Submitted January 27, 1998
Summary: Lois and Clark attempt to unravel a forty year old murder mystery in Minnesota while, at the same time, they confront their mutually intensifying feelings for each other.
This all happens just after "TOP COPY", before Lois knows about Clark's secret and before their relationship has progressed. It assumes everything that happened before "TOP COPY" however. Although I did not originally intend to, I've used some of the lines from all seasons. I think the bar scene has a couple of lines from a fanfic but I'm not sure which one. I hope the author doesn't mind too much that I've used them. This is my first fanfic (or fiction of any sort) and is my way of saying thanks to all those fanfic writers whose stories I've enjoyed. All the usual disclaimers apply about DC and Warner Bros. Debby Stark has given me enormous help (and too much of her precious time) by proofing and editing the first draft, and by making many suggestions, most of which I've used.
note: words inside < > indicate thoughts; words inside asterisks * * indicate emphasis
"What do you suppose they're planning to do out there? I can't believe they've bought the Lemieux place to farm it. The land's rocky, with thin soil, and about a third of it slopes down from the ridge. The only thing it's got is a good view of the woods."
Jane Malenkov and her old and good friend, Allison James, were walking briskly along the main street of Legatteville. Jane laughed. "Allie, don't be so suspicious! You're letting that 'paper' of yours shape your attitude. They're a nice young couple, and if they don't know everything yet, they'll find out. It takes time to forget the city." They walked through the doorway of an old two-story brick building and into the small dark foyer of a comfortably shabby restaurant. "Now tell me what your niece has been doing. You must be looking forward to seeing her again after all these years."
Clark Kent spun out of the 'suit' in the dingy alley behind his apartment building and emerged into the neon luminescence of Clinton Street. In a few minutes he was in front of the double grey door that led into his apartment. Slowly he let himself in, the loneliness of the day returning as he walked down the few steps into his living room. He smiled slightly, recognizing the source of his feelings, remembering the last twenty-four hours. He missed her.
They had met outside the heavy bronze doors of the front entrance to the 'Planet' after he had delivered Diana Stride to the FBI. It had been late and Lois had been on her way home, when he told her that he had got them 'the exclusive.' Turning, she had smiled crookedly, and said, "You're some partner."
"Is that all I am, Lois?"
"I don't know." And she had looked at him, searching his face.
And then he had made it easier for them; suggesting they finish the chess game that they had begun a few days earlier, before the whole Diana StrIde thing had exploded. Smiling, she had taken his arm and they had entered the Planet, riding up to the seventh floor in companionable silence and then finishing their game. He had won, and surprisingly she hadn't seemed to mind. Looking up at him, she had smiled and said softly, "You win, Clark Kent." For a moment, he had stopped breathing as his eyes met hers.
Then she had giggled. "This time, Kent! Come on, I'll drive you home but you can start thinking about a rematch when I get back from Minnesota."
The next morning he had gone to the train station, hoping to see her before she left. Catching sight of her, he called her name and she turned, a huge smile covering her face. "Clark!" She hugged him. "I wasn't expecting this, to see you. I'm glad you came." She stepped back from him, but kept one hand tentatively on his chest as she took a deep breath and then looked at him directly. " Clark, about the date thing."
"I was thinking. Next Saturday when I get back … dinner? You decide where."
"Yes!" He felt incredible.
Quickly, she kissed the corner of his mouth and then turned and strode off to catch her train. He had watched her go, a ridiculous grin on his face.
The landscape passed by in a blur, a result of her inattention rather than the hypnotic speed of the train. Looking out the dull glass of the large window, Lois Lane saw the events of the last two days, not the brown-green of late winter fields. So much had happened. She was relieved right now that the train was taking her away from it all, giving her time to sort through her conflicting emotions. Really, she was not sure she wanted this. She had felt safe, retreating into the security of her work: she loved it; she believed it could be important; she knew it had become her passion. And she knew that it always would be. But there were different passions, and right now that was her problem.
To be blunt, she admitted to herself, her problem was her partner. To her surprise, she had fallen in love with him, really in love with him, and she disapproved. It violated 'the rules' she had set for herself five years earlier, after her first year at 'the Planet.' She liked being in control: of her work, of her emotions, of herself.
Any emotional entanglement she had previously experienced had proven to be a federal disaster, she thought wryly. Even her father had proven unreliable: rarely there, and critical when he was there. Her mind catalogued her past relationships: the groping inadequacies of her first "love", a second-year college football player who had quickly spread exaggerated reports of their few encounters to his teammates and, then, in her senior year, the editor of the college newspaper who had also been sleeping with her friend, Linda King. Apprentice intellectuals had proven no more sensitive than quarterbacks, and finally Claude, a sexily charming Frenchman who had been working at the 'Planet' when she had first started there, fresh from her internship at the 'Washington Post.' Then he had stolen her story, her research, her work, and had won a Pulitzer.
Then Lex. At least she had not gone to bed with him. He was the first man who had asked her to marry him and after years of dedicated work at the Planet, she had thought maybe it was time to marry. That she was not in love with him had been part of her consideration. This time, she was in control and that had pleased her, but, to be honest, she had been attracted, drawn by his power, and charmed by his sophistication. And he had cared for her, been in love with her, when the man she had thought she was in love with had been remote, had told her that there was no hope for them.
<Okay> , she sighed , < What are you going to do now? Maybe a week away will help you get a grip, get things in perspective, get him in perspective, figure out how to get back to being totally absorbed by your work, get back to normal.>
Lois got off the train at Legatteville, a small town in the woods of Minnesota where patches of sugar snow still pooled over the pale vegetation of late winter. Her eyes lit up with pleasure when she saw the slim, dark haired figure of her aunt waiting for her on the grey concrete platform . She waved, "Aunt Allie!" The two women hugged affectionately, and Lois felt briefly as though, in a way, she had come home. As they walked towards her aunt's small car, chatting about her trip, Lois noticed the freshness of the air, with its hint of coming spring and she felt herself relax. It would be good to be away from Metropolis for a week.
After dinner that night she sat with her aunt and uncle in front of the fire in the comfortable living room of their old log cabin. It had been in her uncle's family since the 1920's, a large structure built of dark logs with high ceilings and a porch that ran along two sides. She had come with her family as a child and this place and these people had been a temporary refuge from her parents' raging battles. Allison James was her father's sister and, after her parents' marriage had exploded, Lois and Lucy had come alone as Sam Lane drifted even further from his family and Ellen had retreated for a few years into alcoholic isolation. Lois smiled as she realized that the only other place where she had felt like this was when she had been at the Kent's farm in Kansas — — or for that matter whenever she had been at Clark's place. < Not good> she thought. <You're supposed to be putting him in perspective, not thinking about how good you feel when you're with him.>
Their conversation moved away from family updates about which cousins were doing what and moved toward her life ( which meant her work ) in Metropolis. Lois told them about the story on the growing number of homeless in Metropolis which she had just finished for this Sunday's edition and avoided mentioning the Diana Stride story which had been in this morning's paper. <After all, old news now,> she thought. And 'news' that had got her tangled up in those feelings about Clark that she didn't want to think about.
Her uncle, however, could not to be trusted to stick to her script. "Read your Diana Stride article. Amazing story. Can't believe she was using ABC as a cover for criminal activities for the last five years. Executives at that network must be pretty dim." He looked at her thoughtfully for a moment. "You know, Lois, I remember you said you like to work alone but I've read the articles that you write with your partner and I can't tell what's yours and what's his. They appear pretty seamless. How do you do it?"
"Oh … well … practice … you know … We both do a lot of stuff on our own too."
"Like the homeless story."
"Well no, not that one. Others."
Allie knew evasive action when she saw it. She smiled. "What's he like, Lois?"
"Clark? … Tall, sort of … not as experienced as me … small town … "
"He won a Kerth last fall, didn't he?" As the editor, chief reporter, and bookkeeper for the 'Legatteville Link,' Allie kept up on what was going on in the 'business,' particularly where it was connected with her niece's paper.
"Yes." Lois smiled as she recognized her Aunt's trap and shifted their talk to her aunt's paper and listened with genuine interest as she talked about running a small town newspaper and then about the article she was researching on old farms in the area. Most of these farms had been marginal, set up almost a century ago to meet the needs of the mining companies that had operated in the area at that time and then had been abandoned or operated at a subsistence level once the mines had shut down. Then she started to talk about the old Lemieux place and her interest in the young couple who were going to work it. "Mohair goats or something. I ask you."
"Why don't you interview them?" Lois suggested. "It would give you a chance to find out more about the place for your article."
"And get the inside story on goat herding," her uncle Dave said dryly.
Lois passed the next three days happily puttering around Legatteville, becoming reacquainted with some of the places and a few of the people she had known when she was younger, but she was getting restless; she was afterall a big city girl. So on Wednesday morning she wandered down the town's main street and into her aunt's office, only to catch that energetic lady on her way out the door.
"Come with me. I'm going to interview the goatfarmers. You'll get to see a * real* reporter in action!" Soon they were driving through the countryside, its flat fields broken occasionally by stands of bare-branched trees and hard planes of rock angled into the grey and beige landscape of late winter. Allie looked sideways at her niece. "Missing Metropolis?"
Lois grinned. It had always been difficult to hide things from her aunt, more than anyone else in her family. Even with their infrequent contact over the last few years, it was still difficult. "Not really." Not exactly the truth.
"The Daily Planet? Don't lose yourself in your job, Lois."
"No, I haven't. Not really. The 'Planet' can function without me." She actually didn't believe this. She looked out the window, not seeing the passing fields. Instead, she saw the productive chaos of the newsroom, and she saw Clark standing against the edge of his desk, his face mock serious, as he teased her about some detail over which she was currently obsessing. She banished the thought.
They drove around a bend in the road and approached the hill leading to the ridge where Allie said the farm was located. Then they turned into the gravel drive leading up to a small frame farmhouse, its unpainted siding weathered a silver grey. The place looked bleak, somehow uninhabited. The front porch was unwelcoming, lacking even the clutter that often accumulates as the householder copes with the uncertain weather of late winter.
The front door was opened by a tall, slim man in his early thirties, neatly dressed, a dark flannel shirt tucked into faded jeans. His bland good looks suggested an accountant or a poet rather than a farmer. His polite smile did not reach as far as his eyes and his voice lacked inflection as he invited them into the small front room where he introduced them to his wife, an attractive redheaded woman. She seemed more interested in her visitors than her husband had been. She offered them coffee, and then they settled in the sparsely furnished room to do the interview.
Lois listened with considerable restraint, not invading her aunt's territory as she chatted with the Andersons about their plans for the farm. They were still in the process of fixing up the place, no goats yet — the first pair were to arrive next month, yes they had worked in Minneapolis for several years, no children, they had not been married long, Legattville was a nice town … As Lois listened she began to share her aunt's suspicion that something did not fit. They were far too urban, lacking any detectable enthusiasm for this 'return to the land.' They didn't really say very much; it was all so general, so rehearsed, she thought. She was uncomfortably reminded of a couple of times when she had gone undercover for a story. And why didn't she quite believe that they were newly married or married at all for that matter? <How would *you* know> she thought wryly. Still she hadn't sensed that connection between the two that she thought would be there in a newly married couple, that physical awareness of each other .
As they were driving away afterwards, Allie turned to her niece. "So, what did you think?"
"I'd like to see how you write that one up. It was hard for me to see a 'human interest' angle in it.' What they said seemed too pat, too predictable, and he seemed very reserved."
"So you think I'm right, that this is not quite what it seems?"
"Perhaps, but Allie, you can't print that. You don't have any evidence. You know you can't just go with your gut instinct." She couldn't believe she was saying that. She sounded like her editor, Perry White. "Why are you suspicious of them?"
"You sound like Dave. I know they've only been here a month and maybe I'm reacting more to this sense I have that they're not interested in farming, but in something else. Lois, I do know small towns are different from big cities; after all I lived in one for most of my life. I know city people are less open; but these two seem evasive when you talk to them, and why this particular farm?"
"What do you mean? It looks pretty normal, just run down."
"That's the point. There are two others about the same size for sale on better land and with houses in less need of repair. You know, I've always felt there was something a little sinister about that place." A small smile flitted across Allie's face. "Well, maybe I'm just reacting to that old impression. Jane mentioned once that, when they were kids, they used to come out here a lot and that there were all sorts of stories about odd things happening."
Lois raised her eyebrows. "I don't know Aunt Allie, from what I've heard, most of what happened in the fifties was a little odd — — take Elvis Presley, for instance."
Allie laughed. "You think I'm imagining it then?"
"I don't know, Allie," Lois replied. "I had that same feeling, that they were evasive.
Lois phoned Clark that night, though she wasn't sure why. She had tried to talk herself out of making the call, reminding herself that she was trying to put some distance between them, and her feelings for him. But she had found herself randomly thinking about him over the last few days, wondering how he would react to the town, if he would like her aunt and uncle, what he would think of her aunt's paper, if it would seem familiar to him. < I'm probably reacting this way because he's from a small town too > she thought. Anyway, she made the call.
"Can't take the hectic pace of being on vacation, Lois?" he teased when she told him about tagging along with Allie that afternoon. "I knew you couldn't do it." He slouched back comfortably into the cushions of his sofa as he talked to her.
"Ha-ha. Anyway, Clark, there are all sorts of odd rumours connected to the place the Andersons have bought. "
"Well, the place was abandoned briefly in the '50's. Clark, they say it was because of alien landings in the early 1950's! After that it was apparently used by teenagers at times as a place to hang out, go with your boyfriend, and, well … you can imagine the rest. Some very wild times according to Allie who heard about them from her friend Jane. According to another one of Allie's friends one of the girls who was a regular apparently went missing and the rumour was that she had been murdered, but her body was never found. Then in the 1960's the place was bought and run, not too successfully, by a hippie commune. They left in the early 1970's and the place was later bought by a Vietnam veteran. I remember that because he was still living there when Lucy and I came in the summers. He was a recluse, they say haunted by what he had seen in the war."
"Lois it's a great human interest story, but you're going off on a tangent if you think there's anything else there. There are rumours like that in every small town."
"Oh yeah, farmboy. Is that your Smallville experience talking? Did you use to party at abandoned farmhouses? Somehow I can't see that. Or were you the alien?"
He felt his heart pound and he held his breath for a moment. < Lois, I should tell you … >
"Funny, Lois." He steered the conversation in a safer direction. "So how are your aunt and uncle? What's it like being back there after all these years?" He could hear the pleasure in her voice as she responded.
"I'm enjoying it, Clark. It's been great being with them again. They are so … o sane. I know you'll like them when you meet them."
Clark paused for a moment as he realized the implications of her comment and then he said softly, "I'll look forward to it Lois … Oh, by the way, what time does your train arrive on Saturday? I thought we could go to dinner at Angelina's."
"Angelina's sounds great. I hear they have incredible chocolate desserts there. I get in at five so we should have lots of time."
"I'll meet you at the station." He paused and took a risk. "I miss you, Lois."
"I miss you too, Clark. G' night."
"Good night, Lois." Smiling, he put down the phone.
The dining room of the old, ( and only) hotel in Legatteville was unusually busy for a Thursday afternoon. In the far corner, Lois and her aunt were sitting with Jane Malenkov whom they had met for lunch. Most of the tables were occupied and the waitresses were moving a little faster than usual through the cheerful buzz of Legatteville's more prosperous citizens. Sunlight shone through the large windows, onto the dark panelling of the walls, bathing the room in a soft mellowness.
The buzz subsided suddenly and Lois looked up, surprised to see the tall, confident figure of Tony Gates, the senior Senator for New Troy, enter the dining room, accompanied by the Mayor and two of Legatteville's more prominent businessmen. Then she remembered that his family had originally come from this area, his grandfather having made a fortune from the local mines before they closed down. That original fortune had been parlayed into other investments, particularly during the Second World War, so that the family had become incredibly wealthy. Now the Senator was purportedly testing the waters for a Presidential bid.
Lois watched thoughtfully as the Senator stopped briefly at some of the tables to chat to people he knew. Invariably, their faces lit with pleasure at the momentary attention they were receiving from the charismatic and popular politician. Then he caught sight of the table where she was sitting with her aunt and Jane Malenkov. He walked towards them, smiling.
"Jane! I haven't seen you for years. You haven't changed at all. Still the prettiest girl in town."
Jane blushed. She was an attractive woman in her late fifties, but she was also an intelligent one. Lois wondered if Jane felt flattered or skeptical about the extravagance of his comment. "Tony," Jane said, a reserve in her voice that gave Lois her answer. "I don't know whether you've met Allison James and her niece, Lois Lane."
Flashing white teeth, he reached out a bronzed hand and took Allison's hand. "Yes. We met, I think, at a fund-raiser a few years ago. Mrs. James , how are you? Are you still running the local newspaper? And Ms.Lane, it's good to see you again. Are you here on business or just visiting? When we last met a year ago, I had no idea that you had ties to Legatteville."
This time it was Lois's turn to look a trifle chagrined as she remembered that last 'meeting' had been a small dinner party at Lex's, just after they had become engaged. She was still appalled at how easily she had been taken in by Lex, seeing only what she had wanted to see in him, not recognizing the truth. However, she quickly composed herself, and said pleasantly, "I imagine you had more important things on your mind that evening, Senator. Are *you* here on business or is this a family visit?"
"Now, Ms. Lane," he laughed lightly, "is this off the record or … " he let his voice trail off as he was interrupted by an attractive blonde woman in her late thirties who managed to convey both competence and an understated sexuality . The Senator had a reputation for 'appreciating' such skills. After a brief word with her, he turned to say good-bye to them and then accompanied his associates into a smaller room on the south side of the large room. After he had left, the dining room seemed to relax back into its "pre-celebrity" conviviality. Jane arched her eyebrow expressively and said quietly, "I don't think he has my vote."
"Why not, Jane?" Lois asked. "I know he has a reputation with women but his record in Congress has been solid." The arrival of their lunch stopped her from asking Jane more about her opinions of the Senator and their talk flowed to different things.
***As it turned out it was the goat farmers who found the body, or at least the remains of the body. They had been using a metal detector on the land towards the bottom of the ridge on which their house was situated when the detector's sensor had alerted them to something beneath the ground.
When Lois, Jane, and Allie returned to the 'Legatteville Link' after lunch, they heard about the discovery from Charlotte Ibbitson who ran the bakery next door to the 'Link.' They promptly headed out to the site where they found the police already at work. Pulling her jacket tightly against the cold wind, Lois forgot about protocol and went into reporter mode, an instinctive response.
"Any idea who he is?"
The police officer on duty looked at her coldly and then noticed her companions. Allie spoke up, "My niece, Lois Lane, Frankie. She can't help it. She works for the 'Daily Planet' in Metroplolis."
He unbent somewhat, more out of regard for the two older women with her than for Lois's credentials. "Don't know much yet, but it looks like it was a woman, not a man. I'm not sure, but I think she may have been pregnant at the time of death. Look at the small cluster of bones in the area where the womb would have been."
Silently, the women walked closer to where two police officers were carefully brushing dirt away from bones still partly covered in bits of faded red fabric. Matted black hair spread around the hollow eyed skull with its high cheek bones.
One of the men who had been crouched by the remains stood up. "It looks like the skull has been fractured." His changed position gave them all a better view of the body.
Jane stepped back, a look of horror on her face, and sighed, "Alice."
Frank Johaansen looked up quickly. "Who?"
"Alice Cardinal. She disappeared our last year in high school."
"How do you know it's her.?"
Jane was silent for a moment and she seemed much paler. Her eyes were fixed on the stark grimness before her. Then she spoke, her voice a whisper. "The locket … around her neck … I had one just like it. We shared the same birthday … and the lockets were a present from my grandmother that year. Each locket had a picture in it of the two of us." Her face turned bleak as she struggled with her feelings. "Poor Alice. This shouldn't have happened to her."
Allie took her friend by the shoulder and turned her away from the grisly remains of the body. "We'll take you home, Jane."
Lois had a thousand questions she wanted to ask — of the Andersons, of the police, and especially of Jane but they could wait. Forty years had passed since the murder; another day wasn't going to make any difference.
About 7 o'clock that evening the three women drove out of town along the dark road cut through the jack pines to the Ojibway reservation where Alice's mother lived alone in a small tidy house. She welcomed them into her home, leading them into her kitchen where she made a large pot of tea. As they talked, it became clear to Lois that no one outside her family and a few friends had taken the disappearance of Alice Cardinal very seriously. The reserve had been much poorer in those days, attitudes had been different, and Alice had been a wild and somewhat rebellious teenager. When she had gone missing, the good people of Legatteville had the usual explanations.
'She's run away to the city for some excitement … She's pregnant by a married man and she's gone to the city to have the baby … She ran away with that trucker who seemed to have an eye for her … No money here, but the city has money for beautiful girls who know how to please men … She'll show up again in a few years, back on the reserve.' And then she was forgotten.
Mrs.Cardinal had heard all the rumours and had felt bitter about the ease with which people had explained away her daughter's disappearance. She had her own suspicions about what had happened and, to be fair, the police had listened but had found no traces of the girl. And they too had attributed her disappearance to a combination of promiscuity and rebellion against her parents, both of whom were held in some respect by the Ojibway community.
Lois looked at the pictures of the young woman and thought how beautiful she was. At eighteen, Alice Cardinal had already developed into a striking woman, tall with independence in her dark eyes. Beside her the young JaneMalenkov was merely pretty, obviously programmed for a life of respectability, but the two girls had been close friends, and Jane was still alive.
Lois looked at Mrs.Cardinal and said softly, "She was very striking. She looks like she was very special."
"Oh, she was. She knew about the woods and the stories of our people. She knew about your people too. She was so eager to do everything, but she had not learned when to be cautious, when not to trust. She gave her heart too easily. I could not tell her this." As she spoke, the old woman traced her finger over the image of her daughter and sighed, "Now it is over." Standing up , she picked up the teapot and filled it with more hot water. "Thank you for coming, Jane. You have always been a good friend."
They were interrupted at this point by neighbors who, on hearing the news, had come to talk to her, to be with her as she remembered her daughter. There was anger too as the old resentment against a police system that had too often seen their people as the criminals and been too slow to investigate when they had been the victims. Lois listened, saying little, wondering what would happen now, how thorough the investigation would be this time. She felt that, finally, it was important to find the truth.
The next morning, as she ate breakfast with her aunt and uncle, Lois was full of plans for covering the story. Her aunt looked at her with some astonishment.
"Lois, I can't do all that. This is a pretty small operation I run here. I'm not only a reporter; in fact, today I'm the bookkeeper and editor. I'll check with Frankie, but that's all I have time for."
"Well, it's a good thing I'm here then! I think this is important, Allie. There's more here than a forty-year-old case. It's a matter of truth, of justice. We can't just wait for the local sheriff to hand us a press release!" she said scornfully. "So let's get started." She stood up and began clearing the breakfast dishes from the table. "I'll go into town with you this morning, Allie, and start working on it."
"Planning on wrapping the whole thing up before your train leaves tomorrow?" her uncle asked innocently.
Stopping in the middle of the kitchen, Lois turned to him. "I'd forgotten. Well, I'll have to stay a little longer. " Then more uncertainly, "You don't mind do you?"
Her uncle grinned at her. "Mind? And miss my big chance to watch a prize winning investigative journalist in action?"
Allie looked up at her. "Lois, we'd love it if you stayed longer, but I thought you were going out with Clark tomorrow night. Ordinarily I don't advise young women to put everything aside so that they can go out on a date, but I had the feeling that you thought this date was important, that Clark was special."
"Oh, you know. He is … but he'll understand. We can go out any time, but this story is important. Clark and I can go out when I get back to Metropolis. He'll understand," she repeated. "I'll call and tell him." Then she paused, looking conflicted as she realized she really didn't want to miss tomorrow night. What she really wanted was Clark here.
