By Debby Stark email@example.com
September 10, 1995
Summary: Lois begins to recover from the injuries she sustained in the previous story. The duo continue to investigate Waldecker's disappearance. Superman is sued.
If you missed Dawning episodes 1-7 (this should be read in order), ask me, visit my ftp site (ftp.swcp.com/pub/users/dstark), or ask the fanfic index for them. All recognizable characters mentioned below are the property of their respective owners, but I am responsible for my ideas. Actually, I borrowed the basic idea of The Vault from a round robin I worked on. Also, there's another idea in here that sounds like it came from the show, but I originally wrote it back in October, 1994 and have only now found a place to begin to it fit in.
One of the first things Lois Lane had determined to learn after deciding in 10th grade to become a world-famous reporter was how to wake up from whatever situation she had gotten herself into (like being kidnapped by white slavers) without the bad guys knowing she was conscious again. That and karate and shorthand, which every good reporter should also know. As her writing, martial arts and note-taking skills were honed by fine teachers and exciting experiences, survival habits, like waking silently, also became ingrained.
Eventually Lois decided that she hadn't given herself away. She also decided that the pains all over her body had been caused by some barely remembered horrendous event that involved flying and somebody in blue, and not by a full-grown St. Bernard sprawled out on top of her.
She reconnoitered her position. She was lying on her left side in her own bed; it should have been more comfortable, she had paid a lot for the mattress. She was wearing an old T- shirt for pajamas; that part was okay. The room was quiet; she could just hear the refrigerator humming and the loudest of the traffic from far below in the street. This was all normal, and therefore highly suspicious.
She carefully opened her left eye.
Over a wrinkle in the pillowcase she saw that the room was dimly lighted, though not from the ceiling fixture and it didn't have a pinkish tinge from the bedside lamp's shade. She decided that the origin of the yellowish glow was unimportant for the moment.
What was important was that she saw Clark Kent, in a tieless, two-buttons-unbuttoned, sleeves-pushed-up white shirt, and he was sitting in one of her plush, curl-up-in bedroom chairs, facing away from her a little. His glasses were gone and he was rubbing his eyes very slowly, or maybe he was asleep.
She opened the other eye and considered him.
You really don't look like Superman… Superman looks like you slicked back and sort of detached from everything, and you have to be wearing that suit and it's all an act anyhow because the fly guy is, well, pretty shallow in comparison. It was a good act though, three stars out of four on an average day…
Then she thought: if we sleep together any closer than this next time, Clark, we'd better be in the same bed…
As she laid there deciding that he was indeed asleep, various unrelated scenes from an incident that had probably occurred quite recently trickled into her memory. She closed her eyes. Thoughts that she might have mistaken for nightmares pieces began to coalesce and claim they made perfect sense.
I don't want to wake up yet, she thought, not if it means confronting all that.
Odd about the light. He didn't need it, no doubt being perfectly able to see in the dark to watch over her, a thought that made her tingle a bit. But then, she had done the same for him once or twice briefly, though he had been in the Superman suit and hadn't let her get as close or be as comforting as she had wanted to.
The light probably was from a lamp after all, she decided, left on for her, meaning it was still night and she could get some more shut-eye.
She rolled over, slowly, but the pain and irritation only served to wake her further. She kept the I'm-still-asleep guise though: she was sure that Clark wouldn't disabuse her of the idea. She could easily imagine him mother-henning her-- and by gosh she'd let him do so for a while.
Just as she wore her watch on her right wrist, her radio alarm clock was on the right side of the bed. As she pulled the pillow into a more comfortable lump, she glanced at the clock to confirm her suspicions. 9:38
Well, of course. She'd gotten home at what, 9? From doing what exactly?--it didn't matter, Clark would remember. After that something had happened, a couple of somethings, who knew what--he was keeping track of that probably, too-- and here she was in bed and Clark wasn't, so *that* hadn't happened…
There was a window on that side of the bed and the drawn shade was etched around with white-yellow light.
She sat bolt upright, or tried to. The room spun and a wide range of body parts protested vehemently as she fought to remain perpendicular.
"Lois, lie back down right now."
She shrugged off his light touch, even though moving her shoulders hurt, and leaned forward carefully to rest her elbows on her knees, her face in her hands. That hurt, too. "'smorning…"
"The morning of your day off. Lie back down."
"Lois, you're taking your day off and I won't hear any arguments about it."
Oh, yeah, little red--blue hen? She squinted at him. White hen with glasses. He wasn't quite sitting on the bed, somehow almost hovering there. No, that couldn't be the case, he wouldn't slip like that, it was probably her eyes. She blinked and for some reason, like she was sure he would lie to comfort her, she asked, "Do I look as awful as I feel?"
He took a careful breath. "Yes."
"Thanks, Clark, I needed to know that--no, I didn't, I need to be humored!" She also needed the room to stop bouncing. Or maybe it was the bed now and he was sitting down after all. Heavy dude, wasn't he?
"I'm not going to humor you, Lois. You have to take care of yourself. Since you won't listen to me, Perry even insisted--
"Well, *Perry* can go…"
She stopped herself and immediately lightened the frown she was aiming at him. One more word from her and, scandalized, he would exclaim "LO-wis!" in that cute way he had. She sighed, rubbed her eyes again to get them to focus, and ordered herself to calm down and be reasonable. After all, she could out-reasonable Clark on a bad day with… Oh, this was a bad day, wasn't it? And he couldn't help the way he was, she reminded herself, all boy scoutish and proper. Well, he could help it, but not at the moment. Besides, she loved the way he was and he better not change.
Come on, brain, stop babbling…
"Perry's not as important to me as you are…" which she hadn't quite realized she would say, but it sounded so good it had to be one of those truth-filled slips of the tongue. "…and I'm listening to you, I know you care, but…" She took a careful, deeper breath and tried to open her eyes wider. It didn't feel like either of them was swollen, that was good; she recalled having tried to protect her head during the fight. There had been a fight, she remembered that now. "…but we have to go to that…" What was it? Block party? No. Zoo? No. Shopping? No. Ah… "Oh--that bank thing this afternoon, unless I slept through Thursday, and I better *not* have…" What had he said, her day off?
"You didn't," he said quietly, not needing to add that he wished she had slept straight through today, tomorrow and the weekend, too. "But we're skipping that, it doesn't matter--"
"Of course, it matters! The bank is the center of attention, it's the raison d'etre of everything that's been happening!"
"Such as?" His tone of voice indicated she better come up with something good or he was going to sit on her like a St. Bernard and she'd never escape and there'd be no way he could be talked into doing *that* while he was sitting. Not that she felt like it.
"Such as…" She searched her memory. Images came and went. One stayed. The man. "Such as that man with the Kryptonite. You… you didn't see him, he escaped." I may not be tarp as a shack at the moment, she thought, remembering the caption on the birthday card Lucy slipped under her door last year, but I'm just tarp enough… "He thought I recognized him. I didn't then but now I do, it came to me in a dream."
"Don't look at me like that, I'm not making this up! I'd make up something *better* than this. He is--was one of Lex's scientists. I remembered being in Lex's office one morning when that man came in to report on some experiment. Something to do with drilling and geology and Lexcorp Gas. I don't remember the details except it sounded legitimate. The man was Richards--James Richards, and what struck me about him was that he didn't lick Lex's boots like everyone else did-- except me, of course, I didn't, either, except… well…"
"Well, I didn't!" She spread her hands to help express her frustration because sometimes even she still wondered. "He fooled *me*, too!"
"I know, I know that now…" He took her closer hand in both of his. His touch was warm. "Just tell me what you remember, I'm listening."
Clark, the only one who had never been impressed by Lex… What was it about people who came from Krypton by way of Kansas? "You always listen…"
"Not always, but I usually wish I had…"
She licked her lips, pulled her eyes back from making her feel she was falling into his (he blinked, too, which helped), and tried to remember where she was. "Ah… Richards. He didn't act frightened when he told Lex about problems they were having. He just told him like it was and Lex looked like he appreciated it."
"Okay, that's good, he's intelligent, he has some Kryptonite, and he may have connections to Luthor. I can tell Inspector Henderson all that and you can rest--"
"No, no, no! *We* have to find out *why* Richards is involved in this. It's the first clue we have! He didn't strike me as being a criminal type or even the gun-wielding type, I don't think. He was the polite type to me…" She began to feel heavy, liquid and uneasy suddenly. "Oh, I've got to get up…" and she began trying to figure out how the covers worked.
"No, you don't--"
"Yes, I do, Clark, unless you want to find a bed pan and *right away*…"
His steadfast mother-hen demeanor faded a bit. "Well. Let me help you stand… Careful, careful…"
He supported her as far as the bathroom door, way overdoing it, she thought, but it was sweet and he was so strong that she couldn't come up with a good reason to tell him to cut it out. By then, too, her head was clearer, the room had stopped spinning, and while life still felt like hell, there were definite indications that she would survive. If she got something to eat soon. "I'm starving, Clark."
"That's a good sign."
"Have you eaten yet? I can make breakfast--"
"Don't worry about that. I'll make breakfast in bed for you."
"Make it in bed with me? That sounds like fun!"
"No, that would be too messy. I'll make it *in* the kitchen *for* you. You're not supposed to strain yourself, remember?"
"*That's* no fun…" She tried to think of a brilliant argument that would put her squarely in possession of her kitchen again, but it was difficult to imagine even lifting a small frying pan. Maybe she needed to wake up more before tackling that, and if puttering around in there made him happy… "Okay, then, I'll take a shower."
"Lois, you don't need a shower. You're going back to bed when you… get finished in there, and that's all there is to it."
"Clark," you can mother hen me some other day… She looked up at him. He appeared to be a little tired but also relaxed. While he wanted her to take it easy, he was probably equally relieved that she'd had the presence of mind--or the lack of it?--to refuse to stay at the hospital. She laid her hand flat on his chest--he wasn't wearing the suit; what *did* he do with it? Martha would know…--"Go make… some chicken soup--or tea, okay? That would be easier. I think I have some healthy leaves and twigs in there somewhere--and think up a good explanation for how you got me into this T-shirt." She turned and entered the bathroom, muttering, sure he could hear "And you won't make breakfast in bed with me…"
"The truth is a fine explanation: Lucy came over about 10:30, after her last class when she got my message, and she did all that. It gave me a chance to fill your prescriptions and get some food for breakfast."
"You're too clever for your own, Clark--but I'm not taking any drugs."
"There's no 'we'll see' about it. Now go away for a little while…" She started to close the door but caught the look on his face. "Oh, don't pout. You know me: I'll be my genuine, sweet, serene, cheerful, thoughtful self again--after I've had my first cup of coffee or two."
He replaced the hurt look with a fearful one that just barely hid a smile. "Then we're *really* in trouble…"
"Because I'm not making any coffee."
"There's no 'we'll see' about it, you don't need the stimu--"
She closed the door, shook her head (which hurt her neck), and proceeded prepare for and take a long shower. Mercifully, the water stayed hot or at least warm for most of it, and she used the time to inspect and come to terms with the bruises, scrapes and strains all over her body.
At least the truly bad guys were dead, she remembered that now, too. James Richards may have not been a criminal but he was a realist and a good shot, not wanting to leave the kidnappers behind to tell tales. Why do they always come in twos, she wondered. Two incompetents had failed to firebomb Clark's home, two scientists had made all the Metallos, Lex always had a number one assistant… It was a mystery of the universe. Anyhow, had the most recent two survived she was sure they would have felt worse than she did.
All this had to be due to the bank and whatever gang was interested in it. They were probably the same people who had made poor Will disappear. Somehow Clark had let on that Superman was curious, too, so they had tried to make him disappear as well. But how could she get Clark to tell her what he had done? He wasn't going to volunteer the information, it would lead to having to explain things he probably thought she was in no condition to hear.
And, she sighed, he would be right. There were so many things demanding her attention at the moment, like trying to keep from collapsing, that she doubted she could also handle dealing with his feelings about revealing his secret. It could wait a while longer until things calmed down again. She was getting used to waiting, and she was after all still several comfortable steps ahead of him and she liked it that way.
As she dried herself carefully she noticed a fist-sized brown clay container sitting by the sink; it hadn't been there before, she was sure of it. Had he sneaked it in? Why hadn't he stayed and offered to wash her back? Ha! She wondered if he was as cautious about approaching doing that kind of thing as he was telling her his secret: he wanted to do it but carefully.
She opened the container and saw that it was full of a white salve, which explained the attached note in Clark's handwriting: "Dab this on your bruises." She tested it on a black-and-blue area over one knee. The salve smelled funny but not unpleasant, and it warmed and tingled the bruise as though it were doing something helpful. She tried it on other places then, and afterward baby powdered unsalved areas because a little self-indulgence was due. She skipped putting on any make up for now (he would have to get used to seeing her without that way eventually) but did blow dry her hair to practice moving her arms so they wouldn't stiffen up. Maybe the salve would help that, too.
She decided she'd worry later about what she'd wear to the bank. She had several hours to convince Clark that she was just fine and getting better every moment. By then she probably would have convinced herself as well. For now she put on the plush robe that hung inside the bathroom door and stepped back into her bedroom only to see that he had tried to have the last word: he had moved her heavy vanity over three feet and blocked the door to her clothes closet.
"Clark Kent, get in here right now!"
He took his sweet time, which was no doubt part of some twisted plan. It was only a matter of time, she mused, before he would break the sound barrier to get to her bedroom if she so much as whispered the request--like that would be any time soon considering this foul trick.
He even knocked. "Are you decent?"
"Good." He opened the door, probably only after glancing through it first to check, she thought. "Something wrong?" he asked, all innocence.
She pointed at the vanity, letting the situation speak for itself.
"Oh, that. We had an earthquake last night and--"
"No, we didn't, Metropolis is built on solid ground, some know-it-all told me that. You moved it, so you can move it back, and I'm going to watch while you do it." It would be fun to see him struggle…
"No, I can't, I'm too busy figuring out your kitchen. Just stagger out as you are," and he left.
Stagger?! Just because she wasn't taking his advice didn't mean he could get cocky. "Wait a minute!"
He looked back in. "Now what?"
"I'm *not* staggering!"
"Oh, yeah, right--"
"And this!" She reached into the bathroom and grabbed up the earthenware container. "What's this? What's that say?" She pointed at the Chinese writing etched in the side.
"Ah, 'For external use only.'"
"No, it doesn't, it's a proverb or something sage, they always do that, it's good marketing."
"Okay, it says, oh…" He shrugged facially. "'Live long and prosper'?"
"That's better. Where'd you get it?"
"Star Trek--the original one," he smiled, "the Chinese subtitled version. Did you know they added extra scenes for Sulu for Asian distribution?"
She frowned hard as not to break into a smile as well. "I don't believe a *word* of that--No, I meant where did you get the *salve*."
"Oh. From a Chinese martial arts master I know. She gave me some healing tea, too, and I'll brew a cup for you if I can find a teapot."
