By the German L&C Fanfiction Team
Submitted July 1999
Summary: It's Lois' 40th birthday. Time to celebrate and to enjoy lots of memorable presents. What if one of the presents is a complete flop and nearly an insult, though? She wouldn't be Lois Lane if she couldn't make the best of it and come up with a story about beauty and murder.
By the German L&C Fanfiction Team CKgroupie <CKgroupie@gmx.net>, KiwiPit <email@example.com> and LittleS <Martina.Koerber@t-online.de>
A big thank you to our editor.
To Angelika: Happy Fortieth
The weather forecast had been right again. Unfortunately. Since last night it had been pouring in Metropolis. No sign at all of the lovely Indian summer the meteorologists announced days ago.
"How else could it be? Really appropriate!" Lois thought sleepily and pulled the pillow over her head to keep this unpleasant day out of the warmth of her bed for a little while longer. She'd like nothing more than to stay in bed and not to care about anyone or anything. "Perhaps everyone will forget me and especially my birthday and I won't have to go to this embarrassing party at the Planet!"
A few days before Lois had asked Clark whether there would be a surprise party for her. Knowing that his wife wasn't very enthusiastic about that kind of party Clark hadn't even tried to deny the fact that the staff was planning one. Even Perry White, who had been enjoying his retirement for a few years now, wanted to come and congratulate "his" Lois on her big anniversary.
"Maybe the weather will get worse and there'll be a storm,'" Lois hoped fervently. Then nobody will go to this stupid party anyway."
Just then she was startled and pleasantly surprised by a noise outside the house. Had her wish come true this fast? But as she partly removed the pillow from her head and listened more closely, the noise became a rustle and was clearly coming from inside her room. Also there were whispering voices that had nothing to do with a thunderstorm at all.
"I wanna be first to congratulate," a young voice was whispering determinedly.
"But you promised that I could be first! And I want to give the flowers," an even younger voice wailed.
"How about waking up Mommy first?" Lois heard Clark suggest with amusement.
The next moment she felt the movement of her children crawling onto the bed and carefully removing the pillow off her head.
"Mommy? Are you awake yet?" CJ asked softly while tapping her shoulder.
The instant Lois started to open her eyes Kathy threw her arms around Lois' neck and smothered her face with wet kisses.
"Happy birthday, Mommy," the eight-year-old said cheerfully. "And I love you very, very much!"
"Love you too, sweetheart. Thank you." Lois smiled at her little daughter and happily hugged her.
"Happy birthday, Mom," her son added his congratulations, presenting a colorful bunch of flowers and shoving it into her hands with a quick kiss on her cheek.
"Oh, they're beautiful, my darling." Pulling him into a hug too, Lois thanked her oldest.
"All right, sweeties, that's it for now," Clark interrupted. "Breakfast is waiting for you in the kitchen. It's only fifteen minutes before we have to leave for school and I haven't congratulated your mommy yet."
Without argument the children climbed down off the bed and headed for the bedroom door.
"Come on, Kathy. Let 's go. All they want to do is neck again," CJ grumbled. Being ten years old now he had decided that he would never do such a "disgusting thing" as kissing.
Clark gave a low chuckle and leaned down to his wife. "He's so right," he murmured. "They only wanna neck again." Tenderly, he smoothed a strand of hair out of her face and kissed her on the lips. "Happy birthday, sweetheart."
Lois eyed him doubtfully. "Forty, Clark!" she whimpered. "I'm turning forty!"
He raised his eyebrows. "And?"
"I'm so old," Lois answered sadly.
Clark laughed and kissed her again. "So old," he mimicked her. "Oh, my old, old girl."
Lois had to admit he was pretty good at distracting her and also that a nightdress with spaghetti straps sure had its advantages. She decided to forget about the "dreadful number" for a while and to just enjoy herself instead.
Following her thoughts, her hands magically had found their way through his hair and now were wandering down his throat towards the buttons of his shirt. But there they were stopped by a barrier and she grabbed his tie accusingly. "You're overdressed," she murmured.
Clark sighed ruefully and raised his head. "True," he said. "But I have to take the kids to school before we drive to the Planet and as you know, *some* things …" he grinned pointedly, "are not as good in superspeed." He gave her another little peck on the cheek and stood up. "I'll be back in twenty minutes so we can have breakfast together. And then …" he paused dramatically, "you'll get your *present*!"
'I wish I knew what he got me this year,' Lois thought a little later, standing in the shower.
Clark always had a way of finding nice presents for her and he had pleasantly surprised her repeatedly. This fact was even more remarkable, because Lois didn't usually like surprises and in the past always had searched for clues. This year, however, she had no idea at all what he could have gotten for her and she hadn't used her usual investigative talent to figure it out either. On the contrary, for weeks and even months she had avoided every thought about today.
Forty years. Clark may be able to laugh about it, but she didn't feel very good about it. For some reason the number "40" had made her uncomfortable for quite some time now. Wasn't it just a few years ago that she had turned thirty? Where had all the years gone?
Her 30th birthday was still a nice memory. She had been married to Clark for a little more than a year then and she had been a bundle of energy with 'forever' ahead. There was the prospect of an eternity spent together with the man of her dreams, who adored her and fulfilled her every wish. No, she hadn't minded at all turning thirty. She was young, successful, beautiful and desired, and she also felt that way.
Well, Clark still was the man of her dreams and it wasn't his fault that this time she was frightened about that significant birthday. He still was the best husband she could wish for and even after eleven years of marriage he was tender and caring. They had two wonderful children together and after a "baby-break" Lois had found a reentry in her career that other mothers could only dream of.
And yet … During the last months she had been so agitated. She had been afraid of this birthday. Much more afraid than she showed and Clark didn't seem to notice. He always laughed when she made a remark about her age and on the outside Lois was laughing with him, but inside she felt lonely and misunderstood and that was a feeling she hadn't experienced in her marriage before.
'After all, what is supposed to happen now?' she asked her face in the mirror. 'Everything is like it should be, everything done, established … routine … Now I'm only getting older.'
With ill humor she detected another gray hair and noted that her face didn't look as fresh and naturally beautiful as it had done a few years ago. Objectively, her hair was almost as black and shiny as it had been ten years ago and only when you took a closer look could you see the little lines around her eyes that were a result of laughing. Clark would have told her that they didn't make her look older, but more mature, but Lois wasn't in the mood for objectivity. She was in the mood for world-weariness. And come to think of it … this new intern they had at the Planet who made goo-goo eyes over Clark all the time was barely twenty-five and looked exactly that age. Life just wasn't fair!
She sighed again and reached for her make-up. She wished the party at the Planet was over already. She wasn't in the mood for it at all!
Of course, though, she would join them, for she had changed. In former days her colleagues probably wouldn't have dreamt of surprising her with a birthday party but she no longer was the loner she used to be when Clark had started working at the Planet. She still didn't make friends easily but she didn't keep only to herself either.
Gone were the times she determinedly fought trying to show everyone she was the best. That was something she long since had proven, both in her old job when she had been running after headlines, and in her new job — as far as you could call it "new" after three years —as editor-in-chief and successor to Perry.
She had to smile thinking about how happy she was that she could share work with Clark. The Planet really got a bargain with the current arrangement. Long before Perry had retired, the suits on the executive floor had realized that the workload was too much for one person. So a few weeks after Lois had started to work again, they had asked her to take over the job, together with Clark.
They decided to do it, though only under the condition that they could limit their overall working hours to accommodate their children. The Planet's owners gladly accepted, knowing very well that both Lois and Clark would put in overtime if it was required. Despite everything this still gave them more spare time for their family, and additionally more time for Clark for his second job as flying savior of Metropolis. Thank god their work as editors-in-chief paid considerably better than as reporters so the cut-down of working hours didn't mean an automatic cut-down in their finances.
At first, Lois hadn't been too sure about it, being reminded only too well of the time she had taken over for Perry for a short while. It had resulted in the first fight Clark and she had had as husband and wife and she had been concerned their work could again have a negative influence on their private lives. Thankfully that hadn't proven to be true and Clark had allayed her doubts quickly. At least, more quickly than their bosses, who tried to convince her with such dubious arguments as 'there are lots of up-and-coming reporters who need experienced supervisors'. This statement years ago had even then given her the feeling of being old, so old. She liked Clark's spin on the whole thing much better, telling her they were still the hottest team in town and he didn't want to lose his partner. And she had to admit, she hadn't regretted their decision once since then.
Strange what kinds of thoughts about the past crossed her mind today. Another year passed. A perfect opportunity to reflect on everything that had happened.
A soft smile graced her lips when she thought about all the things that had gone wrong until she and Clark had managed to accommodate work and family but now everything was going smoothly. Established paths, the same routine day after day… There it was again, that thought. But before she could again brood about missing out on something, she felt a kiss between her shoulders and two arms encircling her.
"A penny for your thoughts," a husky voice murmured against her ear before the man belonging to the voice started nibbling on her earlobe.
"They're not worth that much. Can you make the change, honey?" Clark laughed and turned her around in his arms. "So, where is my present?" she demanded curiously, closing the last button of her blouse.
Clark had to smile. She just couldn't bear the thought of not being in on everything, even if it was only something as small as a present. "Okay," he sighed, "I can see where your priorities are." He looked at her mischievously. "Come on, I've hidden it in the study so you won't find it." He pulled her into the office they had set up at home.
Lois looked around impatiently. "All right, where is it?"
Her husband stepped aside and Lois spotted a dark green, medium sized cardboard box lying on the desk. With a radiant smile and a soft lingering kiss, Clark handed the present to Lois.