"Why not do both, Lois? Ask him to come for the weekend, for a few days if he can. He can take the train from Metropolis tonight and you can go back together on Sunday . Maybe you can convince your editor to let you both stay an extra couple of days to do a more in depth article, and you could still have your dinner date at the Legatteville Hotel on Saturday night. "
Straightening his tie, Clark Kent came out of the elevator, grabbed the morning edition of the paper, and headed for the coffee. Although it was only 7 A.M., the news room of the Daily Planet was beginning to show signs of life. A few of the skeleton night staff were still there, wrapping up last details as the early morning light flooded through the huge window that took up most of the east wall, casting a hazy brightness over the surfaces of desks and computer terminals. Clark looked across the room to Lois's empty desk and smiled. He would see her tomorrow.
He was nervous about their date; so much depended on it. He thought back to the night of their 'almost first date,' remembering how incredible she had felt in his arms as he had carried her to the bedroom of the yacht where they had been on a stake-out. Her arms had been around his neck and her hair had bushed against his cheek as she had rested her head on his shoulder. The hardest thing he had ever done in his life, he thought, had been to leave her at that bedroom door.
But she had pulled back from him again, resisting setting a new date. He knew she was afraid of the whole thing turning into a disaster, and he had assured her that if it did, 'they would always be friends,' but he wasn't sure if he could keep that promise; he thought it would hurt too much. He shook his head to clear his mind and smiled ruefully. < You've got it bad, Kent.> He sat down at his desk turned on his computer, and started to work.
About half an hour later Lois phoned. "Hi Clark. Something's come up and I won't be taking the train back tomorrow." His heart sank and he did not reply. Her voice was excited. "Clark? Are you still there?"
"Yeah, Lois. I'm here. What's happened?"
"I've decided to stay until Monday, but I'm hoping that I can convince Perry to give me a couple of days next week as well. The local police here have found the body of a girl who was murdered about forty years ago. I think there's quite a story here and I want to work on it. I was wondering if you would come up here. If you caught the train this evening you could be here around midnight. We could work on the story together." She finally paused for a moment and continued, and this time he could hear that her voice was less confident, nervous. "I mean, I know it's a lot to ask. You probably have plans for tonight and other things to do. It's nice here though. A small town. Nice people. You'd like my aunt and uncle. You could stay here with us. We could still go out tomorrow night; it just wouldn't be Angelina's but the Legatteville Hotel. It's good though."
As he listened, Clark relaxed and a grin split his face. "Lois," he began.
"I'm babbling aren't I?" she said.
"Like a brook," he said as he tilted back in his chair back, stretching. "I'd love to come, Lois. I'll catch the train tonight, after work. You'll meet me at the station at midnight?"
"Of course. And you can stay here with us."
"Are you sure your aunt won't mind."
"No. In fact she's the one who suggested I ask you to come."
Clark made a mental note to himself that they would name their first daughter after Lois's aunt.
"I think she wants to meet you," Lois added.
"Oh," he asked innocently. "Why is that?"
"Lo-is." Then more seriously, "Tell me more about this story. Do the police know who the victim is?"
Lois filled him in on what she knew so far which was admittedly not too much, but he agreed that it was time for people to remember Alice Cardinal.
After breakfast Lois accompanied her aunt into town and then borrowed her car to drive out to interview the Andersons about the discovery of the body. As she drove along the winding road, her thoughts returned to her conversation with Clark and how much she was looking forward to seeing him tonight. Then her fears about a relationship with him returned and she spoke sternly to herself.
< You're not doing a very good job distancing yourself from him. > < Why do you want to do that anyway? You know how you feel about him> < That's why I want to do it. >
She pulled into the gravel driveway leading to the rundown house. As she got out of the car she thought how beautiful this spot was despite her earlier unfavorable impression. The lot was heavily treed with spruce, pine and several types of deciduous trees which Lois could not identify. Swelling buds brushed bare branches with the suggestion of colour. Through them, Lois could see the flat land of a large field at the base of the ridge on which she was standing. She wondered if it was part of the property. If it was, it made farming seem a more likely possibility. Still, she would have expected to see more activity around the farm, particularly now that the snow had mostly melted and the first day of spring was only a few days away. At the moment, the only activity was that of two police officers working methodically around the roped off area of the shallow grave.
After getting no response at the house, Lois walked down to the far end of the ridge were the police were. Johaansen remembered her from the previous day and greeted her politely, hoping that she was not about to take much of his time. He wanted to get this site sweep done before the rain predicted that morning forced them indoors.
"I was looking for the Andersons," Lois told him, "but they don't appear to be in."
"They left about half an hour ago, down to the field over there." He pointed towards the barely visible couple some distance off. They appeared quite absorbed in what they were doing although from this distance, Lois could not figure out what that was. Turning to Johaansen, she asked if he knew.
"They took that metal detector with them. Never seen one like it, latest high-tech yuppie version, I guess."
As Lois turned to go, she stopped, and asked almost as an afterthought, "Find anything more here this morning?"
He sighed. He had known this was coming. "Why are you interested Ms.Lane? Thought you were just visiting for a few days. Nothing here for a big city newspaper."
Lois smiled at him. "Oh, Aunt Allie's short-staffed and, quite overwhelmed with paperwork. I thought I'd give her a hand before heading back to Metropolis. It's the least I could do after all she's done for me."
He softened a bit. Family helping out was right, he thought. "I can't tell you much that you don't already know, Ms. Lane. We haven't found much so far. After all these years, I doubt if we will. The grave was shallow, not much more than two feet deep. Just enough so that the body wouldn't be shifted by the spring thaw. The autopsy will probably give us more information about how she died."
"Any idea yourself on that?"
"You saw the body yesterday so you know as much as I do. I'd only be guessing."
Even if he seemed more friendly, he still wasn't very helpful. Lois wondered uncharitably if all police officers were given a standard training course on not answering questions from the press. < Evasion 101,> she thought grumpily.
As she was saying good-bye, the young woman who was working with him called over. "Frank, I've found something."
Lois walked the few yards with him to where the young officer was bending over a small item embedded in the soil. Reaching for it with her plastic gloved hand, she carefully picked up a gold locket and placed it in a plastic bag which she neatly tied. Then she labelled it meticulously, noting exactly where it had been found relative to the location of the body.
As far as Lois could tell, the locket looked identical to the one which had been around the neck of the skeletal remains of Alice Cardinal. She remembered Jane's comment and felt her stomach knot. She turned to look at Frank Johanseen, and she could tell by the grim look on his face that he had not forgotten Jane's comment either.
Lois heard herself saying carefully, "It's a common type of locket. I think I was given one when I was a girl."
"I don't like coincidences, Ms. Lane."
The policewoman looked up from her task. "What are you two talking about?"
Frank turned to her. Before answering her question, he introduced Lois to Jenny O'Rourke. "Jenny, Ms. Lane is Allison James' niece. They were up here yesterday when we were removing the body. Jane Malenkov was with them. She I.D.'d the body when she recognized the locket around Alice's neck. Seems she had one just like it."
"Oh." Jenny looked at the two thoughtfully, "I wonder how it got here, how long it's been here?" Lois and Johaansen both shrugged so Jenny returned to her methodical search of the area.
Lois and Johaansen walked back to Lois's car. "You'll be talking to Jane?" she asked as she opened the car door. "Will you give me time to tell Allie so she can be there when you do?"
"It can wait. It's an old crime. We'll finish here and head back to the station before we do anything else. " His eyes met hers for a moment. "This isn't Metropolis, Ms.Lane. We're all pretty close here."
Lois felt rebuked. His comment reminded her that people in this community had known each other for a long time and were governed in their daily relations by that closeness.
Lois drove to the bottom of the ridge and stopped beside the ditch that ran along Lemieux field. She got out and walked over to talk to the Andersons, who seemed to be quite busy examining the area. They stopped as she approached and they greeted her without enthusiasm. In response to her questions, they briefly described how they had found the body yesterday as they were checking out the lower terrain of the ridge. Then Lois tried to find out more about what they were looking for. However, her probing proved futile.
As she returned to the car, Lois wondered again what it was about this place that had interested them? Perhaps one of the old mines had been found to have ore still worth extracting. The mining business was a risky one, often with dubious claims of quick wealth motivating disreputable companies to commit illegal actions cloaked in secrecy. At any rate, Lois figured the chance of any goats grazing in *that* field any time soon were pretty remote. Perhaps, if she had time, she would follow that hunch and see where it led while she was covering the Cardinal story.
As she made the thirty-minute trip back to town, Lois thought about how Jane's locket could have got to that spot. If it was Jane's locket. Lois knew she was right about it being a common type of jewelry, often the first special gift for a teenage girl — from her parents or grandparents, or her first boyfriend, or from her best friend. She wondered what picture would be inside this one, if it would still be recognizable, if Jane had put the picture there. She told Allie all about this when she arrived at her aunt's office.
When she finished, Allie looked at her niece and said gently, "Don't look so worried, Lois. I don't have any idea how it got there, but I do know Jane. I've known her for over thirty years, ever since I first came to this town, and I do know that Jane is not a murderer. Frankie may not be a 'big city' cop, but he's pretty good at what he does. He'll sort this out."
"I hope you're right, but people aren't always what they appear to be." Her aunt raised her eyebrow and Lois blushed, realizing she had sounded a bit patronizing. She smiled ruefully but continued anyway, "Seriously, Allie, sometimes even a best friend can be hiding a major secret. People aren't always what they seem." The painful memory of Lex Luthor, and how easily he had deceived her, briefly flashed through her mind. "And besides, people will think that Jane did it because the locket was found there."
"Lois, you're becoming much too cynical. I've known Jane for a long time. David has known her even longer, since he started to spend his summers here with his family. She's always been a kind and generous person. The town knows that." She stood up, and then continued as she reached for her coat, "But this will be a shock for her. I hope Frankie hasn't told her yet." Allie left her desk and walked across to the old-fashioned wooden coat rack by the door. "Well, are you coming with me?"
Lois smiled and nodded, suddenly aware that the high octane energy which she thought she was the only Lane to possess was quite possibly genetic. She jogged to catch up to her aunt.
They found Jane across the street in the old brick library where she volunteered one morning a week. The three women went into a quiet back room and settled into dilapidated leather armchairs, the donation years ago of an appreciative patron.
Jane's face froze for a moment as they told her what Jenny had found. Lois wasn't sure if the look on the older woman's face was fear or sorrow. Jane stared out the large, paned window as she spoke quietly, "Alice and I were best friends all through school. My grandmother gave us the lockets on our eighteenth birthdays in February. I always wore the locket and so did Alice, but I lost it that summer, about the beginning of August. I looked for it but never found it."
"Do you think it could have been stolen?" Lois asked.
"I never thought of that." Lois noted the surprise in Jane's voice as she spoke. "Perhaps it was. Anyway, I never saw it again."
Lois persisted, "So you don't have any idea how it could have got to the mur … the ridge?"
"No. Why do you want to know, Lois? Is there something you're not telling me. Are the police planning to talk to me?" Jane sounded calm but she turned to Allie and asked, "Do you think I should call Jeff?"
"I'm not sure. I don't think you're going to need a lawyer, Jane, but Frankie will want to talk to you. I think you can count on him to handle it properly. If he thinks you'll need Jeff, he'll say so."
Lois was astonished at all of this. Was this what small towns were like? She thought that Jane should get a lawyer, fast. Lois had occasionally seen police focus on the first clue as the determinant of who was guilty and then build a case after the fact. It was easier than a more time consuming, thorough investigation. Lois was hoping that her aunt's assessment of her friend's character and her confidence in the local police were correct, but she also knew she had better do some investigating on her own.
Lois got to her feet. "I'll leave you two alone. I want to go back out to the reserve to check a few things before I write this up. I'll have it for you in time to go into tomorrow morning's edition, Allie."
It was raining lightly when Lois got into the car. As she drove along the narrow road to the reserve, she thought about the questions she wanted to ask when she got there. Then she began planning her approach to the story on Alice Cardinal's death and, along the way, did some revisions. Better keep it objective until the investigation is finished.
And then, a detail that surprised her. She knew clearly that she would not mention the locket specifically; she would refer to 'items found by the police near the site of the grave.' She wondered how Clark would react to that little bit of censorship. She could just imagine the skeptical look on his face, one eyebrow raised slightly in a silent question. At times, he could be quite critical of her work although he had always supported what she had done. Even a little break and entry. At first, she had been angry at Perry's insistence that she and Clark work together on some stories but now it seemed so natural.
Her mind stayed with thoughts of her partner, shifting to different memories. She could see his smile as he teased her, feel the touch of his hand as he guided her into the elevator, feel his arms around her as he comforted her, and then as he had carried her to the bedroom door when she had that bad reaction to Ralph's Pagoda take-out. Just as well she had felt a little sick; the way things had been going that night, she would have been in bed with him 'faster than a speeding bullet.'
She giggled at that idea. During the time when she thought she had been in love with Superman, she had never dreamt about going to bed with him. Oh, she had wondered if "the suit came off," but that had been more curiosity than desire she realized now. Her subconscious mind had left the thought unexplored. On the other hand, she had been having increasingly erotic dreams about Clark almost from the day they had met. After the first one, she had awoken quite shocked and had ruthlessly compelled herself not to think of it. She remembered now that she had been particularly hostile to Clark the next day when Perry had sent them on an assignment together.
When was it she had fallen in love with him, she wondered. She had no idea. All she did know was that she had finally recognized her feelings when she had been dressing for her wedding to Lex. That fiasco should have been a sign, she thought with some bitterness. She had thought her heart would break when Superman had rebuffed her that horrible night in her apartment. But it had not been Superman she had so desperately missed during her engagement; it had been Clark.
Lois was pulled away from her reverie by a sudden increase in the tempo of the rain on the windshield. She paid more careful attention to the road which she was not remembering very well from her previous trip. After all, it had been night and she had not been driving. She was not even sure that this was the right road. Maybe she shouldn't have taken that turn a couple of minutes ago. She always got into a car with the blind assumption that she knew were she was going. <When am I going to stop doing that?> she thought. Suddenly, she saw a grey Mercedez sedan coming from the opposite direction. Startled, she looked at the driver and saw that it was Senator Gates and that he was alone.
He had not noticed her as he drove past. Lois wondered what he was doing out here and decided to find out more about his connections in this area. She was so used to his political presence in New Troy and in Metroplois that she had never stopped to think much about his connections elsewhere. Although she was critical of many politicians, she admired Gates' work. He had taken a strong stand on environmental issues and on other social issues that she cared about. Understanding more about his background could be helpful in writing an article on his legislative activities.
As it turned out, she was on the right road because a few minutes later she saw the outline of the cluster of houses that made up the village. She stopped and asked directions to Mrs. Cardinal's house and a moment later pulled up in front of it. She wasn't the only visitor. Jenny O' Rourke was standing just inside the white picket fence talking to one of the most striking men Lois had ever seen. He was about the same age as Jenny, tall, with dark hair and bronzed skin, his face sculpted in planes and angles. As Lois got closer she realized that they were arguing, about what she couldn't tell. She heard only acrimonious snatches of anger. They stopped abruptly as Lois approached, and she saw that Jenny's face was flushed while the man's expression was obstinate.
"Hi, Jenny," Lois said. "I was hoping to get a few more background details >from Mrs. Cardinal before finishing the story for the 'Link,' if you think she's up to it." Jenny's companion looked at her suspiciously but said nothing. Lois was not sure if he would be an adversary, blocking her attempts to get the story. He obviously did not appear to want to cooperate with the police.
"Hi, Lois. I'm sure that'll be O.K. Mrs. Cardinal wants the truth about her daughter to be out in the open."
"I'll come with you, if you don't mind." Jenny's companion stretched out his hand to Lois. "I'm Matt Thomson, Mrs. Cardinal's neighbor." And protector, Lois thought as she shook his strong hand briefly and introduced herself. Then he turned to Jenny, who was about to leave. "I'll see you later?"
"Maybe." Jenny's voice was terse but she smiled at Lois and then walked through the front gate, her body still rigid with the anger of their earlier argument. Lois wondered if it was personal or if it had to do with Jenny's investigation. Relations between Native reserves and small town police forces were not always the best and a case like this could no doubt bring out any repressed grievances. Perhaps that's why this neighbour wanted to be present during her talk with Mrs. Cardinal.
Lois stayed for about half an hour as Mrs. Cardinal talked about her daughter, about Alice's ambitions and what she had been like, and the last night that she had seen her daughter. It had been late summer, the evening of a weekend dance held at the Legatteville Pavilion. Alice had been excited, looking forward to the evening. There had been a small crowd of laughing young people in the Cardinals' front room before they set off for the dance, but Mrs. Cardinal remembered thinking that her daughter had seemed preoccupied. That thought had worried her. Alice had come home after the dance but had left again shortly afterwards. She had not come home ever again.
Lois touched Mrs. Cardinal's arm. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Cardinal. Thank-you for talking to me about this. I know it's been difficult, and I want you to know I'll do everything I can to find out what happened."
As Lois stood up, Matt Thomson did too. "I'll see you to your car, Ms. Lane."
Outside, as they stood in front of her car, Lois said good-bye to him.
"I'll be interested to read your article, Ms. Lane." Then he turned to look at her directly, as if searching for something. "Mary seems to trust you." His comment surprised Lois; she had only talked with Mary twice. Then Matt added, "Let's see if this time the town takes more interest in what happened that night."
An out-of-control fire in a Mexican oil field had prevented Clark Kent from catching the train in Metropolis as he had planned and so he had flown to Minneapolis, hoping to board the train when it arrived there. He'd almost missed it, and had got on hastily, running across the dimly lit platform moments before the train began to leave the station. Grinning, he fumbled for his ticket, and gave it to the smiling conductor as he climbed the narrow steps into the passenger car. Looking around, he noticed that the car was about half empty. At this time of year, there were not many people going north, especially into the damp cold of Minnesota's late winter. Usually, Clark liked to talk to fellow travellers during those few trips he took by conventional means, but tonight he was glad to be alone. He was tired, something unusual for him, and he was looking forward to having time to just read a novel. Reaching forward he pulled "The Englishman's Boy" >from his luggage and relaxed back into his seat.
The novel held his attention for about half an hour, but he found the motion of the train hypnotic. Putting the novel on the empty seat beside him, he looked out the window on his left, into the darkness. Although he could see quite clearly if he focused, he did not do so. Instead his mind roamed over the events of the last couple of hours and then of the last few weeks. He saw again the burning oil field and heard the screams of the workers trapped on the rigs before he had rescued them. Several had been badly burned, but no one had died and for that he was grateful. Then his mind turned to the hectic events of the week: the rush to finish the series of articles on the upcoming municipal elections, the chaos of a flood in China, and his routine evening patrols over Metropolis.
He had missed Lois. Sometimes he felt she was the only thing that kept him anchored, connected to something indefinable, deep in his soul. He smiled as he looked out the window, picturing her again as she had said good-bye to him last Saturday morning, remembering her surprising shyness as she had mentioned their date. She was never very far from his thoughts. For a change, he allowed himself to think that maybe, finally , she was beginning to feel something more than friendship for him. He knew, of course, that when Lois said she planned to work on this story she meant it, but it pleased him that she had not wanted to break their date to do so. It also pleased him that she thought it was safe to introduce him to her aunt and uncle. Seeing Lois in a 'normal' family setting should prove interesting, he thought with another smile. He picked up his book again, but he soon drifted off to sleep only to be awakened at midnight by the train's slowing momentum and the conductor's announcement of the upcoming stop at Legatteville.
Through the window, he saw her standing alone at the end of the platform, her features illuminated by the glow of the overhead light. He thought again how beautiful she was and how cold she looked as she waited for him. He grabbed his luggage and eagerly stepped down from the train trying not to use 'superspeed' to get to her. She called his name, and then they were hugging each other. Pulling back a bit from his embrace, she looked at him, her eyes bright .
"Hi," she said, laughing as she raised her voice so he could hear her over the noise of the departing train.
He touched her cheek with his thumb. "Hi." Without thinking, he bent forward and kissed her gently, a sweetly sensual kiss, their first kiss really. Pulling apart briefly, they grinned at each other, oblivious to everything around them. Her arms slid around his neck so he kissed her again, this time more deeply, lost in the softness of her lips beneath his. "Lois," his voice was low, husky with emotion.
She broke their kiss and smiled at him shakily, overwhelmed for a moment. Then she spoke, "I guess we should go. My … uh, car is um … parked over there."
Clark slowly came back to reality, but his voice was soft. "Yeah, we should go." Then, his voice back to normal, he said, "Lead the way, Ms. Lane."
It took only a few minutes to walk to the parking lot where Lois had left her aunt's car. After stowing his bag in the trunk, he got in the car and watched her as she pulled out of the parking lot onto the highway leading west. She was a good, if somewhat aggressive, driver and he admired her skill as she swerved quickly to avoid a deer that suddenly leapt out of the darkness onto the road only a few yards ahead of the car. As it bounded back into the woods along the highway she let out a long breath.
"That was close," he said. "I didn't even notice it." He had been too distracted by her to notice the deer when it had lept out onto the highway.
"Thank goodness! Uncle Dave says there are more deer than usual this year. It would be horrible to hit one." She turned to look at him, her pleasure at being with him obvious in her smile. And then she thought <I don't want to just head home and then say good night to you, Clark. >
So she said, "How was your trip? Are you tired? I mean, if you are we can go straight home, but I was wondering if you'd like to stop for some coffee before we do. It would be nice to talk for awhile. My aunt and uncle are in bed by now and I don't want to disturb them, but it's O.K. if you don't want to … " <You sound like a schoolgirl> she thought. <Get a grip! Why does he have this effect on you?> Then she remembered the sweet intensity of their kiss at the station. <You know why.>
He was surprised at her nervousness, and touched. "Lois, I'd love to stop for coffee."
Minutes later they were pulling into the darkened parking lot of the only all-night diner around, patronized by truckers taking a short cut as well as by locals looking for somewhere to hang out. Its decor had probably not changed in thirty years. The tables were set with paper placemats providing information and pictures of 'gamefish of Minnesota' and the walls were panelled with dark laminated wood, decorated with a few stuffed fish mounted on dusty wooden plaques. They had been there since Lois was a teenager.
"Bet this reminds you of Smallville, Clark," she grinned.
He grinned back at her. "Yep. I bet they have great apple pie!"
They sat at a small table in the far corner of the room, next to a display of photographs of local fishermen and their prize catches. A pleasant looking middle-aged woman approached their table to take their order, returning a few minutes later with large white mugs of steaming coffee and one large serving of apple pie with ice cream.
"Want some?" Clark offered, inching the plate towards her.
"No, thanks. I had a huge piece of chocolate cake for dinner."
"It's great! As good as my Mom's. You should try some."
"Can't be great. Doesn't have any chocolate."
"Lois, you have got to get rid of these petty prejudices. You'll miss some of life's great experiences."
"For instance, farmboy?" her voice a seductive drawl and her eyes teasing.
Clark put down his fork and grinned at her. Then he covered her slender hand with his. "Feeling courageous with this crowd for cover are you, Ms. Lane ?" He stroked her hand with his thumb as his gaze held hers.
Lois looked down at their hands and said without raising her eyes, her voice quiet, "Not very. Actually, I'm afraid, Clark."
He moved his hand to gently tilt her chin so that she had to meet his eyes. "You told me that before, Lois, and I told you I was afraid, too. And I am. I'm afraid that I'll lose the chance to be with the only woman who has ever meant anything to me."
In his dark eyes, she saw an intensity and sincerity that made her catch her breath for a moment. He withdrew his hand and placed it over hers again on the table. She curled her fingers around his, thinking how right this felt. She'd been a coward, she thought, running away from him since the day they'd met, running away from her need to love someone real, running towards powerful and remote men who made it easy for her to avoid her soul.
