By Margaret Brignell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Summary: Clark travels the globe, going from one newspaper to the next, always looking for a place where he can fit it in … and the one who'll make him want to stay — if she even exists. An exploration of what Clark's life was like before he came to Metropolis.
Author's Note: For a while now, I've been fascinated by what Clark's life was like before he came to Metropolis. This is my third fanfic on the subject (the other two are "The Rules" and "The Long Road"). You don't *have* to have read the previous ones to read this one; however, it *would* help if you've seen the Pilot episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. :)
I acknowledge that I'm just borrowing the famous characters created by DC Comics, Warner Brothers Studios, December 3rd Productions and ABC Television. On the other hand this story and the rest of the characters in it are mine — all mine. <g>
It should be noted that in the world Clark lives in, the British spelling is used as the standard (this little- known fact I learned on a recent trip to Metropolis <g>).
I'd like to thank Debby S., Lynda L., Peace E. and Phillip A. for critiquing and proofing. I'd also like to thank Debby for giving me access to a copy of the script for the Pilot episode.
Words with * around them are emphasized.
Ottawa — August 1992
Clark stared out of the second-floor restaurant window at the calm waters of the lake below. There were sailboats skittering across the widest part of Dows Lake, and right below where he was sitting were several blue and yellow pedal boats, filled with couples and families enjoying the late afternoon sun. Hanging overhead in the far distance was a rainbow-coloured hot air balloon, its colours contrasting with the almost cloudless blue sky. On the other side of the lake, couples strolled among the manicured gardens. It was an ideal summer day.
"Clark. When does your flight leave?"
Clark's attention returned to the young woman sitting on the opposite side of the table. Her wide blue eyes were her predominant feature, giving her an air of innocence that was accentuated by her halo of blond hair. She was one of the reasons he had to leave, but that wasn't something he wanted *her* to know. He'd agreed to this early dinner with her to say goodbye and hopefully allay any suspicions she might have about him.
"I fly out tomorrow evening." He didn't bother adding that he wouldn't be using a plane to do it.
"So that means you're free this evening?" She had that smug look on her face that he'd learned to be wary of.
"Well, not exactly, I still have some packing to do." He had the feeling that she was going to insist he spend his last evening in Ottawa at her place — and he wanted to avoid that at all costs.
"But you have all day tomorrow for that," she pouted prettily. "You could take some time off tonight." She reached over and took his hand in hers. "Couldn't you?"
He gently withdrew his hand from her clasp. "I really don't think so. But thanks for asking, I appreciate it."
"But, Cla-ark!" Paula pouted. She was particularly good at pouting.
In the distance, Clark heard a splash, off on the other side of the lake, and a quick peer over his glasses showed that one of the sailboats was in trouble. "I'm sorry, Paula." Clark pulled the napkin off his lap and laid it on the table. "I need to visit the men's room. I'll be right back." He smiled apologetically at her and rose from the table. Paula did not look at all pleased at his sudden departure.
Clark hurried out of the restaurant and down the stairs to the public deck below. Once outside, he dashed around the outside of the pavilion underneath the restaurant overhang and then, using his "special" breath, righted the sailboat just before its sail fell into the water. Pausing for a few seconds to make sure the sailboat and its occupants were going to be fine, if a little damp, he hurried back up to the restaurant, and returned to the table and Paula.
While he was gone, the check had come and Paula had paid it. She was now sipping the remains of her drink. This wasn't like Paula. She usually let him pick up the tab.
"Paula, you didn't have to do that! I was more than willing to pay."
"Think of it as my goodbye present." Paula was watching him carefully, as if she wanted to see what he was going to do next. Her scrutiny was making him nervous, especially in light of what he suspected she'd seen a couple of weeks ago, not to mention the partial conversation he'd overheard, just before they'd left the Journal building to come to the restaurant, that had ended with the words "it's harmless — relax, already."
He took a sip of the drink remaining in his glass but found it had an odd taste that for some reason seemed kind of familiar. Paula was watching him intently.
Clark took another sip to try and analyze its contents. Yes, there was definitely something wrong with this. Then an image of the voodoo ritual he'd witnessed when he was in the Caribbean, last fall, popped into his head. His guide had explained that tranquilizers were sometimes used to make the worshippers more susceptible to suggestion. The guide had insisted that Clark and his FBI companion smell and taste- test the concoction so they would recognize it if they came across it again in their investigation. They hadn't — then. But now … ?
He sniffed the contents of his glass cautiously, and decided his initial instinct was right — there was an almost lethal amount of tranquilizer in the beer.
He looked at Paula. Could she? Would she? From the eager expression on her face, he knew she had! She'd dropped something in his beer when he'd supposedly gone to the men's room. What was she trying to do? Test him? Poison him? No — more likely she figured he'd be more "in the mood" with a little help. This only confirmed the implications of the conversation he'd overheard before they'd left the office. He sighed. He shouldn't have accepted her invitation for an early dinner.
Well, he couldn't leave this for some unsuspecting person to accidentally swallow. He upended the last of the beer into his mouth and, when he looked at Paula, dilated his eyes so she'd think the drug was taking effect. Then he "accidentally" knocked the glass off the table so that it shattered on the tile floor and couldn't be used again.
The serving staff rushed over to clean up the broken glass and Clark apologized profusely, over and over, to further solidify Paula's notion that he was being affected by whatever she'd dropped into his glass. She took him by the arm and led him toward the restaurant's exit.
Clark stopped as they passed the sign with an arrow and the word "Washrooms" on it. He put his hand on the wall as if he needed it for support. "I need … men's room." He pulled away from Paula and stumbled through the door with the stick-man figure on it.
Once inside he entered a cubicle, locked the door and used his "special" vision to see what Paula was doing. She was sitting on one of the little wooden benches the restaurant provided for people waiting when the restaurant was busy. She was looking more than a little concerned. Maybe she hadn't realized the consequences of what she'd done. What the heck had she been thinking?
He wished he could just leave without seeing her again, but there were no windows and only one exit from this second- storey washroom. He leaned back into a reclining position and began to float a few inches above the tiled floor. He might as well relax since he'd have to kill some time before re-emerging.
Floating felt so good. He hadn't permitted himself to relax like this since that day, a couple of weeks back, when he'd almost given himself away in front of Paula. How could he have been so dumb?
It had only been a tiny mistake: when everyone else at the office had been away in a meeting and he was alone, he'd floated up to the ceiling to tighten the fluorescent light tube to stop its maddening flickering. He'd almost made it back down to the ground when Paula had walked in. He'd only been about half a foot off the ground, but she *had* to have seen him floating in midair. He'd tried faking an exercise program to cover his action, but that wasn't logical. Why would he be doing jumping jacks in the middle of the office? It hadn't been the first time he'd made a mistake doing something "special," here in Ottawa, but it *was* the most glaring.
His job at the Ottawa Journal was nice, steady work, but it wasn't exactly exciting, especially compared with his recent jobs in Washington and the Caribbean. He liked the city, but it wasn't the kind of place you could remain anonymous in for any length of time, especially if you were at all unusual. He couldn't make any more mistakes. He was tired of making excuses. He had to leave.
Not wanting to make it too obvious why he was leaving, he'd arranged for a job interview in England to use as his reason for quitting. Then the day after the "jumping jacks" incident, he handed in his two weeks' notice.
Coming back to the present he peered out at Paula again, and wondered how long he should stay in this cubicle. She wasn't restless so he must still be within a normal time- frame for a visit to the facilities.
Clark sighed. He was sensing a trend here. When he first got to a new place, everything would be great. He'd get a job he liked, meet a few people who he figured he could be friends with and then, wham, he'd blow it and have to leave before people started asking too many awkward questions.
His sojourn in Ottawa had almost precisely followed this pattern. He'd gotten into town in mid-February when Winterlude was in full swing. That had been fun! The ice sculptures in Confederation Park, made by professional sculptors, had been simply amazing. He'd had a wonderful time skating the six kilometres along the Canal to Dows Lake, where equally amazing snow sculptures made by amateur teams had covered the frozen lake. His first Beavertail, from a snack hut on the ice, had satisfied his craving for high-fat, high-sugar, non-nutritious food. Then, he'd gotten the job at the Journal! He'd never been happier. Early in April he'd met Paula, and she'd seemed wonderful.
He'd watched the seasons change from Winter through Spring into Summer. Spring had exploded on the scene with masses of colourful flowers throughout all the parks — and Ottawa had an amazing number of parks, especially along the canal and the rivers. The hot-air balloons had begun to proliferate then too. It had felt like he finally had a place to feel comfortable and safe. Summer had arrived with its heat and humidity, and he could hardly wait until Fall so he could see the change of colour in the trees everyone raved about. Kansas had lovely leaf changes in the Fall, but people came from all over the world to see the "colour" in *this* area.
Just as he'd finally decided to stay here for a while, his world had started to deteriorate. Paula had proven to be a problem, rather than a blessing. It hadn't been too long before he began to realize just how narcissistic she could be. He'd tried to see this as a good thing. After all, if she was totally focused on herself, she wouldn't notice any minor anomalies in his own behaviour. He'd been *so* wrong about that! She seemed to view real life as if it were some kind of soap opera where everyone was perturbed about what everyone else was doing — and talked about it constantly. She'd totally focused on his every move, especially as it related to herself. He'd soon learned to be wary of being alone with her and avoided it whenever possible. Then, he'd just about exposed his secret. The time had come, once again, to cut his losses and move on.
Clark again looked out into the hall to see what Paula was doing. She still seemed to be waiting patiently so he'd hold on a little longer before making his appearance.
Clark shook his head, uncertain as to why he'd even been interested in her. It made no sense, in light of her behaviour over the last few weeks. Why had he agreed to dinner with her tonight? He knew she was extremely neurotic and totally self-absorbed. He should have said no, or at least communicated what *he* wanted. Not that she would have paid any attention, her self-absorption was supreme. Take the choice of this restaurant, for instance; they were supposed to be here as *his* goodbye dinner, but it was *her* favourite restaurant, and of course if she liked it *everyone* must like it. He sighed at his own stupidity. She'd seemed so sweet and innocent when he first met her.
For several weeks now she'd been trying to get him to her apartment. She obviously had only one thing in mind and he knew he couldn't do that thing — not with her. He still wasn't sure if he dared take the chance with *anyone*, but at the very least he'd have to be able to trust that person to keep his secret — and Paula just wasn't that person.
He took another look into the hallway. Now Paula was starting to look restless and a little anxious, so he figured he'd been away long enough for someone who was ill. He exited the cubicle and went to the sink. He'd have to make this look like he'd been sick if he meant to convince her not to try this on anyone else more vulnerable.
He looked in the mirror. His hair and beard were far too neat. He always tried to keep them as neat as possible since he couldn't trim them. Fortunately, his hair had a smooth, silky texture that didn't become frizzy in the heat and humidity and just needed regular combing to keep it tidy. With his features and colouring, he tended to look like a Native American, and he often wore his hair braided to complete this illusion. Today, however, his hair was simply tied back.
He pulled the leather thong holding his hair back from its place at the nape of his neck and let the black abundance of hair cascade around his shoulders until it rested part way down his back. He'd really have to figure out how to cut his hair soon! His Mom's last attempt a few years back had broken the toughest garden shears they had!
He'd decided to wear a beard and let his hair grow in the summer between his Sophomore and Junior years, to blend in better with the college crowd. Then, a couple of years later, discovered that he didn't have a choice about the length of his hair. He couldn't use any man-made tools to cut his hair. His beard had taken a little longer to become invulnerable, but now he couldn't cut it either. Fortunately, it grew slowly, so it wasn't really long and scruffy — yet. The beard and long hair hadn't been too much of a problem when he was first wandering the globe, after finishing school. However, long hair and beards weren't as acceptable as they used to be, especially in the business world — even drug dealers had short hair and tended to look like that cop on Miami Vice. Now, long hair gave him the air of being a radical. He didn't want to appear radical, he wanted to blend in so people wouldn't be paying attention to him if he made a mistake.
He bent over the sink to splash water on his face, dampening his hair, mustache, beard and T-shirt in the process. He used a paper towel to wipe off most of the excess water, leaving some for effect. He then retied his hair back so that it looked less sleek.
As he put his glasses back on, he remembered that summer he'd decided to grow a beard was also the one when he'd decided to forgo wearing glasses. What a mistake! It had seemed silly to wear expensive visual assists he didn't actually need. Unfortunately, he'd discovered that in fact he *did* need the glasses — to make him think twice about using his special skills. His early training with the glasses still held even after all this time. Subsequent to his decision to not wear glasses, he'd spent most of *that* summer leaving for new places, to avoid having to explain the "strange" thing he'd just done. He'd keep forgetting to not use any kind of "special" vision in the presence of others, prompting people to wonder about "magical" fires and Clark's "second sight," and then he'd have to think up even more excuses to hide his special nature. As a result he'd gone back to wearing glasses again that Fall. He'd told the few friends and neighbours who'd known he wasn't wearing glasses that summer that he just hadn't been able to adjust to wearing contact lenses. No one seemed to think his going back to wearing glasses unusual.
Satisfied with the mussed appearance he'd created, he changed the dilation of his eyes and the blood flow to his face so that he now looked pale and somewhat frail.
When he came out of the men's room door, Paula looked relieved. "Are you okay, Clark?"
"I think so. I don't know what happened … I've never had this bad a reaction to food before!" Actually he'd never had a bad reaction to any food, but that was beside the point.
"Reaction?" Paula sounded a little scared.
"Yes, I have allergies, but not usually to foods. Mostly medication, like Penicillin and some types of tranquilizers."
Paula's eyes widened as he said this, and she looked terrified. Obviously, she'd done it without realizing the damage she could do! Nevertheless, he couldn't let her do that to anyone else.
They walked slowly out of the restaurant, Clark keeping up his pose of an invalid as he'd seen people do it on television. He stopped at the top of the steps for a few seconds, as if the stairs were going to be a problem, and held onto the handrail the whole way down. Once they'd reached the ground floor and exited through the double entrance doors he leaned on one of the support pillars for the restaurant overhang and tried to look weak, hoping he wasn't being a ham.
"Clark, what's wrong?"
"I … I think I'd better … sit down." She led him to one of the metal park benches that overlooked the wooden dock along the north edge of the lake.
After sitting with his elbows on his knees, and his hands over his eyes for a few moments, he looked up at Paula and said, "I'm sorry, I'm spoiling your goodbye gift."
Paula looked stricken. She swallowed a couple of times, pulled a tissue from her purse, and then to his surprise, confessed, "No *I'm* sorry. I shouldn't have … " She twisted the Kleenex in her hands. "She said it wouldn't hurt you. She said it would just make you relax."
"She?" He'd known there was an accomplice in this, he just hadn't seen the other person she'd been talking to in the scrap of conversation he'd overheard. It hadn't seemed important at the time.
"Susie in Printing. She gave me this stuff that she said would help you relax and then you'd agree to come home with me." Paula was crying now. "I never meant to hurt you! I just wanted you to … to … "
Clark said, in short simple sentences so there would be no misunderstanding, "Paula, you drugged me! You were lucky that I didn't *die*!"
Paula's eyes widened in horror. He knew that the drug would have no effect on someone with his iron constitution, but if she ever tried this with anyone else …
"Look, Paula, lots of people have allergies. You never know what that will do to a person. If they go into anaphylactic shock, they can die. You were lucky that I reacted so violently that it didn't stay in my system. What were you *thinking*?"
"I wanted you to be with me tonight. I wanted to feel good about myself. You never wanted to … to … " Paula blew her nose on a now-almost-shredded Kleenex.
Clark sighed. "Paula, why would getting me stoned and then doing what you … thought you'd get me to do make you feel good about yourself? That doesn't make sense."
"I dunno. I guess I thought you'd like me if … if we did it, and then you'd change your mind and stay."
Wondering which soap opera she'd gleaned this "wisdom" from, Clark scrubbed his face with his hands, and then looked at her long and hard. "Paula, I don't think that's the way it works."
Paula looked miserable and hurt. In other circumstances he might have tried to let her know she was a worthwhile person who didn't need to trick people into doing what she wanted. However, he realized that would be counter- productive at this point. Any indication that he cared for her, however slight, would only feed her fantasy.
"Could you call a cab? I don't think I'm going to be able to walk any distance any time real soon." What he wanted to do was fly as far and as fast as possible from her, but he'd have to carry out his role to the end.
Paula jumped up and hurried to a nearby phone box to call Royal Line. The cab came within minutes, and he gave the driver Paula's address. Paula looked pleased, as if she was going to get what she wanted after all — Clark at her place.
When the cab pulled up to the curb in front of Paula's building on The Driveway, Clark claimed weakness and fatigue as a reason not to see her to her door as he normally would have done — if it had been any other woman, in any other circumstances. He thanked her for dinner and said this was goodbye since he wouldn't have time tomorrow to see her again. Paula looked disappointed but didn't press him to stay, which was unusual enough to convince him that his "lesson" had taken some effect.
