By Kat Picson (Kat5107@aol.com), Craig Byrne (CarigByrne@aol.com) and Matt Combes (TheNando@aol.com)
Summary: Mindy Church can't trust anyone to carry out her villainous plans, so she herself takes action to keep Metropolis' stool pigeons from talking. As Lois and Clark investigate the deaths of two prominent criminals, will they discover who's behind the crime in Metropolis? (Episode # 22 of The Unaired Fifth Season)
Story By Kat Picson
Written By Kat Picson, Craig Byrne, and Matt Combes
A chill hung in the evening air although the snow had melted and the calendar claimed that springtime was in full bloom. Metropolis was bustling, as the Friday night crowd filled the streets. Young adults lined up outside nightclubs and movie theaters while four-star restaurants and a production of "Miss Saigon" beckoned to a slightly older crowd. A maroon van slipped discreetly past city limits, stopping just outside the ominous entrance to New Troy State Prison as dusk slowly faded into night.
A manicured hand carelessly threw a copy of the evening edition of The Daily Planet on the passenger seat. The headline screamed, "George 'Buster' Temple plea-bargains his way to a softer sentence." The article outlined Temple's claims that he would reveal the true criminal mastermind's identity on Monday. The morning edition had publicized Buster's trial, as well as two other trials coming up: Brandon Trask's and Michael Edwards'.
"I hate it when my men squeal on me," Mindy Church said as she looked upon the newspaper with disdain. Her dog, sitting in a basket between the driver's and passenger seat, seemed to sympathize. "I had so much hope for you, Buster," she told the blurry newspaper photo of a weary, manacled Buster Temple entering the courtroom. She sighed. "Why do I have to do everything myself?"
With that, she extracted a long, white hairpin out of the glove compartment. She neatly swept her hair into a French twist and fastened it with the pin. A gray scarf and glasses completed the ensemble.
The guard at the front gate seemed to pay no attention to Mrs. Church. The van stealthily continued into the prison grounds.
"Temple, your wife's here," the guard called, opening Buster's minimum- security cell.
Buster, his face expressionless, followed the guard to the visiting room. Why Julianne had decided to visit him now, and how she had managed to get visiting privileges this late, was beyond him. But he wasn't going to let the guard see his confusion.
The woman sitting across the table was not Julianne. A petite woman with thick, blond hair was posed delicately on the chair — unmistakably Mindy Church. When she saw Buster, she removed her scarf and let it float delicately to the table.
"What are you doing here?" he whispered vehemently. "How did you get past —"
"Shut up, Buster," she cooed. "I've read the papers. I know what you're planning to do."
"What're you talking about?" Buster asked, trying to sound innocent and unassuming. It seemed ridiculous, but he was scared of the woman. She looked and acted stupid, but with Mindy Church, he found the saying "still waters run deep" to be incredibly and unfortunately true. A smart man would have been suspicious around Mindy. Buster was sorry he had not been so smart in the beginning.
Mindy removed her glasses. "Don't be coy, pookie. You're gonna tell on me. I thought we had a deal." Her pink lips formed a heart-shaped pout.
Buster's fear turned to anger. "Yeah, we had a deal. The deal was we wouldn't get caught."
Mindy's lips hinted of a smile now. "No, the deal was *I* wouldn't get caught. And you're about to break our little deal, aren't you, Buster? But I completely understand."
Buster looked confused. She kept turning 180 degrees every other minute. Did she want to get caught? Did she want to stop whatever she was doing? Buster relaxed — a bit.
Mindy stood up, contemplative. "I used you. It's only natural that you want to get back at me." She walked around the table, stopping when she stood directly in front of Buster.
"And you're willing to get caught?" Buster asked in disbelief.
Mindy smiled wordlessly as she reached up to wrestle her hair loose. She held the hairpin between two gloved fingers; Buster was mesmerized. It was almost like a ritual.
He barely had time to react when the flash of white lightning plunged into his chest, piercing his heart cleanly and killing him.
"Over my dead body," Mindy said calmly as she walked away. She turned back and faced the slumping figure. "Or should I say, over *your* dead body? No one squeals on me." Her eyes narrowed evilly.
She picked up the scarf and knocked on the door to signal the guard. Unexpectedly, she planted a kiss on the guard's cheek.
"Thanks, Hunkie," she whispered in his ear.
Lois Lane opened the bedroom window, letting the wind play with her wavy, brown hair. She rested her hands atop her pregnant belly and watched the stars, which twinkled down on her and her unborn child as if they were the only creatures left on earth. She turned to look at her husband, his sleeping figure bathed in the silver light of the city and the moon. She smiled as the wind ruffled Clark Kent's dark hair. She sat down on the bed and gently touched a tendril that had fallen across his forehead. His eyelids fluttered open to reveal espresso-brown irises.
"Lois," he murmured. "What time is it?"
"Shh," she whispered. "Go back to sleep."
"Why are you still awake? Are you OK?" Clark's instincts told him to sit up and take a closer look at his wife, and he did.
Lois smiled placidly, and Clark thought she was beautiful. "I'm a little warm. I opened the window." She paused to smile. "Right after I went to the bathroom."
Clark reached out and took his wife's hand. "Go back to sleep — maybe the six weeks will pass faster." He rubbed her abdomen encouragingly.
Lois reluctantly put her feet up on the bed and leaned back against a mountain of pillows. And promptly fell asleep without another thought.
Clark awoke to the sound of his wife bustling around the bedroom. On her side of the bed was an open suitcase filled with random pieces of clothing.
"What are you doing, honey?" he asked, confused. "Are we going somewhere?"
"I'm packing for the hospital," Lois said matter-of-factly. "I know we still have six weeks, but I want to be prepared, you know?" Lois paused, looking into her closet and then back at the suitcase. She frowned slightly. "I have to check that book about what size I'm going to be after I give birth because I don't know *which* clothes I should bring."
Even though the clock radio on the nightstand read 6:12 a.m., Clark noticed she was already showered and dressed for the day. She was wearing soft cotton maternity pants, a T-shirt and a light denim shirt unbuttoned with the sleeved rolled up, which Clark recognized as his.
"Why are you wearing my clothes?" Clark asked with amusement.
Lois looked down at herself as she walked from the closet to the bed. "Oh," she said. "Do you mind? These are just much more comfortable. Those new clothes we bought aren't as soft as your old worn ones." She smiled. "I hope I don't get so big that I don't fit into my maternity clothes. Goodness, Mother said these pants should last up until I go into labor. Yeah, right."
Clark shook his head as he stood up and headed for the bathroom. Before he was halfway there, the telephone rang.
Lois froze. It was barely 6 a.m. on a Saturday. It had to be Perry. Clark, who was closer to the telephone, answered it.
"Hello? Morning to you too, Perry," Clark said, raising his eyebrows. "*What*? … Sure, sure … I'll go straight there … Thanks." He turned to Lois, whose face asked a silent question.
"Murder at New Troy State Prison," Clark said dully.
Lois's eyes instantly became concerned. "Who …?"
"Buster Temple," Clark informed her glumly. "Perry says it had to be an outsider. It happened in a visiting room."
