Submitted March 1, 1998
Summary: Why are the married Lois and Clark going on a singles' cruise? Trouble in paradise? No (okay, there's always a little friction), just hot on the trail of a killer … with a little time for romance, too. Guest appearances by Ralph and everyone's favorite DEA agent.
This story is for Rachel, AKA Penny Irksome (hee hee) who wanted me to write a story to her scenario, so here it is.
"That's the situation as it stands, boys and girls. There's a butcher out there making mincemeat of single women he finds at typical 'singles' functions."
"I know," Clark sighed. "Even Superman says he can't get a handle on the guy. He's been keeping an eye on singles clubs, bars and dating services but has come up empty."
"It's not just Superman," Lois added, giving Clark a reassuring look. "The police have been staking out the same places all over town, but this guy seems to slip right past them."
"Not enough man power," Ralph shrugged. "There's thousands of singles joints in Metropolis. Believe me, I know."
Perry grinned. "Is that knowledge from research or empirical in nature, son?"
Ralph frowned, "Empirical?"
Lois put a hand on Ralph's back. "The chief wants to know if you ran research on all the singles 'joints' in town, or if your knowledge comes from the personal experience of striking out in all of them."
"Not…all of them," Ralph said, straightening his undersized jacket. "I still have about 200 I haven't given a break yet."
Jimmy shook his head and smiled. "Chief, if this is some kind of undercover assignment, I'm volunteering."
"Well, I do have an undercover assignment in mind, Jimmy."
"Isn't that a pretty big long shot, Chief," Clark offered.
"I agree, Perry," Lois sighed. "The odds of one of us hitting up a singles club and getting lucky…um…I mean being at the same bar this guy hits up, aren't terribly good."
"I agree. That's why I'm narrowing the odds," Perry smiled, and held up a broadside advertising the launch of Titanic II.
Lois grabbed up the garish advertisement. "This is the tackiest thing I've ever seen!" she said, and began reading aloud, "'Experience the singles fantasy of a lifetime on the high seas! With free setups in all 18 bars on board, the seas have never been higher! Join us on the *steer*age deck for the best all-you-can eat barbecue buffet! Grab a life preserver and join us in one of 75 hot tubs! If this ship hits an iceberg, it's only to create our world famous SOS daiquiris! Don't miss the maiden voyage of Titanic II (maidens welcome but experience preferred)'." Lois tossed the offending poster onto the table. "Perry, you can't be serious."
"75 hot tubs!" Ralph said, his eyes slightly glazed.
"As a heart attack, Lois. You, Clark and Olsen will have cabins fairly close together."
"Yes!" Jimmy shouted, pulling his fist through the air.
Ralph rose from his chair. "What about me?"
"'Cabins'? Plural?" Clark asked, obviously unhappy with the turn of events.
"It's a singles cruise, Kent."
"What about me?"
"Perry, couldn't Clark and I play singles who meet and move fast?"
"What about me!"
"Ralph, I've already got two reporters on the ship and a photographer, so you'd just be—"
"An expert on the Titanic!"
"How's that, son?"
"I know all about the Titanic, and it's not imperial knowledge either. It's all research."
"He might be a good front man for us, Chief," Lois suggested.
"She's right, Perry. If we have an 'official' reporter from the Planet covering the cruise laying some background on the original Titanic, then—"
"Then if the killer decides to take the cruise, he won't suspect there's other reporters on board." Perry nodded thoughtfully. "Okay, Ralph, you're on."
"Thank you, Mr. White!"
"Thank Kent," Perry said. "It was his suggestion, so you'll be sharing his cabin since I can't book another one this late."
"Now wait a minute!" Clark protested.
"Chief, to be fair it was *my* suggestion," Lois said, and then regretted the statement instantly.
"Ooh," Ralph purred, and slicked back the phantom hair atop his head.
Clark sighed loudly. "What's wrong with Lois and I sharing a cabin? I mean who's really going to know, Chief?"
"No chance," Perry said. "This guy we're looking for is smart, and he preys on *single* women, Clark. If he sniffs around and finds out Lois is sharing a cabin with a man, he'll back off."
Clark folded his arms. "That's another thing. This puts Lois too much at risk."
"Hold it!" Lois interrupted. "I can take care of myself, Clark."
"This man is a killer, Lois."
"I've held my own with all—"
"Time out!" Perry shouted. "Lois's cabin will be wired and monitored at all times from the adjoining cabin."
"A cop is going to be peeping on me?"
"Not exactly a cop, Lois," Perry soothed.
Lois shook her head. "Then what?"
Everyone turned and faced the man who entered the conference room. "Scardino?" Clark's eyes instantly narrowed. "Why do we need a DEA agent?"
"I've got a gun and a badge if it makes you feel better, Kent," he said and shot a smile to Lois that contained more teeth than the average great white shark. "You look even more beautiful than I remember, Lois."
"She's also more *married* than you remember." Clark said, and put a possessive arm around Lois's shoulders.
"*Happily* married, Dan," Lois added, suppressing a smile over Clark's testosterone posturing.
"I'm sensing a little history here," Ralph said.
Jimmy leaned backward toward Ralph and whispered, "Lois and Scardino used to date, but she dumped him for CK."
"Even better," Ralph smiled. "Bad blood."
"The DEA booked passage for Agent Scardino because there was a tip about a synthetic drug being transported on the Titanic replica."
Scardino shrugged. "With me already on board, your boss asked if I'd keep an eye on Lois, and I can't think of anything that would make a cruise more pleasant."
Lois glanced at Perry. "How did you know the DEA had been tipped off?"
"Because the tip was phoned into the Planet first," Jimmy said, sounding rather proud. "I took the call."
"Ah," Clark nodded, and raised his eyebrows in a manner Lois had come to know as Clark's 'gotcha' mode. "So what *really* happened is that Perry phoned the DEA about the tip, Scardino recognized the name, and just *happened* to volunteer for the assignment."
"Hey, I didn't have to volunteer. This assignment called for the best, and so this was a job for—"
"Superman," Clark interrupted. "He could just x-ray the cargo, find the drugs…problem solved."
"As much as I'd love to have Superman as my drug-sniffing partner, it isn't just about finding the drugs, Kent. I have to find out where they came from and who's picking them up." Scardino shrugged. "I'll be spending a lot of time rifling cargo."