He redirected the cab to his place on Sunnyside and breathed a sigh of relief as he closed the door of his small, one-room apartment behind him. It was a good thing he was leaving town tomorrow. He didn't know if he could have dealt with Paula too much longer.
Why did he always have these kinds of problems? Why couldn't he just find a really interesting, exciting job … and a woman to be friends with, who liked him for who he was — whom he could trust with his secret? Was that too much to ask?
London — August 1992
Clark stood across the street from The Chronicle building. He was ten minutes early for his job interview and was staring at the building, trying to decide if this felt like the kind of place in which he'd like to spend some time working. The Chronicle was the last holdout newspaper on Fleet Street. Most had moved to the East End. However, The Chronicle of London was a world-class newspaper, like the New York Times, the Metropolis Daily Planet and The International Tribune — and The Chronicle was proud of it, and as a result had stayed put in the same building it had occupied for the last 234 years. Nevertheless, it liked to keep up with the times and had changed its name four times in the last 175 years in an effort to stay relevant to its subscribers. The Chronicle was the kind of newspaper that set the standard, it didn't just follow the pack.
Clark picked up his suitcase and stepped into the street. He carefully watched for traffic in the "wrong" direction, since he didn't want to expose himself by denting any vehicles that accidentally ran into him. He crossed and slowly mounted the worn stone steps into the main lobby. At the focal point of the lobby was a circular desk with an "Information" sign hung from the vaulted ceiling. Under the sign, a young woman sat at the desk. He approached, put down his case and explained he had an appointment with Mr. Cunningham.
The woman barely glanced up from the novel she was reading. "Take the first lift to the fourth floor. When you get off, he's in the second office on your right." Clark thanked her, and picking up his case again, he walked toward the elevator.
The ancient elevator was manually operated. The operator, a short elderly man with a distinct stoop, asked Clark which floor he wanted and then pulled the metal accordion safety doors across before flipping the switch to close the outer door. He rotated a handle to set the elevator in motion and then began to hum, slightly out of tune, until they reached the fourth floor. As the old man adjusted the cage to be level with the floor and pulled open the accordion folding doors, he repeated Clark's request, "Four, please," and held out his arm to suggest that Clark leave. Clark smiled and said "Thank you," as he stepped out of the elevator.
Clark found himself in a long, wood-paneled corridor, and turning to the right, spotted Mr. Cunningham's office almost immediately. He knocked on the door and, at the shouted invitation to "Come in!" opened the door and entered.
Mr. Cunningham's office made Clark think of a room out of a movie version of a Dickens novel. It was small and dark and cluttered. The furniture must have been at least a hundred years old, and it was covered with proofs and old editions of The Chronicle under at least three out of its four various names. Mr. Cunningham could have been a character out of Dickens as well; he even wore a green eye- shade on his forehead. Clark could easily visualize this man sitting at a tall clerk's desk, writing with a quill pen in a long ledger.
Mr. Cunningham looked up. "Ye-e-s?"
"Mr. Cunningham, I'm Clark Kent. We corresponded and arranged an interview."
"Ah, yes. The Canadian." Mr. Cunningham rummaged through a pile of papers on his desk and pulled out a piece of paper that Clark recognized as his letter of application.
"Actually I'm from Kansas, in the United States."
"Ah, quite. An American. Please, sit." Clark sat in a straight-back chair in front of Mr. Cunningham's desk. "Now, why did you want to work for The Chronicle?" Mr. Cunningham looked at him over his glasses.
"Well, sir, I know this is a world-class newspaper and I'd like to gain the kind of experience I can get here."
"Of course. Why did you leave the Ottawa Journal so abruptly?" Mr. Cunningham peered over his reading glasses and steepled his fingers waiting for an answer. Clark was beginning to get nervous. This might not be as easy an interview as he'd hoped.
Clark had known he was almost bound to get this kind of question. There hadn't been any good reason why he should leave the Journal. He gave the only reason he'd been able to think of in preparation for the question he knew he was bound to be asked, "Ah … I needed to be in London for personal reasons, and so I handed in my resignation."
"I see. The editor of the Journal said he was sorry to see you go. What other experience do you have?" Clark breathed a little easier. His weak excuse had passed the test.
Clark told Mr. Cunningham about his experience writing for the Smallville Post and his freelance articles written for other newspapers around the world during his travels.
"Good, very good. Well-traveled are you? That would explain your eclectic resume. Do you have any samples of your work?"
Clark pulled out one of the stories he'd written that first summer he'd traveled to the South Pacific — and his article on gun runners in the Caribbean. Mr. Cunningham scanned them quickly.
"Well, Mr. Kent, you seem qualified." He readjusted his glasses. "I have a three-month contract position open at the moment. I can't promise it will get more permanent. The newspaper business is in a state of flux right now. However, if you wish to take it, it's yours. You'd be working as an assistant to more senior reporters."
"That sounds fine, Mr. Cunningham. Working with a senior reporter should give me some of the experience I'm looking for."
"Good. Report to Personnel, and then tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. see Rex Carruthers in Sports. He'll be your first assignment. I'll have you rotate through the different areas and let you know which will be your assignment for the duration."
Clark stood up, thanked him and shook his hand. He asked for directions to Personnel and then left Mr. Carruthers peering at some copy.
Clark went back to his room and phoned home to Kansas to let his folks know where he was and that he had a job with The Chronicle.
Mom and Dad were thrilled to hear from him. They'd just received the Hudson Bay blankets he'd sent from Ottawa. Mom said she'd put one of them away in the attic with his other things for when he got a place of his own. Clark noticed Mom never said "if." Dad warned him again about the "big city" and all the problems it could create for him. Mom asked him to look for a pretty silk scarf to go with her beige pant suit. She'd heard that Liberty's had a wonderful selection — but only when he'd collected some spare cash together; she didn't want him to be extravagant. Clark assured her he'd be frugal, gave them both his love, and hung up.
He now had the afternoon and evening free, since he'd been hired at The Chronicle and didn't have to look any further for work. He still had some money from his job in Ottawa, so he decided to be a tourist and see some of London. After combing his hair and forming it into a single braid, he threw on his suit jacket and ventured out to see the sights and sounds of London.
Late in the afternoon, after a grand tour of some of the museums and galleries, he stopped into the Savoy for afternoon tea. He was still dressed in the suit and tie he'd worn to his job interview, and he made a side trip to the men's room to make sure his hair was still tightly braided and his beard was as neat as he could make it under the circumstances. Though it had grown slowly, it was now on the edge of looking ragged. He combed it as meticulously as he could. He didn't want to be barred from the restaurant in this elegant hotel. He'd always wanted to have a *real* English tea. The tea was really good, but the scones weren't anywhere near as scrumptious as his Mom's.
While he was relaxing in the opulent atmosphere of the hotel, he thought about where he was going to live for the next few months. He couldn't stay in the room he was in at the rooming house in Bloomsbury. It would cost a fortune and, from his interview with Personnel, he knew he wasn't going to be able to afford that kind of accommodation. He'd have to find something else, and soon.
Putting this problem aside for now, he decided he'd continue his day as a tourist. It might be his last chance to do this. Once he started his job, he figured he'd be too busy for sightseeing. He decided to use the evening to see a live theatre show. After all, London was famous for its theatre.
At the same-day sale kiosk in Leicester Square he looked over the list of available tickets. Most were out of his price range, especially the latest hits. He wanted to see a truly British production and finally narrowed his selection down to the Agatha Christie mystery, and bought a ticket to "The Mousetrap." It had been running since before he was born and *still* people wanted to see it. He'd seen an amateur production in Toronto, which had been entertaining, if a little pedantic. It would be interesting to see why it was still running in London.
He chose not to return to his rooms to change. The suit he'd worn to his job interview would do for the theatre. He used one of the public washrooms in the tube station to freshen up, stopped at a bistro in the theatre district for dinner and then went in search of the theatre itself. The streets in that neighbourhood were bustling with crowds rushing to the different theatres. He was beginning to realize what city life in a major metropolitan centre could be like. He had tended to travel in more remote regions, afraid he'd stand out among crowds of people. He was beginning to like the feel of a big city. The feeling was completely different from that of smaller cities he'd visited, like Ottawa.
He found the theatre without too much difficulty, climbed the steps to the third balcony and found his seat. Anticipation for the start of the play permeated the theatre. Two and a half hours later the mystery came to its conclusion and Clark sat back in his seat, after leaning forward for the applause, letting the sounds and sights of the theatre just flow over him.
The play had been fascinating. He hadn't realized what a difference professional acting could make to a play. The amateur production was positively dull compared to this one. These actors brought the play to life. This time the characters were real and had true motivation. He'd applauded with the rest of the audience when the lead actor pleaded for everyone to keep the secret of the mystery so others could come and enjoy it. Clark was so glad he'd come. He'd thoroughly enjoyed himself.
He remained seated, waiting for the bulk of the crowd to leave. He gazed at the throng around him, enjoying watching the people. Everyone dealt with the delay in their own way. Standing in the aisle was a couple holding hands, completely in love and oblivious to the crowds around them. They were nose-to-nose, whispering small endearments to each other. Behind them, an old man with a cane shuffled along, taking each stair one step at a time. A young woman about Clark's own age with curly auburn hair stood in the aisle reading a book while she patiently waited for the people ahead of her to move forward. Others, like Clark, just remained seated.
Once the crowd had thinned, Clark rose from his seat and slowly walked down the steps to the Upper Circle lobby. Here the crowd was jostling its way to the double doors leading to the stairs that would eventually reach the street below. He was part way down the stairs when someone stumbled against him. He quickly caught them so they didn't fall. It was the auburn-haired young woman he'd seen reading the book.
"Are you okay?" Clark asked.
"Yes … yes." She pulled herself away from him, standing up straight only to be knocked by two people in a hurry to pass, right after a tour bus driver had given a general call to encourage his coachload of theatre-goers to hurry it up.
Clark put his arm protectively behind her to prevent further shoving by the crowd on the stairs. "Here, stand in front of me so you don't get pushed again."
The young woman moved in front of him as asked and stood holding the handrail until the crowd in front of them cleared a little. "Thank you." She looked up over her shoulder at him and smiled. "You're American, aren't you?"
"You're welcome!" Clark said, returning her smile. "And, yes I am."
She smiled again and started to move forward, since the crowd had begun to disperse. Clark hurried after her so he wouldn't lose her in the crowd. "I'm Clark. What's your name?"
"Deirdre." She moved further down the stairs, stopped and turned. "And thanks again, Clark. Thank you very much." Then she almost ran down the remaining stairs and exited to the street before Clark was aware of what she was going to do.
He stared after her. She seemed almost scared of him. He could have caught up with her, but he decided that would only frighten her even more. Why was she scared? He shook his head in bewilderment. Shrugging off the feeling, he continued down the stairs.
As he crossed to the exit, he caught sight of himself in the mirrored walls in the front foyer. His carefully combed hair and beard were now disheveled. Oh, great, she probably ran off because she thought he was some kind of wild man. He *really* needed to figure out a way to trim his hair and beard — and soon.
Clark was juggling five pints of beer as he squirmed his way through the crowd surrounding the bar at the Goose and Garter, trying to avoid spilling any of it and at the same time not injuring anyone he bumped into. He was endeavouring to return to the table used by the crowd from work. They were seated in the far back corner, next to the fireplace which even in August was blazing to keep the room warm.
It was tradition, or so he'd been told, that the person who had just received his first pay packet was obliged to buy the first round of drinks. He wasn't sure if they'd just made this up, or if it really was a tradition, but he was willing to go along with the idea to make friends.
It was a form of celebration too. It was the Friday after his first week at The Chronicle, during which he'd worked briefly in all the different sections of the newspaper. Today he'd been told he'd be working for the society editor, Reginald Chrichton, for the balance of his contract. It wasn't exactly the beat he'd have preferred — he'd wanted to spend more time in the community news section — but it *was* a toe in the door. Clark was happy to have a framework for his immediate future. Now all he had to do was act "normal" and he'd be able to stick around for a while.
He lowered each pint to the table in front of his new co-workers and seated himself beside Lynda, who'd been the one to inform him of his obligation as "first pay packet" recipient.
"So, Clark, where are you working next week? Who's the lucky bloke getting you on his team?" Phillip grinned.
"Mr. Cunningham said I'd be working with the society editor." Clark didn't mention that Mr. Cunningham had been surprised an American had such facility with languages, and had chosen the society section to utilize this unexpected talent.
"Society! Clark! You have to be kidding me!" Lynda stared at him intently, then at his puzzled look continued, "Old Man Chrichton is a *stickler* for what he calls 'proper.'" She crooked her fingers around the word as she spoke it to suggest quotation marks.
Colin jumped in. "Chrichton insists all his 'boys' dress 'proper.'"
"I have a suit. I need more shirts, but … " Did they think he was too "colonial" to know how to dress?
"It's not just the *clothes*, Clark," Lynda interrupted.
"No face fuzz!" added Colin.
"No long hair!" said Peter. "Business clothes are only the beginning."
Clark stared around at the four of them, with a terrible feeling of disaster forming in the pit of his stomach. "So you're telling me that by Monday, I have to shave off my beard and get my hair cut?"
"Yep!" they cried in unison, grinning.
Clark buried his face in his hands. "I can't … "
He felt Lynda's arm around his shoulders. "Clark, it's not the end of the world. You can grow them back once your assignment with Chrichton is over. It's only a couple of months."
"But, you don't understand … " Clark was feeling panic. How the heck was he going to cut his hair by Monday? He'd been trying to figure out a way to do that for *years*!
Peter cuffed him gently in the shoulder. "Clark, I felt exactly the same way when I had to work for Chrichton, and look at me now." Peter had a Van Dyke beard and shoulder-length hair. It made him look like a medieval painting of a prince that Clark had seen at one of the art galleries.
Clark sighed. If it wasn't one thing it was another. Resignedly he said, "Okay, I guess I'll have to bite the bullet and just do it."
"That's the spirit!" Colin raised his glass to toast the demise of Clark's hirsute looks.
Clark drank glumly. No one seemed to think his mood unusual, so he stopped worrying that he might have given himself away.
After reviewing the conversation again, he realized he hadn't said anything that might indicate a physical inability to remove the excess hair. However, if he couldn't figure out a way to cut his hair, he'd have to leave town again. He'd only just got here a week ago! How was he supposed to build a journalism career if he couldn't stick in one place for anything more than a few weeks?
Peter bought the next round and the topic of conversation moved onto other more worldly events.
During a break in the conversation when Lynda went to the bar for her round, Colin bemoaned the fact that his third was leaving.
"Third?" Clark was puzzled.
"The third person in our flat. We need his rent to make ends meet." Colin sounded morose.
Clark asked about details. If the third of the rent was within his means, this could solve his housing problem. The only difficulty with this option being that he'd be living in close quarters with two other people who didn't know about his "special" talents. He'd never done that before. He didn't know if he could. Even in college he'd had his own room. Mom insisted because she wasn't sure he'd be able to sleep, under stress, without floating.
By the end of the evening, he'd gotten an invitation from Colin to see the flat on Monday evening after work. Colin had explained that the other flat-mate was going to be away for the weekend, so Monday was the earliest he could meet him. So on Monday he could meet the second roommate, see the accommodations, and make his decision.
Clark and the rest of the crowd split up at the tube station as they each headed toward their respective homes.
It was Saturday night. Clark stood staring at himself in the bathroom mirror in his small room in Bloomsbury. He'd gone out and bought a pair of scissors, a comb, a razor and shaving cream, and a hand mirror to use in his attempt to cut his hair and shave off his beard and mustache. As expected, the scissors didn't survive his first attempt to snip off the ends of a lock of hair.
He glared at himself. There had to be a solution. *Think* Clark, think! But nothing came, his mind was a blank. Throwing the broken scissors on the shelf under the medicine cabinet, he walked over to the lumpy couch, flopped down and switched on the TV. Sometimes it helped just to let the mind wander.
He surfed through the four channels available, passing on a game show that seemed to be a British version of a silly American show that had died in the States years ago, a personal account on laser eye surgery that just barely bordered on being like an American infomercial, and a documentary on earthworms. He finally settled on an interview of two people who it appeared were in high society here. If he was going to work for the society editor, it might be a good idea to get a feel for what the job could entail. After ten minutes of listening to the interviewer politely ask what appeared to Clark to be entirely irrelevant questions, he gave up and switched off the TV.
He lay back and tried *not* to think about how he was going to cut his hair. His mind drifted, and he was just on the edge of falling asleep when he jerked awake and flipped the TV back on. He flipped through the channels again and stopped at the "infomercial."
This was it! The doctors were using lasers to cut the iris of the person's eye to shape it so that he wouldn't need to wear glasses. *He* had eyes that used a weird kind of "special" vision that acted almost like laser beams. Up to now he'd just assumed the vision was only good for lighting fires. But if he focused his vision properly, he could use his eyes for cutting things! Surely it had to work on his hair!