"Visiting room?" The wheels started turning inside Lois's head as her husband took a super-fast shower and dressed super-quickly.
"I'm going over there," he said as he descended the stairs.
"Not without me, you're not," Lois said, following as close as she can.
Clark turned around. "Lois, Perry said —"
Lois silenced her husband with a look — and it was the look that instantly told Clark there was no use arguing. "I'm driving," Clark said definitively.
Lois didn't object. She didn't want to push it. "I'm getting an apple turnover," she said. "I'm hungry."
When she got outside, Clark was already sitting inside the Jeep, warming it up. She handed the turnover to Clark, who toasted it with his heat vision and dropped it into Lois's paper plate on her ever-decreasing lap.
"I was thinking," Clark said as Lois buckled her seat belt. "It's obvious who killed Temple. He did say he was going to rat out some 'higher power' in Temple & Co." He looked at Lois, who was distracted. "Honey?"
Lois looked up. "I'm sorry, honey. I'm just trying to figure out how this stupid seat belt is supposed to go around this beach ball. You'd think with so many pregnant women in the world …" She moved the belt back and forth, then up and down. She looked at Clark, who was looking at her with a silly grin. "Of course you think this is hilarious. You don't have to worry about fifty extra pounds hindering your everyday life, twenty-four hours a day."
Clark leaned over and kissed Lois's cheek. "You're exaggerating, honey. You haven't gained anywhere near fifty pounds." But Lois didn't look amused. "I'm sorry, Lois. It's just that you're just so adorable —"
"Yeah, a big, adorable whale," Lois retorted. She finally seemed satisfied with the position of the seat belt and picked up the turnover. As soon as she bit down on the warm, flaky pastry, a chunk of apple fell —PLOP! — on her shirt.
She looked at Clark, rolled her eyes and said, "Forget it. I'll get the next shirt just as dirty. It's only a spot." She dabbed at it with a napkin and they were off to New Troy State Prison.
Lois and Clark flashed their press passes to the guard at the security gate and joined the numerous cameras and reporters that flocked outside the entrance to the prison's main building.
"Ma'am," the prison guard stuttered as he stood at the entrance, where FBI, Metropolis police officers and prison security mingled beyond the yellow tape. "I don't think you should —" The guard eyed Lois's swollen midsection, trying to think of a tactful way to say that Lois, in a "delicate" state, should avoid the crime scene.
"Lane and Kent," a voice interrupted.
"Hello, Inspector Henderson," Clark said, shaking the man's hand. Henderson then greeted Lois, who was still giving the aloof prison guard a hateful glare. He gestured for them to step over the yellow tape.
"Usually I wouldn't allow the press to see this," Henderson began as they walked toward the crime scene, "but seeing as you helped get the guy, maybe you can help us out." Henderson looked around, as if maybe someone else was watching. "All we know at this point is that the murderer was probably a woman."
"A woman?" Clark repeated questioningly.
Henderson pulled out a plastic bag from his jacket pocket. The bag contained what looked like an ornate chopstick.
"What's that?" Lois asked.
Henderson handed it to her. "It's the murder weapon," he said.
"A hairpin?" Lois said incredulously. She and Clark looked at the unusual weapon more closely. It was made of ivory, about eight inches long with one sharp end and the other end wider and flatter, with a design that looked Asian and slightly stained with red — Buster Temple's blood.
"Real ivory," Henderson said. "Well, by the looks of it."
"It looks antique," Clark observed. "Besides, no one uses ivory anymore. It's not legal — or politically correct."
"I'm running it down to the lab in a minute," Henderson told them. "I just wanted to show it to you two in case you had any ideas."
Lois and Clark shook their heads in unison, and Henderson shrugged. "You're free to look around. The body's already being transported to the coroner's."
Except for the circulation department, the hallways of the Daily Planet on a Saturday morning usually remained silent. The pressmen wouldn't arrive until later in the evening to work on the Sunday edition, and the advertising department was dark and abandoned. Generally several part-time reporters and staff handled the Sunday edition, as most of the paper was feature material written earlier in the week.
This Saturday, however, was different. The murder of Buster Temple, who had been ready to plead guilty to numerous petty charges as well as the alleged laundering and embezzlement of millions of dollars, was definitely front-page news. As a result, reporters mingled about, talked on the phone, and frantically banged on their computer keyboards.
"It's almost like someone wanted him silenced," Jimmy Olsen told Lois and Clark, who lounged around Lois's computer as they tried to find an angle for the story. Lois chewed on her thumbnail thoughtfully.
"Actually, what I want to know is who 'Julianne Temple' may be, and how we can locate her," Clark said.
"Julianne?" Jimmy asked.
"His wife, I assume," Clark said with a shrug. "I saw her name on the visitors' log at the prison. Maybe you can look it up, Jimmy? Search the archives?"
"Can do," Jimmy said, already on his way. He paused and turned back. "Wait a second. Are reporters usually allowed to see those records? I tried the other week when I was doing a follow-up on Temple's trial, and the guy wouldn't budge."
Clark remembered seeing the log by using "devious" means — using X-ray vision, to be exact. "Uh … I guess we just got lucky," Clark fumbled.
Lois tried to change the subject quickly as she skimmed through her mail. "Looks like Buster's not the only prisoner in trouble," she noted. She was reading a phone message. "Unless you count a doctor's scalpel as a deadly weapon. Michael Edwards — the guy who was behind that whole Waynetech supercomputer fiasco — had an emergency appendectomy last night, and he's still at the hospital recuperating." She threw the pink message slip into her wastebasket.
"Hey, hey, hey, you three!" a deep voice called from behind.
Lois, Clark, and Jimmy turned around to face Perry White, decked out in a short-sleeved plaid shirt and khaki pants. "Perry, you're here early," Lois observed. She knew Saturday was the Chief's day to sleep in, and he was probably not happy to have been awakened this morning, no matter how big the story was.
"Big news day, Lois. What kind of editor would I be if I weren't here? Besides, I owe a job recommendation to someone who's supposed to drop by." He continued to walk toward his office, but then he turned around. "Kent, Lois here didn't come with you to the prison, did she?"
Clark opened his mouth to speak, but the expression on his face said it all.
"Dang-blastit!" Perry turned to Lois. "Did I or did I not tell you to take it easy?"
"Perry!" Lois exclaimed. "You can't just tell me —"
"Lois, I'm just worried about you!"
"Perry, I think I can decide what situations I can and can't handle," Lois said.
Perry looked at his protege. The woman was as stubborn as a mule, and as usual he couldn't disagree. He grunted, but didn't say anything more as he walked into his office. But Lois was still angry.
"Now, Lois. Don't pout …" Clark said, sensing a Lois tornado.
The tornado hit as Lois's bottom lip stuck out. "But Clark, we *finally* get some big front-page news, and Perry practically tells me that I can't be a part of it.. I mean, we haven't had a big front-pager since that whole thing with the department stores! I *have* to be there." Lois sighed.
"Well, Lois, you're carrying a baby —" Clark managed to say as Lois took a breath.