"There's one in there somewhere, and a strainer, too. I usually just boil water in anything."
"Okay. Be sure to put on those fuzzy slippers over there, the floor is cool."
"Yeah, yeah, get back to work--Wait a minute. Healing tea?"
"I never leave home without it."
Like her claim about carrying lead foil in the event of encountering Kryptonite. "I'm supposed to believe that?"
"Yep," and he was gone again before she could grill him further.
It was believe it (like he was supposed to believe her) or that he had flown to China for it. The flying part was easy to believe actually. And… it was cute that he was in a joking mood and trying to goad her into one as well. This was a nice way to flow, too.
She shuffled over to the bed, sat down, pushed her feet into the slippers and paused to warm them up. She contemplated lying down again, a simple, slow fall sideways and then curl up, but reminded herself that she had a job to do. So much for flow…
Couldn't the job include a little R&R for, say, ten minutes? No, because he was probably spying on her at this very moment to see if she was succumbing to--
She heard something that sounded like the lid of the frying pan bounce on the kitchen's simulated-brick floor, once, twice… caught.
Okay, he wasn't spying on her, he was clear over on the other side of the apartment. Besides, he doesn't do that kind of thing, she reminded herself, unless she were in trouble and she wasn't now.
She shuffled out of the bedroom and across the living room, waving at Maxine and then sitting on a stool at the long, designer counter that divided the kitchen and dining room. She seemed to remember having gotten out things to make dinner, utensils and fancy equipment, some of it still in boxes and as yet untried, but since then Clark had put it all away. She'd never find anything again, she sighed. He'd probably put it all back in alphabetic order or by serial number or something.
"What's wrong now?"
You're not as subtle as your mother, that's what. "Where did you put all my cooking things?"
"You remember that?"
"I remember more by the minute, ugh."
"That's good, I was worried about brain damage."
"That's so *nice* of you, Clark--well, stop it before I brain damage *you*!"
He smiled. "It sounds like you have at least two wheels on the road to recovery. Okay, I put everything away by how used it looked. I mean, the most used in front, like the sauce pans and the popcorn maker, and the least used things in back, like that solar-powered fondue pot that's still sealed up in the box."
"Oh…" That wasn't so bad.
"Want an omelette?"
"What? No pie and ice cream?"
"No, only healthy food this morning. Granola?"
"Ick… No, not ick really, but… an omelette would be okay. I know you're good at them, but you don't have to go to all that trouble though…" and then she added, just as he said it, "'No trouble.'"
He smiled again, no further comment necessary.
He made the kitchen into a place that looked like someone cared about using it. She put her elbows on the table and rested her head in her hands and considered tell him that the space would be her wedding present to him but that would probably have distracted him, scared him, and she wouldn't get anything good to eat. He'd run away and she would have to tell Perry she was taking time off to hunt for her so-called "boyfriend" and then she would call Inspector Henderson and borrow some bloodhounds who could fly and seeing their brown eyes would remind her of Clark's and she'd want to take the dogs home but not take a shower with them because there probably wouldn't be any hot water and they'd pout and she'd run up to the roof to yell at the apartment managers who would be pretending to work on the water problem up there but they'd grab her and drag her to the edge and Clark would turn up as Superman but forget his shorts and be upset by her yelling at him about proper attire for superheroes who ignored Kryptonite guns and how pissed off about his incomplete plan she was as she teetered on the brink and he touched her shoulder and said:
"I think you should go back to bed."
"Huh?" She sat up straight, the sudden movement making her wince despite herself, and that only added to the confusion. "Go to bed with--no, ah…" She heard a touch of pain in her voice and cleared her throat quickly. "No, I'm all right, Clark--you're, you're still here?"
"I'm still here. Drink this." He placed before her her Bugs Bunny mug full of steaming brown liquid.
"After all I've said…?"
"Ah, sure, even then. Drink this."
She looked at it. We're not dealing with the restorative elixir from Brazil here, girl, she told herself. "Wha…?"
"It's the Chinese tea. Sip it."
She picked it up carefully and tried it. It tasted something like minty six-day-old socks. "Eeuuuu…"
"Try not to focus on that."
Try to remember you're helping me, you mean, she thought… After the next sip, she said "It tastes a little better than it did…" which wasn't a complete lie…
"I think that means your body knows it will help," and he nodded to reinforce the idea, as though he had been sick once in his life.
"You've had your…" she now recalled reading in his journals about a woman martial arts master, "your friend's tea before?"
"You'll tell me about that some time…?"
"Sure, some time," he said, doubtless thinking she had no clue about it. "It's too exciting to relate now," he claimed as he turned away to do something on the stove.
"And I don't need to be excited, is that it?"
She rolled her eyes and smiled to herself. Mother hen… She decided she preferred to get excited on a full stomach.
She noted his broad shoulders as she took another sip. He thought he had been assigned to carry the world's troubles and all the trouble she gave him as well--which didn't compare to the trouble he gave *her*… Still, they both were even in a lot of things, she saw that now. She was better in some, but there were those times, like when he came out of nowhere, did his super thing without asking for help, and disappeared, expecting no thanks…
Asking for… Disappeared?
Good grief, not that… Where is this thought going?
I'm *not* falling asleep again.
Oh, yes: their confrontation, with him in the Superman suit, was becoming sharper in her memory. Maybe it was the tea…
The good thing about the encounter was that she had proved to herself that she wouldn't start giggling when they inevitably met as star reporter and superhero. The bad thing was that she hadn't giggled because…
How to approach him with it… Obliquely.
"Clark, I've been yelling at all my friends a lot lately it seems…"
"Isn't that what friends are for?"
Now how did I know you were going to say that? "*No,* friends are to be *respected,* not *yelled at,* and I yelled at Superman because he wasn't listening and he had a stupid plan and I thought… well, I just didn't think…"
"Lois, you're getting upset over nothing. We talked about all that in the elevator, remember? His plan worked and he understood--"
"Clark, I nearly tore his clothes off!"
"Well… I'm sure that under other circumstances, he would have appreciated that. A *lot.*" He smiled, but not so much for himself as to indicate that she should relax and be smiling, too, because there was some humor in there somewhere. In the meantime, he pointed "Drink that, all of it."
She sipped at the tea again, realizing she was getting used to it, like she was getting used to prying things out of him without his knowing it. She said, "You wouldn't have gotten jealous?"
"No," he said matter-of-factly. He finished cracking eggs into a bowl and adding milk and spices and whatever else he had chosen. He picked up the bowl and a fork and turned. "It'd be your choice…"
She didn't need him to be reasonable at the moment, she realized; that would kill the conversation fast, particularly as she was sure he was either chuckling to himself or hurt by all the implications, or both at once.
So she said, "Oh, yeah? You mean that you wouldn't fight for me?"
He leaned against the counter and mixed up the omelette makings. He looked thoughtful. "Like… threaten to tear him limb from limb if he didn't stay away from my girl?"
The chuckle was winning, good.
"But what if I threw a real scare into him and the next time you were… tied to a railroad track with a train bearing down on you, he might be afraid to save you because I'd misinterpret it."
"He might already think that. He waited until the last possible minute, as I was waving at the people on the third floor, before he caught me yesterday."
"Well, I'm sure he had his reasons," he said quietly, "and they didn't include fear of *me*…" He turned away to add the ingredients to the hot frying pan.
Oops, the blow had come out a lower one than she had realized it would, even if he only had himself to blame, which he was probably kicking himself about now. But he'd hidden rather than show any trace of concern on his face.
She thought quickly. "There was the Kryptonite gun, it could have shot… Kryptonite laser beams, but the angle was wrong by the time I was that far down, *that's* probably why he waited."
"That sounds right to me."
"And who knows how far his heat vision or freezing breath can reach?"
"Not farther than a laser. They shoot laser beams at the moon to measure its distance from the Earth."
"That's silly. Like a rocket is going to miss?"
"It's just an illustration. The point is, he didn't know the gun's potential."
"True, but if he'd just asked me, I would have suggested he hide out of range of the Kryptonite but still close enough to blow them away. They weren't fighting fair, why should he feel *he* had to? It wouldn't be stooping to their level, it would be… just not risking so much."
"I guess he should have consulted you…" He adjusted the heat under the pan and began to mix a second omelette.
"*But* he continued, "maybe he didn't want to upset you even more by asking you to share his problem when you'd already fought them tooth and nail and *he* should have good plan anyway. Not that he didn't, that it wasn't." He added something green to the second omelette. "I mean, seeing one's…" girlfriend? "good friend being thrown off a building colors a person's outlook on life. I'm sure he wouldn't want you to worry about anything else. *I* wouldn't. I'd have gotten really mad at him if he'd burdened *you* with his problems, he would have known no end to my wrath and all that."
"The Wrath of Kent."
Well, that was a good excuse, maybe he really had been thinking that way… "My outlook on life was colored, too. I thought you'd been shot…"
"No, you and Mr. Johnson saved me. Do you want more tea?"
"Umm… Yes. I saved you?"
"Yep, but you didn't know it." He added more water to the teapot he had found and put it on to heat. "So you thought I was hurt, and you were thrown off the building and you thought Superman's plan was--"
"I was going to say untenable, but those three things, on top of being injured yourself--you needed someone to yell and he was available, I'm sure he understands, and if he doesn't, he can answer to me. Now…" he eased the omelette on to a plate and presented it to her, "eat this."
"But nothing. Don't be so hard on yourself. Do you think he's berating himself for not having rescued you from the elevator?"
Yes, you probably did for a while. "I'm glad he didn't, they had the Kryptonite with them."
"So, you see? Things worked out, end of story, except we have to find out who's responsible, but that can wait until tomorrow." He indicated the steaming yellow green-and- orange-speckled food. "I hope you like that. You had some frozen broccoli and carrots in the refrigerator and I defrosted them and put some in there."
Defrosted it fast and laser hot, she thought. She poked at the omelette with her fork. "Broccoli *and* carrots?"
"Yes. I'm having the same."
"Oh, okay… Molly once advised me not to chase after an overnight sensation who could disappear the next day, that I should find a nice, pedestrian boyfriend, but I didn't realize I'd have to eat broccoli *and* carrots…"
"Do you want to put ketchup on it? Or hot sauce? Would you like a glass of juice? There's orange juice and *real* grape juice, not that purple-colored sugar water you had in there."
"Clark, you're just the wife I've been looking for."
"No, I'm not. Eat."
"I'm waiting for you."
"But yours will get cold."
"Then hurry up."
The phone rang. He pointed at her, said "Stay. Eat. I'll get it," and picked up the extension there on the kitchen wall near the sink. "Oh, hello, Lucy… No, she's… Yeah… I tri… Yes… She's eating break…" He pointed at her again and Lois took a forkful of omelette. It tasted good. Made right here in her own kitchen, how about that? He told the phone: "Right now, uh-huh… Okay… Yes… I'll tell… Tonight? That's a good… I'm sure she'll… Yes, you…"
Lois pointed at him now and mouthed "Let me talk to her."
"Lucy? Lois wants… Just a minute." He handed it over and shook his head, smiling as though he knew she knew what he was thinking about the Lane family.
Lucy informed Lois that she was bringing dinner over for them both and "that gorgeous Clark, too, you lucky woman, you" at six, and Lois was not allowed to refuse this. Lois simply replied, "That's fine. Can you come over during your lunch break? I only need you for about half an hour, that will give Clark time to do something for me. See you. Love you, too."
She handed the phone back to Clark and as he hung it up he asked, "Time for me to do what for you?"
"Time for you to go home and change into bank visiting clothing. Lucy will help me change because you will have moved my vanity back and I'll come pick you up at one and we'll be at the bank at two. We'll gather clues and show everyone that I refuse to be bait so some nuts can try to kill Superman."
"Wait a minute, *wait* a minute--"
"Then we'll go into the newsroom, work on the story a bit, and I'll come home and you'll come with me and we'll let Lucy make dinner. She likes to cook, too."
"Yoo-hoo! Clark! You haven't heard my compromise, and I really *am* going to compromise."
He narrowed his eyes, pursed his lips, unpursed them, and said quietly: "All right, I'm listening."
"It's a good compromise, you'll be proud…"
She paused so he could make that cute little rolling- hand plus raised eyebrow "get on with hit" gesture.
She beamed at him. "After I eat this wonderful breakfast, I'm going to… Take A Nap. See? I can be generous."
"You call that a *compromise*? Well, it's not. You seem to have forgotten the little detail that you were nearly--"
You're cute when you're angry, she thought but decided not to say so. He needed to be able to yell at her, too, when she thought she was doing something stupid. "I know all that already."
"Well, then hear this: there will be *no* dressing, *no* driving, and *no* bank visit for you. You're not going anywhere," he concluded firmly. "You're taking your day off and that's all there is to it."
Clark wasn't sure how she had done it even though he could recall and carefully review every word of their ensuing conversation. She had been attentive and totally non- argumentative, and his case had been strong and unwavering, but it seemed like the next thing he knew he was at home, dislodging Mrs. Wallace's cat Sparky from the jacket he had laid out on his bed and hearing Lois's horn honk.
The remainder of breakfast had gone so well. He had made toast for both of them, plus jam on hers. She'd agreed to half a melon and dreamed up ice cream to eat with it, which was a poor mix of sugar and protein for the human digestive system, but at least she was eating and doing so at a leisurely pace. She had visited the bathroom again, and during that time he had moved the vanity back, sure he had gotten his point across. Then she had headed for bed for her "nap," which he was going to see would be longer and more restful than that. She'd fallen asleep immediately and he'd resumed his watchful position. The world could keep sitting on its thumbs, he sighed, content, while Superguy saw to the care and maintenance of his private life and the person he most wanted to share it with.
Lucy had arrived a few minutes late and entered quietly. He had gone out to tell her that her sister was sleeping peacefully, she need not have come, only to turn and see that Lois had followed him.
She immediately began organizing life. Also, within minutes of making it clear she was politely ignoring his good suggestions, she had gently booted him out, so gently that he found himself on the other side of her door without quite knowing how he had gotten there.
Uncertain how to re-enter gracefully and unable to think of a good reason not to do what she had requested (other than he didn't want to but that wouldn't stop her, she'd just go to the bank without him), he had changed clothes, jumped out the window in the hall, and flown home. On the way he helped clean up typical traffic jam on the Crosstown, prevented a drowning at one of the west-side city pools, and stopped the robbery of an ice cream truck.
But the main thing on his mind was: I shouldn't have moved the vanity back.
She thinks no one listens to her, but she doesn't listen to *me*. She's only content when she's directing things, using me in her schemes…
These were not new thoughts. But, as when they occurred to him before, they also didn't make him particularly uneasy. Somewhere deep inside, the realization that most of the time she was perfectly capable of running his life for him was somehow a comforting one. There was something about the way his mom did it for his dad that had always been warmly appealing.
