By Debby Stark Debby@swcp.com
May 26, 1995
Summary: Clark has a conversation with his agent, Murray; and his story on corruption is published. Also, Lois cooks for Clark. Which situation proves the most dangerous? :-)
This continues the story started in Dawning and continued in Dawning II, 3 and 4. If you missed any of those — and they really should be read first — ask me or visit my ftp site (ftp.swcp.com, pub/users/dstark) or ask the fanfic index keeper for them. All recognizable characters mentioned below are the property of their respective owners, but the ideas are mine.
The Metropolitan Insurance Building was one of the city's first skyscrapers. Its twelve stories had been markedly dwarfed when, to the east of it, more than a century later in the early 1980s, a 45-story addition to Sidbury Place had been erected. The old MIB was enshrouded in shadow at 7:30 Saturday morning, which was just fine with Clark as he hovered outside the eighth-story east-side window that almost three years earlier Murray Brown had discovered could be pried open from within. Murray had gone to great pains to look for an alternative entrance once he realized that his most illustrious client was uncomfortable taking the elevator even on a quiet weekend. Using the doors to the roof had been a possibility until he had discovered they were alarmed and usually locked and that Superman refused to disturb the peace and break them down. Dressing in trench coats and meeting in the park across the street a second time was out of the question as well. The window was the entryway of choice.
A glance through the granite wall showed that Murray was hurrying out of the elevator and that he had his small transistor radio held to his ear, listening intently to one of the city's all-news stations. Clark had listened to the news at home and as far as he knew, there was nothing happening that required his undivided attention. That was reconfirmed by what he overheard now, so there was still no reason he couldn't spend some time participating in the world of big business.
After seeing Lois safely home the night before from a discrete distance, he had helped put out a fire in an ice cream factory, cooled off a gang rumble, rescued a bus that had careened off a county bridge and almost into a creek, and done other various and sundry useful things. All this had made him feel that the night had continued to be a good one after Lois had seen him home safely. Just before dawn he had gotten in a few winks that included a dream remembrance of the lightning-interrupted kiss at the ballpark. He had made a delicious breakfast for himself and now figured he had the strength to face the inevitable paperwork that went into being an almost one-man nonprofit organization.
Murray smiled and waved through the window. Superman returned the smile calmly and nodded securely. He knew Murray was afraid of heights and would welcome the gesture.
The man pulled out a screw driver and began working on the window. He had claimed once that he had breaking and entering down to an art — then laughed and denied it all when Superman's chuckle wasn't as appreciative as it might have been.
In a moment the lock let loose and Murray stepped back quickly. Clark pushed the window open, noted the warmer, somewhat stale air of the building, stepped in, and closed the window behind him. "Good morning," he said in an even and polite manner. As vibrant and bold as Murray had been chasing him down and convincing him that he needed the protection of a publicist, Clark thought that the man appreciated this bit of reassurance, too, when faced with his most colorful client, so their meetings frequently started out this way.
"I'm glad you could get here! Right on time!"
"I try. Shall we…?" Superman indicated the door to the stairwell, and Murray nodded and rushed over to it. They walked (Murray walked, Superman floated effortlessly) down to six, exchanging a few pleasantries about the weather but nothing more until Murray had showed Superman into his office and made sure the door was closed securely.
Superman stood back and watched passively, arms folded before his chest, as Murray rushed about the waiting room and his office, straightening things up a bit, checking the water in the flowers, evening up the paintings, and finding the proper chair for his client. Beverly, Murray's secretary, stood in the doorway to her office, blocking his entry (he didn't even try to get in there), and looked on with concern, as she always did. The office was neat and welcoming, due no doubt to her efforts, but that never seemed to matter. Surely she had Murray pegged by now, Clark thought. Even he knew the man would calm down soon.
In a few minutes Murray indicated his office was ready. "Here, come in, come in, sit down, take a load off…"
"Thank you." Let's cut to the chase, he almost said. He was sure that Murray had figured out early on that these visits to take care of business weren't his most favorite thing about being Superman. "You had papers to be signed…?
"In a hurry, hmm? You do look preoccupied — not that I don't understand, not at all, you're a busy fellow…"
Clark ordered himself to try to relax. "I am a little preoccupied, but it's nothing to worry about," nothing astounding, just some wonderful little things in his personal life that he couldn't be contemplating or nursing along because he had to be here.
"We'll get right down to work then. Bev?"
There was a file folder full of papers and Beverly, who had no doubt put them in proper order, passed it to Superman, He read over the paperwork quickly (really quickly), asked questions, and, some ten minutes later, was convinced that all was well and that he could safely sign his registered signature. Early in their business relationship, Murray had made some inadvertent mistakes and Clark had barely caught them, relying not on his minimal knowledge of legal document styles but on pure instinct about a not-rightness in them. Though a chastened Murray had quickly become more conscientious, Clark now read everything thoroughly. The paperwork made little more sense now than it had some three years earlier, but the writing had grown tighter, less jargon filled, and frankly easier to understand. It still didn't mean that he would sign everything shoved under his nose, but at least Clark felt he understood and agreed to what he was getting into. And so far it had worked out okay.
Beverly, who had been sitting quietly off to the side trying not to stare at him (one would think, Clark thought, that after all this time she might be a little more at ease…), witnessed his signatures and signed and filled out the notary portions. He thanked her and she just about blushed as she left to work on the papers in the quiet of her own office.
"I'm giving her another raise," Murray whispered.
"The revenue you bring in from the T-shirts alone easily covers her salary and most of her pension fund…" He gave Superman a penetrating look. "But you don't want to hear about that."
"No, I am glad to hear it," and that was only a little lie. Clark cared about the people who were, in effect, his employees, but he would have preferred to sit around and chat with them and eat pizza or watch a football game, even with Murray. That was difficult while he was in the suit, the only way he came here. Except the first time, in the trench coat and fedora. "Tell me how things are going."
This had become a ritual, too. It signaled that he was ready for Murray to give him an update on the business and then to review what Superman had done since they had last gotten together, almost a month earlier, and to relate it to future prospects for favorable business dealings.
To put it simply, and Murray had learned when to put things simply, money was rolling in at a steady pace. All the charities were happy. Murray and Beverly where happy. The lawyers weren't happy, but they didn't have any lawsuits to play with at the moment and foresaw none on the horizon.
"Too bad," Superman said. He did not exactly dislike lawyers, but there were times he wished nine tenths of them had gone into other, more useful lines of work and the remaining tenth would go into hiding for their own safety so he would not have to rescue any of them for any reason at any time ever.
"Yes, too bad for them, they should have known better than to agree to work on commission. Well, there's a unsubstantiated rumor — what other kind is there? I know — that Spielburg is looking into doing a Slime Monster movie. An epic, bigger even than Jurassic II."
"Yes. And it wouldn't require much plot, would it? A lot of special effects and a few big-name actors. You wouldn't be interested in moving to Hollywood for a few months, would you? Did you do any acting in, say, high school? If you went to high school, that is…"
"I'm not interested in moving to Hollywood."
"No, of course not, though you'd have a good chance at the lead — just joking!" he laughed.
Superman smiled politely. Clark noted that Murray was having a hard time settling down. He was glad he had told Lois he wouldn't be at work until 9 because it looked like this could be a long session. "While we might have interests, I don't think we would have any rights in a proposed movie because I don't have a claim to the story. It just happened. I didn't even think up the Slime Monster name. That can be credited to a Marie Rose at the Metropolis Star," and he recalled the woman trying to catch him for an interview and having to save her from being crushed by a collapsing building. She had clung to him a moment longer than necessary, thanked him genuinely — and proceeded to question him as persistently as Lois might have. He had begged off quickly as the Slime Monster had begun to bumble its way in the direction of the Metropolis Zoo, which could not be allowed.
"Hmm," Murray looked thoughtful, the cogs turning, "I'll have to talk to her… And you haven't given any interviews about what happened, have you…"
"No, none — except a brief one to Clark Kent. He caught me right after the Monster expired."
"Ha, expired, yes, that's putting it mildly. But it's a bit too late for interviews now, the monster is last week's news."
Lost opportunities, eh? No pictures of him hovering triumphantly over the slimy remains… and Clark was truly glad about that. "Then let's move on to this week's news."
"This week's…" Murray settled down, leaned forward comfortably, and opened a second file, this one full of letters and colorful proposals. He leafed through them, making it a big production. The awful, sure-to-be-rejected ideas would come now. "That condom manufacturer is pressing us again. They say you wouldn't actually have to appear in their commercials…"
Clark could see that this was threatening to become a running joke. In their last proposal the condom makers had sent a sample of what they wanted to manufacture. Clark had been tempted to try shoving the hideously funny thing 50 million years into hyperspace. "Never."
"Yes, that's time frame I was thinking of mentioning to them."
"Shred the letter — no, puncture holes in it and send it back to them."
"That's a good idea," he smiled, but Clark doubted his agent would close their options so pointedly. "We've also gotten a query from a famous manufacturer of men's underwear. They'd like to use the shield on a new line of boxer shorts and get your endorsement and have you do a print layout as well."
"That's what I told them."
"At least about the endorsement and the layout. I told them the boxer shorts idea would be considered at length and we would get back to them, even though we both know you're more of a briefs man…"
Superman gave him a that-was-almost-funny smile.
It bounced right off Murray, who was at last into the swing of things and expecting such reactions from the almost fidgety Client of Steel. Murray seemed to think it was his job to tickle Superman occasionally, when Clark would rather that someone else think it was *her* job… Hmm, and the way Lois was acting, it was looking like she might get that idea, too — and try it on the person he preferred she tickle…
Murray drew his attention back. "The Metropolis Rosarians are wondering if you would like to have a rose named after you. It happens all the time with celebrities…"
"That might be interesting."
"Ah, good, and we'll make sure it's a fancy one with a long lasting bloom. No duds for you…"
"Something organically grown."
"Right, stress protecting the environment, I like that, too," and with the favorable response, Murray started a new pile for go-ahead projects. The pile stayed small though as he went over letter after letter. Near the end he sighed. "I suppose you haven't changed your mind about the beefcake calendar or the beach one…"
"But there is one that might be interesting, and it comes right from the charity itself…"
It was a proposal or a calendar made up of pictures of Superman helping children or doing things of interest to children, such as rescuing animals. Someone had collected about three dozen such pictures from a wide variety of sources, Murray explained as he handed them over. "They want us to choose 14 for the calendar, which they'll sell as a fundraising device. Personally, I think they're all good."
Clark had heard of the charity and agreed with its aims and methods. He went through the pictures quickly and approved of their quality. "This is a good idea and I approve of it, but I don't think I'm the one to ask about which pictures to use. Maybe you should ask a potential consumer, like…" and he aimed a thumb at the door.
"Bev? Hey, yeah, good idea. Just a minute." Murray picked up the portfolio and took the pictures out to her in her office. Clark heard him explain what she was needed for, to chose pictures for a proposed calendar.
"The beach one?" she interrupted in excited tones.
"No, no — "
Beverly gasped. "Then it's the 'Superman at Rest and Play'! Oh, there *is* a god!"
Why am I here? Clark wondered. I could be anywhere else in the world in ten seconds, five with a tail wind, even at work, in a tete- a-tete with Lois, and I'm stuck *here*…
"No, no, no, not that one, calm down, he might hear you…"
"Oh. Well… — Well, I hope he does! — did! — Gimme that! …and to think I gave up my Saturday for this…"
"Oh, it's nothing, Murray, don't worry… darn…"
Murray explained the calendar idea and Beverly sighed heavily, further disappointed. Clark peeked and saw her flipping through the heart-warming, family-oriented pictures. She paused at one. "Well, this one's cute, if you're five years old…"
"You wouldn't buy it then? Look, these people will get all the profits…" and he pointed out the name of the charity.
"Them? Oh, well, sure, I'd buy one…" She proceeded to choose 14 pictures at random. "They're all okay, really. Maybe I'd buy two, one for my niece and one for me, I guess… The other ones aren't lost causes, are they?"
Murray must have shrugged and may have added a wink, Clark had stopped watching by then. The next time he saw Beverly, as he was leaving half an hour later, she looked polite but not exactly in awe. Good grief, he thought, what did women want? Don't answer that, he told himself. He considered mentioning "I'm *not* gay…" but that might not have been what she was thinking and it have could just made things worse…
Murray was all smiles when he returned. "How about these?" and he held them out.
Superman didn't take them. "I'm sure they're fine. Can they get a calendar for next year out this late?"
"I guess so, the letter was dated only last Wednesday, so they must think they can. I'll FedEx these back this afternoon."
"Okay. Anything else?"
Three new T-shirt designs, some flame-resistant pajamas for children under six, a coloring book, and more… all harmless material that Superman instructed his agent to go forward with looking into approving and working up contracts on.
As Murray was wrapping up their meeting, he asked if Superman would after all be willing to give any interviews about the battle with the Slime Monster. There had been queries from prestigious magazines that had more lead time than newspapers.
There were always that kind of query, no matter the occasion, Clark thought. "I don't know, it depends on the reporter and the publication, I suppose."
"I know you tend to stick with the Daily Planet, but we should get you talking to more people and people from out of town, national rags — and international ones. We had you on a roll last March, after you defused the bombs at the Oscars ceremony — and I don't mean the movies that were up for best, either."
"I know." They had gone over this before.
"Michelle Pfeiffer giving you that big, sexy kiss, and your reaction! You couldn't have done better if I'd coached you myself. Are you *sure* you haven't taken acting lessons, in high school maybe?"