Lois made a face at her husband. "Well, look Clark, here." She placed two hands on her belly as if it would detach and she would hand it to Clark. "You take the baby, *you* deal with it kicking at the most inappropriate moments, *you* be hungry all day and hot all day and have to go to the bathroom *every* five minutes, having people ask you if you're OK when there's absolutely *nothing* to worry about and then *you* decide if you want to just sit around while the world passes you by. I mean, this could be the last big story until the baby comes!" Lois said. Clark held his hands up defensively, not knowing what to say or do next.
"Umm … son?" Perry interrupted, looking at Clark pointedly. He had watched Lois's tirade from his office doorway.
"Take a moment to speak with me?" Perry said, nodding his head toward his office.
"Oh," Clark said, raising his eyebrows. "Be right back," he mumbled to Lois.
Perry didn't speak until the door was closed. "Now, son," he said carefully as he sat down, "I can tell by the look of you that you're not sure what to think or do about this whole baby thing. It's getting into that last month, and pretty soon you and Lois will have a little tyke to worry about."
"I know, Chief. But —"
"But nothin'!" Clark thought Perry was going to pound his desk with a fist, but he didn't. "Let me finish. Alice was twenty-two when we had our first son, TJ. Short for Trevor Jenkins — named after his grandpa. She was going through the same things as Lois, at one time or another — the mood swings, eating weird stuff — the works. But that's not why I called you in here."
"It isn't?" Clark asked.
"Nope. I called you in here to tell you it's OK to worry. Heck, I was only a cub reporter like Jimmy when our first was born. Suddenly there was this new responsibility, and it scared me. The fathers get just as anxious as the mothers do. Maybe more."
"They do?" Clark asked incredulously. Inwardly, he felt relief. He was reluctant to share his feelings with Lois, feeling obliged to be strong for her.
Perry laughed heartily at the father-to-be's naivete. "You bet they do! I'm not even going to tell you what happened when Jerry was born! That's why I'm telling you: Don't forget to go easy on yourself." Clark grinned appreciatively.
Perry and Clark were interrupted by a knock at the door. "She's here," Perry said, looking up expectantly.
"She? Who?" Clark's brow furrowed as he turned around.
"An old friend." Perry walked over to the office door and welcomed his guest: She was a stylish, sophisticated, very sexy woman in her thirties. She wore four-inch stiletto sandals, a bright blue blazer that showed off her ample cleavage and a short, swingy floral skirt. Her auburn mane flowed wildly about her face, her eyes twinkling sensually. The sexy ensemble was punctuated with large gold earrings. The woman was none other than Catherine Grant.
"Perry!" Cat placed a careful peck on Perry's cheek and then spotted Clark. "Mmmm, hi, handsome," she said, extending her hand for Clark to kiss. She then pulled the hand back. "Oh, whoops! I forgot — married now," she purred with a dazzling smile.
"Here's your recommendation," Perry said, handing Cat a manila envelope. "I can't believe it. Our very own Cat Grant, a reporter for one of those entertainment shows. I don't watch 'em myself, but I truly think this is your calling." Perry extended his hand to shake Cat's.
"So how long are you going to be in town this time, Cat?" Clark asked. "It's a shame Lois and I couldn't have had you over when you were around for the Kerths."
Cat shrugged. "I've been busy, a little of this, a little of that. Parade, USA Weekend, People magazine — but something kept telling me I needed something new." She still had the same breathy, seductive voice, Clark noticed, but she had changed also. She seemed more vibrant, more alive, more secure about her life. Clark was happy for her. "Anyhow, I think I saw Lois out in the newsroom. Catch you two later!"
Lois sighed as if she was bored. Her back ached, and her shoulders needed rubbing. She cradled the phone between her chin and her shoulder and pulled out a Chinese take-out menu from her desk drawer. "OK, thanks. Yes, Bobby, I will make sure there is food," she said. "Bye."
"Lois! Nice to see you here!" Cat said, about to give Lois a handshake.
Lois turned around in her chair, revealing her additional girth. "Cat!" Lois was surprised. She stood up and shook Cat's hand.
Cat gave Lois the once-over, looking her up and down. And then, in disbelief, Cat had to do it again, her eyes widening.
"What, never seen a pregnant woman before?" Lois said to Cat. She was snippy, but secretly glad to see her old sparring partner.
"No, it's just — you — Clark — wow," Cat stuttered. "And I have to admit, a pregnant Lois Lane is something that I expected to see somewhere in the realm of …" Cat struggled to think of something just as unlikely, but Lois broke in.
"Yeah, well, you never know," Lois said vaguely.
Jimmy walked over to the two of them excitedly. "Cat! Good to see you." He quickly turned to Lois. "You will *never* believe what just happened. I was on the IRC …"
"IOC? The Internet chat thingy?" Cat asked quizzically.
"I*R*C," Jimmy corrected, slightly annoyed. "But anyway, I dropped by the 'Sally McNeill' chat channel, you know, that new TV show with Melissa Lockhart? Anyway —"
"Wait a minute," Lois interrupted. "I've been calling around trying to get an angle on the Buster Temple murder, and *you've* been on the computer playing games?"
Jimmy shrugged. "I'm doing a file search on the other computer, to see what I can come up with. I had to run through forty-thousand names in the Metropolis databank; it was gonna take a while."
"Oh, OK," Lois said. "Go on."
"Anyhow, you will *not* believe who I ran into. On the channel, I mean. Remember Sarah Goodwin? Psych major, she and I had this little programmed- killers thing going about three years ago? Anyhow, she's a big Sally fan too, and — get this — she's going to be in Metropolis in a couple of days!" Jimmy said excitedly.
"And she still wants to come, knowing you're here?" Cat said sarcastically.
Jimmy gave her a disgusted look. "Of *course* she knows I'm here! It's gonna be great! We're gonna go out to dinner, then spend an evening of watching Sally videotapes at my house."
"Ooh, how romantic," Cat joked.
"You'd be surprised, Cat. Jimmy's come a long way," Lois said. "He's a reporter for the Planet now, and — every once in a while — he even has dates." Lois smiled wryly.
"Way to go, short stuff," Cat commented, placing her hand on Jimmy's shoulder. Suddenly she reached into her pocket, and pulled out a pager, which was vibrating like crazy. "Uh-oh … California's beckoning. I better get going. Catch you later!" Cat waved good-bye as she scurried to catch the elevator.
Jimmy turned to tell Lois more of his story, but she was already on the phone again. "Oh well," Jimmy said to himself, before walking back toward his computer. He saw that the search was done and began printing out the information.
Mindy nonchalantly breezed down the hospital corridors, her short nurse's uniform making a slight whooshing sound as she walked. Mindy Church wore a bimbo smile on her face as she slightly bounced her head side to side when she walked.
Mindy reached up and poofed her hair a bit, then pulled out a lipstick from her bra and began to apply it to her lips as she passed the nurses' station. Wait. Mindy backed up in her stiletto heels and noticed she had almost passed her destination. She walked over to the desk and gently picked up the nurses' list. She walked toward the wing with it in hand, looking down the list of names.
"Trask, Brandon J. There you are, my cutie," Mindy said in her high-toned voice. "7A." She lowered the clipboard to her side and walked slowly and sexily toward the "7" aisle, turned and found herself in front of 7A. She nodded to the guard who stood watch outside. He motioned for her to enter. As she peered through the window, she saw Trask sitting down, with chains running from his wrists to his ankles. He wore a hospital gown.