"Then I guess I'll have to take a chance on you, Clark Kent," and she smiled at him shyly. Then she withdrew her hand and looked at him somewhat defiantly, trying to regain control. "But I should warn you. My past relationships have all been federal disasters."
"Then I will be your first non-federal disaster." < And Lois, you will be my first, my only, my forever > he thought.
Then Lois smiled again and leaned back in her chair. "I'm really glad you've come this weekend, Clark. This will give us the kind of time together that we don't usually get."
He relaxed, too. "You mean this was all a clever ruse? You never actually intended to work this weekend? You got me down here just so you could have your way with me? In the woods of Minnesota?"
"You wish, Clark Kent!" Lois's laugh was a choked giggle. "You just be ready to start at nine tomorrow morning."
"Ah, I knew this was all too good to be true." His gesture managed to include both her and the diner. "Good thing I was able to convince Perry to give us until the middle of the week to work on this. "
"Clark! How'd you do that? He can't be interested in anything happening in a small town in Minnesota! "
"I presented him with *your* angle on the story, partner. That with a bit of digging we can do a feature with the murder as a lead-in to the larger issue of what and who gets police attention and what and who doesn't. I downloaded some background information on local police enforcement with respect to Native Americans in Minnesota, New Troy, and New York. Also some general history on the Ojibway, and a couple of interesting profiles of business ventures they've recently set up."
"Great! That'll help set the context. I'll show you the article I wrote tomorrow and we can build on that. I think we should … "
Lois was distracted from their conversation as the door of the diner opened and Jenny O'Rourke and Matt Thomson came in out of the darkness. He placed his hand on her waist and turned to say something to her which made her smile. That simple gesture made Lois realize that there was something between them, an emotional bond. They looked right together, she thought, Jenny's blonde wholesomeness, a foil for Matt's dark intensity.
As if aware of her scrutiny, they looked over to where she and Clark were sitting. Jenny smiled and they walked across the room. "Hi, Lois. I see you've found the best diner in Minnesota!" She looked at Clark with curiosity as he rose to his feet.
"Hi, Jenny. Matt. This is Clark Kent, my partner at 'the Planet'. He's just arrived on the midnight train. Clark, this is Jenny O'Rourke and Matt Thomson." She watched as Clark acknowledged the introductions and reached his hand out first to Jenny and then to Matt.
"You wouldn't be Matt Thomson of Thomson Airways would you?" Clark asked as he shook his hand.
Matt smiled. "I'm surprised. I wouldn't have expected someone from out of town to know that. We're still a pretty small operation."
Jenny slid her arm through his and Lois noticed an engagement ring on her finger as her hand rested on Matt's arm. Jenny looked at Matt proudly and said. "But a fast growing operation."
"It sounds exciting," Lois said. "Will you join us for coffee?"
"Thanks, we'd like to," Jenny said, removing her jacket and placing it on an empty chair behind her.
The waitress approached their table again and asked Matt, "The usual?"
"Please, Maddie. Hope the coffee's extra strong. It's been a long day." Matt then sat back in his chair and, looking at Clark and Lois, explained. "This afternoon we got an emergency call and had to fly a patient from the lumber camp north of here to Minneapolis for surgery. That forced us to delay a charter until this evening. We just got back from running the charter to Chicago."
"And then the poor, exhausted man had to pick me up after I finished at midnight and wait stoically without anything to drink but lukewarm, weak coffee until I finished some paperwork." Jenny's expressive face took on the look of a martyr as she mimicked what she imagined her fiance's plight to have been.
Clark smiled, observing the light teasing between the two. "What keeps you working so late on a Friday night, Jenny?" He asked as Maddie came over with 'the usual.'
"I'm a police officer. Had to work a double shift today because one of the guys has the flu. Flyboys aren't the only ones who put in the time." Her face turned saintly.
Clark chuckled, enjoying the new expression that flitted across Jenny's face as she poked fun at the man beside her. She would have made a good actress, he thought. "Sounds like it's pretty amazing that you get any time together at all," he commented.
Matt smiled. "It takes some planning, but she does find a few minutes every once in a while to pencil me into her schedule." He paused and looked at the two people across from him. "So what brings you to Legatteville, Clark? Lois said you were her partner at 'the Planet.' Does that mean you're here to work on a story?"
Clark wasn't quite sure how to answer. The truth was, he'd wanted to see Lois but he figured she wasn't ready yet to acknowledge any relationship with him other than their professional one. After all, she had introduced him to Matt and Jenny as her *partner at 'the Planet'*. So he said, "Lois wanted to work on a story about the body of the girl that was just discovered outside of town. I wasn't busy this weekend so I thought I'd come up."
"Don't tell me 'the Daily Planet' would be interested in a forty-year-old murder in the middle of nowhere?" Matt sounded surprised.
"It could be. Like most stories, it depends on what we find. And, of course, with our incredible talent, it will be a great story," Lois said lightly.
"An Indian girl disappears and nobody gets too worried. They don't want to probe too deeply. It's not important enough." Lois was surprised at the bitterness in his voice and again was convinced of the appropriateness of the angle she and Clark planned to take on the story.
"Well, *we* think it's important," Lois said and she became aware of a tenseness in Jenny O'Rourke. She wondered why.
"I don't think we need a lot of outside attention on this," Jenny said. Noting her reserved tone, Lois decided to back off and smiled supportively at the woman across the table from her. Jenny unbent and added, "It's premature right now. We're working on the case and we'll deal with it."
Matt turned to her, his voice controlled. "Premature? Jenny! Forty years have gone by. It's time we looked at why Alice Cardinal was so easily ignored. Why it was so easy for someone to get away with murder. Jenny, I don't think that can happen with just the Legatteville police and media involved."
Jenny's face tightened and she seemed to distance herself almost physically >from the man next to her. "You don't think we can do the job, do you, Matt?" Both Lois and Clark were aware, now, that they were outsiders, caught in the tension between the two people across the table from them.
"The job *wasn't* done by your predecessors," Matt said flatly.
"It will be done this time." Jenny turned to Clark. "Please, give us some time. We may be a small town, but we're still professionals. We care about our work and we know what we're doing." She stood up and started to put on her coat. Looking at Matt, she said stiffly, "Perhaps you could take me home. As you said, it's been a long day. Good night, Lois. Clark."
She turned and marched toward the door without waiting for Matt, her back very straight. Lois saw the distress flicker across Matt's face as he got up to follow her. <So that's what this morning's argument was about> she thought. Suddenly she felt dispirited, distressed at the thought that their conversation had triggered the resumption of the couple's quarrel. Lois realized that Jenny's pride was at stake, but she sympathized with Matt, too. For him, the murder was tied up with the larger issue of the treatment of his community.
"Clark, maybe we should be going, too."
He touched her hand as it lay on the table. "They'll work it out, Lois."
"They're on opposite sides in this, Clark. Two different worlds."
"If they love each other, they'll bridge those worlds."
"You think love can do that?"
"I hope it can." < It has to, Lois.>
Clark awoke about 7:30 Saturday morning, a smile on his face as he remembered fragments of a pre-dawn dream. He had been flying with Lois, and then they had floated down to a small, deserted island, landing on the beach. Slowly they had sunk to the sand as they kissed deeply. Somehow their clothes had disappeared as their passion increased and they had made slow, satisfying love. Lying back in the sheets comfortably, he wallowed in the memory for a moment, then stretched his powerful body and got up.
Clark took pleasure in the sounds of morning, as he descended the stairs. The piping calls of cardinals and the sweet, raucous song of returning finches provided the background for the subdued sounds of breakfast preparations and the languorous murmur of a man and a woman. He walked across to the kitchen and the cozy odor of coffee and muffins.
"Good morning, you must be Lois's Clark."
"Yes," he smiled as he shook her outstretched hand .
Allie liked the look of the young man in front of her. "I'm Allie James and this is my husband, Dave."
"Morning, Clark. We're glad you could come. Allie's been curious to meet the man who Lois has been talking so much about." Clark was pleased; so he had been in Lois's thoughts, too, this last week.
"Clark, I'm about to fry some eggs and bacon for Dave before he heads out to the clinic. Would you like some too?"
"Please. That would be great." He turned to Dave. "Lois told me you're a doctor. What's it like practicing out here in the countryside? "
"It can be pretty demanding for our full time G.P. I spend two days a week substituting for him. I know a lot of my colleagues think doctors are supermen but no doctor who is exhausted can deliver quality care. We could use another full time doctor but it's proven difficult to attract young men to practice in a small town.
"Perhaps the town should try attracting young women instead?" Allie said pointedly.
"Ah … the sexist slip. Didn't mean it, honey. And no, it wasn't subconscious."
Allie looked at Dave suspiciously, a look that reminded Clark of Lois when she was about to zero in on him and he grinned . He wondered if Allie would let the comment go or move in for another shot, but the woman was clearly more mellow than Lois and she let it go. Instead, she explained to Clark: "Dave had a heart attack about ten years ago and, astute man that he is, (the second shot was subtle, Clark thought) he decided to leave his practice in Minneapolis and retire early. So now we live here full time."
"I can see why you would want to. Your house, this spot, is beautiful." Clark was sincere in his admiration. The dining area of the large open kitchen was enclosed by three walls of floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a view which gave him the feeling that he was eating breakfast in the woods. The bare limbs of deciduous trees allowed a better view of the lake below than would be possible in the summer.
Dave handed Clark a lose pile of newspapers. "Here's today's papers. The 'Daily Planet,' the 'Star Tribune,' and the 'Legatteville Link.' If you're anything like Allie, you probably can't go a day without catching up on the news." He rose and kissed his wife's cheek. "See you later, honey. I'll try to get away by four so I can grab a quick nap before we head to Jim and Tasha's."
Allie sat down across from Clark at the table and picked up her coffee mug. "Clark, I'm sorry, but Dave and I will be deserting you tonight. It doesn't seem very hospitable, I know, but we have a standing monthly date with Jim and Tasha Peterson to play bridge. We'll have to leave you on your own." Her eyes twinkled. "I'm not sure you'll mind."
Clark had known this woman for just under half an hour and already he liked the way her mind worked. He grinned at her. "I think we'll be able to handle that. Being alone with your niece will be rough but I think I'll be okay ." He continued, "We thought we'd go to the Legatteville Hotel for dinner. Lois told me she made a reservation for tonight."
"I know. It's a good idea to do that at this time of year. Everyone's restless after winter and, on Saturdays, the hotel has a small band so people can dance. The food's good there, too. It's a pretty popular spot. Not in the same league with Metropolis though, or even Minneapolis."
Sensing her anxiety, Clark said "It sounds perfect." And he thought it would be. They talked for a while longer as Allie asked about The Planet and then about Smallville. That led them to a discussion of shared experiences working on small-town newspapers. He could appreciate the juggling act that Allie performed each week as she put together that Saturday's paper.
As they talked, Allie wondered how her niece had managed to resist this man for so long, or was it that he had managed to resist her niece? She couldn't understand that either. Suddenly, he seemed distracted she noticed, as though his attention had been caught by the sound of something else happening in the house, but she heard nothing. Then she did: Lois entered the kitchen and murmured a sleepy 'Good Morning' and Allie watched Clark's face light up as he turned to look at Lois, and Allie knew then that it was Lois who had resisted Clark.
Lois sat between the two of them and poured herself some orange juice from the large glass pitcher in the centre of the table. "You know, you have a bird problem out here, Allie. They're awfully noisy first thing in the morning."
Clark looked at Allie and explained, "The police sirens of Metroplolis are much quieter. You scarcely notice them."
Lois was waking up slowly and she frowned at Clark. "Clark, you still don't appreciate the city. Probably a bad idea to bring you here. You'll probably regress." But she smiled at him when he offered her a blueberry muffin. "Maybe the birds'll fly south soon," she added hopefully.
Clark rolled his eyes and said to Allie "I've tried to broaden her outlook but it's been hard work."
Allie watched the two and thought that they were made for each other. She would have to do whatever she could over the next few days to make sure her niece realized this, too. "What are you two planning to do today?" she asked, hoping she was going to hear about long walks along country roads.
Lois spread a small amount of butter on her muffin as she replied. "If you don't mind, Allie, we thought we'd like to do some research, dig back through your archives to get background on Legatteville around the time that Alice Cardinal disappeared."
Clark continued her thought. "Finding out about the area at that time could help us understand the circumstances surrounding her death. Unless Matt Thomson was right and her disappearance went unnoticed."
"And I'd like to talk to both Jane Malenkov and Mary Cardinal some more, but I think we need more preparation before we do if we're going to add anything to the story," Lois added.
Allie sighed, Lois was hopeless; but she had to agree that their plan made a lot of sense.
Allie drove them into town, dropping them at the only car rental agency. Lois had decided that it would be more flexible if they had their own car so Allie wouldn't have to be concerned about being without hers. After completing the paperwork, they headed over to the paper where Allie showed them the small room that archived the old editions, going back as long as the 'Link' did. The storage room had the musty odor of old paper and Lois thought it smelled wonderful.
After Allie showed them the order in which the back issues were kept, they pulled out those from the spring and summer of 1957, piling them on a dark, heavy table in the middle of the room. "Okay, kids, they're all yours. I'll see you later on."
After she left, Clark turned to Lois and said casually, "So what did you leave out of the story you wrote for your aunt?"
Lois turned the pages of the first edition, avoiding his eyes, and said nonchalantly, "What do you mean?"
"Lo-is," his voice was soft. Then he quoted her, "items found by the police," his voice a question. He waited expectantly but there was no answer. "You were there when they found 'the Items.' Why didn't you say what they were?"
Then she told him about the locket. "Clark, I'm not sure why I left it out. I know I wouldn't have if I were back in Metropolis, but this is a small town and Jane is my aunt's friend. and I believe her when she says that Jane is not a murderer. Clark, I can't believe I'm saying this! But finding that locket there is probably just, you know, a coincidence." She knew it sounded lame before the words were out of her mouth.
Clark was surprised at her reaction. "Lois, it's not like you to avoid following up on a clue like this. If you're worried, why don't you talk to your aunt about it?"
"Yeah, I should. I will." She turned to the yellowed newspaper in front of her and started to leaf through it, the pages crackling as she did. Soon she was absorbed in the accounts of lives that time and place made so much different from her own.
Some minutes later she found an item that made her chuckle. "Clark, listen to this. UFOs were sighted out on the ridge at the Lemieux place ! Apparently this wasn't the first sighting. According to this, the UFO actually landed and a being bathed in light emerged from the ship. No one abducted though; *that's* disappointing." A mock sigh, and then she giggled as she read the rest of the story. "And you didn't believe me when I told you this, Clark."
"Lois, there are hundreds of those stories out there. Probably the result of too much cheap beer on a Saturday night."
"You are no fun," she announced.
He grinned at her, his smile distracting her for a moment. "Am, too. Just you wait, Ms.Lane."
Lois's eyes lit up and she grinned back at him. "I'm holding my breath, farmboy. Waiting to see Smallville in action!"
"Tonight, Lois, tonight! But I'll need to know just how much action you want to see," his tone was innocent, but there was a gleam in his eye.
She laughed, but decided she was on unsafe ground now and so she retreated into the task at hand. They read for about half an hour, taking notes on the few references that they found on the local Ojibway community. The reserve was much poorer in those days and appeared to face serious problems. Attitudes then were quite different and the paper was conservative, not willing to give much sympathy to the problems of violence and alcoholism that occasionally spilled out of the reserve and into the town.
"Lois, these people turned quite a blind eye to the challenges facing the Ojibway in those days. These articles are pretty judgmental."
"I know. No wonder Matt cares so much about this particular case. It must represent past injustices for him."
"Lois, look at this. It's a picture of Alice Cardinal. She won a scholarship to attend the University of Minnesota, to study biology. Apparently she wanted to become a doctor. The article makes a big deal of the fact that she was Indian and a woman and that her winning the scholarship was *amazing*." He made quotation gestures with two fingers of each hand as he said this last word.
"Patronizing," Lois said, "but typical of the times. Look at my parents. Dad became the doctor and Mom the nurse. What's the date of the article?"
"So Alice would probably have been pregnant then. I wonder if she knew it."
"Don't women know these things pretty immediately?" he asked. "You know, sense it or something?" Aside from the obvious stuff that he had learned on the farm and in health classes when he had been fourteen, he had no idea.
"Clark, where do men get their ideas about women from?" a pause and then, "Don't answer that. I *know* where they get them from: the football team! No, women don't sense it or something, but I'm not exactly experienced in that area."
<Would you like to be? I hope so.> Clark looked at her dreamily for a moment as this pleasant thought crossed his mind.
"What?" Lois noticed he seemed distracted.
"Nothing. I just thought you knew everything."
"Clark, being pregnant and unmarried would have changed everything for her. There was quite a stigma attached to it in those days. I wonder who the father was?"
"We'll need the coroner's report. It should tell us how old the fetus was and then we can count backwards and try to find out who, if anyone, remembers who she was dating then. How do you think her mother will handle that type of question? Does she know that Alice was pregnant?"
"Yes. She didn't know at the time but the police told her when they told her they had found the body. She had sensed that her daughter was worried about something but she didn't know what."
Lois moved her chair closer to his so they could both read the paper at the same time. She began to read the article aloud and commented. "She sounds pretty confident, looking forward to the future. I don't think she can have known about the pregnancy." They read for another hour or so, their conversation limited to reading each other bits of data that they thought pertinent to either the case or the feature article that was taking shape in both their heads.
Lois found two more references to UFOs and said jokingly, "Well, right now the only pattern that is emerging is that this murder happened during the same period that aliens were making pit stops in Legatteville. I'm beginning to conclude that the father was an alien and that was the motive for the murder."
"You're probably right, Lois. I can see the headline: 'Minnesota Native Killed in Jealous Rage over Alien Love Child.' Perry'll send us right over to the 'National Whisper.'"
"What? You don't like my argument? You don't think an alien could impregnate an earth woman?" Her voice feigned disappointment at his lack of imagination and then she looked at his face. "Clark, what is it? Are you all right?"
"Lois, this alien thing. There's something I should … " He didn't finish; he heard footsteps in the outer office and then Allie entered through the open door of the room where they were working. She was carrying two cups of coffee and a small, white bakery box which she placed on the table.
"Muffins," she said. "From Charlotte's bakery next door. Believe it or not, they're even better than mine."
"Thanks!" They both spoke in unison.
Allie indicated the stack of papers with a wave of her hand. "Find anything useful?"
"Not yet. Just a reference to the science scholarship that Alice won that year."
"Really. That's interesting. You know, I don't think I ever knew anything about Alice at all."
"Has Dave ever talked about her?" Lois asked.
"No, he's never mentioned her although they were about the same age. He was just a summer visitor so he likely didn't know her. Jane never talked about her either. Just that one time years ago when she was showing me a picture of Dave when he was a teenager. The picture next to it was one of her and Alice."
"I don't suppose you remember what Jane said then?" Clark asked.
"Not really. It was a long time ago, but I don't think there's anything to remember anyway. But, now that I think of it, I do recall that when I first started to spend summers here with Dave, after we were married, kids used to say that somebody was murdered on the ridge and that the Lemieux place was haunted. Oh, by the way, I ran into Jenny on the way over. She's expecting the coroner's report this morning. I asked her if she'd talk to you about it later today and she said she would."
Lois smiled. "It helps to have contacts in the community."
Allie said seriously, somewhat aggressively, "This is my town. Whatever happened out there may be long in the past, but it's still important to find out the truth." As she turned to leave, Allie said, "And don't you two forget that you have a date this evening. I was talking to Ben outside the hotel. Says there's a good jazz group there tonight." And then she was gone.
"Are all small towns like this, Clark? Everyone knows everyone in some kind of intricate pattern of relationships. I can even see that in the papers we're reading."
"Probably. At least Smallville is. But like Smallville, this town is probably going through changes too. Getting bigger, but losing some of its young people to better opportunities in bigger cities. Matt Thomson is the exception, staying here to build something new."
"Yes, but I expect he stays because of his commitment to his people. His dad's the band chief."
She flipped through one more paper. Then she spotted a picture that caught her interest next to an article on the events of the 'first day of spring' celebration. "Clark look at this." She slid the paper across to him and Clark looked at a large picture of a few young people laughing at something that had happened during one of the day's contests. There, in the centre of the picture, were two couples, David James hugging Alice Cardinal, and Tony Gates and Jane Malenkov, who were jointly holding a large cup pronouncing them the winners of the 'Spring Slush' contest.
Clark quickly read the article which accompanied the picture and then raised his eyes to meet Lois's. "I guess they knew each other pretty well at that time." His voice was soft, thoughtful. Then, "I didn't realize Senator Gates had ties here."
Lois ignored his latter comment and voiced the first thought that had occurred to her. "Clark, do you think Uncle Dave was dating Alice Cardinal then? That would mean that he could be the father of her baby."
He looked at the worry in her face and tried to reassure her. "Lois, he's just hugging her. The last I heard, it takes a little more than that."
She relaxed. "You're right, but don't you think he would have mentioned Alice to Allie at least once or twice, later on. You know, when he was reminiscing about the past."
"Why? If there was nothing between them, I doubt if he would even think about it."
"I guess so." But she still didn't like the intuitive twinge she felt about this.
It didn't take them long to finish going through the few remaining papers . They found the notice of Alice's disappearance at the end of August and the follow up story that suggested she had "eloped" with an out-of-state trucker she had met while waitressing at the diner during the summer. Then there were no further references to the incident. It appeared that Matt Thomson was right; the town had ignored the whole thing and gone on with its life. Dave James had become a doctor, married, and remained a summer visitor with his wife and family; Jane Malenkov had stayed in Legatteville and married one of the town's leading businessmen; and Tony Gates had moved >from the family business to national politics and prominence.
Clark finished reading the last paper. "Let's put these back and go get some lunch. Then maybe we can see if the police have finished with the coroner's report."
Jenny O'Rourke looked up from her work with mixed feelings as the reporters from the Daily Planet entered her office. Personally, she had taken a liking to them but, professionally, she was wary. As reporters for one of the largest newspapers in the country, their motivation would be to get the 'Big Story,' probably including in it as much sensationalism as possible. She hoped that the 'Planet' would not run the story. After all, the murder was a very old one; there must be dozens of similar incidents in Metropolis.
Her face took on a very official look as she spoke to the two reporters. "I take it you're interested in the report we got this morning?" She slid the report across her desk towards them. Lois picked it up, skimming quickly through it as Clark read over her shoulder. Alice had been between five and six months pregnant at the time of her death. The cause of death was a blow to the back of the skull, although there was also damage to the collarbone and the neck vertebrae, and the left arm was fractured. Death probably would have been instantaneous. Not much more.
Clark looked up. "Do you know anything about the last week of her life?"
"Not much. I wanted to have this report before I asked Mary Cardinal more about that." Her face was serious. "Don't talk to her yet. I'll be going out there later this afternoon and I'm not sure it'll help either the case or Mary if you two are there at the same time."
"Are people out there pretty upset by this? Matt seemed hostile about it last night," Lois asked.
Jenny's eyes flashed briefly. "Understandably. His family is close to Mary."
"We would like to talk to her, but it can wait until tomorrow. Anything else you can tell us from the lab reports?" Clark asked.
"The locket you already know about. Textile fragments indicate she was wearing a red dress, a synthetic satin type fabric. One earring was found. Blood particles on some of the hair on the back of the skull. That's about it." Her last comment was a dismissal.
Out on the street, as they walked to the car, Lois expressed her frustration. "Clark, she isn't being very helpful. I wonder if Henderson was running the course on 'Media Relations' the year she took her training?"
Clark turned to look at her, his face composed. "No, not likely. He probably saved himself time and just sent a fax to all the graduates, 'Beware Lois Lane.' He's quite effIcient, you know."
