Superman: Civil Rites

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Superman: Civil Rites


By David Marshall

The Kent Home, Two Days after the Jacobs Tragedy

The morning sun broke through Clark Kent’s bedroom window before his alarm went off but it was the smell of Ma’s cooking that pulled him from the bed. Whenever his father preached about being thankful, Clark always made a point to thank the Good Lord for letting him be found by a wise father and a mother who could cook. Though some would consider such praise beneath the Lord’s notice, they never tasted Ma’s cooking and whether God had or not, he was omnipotent and knew Clark meant every word of it.

The divine scent led Clark down the hallway. He rubbed his eyes as he stepped into the kitchen. “Is that bacon I smell?”

“It is,” Ma replied. “I figured a big breakfast would be the best way to break in the new table.”

“Mmm… bacon!” said Clark, barking the last syllable with a Cajun accent.

The spread was impressive for a Saturday morning without company – bacon, eggs, sausage, gravy, biscuits, and apple butter.

“Any news from the Jacobs place?” Clark asked as he took a seat.

“Don’t you worry with that mess,” Ma scolded as she brought gravy to the table in an oversized bowl. “You’ve got enough school work to keep that mind of yours occupied.”

Pa cast a steely gaze toward his wife and then locked eyes with Clark. “There was a lynching last night, son.”

“Dear Lord, not again! Anyone we know?” Clark asked.

Pa shook his head. “Nobody knows the poor man, an unlucky stranger in the wrong place at the wrong time apparently.”

Clark took a deep breath but couldn’t hold his tongue. “Animals,” he mumbled.

“Clark?” Ma asked.

Mumbling was frowned upon in the Kent household. Pa always said anything worth saying was worth saying for everyone to hear. Clark wasn’t sure he was right. “Only a soulless animal could do something like that to another human being! Pa, Let me do something about it!”

“You know why I can’t allow that, son,” his father replied. “You will hurt someone or worse, maybe an innocent. Do you want that blood on your hands?”

“Ain’t none of them innocent!” Clark spat. “Maybe it’s time some white folks bleed for a change! Why should we be the only ones to suffer?”

“Animals are they? None of them innocent?” Pa answered, raising his eyebrows as he always did when he was upset. “Listen to yourself son! You’re doing the exact same thing to them that some of them do to us!”

“And what’s that?” Clark asked smugly.

Pa left the table and returned with the family Bible. He handed it to Clark. “Turn to Galatians 3:28 and read for me. It’s in the New Testament.”

Clark rolled his eyes. “I know where it is. That’s my Pa, a regular laugh riot!” He thumbed through the Bible and located the scripture. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

“Well?” Clark’s father asked.

“Look Pa, I know what you’re trying to say,” Clark replied.

“Oh you do now?” his father probed. “Brotherhood and unity and all that?”

Clark nodded. “Something like that.”

“That’s not why I asked you to read it son,” Pa replied.

Clark shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t get it, Pa.”

“I asked you to read it because you can!” his father exploded. He wrenched the Bible from Clark’s hands and shook it in the boy’s face. “Do you know how many won’t credit you for even that much intelligence? They dehumanize us because it makes us that much easier to hate without soiling their consciences! What farmer hasn’t shot a predator for killing their herds or killed a fox for raiding their henhouses? Some men hunt deer for sport and if the antlers are big enough they hang their heads on their living room walls! No one thinks twice about it because they’re only dumb beasts, right? You’re doing the very same thing! Would it surprise you to learn it was a white man that cut the stranger down from the tree while he was still alive and rushed him to County Hospital? He paid for the man’s care out of his own pocket! Son, I can’t lift mountains with my bare hands and I sure can’t fly. A bullet will put me in my grave, but I am your father and if I ever hear that kind of talk coming out of your mouth again I’ll….”

“Jonathan, you’re getting worked up!” Ma said, escorting her husband to the opposite side of the table. “Your blood pressure…”

Pa took a seat and ran his fingers through his salt and pepper hair. A deep breath followed. “Son, there isn’t much I can do to punish you. I just pray you’ll let the Good Lord guide your heart and that you’ll always make your Ma and me proud.”

“I just want to do something useful,” Clark whispered.

His father’s eyes lit up. “Maybe there is something you can do! You’re an ace at looking things up aren’t you? Research and all that?”

Clark smiled. “My reputation precedes me.”

“I spoke with Betty Jacobs after Marvell and Emmitt’s funeral and she insisted again they owned the land legally. At first I thought she was just being proud, but she swore Emmett great-grandfather purchased it from... get this, the Luthor family after the Civil War. Which means…”

“There should be a deed or documentation of the sale somewhere at the county courthouse!” Clark exclaimed.