"How are you feeling there, hunkie?" Mindy muttered to herself in her normal voice. "I heard you almost died with that ruptured appendix. But don't worry, you won't have to put up with it much longer." Mindy slowly turned the knob and opened the door, walked in and closed it behind her. Trask glared at her, but looked back down to concentrate on the table in front of him. He wasn't going to let her bug him.
Mindy walked up to the table, completely making her presence known. She sat down in the chair opposite Trask and smiled her perky smile again. But her eyes remained serious. "Brandon," Mindy began as she took out a fine, brown cigar and lighter from her pocket and lit it, inhaling heavily and letting the smoke waft out of her mouth. "Must be terrible being locked up."
Trask looked up from the table. The table had been scratched all over — most likely with Trask's dinnertime fork. S-shields had been chiseled into the table's surface and subsequently scratched out. Trask's eyes met Mindy's.
"You have no idea," Trask gruffed out. Looking at him, one could hardly tell he was the son of Jason Trask. "Sometimes I'm glad my appendix ruptured, just so I could escape that hell hole they call a 'correctional facility.'"
Mindy continued to puff on her cigar, the smoke collecting at the ceiling. She stopped for a moment and rested the cigar on the table. "Poor Pookie," she oozed. "How horrible and rotten and mean and very, very bad of them." Mindy opened another pocket on her dress, pulled out a pair of surgical gloves, and put them on. Trask was still intrigued with the table. "I bet you'd do anything to get out of here, wouldn't you, honey bunny?"
Trask stared at his etchings, fazed as he answered her question. "Yeah. Anything … anything to get out of —" Trask suddenly jerked his head up as he realized his mistake. "No! Wait! Not anyth —AGH!" Trask screamed as the hairpin was driven through his chest. He stopped after it hit his windpipe, then, clutching the pin, he keeled over onto the floor.
Trask gasped what seemed to be his last breath as Mindy watched, stripping off her gloves and picking up her cigar.
Across the room, the television clicked on and Superman appeared, flying high above the sky, lifting cars, and doing other feats that caught on tape. Mindy stopped by the television on her way out and watched the file footage of Superman as he rescued a baby from a burning building the previous day. Puffing lightly on the cigar, she spoke.
"Don't you worry, Big Blue. Your day is coming soon." And with that, she exited.
Clark sat in Perry's office and continued to listen to Perry's stories of paternal insecurity. The subject soon went to how Elvis handled it when Lisa Marie was born. Clark got a distracted look.
"Clark … son … you OK?" Perry asked as he broke off, noticing the expression on Clark's face.
Clark was hearing a distress call from the hospital. "Chief, I'm really sorry, but I just remembered, I, uh, have to call my parents. Be right back."
Perry saw Clark rush out and down to the elevator.
"Peculiar," Perry said to himself. He paused, his brow wrinkling as his thoughtful eyes followed Clark's retreating figure. "There's a phone right … ahh, never mind."
A loud whoosh announced Superman's arrival at the hospital. A security guard, successfully guessing the reason for Superman's appearance, approached him rather quickly.
"Superman! It's the west wing. Someone's stabbed one of the patients!"
Superman dashed off toward the wing and located the scene of the crime rather easily; a large group of nurses was huddled around a doorway. Superman glanced at the top of the doorframe and read the tags: "7A. Trask, Brandon J."
The crowd of nurses parted to make way for him. Though he knew Brandon Trask was probably dead, the sight of the body on the floor shocked him. A nurse knelt by the floor beside the body. She rose when she saw Superman come in.
"Superman, we're too late. He's dead," the nurse said.
"Do you have any idea who did this?" Superman inquired.
"No. They're checking the security cameras now, but nobody saw anyone suspicious. The guard found him, but Mr. Trask had been dead for over an hour by that time."
Superman walked toward the body. As he got closer, he could see over Trask's arm, which up until now had covered up his chest and face, from Superman's perspective. The first thing that came into view was a bloodstained white object. Superman recognized it immediately as the same kind of weapon used to kill Buster Temple. Trask's face was not yet white, but the color had drained from him. His eyes were wide open, and they eerily seemed to be looking right at Superman. This disturbed him to such a degree that he bent down and shut Trask's eyelids. In doing so, Superman noticed something rather odd. Trask's other, outstretched hand lay next to some smears of blood. But the fingers lay in a position that made it look like Trask had intentionally smeared that blood.
The nurse watched as Superman stood. "Nurse, would you come here for a moment?" She did as asked and stood next to him.
"What does this …" Superman pointed to the smear, "… look like to you?"
The nurse studied what he was pointing at, but saw only blood. However, two of the smears intersected, making it look a lot like …
"An X?" she guessed.
Superman shook his head. "No … not from that angle. If you were down here, on the floor, though, it might look a lot like … a cross."
"Maybe it's where he wanted to go," one of the nurses threw out.
*Or maybe he was trying to identify his killer,* Superman thought. But that could wait until later. Right now he had to get all this information to Lois and Perry back at the Daily Planet. With two murders using the same modus operandi, they were out of the "coincidence" league and into grand-scale murder. Superman could only guess who would be next.
Superman got up as police arrived to take photos and to investigate the crime scene.
Lois picked up a tortilla chip from the bowl on the coffee table, dipped it in salsa and stuck the chip in her mouth, crunching thoughtfully as she perused the prison visitors' list for the past four weeks. They had obtained a copy, thanks to Superman. Not one person had visited both Trask and Temple. But that didn't necessarily mean anything.
Clark was poised on the couch next to her, carefully watching the prison security videotape from the night of Temple's murder, also courtesy of Superman. He rewound it, played it in slow motion, and lowered his glasses to take an even closer look.
Lois looked up to watch Clark. "How are you doing?" she asked.
Clark paused the tape to look at his wife. He reached over and picked off a piece of bell pepper from her shirt with a smile. He placed it on a napkin with a smile as Lois grinned back sheepishly.
"Slob," he teased.
Lois punched him playfully before dropping her arm across his shoulder. "Well?" she asked expectantly.
"This maroon Temple & Co. van," Clark said. "At least it looks like a Temple & Co. van — I'm assuming, since it's the same color, make, and model. Just no logo on the side. It's the best lead we've got so far. No other suspicious vehicles have come through."
Lois shuffled through her papers, finding a news clipping from a few months back. "But we helped shut down Temple and his company when he tried to pull that fake-sister stunt and the break-ins at STAR Labs and the NIA building."
Clark's brow wrinkled in thought as his eyes shifted back and forth from the TV screen and the clipping in Lois's hand.
"You do know what this means," he said with a grave sigh.
Lois echoed his sigh. "We didn't shut down Temple. At least not completely," she added. "Someone's out there still working for him. Or, he was working for someone, and now this someone has a woman killing everyone who can implicate him. Unless …"
"Unless what?" Clark said.
Lois was deep in thought. "Unless the person who was running Temple & Co. *is* a woman. And she's doing everything herself."
Clark let the theory digest in his brain before answering. "You may have a point, but I doubt it," he said. "It's extremely risky, doing all the killing herself. Do you think it's his wife — this Julianne Temple?"