Closer to consciousness, though, he didn't want to give up control of any part of his life. *Share* his life with her, yes, he could see that, he longed for it--but not give it over to her. Not without a fight, anyway.
But "Women don't fight fair," his dad had warned, and maybe he was right… Clark sighed: I have to be more careful…
He had worked in about 14 seconds of insistence that if she really had to go that she better take a cab. She had given every appearance of listening to him, which had afforded him a few moments of relief. Of course she arrived in her Jeep at 1:03, gave him the once over and nodded, approving of his suit and tie.
He didn't care about that; a new idea occurred to him. He went around to the driver's side and leaned on the door, looking in. He noted that she was dressed in a unassuming long-sleeve, knee-length knit suit and matching hose, all of which hid most of her bruises. He supposed it was better than her wearing a sandwich board that proclaimed "You didn't kill me!"
"You weren't going to drive," he reminded her.
"I never said that," she told him, her face beautifully straight.
He reviewed that part of their conversation and realized she was right. "Well, that doesn't matter. Get out."
"No, you're not."
"Yes, I am."
"You *hate* traffic, remember?"
"But I hate more you driving under the influence of drugs." It had been less than an hour since she had taken the prescribed pain killer, though she had refused the tranquilizer. He had hoped the drug she did take would have a similar effect, but hadn't dreamed she might ignore the risk. He put on his most firm and unmovable expression and aimed his thumb: "Out."
"No, you'll just turn around and take me back, and I'm *going to the bank.*"
"They didn't let us out of the lobby on Tuesday, and I have to see more of that building--and don't tap your foot impatiently at *me,* buster!"
It was a good thing friends could get angry at each other… Then he saw that they had reached an impasse. She wasn't moving and he couldn't very well yank her out. What was wrong here? Perhaps he could clear up one thing. "I won't take you back even though I should."
She gave him a dubious look. "Really?"
As though those two words were magic, the troubled tension fell away from her face. Which, when he thought about it, was nice. If she thought she could depend on him for certain things, like some stability in life (the guy in the tight blue suit not withstanding), that was all right.
She got out, walked around and got in the passenger side. He noticed that she was wearing low heels and her right ankle was bandaged in white, but that her gait was even and she hadn't been limping when he had last seen her. Uh-oh, she had a plan…
He got in, adjusted the seat and the rearview mirror to fit his frame and eye level, and then pulled on the seatbelt. She had a little trouble with turning to her right to grasp and pull hers around, but she didn't ask for help.
He drove with care, keeping a steady pace on the long drive. Maybe that was another reason she hadn't wanted him behind her wheel: he was boringly safe. Too bad. It nearly lulled her to sleep, too, since neither of them felt like talking. What if she was deep asleep by the time they reached the bank? He'd be justified in turning around then and taking her right back to her apartment. He *might* even change into the suit and fly her back.
But about twenty minutes before they were due to arrive, her wristwatch alarm chimed. She woke and sat up, blinking, in moments obviously remembering where she was and what she wanted to do. At that point he just about gave up trying to talk sense into her.
She reached into the back, straining, and retrieved a paper bag from behind the seat she sat in. From the bag she took an expensive-looking bottle of makeup. She grabbed and adjusted the rearview mirror as though it didn't occur to her that he might need it. He didn't, he reminded himself, unless the Highway Patrol spotted them. She began applying a darkish- purplish-brownish substance to her cheek under her right eye. It blended in somehow but made that part of her face look a bit shiny and swollen.
"What *are* you doing?"
"I have a little plan…"
"I don't like this."
"I know, don't worry. I just want them to think that while I'm game for a fight like always, I'm also almost incapacitated." Satisfied with the makeup's effect apparently, she repositioned the mirror and then reopened the bag and pulled out a roll of gauze. She rolled up her right sleeve, took off her watch, and proceeded to wrap her wrist and hand in white. When she was done, she got out some white tape, tore pieces off and used them to hold the gauze in place. "We'll say that I sprained this but I'll act like it broken and I'm in a lot of pain but I don't want anyone to know that."
"You wouldn't have needed this charade if you'd stayed home. We could have planted a story in the paper, not that I'd want to."
"They might have sent someone different after me, someone even smarter, and gotten you, too, because you would have been there with me, and then neither of us would have gone to the bank to collect clues." She played with the bandage some more and then held up her hand. "There. Now, does this look like I have a broken wrist or what?"
He sighed. "Yes…"
"Don't sound like that. This will work and there's nothing dangerous about it."
"I just don't like being reminded about what happened yesterday," and that I couldn't stop it.
"I don't either, but look at it this way: we forced their hand somehow, or Superman did, and they're dropping clues all over the place. We just have to be there to catch them, right?… Right, *partner*?"
"Right, right…" Late into the night before as he was holding her comfortably, he had reviewed his last week's worth of activity while wearing the suit. The only thing he could link to the attack, and remotely at that, was his visit to Wanda Mae to reassure the woman he was doing all he could to find young Tad, which, unfortunately, was nothing. Were they watching the Waldecker residence for some reason? Did Will have a lot of his money in that bank? Had Wanda Mae received a ransom note and not known what to do with it? Or maybe it was simply that "they" had spied him looking over Green Meadows on his way back to Metropolis and feared he was going to spoil their plan. They had Kryptonite, Richards and the gun, so why not put them to use?
But that still left their investigation going nowhere fast…
He pulled into the bank's tastefully landscaped parking lot. Just as Lois was crowing that if she had driven she would found them the best spot, a Mercedes vacated a slot less than 50 feet from the entrance and Clark slipped into. He smiled smugly; she rolled her eyes. "Beginner's luck."
"The gods smiled on you."
"I had a *plan.*"
"Well, plan this." She stayed put and he realized she expected him to open her door for her; there was a first time for everything, wasn't there? When he did so, she eased slowly out of the seat, her face set on "strain," practicing for the audience to come, unless she thought someone evil was watching them via the bank's surveillance cameras.
The bank lobby contained her obvious audience, though it was a small one: five other press colleagues, and four of them were on the financial beat. The fifth, the elegant Marie Rose of the Metropolis Star, was apparently the only other person present who knew about the events of the night before. Not that what had happened was so startling: Lois had fought her way into many of the biggest stories to have occurred in Metropolis over the last half decade. But lately Marie Rose was taking the journalistic limelight in a growing number of stories. (Lois had grumbled "Doesn't that woman know we don't *make* the news, we *report* it?" and Clark had thought it a wise idea to agree without reservation.) So it was no surprise that she was here, too, though Clark knew Lois wasn't pleased to see her.
The auburn-haired woman rushed over almost as soon as Lois had limped in through the automatic door and been greeted briefly by the Manager of Public Relations, Pamela Jerrigan.
"Oh, Lois, dear!" Marie exclaimed. "I tried to talk to you last night but you didn't hear me call out."
"I didn't? Oh, I'm sorry, I guess I didn't feel much like talking…" She grasped Clark's arm and leaned against him dramatically. "But I'm feeling *much* better now…" She began to cough, though, and in moments her body was racked by bronchial spasms of an alarming nature.
Clark patted her on the back carefully (he knew she was bruised there but also that her lungs were clear) and said with what he hoped was an appropriate touch of panic: "Why don't you sit down…--over here, these chairs look comfortable, and I'll get you a drink of water…"
He helped her over, but when he tried to pull away, she gripped his arm. "Oh, don't go…" There was a fearful little waver in her voice, as though whoever had done this to her might return to try it again. He thought better of informing her that there were no structures higher than four stories in Green Meadows to throw her off of due to strict building codes and that she could tone it down, everyone knew she had arrived…
"You poor woman…" Marie cooed comfortingly. "It's a good thing those hoodlums were shot dead. There was blood everywhere, they'll probably have to repaint your roof."
Lois paled visibly, and Clark wondered how long she had practiced so she could to do that on command.
She smiled faintly: "Heh…"
"I took a good look at the bodies, and I think I recognized one of them."
Lois managed to perk up. "You did?"
"Didn't you read my piece on it this morning? No, you were probably resting." She turned to Clark, touching his arm, letting her well manicured fingers rest there a moment. "You'll pick up a copy for her, won't you?"
"Ah, sure, if we have time."
"Yes, time. Time is at a premium in the life of an investigative journalist, isn't it? If we had time I'd invite you to dinner," she smiled, "and we could… compare notes."
Lois cleared her throat.
Thankfully she didn't start coughing again, but, just in case, Clark knelt by her, at least an arm's length away from Marie, and ask: "Do you want that drink of water?"
"No…" she whispered, taking his hand again and giving him a soulful look.
"Well, don't worry, Lois," Marie said cheerfully, "You always bounce back *somehow*. I knew you'd need some time to recuperate so I didn't mention you in my exclusive. Isn't it a good thing Superman showed up when he did? How *does* he do it?"
"I don't know…"
Lois blinked. "Pardon?"
"I mean, why is he always saving *you*?"
"Just lucky I guess?"
"It's more than luck, and you're not *that* careless. After all, he's saved me three times this year already. It must be… talent…"
Lois glanced at Clark as though she expected him to explain this, like he had the four-drawer cabinet file full of Superman sighting reports. He shrugged, but he could remember all three times and that two of them had been actual emergencies, after one of which he had granted her a brief interview but politely turned down her proposal to lunch together in a little out-of-the-way spot.
"The stories he could tell! Too bad he seems to be a man of few words. Believe me, Lois, after *I* get a few minutes alone with him he won't be so shy any more…"
Clark felt his shoulder being tapped and, rising, turning away, seeking relief, he saw Laura Sidbury. "Oh, hi!" He had forgotten she had said she might attend.
"Hi, Clark. Did she.." and she smiled at Lois, who glanced up to see her, "drag you here with her?"
He nodded, pleased that here was one person who didn't think he had brought the slightly dazed-looking Lois along for some nefarious reason of his own. "Find out anything interesting?"
"Nothing more than I already knew. I'm not even surprised by the expensive wine they plan to serve or the caviar hors d'oeuvres."
Lois teetered to her feet. "Did they give you a copy of their latest financial statements?" she asked with raised and meaningful eyebrows.
Laura understood this somehow and launched into a review of the bank's history from 1833, and Marie Rose, who was listening in, decided to go elsewhere.
When the rival reporter was out of earshot, Lois gave Laura the "cut it" look and Clark was relieved. He had understood what Laura was talking about and it was even more boring than the sex life of the knob-tailed gecko.
"Raul didn't tag along with you?" Lois asked. "Didn't he know *I* was going to be here?"
"Well, we're not working together now and… I know you'll be disappointed to hear this, Lois, but I don't think he's interested in you any more."
"Oh, maybe it was something I said…" She smiled. She looked at Clark. "Or something *you* said?"
"No," you only just today gave me permission to deal with Superman. "I think it was something Jimmy said. But Raul's not interested in high finance world anyhow."
"True," Laura nodded. "He prefers writing about class issues, and he's a good at it, so full of life and charm and passion…" She sighed, her eyes distant with thought. "And he's cute, too…"
Lois and Clark exchanged looks. Lois tried to snap her fingers before Laura's face but wasn't quite able to do it with her left hand. "Hey, that's Raul you're talking about, Mr. Pain in the backside."
"I know he is, but he's not a pain for the usual reasons. He's more like Clark…" She hesitated and looked at him. He had begun to feel like wallpaper for a moment. "But you're more… mild mannered… ah…" She tried to smile her way out of that one; he let her off the hook by smiling too. She looked down. "I guess I got used to him and I miss him. I'll get over it. I have a stack of Financial News Dailies to curl up with tonight when I get home…"
"Thrilling," Lois said, almost sounding like she meant it. "Did you say they're serving wine?"
They were, and some of it was nonalcoholic. Clark made sure Lois chose that for the pre-tour appetizer, reminding her quietly that alcohol could react poorly with the pain killer. She didn't protest.
As soon as the last of the reporters who were expected arrived, the tour got started. Lois was uncharacteristically quiet, asking only a few questions of Ms. Jerrigan and the other bank officials. Yet Clark noticed that her attitude was alert under the cover of pain-filled assault victim. He doubted that she missed anything, though, of course, he thought they were being given the same tour wealthy customers got, and he saw little that was new to him. The bank president's tastefully decorated office; the accounting department and the new computers used by the efficient- looking personnel; and the staff's well appointed lunch room.
Finally they were ushered into the presence of The Vault. They saw a phalanx of uniformed guards and a massive door made of various alloys, the description of which reminded Clark of the Enterprise's Romulan-proof hull. Beyond the door were two ordinary looking rooms, the larger of them containing safety deposit boxes and the smaller area beyond it dedicated to keeping records and a variety of other things the guide wouldn't discuss. She did, though, give them what she probably considered a thrill by asking those trailing behind to catch up and enter The Vault. She then instructed the guards to close the door. It swung shut in a surprisingly quiet manner for all its (x-ray vision defeating, Clark noted) mass. When the lock set with a gentle click, Marie Rose laughed, "The light's still on in here."
"And it's almost as cold as a refrigerator, too, Ms. Rose," Ms. Jerrigan said politely. "We keep the temperature at a constant 52 degrees. If you'll all be quiet for a moment… Ah, yes… We like to think that this is what a well constructed tomb would sound like after a thousand years… Just a little banking humor."
Clark and Lois glanced at Laura, who shrugged.
Their guide continued: "It doesn't take much imagination to see how safe our customers' valuables are in here…"
If he hadn't been surrounded by people, Clark might, he realized, have given in to temptation and scanned the boxes to look for the Elvis diaries.
Ms. Jerrigan keyed a code into the intercom and summoned the guards to release them. Then she led them back to the conference room where they were served more wine and hors d'oeuvres and allowed to ask questions of the bank's president. While Lois hobbled over to do this, Clark found himself momentarily cornered by Ms. Jerrigan. "Change your mind about opening an account, Mr. Kent?" she smiled.
"No, I still like my pedestrian little credit union, thanks. You gave us a nice tour though."
"If those people trying to rob us would take it, they'd see they're wasted their time. They'd have better luck with one of our competitors."
"You asked about that Mr. Weldocker on Monday. Have you heard anything about what happened to him?"
"Waldecker, and, no, I just knew he had a job here," Clark said, a tingle telling him to approach with care.
"He signed in Sunday and forgot to sign out, but people do, especially janitors and that… kind of employee. I asked Personnel about him after you mentioned him."
"I understand that he had financial problems…"
Clark just nodded, allowing a troubled look to creep onto his face.
"…and gambling was involved," she continued.
"I seem to recall he said something about being interested in horses…" and how big they could be and if he got one would it scare Wanda Mae. Clark had advised introducing her to a borrowed mare.
"Isn't that always the case? Maybe he got playing the numbers mixed up with being a jockey. Well, I hope he turns up."
"I hope so, too," he sighed dramatically.
Oblivious to this, she continued, "And I hope you'll return for another tour. If you call ahead, I can arrange a private one…" She said this despite spotting Lois coming their way. Or maybe because she did.