"Wait a minute," Clark protested. "If you're busy 'rifling' cargo, who'll be watching Lois?"
Jimmy quickly grabbed Ralph's raised hand and lowered it. "CK's not in the mood for jokes," he whispered.
"Relax, Kent," Scardino said. "Whenever Lois is in her cabin, I'll be at my monitors. When she leaves, I'll be checking out the cargo or catching a nap. I assume you can keep an eye on your wife the rest of the time."
"Since I obviously have no voice in this other than the 'helpless female'," Lois said, and began walking for the door. "I'll go home and pack."
"Maybe it'll be *nice* to be single for a few days." Lois slammed the door with sufficient force to cause a map of Metropolis to tumble from the wall.
"Well," Scardino said, cutting through the momentary silence. "I *definitetly* remember her temper."
"Just means she's passionate," Ralph said as he pulled a piece of fried chicken from a greasy sack. "She's probably a real wildcat when she makes—"
Clark's palms slapped down heavily on the tabletop just in front of Ralph who was suddenly finding it hard to swallow the chicken. "You weren't going to make a very personal comment about my wife, were you, Ralph?"
Ralph only managed to shake his head since he could not convince the food in his throat to commit to a direction.
"Good," Clark smiled, and then turned his face to Scardino. "Because I'd sure hate for you to be the first casualty registered by the Titanic in over eighty years."
"Uh, Clark," Perry said, stepping in. "Maybe you'd better go home and get some packing done too."
"Sure, Perry," Clark said, and smiled in a fashion that
indicated his flash of indignation was more theatrical than hostile, and though 'smug' was rarely an adjective that would apply to Clark Kent, there was no other way to describe the expression on his face when he glanced back at Scardino before exiting. "For what it's worth," he said, "Ralph is *so* right."
Everyone arrived at the dock in separate cabs. All except Clark and his 'roommate' Ralph of course. The latter was hanging his head out the window like a carsick beagle, and the former was yawning after spending most of the night trying to apologize to Lois.
"What a rip-off!" Ralph whined.
"Are you blind? Look at it!"
Clark sighed and lowered his gaze to look out Ralph's window. Though having seen some truly awe-inspiring sights in his travels, Clark's jaw dropped slightly as he caught a glimpse of the behemoth looming in the intermittent fog. "Incredible," he whispered. "That thing must be over a thousand feet long."
"1,029 feet," Ralph sighed, obviously disappointed.
"Are you saying it isn't a faithful replica?"
"No, at least from here it looks like an exact replica."
"Of the 'Normandie', Kent, *not* the Titanic. I mean geez, anyone could tell at a glance." Ralph cleared his throat. "Well, almost anyone. There's only three funnels for one thing."
Clark took another look. "You're right," he said, and to Ralph's surprise smiled. "I'm impressed Ralph, you really do know these old liners."
Ralph, a man who rarely received a compliment, found himself somewhat tongue-tied. "Well…I…I just love these old ships."
"6.50," the cab driver said.
"I've got it," Clark nodded.
"Okay, I'll get our bags and board the ship."
Clark paid the cabby and then approached the gangway slowly. The ship looked like a skyscraper at sea. Ralph, burdened down with luggage, breezed past carried forward by enthusiasm alone. "This is so cool!"
Clark shook his head and smiled. He placed his hands in his pockets and continued to stare at the magnificent anachronism of the Normandie replica. It boasted silently in the fog of an era of bygone elegance. A time when the world moved slower, love lasted longer and the closest thing to 'fast food' was a Coney Island hot-dog and a nickel beer.
Clark shook himself back to the present, "Hey, Jimmy. Got all the gear Perry wanted?"
"Sure, CK., but I was wondering…I mean—"
"Just say it, Jimmy."
Jimmy took a deep breath. "I was kind of worried. I mean you almost went totally postal on Ralph yesterday, and—"
Clark laughed loudly and patted Jimmy on the back. "That was mostly for show, Jimmy. Don't worry."
Jimmy sighed with relief. "Scardino?"
"I guess," Clark shrugged and resumed walking toward the ship. "The guy just…I don't know…he gets to me."
"Want some friendly advice?"
Clark smiled. He knew he'd get Jimmy's advice anyway, "Sure."
"Play it casual. Think L.L. Bean instead of GQ."
"You want me to wear flannel?"
It was Jimmy's turn to laugh. "You know what I mean. A casual attitude. Once a guy knows he's got control of your dashboard, he's gonna keep pushing your buttons."
Clark stopped walking and placed a restraining hand on Jimmy's shoulder. "Is it just me, or are you a bit more…well, metaphor enhanced today?"
"You noticed!" Jimmy replied, or 'gushed' might be more descriptive. He reached into a gear bag and pulled out a paperback and handed it to Clark. "Check it out, CK. It's the most amazing book I've ever read."
Clark glanced at the title: 'Moving Up the Food Chain: A Primer for Bottom Feeders'. Clark handed the book back. "Jimmy, you are *not* a 'bottom feeder'."
"Not now," he nodded. "Now that I've got this book."
"Jimmy, you don't need a book to—"
"Sorry, CK.," Jimmy interrupted and started running. "There's a blonde on the dock who desperately needs my phone number!"
Clark began walking again. "Bottom feeders?" He whispered and then raised his gaze and noticed Scardino leaning on the gangway talking to a man in his late fifties or early sixties dressed in a captain's uniform. Lois stood nearby, her arms folded, a stance Clark faced most of last night. He squared his shoulders and began to walk up the gangway. Since he wasn't supposed to know either of them, he felt just passing by them would be the best strategy. However, Scardino's glib patter grated on him, and when he heard him comment, "She's a beautiful replica of the Titanic," Clark could not resist saying, "She's a replica of the Normandie *not* the Titanic," as he passed by.
The captain's hand reached out and snagged Clark's coat. "How'd you know that, young man?"
"Lucky guess?" Scardino smiled.
Clark looked at the captain. "Some guys know their ships," he shrugged, and then looked at Scardino. "And some guys can't tell their ship from shinola."
The captain began to laugh so hard he had to hang onto Clark for support. When he finally got his wind back he clapped a hand on Clark's shoulder. "Son, how would you like to see the bridge and the wheelhouse?"