Lois shrugged. "Probably. Maybe. We don't know. She's disappeared since Temple was caught. We don't even know what she looks like." Lois sighed again. "For all we know she's in Acapulco by now, spending all that money on suntan oil and margaritas."
Clark was hardly paying attention to Lois. He had fast-forwarded a bit on the tape and watched as the woman emerged from the van. Either by coincidence or design, she stayed in the shadows. Even Clark's super-vision couldn't make out her face or any other distinguishing feature.
"This is frustrating," Clark complained, removing his glasses altogether and placing them on the coffee table. "There has to be something else. Something …" He turned back to Lois, who had set the news clipping related to Temple and Trask on the table. He picked up today's edition of the Planet, skimming the article quickly. Three trials had been about to begin in Metropolis's district courts: Temple, Trask and Michael Edwards.
He looked over at Lois. "I don't think she's left Metropolis yet. All the rats haven't been stifled." Clark glanced thoughtfully at the paper again and then back at Lois. "She's coming after Edwards."
"I don't care if yooza Queen of Francie, Mr. Spandex. You don't have a pass, you don't get in." The prison guard was adamant.
"But I've never had to have a pass before," Superman pointed out. "Why are you keeping me out now?"
The guard at the prison rolled his eyes. "Look, bubblebutt, I dunno how they ran things before I got 'ired, but when I'm workin', you don't 'ave a pass, you don't get in. Kapeesh?"
"Look, there is a prisoner in there whose life is in danger and —"
"And what, Blue Boy? I open the doors so you can go down there and, uh, what? Save 'im? C'mon, please."
"I just need to check on him."
The guard looked restless. The argument wasn't getting either of them anywhere. Then his eyes suddenly lit up.
"I tell youze what … I let you in if you do one thing for me."
Superman sighed, but realized this was about the only way he was going to get in to check on Edwards. "What's that?"
"You gotta stand on your hands and do five push-ups." The guard beamed.
"Excuse me?" Had Superman heard right? Push-ups? What was this, "Double Dare"?
"Your hands. I want youze to stand on 'em. And do five push-ups. Whatayou, deaf?"
Superman sighed. He couldn't believe he had to do this. But it was his only way inside, and he didn't have to do much. Five push-ups wouldn't even burn off half a calorie. But he turned himself upside-down, lowered his head to the ground, and accomplished five push-ups. He felt silly, and as he righted himself, he could hear the guard chuckling.
"Oh man, dat was great! I can't believe you actually did it … ah, man …" The guard couldn't stop smiling.
*Very easily amused man,* thought Clark.
"Okay, buddy, I guess youze OK to go in. Go on, Fly Boy, go on …" The guard waved him in.
Superman brushed off the humiliation and made his way down the steel stairways to the E Block. He found Cell 18 and Michael Edwards with his back to him, sitting at a desk. Clark was about to clear his throat when Michael interrupted the silence.
"Yes, Superman, I read the newspaper. Daily Star, of course. Seems like I'm a high possibility to be killed next, does it?" Michael twisted around in his chair and faced Superman.
"Not necessarily, Edwards. Nobody's linked you to the other victims in any way."
"Yet you're here, so I must assume you think I'm in some kind of danger."
Superman thought a moment, then spoke again.
"Did you work for someone, Edwards? Did someone hire you to steal the Waynetech supercomputer?"
Michael seemed to hesitate and then decidedly said, "I work alone, Superman. I'm not a baby. I don't need help."
Nevertheless, Superman decided it would be best that he stay the night at the prison watching Edwards, while trying to put two and two together. He had already put one piece of the puzzle in place; both of the victims were killed by the same person, and that person most likely was an employer. There was also that eerie cross at the Trask crime scene, but Clark couldn't place that piece of the puzzle yet. He had referenced all the people in the phone book and the Daily Planet archives with the last name Cross, but didn't get anywhere.
If nothing happened to Edwards tonight, then it might be possible that those were the only two killings that were meant to happen. But he had to stay at the prison if he was going to find out. Superman asked the guard to get him a chair, and he settled in for the night.
The lights were dimmed inside Mindy Church's high-rise penthouse. She picked up her dog off the floor of her office, where he had soiled on the front page of the Daily Planet newspaper. "Ooh, Pookie," she cooed, as she held him with one hand and crumpled the newspaper with the other.
The telephone on the desk rang, and Mindy placed Pookie back down on the floor as she dropped the newspaper into a potted plant. "Hello?" she answered sweetly. But when she heard the voice on the other end, Mindy's expression and tone turned serious. "Yeah, well, no one knew it was me. I know that prison system inside out, and everyone'll think it was Buster's wife, Julianne. That Temple woman is such a nitwit." She paused as the voice on the other end, apparently angry, screamed so loudly Pookie scampered into a dark corner. "I won't let you down! I've gotten away with everything we've been planning all these years and you think I'll let you down *now*?" She paused again.
"You leave that to me, honey bunny," she insisted, easily switching back to a low, throaty voice. "You just find a way of letting me get close enough to Edwards so no one else can rat on me … on *us.*"
The voice on the other line was not convinced and continued to rant at a high volume. Mindy held the phone at an arm's length and, cutting off the speaker in mid-sentence, she placed it delicately on its cradle. She sat down in her armchair, picked up a cigar out of the box on the desk and lit it. She inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, closing her eyes.
"Have I ever expressed disdain for coming in to work on a Sunday morning?" Lois asked as Clark drove them to the Planet. Clark knew better than to answer. The front of her casual empire-waisted maternity dress was covered in a fine white dust, the remnants of a powdered doughnut she had bought at the coffee shop around the corner from their house. She was starting on a chocolate cream doughnut — and had three more assorted pastries in a paper bag.
"You know, you're probably eligible to take your maternity leave soon," Clark pointed out as he turned onto Main Street. "Actually, you're probably eligible for it right now."
"Maternity leave?" Lois scoffed at the idea. "I've already been put on desk duty, which we have found just doesn't agree with me. I'm planning to work until the nanosecond my contractions start."
"Lois," Clark said in a warning tone.
Lois looked defensive. "What? Lots of women do it."
"I'm worried about you," Clark said seriously. "You should rest. You never stop getting yourself in trouble. You're always hot —"
"I think you should take a look at the book I was reading," Lois said. She pulled a book out of her tote bag and held it out to Clark. "It's perfectly normal for me to be hot."
Clark glanced at it quickly. At the red light he thumbed through it. "OK," he said finally. But as he looked up he got that protective look in his eyes. "But you're still getting into too much trouble." He was thinking about the stalker while he was away and the escapades in Smallville.
Lois sighed. "I hate to see how you'll treat a daughter."
Clark dropped Lois off at the front door of the Planet before driving the Jeep around and down to the underground garage. "I'll meet you upstairs," he said. "Be careful."
"Be careful. Careful?! Clark, I can do anything right now, that I could do *any* other time," Lois said to the retreating Jeep. "I just weigh a little more. Besides, I'm just walking into the building," Lois whispered under her breath.