Ma put butter out on the table. “Now before you boys go and get mixed up in this, I don’t see how it will help matters one bit. It won’t bring back Emmett or the boy.”

“It won’t,” Pa replied. “But it’ll give them the option to sell if they want to make a new start.”

“I don’t want Clark involved,” said Ma as she poured Clark a glass of milk. “It could get dangerous.”

“If anybody’s going to get involved with danger it should be me,” Clark replied. “Tell her Pa.”

Pa nodded. “I don’t know that I’d use those same words, but the boy has a point Martha. He can take care of himself better than any of us. Besides it’s not like I’m asking him to right every wrong in Mississippi.”

Ma sighed. “I hate to think about my baby getting sucked into the petty hatreds of grown men.”

Clark reached for his mother and pulled her close to where he sat. He hugged her tightly. “I’ll be alright, Ma. Nothing can hurt me!”

Later the Same Day

Sarah’s breath felt hot on Lex Luthor’s bare chest. He tilted her head up and stared into her eyes with each awkward thrust. Whatever he lacked in experience he made up for in pure passion – he hoped.

“Don’t ever stop,” Sarah whispered in his ear.

“I won’t,” Lex swore. He lowered his mouth to Sarah’s and kissed her tenderly. The young upstairs maid was a few years older than him and he was thankful to her for finally making him a man. Their taboo relationship grew from shy glances and flirtatious smiles to sexual fruition in a matter of months. The danger made it all the more exciting. “I’m glad you like it.”

Sarah dug her nails into Lex’s back. “I love it, baby. Can we do this more often?”

Lex nodded. “As long as we don’t get caught.”

“Yes sir. I understand, Mr. Luthor, sir,” Sarah answered.

Lex rose up on his palms and straightened his elbows so he could see his lover’s ebony skin beneath him. “Call me Lex when we’re alone.”

Sarah smiled and ran her fingers through Lex’s fiery red hair. “Maybe I like to call you sir.”

Lex’s bedroom door flung open and slammed against his dresser with a thunderous bang.

“What the hell is going on here?” shouted an enraged Lionel Luthor.

Lex rolled off Sarah quickly and both grabbed whatever blankets and clothes they could find to hide their nakedness from his father.

“It’s not what it looks like!” Lex squealed as he rose to his knees. Moments before he was all sweat and swagger, a sinewy fire of testosterone and libido. The untimely intrusion emasculated him quickly.

His father’s bushy brows furrowed toward his nose like bird’s nests too heavy for the limbs on which they rested “I’m no fool boy! I’ve made love to enough women in my day to know this is exactly what it looks like! Get dressed now!”

Lex gathered his clothes and dressed hastily.

“Mr. Luthor, sir, I’m so sorry,” said Sarah. “It’s my fault! I…”

Lionel backhanded Sarah across the face. The blow knocked her from the bed to the floor. “Damn right it’s your fault, negro filth! You’re not the first woman who tried to weasel her way to the Luthor fortune on her back!”

Sarah tried to stand. “Oh no, it’s not like that, Mr. Luthor, sir. I can explain. Please don’t hurt Lex.”

Lionel’s lip’s curled in rage. A swift kick to the terrified young woman’s stomach knocked the breath from her and sent her sprawling to the floor once more.

“Hurt Lex?” Lionel screamed as he stood over her. “Your concern for my insufferable progeny is touching, but isn’t him you should worry about!”

She screamed as he kicked her again and again.

“Dad! Stop it!” Lex pleaded as he tucked his shirt into his pants. “You’re going to kill her!”

“Are you dressed yet, boy?” Lionel asked.

“All but my shoes,” Lex stammered as he slipped them on quickly without tying them.

Lex’s father squatted beside Sarah and grabbed her by the hair with his left hand. He lifted her tearful face and shook it violently as he displayed it to Lex. “You see this face, son? Will this to be your Waterloo? Your Bosworth Field? If she were even some white trash low-life I could understand, but you throw your future away for this? What if you get her pregnant? I will not have some snot-nosed mulatto running around proclaiming itself a Luthor! Do you understand me?”

Lex nodded as he fastened his cuff links. “We made a mistake. Please let her go.”

Lionel shook his head and gave Lex the same look he gave countless others when delivering bad news. “I’m sorry son. I can’t do that.”

“Don’t hurt me,” Sarah pleaded as tears poured from the corner of her eyes onto the polished wooden floor.