"It was a pleasure," he assured her, but tried to make it sound that she shouldn't hold her breath. Why did women like to make men squirm?
Lois inserted herself deftly in between him and Ms. Jerrigan, who melted away to practice public relations on other unsuspecting reporters. "Learn anything?" Lois asked.
"Not about banking… but maybe about Will. And you?"
"Nothing new, except I think I'm keeping my money in the credit union. This place… I don't know, it gives me the creeps…" She repressed a shuddered.
But he saw it, it was no act, it was a cover up for exhaustion, he was certain. Well, that was it, he was taking her straight home as soon as leaving was even remotely feasible.
But before he could inform her of his irrevocable decision and stand up to her inevitable protest with all the tremendous strength he had at his command, she said: "We're going to take Laura back to the Planet so she'll save cab fare. It's a good thing you still have my keys. You don't mind driving, do you? Let's get out of here."
They arrived in Metropolis about 4:30. Clark had planned (there I go again, he thought as it fell through) to pull up in front of the Daily Planet building long enough to let Laura out and then head for Lois's place. But the traffic was so bad that it was easier to turn into the parking garage rather than hold up traffic further by stopping in the middle of it. Laura wouldn't have to walk far then.
They saw that Lois's space hadn't been taken--she pointed at it gleefully--and so with that kind of luck going for her, he gave up and pulled into it. As he did so and set the brake, she reached over, grabbed the keys, turned off the Jeep and hopped out, saying something barely audible about how well he had driven, thanks, he could do it again sometime, maybe for Christmas if he was very good.
In the elevator on the way up to the newsroom, they wrapped up their conversation about the bank, coming to the conclusion that there was no really good reason for any one to rob it other than it was chock full of money and valuables. None of them had ferreted out any weaknesses in a security system that would made the Strategic Air Command think twice about tackling it.
Newsroom staff converged on Lois even before she could reach her desk. Clark knew she had hoped to launch an in-depth investigation into Richards, but she was stuck with fending off all the concerns her friends heaped upon her, trying to look perfectly healthy and, yes, Chief, able to breeze through the remainder of the afternoon, no problem.
So, ignored and preferring it that way, Clark was free to initiate a computer search and visit the morgue, looking for Richards-related information. He was able to find a vitae which referenced several articles the man had written on well drilling and geologic formations in the tri-county area; Metro U. library might have them. Clark decided he could look them up if Lois concurred that they could be relevant. Otherwise, it looked like the man had disappeared soon after LexCorp Chemicals had sought bankruptcy protection.
Lois stumbled across a free moment at about 5:30 and she used it to "pssst!" him. "Clark, it's Christmas." She held up her car keys; her hand was shaking a bit. "Take me home, okay?"
Faster than the proverbial speeding metal projectile, he thought. "You bet."
Traffic was still heavy and they were in the thick of it, but he used some sneaky techniques he had picked up from taxi drivers in Paris, Madrid and Casablanca, all of them just barely legal in Metropolis and several of them widened Lois's eyes. "So much for the mild-mannered Kansas boy I thought I knew…"
If the Lane family had one chef, it could well have been Lucy. She was doing something with frozen cheese ravioli, a jar of spaghetti sauce and a bag of pre-chopped salad makings, but both Lois and Clark appreciated the aroma of the meal as they entered Lois's apartment. They ate quietly, enjoying the food, and afterward Lois took both a pain pill and the soporific with little coaxing. At about 7, Lucy made herself scarce while Lois, her eyelid drooping already, saw Clark to the door in a manner far more delightful than she had some six hours earlier.
"Clark, you're a trooper…"
"Me? Look, Lois, sleep in tomorrow, try to take *some* time off to recuperate, okay? I'm really concerned about you…"
"I know, I'll try, but it won't be much fun, I liked waking up and seeing you…"
She had? Really? "Oh, well…" Maybe she had forgotten her panic about oversleeping and how she hadn't appreciated his moving the vanity or serving the Chinese tea. But still… "Me, too…" He wished he could actually have been *in* the bed, but that was a dream for another day.
"When this all blows over…" She slipped her arms under his jacket to give him a close hug. He returned it but did no similar exploring, and when she looked up and invited a kiss, for his part he made it little more than a friendly one. He refused to strain her while doing this of all things.
He didn't feel sleepy that night and so patrolled, catching up on things around the world but doing nothing spectacular or particularly newsworthy. The next morning he arrived in the newsroom in time to be run into by Jimmy, who was babbling something about another attempt on the Commerce Bank of Green Meadows and Perry had ordered him to find Clark and get out there and get pictures. Jimmy knew shortcuts he took on his motorcycle that got them to the scene in less than half an hour, and he was able to take some good shots of the bus that had been aimed full speed into the side of the bank building. The bus looked like an accordion, but fortunately no one had been in it. The building's granite wall was chipped slightly.
Clark interviewed the police, several witnesses, and the two bank coding clerks. The latter had been leaving their shifts in the accounting department, the outside wall of which the bus had hit, shaking the room and probably the whole building. The attempt was exciting but so pitiful, one of the clerks laughed, that The Vault's alarms hadn't even burped.
Clark sent Jimmy speeding back alone to process his film, claiming that he would catch up later after calling in his report. He did call it in and then, in the shadows of an obscure alley, he changed into the suit. He darted up and away out of Green Meadows and headed back to Metropolis and Lois's apartment building. Some thought about it during the night before had helped him decide to visit her at midmorning in this guise, thank her for her help (assuring her that she *had* helped him even though it might not have seemed so), re- express his regret at her having had to fight the villains alone, and, most important of all, convince her to take some time off. She just might listen to him in this guise when she was still having trouble taking him seriously otherwise.
But she wasn't home and there were no signs of struggle in the apartment, so that probably meant he was too late, she'd gone to work already. Maybe she'd slept in a little, it was after 9 already. He sighed, flew on to the Daily Planet, slipped into the 4th-floor file room with its convenient, never- locked window, and changed back into his regular clothes.
Lois was indeed at her desk, working diligently. She had rebandaged her wrist but was attempting to type some notes using both hands anyhow. As he approached she looked up and smiled. At least she appeared rested, and that smile was nice to see. "Another attempt, huh?"
"Yep. Pure Marx Brothers."
"There certainly seems to be a pattern, but beyond the obvious one, the one with the 'dumb and dumber' theme."
He agreed and they went over what he had seen but her questions, which drew out what she said was the astounding number of details he had noticed, didn't help them think of anything new.
As she shuffled through her notes on Richards and the bank, Clark told her he would call the Waldecker residence to ask after Will, but she said she had already done so. She had learned something new, too: Superman had visited them Wednesday morning and tried to crack into Will's computer but with no luck. Lois wondered if someone might have the place under surveillance and seen him. "Could be" was all Clark could think to say. Also, Lois continued, the regular maid had returned. She wasn't sure why Nurse Irving had mentioned that but her voice had sounded relieved. Clark told her about Mrs. Pourhamidi, but had to word it carefully because he, Clark, had not seen the person, Superman had.
"What an intriguing woman," Lois agreed, "That's a another clue, I'm sure of it. I'll call back and find out more about her. I think I'm going to do a lot of work from my desk today."
"I like the sound of that."
"Well, I admit I feel sort of… tired. How do you like the sound of you going out to get lunch for us around noon?"
That sounded fine, too. As she would no doubt insist upon going to the Green Meadows Founder's Day festival, the more rest she could get now the better, and maybe she realized it at last.
Around ten, a security guard ushered into the newsroom a smartly-dressed woman carrying a brief case. He indicated she should take a seat in the lobby there near the elevators, came down the ramp into the newsroom, approached Lois's desk and said quietly, "Ms. Lane? That woman there… She's looking for Superman. Would you happen to know where he is?"
Lois shook her head and looked at Clark, who was across at his desk. She must have figured he had overheard the question. He shrugged.
The guard nodded. "I thought so. I told her she can wait here for him if she wants to since sometimes he visits. She's not carrying any weapons and her ID checked out okay."
"Fine with us," Lois told him and she turned to look at the woman again, as Clark did. But, despite Security's increased vigilance over the last year, Clark discretely lowered his glasses to glance into the briefcase for anything hidden in the lining (bomb material, for example). He saw none. The woman was carrying only paperwork. He tingled though, there was something important going on here, but the feeling wasn't pleasant or exhilaratingly challenging this time. I think, he decided, that Superman's going to stay *away* from here…
Lois dug up more on Richards. They had a brief conference with Perry and told him there was no sign of Elvis or Elvis trappings yet, though they were on to a possible accomplice. Marie Rose's identification of one of the thugs hadn't rung a bell with either Lois or Clark, and Lois was inclined to discount it.
"This story's going no where fast," Perry grumbled, and they escaped before he could remember something quasi- pertinent that The Colonel had once told Elvis.
A news flash from Washington came in, but it was only an ambiguous high court First Amendment challenge case decision and nothing Superman could leave town to handle.
The woman continued to sit and wait patiently. Someone got her a newspaper to read, what with there being plenty lying around, both Daily Planet and out of state. Jimmy, pleased with his pictures and looking for something new to do, tried to worm out of her why she had come, but she wouldn't say. His claim to be Superman's best friend fell on politely deaf ears. He gave up. Clark made several attempts to look into the brief case in more depth (after all, she was here to see him in a roundabout way and it paid to be prepared), but these failed because he couldn't lower his glasses for long due to the newsroom being as busy as usual.
As noon approached, Lois gathered his attention. "I'm starving," she whispered. "Do you still think that's a good sign?"
Bingo, it was a perfect sign and presented him the chance he had been looking for. "I'm sure it is. What would you like?"
"Oh…" she smiled, playing with her mechanical pencil, the one with the fewest teeth marks. "Surprise me. You're good at that."
Someday you'll know *how* good… "In that case it may take a little longer…" Enough time to cover the other thing he had to do.
"That's okay, I can hold on. I have a Fudge Crunch bar right here," she patted her center drawer, "that I can munch on."
"Oh, no, you don't." He had a spare apple he'd brought along this morning for just such an emergency. He placed it in front of her. "Eat this instead. It's organic."
She looked at its red-and-yellow speckled skin. "Oh, boy."
"That's the spirit. It's a Gala and they're terrific."
"Wow…" She picked it up, took a careful breath, closed her eyes and bit in.
He didn't wait to see her response to the bright, juicy flavor. The suspense already surrounding the woman on the landing was enough for him. He went up to the elevator, summoned it, smiled at her sitting there off to his left, and said quietly: "I hear you're looking for Superman? I think I may be able to find him for you."
"Oh, good. I'm getting paid by the hour but still…"
He nodded as though he understood but the mystery only deepened. He went down to the garage, which was quiet just before the rush of people thinking they could drive somewhere, find lunch, eat it, and get back in under an hour. He changed and slipped out, doubling back to land at the Planet building's front door and enter that way. He had considered entering through the newsroom's main window, but the idea of distracting his hard-working colleagues didn't appeal.
He affected his tall-and-invulnerably-busy yet approachable-if-necessary-attitude and strolled meaningfully through the typical lobby crowd to the security desk. Grace, who came on at noon, couldn't miss him.
He said: "I understand someone's looking for me."
She smiled, one of those glints in her eye, and said, "Yes… Oh, you mean like someone came in and asked for you?"
"Yes. Clark Kent told me there was a woman waiting for me in the newsroom, but I didn't want to fly in there and disrupt them."
"Oh, that's thoughtful…" she smiled again, drinking him in.
This, he realized, was getting him nowhere.
He turned. "Jimmy."
The photographer, grinning, walked up self- importantly and smiled grandly. "Everyone thinks how you saved Lois Wednesday night was terrific! I wish I'd gotten pictures…"
"Maybe next time. I hear that someone is waiting for me in the newsroom."
"Oh, you mean…" he hesitated, obviously wondering how to answer the question in a helpful manner that would indicate the deeper friendship he hoped for. People did that; "Notice me!" they seemed to want to shout. Clark reflected that it was easier to make lasting friendships when he was dressed in sensible clothing. Jimmy apparently decided to go for it. "You mean other than *Lois?*" He laughed and cuffed Superman on his biceps. "Oww…" He shook his hand and examined it a moment.
"Other than Lois, yes."
"Well, there's the woman who won't talk. I'll go get her. There's a conference room over there you can probably wait in if you want…"
Clark waited there. It was one of Personnel's interview rooms, and he had sat in one like it for two hours on the day he had first tried to get a job here, before Perry had turned him down flat. That had been depressing a long time ago…
Jimmy escorted the woman down within minutes. It didn't then occur to him that this might be a private matter because he proceeded to hang around. The woman ignored Jimmy but did go wide eyed for a moment at Superman. He was long used to this. "I understand you're looking for me?"
"Ah… I think so. Do you have some form of… ID on you? You know, identification?"
"That's *him*, lady, *believe* me," Jimmy said.
Clark folded his arms before his chest in his patient, bigger-than-life Superman pose. "Would you like me to do something to prove it?" Fly? Lift a car? Squeeze a piece of coal into a diamond? Take you to the Casbah? Wait a minute, the diamond trick, that would be something to try some time…
Her eyes wandered from his face to his chest to lower than that, then back up again, a typical reaction. "You are him…"
Well, if that was sufficient for her, "Yes, ma'am."
"Ah, okay…" She put her briefcase on the table, fiddled with the combination lock (Clark looked away, playing fair) and pulled out a batch of papers. She handed it to him. "Consider yourself served."
"I don't know what it is, I was just told to find you and serve you with this complaint…" she said sheepishly. She pulled out another piece of paper. "And one more thing. Could you sign this?"
"Gaw, lady, you want his autograph, too?"
Superman quickly looked over the single sheet of paper. "No, Jimmy, it's just confirmation that I received the paperwork. I don't have a pen…" His mom had once experimented with sewing pockets into the cape, but that didn't quite work right. Too high and a pocket was irritating to get to; too low and it produced drag while he was flying. As for hyperspace, pens by themselves were too small to keep there, so he just went without.
She looked at him, as though confirming there was no place to comfortably store a writing tool, and then she said she had one. He signed. She thanked him, hesitated a moment, gazing at him (he did nothing to encourage her) and left. Jimmy sidled over. "What is it?"
Superman went through the papers at superspeed, holding them just out of Jimmy's line of sight. "They're… a surprise," he said, not having to fake any of the grimness he heard in his own voice.
Think fast. "Have you seen Clark?"
Jimmy thought Clark had gone shopping for something special for Lois's lunch, which Jimmy said was "wild," but if Superman was on his toes he might be able to beat Clark to the punch, hint, hint, especially after what he had done for her on Wednesday, so she might be predisposed to treat him favorably…
Whose side was the kid on, anyhow? Lois's, yes, but… "I don't think so. Clark…" Has the franchise? No. Has me beat hands down? No. Is a better man than I am? No… "Clark and Lois don't need my help, but he can assist me with this, I'll find him. Thanks for *your* help, Jimmy," and he motioned toward the door.