He pulled the cord out of his hair to let it fall loose, then pulled a handful of it in front of his eyes. He concentrated the vision — and it worked — he sheared off the ends. He did the same with another handful, and another. This was fantastic! He had his solution!
Clark literally flew back to the bathroom mirror. His hair hung unevenly at shoulder length. Next problem — how could he cut it to "short back and sides" length and how could he shave off his beard? He couldn't see the back of his head or his beard, except in the mirror. Then another piece of the puzzle clicked into place: Laser beams used mirrors to focus the beam. He could use the mirror to focus on himself. Why hadn't he thought of this before?
Grinning through the whole process, he reflected his "laser eye" beam off the mirror and "shaved" off his beard and mustache. The process kind of tickled, but he didn't feel the heat. Somehow his skin seemed to withstand the heat no matter how strongly he concentrated it.
Now, with his clean-shaven face and shoulder-length hair, he looked like Prince Valiant. Unfortunately, unlike his skin, this activity seemed to have melted part of the mirror. How was he going to continue cutting his hair without destroying the mirror? He couldn't quit now, he really needed to cut his hair in a business cut. After thinking a moment, he pulled the comb through his hair to the length he wanted it at the side and using the comb as a guide "cut" it by reflecting his vision off a different part of the mirror. This seemed to work just fine.
He did the same thing on the other side, continuously shifting the focal point of the reflection so that he didn't do any more damage to the mirror. The front of his hair was now even and just below tops of his ears. He picked up the hand mirror. Turning his back to the bathroom mirror, he used the hand mirror to see the back of his head. He held out the hair at the back of his head with the comb and using the same technique, reflected his vision off the hand mirror and bathroom mirror to "cut" it.
He could hardly contain the excitement of having resolved a problem he'd been agonizing about for years.
When he was finished, he was clean shaven and his hair looked like it had been recently cut by a novice barber. He wasn't too concerned. It would do for now, and he was *sure* he'd do a better job next time. He'd visit a library and look up a book on styling techniques before he had to cut his hair again.
He combed his hair away from his forehead. One lock had a tendency to fall forward, but that wasn't unusual. He'd had the same problem when his hair had been short before. He grinned at himself in the mirror. Finally, *finally* he could blend in as a regular guy.
Clark reported to Mr. Chrichton promptly at 9 a.m. on Monday morning wearing a freshly pressed suit and shirt and his newly fashioned hair. He figured that if Mr. Chrichton was a stickler for office dress code, punctuality was probably next on his list of "musts."
Mr. Chrichton made no comment about his appearance, which Clark took as approval. He was introduced to his mentor, Derek Chapman, and told they would be covering the Embassy and High Commission beat. They were to report social events and, whenever possible, potential breaking news.
Derek spent most of the day showing Clark the ropes and explaining the styles of inquiry needed when talking to different foreign representatives. Derek then divvied up the week's list of Embassies and High Commissions and he and Clark phoned to make appointments for the balance of the week.
During one of his Embassy conversations, Derek put his hand over the mouthpiece of his phone and asked, "Do you have plans Friday night?" and raised his eyebrows interrogatively.
"Not so far. Why?"
"The President of Nigeria's entourage is visiting for the weekend. There's a buffet dance at Nigeria House. Do you want to go? It means free food."
"Sure. How should I dress?"
Derek rolled his eyes. "Black tie, of course. Do you have a tux?"
Clark shook his head.
"Don't worry, we'll get you one. Just a sec." Derek removed his hand from the mouthpiece and continued his conversation with the people at the High Commission.
When he hung up the phone, Derek looked Clark up and down. "Okay, it's all set. They'll send us our invitations by Thursday at the latest. You probably can't afford to buy a tux before Friday, although I'd recommend the investment, even if you're only going to be doing this for a couple of months. I'll take you to my tailor. In the meantime we can hire one for the night. Okay?"
Clark gaped at him. A *tuxedo*. He was expected to buy a tuxedo? "Okay." What else could he say?
After his first Monday working with Derek, Clark met Colin in the coffee bar across the street from the Chronicle offices, as agreed. Colin teased him unmercifully about his "new" look. He kept telling Clark the rest of the gang wouldn't recognize him. Once Colin was finished getting a chuckle out of the change, he paused and said, "You know, Clark, this is a good look for you. You should keep it. Only next time — pay a better barber."
Clark grinned and concurred: next time the barber would be better.
He and Colin took the tube and then the train to Lewisham south of the Thames and walked the short distance from the station to the block of flats where Colin lived.
The flat was on what Clark thought of as the second floor, but was described by Colin as the first. There was a living room, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom that the roommates shared. Each person had a bedroom to himself, with a lock on each bedroom door. Clark thought he could live with the arrangement. His main difficulty would be making enough use of the kitchen and bathroom facilities to appear "normal."
A tall, lanky young man with crinkly blond hair exited one of the bedrooms and locked the door.
"Geoff, I'd like you to meet Clark Kent. He's thinking about sharing the flat."
Geoff shook hands with Clark. "Hi, I'm Geoffrey Summers. Colin said you'd be around. Sorry I can't stay, I've got a meeting."
Colin rolled his eyes. "What's it this time? Crop circles? Little green men from Mars? What?"
Geoffrey looked resigned. "It's my UFO club meeting. Clayton Chalmers is addressing the question 'Have Aliens Visited Earth?' I think it'll be interesting. Professor Chalmers is a very good speaker."
Clark heard Colin mutter under his breath, " … for a nutcase."
"Nice to meet you, Geoff. I hope you're not going to be late for your meeting." Clark said politely.
"Nice to meet you too. I'll make the meeting okay, if Colin will just step out of my path to the front door."
Colin moved to one side and let Geoff exit. He and Clark discussed the costs of sharing the apartment, house rules and do's and don'ts. None of which seemed excessive to Clark.
The one-third rent was about half what he was paying for his current room nearer the centre of town, and he kind of liked the idea of being close to other people. He agreed to move in the next day, Tuesday evening after work, since it was the first of the month. He paid his first month's share in advance.
Clark went back to his room in Bloomsbury, handing in his notice at the front desk on the way in. They refunded the balance of the week he'd paid in advance and advised him to be out of his room by noon the next day. Since Clark's entire belongings could fit into his one suitcase, this didn't pose a problem. The case had been a gift from Mom and Dad on his twenty-first birthday. It was leather and had his initials in gold on the side. It served as a suitcase, a briefcase and laptop holder all in one. He started to pack things into his case, in readiness for his move the next day.
London — September 1992
Tuesday he took his belongings into the office and after work moved into the flat in Lewisham.
Wednesday evening he'd phoned home to his parents to let them know his new address and phone number and to fill them in on his experiences in London. They were pleased that he'd been able to resolve his haircut and shaving problem and wanted to know all the details about his new "style." Clark could only afford a few minutes on the overseas call so they didn't get to chat long, but he was happy to hear their voices.
By Thursday evening he was fully settled into his new home, he had the rental of a tux all arranged and was looking forward to experiencing the event at Nigeria House on Friday evening.
His two flat-mates were out for the evening, so he had the place to himself. It felt wonderful to have more than one room to roam about in. He hadn't realized how cramped he'd felt in the last few places he'd stayed. If he could afford it, next time he'd get a whole apartment for himself, though he'd have to get a better-paying job first.
He sat in the window seat staring out at the street below. The sidewalks were made of flagstones and the street had an old-fashioned aura as if it were a cobbled street scene, although in actual fact the street was paved. Curious, he used his "special" sight to discover that at one time it *had* been a cobbled street. He refocused and watched people walking along the street, hurrying to finish their errands and get home. He noticed one young couple strolling along hand-in-hand who seemed out of step with the bustle on the street. He watched them with a pang of envy.
Clark sighed and closed his eyes as he leaned back against the side of the window seat. Would he ever find a woman with whom he would feel mutual love?
His history with girlfriends so far hadn't exactly led him in the direction of a mutual feeling of love. First there'd been Lana, who wouldn't have taken kindly to his special nature — if she'd been willing to acknowledge it. Then Donna, who'd recognized it but saw that it wasn't enough of a common bond for them to be a couple. All his other relationships with women had been brief and without any real emotional involvement on his part at all. His relationship with Paula had been longer, but Paula had wanted them to be a couple so badly that she'd been willing to do *anything* to make it so. There hadn't been any real emotional tie on his side. Was that his future? One-sided relationships where either he, or the girl, thought they were in love — but not both at the same time?
What was *real* love? Donna had said he'd know it when he found it. But how?
Clark sighed, got up and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. He decided to make it the "normal" way, just in case his flat-mates showed up in the next few minutes.
The chandelier shimmered in the subdued light of the ballroom. People of all colours and nationalities were mingling, chatting and laughing. Couples dressed in tuxedos and floor-length gowns danced to the music of a small dance band playing in one corner.
Clark drank in the smells, the textures and the sounds. He'd spent so much of his time in the past few years in remote areas that he hadn't attended any formal occasions. It had never occurred to him that he might enjoy this kind of formal evening.
He and Derek had arrived promptly at the time printed on their invitations and were admitted without even a hint that they might not be special guests of the High Commissioner. Derek had explained that these evening events were more PR than real news, so their press credentials were overlooked in preference to examination of their invitations.
Derek had shepherded Clark through his first round of greetings with the Nigerian embassy staff and guests and then left Clark to his own devices.
Clark was now watching the most beautiful woman he thought he'd ever seen dancing with Derek on the far side of the room. Her profile reminded him of the bust of Nefertiti he'd seen at the British Museum.
"She's beautiful, isn't she?" a high-pitched voice asked from behind him.
Clark turned to see who had spoken and had to look down to see the cheerful face smiling up at him.
"Yes, she is." Clark returned the little girl's radiant smile. She was dressed in a miniature version of the Nigerian native costume the beautiful woman was wearing.
"She's a princess." The little girl sounded proud.
"I thought Nigeria was a Republic. How can she be a princess?"
"Well, she's not exactly a real princess now. But her great-grandfather was a Hausa king and that makes her a princess."
"Oh, I see."
"Would *you* like to dance with her?" The little girl seemed to be about to go and make the arrangements.
"No, that's okay. I don't know the steps." He indicated the couples dancing.
The child looked at him in astonishment. "It's a waltz! Don't you know how to waltz?"
Clark shook his head. "I only know what I learned back in Kansas."
"Kansas? What kind of dances do they do in Kansas?" The child seemed genuinely interested.
"Well, mostly line and square dancing," Clark admitted.
"Square dancing!" The little girl's eyes flashed with excitement. "You know how to square dance? Can you teach me? Please!" She grasped his hand and started to pull him toward the dance floor.
Clark gently resisted her insistence, so as not to hurt her. "This isn't the right kind of music."
"Oh, right! It's waltz music. The President likes waltzes so there's going be a *lot* of those tonight." She frowned in concentration, "I don't think they'll change the music for me." She looked up at Clark apologetically, "So, I guess we'll have to think of something else."
Clark smiled; she was so intense and sincere.
Then he could almost see the light bulb over her head as she said, "Come on! I have a tape we can use." She turned abruptly and pulled him toward the French doors leading out to a conservatory of tropical plants, just off the ballroom.
Clark stopped in his tracks. She turned and looked at him inquiringly. "What? Don't you want to teach me to square dance?"
"It's not that. Where are your parents? I'm not sure they'd like you going away alone with a stranger."
"I don't have parents, only Nana. Well there's Dee as well but she hardly counts. Come on, I'll have to go to bed soon and I won't learn anything if you don't come now!"
He frowned about this, working up to "stern," but she seemed impervious to his expression so he decided to try a delaying tactic. "I'm Clark, what's your name?"
"Ushe. I can go anywhere I like. I live here. Now let's *dance*!" She grasped his right hand again and pulled him toward the conservatory.
Clark sighed — he could never resist a strong-minded female — and followed her. She closed the doors leading to the ballroom to shut out the sound and walked over to the nearest bench where she pulled a small tape player from behind one of the potted palms and hit the play button. To Clark's surprise the music was a fiddle version of "Red River Valley."
"Okay, now show me what to do." The little girl stood foursquare in front of him. She obviously wasn't going to budge until he showed her how to square dance.
"Ushe, how old are you anyway?" Her apparent age and her self-confidence collided with each other.
"Ten. How old are you?" She grinned mischievously.
"Twenty-six, but it's not polite to ask."
Ushe shrugged. "You asked first. Now, show me how to square dance."
"Okay, well, first you stand beside me and hold my hands like this." Clark demonstrated the classic square dance starting position. "Then you put your right foot forward and we move in time to the music." Clark led her through a simple promenade and do-si-do. "Then we turn our backs to each other and change partners."
Ushe stopped. "But there isn't anyone else. Now what do we do?"
Clark shrugged. "Usually there are four couples in square dancing. They form a square with one couple on each side. That's why it's called square dancing."
The little girl's bottom lip began to quiver. "But, I want to dance!"
"Well … " Clark thought for a moment. He didn't want to disappoint her. "Do you know how to dance to the music in the ballroom?" Ushe nodded. "Then why don't you show me how to do that?"
Ushe pursed her lips and crossed her arms. "You just want to dance with Lucalla."
"Lucalla?" Clark had an inkling who this might be but didn't want to jump to any hasty conclusions.
"Princess Lucalla. *Everyone* always wants to dance with her."
"No, honestly, I just want you to show me how to do ballroom dancing so I don't embarrass myself."
Ushe looked skeptical, but she shut off the tape player and went over to the double doors, opening one so they could hear the music in the ballroom. She then stood in front of him and gave him instructions to put his left hand in her right and his right hand at her waist. This was awkward given the difference in their heights so he moved his right hand to her shoulder. The band was playing yet another waltz, and she showed him the steps. By the time the music stopped he had it down pat, and when "The Blue Danube" started he was able to dance Ushe around the conservatory without any mistakes.
"You learn quick!" Ushe sounded astonished. Clark hoped he hadn't done anything too out of the ordinary. "You must have natural rhythm."
"Why, thank you." Clark bowed with his right hand behind his back and his left making a sweeping gesture, as if he had swept a hat, with a tall feather, from his head.
Ushe giggled. "You're funny. Do you have kids?"
Clark shook his head. "No. Not yet. Maybe someday."
Just then a short chubby woman burst through the corridor door on the opposite side of the conservatory. "Ushe! So this is where you are. I've been looking *everywhere* for you!"
Ushe didn't look the slightest bit contrite. "Nana, this is Clark. He was showing me how to square dance."
Nana looked suspiciously at Clark, but must have seen his pure soul because she slowly smiled and said, "Thank you for keeping her Highness entertained. These events can be so boring for her."
"Her Highness?" Clark raised his eyebrows and turned to look at Ushe, who had the grace to look embarrassed.
"I'm a Hausa princess, too. You don't mind do you?"
"Mind? Of course not. Why should I mind?"
"Well, Lucalla's my big sister … well, half-sister, and … and I'm sure you'd much rather have danced with *that* princess." Ushe was staring down at her feet.
Clark walked over to her and kneeling on one knee so that he was more at eye level with her said, "No, I liked dancing with *this* princess."
Ushe looked up, her eyes sparkling. Then she whispered confidingly, "Well, to be honest, Lucalla is kind of a snob. She wouldn't be caught *dead* teaching anyone how to dance." She covered her mouth and giggled.
Clark returned her smile with a wink and confided in return, "Well, if anyone ever asks where I learned how to dance so well, I'll tell them I was taught by Princess Ushe."
Ushe looked gratified. He stood up and watched Nana fuss over her. "Dee has been looking for you, you naughty girl. How could you be so wicked?" Ushe squirmed and muttered that she didn't like being with Dee. Dee was a "Nervous Nelly."
Clark had a hard time keeping a straight face because only his enhanced hearing ability allowed him to hear what Ushe said.
Just then a young woman in a pale green formal evening gown entered through the French doors leading from the ballroom. "Ushe! *There* you are! I've been looking *everywhere* for you."
Clark stared at her — she looked like the redhead he'd helped on the stairs after The Mousetrap.
Ushe shrugged. "I've been right here. Nana's going to take me to bed now." She turned, walked over to Clark and took his hand to shake it, gravely saying, "Thank you, Clark. I'll remember this always." Clark smiled and thanked her in return.
Nana led Ushe out of the room and closed the door behind her.
He turned to the woman who had just entered. "Hi, I'm Clark Kent. I'm sorry you couldn't find Ushe, I guess that was mostly my fault."
"No, I'm sure it was mostly Ushe's fault. She can be very demanding." She sounded resigned. "It's nice to meet you, I'm Deirdre Jessop."
"Deirdre?" Clark smiled. It *was* her. "I'm glad to meet you again."