Lois made a face at him and then turned more thoughtful. "She has a lot at stake in this too. I wonder if she and Matt resolved their differences."
"I don't know. Let's hope the Legatteville Police handle things more thoroughly this time, but it's a very old trail to follow." He opened the door of the car for Lois to get in and they headed out to the Anderson's place so that Clark could take a look at the site of the crime.
Clark's first thought as he looked at the Lemieux house was that it needed a lot of work. The steps of the small porch tilted slightly downward, paralleling the angle at which the porch had settled. Grey paint was flaking off the wood of the window frames and the front door. Jeff Anderson opened it to the two reporters and invited them into the small front hall. After Lois had introduced Clark, she explained why they had come.
While she was talking, Clark looked over to the spartan living room where he saw a computer terminal up and running. Remembering Lois's suspicions about the couple, he decided to check out the monitor. While Lois was politely asking about Jeff's wife, Clark unobtrusively lowered his glasses and zeroed in on the computer screen. What he saw surprised him. It was a compilation of all the UFO sightings that had been reported in the area. The address on the report was even more interesting: Bureau 39.
For a moment he was very still. He had thought that Bureau 39 had been shut down over a year ago after Trask's paranoia and criminal activities had discredited government investigations of alien contact. He had been naive to think that he realized now. Government agencies rarely closed. Some bureaucrat or politician must still think Bureau 39's mandate was valid. Remembering what had happened with Trask in Smallville, he wondered what else the Bureau was investigating, where else it was investigating.
His thoughts were interrupted by Brenda Anderson as she entered the front hall. After introducing her to Clark, Jeff said, "I think I've read some of the work you two have done in the 'Daily Planet,' stories about Superman." He turned to look at Lois speculatively, but his tone was casual. "Ms. Lane, there seems to be some connection between the two of you; there's no other individual Superman has been linked with in the reports I've read."
Lois was surprised at this turn in their conversation, not much liking it. She knew that some people had thought there was something between her and Superman, but she didn't want them thinking that now, especially not Clark. She looked at him, but his face was blank, a mask. So she said to Jeff, "I've got into trouble a few times, chasing down leads. I've been lucky that he's been there to bail me out."
"He's an amazing creature," Jeff replied.
"Creature!" Lois's voice was angry. "You make him sound inhuman."
"Well, Ms. Lane, he's not human, is he? He's an extraterrestrial."
Clark was aware of the sudden flash in Lois's eyes, recognizing the sign of an impending eruption of the Lane temper. Now was not the time to alienate Jeff Anderson; not before he could figure out what the Andersons were looking for. Quickly thanking them for their permission to look around, he took Lois by the arm and turned her to the door, not giving her a chance to speak again.
As they walked away from the house, Lois said indignantly, "Clark, why did you do that? I wasn't finished with that man! Clark, what he said is just so … so … " her voice trailed into a sputter.
"True?" his voice was bitter and she looked at him in surprise, forgetting her anger at him.
"Clark! Not you too!" She stopped to stare directly at him. "Surely you can't think that way. You're his friend too."
He kept walking, as though he were avoiding her. He'd been thrown off balance by what he'd seen in the Anderson's living room. He hadn't liked Jeff's interest in Lois's relationship with Superman. That she could be threatened by that relationship had been a fear in the back of his mind, and it now came unbidden to the surface. "Let's check the lower ridge," he said as he walked down toward the area that was still marked off by the yellow ropes and wooden stakes left by the police. He willed his mind to focus on the crime they were investigating, blocking out the implications of Jeff Anderson's comment, and tried to distance himself from the attractive woman behind him.
Her startled cry caught his attention and he looked up to see her in the process of falling. In a flash he was beside her, catching her just before she fell. He was doomed he thought; he would never lose that protective feeling he had for her.
Steadying her, he said softly "You okay?"
"Yes. Thank you." She was walking gingerly, testing the reliability of the ankle that she had twisted a moment ago when she had stumbled on a loose rock. "You moved quickly, Clark! How'd you do it?"
"Adrenaline, I guess. I seem to have a sixth sense where you're concerned, Ms. Lane."
"Good. That's good." She smiled at him and put her hand on his chest, and then searched his face. "Clark, what's bothering you? Why did you pull me out of the house so quickly?"
He let out a shallow breath. He didn't want to talk to her about this yet. It had been unexpected and he wasn't sure what to do, but he knew that Lois would be sure what to do. She'd whirl back in that living room like a righteous tornado. "Lois, I'm okay … And you … you were about to blow! The Lane volcano!"
She wasn't satisfied with his response, but she decided to let it go for now. Tonight, they would have time to talk. So she said, "Okay, partner, let's get to work."
He took her hand ( in case she tripped again, he told himself ), and they walked farther down the ridge, their feet cushioned by the fallen leaves of last October. When they got to the place where Alice Cardinal had been buried, they stopped. Lois looked back at the house while Clark tramped around the site looking for anything that the police, with less powerful vision, might have missed.
Lois was trying to reconstruct in her mind what had happened. She walked over to him and said, "Clark, what do you think might have happened that night? I know that Alice left for the dance with a group of friends. Likely one of the group was her date. We could ask Mary Cardinal that tomorrow."
"I wonder if they went directly to the dance or if Alice and her date decided to come here first, to the empty house?" Clark added.
"Jane might know that," Lois said. A small unbidden voice also said, < and ask your uncle>. "Perhaps Alice and her date used the house to talk, most likely about her pregnancy. Then a fight?"
"Or, instead, maybe they came here after the dance. I think that would have been more likely, but, given the coroner's report, I think you're right about the fight, Lois."
"Assuming they fought in the house, then Alice's body would have been dragged or carried down the ridge to where we're standing." Lois looked around her. "This spot is heavily treed and completely hidden from the road. It would be possible to dig a shallow grave and not be noticed."
As Clark listened to her, he followed her gaze up to the top of the ridge, to the back of the old house. "Let's go back up there and try to work out the easiest way down. I think we just took the quickest way down, rather than the easiest." They climbed back up to the top and then walked along the ridge looking for a likely way down.
"I don't suppose after all these years we'll be able to find anything." Lois said as she looked over the landscape. "Anyway, if something dropped or fell off, it's probably buried now beneath a couple of inches of decayed leaves and soil."
They walked down the easiest incline this time and stood looking back up through the trees. Clark was standing behind her so it was easy for him to do a quick scan of the hillside, and then he thought he saw it, a bit of gold lying under the dark earth along the path they had just taken. He wondered how he could legitimately 'find' it and then he remembered what Lois had told him about the metal detector that the Andersons had been using.
"Lois, why don't we ask the Andersons if we can borrow their metal detector to scan this part of the slope. Maybe we can turn up the other earring." Then he realized grimly that this might also give him another chance to find out more about what the Anderson's were looking for.
When they reached the front of the house, Brenda was outside, about to get in her car. She agreed easily to their request and minutes later Clark was carrying the instrument and a rusty garden trowel that Brenda had found in a small shed near the house.
"Do you mind if I come with you?" she asked. They looked at her in surprise. "I admit, I'm curious about what did really happen. If you do find something, I can act as a second witness, so to speak."
"That's a good idea," Lois said.
Once again they made their way down the slope and began to search the 'route' Lois had pronounced to be the easiest but found nothing. About half way up the second path, they heard the high pitched frequency of the electronic sensor and stopped. Digging carefully, Clark uncovered the earring. It was gold, a large hoop incised with stylized outlines of two snakes, each set with a small garnet.
"Don't touch it," Brenda said automatically. "I'll contact the police and they can check this area properly. They'll be able to say if it's a match for the original." She stood up and climbed briskly up the slope.
"Why do I get the feeling she's not unaccustomed to finding this sort of thing, Clark?"
"She does seem pretty efficient."
"Clark, what do *you* think they're looking for out here?"
He looked at her for a moment, uncertain what to say. He wanted to be sure before he told her. Then he spoke quietly, "Lois, I don't know. Look, why don't we continue scanning the hill." He stepped away from her, sweeping the detector back and forth across the earth, noticing as he walked backwards down the slope that the instrument he was using was quite sophisticated, able to sense more than mineral fragments. As he worked, he wondered if the Bureau was still interested in Superman, or if Jeff's earlier comment had been coincidental. He would have to find out.
Lois watched him, his head bent as he concentrated on his task. She felt chilled, as if he had removed his warmth from her. She wasn't sure what was going on. It was like he was running out on her again, only here there was no video store to flee to. What was he afraid of? Sitting on an exposed boulder, she watched him until he reached the bottom.
He looked up at her. "Nothing," he said.
As he was walking back toward her, Brenda appeared at the top of the ridge and called down. "I've phoned the police. They're on their way. Why don't you two come up to the house for some tea until they get here?"
Lois stood up and turned around. "Thank you. I could use a cup of tea right now."
Clark was beside her. "That would be great. Thanks."
Moments later they were standing on the faded linoleum floor of the Anderson's front hall. Lois removed her boots. "Do you mind if I use your washroom?" She slid out of her jacket and handed it to Brenda.
"It's upstairs, second door on the right," she said as she tossed Lois's coat on a chair and then turned towards the front room. She paused for a moment as though noticing the room for the first time. "We still haven't completely moved in." Her voice was apologetic as she spoke to Clark. "Sit down. I'll go make some tea."
Clark looked around the room while Brenda was in the kitchen. He wondered were Jeff had gone but was glad for the moment to be alone. He walked over to the corner which housed the computer, printer, modem — all the peripherals, the latest and the best. He did a quick scan of the workspace but noticed nothing unusual. The top of the desk was almost bare, mail neatly organized in a black mesh holder and files stacked by the computer. Lying to one side was a magazine on farming, one that he recognized as having been a mainstay in his home back in Kansas since he was a boy. That and the 'National Geographic,' he thought with a smile, suddenly nostalgic for the simpler times of his childhood. This particular issue of 'Natural Farm' featured an article on goat farming. He smiled appreciatively. <Nice touch > he thought.
He turned as he heard Lois's footsteps on the stairs and he watched her as she came into the room. Then, at that moment, Jeff entered the room, carrying an armload of firewood. "Hi. Have you two finished checking things out, then?" He walked across the room and deposited the wood in front of the dark brick fireplace in the centre of the far wall. Kneeling, he carefully arranged logs and kindling in the hearth and then lit a match. Once he was satisfied that the fire was burning successfully, he sat down and smiled slightly at his visitors.
"We seem to have stumbled on quite a mystery out here," he said.
"I understand you found the body quite by accident, " Clark said. "While you were searching for something else, I believe."
"Just a hobby," Jeff said. "We heard there were a lot of mines in this area once. Perhaps we might find something worthwhile."
Brenda entered the room and placed a tray with a brown teapot and plain mugs on a small square table in front of the sofa. As she poured the tea, she said, "We haven't found anything yet, though."
"I guess you'll have to keep looking. Never can tell what you'll find." Clark decided to do some digging." Lois tells me there were rumours of aliens being spotted out here years ago. Maybe you'll find some evidence of that."
"I doubt it. You two have probably had more contact with aliens than I have." Jeff sipped at his tea and then said, "Afterall, Superman is not exactly from around here."
Brenda spoke. "What's he like? You know, I'm not even sure if he is an alien. He could be the result of secret government or corporate experiments in biotechnology and genetic engineering. If so, it'll be interesting to watch how he develops over the next couple of years. The results of these experiments are often short-lived, I believe."
Lois was floored, but before she could speak, Jeff said, "It's a great opportunity for you two as reporters though. When the next big development connected with him happens, you'll be on top of the story."
Clark placed his mug on the table carefully, fearful he might break it if he got distracted. "Development? What are you expecting?"
"Remember last year when Superman was out of control, committing acts of vandalism?" Jeff asked.
"Yes, but that wasn't his fault," Lois spoke in Superman's defence.
"Wasn't it? I know what your paper said, but next time, it could be more serious. People could be seriously injured," Brenda said.
Lois tried to be reasonable. "Look, you don't know Superman, but we do. He wouldn't hurt anyone."
Brenda was not convinced. "I don't know if I agree. Remember, Superman shows no signs of emotion. I recall when he first appeared, he seemed to have some feeling for you, Lois, but that could have been part of the plan; after all, it's useful to have a media connection, particularly one with your credentials."
Clark was aware of Lois's intake of breath and the increase of her heart rate as Brenda finished speaking. Surely she didn't believe that Superman had been using her. He didn't recognize his voice when he spoke; it seemed to be coming from someone else. "You think he's a threat then?"
"No. Not at the moment," Jeff said.
Silence, and then Lois spoke, astounded at what he had said. "Not at the moment? Superman has saved so many lives! How can you even think that he could be a threat?"
"Ms. Lane," his voice was serious, "You're obviously too close to him. We don't know what he is, how he got here, why he's here. He's been here less than two years. There may be more like him and who knows what they are planning, what their goals are? We don't know much about him either, except that he's not human."
Brenda spoke, her voice almost clinical. "It would be interesting to know more about his body, his biological structure. I wonder if anyone has ever been able to take a sample of his body tissue?"
Lois felt her blood go cold as they spoke. "I don't think you understand. Maybe it's because you don't live in Metropolis, haven't seen the things I have, we have." She turned to look at Clark, to include him in her comments. "Superman has helped so much, made such a difference to so many people. He's the best we can be, not some sort of alien threat. He's not some specimen to be dissected!"
"How can you feel so strongly about him. How do you know you can trust him?" Jeff looked at her skeptically.
"Because I can." There was no doubt in her voice. "I know that he would never willingly hurt anyone or betray anyone."
"You haven't said very much about this, Clark. Perhaps you don't agree with your partner." Jeff's voice was speculative as he spoke.
Clark had been listening, not pleased with Brenda's perception of Superman as a potential lab specimen, but he spoke lightly, "I know better than to disagree with my partner." He somehow felt Lois's icy glare. "I do agree, however, that Superman would never willingly hurt anyone. He is no threat." His voice was firm. Then he said, "I'm curious though, Jeff. Do you think the government should keep Superman under surveillance, just in case he does turn out to be a threat?"
"It would be a good idea. We can't afford to be caught by surprise. Superman's intentions may very well be harmless but we don't know very much about him. It's our lack of information that's dangerous."
"I suppose the government has some sort of contingency plan in case he does turn out to be a threat," Clark commented.
Jeff shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows?"
Lois had been surprised by Clark's questions but decided to follow his lead. "By the way, we saw references to UFO sightings in this area in the 'Link' when we were doing a background check on Alice Cardinal this morning."
"I've checked out a few reports, nothing in any depth," Jeff said. They continued to talk about the reported sightings around Legatteville for awhile and then turned to other things, both Lois and Clark trying to probe more into their background and not having much success.
About 4 o'clock Frank Johaansen arrived and they all walked with him to where Clark had uncovered the earring. Frank had come prepared and now he opened his kit and put on a pair of plastic gloves. As he carefully turned the hoop in his hand he said, "It's a match for the other one. Must've come off as the body was dragged downhill."
For awhile, they drove back to Allie and Dave's in silence, each preoccupied with unwelcome thoughts. Lois stared unseeingly out the window of the car and then turned to look at Clark's hands on the steering wheel, finding some reassurance in them. He rarely drove, so when he did she was always surprised at how good a driver he was. His hands were large, strong, and calm on the wheel. He's like that she thought. Her gaze shifted to his face and her reassurance vanished. The skin across his cheekbones seemed tight, his face a mask as he stared ahead at the road. She didn't understand what was happening.
Somehow, he seemed to sense her uneasiness. He turned, a small rueful smile crossing his face.
"What happened back there, Clark? About Superman, I mean?"
He let his breath out slowly and she could feel his tension. She touched his arm gently, her eyes fixed on his face, and waited. "Lois, have you ever really *thought* about Superman; I mean, who he is, what he is? Have you never really thought about the fact that he's, well, not normal?"
"Clark," Her tone told him that she thought his question was pretty obvious, "he can fly! I had noticed that no one else I knew could do that."
"Lois!" but he relaxed slightly at the teasing tone of her voice.
"Okay, I admit, for a moment, I was shaken. It had never crossed my mind that he could be using us. Is that what's upset you, too? I know you thought he was your friend. And he is. Clark, what the Andersons said is not true. He's risked his life for Metropolis. Remember rule number one: always consider your source, and the Andersons I doubt. For starters, they're not married."
"How do you know that?"
"Well, when they're together, they've never seemed like a couple to me. There doesn't seem to be a connection between them. You know." He turned briefly to look at her, his face a question. Women were astonishing he thought. How did they reach these conclusions?
"Ah hah!" Her voice was pleased. "When I was upstairs the doors to the bedrooms were open so … "
"You couldn't resist and found … "
"Not much," her voice was triumphant. "Like the rest of the house, a place to stay, but not … "
"a home. Empty rooms … " he continued her thought.
"One empty room," she corrected him. "The other two bedrooms are both being used. Clark they aren't … "
"Right! Clark, if we were married we definitely would be sharing the same bed." Then a pause as she realized what she'd said. "I mean, you know … most couples … it's only natural … "
"Yeah." He grinned and took her hand. He'd thought about that. A lot.
But Jeff and Brenda's comments wouldn't leave him. He dressed slowly for his date with Lois, wondering, for the first time, if having a relationship, if getting married was the right thing. He had wanted that for so long, been so sure that they were meant to be together. He had never lost that conviction, even during the nightmare that had been her engagement to Lex Luthor, but Jeff's comments this afternoon had shaken him. That, and the reappearance of Bureau 39.
Apparently the government had not dropped their investigations, did not fully trust Superman. What right did he have to pull Lois into this, to put her at risk? It was bad enough that his parents were involved. Maybe he had been wrong to think that he could have a normal life, friends, a job, someone to love. Maybe it would be more responsible to isolate himself, to retreat into solitude.
Bleakly, he looked in the mirror, searching for some sign that he was different but he couldn't see one. He wished that Jeff had been right about his lack of emotion; that he were some kind of Spock-like being, operating on pure logic, mildly bewildered by the human feelings around him. He had rarely felt physical pain in his life but he felt it now as his stomach twisted at the thought of what he knew he had to do tonight. He could not put Lois at risk. He would tell her that he had been wrong, that they could not be together.
He was waiting in the living room when he heard her steps at the top of the staircase. He stood up and turned to look at her, catching his breath as he did so. He thought she had never looked more beautiful, more seductive, her dark hair skimming the top of her bare shoulders. Her dark burgundy dress was cut low over the swell of her high breasts, emphasizing the narrowness of her waist and the curve of her hips. He could not move.
Lois smiled at him radiantly as she entered the living room. He really was gorgeous, she thought. He was wearing dark charcoal slacks and shirt, and a grey tweed coat and she wanted very much to kiss him. Instead, she walked over to him and slid her arm through his. "Shall we go, Mr. Kent?" She felt him flinch as she spoke and looked up, surprised. His face had taken on that tight, drawn look that she had seen earlier today. She pulled her hand away from his arm, suddenly uncertain.
"I'll get your coat," he said, and walked to the closet to pull her long woolen coat from its hanger. Standing behind her, he helped her on with it, distracted by the fragrance of her perfume, the softness of her hair as it brushed lightly against his cheek. For a moment he kept his hands on her shoulders and then said softly, "Let's go."
Their date was a disaster. Clark behaved like an idiot, acting more like a Vulcan than a Krptonian raised in Kansas by loving and affectionate parents. The drive to the Legatteville hotel seemed to take forever as Clark confined his conversation to polite observations about the similarities between Smallville and Legatteville. Lois thought he sounded like a cultural anthropologist. At one point she thought hysterically that she was on a date with Data and started to giggle only to be met by his silence. By the time they were walking into the hotel, she was so unnerved she wanted to bolt.
Dinner was no better. Their conversation was stilted with only the occasional welcome relief of the waiter bringing the next course or pouring water or wine. Her mouth was dry and she kept drinking water like someone who has been lost for days in a desert. Once, she reached across to touch his hand and he had immediately withdrawn it. She was sure she could hear the sound of her knife on her plate.
Lois was panicking; she had known it would be a mistake to go out on a date with him and she had been right. All her relationships were disasters, she thought. How could she have been so wrong about him? After all, he did keep disappearing on her, usually when she wanted to talk to him about something important. That should have been a big clue! But she had thought there had been an intensity there in his feelings for her. It was what had frightened her until she had recognized, and then accepted, that the intensity was there in her too.
Clark was miserable. He looked across the table at Lois, sitting very straight in her chair, pushing her food back and forth across her plate and drinking incredible amounts of water for some reason. Her eyes had long ago lost the glow they had held when she had walked over to him at the beginning of the evening. "I guess this wasn't such a good idea, " he said finally.
"I guess not." Her voice was toneless and she kept her eyes on her plate. For a horrible moment she thought she was going to cry, her sense of loss seemed so great.
"I'm sorry, Lois." He knew he owed her more, but he couldn't bring himself to speak. He hadn't known anything could hurt so much.
The band started to play, the music an old standard, smoothly romantic, ironic. "Let's go Clark. There's no reason to stay any longer." She stood up, feeling she had to escape. "I'll just visit the Ladies' Room and then I'll meet you in the lobby."
He watched her cross the room, a look of longing on his face. He signalled the waiter and asked for the bill.
In the washroom, Lois looked at herself in the mirror, not pleased at the despair she saw there. What had happened? Until this afternoon she and Clark had been so close, quietly pleased with themselves about their upcoming date, each of them aware of it in an almost conspiratorial way. What had changed that? Thinking back to this afternoon, she realized he had started to act oddly after their talks with the Anderson's about Superman. Was that it? Had those conversations reminded him of how she had thrown herself at Superman? Did he think that he was her second choice and realized he couldn't accept that?
Her face took on a determined look. "Well, Clark Kent, I'm not giving up on us that easily." She spoke out loud to her reflection in the mirror, then suddenly realized she was not alone. She turned to the woman who had stopped to look at her and said the only possible thing in the circumstances. "Men!"
The woman smiled and said, "Good luck."
Clark was standing in the lobby waiting for her when she came out. As she approached him, she had a look in her eye that made him uneasy, one he had seen before but never directed at him. He held out her coat for her. She took it, folded it over her arm, and looked at him like a general about to go into battle.
"Okay, Clark. This has been the worst date of my life. Even worse than the date with the computer guy in my second year of college." She jabbed him in the chest. "Even worse than the blind date that Cat set up for me with the sales rep from Microsoft." She jabbed his chest again "Even worse than … "
"I get the picture, Lois."
"And, *you* are coming with *me* right now." She gestured toward the hotel bar. "We are going to talk." She moved away from him, striding into the darkened bar, and then, spotting a table in the far end of the room , she headed toward it. She did not look back to see if he was following her. She sat down in the corner alcove, sinking back into the leather-covered bench, watching him carefully as he approached the table. He slid onto the bench so that he was sitting at a right angle beside her, but he said nothing. The waiter came over, quickly took their orders, and left.
"All right, Clark, what happened out there this afternoon?" Her voice was firm, insistent. Then she reached out to touch his hand and her voice lost its aggressive edge, "I thought you wanted us to be closer." She watched his face, searching for some clue to his thoughts.
"Lois, it's not as simple as that, and I don't think we can talk about it here." But he didn't pull his hand away, although he said nothing more.
Lois sighed and decided to raise the stakes, rationalizing that nothing could be worse than where they were right now. She absently brushed her thumb across the back of his hand, aware of his tension. She spoke softly, keeping her eyes fixed on his face. "Tonight should have been wonderful, Clark. Is it Superman? That talk this afternoon? Do you think that I'm still in love with him? Is that it?"
"Lois, this afternoon, I saw a document with Bureau 39 in the heading on the computer at the Anderson's. I think they're probably government agents, and given their comments about Superman, it looks like the government still has not decided what Superman is. Lois, if you were involved with Superman, you could be at risk."