"I wasn't acting."
"You're a natural, I knew it. But since then it's been quiet — up until the Slime Monster, that is. There's the shuttle rescue to consider, that was spectacular, and I haven't heard a peep out of you about it. I think we can hit the popular scientific press and maybe the astronomy magazines for that. NASA should probably give you an award, too. I wonder what happened to that notepad you used…" hint- hint.
"It wasn't mine. I returned it to my friend, and what she wants to do with it — "
"Lois Lane? Don't look at me like that, everyone knows she's your favorite… reporter."
"I'd prefer that no one bother her," he said slowly, emphasizing it, and he wished he hadn't relaxed and said anything at all. While Lois got into — and out of — plenty of trouble on her own, he hated the idea that some of that trouble was because of her relationship to him, the guy in the tights.
He saw Murray nod seriously; the wish would be respected. That made Clark feel better, so he said mildly, "I don't expect any awards, you know I don't do it for that — and *I* know all your arguments and that you mean well. Any awards should come in the natural course of things, *not* pushed." During a meeting early in their relationship, Murray had mentioned off handedly that he had planted some suggestions in ears of people in the know that a ceremony was in order to thank Superman for some superfeat or another that he had performed, saving thousands of people or millions of dollars or both.
Superman had informed his agent in no uncertain terms that such suggestions were not to be made on his behalf. Period. Superman was *not* publicity seeker. Making sure that profits from sales of merchandise went to charities and that his name and image weren't used in an unseemly manner were the only reasons he was employing Murray at all. Murray had grumbled about that but had worked around the limitations, Clark had been generally agreed that the resulting few honors were worth receiving, and there had been no ribbon cuttings to open fast food joints.
Superman stood up. "As for interviews for the articles, look into it if you want," which while not a rejection was not an acceptance of the idea, either. "Since you don't have anything more for me…"
"There's one more thing, that autobiography you've been considering writing — "
"No, *you've* been considering me writing one."
"Waldecker's book, what was it called? 'A Moment of Resplendence'? — geesh, what a title! — but that sold millions when they figured out tying it in to Lex Luthor's reappearance on its third printing. A *real* hero like you, well… I've put out some discrete feelers — *very* discrete — looking for good ghost writers — I know, you already know some writers, but they're all *newspaper* reporters and that's not what we're looking for. We want someone with real, published talent."
"I already know people with real talent," and bringing up Waldo's accomplishments wouldn't work because he, Clark, had helped the anxious little man write his book about his experiences — on the condition that he, Clark, not be cited in any way, shape or manner as an assistant.
"There's an idea, you can talk to them about helping you."
He almost said no immediately, but eased off to "Maybe, someday. Give me ten years on the job and I may have something poetic I want to say about it. Before that, no." But he realized the futility of his argument because of course Murray wouldn't let the idea rest. Still, the man put it aside for today as he had gotten in his regular watering of the seed of the idea plus a side dressing of compost.
If anything is to be written from my point of view, Clark thought, I'll write it myself. Just not in the prose of a newspaper reporter. No sweat.
Murray accompanied him back up to the eighth-floor window, chatting pleasantly about the potential for a variety of other, less strenuous ventures. Clark largely tuned him out except for key words, but none of them were uttered, so he only had to grunt encouragingly now and then. He was instead thinking about the day ahead and looking forward to his talk with Perry. He was anxious to tackle that challenge.
"Well, kid, here we are," Murray indicated the window, "You don't have to be polite any more."
"I know you think I'm boring sometimes, but, believe me, learning how to put up with the likes of me builds your character."
"After me, you're ready for the next time Lex Luthor sticks his shiny head above ground. He better watch out!"
Superman smiled. "Murray, you're right. Have you had a raise recently?"
"Yes. You signed off on one it early in August."
"Oh. Then we'll call this an insightful interlude."
"Hmm, that's a good one. Kid, don't let anyone ever tell you that you don't have a sense of humor. And you claim you can't act or write, but I wonder…"
Clark could almost see Murray's gears turning. Time to escape after clearing up one thing. "I never claimed I couldn't write."
Superman opened the window, assured Murray he would be careful and keep in touch, stepped out onto the air, and stayed there until the smiling man had the window securely closed and locked again. Then Superman waved good bye and zipped away.
Lois Lane was upset, which, when she reflected upon it, wasn't exactly surprising.
As she played with her pencil, she looked around herself again and sighed. From her desk she could see the 21-inch color TV on its high stand; some twenty minutes earlier it had been wheeled in from storage to its customary place across the newsroom. It was showing all who cared to watch the live (she hoped) breaking news from Atlanta. If she turned 180 degrees, she could see the elevator doors, which looked as blank and unassuming as white bread.
What she couldn't see was Clark, which was all right. What wasn't all right was that no one was seeing Superman fixing things in Atlanta.
Clark had told her that he had some business to take care of this morning, and since he hadn't given her some bizarre, barely believable story — which she knew now could be a cover for Superman activity — it might actually have been some real-life business that didn't concern anybody with superpowers at all. Maybe he was dealing with something financial, like a meeting with the credit union people or even his landlord. Something dull probably, too, something he hadn't felt like lying about (which was promising in a way), something taking place where there was no reason to listen to the news or he would certainly have rushed to Atlanta, have fixed things, the TV wouldn't be blaring away, and she could be concentrating on writing the side bar on Councilman Smith she was going to propose that Perry allow to accompany Clark's article.
Darn that Clark!
She pulled herself back from that when she realized she had almost broken her mechanical pencil.
I'm mad at him because he's *not* being Superman, because he hasn't been Superman and gotten things done, because he's not in here right now being Clark getting ready to talk to Perry so I can ride in on his coat-tails with my own proposal…
She closed her eyes and sighed. Listen to yourself, girl!
Back in Smallville on that Saturday morning a week ago, after Martha had shown her Kent's Hole and then left her there in peace to think, Lois had fallen into and waded hip deep through a swamp of anger. She was, after all, alone, truly by herself for as long as she wanted to be and totally unlikely to be disturbed, all this for the first time since Thursday morning. She could feel completely safe in expressing any feelings she had, and to realize that important things had been bugging her. They had been bottled up, lurking uncomfortably in the back of her mind for days and there — while she sat innocently enjoying nature, listening to the creek, contemplating the shrubbery and watching a robin hop about looking for something to eat — it deluged her with full, boggy force.
Clark Kent, you're a worm!
Why hadn't he told her *before* she had to find it out on her own? Why hadn't he just plain *told* her? Why hadn't they had a nice, long, warm, comfortable talk about it like the good friends she had *thought* they were? What was the hold up? What was *wrong* with him?
Lois had paced about, kicked a few trees (which hadn't seem to notice), and worked the worst of the alligators out of her system. That had cleared her mind enough so that she could sit down again and remind herself that she had all the time she needed to think about it in depth and rationally — which she wouldn't have had if Clark had simply taken her aside and told her the truth like he should have, there was that. He would have been right there, watching for her reaction, an anxious, hopeful, puppy-dog look in his eyes… which Lois knew she couldn't have faced with much grace, she admitted, particularly considering how blind she realized she had been about *so much…* Yeah, she would have gotten angry at him, plenty angry… but even more angry at herself, for not having figured it out, for not having known everything already, for letting him fool her when maybe that hadn't originally been his intention…
So now, with the gift of time to think — and it truly was a gift — she could compose herself, see that there was certainly no rush to get to know the real Clark, and enjoy the added benefit of never having to mention her now rapidly cooling indignation to Martha. The woman would have been alarmed at that reaction and probably worried about her initial bemused and then accepting reaction to Lois finding out. Like she could have convinced me over the phone that I hadn't seen what I saw… Angry? Alarmed? Hey, Lois thought, she was alarmed at herself: anger never solved anything, though it generally felt pretty good to express at the time.
There were probably a lot of reasons why Clark hadn't told her, and they were surely covered by the ones she came up with as she looked over their relationship from as many different angles as she could think of during the following days.
First, of course, she had started off on the wrong foot by making herself a most unlikely candidate to whom to be telling an earth- shaking secret. She simply hadn't been very impressed — no, she had been totally unimpressed by Clark Kent right from the beginning, and she hadn't hesitated to make that crystal clear. Perry had foisted the big, inexperienced kid off on her just as she was launching into an important story and she had no desire to drag Mr. Hack from Hicksville along, explain what was happening in words of few syllables, and keep him out of trouble, too.
I even warned him not to fall for me…
Way to go, girl…
Then the guy in blue tights showed up and he was like absolutely no one else she had ever met. He was without a doubt the best thing she'd seen in her entire life. Indeed, he was, she smiled at herself secretly, in many ways (other than physical) her equal. He was bright, handsome, terrifically strong, good looking, could fly, was easy on the eyes, was faster than fast, attractive, noble to a fault, and pleasing to gaze upon.
And, of course, he gave every indication of liking her, too. Hmm, he had good taste as well. He seemed to have the desire to hang around her (sometimes literally) in between stopping runaway trains, fighting evil villains and doing whatever else it was he did with his life, like sleep maybe. There was no indication that he took the time to make small talk with anyone else but her. Not much small talk, admittedly, nothing deep, meaningful and revealing actually, unless he was under a lot of stress or hurt; he would talk a little more then. She had often wished he'd stick around after the dinners she had slaved over and talk without feeling under any stress at all, that he would indicate that he wanted to stay a long time, like through the late show and tell her about his life and more. But, nope, a dance, a kiss, and fly away…
It could have been worse, he could have made her feel used. As it was, she felt underused… maybe, she reflected, that was one reason she hadn't been making any particular effort to see him in the last several months.
Clark? Well, he was all right. He was an okay reporter, he knew how to wear a jacket and tie and looked good out of them, too, the few times she had accidentally seen him in a state of semi-undress. He talked to her — well, listened a lot — and he was bright though quiet, intelligent under stress, could occasionally tell a good joke, and, like a brother, he was always there, except for when he ran off to call the police or try a different, out-of-sight approach to some problem and just miss seeing Superman arrive… But compared point for point to the Man of Steel, poor Clark, a man of no mystery at all, just faded right into the wallpaper…
Which of course went a long way toward explaining why he hadn't told her. She had figured that out already: Clark probably thought that after getting angry at him for not trusting and confiding in her, she would become very disappointed. She could imagine herself throwing up her hands: "So *you're* the one hiding under the suit! Is that all there is? Okay, I can't do anything about it. I guess good things just never last…"
She could imagine it, yes, but actually doing and saying all that? God, she hoped she'd never do something so hurtful to anyone unless they really deserved it, and Clark certainly didn't.
Her girlish crush on Superman had cooled and matured (she hoped) over the last couple of years. It was hard to believe that she used to drop everything, even in the middle of a conversation with Clark, to rush to the roof on the rumor of a sighting. She recalled noting once the pained expression on Clark's face when she'd said something about Superman — and that she had passed it off as jealousy…
To give herself credit, she thought she was not only maturing in that aspect of her life, but that she had opened herself up to seeing more in Clark than his being a partner/rival. He had, over time, become her best friend and confidant. She could crash at his place, she knew he wouldn't use what he found out about her against her, and, when he stuck around long enough, she felt free to tell him her deeper feelings.
Or course, she thought, if she looked into it, she could probably correlate all his unsticking around with Superman's overt activities… but that wasn't important now.
What was important was: did he see her as anything resembling a best friend?
Well, yes. No, a definite yes. He was still here, hovering in his own normal, mild-mannered way, when he could have easily gotten a job at any other paper and found any number women who would fawn all over him. And he had actually told her quite a few times how much he valued their friendship when they weren't arguing with each other. It seemed, too, that he had enjoyed all their time together a week ago Thursday as much as she had, even if at times she had acted like what she now thought was a giddy fool… Yet he hadn't run off, not even once. That was important.
But was she his confidant?
She sighed. The answer to that was too easy: no, most definitely not.
And, darn it all, she could understand why.
There were the rare moments, like last night, when he expressed some personal opinion, some feeling he had and not in a joking what- I-think-is-unimportant manner. More often he tended to volunteer his feelings in the form of a complaint about something she was doing, but, hey, those were the breaks. She was doing him a favor really: who else did he have to complain to? Martha and Jonathan, yes, but that was a special case, and he couldn't rush home with every hangnail… No, Clark didn't seem to hesitate to complain at her, from rolling his eyes and muttering under his breath to letting her have it in no uncertain terms, but it was usually — no, it was just about always about the stories they were working on and the approaches to them she would decide they should take. It was hard to think of any times where they had just started talking and gotten some things out in the open, even if it was only about taxes or politics.
Which reminded her that she didn't have the slightest idea who he had voted for in the last elections, while she had made it known just who she thought were the crooks…
Actually, it was easy to think of times when they had *started* talking, but something, some emergency would call him away, or they'd be interrupted by just any old thing coming by, be it a friend, a villain or a speeding inanimate object.
If they had gotten a chance to talk at length in any of those tense, potentially passionate times, she thought, he would have listened attentively.
Which, she sighed, was one sided. When he was around, he always listened, he was always passively receiving.
While I'm… tossing everything at him and expecting he'll catch it if he can.
I bet… he thinks I don't listen to him…
That could explain why he let himself be drawn away by what had to be less-than-life-threatening situations sometimes. She bet that he felt less inclined to stick around during conversations wherein he thought he wasn't going to get a good word in edgewise.