She looked at him, puzzled, and started to shake her head negatively, "I don't think … " Then her eyes widened. "Yes! Of course, you're the American I saw after 'The Mousetrap'! But, you look different. You had a beard … and long hair. I thought … " Her voice trailed off, making Clark wonder what she'd been going to say.
"I know, I was looking too radical." Clark grinned lopsidedly. "I cut them off — to keep my job."
Outside in the ballroom the band started a Viennese waltz. Clark took the initiative. "Would you like to dance?"
She looked at him warily, but assented. He led her onto the dance floor and reproduced the steps Ushe had taught him, with a few innovations of his own, based on the actions of other couples dancing around them.
Deirdre kept a small smile on her face, but Clark had the impression she was tense, waiting for something to happen. He wished she'd relax. He wondered if it had anything to do with the Embassy security team leaving the ballroom just as they entered, apparently to concentrate their efforts on protecting the Presidential party.
"You dance very well," she said after a time, smiling now and relaxing a little, as though what she'd been afraid of had gone away.
"I was taught everything I know by a Nigerian princess," he grinned down at her.
She stiffened. "Lucalla taught you to dance?" He could hear her heartbeat revving up.
"No. I have it on the best authority that Lucalla wouldn't deign to teach *anyone* to dance."
She visibly relaxed, "Ah, Ushe has been her usual precocious self."
Clark could feel the underlying tension was back and he didn't think it was entirely due to Deirdre's misapprehension that the elder princess had taught him to dance. Why would that matter to her anyway? "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Nothing, really … Oh, nothing." Dee was watching something over his right shoulder and, whatever it was, was upsetting her.
He used the movement of the dance to turn them around so he faced in that direction. He could see three men in the doorway at the far end of the ballroom. If it hadn't been for Deirdre's tension, he wouldn't have even been aware of their presence. However, now that he was conscious of the situation, he focused on the suspicious gentlemen and could see that they were armed. They might have been bodyguards, but his instinct told him there was going to be trouble. He couldn't see any Embassy security in the room, so he'd have to figure out some way to avert any trouble without anyone getting hurt — and without revealing himself.
He made a sudden unexpected move that caused Deirdre to trip and fall against him. He stopped her from falling, and exuding solicitous concern, led her from the dance floor, his arm loosely clasped around her waist. In a low voice he asked, "Now, who exactly are those men?"
"The ones with weapons in their cummerbunds."
The blood drained from Deirdre's face, "How… how …"
Clark felt Dee's tension escalate into terror. He could tell by her blood pressure, breathing and heart rate that she was very frightened of something, and he also had the feeling it wasn't only the three men with armaments in their cummerbunds.
He guided her out into the wide hallway, on the opposite side of the ballroom from the conservatory, where there were a number of people sitting on sofas along each wall of the passageway. It was too crowded a place to stay.
Peering over his glasses, he found a vacant room two doors down. He steered Dee in that direction and opened the door onto a darkened room. He could feel her quiver in fearful foreboding. He pushed her gently through the door and quickly closed it behind him. He found the light switch and flicked it down to turn on the lights in the room.
"Now, do you want to tell me what this is all about? Who are those men, and why are you so scared of them?"
The young woman was pale and shaking. "I … I can't. You'll be k-k-killed, too!" She let out a quiet sob.
Clark led her to a nearby sofa and made her sit down. Sitting beside her with his arm around her shoulders, turning so he could see her face, he asked, "What makes you think that?"
"I was secretary to Ushe's father. He was killed … murdered, in his office one night. I was there, in the next room. I saw the people who did it. I d-didn't think anyone knew I was there, but lately … " She pulled out a handkerchief and blew her nose, " … lately, I've had the feeling I'm being followed. I get to the point that I'm almost positive, and then they disappear. I … I thought you were one of *them* that night at the theatre." She gulped and blew her nose again.
"So that's why you ran away? You were afraid I might be an assassin of some kind?" Clark was amazed. This was like something out of a made-for-TV movie.
"I couldn't be sure. You didn't look like one of *them*. They're Cameroons, but they could have hired you. I… " Dee stopped, her eyes wide as the door from the next room burst open.
The three men he'd seen in the ballroom charged through the doorway, guns in hand. Clark thought quickly. How could he disarm them, protect Deirdre and yet not give himself away?
He got up off the sofa, and pushing Dee face down behind him, stared at the three men. He decided the surprise attack was his best bet. Acting as if he was intoxicated enough to not recognize the danger, he slurred his words as he said, "Hey, guys, what's all thish? Canna guy have a quiet cuddle with hish girl without clowns like you bargin' in?" Clark walked belligerently up to the nearest of the three men and took the gun out of his hand before he could react. He threw it across the room so that it slid under a heavy sofa. "An' carrying them thingth … ain't polite, at leash not where I come from." Moving slightly faster than the men could react, he snatched the guns from the other two men and tossed them out of reach.
The first man lunged at him. Clark hit him on the chin, just hard enough to knock him out, but not so hard as to do any permanent damage.
"Why, you … !" The second man roared as he charged forward. Clark grabbed him by the chin and grasping the third man by the back of the neck, knocked their two heads together only hard enough to render them unconscious. The three stupefied men lay in a crumpled heap on the floor.
Deirdre was still cowering on the sofa. Clark lifted her to her feet and propelled her toward the door and into the hallway. Once in the hall, he seated her at a vacant sofa, as far away as possible from the other people in the hallway and sat next to her, supporting her trembling body.
An elderly woman came up to them. "Deirdre, darling, what's wrong? You're so pale."
"Nothing, Lady DeWint. I … " She paused, as if she didn't know how to continue. She sat twisting her handkerchief into a tight ball and then stuffed it into her evening bag.
Clark answered for her. "She was overcome by the heat in the ballroom. We decided to sit out the rest of the dance."
"Oh, you poor thing! Would you like me to get Henry to drive you home, dear?"
"No, really, I'm fine … " Deirdre started to stand and then suddenly crumpled. Clark caught her in time to prevent her from hitting the carpet.
"Oh, my dear!" Lady DeWint exclaimed, "I'll get some water," and hurried away.
Clark seated Deirdre back on the sofa and fanned her until he saw acknowledgment in her eyes that she knew he was there. "I'm sorry, Clark, I … I'm just so s-s-scared." Deirdre picked up her evening back, pulled out her handkerchief and blew her nose. "I've been terrified of guns ever since … "
Just then Lady DeWint returned, and gave a glass of water to Deirdre for her to drink. Clark held onto the glass while Deirdre sipped the water.
"Deirdre has been under so much stress lately. Thank you for taking such good care of her — Mr. Kent, isn't it?"
"How did you know … ?"
"Well, you're one of the three new people I met tonight and I'm one of those hundreds of people you were introduced to earlier. It was easy to remember you, whereas I'm sure you don't even remember seeing me at all." Lady DeWint smiled.
Clark nodded, and glanced at Deirdre to make sure she was recovering.
"Mr. Kent, could I ask you to make sure that Deirdre gets home okay? I'd do it myself, but I'm part of the welcoming committee for the Presidential party that's due to arrive any minute now."
"Yes, of course."
"Now, I'll just go find Henry and have him bring the car around to the front." She hurried off in the direction of the front entrance.
Clark supported Deirdre by the waist as they walked slowly to the front foyer of the embassy. Once there he seated her on a chair to wait for Henry.
Clark went to pick up Deirdre's wrap in the cloakroom and while he was waiting for the shawl, asked to use a phone. On being shown to a small room off the downstairs hall, he called the Embassy switchboard to let them know about the unconscious gunmen. Then when he returned to Deirdre, he let the doorman know that he was leaving and asked him to inform Derek Chapman, should he ask after Clark Kent.
Lady DeWint's chauffeur, Henry, pulled the Bentley up to the front of the High Commission entrance. Since Derek and Clark had entered the High Commission, a light rain had started. Henry, a short and wiry man in a black uniform, held an umbrella over Deirdre and Clark as he escorted them from the entrance to the car door. Then he opened the door while Clark helped Deirdre into the car and then followed her.
Seated in the back of the Bentley, with the glass partition closed between themselves and the chauffeur, Deirdre and Clark rode in mutual silence for a few minutes.
Clark saw how pale she still was and could feel her trembling, although less than before. "Are you feeling better now?"
Deirdre brushed a strand of hair back from her face. "Yes, thank you," she whispered tremulously. "Clark, you have no idea how grateful I am for what you did tonight."
"Deirdre … "
She interrupted him. "Please, call me Dee. All my friends do and after tonight I think I can definitely call you a friend." She smiled.
"Okay … Dee," Clark smiled in return.
Dee took out her handkerchief again and blew her nose. "I'm sorry for being so silly. I'm just so scared of guns. I have been ever since … since I was a little girl."
Clark felt her fear escalate again at this admission. "What happened when you were a little girl?"
Dee drew in her breath and whispered. "I was in bed, it was dark … the middle of the night. I heard shots … my Mummy screaming and more shots. I covered my ears and hid under the covers." Dee looked into his eyes and seeing his expression of horror, continued. "I was six years old when they came and killed my parents."
Clark put his arm around her and squeezed her in sympathy. Dee buried her face into his collar and sobbed.
Clark remembered nights when, at about that age, he'd cowered in bed, hiding under the covers, trembling in terror that *they* would come and take him away and do terrible things to his parents. Clark was distressed. For him it had been only a childhood fear … Dee had *lived* that nightmare! Clark made soothing sounds and stroked Dee's back to help her through her emotional crisis.
A few minutes later she pulled away and wiped her eyes. "I'm sorry, Clark. You don't even know me … and here I am forcing my troubles on you."
"That's okay. It's good to get these things out in the open."
"Now you see why I'm so grateful. I'm such a coward and you … you were so *brave*."
Clark smiled. "You're *not* a coward, and I didn't do anything that extraordinary."
Wide-eyed, she stared at him. He could hear her heartbeat change rhythm. He knew which way she was heading. Clark racked his brains on a way to sidetrack her from asking the questions he didn't really want to answer.
She was looking at him in awe. "Clark, how can you say that?" she asked breathlessly. "You just walked right up to them and took their guns away! Weren't you afraid?"
"Yes, I was afraid." Well, he'd been afraid that she'd be injured — and that he'd get a bullet hole in the rented tuxedo that he'd have a hard time explaining away. "But all I wanted to do was stop them and get us out of there. I didn't think about getting hurt." Mostly because the last time he'd been physically hurt was when he'd been about seven years old, and even then he'd mended so fast it had hardly hurt at all.
Dee put her hand on the front of his shirt. She was looking at him with an expression of awe and wonder. She had no idea that he wasn't just any ordinary guy. If any woman looked at him like that, knowing what he really was … well, why even think it could be possible?
"Don't be so modest! You saved my life tonight!" She drew closer and caressed his lips with a kiss. Just then the car stopped in front of Dee's building. Dee pulled away from him reluctantly and waited for Henry to open the door.
The rain had stopped, and the sidewalk reflected the light from the lamp posts in the puddles. As they exited the car, Henry said he would wait while Clark saw Dee to her flat. Clark had the impression that the man was doing this as a protective measure for Dee.
Clark nodded his acknowledgment of Henry's offer and followed Dee up the stairs. As they approached the flat, he peered through the walls to see if there was anyone hidden inside. There wasn't. When Dee unlocked the door, he told her he'd wait at the door until she checked the rooms.
Once she was satisfied she was safe, he said goodnight.
"Clark, I'd like to thank you again for everything you've done." She moved close to him, and caressed his face with her fingertips. "Thank you for listening to me … and for saving my life." Then she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him more ardently than she had a few minutes ago.
He wasn't as panicked by her forwardness as he'd been in similar situations in the past. Over the last seven years he'd learned a lot about self-control and how to get himself out of these situations without the girl screaming epithets at him as he left, like Sally had done in New Zealand. Nevertheless, it took all the control that Clark had to check the urge to respond in kind. He hardly knew this woman. She had no idea who or what he was. *He* didn't really know that himself. She was feeling distressed and was reacting to the danger. He couldn't take advantage of her like this. He began to ease her hands from his neck and said, "Dee, you don't have to…"
"No, I don't, but somehow just saying 'Thank you' doesn't seem like enough." She pressed closer, if that was possible, and tried to kiss him again. His mind went back to a similar situation he'd been in with another redhead in Singapore, only that time he'd been *this* close to finding out what would happen if he let his passion rule his reason. The memory of the bruise he'd caused on that girl's shoulder stopped him in his tracks now. When he didn't respond as expected, Deirdre stepped back with a puzzled look on her face.
"Clark, what's wrong? Don't you like me?"
Clark groaned inside. How many times was he going to have to dodge this question? Why couldn't he just have been a normal everyday guy who didn't have to worry that he might critically hurt a woman if he lost his control?
Ignoring his misgiving, Clark responded, "It's not that I don't like you. It's just that we only really met tonight, and I suspect that what you're feeling right now isn't attraction for me. It's reaction to the danger."
Dee looked thoughtful, pulled her hands away from his neck and, crossing her arms, held herself by the waist. "You know, you may be right." Although he could see she wasn't totally convinced. "But … I *do* feel terribly grateful to you for rescuing me."
Clark put his hands on her shoulders, "Then keep yourself safe. Lock the door behind me, and call Lady DeWint to let her know you made it home safely." Clark gave her a peck on the cheek.
"Thanks, Clark, I'll do that." She gave him a watery smile as she opened the door to let him leave. "Thank you — for everything."
Clark just smiled and left, listening to make sure she locked the door before he left the floor.
When he got back to the car, Henry asked if he wanted to return to Nigeria House. Clark didn't feel like going back to the party and asked Henry to drop him at Waterloo station so he could just go home. Henry insisted on driving Clark to his flat. He said that Lady DeWint would never forgive him if he just left Clark at a railway station.
When Henry opened the door of the car for Clark to exit, the chauffeur coughed politely and said, "Thank you, sir," and continued when Clark raised his eyebrows questioningly. "I mean for helping Miss Deirdre. She needs help badly. Lady DeWint told me how supportive you were … I'm glad you were there."
"So am I, Henry. It's good to know she has someone like you looking out for her."
Henry looked embarrassed and closed the car door. Clark stood and watched the Bentley drive away and entered the foyer of the block of flats he now called home.
Once he was inside the flat, he changed out of the tuxedo, hanging it carefully on the rental store hanger, and pulled on some shorts and a tank top. Geoffrey was in his back bedroom, locked away watching television. The quiet background laughter of a comedy show permeated throughout the flat. Colin was still out for the evening.
Clark sat on the window seat in the darkened living room, staring morosely out the window at the deserted street below — the soft sound of the laughter worsening his pensive mood.
Once again he'd come up against the main problem in his life … his special nature coming into conflict with his desires. He wanted to have a relationship. He wanted to be able to follow through when a girl showed interest in him. He wanted to be free to follow his desires.
Dee had called him "brave" for what he'd done. If she only knew! He wasn't brave! If anything, he was a coward! It didn't take any bravery to face men he could kill with a glance and who couldn't harm him in return. If he was *really* brave he'd just do the things that came naturally and to heck with the consequences, but he could never do that because he always had to lie and pretend.
He remembered that time, a couple of years back, when he'd tried to just *be* "normal." No flying, no floating, no seeing through walls — even when he was alone. It hadn't worked. He'd nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to pretend to himself that he couldn't do all the things he really could. His frustration at not being able to act totally like a "normal" person had culminated in him flying as far and as fast as possible to the back side of the moon, where he'd screamed and stomped and generally expressed his anger at the fate that life had handed him.
Of course the screaming part (impossible on an airless moon) had forced him to return to Earth at top speed so he could take a breath, burning off his clothes during reentry. Well, not all of his clothes, only the parts that weren't actually touching his body. That's when he'd realized there was some kind of semi-voluntary protective layer extending a few millimetres above his skin. He hadn't known that before. So the experience hadn't been totally without its positive moments. Maybe it would come in handy some day.
He always seemed to be finding out new facets to his "special" nature. Not that it was bad, per se. It just made him wonder what else about him was different that he hadn't found out about yet. He'd definitely found out that he couldn't ignore what he was … he just had to keep on hiding it.
What was he anyway? Some kind of experiment gone bad? A biological construct? An alien from another planet? Or, some kind of mutated being? Even Mom and Dad had no real idea of why he'd come to them.
They'd all talked over the possibilities. Dad leaned toward the idea that he was some kind of government experiment (either by the Russians or their own government) that had been an attempt to create a new kind of human that could travel in space without needing protective clothing. Mom seemed to lean toward believing that he was from another planet. Clark could see evidence that pointed to either theory being true. Or to any of the others they'd considered if it came to that. Whether he was an alien, a biological construct or a mutation, he couldn't tell from what he currently knew of himself and his "special" skills.
The only thing he did know for sure was that he could do things that no one else he'd ever met could do. And because of that he could never lead a normal life.
It wasn't *right*! Clark felt a sob rise into his throat. All the old feelings of frustration surfaced again. He *had* to come up with a way of being himself, without jeopardizing his personal life and Mom and Dad, he just *had* to!