Jimmy, his chest swelling with pride, led the way, saw Superman out of the building and waved as his friend flew away, obviously hoping everyone on the street was watching when Superman waved back. Clark was glad Jimmy had forgotten the camera hanging around his neck.
Clark gave his order for lunch at the deli's counter, paid for it and said he'd be back, he had to use the pay phone outside. In the booth, he dialed a number and Bev in Murray's office answered. "I'm glad you're not out to lunch," he told her. "Do you recognize my voice?"
"Yes, of course. Murray's not here. He went to a merchandising convention in Miami yesterday and should be back on Monday. He used to hate going out in the sun until he had to chase you all over Metropolis to sign you up."
"Now he has a nice tan and a little wading pool with rubber ducks in his backyard and… I'm sorry, I'm wandering. What can I do for you?"
"I need a lawyer. I know we employ quite a few, but I believe they specialize in copyright infringement."
"True, but I know a lot of other kinds of lawyers. What's your problem?"
He outlined it briefly.
Bev said, "Whew, that's crazy, but it was inevitable. I suppose you want to get it over with quickly…"
"I'd prefer that."
"Then I don't think you want a lawyer. Even the best intentioned of them get mired in the paperwork. If I were you, I'd go to the Law School library on the campus and…"
She gave him some tips and five minutes and some small change later he thanked her and said he'd get back to her if he thought of more questions. She said she was pleased to be of help. She also advised him to take the initiative and get the paper work done and into the courthouse as fast as possible, tomorrow at the latest. It would be open on Saturday again, at eight, due to having been closed for several days after the Slime Monster attack. He should use his high profile to advantage--he had a right to, she assured him--and get in touch with his reporter friends at the Daily Planet and spread the word fast. "If you can get public opinion on your side without straining to do so--you know, like begging for it--the plaintiff's lawyers wouldn't know what hit them. I sound like Murray, don't I? But he's right, fight fire with fire," she said, "that's the only thing most lawyers understand."
"I prefer using water."
"Then drown them."
"At least soak them. Keep in touch, and consider discussing it with Murray when he gets back if that clown's lawyers give you any trouble--and they'll try, believe me."
He kept his gulp to himself, thanked her again, rung off and went back into the deli to pick up his order. He didn't feel hungry now; maybe he could convince Lois to eat both their lunches. He caught a bus back to the Planet to give himself more time to think about his new problem, decided on an attack plan of his own, and felt a little better and hungry after all as he placed the containers of food on Lois's desk. "The roast beef on whole wheat and one of the potato salads are mine, but the rest is yours."
"So much…" She reached for the larger bag but stopped when she saw the logo on the outside of it. "This is where I got the food for our Wednesday dinner…"
"I know. If you thought it was good, well…"
"That's so sweet of you…" and she smiled through and through, making him forget all his troubles. She looked in the bag, pulled out a sandwich and unwrapped it. "Oh, corned beef, good!" She made it sound like no one else took the time to think about her the way he did. She picked up the hefty sandwich, bit into it, and sighed, content. "Umm… Let's do something peaceful tonight. How about videos and popcorn at my place?"
Jimmy tripped as he walked by and stopped to examine his floppy shoelaces. Perry, also passing, paused to look over the long faxes he was carrying. Marilyn across the way stopped typing and started searching quietly through her file drawer, and Pete from Travel dropped a stack of brochures on the other side of Lois's desk and had to stoop to pick them up.
Lois didn't seem to notice any of this, or, conversely, Clark suspected suddenly she just might have orchestrated it. She wouldn't have…
Not that it mattered now, darn. He leaned forward and said quietly: "I can't, something's come up…" specifically a visit to the Metro U law library and a night composing proper legal replies.
She looked a bit disappointed but she nodded and smiled anyhow. "Well, then, I'll go with plan B. I'll call my sifu and ask him to recommend a massage therapist and get these kinks worked out before we go bank robber hunting tomorrow."
The people who had stopped around them resumed their courses and the noise level rose again. Odd how they didn't care to overhear anything about the investigation.
"That's a good idea. You think we'll find them at the festival?"
"I think they've been fooling around long enough and they'll act soon. When better than when everyone's attention will be diverted?"
"But everyone will be just across the street in the plaza. They'll sort of notice, won't they?"
"No, that's the devious nature of the plan. It's brilliant when you think about it…"
"Their plan, whatever it is, it's devious, it has to be."
"I see. Why don't you… have some more to eat?"
They finished the afternoon in a typical manner. Lois worked on her Richards investigation and rewrote other copy as well. Perry sent Clark out to catch a last-minute press conference given by the Chief of Police of Green Meadows, who was certain no further attempts would be made on the bank because he was doubling his officers patrolling the area and the bank itself was increasing outside security. He expected all this to be completely in place by Monday. Clark returned to the newsroom in time to write up his report on it and take Lois home, see her to her door, dawdle for a bit with her, and indulge in a few kisses that indicated her strength was returning. Videos and popcorn would have been so much fun…
He proceeded from there to the Law Library where he spent three unenjoyable hours doing heavy-duty research, reading thousands upon thousands of words, and taking copious notes in hopes that his usually helpful supermemory wouldn't feel obliged to retain everything he read. He had scraped by until this time with just enough knowledge of the law to feel guilty when he did something, most often with Lois, that involved breaking it, which was probably as much as the average man knew. But who could have imagined he'd have to know about civil court proceedings as well? Maybe he should have made better friends with Mayson; a former Assistant DA and now State House Representative arguing his case would have helped.
After feeling he'd hit a wall at the Law Library, he headed home and spent another two hours composing replies, motions and counter motions. When he was satisfied (though that, he thought, was hardly the word to describe how he really felt) with this first step in his plan, he decided to call home in the hopes that one or both his folks would be there to talk to.
But their machine answered instead. He sighed, berating himself for forgetting that it was also late back in Kansas. They could be out dancing and dining in Wichita. He told the machine he might come on Sunday morning, so make extra pancake batter or hash browns, please. Visiting would be nicer than a phone conversation, and he could tell them how things were working out well with Lois again and that someone was trying to sue Superman's suit off. After hanging up he turned in for a few hours of sleep.
He got up before dawn and made some breakfast. As he ate, he turned on his computer again and composed the detailed story of the exclusive interview he would tell Perry that Superman had given him while they had worked together to formulate the legal counterattack. He dumped the draft article and his previous night's work on to a disk and took it with him when he went into the quiet, nearly abandoned newsroom an hour early.
He printed out his legal work on one of the generic laser printers and stuck the results in a manila folder and that into a larger, blue-colored folder. By this time he noticed that Laurie, Perry's clerk, had come in and was settling into her desk, getting things ready for the day to come. He picked up the folders and slipped away, only to return in the suit via the big window through which staffers could gaze at and, the building's architect had claimed, be inspired by the view of some of the city's most impressive structures. Clark always thought Metropolis looked a bit like San Francisco from this angle, though when he flew over it, it reminded him of Chicago.
Laurie was surprised to see him. "Ah… Hi! Can I help you?"
"I understand you're a notary."
She blinked. "Yes…?"
He handed her the manila folder. She looked over the paperwork it contained, her eyes widened, and she said it was *very* interesting--and newsworthy, too, admittedly. She glanced at him as though to see if he minded the observation. He said he'd already given an interview to Clark and expected it would be in the paper eventually.
"I bet it'll be tomorrow morning's front-page headline," she said. "Everything looks like it's in order--I'm not a lawyer, but I've had some legal assistant training and this all looks good to me."
"Thank you, that's comforting."
She smiled again, pleased to be of service, very pleased. She forced herself to look back at the papers. "I see where you need my stamp… Oh, there's the boss. Do you mind if he witnesses, because you need that, too."
"Not at all."
Perry strolled over nonchalantly to see what the heck Superman was doing interrupting the flow of the day's work in the great metropolitan daily under his editorship, even though the newsroom was still almost deserted. "Well, son, how are you doing?"
"Whatcha got there?"
"We need you to witness his signature, Chief," Laurie informed him.
"Well, you *look* like Superman," Perry chuckled. "Let me see that…" He looked over what Laurie handed him and nearly, Clark thought, dropped his teeth. Superman repeated that Clark was, as far as he knew, writing a story about it. "Well, he better be, it looks like it'll be a good one. Did you bring the complaint along, too? Can I look at that? Thanks… Amazing. Why this is the most ridiculous thing I've seen since… Well, there was one time when Elvis…"
"Oh, I guess you have better things to do than listen to me, don't you? Where do I sign?"
Laurie orchestrated it and all the papers were filled out. They both assured Superman that they were on his side and pulling for him already. He thanked them as he put the papers back into the manila folder, and then he left, careful not to stir up a breeze until he'd cleared the window.
Clark returned to the newsroom a short time later after sticking the manila folder back into the blue one. He expressed regret at having missed Superman again, but, yes, he had the story. He LANed it to Perry with a copy to Lois. He wished he'd been able to share all this with her, if only to experience her raging on his behalf. But her steady recuperation didn't need the strain, which was how he thought he would have explained had he been able to explain other things before this. Well, he'd say Superman put it that way and he, Clark, agreed.
Besides, he was growing more certain he could handle all this on his own. Probably.
At five before eight, he made his excuses, he had to be away from his desk for about an hour. Perry told him to drop in at the Court Clerk's office while he was out and try to catch Superman, for he was sure that was the fellow's next stop. Clark said he would. Actually, he wanted to be first in line.
But he wasn't. His spare five minutes and another thirty more were used up helping sort out a traffic accident and taking two injured people to the nearest emergency room.
Fortunately, hyperspace didn't eat his paper work, but unfortunately eight people were waiting at the Court Clerk's Office ahead of him. What was worse, by their expressions alone at least seven of them thought he was a joke. What? Superman taking a number? Pah-lease! What *some* people wouldn't do to get attention…
He took a seat, tried to relax, and picked up a battered Readers Digest, eschewing the old Field and Streams and Women's Days. He had rarely been in professional people's waiting rooms for long enough to notice the selection of reading materials. Were the offerings all this boring? He hunted through the magazine for the joke sections and inadvertently did this using superspeed.
A child of about ten who was watching him got up, walked over and said carefully: "I saw you fight the Slime Monster…"
"David," his mother said. "Leave the man alone."
David ignored her and continued, "It was really neat!"
The poor Slime Monster. Too bad it hadn't taken the hint and gone away and tried to eat some other city. Not that he wouldn't have helped out, say, Malibu, Memphis or Minneapolis-St. Paul. But helping at all was the reason for his current problems, and he was being forced to come up with ways to battle even worse monsters. At least it wasn't an interstate case heading for Federal court…
But still, "It was interesting, wasn't it?"
The child turned. "It's okay." He turned back to Superman. "It's okay, isn't it?"
"Your mother's concern is important, David."
The clerk, an elderly but efficient looking woman, reappeared at her post from having been busy elsewhere and announced "Next!" in a sharp, no-nonsense voice.
The man sitting next to Superman looked at his tab as all the others did. He stood up, hesitated, pocketed the tab, looked at the clerk, pointed at Superman, and said "He's next."
The others in the room looked at him and Superman and checked their tabs again. Some of them grumbled, others looked uncertain, and still others smiled a little.
The court clerk said, "He wasn't in here before I left, but you were, and we're keeping proper decorum in this office." She gave Superman a narrow look, as though every day she saw people who dressed up specifically to get attention and she wasn't amused.
"Well, sure," the man said, "but.." He looked at Superman. "but… you *are* him, aren't you?"
The man apparently believed him. Maybe, Clark thought, he exuded something that made people accept his simple claim to be himself.
The man looked at the clerk. "Well, *he* wouldn't be here if it weren't important." He looked at Superman. "It *is* important, isn't it?"
"No more important than your business, sir, I'm sure."
"There, see? He's not using who he is to push to the front of the line, is he?" he said to the others.
David's mother pointed out that Superman hadn't said anything untoward to her son, and several people said they had noticed that and were impressed. At least whoever he was, he wasn't a child molester.
The standing man, his argument strengthened, smiled at Superman. "Hey, your business's *gotta* be more important than *my* business--after all, you're… you really *are* him, aren't you…" a touch of awe was in his voice now.
"And you don't come in here all the time, do you?" another man said.
"No, this is the first time," in the suit, anyhow.
"*I* think his number's next, too," a woman said.
"Yeah," another woman said. "I bet he's got better things to do than wait in here."
"I don't wish to be treated any differently," he lied, but it only took a bit more insistence on the crowd's part and the Clerk's come-on, let's-get-this-show-on-the-road expression to convince him to stand, approach her and show her his paperwork. Those waiting in the room pushed around behind him, but they were entitled.
In the end they helped immensely. Several of them got the gist of what was going on immediately and, among other things, helped him insist on pressing one of his motions, the speedy hearing on the merits one, and getting a judge right away. The Court Clerk did find an opening for him next Thursday, only two days before his vacation started, whew!
Most of the crowd thought this was lucky and that the judge was a fair one, too, that the hearing probably wouldn't take very long and then the real fight could begin. No one wanted Superman tied up any longer than necessary in some stupid court case that could go on for months or even years. Clark managed not to gulp at the thought of that.
The Court Clerk instructed him on what to do with the paperwork that she returned to him, and the crowd advised him not to hesitate to wake the plaintiff's lawyers even though the bloodsuckers would be asleep in their coffins on this fine Saturday morning. Superman didn't comment on the descriptive adjectives.
He signed some more papers, was given clearance to go, and then stayed a few moments longer signing autographs with a borrowed pen, listening attentively to the crowd that now included several office workers and security people, and picking up a desk with six people sitting on it for someone with a camera. The consensus among his fans here was that he should kick some butt over the coming year and they'd be cheering him on. If he needed any more money for expenses (there had been a filing fee but he had been prepared for that, using cash that he'd withdrawn from a money machine earlier that morning), he need only ask. He thanked them all and a security guard escorted him from the building.
The plaintiff's lawyers' impressive offices were closed, as he had expected, a fly-by of one of the tallest buildings in town told him as much, so he visited the home in Green Meadows of the woman who had signed off on the lawsuit for the multi-named firm. The maid scurried to find her employer, and Ms. Selig showed up, dressed to play tennis, accepted the papers that Superman handed to her, and signed off on them as well. "You're moving fast…" she commented pleasantly, otherwise keeping all telltale emotions off her face.
"Yes. I'll see you in court," Superman replied, smiling but only in a friendly manner.