Lois entered the elevator and made her way up. The bell rung and Lois exited to see an almost empty newsroom. *May get some peace and quiet here, then I can check the tags on the maroon van …* Lois thought to herself before feeling a tap on her shoulder. "Hi," said Clark.
"Didn't take you long," Lois teased, before patting Clark on the behind. "Hey! Now not at work," Clark kidded. "You remember the last —"
"Shhh!" Lois interrupted, slightly embarrassed. "Someone might hear!"
"Uhhh, right." Clark said. He then lowered his glasses to survey the area. Marcia over in copy was by the conference room, there was a box of donuts on Ralph's desk, and … Lois was in for a surprise when she got to her computer terminal.
"You know, Lois, why don't we use my terminal?" Clark suggested.
"Why? Besides, all the notes are on my hard drive," Lois said.
"You mean you *still* don't back things up?" Clark asked.
Lois rolled her eyes. "Okay, so let's get this all settled and then I'll be able to —" Lois looked toward her chair when she noticed it was occupied. "Jimmy, why are you on my computer?" Lois asked coldly as she walked to where a sheepish Jimmy sat.
Jimmy stood up guiltily, like a child who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Well, you see Lois, the modem is blown on my computer and I just *had* to get on and see Breezeway's 'Sally McNeill' spoiler chat on IRC —"
Lois groaned. "And this is more important than our finding out the connection between Temple, Trask, Edwards and the Temple & Co. van?"
"Well, hold on, let me tell Sarah I've gotta go," Jimmy said. "Two minutes, promise."
"Sarah? You'd think for a psych major she wouldn't have time to gossip about TV shows," Lois said. "Nor should you. Now sign off."
"In a minute —" Jimmy began.
"Jimmy!" Lois was getting impatient.
"Just let me say goodbye," Jimmy pleaded.
"Jimmy!" Lois repeated. She reached for the keyboard herself and typed in the message box to someone named "Psych101." "Sarah, Lois. Jimmy has to go. Sorry," she typed. She turned to Jimmy, who looked perplexed. "Now Jimmy, how do I type one of those sideways smiley-face things?" Lois asked. "Oh, never mind," she said, clicking the window and closing the program.
"Lois!" Jimmy said. "You disconnected me before I could say good-bye to the channel!"
"Oh, I'm sure Breezeway will never notice," Lois kidded. "Besides, she probably has some nfic to write."
"Yeah, you're right," Jimmy said, walking away. He looked at Clark, who gave him a sideways glance, an offhanded way of apologizing for Lois's behavior. Then Jimmy mouthed to himself, "How does she know what … Oh man, I'm hearing things." He sat down at another terminal and started punching up the IRC channel again.
While Lois researched the plates on the van, Clark ventured over to the phone. He picked up the receiver and first entered his calling card number and then the number he called whenever he needed advice.
Martha Kent picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Clark! Honey, it's good to hear from you. How are you and Lois?"
"We're fine, Mom. Look, that's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about …" Clark adjusted his glasses.
His mother's voice changed tone from casual to concern. "Is there a problem, Clark?"
Clark sighed apprehensively as he smoothed the back of his head nervously, leaving his hand on his neck. "No, not really. Look, is Dad around?"
"Right here, son," his father's voice interrupted.
"Hey, Dad. I've been thinking. See, well …" Clark was having problems expressing what he was feeling. "I just needed to know … what it was like before you became a father. I mean, becoming a father. I mean, this is a *child* that we're bringing into the world. *My* child. Sometimes it's hard to believe that Lois and I created this little miracle. I guess I just wanted to know — what was it like for you?" Clark sat on the end of his chair. He glanced at Lois, who was sitting up in her chair, a hand to her lower back. The phone was cradled in her ear, and she was doodling on a scratch pad.
"Frankly, son," Jonathan Kent began, "I couldn't tell you. I mean you're not our birth-child, of course. We found you in a ship that fell from the sky. Not exactly the way you'd expect to become a father!" Jonathan chuckled at the memory. "And once we saw you, we realized that we had to keep you. So there you were, my new son. I had never had a child before, Clark. You know your mom and I couldn't have our own kids. So I did my best adapting to fatherhood, and let me tell you something … being a father is the greatest experience you will ever have for the rest of your life. Nothing else comes close. When you're holding your baby in your arms, close to your chest, nuzzling your nose in his hair … that's true happiness, Clark." It was obvious to Clark that Jonathan was having fun remembering, but Clark was still unsure.
"Clark, you're going to be a great father," Martha Kent broke in. "I know you're anxious, honey, and that's perfectly normal. You think all the fathers of the world were perfectly calm when they knew they had a baby on the way? You will treat that baby with every amount of love and dedication that you've given Lois and us. Being a father is going to come naturally to you; I can tell, Clark. Ever since you were six years old playing 'house' with your G.I. Joes and Lana Lang's Barbies up in your treehou —"
"Mom!" Clark interrupted, embarrassed.
Martha laughed. "Well you have to admit, honey, it was the cutest thing you've ever seen. I just wish I had gotten it on film."
"Yeah, well I'm glad you didn't," Clark said. "I can just imagine the taunts I'd be getting from Lois if she found out."
There was a momentary pause on the phone, followed by chuckles from both of his parents.
Then Jonathan spoke up. "You mean she's never said anything to you about it?" More laughing ensued. "Clark, your mother told Lois about that long ago. We figured she would have brought it up by now!"
Clark, surprised, looked up from his desk at Lois. She was still at the computer, working diligently. The look of concern on his face slowly swept into acceptance, and he returned to the phone conversation.
"You two are terrible." But Clark grinned. "I just hope I can do as good of a job at raising my child as you did raising me. Thanks for the advice."
Martha was serious and loving as she spoke. "Of course, Clark. That's what we're here for. And you'll be there for your child as well." Clark could hear the pride in his mother's voice, and he was instantly comforted.
He looked up to see Perry in his office doorway, gesturing for Clark to come inside. He was holding a newspaper. Clark wondered what was going on now. "Thanks, Mom and Dad. Look, I've gotta go. I'll talk to you guys later. Bye."
"Bye, son," they said in unison.
Clark hung up the phone and made his way to Perry's office.
Perry opened the door to his office and motioned to Clark to come his way. Once inside, Clark closed the door behind him. Perry returned to his desk and sat down, motioning for Clark to sit down as well. Clark obliged.
"What's up?" Clark asked.
Perry pulled out a stapled stack of pages from under some of the other things that littered his desk, and handed it to Clark.
"I don't want to say anything to Lois, but I've been talking to my old friend Allison, who works for the Pulitzer organization. She's not on the committee, but she's close enough that she's let know this piece Lois did is being considered for the big prize." Perry's face beamed as he finished the sentence. Lois was like the daughter he had never had, and although the Planet had won Pulitzers before, this would be Lois's first, and Perry was excited for her. If she won, only the sight of this old newsman's first published article would vie for the best feeling he'd ever had in all his years of being a journalist.
Clark scanned the article. He had already read it before — in fact, many times as Lois was writing it — but now that he knew it was being considered for a Pulitzer, it seemed … better. It had that kind of first-place, gold- medal touch that only Lois could bring to it. The article, an investigative piece on John Doe and the botched presidential campaign and race, brought back memories to Clark of his dealings with Tempus.