He wiped the tears from his cheeks, forcing himself to be quiet so that he didn't attract Geoffrey's attention, although with the TV on, it was doubtful Geoffrey would hear him even if he sobbed out loud.
He knew his desire to just be himself was a pipe dream. He was no longer a child who could hope for miracles. Being himself openly wasn't going to be possible either. Why even think that it was? And, there was no point crying over it. That wouldn't solve anything. He took a deep breath and tapped into his inner serenity, using one of the calming techniques he'd learned at a religious commune in Honan province, China, to dissociate himself from his negative feelings.
Once he was calmer, he was able to remind himself that up until this week he hadn't been able to figure out how to cut his own hair! That had been a relatively easy dilemma. Figuring out the answer to this more complex problem was just going to take more time, that was all. Worrying about it wasn't going to make it resolve itself, so he stuffed the predicament in the back left corner of his mind to be brought out some other day when he had a fresh perspective.
He wanted to fly home for comfort, but they'd decided as a family, years ago, that he shouldn't just run home every time he ran into a little problem. He was a grown man now.
Nevertheless, he needed some kind of distraction, some kind of exercise to take his mind off his problems. He needed to do something that was normal for him, but not here, with Geoffrey in the other room. Heaven only knew when Colin would be back, so he couldn't just float here in the living room. He decided to go flying. He went into his bedroom, locked the door behind him, and dressed himself totally in black to blend in with the night sky. He flew out of his bedroom window to float above the clouds. That had always helped in the past, and it did again now.
The breakfast routine on Saturday morning was pretty much the same as other mornings, since both Colin and Clark had to work and Geoffrey was a morning person. They all sat around the table eating cold cereal with milk, drinking their coffee and reading the early edition of the newspaper.
Clark read the Chronicle, so he could keep on top of what was happening locally. Colin read the Daily Planet to find out what was going on in America. And Geoffrey read the Cosmic tabloid, claiming it helped him gain perspective.
"Hey, you guys, did you know that there's some witch doctor in Africa that can take a beating heart out of a guy, put his blessing on it and reinsert it into the guy and the guy lives to tell about it?" Geoffrey asked, looking up from the newspaper from which he'd gathered this nugget of information.
Colin groaned. "Geoff, why do you read that trash? They make it up! Haven't you figured that out by now?"
Geoffrey looked up at him, disdainfully. "I *know* that! I just think it's neat the stuff they come up with, that's all." He flipped to the next page and buried his nose in the next "miracle" story.
Clark grinned at Colin, who just rolled his eyes. "Okay, Clark, if you're ready, let's head down to the old salt mines." He folded his paper and laid it on the kitchen counter. Clark gathered up the dirty dishes, washed and rinsed them and put them in the drainer to dry.
The trip into work was uneventful, and Clark parted from Colin in the lobby of the newspaper building. They worked on different floors, and Colin had to pick up copies of the early editions of the competition's newspapers before going up to the sixth floor.
After picking up his incoming mail at the reception desk on the second floor, Clark headed for his desk and started on his list of contacts. He was left peacefully alone for about twenty minutes until Derek came back from the manager's office.
"Clark, you are *never* going to believe what happened at Nigeria House last night!" Derek was leaning on the front of Clark's desk.
"What happened?" Clark wanted to know what Derek knew.
"Three guys, with handguns, broke into the High Commissioner's residence at Nigeria House and tried to kidnap the young princess' governess." Derek was in full spate. "Some guy, who'd had a few too many, just walked right up to them and took their handguns from them — tossed the guns aside, and then knocked the guys out. Can you *believe* that?"
"You're kidding! How'd you find all this out?" Clark was fascinated. Dee was Ushe's governess; he hadn't known that.
"Well, my contact at the Nigeria House switchboard let me know something was going on when someone phoned to tell them that those three guys were out cold in one of their unused salons. I just followed the police when they arrived and was right there when the police gave their statement to the press. The three guys confessed to everything and told this unbelievable story about the drunk who'd knocked them out. I phoned the story in and 'Voila'!" Derek pulled up the late morning edition of the paper in front of Clark's eyes so he could see the two-inch column of the report by "our correspondent Derek Chapman."
Derek gloated over his story in print. "Too bad you'd left already. You missed all the excitement."
Clark just smiled and went back to making his list of diplomatic contacts for the coming week.
This upcoming Saturday, Clark and Derek were scheduled to go to a formal festivity at Canada House in Trafalgar Square, then another even more formal event at the American Embassy the following Wednesday evening. As a result, Clark decided to take Derek's advice and buy a tuxedo. It would be cheaper in the long run, and he wouldn't have to answer to anyone if he happened to get any stray bullet holes in the suit.
He and Derek had visited Derek's tailor and arranged for Clark to get an off-the-rack tuxedo altered. Clark knew he could have probably gotten one cheaper if he'd flown to Hong Kong to have it made, but he would have had a hard time explaining how he'd suddenly acquired a made-to-measure tuxedo so soon from the Far East — so he went along with getting one altered from the rack.
He'd also needed a dress shirt and patent leather shoes to go with the tux, so he had visited a store that Colin recommended, to get them at a discounted price. It was a good thing he didn't need to eat — his pay cheque was being stretched to the limit as it was. Not to mention that he wanted to invite Dee out on a date and wouldn't be able to until the payday after this, at the very earliest.
The gang from work was going to the Goose and Garter Friday night and he'd already committed himself to going. He'd have to make sure he had enough funds to pay for at least one round, but otherwise he should be okay. Thankfully, he'd already paid the rent for this month.
Most of the week at work was spent visiting different Embassies and High Commissions to cover press conferences and keep up with Derek's contacts.
He stayed in most evenings, went for walks in the neighbourhood and tried to not think about the kind of danger Dee might be in. He'd called her a couple of times, and she seemed to be okay. She also sounded pleased to hear from him. He tried to keep the conversations friendly but not intimate. He wasn't sure he wanted a relationship with her, but from what she'd told him at Nigeria House, she was still in danger from whoever had murdered Ushe's father. He wanted to try to prevent any further attempts on her life, if he could.
Friday he had to work late. A late-breaking story about overuse of paper clips at the American Embassy needed writing up and, as the junior person of the team, Clark was elected to do it. As a result he was late leaving to meet the gang at the pub.
He walked through the darkened streets of London, savouring the sounds and smells. Each place had its own ambiance and he found he liked the one here very much.
As he approached the Goose and Garter he noticed a sudden movement across the street. A woman was struggling with an assailant. Hardly stopping to think, Clark dashed across the street at lightning speed and pulled the thug off his victim. He tied the thug's arms behind him with some wire from a nearby trash can and fastened him to the nearest signpost, so he couldn't run away.
Moving so swiftly that the normal eye couldn't see him, Clark went to the nearest telephone kiosk where, slowing down, he punched in 999 and told the operator he needed the police and an ambulance, that he was opposite the Goose and Garter, that there'd been a mugging and someone was hurt! Rather than give a false name when asked for his identity, he gasped as if he'd been startled and exclaimed, "Someone's coming!" and hung up.
He instantly returned to the scene and hurried into the alley as if he was just passing and had seen someone who needed help. The young woman was still lying on the ground in shock. He'd been gone a matter of seconds and he hoped she wouldn't suffer by his lack of attention to her well-being.
Clark's heart lurched. Now that he had time to stop and look, he discovered that she was very pregnant. He should have taken care of her right away, rather than trying to protect his own identity. Clark felt a pang of guilt. He appealed to whatever guardian angel that was looking over them that she and the baby were going to be okay after their ordeal. Then, pretending he'd just discovered her, he gasped in horror and knelt beside her to give her first aid.
Just then a police officer arrived on the scene and suggested the young lady be taken over to the pub for shelter while he took care of the assailant. Clark picked her up and carried her across the street into the Goose and Garter.
People in the pub milled around him and the distressed woman, fussing about her health. She was obviously finding all this "assistance" overwhelming, and Clark asked everyone to stand back and give the lady some air as he gently placed her in the nearest upholstered chair.
"Is there someone I can call? Your husband?" Clark did a quick visual scan and to his relief was almost sure she wasn't physically hurt. Though he thought that having someone she knew and trusted present would help her recover.
Just then a harassed young man rushed into the pub. "The police, they said Sheila might be in here!"
The young woman called, "Brian! Oh, thank God, Brian! You're all right!"
The young couple clung to each other, reassuring themselves that the other was fine. Clark felt a pang of something very like envy. To have one person you could count on in times of need — would he ever have that for himself? Then Brian asked what had happened, and Sheila explained that she'd just got off the bus and was walking home when someone had jumped out of the shadows and tried to snatch her handbag. Then, everything was kind of fuzzy until this nice American — she indicated Clark — came and carried her into the pub.
Brian walked over to Clark and shook his hand, "How can I ever thank you?"
"That's okay, I didn't do much except help your wife to shelter. I'm sure that anyone would have done the same." Now that the woman and her unborn child appeared to be fine, hiding his "special" nature was once again the priority.
The police and ambulance attendants came into the pub. The attendants made sure that the pregnant woman was well. The police then ushered Clark and the young woman into the manager's office to get their statements. The assailant was a known mugger and there was no doubt that with Sheila Nekkleton's statement he would get some time behind bars. Clark stuck to his story that he'd come after everything was over and had just helped the pregnant woman to shelter. The police believed him but were puzzled by the thug's being tied up, as well as the 999 phone call by an anonymous caller. Clark denied having seen anyone else in the area; he claimed to have been too preoccupied with Mrs. Nekkleton's possible injuries to notice anything else.
Once released from police scrutiny, Clark joined the gang at their usual table. He related the story of why he was late, omitting the proactive part he'd played in the whole event. Colin thought he'd phone the story in as a human interest piece and dashed off to use the phone.
"Hey, Clark, you're letting him steal your story!" Lynda sounded indignant.
"It's okay, it's more Colin's beat than mine. Besides, I think I'm too close to the whole thing to really do it justice."
Colin came back beaming. He was going to get a byline on the story, so he was very happy, even if it *was* going to be buried halfway back behind the classifieds in tomorrow's early edition. Colin paid for Clark's round in thanks for the story that would up his credibility with his boss.
London — October 1992
Clark was watching the boating activity on the Thames. Banners about the Cutty Sark and Gypsy Moth IV were flapping in the warm breeze off the river, straining at the grommets that attached them to the black, old-fashioned lampposts along the edge of the dock, and the air was filled with the shouts of children racing about on the grass nearby. It was a sunny and warm afternoon and as a result a lot of people had come to picnic in the park.
Clark leaned forward and caught a ball that had come dangerously close to the water and tossed it back to the small boy who'd come racing after it. It was Sunday afternoon and he was sitting on a park bench near the river, waiting for Dee.
Dee had called him earlier in the afternoon. She wanted to meet him, today. She couldn't say why, but it was important that she talk to him as soon as possible, face-to-face.
Clark had suggested Greenwich. It was nearby for him and had the advantage of being a tourist spot he hadn't yet been to. He quickly changed into grey slacks, shirt and navy sleeveless pullover and caught the bus to Greenwich.
They'd agreed to meet on the Cutty Sark dock. Dee had said there were park benches and enough activity so that it wouldn't seem odd for one or the other of them to be seen waiting. It would be assumed that they were waiting for the rest of their party before boarding the famous tea-clipper for the tour.
"Hi, Clark." Dee sat on the bench beside him, and took his hand in hers. "I'm glad you could make it."
"I was glad you called. What did you want to see me about? You sounded so mysterious." She looked calm and relaxed, dressed in an emerald green linen dress and pale green cardigan, as if she was just looking forward to an afternoon in the park. But Clark could feel her anxiety through her fingertips. She was almost as tense as during their dance at Nigeria House.
"I don't think we should talk right here. Let's get in the car and go for a drive. I need to talk to you in private." She stood up, and headed toward the parking lot.
Once they reached the car, they were far enough from other people to be able to talk in confidence. Clark stopped Dee as she was pulling the car keys from her bag. Turning her around to face him, he asked, "Now are you going to tell me what this is all about?"
Dee looked pale now and swallowed convulsively a couple of times before she whispered her story to him. "I got a phone call. They didn't say who they were, just that they knew I knew. They asked if my 'inebriated friend' knew too. I told them you didn't know anything."
"Well, that was true. Did they believe you?"
Dee shook her head. "I don't think so. I think they'll be coming after you too." She put the key in the passenger's door and unlocked it.
"Well, let them come. I don't know anything, so what can they do?" Clark opened the car door to get in.
Dee gasped, "They could *kill* you!" She pulled him around, and clutched his arms.
"Oh, right. I keep forgetting that part." Clark tried to make it sound like a joke.
"Clark, it's not f-f-funny." Dee leaned against him and buried her head in his shoulder. He could feel her sobs. She was truly frightened. He stroked her back in an effort to comfort her. She threw her head back to look at him, the tear stains still on her cheeks. "You escaped once. I don't think you can be that lucky again."
"What about you? You're in even more danger!"
Dee swallowed another sob. Her voice had a crack in it as she said, "I know. I-I'm scared!"
Clark was about to suggest they call the police when he heard a quiet clicking sound, far off up the hill. When he looked up over his glasses, he saw a man aiming a gun with a silencer in their direction. He'd heard the safety catch being released.
"Dee, do me a favour," she looked up at him, puzzled, "someone's watching us. Pretend to faint."
"But … "
"Now!" He'd heard the bullet leave its chamber and could hear it whistling in their direction. He caught the bullet with one hand and the "swooning" Dee with the other.
"Good, now stay limp." He crushed the bullet and dropped it and then picked her up and gently placed her in the passenger seat and fastened the seat belt around her. "Keep your eyes closed and lie still."
He closed the passenger door, took out the keys, hurried around to the driver's side, opened the door and quickly started the engine. He revved the motor dramatically, as if he was in a hurry to get Dee to a hospital and burnt rubber getting out of the parking lot.
Clark followed the road signs to the A2 and headed east along the dual carriageway. After driving for about fifteen minutes he pulled over into a layby and parked between an empty lorry and a removals van so that they wouldn't be easily seen from the highway. When he saw the condition of the nearby phone, any hopes of being able to call the police were put on hold.
He killed the engine and turned to face the passenger seat. "Okay, Dee. You can sit up now. I think you need to tell me the *whole* story. If we're going to beat this thing, I need to know what's going on."
"Going on?" Dee sounded perplexed as she shifted to an upright position.
"A man shot at you in the park. We were lucky he missed."
Dee went completely white. "Shot! I … I don't believe it. How do you know that?"
"Believe it! I felt the bullet whiz past my head! Now are you going to tell me what's going on, or not?"
At the mention of the word "bullet," Dee whimpered and buried her face in her hands.
Clark sighed and said, "Okay. I understand that someone knows you know who killed Ushe's father. What I *don't* understand is why they're gunning for you *now*!"
"I … I don't know why *now*. If I did I'd tell you." Dee was trembling again. Clark was getting really impatient. She *had* to know what had initiated this. But with her childhood terror overriding her common sense, she just wasn't thinking.
Gently Clark lifted Dee's chin so that she was looking into his eyes. "I'm going to tell you what I know and I'll ask some questions to clarify what I don't, okay?"
"You worked as secretary to Ushe's father and you were in the next office when he was shot."
"And you saw who killed him."
Dee nodded again. Clark gently wiped a tear from Dee's cheek.
"When was that?"
"Three years ago." Dee wiped the tears from her eyes with the back of her hand. She rummaged around in her handbag and found a handkerchief.
"That long? Did you tell anyone what you'd seen?"
Dee shook her head vigorously in a negative gesture.
"When did you first start to feel scared?"
Dee took a deep breath. "Just before Christmas last year. But I don't know why — it was a really great time."
"What was happening then?"
"Well, Jakob — that's Ushe's guardian — was appointed High Commissioner to London and we were all really busy preparing for the move."
"And … ?"
"We were preparing for Christmas … and … oh, Lucalla came home from University, so we had some festivities for her. It was a very busy time."
"Okay, then what?"
"Well, Ushe and Nana and I moved to London with Jakob. Lucalla stayed in Nigeria to finish her year at University."
"Were you scared when you first came to London?"
"No, that's the odd thing. I wasn't scared at all. I was sort of afraid that someone might find out my secret, but I wasn't really scared."
"So when did you start being *really* afraid?"
"In June. There were these Cameroon hit men that suddenly started following me."
"That was it? In June, suddenly some men just appeared and started following you?"
"Well, Lucalla came to London at the end of May, but…" Dee stopped. She started to tremble. "That's *it*! After Lucalla came to London, *that's* when I started feeling scared!" Her voice sounded strangled. Her eyes were wide in terror and she was shaking like a leaf. "It's Lucalla! Oh, Clark! What am I going to do?"
"So what would Lucalla have to do with Cameroon hit men and Ushe's father's death?"