"Happy birthday, honey."
Expectantly she removed the ribbon and lifted the lid. Lying between burgundy tissue paper was an obviously expensive, sporty but elegant dark green bra and matching panties. Putting the box aside she held them up and admired them.
"Oh, Clark! These are beautiful. You have… " Puzzled, Lois took a closer look at them. "But these aren't underwear. It's a bikini!" Confused she lifted her head. A new bikini was a wonderful thing but winter was near and she wouldn't get to wear her present for a long time.
"Well, of course it's a bikini," Clark replied, grinning and putting the green box back in her hands. "You're gonna need it. Check your present again. You didn't unpack everything."
Curiously Lois searched the box and found an envelope.
"Oh, my god," she exclaimed as she read the letter. "The Kahlua Inn in Hawaii? You've made a reservation at the Kahlua Inn?!?" Not quite believing what she saw Lois flung her arms around Clark's neck and kissed him passionately. "Clark, that's wonderful!"
This present was more than she could ever have wished for. They hadn't had a real vacation in years. Of course they'd been to Smallville time and again or had spent a few days by the sea, but since they'd had children their travels hadn't led them to exotic places anymore.
"What about the kids?" Lois asked, a little doubtfully after disengaging from Clark's lips. "I mean, can we afford that? We can't fly Superman Airlines with them and airplane tickets for the four of us will cost a fortune. Let alone the rooms…" A long kiss stopped her babbling.
"Lois, this vacation is only for the two of us," Clark finally explained. "We never really did that trip to Hawaii we'd planned for our honeymoon, remember? Well, we've been there for a day…"
"… or a night," Lois added with a knowing smile.
"… but we never actually got to see the islands, " Clark continued before taking her hand and leading her downstairs to the kitchen. "And to answer your question: no, we couldn't afford this vacation with the kids. That's why I talked to CJ and Kathy about it. They're really looking forward to spending a week with their grandparents."
Lois still couldn't quite believe it. One week in Hawaii? Alone with Clark? She loved her children dearly but the prospect of not having to watch over her kids' homework, or settle their quarrels, or take care of scratches and bruises, or wash dirty clothes was very appealing.
"At first CJ wasn't too happy to miss such a 'cool vacation', " Clark explained while pouring coffee for both of them, "but Sam promised to take him to his laboratory once or twice. You know how much he loves to 'help' his granddad with his experiments. Kathy was thrilled by the idea immediately. She really adores Ellen."
"It's the same for Mother," Lois agreed. "It always amazes me how good she is with her."
With a happy smile she sat down at the table. Against her expectations her fortieth birthday had begun quite nicely. Maybe the day at the Planet and the party wouldn't be that bad after all.
"Anyway, " Clark resumed, "I thought this trip would be a perfect opportunity for you to relax. You really could use a vacation."
'What is that supposed to mean?' Lois wondered. "Clark, what do you mean I… " She never got the chance to ask her husband whether she looked worn out and exhausted to him as suddenly Clark's face got the faraway expression which indicated that Superman was needed somewhere.
"Bank robbery with hostages. I'm sorry, darling, " he explained apologetically.
"It's all right. Go!"
"See you at the Planet." A quick kiss on her cheek and he was gone.
Lois took the card again. Hawaii, it sounded wonderful. Maybe it wasn't so bad to turn forty after all.
One hour later all these optimistic thoughts were gone and she stared at the voucher in her hand in total bewilderment. The staff had surprised her with a weekend on a *beauty farm*!? This couldn't be true, could it?!
She forced her glance back with an effort to a proud Gabby, who had gotten the honor of presenting the 'nice' gift, and noticed, not for the first time, that the girl looked like fresh beauty incarnate. Her blue eyes sparkling, her well-shaped body dressed in a slim but flattering dress and the little extra air of excitement from being able to give the birthday present to her secret idol glowed on her skin and gave it a fresh and annoyingly *young* appearance.
"This is really an unexpected… ehm, surprise," Lois managed weakly. "I'm totally speechless." Okay, that was the truth at least. What in heaven's name were they thinking? Was she in need of a beauty farm? Yes, she knew that she wasn't 25 anymore like little Gabby, but there *was* a lot to be said for maturity and experience wasn't there? She decided to write a story about the damned youth-cult in today's society.
Suddenly she became aware that people were still staring at her expectantly. Obviously she hadn't shown the appropriate amount of joy over the gift yet. "Thank you," she forced herself to say with all the maturity gained in her forty years. "And now champagne for everyone."
"I should have bought the really cheap one instead of that good stuff from France," she breathed to her husband who was standing next to her.
"What?" Clark asked, surprised, and directed his glance away from where it had absently landed on Gabby's admittedly very pretty legs, to his wife. "Why?"
"Forget it," Lois snapped. "Try working instead of staring at blondie for a change."
Clark raised his eyebrows and watched her intently. Had it been something he said? She couldn't seriously be annoyed only because he had given little Gabby a second glance, could she? That was ridiculous. No woman in the Daily Planet stood a chance against Lois and she knew that. Or didn't she know it? He wondered if a compliment would placate her but a look at her face showed him that it was probably not a good idea. Lois was mad and his experience had taught him that there was only one way to calm her. Get out of her hair until the worst was over.
He was slightly surprised about it though, because until now the party had been such a success. Perry really had stopped by and Lois had been very happy to see her former editor so healthy and in such a good mood. Of course the 'Chief', as Lois and Clark still called him, also brought along a few new Elvis stories, but as Lois told Clark, "You really miss them once you don't hear them every day."
Later, Clark in his function as the other editor-in-chief had given a little speech. He had tried to keep it as professional as he could, but obviously he hadn't been all too successful with that and hadn't been able to hide his feelings for her and so Lois had been genuinely touched.
No, everything had been well. Maybe she had just had enough party for one day? With Lois you never knew.
So he didn't say anything, but turned around and went to his desk. He and Lois shared Perry's old office. On first sight it was too small for two people, but since Lois and Clark seldom were at the Planet at the same time, it didn't bother them.
Furthermore they were so used to working closely together that they almost felt as if they needed the small space. They loved to talk about a story with each other and discuss the problems and questions they faced at work. They both knew that Perry had been right when he had partnered them so many years ago, because each of them alone was good, but together they were incredible.
Clark took a bunch of papers and started to work on them with a sigh. Ralph claimed to have "really hot information" from one of his sources again, which meant, as Clark knew from experience, that he didn't have any real facts yet and needed to be slowed down. Jimmy was working on a real scoop, but it wasn't printable yet. Unfortunately though, their publisher, who had somehow heard of this story, was getting impatient. That meant Clark had to stall the publisher and push Jimmy. Gabby finally had brought in a story of a dog-show in Metropolis Mall and one glance at this newbie's work showed Clark that he couldn't print even one sentence as it was, but had to rewrite the whole thing.
More than enough work for an editor in chief, and Lois would have plenty of time to calm down. And maybe they would be able to celebrate in private tonight. He already had something in mind for that …
At the same time in another part of town Detective Wolf had just been talking to Roger Beauville, the owner of the beauty farm, Les Fontaines de la Jeunesse. A routine check had led him to that exclusive center for body fitness and body care where its motto of preserving and prolonging youth manifested itself in the farm's name.
'Fountains of youth, yeah, right!' Wolf thought while closing his notebook. 'Some ideas never die.' "Thank you very much for your co-operation in this matter, Mr. Beauville," he said aloud and gave Beauville a friendly nod.
After the death of the very wealthy Dorothy Gardener, chairwoman of the biggest dog-breeding association in New Troy, the heirs were accusing the owner of the farm of blackmail. Apparently a few week prior to her death Mrs. Gardener had donated about a quarter million dollars to Roger Beauville without the knowledge of her family or her accountant. Taking that kind of accusation very seriously, the police started investigations.
"As I said, Detective, if it's of any use, I can easily provide you with a copy of our monthly balance." Beauville pointed to the computer on his desk to emphasize his offer.
"That won't be necessary," Wolf declined and got up to leave. "I have no doubt the money was a donation. It's Mrs. Gardener's relatives who won't believe that she gave so much money out of the blue and without mentioning it to anyone."
In fact Wolf was sure that the bereaved family was only trying to reclaim this impressive part of their inheritance. 'Greed makes people do even worse things than accusing someone of blackmail,' Detective Wolf said to himself. 'Next they'll insist that their aunt's heart attack was caused by fear of this alleged blackmailer.'
"There's nothing unusual about the donation to me," Beauville replied, shrugging his shoulders. "My customers are very content with the service at my institute. We often receive such unexpected gifts. Out of gratitude for the touch of youth the ladies have regained."
"Tell the heirs!" Wolf sighed. "It seems that Mrs. Gardener seldom made donations. And if she did, all the money went to organizations that care for dogs in one way or another. Dogs were her life, you know. Apart from dogs, she was only interested in a good business deal. It looks like she didn't care for anything else."
Smiling politely, Wolf left Beauville and the beauty farm. He wished the report had already been written and the case closed.
Meanwhile, Lois was still seething, though her anger had somewhat decreased and now she was feeling insecure instead. Did she really look that old or did her colleagues have the impression she needed a visit at a beauty farm? All right, she no longer was twenty and she had two children, but up until now she had been convinced she was in quite good shape. And Clark had never complained about her looks. Sure, she had gained a few pounds after the kids' births but Clark rather had seemed to like it instead of being opposed.