But, she informed herself sternly, I *do* listen!
It's just that what he says isn't always… helpful.
Even though he's Superman…
That didn't matter, Superman got in trouble, too, and he'd never — *Clark* had never complained while in the suit.
And why not? He had plenty to complain about, jail cells full of villains, countless numbers of accidents to rescue people from, natural disasters to be dealt with, a woman who wanted to rip that suit off and find the real man when he'd been standing over there blending in with the wallpaper and saying "Ah, Lois?"
She blinked and checked the time. 8:52. No Clark, no Superman, no good end in sight for the mess in Atlanta.
She sighed. Superman, complain? No, and he couldn't, because he more than anyone would realize he was people's last hope sometimes…
A major responsibility…
…to carry all alone.
It wasn't like he *had* to carry it alone, he could have come to her long before, the…
Good grief, she thought, she had just about called Superman a jerk…
Well, he's them, him, they're — *Clark* could be a real jerk some times, so Superman could be, too. And maybe he needed to hear it in the altogether from someone other than his folks, because Martha had made it clear that she and Jonathan held little back from their son (except, in Martha's case, Lois's secret).
But mild-mannered, big-secret Clark could and did complain, about comparatively little things, maybe that was the only way he had to release his feelings safely, and he would complain at her… when she was in the mood to listen.
What he didn't do, though — and this was the serious part, she realized — was just talk. To her. And maybe, just maybe, it was because he thought that — unlike his folks, unlike when he was Superman — she wouldn't listen.
So she came to the firm conclusion now that getting him to talk was her new assignment, her new plan. Even if it was only about more little things. In fact, if she could help him become comfortable with talking about the inconsequential, who knew what really important things he might feel like tackling?
The potential was certainly there, he was no lost cause, the affectionate moments they had shared as recently as the night before and that she thought of warmly now… that proved it, and she hadn't even thought of this angle then, it had just come naturally, so it was the right one. Even he said they really had to talk. They were just missing their chances, maybe that was all there was to it, the only problem, finding the chances.
No, that was way too forgiving an explanation, too forgiving of all parties involved. If he felt comfortable talking to her, he could tell her the truth just about anywhere they happened to be that promised a few moments of privacy. He could have pressed the chance last night, invited her in for a drink — ginger ale or something — *insisted* on it, and she would have found it difficult to resist…
But he hadn't and it wouldn't do to push him, Martha was right about that. Coming right out and asking him what he thought last night, enhanced to a not-too-veiled threat, had been a good idea, but it could be used only at the right moments and by no means overused. As much as Clark was a world traveler, it seemed he was only contemplating crossing the street when it came to the kind of relationship Lois wanted with him.
And he gives every indication of wanting one with me, she thought.
But she didn't want him darting in front of traffic to escape interrogation.
So that came back to the new plan.
Now, of course, she'd just have to snatch him away from whoever that Vanessa person was…
She checked the TV monitor again. Nothing had changed, nothing.
Darn it, Clark, where are you?
She glanced at the clock over the elevators rather than her watch this time. 8:58 on the nose. The thing was never wrong. It occurred to her suddenly that if Clark was going to turn up at the newsroom anytime soon, odds were good he'd probably be exactly on time, which she realized suddenly gave her 105 seconds to think of an excuse for him.
She spent about thirty seconds in furious thought, scanning the room for clues. The staff was milling about, working, chatting, ignoring her (which, for once, was just fine, she'd have to keep it that way); the TV was blaring, the sun was streaming through the windows, there was a nice breeze and the smell of coffee -
Then she had it. She grabbed her purse out of her drawer, pulled her wallet out and emptied the contents on to her desk-top pad. Small change and various denominations of dollar bills fell or were pulled out as noiselessly as possible. A quick count. Too much. She shoved half of it back into her wallet. She took an envelope from her horizontal file, scribbled "Donuts" across the front of it, loaded the money into it, and sealed it shut.
Two could play this game, she thought.
No, it wasn't the same thing.
If only I'd given him a chance to explain on Tuesday…
I *will* listen to you, Clark, I'll really try.
Just please start saying important things even if they're little important things.
She turned and checked the elevator doors again. 8:59.55.
Just who's faster than a speeding bullet around here anyway?
Uh-oh, she thought, I've figured it wrong…
9:00.17. The elevator door open.
She almost shrieked.
Clark. He was wearing one of his nondescript suits, though his white shirt was open at his neck, making him look relaxed. He also looked pleased to be here. Maybe business had been rough or unpleasant. And he still had the endearing idea that he had to dress up for Perry when he knew ahead of time he'd be pitching a story. She bet his tie was in his pocket.
Well, his Superman suit better be in there, too. She rose and rushed (quietly, hoping not to attract unwanted attention) up to meet him before he got three steps from the elevator.
He smiled one of *those* smiles. The smile, she thought, of someone who had only pleasant memories of the evening before. The smile of someone quite pleased to see her…
Too bad he couldn't stay.
"Hi, Lois! You look *great*."
Huh? This old thing?
NO! Don't discount his opinion! Pleased smile time. "Thanks, Clark. You look great, too." At least she didn't have to start out her new approach by lying to him. About that, anyhow.
His smile became somewhat conspiratorial. "Is Perry here?" because he knew she knew exactly why he wanted to know that. It was going to be Clark's big day and he was excited, though it didn't show too much.
"He's in his office, but you can't see him yet." She made her voice serious: "He's in a foul mood."
The smile faded. "Uh-oh…"
The look on poor Clark's face made Lois want to hug and reassure him.
But not now.
"It's nothing to do with you, *believe* me, he just has… low blood sugar, I think. Laurie's not in yet so there aren't any donuts and he's grouchy about that."
He did? Or was he just being polite and trying to catch up? Sometimes he gave her that impression and she was never sure how much of an act it was. if it was one at all. He glanced in the direction of Perry's office. Would he look through the walls and check, only to see their editor's placid condition?
She continued quickly, touching his shoulder, drawing his attention again. "Well, of course, nobody wants to see him unhappy, so we took up a collection and voted that the very next person who came in the newsroom would rush down to The Busy Baker and get four — no, five dozen of their best."
"The Busy Baker? That's miles from here — "
"But it's his favorite pastry shop."
"I know — You mean *I'm* the next person in?" He looked stricken, his plans, in disarray a moment ago now scattered to the wind.
Too bad, there were more important things happening. Since she had to share him with the world (for she had come to that conclusion, too), this time it was definitely for a good cause. They could talk about all the implications of time sharing later.
"I'm afraid so. You'll have to come earlier next time so you can volunteer some one else." She handed him the envelop and began to shove him toward the elevator. It was a good thing he didn't stand his ground.
"But Lois — "
"There's enough money for a cab both ways unless you want to take a bus. I'll tell him you called and said you'd be a little late. You weren't going to see him until ten, were you? He probably won't notice, the mood he's in. But you'll be late bringing donuts, see? If he needs buttering up, you can say you brought them in on your own, it was your idea. We'll make sure he has several first. He'll be really happy then!"
"Wait a minute, I *don't* need to butter Perry up so he'll like my story — "
"I know, I know," and it was good to see his natural reporter's defenses flash up so quickly, "but the rest of us need him to be," tremendous push! "in a better mood!"
That final push got him into the elevator and she reached around and pretended to try to hit the "one" button but hit "ten" instead. He'd probably find it easier to leave the building as Superman through some high-level window or from the roof than trying to get past the guard in the lobby. He already knew how to sneak by Mr. Stern's butler, if the butler was in, or just get through the locked door to the roof of the penthouse suite, because she'd showed him how to do all that last spring. "Darn! Well, that's all right, it'll go down again soon. And take your time, things are depressing around here anyhow, what with what's happening to the President and we can't do *any*thing about it…"
That was like slap across his face. "The President?" A "duty calls" look came over him suddenly, why hadn't she ever noticed that before? "Is something wrong with the President?"
"We've been watching it on TV," and she pointed in case he doubted her; she'd steered Superman wrong once… well, a few times before — but it hadn't been her fault. "See? They've even got Sam Donaldson reporting on it, and it's only been half an hour or so since it started. Air Force One is circling over Atlanta because of a stuck landing gear — they *say* — and some people think it might stuck on a bomb."
"A bomb?" as though he couldn't believe such things ever happened, but that's why, she thought, his forte was human interest stories and not so much investigation of criminal wrongdoings.
"It's only a rumor…"
"That *is* depressing…" he sighed. He did look quite concerned, like any citizen would.
"So take your time, you can see we're not getting much work done."
"Okay…" and the last thing she saw him do, as the elevator doors closed, was look down and frown, confused, at the envelope full of donut money.
Be careful, Clark…
Oh, he'd be careful, he'd been boringly careful in the last year or so. He'd taken on all comers and done splendidly almost every time, making none of the spectacular faux pas he had when he'd first started out.
So things were moving at last. He'd fix things in Atlanta and come back and gather his files and talk to Perry and she could pitch her own idea then.
She gave herself a mental high five for a job well done as she turned away from the elevator. Yes, a clear, calm mind, a daring, well-thought-out plan, and the only woman capable of the job, wrapped up right here in one knockout body. Poor Clark, she smiled to herself, he had no idea what was hitting him…
Perry! Oh, no…
No, she thought, I can deal with him. She leaned on the railing of the landing, relaxed and attentive. "Yes?"
"Was that Clark?"
"No," and she turned toward the short flight of stairs and watched her step down them so she wouldn't trip. She also noticed that Karyn Fox was watching her, smiling a secret smile. Karyn was the Food Editor who was no doubt preparing a big spread for Sunday's edition and passing through the newsroom for some reason (everyone seemed to pass through the newsroom at one time or another about once a day). Lois dared a wink at her. Hmm, Karyn, cookies, advice…
Out of the corner of her other eye Lois saw Perry look away, frown doubtfully — was there no trust in this world? she wondered — give up, and reorder his thoughts. "Do you have any idea where Superman is?"
She didn't have to fake looking surprised. What am I, his mother? she thought. No, he's got a delightful one of them. *I,* on the other hand… "No, not at the moment." It wouldn't do to say "Still somewhere between here and the tenth floor, I think."
"All right then, when Kent gets here, I want to see him, pronto," and Perry turned back toward his office.
Wait a minute, Lois almost said. She jumped down the remaining two steps and headed toward Perry's retreating form. As she closed in, she said: "Wait a minute, Chief!"
They met in his doorway. "Lois, I'm on the phone."
"Why do you need Clark? Why not me? — Clark called, he's going to be a little late. I think he might be bringing donuts, and you know how he can't make up his mind about flavors…"
Perry wouldn't know that, she'd just made it up.
Then again, Clark being unable to make up his mind and preferring the status quo would explain a lot…
But, as some farmer in the Smallville Feed and Computer Store had drawled, "'Status quo' is Latin for 'all messed up,' if you'll pardon the expression, ladies…"
Whatever; Perry let it pass. "Okay, I've got Washington on the line — "
"And they think we know where Superman is!"
"Well, it's good bet on their part, he does turn up here frequently and most often to see *you.* He's a fine fellow, Lois, but really — "
"I know, I know, but can he make an omelet without breaking the eggs?" Actually, he could make the omelet and did break the eggs. "I haven't seen him in the flesh since the Slime Monster attack, and that was only from a distance except when I had to tell off the Chief of Staff because, well, Superman was being his usual conciliatory self when he really needed to kick some… you know…" He just couldn't get angry when he needed to, could he? But maybe he dared not…
"All right, but if you get wind of him…" he began to turn away again.
"Do you think we can get an exclusive from the President if…?"
He turned back. "It looks like a big if at the moment, but I'm willing to ask if I have *something* to tell them."
Lois glanced at the TV. Sam was interviewing a woman who was wearing coveralls; perhaps she was in airport maintenance. She was beaming at the camera, her big chance.
Lois said, "My woman's intuition says we'll see him there in Atlanta within five minutes, maybe sooner."
"Lois? Women's intuition? You?"
"Me? Yes, me! Certainly me!" she informed his back. "*Reporter's* intuition then!" She stood there, leaning in his door, as he took his phone off hold and told whoever was on the other end "We have reason to believe that Superman will turn up in Atlanta very shortly. We'd like to be able to talk to someone there about all this… Yes, fine. My best reporter," he pointed toward the conference room, where it would be quiet, "Lois Lane will…"
Lois rushed for her notepad and a pen and was in the conference room in time to see Perry put his line on hold. She picked it up immediately, introduced herself, and ascertained who she was talking to. She launched into the questions that had occurred to her as the drama had unfolded.
Two minutes into their conversation, she heard a cheer rise up from the newsroom that the soundproof walls of the conference room couldn't disguise. "I understand that Superman has just arrived…"
"Yes, he has!" the woman on the other end, a Ms. Barnes, sighed with relief. She was watching TV, too. Lois stretched over and opened the conference room door. That gave her the best view of the TV monitor and on it something about two inches long and thin — the jet, and a little dot cruising around it — Superman. Why was it she was seeing more of him on TV these days than in real life? No, she reminded herself, she *was* seeing him in real life, and actually she was getting the better deal, it was just…
She shook her head. She dared not confuse herself with all that now but concentrate on the interview. Time passed. She asked Barnes some personal questions to indicate that she was at least as interested in the messenger as she was in the message. She got tons of information about the President's itinerary and political views. She got bored. She preferred to watch TV.