"I … I … don't know!" Dee was sobbing uncontrollably into her handkerchief.
Clark sighed. This was getting them nowhere. "I think you're going to have to tell me what you saw the night Ushe's father died." He took the handkerchief from Dee's hand and gently wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"I c-c-can't!" Dee's crying had got to the hiccup stage.
"Dee, I know you're scared. But if you tell me then maybe I can help."
Between hiccups Dee told him about the night that Aderonke Jakobson had been killed. Dee had been working late getting some files in order. Ushe's father had been in the next room working on his speech on Nigeria's history and culture. Dee had dropped the contents of a file and had been scrabbling around on the floor under the desk trying to get all the papers back in the file. She was just about to stand up and rearrange the contents of the file when a woman and a man marched through the room, guns in hand. She'd heard the shot and saw the two people run out past her, through her outer office. When she'd gone in to see if Aderonke was all right, she'd found his body and called the guards.
"So the guards knew you were there?"
Dee shook her head, "No, I said I'd just got back from the toilet and found A-Aderonke like that. They didn't really notice how jittery I was, I guess they thought I was upset at finding the body.
"Did you recognize the people who'd done it?"
Dee nodded. "Yes. They were … "
A dark green sedan that Clark had just seen go past in the other direction was now returning and pulling into the parking layby. He had a bad feeling about this and started the engine. "I think we've been found. Fasten your seat belt!"
Clark pulled out from between the two trucks and shot ahead of the sedan toward the highway. He was into traffic and a good five cars ahead of the sedan when it too peeled out of the layby and onto the road.
"Dee, do you know where we are? What's a good place for us to try to lose them?"
Dee looked at the map she'd pulled out of the passenger's door pocket. "I think we're near Rochester. Try to get off this highway and onto some of the B roads that go through towns and villages. We might be able to lose them there. Take this flyover and try to head west."
Clark surmised that she meant the next overpass, and followed her directions, keeping as far away as possible from the green sedan. Unfortunately, the sedan seemed to be gaining. In the first town they came to, Clark took a sharp right up a narrow street and an almost immediate left. He kept driving through the twisted narrow streets until they were on the far side of the town. He didn't even know what town they'd been in. The narrow country road on the far side of town, with high hedges on each side, seemed to stretch on for miles. Just about the time that he was sure that they'd lost the sedan, it showed up in the rearview mirror. It looked like he was going to have to deal with them in his own way, but how was he going to explain this to Dee?
Just then they went around a sharp bend in the road, and a pub with a wooden sign with a picture of a checkerboard on it appeared in a gap in the hedge on the right-hand side. He did a sharp right turn into their parking area and moved the car behind the pub, out of line of sight of the road. With any luck at all the sedan would just drive on by, assuming they'd be running as far and as fast as they could.
He looked through the building to the road and saw the sedan flash by. He waited a couple of minutes to be sure the occupants of the sedan weren't able to see the pub entrance, then drove quickly out onto the road heading back in the direction of the town they had just come from. When he and Dee were back in the town he took a left and right and drove into the walled courtyard of a hotel and pub he'd noticed on their previous trip through the town. Parking the car so that it couldn't easily be seen from the street outside, he killed the engine and then told Dee they should get inside the pub.
"Is there someone you can call that you trust?"
"Lady DeWint or Henry. I've known them since I was a baby. I could trust either one of them."
"Then I'd suggest you call them." They were in the entrance of the pub and there was a call box to one side, in the hallway leading to the hotel front desk. Dee put coins into the slots and called a number from memory. Clark peered through the wall to watch the road for the returning sedan.
"Clark?" Dee was looking at him with a puzzled expression on her face. "Why are you staring at the wall?"
Clark blushed. "Sorry, I guess I was just trying to think. I'm hungry. Do you want tea while we wait?"
Dee nodded and they went into the lounge bar and ordered sandwiches and cakes for tea. During their meal Clark kept one ear listening for the sound of the sedan engine.
"So, do you want to finish that sentence that was so rudely interrupted?" Clark smiled at Dee encouragingly.
"They were Aderonke's first wife and her second husband." Dee hung her head.
"Aderonke's first wife? Lucalla's mother?"
Dee nodded silently. He could see tears in her eyes. "I never told *anyone*! How did they figure it out?"
"Where's Lucalla's mother now?"
"Dead. She was killed in the political struggles last year. Lucalla was devastated."
"Do you think she blames you for her mother's death?"
"Me? Why? I had nothing to do with it!" Dee looked at him, astonished.
Clark shrugged. "I don't know. I just figured there has to be some reason why Lucalla is orchestrating this hunt for the two of us. You *do* think it's Lucalla, don't you?"
Dee nodded glumly. "I didn't realize it but I've been wary of Lucalla for a while now. For some reason, she must think I arranged for her mother to be assassinated."
Clark sat silently pondering the possibilities. "When did Henry say he'd be here?"
"It shouldn't be too much longer. We'll go back with him. I can leave my car here and have it picked up tomorrow. I'll just say I had engine trouble." Dee's face was blank and she was staring at nothing, as if what she was thinking about was more vivid than the man sitting in front of her.
"I could drive your car back now, if you want." Clark was more than a little concerned by Dee's distracted look. Was she remembering her parents' death again?
She shook her head, "No, I think it would be very dangerous for anyone driving that car until after I've been seen in London again."
Clark didn't respond, since the only thing that came to mind was that *he* couldn't be hurt.
"In fact, Clark, I think things are going to be really dangerous for you now, no matter what." Dee was looking distressed. "Is there somewhere you can hide for a little while?"
Clark shook his head, "I'm not going to run. It wouldn't be fair to you."
Dee laughed a little hysterically, "Clark! You're just too gallant for words. Either that or you're completely crazy!"
Clark just smiled.
Just then Henry appeared at the pub entrance and they both got up and went to meet him. Henry said he'd arrange for Dee's car to be picked up the next day and he'd drop Clark at his flat on the way back to London.
Dee and Clark sat in the back of the car in silence through most of the trip. Clark had been thinking through the options available and finally turned to Dee, "I think you should tell the High Commissioner what you know. He can arrange to investigate the situation. Since the murder took place in Nigeria, the police here wouldn't be able to investigate."
"Yes, but the men taking a potshot at us, they did that here."
"Then Jakob can fill in the police here. I think you need protection, and I can't do it all." Clark was serious.
Dee gave him an admiring glance, "I don't expect you to be my bodyguard." Her smile faded. "Maybe you're right, though, maybe I should just get this all out in the open. Keeping it quiet hasn't done much good."
"I think you should." Clark turned to look at the passing scenery. They were almost at the block of flats where he lived.
"And, Clark, I don't think we should be seen together until this is all cleared up. It's too dangerous … for both of us."
Clark nodded. Henry drew up to the curb and opened the car door for Clark to get out. Dee squeezed Clark's hand as he got up to leave the car. "Clark, thanks for everything. You're the most amazing person I've ever met." She brushed his cheek with a light kiss. Clark just nodded again, and got out of the car.
He stood on the street and waved goodbye to the car as it drove out of sight. Once the car was out of sight, he turned and walked into the building and up to the flat. He hoped Dee would call and let him know how her interview with the High Commissioner went, soon.
She didn't call. Worried, he decided to sit with Geoffrey to watch the nine-o-clock news, that was when he heard that a sharpshooter had been on the roof of the building opposite Dee's apartment and had gunned down both her and Henry as they drew up to her front door. The announcer said there was very little hope either had survived.
Clark was stunned. If he'd only insisted on seeing her home, he might have been able to *do* something!
Once he'd recovered from the immediate shock, he looked up the number in the phone book and called Lady DeWint to find out what had happened. She gave him a few more details. Both Dee and Henry were in critical condition in the hospital. This wasn't generally known, since they weren't sure that whoever was doing this wouldn't try to kill them again once they knew they'd failed. She asked to meet Clark at the High Commission first thing in the morning.
Clark had his interview with the High Commissioner, filling him in on what he'd learned from Dee. Then the security people took up the investigation.
The local police were called in and took several more hours to interview Clark about the car chase. The getaway car for the sharpshooter had also been a green sedan, so his ability to provide a license number was instrumental in apprehending the suspects.
At the end of all these interviews, Lady DeWint invited Clark to afternoon tea. Clark asked if he could visit Dee now that, since the suspects were behind bars, the danger of their meeting was over.
Lady DeWint frowned, "I'm sorry, Clark, that's not going to be possible."
"Why not? Doesn't she want to see me?"
"Clark … how do I say this? Dee isn't well."
"Well, no, of course not — she's still recovering from being shot."
"No, physically Dee is doing fine. I'm afraid that this has all been too much for her mental stability."
Clark paled. "What are you trying to say?"
"Dee is locked into the nightmare she went through the night her parents were assassinated. Being shot herself has knocked away her grip on reality. She's locked into the world of a six-year-old trying to hide from the nightmare going on around her. She doesn't recognize anyone or understand what's being said to her."
Clark whispered, "Omigod!"
Lady DeWint patted his shoulder comfortingly. "I'm sorry I couldn't have forewarned you. You have to understand that Dee has been suffering a great deal of anxiety for the last twenty years. Dee was given psychiatric treatment when her parents were killed. She had a mild relapse after she found Aderonke dead, which she recovered from quite quickly. This has been the final straw. There's nothing you could have done under the circumstances."
"Who killed Dee's parents?"
"We're not sure, but it must have been masterminded by the same political extremists who were behind the Aderonke's death."
Clark couldn't get up any interest in some historic conspiracy so he said, "I'd like to see her."
Lady DeWint tried to argue him out of it, but finally relented. She called Henry and insisted on accompanying Clark to the hospital.
Seeing Dee in the throes of her nightmare was heartrending. Clark stared at her as she cowered in the corner of the bed, whimpering only one word — "Mommy" — over and over.
Clark swallowed a sob, wishing he'd been there when she needed him. After a few minutes, Lady DeWint pulled his arm and indicated it was time to leave. In the car on the way back to his flat, she advised Clark to leave England as soon as possible. Otherwise, he too could be in danger from this Nigerian faction. Clark said he'd consider it.
Mr. Chrichton was extremely pleased with Clark's story. Murder and intrigue at a High Commission weren't your run-of- the-mill events for the society pages. If Chrichton had anything to do with it, Clark's article would make the front page.
Lucalla and her stepfather had been arrested for the attempted murder of Dee and Henry, and the stepfather for the murder of Aderonke. Henry informed the police that Miss Deirdre had told him she suspected Lucalla and her stepfather of being behind the incident at Nigeria House last month. The police were hoping for Dee to recover to confirm this. Clark had written up the bare bones of the story, leaving out his own role in twice saving Dee from these assassins.
Over the next few days, Clark felt like he was walking around in a daze. He couldn't quite believe Dee's condition. If he'd only been there for her. She wouldn't have been hurt! Since his visit to the hospital, the High Commissioner had arranged for Dee's departure to Nigeria as a precautionary measure against retaliation by Lucalla's supporters in London. There was also hope that familiar surroundings might help in her recovery. Clark thought he'd wait a while before trying to visit her. His experience at the hospital had been too painful to repeat again soon.
Derek was *not* pleased that his *assistant*, "the American," had scooped the biggest story in six months. Clark figured he'd be sorting paper clips for the balance of his contract, if Derek had any say in the matter.
As a result he wasn't surprised to find Derek had him reorganizing the back files of the society columns under an entirely different filing system. A step up from sorting paper clips to be sure, but it meant he didn't get out to the Embassies and High Commissions any longer. When no one was in the file room, Clark would use some of his special skills to speed up the progress and then use the extra time to do private research on scientific experiments by the U.S. and Soviet governments in the mid-sixties. He was hoping to shed some light on his own background.
Colin was sympathetic to Clark's predicament but couldn't think of any positive way for him to escape the wrath of Derek that wouldn't reflect badly on Clark. As a result, Clark kept up on the filing, at the pace that Derek set for him, and continued with his personal research at "special" speed.
Life pretty well settled down into a rut from then on, with some minor variations. He, Colin and Geoffrey would have breakfast every morning while reading their newspapers. There was the trip into London and the mountainous job of filing every day. The only difference was that instead of reading the Chronicle every morning, Clark alternated between it and the Daily Planet to broaden his job search options. He knew his future at the Chronicle was not going to be extended after his contract ended. Mr. Chrichton had been really apologetic, but money was tight and, unfortunately, temp staff were the first to go. Derek had looked positively ecstatic at the news.
Colin was reading the front section of the Daily Planet while Clark read the classifieds in the Chronicle. Geoffrey was gleefully reading all the news not fit to print in the Cosmic tabloid. Clark was thinking about where else he should look for work when Colin exclaimed, "That bitch! She won *again*!"
"Who won what?" Geoffrey glanced up from his reading.
"Oh, that woman in Metropolis who always wins the Kerth Award. She did it again!"
"If she always wins, why are you surprised?" Clark asked. He could never understand why Colin seemed to get all excited about things that he could have predicted were going to happen.
Colin just looked at him, over the top of the newspaper, and went on reading, muttering to himself.
Geoffrey shrugged, grinning. "Hey, guys, listen to this … "
Colin slammed down his paper. "Once and for all, Geoff, we're *not*, do you *understand*, *not* interested." Colin jerked up out of his chair and stormed to his room.
"Guess he got out of bed on the wrong side this morning," Clark commented.
"Nah, Deborah ditched him last night. She does it regularly and he gets like this every time."
Geoffrey went back to reading the story he'd been about to tell them about. "Can you believe it? There's this woman in New Zealand that was burnt to death and she wasn't anywhere near a fire at the time! Her husband says she was a pain empath and had been severely injured … before … *Clark*, what's wrong!"
Clark was having trouble breathing. It couldn't be … It *had* to be … "Donna!"
"Yeah, she was Donna Courville, you knew her?" In the haze surrounding him, Clark saw Geoffrey drop the paper and step around the table to take Clark by the arm. "Clark! You look *awful*. Can I get you anything?"
Geoff's voice was fading in and out, the room was slowly spiraling round and round. Clark swallowed convulsively.
The room steadied and he saw Geoff turn toward the back of the apartment and heard him yell, "*Colin*! Get out here!" From what seemed like a long way off, Clark heard Colin's door open behind him.
"What!" Colin was still in his mood.
"Colin, get over here! I need your help. Clark's not feeling good."
Clark wanted to disagree but to be perfectly honest he *didn't* feel all that good. First Dee was hurt and now Donna was dead! "I have to go. I have to be there …" He tried to stand, but Colin and Geoff were restraining him. He could have just thrown them to one side, but somehow he didn't feel up to doing that. All the conflicting emotions seemed to be affecting his ability to do anything at all. The two people in front of him seemed to be having a conversation that involved him, but it all seemed so far removed.
"Geoff, what happened?"
"I was telling Clark the story from the paper. Only he knew her, the woman who died, I mean, and he just freaked out."
Clark saw that Geoff had brought some brandy from the kitchen cupboard and poured a large dose into the juice glass he'd been using then insisted he drink it. Clark tried to protest. After all, alcohol didn't affect him. It would be a waste. His hands were shaking and Colin helped him to lift the glass to his mouth. "I have to go to New Zealand, I have to go now … "
"No, Clark, you can't! It would take days to get there, and we don't know how old the story is … or even if it's true." Colin attempted to sound soothing.
Clark found that the effort of trying to swallow the brandy had brought the room and his flat-mates back into focus.
Geoffrey tried his hand at helping, "Yes, Clark, it might not even be true. They make up stuff like that all the time."
Clark pushed his fingers through his hair. "No, it's true. Donna was afraid that she'd die during one of her 'attacks.' I guess she finally did." Clark did breathing exercises to calm himself. He'd known all along that it was possible that Donna would die this way. It still upset him, though. Maybe it didn't matter if you knew something bad was going to happen ahead of time; it was just as awful when it did.
"What kind of person was she?" Geoffrey asked quietly, "and what do you mean by 'one of her attacks'?"
Clark stared blindly at Geoff, only seeing a vision of Donna in his mind's eye. "She was beautiful and vivacious, an all-American girl. Except she had this difference that she couldn't control."
"She'd really get burned when she wasn't near a fire?"
"No, she would be suddenly 'at one' with someone who was dying a horrible death. She would get all the pain and injuries that the other person was experiencing. The last letter I got from them, her husband said she'd been linked to someone buried in a building collapse. She had to be hospitalized for a couple of weeks after that." Clark let his head drop into his hands. He still couldn't believe she was gone forever.
"You loved her, didn't you?" Colin stated.
Clark lifted his head up. He no longer cared if these people saw his tears. "I thought I did. I was nineteen when we met. I thought she was the most enchanting person I had ever known."
"So what happened?" Geoffrey's nose for gossip resurfaced again.
Clark vividly remembered their last conversation. Donna's voice echoed in his head: "Clark, when you meet the one you're meant to be with, you'll *know*. There'll be something inside of you, something so fundamentally *right* in you, that will tell you *this* is the person you were meant to be with. I don't have that feeling about you. Can you honestly say you have it with me?"
