"Gabe Sullivan betrayed this company," he said, automatically glancing in the direction of the papers. A lock of unruly brown hair fell into his eyes, and he pushed it back impatiently, nose wrinkling. "I can't maintain the appearance of authority if I allow myself to be defied like that."
"What if this makes you look petty, instead of strong?" she demanded. "Do you really want the press to start insinuating that you're persecuting an entire small town just because your son's building his own life there?"
He inhaled, pressed his lips together, and looked downwards. More strands of hair fell into his eyes. "It's gracious of you to remind me of that."
She'd brought up a little boy herself, and she recognized the gesture--he was playing on his own appearance of vulnerability. Still, it was more effective than she wanted to admit. She remembered vividly the way Lionel had looked the night that he stood, immaculate and calm, outside the plant and waited for their sons to die. A finely-tailored suit, a perfectly-knotted tie, and a splendid, sleek mane that even the helicopter ride in hadn't disturbed. Now, though, it was different. This was not one of the worst days, the days when he shuffled and mumbled and made whining demands, but still his hair was a mass of untidy curls, waving uncertainly about his face. It aged him fifteen years on the spot.
"I'm sorry," she said, though she wasn't, particularly.
He looked back up. "Well, I do value your opinion. Even if it's not always tactfully-expressed. You speak with the voice of the people." He pushed the stray hair away again and frowned.
That was just another of his complicated remarks that it would take a month to unwind, if Martha let herself get caught up in it. Instead, she seized on the opportunity to change the subject. "Would you like for me to arrange to have a barber pay a visit?"
"I don't trust a local barber now that I can't see his handiwork."
"Oh, Lionel, you can't seriously think a hairdresser would play a prank on you."
"Well, I'm certain my wife used to slip my old barber something on the side to make my hair shorter than I asked for. God only knows what Lex would do, given the opportunity. He does have certain issues."
"I could do it."
He raised an eyebrow. "Martha, I certainly didn't hire you as my valet."
She was already regretting the strange little impulse, but she persisted. She was a practical woman, a farmer's wife, not too squeamish to handle chores that needed to be done. "I cut Jonathan's and Clark's hair all the time. It wouldn't be any trouble."
He chuckled to himself. "Well, if it's good enough for your family, it's certainly good enough for me."
Of course, she cut her family's hair in the kitchen, with her husband or son perched on a stool. There'd be sunshine flooding the room, along with the smell of the brownies in the oven. Lionel reclined at his ease in a chair in the armory, towels draped over the floor to protect it. As usual, the only smells in the place were old wood, stone, and the cologne of the Luthor who'd been in the room last. Instead of kitchen shears in one hand and bowl in the other, she'd been brought a mister and a pair of scissors that looked as though they could double as a precision murder weapon.
"How do you want it, Lionel? I can't do anything too fancy."
"I put the problem in your hands," he said, took off his glasses, and closed his eyes. Without the glasses, he looked even older and more vulnerable. So many people would be tempted to seize the opportunity to plunge the scissors in his throat. How many problems would it solve? How many secrets would it bury?
Disconcerted, she shook her head and bent to her task. She sprayed his hair with water and then lifted it up with one hand. The strands tumbled down, insinuating themselves around her fingers. Lionel sighed, doubtless feeling the tingle of having the weight shifted on his scalp in an unusual way. Despite the hair's disarray, it was still lustrous, shiny and soft, though disquietingly thick. She began snipping almost at once.
Cutting Jonathan's hair wasn't like this. Neither was cutting Clark's. She clipped both of them close as they squirmed, obviously eager to get done with the "girly stuff" and on with whatever was more important in their lives. Lionel, on the other hand, seemed perfectly content to lean back and devote the time to getting the proper effect. Judging from his serene expression, he was even appreciating the moment.
In the silence, she could hear the heavy whisper of hair falling to the floor. "So," she said uncomfortably, "your wife had red hair?"
"Lillian? Yes. A lovely shade of mahogany," he said thoughtfully. "Even when she was too ill to sit up, her hair was vibrant. I've always appreciated the...liveliness of redheads. The way the color can shine through the darkness."
Perhaps that hadn't been the best choice of topics, after all. "I...see," she said noncommittally.
"Lex's hair was even brighter. She took the loss very hard--maybe even harder than he did. But, then, they were quite close."
The frightening thing was that Martha could picture it--Mrs. Luthor seeing the brightness of her child stolen before her eyes, and nothing she could do about it. Knowing that no sign of her own life would remain after she was gone.
Martha's child would never, ever, look like her.
"Lex thinks the world of you," Lionel observed softly, after a pause. "I'm sure his mother wouldn't mind."
She cleared her throat. "That's very...very kind of Lex." She snipped with more determination.
"Martha." He reached up to stop her. "I can feel your hands shaking. Are you all right?"
The roughness of his hand, its age, was shocking. She tried to laugh. "I'm fine."
"Are you sure? A barber with an unsteady hand is a dangerous thing."
She withdrew her hand. "I think I can manage not to decapitate you."
It only took a few minutes to finish. She took the towels from around Lionel's neck, and he sat up and patted at his head. "Much better," he said approvingly. "Not as striking, perhaps, but more manageable. Closer to local custom."
"When in Rome," she said half-heartedly, and handed the tools to the servants who were appearing to straighten everything up. "Do you want me to get you those papers now?"
"The foreclosure papers?" He rose from the chair. "No, I think it would be best to let that go. At least for now."
She frowned. "But I thought you wanted--"
He waved a hand. "You've persuaded me not to, Martha."
She stared at him, blood draining from her cheeks. The insinuation was...but how could she argue with him, when she didn't want him to change his mind? She pursed her lips again fiercely and said nothing.
"I think I'll get some rest now," Lionel said, as though oblivious. "Perhaps you'd care to join me? I'm sure we have a room you could use to get some sleep before our evening meeting."
"Actually, Lionel, there are some things I've got to do at home. I'll be back in time for us to prepare for the meeting."
"As you prefer." He nodded magnaminously, took the arm of a servant, and strolled off.
She was glad the servant had taken the scissors away.