“Son, I could fund this miserable state’s public school system for a year with what I spend on your education! And why do I do it? To provide you the greatest opportunities money can buy and you dare throw it away on some Negro temptress after the family fortune?” Lionel shouted.

“It’s not like that,” Lex answered. “We love each other.”

The terror on Sarah’s face gave way to a surprised smile.

Lionel released his grip on Sarah and stood. With a disgusted scowl twisting his enraged face, he glared into his son’s eyes. “You goddamned fool! There are good men in this county who would hang you and your monkey playmate if they heard such crazy talk and even I wouldn’t have the money or the power to stop them! Do I make myself clear?”

Lex had never seen his father so angry. “Yes sir.”

“And what the hell do you know of love?” his father taunted. “Are you ready to die for this jungle trash?” He grabbed Lex’s head forced him to look upon Sarah.

“Don’t let him scare you baby,” Sarah pleaded. She reached an open hand for Lex’s. “Love will always find a way over hate!”

“I ask you one more time boy! Are you ready to die for her?” Lionel shouted.

Lex searched the eyes of the young woman sprawled before him. The rage in his father’s voice frightened him like never before. Perhaps the old man would kill them both. There was only one chance to save either of them.

Lex slapped Sarah’s hand away. “No father. I’m not. She disgusts me.”

Sarah collapsed in the floor at Lex’s feet and sobbed.

Lionel released Lex and smiled. “Now what are we going to do about this weeping mess of indiscretion? We can’t take a chance on her having loose lips.”

Sarah rose to her knees. “Please, I won’t tell anyone, Mr. Luthor. I swear.”

Lionel pulled a small-caliber pistol from inside his jacket and fired one shot between Sarah’s dark brown eyes. She collapsed to the floor. “No, my dear. You won’t.”

“You killed her!” Lex squealed as his lover’s blood gushed toward his leather Italian loafers. “My God! You shot her! You didn’t have to…”

“Keep your voice down!” Lionel warned as he placed the pistol in Sarah’s right hand. “Trust me. It’s for the best.”

“But you didn’t have to kill her,” Lex argued. “We could have given her hush money to shut her up or…”

Startled servants and staff filed into the room. They gasped in unbelief at the sight before them.

“Mr. Luthor, are you and Master Lex okay?” asked Bartholomew, the Luthor’s longtime butler. He traveled with them from Metropolis when they ventured to Smallville.

“We’re quite shaken up,” Lionel lied. “Lex and I were in my study and heard the shots ring out. We got here as fast as possible but it appears this poor woman stole my pistol and shot herself.”

“Should I contact the police?” Bartholomew asked.

Lionel pushed his way through the gathering household gawkers. “No. Have someone clean up this mess and do away with the body.”

Three Hours Later

Clark lobbed a smooth rock to Lana Lang who swung and missed. After searching the ground behind her for a few seconds, she found it and tossed it back to him.

The rock fell neatly into Clark’s open hand. He lobbed it once more. “Do you think we’ll ever see a day when the color of a man’s skin doesn’t matter?”

Lana swung at the rock and missed once more. It sailed into the tall grass behind her. She searched the thick grass with her sawmill slat bat but after a few seconds of fruitless searching shook her head and released the bent-over stalks. They sprung back into place. “You’re just trying to distract me, Clark Kent.”

“Sorry,” Clark apologized. “I’m not trying to. I promise.”

“You’ll have to get another one. That’s one’s a goner,” Lana answered.

“We need a catcher,” Clark laughed. Not that they really did. He could easily play pitcher and catcher with his super-speed but thought it wiser to keep that nifty trick hidden from Lana’s eyes.

While Clark searched the freshly-plowed field for another rock, Lana cocked the two-by-four slat back onto her shoulder. “Where do you come up with this stuff?”

Clark found another rock. He picked it up and sent it hurling toward the imaginary home plate. “I was thinking about what happened to the Jacobs family. Would Luthor try to chase them off their land if they were white?”

Lana swung at the rock and missed again. She placed one end of the makeshift bat on the ground and rested her weight on the other. “There are two kinds of people in this world that are hard to figure, Clark - the rich and the white. Luthor is both. Who knows what he’d do?”

“Do you think a black man could be president one day?” Clark asked as he searched the edge of the field for another perfect stone.

“Of what?” Lana asked.

Clark spotted another rock and picked it up. “The United States!”

Lana laughed. “Clark Kent! Have you lost your ever-loving mind?”

“No, I just…” Clark stumbled and fell to one knee.

“Clark, you okay?” Lana asked as she rushed to his side. She steadied him with her left hand.