Clark felt like he had things under some control when he returned to the newsroom over two hours later. Perry immediately pulled him into his office and they went over the interview story and the Court Clerk's Office follow up, and how Clark should make another effort to get a statement from Selig, Miller, Powers and Burgess. He agreed. By the time he returned to his desk, Lois was at hers, giving him the evil eye for he darn well knew what. "I have to make a call," he said hastily, and added, in hopes of appeasing her "but you can listen in if you want…"
He made a show of finding Selig's unlisted number (though he had noted it when he had been shown to the woman's den to do the paperwork) and called, identifying himself and asking for the lawyer. Lois listened in quietly but the two reporters only heard the woman make general, positive statements about her client's case, giving little clue about the course the firm were going to take in the preliminary Thursday hearing, which, she thought had propitious timing because she wanted to start the long, drawn-out process as soon as possible.
"That's fast," Lois said, as she put down the phone.
"Right. He wouldn't have had to feel like a beginner, *I* could have helped him. I've been sued hundreds of times and won each case and not wasted weeks and months in court."
"Well, a lot--
"And weeks and months?" If *she* thought so it could be true.
"These things can drag on if they're not nipped in the bud, but I'm a skilled nipper, I've won them all," and she nodded, daring him to challenge that.
He didn't want to go near it. "I'm sure he would have asked--after asking for *my permission*…"
That made her smile.
"…but you were getting a massage last night, weren't you?"
"Yes, and some acupuncture, and they gave me Chinese tea, too, but still…"
"Do you feel better?"
"Much, I'm glad I went. Well, we'll both be there in the courtroom on Thursday, cheering him on, won't we, hmmm?"
"On your day off?"
"I wouldn't miss it, and you'll want company because I know you'll be there."
"Well, I may be packing for my vacation that morning…"
"I'll come over and help you get the job done--what's there to do? Throw some blue jeans in a brown paper bag?-- and we can go to the courthouse together."
"I take more than *that* along--"
"I know you wouldn't want Superman to be all alone and friendless in the courtroom."
"You'll be there, that's plenty of friends."
"Twice as many is even better."
This was getting *way* out of hand. "We'll see…"
She smiled brilliantly and let it drop, too, fortunately.
Putting the bank case aside for the time being, they worked on digging up information about Selig, Miller, Powers and Burgess, which turned out to be a reputable law firm known for winning tough cases. Clark began to feel a little less certain about his chances upon reading about their impressive string of successes. He firmed up his article and submitted it to Perry. He then switched over to helping Lois investigate James Richards' associates when the man was working for LexCorp Chemicals, but that line of inquiry didn't tingle for either of them.
At one, Perry sent Clark out to investigate the report of a fire in the undergraduate science lab on the Metro U campus, but it turned out to be a false alarm though none of the reporters could get into the lab past the Campus Fire Marshall, who assured him all was well. Clark didn't smell any smoke or see any signs that this was not the case, so he took the woman at her word and called this in. He proceeded home from that point, Lois drove by at 4 to pick him up, and they headed for Green Meadows and the Founder's Day Festival.
Lois was excited. She could feel that the case was coming together quickly, that all the clues they had, particularly all the ones they didn't realize they had, would fall together some time during the Festival and they'd solve the case, stop the bank robbery attempts, put the Elvis diary nonsense to rest, and maybe even rescue Will. Then, if the night was still young, she'd kidnap Clark, whisk him away to her lair, and pry his secrets out of him, one by delicious one. He'd enjoy every moment and beg for more and she'd give it to him, the guileless jerk… *her* guileless jerk.
He looked so unsuspecting, sitting there beside her, watching the scenery roll by as they headed for the off ramp that would take them into beautiful downtown Green Meadows for the umpteenth time in the past two weeks. He was dressed in jeans and a conservative polo shirt with a small, discrete Daily Planet insignia, but then she had chosen carefully, too, dressing both not to be noticed and for adventure: tennis shoes, comfortable slacks and a quiet, solid- colored T-shirt. She wanted to be in on the news and report it, not make it, not this evening. Then, after that, she'd make news, alone, with Clark…
It's my hormones, she thought--and he better have hormones for me, too!
They had to drive around a bit before finding a parking lot that claimed to have space available and then they had to split the parking fee, an outrageous $12 that she promised she'd report to the world at large if this festival wasn't worth it. She winked at Clark though. "I *think* it's going to be worth it!"
"Then my tingle's right?"
"If it's anything like mine, it is," she said confidently.
He smiled, too, how sweet…
Due to the location of the parking lot, their walk to the Plaza took them by the Commerce Bank. This gave them the chance to see the beefed-up security guard numbers (there were two more now, Clark said) and check out how many security cameras were pinned to the sides of the walls, watching everything.
Not entirely surprisingly, security guards were everywhere in and around the plaza area, too, and they were checking IDs and giving nasty looks to and escorting away anyone they determined shouldn't be there, which seemed to include people who looked like they fell below a certain income level. When Lois and Clark came under such scrutiny, Clark immediately said they were members of the press, as though that would mean anything, so Lois added that they were the guests of *Franklin Stern,* a magic name if there was one.
One of the guards checked a computerized tablet, apparently found their names, and generated ID labels for them that stated their names and, under them, "Guest, Green Meadows Founder's Day." The guards smiled then and went on to glare at someone else.
"I wonder how many people know about these…" Lois whispered to Clark as they walked away from the guards and into the plaza.
"So someone can fake them, hmm?"
"Precisely. Oh, look, there's free food here, too!"
As sunset took over the sky, they loaded up, making a sumptuous meal of it, and strolled around the plaza, watching the well choreographed entertainment, looking for signs of counterfeit name tags, and consulting their programs for what was coming. "Hey, Taiko drummers will be on the main stage in…" Clark checked his watch, "about an hour."
"What? What-ko drummers?"
"You've heard of them, haven't you?"
"Oh, them, the drummers."
"Right, from Japan. It looks like they flew them in, too. Spared no expense, I guess."
Before he she could ask him what the heck he was talking about, what the program described as the Mariachis de Tepetilan, up on center stage and right on time, struck up a rousing rendition of Las Mananitas in honor of the Mayor's husband's birthday. Clark switched over to explaining why they were playing it. Lois didn't care that it was the Mexican equivalent of the Happy Birthday to You song, but she did like the music and celebrated the chance to hear it by eating the taco she had picked up earlier.
In time, though, agreeing with gestures that the music was a bit too loud, they wandered away from the central area of the plaza. Much of the area was covered with paving stones, but fountains, trees and grassy patches had been inserted here and there, giving the place the feeling of a safe, controlled park that the refined residents of Green Meadows could visit without fear. Lois appreciated that, and she was also glad to spot a well managed tree and under it an unoccupied patch of smoothly trimmed grass they could sit on.
There, out of the way as they finished eating, they people watched. "Everyone's so well behaved, even the children…" Lois said, pleased, even though it was a little spooky how everyone was straining to have fun…
"And I don't see anyone I recognize. Nobody else from the Planet yet, no politicians, not even any movie stars. Did I tell you I think I caught a glimpse of Robin Williams last Sunday? Or at least someone who looked like him."
"No! I'll trade you, I think I saw Cindy Crawford."
"Wow. In *my* neighborhood…" he sighed, then added equitably. "But the food's good here."
"Want to go load up again?"
He looked at his empty plate. "No, I'm not that hungry. You?"
"No…" She whispered close: "and a lean and hungry feeling is the right one to have when it comes time for *action*…"
He looked at her. She still had her wrist and ankle bandaged, all for effect, because she could use them with considerable skill. But more likely he was contemplating the still plainly evident bruises on her arms. "Yep," he said, no doubt planning to prevent her from having to become active at all. But before he let his eyes linger too long on her body, darn it, he sighed quietly and looked out on the passersby. Then he perked up. "Hey, look at those knees."
She looked. "What knees?"
"The ones undercover. Maybe he had surgery on my day off…"
She looked up then and saw Perry strolling along slowly, possibly looking for some place to sit as well. Lois and Clark stood, gathering his attention, and he smiled as he walked up. "I'm glad to see you two are on the job."
"Noses to the grind stone, Chief. Did Alice come?"
"No, she didn't think it would be very interesting." He leaned a bit closer to them and said privately, "Clark, I hate to say this when we're right here in the middle of it, but the party in your neighborhood was more fun than this one. I can't imagine a quartet of 60-year-old Elvis impersonators, women no less, turning up here and being wildly applauded. They were good, too. Why, I have the feeling that if anybody missed their mark on this program," he motioned at the folded piece of pink paper sticking out of the pocket of his clashing Hawaiian shirt, "the security guards would hustle 'em off and shoot 'em."
Just then, up on the central stage, dancers from the Netherlands finished their act, which, as far as Lois could tell, consisted largely of stomping around in circles in wooden shoes to merry, windmill-inspired music. "What's next?" She consulted her own program. "A number by the Spanish Delights." They were a man with a guitar and a woman in a Spanish dress and platform shoes made to pound the wooden surface of the stage. He screamed out a gypsy lament and she stomped while behind them the Taiko drummers rolled into place what she was surprised to see were massive instruments, megadrums.
Fortunately, as her curiosity was now aroused, Clark chose the moments between the end of the Delights' act and the announcement of who the drummers were to give them a rundown of what he knew about the Japanese musical instruments. The drums, even the largest one, were made from trunks of trees aged ten years, cored out and covered with the hide of a bull but not a cow.
"Figures," Lois said. "Too expensive to use a cow's hide?"
"Well, the biggest drums can cost up to $10,000. One place I visited, they had an aspiring group of kids that were really into it, so the community got together and raised the money to purchase a big drum like that one. They practiced hard and they played very well and toured the country."
"That's inspiring," Perry nodded. "I can't see a community here in the States raising money to buy kids, oh, new guitars…"
"It's a cultural thing, Chief. Maybe someday, when everything's computerized, kids will want to play old instruments like grand pianos and…"
Clark's philosophizing, which, it occurred to Lois, he didn't do very often and she should probably listen, was drowned out by the opening beat of the first number. In moments the thrill of the sound of the drums and the shouting and jumping of their players made Lois feel goosebumps.
That, and a definite news-is-happening tingle. "And I thought the Mariachi's were loud," she said, though probably no one could hear her. Except Clark nodded.
She wondered if she should sit down to feel the full effect of the ground-shaking music originating more than half the plaza away.
She looked down. Ground. Shaking.
Then she looked up at Clark. He was looking down, too, then at her. Their eyes met. She bet he was tingling but not because he was looking at her this time.
"Underground," he said, mouthed out.
"The maps on Will's wall! Of Green Meadows--There was one under the others and it was a Water Department map of the underground utilities in this area!"
"Of course! And running a bus into the side of the bank didn't shake up the vault and turn on the alarm system! This probably wouldn't either!"
Perry was looking back and forth at them, and then down, too, at the rhythmically pulsing ground. "And nearly all the acts on the program are as loud as this one."
"*And*," Lois practically shouted, "James Richards is a geologist! A geological engineer--he *drills*!"
They huddled closer and gazed at the ground around their feet. Lois wondered if Clark was looking through it, but he didn't seem to be able to do that without lowering his glasses, a sample of which she'd glimpsed on Friday, without him realizing it, when they were trying to figure out who that woman had been.
"I bet they're almost through," Clark said. "They must have expected some tough drilling."
"Well, this noise could cover it, and what with the ground shaking, maybe they turned off the security system, or it's just not sensitive to it. I bet they didn't even arm the floor."
"We'll have to check who's on the committee that organized this festival," Perry said, "or if it's *just* a coincidence…"
"A little of both probably, Chief," Clark said. "Mrs. Stern is on the committee."
"Then we'll check very discretely. You know, we'll have to tell someone about this," he said.
Lois could hear reluctance in his voice, just, considering it was hard to hear anything at all. He probably wouldn't mind hearing then: "They can read about it in the paper."
"Lois…" both Perry and Clark said.
"Well, *can't* they? Where's your sense of adventure, guys? Even *Will Waldecker* suspected this!"
They looked at each other. "I haven't lost mine," Perry admitted. "And you've recovered from Wednesday, haven't you, Clark?"
Clark almost stared at him but then nodded quickly. Wow, Lois thought; did Perry know who Clark was in his spare time, too, or was the man simply referring to Clark nearly getting shot? His knowing the truth, having figured it out (and probably well before her, wouldn't you know?), wouldn't be surprising though.
"I wish there were more of us," Clark said in a distracting move, "We could split up and cover more ground…"
And, off by himself, she thought he could put on the Superman suit and watch over them.
"Jimmy's around here somewhere taking pictures, it was hard to get him in. Laura and Raul, too, I think I saw them."
Lois decided not to ask if Perry knew why those two had come together; he might have said something like "it was easier getting them to see the light than it was for another couple I know…" Instead she said, "Okay, we'll look for them. But now let's try to figure out where they started the tunnel. It had to be close to the bank somewhere…"
The bank took up one side of the plaza and a government office building occupied the side just north of the bank. To the south and also across the plaza from the bank were ritzy shops and expensive sidewalk restaurants. The empty storefront they were looking for was so painfully obvious that Lois could have kicked herself for not realizing all this earlier: it was just across the street, kitty-corner southeast of the bank. The sparkling clean windows were hung with tasteful banners that proclaimed the imminent arrival of a posh jewelry store; the banners also served to obscure all view of the inside suite of rooms.
By this time the investigators had collected Jimmy, who claimed to still have plenty of film and a working flash, good thing he'd brought it, too, since they liked to party in the dark around here. They also found Laura and Raul, who said that while the Mariachis were nice, this party was not as much fun as last week's, with the guy pretending to mangle Spanish as he sang, throwing in funny one liners much of the audience had understood. So Jimmy, Laura and Raul were eager to help foil the bank robbers, too, wasn't this a perfect night for it? they said with big smiles.
Lois, seeing she was working with a team composed of almost 50% rank amateurs (or more, depending on what category she could decide to stick Perry in), immediately split everyone up and sent them on their way. Perry and Jimmy were to watch the alley behind the "empty" storefront for signs of life there and around the small moving van they had found waiting in the unguarded dark. Laura and Raul, the least experienced in this kind of thing, were to watch the front of the bank and be prepared to alert the police, help clear people away if there was gunfire, and interview everyone who might know something about what was happening. She and Clark would tackle the back of the bank.
Actually, she thought, the alley assignment was the most likely to garner results, but she had to give Clark a chance to slip away. He would be more likely to do if he didn't think she was in danger because she was with him. Too, she was the *least* likely of the five to stick close to him and thus deny him that chance. After one of them had made some excuse to send him somewhere, like to find a phone, she could go back to the alley and she, Perry and Jimmy could actually break into that "empty" building.
They headed toward the bank, planning to reconnoiter the imposing structure but making sure they didn't look like that was what they were doing. A Festival guard stopped them and warned them to keep their ID labels if they planned to return. They nodded agreeably. Lois noticed that the majority of the security people were facing towards the park…
As soon as they were out of earshot of anyone and half way past the bank down a dark side street, Clark began grumbling. "Lois, you're moving too fast on this."
"You always say that."
"It's always true."