Clark wiped the tears from his cheeks. "She turned me down."
"Jeez, Geoff, don't you have any manners at all?" Colin rolled his eyes. "It doesn't matter what happened *then*, it's how it's affecting him now that's important. Are you okay now, Clark, or do you want me to tell them at work that you're not feeling good and you'll be in tomorrow?"
"No, I'll be fine. I spend most of the day in the file cupboard anyway, so I won't have to explain any sudden emotional bouts to anyone. Besides, I need to keep busy." Clark slowly stood up and went to the bathroom to clean up.
He and Colin took the train and tube into the office. Clark spent the day concentrating on finishing the filing project. He could have sped up the process even faster, but he didn't want Derek asking any odd questions and it gave him something useful to do.
Once he'd finished this project he'd hand in his resignation. He *had* to go to New Zealand. Besides, Lady DeWint had recommended he leave England. He'd call her and tell her he'd decided to take her advice and ask her to let him know, via his parents, when Dee was feeling better.
At lunch he'd gone to Colin's area and asked about searching New Zealand newspapers. Colin had shown him how the back issues were organized. Once Colin had left the room, it took Clark only seconds to find the story of Donna's death. It had happened three weeks ago. Despite the fact that it was over and done with now, he wanted to go there. He couldn't visit her husband without having to give some awkward explanations about how come he just happened to be in the South Pacific. Despite this risk, he felt a compulsion to visit her grave.
He should have been there for her when she was alive! He had all these skills and yet whenever anyone really needed them, he wasn't able to use them. He always had to hide who he really was and what he could do. It wasn't right! He *had* to come up with a solution to this problem. Soon!
Clark handed in his resignation at the end of the week. Mr. Chrichton was sad to see him go but understood that the work wasn't exactly the kind to keep him, especially since his three months were almost up and there couldn't be any extension on his contract.
The secretarial pool got together and threw an impromptu party consisting mostly of tissue rosettes in lieu of balloons and Flake bars in lieu of champagne. Clark felt touched at their thoughtfulness.
Colin and the gang gave him a rousing goodbye party at the Goose and Garter, after which Clark had to carry Colin home.
Next morning he packed his bag and, after saying goodbye to Colin and Geoffrey, took the train to Gatwick. He used the departure of a Qantas flight to cover his own takeoff. Once high above the clouds, bag in hand, he headed toward New Zealand.
New Zealand — November 1992
Clark was staring at her grave. There hadn't been time to erect a headstone just yet, but he didn't need that kind of marker to know which one was hers. Tears ran down his cheeks as he told Donna how sorry he was that he hadn't been there for her when she really needed him.
He stood looking down at the grave and could almost feel Donna's presence. He told her of all the things that had happened since their last letter and how he was still looking for the one person he was meant to be with, the one she'd been convinced was out there somewhere.
After he was finished telling her all of this, he stood for a few minutes remembering all the good times they'd had together. The picnic when he'd discovered how fast he could really fly when he needed to. Their exploration of Dunedin together — the Octagon in the centre of town and Taiaroa Head on the peninsula. He wished he'd had the courage to tell her the whole truth that time he'd proved his invulnerability to her in the fire of the common room at the hostel. She would have understood. Now he'd never be able to correct that omission. He stood and let the tears fall down his cheeks, regret gnawing at his insides.
Finally he whispered his last goodbye to her and walked away from her grave.
He was almost at the gate to the cemetery when he thought he heard his name. He turned to see who was calling him, but there was no one there. He'd heard that this kind of thing happened to grieving people. He'd never felt grief like this before. He hoped he wouldn't again — for a very long time.
Borneo — November 1992
Clark was standing opposite the offices of the Borneo Gazette. This didn't strike him as the place he'd finally settle down, but he wanted to work again. His grief was still gnawing at him. He needed to keep busy to stop the pain.
After visiting Donna's grave, he'd moved on to Australia and then New Guinea, just wandering around, trying to keep his mind off Donna and his failure to help her when she needed him the most.
He toured through the remote regions of New Guinea and visited the tribes in the Yolngu villages. He was envious of these people's ability to reduce stress by the simple means of chewing a local herbal leaf to bring them to a meditative state. Nothing like that ever helped him. Using their meditation regimen as a guide, Clark started practising the yoga meditation routines he'd learned on other trips to the East on a daily basis, and found that they did indeed reduce his stress and help cushion the grief.
After he'd been in New Guinea for a couple of weeks, he'd heard that the Borneo Gazette was looking for an experienced reporter. So here he was to apply for the job.
It was yet again another contract position. This time he was assistant to the wildlife editor. Clark liked the job; he got to visit all parts of the island, and the editor gave him free reign in writing his stories, within certain parameters.
On one of his trips to the mountains, he'd been caught in a monsoon and had flown home, hoping that the rain would act as cover if anyone was looking. Unfortunately, as it turned out, one of the tribe's medicine men had seen him and was now declaring him to be a new god. No one had connected this "golden god" with Clark just yet (he'd been wearing yellow slacks and a yellow T-shirt), but he was afraid it was only a matter of time.
By the end of January, Clark was almost happy that his contract was coming to an end. He was tired of being the novelty simply because he was an American abroad. The effort in trying to hide his "special" talents was also starting to tire him.
He really needed to move on. He thought long and hard about where to go next but finally decided to go back home. He wanted to be someplace where he wasn't so much of an outsider. He'd always be different no matter where he was, but at least in Smallville he'd feel a little more like he belonged.
The loss of Donna had made him stop and think hard about what his life was like and what he wanted his life to become. He was tired of being "different." Maybe if he went back to the States he'd feel a little less like an outsider, not so much a stranger in a strange land. Maybe then he could figure out how he could use the skills he had without losing himself in the process. He wanted a good job, one where he had a chance to stay and make a contribution, and steady money would be nice too. And, finally, of course, he wanted to find a woman he could love and have a relationship with, and maybe even have children with. This last he figured was just a dream, but it gave him something to aim toward.
Kansas — February 1993
Clark stood at the end of the driveway and just looked at the farm house. It represented so much to him — love, security and acceptance. It was home! He swung his suitcase happily at his side as he strode up the driveway. He could have flown right onto the porch, but he'd wanted to savour the moment of arrival as long as possible.
He could hear Mom humming in the kitchen and Dad tinkering with the tractor in the barn. It felt *so* good to be home.
He stepped up on the porch and knocked on the door. He could hear his Mom drying her hands and walking to the door. She almost moved at the speed of light when she saw who was there.
"Clark! Oh, Clark!" They hugged and he swung her around as they both laughed.
"Clark, why didn't you tell us you were coming home today? I could have made all your favourite foods." Mom gave him a mock severe look. He grinned back. "Oh! Your Dad. Go to the barn and get him! This is no time to be messing around with tractors." She shooed him away.
Clark knew she was getting rid of him so she could rush around the house to make sure everything was perfect for his homecoming. He walked into the barn and snuck up behind his Dad who was kneeling beside the tractor. "Hi, Dad."
Jon dropped the tool he'd been using and jumped up to give his son a bear hug. "Clark, does your mother know you're home, yet? She's going to fry you alive for not telling us which day you'd be here."
"It's okay, Dad, she knows." Clark felt himself grinning from ear to ear. He was so happy to be here and with these people. He'd missed them more than he'd thought he ever could.
Clark helped his father finish fixing the tractor, at "special" speed so Mom wouldn't fuss at the time they were wasting.
Somehow, Mom had managed to put together everything he liked to eat at a moment's notice. Over dinner, they applauded Clark on his new "look," and he brought them up to date on what he'd been doing since their last phone conversation from Borneo. They knew about Donna's death, but he hadn't told them about Dee. Mom was supportive but, as usual, Dad fussed about people finding Clark out.
Clark went into town the next morning to see some of his friends at the malt shop and to just savour being home again. During his third chocolate shake, Mazie told him that Mr. Isaacs had suffered a heart attack and they were looking for a temporary editor for the Smallville Press while he recovered.
Once he was finished with his shake, Clark walked over to the newspaper offices to ask after Mr. Isaacs. Jim Fairmont was so glad to see Clark — he was having one heck of a time trying to be writer, editor and publisher all in one. He asked Clark to be a temporary editor for a few weeks.
Clark wanted some time to think about his future, and this seemed like a good way to keep his hand in and yet know that he'd have other options in the near future. He accepted.
Kansas — March 1993
Clark was busy with his editing chores at the Smallville Post but still had more than enough time to help Dad around the farm, in between bouts of fretting about his future.
He got back together with his high school and college friends and had a good time. However, somehow they seemed to be from a different world than himself. His travels had put a rift between them. They were focused on the here and now, and he was concentrating on the world and the future. This scared him. He'd thought being "home" would make him feel like he belonged, but he felt more alienated now than he had during his travels.
Nevertheless, the main benefit to being in Smallville was that he could talk things over with Mom and Dad. There was a warm familiarity about small-town life that made him feel like he belonged, but he knew that he couldn't stay here too much longer. He knew, now, that he didn't really belong in Smallville anymore.
Kansas — April 1993
Mr. Isaacs was back at the Smallville Press. He asked Clark to help out for a couple of weeks, but Clark knew he'd have to find himself another job.
He'd spent a lot of his visit home thinking through his options for the future. He had come to the conclusion he wanted to move to a big city. After visiting places like Toronto, London and Tokyo, he'd decided that a big city meant a better chance at anonymity. Besides, he liked being in cities — they had so much vibrancy, and there were lots of opportunities to help. He also wanted to stay in the United States. He'd liked visiting places around the world, but he wanted to live someplace where he fit in, *if* he could hide his "special" abilities.
He talked it over with Mom and Dad. Mom suggested Chicago; her Aunt Hilda was there and he'd have family close by. Dad wasn't keen on the idea of Clark moving to *any* city. He just thought that a city would allow more chances for Clark to get caught and put in a lab.
Clark considered moving to Los Angeles. However, he rejected that idea because in the brief time he'd been there, it seemed almost as foreign as some of the more exotic places he'd been. He didn't think he could make a home there. He wanted to settle down, plant some roots and maybe form a family. Los Angeles hadn't impressed him as a place to do any of that.
He remembered Aunt Hilda in Chicago. She was extremely inquisitive, and he doubted he could keep his secret from her if he was living in the same city, no matter how far apart they were. So that nixed the idea of moving to Chicago.
New York was an option, but his application to work at the Times had come back with a badly Xeroxed rejection notice. He wanted to work someplace where you weren't just another number.
That left Metropolis as the most likely place. The Daily Planet was there, and it was the kind of world-class newspaper that he wanted to work for. Besides, one of their staff kept winning all the awards, so they must be doing something right.
He didn't want to make the same mistake he'd made with the New York Times, however, and cold call The Daily Planet. He needed an introduction. He vaguely remembered that Professor Carlton knew one of the editors there. He decided to make an appointment to visit his former professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and get his advice regarding his career.
Clark walked up Jayhawk Boulevard from the Union building, gazing at the Collegiate Gothic and Romanesque- style buildings gracing both sides of the street, and watching the squirrels cavort along the tree-lined boulevard. The red roofs and yellow limestone walls brought memories of his days at the journalism school flooding back. He walked slowly, savouring the sounds and sights around him. As he entered the Quad, the campanile sounded the quarter of the hour. He stood in front of Stauffer-Flint Hall for a few minutes, remembering the journalism classes taken there, and the friends he'd made. Everything had seemed so simple then.
Clark ducked flying frisbees as he crossed the Quad and entered the building. It only took a couple of seconds to re-orient himself and locate Professor Carlton's office. The interior of Stauffer-Flint Hall hadn't changed much since he'd graduated.
Professor Carlton was happy to see Clark. He had followed Clark's progress and was more than glad to support Clark's bid to get a job at The Daily Planet. However, before he wrote the letter of introduction to Perry White, he wanted to see some of Clark's recent work. Clark handed over the story he'd written about Caribbean gun running, an article from his Ottawa Journal days that now seemed like they were in the ancient past, the story about Dee's almost assassination and an article he'd written about the knob- tailed gecko for the Borneo Gazette. Professor Carlton read them all while they drank coffee together in his office. He was shaking his head over the last one.
"Clark, this is a wonderful exposition on wildlife in Borneo as it parallels human development. Whatever made you give this article a title like 'Mating rituals of the knob- tailed gecko'?"
Clark sighed. "The editor was a stickler for keeping 'smut' out of his newspaper. The only way you could get anything 'racy' past him was to make it sound as deadly dull as possible. Do you think I should leave that out of my samples?"
"No … no, it's a very well-written piece. Anyone who takes the time to read it will recognize its worth. Keep it in." Professor Carlton flipped through the other material. "I'd leave out the Journal stuff; it's too pedestrian. Not your fault, that's the kind of job you had there. I'd keep the other samples, but they're not as well written as the Borneo one. Then, of course, it's your most recent as well. I'd present the samples in reverse date order, that way anyone interested can see the progress you've made over the years." He handed the bundle of samples back to Clark.
"So you've been acting as editor for the Smallville Post? How is old Isaacs, anyway? I haven't seen him in ages." Professor Carlton reminisced about his early days in journalism and then when the clock chimed, excused himself saying he had a lecture. Clark stood and thanked him for all his help.
"I'll write that letter to Perry White tomorrow and send you a copy so you know it's been mailed. Just let me know when your interview is and I'll make a follow up call to him."
"Thank you, sir. I really appreciate your help."
"No problem, Clark. You always had the potential to become a fine journalist." With that, Professor Carlton shook Clark's hand and strode out of the room.
Clark followed the professor into the hallway and went down the stairs. On his way out of Stauffer-Flint Hall, crossing the quad, Clark almost knocked a young woman over.
"Clark! Clark Kent! Well, I never!"
Clark searched through his memory for a connection and finally had it. "Lori? Lori Calumet! What on earth are you doing here?"
"Finishing my degree. And, actually, it's Lori Cain now, but what are *you* doing here?"
"Visiting Professor Carlton to get a reference." Clark and Lori were being jostled by students changing classes.
"If you're not busy, maybe we could have coffee and catch up on old times?" Lori offered.
"Sure. Where? I see that Union's under construction. Do you want to go to La Prima Tazza? I haven't had a cappuccino like that since I graduated."
"Sure, La Prima Tazza would be great."
Clark led her through the construction maze in the Union building down to the public parking, where he'd parked Mom's car for the duration. He opened the passenger's door until Lori had entered, closed the door and then got in on the driver's side.
"So, are there any more major changes I should be aware of, or is it the usual route to Mass Street?" Clark started the engine.
"The usual route. Nothing's changed on Mass Street since Noah." Lori grinned.
Clark drove them down Mass and found a parking place very close to La Prima Tazza coffee shop. He wasn't quite quick enough to open the passenger door for Lori to get out of the car.
Once seated in La Prima Tazza with sweet buns and cappuccinos between them, Clark and Lori caught up on the intervening years and Clark's plans to move to Metropolis.
"You know, Clark, I had the *biggest* crush on you in my freshman year, but you didn't even know I existed. I'm not sure why I'm still talking to you." Lori grinned to counter the criticism in her words.
"Well, in first year I was having major girlfriend problems. I probably wouldn't have noticed a solar eclipse that year." Clark grinned back. Not to mention that he'd just learned to fly and he'd found that kind of overwhelming.
"Oh, right. Lana Lang. I forgot about her. Besides, that summer I met John and in the fall you'd changed, like something major had happened to you that summer. I heard Lana and you broke up, I guess that was it." Lori took another bite out of her beignet.
"I guess. You didn't come back after second year. What happened?" Clark picked up his third cruller and took a bite.
"Clark Kent, I don't know how you do it! You eat sweet buns like there's no tomorrow and still look like sugar and fat have never passed your lips." She paused for a second, looking thoughtful. "To answer your question, I got pregnant and got married. The kids are in school now, so I'm back finishing my degree."
"Oh!" Clark was surprised. He hadn't even heard any rumours about why she'd left. "Yes, I guess having kids would certainly put a roadblock in the way of finishing. Must have been tough to have to stop part way through. Do you ever wish you'd planned it better?"
Lori looked at him skeptically. "Clark! You are even more controlled now than I remember! You can't plan *everything* in life. That's not the way it is."
"Well, you have to try and plan. It makes life much easier."
Lori sighed. "Maybe, but then life gets kind of boring if it's all planned out. You really should loosen up more … be less compulsive … stop being so controlled. Have more fun."
"I'm not *that* controlled." If he were more controlled he wouldn't keep making those stupid mistakes that forced him to leave each new place he went.
"Yes, Clark, you are! You seem to want to plan *everything* in your life. I can't see you getting yourself in trouble, let alone any girl. You just aren't like that. Have you ever just gone out and got blind drunk, or done something dumb just for the hell-of-it?"