Someone had thought to hook up the satellite feed from the roof and switch to CNN, which had better on-site cameras. The jet looked four inches long now, but from Lois's distance, Superman was still only a bluish-reddish dot. The White House had the best cameras of all, apparently, and Lois heard Barnes saying that Superman was inspecting the landing gears. The CNN coverage split into three screens next: one for the jet at a close view, another for the jet further away, and the third for the reporter, a woman in a frightful brown dress.
The second screen caught Superman rushing away from the jet and up, out of sight. The further-away camera jerked away from the jet to keep up with the speeding dot, and that was why it was able to catch the tiny, silent explosion.
"It was just a small bomb…" Barnes said, relieved.
"Yes," Lois agreed, sounding, she thought, like a dummy. A small bomb could have done big damage to the jet. "Do you know where exactly the President's state room on the jet is in relation to the cockpit?"
The superdot returned to the jet and proceeded to inspect it further, according to Barnes, and then, apparently finding no second bomb, to help the jet land safely.
Lois finished the interview, thanked Barnes pleasantly, almost slammed down the phone, and rushed to her desk, pulled up a new screen up on her computer, and began typing furiously. Perry came up and stood behind her, reading over her shoulder. "Good… good… yes, that's it. I'll give it a once-over and then it can go out on the wire."
"Thanks, Chief!" and thanks, Clark; too bad I can't work some credit for you into this…
Clark rocketed back to Metropolis, braked with inches to spare, and alighted gently behind the Busy Baker, the shop that was on the route he knew Perry took to work each morning. In a blur he changed into more comfortable clothing, checked to see that he still had the donut money (it was there, safe in his inner jacket pocket), and then walked around the building and entered the front door. He was out again in about ten minutes, carrying two large boxes. He wished it hadn't taken so long, but there had been a line and the selection, when he'd been given a crack at it, was astounding. He'd surrendered and taken the clerk up her suggestion about their variety pack times two, or sixty donuts, which would save money. But, he requested, make half of it varieties of chocolate. The clerk had heard this before.
That done, he walked out to the sidewalk and flagged down a cab. One zipped right up — perhaps indicating that things were turning in his favor again — he told the driver "The Daily Planet Building, please," and then sat back to enjoy the ride on someone else's dime. I can afford to take cabs any time, he reminded himself; they just weren't a particularly interesting mode of travel, that was all.
While the cabbie talked about the virtues of the various brands of pastries available in town, eventually wondering if that Superman guy would open a franchise, Clark reviewed the action part of his last half hour or so. There was nothing in the episode that he could write about, unfortunately. His folks would collect the video clips and he'd add the experience to his memoirs, but that, he sighed, was all there was to it as far as he was concerned.
He hadn't stayed to shake the President's hand, but he had done that before. That meant he had also passed on meeting the other important man traveling in the jet. Clark didn't personally approve of the President's policies toward the perennially touchy situation in the Middle East, or that the Commander in Chief was apparently supporting the Prime Minister of somewhere-over-there who had been with him in Air Force One. Of course that didn't mean it was all right that some faction from the PM's country tried to blow AF1 to smithereens. Clark had removed and opened the bomb after determining, thanks to having once read an underground publication on making bombs with kitchen chemicals, that it was going to go off anyhow and that the action wouldn't make that occur any sooner. He gave the salvaged part of the case, which had "Our revenge!" scribbled all over it in some Arabic dialect, to ground-side authorities, making sure and warning them that his own fingerprints would be blurred beyond recognition.
Then, without further adieu, he had headed home as soon as possible because there were, at the moment, more important things in life to think about.
He opened the top box of donuts and chose a chocolate one with multicolored sprinkles. It was good; Perry had taste.
Due to a minor traffic tie up, he didn't arrive at the Planet building until 9:50. Waiting for the elevator provided another exercise in patience (he didn't want to negotiate the stairs while carrying the donuts), but also gave him a chance to mentally arrange the files he wanted to take into his editor's office. Actually, he knew they were already in good shape and wouldn't need rearranging. It was about 9:55 when the elevator deposited him into the newsroom.
Lois was typing away at some story. He would have given odds it was about Air Force One and that she was almost finished with it because she was working at a leisurely pace, stopping to read what she had written, correct typos, chew on a fingernail, and then attacking the keyboard again. She had probably even gotten through to the White House and interviewed one of the President's kids…
He put the boxes of donuts on her desk. "Here, I did the hard work, you take care of these. And here's the left-over money."
She turned, looked at him, looked at the boxes, looked at him again. What was this on her face? Surprise? Shock? Why did she say: "You got them…" and was it a statement, a question or what?
"Lois, I seem to recall that my getting them was the reason you threw me bodily into the elevator."
"Well, yes, but…" Then she smiled one of her cover smiles, which was better than all the other expressions and practically advised him to stop trying to figure it out. "Did you… have any trouble?"
"No." True, there had been occasions when he'd had to slip away after giving some lame excuse, but it had been a long time since he had actually failed to return with what he had "gone after" on an apparent whim. This was different anyhow, she had ordered him to go and he'd gone and done it. And taken the opportunity to make the side trip to Atlanta, too. It was a good thing her request had coincided with Superman being needed. "No trouble, except in choosing, they still had a big variety even this late in the morning. I got two of their jumbo assortment packs, heavy on the chocolate."
"Oh, good. Laurie got here and she brought some cookies, but they're gone already. Perry's in a much better mood, too, because of the thing with the President. As you probably already guessed, Superman… saved the day and all that."
He had expected an announcement from her to that effect, but her matter-of-factness about it was odd… and refreshing. "Are you writing about it?"
"No, I got that out already. This is something else…"
"Oh, I see, that's nice."
He didn't take time to glance over her shoulder like he might have under other less pressing circumstances. Instead he went around to his own desk and pulled out of his largest drawer the big, rubber- banded brown file holding the written material he had collected over the last week (other than that Mrs. O'Shea still had), his evidence that he was sure would back up the story (or stories?) so that Perry would give him the final go ahead.
She was watching him again. Why? "Hmm?"
Huh? He looked down. "Oh, yeah, thanks…" He buttoned up his shirt, pulled the tie out of his pocket and put it on quickly. It was a subdued one, with small, ivory-colored chess pieces scattered all over a dark brown background, but he'd picked it out this morning on purpose as not to be distracting. He checked his watch but only for appearances' sake. 9:58.
"I'm writing a sidebar on Councilman Smith to go with your story tomorrow, do you mind? I'm sure you'll mention him, but I can do the in depth on him, what we know of his history, and I don't think you're planning to do that… are you?"
Why did she look so uncertain? Hey, why was she asking *permission*? Why…
She was hanging there, awaiting a Big Decision when there was really nothing to decide. "Sure, it's all right with me. You probably have all you're going to get on him, though, other than more of his signatures. Your information might encourage the police or the DA to go after him specifically, and they have resources that we don't." "Right! That's what *I* thought, too, thanks!"
This really was weird. "You didn't have to ask, Lois," he told her as he hefted his file.
"Sure I did, it's mostly *your* story, you should have some say in what gets… haphazardly…" she searched for a word, "tacked on to it."
He found himself staring at her and asking, totally unplanned and, he realized as soon as he said it, totally uncalled for: "Are you all right, Lois?"
She looked away, just a bit, apparently reviewing her statements of the past few moments. An "oh-my-gosh" expression seemed to come over her face. It turned into what appeared to be a sinking "oh, no…" and then just as quickly was smoothed over with an easy-to- recognize, innocent, I-just-got-here look, augmented by a "Pardon?"
That threw it back into his court. Where, he realized, it had belonged in the first place. "Ah…" Maybe she was all right, maybe she was just feeling generous, kind and helpful… that certainly didn't mean she wasn't feeling well or had suffered an undiscovered head trauma or was undergoing some strange, mad-scientist-induced behavioral change… He had no idea how to explain he had wondered about that and it was the reason for his uncertainty when here all along she was becoming a person who could be expected to be civil and thoughful more often than not.
His internal cavalry trumpeted Retreat! "I don't really have time to talk right now…" and he patted the file.
"We never seem to, do we?" she said in an honest little voice.
She had noticed that, too? Last night had been important to her as well… Too bad she'd been sleepy.
"I'll be just right in there," and he motioned vaguely at Perry's office. "Have a donut, they're good — have two."
"Okay…" with a small smile that indicated she was recovering fast.
From what he had no idea and he was glad for the moment he couldn't stay. He could see himself trying to ask her about it and not getting the questions quite right and her taking it all wrong…
He went up to Perry's office and knocked on the door. Clark could see through the glass: the shade wasn't drawn, possibly indicating that his editor was in an open mood.
Perry was standing behind his desk watching a woman doing something to his computer. He looked up, saw who was knocking, and motioned for Clark to enter.
"Clark, this is Mel of MelRich's Computer Commandos. She's fixing this thing for me."
"Oh? It was broken?"
Perry looked at him for a long moment. Clark wondered if he had said something strange or maybe forgotten to zip up something critical (though Lois most likely would have pointed that out).
But Perry said, "Son, I guess you haven't noticed — well, you've been out on the street a lot and that's good — but we haven't been able to get out of the building on these things since a week ago Wednesday and I'm tired of waiting for Purchasing to hire some big- guns outfit to fix it when Mel here… Well, according to Alice, she's the best there is."
"I don't know about that, Mr. White…" Mel said quietly. She sat back, rubbed her hands together, reached forward, touched a short series of keys, and, in a moment, smiled. "Ah, yes! From micros to macros, we fix it! You've got your internet access back, now let's see if we can get you really surfing…"
"Internet?" Clark asked. "Surfing? You, Chief?"
"Yeah, well, I fought the good fight, but I lost and I'm addicted. The withdrawal pains have been horrible. I miss my e-mail and my Elvis list. I want my contacts back. Regular mail's just too slow and faxes are too curly. Mel, can you fix a plain-paper fax?"
"Maybe, but not this afternoon. I have to tune up my car. You want your e-mail now?" she asked cheerfully.
"I can get it myself if everything works…"
"Oh, it works now, I patched around the problem. Bobby pins and paperclips, that's me." She sat back in Perry's comfortable chair and turned to him. "You won't notice anything on this end though — except I turbocharged everything, but I wrote the key combination for that on the list there so you can toggle it off if you want. Since this is the command computer, well, everyone else's computers can talk to the outside world now, too, if," she held up a cautionary finger, "*if* the telephone lines are still intact. I can't do anything about that… legally," and she smiled, leaving an explanation to the imagination.
Perry nodded. "I understand. I want you to talk to Wade, our computer expert. He didn't have time to work on this. but I'm sure he'll understand what you did if you can outline it for him."
"Right." She stood. She was tall and looked incongruous but comfortable in her plaid shirt and ragged, cut-off blue jeans. She looked at Clark and broke into another smile. "Hi there!"
Perry made quick introductions and the two shook hands. "Nice to meet you," Clark said.
"Same here. I read what you write, you're good. That report you did on the Ides of Metropolis virus — two years ago, I think it was — that was great. It helped my business, I virus-proofed a lot of computers after that."
Clark nodded and said that was good to hear, watched her gather up her tools, stick them in a telephone line worker-type pouch belt, buckle it on, and then he stepped aside so she could stride out of the office to find Wade. "There are donuts," he called after her. Then he looked at his boss. "Internet, Chief, I'm impressed…"
"You'd be surprised. I have my own home page, too."
Clark could imagine it, pictures of Elvis everywhere and pointers to other Elvis sites.
"Close the door," Perry told him then in his it's-about-time-we- got-down-to-some-work-here voice.
Clark felt his stomach tighten, his nerves tingle, his hand on the door to give it a gentle push. There was nothing to get nervous about, he reminded himself, he'd had one-on-one conferences with Perry many times before. But he always felt the same way, excited, and he wondered when he'd approach meetings like this in a relaxed manner and then if that would be a sign that he was losing his edge, whatever that was…
They spent 45 minutes going over everything Clark had and he realized later that a good ten minutes of it had been Perry getting him to relax. Perry had told him first thing take off his jacket, loosen his tie, and pull up that comfortable chair. Clark forgot his tension once Perry started formulating questions about what he was reading, questioned the answers, and then began suggesting ways to punch up the draft story Clark had submitted. "Your a bit timid here, add this… pad that… quote him… we'll use these pictures here… Yes, this will all substantiate my editorial tomorrow," Perry claimed as Clark could see their meeting wrapping up. "Good work. If this doesn't get you another Kerth, nothing will."
Wow, Clark thought. That mere possibility had only occurred to him once and only in reaction to Lois's return on Tuesday, and then he hadn't dwelled on the idea. This was just a good story. Lois… "Chief, Lois wants to do something on Councilman Smith. I think this is a good opportunity for her. She wants to talk to you about it."
Perry considered it for a moment. "*Does* she now…" He smiled shrewdly. "Do you know if she wants to write up that cockeyed idea of hers that he rowed ashore from outerspace? She should have deep sixed that days ago…"
"I don't think she does — not that she still doesn't suspect that, but…"
"But she's willing to tone it down, I see. That's why you two work so well together. She's the wind in the sails, but you keep her on an even keel, most times."
"Chief, I'm not the captain of our little ship…" though it occurred to him that lately it seemed he was getting somewhat better at navigating.
"But you make a fine first mate. Well, tell her to get in here and we'll see if she can work her way through the treacherous strait and find safe harbor."
Clark decided that he couldn't top that and therefore didn't comment further, just nodding. He gathered his material again, leaving the pictures so that Perry could get them ready for the Sunday edition. He left the office and, as he walked down the steps noticed that Lois had her eyes on him. That was expected this time.