She was faintly puzzled by his comments. Why was he so preoccupied with this? Why did he think that he had to warn her about this? "But Clark, we are involved with him. We're his friends and if he's under suspicion, then he needs us. We can't let him face this alone. He has to know that he can count on us. In some ways, you know, I think he's a bit naive. He'll need us."
"Oh, so you're going to protect Superman, are you?"
"Yes. Somebody has to!"
He laughed briefly then, aware of a sense of surprise and wonder at her attitude, at the decisiveness in her voice, and felt some of the tension drain from his body. He had overreacted to the presence of the Bureau agents; there were bigger threats out there than they posed. And, he thought, Lois Lane wasn't going to let him face those threats alone, regardless of how much he might want to protect her. He leaned back against the upholstered seat and said softly, "You are incredible, Ms. Lane."
She flashed a brief grin at him. "It's about time you realized that, Clark Kent." Then she shifted in her seat so that she was facing him. "Clark, I guess it was pretty obvious how I felt about Superman. He was safe to love. He's honest, good, he cares about people and I admire those things. I was infatuated with him, with what he stands for, and I'll always care for him. I can't imagine not doing that. But Clark, you're like that too. Only there's more, so much more." Her voice turned shaky and she looked at him ruefully. "And sometimes when you smile at me, Clark Kent, the back of my knees go weak." She took a breath and then decided to go the distance. "I've never felt like this before, and I'm not going to let you go. I'm in love with you Clark; nothing is going to change that."
"I guess I've been a bit of a jerk, tonight." His voice was soft.
"Uh huh. Fortunately, I'm a forgiving sort of person."
"Fortunately." He bent forward and placing his hand on the side of her face, he kissed her, slowly, sweetly. "I love you too, Lois Lane. I've loved you for such a long time." He'd been a fool; the decision about their relationship had never been his to make; it had been hers. It had been hers since the first day they had met, and she had been right; he did need her.
The waiter interrupted them as he hovered by the side of their table for a moment before putting down their drinks. Lois regained her composure enough to thank him while Clark paid him, leaving a very generous tip. The waiter grinned appreciatively; lovers were always generous.
A boisterous group of about seven people entered the bar and took the empty table next to theirs. Serious conversation turned out to be impossible and so they sipped their drinks in silence, holding hands, content to be together, each knowing there were still things they hadn't said, that they wanted to say to each other. Later, as they were leaving the bar, Clark impulsively pulled Lois against him and kissed her hard. Sitting beside her, just holding hands had taken its toll on his self restraint.
After she caught her breath, Lois looked at him with narrowed eyes. "I bet you're pleased with yourself, Kent."
"Right now I'm feeling *very* pleased, Lois," he said, his eyes glittering.
She felt the back of her knees go weak.
Shortly after midnight, as she snuggled contentedly in her bed, Lois drowsily thought about the rest of the evening. After they had left the bar, they'd returned to the dining room, drawn by the soft sounds of old jazz classics. A very young and very talented woman was singing, her voice low and throaty,
*"At last my love has come along
My lonely days are over
And life is but a song."*
As she had continued to sing, Clark had taken Lois's hand and she had followed his lead as they danced, far enough apart so that they could gaze at each other as they listened to the lyrics of the song, their eyes shining. When the song ended, Clark bent his head and softly kissed her neck, just behind her earlobe. "That's how you make me feel, Lois," he'd whispered.
Lois fell asleep thinking about how they'd talked and laughed for the next couple of hours, how incredible his arms had felt around her as they had danced, how she wanted more, how she wanted him.
Across the hall, Clark was still wide awake, thinking about the incredible woman in the opposite room. It had taken every ounce of his self-control not to use his x-ray vision to watch her, < spy on > he thought, as she had got ready for bed. Well, okay, that wasn't quite true. For the first time in his life he actually had used his vision for that purpose. He had been dreamily remembering how good she had felt in his arms, how soft her lips had been as he had kissed her goodnight, and then he had heard it, the sound of a zipper being pulled down in the room across the hall. It had been automatic; he had looked.
He had watched mesmerized as she had stepped quickly out of her dress and then walked to the closet to hang it up. As she hung it up she had smiled about something and then giggled and it was at that moment that his conscience caught up with him. He shook his head and refocused, disgusted with his adolescent behavior. <Worse than adolescent. You were much more in control as an adolescent than you are now.> He sighed, and fell into bed, images of Lois Lane's voluptuous body refusing to leave his mind. < Lois, we're going to have to do something about this very soon.>
He was already at the table the next morning when she came down. "Good morning," he said looking at her for some affirmation of what they had shared last evening. "How are you?"
"Fine, fine. Dreamt about you last night," she said as she poured orange juice.
He grinned wickedly at her. "Was I good?"
Immediately she turned red and then the Lane pride took over. She sat back in her chair and raised an eyebrow, her voice indignant. "You hope."
But Clark had no pride where she was concerned and he grinned again. "I do."
They were laughing as Dave joined them in the kitchen. "You two seem in good spirits this morning." He opened the fridge and started rummaging for food. "We were a little later than usual last night and Allie's still asleep. Thought I'd see if I could figure out how to make pancakes. "In truth, he didn't figure he could but was hopeful that his niece could, assuming as he was that it was part of every girl's basic training.
Clark spoke up. "Want some help?" He walked over to the fridge and pulled out a container of buttermilk and some eggs. "Where do you keep your flour?"
Dave wasn't sure about that but his third guess turned out to be right. Realizing gratefully that breakfast was not going to be a lost cause, he poured himself some orange juice and sat down beside his niece. For a moment they both watched as Clark efficiently went about the task of making pancakes.
"Talented guy," he said to Lois.
"That's what I keep telling her," Clark said as he spooned the batter onto the grill. "I have multiple uses."
Allie walked in at that moment and looked at the scene in front of her. "I'd offer my help but it doesn't appear necessary."
Clark turned to her, "Just tell me where the maple syrup is and you'll shortly be having Kent's gourmet pancakes."
As she reached into the cupboard next to the fridge, Allie said, "So, how was dinner last night? " She hoped she sounded casual as she asked the question. She was surprised by their response; Lois giggled and Clark turned to watch her while she answered.
"Well, I'm not sure what I ate; I was so enthralled by Clark's *brilliant* conversation, it was hard to notice."
Clark rolled his eyes and turned back to his task. As he flipped the pancakes, he said to Allie. "Nerves. Your niece overwhelms me. Performance anxiety."
It was Lois's turn to roll her eyes and then she said demurely, "He improved though." Clark turned and flashed her a happy grin, and Allie smiled, thinking that this time she would go to Lois's wedding. She handed Clark a plate onto which he piled the pancakes. He carried it over to the table and they all helped themselves .
"These are pretty good," Dave said after he swallowed his first mouthful. "How'd you learn to make these?" his voice was thoughtful as he looked at his forkful of pancake.
"Maybe there's some hope for my husband. This could mean that I would be able to leave him alone for breakfast. He wouldn't starve."
"Umf," Dave's reply was a grunt as he continued to eat his breakfast.
"It's my Mom's recipe. I'm an early riser and so she decided pretty early that I had better learn to manage for myself first thing in the morning."
"Wise woman." Allie was curious about his parents, what they were like.
"She is." Lois commented. "Both Clark's parents are pretty wonderful," she said, remembering how they had always made her feel part of their family, >from the very first time she had visited Smallville. "They're half the reason I tolerate Clark," she smiled at him mischeviously. "Although these pancakes could be a second reason."
"Good to know I'm appreciated. My hard work, late nights, endless data searches … "
"Speaking of hard work," Allie interjected, "did you two find anything yesterday?" They hadn't really had time to talk when they had returned in the late afternoon.
"Some things." Lois's words were indistinct as she swallowed a mouthful of pancake. She made a quick decision not to mention the picture they had found of her uncle and Alice Cardinal. "Not much in your archives," she looked up to meet Clark's narrowed eyes, and then continued in what she hoped was an ordinary voice, "After that we drove out to the Anderson's because I wanted to show Clark where the body had been found. There, we found quite a lot "
Clark continued, "You were right, Allie, to be suspicious about the Anderson's. There was a memo on their computer that suggests they're government agents, investigating UFOs."
Dave snorted in disgust. "I can't believe the government is still wasting money on that nonesense. We used to take all that stuff seriously back in the 1950's when we were kids. Used to go out to the ridge waiting to spot UFOs. Nothing. Uninformed people with over active imaginations see a little moonlight through fog and the next thing you know they've seen little green men with big eyes."
"I knew it," Allie said. "That accounts for the all the activity with the metal detector. Scanning for traces of unusual materials. Think I'll do a follow-up interview with them."
"I don't think you'll get much." Clark poured more syrup on his pancakes as he spoke. "The government likes to keep a low profile on this sort of thing. 'Don't panic the masses.' My guess is they'll be gone in a couple of weeks after they determine that there's nothing to be found."
"We also found the other earring. At least Clark did. Frank Johaansen came out and identified it as a match for the one that Alice was wearing the night she was killed." Lois explained how they found it and also what it looked like. "Allie, I'd like to talk more with Jane about her friendship with Alice. Do you think she'd mind?"
"No. All this has upset her, but I think she'd like to get it all out into the open. Jenny talked to her about the locket yesterday, and I think people are wondering what's going on. Jane's always been uncomfortable with gossip. I'll give her a call to let her know you'd like to see her. "
Allie walked over to the kitchen phone and seconds later was talking to her friend. They could come out before Jane went to church.
***Jane Malenkov lived in a graceful Victorian house just two blocks from Legatteville's main street. She was waiting at the front door as the two reporters walked up the steps of the large wooden porch. She welcomed them and led them into her spacious, sunny living room and then she disappeared into her kitchen to bring coffee. For the first time in her career, Lois felt constrained by the circumstances in which she found herself. The coziness of the room, and Jane's long friendship with her aunt made Lois feel intrusive, as though perhaps it wasn't the 'people's right' to know the truth. Then she remember Mary Cardinal and Matt Thomson and their need to know.
Clark seemed to sense something of her uneasiness because he touched her hand and said softly, "It's all right," just as Jane returned carrying a tray with coffee and china teacups. She slid it onto the dark polished coffee table. They waited until she had completed the ritual of pouring coffee and then Clark explained why they had come.
"We wanted to find out more about Alice's friends during the last year of her life. I notice you have a lot of pictures of your family," he gestured toward the fireplace mantel, "and I wondered if perhaps you had some pictures of your last year in high school."
Jane smiled. "I expect I have pictures of just about everything. I think I was born with a camera in my hand and what I didn't take pictures of, my father did." She left the room for a moment and then returned with a dusty black album. She looked at the crowded coffee table for a second and then said, "Let's sit over by the window. We'll have more room and the light's better. Bring your coffee."
They moved over to the alcove made by the large bay window to sit around a small round table, Jane between the two reporters. "You know, I haven't looked at this album since that summer. I just couldn't finish it … " she sighed and then spoke again. "Perhaps it's time I looked at it again." She opened the album to the first page, which was also the first day of Jane's graduating year in high school. One of the pictures on the page was of just Jane and Alice, both girls laughing, arms around each other's shoulders. Both were relaxed, smiling, with the joy and optimism that is maybe only possible to have at seventeen.
Lois said sincerely, "You two must have been the most attractive girls in your class."
Jane smiled, "You think so? People said so at the time, you know, but we didn't take it too seriously. But we did have fun; we had so much fun until it all ended that August."
They turned to a double page of pictures of teenagers in bathing suits lying on a long wooden dock, diving, playing volleyball, water skiing and just generally having a good time. Lois was surprised. "This doesn't look much like the second day of school."
"It was the weekend after school started. It had been a hot summer and the weather held that year into the beginning of October. We didn't waste the opportunity to have a good time."
While the people on the first page were strangers to her, Lois thought she recognized a few of the faces in these pages. "That could be Jenny O'Rourke."
"It's her mother, Kathleen. She's a couple of years younger than us but she was usually with us when we were at the lake."
"Is this my uncle in this picture?" Lois touched the image of a tall, skinny boy stretching up to spike a volleyball. When Jane nodded, Lois said, "I thought Uncle Dave was only here in the summers."
"That's true, but he used to come occasionally during the year, particularly that year. It was his first year at university and he didn't start classes until the middle of September. As I remember now, he spent those two weeks here rather than returning to the city. "
"I wonder if he still plays volleyball, if he still has that wicked right?" Clark said. "I'll have to ask him." He paused for a moment looking at the other pictures on the page and then pointed at one of an athletic young man water-skiing. "Who's this? He looks familiar."
Again, Lois was surprised. "It looks like Senator Gates." She looked across at Jane, waiting for the older woman to explain, noticing the veil that seemed to touch her eyes for a moment.
"It is. His family has been in the area forever. Lots of money. He went to a private boy's school about fifty miles from here. Very exclusive. But he preferred hanging out with us."
"He certainly was gorgeous! Nice body!" Lois said looking at his handsome face and muscular frame.
Clark looked at her disapprovingly. " Pretty sexist, Lois."
"Just redressing the historical imbalance, Clark," Lois said piously as Jane smiled in agreement.
"Yeah. Right." Then he turned the page to find more pictures of the same weekend. This time there were two pictures of Alice and Jane in bathing suits, both doing the classic pin-up poses of the 1950's. "Am I allowed to comment here or would that be considered out of line?"
"Definitely out of line", Lois quipped just as Jane said, "Not out of line at all," and they all laughed.
At the bottom of the page was a smaller snapshot of Jane and Tony Gates, his arm around her waist. Lois looked up, "Were you and the Senator a thing then?"
"No, not then, but I saw him on and off that year. We were all of us pretty close, so I guess it was inevitable that some of us would start dating. You know how it is in small towns when you're that age."
"No." Lois spoke just as Clark said "Yes." She looked at him briefly and told herself to ask him about that later.
"Was Alice seeing anyone?" Clark asked.
"Alice dated a lot of boys. She told me about a few of them but I never got the feeling that there was anyone she was especially interested in. She really enjoyed men, and she played the field. She was so full of life! But she was really interested in school too. She was a top student and hoped to become a doctor. "
"Like Uncle Dave."
"Like your uncle. Every once in awhile they used to get into these science discussions and we'd have to bring them back to earth." Jane smiled at the memory and they continued looking through the rest of the album.
"Did my uncle ever date Alice?" Lois's voice was casual, almost disinterested, as though the question were an afterthought. Clark watched her face as she asked it.
"In a way. They did go out together a few times, but I always had the impression that they were more interested in science than they were in each other."
Clark, aware of Lois's worry about her uncle's possible involvement with Alice, felt a certain tension vanish from his partner as Jane finished her comment.
For the next hour they continued to look through the album, listening to Jane talk about the people she had known forty years ago, many of whom were still her friends. If it had been painful to bring out the album in the first place, it now was apparent that looking through these pictures was comforting for Jane after all, and Lois was glad that they had come.
The last part of the album had not been filled although there were loose pictures wedged in between two of the pages. As Jane turned the next page a few of the pictures slipped out, drifting to the faded oriental carpet beneath the table. Clark reached down, picked them up, and handed them to her. Jane touched them and he saw tears almost blur her eyes for a second and then she regained her composure.
"Thank you. These were the last pictures taken that summer. I put them here intending to fix them in place later, but I never did."
Clark looked at the date written in pencil on the bottom of the photos — August 15th. "May I look at these?" Jane nodded, and he spread them on the table. Among the pictures were two close-ups of Jane and Alice. Jane was with Tony Gates and the look on her face was clearly adoring. Alice was with a strikingly handsome young man who looked vaguely familiar.
"I feel I should know who he is," Lois said as she looked at the picture.
"That's Jim Thomson. You may have met his nephew, Matt. Jim and Alice had just got engaged when that picture was taken, although I didn't know it then. I'd forgotten that these pictures were here. They were taken the night we went to one of the weekend dances at the Pavilion."
"Was Alice excited about her engagement?" Lois was surprised at the news of the engagement. From what Jane had said earlier, it hadn't sounded like Alice was particularly interested in any one man.
"You know, I don't think so. Not the way you would expect. She seemed more resigned, the way a woman is when she settles for the sensible choice and not the man she loves."
With a flash of pain, Lois remembered her engagement to Lex Luthor, and wondered if Jane too had made 'the sensible' choice.
"Was Jim the father of her baby?"
Jane bent her head for a moment and spoke quietly, "I don't think so."
It was Clark's turn and he asked the question gently, "Do you know who was?"
Jane's eyes were momentarily angry. "It could have been one of several people. Alice liked *being* with men." Then she stood up and closed the album. "It's nearly time for church." As she picked up the album, the two photos fell to the floor. Lois bent to retrieve them, and as she handed them back to Jane, she noticed that, in the pictures, both Alice and Jane were wearing matching lockets.
Later, when they were in the car, Lois said to Clark. "The dates don't match, Clark."
"What do you mean."
"Jane told my aunt and me that she noticed her locket missing about two weeks before Alice died, but the photos were dated a week before her death."
"Maybe she was wrong about the time of the locket's disappearance. It *was* a long time ago."
"Maybe. I hope so. I wonder who Alice's boyfriends were. I wonder if one of them killed her. And I wonder if Jane was there that night at the Lemieux place."
They decided to stop for coffee at the diner where they had been on Friday night. As they got of the car, they noticed that the sky had become overcast. "Rain, probably, by evening," Clark said knowingly as he held the door open for her.
"You sound like a farmer's son when you say that, Clark," Lois teased. "I am a farmer's son, Lois. Skilled in the ancient ways of reading the skies and the earth," he said solemnly.
She bumped against him briefly, playfully. "Yeah? Five bucks says you're wrong on the rain. I heard the weather forecast when we left this morning and rain is not going to happen."
"You're on. Like taking candy from a baby."
As they entered the main area of the diner, they noticed Matt Thomson sitting alone at one of the tables. Lois headed toward his table and Clark followed. Matt looked up as they approached and asked them to join him. As the waitress poured them coffee, Clark asked him how his business was going.
"Pretty good. We've just finished our best twelve months. I think we've finally succeeded in establishing ourselves as the most reliable private charter in this part of the country. It's taken some time to do it."
"How did you get started in the first place?" Clark asked.
"I've always loved planes. My dad and uncle had a small seaplane when I was a kid. They used to fly fisherman back into the lakes in the summer. As businesses go, it was pretty marginal, but I learned a lot, tinkering with that old plane. Its engine always seemed to need repairing."
"It must have been very hard work turning such a small operation into a success," Lois said.
"It still is very hard work. Running an airline is pretty risky business."
"I understand your company had a hard time raising the initial capital to expand the business. How'd you overcome that problem?" Clark asked as he piled excessive amounts of sugar and cream into his coffee.
"Tony Gates helped out. My uncle knew him when they were kids and, with his backing, was able to get financing. I never knew the terms; I was just finishing college at the time, but Senator Gates' backing has always been helpful when it comes to dealing with the banks."
"They must have been good friends," Lois commented. " By the way, we've just come from Jane Malenkov's. Did you know that she and Tony Gates dated at one time? They appear to have double dated with your uncle and Alice Cardinal during their engagement."
Matt's face registered surprise. "What? I never knew that Uncle Jim was engaged to Alice Cardinal. Then he would have been the father of Alice's baby." He was quiet for a moment. "Jenny doesn't appear to be making progress on the case. It took you two to find the missing earring."
"We were just lucky, and we've had more time with this than Jenny would have. She's likely working on several cases at the same time." Clark felt guilty; the earring would probably not have been found without his special abilities.
Lois decided to move away from this sensitive subject. Clark seemed gloomy and Matt bitter. Men were always emotional about the wrong things, she thought. "We were thinking we would like to talk to Alice's mother again. Do you think this afternoon would be a good time?"
"Usually, but not today. There's a special ceremony for the new baby of one of the couples in our community. What you would call a Christening. Mary is a woman with special abilities and holds an important place in our village. She will lead us in welcoming the child into our band." He looked at Lois, "But tonight should be fine. I'll tell her that you'll be coming." He stood up to go and they joined him.
Outside the diner, he said. "It's good that you're taking an interest in this." Then he looked at the sky. "I have a flight tonight. I hope the rain isn't too heavy."
Startled, Lois looked at him. "What? The forecast said 'no rain'."
"How can you tell?"
"Read the skies. An old Indian skill, Lois." He walked to his jeep.
From behind her, Lois heard Clark's voice, "Five bucks, Lois."
They drove back to the house for lunch with Dave and Allie and a leisurely chat about their morning's activities.
"How'd it go, Lois?" Allie asked as she poured some tea.
"All right, I think. Did you know that she hadn't looked at that album since the end of that summer. I guess Alice's disappearance was too upsetting, but I thought that she felt relieved about going through it and talking." She looked at Dave. "You all seemed to have such good times together. The second page had pictures of everyone here on the first weekend that September."
"I thought you started college that year," Allie said surprised.
"I did, but I spent the last two weeks here, on my own, before school started. My folks stayed in the city."
"You? On your own? I'm surprised this place is still standing," Lois said mischievously.
"Oh, we were a pretty respectable crowd compared to some of the things I see today, like some of the problems we mop up at the clinic."
"We noticed that several of the pictures were taken at the Lemieux place," Clark said. "I guess you used to go there a lot."
"We did. The town kids more than us probably, because we weren't here all year, but we did hang out there. What started us going there were the rumours of alien sightings. We decided to camp out there one night and wait for something to happen. Nothing did but we had a great time and so we kept going."
"Did couples go there too?" Lois asked. "To, uh, be alone?"
"It did provide a good opportunity," Dave said dryly.
"Dave!" Allie sounded surprised.
"So I heard," he added quickly, grinning.
"Did Alice ever go there with a boyfriend?" Clark asked carefully and was rewarded with a jab under the table from Lois's foot.
"She may have."
"I didn't think you knew her, Dave." Allie was peering at her husband over the half glasses she sometimes wore. "You've never mentioned her."
"She was part of the gang. The only one from the reserve who was. She and Jane were great friends, but then you knew that."
"What was Alice like?" Allie asked.
He hesitated for a moment. "Pretty bright. Top student in science. Won a major scholarship that year." He got up and took his mug to the sink.
"She was also pretty attractive," Allie commented.
"I suppose so," Dave said as he rinsed out the mug.
Lois spoke next. "I didn't realize that Jane had dated Tony Gates. Were they serious ?"
Still standing by the sink, Dave said. "I don't really know. They started dating that year, I believe. Tony would have been finishing his last year at school here. He missed a year when he was sixteen when an older cousin offered him the chance to sail south along the Pacific coast to South America."
"Jane has never mentioned dating him, so I guess that means she was serious about it," Allie said thoughtfully. "I'm beginning to feel I don't know these people at all."
"Don't be silly, honey," Dave smiled across the room at her. Then he walked across the room to pause at the foot of the staircase. "I'm going to change and then work outside on those trees that were damaged over the winter."
"Do you want some help?" Clark got up from his chair.
"Thanks. I'd appreciate it."
Both men went upstairs to change, leaving Lois and Allie at the table, each of them wondering what Dave hadn't said.
The two men worked efficiently clearing away the damaged limbs. Dave wielded a small chain saw on those branches that were still partially attached to the trees while Clark dragged the fallen limbs to one side and sawed them into manageable lengths to be split later for firewood. Then he began working on the smaller branches. He enjoyed what he was doing, inspecting the trees carefully in order to remove limbs at the appropriate spot. He had always found working outside like this calming, his way of meditation, he sometimes thought. He often did things for his Dad at superspeed or using superstrength, but Jonathan had insisted that his son learn to do things at a normal rate, always worried that someone might notice his son's extraordinary abilities. Clark smiled as he thought of his parents. He was looking forward to telling them that he and Lois were getting closer. His mom would be ecstatic. *He* was ecstatic !