"Sounds great," Clark smiled. He wrapped his attitude in flannel, and disappeared up the gangway with the captain.
Lois smiled rather admiringly. "Point goes to Kent."
"I thought you were sore at him."
"I am," she said, and walked over next to Dan and leaned on the gangway railing. "But I'm also in love with him, and so I can't be *completely* blind to his charms."
"I still don't get why you chose Kent over me."
"If it makes you feel any better, Dan, I didn't 'choose' Clark over you," she said wistfully. "I was already in love with Clark, so it was no contest."
"Somehow that *doesn't* make me feel better." Scardino shook his head. "Tell me, is this one of those 'talk show' moments where a woman says she'll stay with a guy who cheats on her, or has kept some deep dark secret from her?"
Lois smiled. "I wouldn't stay with Clark if he cheated on me."
"Yet you went back to Kent even though nothing changed. He was still running out on you, leaving you stranded, not letting you finish a sentence, making you feel humiliated," Scardino said, counting the infractions off on his fingers. "At least that's what you cried on my shoulder about the first time we went out together."
"I also complained to *you* about *you*, Dan. You thought gifts could solve everything, you wouldn't tell me about your work, and you horned in on my date with Clark," Lois countered, mimicking Scardino's countdown.
"Touche. But why was Kent's mistreatment forgivable?" Scardino asked, and then swiftly brought up his index finger. "And if you say it's because you 'loved' him, then you're no different from the women on those talk shows."
Lois propped her elbows on the railing and leaned her head back gazing up at the mammoth ship. The rising fog now obscured the funnels. "I thought Clark was afraid. I wasn't sure if he was afraid of commitment, intimacy, or maybe of just falling in love, but I wanted to find out." She brought her gaze back down to Scardino. "I decided I needed to show him that *I* wanted to have a committed relationship with him."
"So you dumped me."
"Perfect," he nodded. "So if I want a woman to adore me, I just have to run out on her every time the conversation shifts to something important in our relationship."
To Scardino's surprise and despite obviously baiting Lois, she did not show the slightest flash of anger. "Actually," she smiled, "the only way it works is if the disappearing act is in total contradiction to the man's other qualities."
"Contradiction?" Scardino shook his head. "So, basically the guy just has to come across as Joe Romantic and he can pull the Houdini act over and over and the woman will forgive him because Houdini is a contradiction to Joe Romantic?"
"You just don't get it, Dan." Lois sighed. "It's not about *forgiveness*. It's about the woman finally realizing that running away is the last thing in the world he would do if he had a choice, and coming back to her is the only thing he lives for." She patted Dan on the shoulder. "Otherwise, you might as well be…Inspector Gadget."
Scardino watched with unabashed admiration as Lois walked up the gangway. "Wowsers."
Clark grumpily straightened his tie. It was time for the 'get acquainted' brunch. "Where's the grand salon, Ralph?"
Ralph whistled off key as he applied an aftershave that smelled a bit like a fresh mown lawn. "That would be the first class lounge. It's on the promenade deck."
"Thanks," he sighed.
"Hey, cheer up, Clark. I've been watching babes march up that gangplank all day. It's like Playboy having an army!" He slapped Clark on the back. "You know the old saying, you're married, not dead."
"Come on, man, let's make history," he said, and exited the cabin.
Clark took one last look in the mirror. "Waterloo," he whispered.
The grand salon was filled beyond capacity. All seats were occupied, and people were milling about in small groups everywhere. The overflow cluttered the promenade deck >from the lounge vestibule to the upper elevators. Clark was not really claustrophobic by nature, but with so many bodies in close quarters awash in perfume, aftershave, shampoo, deodorant, and breath spray spritzing intermittently like defective sprinklers, he felt all his senses were suffering an overload. Despite the discomfort he scanned the assembled men attending the brunch trying to memorize their faces, clothing and the women they were trying to impress.
It was obvious even at a glance that men outnumbered women two to one and that made keeping tabs all the more difficult. When alcohol was added to the mix, men who had been content earlier to simply out-posture a rival, began initiating shoving matches preceded by the customary shouts of profanity. Clark was pleased that there was a big show of security on the ship and nothing was allowed to get out of hand before a guard would step out of nowhere and escort a troublemaker away. He was actually hoping that the large security force would dissuade the killer from making a move, if in fact he had made this cruise at all.
After a few minutes Clark spotted Lois. She was surrounded by three hopefuls whose small talk ranged from what type of car they probably didn't drive to what they probably didn't do for a living. Clark was about to step closer when a tall redhead with green eyes blocked his path. "Don't I know you?" she asked.
"I don't think so," Clark said, still trying to key in on the men who surrounded Lois.
"Would you like to?"
Clark took a good look at the woman, and she was really very striking. That in itself made it seem odd that she would have to approach a man, unlike the other attractive women who seemed to have to fend them off. "Well, I guess that's the point of this cruise, isn't it?" he said, his voice rather nervous.
"Exactly," she smiled and extended her hand. "I'm Samantha. I work at Slow Joe's in Suicide Slum. Ever hear of it?"
"Sorry, I'm afraid I haven't."
She reached into the low neckline of her dress and extracted a card. "Got a pen?"
Clark fumbled in his jacket until he found a pen. "Here ya go."
"Thanks," she smiled again and wrote a phone number on the back of the card and handed it to Clark along with his pen. "It's the best strip club in Metropolis."
With great precision Clark's jaw, his pen and Samantha's card all dropped in unison. His face turned scarlet as he clumsily retrieved the card and pen from the deck. "Sorry," he said, his face still burning.
"Don't sweat it, it's just a promotional gimmick from my boss. But what the hey, I got a free cruise out of it."
Clark adjusted his glasses. "Your boss was smart."
The woman shrugged. "He wanted to upgrade the class of guys at the club, and you looked like what he had in mind."
"Well, I'll sure keep it in mind."
"Great," she said and then her eyes shifted to a very muscular young man in a tank top. "Duty calls," she said, and vanished into the crowd.