Absently she went on with her work, a part of her attention still on the present she had received. What bothered her in the first place was the fact that perhaps Clark could think like their colleagues, too. She hadn't forgotten about the adventure they had had prior to moving into their home. The agitation they had to go through with the doctor who had caused Jimmy to age. Even though Clark had reassured her then, all the insecurities >from years ago came surfacing now again.
She looked up from her computer and studied Clark for a moment. He was a little bit more seasoned since the day he had started working at the Planet, but breathtakingly so in her opinion, and judging from the looks he got from co-workers of all ages throughout the newsroom, she wasn't the only one to think so. Oh, she didn't have to worry about it, of course. She knew she could trust him, be sure of Clark's fidelity. Still … She frowned.
Clark chose that moment to observe her. Oh dear. She still appeared to be upset. Her face didn't look too pleased. Time for a little distraction. She had been sulking long enough.
"Honey," he said softly. Relieved, he noticed that her expression softened. "I'm done. What about you? The kids are waiting." In order to have more spare time to celebrate today, they had decided to both work in the morning.
Lois smiled at him. The children had been adamant about baking a birthday cake for her and had admonished them to make 'suuuuure' to be home on time today so they could celebrate, just the four of them. She shut down her computer and offered her hand to her husband. "I'm all yours, my lord!"
"And I'll be eternally grateful for that, Lois," he gently whispered, hugging her quickly before they left the office for the day.
The children really had put a lot of work and effort into the baking and Lois' praise had made them so high-spirited that it took some time to quiet them down and put them to bed.
Normally Clark was the parent the children could easily persuade into expanding their evening a little bit. Especially Kathy, who was definitely Daddy's girl. When she looked up at him with her big round eyes, those eyes that looked exactly like Lois', there was very little Clark could deny her, whether it be one more game or another story. But tonight he had other plans for only Lois and him.
"What's the hurry, honey?" Lois grinned. She soon had gotten back her good mood, thanks to Clark and the kids, and she knew he was up to something.
Clark pulled her into his arms. "We have something to do."
"Yep. Something we haven't done in a long time."
He changed into his Superman costume and took her into his arms, floating slowly to the terrace. They had been really lucky to find this house. It couldn't be observed from the outside and Clark was able to set off on his rescue missions without being seen. But that wasn't what was on his mind right now. He looked around one more time and shot right up into the sky. Lois didn't worry about leaving the children alone in the house since she knew Clark was always listening in on the house in case one of the kids needed them.
As soon as they were over the clouds he wrapped his cape around Lois more firmly. Lois was mesmerized. The moon and the stars seemed so near.
She snuggled closer to him. "You're right. We haven't done this in a long time."
Clark was silent, stroking her hair and caressing her back, all the while planting soft kisses on her face.
"Mmmmmh, don't stop," Lois whispered dreamily. This is just what I need after today. The last weeks have been so incredibly hectic."
"That's what I thought, too, and why I find the gift from the others really appropriate," Clark innocently replied. "That was one of my better ideas, a real stroke of genius, don't you think?"
Seeing her face drop he wasn't so sure anymore. The look she gave him wasn't as dreamy and loving as it had been seconds before.
"What?!?" Lois shouted, clearly upset.
"The voucher was my…" Clark repeated, a little confused.
"What in the world were you thinking?" she interrupted.
"I…" Clark started.
"Do *I* need a beauty farm?!" Lois snapped.
"Well, thank you, Clark! I really appreciate that!" Lois was fuming.
"Lois…" he tried again, but she didn't let him finish.
"As if I didn't notice how much you like it that that little bimbo Gabby is making eyes at you all the time! Okay, I am not 20 anymore! And you know what? I don't *want* to be 20 again!" Lois was in full rant mode now. "She's getting on my nerves anyway because she is totally dumb! How you could give *her* that job will always remain a mystery to me. Oh no, sorry! It won't! On the contrary. It is totally clear!"
That was too much. "Lois!" Clark stopped her, slightly irritated. "Take a breath!"
He had no idea what was going on here. One moment they had been floating happily above the clouds and the next she vented like he hadn't seen her doing for a long time. What was happening?
He shook his head. "Honey, what are you talking about?" he asked gently.
Lois drew her head away. Mostly she was mad at herself, because she couldn't stop the tears filling her eyes and she didn't want him to see them. But she should have known him better. He noticed immediately.
"Lois, you're crying?!!" he asked, bewildered. "But, for heaven's sake, honey, what's the matter with you? You don't really mean that about Gabby and me, do you? It's *ridiculous*!" He forced her to look at him and repeated firmly, "Totally ridiculous."
Lois swallowed hard. "Then why are you giving me a voucher for a beauty farm?"
"Oh Lois …" Clark sighed in comical exasperation and took her in his arms. "Because I thought *you* wanted it. You talked about it a few times and that your friends all had been there. And I thought a weekend away from the kids and your husband would please you." He kissed her gently and added, "Although I know that the weekend would be very long for *me*."
Lois smiled softly. "Would it?" she asked in a small voice.
"Hmm," he nodded and nuzzled her neck. "Awfully long."
Lois closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensation that his touch created. God, she loved this man. Eleven years of marriage and she still got goosebumps when he touched her!
"You could stare at blondie for a whole weekend," she murmured, but he could hear the teasing tone in her voice. "Don't think I didn't see that you checked out her legs today at the Planet …"
Clark chuckled, his head buried at her neck. "I just compared," he whispered in her ear. "And she doesn't stand a chance against the most beautiful legs at the Daily Planet."
Lois pressed tighter against him. "Ah yes?" she asked provocatively. "And just who has those 'most beautiful legs at the Daily Planet'?"
"Guess who," Clark grinned. "I'll even give you a hint. If she keeps that up, we won't make it home."
Lois chuckled softly. "Oh yes, Clark," she whispered. "This was a great idea for my birthday. We haven't made love above the clouds in years …"
During the following days the voucher wasn't mentioned anymore. Clark didn't dare to ask Lois about it again. He thought that she probably was going to throw it into the garbage. But one week later the topic came up again, although in a totally different and unexpected context.
"Clark, did you read this?" Lois showed him a story in the social column of the Daily Planet. "Another old lady died shortly after her visit to a beauty farm. Like the others who died, she had been on the farm to relax or to get a treatment or whatever. I think it's the third woman in two weeks! Isn't that weird?"
Clark shrugged his shoulders. "They were all pretty old, honey. It's probably just a coincidence."
"They even were at the same beauty farm," Lois continued reading. " Les Fontaines de la Jeunesse. Hey, that's the same place that I have my voucher for!"
Clark flinched when she mentioned the dangerous topic. Now some diplomacy was in order. "What do you mean?" he asked cautiously.
"Nothing," Lois answered. "I just think we should put a reporter on that. There could be a story." She folded the newspaper and continued eating her breakfast.
"Maybe," Clark said hesitantly. He wasn't really convinced. Old ladies died every day, didn't they? Okay, three rich women had died shortly after a visit at a beauty farm, but was that fact really so suspicious? "To be honest, I don't think that one is available right now," he added. "They're all pretty much booked."
"Hmm," Lois murmured.
She was amazed. She was used to the young reporters - god, she was really feeling old referring to them like this - not recognizing a newsworthy story if it hit them in the face. But Clark? The work as editor-in-chief must have dulled his sense of being able to smell stories like this one. She secretly had worried about - she would never admit it out loud, of course … Oh, her mind began to drift again. Well, she had been worried she might have lost the drive that used to distinguish her from the other reporters but she was obviously wrong. She suddenly knew she still had it in her!
Clark noticed the sudden silence. He looked up from the newspaper questioningly, just in time to see the look of triumph crossing Lois' face. Instantly, he was alarmed. "Lois, what are you planning now?"
"Planning? Planning what? I haven't even progressed to that state yet," she innocently replied.
Clark sighed and closed his eyes. On one hand he was glad that she hadn't snapped at him for mentioning the voucher again, but on the other he had the feeling he didn't really want to know what she was about to say. That was a feeling he often had experienced when they had still been hunting down headlines. It always had resulted in a great article but more than once there had been quite critical and dangerous incidents involving Lois and her safety.
"So, what is it this time?" he asked resignedly. There would be no point in trying to stop Lois from doing whatever she intended to do. Once she had that expression on her face … He had to suppress a grin, not quite successfully, when a sudden image popped into his mind.
"What?" Lois wanted to know, hearing him laugh.
"Nothing, I just thought about something Jimmy mentioned early in our partnership. Mad Dog Lane. And now I see a dog with your head standing before me, a bone between your teeth, and you, that is the dog, not willing to let go of it or even sharing with me."
At first Lois didn't know whether to be insulted or flattered but seeing Clark laughing out loud she couldn't do anything but join in his laughter. She had to admit he was absolutely right!
"So, what are you planning?" he wanted to know when they had managed to get themselves under control again.
Before Lois was able to answer his question there was yelling on the stairs and the children stormed into the kitchen. Kathy had tears in her eyes and she jumped onto Clark's lap, putting her arms around his neck.
"Daddy, CJ is soooo mean!" He pulled her more firmly to him, while CJ gave his undivided attention to preparing a bowl of cornflakes.
"Face it, midget. You'll never see more of me than my navel!" He stuck out his tongue at her.
"He took my doll and put it up above his head so I couldn't reach it!" Kathy sniffled some more. She knew that this almost always worked with her daddy and she wanted him to scold CJ for teasing her, so she had to bring out the big guns: tears and misery.
Lois smiled at the unfolding scene. "Well, have fun, Mr. Referee!" She winked at Clark and tousled CJ's hair. It was her turn for the early morning shift at the Planet so it was up to Clark to restore peace at home. "Bye, sweetie!" She leaned down to plant kisses on Kathy's hair and Clark's mouth.