She met him half way. "Well?"
"He wants to talk to you."
"Ah…" How could she prepare herself for the best attack…? "He's into sailing metaphors…"
"I bet he's planning on going out on his boat, he'll be in an anxious mood, not wanting to stay around here, so he'll okay anything. Well, I'll run it up the mast and see who salutes — and your story, did he suggest many rewrites…?"
"A few, basically just that I be more daring."
"You're too careful sometimes, Clark — but then last night you were *plenty* daring…" and she smiled knowingly.
"Well…" He could almost hear the marbles click as heads within earshot turned their direction. He worked up a careful smile, hoping that she would see that he was pleased that she'd notice. "We'll have to talk about that later… But for here, at work, I have to be careful, I don't want to get us sued."
"Believe me, Clark, everyone knows that what you write is thoroughly backed up with tons of research."
"It has to be, it'll be the basis of his editorial tomorrow, so…" Then it hit him: his work would get double notice, which wasn't bad at all. "How about that?" he smiled now safely.
"Whoa, I'm impressed!" she smiled, too, genuinely. Perry frequently used breaking news to support his editorials, that was a natural thing, but almost always when he talked about something Clark was involved in, it was a joint Lane/Kent article. Lois said, "Good work!" and patted him on the shoulder before she turned and rushed back to her desk to gather her own proof.
He watched her scurrying about and then stepped back out of the way as she zipped up to Perry's office. Maybe he shouldn't have recommended she eat two of the donuts, he thought; too much sugar.
He decided he didn't want to listen in on what went on in Perry's office, but that instead he was thirsty and hungry, that a break was called for. There was plenty of coffee, someone had just made a new pot of amaretto-flavored brew, and there was still half a box of donuts left, though only one or two chocolates. He filled his cup and took a plain glazed and returned to his desk to begin rewriting his story.
Lunch time was remembered and declared late and Clark and Lois sat around the conference room table with several others chatting, catching up on the latest gossip from all points of Metropolis. None of it, Clark was happy to hear, about him, Lois, or even Superman. Of course, that third person was accepted as pretty much Lois's territory, but she didn't bring up the name even once and nobody asked her. After lunch she told Clark that it was her turn to head down to City Hall, which was open today to make up for the days it had been closed down earlier in the week. She wanted to question people who might have known and worked with Smith to get some personal details about him.
"Good luck — and be careful. If he *is* from outer space, who knows? He might have…"
"Messed with people's minds?"
Her voice turned confidential. "Left secret instructions for his minions to kill anyone who asked after him?"
"I'd say there was a distinct possibility…" he nodded seriously.
"Why don't you just say you still don't think he's connected to the Circus from the Stars and that neither of them were responsible for the Slime Monster?"
"Because you'd probably put a stink bomb in my pencil box."
"Oh, I wouldn't do *that*… Revenge is sweeter when a girl uses superglue… But, Clark, we already know he's vulnerable to publicity, so you'll save me via keyboard, I just know it." She smiled and looked at though she wanted to pat him on the cheek but didn't. The round over and won hands down by the woman in brown, she changed the subject. "In case you're gone by the time I get back, are you really sure you don't want to come with Raul and me tonight?"
It was so tempting… but Africa called. "No, I've got something to do in the morning — early, before our afternoon…" he glanced around and decided on the word "appointment, so I think I'll turn in early tonight, after I call my folks."
She accepted this with a somehow understanding smile and was off on her quest for more information.
She was being so… *nice* — that mixed in with the hot-headed, strong-willed, heart-felt woman who intrigued him… something had happened to her, something — but what?
He put that aside for now, the solution might be found later: indeed, that night.
He wrapped up his story, LANed it to Perry and noted that his editor accepted it immediately. There was nothing to do but wait then. He finished the soda he had been nursing, played a little Solitaire in Windows (he didn't win, but kept his total in the black mostly, just), and in time Perry got up, went to his door, looked out, gave Clark a thumbs up, and said "Go home."
"And be sure to buy a paper in the morning."
"Will do," if he got back in time.
"Oh, hi, Dad."
"Clark, long time no hear. Let me see if your mother's left."
[click; hold music: end of Lennon/McCartney's "Fool on the Hill"]
"I hope nobody's trying to tell me something…"
[hold music: Lennon/McCartney's "Don't Pass Me By"]
"Yeah, someone's definitely trying to tell me something."
"I'm sorry, son, you just missed her. She's off to a dinner meeting at her art society. They want to put up a statue in Smallville Park."
"That's okay, you can tell her I'm doing just fine — "
"And Lois? I really enjoyed her visit."
"She says she enjoyed it, too. I told her yesterday I was going to call you and she said that if you asked I should say, and I quote 'everything's going really well as far as I'm concerned.'"
"'…really well,' all right… I've written that down so I can remember to tell your mother. That will make her happy and she's been agitated lately. I think it's because she wants the statue in the park to be of a pioneer woman, but just about everyone else is arguing for some World War One general who I've never heard of."
"A tough decision."
"I think he's the Mayor's grandfather."
"But Mom'll prevail."
"I hope she does. I offered to go along to give her moral support because she's right, I don't want to commemorate war, but you know I'm not nearly as good at arguing at she is, and, besides, I'm glad I'm not there to see the bloodshed — their blood, I mean…"
"I'm sure it'll be covered in the paper — the meeting I mean, not the blood, we can send you a copy."
"And when are we going to read something big by you — and I don't mean rescuing that fool of a President."
"He's not that bad, just… misguided."
"Well, you've met him, I haven't."
"Yeah, ah… I'll have a big story in tomorrow's edition, probably, if nothing bigger happens and knocks it completely off the front page."
"Oh? The front page? Good! We like all the little articles you do, but it's about time again for something big."
"Yeah, it's about time… Dad? I really called to talk with you."
"Uh? Talk? Well, all right, about what?"
"Well, it's probably something I should ask Mom, but… I don't know, and I asked Lois, but she didn't…"
"Well, that's women for you, son."
"I guess so."
"You ask them a simple question and they try to tell you how to bake a cake. There're always more layers than you expected."
"Yeah, and chocolate frosting."
"And when you ask to lick the bowl, they give you a dirty look and talk about calories and you better not point out that they shouldn't have made the cake in the first place then."
"Ah, right, but, Dad, you're looking really great lately."
"You think so? I am feeling better… Don't tell her I said that though."
"There's only so many ways a fellow can stand to eat tofu."
"So, you've got some problem with Lois again. You still haven't told her…"
"No, every time I even *think* I see a chance, something comes along to blow it, like the Slime Monster. I was going to use that Wednesday to get ready and have her over to dinner with candles and nice music and all…"
"Ah, good idea, women love that."
"I thought she would, she'd probably be in a good mood and I'd tell her the truth and then she could think about the next day, which would have been her day off… but along comes the Monster and ruins everything. I didn't even get a chance to call her to ask her to come over. I don't blame the Monster for my personal problems, but there it was nonetheless. Lois and I were close on Thursday, very close…"
"Not *that* close, Dad!… but I couldn't tell her then, everything in her life was already in disarray and she was under a lot of stress, so…"
"I understand, son, she might have thought you were taking advantage of her."
"Exactly. And now she's acting a little… odd, I guess, it seemed to start when she came back from Smallville, and all I asked was what she and Mom did when she visited you and… she told me."
"But it didn't seem… I don't know, it didn't seem like that's *all* they did…"
"So, I was wondering if… if you know what Lois and Mom talked about."
"I see. Well, Friday they didn't get in until just past sundown and then Lois went to bed. It was early for her, I think, but she looked tired. Saturday morning I was out of the house before she got up and didn't get home until lunch time. Then I took her out to see the farm. When we got back we helped prepare dinner and after dinner I worked on the taxes and went surfing. Did you know Perry White has a home page on the web?"
"I just learned that today."
"I saw it on a hot list — I didn't see his name, just Elvis Hot Spots, and so I thought of him and went looking and there it was, big as life. It's all right if you like Elvis, but…"
"You're a Beatles guy."
"Yep. Let's see… Sunday. I know Lois went for walk and then she and your mother went out shopping. They probably talked a lot about clothes and fashions — and, oh yes, they worked in the kitchen, I think Lois made… pancakes, yes, that was Saturday morning. Your mother said they had fun doing it, that Lois can cook. That's important, son. A woman can be all kinds of things, like your mother and Lois are, but cooking, well…"
"Yeah, Dad, that's important."
"I know you're practically a gourmet chef, son, but Lois should know her way around a kitchen, too… I'm not sure what they did Monday morning because I had to go into town again to get a new battery for the John Deere."
"Oh, is that acting up?"
"Well, I saw it coming and had a back up, so the one I got Monday replaced that. Can you imagine? Saturday afternoon Lois wanted to look under the hood, and she wondered if there was something wrong with the points and plugs, but I set her straight on that. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty though. She's some woman."
"I know… Dad, did she… well, did she act strange or anything? Did she hurt herself? Hit her head maybe and say it was nothing?"
"No, not that I can recall. She's acting unusual?"
"A little… She's been acting nicer and calmer since the first of the year, it's just that now… I don't know."
"That doesn't sound bad, son."
"I'm not really complaining."
"I didn't notice anything different about her. She looked and acted healthy. She scrambled up on to the tractor seat and into the harvester, too, like a kid on a jungle gym, and scrambled right back down again, without any help. She helped me inspect one of the ditches and the crawdads didn't frighten her once I told her what the were. I think the closest she came to getting hurt was when she turned her back on Robby after I introduced them."
"Oh, and he nudged her."
"Yep. You're the only one he hasn't been able to bowl over with that curious nose of his. But she forgave him right away and they got along like old friends. Robby doesn't like just everyone, he's a good judge of character. She even went on a ride because she said she'd never seen a horse that big. Oh, and I'm thinking of breeding Sally again in the spring."
"That's great to hear. You can send another kid through college on the foal, on the proceeds from the sale."
"Just about. Shires are worth a mint nowadays. Well, you can take a look when you get home and see if she's as healthy as she looks. Is your vacation still on?"
"It sure is, I'm looking forward to it."
"Us, too, son… So, as far as I know, Lois had a good time talking girl talk with your mother. Don't tell your mother that's what I call it, you know she can be touchy about that kind of thing…"
"I won't say a word. I'm glad you and Lois had fun."
"She's welcome to visit any time, you tell her I said that."
"I will, I'm seeing her tomorrow. She's going to bake something here because the electricity in her apartment is not very reliable at the moment."
"Well, that's the big city for you — but, see? The woman wants to cook, that's good."
"Yes, it is. I'll let you go, Dad, so you can go surfing again."
"Okay, son, and you get some sleep, you sound a little tired."
"Yeah, that's all it is probably. See ya, Dad."
*** Clark had looked over all the geopolitical and ecological issues surrounding the latest United Nations-sponsored airlift of food to the drought-ridden, war-plagued segment in central Africa that he was heading toward a little before midnight, Metropolis time. When he weighed all the factors, the scale tipped in favor of his heeding the call for his help that had been circulated discretely by certain respected UN employees (who could do things that ambassadors only dreamed of). Perry had heard the whisper and mentioned it casually late last Monday when the newsroom had been quiet and he had come out to get a cup of coffee.
He'd stopped beside Clark's desk, stirring the artificial creamer in his coffee, and sighed about Lois taking that day off. "She'd know where Superman is…"
"Yes, maybe," Clark had sat back and said. "Though of course sometimes *I* see him…"
The look his editor gave him said that Perry already knew that, he was just trying to make pleasant conversation with one of the last staffers in the office who should have gone home hours earlier and let the night crew feel like they were earning their pay. "Well, if I knew where Superman were right now…"
Perry had given Clark enough to go on so that he could research it, conclude that Superman could and indeed should help, and wonder about a way to get a message to the UN to that effect.
But then he had decided not to worry about that. It would work just as well to simply turn up and ask how he could help. If the factions that were fighting on all sides of the multistate war, hemming in a considerable portion of one little country's peace- craving population, knew that the UN had a powerful new relief worker on their side, they'd try something perhaps even more dangerous to stop the caravans and airlifts.
So at dawn central Africa time, Clark scoped out the UN encampment three miles beyond the eastern border of the fighting, decided the Red Cross vans and the makeshift shelter indicated the headquarters, and Superman dropped down out of the sky, landed behind the most authoritative looking of the UN soldiers (a Swede, as it turned out), tapped his shoulder and asked to be taken to his leader.
Superman's help was accepted graciously and he proceeded to disarm snipers, dismantle rocket launchers, clear roads, divert factional armies, help choose where to dig a new well, and generally assist the once-depressed population to begin feeling they could win their lives back from their warring neighbors. At dusk local time, just after noon in Metropolis time, he figured he had done all he could for now and, as he had warned the Australian commander of the operation that he might, he called it a day. He headed home to take a hot shower, eat a big home-made lunch and take a quick nap.
He woke himself at 1:45 pm and laid there in bed pleasantly letting his thoughts coalesce. Until it occurred to him that Lois could be early and he'd left the kitchen messy. Not terribly messy, but not the kitchen in which one would want his close friend to try her hand at baking maybe something difficult. He floated out of the bed, straightened the covers, jumped into a clean T-shirt, cutoff shorts and sandals, and literally flew into the living room.
