked up the Jeep on which Luthor stood but neither of the unconscious men in the passenger compartment were Luthor.

“Likely thrown from the vehicle!” shouted the FBI commander.

With Superboy’s help the agents rounded up the Klansmen and took them into custody. There was still no sign of Luthor anywhere.

“Looking for someone boys?” Luthor called. He emerged from behind a tree. His elaborate hooded robes were in tatters. His jawbone had been laid open from where he struck the tree. In his right hand, he held a pistol to his head. His left wrist was broken so badly it protruded from his forearm and spewed blood.

“Let us get you medical attention, Luthor! You’re hurt!” yelled the FBI commander.

Luthor laughed. “Hurt? Au contraire, dear sir! I’ve never been more elated in my life!”

Superboy shot the officer a glance. “He’s delirious.”

The officer nodded in return. “You’ll bleed out if you don’t let us help you!” he called to Luthor.

“Do you have children officer?” Luthor shouted.

The officer nodded. “Two of them, a boy and a girl.”

“Do they disappoint you?” Luthor asked.

The officer shook his head. “Never! They’re my pride and joy!”

“You see that’s the injustice I’ve faced ever since that red-headed bother drew his first breath years ago! How is it one of the world’s wealthiest men feels nothing but shame for the fruit of his loins while a bourgeois like yourself is blessed to feel pride? Lower expectations perhaps, but I digress. And now after all these years he finally proves to me he’s a Luthor! Tell him well-played and give him my regards!”

With that Luthor pulled the trigger and fell.

Superboy raced to Luthor so quickly he brought the FBI commander along in the draft but the Grand Dragon was already dead. With a strong arm, Superboy caught the commander before he got hurt. “Sorry about that sir. He’s dead. I couldn’t save him.”

Superboy pounded the ground with his fists but was careful not to strike it too hard lest he cause an earthquake. He wasn’t sure why he mourned so for such an evil man. Many would be glad he was gone but the thought of Lex not living up to his father’s expectations and then dealing with his suicide after betraying him was more than he could stand.

The FBI officer laid a hand on Superboy’s shoulder. “You did what you could son. You saved a lot of lives here today.”

“But not all of them,” Superboy replied.

“Get used to it,” the officer answered. “It comes with the job.”

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