"Lois, you haven't told me about …"
She interrupted him. "I will, at the Planet. Make sure the china stays in one piece!" She waved at them one last time and was gone so fast she would have given Superman a run for his money. As dearly as she loved her children, she gladly left it up to Clark to settle their argument. She had a story to investigate!
In Lois' office, folders, computer printouts, and press releases were piled up on her desk like on her best days as a reporter doing massive research.
For hours she had been looking for similarities among the deaths of the three ladies. From Gabby she got the little research the girl had done on Dorothy Gardener as background information for her article on the dog-show. Steven, the new copy boy, came up with more information on each of the deceased he had found in the archives and on the Internet.
At first sight there was nothing suspicious about the deaths. The doctors had attested the ladies had died of natural causes, and there was no sign of fraudulent claims on the estate. Therefore the police had no reason to investigate the case any further. However Lois had this nagging feeling that there was a story to it and not only an obituary.
'The ladies had a lot of things in common,' she mused. 'They were very rich and hence belonged to New Troy high society. They were even members of the same charitable societies.' Could there be a motive for murder anywhere? Or suicide? Her instinct told her that there would be another dead body soon.
Something in the open drawer next to her caught her eye.
"The wells of youth for your mind and body," Lois read aloud the brochure of Les Fontaines de la Jeunesse that she'd put in her desk along with the voucher. The women had also been to this farm, which would not have been remarkable if there hadn't been a statement in the police file that Mrs. Gardener's relatives had accused the beauty farm's owner of blackmail.
"Yeah, right! What would he blackmail her with? Pictures of her wearing a cucumber mask?" Shaking her head and laughing, Lois went through the police report again. 'She donated a quarter million dollars to this farm? Wow, must be something when Mrs. Gardener was that enthusiastic about giving money!'
Lois wondered if many other guests had made such generous donations to express their gratitude.
"Steven!" she called as the boy passed by her office, and signaled for him to come in. "Steven, get me statements of Mrs. Palmer's and Mrs. Fairchild's accounts."
"Sure, but it'll take some time," he replied with a grin. Ever since Jimmy had mentioned that Steven would some day hack into the NIA network, Lois was convinced that the boy was a genius when it came to computers.
"Looking for something special, chief?"
"For transfers in favor of this institute." Lois wrote down the name of the beauty farm. "Look for amounts, six digits at least."
With a nod the boy left her office.
Still a little undecided what to do with the information she'd gathered so far, Lois took the voucher for the beauty farm weekend out of the drawer. For a moment she stared at the name of the institute and then finally picked up the phone determinedly.
"Les Fontaines de la Jeunesse? Hi, this is Lois La… Kent."
It was a few minutes to twelve when Clark stepped into the newsroom. He should have started work nearly an hour ago but the collapse of a scaffold had kept him. Being editor-in-chief, it wasn't as important to find an excuse for being late as it had been a few years ago as a reporter. Most of the time it was enough to mention a meeting he had to attend not to raise any questions. However he had called Lois before he went to help at the accident.
'Let's see with what kind of excuse for me Lois came up this time. Maybe the kids for a change?' Clark thought, grinning as he entered their office.
"No, Mother, I've already told you it was a present," he heard his wife saying on the phone, carefully keeping herself under control. "No, I don't think I need that, but taking a few days off to relax… This has nothing to do with a midlife crisis! Only men have midlife crises."
While Lois was talking with Ellen on the phone, Clark glanced at the voucher on her desk. Obviously she wanted to give it to her mother to get rid of this unwanted gift.
When Lois had finished the call, he bent down to give her a kiss.
"Hi, honey," Lois said with a loving smile. "Everything okay?"
"Yeah, everything's just fine. The kids forgot about their quarrel only seconds later, it went smoothly at the supermarket, the house is cleaned up, and your lunch is waiting for you in the oven. You only need to heat it up."
"That's sweet of you but I was speaking of the accident at the construction site," Lois whispered.
"Oh, that!" He grinned because of the misunderstanding. "Everything's okay. But what's wrong with you and Ellen?"
Lois sighed. "You mean in general or the phone call? I only told her that I'm going to use my voucher and go to the beauty farm."
Clark couldn't believe what he heard. "You… what?"
Lois shrugged her shoulders. "Now that I got it for my birthday …" she said, "it would be ridiculous not to use it, wouldn't it?" She shook her head at his raised eyebrows and open jaw and gave him an exasperated glance. "And you don't have to look at me as if I had two heads or something. Aren't I allowed to change my mind at least once in my life?"
Clark closed his mouth. "Sure! Of course you can," he assured her hastily. "It's pretty unusual for you, but why not?" He smiled happily. "This is really nice, Lois. You'll see, it will be so good for you if you don't have to see us for a few days, and don't have to worry about anything but your own relaxation. You really deserve it, honey."
"Thank you," Lois said. She rose, took a few folders from her desk, and gave them to her husband. "And you know what? I'll start this very moment with my relaxing." She grinned as she piled up other folders in his hands. "These are all stories that I'm working on. Here …" she took a piece of paper from her purse, "is a list of all the kids' appointments. You know… school, sports, music lessons, ballet, etc. I also have a list here of all important phone numbers. The doctor's number is first. You never know if they're really *super* or not, so just in case…"
"Honey," Clark cut in gently, "I took care of the kids a few times already, remember?"
"Oh." Lois stopped, a little surprised and embarrassed. "Of course you did. I just thought … well, it's the first time I'll be gone for so long and …"
Clark smiled and put the folders he was still holding aside on her desk. "We'll live," he assured her. "But right now, you should think about something way more important."
"What?" Lois stared at her list. Did she forget something?
"You should say a proper goodbye to your husband," Clark answered and took her in his arms.
"Oh that!" She grinned and responded enthusiastically. "I'd never forget about *that*."
A few hours later she was standing at the reception of Les Fontaines de la Jeunesse being given a room. It turned out to be a pleasant, sun-lit room with tasteful furniture, a luxurious bathroom, TV and a comfy bed.
'I really have slept in worse hotel rooms,' Lois thought with a satisfied smile. Maybe the visit would be nicer than she expected, even if the story turned out to be non-existent. The concept of a weekend of total relaxation suddenly became more and more appealing.
After unpacking her suitcase she took a look at the plan she had gotten at the reception desk. My god, what kind of things they did here! Body wrapping, Bio Lifting, waxing, tanning, saunas, massages, breath therapy, steam baths, hydrotherapy, seaweed baths, paraffin treatments, "Enzyme-Phenol peel," aroma-therapy, permanent make-up, eyelash perms… She didn't even know what most of those words meant, but she was here to find out. With a determined step she went to the door. "Skin-type-analysis" was the first item on her list.
Clark really had planned to be home early, but somehow the whole world seemed to have decided against it, so it was after seven when he finally opened the door to their brownstone.
"CJ? Kathy?! I'm home!" he shouted cheerfully, took off his jacket and tossed the keys on a table next to the door. Uncomfortable silence surrounded him. Obviously all his effort to be early had been for nothing anyway because nobody was there. Where could they be? Still playing with friends? But didn't they have to be home at six?
Suddenly he thought of that list Lois had given him right before she had left the Planet. Didn't she mention something about "the kids' appointments"? Hastily he searched in his jacket for the paper and took a look. Oh my God! He was supposed to have picked up Kathy from her ballet-lessons almost 15 minutes ago and CJ would finish soccer in another 15 minutes! How could he forget about this? What kind of a father was he?!
When he came to a screeching halt in front of the ballet-school 10 minutes later, he saw his daughter sitting on the porch by herself.
"Daddy! You're way too late!" she greeted him reproachfully. "The other kids are long gone!"
"I know, Kathy. I'm sorry. It really was great that you've waited so patiently," Clark said remorsefully.
"Mommy said so. She said I should sit here and wait in case she couldn't make it in time," Kathy announced proudly. "But Mommy is *never* late!" she added unmercifully.
Clark sighed and started the jeep. If he didn't hurry, his son would have a reason to complain about his dad, too. He had to admit his weekend without Lois hadn't started exactly well. He could only hope that it didn't continue that way!
Lois had never imagined that a skin-type-analysis could be so depressing. She had always considered her skin as great, but when the storm of scientific terms mixed with such dark words like "oily" and "combination" that the expert was mumbling poured down on her, she now thought otherwise. She was happy when the procedure was over and the expert told her that a cleaning-mask would be her first treatment.
'Okay, you'll start on your job and I'll start on mine,' Lois thought. While Laura, the cosmetician, was laying warm towels on Lois' face to prepare her for the peeling, Lois began to gush about the farm. "It's so nice around here! And everything is so relaxing. The things that are offered! You just don't know how to try out everything in the short time you're here." Her voice sounded a tad bit muffled under all the towels heaped on her face.
"Yes, our customers usually are very content," Laura agreed with her, stirring the mixture.
"That's what Mrs. Gardener told me. She was so pleased with her stay that I decided to give it a try, too." Lois suspiciously glanced at the glutinous mass Laura was spreading on her face.
The cosmetician happily ignored Lois' skepticism and covered her with the mix. Lois now definitely was at a disadvantage, for whatever was in it was drying extremely fast and she wasn't able to say one more thing without it pinching and pulling at her skin. Fortunately mentioning Mrs. Gardener had been the perfect remark to start Laura gossiping.