There he put on some rousing taped music and opened the windows up by the front door. He wondered if his landlord would get around this year to installing new window screens as he had promised to do last spring. But it hadn't been a particularly mosquito-y summer and Clark didn't worry about being bitten anyhow. The windows themselves had been of more concern. After Diana Stride had broken in, he had purchased and set in much stronger, double-paned glass as well as thinking up some noisy though harmless intruder alarms. Of course, having committed to this meant he'd had a trouble-free time of it ever since, but he attributed a good portion of that to the generally more alert attitude the entire neighborhood was experiencing. Break- ins and vandalism, even tagging, had decreased over the last 18 months to nearly zero. Which was fine with him; it was somehow appropriate that Superman made his home in a quiet neighborhood.
He tied back the drapes to encourage a light breeze and turned to look at the kitchen, took a deep breath and charged into it. Cleanup like this was one of the chores he glad to be able to do at a high speed. Cooking, gardening, reading, relaxing, all those should take their natural course of time, he figured, but cleaning up, even though he was only a mildly cluttered person at worst — he wanted to just get it over as quickly as possible.
So he was drying his hands, smiling at his work and feeling great when he heard Lois's footsteps on the porch. He hung the towel away, plucked his glasses off the coffee table in the living room, put them on, and zipped up his steps to the door.
As he reached for the knob, he hessitated a microsecond. He still had no logical explanation for her sudden increased interest in him, nothing in all that he could recall in his own actions toward and conversations with her supplied a reason, and it wasn't wasn't even springtime.
Sure, he'd given her shelter but he would have done that for practically anyone who asked. Yet that 48 hours after the Slime Monster did seem to be the turning point time. Maybe then it was something about the amount of time they had spent together, without it being an assignment or work related at all, like when they'd pretended to be honeymooners. The difference of course was that it was here in his own home, there had been no room service, and they had simply had to… live together.
Maybe she actually had enjoyed it, maybe it had given her ideas…
And, he thought, I'm worried about that?
He opened the door just as she was rearrangeing the two bags she carried so that she could find a free hand with which to knock.
"I got here in time this time," he smiled. "Can I take one of those?"
"No, they're not awkward," she said briskly, "they're just a little heavy — but I can handle them because I don't want you to peek."
"Yes, you." She stopped and, having stepped into his home and being able to get a full view of him, she was speechless for a moment. He looked down at himself, seeing nothing wrong for someone relaxing on a Sunday afternoon.
"Clark, really, *Spiderman*?"
"Oh, this?" The T-shirt depicted a blue, red and black-on-white view of the comic book hero looking for action, gliding through the air on a bit of web; the decal was no bigger than the El family "S," he thought, had he been wearing that shirt. She probably couldn't have looked more surprised had she seen that one instead of what he was wearing now though. "I got it at Goodwill," he explained.
"Clark! You *don't* have to shop at Goodwill! You make good money!" and she rolled her eyes. "Perry pays you a living wage — more than that! — less than *me* but…"
"I know, I know," he said quickly, forestalling her further upset. He crunched over the top of the heavier looking of the bags so he couldn't see into it upon taking it from her, which was easy since she was distracted. "But I liked it, it fit, it was new — still in the wrapper — and I gave them a donation at the same time, so…"
"So you paid the same as buying it new but you gave a donation to a charity, okay, okay. But… Spiderman? He's a *cartoon character*!"
"I know, but he's a thrilling guy. You might even say… daring."
She rolled her eyes. "You don't need to advertise on a T-shirt to tell me you're daring!"
He paused on his way to the kitchen, surprised at how natural the way she said that had sounded even through her upset, and he looked back at her. She was wearing a touch of makeup and her hair was pony- tailed again though there were some stylishly loose strands. She wore faded blue jeans and a T-shirt. It had something on it, too, but she shifted the second bag so that he couldn't see it, and he was in no=7F position to look through the bag. Even then, he might accidently look a little too far and feel terribly embarrassed (he was absolutely certain he would) and how could he have explained a red face? Good thing for the glasses… "Okay…" he said, trying to get back on track, "you can put that over here…"
He led her to the kitchen counter-island-table that was cleared off, spotless and ready for being worked on. She set her bag down beside the one he put there.
"'Nuke Newt'? Really, Lois…"
"So? What about it? I wear my *politics* on my T-shirts, not my *dreams*…" And she tore her eyes away from him, looked over the kitchen nook and then down at her hands, sighing. "What am I *saying?* I'm sorry, Clark, that came out all wrong, I *didn't* mean it to sound that way. You just don't need to… pretend with me. I think you're special already, you don't have to say it on a T-shirt — not that you bought it with that in mind, I know," her hands came into play, helping her explain, "or to tell *me* anything, like I hadn't noticed, it's just…" She looked heavenward, shook her head and sighed again. "Oh, nothing, forget I said *any*thing, okay?"
"Okay…" Something is wrong here, Clark thought. He caught himself before lapsing into asking if she was all right (he'd begun to wonder if he was inquiring about her health altogether too much) and instead thought about what might have happened to her in the hours since he had last seen her, when she'd been so enthusiastic. 1.5 seconds later he had a guess and a way to ask it. "Did you… have fun last night at your meetings?"
"No, they weren't fun and nothing happened last night and I don't want to talk about it."
That was it, definitely, and he bet it was something to do with Raul, too, good.
Well, no, not "good", but… Sometimes it paid to be an investigative reporter but it was hard to leave one's heart in a jar by the door. "Oh, okay…"
She grabbed the edge of the counter and squeezed, white knuckled. "You can't force it out of me."
A degree in psychology might have helped here though. Winging it would have to do. "I won't even try."
She looked at him and softened a touch. He decided a little bit of a friendly smile, which he hoped she would take as either encouraging or sheltering, wouldn't hurt matters.
That earned him a "Oh, I'm *not* mad at you, Clark, not at *all*."
"I'm glad to hear *that*."
She looked away, obviously trying to think of a new topic. He didn't press there, either, just waiting. She looked at him again, trying to appear eager and as though she looked forward to the afternoon. "Ah… Did you talk to your folks last night?"
She remembered he'd mentioned that! Was that special or what?
"I talked to my dad. He really enjoyed your visit and said you should feel free to come back any time."
Her smile looked genuine at last. "He's so sweet, and I like how he's losing weight, I doesn't look like he's going to have a heart attack at any moment--" She pulled herself up, embarrassed. "Oh, I'm sorry, Clark, I shouldn't have said that…"
"But I agree, he's needed to lose weight."
"Oh, well… And your mom?"
"She wasn't home, she was at meeting about a statue in Smallville Park."
"Oh, the — the pioneer woman. She showed me the pictures. She's absolutely right, you know?"
"She usually is. And I passed on your message, too, my dad wrote it down."
Lois had to think back to remember that, obviously, but in a moment she had it and visibly warmed up and relaxed. "Well, good. It's still true," she nodded.
"That's great…" Things were going really well for her, eh? Hmm… Well, he certainly had no reason to complain, either. "So what are you going to bake?"
"*You'll* find out." She put her hands on both bags protectively and surveyed the kitchen, her face dropping just a fraction. "It's so… clean in here, Clark."
"It's so neat and… arranged…"
Oh. "I should have gotten things out for you…"
"No, no, no, I didn't tell you what I need so you couldn't have done that. It's just a nice, clean kitchen. Can I… browse around?"
"Sure, be my guest."
"Okay, you sit there on that stool — Oh, but first…" She opened the heavier of the bags and pulled out a folded newspaper. It was the first and political sections and the comics from the Sunday Daily Planet. She looked over the immediate area. "I don't see any signs of one, so maybe you didn't have time to pick up one of these…"
Ah, that was it, what had nagged at him a bit when flying back from Africa, but mostly he had thought about lunch and the desire to fall into a comfortable rut for a little while. "No, I was really busy."
She nodded as though she had figured that and handed him the paper. As she decided where to start browsing, he opened up it to the front page, and let out his breath (he hadn't realized he had been holding it) in a careful sigh as he saw it, his byline. His story was right there. It wasn't the topic of the main headline, no, that was understandably reserved for the bomb attempt on Air Force One and he didn't have to read that. But his story started above the fold, went right down to the bottom of the page, was aided by a picture of the fire damage in City Hall, and continued on page three, where Lois's detailed sidebar and more pictures took equal billing.
"Look at that headline," she told him from where she knelt poking into the oven broiler area.
"'Councilman Smith, Where Are You?' Well, it's catchy…"
"No, the one for *your* story. It doesn't sound like you at all…"
What did he "sound like," he wondered. He closed the paper back again and reread the title of his piece and shook his head. "No, the 'Your Tax Dollars at Work?' is Perry's, but the 'Flaws in City- Contracted Construction May Endanger Lives' is mine." I sound conservative, he thought. "Perry's more daring than me."
"He's also about twice as old and has lots more experience."
"He's not *that* old… Can I have this? — if you can spare it, that is?"
"Sure, I have a courier deliver three every day — well, every day that I have something published. Can I use this bowl and this spoon?"
His biggest bowl and a hefty wooden spoon. "Sure, use anything you want…" and while she clattered around, he found Perry's editorial, glanced over it, nodded to himself, it was what he had expected, then went back to what she had written, the first time he had seen her take on the story all written down in one place. Well, most of her take on it. "This is good, Lois, not hysterical or anything."
"Clark, I don't get hysterical when I write…"
"Oh, I forgot."
"Well, I hardly ever do. In first drafts, yes, to get it out of my system, and the first draft's where it remains."
"And when it does get out, it's usually for a good cause."
"Darn straight — it's *always* for a good cause."
He nodded though she couldn't see it and decided it was best not to say he was pleased for her sake that she had made no mention of space invaders and only a passing word or two about the Slime Monster. Which, Clark thought, would probably never be explained. Too bad. Actually, another change of subject would be good right about now. "When are you going to unpack the bag so I can figure out what you're going to bake?"
"Not enough clues yet, Sherlock?" she asked as she found a measuring cup and some measuring spoons.
"No clues, Watson, except I've ruled out baked potatos and I don't think you're trying for another Christmas dinner."
"That's right, it's not cold enough, I only do that when it's 20 below…" She went around the table to the couch and picked up her fanny pack which she had dropped there earlier. From it she extracted and unfolded a sheet of paper and consulted it for a moment. Then, apparently confident with this, she returned to the kitchen and confronted the stove, looking it over. "It's a gas stove, how… quaint."
"Want some help?"
"No. Turn that knob to 'bake' and that to the temperature?"
"Do I need to light anything?"
"Good, because I don't see *any* matches *or* hot pads around here…"
Oh. If something needed lighting, he usually did it himself, though he recalled having a book of matches in his tool box. The hot pads were different. After his dad had inadvertantly burned his hand on a skillet while making breakfast, Clark had bought the first hot pads he had seen, at a church rummage sale he'd come across while investigating a rumor about suspicious parsonage activities. "The hot pads are in that drawer right by the oven, there on your left. There's an oven mit, too."
"Okay, thanks…" She checked, pulled out the mit, tried it on. "It looks like Kermit the Frog…"
"I like Kermit. 'It's not easy being green'…" or anything out of the ordinary. He felt for Kermit.
"Yeah…" she said sympathetically, as though things were hard for her, too. But then she smiled, "Well, no more help."
"Just sit there and watch and answer questions — if I have any."
"Except we can talk about other things."
"This is a good time for that…" considering that he was rested and alert and she was just preoccupied enough to be able to concentrate on several things at once. Clark had noticed women seemed to be able to do that without realizing it. The busier they were, the more they could juggle.
"Yes, it is…" She paused a moment and leaned on the counter and seemed to be listening to something. "What *is* that music?"
"Penguin Cafe Orchestra, 'Broadcasting from Home.'"
"Penguin…? I saw that before, I thought it was music from… from the Arctic, you know, like your other bird music?"
Don't say it, he warned himself, about penguins being southern hemisphere birds. "No, it's this. I think there's a Penguin Cafe in London or maybe Paris. Should I change it? I can probably find some blues somewhere…"
"No, don't get up, no blues for today, I like this, it's upbeat." She opened the heavier bag again. "Ready?"
He folded the paper and laid it aside, leaned his elbows on his knees and interlaced his fingers. "Go for it."
"Okay…" She pulled out a five-pound bag of name-brand all- purpose flour. "Clue number one."
"You're going to make something with flour in it, a *lot* of flour."
"Not this much, but I can leave what's left here, right?"
"Sure. We'll put it in a plastic bag and store it in the freezer."
"To keep…" weevils out… "it from spoiling."
"Oh, like putting batteries and film in the refrigerator, I see." She considered both bags again and opened the other one. "Your next clue…" She pulled out a dozen eggs. "Do you know these come in clever little half-dozen packs? But I got a dozen in case we decide to make a whole lot of… what I want to make. I can leave these here, too, and you can eat them if you want because I don't think you can freeze eggs."
"I've never tried. That many eggs… crepes?"
"Clark, even *I* know you don't *bake* crepes…"
"A cake then."
"You're getting clooooserrrr…"
"Can I buy a vowel?"
"No, wrong game…" She pulled out a pound of butter in quarter- pound sticks, a box of baking soda and one of baking powder, and a bag of white sugar and a box of brown.
"I'm beginning to get the picture. I'll buy some ohs."
"But you haven't won any money yet, remember?"
"Will you loan me some?"
"No, so you can't buy anything so your guess is invalid so you lost." She arranged things neatly and looked at him with a pleased and superior air. "Now you have to tell me your deepest secret."