"No, it's not. The truth this time is we haven't been moving fast enough. They've had weeks, maybe months to plan this; Will figured it out weeks ago probably; and *we've* only just stumbled into it and have been groping blindly around in the dark, searching everywhere for clues--"
"Getting shot at, being thrown off a high building--"
"Wait a minute, that doesn't count--"
"Sure it counts--"
"Oh, it happens all the time, and it wasn't serious, it was a distraction--"
"It was plenty serious--it was *nearly* a tragedy! And do you know how hard it is to break in a new partner?"
"Oh, right, Kent, like you had to actually *do* anything--and don't think you can distract *me,* I'm the master at it! I taught you everything you know."
"Yeah, and here we are fighting again."
"We're *not* fighting, we're having a… a friendly discussion of differences of opinion."
She waited for him to add something like "My folks do it all the time," but maybe it hadn't occurred to him, maybe he didn't see that similarity yet. Well, there had been plenty of things she'd been face to face with and had missed entirely. Still, she was pleased that this time they had both hastened to defuse the potentially sticky situation and he'd reconfirmed that their big fight had worried him just as much as it had her.
But he couldn't be allowed to think he had come out of this with the winning hand. "Well, opinion this:" she tapped her finger on his chest. No suit again. Would he have to fly home first to get it or what? Well, he better fly fast. "We have to wrap up this story and find those crazy diaries to make Perry happy."
"That's not the right word, 'yes' is the right word and that's what I'm going to pretend I heard you say."
He looked heavenward; there was no help forthcoming.
They had stopped on a poorly lighted residential corner across the street from the bank. They could hear people cheering the Taiko drummers' most recent number. That noise alone seemed to rattle the windows even out here--unless Lex and Richards et al. were tunneling toward the bank from a house like the one she and Clark had paused by. That was a possibility worth checking, though the storefront was closer to the target and a moving van there would not be odd to see.
"Okay, here's the plan: You go back around that way and I'll go back around this way and we'll meet in the middle and catch them in the act." She then turned as though, having said it fast, it would make sense somehow, or he would think she thought it did, and he would see the chance he was looking for.
But instead he took her shoulder, with care but firmly. "Go? No way! I've felt bad every time I've had to leave you alone since Thursday, so I'm not doing it tonight, not in the midst of all this… whatever's happening."
She rolled her eyes and turned back to him. "Clark Kent, do I have to--"
"Put up with me? Yes. If you're going to get in trouble, I'll be with you so you *won't* get in trouble, got that?"
That made about as much sense as her plan had, none at all. "No, no--"
He feigned putting his hand over her mouth but didn't actually do so as he pulled her into the hedge edging the sidewalk, or tried to. "Oww!" she whispered in preparation for how scratched up she was sure she would get.
That is, if the big dog growling hungrily on the other side of the hedge didn't get them first. Why didn't it occur to Clark that not everyone was made of Teflon like he was?
But then it looked like they didn't have to find a hiding place after all.
"Come out of there or I'll shoot and the Sanitation Department can clean up what's left in the morning!"
Off the top of his head Clark could think of a dozen worse situations he and Lois had found themselves in, but just because they came effortlessly to mind, it didn't mean that each new one was easier to take.
The security guard was sporting a regular hand gun and not the shotgun his threat had implied. But even that threat and, Clark realized, the brambles he'd almost pulled poor Lois into were reason enough for her to bring them out of the proposed hiding place. The man waved them toward the better lighted parking lot of the bank, and as he did so, he asked, "All right, who are you?"
"Why," Lois motioned with her bandaged hand as she limped along, "this is Captain Spalding."
"And this is Ms. Rittenhouse," he returned with a similar gesture, though he didn't affect a limp. He hoped she noticed he'd updated the name from the 1930s; he did not mind being called Captain.
"Huh?" the guard said. "*Those* aren't your names! I recognize you, turn around here!"
Lois turned first, slowly, favoring her ankle, but she was only gathering speed because she jumped into a flying leap and kicked the gun out of the man's hand. Startled, Clark found the weapon flying in his direction and he caught it. The guard, trapped between two parked cars, was even more startled, and then he was unconscious as she drove the heel of her right palm into his wide-open sternum. He collapsed. Clark checked quickly and x-ray saw that the man wasn't dead; the well placed punch might have done that but she had pulled it off just right.
She addressed his still startled, open-mouthed visage. "Neat, huh? I learned that about six weeks ago and I've been dying to use it ever since. That Chinese tea must work, too, I don't feel winded at all. Let's move him out of the way over here…"
"You just knocked out a trained security guard!"
"Shh! You don't have to tell the neighborhood! Look at that gun--does that look like a service revolver to you?"
"Grab his arm."
"But nothing--Will you *please* take his other arm? You're stronger than me, remember? Good. And remember what he said about the Sanitation Department? Garbage isn't picked up around here on *Sunday morning,* he'd know that if he were a *real* guard."
"Unless they just hired him or he was speaking metaphorically or he was trying to scare us and he had to supply his own gun--"
"*And* something else…"
"This better be good…"
"It is, I'm always good. Let's leave him here." On the grass under a tree behind a bush on a landscaped area on the edge of the bank's parking lot. "This was the same man who was trimming the hedges around the rose garden at the Waldecker mansion last Monday. You would have seen him, too, but he'd gone by the time you finished searching Will's office."
"Oh. You're *sure?*" Not that she hadn't committed them, but…
"Of course I am! Look, this means they've known about us since Monday. If they saw Superman on Wednesday, it only confirmed to them that they had to stop us, me and him, anyway. Maybe they didn't realize that you could be just as threatening to their plans as either of us."
"Oh, thanks, I think…" He unloaded the gun (which he noticed was a Saturday night special), smeared any fingerprints he had left on it, and dropped the bullets and the weapon (its triggering mechanism inexplicably damaged) by the "guard."
She smiled. "Now let's go take a closer look at the bank."
"But the other guards…"
She gave him such a look.
"Okay, maybe they've been replaced, too, or knocked out, but *maybe* it was just this one?"
She shrugged, said, "So we'll be careful," and headed toward the bank.
Believe me, he sighed, that's all I ever wanted…
As they crept up to the parking lot entrance of the bank, he noticed that the cameras mounted on the corners of the building were looking elsewhere. He didn't say anything because she'd probably already noticed or, worse, she might say "What did you expect?" because he was hesitating so much in doing all this. As it was, she did point them out and say: "Ah-ha! They've bought off the guards inside, too, or maybe fixed things with fake video tapes."
The "bought off" explanation was hard for Clark to believe because the security company checked out okay, but it made as much sense as anything. Then add to that in the air around the door he smelled traces of something unusual. He noticed that it was somewhat stronger after Lois grasped the door, prepared to give it a mighty tug, but found that it swung open easily.
"Wow," she whispered, "maybe they were expecting us… I'm joking, Clark. Leaving the door unlocked is precisely what they'd do if they didn't expect to be interrupted."
"Next we'll probably smell knock-out gas…"
"I hope not." He hoped the gas he detected here wasn't strong enough to affect her. He decided not to mention this because it would be difficult to explain.
"No, I hope we do so we can hold our breaths, or we'll be unconscious before we know it."
"Oh, of course…"
"Get with the game plan, Clark," she whispered. "Remember, *you're* the one who wanted to tag along with me…"
She proceeded into the bank. The lobby was dark, though there were lights on around the tellers' stations, enough perhaps for a guard to use to spot people lurking about. There was a tensor lamp turned on at the guard station desk, too, but no guard was there.
"Stranger and stranger…" she murmured.
"There should be all kinds of motion detectors and laser beams and alarms…"
"Everything's turned off, Watson."
"Looks like, Sherlock. What do you say we check out the vault?"
She touched his arm. "*That's* the spirit. I thought I was losing you with all this daring action…"
"Nope." As long as I don't lose you… "You're not scaring me off…"
Cat-footing it, they eased past the tellers' stations and toward the short hallway that would take them to The Vault. So close… Suddenly Clark again heard footsteps approach, just as he had outside. Lois heard them too this time and they searched frantically for someplace to hide in the 4.5 seconds Clark figured they had. Lois dived under a desk, but there wasn't another one near enough or without a chair he'd have to pull out for him to follow her example.
"Ah! I see you decided that our interest rates were too high to pass up, hmm…" It was Pamela Jerrigan, her face smudged and her clothes dark, and she was pointing the nasty end of a hand gun at him, her grip on it steady and sure.
"I had another chance to sleep on it…" he said as he raised his hands.
She smiled; the gun didn't waver. "If that was all it took, you could have asked for my help…"
He managed a smile. "Heh…"
"But it's a good thing you hesitated. This place won't be paying dividends until the insurance pays off and you can imagine how long *that* will take. You're very clever, Mr. Kent, sneaking in past my guards--"
"You mean the fellow who was a horticulturalist only last Monday?"
"Horti…? Oh, yes, that was him."
"And Will Waldecker? What did you do with him?"
"You're full of questions, aren't you? I bet you drove your parents crazy. Waldecker's having money problems, and Monday I was going to feel him out to join us, but he disappeared--and no," she shook her head, "*we* didn't disappear him. But *you're* going to disappear because you'll be in The Vault, where it will be too dark to for you to see the massive withdrawal we've just made." She waved the gun. "Get moving, you know where it is."
He eased around her, pretending to fear the gun. "So you've been planning this for a while…"
"Oh, you've seen it hundreds of times on TV. I insinuate myself into the top management of the bank, my cohorts take security jobs, we gas everyone who's in the way, and the rest is history for me and my partners in some far away land…"
Someone behind her hissed, but it wasn't Lois, who had been just about to jump Jerrigan and no doubt wrestle the gun from her. No, it was another of the woman's guards, gun in hand, looking quite willing to shoot Lois if she made any more false moves. Lois looked pissed and didn't move, awaiting her chance to floor him, too, probably. But the man was apparently prepared for this possibility, and he stepped forward quickly and pushed her toward Clark, who caught her. They clung together for a moment. Suddenly being locked in The Vault wasn't looking like such a bad thing.
"They ambushed Lawrence," the man reported.
"We'll pick him up on our way out."
"Did *you* send James Richards to kill me and Superman?" Lois demanded.
"James who? Kill you and Superman? No, and, besides, I'm not worried about Superman, he lets banks take care of themselves, that was part of the plan."
"But hang gliders to the roof--"
"None of that was us!" she said, growing irritated but no less in-command looking. "Now stop trying to waste my time and get moving!"
The door of The Vault was wide open but a tall, nondescript man dressed in black, as were his companions, was preparing to close it. "Wait," Jerrigan said, "We have a last- minute deposit, two nosy reporters for cold storage."
She *had* watched a lot of television, hadn't she, Clark thought.
"But I have more questions!" Lois complained.
"No--*buzzzz!* your time's up. Get in there, now! There will be plenty of air, don't worry--"
"You mean you're just going to *walk* out of here?"
"No, we're going to be struggling under the weight of heavy money bags. In, now!"
Clark was torn between trying to rescue them both and risking the inevitable gunfire, or letting the bank robbers have their way. Jerrigan was right, though, he didn't care nearly so much about protecting material property as he did preventing harm to living beings, so the choice was an easy one. They entered The Vault and the mighty door swung shut with a series of quiet clicks. The room was plunged into darkness; he recalled that the light switch was for some reason just outside the door. There was, though, plenty of light from the dial of his watch and the little red light over the fire/sprinkler system alarm up in the corner to the right of the door.
"Oh, Clark," Lois sighed, looking around, straining to make anything out. He touched her shoulder to help her keep her bearings. She turned toward him and slipped her arms around him as though they belonged there. As far as he was concerned, they did.
She sighed, "It looks like I've gotten us into another fine mess…"
"We got into it *together*, and it's not *so* bad…"
"But Perry and Jimmy are watching that store where obviously nothing's happening, and Raul and Laura are out front doing the same thing, and here we are… trapped."
"Well… yes. Hmm." She gave him a squeeze. "You're right, it's not *so* bad and… you're nice and warm…"
She was cold? He gauged the temperature to be about 64 and dropping again. He could think of ways to keep her warm. He touched her under her chin and coaxed her to look up. She accepted his kiss.
"Alone at last…" he said when he realized she had to come up for air.
"I hope," she said with a pleasant little gasp, "this doesn't mean that every time we want to have some quality time together we have to dig up a dangerous story first…"
"I'm sure it won't. We only have to do it right *once*."
"And the jinx will be broken."
"Exactly. Then when we're ready to get out of here, we can set off the fire alarm."
"Do you have matches or do you expect things to get…" she smiled, "*that* hot in here?"
He hoped she could sense his smile in return. "You never know…"
"We can find out…" and she pulled on him playfully, her motion downward, her intent clear.
Or at least he hoped his interpretation was right. He wanted desperately to follow her lead, to open his life to her, to open up… "But…"
"But… There's something I should tell you first, something that you should know…"
She stopped pulling on his T-shirt and closed in again. "Yes…?" with a sincere, I'm-ready-for-anything look on her face.
Wow, he thought, maybe she was… How should I put it? he wondered. He couldn't take off his glasses this time and finger comb his hair back… But he could say, for example, I could get us out of here in two seconds, Lois, but here we are alone at last and I'd like to take advantage of it as much as you seem to want to… if, of course, you don't throw me through the wall first when I tell you this one little thing…
"Well," he decided to say up front, "I tried to tell you this before, but…"
"But Will needed our help," she supplied.
No, please, not *now*…
He could hear a half dozen clicks from off to his left.
The Vault door was being unlocked.
"Tell me, Clark…"
She slipped her hands up to the sides of his face, as though in the caress she was trying to capture his full attention. She was succeeding. "You *can,*" she said in what he realized was the most encouraging voice she'd ever used on him. Her eyes were full of sincerity, concern, and even love…
His, he knew, were full of anguish. "No… I can't."
The door clicked more audibly; she could surely hear it now, too.
"Oh," she said. She released his face, smoothed his shirt and patted him on the chest like a consolation prize. "The jinx…"
"I guess…" he sighed. But he kept hold of her, eased her back toward the wall and turned, placing himself between her and the growing sense of danger, because now he heard a different, deeper noise off on the other side of this main room.
She heard it, too. "What…?"
It was coming from under the floor. Chink chink chink, clunk, chunk.
"We were right after all…" Clark told her.
The door: more clicks.
The floor: Thwump! A cave-in sound, a well planned crash… and somebody whispered "Eureka!"
The door swung open, casting a large rectangle of light across room. The top of the rectangle caught the edge of the unexpected hole in the ground.
Jerrigan stepped into the vault, her gun still in hand. "What the…?" She glanced at Lois and Clark but waved her gun at the hole. "*That's* what you were talking about!"
"That's what we suspected…" Lois admitted, blinking furiously at the light as though, Clark thought, to force her eyes to adjust more quickly.
Jerrigan's partner joined her, his gun also pointed at the hole in the floor. "They're spoiling our plans!" he said. "I'll shoot the first one who pokes his head up!"
"Don't shoot!" a boyish voice wailed. "I'm just a photographer!"