"Poor Mrs. Gardener," Laura purred, and her tone of voice didn't quite match the subject of their talk. "She didn't seem to have any problems with her heart during her stay here …" In the next thirty minutes Lois learned some things about Dorothy Gardener that could prove to be useful for her investigation, but most things she would gladly have never heard about and they had nearly put her to sleep.
After her treatment she glanced at her watch and made herself comfortable in the lobby. Five more minutes till her massage began. What was her family doing now? Hopefully Clark had thought about picking up Kathy from her ballet lesson. She didn't like to wait and easily got cranky when that happened. To make up for having her wait she usually demanded two more bedtime stories. And knowing Kathy, Clark wouldn't be able to deny her that.
Thinking about Clark she felt guilty. Perhaps she should have told him that she was here to investigate the story and not to enjoy some time away from her family. No, she decided, she would love to see his face should she be able to prove there was something odd around here. Like she used to do in the old days when she had been the only one to smell a rat and get a story out of it.
The next thought of Clark was how much she was missing him already. It didn't happen too often that they were really away from each other. Of course there were his absences when Superman was on duty or the times one or the other had to participate in a conference. But this, practically spending a vacation on their own, that was one thing they had never done before. She desperately missed him.
Sighing, she stood up. She really had to hurry now. She had been deep in thoughts the last few minutes and hadn't paid attention to the comings and goings around her. In spite of the bustle, the lobby was fairly peaceful, so the loud voice she was hearing had to be a trick of her imagination. Right. That had to be it. She simply didn't hear someone demanding to know: "And why isn't my room ready yet? For the price I'm paying I can surely expect you to take my needs into consideration, I assume. My migraine…"
Ignoring the nagging feeling she had upon hearing this, Lois looked around questioningly. Where was it the room for her massage had been? There were just too many places to remember, a different room for every procedure. She simply lost track of them.
Lois headed towards the desk to ask about it. One of the friendly receptionists rolled her eyes and pitied her colleague who had to deal with the noisy newcomer but readily explained to Lois which direction to go.
Lois took a step backwards and bumped right into the lady in question. Both women turned as one.
"I'm awfully sorry, I didn't realize you were standing so close …" Lois' eyes went round. "Mother!" No, this simply wasn't possible. Fate couldn't be so cruel. That wasn't really her mother. It was only a figment of her imagination.
Ellen beamed at Lois. "Lois! There you are! And here I thought it would be more difficult to find you! I just couldn't let you wallow alone in all your problems and doubts. I thought it would be a nice idea to join you here and support you. So, are you surprised?"
"P-p-p-problems? Doubts?" Lois managed to stammer. She had the feeling she had been hit by a truck.
"Well, yes … about your midlife crisis! Don't worry, we'll get a handle on it," Ellen confidently remarked while slipping her arm through Lois'.
"Mother, I am not having a midlife crisis," Lois insisted slowly recovering from the shock of meeting Ellen so unexpectedly. "Besides, I don't have time at the moment. I.. I need to… to go to get a massage." She motioned in the direction of the massage rooms and stepped back.
"Oh, I see, Lois," Ellen snapped. "It's annoying you to talk to your mother. I've come here all the way from the city because I'm worried about my daughter…"
Lois rolled her eyes. 'Sure, all the way! At least twenty minutes from door to door,' she grumbled silently. "Mother!"
"… even take off a few days to stand by her side in this difficult situation and what do I get for it? I'm being pushed away like an old…"
"Mother!" Lois again tried to stop her.
"I'm not annoyed. I'm glad you're here," Lois explained in a calm voice before adding quietly to herself, 'At least I think I am.' "However, right now," she continued, "I have an appointment with my masseur, which I'd rather not miss. That's why I'm here, remember? Relaxing."
Ellen wasn't quite convinced yet but she nodded and smiled at her daughter.
"All right, you go to your massage and I'll go check in. I'll catch you in an hour and we'll talk, okay?"
Lois agreed more or less enthusiastically and left for the massage. Nice prospect, indeed! Three days on a beauty farm with her mother!
"Hi, Mrs. Kent! I'm Henry, your masseur," an athletic, good-looking guy in his late twenties greeted her with a radiant smile.
"Nice to meet you, Henry." Lois was pleasantly surprised to have this gorgeous young man for her masseur. Somehow she'd figured it would be an enormous woman who would knead her thoroughly and with no mercy. "And please call me Lois."
Only fifteen minutes later Lois had forgotten why she'd come to the farm in the first place. Eyes closed appreciatively, she was lying on the massage table and surrendering her body to Henry's skilled hands while her thoughts drifted.
'I'll ask Clark for another weekend at the farm as a Christmas present,' Lois decided. 'Okay, maybe it can wait until next year as a birthday present. This is just so wonderful! I don't need to take care of anything, not even of myself. The staff is doing a great job of spoiling their guests.'
With every passing minute Lois felt more and more relaxed and her body was overcome by a warm heaviness that slowly spread from head to toe.
Being done with massaging her fingers and arms, Henry worked his way over her neck and shoulders. Miraculously he found each and every little knot and worked it until the muscles became smooth again. A small sigh escaped Lois. 'What I wouldn't give if it were Clark's hands massaging my body.'
Hardly a few hours away from her husband and she already missed him. Lois imagined how he would rub some of the sweet-scented massage oil in his hands and on her back before starting to knead her muscles with gentle pressure. His massage would be more like a loving caress of her body than physical therapy and his fingers would graze her breasts not so inadvertently while rubbing her sides. Then he'd reach her lower back where, without any hesitation, he'd push down the towel she'd wrapped around her hips. But before she was completely naked his hands would slip under the towel to…
"Lois? Did I hurt you?" Henry's voice ended her daydreaming
"Huh?" Shaking her head she returned to reality.
"I heard you sigh," the young man explained. "So I assumed I put too much pressure on a sore spot."
"Oh! No. Go ahead. It feels wonderful," Lois quickly assured him. 'Good thing he can't see my face right now,' she grinned inwardly. 'If he could see me turning all shades of red, he'd know exactly why I sighed.'
With that Lois banished all those pleasant thoughts of Clark out of her mind and saved them for later.
"You have a great, well-trained body, Lois," Henry said after a while.
"Why thanks! That's very flattering. Do you get paid for compliments like this?" Her stay at the farm got better by the minute.
The masseur chuckled. "No, I'm serious. Only a few of the young women at your age can keep up with you."
"And the older ones?" This seemed to be a good opportunity to get back to her story and to gather some information.
"Some of them are in quite good shape."
"Like Mrs. Fairchild, to name one?" Lois interjected.
"Yes, she really did a lot for her body. As far as I know she went to step-aerobics regularly while she was here. Although I can't tell exactly because she was one of my boss's customers," Henry unsuspectingly revealed. "It was only Roger who did her massages and things like that."
While the masseur continued to philosophize on different types of customers, Lois brooded over his comment on Roger Beauville. Laura from skin-type-analysis had mentioned something similar. Didn't she say that Mrs. Gardener got her facial masks only from the boss?
It was about time to take a closer look at Roger Beauville.
"Oh yes, Mr. Beauville," she therefore chimed in enthusiastically. "You only hear good things about him. I haven't met him personally yet though. Is he often here at the beauty farm?"
"Oh yes, you'll probably see him a lot while you're here. He practically lives here, actually. Most of the time you find him in the lobby, but from time to time he also does treatments himself. Like the massages for Mrs. Fairchild."
Lois nodded and thought about what she had heard. She needed to get a chance to talk to the owner of the beauty farm in person, but she wasn't sure how to do it.
She got her chance much sooner than expected, because when she left the room after her massage, she found her mother in an agitated conversation with a tanned middle-aged man.
"Lois!" Ellen Lane exclaimed when she saw her. "This is Mr. Beauville, the owner of Les Fontaines de la Jeunesse, and I was telling him just this moment how really wonderful this place is! Mr. Beauville, this is my daughter, Lois."
"Oh please, call me Roger," the man said smoothly. He turned to Lois. "How are you doing, my dear? I hope everything is to your liking?"
Lois said yes, and after a few minutes of small talk Roger left the two women, but not without reminding Ellen that she had a massage appointment with him the next morning.
"You'll get a massage from him, Mother?" Lois asked as soon as he was out of earshot.
"Yes!" Ellen sighed, excited. "Isn't he an incredibly charming man?"
"Incredibly," Lois mumbled, lost in thought. Maybe it wasn't so bad that her mother was here with her on the beauty farm! Now she had gotten her first suspect served on a silver platter! "Come on," she said warmly and took her mother's arm. "It's my first day off in ages and I feel like celebrating. I'll pay."
Clark awoke as the book in his hand fell to the ground with a bump. He winced and sent an alarmed look over to his daughter, but she seemed to be sound asleep. He sighed in relief. Another story of Winnie the Pooh would have been too much for him. Kathy was too old for Winnie the Pooh anyway, but she was a very traditional girl and showed a never-ending energy when it came to making her dad read bedtime stories to her. She never got enough, unlike CJ, who called them kindergarten-stuff.
Slowly, anxious not to wake her, he rose from the much too small chair he had been sitting on and tiptoed out of her room.
Closing the door he sent a last guilty glance at the mess the room was in. He had to remind himself that he needed to clean up the house before Lois came home on Sunday. One evening with his kids had put the whole house into complete chaos. For a moment he thought about cleaning up at least the living room in superspeed, but he was too tired. He only wanted to sleep.
The bedroom was dark and cold without Lois. Of course it wasn't the first time that she hadn't been at home over night, but as it had been every time before, Clark found himself somehow strangely unprepared for the loneliness that surrounded him without his wife. Nobody snuggled closer to him when he lay down, seeking for his body warmth. Nobody talked a little while with him about the big and small events of the day. Nobody laughed with him about the funny story Jimmy had told him at the Planet today. Now that he was missing her, he was reminded once more of the preciousness of the physical and emotional closeness that they shared in their relationship.