Oh, right… sometime, but not like this, not quite, not with all the baking ingredients coming between them when he wanted them to be *his* baking ingredients made up nice and tasty. "My deepest secret is that I *love* cookies."
She paused. "Somehow I don't think that's your *deepest* secret…"
"Well, no… Anything with pesto in it is right up there, too."
"I agree with you on that. You know, we have a lot in common…"
He agreed with that, but hearing her innumerate those things would be nice. "Such as?"
"We…" she shrugged, "We both want to know what's at the bottom of the bag."
"But you already know."
"Yes! Isn't it exciting?"
Huh? Ah… "I guess I should have spun again…"
"No, the game's over, no more metaphors, you lost — but you're forgiven."
He gave up. The more he tried to figure her out, the deeper he found himself sinking into what she probably called logic, and while that wasn't bad — and indeed could be fun… he wasn't entirely comfortable with it.
But, he figured, he'd survive to try again, and keep trying. Sometimes it really paid off to have superstrength. She pulled out a dark bottle of vanilla, a big bag of M&Ms — "Karen suggested these" — an equally big bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips, a small bag of sweetened…
"Laurie said it will make the cookies moister, and she should know, she's made more of them than I have."
"And baking soda *and* baking powder?"
"Well, the recipe says soda, but it could have been a typo, so, just in case…"
"Stick with the soda."
"It wasn't a typo."
"They're not the same."
"Okay." She shoved the round can aside out of the way. "I'll do something else with it then."
"You can make biscuits."
"Biscuits…" Her expression seemed to indicate she had planned on making only cookies for the rest of her life. But plans could change, she was flexible. "Okay, next time: biscuits. Now, be quiet… Wait a minute, it's too quiet."
"I'll go turn the tape over."
"No, wait, it's your day to relax, *I'll* change the tape."
"Okay," because he could certainly relax for the rest of the day.
"And since you've been a good sport, humoring me through all this…" She picked up the bag of chocolate chips and cut it open with the scissors.
"Humor you? I'm not, I'm having fun." There it was, he *was* having fun. "I'm glad you wanted to do this."
"Then you *don't* want the Lois Lane Tolerance and Understanding Award?"
"Well, since you put it that way…"
She sampled the chips, maybe half a dozen at once, looked thoughtful for a moment, and said, "Umm, they'll do." She raised an eyebrow at him and then approached. "Open wide…" and she popped one into his mouth.
It tasted like chocolate all right, just barely. "Only one?"
"I don't want you to get fat, *and* I have to save some for the cookies."
"That's not fair," and he reached out and touched her now-empty hand. "What else are you saving?"
"A few things… but not this," and she closed in and they exchanged a too-brief, chocolate flavored kiss. She pulled away, and he considered pulling her back, but she looked like she was repressing a giggle and wouldn't come. She said, "You're trying to distract me when there's the music…" and she motioned vaguely toward the living room.
"Yes… — oh, you mean the tape."
"What else? — Clark, you have the heart of a romantic!"
He did? Well, sure! "You hadn't noticed? And *don't* get flour on my tapes."
"What flour?" She glanced at her hands. There was only a trace of white powder, something one got from the inherently dusty bags it came in. She shook her head at him. "Romantic heart, Dear Heloise head…" she muttered. "*And* you're a worrywart."
"You heard me," she said as she headed for the book case and the tape/CD player. She'd feel the breeze from the front windows there. He wondered if that in combination with the open kitchen windows would be enough to cool the apartment once the oven got hot. He usually baked early in the morning to avoid overheating guests later in the day and it seemed she was pretty hot already…
She pulled the tape out of the player, turned it over, slipped it back in, but didn't start it up again, instead, looking over his collection and mumbling to herself.
He tuned in to hear her, but her musings were overwhelmed by the sound of a car passing — no, screeching to a stop just outside. Clark felt a tingle of suspicion up his back. Since she couldn't see him do it, he lowered his glasses and looked up through the front-room wall.
A gray, four-door sedan had stopped on the street, almost behind Lois's Jeep. A man dressed in a short-sleeved black shirt and blue jeans and wearing a black ski cap pulled low over his ears jumped out of the passenger side. He was holding something that he leaned back to throw overhand at Clark's apartment. Just as the object flew through the window, Clark found himself between the danger and Lois.
She looked startled. "Clark?"
He pulled her close, wishing he could envelop her and rush her away, distressed that they couldn't be safe even in his own home.
They heard the object hit the railing on the landing and clunk back on to the narrow strip of floor up on that level.
"What the…?" She looked around him and he turned as well.
They saw a large brown, beer bottle on its side; it was discharging a clear liquid. A few feet away was a charred rag.
"Oh, Clark, a fire bomb!"
"That's gasoline" — he could smell it now — "go turn off the oven!"
She didn't have to be asked twice. As she ran to do that, he almost flew up the steps and righted the bottle to stop the discharge of its contents, touching it only by the lip in case the thrower had confidently left his fingerprints on it. He checked on Lois: her back was still turned toward him. He took a breath and blew it steadily, gently out the window, encouraging a new breeze to start, from the back of the apartment to the front this time. He realized he'd need to do something more reliable, but it could wait a few moments. He went to the door, opened it and looked out.
The gray car was only half way down the block, not having made it very far because Clinton Street was busy. There were also people on the sidewalks stopping, watching, pointing: they weren't ignoring what had happened as people in other neighborhoods might have. Whoever the felons were, they were heading toward Sinibaldi. That would be their downfall. They wanted to turn left, too, and Lois was the only person Clark had ever seen make that turn on less than two lights. He lowered his glasses and caught the license plate number. Into the car, he noted that the driver was also male and wearing black, but also unknown to him. Both looked hot in their dark clothing. Both had wallets and licenses, but Clark didn't recognize their names, "Jaxon" and "Black", but they could have been carrying false IDs. The driver had glasses and several gold fillings, while the bomb-wielding passenger had an incipient ulcer. Clark didn't wonder why.
"Clark, get in here!" He felt Lois grabbing his shorts by the waist. She pulled, hard. "I like you daring — not dead!"
"But they don't have guns…" he said as he slipped his glasses back up and let her pull him in.
"And just *how* do you know that?"
Oh, yeah. "Because they probably would have used them instead of…" he waved a hand at the smelly mess, "that."
"Well, maybe, but they might have guns because they know they're klutzes with Molotov cocktails."
"Yeah," he sighed as he looked at the big puddle on the polished wooden floor. He'd cleaned and sealed the old wood soon after he had moved in and he kept it clean, so the gasoline might not soak in. Paper towels… later. "I don't know whether to be relieved or insulted." When people tried to take revenge on Lois they were a lot more creative than this…
"Believe me, relieved is better. Sometimes it pays to live on the 18th floor. Now go call 911 and tell them what you saw. I'll see what I can do," and she opened the front door again.
He decided it best not to point out that she was contradicting her own advice to him because it would have been a waste of breath. "The phone's in the bedroom…"
"Then what are you waiting for?" and she stepped outside on to the porch.
He went down the steps into his living room, looked back — she was pulling the door almost closed, she couldn't see him — shook his head, and zipped into his bedroom. He glanced at the phone, still on the bedside table where he had left it after talking to his father the night before. "Yeah, dad, she's *some* woman…" some crazy kind of woman… who was only trying to be helpful.
He sighed to himself, checked to see if his neighbor, the ancient Mrs. Wallace, might be out enjoying the container garden he had turned the patio into, but saw that she wasn't. He had slipped out more than once when she had been out there, her back to his window. Now though she was probably sitting in her front room or maybe on her porch, watching the world go by, and that meant yet another witness to what had happened. He changed into the suit, slipped out the window and shot immediately up into the sky.
The bombers were easy to spot. They were in the left-hand turn lane, behind a black pickup truck, awaiting a light that was always finicky. Not only were they failed mad bombers, they hadn't even planned their escape route.
Keeping their distance, several of his neighbors, including Jonesy Farber and her kids, were watching the car and its occupants cautiously, apparently well aware of what was going on. Clark wondered if Superman was really needed, but if the bombers got away, they'd probably ditch the car and disappear into Metropolis's underground, or, worse, realizing that traffic was totally against them, they might harm someone here in a panic induced by slow turn lights.
So the two had to be stopped and it shouldn't be up to the neighbors to do it since it had been him, Clark, the villains had been after. He'd need to tie this up quickly though.
From his 500-foot-high vantage point, he looked over the immediate neighborhood and saw that the frugal Mr. Cheung had finally decided to clean out his grocery store's back room. Among the things in the dumpster behind his establishment were strands of Christmas lights. Appropriate somehow, Clark thought. He zipped down, grabbed up several strands, and within 5 seconds of having left his bedroom he was standing in front of the getaway vehicle, looking not very pleased about the whole thing. He was glad, though, that the car was not moving because crumpled fenders were always somehow depressing.
The car's occupants panicked but expressed it in different ways. The driver froze, which made it easy for Superman to poke through his open window and use a length of Christmas light wire to "handcuff" him to his steering wheel and seal it with a bit of heat vision. He also reached further in, took the keys and welded them to the car's roof by their ring.
The man who had thrown the ineffective bomb was making a run for it, and he passed within only yards of Jonesy and her kids, who were apparently heading home from a trip to Cheung's Grocery. It was wise thinking on the villain's part not to attempt to use any one he passed as a shield to aide in his escape attempt. He would have known no end of trouble then, because Clark had dealing with hostage situations down to an art. Still, the fellow didn't get far enough even to find a place to hide. Superman plucked him out of the alley he ran into, returned him to the car, tossed him back into his seat and closed the door. He reached in, pulled the man's arms around the post that separated the front and back side windows (the back window was down, fortunately; Clark didn't like to break things) and "handcuffed" him as he had the other one. This man began to shriek and cry for a lawyer.
Superman gave him no solace.
Traffic was light at the moment, but it was nonetheless beginning to build up again and the car couldn't just be left there where it was. He warned "Hold on…" like the clowns have a choice, he thought. He lifted the car and carried it over into to the parking area to the west of Cheung's where fortunately there was plenty of room, all the work of a minute. Both men were screaming for help now, but they calmed considerably when the car was on level ground again.
Jonesy, who had hardly moved from her position there at the end of the parking lot but instead watched fascinated, was smiling and no longer looked concerned about her kids' safety. As she was the closest person (Clark wished that wasn't so, but there it was), he told her, "I'm glad I was in the area, checking up on Clark, but I can't stay…" He looked at Cody and decided to bring the boy in to "help" a bit. This usually impressed children no end and made them cooperative, which pleased their parents. But, as Clark had noticed moments earlier, Cody's mouth had dropped open and his eyes were wide. Clark hoped it wasn't speechless awe… Vanessa, on the other hand, was watching him in a calculating manner. Uh-oh… Oh, well. "Can you watch these two until the police come?"
Jonesy looked down at Cody and then replied for them both. "No problem, Superman. You've got them tied up, but…" she dug into her purse quickly and pulled out a small can of mace "if they give us *any* trouble…"
"Good," he smiled, extending it to Cody, but even that didn't help the child recover.
"I'm worried about Clark," Jonesy said. "If you could check on him…"
Superman checked, apparently using x-ray and telescopic vision, but actually only scoping in on Lois, who was watching it all from the porch. She wasn't clapping her hands, cheering, whistling, or anything else that he might have expected. No, she was calm. Well, after all, really, this wasn't a new thing for her to witness like it was for, say, Cody… Now, would she stay there or go back in to "help Clark"?
"Clark's fine, he's calling the police, and there was no fire."
"Oh, that's a relief. Probably everyone else is calling the police, too, we have a good neighborhood watch system here."
Other neighbors, feeling safe to approach and wanting a better view of Superman, nodded in solidarity and commented among themselves on how good their neighborhood was in that respect.
"I'm glad to hear that. I must go," and off he went, heading south, fast. As soon as he reached the nearest tall building half a mile away, he doubled back around it at blinding speed and within a second or so was back in his own bedroom, into his regular clothing, and picking up the phone to dial 911. Busy. He tried again, and this time, as the phone dialed, he walked around the bed to his closet and pulled out the floor fan he had stored there. His father had given it to him for appearances sake since his apartment didn't have regular air conditioning; now it would come in handy.
As the phone rang and rang, he took the fan into the kitchen and set it on the counter by the sink and parallel to the window, pulled the kitchen window's blinds all the way up, plugged the fan it in at the outlet there, and turned it on, aiming it out into the room. That, he hoped, would keep the gasoline fumes well away from the area. As for the puddle, he had the feeling the police might want to inspect the scene and they'd probably question him about touching the bottle; newspapers soaking up the remains of the gasoline wouldn't please them.
911 answered and promptly advised him to hold on. Good grief…
Lois opened the front door and looked in. She saw him straighten from putting the eggs and the butter in the refridgerator. She seemed surprised, but, hey, cookie making was definitely postponed and one couldn't leave delicate ingredients just sitting out, she'd have to understand that.
She got over her surprise in no time and rushed toward him. "Are you having trouble getting through?"
"They put me on hold," and he held out the phone.
"Gimme that!" and she grabbed it from his hand and growled into it "Answer this phone!"
"I'm going to go see if I can help out there…"
"Okay, be careful — Yes! There's been an attempted fire bombing on Clinton Street and… Oh, you know — yes, Superman was here but he's not any more and… he's *not* going to bring the criminals in for you!"