Clark sighed with relief and then turned his attention back to Lois. The competition had narrowed to one man, a very tall, and intimidating man. He had obviously scared off the rivals. He appeared to be the type of man nobody would initiate a brawl with even if hopelessly drunk. The man kept trying to touch Lois, but she kept politely but firmly blocking his progress. Her assignment placed her in a bad position. She could ill afford to completely put off any man in case he turned out to be the one they were looking for. On the other hand, she didn't want to spend the balance of the cruise being dusted for fingerprints.
Clark wanted to intervene, but he too was put in a bad position. His fight with Lois over treating her as a 'helpless female', precluded a 'heroic' approach. He glanced at a tray laden with booze, poured a third of a bottle of gin on his shirt, dried it with heat vision, took a swig, rumpled his hair, loosened his tie, and approached Lois with a very unsteady gait. He stopped within just a few feet of Lois and began applauding. Lois and her goonish companion looked at him. Clark extended his hand to Lois, "Congratulations, you're the winner!" he said, and then belched.
Lois took his hand and tried not to smile. "The winner?"
"Yes, ma'am," he nodded. "I personally scoped every babe on this barge and you won the 'babe I'd most like to share a lifeboat with' contest." He belched again.
"Sleep it off, pal," the goon interrupted. "You smell like a distillery."
Clark deliberately ignored the goon, and kissed Lois's hand. "You're like food to a drowning man."
The goon grabbed Clark's shoulder and spun him around to face him. "That's food to a *starving* man, geek, and I thought I told you to go sleep it off."
Clark lowered his head and held his arms out apologetically while he swayed unsteadily on his feet. "Hey, I didn't mean anything by it," he said, and with his head bowed forward was able to peer over the frames of his glasses. He focused a wide beam of heat vision below the man's belt.
Lois knew exactly what Clark was doing. There was suddenly a smell suspiciously like laundry subjected to a steam iron filling the air. As the goon shifted from side to side uncomfortably, Lois managed her most innocent look. "Something wrong, Dirk?"
"I…I think I was supposed to play tennis with somebody," he said, but a smile turned into a grimace as he hurried off.
Clark put his arm around Lois's waist and then quickly moved her in the opposite direction. "It won't take long before he cools down."
"Relatively speaking," Lois said as they sped by the elevators into the theater.
"Was his name really 'Dirk'?"
"Aren't all airline pilots named Dirk?"
Clark laughed. "All the phony ones."
After successfully navigating past the emergency engine room, the library, well, to correspond with the original Normandie the door was marked 'library', but it was actually a sauna with pictures of book covers on the wall, Lois and Clark found themselves in the winter garden. "Oh, it's beautiful," Lois sighed.
Lois turned and straightened Clark's tie. "Thanks for the non-rescue rescue."
"Well," he said softly, "I didn't want you to feel like a 'helpless female'."
"It wasn't so much about the 'helpless female' thing that upset me. It was you competing—"
"Yes." She brushed his lips gently. "There is *no* competition there, Clark."
"I know that, Lois," he said, his voice even softer than before. "It's just that he gallops in from the past like nothing has changed."
"Trust me, things *have* changed." Lois placed her mouth over Clark's and smiled into the kiss as she tasted gin. "I knew it," she cooed. "You did the Paul Newman bit right down to using gin."
Clark raked his lower teeth across her lips and then nuzzled the side of his head against hers. He whispered, "But I forgot to sneeze and wipe my nose on my tie."
Lois tilted her head backward and laughed. Clark pressed his lips to her throat. He loved to feel the vibration of her laughter. "I'll never forget that night we watched The Sting at my parents' house," he whispered as his lips moved down her neck.
"You were out of control."
"So," he mumbled. "It's your fault. You're the one who insisted we have dinner with my folks the last night of our honeymoon vacation time."
Lois, her eyes closed, stroked Clark's hair. "Well, it just didn't seem fair that Jimmy and Perry would be the first people to see us after the honeymoon."
"Mm hm," Clark replied as he sneaked down the strap of Lois's dress.
"Besides, I couldn't wait to tell your mom about the honeymoon."
Clark straightened slowly. "My mom?"
"Relax, Clark…geez, it was nothing specific." Lois smiled. She loved Clark's slightly prudish side.
"Define 'nothing specific'."
"Look! A coke machine next to the verbena."
"Clark, I'm dying of thirst," she said offhandedly as she dropped quarters into the machine.
"About my mom—"
"You distracted me, Clark. I meant to hit Diet Coke but ended up hitting Dr Pepper." She handed the soda to Clark. "You can inhale poisonous gas, so you should be able to handle this."
"I like Dr Pepper, Lois, and don't change the subject."
Lois shook her head. "I don't see how. It tastes like cough medicine mixed with carbonated prune juice."
"All right, all right!" Lois sighed loudly. "I had a talk with your mom before we got married and told her…well…I told her that I hoped I wouldn't disappoint you on the honeymoon because I didn't enjoy…sex."
Clark spewed a fountain of soda the length of the garden and began to cough and sputter. Lois patted his back. "I tried to warn you about Dr Pepper."
Clark ran the back of his hand over his dripping chin. "Are we talking about the *same* Lois Lane? The 'Lois, we haven't tried the kitchen table yet, Lane'?"
"I said 'didn't' *past tense*, Clark." She blushed slightly.
"And *after* the honeymoon?" he asked, and nudged her playfully.
Lois shook her head and folded her arms. "Forget it. You're being too smug."
"Come on," Clark cajoled. "Tell me."
"Nope," Lois smiled. "Huh uh, sorry."
Clark shrugged casually. "Okay, then I'll just call my mom and ask *her*."
"You wouldn't dare."
Clark pulled out his cell phone and wagged it in front of Lois. "We're not that far from shore."
Lois made a lunge for the phone but only succeeded in knocking Clark, and thus herself down onto a soft bed of cool, freshly turned sod. Lois pinned his arms above his head and smiled down at her husband. Strangely enough, it was more often moments like this than when Clark was performing some super feat that Lois thought of him being Superman. Who would believe that she could leave the 'Man of Steel' helpless and breathless and without an ounce of Kryptonite.
"Okay," Clark sighed. "Now that you've got me right where I want you…tell me what you told my mom."
"All right," Lois relented. "I told your mom I was worried because I wanted your first intimate experience to be a good one, and I was scared that I wouldn't—"
"Wait a minute. You told my mom that I was…that I never…"
"Your parents didn't know you were a virgin?" Lois smiled. "I didn't think there was anything you kept from your parents. They thought you had experience?"