“I’m just a little dizzy is all,” Clark answered. For the first time in his life it wasn’t an act to cover up his powers. He was genuinely weak. He tried to stand but stumbled into the grass and fell, narrowly missing a wild blackberry patch.

“Maybe you should take it easy,” said Lana.

“I’ll be fine,” Clark replied. “Help me to my feet.”

Lana helped Clark stand and let go of him cautiously. “You sure you’re ok?”

Clark nodded. “Good as gold,” he lied. He didn’t feel any better but didn’t want to worry Lana. After all, why worry her when nothing could hurt him?

“It’s all that talking you’re doing,” Lana admonished as she returned to the trampled-down clearing of dirt that served as home plate on their makeshift field. She picked up the sawmill slat once more and swung it back onto her shoulder with a kick. “Less talk and more pitching would be good.”

Clark struggled back toward the pitcher’s mound and lobbed the newly-discovered prize toward the plate. This time Lana’s bat found the mark and sent the fist-sized nugget zinging right back at Clark’s head. Most folks couldn’t react quickly enough to such a line drive but to Clark the rock floated along in slow motion. He had to make the inevitable impact look good for Lana’s sake.

Clark rolled his head with the impact so the rock wouldn’t explode against his invulnerable body. The stone struck him in the right eye… and blinded him with pain! He sprawled to the ground and clutched his face.

“Oh my gosh, Clark! I’m sorry!” Lana shrieked as she dropped the two-by-four and ran to him. “Are you okay?”

So this was what humans dealt with every day? Perhaps they were stronger than Clark thought. He often imagined how it felt when his Pa hurt himself on the farm or when one of the kids at school injured themselves. Pain was longer a mystery and he found the sensation most unpleasant. At last, he finally stopped writhing long enough to roll over and sit up. “That actually hurt me!”

“Of course it hurt you,” said Lana. “You just stopped a rock with your face!”

“No,” Clark protested. “I mean it barely grazed me, right?”

“Oh no! It beaned you good! I think we can rule out that Golden Glove this season,” said Lana. “Let me see.” She touched Clark’s eye gingerly. Her fingers felt soft and delicate as they traced the swollen, puffy flesh.

“That’s going to leave you with a shiner for sure,” said Lana. “I’m sorry.”

Clark took a deep breath and clasped her hand in his own. He rubbed it and looked into Lana’s eyes. “It’s okay.”

“What are you doing?” Lana asked. “That rock must have knocked you goofy, Clark Kent!”

Clark moved his hand to Lana’s face. “You’re touching my face, so I want to touch yours.”

Lana’s breathing grew shallow as Clark’s fingers brushed her cheek. “Clark, we can’t do this.”

“Why not?” Clark asked.

Lana closed her eyes and allowed Clark’s fingers to linger on her face before she pulled away from him. “I’m sorry. I… I’ve got to go.”

She ran to the edge of the plowed field and gathered her shoes before taking one final look at Clark. She disappeared into the woods that lead to her family’s small chicken farm.

And just like that Clark Kent was alone in the field with his black eye and a mystery on his hands.

The Luthor Plantation

The Luthor Plantation and its well-manicured lawns and wraparound asphalt driveway seemed more suited to the estates in the Hamptons than the Gulf region. It dated back to the Civil War and was used as a Union hospital during the Battle of Lowell County.

Perry White climbed the impressive stone steps and admired the massive front porch as he swatted a mosquito to the brilliant white, semi-gloss decking. He cursed the pest and crushed it beneath his cheap, brown loafers. Mississippi was miserable in the summer with its hellish combination of heat and humidity but such weather was ridiculous in the fall to someone from Connecticut. Seasonal cold already gripped Metropolis but at least you could tell the seasons apart.

No one answered the door so Perry fingered the bell once more. At last the large, white door opened and a maid stuck her head out but kept the door mostly closed. There was some kind of commotion happening inside.

“May I help you?” the woman asked.

Perry turned on the old charm. “Yes ma’am. I’m Perry White from the Daily Planet in Metropolis. I have an appointment with Mr. Luthor.”

The maid’s eyes grew large as golf balls. “Now’s not a good time, Mr. White.”

She tucked her head back inside once more and tried to close the door but Perry put his shoe against it and peered through the tiny opening. “I’ll only take a moment of Mr. Luthor’s valuable time.”

The maid struggled to close the door. “Please, just leave sir!”

“When shall I return to speak with Mr. Luthor then?” Perry asked. “He arranged the interview himself to discuss the new chemical plant and all the jobs it will bring to the area!”

The maid stuck her head out once again. “Do us both a favor and leave, sir. I’ve told you now’s not a good….”