He sighed and tossed in his bed. Trust Superman to have one of the very rare nights off when his wife was at a beauty farm! He sighed again and tugged her pillow over to his side of the bed. Faintly he could smell her perfume, her shampoo, and the scent of her skin. He snuggled his face in the pillow. "I miss you, baby," he whispered to her photo on his night table.
Lois flinched when the door of her room squeaked. Did someone catch that? No sound could be heard but the stammering beat of her heart. 'Oh boy,' she thought with a grin. 'How long has it been since you've done that, Lois? Breaking into a suspect's office?'
Effortlessly she picked the lock of the office door. "Just like old times! Okay, where best to begin?" she mused.
She pointed her flashlight around the office and stopped at the desk. "Well, that's a promising starting point." A thorough examination of his calendar showed that good old Mr. Beauville was very picky in regards to his customers. Most of the names were only listed once; a few had more entries. "What's the common thread, the criteria he uses to select particular women?" Lois wondered while copying all the names. "Looks? Age? Possible love interest? Circle of friends? If I only knew… It has to be important! I have to find out what all of them have in common."
Before she could decide on further actions she heard steps outside. 'Unbelievable! Who could possibly be around here at this time of night except for me?' She looked around quickly, turned off her flashlight so she wouldn't alert anyone to her presence, and dove under the desk. 'Better be safe than sorry!'
The steps stopped directly in front of the door. Judging from the sounds the person was making while walking it had to be a man. Lois stopped breathing. Hopefully, Roger Beauville wouldn't spend his nights fetching his paperwork, would he?
After a moment of shock that seemed to last an hour, Lois heard a male voice murmur, "What the hell am I to guard here? Who would try to steal cucumber and cheese? You can get that in every stupid supermarket," before the footsteps receded once again.
Lois took a deep, calming breath. It had been the security guard. Thank god he hadn't checked the office.
She was just about to crawl back up when her eyes fell on a piece of paper that appeared to be stuck behind one of the drawers. Her inquisitive mind got the better of her and she managed to get it out. It was an invoice from a pharmaceutical company for something named quinidine. She had never heard of it before but she decided it wouldn't hurt to take it with her and find out about it nonetheless. Even if it wasn't related to the case, she was a customer in this place all the same. 'I'm dying to know… Oooops, hope not. Wrong choice of words,' she thought wryly. Anyway, she wanted to know what was mixed into these homemade masks and cosmetics.
She had just decided to boot up the computer to search for suspicious files when she heard the guard return. She stopped in the middle of moving but this time he went right past the office. Lois placed her hand above her heart. It was beating like crazy. She thought the guard surely must have heard it. She simply wasn't used to this kind of excitement any longer. 'Oh Clark, I could really do with you right now to speed things up a little bit,' she lovingly thought. But since he wasn't anywhere near she decided to finish for now.
She would put someone from research on the names. Perhaps they would come up with something. As soon as she had the common thread between them she would come back and check the computer. Besides she had to admit that all these applications and massages had put her through the wringer.
"Tomorrow is another day," she yawned, and cautiously moved to the door. She couldn't detect anybody outside and tried to reach her room as quietly as possible. Exhausted, she lay down on her bed and looked at the picture of Clark and the children she earlier had placed on the nightstand. "I miss you," she whispered, and turning on her side, was fast asleep a couple of seconds later.
"Okay, Peter, I want you to find out everything about the following women…" Lois listed the names she had found in Beauville's calendar the previous night. "I'll call about the results in two hours… No, you don't have to bother Mr. Kent. I'll inform him myself. Oh, and try to find out what quinidine is." She was impatiently tapping the desk with her pencil. It seemed to take him ages to grasp the correct spelling of it. "Those were the days when Jimmy used to do these kinds of things for us," she muttered darkly. "No, Peter, I didn't say anything. I'll call back later!" Sighing, she put down the receiver. "Who on earth put him on the payroll?"
"Lois! Lois!" Someone was knocking on the door impatiently. "Lois, come on! The early bird catches the worm and we don't want to be late for breakfast or there won't be anything left of it by the time we're there."
Lois only shook her head and rolled her eyes. "I'm coming, mother."
"What's on your schedule this morning?" Ellen asked her daughter while finishing breakfast.
"I have aerobics, mud pack and a visit 'chez le coiffeur'," Lois listed. "Sometime in between I have to make a call to the Planet."
Ellen shot a scandalized look at her. "Lois, you're on vacation. Forget the paper and relax. You have to look after yourself more often or you'll get a heart attack from all the stress. For a long time now I've been fearing that family and job will be too much for you in the long run."
"Mother." Lois let out a deep sigh. "As I already tried to explain to you last night, I'm feeling terrific. No midlife crisis, no overwork, no stress in my life. I only want to let myself be spoiled at this place and enjoy my birthday present."
"Then why do you have to call the Planet?" Ellen asked skeptically.
For a split second Lois thought about giving her mother some lame excuse not to provoke more probing questions. But she decided to tell the truth and relented.
"Actually I'm kind of working on a story." In few words she told Ellen the true reason for her stay at Les Fontaines de la Jeunesse.
"You suspect Roger of having something to do with the women's deaths?" Ellen repeated unbelieving. "That can't be true. He's such a charming man."
"A little bit more quietly, please," Lois hissed while carefully looking around to check whether someone was listening in. "I haven't any proof yet. It's just a vague feeling that is getting stronger the more I learn about this guy."
"Speaking of him, here he comes," Ellen murmured before waving to Roger enthusiastically. "Good morning, Roger. Nice to see you."
With a honey-sweet smile he approached their table. "Good morning, ladies. Ready for your second day of pure wellness?"
While Lois only managed a non-committal smile, Ellen laid her hand on his arm and chattered effusively. "Well, I'll let myself be extra pampered by getting one of your incredible massages later on. Now, Roger, you'd really make me happy if you would sacrifice a little of your precious time and give me your famous facial mask."
"I'm sorry, Ellen," Beauville replied with no sign of regret in his voice, "but I'm very busy this weekend and…"
"Oh, what a pity!" Ellen interrupted. "I wanted so much to see whether Beverly Newman was right. Every time I meet her, she's full of praise."
Hearing this, Lois swallowed her coffee the wrong way and started to cough. Newman was one of the names mentioned in Beauville's calendar she'd told her mother about only minutes ago.
"You know Beverly Newman?" All of a sudden Roger seemed very interested.
"Why of course! We meet regularly to play bridge and at dinner parties."
Lois couldn't believe her ears. Since when did Ellen play bridge?
"You know, Ellen," Beauville said conspiratorially. "I think, I'll make an exception just for you. I'm going to cancel another appointment so that I'm able to devote my time to you. Meet me at two this afternoon."
"Terrific!" Ellen replied, smiling sweetly, and Roger excused himself.
As soon as he was out of earshot Lois leaned over to her mother and asked with surprise, "I didn't know you know Mrs. Newman. And since when do you play bridge?"
With a triumphant grin Ellen leaned back in her chair. "I don't know this Beverly. Her name just came to me. Didn't you say earlier that she's one of Beauville's special customers? Look, it's easy. You want information about him, you'll need someone to question him, won't you?"
Lois was stunned. "You mean, you want to…?"
"Why, certainly! I'm going to help you with your story, darling." Ellen beamed.
"Mother, you can't."
"And why not, may I ask? One of us already has two appointments with him and you're not the one. You have to admit that my idea to ask him for this mask was brilliant, wasn't it?" Obviously Ellen found it very exciting to assist her daughter. "I read about it in the farm's brochure and thought it might flatter him if…"
"The facial masks! That's it!" Lois suddenly exclaimed, and started to search her bag for the list of names she'd phoned to Peter this morning. "Why didn't I get the clue long ago? Mother, you're a genius."
At Ellen's puzzled look, Lois began to explain. "All the time I was looking for similarities between the dead women. They've all gotten completely different treatments from Beauville — once a massage, then a mudpack or a manicure. But they never had the same. The only thing they had in common were the facial masks they've got from him on a regular basis. Obviously these masks are limited to an exclusive circle of women of which you are now a part too, Mother."
Lois was convinced that Peter would tell her all these women were wealthy just like the dead women had been. She'd only have to find out how that was connected to the deaths of the three ladies.
"To be honest, Lois," Ellen said after a while. "I'm surprised that Clark agreed to let you come here. I mean, he always seems to be a little protective of you - something I really appreciate about him, by the way - but didn't he object to your plan of snooping around? He had to be aware that you could be in danger."
Embarrassed, Lois lowered her eyes and admitted, "Clark doesn't know that I'm here because of a story. I didn't tell him."
The phone was ringing persistently and unnervingly. After the 10th ring he couldn't ignore it any longer and so Clark dragged himself away from the article he was reading in today's Daily Planet.
Ralph had brought it in yesterday evening and it was full of mistakes. He had to say a few words to him about that. The reporters usually weren't responsible for the spell and grammar check in their articles, they had editors for that, but if a hot story was brought in late and after the official deadline, of course they had to check their stories as best as they could. Ralph had ignored this little fact not for the first time and his story got printed without him even sending the story through the spell-check program of the computer!
And the only reason for that probably was that Ralph had one of his well-known "dates", which he used to brag about weeks ahead to every male soul in the Planet and that usually ended in a total disaster.