Occasionally, the two men worked as a team, Clark providing balance or shifting large, heavy limbs so that they were at easier angles for the chain saw. He was careful not to appear too strong as he did these things. After about an hour and a half, Dave called for a break and the two men sat on the trunk of a large pine that had been toppled in a winter blizzard.
Dave was pleased with how much they had done. "We've made quite a difference out here," he said looking at the neatly stacked limbs. Most of this we can use for firewood and I'll take the rest over to Al's chipper."
Dave shifted his weight, feeling his muscles ache from the strenuous work, but he still felt uncomfortable. It took him a moment to realize what was bothering him. He needed to talk to Clark, but, because he didn't know him very well, he hesitated. Clark had started working again, sawing large branches into shorter lengths for the fireplace. Dave observed him, noting the smooth efficiency of his motions as he worked. It was obvious that he had done this many times before. Then Dave made up his mind, realizing that he instinctively trusted this young man, even though he hadn't known him for very long. That his niece was so clearly fond of Clark was part of it. Lois did not trust people easily. <Maybe I don't either,> Dave thought, < but I've got to talk to someone about this.>
He spoke slowly. "There's something I didn't mention in the kitchen." He turned to look at Clark, his eyes serious. "I don't want Allie to find out about this, but I understand that she might. It's probably inevitable. I guess Lois will have to know, but I trust how the two of you will handle this."
Clark spoke softly, "You think the baby was yours."
Dave looked surprised. "How did you guess?"
"We saw a picture of you and Alice together at the spring festival. It was pretty casual, but the idea struck us that you were seeing each other."
"She was the first girl I had sex with. I guess I could rationalize it by pleading 'raging hormones.' We had all known each other for a long time and all of a sudden she seemed so beautiful. I was attracted to her and that weekend we … " his voice trailed off and he said, "You know how it is when you're eighteen. Hard to control … "
Clark did not know. He had been attracted, interested, ( the hormones were definitely there), but he had never felt out of control. Because of that, his decision not to have sex hadn't been that difficult. Perhaps, too, the implications of the act for him had served as a brake on his actions.
As his superpowers had developed, he hadn't been sure what to expect and he had to learn how to control them and to keep them a secret. He thought it would be difficult to keep his secret from any woman with whom he developed an intimate relationship. And there was another worry too. He was strong, very strong. What would that mean when he had sex, if he was out of control? And somehow, too, he had felt that there should be more there than just 'hormones' between a man and a woman; that there should be passion, and he had never felt that. Until two years ago, he had wondered if he ever would. Then he met and fallen in love with Lois Lane.
"Did you love her?"
"That's the damning part. I tried to convince myself that I did. After all we seemed to have a lot in common. We were both crazy about science, about biology, but I didn't love her. I liked her. After those two weeks ended, we broke it off. I don't remember that she was upset; I had the feeling that for her, sex was a way of expressing her affection for someone. She told me that weekend that I was not her first." He lapsed into silence again, wondering how he could put the rest.
"We didn't see each other for the rest of the year, which was not unusual. I was away at college and she was finishing high school. We wrote occasionally. As I told you, we shared many of the same interests and Alice was interested in going to medical school, too. At any rate, I came down in March for a weekend and we started having sex again. We saw each other nearly every weekend until the end of April. I didn't do well on my exams that year."
"Why'd it end the second time?"
"It didn't really. I just never saw her again. I was worried about my exams and so I barricaded myself in my room, studying for the last week and a half. After that I went to Europe with a friend for the summer, something I'd wanted to do since Tony had talked about his trip. When I came here at the beginning of September, I heard Alice had disappeared." He stared off into the distance. "I heard the rumours about why she had disappeared and, at first, I was worried that she was pregnant. We hadn't really been very careful."
"But you decided she wasn't pregnant?"
"Yes. I'd written her a couple of times during the summer. We'd agreed to stay in touch before I left , and she sent me a couple of letters, forwarded to the American Express at our next destination. I'd suggested she do that. I reread them after I heard she was missing but she gave no hint of pregnancy. Clearly I was wrong."
"Did you know that she was engaged to Jim Thomson?"
"No!" he said in surprise. Then as the implication of the news struck him, he said sadly. "No. God! Do you think he found out and went into a rage and that's how … " He took a deep breath. "Clark, I don't … "
He stopped speaking as he saw his wife approaching with Lois, both women dressed warmly in jeans and jackets, the family resemblance strong in their energetic walk. "I love Allie very much. I have from the day we met."
Clark looked at the older man sympathetically. This time Clark did know what Dave was feeling. He smiled at Lois and took her hand as she stood in front of him.
"Here we come out to lend a hand but we find you two goofing off!"
"Just a quick break, Lois," Dave said as he picked up the chain saw again. "And we need all the help we can get, although Clark has been a big help. He's amazingly strong."
Clark looked startled, but luckily Lois rescued him. "That's just his Smallville genes kicking in. I've noticed his Dad is pretty strong, too," she said as she helped Allie carry a large limb over to the pile Clark had started.***After dinner, Lois and Clark drove out to see Mary Cardinal. "Clark, Senator Gates' summer place is just off the road to the reserve. Let's drop by and see if we can talk to him."
"Good idea. We should get his angle on all of this."
They hadn't been driving for more than a few minutes when it began to rain. Clark looked across at Lois and grinned smugly. "Rain," he pointed out in a helpful tone of voice.
"It has to last for at least fifteen minutes for it to be really rain."
"What? Lo-is. I thought you were a woman of honour."
"I am. Fifteen minutes."
When they arrived nearly thirty minutes later, it was still raining. "Okay, okay. You win." Then she grinned, "But it's not fair, you know. You had an advantage."
"Ah. And that would be … ?"
"Obvious. You didn't listen to the weather forecast. Those guys are always wrong."
"Oh." He grinned at her as they got out of the car and walked up the steps to the heavy front door of the sprawling log structure where the Gates family had summered for the last sixty years. Several additions to the original cabin gave the house a haphazard appearance that somehow looked natural, an outgrowth of the dark evergreens that surrounded it.
A young man, blond, blue-eyed and as casually elegant as a Ralph Lauren ad, opened the door and asked them to wait in the foyer while he went to find his uncle. Lois looked upward at the exposed rough hewn beams of the high ceiling and then at the pine panelling on the walls. "This is some place, Clark."
At that moment, Senator Gates, looking fit and relaxed in a navy sweater and jeans, walked into the room, smiled at them, and shook both their hands. "Ms. Lane, Mr.Kent. This is a surprise. What can I do for you?"
"We'd like to ask you a few questions about Alice Cardinal, if you can spare a few minutes," Lois said.
The Senator's smile vanished, replaced by a look of concern. "Very tragic, what happened to her, unsettling for her mother to go through all that again. Look, I have a few guests tonight, so why don't we use my study to talk?" He led them into another pine panelled room, the far wall of which was taken up by a fieldstone fireplace, flanked on each side by bookshelves. As he sat down, he said "Tell me, why is 'The Daily Planet' interested in this story? Surely it's too small an item for your paper to have its two top reporters on."
"We're putting together a profile of Alice for my aunt's paper. I wanted to help her out." Lois didn't want to go into more detail until she was sure about how the second article they were preparing for Perry was going to turn out.
"We've heard that Alice was part of a group that you used to hang out with then and we were interested in what you remembered about her," Clark spoke quietly.
"You're right; she was one of the group I hung around with in the summers but I didn't know her that well. You know how it is; we did a lot of things together but I guess I knew the guys better than the girls. I do remember her energy and how interested she was in everything. I thought she was pretty bright."
"You doubled dated with Alice and Jim Thomson when you were going out with Jane Malenkov that summer," Lois's tone implied a question.
"Yes, we used to go to the weekend dances in town. Most people around here did. They used to have great groups."
Clark said, "She and Jim Thomson were planning on getting married. Were you surprised by the news?"
"I'd forgotten about the engagement. They told us about it the last evening we were all together. Yes, I was a bit. I'd never thought that Alice was serious about Jim. She'd always seemed intent on going to college in the fall, so the news that she was not going to was a surprise."
"They must have been pretty happy that night," Clark observed.
"I can't recall whether they seemed really happy. I do remember, they were arguing by the end of the dance so I took Jane home."
"Any idea what the argument was about?"
"Did they talk about Alice's pregnancy?"
"Were you surprised to find out that she was pregnant at the time of her death?" Lois was not pleased with his one word answers to her questions. In her opinion, all witnesses ought to have total recall.
"Not really. Alice was, shall we say, promiscuous." Then the Senator, perhaps realizing that his comment was politically incorrect, flashed a charming smile at Lois. "I don't think there can be any point in quoting me on that."
"No, we're not a tabloid, Senator, but we would be interested to know your thoughts about how she might have died."
"I'd only be speculating, Ms.Lane."
"What did you think when you first heard that she was missing?" Clark was curious.
"I was shocked. Jim was devastated. He was pretty crazy about her. He never did marry."
"Any idea who might be responsible for her death?" Lois had to try the question a second time.
The Senator flashed the smile again. "I'll leave that to the police, Lois. Look, I'm sorry, but I must get back to my guests. I'm leaving shortly for Metropolis. I'll look forward to reading your article and to seeing you both when we get back to New Troy." The Senator rose from his chair, smiling at them as they too stood up, aware their interview was over.
"Well, that doesn't add a whole lot to our article, Clark! Just a simple quote from the local famous son."
Clark noted the disgusted tone in her voice and smiled. "What were you expecting, Lois? That she would have told him she was going to meet person X at the farmhouse that night and that she feared for her life?"
"That would have been good. I could have lived with that," she said as she got into the car and put her key in the ignition. She pulled out of the driveway and onto the road towards Mary Cardinal's. "It's funny, Clark. We get so involved covering what a politician is currently doing, we often forget what happened when he was young."
"Yeah. But, I guess, like all of us, what happened then shaped what he is now."
"Do you think so, Clark? Are you what you were when you were eighteen?"
Clark turned to look at her for a moment, remembering how he had first flown when he was eighteen and how that had changed everything for him. But he also remembered his parents and their influence on him as he was growing up, the world travels which had opened his eyes to so much, and then his first meeting with the woman beside him. "In a way, not completely," he said, "but it was my foundation, the base on which everything else has been constructed. What about you?"
"I don't know," Lois said. "I think when I was eighteen I was very directed, focused. I knew what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to leave everything about my past behind. Now, I don't think it's that simple." She paused and then said, her voice quiet, "I've made so many mistakes, Clark." She was surprised at her admission.
"Like what, Lois?" his voice was soft in the darkness of the car.
"Well, we could start with my decision to marry one of the biggest criminals of recent history." Her tone was sardonic as she continued, "For an investigative reporter, I sure turned a blind eye to what was going on. I can't believe how easily I was fooled by him, Clark."
"He fooled a lot of people, Lois, not just you."
"Why didn't he fool you, Clark?" Her voice was curious. "You never trusted him; it's almost like you had inside knowledge or something."
"Jealousy," Clark said lightly, wary about getting to the source of his 'inside knowledge.' He'd tell her soon though. Right now he just wanted to enjoy their growing relationship, without the complication he was sure would come when did tell her.
"Don't believe you, Kent," but she let it go, concentrating on her driving. They were now on Native land, just minutes away from the village.
Lois turned the car onto a narrow, gravel road that twisted around clumps of dark evergreens towards Mary Cardinal's house. She stopped in front of the small, neat house and they got out of the car. Clark was looking forward to meeting Mrs.Cardinal; Lois had told him a bit about the old woman and based on that, and Matt's earlier comment about her, he thought that it should prove interesting to talk to her. The door was opened by Matt Thomson who led them into the living room where Mary was seated in front of the fireplace. With her was a burly man who looked to be about sixty.
Clark was aware of Mary's eyes on him as he entered the room. Matt introduced them and her hand stayed in his for a moment longer than necessary and she searched his face and then nodded. She turned to welcome Lois and then Matt introduced them to his uncle. "I thought it would be a good idea for you to talk to him and he agreed. I gotta get going. I'm flying Tony Gates back to Metropolis tonight."
"The weather's pretty bad out there," Lois said. "Is it wise to fly a small plane in these conditions?"
"It's not the best, but Tony's got an important breakfast meeting and doesn't want to miss it. I've flown in worse."
"Matt, call Jenny before you go," Mary said sternly.
Matt said nothing, his face set in obstinate lines as he walked out of the room. Lois guessed he wouldn't make that phone call.
Mary watched him sadly and then moved to the reason for their visit. "Jim has told me about his engagement to Alice. I didn't know about it."
Jim spoke at that point. "I don't know if it's right to say we were engaged but we'd reached an understanding. Alice wasn't absolutely sure, so we didn't tell anyone until that last night. Alice told Jane Malenkov. Those two were pretty close. Always thought it was a mistake the way she hung out so much with town people."
"How long had you had your understanding with her, Mr. Thomson?" Lois asked.
"Not long. She'd dreamed about going to college but the pregnancy changed that."
"And you were the father, Mr. Thomson?" Clark asked.
"Yes." He avoided looking at Mary Cardinal.
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"The last Saturday in August. We went to the dance in town, and I brought her home. That's the last time I saw her alive." He stood up and said, "I'm sorry, Mary. I loved her."
Mary looked at him. "I know, Jim," she said sadly.
"Do you have any idea why she went out to the Lemieux place or who she went to meet?" Clark asked.
"No. Look, I told all this to the police when Alice disappeared." His face was bleak as he looked at Mary. "Good night, Mary ." He nodded to Lois and Clark as he went to the front door and walked out into the stormy night.
Mary said grimly, "He has not told the truth, but I cannot sense what part is false. I feel he was there that night, when Alice was dead." She touched Clark's hand and looked at him, an appeal in her dark eyes. "You will find the truth. You care about the truth and you are strong. With her," she shifted her gaze to Lois, "you are even stronger."
For a moment, Lois felt like she had lost her bearings. Why was Mary looking at Clark so intently and why was Clark so still? Lois was skeptical about "special abilities," but even if Mary were psychic, what could that possibly have to do with Clark? Lois heard herself speaking as she attempted to feel real again. "We'll do our best, Mrs.Cardinal, but we'll need your help to do it."
"You want to know what I remember about those last days."
"Yes, if you don't mind," Lois spoke gently out of deference for her feelings.
Mary looked into the fire for a moment before she began. "My daughter was so full of life, so interested in everything." Mary was silent again for a moment. "But most of all, she loved people. When she was sixteen, she loved Jim. He was a few years older than her and when I sensed her relationship with him, I thought it would be good for them to be married."
"Sixteen is very young to be married," Lois said, trying to keep the disapproval out of her voice.
Mary sensed Lois's disapproval anyway and smiled. "Today, yes, but in those days, that was the future for our young women, and Alice was sleeping with Jim, so she was ready to be his wife."
"But they didn't get married," Clark said.
"Her father spoke to Alice to let her know that he approved of her choice and that he would speak to Jim and his father, but Alice had no intention of marrying Jim. She was going to finish high school and then go to college. She enjoyed being with Jim, but she hadn't even thought about marrying him."
"That must have been upsetting to you," Lois said.
"Yes, we were both upset. Not by Alice's plans for school but by her attitude to Jim. I knew he was in love with her. He did ask her to marry him, and when she said no, he stopped seeing her, at least in that way, but they stayed friends."
"Was she seeing anyone else? Could someone else have been the baby's father?" Clark asked. Lois looked at him, surprised at the question.
"It wouldn't surprise me. It pleased us when Alice started to date Jim again in mid-summer, but she wasn't seeing him before that, I'm sure."
"Who was she seeing in the March, April?"
"Jenny asked me that same question this morning. I know she was dating someone during the fall, but I don't know who it was. I think she was seeing Dr. James in the spring."
Lois felt herself go cold. What if her uncle had got Alice pregnant and was somehow connected to her death? She fought the thought. He couldn't be! What little emotional security she'd felt as her parents' marriage crashed in acrimonious flames had been during the few weeks she'd spent with her aunt and uncle. Her uncle was a good man; he couldn't be connected to Alice's death. She was sure he would have accepted the responsibility of Alice's pregnancy.
She heard Clark ask, "What happened the last night you saw her?"
"Alice was quiet which was unusual for her. I knew that something had been troubling her for awhile but she wasn't prepared to talk about it." Mary sighed. "She looked so beautiful that night all in red, and wearing those golden earrings."
"The design on those earrings was very unusual. Did you give them to her?" he continued.
"No. I never knew who gave them to her but she wore them for the first time in June, the night of the graduation dance. I asked her and she just laughed and said, 'an admirer.'" Lois asked the final question, "Did she come home after the August dance?"
"Yes. They weren't late and they were arguing when she came in. I don't know why. Jim didn't stay and Alice wouldn't talk about what was wrong. She only stayed a few minutes and then she left, driving off in the car, without saying a word. That was the last time we saw her." Mary drew a deep breath and suddenly she looked her full age, an old woman. She looked at Clark. "Please find the truth ."
Clark took her hand, "We'll do our best, Mrs. Cardinal."
They walked in silence to the car, both clearly preoccupied with their thoughts. Just as he was about to open the door for Lois, Clark changed his mind. "It's stopped raining , Lois. Why don't we go for a walk before we head back to the house?"
She gave him a crooked smile. "I think that's a good idea."
They walked briskly without talking until they were at the edge of the small village. Aware that Lois was wrapped up in her own thoughts, Clark finally broke the silence. "Lois, tell me what you're thinking."
Lois slowed her gait at that and took his arm, touching her dark head briefly against his shoulder. In the back of her mind had always been this idea that the one safe, *normal*, corner in her life had been her aunt and uncle and their relationship. "Oh, Clark, this is such a mess. My uncle has always been such a decent, caring man. He loves his family, and he always made Lucy and me feel we were a part of it." A pause and then, "Do think that he could be the father?"
"Yes," he said softly and stopped so that they were facing each other.
"He can't be. He's not like that. Why do you think that?" her voice was high-pitched, desperate.
He put his hand on he shoulder. "Because he told me." He watched her faceas he spoke.
She looked at him mutinously for a moment, and then turned and strode briskly farther down the road. He walked quickly to catch up with her. "Lois, stop."
"No." She continued her quick pace. And then she started. "I thought he was different. I've always trusted him, looked up to him. I never even thought about it. I used to wish he was my father, but he's no different from my father, and all along he's had this big fat secret. And why'd he tell you, and not me?" She was upset, living again the pain of her father's rejection.
"Lois, calm down, slow down." He reached for her shoulder but she shook his hand off and turned abruptly to face him.
"Are all men like this, Clark? Are you, too? What secret are you hiding?" She saw him wince and her heart raced, her eyes blazing, "Did that happen in Smallville, too, Clark, did you … "
He cut her off, distressed. "God, Lois, I haven't even been with a woman, let alone … "
This time she cut him off, her face astonished. "What? Clark! You mean you've never … " she couldn't finish, she was so surprised.
Clark put his hands in his pockets and tried to sound casual. He was embarrassed and wished desperately that he could travel back in time exactly two minutes. He pulled one hand out of his pocket and gestured with it. "It's not like I haven't dated, Lois. I've been attracted, gotten pretty close. I mean, in Smallville there was Lana, and Rachel, and then in college there was … "
She cut him off. "Clark, I don't want a list of your old girlfriends." And then, with narrowed eyes, "What about Mayson?"
"What about her? Lois, we went out to lunch, once. I haven't even dated her."
His face was taking on a harassed appearance. She noticed it and her anger began to dissipate. She was being unfair, blaming Clark for the dishonesty of others in her life. Clark wasn't like that; he was always honest with her. <The last honest man> she thought. She let out a breath and put her hand on his chest, a silent apology. As she did, she thought absently how much she liked touching him. "Why, Clark? Why have you waited? I mean it must have been difficult not to … to *want* to sometimes, wasn't it?"
He relaxed and touched her hair briefly. Two reasons, he thought, and he told her one of them. "I guess, because I was never in love, it wasn't that difficult not to."
She looked into his dark eyes, "And is it now?" her voice soft.
He slid his hands along her arms. "Yes." His voice was low, husky and he pulled her against him, one hand moving up to entwine in her hair as he covered her mouth with his, kissing her softly, then passionately, possessively. Then he pulled away and said softly, "Very difficult."
"Clark." Lois slid her arms around him once more and met his lips again, a soft moan in the back of her throat as his arms tightened around her once more. It started to rain again, soft drizzle that neither of them noticed until a loud crack of thunder brought them back to earth. She smiled at him and said teasingly, "You know, for a minute there, I thought our feet weren't touching the ground."
"I know." And he did know. He grabbed her hand as the rain started to come down more heavily. "Come on, we'd better run for it."
By the time they were back in the car, Lois had definitely come down to earth and her mind had returned to what Clark had said about her uncle and she voiced her worst fear. "Clark, do you suppose Alice went to meet my uncle that night?"
"No. He wasn't even in the country then. You must know that, Lois. He and a friend had gone to Europe for the summer. They'd left after he finished his exams that spring. Lois, he wasn't even aware that she was pregnant until the body was found."
Lois let out a sigh of relief. Her worst fear was that her uncle might be implicated in Alice's death. "I wonder why she didn't tell him? And I wonder who she did meet that night?"
"I think Dave is worried that it was Jim."
"Clark, why would Jim say the baby was his if it wasn't?" She stared out of the front window, trying to concentrate her thoughts which were randomly skimming across different angles of the problem. "Maybe Alice was seeing Jim during the critical period in spite of what Mrs. Cardinal thinks. Mothers don't always know everything."
Clark thought that Mrs. Cardinal probably did, but he didn't say so. "Lois, Dave didn't seem to have any doubt about the baby. They were seeing each other for over a month."
"I wonder how Allie will react. They've always been so close and now she's going to find out that she didn't really know him after all."
"He doesn't want her to know, Lois. He's not happy about your knowing."
She was quiet for a moment, watching his hands on the steering wheel, thinking once again how strong and reassuring they were. "How can she not know? How can a relationship exist without honesty, with secrets? And anyway, she's going to find out because Jenny O'Rourke knows that Dave and Alice were dating. Jenny'll pursue it. She has to."
"I know. I think Dave has to talk to Jenny first thing in the morning. Given that he was out of the country in August, it may be that no one else has to know. The father's identity could be irrelevant in this situation."
"What? Clark, I can't believe you're saying that. Allie has a right to know this."
"Lois, that's not our decision. This happened before they even knew each other. Right now he needs our help, not a grenade lobbed into his living room."
"Clark, I want to go back to Metropolis tomorrow morning. I don't want to do this story. I want to deal with political corruption, corporate abuse, criminal conspiracies. Easy stuff. Not this."
"No, you don't. I've never seen you run away from any situation yet, and this is going to continue to be tense whether we stay or not. And besides, your staying will make it easier for your aunt and uncle."
She didn't respond but sat in silence, staring out the window. After a few minutes he turned to look at her profile. "So what next, Ms. Lane?"
"I guess I stay and we search for answers. Like why Jim would lie about being the father? Why did Alice go to the Lemieux place that night? Why didn't Dave know she was pregnant?"
"That question has been bothering me. Apparently Alice and your uncle kept in contact while he was travelling, but there was no mention in her letters of the pregnancy."
"That's odd. I think it would have been natural to tell him." Her voice turned hopeful and her eyes lit up. "Clark, maybe he's really not the father. If she was seeing someone else, he probably wouldn't have known."
"It's an outside chance, Lois. DNA testing might be able to tell us if Dave and Jim are willing to have it done."
By the time they got back to the house, the rain had developed into a major storm with high winds and driving sleet. They found Allie and Dave in the large living room watching a video of an old Alfred Hitchcock movie. After Allie stopped the VCR, they talked about their conversation with Mary Cardinal. Clark told them about Jim's claim that Alice's baby was his and that he had followed Alice out to the abandoned house the night of her disappearance. Dave said nothing at this news but Allie did.