Clark blushed. "Well the subject really never came up until that Stephonvitch woman said Superman fathered her 'love child'. Then when my parents said the idea was 'laughable', I kind of felt—"
"Yeah," he sighed. "I guess so."
Lois released Clark's wrists and melted down on top of him. "Well, for what it's worth, your parents told me they had no experience either except with each other," she said and started kissing Clark's neck. "Although they said they didn't exactly wait for the wedding night."
Clark sighed against her hair. "I'm not sure I want that much detail about my parents' past, Lois."
Lois untied his tie and pulled it through his collar. "If it makes you feel any better, I told your parents that if it weren't for my 'skittishness', we'd have been lovers long before the marriage."
"Hm," he moaned as she kissed him aggressively. "There were a couple of times we almost *didn't* wait."
"Yeah. I told your parents about those times too."
Clark dropped his head back. "This from a woman who said she had trouble opening up about personal feelings."
"Well, your parents are like Perry," she shrugged. "They want details."
"Perry," Clark sighed. "We're not exactly carrying out the assignment he put us on."
"You want me to stop?"
"Then shut up and take it like a man of steel."
Clark whistled happily as he entered his cabin. Ralph, in a much less amiable mood, sat back on his bed reading the ship's brochure. "You and Lane seemed to disappear for a couple of hours."
"An investigative reporter's job is never done, Ralph."
"I saw you two duck into the winter garden. I got tired of waiting after ninety minutes," he said. "Must have been a *lot* there to 'investigate'."
"Trust me, Ralph," Clark smiled. "There was."
Ralph tossed the brochure on the bed. "How can you stand it?"
"Being with the same woman all the time." He shook his head. "Granted, Lois is hot…um…attractive and all that, but still, it's got to get boring day after day with the same woman."
Clark, though at first tempted to fire back a defensive response, was feeling a bit generous at the moment. Ralph was a man he'd never seen with *one* woman let alone a variety of women, Clark shrugged. "I guess I'm just not like you, Ralph."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he replied, suddenly finding himself on the defensive end.
Clark sat on the edge of his bed and removed his shoes. "Just that I never liked playing the field and I hated being single." He stretched out and put his hands behind his head. "I love being married," he smiled. "And with Lois, it's *always* unpredictable."
"But tell me," Ralph said, lowering his voice. "If one of these hot babes gave you an invitation, you'd turn her down?"
"That's it? Just 'yep'? You wouldn't even *consider* it?"
"That's it. I mean there was this tall, green-eyed redhead who approached me, and —"
Ralph sat up. "Yeah…and!"
"And she was very attractive, but I wasn't interested."
Clark shook his head. "Ralph, she didn't even proposition me. She was just trying to hype some strip club she works at called Slow Joe's."
"Assuming such a place exists, which I doubt, since I've never heard of it, you're saying that if she came on to you, you'd turn her down cold?"
Clark sighed. He realized that he would never convince Ralph of his loyalty and fidelity to Lois. "Let's just say I come from a genetically faithful line of men."
"Shyeah, right." Ralph slumped back onto his bed. "What planet are they from?"
"You'd be surprised," Clark laughed.
Lois hated getting dressed in the cramped bathroom, but since her cabin was wired for sight and sound, it was the only spot that allowed any privacy. She wasn't in the mood for dinner. Especially not one more 'singles' feast. She was tired but satisfied after her afternoon 'meeting' in the winter garden with Clark and would prefer to snuggle next to him the rest of the evening, and just…sleep.
Lois sighed hearing tapping at the cabin door. She wished it would turn out to be Clark, but realistically expected Scardino checking up on her. So she was quite surprised to see Jimmy standing in the hallway. "Well," she smiled. "You look very dapper, Mr. Olsen."
"Thanks, Lois. You look," he glanced up. "Wow! I mean…wow."
"Thanks," she laughed. "I'll take that as a compliment. What brings you down my way?" When young Mr. Olsen lowered his gaze, Lois lifted his chin. "Jimmy?"
"I haven't been doing so hot with the women on this ship, and I thought maybe if I could make a great entrance, I might get a little respect."
Lois folded her arms. "So I'm supposed to be your charm bracelet?"
Jimmy swallowed. "I'm sorry, Lois…I guess it's just that…well, what I'm trying to say is—"
Lois looped her arm through Jimmy's and grabbed her purse. "You sound just as tongue-tied as Clark," she smiled as she locked the cabin door and headed up the corridor with Jimmy.
"CK gets tongue-tied?" Jimmy coughed, "I mean even *after* you've been married?"
Lois rang for the elevator. "The day Clark stops getting tongue-tied around me is the day I have to go back to sex appeal school."
"There's a *school*?"
Clark tugged at his collar as he scanned the crowded ballroom. By the evening festivity, many singles had become couples. No doubt having made a date for this evening at the brunch. Ralph nudged him. "You made a big mistake picking a traditional black tuxedo, buddy boy."
Clark glanced down at Ralph's powder blue tuxedo accented with navy satin lapels. "You could put an eye out, Ralph."
"Thanks," he smiled. "This beauty is going to get me a lot of action tonight."
"On the dance floor," Ralph shrugged. "Lighten up!"
"Sorry. I hope you have a night to remember."
"You bet I'll—" Ralph cut himself off in mid-sentence as Lois and her young escort entered the room.
Clark followed his gaze and smiled warmly. As Lois drew nearer, Clark tugged at his collar again and licked his lips. More than just his smile was feeling warm. He watched as Lois planted a soft kiss on Jimmy's cheek. Clark nodded. Very classy.
Jimmy, receiving the great entrance he had wanted, whispered, "Thanks," and then bowed rather gallantly. Lois smiled and then the two parted.
Though Ralph would never admit it aloud, he suddenly understood everything Clark was trying to tell him in the cabin. He shook off the uncomfortable scent of orange blossoms. "Well, time to mingle."