“Is there a problem, Myra?” asked a deep baritone from the other side of the door.

“Oh no, no problem Mr. Sutton, sir,” the maid replied.

The door flew open.

“May I help you, sir?” asked a middle-aged man in a white, double-breasted suit. His accent was much like Perry’s own, from somewhere in the northeast. Dark sunglasses hid most of his rugged face. A bushy moustache hid the rest.

“My name is Perry White. I’m with the Daily Planet in Metropolis and I have an appointment to see Mr. Luthor about…”

The man cut Perry off. “Now isn’t a good time.”

Perry nodded. “That much is clear. If you’ll tell me when I can come back…”

Two men passed behind Sutton carrying a body on a makeshift stretcher. It was covered by a bloody white sheet. A brown-skinned arm dangled from beneath the sheet. Perry immediately zeroed in on the long fingernails. The dead person was a female.

“Oh my! What happened to that poor woman?” Perry asked.

Sutton looked alarmed when he realized Perry saw the body. “None of this concerns you Mr. White. I’d advise you to move along and forget what you’ve seen here.”

“Shall I call an ambulance? I’ll help any way I can,” Perry offered.

Sutton removed his sunglasses. The bright sun forced him to squint but the effect was intimidating. “You have been asked politely, Mr. White! You’re making a difficult situation worse! Leave or you will be removed from the premises by force!”

Perry glimpsed again over Sutton’s shoulder to commit every detail to memory he could. He finally threw up his hands in surrender. “Ok, pal! I don’t want to be pushy! Please have Mr. Luthor call me to reschedule. I’m staying at the Highway 49 Motor Lodge.”

“Goodbye, Mr. White!” said Sutton as he closed the door.

Perry’s journalistic instincts were in overdrive as he descended the white, stone staircase. “Now what the devil do you suppose that was about Perry, old boy?”

Rescheduling would have been an acceptable option but Perry wasn’t the kind to leave well enough alone when he smelled a story. Perhaps digging up some dirt on old Lionel Luthor would finally get him out of Taylor’s doghouse at the Planet. He hopped in his car and started the ignition. A moment later he left Luthor’s driveway and took a right.

Perry drove his Buick about a quarter of a mile north of the mansion and found a wide spot by the side of the road and parked. Gathering up his camera and binoculars he set out for the mansion grounds on foot. He spied a small wooded area adjacent to the mansion earlier. Hopefully it would provide enough cover for him to investigate further.

Cutting across a field, Perry reached a barbed wire fence. He lifted the top length and stepped through. Once safe on the mansion grounds he released the barbed wire and snuck through the wooded area to a second fence. He could see the grounds clearly. It appeared Luthor’s men were burying the dead woman in the backyard.

“Good thing I brought my zoom lens,” Perry whispered to himself.

The camera sounded ominously loud but the tell-tale clack of the shutter and winding film didn’t alert the grave diggers to his activities. In all, Perry shot two rolls of footage before deciding he was pushing his luck. He turned to leave but was cut off by four of Luthor’s men, led by Sutton.

“You don’t listen well, Mr. White!” bellowed Sutton’s deep baritone. “

“I forgot something,” Perry stammered. “I didn’t want to bother you. It seemed you had a lot going on.”

“The camera boys,” Sutton ordered.

Two barrel-chested goons rushed Perry and overpowered him. He cradled his camera to his body but the hired muscle was too strong and wrenched it from his hands.

“That’s a two-hundred dollar camera!” Perry shouted. “I demand you return it to me at once!”

One of the men tossed the camera to Sutton.

“Two-hundred dollars? Is that so?” Sutton mocked. “That’s a lot of money for a camera, huh boys? He opened the camera. “I bet the film’s worth even more, huh?”

“No, don’t expose the film!” Perry demanded. “Or I’ll …”

“You’ll what?” Sutton mocked. “Surely you’re not threatening violence, Mr. White? That would be a real shame. Now wouldn’t it boys?”

“A real shame,” agreed one of the men who took the camera. He cracked his knuckles.

“Your threats don’t scare me!” said Perry.

Sutton laughed. “We’re not here to threaten you, Mr. White. We’re here to welcome you to Smallville.”

A large right hand from the man who tussled for the camera caught Perry in the jaw and dropped him to the ground. “My name’s Simpson,” the man said. “Welcome to Smallville.”

Perry felt like he’d been kicked by a mule. A steel-toed boot caught him in the ribs and knocked the breath out of him.

“The name’s Warner,” said the man who kicked him. “We love visitors in these parts, Mr. White. We have a special evening planned just for you!”

To be continued ...

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