"Why are you telling me this?" Clark asked, handing the article back to Perry. "What makes you think I won't tell her?"
"Because you're a good reporter, Clark. And because even though you're her husband, you know better than to get her hopes up just in case she doesn't win. But I couldn't keep this information to myself, and you seemed the appropriate person to tell. I hope you don't mind …" Perry's eyebrows arched.
"Of course not, Perry. I'm glad you told me. Don't worry, I can keep a secret." Clark was about to say more when a commotion outside broke his train of thought.
"Holy …!" Lois yelled, standing up from her chair quickly, as if someone had placed a pin on the seat. She stared at her computer screen as if bugs were crawling all over it.
Clark tore out of Perry's office at the sound of his wife's voice, a concerned expression on his face. Perry was hot on his heels.
"Honey!" Clark rushed to Lois's side, examining her carefully. "Are you OK? Are you going into premature labor or something?"
Lois shook her head and then pointed to her computer monitor. Clark looked at the screen. It was the list of bank statements Lois and Clark had dug up after Buster Temple was shut down.
"What?" Clark asked, scanning the screen quickly with a frown. "What did you find? Lois, you scared the living daylights out of me."
"These are the bank statements we found," Lois explained carefully, trying to contain her excitement. "They're from records the police found in Buster's office the day they caught him. Look at the dollar amounts. Before we found out about Temple, the dollar amounts never dipped below three million. But look …" Lois placed her finger on the screen. "This is the day before the arrest. The account only contained a couple hundred dollars. This means —"
"Someone knew we were on to Temple," Clark realized.
Lois nodded. She pushed a police photo toward Clark. "And then, I started staring at this photo of the cross Brandon Trask drew before he died, and I got an idea." She hit a key on her computer. "It wasn't supposed to stand for *cross.* It was supposed to stand for *Church.* I traced Temple's money and tried to find connections to Church. These five companies happen to be dummy corporations owned by —"
"Cost-Mart!" Clark interrupted triumphantly.
"And," Lois continued, "another dummy corporation paid Edwards." She pointed to another piece of paper.
"Furthermore," Jimmy said, coming from his desk and overhearing the conversation, "I just did some research on the prison security staff. The guard that was monitoring Temple the night he was killed used to work for the security division at Cost-Mart." He handed the paperwork to Lois who barely looked at it.
"Good job, folks!" Perry boomed, his grin as wide as his reporters'.
The foursome stood around, grinning at each other. Clark was the first to break the moment.
"I sure hope this is the end of this," Clark said, grabbing his jacket off his chair and walking quickly toward the elevator.
"Where are you going?" Lois asked.
"To …" He looked at Jimmy and Perry. "… To find Superman," he finished. "And to pay a visit to Inspector Henderson. Lois, you and Jimmy write the story. I just figured out a way to catch Mindy Church … especially if she *is* doing her own killing."
Charlie pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his forehead, bored and impatient. He tapped his foot absently on the gas pedal and drummed his fingers on the steering wheel of the gray bus. He drove the prison bus for a living, and after seven years, it wasn't exciting. Actually, after seven days it had been pretty dull. Yes, sometimes fights broke out, and sometimes interesting things happened, like the time it rained and the bus got stuck in the mud between Metropolis and Gotham City. But otherwise, driving the prison bus was a mundane job that Charlie would have traded for almost anything.
He looked at his watch, noting that it was exactly five o'clock. Right on time, two guards escorted the handcuffed prisoner onto the bus. The prisoner held his head low, and all Charlie saw of him as he walked up the steps into the bus were the top of his head, covered with slicked brown hair, and his faded blue prison jumpsuit. One guard climbed in and sat in the seat right behind Charlie.
Charlie looked at his itinerary. Apparently this guy, Michael Edwards, was being charged with conspiring to steal a supercomputer from the Wayne mansion. Pretty heavy stuff. His trial was going to be held in Metropolis, so Charlie was supposed to drive him to his holding cell near the courthouse. This should be a piece of cake, Charlie thought.
Charlie looked in the mirror and saw that Edwards had chosen to sit in the very back seat on the right, his head still bowed. Maybe he was sleepy; or maybe they had drugged him. Charlie grunted and started the engine. He drove out of the prison grounds, waving half-heartedly to the guard at the front gate.
The drive from Gotham City Penitentiary to Metropolis Hall of Justice was a dull one. It was a straight path on Interstate 95, and if Charlie hadn't had the radio on, he probably would have fallen asleep himself.
Finally they reached the curvy stretch on I-95, which was Charlie's favorite part of the trip. Drivers had to slow down because the roads were always in need of repair; furthermore, the highway curved dangerously, with a cliff to the west and thick shrubbery and trees to the east.
Charlie hummed along with his Mindy McCready cassette, slowing down to enjoy the first curve and at the same time driving carefully around the first pothole.
There was sound like an engine's backfire, and Charlie knew something was wrong. He knew he had cleared the pothole, so what had he hit? Suddenly realizing that he was losing control of the bus, he grasped the steering wheel with white knuckles. He pulled to the side carefully, swearing profusely. He tried not to think of the cliff just beyond the bent, rusty guardrail as the bus came to a screeching halt.
"Damn, do you need help with the tire?" the guard asked Charlie.
Charlie shook his head silently and sighed. As he unbuckled his seat belt and opened the bus door, he realized there was someone standing outside — a woman. And she was wearing a cryptic grin on her face. Charlie tried hard to place the woman's face (was she a movie star or something?), but he failed. Still, he recognized her from somewhere.
She boarded the bus as if there was absolutely nothing unusual about a woman just standing around on the middle of the I-95. She reached out and pinched Charlie's cheek before he could protest.
"I see you all have a flat tire," Mindy Church murmured. "Too bad." Charlie saw that she held a gun, a cute little Derringer that she had probably used to shoot out the tire.
Charlie was scared speechless, and the other guard stood up when he saw the gun. But before he could react, Mindy reached over and pulled the guard's gun from his holster. She twirled it expertly and removed the safety.
She pointed a gun at each of them. Charlie and the guard slowly raised their hands in the air. Mindy smiled. "That's what I thought," she said. She tucked the Derringer into the waistband of her short skirt then took a pair of handcuffs from her large pocket and snapped one circle around Charlie's wrist. With unexpected strength, she pulled Charlie by the cuffs and snapped the other circle onto the steering wheel, trapping the man.
"Do you have handcuffs?" It wasn't a question; it was a demand. Dumbly, the guard reached around to his belt, where he had a set of handcuffs. Mindy took them hastily, cuffing the guard to the bar on the seat in front of him.
She looked toward Michael Edwards, who seemed surprisingly quiet. Remarkably, he seemed to have fallen asleep, slumped over in his seat.
"This is going to be easier than I thought," Mindy said gleefully. "Not as fun, but easier." She shrugged. "Whatever."
She walked quickly toward the back of the bus. She reached out to grab Edwards by the hair when suddenly his head jerked up. To Mindy's surprise, she was looking straight into the face of …
"Superman!" Mindy said, her mouth dropping open.