As Clark watched the rhapsody in blue satin fade into the crowd, he wondered what brilliant pitch the salesman must have given Ralph to sell him that tuxedo. The scarier thought of course was that Ralph needed no persuasion at all. Clark shook his head and turned away, but bumped into a thin, blonde man. "Sorry," he said, as the man's drink spilled over the front of Clark's tuxedo. It was the second time in the same day he wore a drink rather than consumed one.
"No sweat," the man shrugged. "You're the one who got soaked."
Clark's eyes narrowed as he watched the man depart. He had a strange feeling of deja vu, but couldn't place him. He would have given the matter more thought, but felt a hand tapping on his shoulder.
"I found it."
Clark turned to the voice. "Aren't you a little overdressed for this party, Agent Scardino?" he asked, noting Scardino's blue jeans and windbreaker ensemble.
"I'm not here for the pate`, Kent." Scardino shrugged. "You mentioned your pal Superman being in on the bust, well, I found the synth, and considering there might be an armed escort waiting for it at the end of the line—"
"It wouldn't hurt to have Superman on your side."
"Something like that," Scardino conceded. "So, how do you contact the big guy? Recite the boy scout oath three times over a ouija board?"
"I usually rub two DEA agents together."
"Very good, Kent," Scardino said sweeping his arm toward the C deck elevators. "I see some of your wife's smart lip has rubbed off on you."
"Must be all that friction," Clark smiled as he exited the ballroom.
Nagging at the back of Clark's conscience, however, was the thought that Lois was on her own. He knew that Lois would make the same choice if their places were reversed. If the killer wasn't on board, then a nice little DEA bust at the end of the line wouldn't be bad journalistic compensation. Still, Clark found it impossible not to feel protective toward Lois even if it was an issue that had caused a cold-shoulder showdown the night before the voyage. Clark shook off the thought as the elevator closed. "We going to the cargo hold?" he asked, and surreptitiously lowered his glasses and shot a quick blast of x-ray vision toward the ballroom.
"No, the garage. The guy hid the stuff under a spare tire of one of the cars," Scardino said, and then sniffed.
"No offense, Kent, but you smell like a gin and tonic without the tonic."
"I know how it is, Kent. I'd probably knock back a few myself if my wife was dancing with every loser in Metropolis," Scardino said and then quickly raised a hand. "And before you say it, I'm *not* from Metropolis."
Clark shot another blast of x-ray vision to C deck as he stepped into the garage. "Never crossed my mind, Scardino."
The two men weaved between the rows of cars until they came upon a nondescript sedan. Scardino fished a key gun out of his windbreaker. "Ever notice how all cars started looking like Italian jogging shoes in the 80s?"
As the trunk opened, Clark barely caught a glimpse of the spare tire before he was hit with a wave of vertigo. That was quickly followed by extreme muscle pain. Kryptonite. He staggered a few steps from the car and then collapsed. Scardino slammed the trunk and ran to Clark. "Kent?" He said and tapped Clark's cheek a couple of times with the back of his hand. "Kent, wake up, it's no fun slapping you if you're unconscious." Scardino shook his head and grabbed Clark's wrist. He hoisted him onto his shoulders and then groaned under the strain. "Better lay off those between meal grand pianos, pal."
Lois's feet were throbbing. Not only from dancing non-stop for an hour, but from having every known shoe size finding itself atop her toes. Just as the music ended, Lois noticed Scardino leaning in the doorway of the ballroom. She took a step toward the door, but her current dance partner held her back. "Another dance?"
"Well, I'm flattered, but I promised him the next dance," she said, tipping her head in the direction of Scardino.
"Snappy dresser," the man replied sarcastically as he walked away.
Lois hurried to Scardino. "You find out anything?"
Scardino smiled. "I found out *three* things: you look hot in red, your husband can't hold his liquor, and the synthetic drug stash is in the garage."
"Come on, I'll show you the stash."
"No, I mean about Clark."
Scardino blinked a couple of times. "He's drunk, Lois, not dead."
"Take it easy. He passed out so I took him to his cabin to sleep it off. End of story." He handed her a key. "I fished it out of his pocket. Go check on Prince Charming and then meet me back here and we can check out the garage."
Lois pulled a key from her purse. "This is the key to my cabin. Give it to Ralph and tell him I'm spending the night with Clark."
"I'm not going to tell you what to do, but Kent is a big boy, Lois. Trust me, I have the hernia to prove it."
"Dan, please." Her voice was plaintive, almost tearful.
"Okay, no problem. Which one is Ralph?"
"He was in Perry's office."
Scardino shook his head. "I don't remember what he looks like."
Lois sighed loudly, "He's at the bar getting drunk."
"Which one? There's twenty guys at the bar getting drunk."
Lois began running for an open elevator. "The one who looks like he was mugged by the Commodores!" she called over her shoulder just before the elevator closed.
"Ah," he nodded. "The shiny blue tux."
Scardino tapped Ralph on the shoulder. Ralph swiveled around unsteadily. His head kept swaying from side to side. He tried to focus his bloodshot eyes on Scardino. "Would you like to dance?"
Scardino folded his arms and smiled. "I make it a policy never to dance with a guy wearing a suit louder than the music."
"You know," Ralph belched. "You're the only woman here who appreciates my tuxedo."
"Jeez," Scardino moaned as he tugged Ralph from the bar. "I've *got* to get a haircut."
Lois fumbled nervously with the key, dropping it twice before seating it successfully in the keyhole. Before she had a chance to turn it, however, the door opened from the inside. "Clark!"
Lois launched herself at Clark and wrapped her long legs around his waist and kissed every square inch of his face repeating the phrase, "You're all right!"
"I'm fine, Lois," he smiled.
"Dan said you passed out."
Lois's smile vanished and she slid her legs from his waist. "What happened?"
"Scardino took me to the garage to show me the drugs. There's a synthetic down there all right, but it's not drugs, it's Kryptonite."
"I know," Clark said and sat on the edge of the bed. "What's the use keeping the real stuff locked up at STAR Labs if some fruitcake with a chemistry set is cooking up fresh batches of a synthetic?"
"Is it just as strong?"
Clark rubbed the back of his neck. "Initially, yes. I mean the only other time I passed out was when I was first exposed to the real thing. The difference is, I started getting stronger the moment Scardino pulled me away from the stuff."
"None of that lingering weakness like with the real Kryptonite?"
"It's still dangerous," Lois sighed. "We've got to get rid of it."