Clark was mad. Bad enough to have to work on a weekend, but to get such garbage turned in made it even worse.
"Hello," he said shortly, as he picked up the phone with a frown.
"Hmmm…" he heard the purring voice of his wife, "Do you know how much I love it when you sound so bossy?"
"Lois!" Clark smiled. "How are you, honey? Are you homesick?" He tried not to sound too hopeful, but she immediately chuckled and he knew that she understood.
"Poor baby," she murmured. "Is it very bad?"
"No," he said defensively and tried to avoid the pictures coming to his head. How Kathy had destroyed three plates of their best porcelain, for example, because she and her friend Julie had acted out an old German custom to banish bad ghosts. Or the picture of CJ and his new friend Bongo (what a ridiculous name for a boy!) as he had caught them lighting a fire in the backyard yesterday. Lois should enjoy a wonderful vacation and Sunday would come soon enough to tell her that their children probably were doomed to become terrorists.
"Everything's great," he assured her bravely. "But we miss you terribly. Especially the little one."
Just how much, Clark had realized only this morning.
Right after breakfast the kids had left the house to go to the playground. However it wasn't an hour later that CJ returned with a bitterly weeping Kathy in tow.
"Don't cry, Kathy," Clark heard his son say soothingly. "Daddy's here, he'll help you."
"I wanna go to Mommy." The little girl cried heart-wrenchingly, ignoring her father who knelt down in front of her to see what had happened.
"She fell off the monkey bars," CJ explained. Wearily he looked at his sister, whose crying had been replaced by a hiccup.
Clark nodded and examined her slightly torn pants and the small abrasion on her knee.
"It's not that bad, sweetie." Tenderly he stroked his daughter's head. The shock of falling had been worse than the wound itself. "Let's go to the bathroom, clean your knee and put a band-aid on it."
But as Clark tried to take her by the hand, she turned away from him and started to cry again. "No, Mommy should … *hic*… do it. I wanna go to … *hic* … Mommy."
He hugged her lovingly. "Sweetie, Mommy's still on vacation. She'll be back by tomorrow night."
A desperate sigh escaped his lips. What did Lois have he didn't? Kissing Kathy's forehead Clark finally lifted her on his arms and carried her up the stairs, followed closely by his son who additionally commented, "She called for Mom all the way back home, Dad."
'Face it, Kent,' Clark said to himself. 'You're definitely not the first person to contact in emergencies concerning your daughter. At least not today.'
"I really did try to calm her down, Dad, but she just wouldn't stop crying. She even didn't want my favorite marble. I didn't know what else to do." CJ was clearly shocked by the accident, too.
"You did the right thing, CJ. You brought her home," Clark assured his son while peeling Kathy out of her pants and cleaning the small wound. "I knew I could rely on you, son. All right, Kathy, now you'll get a band-aid on your knee and then you're ready to go play again."
"Mommy always puts the one with the colors on me," Clark's youngest sniffled, as he was about to use the "ordinary" band-aid.
"Oh, of course! The colored one…" Perhaps he should ask Lois to give him a few lessons in "How to deal with soothing your kids and to take care of their bruises". He used to think he was talented at this kind of thing.
With a comforting kiss for Kathy and a pat on CJ's shoulder Clark sent the kids downstairs to play. Distraction would be the best medicine for both. Still musing on his abilities as the family's first-aid man he heard CJ say to his sister, "Don't worry. The scratch isn't that bad. I'm sure it will be gone by tomorrow. That's what it's like whenever I have one." How did the boy get the idea of saying such a thing to her for comfort? The scratch would be seen for a few days at least.
"CJ!" he held back his son. "What do you mean? Her wound may be small but nevertheless it won't heal overnight."
Shrugging his shoulders casually, CJ replied. "But when I play football and fall down and get a scratch like Kathy's, it's always gone before I go to bed."
Clark nodded slowly and dropped the issue. That would be some news for Lois!
"Oh, one thing! We should have a talk with CJ soon," he said later to his wife over the phone. "He seems to be starting to develop."
"Clark! He's only ten!" Lois was perplexed. Her son couldn't have reached puberty so soon, could he? "Are you sure? I mean, he has little girl friends but they're no more than playmates."
Realizing his wife had misunderstood him, Clark chuckled. "Honey, I don't mean a father-to-son-talk. He's just inherited my… genes."
"Oh! Oh, that! Really?!? Do I have to be prepared to see CJ flying around the house when I get home?" She couldn't help being a little worried. How would the boy cope with having these powers?
"No, no, nothing like that." Although knowing there was nobody able to hear a word through the closed door, Clark lowered his voice. "I'll take him to the park to check how fast and strong he already is. We'll see."
"It's a wonderful but frightening feeling to know that our children really do have superpowers," Lois said. "I mean, we've always considered this possibility, but will we be able to teach them the kind of responsibility they have? And how will we protect them from the prying eyes of the public? Before we know it they'll be trapped in a laboratory and dissected like a frog."
Her words reminded Clark of the many talks he and his parents had had. They probably still lived with these fears. Not wanting to frighten his wife Clark answered confidently. "Lois, don't worry. We can make it. Like we always do."
She sighed. "Yeah, you're right. Together we'll make it."
"Yes. But now tell me. How are you?"
Lois laughed. "Well, *I* am great," she said. "It's really relaxing here." Suddenly she sobered and he sensed that there was something more she wanted to tell him.
"And…?" he prompted her to speak up.
She sighed. "How's it possible that you know me so well?"
Clark waited patiently till Lois hesitantly started. "Mother thinks I have to tell you. Well, she's right, of course… but Clark, I enjoyed it so *much*! It felt like when I was twenty, you know… I mean when we both were so young and dynamic… exciting, alarming… God, my heart beat so fast, I thought he had to hear it!"
"He?!!" Clark cut in, bewildered. What was she talking about? He really hoped it wasn't what it sounded like!
"Roger Beauville," Lois answered calmly. "I broke into his office."
Ellen Lane felt better than she had in a long time. Finally she had the chance to show her daughter that Lois' investigative skills didn't came out of nowhere. It was a family thing, that much was obvious! And Ellen was absolutely sure which side of the family owned the genes for detective work. It would be so much fun to investigate side by side with her daughter!
She had lectured her though. Of course Lois had to tell Clark what she was doing at the beauty farm, although Ellen still mistrusted Clark a little bit, even after all these years that he was married to Lois. She never knew what to think of her son-in-law because, one, she didn't trust men in general, and two, Clark's very weird way of dis- and reappearing all the time.
She also couldn't help the feeling that the man was too good to be true. Handsome, honest, mild-mannered, a great dad and, according to Lucy's indiscreet revelation of information which she had pressed out of her older sister, a "wonderful lover". Ellen smelled a cheater here, but sometimes when she looked at Clark's friendly face, she somehow found herself believing that he really was the nice guy he appeared to be. If that was the truth, he loved her daughter beyond everything, and then, of course, Lois had to tell him about the secret investigation. Surprisingly Lois had really been repentant and had left her mother after their morning together, to call her husband and tell him her plan.
Ellen glanced at her watch. Time enough to drink another cup of coffee before she was due for her face-mask with Roger Beauville. God, this was so exciting!
"All right, I want you to relax now," Roger Beauville instructed Ellen. She was lying down on the couch while he put a meditation CD in the player. "The mask will be much more effective that way. You're obviously not in need of it, though!" He winked at her and Ellen smiled, flattered.
Putting on the peeling he explained, "You surely understand that you're only able to see really good effects by getting a mask regularly. That's a lengthy, time-consuming, and expensive process. But you know, beauty has its price…" He watched her closely.
Ellen didn't disappoint him. "Oh, that wouldn't be a problem. You see, I don't work, I don't need to, and my husband was a doctor, so I fortunately don't have to worry about money either."
Beauville removed the mix from her face and started a soft massage. "Please stay as relaxed as possible, Ellen! Trust me, you'll feel rejuvenated."
"I don't doubt it in the least. I'm putty in your hands," Ellen blissfully sighed. This man had magic fingertips, she swore. She was so caught up in his ministrations that she didn't even realize he was questioning her and not vice versa as she originally had planned.
"There's one possibility these treatments could be part of the service. But you mustn't tell anybody about our little arrangement," he cautioned her.
"Hmm? What would that be?" Ellen absentmindedly asked. She hadn't felt this good in a long time. Someone who had hands like these surely couldn't be a cold-blooded murderer. Lois had to be wrong about him.
"Before I can explain it to you, you have to give me your word that you won't mention it to anybody. Even Beverly Newman is not to know about it," he said.
"Beverly who?" Ellen asked surprised.
"Beverly Newman. You said you know her!"
"No, not that I…" Ellen started, not remembering the story she and Lois had concocted until it was too late. Oops. Perhaps she wasn't as capable a PI as she had thought.
Roger examined her threateningly, nearing the couch once again, thus preventing her from being able to escape. "I see, Ellen. So let's have a friendly chat, or better, you talk and I listen."
It took Lois quite some time to calm down her outraged spouse. He thought it irresponsible to investigate the farm without proper backup, meaning him, or even without telling him about her suspicions. Only her pointing out that she, in fact, had informed him about the strange circumstances of the women's deaths saved her from Clark giving her another lecture. He was the one who hadn't acted on it and finally he relented. She explained what she had found out so far and decided, since he was in on the story now, he should look over everything Peter might have come up with about the names and this quinidine thing.
"Wait a sec, I'll ask Peter what he's found out so far."
Lois heard Clark calling for the young man but couldn't understand what they were talking about.