"Well, I played hooky from school a few times." Clark wasn't going to tell her how he'd tried to get blind drunk after leaving Donna's grave, and failed miserably because alcohol just didn't affect him. He'd wanted to become oblivious to the pain so badly, and couldn't. On the other hand, it was just as well that he couldn't — without restraints he'd be lethal!
Lori rolled her eyes. "Like I said, you just don't have it in you. You're just too much of a goody-two-shoes."
Clark sighed. What choice did he have? He couldn't just do whatever he wanted! He could *hurt* people! "I'll put it in my agenda. 'Try to loosen up!' Would that work?" He gave her a lopsided grin, to show he was kidding.
Lori patted his hand. "Don't plan it, just do it." She looked at her watch. "I have a class now. It's been nice talking again, Clark. I hope your job interview goes well."
"Do you want a lift back to the campus?" Clark stood to leave with her.
"No, that's fine. There's a bus due in a couple of minutes. You just relax and finish your cappuccino."
"Hope your year goes well," Clark called after Lori as she grabbed her backpack and rushed from the shop to catch the bus.
Clark stared after her. Her assessment of him was brutal, if accurate. He *was* over-controlled. What she didn't know was that he *had* to be, if he wanted to be able to live with his conscience.
He finished his cappuccino and left to walk along Mass Street. Nothing much had changed. As he passed Dean's Half Price Books, he ducked in to see what they had. There wasn't anything of real interest for him there, so he continued his walk along the street. He walked through the park area across from the courthouse and dropped into J. Hood's Booksellers. It was a nice old bookstore that resembled some of the comfortable old bookstores he'd visited in London. He picked up a Chinese cook book, in Chinese, and a reasonably clean hardback copy of C.S. Lewis' "The Last Battle" to round out his Narnia collection.
He crossed the street and dropped into Mass Street Music to see if they had anything he was interested in. He'd collected a lot of music from around the world but liked browsing here. It brought back memories of the nicer parts of his college days. He picked up a tape of Taoist music he could use to help with meditation as well as provide background for his Tai Chi practice.
Clark drove back to the farm and tried to avoid thinking about what he'd do if the Daily Planet interview didn't pan out. There were other newspapers. He'd just have to keep trying.
About a week later he got the copy of Professor Carlton's letter to Perry White at the Daily Planet. Clark wrote a letter of application to the editor, requesting an interview.
It was another two weeks before he got the reply from Mr. White. He had an interview at 11 a.m., Wednesday, May 12, 1993, with Perry White, Editor-in-Chief, fourth floor newsroom, Daily Planet building, Metropolis, New Troy.
Clark could hardly wait! He phoned Professor Carlton to tell him the good news.
Metropolis — May 1993
Clark flew himself to Metropolis. Following his normal routine when arriving at a new place, he landed near the airport and took local transit to the centre of town. He had a map of Metropolis and knew that he would have about a two- block walk from the #36 bus route to the Daily Planet building.
As he got off the bus, he set his suitcase down and gazed about. He saw the bustle of the crowds, smelled the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee from sidewalk cappuccino vendors, heard the roar and rumble of traffic in the big city, and loved it all.
Suddenly, he sensed a disturbing sound in the hurly- burly around him. Looking up the hill, he saw a bus weaving out of control. The brakes had failed and the bus was heading directly for a crowd of unsuspecting pedestrians crossing the street with the light. With only a cursory glance at the surrounding people, Clark stepped in front of the bus and stopped it before it hit the oblivious pedestrians. When he removed his hand there remained a hand print in the metal on the front of the bus.
Clark cringed — he hadn't been here five minutes and already he'd messed up! One of the pedestrians kept trying to tell the others what he'd done, so Clark dodged back to the sidewalk, picked up his suitcase and merged with the crowd. He'd have to be more careful if he wanted to settle down here.
He turned the corner, and there before him was the famous Daily Planet globe over the newspaper's big front door. It took Clark's breath away. He stared at the building, trying to sense if this was the place for him. He couldn't tell from just the bricks and mortar, but it didn't make him feel bad. He hefted the suitcase again and crossed into the Daily Planet building.
In the lobby was a small coffee counter and a newsstand. There were art-deco style brass elevator doors on the left. Clark took the first one, even though it was packed. He wanted to get the feel of the people here. Most just stood and watched the floor buttons change but a couple of people were chattering on about some crazy man who'd burst into the newsroom earlier. A shrill voice commented, "That's Lois Lane for you, she always draws the nutcases out of the woodwork."
Lois Lane, that was the woman who won all the awards. She must have been in the business for years to have done everything she'd accomplished so far. He wondered if she'd be interesting to talk to, or would she be such an old warhorse who you wouldn't be surprised to find she spit nails.
The elevator stopped at the fourth floor. It was nice to be able to know the fourth floor was actually four floors up, instead of five like in England. He must be getting nervous; he only thought of those kinds of picky details when he was under stress. He took a deep breath to calm himself.
He needed it. The noise and bustle of the newsroom was horrendous. The other papers he'd been at seemed almost reserved by comparison.
He asked a passing staffer where he'd find Perry White and was directed to a glassed-in office across the far side of the bedlam below him.
As he walked across the newsroom to the office, he noticed Lois Lane's nameplate on a desk with files and notes piled all over it, and a dead plant in one corner. It didn't look like the desk of a prize-winning reporter. He'd expected more status symbols, like an enclosed office and a case for her awards.
He knocked on Mr. White's door and entered when commanded. Perry White was on the phone, but he indicated that Clark should sit.
When he got off the phone, he said, "So, Mr. … ?"
"Kent. Clark Kent." Clark swallowed nervously as Mr. White studied his resume.
"Yes. Kent. Professor Carlton called me about you. Haven't seen him in … let's see … editor of the Smallville Press … that's … ?"
The intercom on the desk buzzed. Barely listening to the message, Perry White yelled into the receiver instructions about rearranging lunch. Clark was beginning to get a bad feeling about this interview. Mr. White didn't seem to be interested in making time to properly interview him.
Then to Clark's surprise, Mr. White said, with a sigh, "I bought a blood pressure monitor last week, you believe it?"
Clark realized the man was going into stress-overload. He decided to make a suggestion. "Paava leaves."
"The Yolngu tribe in New Guinea eat paava leaves to relieve stress … puts them in a meditative state. Maybe you should try it."
"Uh-huh. Sounds like you've done some travelling."
Clark felt a bit more relaxed — finally they were talking about him. He nodded. "Well, it *is* my first time in Metropolis."
Clark handed over his portfolio of sample work, in reverse chronological order. "I brought some samples of my work."
Mr. White seemed a little taken aback by his preparedness. "Well, let's take a look … " He raised his eyebrows as he read the first in the portfolio, "The Borneo Gazette? 'Mating rituals of the knob-tailed gecko'?" Mr. White looked up from the portfolio, clearly dismissing it.
Clark's heart sank. The way the man spoke he wasn't going to read the article, just judge it by its title.
"Look, Kent, I'm sure these stories are fascinating, but this is the Daily Planet, the greatest newspaper in the world! Our people are dedicated servants of the fourth estate who deal routinely with matters of international significance."
Before Clark could say anything in his defence, the office door behind him burst open and a young man entered and tossed a set of keys onto Mr. White's desk. He explained in detail how he'd fixed a golf cart while Mr. White tried to make him leave.
Clark sensed that this Jimmy person had taken one look at him and dismissed him as irrelevant, which was probably a reflection of how his prospective boss felt too.
"*Not now!*" Perry White finally got the young man to stop talking. Jimmy shrugged and exited, closing the door.
Mr. White turned his attention back to Clark, "As I was saying, I just don't think that … "
Clark's stomach clenched. He was going to be rejected because this man was too busy to give him his full attention.
Then the office door flew open again. How on earth did this man get anything done? No wonder he had high blood pressure!
Then Clark saw her. She was absolutely beautiful and vivacious, with the most endearing frown on her face. Clark was in a daze as he rose to his feet. Who was this? He had to get to know her, he just had to.
"Chief, I think there's a story here and we should check this guy out. The crazy one this morning? His name is Samuel Platt and he was an engineer at EPRAD for ten years. He's … " She even had a beautiful voice.
Mr. White was annoyed at being interrupted in the middle of his rejection speech, yet again. "Can't you see I'm in the middle of something here?"
"Oh," she said, but still stood her ground. She was looking at Mr. White resolutely and Clark wished with all his heart that she'd look at him.
Mr. White seemed resigned to her determination and, remembering his manners, made the introductions: "Lois Lane, Clark Kent."
This was *her*, *the* Lois Lane, and she wasn't an old warhorse — she was stunning!
"Nice to meet you." She almost ran the words together as if they were the means to finishing her conversation with Mr. White. This was confirmed when she barely glanced in his direction and continued her speech to the editor, "Anyway, this guy worked on the Messenger. He — "
Mr. White looked even more annoyed. "Lois, what happened to that mood piece I gave you? The razing of that old theatre on Forty-second?"
"I wasn't in the 'mood.'"
Clark was charmed. Not only beautiful and good at her job, but she had wit as well. Clark felt himself smiling.
"Now listen here, Lois, I … " Mr. White might as well have not spoken, because Jimmy knocked on the glass office wall and signalled that Lois had a phone call.
"Gotta run. Catch you later, Chief." And she was gone.
Mr. White was shaking his head. "If that woman wasn't one of the best damn investigative reporters I've ever seen, I'd … " He then seemed to remember what he'd been doing before he got interrupted and turned his attention back to Clark. "Look, Kent, you seem like an intelligent guy, but you can't just walk in here with this kind of resume and expect a job."
Clark felt deflated. He wasn't going to work here. And he'd probably never see that wonderful woman again. He tried to plead his case, "Mr. White. I know I lack experience, but I'm a hard worker and a good writer. I … "
Mr. White reiterated, "Kent. I haven't got anything for you."
With a sinking heart, Clark went through the motions. "Thank you, sir. I appreciate your taking the time to see me." He stood and shook Mr. White's hand. His brain was in a turmoil. How could he change this man's mind?
Clark walked slowly over to the elevator. He looked down into the bullpen of activity. He could see Lois Lane gesticulating as she talked on the phone. He had to figure out some way of getting a job here. The atmosphere was just right. He'd have no problem dodging Mr. White's attention if he had to do something "special" since the man was always so busy. And that woman … He wanted to work with her!
The elevator door opened and he stepped inside, just as Lois Lane dashed up the ramp toward the door. "Hold it!"
Clark held the door back for her. He was having trouble breathing. Clark tried not to stare at her, not that she would have noticed. She was too busy giving orders to the young man who'd followed her into the elevator, the one who'd fixed Mr. White's golf cart, while rummaging through her briefcase looking for something that she didn't find.
Jimmy kept saying, "Yes, Lois," and "No, Lois," which Clark soon decided was exactly the wrong stance to take with her. If he ever did get to work with her, he'd have to remember to be her straight man, not her "yes man". She obviously had no use for "yes men".
To Clark's regret, she bolted through the elevator doors as soon as they opened on the ground floor. She was in a taxi, with Jimmy in tow, pulling away from the curb by the time Clark got through the revolving doors onto the street. He stared after her until she was too far away for even him to see. Someone jostled him and told him to get a move on, he was blocking the sidewalk. Clark refocused his eyes back to "normal" strength. He turned back in the direction of his hotel.
The sight of a city bus reminded him that he'd already almost blown his cover. He'd have to be more careful if he intended to stick around here for any length of time.
He went back to the Hotel Apollo and called home, collect. Mom and Dad were sympathetic and offered him funds to tide him over. They couldn't keep doing this for him. He had to make a go of it this time, he just had to.
He flopped onto the iron bedstead that constituted the Apollo's idea of luxury sleeping accommodations and tried to think. The image of Lois Lane kept crossing his mind and colliding with the feeling of failure at the end of the interview with Mr. White. If he could get a job at the Planet, he'd have everything that he wanted in life. But how was he going to convince Mr. White to hire him? He'd been very definite that there wasn't a job for Clark.
There was no point in lying here and moping, he decided to go out and see some of the city. After all, it was his first visit here and he should see what it had to offer. With this laudable goal in mind, he went out into the teeming streets of Metropolis.
He stopped at a newsstand and bought a Daily Planet. He wanted to find out what was happening in Metropolis, and he had to admit he wanted to read Lois Lane's work.
He'd read her articles before and had the impression they were written by a tough, austere woman of indefinite age. Now that he'd met her, he saw her writing in a new light. She was tough, yes, but she had a sensitivity that kind of seeped through now and then. Her writing was admittedly austere, the exact opposite of his own natural writing style; but he recognized it was the right style for the kind of stories that she investigated.
They had nothing in common, so why was he so taken with her? She didn't even look like the kind of woman he'd thought beautiful. He'd almost always been attracted to blondes before. He shrugged off this conundrum and began looking through the want ads for jobs. There ended up not being anything he could apply for.
He folded up the newspaper and with it under his arm walked around the streets of downtown Metropolis, drinking in the atmosphere of one of the biggest cities in the world. He walked along the banks of the river and admired the myriad of architectural styles in the city. As dark descended, he watched the crowds heading for the theatre district and dodged block-long limousines with stars of stage and screen behind the tinted glass, some of whom he actually recognized from major motion pictures he'd seen.
Eventually he was back in front of the Daily Planet, staring at the globe. He knew he'd have to go back to his hotel room soon, but there was nothing to do there. He'd be climbing the walls within an hour.
Just as he was about to turn down the street to the Apollo Hotel, he saw Lois Lane exit through the revolving doors of the Daily Planet. She looked tired but walked purposefully toward the nearest transit station. She must be going home.
Clark watched her, using his "special" vision to see down to the train platform as she boarded the train marked Carter Street. He wondered what kind of place she lived in. Did she live alone? His heart froze as he realized she might already be in a relationship. He forced himself to relax. No one that intensely involved in their job would have a loving significant other waiting for them at home. Besides, what difference did it make? She wasn't interested in him … Not yet, anyway.
Not yet? He must be delusional. Try "Not ever," Kent.
Stuffing his hands in his pants pockets, he walked back to the hotel. Why was he daydreaming about a mythical relationship with someone he'd only met for a few seconds? He should be practical and try to figure out how he was going to get a job. *Then* he could think about trying to fill the other parts of his dream.
He walked past a crater in the ground that had once been a building and now had a sign informing the world at large that a parking garage was going to be built at this location by the Fall of 1991. Seeing as how it was May 1993 now, the funding must have fallen through. It made him wonder why they kept tearing down buildings only to leave the land idle. Why not renovate them and put them to good use? Like that old theatre that Mr. White had wanted Lois Lane to do a piece on. Why Mr. White would want someone with her writing style to do a mood piece, Clark couldn't divine. He grinned at the memory of Lois' comeback that she wasn't in the mood.
He walked up the steps of the Apollo Hotel and after checking his mailbox went up to his room. His stay here couldn't go much past the week he'd paid for. Once the week was up he'd have to go back home if he didn't have a definite job in sight. He flopped on the bed and read the rest of the newspaper until the flickering light drove him to fixing it. He stared at the four walls, and as predicted in no time at all he was walking the walls for something to do. His life seemed as barren as that empty lot he'd passed earlier.
Flopping back onto the bed, face down, he buried his face in his arms. He needed a job! He wanted a job at the Daily Planet! After he'd read the entire paper cover to cover he'd found the only article by Lois Lane was a follow- up article on her uncovering the car-theft ring. He'd wanted to see what she did with the "mood" piece. Let's face it, he wanted to see her again.
The mood piece! His head jerked up. She still hadn't done the story that Perry White wanted — probably didn't intend to do it, unless she was forced to, if Clark was any judge of character. Mr. White wanted the story. He, Clark, was *good* at that kind of story. Tomorrow he'd try to find that theatre and see what he could dig up about its fate. If he could find the right mood for the piece … and could actually get Mr. White to read his work … then maybe … just maybe … he'd get a job there. And after that, who knew what might happen!
Clark felt a great relief. He had a plan. With any luck at all he'd have the job he wanted, then he could start on figuring out how he could accomplish the other dreams he had for his life.
He wanted this to be the last time he had to run out of town because he'd blown his cover. He wanted to settle down. He wanted to get to know Lois Lane. He had to figure out some way to stay here, to use his "special" talents to help people and yet lead a normal life.
Well, one step at a time. First, get the job at the Daily Planet. If he could do that, then anything was possible. After all, less than a year ago he hadn't been able to cut his own hair and now he looked like any ordinary guy. He'd found the solution when it counted, he'd be able to do it again. He just had to be open to anything that might help him solve the problem, no matter how disconnected it seemed at the time.
Clark lay his head back down on the pillow. He would find a way to stay, he *knew* he would! Because, *inside*, he knew this city, this newspaper … no, he should be honest with himself … this *woman* was fundamentally the *right* one for him.
Not really the end! It's destined to be the beginning of "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" :)