"I was wondering when you'd finally get back here, Mrs. Church," Superman said smugly. Mindy could see his blue suit poking out from the faded blue jumpsuit in dismay. He took the guns from her, crushed the Derringer and twisted the barrel on the guard's gun.
He took Mindy's arm roughly and led her back to the front of the bus. He snapped the handcuffs off the guard and Charlie, and told them, "Call the police on the radio." He looked at Mindy. "Tell them Intergang," he glared at Mindy, "has finally been dismantled. For good."
Mindy shrugged. "It was fun while it lasted."
Clark turned in his story on Mindy Church's capture and subsequent arrest to Perry. It had been a long day. The offices were still slightly chaotic as the layout department hurried to make space on page one for Clark's article.
"We're off to childbirth class," Clark told his boss.
"How are you, son?" Perry asked.
"I'm OK," Clark admitted. "I still worry about her, but …" He watched his wife as she switched off her computer and then fanned herself with a file folder, waiting for him. "Look at her, Chief. She's doing so well all by herself. Sometimes I wonder if she even needs me."
Perry smiled knowingly. "Trust me. She does. Now you two have fun at that class."
Clark gave his boss a grateful smile before meeting Lois in the newsroom.
"Ready?" Lois asked. She leaned against Clark's desk as he tidied his work area.
Clark switched off his terminal and straightened his tie. "Yup."
They rode the elevator in silence, but as soon as they reached the echoing silence of the parking garage, Lois spoke.
"Clark, are you thinking the same thing I am?"
Clark watched his wife carefully before replying. "You mean, wondering how blind we could have been not to see how Mindy Church has been rebuilding Intergang right under our noses?"
Lois sighed heavily. "I just don't know. Sometimes we get so arrogant about catching every criminal in Metropolis. We have a super-edge, you know. I think sometimes we get a little cocky about it and forget that Superman still can't know everything." She turned to her husband and knocked him playfully on the chin.
"We can't be confident about everything," Clark agreed. They stopped in front of the Jeep as Clark opened Lois's door for her. He he helped her into the passenger seat and paused to look at her. Lois was beautiful, and she had a healthy, soft-pink glow. A light sprinkle of perspiration made her skin glisten. "You're really hot," Clark observed. He blew a cool breeze on her, and she smiled. "You're holding up well. Frankly, if *I* was the pregnant one, I wouldn't be getting up every morning and tackling the day like you're doing."
Lois smiled. She examined her husband's face more closely and a thought occurred. "You're nervous about this baby," she said suddenly.
Clark frowned. "It's not that —"
"Yes, it is," Lois said knowingly. "And it's OK. Really, it is."
"I didn't want to show you how nervous I was," Clark admitted. "I wanted to be strong for you."
Lois took both of Clark's hands in hers. "Even *I'm* surprised I'm holding up this well. It must be some maternal instinct that kicks in." Clark watched his wife, who looked serenely child-like and very motherly at the same time, with her calm smile and her legs dangling from the Jeep. "You're doing just fine. *We're* doing just fine. And our baby is doing great. You'll be a great birthing coach." Lois squirmed suddenly, but she kept smiling as she placed Clark's hands on her belly.
Clark's grin widened as he felt his child moving around.
"See?" Lois looked down at Clark's hands. "Even the baby — *our* baby — agrees."
Clark couldn't argue with that. And to prove it, he planted a long, lingering kiss on Lois's lips and another one on the belly where his unborn child was growing.
"Your personal belongings." The correctional officer held out a plastic bag. The prisoner was about to be set free, and she grabbed her things eagerly. There wasn't much in the bag — a plain gold wedding band, a pendant her last employer had given her for ten years' service, her driver's license and a key chain. None of the keys worked anymore now that *his* company was dismantled, but that wasn't the point. All these were *hers.* They didn't belong to the prison or to the courts.
She walked out of the desolate building into the bright sunlight and let the spring breeze blow through her wavy, raven-black hair. As soon as she left the prison grounds, she let out a victorious yell and ran down the deserted road in the direction of Metropolis. *He* had pulled strings, and she was free. The judge found no evidence to keep her, and the handcuffs were removed. She was cleared of all charges. She sometimes wondered why it had taken so long — four years! — but right now she didn't care. There would be plenty of time later to figure everything out.
The modest Mazda Protege sedan was there, just like *he* had said it would be. *He* had given very specific instructions. The woman looked in the backseat, where there was a garment bag. She opened the back door, which was unlocked. She unzipped the bag carefully, revealing an off-white, designer pantsuit and matching shoes. She climbed into the backseat and shut the door.
"He knows my style," she whispered to herself as she kicked off the prison shoes, T-shirt and cotton pants. The silk felt good against her dry, cracked skin, which had only touched rough cotton and itchy polyester for the past four years.
In the compartment between the front seats, she found a hairbrush, hand lotion, a bottle of Obsession perfume and a cellular phone. She brushed her hair and applied lotion and perfume liberally to her cocoa-colored skin. She wanted to erase all signs of prison life from her body, scent and appearance.
At last she picked up the cellular phone and dialed a number from memory.
The phone clicked, but no one said anything on the other line. But that was how it was supposed to be.
"It's me," she said, smiling mischievously. "Cox."
"Dominique Cox," a male voice answered with delight. "Congratulations on your liberation. Now we can get back to business."
"Yes, Bill," she articulated as she moved to the front seat and found the keys in the sun visor. She started the car. "I saw them arresting your father's ex-wife on TV."
"She was getting too sloppy," Bill Church Jr. said matter-of-factly. "And then when she started getting her hands dirty …"
Mrs. Cox smirked at the comment. She knew better than Mindy Church. "Well, thank you for getting me out," Mrs. Cox said. "That place was disgusting. And to think I had been there for four whole years."
"You're telling me it's disgusting?" Bill said. "I've been there, remember? And — you're welcome."
"I'll meet you in Los Angeles," Mrs. Cox said.
She dropped the phone on the passenger seat, and the peeled out into the road. She flung her prison clothes out the window. They billowed in the breeze as Lex Luthor's former personal assistant reacquainted herself with the taste of freedom.
ANGELS IN THE TUFS STAFF
acknowledgments by Kat Picson
The idea for "Avenging Angel" came while I watched one of my other favorite shows, "Profiler." There is a character in the show played by Traci Lords who went around killing people for fun. I put a Lois and Clark twist on the story, and decided Mindy Church should do some of the dirty work herself.
I never thought much about Mindy Church while L&C aired, but when the TUFS staff decided to make her a major player in the fifth season, I realized how sorely underused she was. She was an intriguing, multi-layered character, and now I'm sad she only appeared in two "real" episodes. It was also fun having a part in letting her finally get her comeuppance though!
Part of the fun was because of my very talented co-writers, Craig Byrne and Matt Combes. The story would not have been if it hadn't been for their imaginations, suggestions and writing skills.
Thank you to the entire TUFS staff for their generosity, humor and support; the moms in particular for their advice to three adolescents who know nothing about being pregnant; our editors, Sharon McKay and Allison Word. The biggest thanks are due to Genevieve Clemens, who was always there with a critical (but gentle) word. <G> A special thank you also to my friend George (for whom Buster is named), who gives me encouragement, jokes and an uplifting word in a time of need.
Signing off (for now!),