Clark didn't want to listen to that. He left the front door open to encourage the entry of more fresh air into the apartment, went down the steps and headed at a brisk pace to the north, toward the scene of the roundup. Little had changed, except there were more neighbors crowding around to see what had happened. It looked and sounded like they were trying to decide who would perform the citizens arrest and a lot of people were lobbying for that lucky person to be Mrs. Wallace, who was hobbling up in her walker in an excited and determined manner.
The neighbors who weren't engrossed in that decision making process caught sight of Clark, greeted him, said that he looked okay, asked about damage to his home, and related what they had seen and that they would be willing to tell the police all. At one time Clark would have been surprised at the show of solidarity (it still would have surprised his father, for example), but since the neighborhood watch group had developed and several strong members had been steering it on a true course, this pride among his neighbors was becoming a common thing. Lois caught up with him, grabbed him by the arm and whispered, "The police *claim* they're coming…" as though all these strangers wouldn't be interested, indeed would disappear at the first sound of police sirens.
"Then they probably are, there's a substation about a quarter of a mile from here."
"They're probably all out eating donuts…"
Since she and her steaming, protective attitude on his behalf (wow, he thought) were hard to miss, he began introducing her as "My friend Lois," to give her a chance to act like a normal person if she wanted to. But enough people quickly figured out who she was that she became the center of some attention, which, when she apparently realized his neighbors were harmless, she was polite enough about to be able to gently turn the tables and begin garnering reactions for a story. Well, Clark thought, it was a story better written by her than him.
He turned, zeroed on the call and knelt in time to pluck Vanessa up in her dash at him. He sat her on his arm, and she gave him a big hug around his neck and then looked at him seriously. He could feel what was coming. Fortunately, she was as excited as she was serious, so when she began to speak, her tale came out in something akin to babytalk. "Shh," he whispered, "Tell me a secret," and he walked a distance and turned so that the fewest number of people would be likely to see her hug his neck again and whisper certain truths in his ear. As for those who could hear her talking, odds were very good they would not understand her.
As expected, in essence she warned him about flying around, it could be *dangerous*. He nodded along seriously, letting her get it out of her system, which took about 30 breathless seconds, during which time he noticed Lois was watching him. She had gotten the group of neighbors talking among themselves, he noted, and was free to turn her attention back to him. But he really doubted she could understand babytalk or lip read it, even if she could hear what Vanessa was saying.
When Vanessa had spoken her piece, she leaned back relaxed, totally comfortable with the fact that he wouldn't let her fall, and gave him a "Well, what about it, buddy?" look.
"I'll be very careful," he told her in a whisper equal to the one she had used. "This is our secret, okay?"
She considered him deeply and nodded solemnly. He reflected that she was unlikely to volunteer the information to strangers, few people outside of her family could probably understand her anyhow, and she would eventually forget, what with the countless new things she encountered every day. Too, who would believe the little kid — not realizing that small children, the occasional ancient adult, and all animals knew everything in the world worth knowing. He patted her back and smiled, and she returned the smile, patting Spiderman's face.
"Well, Clark, you seem to have girl friends on *every* corner…" Lois said as she walked up, pretending to be surprised yet anticipating it all along, ironic and joking at the same time, expecting more yet nothing less from him.
At least, that's what Clark thought he heard. He definitely saw a twinkle in Lois's eyes. Little did she know, he thought. He looked at the child. "Girl friend nothing. We're *very* good friends, aren't we?"
The little girl nodded and grinned, showing a lot of bright white baby teeth.
"I've known her practically all her life," he told Lois nonchalantly.
He looked back at the girl. "And we're going to get married, hmmm?"
The child's eyes widened, she chewed on her thumb for a thoughtful moment, then broke out a giggle and fell forward, hiding her face under his chin. He tried shrugging his unencumbered shoulder. "We haven't gotten that part worked out yet."
"She just wants you for your body."
"Maybe you should elope," Lois advised dryly.
"But we can't, I've already talked to the caterer and ordered invitations: 'Clark Kent and Vanessa Farber announce…"
"Oh, yes, didn't I tell you?" He put on the most innocent expression in his repertoire as he patted the little girl's back, then stopped because she might burp. "*This* is Vanessa."
"Vanessa…" Lois gave herself a long moment obviously dedicated largely to composure. "I knew it all along, I knew it was something exactly like this."
"Sure you did."
"Well, I did!"
"Not! I had you going a million miles a minute when I really only have *one* girl friend…"
That stopped her. Her eyebrows most certainly said "Moi?" and, realizing all the implications of what he had said — and that they were all just fine and rather late in being made clear and where had he been all this time? — he nodded. "No one else — I mean, if…"
She nodded. "I think we should have established that a lot sooner… boy friend. So then what were you *really* doing Wednesday night? Working on your story?"
"Yes, and babysitting."
Now her eyebrows said "No…" as though he had admitted to secretly collecting Barbie dolls. "You?"
"Sure, I babysit all the time. See that kid over there? The one who's hopping up and down?"
"The one shouting 'Superman-Superman-Superman'?"
Oh, he was, wasn't he? And laughing like mad, too. "Yeah, like you used to do — "
"I never did that!"
"I said *used to*."
"It's been ages."
"Okay, okay, anyway, that's Cody, he's Vanessa's brother. And that's their mother off to the right a little ways. We're all neighbors. I babysit for her sometimes, and sometimes for other people. Don't *you* babysit?"
"No… I like children but…"
"You like most of them to be elsewhere. That's okay."
"But…" as though she wanted to argue otherwise but really she was ambivalent about children en masse, or so he had observed, and there was nothing wrong or right with that.
Cody caught sight of him and bounced over, grabbed the edge Clark's t-shirt and announced gleefully: "I saw him! I talked to him! I'm *helping* him!"
"Good for you."
Vanessa began to squirm. Clark set her down and she began bouncing, too, obviously not knowing why but wanting to be like her big brother, who calmed a bit so that he could watch over her. They bounced away toward a group of other kids who had to be told all and be brought into the circle of helpers.
Jonesy followed after him at a safe, mom-like distance, stopping by Clark, smiling at him and giving him a hug, apparently wanting to assure herself that he was still in one piece. He appreciated that. She shook her head then. "We saw that car stop and that man throw the bottle…"
"Well, it looks like the wick blew out before it got through my window, and the bottle bounced off that railing inside or it might have hit Lois…"
"Lois?" Jonesy gave his partner a once over. Clark introduced them quickly and they shook hands briefly. Jonesy nodded. "So *you're* the one, um-hmm."
"The one what?" Lois asked.
"Don't worry, dear, you're just the one, that's all you need to know, and I'm glad to meet you."
Well, Clark thought, it was about time Lois was confused about something.
But that didn't stop her from trying to regain some control of the situation. "Clark babysits for you?"
"Yes, when I can get him. Why, if it hadn't been for Clark, I might have given birth to Vanessa in my living room."
Lois's expression said "?"
"Vanessa decided to come a little early," Clark explained.
"And I'd just moved into the neighborhood and didn't know anyone but Clark."
"I didn't know anyone yet either, this wasn't really a neighborhood yet."
"But we'd met in Cheung's and welcomed each other."
"There's a big welcoming committee now."
"Then a few days later he heard me yelling my head off and came to see what was happening. My water had broken and I *wasn't* ready. He got me to the hospital. We almost flew, we got there so fast."
Lois smiled at that, as though it were to be expected.
"There was a cab passing right then, luckily." Luck hadn't had much to do with it; the driver had been at the stop sign at the cross street just south on Clinton, had claimed a previous commitment, and been strongly convinced to take the fare by being dragged out of the cab to offer a bit of help to change his mind.
"And then he took care of Cody for me until I was back on my feet."
"Cody…" Lois turned and looked at the boy among the group of kids a few yards away. "I remember! You brought him to work and Perry nearly had a stroke. But Cody was so small and quiet, like a little paperweight…"
"You didn't tell me he gave you any trouble, Clark."
"But he didn't!" Lois said quickly. "Perry took him into his own office and put him to sleep with Elvis stories and then Perry was an angel for the rest of the day. Everyone began wishing Clark would bring Cody once a week."
"You didn't tell me that, Lois."
"Well, you were so busy learning the ropes of the big city newspaper game that I didn't want to burden you with that, too, but, believe me, you got all kinds of Brownie points for that… Talking about newspapers, I think we should try to interview the bombers before the police get here."
"I read your story," Jonesy said, "it's very good. Do you think they were after you for that?"
Clark shrugged. "Could be, that's the only thing I can think of, too, and Lois is right, we should try to talk to them."
"Come on," Lois said, "let's go wring it out of them," and she smiled a glad-to-meet-you at Jonesy and gave Clark an I'll-race-you- for-them look.
The bombers were still stewing in their car, ignoring the neighbors gathered around talking about them. Mrs. Wallace had indeed performed the citizen's arrest by laying her frail hand on each one and saying what she had been coached to say. Mr. Cheung had presented her with a memorial bottle of iced tea and had brought out a folding chair so that she could sit in the shade. The neighbors clued Lois and Clark in on what they had missed and gave them their own speculations on the cause of the whole thing, that top speculation going to Clark's article, which they uniformly admired for gutsiness and community service.
But it was up to Lois to ask the big question and she aimed it at the driver, the more frightened looking of the two. "All right, who do you work for?"
"Don't say anything!" the bomb hurler warned.
"We're not the police," Lois said, "we're reporters. I think you may work for Intergang, and that you're new recruits."
"Sacrificial lambs," Clark said.
"Absolutely," Lois nodded at him. She looked back at the driver. "They do that all the time, you know. I suspect that Singher contacted Intergang and contracted for two hit men to scare my friend here. Intergang humored him and sent you clowns."
"And you better hope for a very high bail," Clark added. "What would you say, they'd have two hours?"
"Oh, three at the most," she said, then smiled at the driver, "because within three hours of being released on bail, your bodies will probably be at the bottom of Hobbs Bay…"
"Even if you manage to find competent lawyers and don't say anything to the police."
"Unless, of course, you want to tell *us* all about it, that will give you some cover…"
The driver began to sweat. The bomber hissed at him again to say nothing. Police sirens could be heard approaching. Neighbors thought the two should talk before the police came.
But they didn't.
A squad car with two officers pulled up within moments of Lois having decided she and Clark had to think of another way to get the information out of the two. They had to move out of the way and found themselves standing under a tree, almost alone for the moment. Lois said that she thought the bombers were so incompetent and it was so clearly obvious that they were new at it, that she wondered if even Bobby Bigmouth would know anything. "Maybe Singher hired them himself, *maybe* they work for him…"
"That will be easy to find out."
"But the police will find out first."
"I guess we'll have to follow them when they take these two in."
"I know," she sighed and took his hand, "but I'd *rather* make cookies…"
"You would? You'd pass up a story to make cookies?"
"You bet your sweet chumpy! This time, yes!"
Wow… He really hoped she hadn't hit her head and that this wonderful attitude of hers would never wear off… "I'd rather do that, too."
"But Perry would scream…"
The two police officers began to gather information and based on it formally arrested the two accused and informed them of their rights. Wire cutters were found, the Christmas lights removed and clipped into pieces and distributed to the children as souvenirs. Real handcuffs were substituted, and the two were frisked (no guns were found) and put in the back of the squad car. A crime lab specialist arrived and asked to see the scene of the crime, so Lois and Clark took her to his apartment and several neighbors followed to tell the specialist what had happened outside and to perhaps get a glimpse at damage inside.
The spilled gasoline had evaporated but left enough stain so the investigator could take pictures before and after she collected the bottle and its remaining contents as evidence. Clark wondered if the "1001 Household Cleaning Tips" book his mother had given him several years earlier, shortly after he had bomb stained his suit, would cover this mess.
Since the source of the fumes was gone, he felt safe in closing up the front of the apartment, but left the fan going. After advising him to change into a more… adult T-shirt, Lois drove them to police headquarters where the accused, who had yet to give their names, would be booked and further interrogated. On the way, Lois commented on his quiet attitude and Clark shrugged and sighed: "I'd *rather* be helping you make cookies."
"You'd think we deserved a little peace and quiet to ourselves… when we probably won't be done with this until sometime tonight. We'll have to go in and write it up, too."
In the Metropolis Police Headquarters parking garage she had practically a reserved parking spot, and as luck would have it, no one had taken it so they couldn't use that as an excuse to do something else in the meantime.
But before Clark could open his door and get out, Lois said, "Wait. Do you have a spare pocket in those shorts?"
"Sure." He had only one occupied pocket, and that held his wallet.
"I should have give you these back earlier…" She dug into her fanny pack, pulled out her spare keys and gave them to him. "I'm sorry we had the misunderstanding about them."
"I'm sorry I didn't speak up."
"No, *I'm* sorry, I didn't give you a chance."
"You… well, you're — we're both right, but you should get a reward for realizing that."
"Do you have one in mind?"
"Actually, yes, I do. Do you want it now?"
She did. He gave it to her. They lingered over it.
"How about if we try making cookies Wednesday night?"
"Do you have to babysit?"
"I haven't been asked to. I could make dinner, too…"
"That would be nice."
"And we could talk…"
"That would be wonderful, Clark."
"And you'd have the next day off to relax…"
"Yes. Should we call it a date or think up some other euphemism we haven't used yet?"
"Just come over as soon as you can leave the office."
"I'll call first, in case you've been… distracted."
"Do you want a reward for thinking all that up?"
He did. He got one.
To be continued at a later date …
[The author wishes to thank Laurie, Kathy, Kay, Marie and Mel for proofing.]