"I can't believe that Jim could have killed her. I know he's a big man but he's one of the gentlest men I know, and if they were talking about marriage, he wouldn't seem to have much of a motive. So what do you two plan to do tomorrow?"
"We're hoping to talk to Jenny, and I'd like to talk to Jane again too. We ran out of time this morning because of Church," Lois replied.
They talked for a few minutes more about the events of the day and then settled into watching the movie before heading off to bed. Outside, the storm's intensity increased. A sharp crack of thunder seemed to explode near the house and the darkened upstairs hall flashed briefly with light.
The strident ringing of the phone awoke them all about one o'clock in the morning. Clark could hear the urgency in Dave's voice as he talked in the room next to his. For a moment, Clark thought that Superman should put in an appearance but he quickly rejected the idea. A phone call to Dave indicated that someone needed medical skills, not brawn. Besides, he was trying to avoid always showing up where Lois was. So he quickly threw on a tee shirt and jeans and was standing at the top of the landing as Dave opened his bedroom door. "What is it?"
"Another accident on that blind curve in the highway out of town. Truck jackknifed into another and caught a couple of passing cars. They need all the help they can get out there. Our emergency crews are too shortstaffed for these big ones and it'll take the state guys longer to reach the scene."
"I'll go with you," Clark said as he headed downstairs and shoved on his black leather jacket. His voice was firm and Dave did not think to question his decision. Dave pounded down the stairs and grabbed his medical bag.
Allie was at the top of the stairs by this time, and had heard the conversation. Dave looked up at her briefly, smiled and said "See you later, honey." The two men were going out the front door as a groggy Lois Lane joined her aunt.
"Wz going on?"
"Let's get dressed, Lois. We'll see if we can be of any help and we can cover this for the paper."
Instantly, Lois snapped to life and ran back to her room to throw on jeans and a sweater.
Clark drove Dave's Honda. His unique vision allowed him to see farther ahead than normal, quickly giving him information about the unfamiliar road so that he was able to drive at high speed. They arrived at the site of the accident in just under fifteen minutes. Impressed, Dave looked at the young man. "So who came in second at the Indy?"
Clark said briefly, "Jacques Villeneuve."
Quickly the two men surveyed the horrifying scene. One truck, a large transport, had jackknifed across the curve of the two-lane highway into the opposite lane, barricading it. The other truck had been coming towards it; its cab had slammed into the back of the first vehicle and now was crumpled like an accordion. The driver would have had no chance. Two cars had piled into the collision and were skewed at right angles across the road. At that moment, one of them caught fire, the flames a torch lighting the slick blackness of the pavement.
Dave ran over to the two ambulances and the fire truck which had just arrived while Clark raced back to the last car in the pile-up. In spite of the rain, the car's hood was on fire. Behind him, he heard the high pitch of sirens as the police arrived on the scene. Everyone was absorbed in the rescue effort, working to free people trapped in the twisted wreckage or administering first aid to passengers. Quickly checking to see if anyone was watching, he used his superbreath to extinguish the fire and then ripped open the crumpled door of the driver's side of the car. There were four young people inside and they were in bad shape, their bloodied bodies thrust into awkward angles by the force of the impact. Clark was checking for a pulse in the driver when two firemen rushed to his side.
"Man, I thought this car was going to blow. The rain must have doused it," the first fireman said as he and his partner started to check out the passengers.
"What can I do?" Clark asked.
"Help me lift the passengers out onto the stretchers and get them to the ambulance while Ted works on the driver. He's in rough shape and I'd like Dr. James to see him before we move him."
His partner looked in the back seat. "God, by the look of these bottles back here, I'd say they'd been drinking pretty heavily. No wonder they couldn't avoid the crash. Booze, slick roads, and that blind curve. They had no chance."
Clark and the medic carried a stretcher bearing one of the victims back to an ambulance. He briefly nodded to Jenny O'Rourke and Frank Johaansen who were jogging over towards the trucks when he noticed Lois and Allie getting out of their car. He glanced at the two women as they walked briskly over to the small emergency van to grab some blankets and hot tea to take to those passengers who seemed to be in shock but nothing worse.
Lois caught up with her aunt, realizing that Allie must have done this before. The road was dangerous here, particularly in this type of freezing rain. After they had done what they could to help the shock victims, Lois turned to look for Clark whom she saw at the far end of the trail of mangled vehicles. He had been hard to spot in his dark clothes in the black night. She walked quickly over the loose gravel of the highway shoulder to reach him.
Just as she was about to call out to him, she noticed a jeep suddenly appear around the blind curve in the road, speeding toward the pileup, no possibility of not crashing into it. And then, in the dim light of the crescent moon, she saw something incredible. In a blur, Clark moved in front of the speeding jeep as if he intended to stop it. Lois felt a scream begin to rise in the back of her throat and then it was over. Clark was standing in front of the jeep, his hand on the hood. There had been no collision. How could that be? She watched as Clark, in a fast moving blur, disappeared back into the darkness.
Lois ran toward the jeep just as Matt Thomson got out. "Are you all right?"
He looked groggy and shook his head, as if to clear it. "Yeah. Did you see what happened? I should be dead. It was all so quick. I was half asleep and I skidded on the pavement coming around the bend. The next thing I know I'm racing toward this pileup and I can't brake the car fast enough. I thought I saw a man but that can't be possible." He shook his head again and repeated his question, "Did you see what happened?"
"I'm not sure; it all happened so fast." But she was sure; she was very sure about what she had seen. She put it temporarily to the back of her mind. "You must be exhausted," she said. "You can't get back into the car in this state. Come with me. There's tea over at the emergency van."
They were walking toward the van when Matt saw Jenny, dishevelled and her uniform blood spattered. She looked exhausted. He hadn't called her before he left on his flight to Metropolis and now he regretted it. He might never have seen her again.
Startled, she looked up at him. "What are you doing here?"
"I was on my home when … " he couldn't finish because she had flung her arms around him and he found himself holding her tightly, his face buried in her wet hair.
She pulled away from him, "I can't talk right now. I'll see you later?"
"Come to my place when you go off duty."
"Yeah," she turned back toward the wreck and he watched her go.
Clark came up toward them as she left. Lois noticed the way the rain had slicked his dark hair so that it clung damply to his skull and wondered why she had never noticed his resemblance to Superman before. <It had to be the glasses> she thought in disgust. <and they were *new* ones and I still didn't notice … > She wanted to yell at him, to run away from him, to turn herself in for stupidity. She did none of these things; instead she controlled her feelings and said hi.
They walked with Matt back toward his jeep. Clark offered to drive him home and Matt, still shaken from his experience, accepted. Lois agreed to follow them in Allie's car. <Why, Clark? You could just fly back,> she thought angrily.
As she followed behind them, she tried to get a grip on her feelings. She felt more isolated than she had ever felt in her life. Surprised, she realized that he had been her anchor for nearly two years and now she felt adrift, not recognizing the waters around her. Who was he? Which was the act, Clark or Superman? She remembered reading somewhere about how the former Soviet Union had planted 'moles' in Europe during the Cold War, young agents so thoroughly immersed in the culture of their new home that they blended in perfectly, marrying, having children, developing solid friendships. As the U.S.S.R. had decayed from within, these sleepers had never been 'activated' and the agents had not wanted to return, preferring to stay with their families, willing emotional captives of the society they had been sent to undermine. How must their spouses and friends have felt when they found out, she wondered?
<Like fools!> was her cross answer. <How could you not have noticed? You were supposedly closer to Superman than anyone else. Except Clark Kent! Ha! Where were your observation skills? You're a trained journalist! You should have known. Why didn't you pick up on the clues? God, there were hundreds of them! All those ridiculous excuses! Cheesy excuses! You should turn in your Kerths! And it's not like you've only seen Superman being 'super'. You've seen him when he's been vulnerable: when he was blinded (now at least you know where he was that night!), when you dug a kryptonite bullet out of his shoulder, and two weeks ago, when he was close to death after Diana Stride had kissed him with that 'special k' lipstick. God, he could be naive sometimes! >
And then she remembered how he had clung to her when he'd come out of the atomic furnace that had radiated the krptonite out of his system. <Oh, Clark.>
Maybe those European spouses had a support group. She'd have to check the Internet.
Then she focused on Clark. <Why haven't you told me? If you're really serious about our relationship, you have to tell me. Don't you trust me? Maybe those agents were right, and I'm part of the cover. > She dismissed that thought quickly; he didn't need a cover; Clark was the cover, the media link. <What if Clark isn't the cover, what if Superman is the cover? Clark, who are you??>
She was back where she had started she thought gloomily. She noticed that they had reached the outskirts of the reserve and were pulling into a gravel driveway leading up to a compact, cedar house, its simple lines blending into the surrounding woods. She followed, pulling up behind Matt's jeep. She turned off the ignition and got out of the small car, noticing that the rain had finally stopped.
"Thanks again for driving, Clark. It's been quite the night." Matt said good night to both of them and then walked toward his house.
Clark looked at Lois. "Shall we go back to the house? I don't think there's much need for us now at the accident site."
She avoided looking at him. "That's what Allie said. She was going to wait for Dave, but she didn't think he was going to be much longer. He's not on call tonight so they won't need him at the hospital."
Then the memories of the night flashed back through her mind, the blood, and the pain, the horror of mechanical death. She looked at him, suddenly realizing that he must have experienced such scenes so many times before, every time he flew to a disaster. "Clark, those people … "
He put his arms around her, and gently kissed her hair. "I know, sweetheart. Let's go home."
Although Clark slept in Monday morning, he was still the first one up. He grabbed a quick breakfast and then went outside to continue clearing away the fallen tree limbs. He knew he could finish the whole task before everyone was up but then he would have to explain how he'd done it. And, besides, what if he was caught in the middle of playing 'super lumberjack'? He'd taken a considerable risk last night, he thought, when he'd stopped Matt's car, but there had been no choice. Luckily no one had seen him, and Matt had been too dazed by the whole experience to realize what had happened. Clark wondered if he had dozed off while he had been driving.
Thank god for the 'suit,' he thought. It had meant he rarely had to take risks like that anymore, hide anymore. Except hide the truth, he thought wryly, but 'the suit' had made all the difference; it had made it possible to help but also to have the life he so desperately wanted. He hoped Lois would understand that when he told her after they got back to Metropolis. Now was the time to tell her, he thought, now that he was sure of her feelings for him, but he was uncertain of her reaction. After all, he had misled her ("lied, Kent," he said to himself ) for close to two years and he knew she wouldn't react to that very well.
She had been unusually quiet on the drive back last night, concentrating on the road in front of her. He wondered if there was something else though. Probably just the accident and the need for sleep. He climbed the ladder and started sawing through a large limb that had split from the trunk of an old maple.
About an hour later, he heard Lois walking over to where he was working. He didn't have to turn around to know that it was her, and he smiled at the realization. He turned around and grinned at her happily, enjoying the sight of her long jeans clad legs as she strode across the ground towards him, her hair tousled by the wind.
As she approached him, Lois felt last night's conflicting emotions resurface. She hadn't slept well, a combination of exhaustion and blurred images of Clark and Superman chasing across her mind. He had a lot to answer for today, she thought with determination. She had been firmly staring at his left shoulder as she walked, avoiding meeting his eyes, but now that she was in front of him, she had no choice but to look up. The warmth in his eyes was unmistakable and then the touch of his hand in her hair as he leaned forward. The brief softness of his lips on hers and the huskiness of his voice as he said "Good Morning." She steeled herself.
He felt her stiffen when he kissed her. Looking down at her expressionless face, he said, "What's wrong, Lois?"
She stared at him for a moment trying to find the right words but failed, realizing for the first time since last night that she wouldn't confront him about this. She needed him to tell her what he had been keeping secret for so long. She needed to know that he trusted her with this. "Nothing."
"Lo-is." He put his hands on her shoulders, aware of the tenseness still there. "Is it something I've done? Because if it is, tell me and … "
She interrupted him, caught by the confusion in his voice. She met his eyes again, surprised by the uncertainty she saw there. She didn't want that. She just wanted to get *him* straight in her head, to hear him tell her who he was, to trust her. Okay, and to yell at him. She smiled inwardly at the thought and relaxed.
She searched his face with curiosity and wonder, like she was observing some new life form. (Well, she was.) He didn't look all that much like Superman aside from his brown eyes. Superman's features seemed more chiseled, she thought. She would have sworn that Superman was the taller of the two. Then Clark touched her face with his hand, caressing her cheek gently with his thumb and, for a moment, the two men merged into one in her mind. How could she not have known?
Bewildered and retrieving his hand, Clark watched the range of emotions flit across her face. What was going on? This thing between them was still so new that he wasn't quite sure what to do. So he repeated his earlier question. "What's wrong?"
She put her hand on his chest and told him a small part of the truth. "Bad dreams. You were in them."
He was put out by that, but he said lightly, "I thought you only had good dreams about me, Lois. Very good dreams," he said, alluding to their Saturday morning breakfast conversation. He was pleased when she blushed and he felt her shoulders relax a bit more. She gave him a small smile.
"I guess it was what happened last night. Everything seemed to run together in my mind." She changed the subject. "I'm actually here on a mission. I've been sent to bring you into brunch; Allie has a new pancake recipe that she wants to try out on you."
She took his hand and pulled him toward the house.
Early that afternoon, Lois and Clark walked into the Legatteville police station and found Jenny O'Rourke at work. Her desk was littered with paper in a way which Lois knew indicated a highly productive mind. At the moment, Jenny was focused on her computer screen. She waved the two into wooden chairs beside her desk while she finished the item she was working on. Then she turned and greeted them cheerfully.
"Let's go into the conference room so we can talk more privately." She was inclined to view these two more charitably than the last time they had been in the station, aware of their help last night at the accident scene. And, right now, she felt some sympathy for Lois Lane given the conversation she had had with Dave James about half an hour earlier.
She had barely got settled at her desk, still feeling the affects of a less than full night of sleep, when he had walked into the office and over to her desk. She had been hoping for a low-key day with time to complete the paper work after last night's horror. She had been in a good mood, smiling at the memory of her sleepy fiance reaching out for her as she had climbed out of his bed about an hour earlier. He was probably still asleep.
At first she had assumed that Dr. James was there in connection with last night's accident, but then she had noticed that he looked nervous as he asked for Frank Johaansen. Given what he said to her next, she was not surprised that he would have preferred to talk to Frank. To his credit, Dr. James had accepted her instead without comment.
Jenny closed the door to the conference room and the three sat down at a plain wooden table in the centre of the small room.
"We appreciate your uncle's coming in, Lois. It took guts to do that. If, in fact, he wasn't in the country at the time we can probably keep this information confidential. Still, if it did provide a motive for the crime, for someone to kill her because she was pregnant, it could likely come out in court."
Lois felt her stomach tense at this. She cared for her uncle very much. Dave was clearly not involved in Alice's death but his reputation would be tarnished if all this did come out, and like the ancient Romans, he cared about his reputation. It mattered to him, it mattered to Allie, and it mattered in this town. "Does that mean you have some idea of who may have committed the crime?"
Jenny sighed. "None, but I don't intend to fail on this, Lois. We're under a lot of pressure from reserve leaders to find the truth. We've be accused too often of being less than interested in protecting Native interests in the past." Her mobile face took on an expression that they had last seen on Matt's face in the diner. "Maybe some of it deserved. I want to show that's over."
She looked at the two reporters directly for a moment. "Look, this is off the record. Jane's locket is a problem. She says she missed the locket about two weeks before the murder. How did it get to the grave site? Jane denies being at the Lemieux place that night, as does Senator Gates, who was her date that night. Anyway, it's not likely that Jane would have killed her. That the girls had been strong friends since childhood seems to be a common memory around here. And the physical evidence doesn't support it. Jane was shorter than Alice, and probably about twenty pounds lighter. Marks on the neck vertebrae and collarbone indicate strong pressure was applied to the neck by someone who must have been stronger than Jane, probably male, and dragging the body down the hill and then digging that grave would have been hard for Jane, not impossible, but hard."
"Do you know anything more about the earrings?" Clark asked.
"No, we're trying to trace them, but it's a real shot in the dark."
"The design is unusual and they were probably expensive," Lois noted.
"Yeah. That's what makes me hope we can trace them. There's a jeweller's mark on the one that you two discovered, so we owe you. I'll let you know if we get anything."
"What about Jim Thomson? "
"I know." Jenny's face turned grim. This angle was too close to her and she hoped desperately that Jim was not involved, but if he was, it had to be known, if only to give Mary Cardinal some peace of mind. "I didn't know they were engaged. Matt told me yesterday when I went out to talk to Mary again. We both thought that meant that Jim was likely to be the father of Alice's baby, but your uncle's confession this morning challenges that."
"We talked to both Jim and Mrs. Cardinal last night. Jim said he was the father," Clark commented.
"What? Well they can't both be the father," Jenny said, crossly. "Usually men deny that they had anything to do with it when unmarried girls get pregnant." She noticed Clark's look of mild offence and continued in a perfunctory manner, "Sorry, Clark." Then, "If Jim found out that your uncle was the father, he could have killed her in a jealous rage. Some men take out their anger on the nearest target. The pathologist's report suggests that manslaughter, rather than premeditated murder, was what happened. The marks on the vertebrae show enough pressure to suggest strangulation, but death was likely caused by the injury to the back of the skull. It suggests that she fell against a sharp edge, perhaps a table, rather than a deliberate blow. They were interrupted by a knock on the conference room door. A deputy opened the door, looked in and said, "Sorry to interrupt you, Jenny. Phone call, he says it's important."
"Thanks for your time, Jenny." Clark stood up as Jenny left the room. She walked the short distance to her desk and picked up the phone. She motioned for Lois and Clark to stop as they were leaving the room.
Jenny hung up the phone a moment later. "That was JIm Thomson. He wants to talk to me. He'll be in later this afternoon about five o'clock."
It took about fifteen minutes to walk to Jane Malenkov's from the police station. As they walked, Clark told her about driving Matt home the night before. "He was really exhausted after the flight, and he thinks he may have dozed off at the wheel. He was pretty disgusted with himself; I get the feeling he doesn't like to be out of control."
<Like you, Clark?> she wondered. < Or is it Superman who's always in control?> She gave him a sidelong, curious glance. Suddenly she realized that one of the things she loved about him was his sense of fun, his teasing. Was that part of 'the act'? She tried to remember if Superman had a sense of humour. < May-be > she thought, but she wasn't sure.
Clark had been explaining more about his drive with Matt when she realized she had no idea what he was saying. "What?"
He turned to her and said, "Yeah, I thought that was interesting, too."
"No, Clark. I wasn't listening."
"What? I thought you hung on my every word," he said in mock reproach, remembering how easily she used to ignore him.
"Ha! In your dreams, Kent!" Whoever he was, it had to be clear that he was not in control of her.
"It's not my words that interest you in my dreams, Lois."
"Clark!" her face turned red and he grinned impudently at her. She couldn't believe it but she giggled.
"Can we get back to what you were saying that was so important, now, please."
"Yes, ma'am. Matt flies Gates back and forth between here and Metropolis regularly. Last night, during the flight, they talked about Alice's death and Matt asked him what he remembered about that night and about Alice."
"So, what did he say?"
"Well, Gates said that Alice had a 'reputation' for sleeping around and that Jim often seemed jealous. He mentioned the argument and then wondered if maybe Jim continued it later at the old farmhouse."
"Oh no! He didn't actually say that he thought Jim killed her?"
"No, but the suggestion was enough. Matt was pretty upset. I think his preoccupation with that and tiredness led to his loss of control at the wheel. Lucky he, ah, regained control in time," Clark finished lamely.
<Yeah, right,> Lois thought, but she said, "That doesn't seem to fit Jim's personality somehow, but maybe he's mellowed over the years."
"Maybe. Lois, do you remember Mary Cardinal saying that she felt that Jim had been there when Alice was dead?"
"Yes, but, Clark, you can't take that seriously. People can't know things like that. Occasionally it may seem like they do, but it's just coincidence."
"According to Matt, she has special abilities."
Remembering that strange moment when Alice had appealed to Clark's strength, Lois was momentarily taken aback. "What do *you* think, Clark?"
"I think maybe Mary Cardinal was right," he said softly.
"Clark!" she was surprised, but given her recent discovery about Clark she thought <Who knew? Psychics, aliens, and Kansas farmboys! So much for scientific skepticism!> She sighed and refocused on the issue at hand. "Do you think Matt believes that Jim was there, too?"
"I think he's afraid of that. He said he was going to talk to him today."
When they arrived at Jane's about ten minutes later, she was outside, just returning from a walk. Unexpectedly, the afternoon had turned warmer than normal for that time of year and everyone seemed to have found some excuse to be outside, walking dogs, playing road hockey, doing yard work, or just walking. She greeted them and asked them inside where once again they found themselves having tea in her comfortable living room.
Noticing again the framed photos on the mantel and on one of the polished side tables, Clark asked, "Are these pictures of your family?"
"Yes," she smiled, her eyes lighting with pleasure as she looked across at them. "My son, Douglas, and my daughters , Elaine and Alex. That's my first grandchild, Alex's baby." She paused for a moment and then said, "I've been expecting to see you two again. I know there are questions that you didn't ask me on Sunday."
"If you don't mind," Lois said, noticing that Jane's pleasure as she had spoken of her children vanished. Now she appeared almost resigned to the fact that she must face more questions. Lois was puzzled by this; surely Jane would want to know the truth about what happened to her friend. "We'd like to ask you about that last night."
"There's not much to say really. The dance was no different from the others we had gone to that summer. I don't even remember the name of the band that played that night."
"Did Jim and Alice quarrel?" Clark asked.
"No, not really. Jim was pretty quiet I remember."
"Was that unusual?" Lois asked.
"Yes. I remember we went to the ladies room when we first arrived at the Pavilion. Tony had a convertible and the first thing we always did when we arrived anywhere was to repair the damage to our windblown hair. Jane told me then that she was going to marry Jim, probably in a week or so, and that she was pregnant. That's why I was surprised that Jim was so quiet that evening. He seemed preoccupied, in fact. I thought that he'd be really happy. He was obviously in love with her."
"Maybe he sensed that she didn't really love him." Clark remembered the bleakness he had felt when Lois had accepted Luthor's proposal. In that one moment, he had felt like everything he'd hoped for had been blown away, that he had lost everything. He had never felt more alone in his life.
"I don't know."
"You said on Sunday that you didn't think that Jim was the father of her baby," Lois said, "but yesterday, he told Mary Cardinal that he was."
"I must have been mistaken then."
"Do you have any idea who gave her the earrings she was wearing that night? They were quite unusual."
"No. The first time she wore them was the night we graduated from high school. I admired them and asked her who gave them to her but she said it was a secret."
"But you must have speculated. Not knowing that kind of thing about my best friend would have driven me nuts when I was a teenager," Lois said.
Clark smiled slightly. It would still drive her nuts he thought.
Jane paused and then spoke slowly and softly, "Alice had been my best friend ever since we were children. But that spring, I noticed we stopped sharing everything. I knew she was seeing someone. She had always told me about her lovers, even about your uncle, Lois, but this time she didn't. I assumed he was a married man and I was worried for her."
"That last night, what happened after you left the dance?"
"Usually, we went to Max's for something to eat; but that night we didn't. Jim took Alice home."
"What about you and Tony?" Clark asked.
Jane's face flushed for a moment and then she said, "He brought me home." She stretched her arm out to place her teacup on the table. "I don't think there's anything more to tell you. "
Clark took his cue and stood up, thanking her for talking to them about what was clearly a painful time in her life.
Just as they'd stepped onto the front porch, Lois remembered. She turned and asked, "Jane, you said you lost your locket about two weeks before that last dance, but you were wearing it in that last picture you showed us on Sunday."