Clark shook his head. "They'll just make more. I have a plan if you don't have to get back to the ballroom right away."
Lois smiled wickedly as she sat on the bed next to Clark. "I told Dan I'd be spending the night with you. Take as long as you want."
Clark wrapped his arms around Lois and began a slow descent backward. "I'm always thorough, Lois," he whispered.
The next morning at the Rodeo Roundup singles' breakfast, Ralph sat in a corner wearing sunglasses while alternately chewing aspirins and antacids. Lois and Clark, sharing a kiss in the doorway as they entered, took pity on Ralph and sat opposite him at the table. "Good morning, Ralph," Lois said cheerfully."
Ralph winced, "Don't shout."
"Rough night?" Clark whispered.
"Well, Kent, you told me to have a night to remember, and I think I did."
Ralph shook his head. "A Night to Remember is the title of a movie about the Titanic sinking."
He shrugged. "All I know is that I woke up in a strange cabin and have no idea how I got there."
"Oh…um, yes." Lois interjected. "Don't you remember that you said you had a hot date and wanted a cabin to yourself, and so we switched keys?"
Ralph pulled his sunglasses down to the tip of his nose. "I do seem to remember a tall brunette with lots of teeth coming on to me."
"Well," Lois smiled. "That must have been her."
"Yeah," he nodded thoughtfully. "It's coming back to me. It was a pretty wild night as a matter of fact."
"That reminds me, honey," Clark said, trying to sound casual. "You left the suntan lotion in the cabin."
"That's right. We were going swimming after breakfast," Lois said, and hastily departed.
"Wait a half hour after eating," Ralph mumbled into a menu.
Clark picked up a menu and lowered his glasses. He focused his x-ray vision on the car containing the synthetic Kryptonite.
"Ready to order?"
Clark glanced at the waitress. "No, not yet. I'm waiting on my wi…wild girlfriend to…uh…get back."
The waitress shook her head and then addressed Ralph. "What about you, sport? You waiting on your wi…wild girlfriend before you order?"
Ralph lowered his menu and appraised the waitress from head to toe. A rather sleazy grin curled his lips. "Are you volunteering for the job, baby?"
Clark withdrew behind his menu as he saw Ralph's hand reaching for the waitress. There was the resounding echo of a slap followed rapidly by the waitress' retreat. Clark once again focused on the garage. Lois had already jimmied the trunk and had the spare tire moved out of the way. She peeled back the carpeting and opened the secret compartment. "Hurry, Lois," Clark whispered.
"You should have just waited till after breakfast to get the lotion. You have to wait a half hour anyway."
Lois retrieved the box and held it up to toward the ceiling smiling. She knew Clark was watching. She put everything back the way it was in the trunk, minus the box of course, and quickly exited the garage. Clark sighed aloud with relief. "You know, I think I'll go ahead and order."
Ralph set down his menu revealing the remnants of a red handprint on his cheek. "Maybe we should move to another table first."
"Hi guys," Scardino said as he pulled up a chair. "Where's Lois?"
"Getting suntan lotion," Ralph said and stared closely at Scardino's face. "You've got a lot of teeth."
"I never come to breakfast without 'em."
"And you're a brunette."
Scardino placed his hands under his chin and began blinking coquettishly. "I'm also a Sagittarius and enjoy long walks on the beach. What's your sign, Ralph?"
"Oh, God!" Ralph pushed himself from the table and ran to the exit. He turned at the doorway. "It wasn't fair dressing like a woman and taking advantage of me when I was drunk!"
Lois bumped into Ralph as he was exiting. "Your friend is sick, Lois. Sick!"
Lois returned to the table. "What was that all about."
"Oh nothing," Scardino sighed. "Just everyone from here to G deck thinks I dressed up like a woman and took advantage of Ralph last night."
Clark laughed. "It seems the toothy brunette Ralph remembered was Scardino."
Lois raised her eyebrows. "I'm surprised you chose Ralph. Clark's so much better looking."
Clark waved a hand. "Don't go there."
"It's pretty pathetic when you think about it," Scardino nodded. "I was in two different bedrooms last night and both times with drunken men."
"For what it's worth," Clark said. "I appreciate the help last night. I was kind of out of it."
Scardino was about to reply when he was interrupted by the sound of a woman screaming. Everyone dashed out of the dining room following the sound of the scream.
Clark x-rayed past the bystanders and saw that it was the redhead who had approached him at the brunch. There was a rope burn on her throat, but she was alive. Scardino muscled his way through the crowd flashing his badge.
Jimmy found his way to Lois and Clark. "What happened?"
Lois grabbed his shoulder. "It seems the singles killer *is* on this ship."
"Oh man, who did he kill?"
"No one," Scardino said as he threaded his way back through the crowd, his arm around the woman's waist. "She's still alive but pretty hysterical," he whispered. "I'm taking her to your cabin, Lois. I'll stay with her until she's calm enough to give me a description of the guy."
Lois nodded as she watched Scardino and the woman depart. She turned to Jimmy. "Get on the STS and get a printout of the singles places in Metropolis where he stalked and killed his other victims.
When we get a description of the guy maybe security cameras at those clubs can place him at the scene of the other murders."
Clark grabbed Jimmy's other shoulder. "Then call Metropolis PD and tell them we suspect the singles killer is on this cruise."
"Got it," Jimmy nodded and vanished into the crowd.
Clark lowered his voice. "What about the you-know-what?"
"I completed phase one," Lois whispered, but I haven't started on phase two yet."
"Okay, you finish phase two, and when that's done I'll super speed the box back to its hiding place. In the meantime I'll give Jimmy a hand."
"Sounds like a plan," she said and then kissed Clark softly and turned to leave. Clark pulled her back into a very passionate, very public kiss.
"Mm," she said, her voice breathless. "I guess you figured out the same thing I did."
Clark nodded. "If we find the guy responsible for almost killing that women is the same guy that killed the single women in Metropolis—"
"We get to finish the cruise as a married couple."
"In the same cabin."
"Just at night?"
Lois laughed and pushed Clark away, "Go help Jimmy."
Scardino brought Samantha a glass of water. "Feeling any better?"
"No," she sobbed. "I feel like I'm falling apart. It happened so fast."