"Don't shoot!" Clark said quickly. "He's a hostage, not a robber!" He dashed over to help the disheveled Jimmy out of the hole, making sure Jerrigan and her partner and yet another person behind them saw what he was doing so they wouldn't act precipitously.
Jerrigan growled. "Get him over there with her! This is too much! *I'll* shoot the *next* one *myself*!"
"Great shades of Elvis! Don't shoot!"
"It's our boss!" Lois shouted. "Don't shoot him! He's a hostage, too!"
Clark helped the dusty and somewhat shaky Perry out as well and guided him over to the wall to huddle with the other two.
At any moment, Clark thought, pursing his lips (and then unpursing them so as not to let on that he was worried), what with all the tension and the guns, something bad was bound to happen. He would have to act at the first chance he saw, and tip the odds in favor of the team from the Daily Planet.
Someone out in the anteroom got a light turned on in The Vault. Jerrigan said, "Good! And I don't care if the next person out of that hole is the Pope himself, I'm going to… You!"
The next person exiting the neatly formed, squarish hole had first thrust through an odds-evening semi-automatic weapon. It was the same one, Clark was sure, that James Richards had slung over his shoulder and escaped with. The person holding now was the entirely unexpected Mrs. Pourhamidi.
"She was the temporary maid at Will's house," Clark whispered to Lois.
In favor of stealth, the athletic-looking woman was wearing black leather. She was also wearing a fierce expression. "You!" she spat back at Jerrigan.
"We were here first!" Jerrigan informed her in no uncertain terms.
"There's plenty to go around, isn't there?" Perry pointed out.
"Shut up!" Pourhamidi growled at him as though she already had plenty of experience telling him that. "If that man says another word, I'll silence *all* of you!"
"No, you don't!" Jerrigan said. "There will be no blood shed on *my* operation!"
They looked daggers at each other.
Clark thought he saw a family resemblance in the women's 30ish faces and began to wonder if the they had argued like this before.
Behind Pourhamidi, James Richards poked through the hole. "You've been talking like you're in charge here," he said to the woman's back. "Where's Lex Luthor?"
"Nowhere, you fool. You wouldn't have agreed to work with me if I hadn't used his name."
"But he talked to me!"
"On the *phone,*" she said in a deep, Lex Luthor-like voice.
"Shut up!" She stepped over to the closest wall of safety deposit boxes, slammed the butt of the gun into the nearest one, and its door popped open. She pulled out a tray, dropped it, it fell open, and she scooped up some of the contents, including a necklace full of large pearls and some golden jewelry. She held it out to him. "Did Lex ever do this for you?"
"Lex who?" Richards said, his eyes glowing.
That wasn't all that was glowing about him, Clark sighed. The man had that chuck of Kryptonite, he could feel it. The piece was small and the man was at least ten feet away, meaning that the painful, drawing effect it had on his strength and abilities was only a light one for now.
Pourhamidi looked next at Jerrigan. "That busybody's right, there's enough here to share--but I want it all!"
"No, you're too late!" was the reply, and somehow, as more people arrived at both The Vault door and through the hole in the ground, both gangs began fighting each other, physically and accented by frequent bursts of gun fire.
The top staff of the Daily Planet city news room huddled in the farthest corner available. Clark had naturally placed himself on the outside, but that really wasn't the best idea because of the Kryptonite.
The strange rock then made its presence known to a wider audience when James Richards was shoved into the wall next to their huddle. He slumped for a second, but rose to fight on.
And right there, not two inches from Clark's feet, the Kryptonite, having bounced out of Richards' pocket, came to a rest.
It smiled, waved and cooed: "Come to me, baby!"
He stared at it. It was like a momentously tiny black hole that had him in its painful grip.
Jimmy grabbed it and held it up between them, too breath-takingly, heart-stoppingly close. "What's this, CK?"
Clark couldn't think of anything to say; indeed, he could hardly think at all. His eyes were pinned inescapably on the sparkling green rock only inches from his face. He heard Lois distantly, through what must have been the faltering pulse of blood in his ears, and she seemed to say: "Where's my purse?"
"It looks like Kryptonite, Jimmy," Perry said.
"Yipes!" Jimmy dropped it immediately. The rock seemed to Clark to cut a path through the air and him, and burn all the way down. It bounced around their feet.
But moments later, just as Clark was feeling his knees about to give out (the knees seemed always to go first, he thought dimly) Lois scooped up the Kryptonite and wrapped it in what looked like a piece of dull aluminum foil.
The drawing feeling disappeared immediately. Clark still felt some pain and weakness, but those began to withdraw as well.
Lois handed him the lead-covered rock. "Here, you have pockets, keep this!"
"Ah…" He looked at it, stunned, and then at her. Just how grateful could he afford to appear in this situation?
She, on the other hand, looked like she was in control. "You'll have to give it to Superman. Do you know how hard it is to not only get a flight over the center of the Bermuda Triangle and *then* open an airplane door in midair?"
"Don't ask. I was almost arrested…"
He felt a bullet ricochet off his elbow, forcing him back into the reality of the situation and out of its momentary surreality. "They're shooting again!"
Team Daily Planet huddled small.
A hesitant member of Jerrigan's team stumbled into the room and The Vault door swung shut. Fighting stopped as the combatants turned to look at what had happened. "We're trapped in here!" one of Jerrigan's companions exclaimed.
Clark took the opportunity to aim a burst of heat vision at the smoke/heat detector up in the corner near the door.
Immediately an alarm sounded, panels in the roof opened, and water began spraying out.
Bank robbers, none of whom had been shot despite all the gunplay nor seriously injured in the fighting, scattered. Most of them from both sides immediately jumped down into the hole. Jerrigan was among them, shouting orders at her troops.
Two robbers stayed behind. "Box number 42!" Mrs. Pourhamidi cried out, but she was the one who spotted it. She ran over and slammed her gun into it, getting the same results she had earlier. In this box though was a golden, diary-sized container…
"Oh, no…" Perry whimpered.
Richards attacked other boxes, grabbing out jewelry, negotiable certificates, family pictures, and everything else he could fit into the canvas bag he had produced from one of the pockets in his one-piece pull-over dig-a-tunnel-in uniform. Then he and Pourhamidi scrambled for the hole.
This left Team Daily Planet alone in the sprinkle of fire-suppressing water but otherwise unscathed.
"Wow…" Jimmy whispered.
"You better brush up on your adjectives, Jimmy," Perry whispered in return, "if you expect to ever become a reporter…"
"Adjective, smajectives," Lois whispered.
"Let's get out of here," Clark whispered.
"Y'all okay?" William Waldecker asked as he popped up through the hole in the floor. "My goodness, it sure is getting wet in here! Let's get you out of here before you catch your deaths of colds…" He produced a cell phone and said into it: "Turn off the water and open the door now, it's all clear in here…"
The water ceased and The Vault door swung open again, revealing two excited reporters.
"This was fun!" Laura exclaimed.
"I did not know catching crooks could be so exciting!" Raul agreed. They hugged and then smiled each other. Clark could almost hear lovebirds cooing and dramatic music rising to a heart warming crescendo.
At least somebody was having fun…
Lois was not amused. Clark knew he should warn the world, but he was tired, too, and she was managing to restrain herself. Will Waldecker felt like talking, though, and there was no stopping the animated little man as he explained in detail how four weeks ago he had detected something bizarre happening at the Commerce Bank, reported his suspicions--and had gotten a polite brush-off. Well, he was no longer someone who would sit back and do nothing in the face of danger!
Rather than worrying about his next grand tour of Europe as the bank's president had suggested, Will had approached Personnel for a job. For some reason they believed his claim to have gambled away a lot of money and that his remaining funds were now committed to big bills. Oh, dearie me, he had whimpered just as he had in earlier days, how would he ever care of Wanda Mae now?
As he quietly observed bank life, he saw evidence of *two* plans in the making, and less than a week later he was approached in his very own home by the exotic Ms. Pourhamidi, who probed his feelings about life as a millionaire (he missed it terribly), about being on the edge of poverty again (he didn't like it one bit), and how the bank was treating him (he didn't like that, either). She plied him with fine meals in dark restaurant corners, and he convinced her that he was growing desperate to find a quicker source of funding. She also asked him if he knew about the dead American icon Elvis Presley. It was then, he said, that he decided to ask for Clark's advice and also confer with Perry.
"I was going to give you all the details," he told Lois and Clark as they drove him to Green Hills shortly after midnight, "but she kidnapped me on Sunday evening. She didn't completely trust me and she wanted to keep me under wraps. Being locked up was kind of fun though, I played cards with that Mr. Richards and beat him most of the time. I'm sorry I didn't know they had Kryptonite or that gun from one of Lex Luthor's old labs. I wonder if he *was* involved. Ms. Pourhamidi told Mr. Richards so, but I think she was just stringing him along. I'm going to look into that…"
Clark felt the weight of the lead-wrapped chunk of death in his jeans pocket and was glad he wasn't inclined to break out in a sweat.
In the midst of the actual tunneling and break in, when Will was supposed to be on hand to authenticate the Diaries, he had slipped away to alert the police. He also found Laura and Raul, who clued him in, and he had given them what he hoped was a safe assignment: silently follow Clark and Lois and look for a way to be helpful. Laura had told them earlier that closing the vault door had been her idea, and Raul had found the controls for the lights and the fire suppression system.
"Weren't they just marvelous? They work well together, like you two do, don't they? I hope Perry gives them more exciting assignments!"
"Yes…" Lois said quietly, as though deep in thought. But Clark was sure he knew what was on her mind--and he kept his mouth shut. It wouldn't be a good idea to reiterate his opinion that it was *okay* that she hadn't brought down the criminals single-handedly and that she *didn't* look like the half-drowned rat that Marie Rose, on the scene with the police behind the storefront, had been totally out of line observing aloud even if it was a free country.
"Exciting assignments are few and far between, Will," Clark said as he pulled into the wealthy little detective's driveway. "But I'm glad you were able to find one, too."
"You know, they don't tell you this on TV, but detectives have to do a lot of testifying in court. I'm going to be busy for the next few weeks I guess. *But*," he told Lois, watching her from where he sat in the center of the Jeep's back seat, fishing, Clark thought, for one of her smiles, "I'll tell you everything I find out."
Lois did break out a smile for him, a true world's wonder considering their last four hours of hell.
"Thanks," she said. "You've given us a lot. Maybe we can get together again, oh, next week."
He said he'd be "dee-lah-ted, ma'am!"
After dropping Will off, Clark drove on to Metropolis. They traveled quietly, not waking Jimmy, who had fallen asleep almost as soon as he had crammed himself into a corner of the back seat. This meant that he didn't see Lois and Clark holding hands when traffic conditions allowed. They woke him upon their arrival and sent him off to process and print his film. Perry had arrived ahead of them and already planned their next several hours of composing the big story for the late edition of the morning Sunday Daily Planet.
As 5 a.m. reared its ugly head, they LANed the last of their rewrites to Perry. Clark was glad he wasn't human; his fingers would have fallen off by now. As it was, he'd been straining at the bit to keep from typing faster, but he couldn't easily justify needing another keyboard in less than two months' time. He had also consumed enough coffee and donut holes to have turned him into a hyperactive diabetic, but no one had noticed.
Lois folded her arms on her desk and laid her head on them. He wondered what he could do to comfort her, but she had that in mind already. "If Perry doesn't give us another rewrite in three minutes," she mumbled, "take me home."
"You're keeping time, aren't you?"
"Two minutes, 52 seconds."
"Good. Then this afternoon at, oh, five o'clock, bring a funny video to my place, even if it's one I've seen a zillion times."
"Wonderful, but not Duck Soup, it's too serious."
"Perfect, I don't think I've seen that one… have I?"
"Not with me. With Lex maybe…"
"Ha-ha-ha. No. He paid people to laugh for him, did you know that? It's true, everything I say is true…"
"I believe you."
"I'll make popcorn and we'll veg out in front of the TV in grubby clothing and talk about *nothing* important, okay?"
He nodded. "I like that," especially the nothing important part.
"Absolutely nothing that will affect our futures or our relationship or--" She looked up. "What was that noise?"
He listened but the sound, something like a trash can having been kicked, didn't repeat itself. "I think it was either Jimmy dropping his contacts or the Chief turning up his hearing aide."
She smiled. "Time?"
"One minute, four seconds."
"Okay." She laid her head down again and closed her eyes. He put his feet up and latched onto the first unimportant thought that meandered through his mind: here he was, wearing a T-shirt again in the newsroom. Wow. But only they two were in the main newsroom now to appreciate his apparel, or she would have appreciated it had she not fallen asleep. Her breathing was smooth and even…
With one second to spare, Perry looked out, nodded and gave him thumbs up, mouthing out "Take her home and see she stays there."
Clark nodded. He was glad to see the Chief had recovered from his close brush with The Diaries. No one had actually seen them, not even the only one with x-ray vision (under it's shiny overlay the golden box was covered by an ordinary lead-based paint). Perry had bitten back an anguished cry when Pourhamidi had made off down her rabbit-robber hole with the treasure, but she had been stopped by Will and the police officers following him. The lawmen had promptly confiscated everything not tied down, including the contents of everyone's pockets. At the police station, in Clark's immediate presence, a clerk had unwrapped and checked out the glowing green rock. Lois had clutched Clark's arm for some reason; perhaps she had feared they would take the Kryptonite away and it would fall into the wrong hands yet again. But the clerk decided it was harmless and wrapped it back up before the exposure caused Clark much weakness, though he thought it factored into the stress he felt during police questioning.
Bank officials had poured over everything and kept aside all that they thought belonged in the safety deposit boxes. The mysterious golden box was clearly among those things. Perry had looked at it longingly as Team Daily Planet was lead away in handcuffs… Clark could already imagine the stories that would come out of the tantalizing encounter.
He touched Lois's shoulder. "The three minutes you gave Perry are up. Let's go."
"If we're real quiet we can sneak out…"
"Oh--Oh? Okay…" She found her purse quickly, looked around to see if anyone was watching, and then took his hand and showed him how to slink away. She didn't protest his assuming the driver's seat yet again, so he drove her home. All this trust meant something, he thought, something great, but he wasn't entirely certain what. She didn't even tell him he didn't need to escort her to her door, nor that he couldn't have the good morning kiss or the second or the third one. But she didn't invite him in for breakfast, and he was glad about that. He wanted her to sleep, not worry about making a meal, and he wanted to get a bit of shut-eye himself. This he did until about 8 a.m., at which time he woke himself, called, confirmed that his mom had made enough pancake batter, and he flew home for breakfast.
(commercial break: Energizer Bunny vs. Lex Luthor clone; previews for several already successful ABC shows; Metropolis Travel: plan a countryside vacation now, get away from it all)
To be continued (only one more, I think…)
The author wishes to thank Laurie and Laurie's Mom, Debbie S., Mel, Marie, and Kathy, for proofing, invaluable assets all.