Lois saw Jane's face freeze for a second and then she smiled. "Oh. I must have been mistaken about when I lost it. It was all such a long time ago."
"Clark, I don't think she's telling the complete truth." They were walking back through town toward the police station where they had left the car.
"I don't either, but whether she's lying about something or just withholding information about something, I'm not sure."
"I wish we had asked the Senator who he thought Alice was seeing in the spring. Clark, do men know that sort of thing about other men? I mean, they do boast about their conquests."
"What? Lois, where do you get your ideas from?"
She looked at him as if he were galactically stupid. "I've heard the morning talk around the coffee machine, Clark."
"And you believed it?"
"Okay. Okay. Not all men, but I think the kind of guy that Tony Gates and his friends would have been."
"Sweeping generalization, Lois. Anyway, judging from what Jane said, I'd say that women do their fair share of talking. Alice doesn't seem to have held back much."
"That's what's bothering me. Why would she all of a sudden not tell Jane."
"Maybe she thought it would upset her."
"Why? It doesn't seem to have been an issue before."
"Maybe because she thought that Jane … "
"would be upset … "
"if she knew who it was."
Then they stopped, looked at each other and said, "Tony Gates."
"Lois, what if he's the father of the baby? What if they met later that night at the Lemieux place and they quarrelled? Let's go back and ask Jane if she suspected anything." He turned in the street and started to head back toward Jane's.
Lois took his arm and stopped him. "Wait a minute, Clark. I don't think Jane's going to tell us anything more right now. Remember, her locket was found there so it seems likely she was there that night."
"You're right. Lois, let's focus on the earrings instead. Gates probably gave them to Alice. He would have had the money for a gift like that."
"Jenny's trying to trace them but maybe we might have better luck if we go at it backwards, assuming that Gates did give her the earrings. Where would he have been most likely to get them? They were probably a special design and ordered some time before June. I say we go find a phone book and see if there a jeweller's in St.Urho's where the Senator went to school." She strode off vigorously toward the library at the far end of the main street, assuming that Clark would follow. He did.
He grinned at her as he caught up and said, "I sometimes wonder who's in charge here."
She punched him absently in the arm as they walked. "No need to wonder. It's me."
"Ah, I remember. 'Top Banana.'"
She giggled. "Yes." Then she turned to look at him and remembered again what she had learned last night and her face sobered.
He was puzzled by the change in her expression. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said and forced a smile. "There's the library over there."
It didn't take long to check the 'Yellow Pages' for both St. Urho's and Legatteville. There was one jeweller in St. Urho's which, according to its small ad in the 'yellow pages' had been a family-owned business for "over fifty years." Their ad stated that they were open until six p.m. It would take them a little under an hour to get there so they should be able to make it well before closing time. Before they headed off, they stopped by the police station and asked Jenny to print a copy of the photo of the earring that she had sent out earlier in her attempt to trace its origins. After they had explained what they were doing, Jenny told them that she had checked the local shop in Legatteville but had come up empty. As she handed them the print she said, "I wish you luck. You know, this case is turning into a real mess. If Gates is involved, we're in for a rough ride." Then she went back to her paperwork.
As they drove out along the road past the diner, Lois's mind returned to the events of the previous evening. As a reporter, she had seen violent death a few times and the horror had always been hard to shake. How many times had Clark had to deal with that in the last two years, she wondered.
"Clark, what was it like for you growing up in Smallville?" she asked.
He smiled. "Pretty good. Probably a little different from your life in Metropolis, but probably a lot the same."
"I don't think so. There was no 4-H club in Metropolis," she laughed.
"Your loss, Lois." He grinned. "When I was ten, my dad gave me a calf to raise on my own. We won second prize that fall at the fair. We've always kept a few dairy cows even though there's not much money in that. I guess it's because my mom says its not a proper farm unless it has cows. There'll be a couple of calves born this spring. I'll take you to see them."
"I'd like that, Clark. Your Mom can show me the pictures of you and your prize-winning calf."
"On second thought, maybe we won't go. You and my mom and the family photos is a scary thought."
She laughed. "We should definitely go! I'll show you the picture of me and my prize if you show me yours."
"Deal! What'd you win yours for?"
"Science fair, grade five, first prize, not second, Mr. Kent!"
He couldn't let her get away with that. "Not much competition that year, I guess."
"My project was excellent, Clark Kent, and *I* did it without the help of my father."
"He must have been proud of you."
"He never knew. I tried telling him about it but before I could tell him about the prize, he had to leave for some reason. He did that a lot." She stopped talking, the memory a painful one.
<So that's why she's so upset when I keep disappearing on her,> Clark thought. He was appalled. He thought of his own parents, always there for him, a child who had come out of nowhere, a child who must at times have been frightening. He had never been unsure of their love for him. "I'll take you home in the spring, Lois," his voice was soft, a promise.
Lois recognized the sympathy in his tone, and, while she appreciated it, her pride kicked in. She got a grip on her emotions and said, "Are you sure it's safe? I meant it about your mom and the photos. You think she's on your side, but she's already made the offer. Your childhood will be an open book. I'll know all your secrets." She wondered how he was reacting to that comment.
He smiled. "I'll look forward to it, Lois."
They continued to talk about their childhood and adolescence until they got to St. Urho. As they talked Lois thought, not for the first time, that he had been very fortunate in his parents, that he had had a happy childhood. And as Lois cracked flippant oneliners, Clark thought, once again that she had not had a very happy childhood.
They drove past St. Urho's Academy for Young Men on the way into town. The Academy was reputed to be one of the finest private schools in the country, attracting the sons of elite families across the country. Surrounded by forest, its campus was impressive with large blackened log buildings strung out along the green shore of a vast, dark lake. It was here that Tony Gates had spent his youth, acquiring the knowledge, the skills, and the contacts of the wealthy.
When they got to town, they headed straight for Smith's Jewellers. The store was a small one by Metropolis standards but its wooden display cases with their simply arranged displays held items of high quality.
An attractive woman in her late thirties approached them. "Can I help you?"
"I hope so," Clark said as he explained who he and Lois were and what they had come for while Lois pulled the picture out of her purse. "We're trying to find out who bought this. It was probably bought in 1957, so we know we're taking quite a long shot here."
The woman looked at the picture carefully. "It's quite beautiful. The craftsmanship is of a very high quality. Look at how intricately the bodies of the snakes twist around each other."
"Do you recognize it?" Lois asked.
"No, but I'll ask my father-in-law," she said as she walked toward the back of the shop. "His father was the one who began this business. Pop learned the trade from him. He's quite good, not just a craftsman, but an artist."
They walked into a small, brightly lit work room where an old man was carefully spreading out a small array of opals. He looked up as they entered. "What do you think?" he asked. "Which are the best ones? Which ones will enhance their mates and which ones should we keep for another time? Which colour of gold will be best for them?" He touched one of the opals lovingly. Lois was instantly charmed. Her eyes smiled as she introduced herself and then Clark.
"Does this look familiar to you, Mr.Smith?" Clark said as he showed him the picture.
The old man raised his eyebrows. "Yes," his voice was pleased. "My father designed that using an old Ojibway myth for inspiration. My mother was Ojibway and my father often incorporated native symbols into his designs. The results were quite beautiful, quite powerful. I remember this one because he used it in a necklace and in bracelets too. He gave it to me to actually make, one of the first important sets that I did."
"Do you remember who bought it?" Lois asked hopefully.
"No, but likely we sold it to someone connected with the Academy. They've always been our major customers for more expensive pieces of jewelry like this. I can probably find out for you though." His voice was pleased and he looked at his daughter-in-law with a gentle look of triumph. "It is important to keep old records, not to hastily discard them." It sounded like one of those important rules by which one lives life.
His daughter-in-law grinned good naturedly; she too had her rules. "Pop's a pack rat. He's got the ledgers going back for the full life of the business. Purchase orders, invoices, receipts, everything. I can understand keeping records of the designs. Those I think we can still use, but the other stuff?" She shrugged her shoulders.
"But you see, now it is necessary to have this information." He led them back to a tiny room, more a large closet than a room. "This is where my records have been banished. The 1950's I think," he said as he reached toward the leather bound ledger books. "What year?"
"1957. Probably in the spring. They were given as a present in June of that year."
Mr. Smith pulled down one of the dark brown ledgers and opened it on the table. "See , in those days we wrote out all records of sales," he pointed to the neat handwritten entries. "This will take a bit of time to go through, but if you give me a day I'll find the information for you."
"If you don't object, we could do that for you."
"That would be fine. Here's how we set these records up." He showed them how the entries had been made, let them know that he planned to stay until seven that night, and then left them on their own.
An hour and a half later, they found it. Clark put his finger under the entry. "This is it, Lois. June 2, 1957. 'one pair of gold earrings, intertwined snakes, set with garnets'. — bought by Anthony T. Gates'."
"That doesn't put Gates at the farmhouse when Alice was killed," Clark said as they walked out of Smith's. "There's absolutely no evidence to identify anyone who was there except Alice, and Jane Malenkov."
"But the coroner's report suggests that someone else was there too. So who is most likely to have been there with Jane? Tony Gates. Maybe they didn't go directly back to Jane's after the dance. Remember what my uncle said."
"So they went to the Lemieux place to be alone."
"Why wouldn't they just go to a hotel?"
"Small town, Lois. Somebody was likely to recognize one of them, more likely Gates."
"Oh. I hadn't thought of that. You know, sometimes your Smallville background comes in handy, Clark. Anyway, why would Alice go there?"
"Maybe she suspected that Jane and Tony had gone there and wanted to confront him."
"Or maybe it was Jane who was the latecomer and interrupted Alice and Tony?"
"And Jim followed Alice. The question is, when did he get there? Mary Cardinal said she felt he was in the room when Alice was dead," Clark said thoughtfully.
"But not when she was dying. So he got there afterward. But, Clark, we can't go on Mrs. Cardinal's intuition."
"I know," but he was still inclined to accept it; he had no doubt that she was an extraordinary woman. Maybe it was Jim Thomson's emotional state that had communicated the information to Mary. Maybe she was empathic. Afterall, she had sensed something about him, and about his connection with Lois.
They had reached the small restaurant recommended by the jeweller's daughter-in-law. Lois looked at it suspiciously and then said, "Looks O.K." and they went in. Clark automatically placed his hand on the small of her back as they followed the waiter to a table along one of the walls of the dimly lit room. There were only a few people there, probably typical for a Monday night.
Once they were seated, they both looked around the room appreciatively. Old brick walls and the dark planks of the wooden floor gave the room an aura of austere comfort. A few antique posters of old sci-fi movies like 'Metropolis' hung on two of the walls across from them. The menus had been inserted in old copies of science fiction books, all written before 1950. Portraits of their authors hung on a third wall; large photographs of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, A. Merritt, Aldous Huxley, a young John Wyndham, among others. Lois's menu had been inserted in an old copy of 'Utopia' while Clark's was in a one of the ubiquitous 'Classic Editions' of 'Frankenstein.'
After the waiter had taken their order, he picked up their menus. "Some of our customers think the book titles that their menus are in are significant, you know, like tea leaves." He looked at their books and said to Lois, "You must be the future in some way," and then he looked at Clark's and just said, "Oh." Then he said to Lois, "I'd be careful about going home with him. He doesn't look like a freak, but who knows … " he let his voice trail dramatically.
Lois laughed and then looked at Clark. He wasn't laughing; his face looked slightly haunted. < Oh no, Clark. Is this what you've been afraid of?> She reached across the table to touch his hand. "He's right. He somehow knows that you're a farmboy from Smallville," she said teasingly and then with mock importance, "and that I'm your future."
It worked. He took her hand and his face cleared. "I hope so." His voice was low with emotion, still not quite back to normal.
"Well," her voice a slow drawl, "you *will* have to bring me flowers and chocolates."
"I can do that." He was recovering. "But I'm shocked, Lois. I didn't know you could be bought."
She grinned. <Victory> she thought. "Yes, and I want you to know I don't come cheap, Clark Kent. I have rigorous standards about everything, especially chocolate."
"I'll have to talk to Perry about a raise; otherwise, I could be in big trouble here."
At that point, they were interrupted by the waiter who brought them drinks and salads. Their conversation turned to other things, to which science fiction writers were their favorites, to small towns vs. large cities, to each other.
After they left the restaurant, they walked slowly back to where their car was parked, holding hands, not saying much, enjoying being with each other. Clark opened the door on the passenger side for her and then, just as she started to get in, he stopped her. He touched her hair, then bent to kiss her lightly. "I love you, Lois Lane."
"I love you, too, Clark Kent." And she did; she just had to figure out who he was.
Dave gave them the bad news when they got back. "Jim Thomson is dead. He was driving to town when he lost control of his car. It spun off that back road coming out of the reserve and he crashed into the bank of granite that lines the road at that spot. He died instantly."
"Oh god," Lois said and she looked at Clark, stricken.
"How is Matt Thomson?" Clark asked.
"Upset, controlling it; but his father took it hard. He was the first person to reach the accident. I was at the hospital when they brought the body in. Jenny O'Rourke came shortly after. Apparently Jim had been driving in to town to see her about something."
"Do they have any idea why he lost control?"
"No, but he was driving west and the brightness of the setting sun could have blinded him momentarily so that he misjudged the curve. The police are checking the car for any mechanical problems. It's an old model, at the stage where parts tend to fail suddenly."
"I thought Jim was a pretty good mechanic from what Matt said when he was talking about their airline," Clark said.
"Yeah, he does have that reputation. Years ago, when the airline was just one seaplane and summer business, Jim used to work in town at the garage at the truck stop. One of the best mechanics I've ever seen, but that doesn't mean it extended to his own cars. He's always driven something that looks like it's about to fall apart. I've known a few doctors who are like that; great at giving advice but they still smoke or eat french fries regularly."
"Could he have been forced off the road?" Lois asked.
"I don't know too much about what happened, but there was no evidence of another car being there. I expect the police will look for scrapes or paint that suggests contact. The coroner is doing an autopsy to check for any medical reason that could account for the accident. I do know Jim was taking medication for heart problems."
"This is too much of a coincidence, Clark," Lois said.
Clark headed for the kitchen. "I know. I'm going to call Jenny." When he reached the station, the receptionist told him that she was off duty but refused to give him her home number. Standard policy, but she was listed in the phone book, so Clark tried her home but was frustrated when all he got was her answering machine. He left a message to contact him and then hung up.
"Perhaps she's at Matt's," Lois suggested.
Clark was able to get hold of Matt and, after talking with him for a minute about his uncle, he asked for Jenny and told her about what he and Lois had found at Smith's. He could hear her sigh on the other end.
"Somehow I'm not surprised. Look, I know it's getting late, but could you two come out here? Mary Cardinal seems to think that it's really important to talk to you. Whatever she has to say, she won't speak to me until you two are present." Clark noticed that her voice had an edge of resentment as she made the last comment.
After he hung up, Clark headed back to the living room and looked at Lois, curled up comfortably in a big arm chair and gazing dreamily at the flames in the fireplace. He felt a sudden protective urge and wanted to leave her where she was. Then again, she would kill him if he did that. He reached for her hand. "Come on, Ms. Lane we're going back out."
They drove to the reserve using the back road on which the accident had occurred, wanting to check out the site for evidence of a second car. They were taking a chance that the scene had been marked by the police who would probably want to inspect it out in daylight tomorrow. When they got to the spot, they got out of the car, and walked along the road in the darkness.
Clark stood behind her and carefully looked over the area where the police had roped off the road. He could see the marks made by the tires as they cut across the gravel shoulder before the car hit the granite. His x-ray vision picked up traces of blue paint on the rock, probably from Jim's car.
"It's unlikely there were any witnesses out on this back road. I expect the police will do their best to find any if there were," he said.
"Clark, this is the road I took when I first came out here. I kinda got lost and wound up here without realizing I'd taken the wrong turn. It's a little longer than the highway. I passed Senator Gates driving in the opposite direction although I'm fairly sure he didn't notice me. He was going pretty fast. I was quite surprised; he was the last person in the world I would have expected to see here."
"You never told me that."
"To tell you the truth, I'd forgotten. I think that once I learned of his connections here, I just assumed that he'd gone out to pay his respects to Mrs. Cardinal the day they found the remains of Alice's body. I wonder if he talked to Jim Thomson that day too."
Clark was still mentally reconstructing the accident. "Traffic on this road is pretty local I would think, just in and out of the reserve. Either someone tried to pass Jim, coming from behind, and came too close or someone coming from the opposite direction deliberately forced him off the road. The granite along the road gives very little room for escape once you hit the shoulder and, if you're going at even a moderate speed, I don't expect you'd have much control."
"Clark, if someone intended to force Jim off the road, I think the driver might stop to check what happened."
"You know, Ms. Lane, sometimes you are very good," he said softly. Still behind her, he directed his x-ray vision some yards farther down the side of the road and, sure enough, saw fresh tire marks in the damp ground of the shoulder. He wondered if the police had checked there. Lois followed him as he walked toward the spot. Oddly, she did not register any surprise when he found the treadmarks. He wondered why.
She was proud of her restraint. <Two can play this game > she thought smugly. Kneeling, she looked at the angle of the tire marks. "What do you think, Clark? Do you think that the angle indicated the driver was coming >from the middle of the road rather than from this lane?"
"Maybe," he said thoughtfully. "The indentations are a little deeper than what ours are, suggesting that he pulled over quickly." He stood up and let his eyes sweep the path from this spot to the rock where the car had crashed but he saw nothing unusual.
"Clark, where do you think he went next? Not likely into the village. If he turned around, he could get out to the highway or he could take that turn just before the highway."
"Which goes to the Gates' summer place."
"Yeah. Let's double back and follow it."
After about ten minutes of driving, they pulled up into the parking area. The only other car there was a two-year old, bottom of the line Chev. Lois said, as they got out of their car, "Who do you think we'll find home?"
"Gates is in Metropolis, so who knows. Lois, I'll check the garage while you see who's home." Clark walked over to the closed door of the garage and did a quick interior scan: no vehicles inside. He turned to join Lois as she talked to an older woman at the front door of the house, overhearing her say to Lois that she would let the Senator know that they had stopped by. The door closed and the two returned to the car.
"Everyone's gone back to the city," Lois said. "Notice anything around the garage?"
"Nothing. It's empty," and then realized his mistake.
"Don't tell me you broke into the garage, Clark!" She wasn't going to let him off this time.
"Ah … no … there's a window on the other side. You can't see it from here." He started the ignition, being careful not to look at her as he spoke.
"Oh," Lois grinned in the darkness.
It wasn't long before they got to Matt's. When they got there, Lois explained why they had taken so long, and Jenny immediately put in a call to the station to let them know about the tire marks. "They'll have someone there as soon as possible to check it out." She reached for her jacket. "Let's go over to Mary's."
When they were all seated around the fireplace, Mary Cardinal began to speak. "Jenny," her brown eyes apologetic as she looked at the young woman, "I did not speak before because I only wanted to do this once and I wanted this young man and woman here when I did." Her dark eyes shifted briefly to Lois and Clark. "Jim came to see me before he left this afternoon to tell me what he was about to do. He said that he wanted me to know first before he went to the police."
"After the dance that night, Alice told him that she did not think she could marry him afterall, that it was unfair to him. Before she had not told him who her baby's father was because she thought it would be better if no one knew, but that night she told him. Tony Gates was the father. She had told him when she had first found out but his only reaction had been to offer to help her get an abortion. My daughter couldn't do that; she thought that all life was sacred."
"And so Jim and Alice were arguing about the broken engagement when he brought her home," Jenny said sadly.
"Yes. Jim came back to the house later but our car was gone and he guessed that Alice had gone to confront either Jane or Tony. The Lemieux place is on the way to town and when he passed it, he noticed our car there. When he entered the house, Alice was already dead." Her voice broke and a few tears slipped over the wrinkled surface of her skin. "She was lying on the floor and there was blood around her head. Tony was bending over her body and Jane was standing back, hysterical."
"So Gates killed her," Clark said.
"Yes. He said it was an accident. Alice had confronted him and started pounding on his chest and then he … " she couldn't finish , her face bleak, reliving the images she had formed when Jim first told her the story.
"Mary." Matt's voice was compassionate as he took the old woman's hand.
"Why didn't Jim go to the police?" Lois asked.
"I think because of Jane. She pleaded with him not to. It would ruin everything for them and so Jim agreed. They buried Alice and agreed that they would never mention it to anyone."
"So that's why he invested in our business, why it has always been so easy to get loans." Matt's voice was angry, bitter. "Hush money."
"Did Gates know that Jim was planning on going to the police this afternoon?" Clark asked.
"I don't know. Jim told me that he had called Jane and told her that it was time to bring everything out in the open. She asked him not to but he said he couldn't live with the secret any longer."
Lois gasped. "I can't believe that Jane would force Jim's car off the road."
Mary Cardinal agreed. "No, I don't think she could."
"I wonder if she contacted Gates," Clark mused.
Jenny walked over to Mary and hugged her. "I'm going back to town. I want to start tracking a few of these things before any more time passes. I'll come by tomorrow, Mary."
As they walked to the front door, Matt said, "I'll stay here for awhile." He looked at Jenny. "You'll come back when you're finished?"
"Uh huh." Jenny kissed his cheek briefly and then opened the front door.
Mary took Lois's hand and then Clark's. "Thank you. It is better to know the truth."
Outside, as the three of them walked back to Matt's, Lois asked, "Do you think you'll be able to charge Gates?"
"It's not a sure thing by a long shot. What we've got is circumstantial and Mary's account will be labelled as hearsay and irrelevant. If Jane corroborates we'd stand a better chance. I'll question Gates, but I don't expect much. If we find that Jim was forced off the road and then a connection between that car and Gates, we'd have a stronger case."
"A lot of if's," Clark said.
Lois phoned Perry White the next morning to tell him that they were taking the train late that afternoon to Metropolis. For the rest of the morning they worked on their article on the police and the Native community. They used Alice's case to symbolize what had happened in the past and how much had changed over the last forty years, but justice had still not been done in Alice's case. Allie would run the article in Saturday's edition and Lois hoped that Perry would run it on the same day in the Daily Planet.
Jenny dropped by after lunch, shortly before their train was to leave. Although she felt she owed it to them to let them know what the police had found, she was talking off the record. Until any charges were laid, confidentiality had to be maintained. She didn't have much to tell them anyway. Forensics had found enough evidence to be certain that Jim's car had been forced off the road but finding the car that had been used was going to be next to impossible. They'd checked at the Gates compound with no luck. Gates' staff had been authorized to give the police all they wanted, which to Lois was very suspicious.
Jane had been at a meeting of the Library Purchasing Committee between three and five o'clock. Five of the most respectable people in town could vouch for her presence. In fact, she'd had lunch with two of them earlier. Jane had maintained that Tony had brought her straight home that night in August. As for the locket, Jane had gone a few more times to the Lemieux place with her friends. She had probably lost it as they were tramping about. Both the police and the two reporters were nowhere.
"So he gets away with it," Lois said annoyed.
"Probably, but thanks for your help, anyway." Jenny walked down the steps of the porch and then turned at the bottom. "Have a good trip back, you two. If you're not busy next month, maybe you'd like to come to our wedding," and she beamed happily.
"We'd love to," Clark said warmly. Then they both waved as Jenny drove off in one of Leagatteville's three police cruisers.
"Well at least there's one good thing that's happened," Lois sighed as she watched Jenny's car. Clark was standing behind her, and wrapping his arms around her, he briefly bent his head to kiss the side of her neck. "Two good things, Lois." She leaned back into him for a moment and then pulled away. Turning around, she faced him and smiled crookedly. "So, let's get ready to catch that train."
(although I'm planning a short sequel to tie up loose ends.)