"Just take a few breaths and try and relax."
"I can't!" She wailed. "It was horrible! I was standing there. Just standing!"
"Okay, take it easy."
"I mean I was trying to decide on the Rodeo Roundup or the Autobahn buffet singles breakfast, and then 'bam'! A rope was around my neck!"
"How's it going, Jimmy?"
Jimmy placed the phone next to his chest. "I'm on hold with the police, but the printout is still spilling out over there. It seems they're sending the name of every singles place in Metropolis and putting an asterisk next to the ones where the murders occurred."
Clark picked up the list. "Municipal efficiency in action," he smiled. "I never realized how many singles clubs there were in Metropolis." He shook his head. "They even have their 'specialties' listed."
Jimmy shook his head and pointed to the phone, apparently connected to a living person at last.
Clark nodded, but continued to grin as he read the printout. "The Frolic Lounge," he whispered. "Specializing in caring waitresses dressed as nannies and nurses. All patrons should dress in…diapers?"
"Thanks," Jimmy said, sounding a bit stunned as he hung up the phone. "CK, you aren't going to believe this!"
"What, Jimmy?" Clark said, but kept reading the list of names.
"The detective working on the case doesn't think the attempted murder here is connected to the murders at the singles clubs in Metropolis. The police department was withholding a bit of information from the press until all victims had been identified."
Clark looked up. "And that would be?"
"Check it out. They were all men *dressed* as women!" Jimmy shook his head. "Isn't that wild?"
Clark immediately looked back at the list. "Slow Joe's, the best gay strip club in town. No wonder Ralph never heard of it."
"The blonde man. It was his eyes! Oh, God," Clark whispered and started to run.
"Not now, Jimmy!" Clark shouted, not slowing his pace. "I have to find a ouija board!"
Within moments Superman knocked open the door to the cabin and pulled 'Samantha' away from Scardino's unconscious body. He wrapped 'her' wrists with a length of window piping, and then knelt next to Scardino. He tapped his face with the back of his hand. "Wake up, Scardino. This isn't much fun when you're unconscious."
Scardino moaned and then his eyes fluttered open. "Superman?"
Clark offered his hand. "Agent Scardino."
Scardino took his hand and pulled himself into a standing position. He rubbed his forehead. "That woman ain't no lady," he groaned.
Clark removed 'Samantha's' wig revealing the blonde man he had bumped into the night before. "She ain't no woman either."
The room was suddenly flooded with ship security who assured Superman and Scardino that the suspect would be held in protective custody until a police chopper could take him back to Metropolis. Scardino folded his arms. "I guess Kent got in touch with you."
"Yeah. He said Jimmy had found out the victims of the murders were really men dressed as women."
"Ah," Scardino smiled. "The dawn finally breaks. When Ralphie announced to the world that I had dressed as a woman when I took him to bed—"
"He was drunk."
Clark nodded. "Of course."
"Forgotten. Now if you'll excuse me, I'd better tell Lois and Clark that you're okay."
"Wait, Superman, I wanted to ask you—"
"Clark already told me that you wanted me there for a drug bust when the ship docks tomorrow morning. Don't worry, I'll be around."
"Uh, that too, Superman, but can I ask you something kind of personal?"
Clark suddenly felt a bit uncomfortable. "Sure. Go ahead."
"Remember when you, Kent and I were competing for Lois?"
"Then she chose Kent." Scardino shook his head. "I know how I felt when she dumped me, but you…you're Superman."
Clark thought a moment. "All I can say is that when she told me that she just wanted to be my friend, and there was someone else, it felt like the world had been pulled out from under me."
"How'd you get over her?"
"I'll tell you if it ever happens." Clark smiled, and then was gone in a blur.
The morning was bright and even a bit chilly on Taurus island, but Scardino was sweating. "I hope you're nearby, boy scout," he whispered and then leaped out of his hiding place. "DEA! Step away from the car!"
Weapons appeared from every conceivable hiding place, and a few that weren't. Scardino scrambled back to his hiding place as shots cracked through the silence. "I hate Mondays."
An instant later the shots started ricocheting, and then were silent. "The caped cavalry has arrived," Scardino said, and cautiously crawled up into daylight again.
The men, their weapons on the ground, stood with their hands in the air. All but one, a man holding a wooden box. He moved forward one step. "Surprise, Superman!" He shouted, and opened the box.
Superman pointed to himself. "For me?" he asked, and stepped up to the stunned man.
Clark removed a vial filled with green liquid, removed the stopper, and took a sip. He shrugged, "I can't say much for the taste." He handed the vial to Scardino.
Scardino sniffed the fluid. "Nyquil."
"The cold medicine?"
Scardino nodded and then faced the suspects. "I hate to break this to you, boys, but Nyquil can be bought in any drug store, so I hope you didn't pay over six bucks for this stuff." He handed the vial back to Superman. "I guess all that's left are the arrests."
"You can't arrest us for buying Nyquil."
"True," Scardino shrugged. "Stupidity isn't even a misdemeanor, but attempted murder is a no-no."
Scardino felt a pang in his chest when he saw Lois sleeping in a deck chair, her head on her husband's chest. He took a deep breath and approached them. "Kent," he whispered. "I'm going back to Metropolis on the police chopper, but I wanted to thank you for contacting Superman."
"I was glad I could help. Sorry the bust didn't exactly bring down a big drug cartel."
"Yeah," he nodded. "But I think the guy who sold the bogus synth will probably never be found…at least not alive. One of the guys we busted said the paper-hanger was history."
"Forger," Lois mumbled sleepily against Clark's chest.
Scardino smiled. "She's even smarter than you in her sleep."
"I know," Clark laughed softly and stroked Lois's hair. "I don't know what I'd do without her."
"I have a feeling you'll never have to find out." Scardino extended his hand. "Bye, Clark."
As Clark watched Scardino run toward the chopper, he thought of the woman who had been in Dan's life a long time ago. A woman who had been his partner, his friend, and someone he had much deeper feelings for, but never got around to telling her. Then it was too late.
Clark held Lois a little tighter. "I love you," he whispered against her hair. He heard the sounds of men and women all around him trying desperately to make that special connection, but as the chopper lifted into the sky, Clark realized that sometimes you only get one chance.