"Lois?" Clark was back on the phone. "Peter is printing out all the information. It'll take a few minutes. But he already has details about this drug. Listen to this: quinidine has a cardiotoxic effect and causes severe cardiac arrhythmia when taken over a longer period of time and may even result in cardiac insufficiency."
"Wow!" Lois exclaimed. "Not quite the medicine to support the credo of a farm for prolonging youth. I think we now know what Dorothy Gardener and the other women died of. But why did none of the doctors who pronounced them dead, find remains of the drug in their systems?"
"If they showed all the signs of a heart attack, an autopsy wouldn't be really necessary."
"Only this isn't enough to show that Beauville is a murderer." Lois knew she'd have to prove that all of Beauville's customers had been given quinidine, before informing the police and most of all before writing and publishing the story. "Maybe I should have a look at Beauville's laboratory. We have to find out what exactly he does with this stuff."
"Besides, the motive is missing," Clark relented. "Thinking of the donations the victims made to the farm, it sounds like blackmail to me. But blackmail for what? Lois, please wait until I take a look at the bank statements of the women on your list before breaking in." He had a bad feeling when imagining Lois snooping around a murderer. "If they've also made payments to Beauville, I'll call Detective Wolf at Homicide and then the police can have a look at the laboratory."
'Still the worried and cautious reporter, just like the old days.' Her husband's words made her smile amused and flattered at the same time. "Believe me, without a doubt you'll find those transactions," she tried to convince Clark.
"Well, maybe I won't. Wait for me and call me back, please?"
"Okay, I'll call you back in five minutes, honey. Then you can tell me I'm right."
Clark heard Lois' smile. "I will. But you've got to promise me you won't do anything rash in the meantime and really will call!"
"Cross my heart! Do you want it in blood, faxed to the Planet?" Laughing, she hung up the phone without giving him the opportunity to answer.
The receiver hadn't even touched the cradle when somebody banged on the door. "Lois! Come on, it's your mother!"
Astonished, Lois opened. "Mother! You're finished already? I wasn't aware of …" That was as much as she could say before Roger, who had been standing behind Ellen, gave her mother a push that had her stumbling against Lois. Lois barely managed to catch her from falling. "What…?"
"Shut up and don't make a sound," Roger hissed, pointing a gun at Lois that she had failed to notice before.
Her eyes widened and she looked at her mother questioningly, but all Ellen could do was shrug.
"Let me tell you, there's one thing that I detest and that's nosey women, especially when they're trying to mess with my business. We're taking a little walk, and if you so much as raise your eyebrows, you're both dead. First mother there and then daughter. Do I make myself clear? And don't count on me having second thoughts about killing you. You wouldn't be the first to meet an untimely death. Okay, this way!" He waved his gun at the terrace.
Lois thought about calling Superman for help but she realized both she and Ellen would be dead before he could get to them, even using superspeed. She had to wait for a better opportunity. Perhaps she would be able to bring Beauville down on her own. She just had to bide her time and lull him into a false sense of security.
Carefully they hurried to follow his instructions. "To the sauna! It's lunchtime, so we will be a party of three there."
"Okay, now undress!" Roger harshly ordered.
Ellen was peeved. "Excuse me? Why on earth should we do that, you lout? What do you have in mind?"
Roger looked at her mockingly. "Not what you're obviously thinking! Who would take a second look at someone like you?" He cast a critical glance in Lois' direction. "Although…"
Lois was seething. Unfortunately he was standing too far away to inflict any long-lasting damages on his reproductive system with a pointed kick.
"Nah, I'm more of a twenties kind of guy, if you catch my drift. Enough of this already! Take off your clothes or I'll do it for you!"
Ellen was beside herself, slowly opening the buttons on her blouse. "Have at least the decency to turn around!"
Beauville snorted. "Nice try, granny! Believe me, you have nothing I haven't seen in much better shape and size!"
"What are you going to do to us?" Lois asked, handing her mother a bathrobe and pulling one firmly around herself.
"Who said anything about robes? Lose them! You will be going in there and unfortunately have a little fatal accident. Poor Lois and Ellen. You should have checked the temperature first. You will be all hot. Too hot for you, I'm afraid." He pointed the gun at the door. "And now, without further ado, make yourself comfortable for as long as you're still alive."
"I'm sorry, Lois." Ellen was devastated. "It doesn't look like I'm very talented in espionage after all."
Hearing her comment, Roger sneered. "Well, Lois, unfortunately your mother forgot the story she had invented to get to me. Too bad, isn't it? However, at least that evens out my own carelessness. Unfortunately I went to the trouble too late to think about your maiden name … well, your professional name, Mrs. Kent," Beauville explained with an arrogant grin on his face. "Very clever to check in under your husband's name. If I'd read the name Lois Lane, I'd have been suspicious right from the beginning. I remember very well the investigative reporter of the Daily Planet who'd had nearly every scoop in the mid-nineties." He gave Lois a disdainful look. "What happened, Lois? Gave up your career for a life as a little housewife?"
"At least there's no doubt that I have a better career as housewife and mother than you have as a wicked criminal and murderer," Lois replied sarcastically. "Or do you think you'll get any acknowledgement for your… facial masks?"
"Lois, we shouldn't provoke the man," Ellen whispered in panic. "Listen, Roger, why don't we all calm down and talk about it?" She was shaking while trying to reason with Beauville. "You don't want to kill us, do you? If this all is about money, we'll find a way. Perhaps we can come up with a good promotion campaign for your wonderful masks and sell them at drugstores. A nice presentation…"
"Mother, these masks contain quinidine," Lois interrupted. "He has already killed three women. You were supposed to be one of his next victims."
While Ellen sank down on a sauna bench, weak kneed and speechless, Beauville just grinned.
"I'm impressed, Lois. You still have the guts. But you have to admit that it was a brilliant idea to get money the easy way. When I realized that all those rich, old broads were hot for this eternal youth stuff, I offered them a partnership. Some forged business reports and they sent a down payment immediately. And lucky me, the money was always in my account before the quinidine had the desired effect."
"More luck than judgement," Lois commented dryly. "Next time you shouldn't leave the bills for your pharmaceuticals on your desk. Someone might figure out your plans."
"It bugs you that you're not the one getting the scoop, doesn't it? But you'll hardly get the chance. Unfortunately I have to end our nice little chit-chat." Stepping back Beauville locked the Lanes in. "Enjoy the sauna! As you know, sweating is a very healthy thing."
They heard Beauville's evil laugh as the lock snapped in place and then there was silence.
Clark glanced at his watch. It was now twenty minutes since Lois' call. First he'd thought she was teasing him for being overcautious once again but now he wasn't so sure anymore. She'd promised to call back, and she'd do that if somehow possible, but with Lois' talent for getting herself into trouble…
He reached for the phone and made the receptionist of the beauty farm connect him to Lois' room. After the twentieth ring he put the receiver back down. Something was definitely wrong. He left his office and headed for Les Fontaines de la Jeunesse.
"We're going to die." Ellen had found her voice again. "Fried like a chicken!"
"No, we're not," Lois contradicted while inspecting the room. There had to be an airshaft or something they could escape through or at least get fresh air.
"I've always thought I'd die in my bed, peacefully asleep, never to wake up again." There was no end to Ellen's lamentations. "I'd deserve a death like that. But this? Well, at least they don't need to bother with a coffin. We're going to burn to ashes in here anyway."
"Mother!" Unnerved Lois stepped down from the upper sauna bench without having found a way out. "We would probably suffocate but we wouldn't burn."
"Thank you for that enlightenment, Lois!" Ellen replied sarcastically. "I feel so much better now that I know that. In situations like this why do you always have to show me how smart and clever you are? You want me to feel dumb? Or that I…" Seeing Lois' blank stare Ellen stopped herself. "What am I saying?" she continued more more quietly. "I don't want to spend the last minutes of my life arguing with you."
Lois wiped the sweat off her forehead and sat next to her mother, sighing. "I'm sorry, I…"
"No, Lois, let me say this! I know I often criticized you and never supported you. But I'm really very proud of you. I always was. You are such a wonderful person, you've achieved so much in your life. You have a great job, a fantastic husband and the best and cutest children in the world. But believe me, I would love you just the same if you worked as a dishwasher in some factory's canteen. I hope you know that." Giving Lois a loving glance Ellen laid her hand on her daughter's arm.
"I know. Thank you, mom," Lois replied emotionally. "I love you, too. And to have the chance to say that to each other more often, we need to get out of here."
Determinedly Lois got up and started to rattle at the door. "You are right, I have a wonderful life. I'm forty, I'm in great shape and very successful in my job. The man of my dreams, whom I'm married to, loves me and our children unconditionally, so I have no reason to be frustrated or to be done with my life. This stupid door won't budge an inch!" She swore under her breath. "If only I had something to …
… to pick the lock with!"
"You know how to *pick* a lock?!" her mother asked her, for a moment forgetting about their situation. She shook her head in amazement. "I'll never understand you…"
Lois studied the room closely. Nothing. Nothing that would be of use to help them.
Suddenly she remembered her earlier thought and she slapped her head. "My God, I almost forgot about the most obvious thing!"
"What?" Ellen asked bewildered.
"But of course, Mother! There's a very easy way out of here. I just haven't used it for a pretty long time," Lois grinned.
"Which would be?"
Lois took a deep breath. "Help! Superman!" she shouted, and winked at her mother.
It only took a few seconds and they heard the sound they were waiting for. The door moved on its hinges and Superman's anxious voice called from behind it.
"Lois? Is everything all right!?"
"Yes," Lois shouted. "It's just very hot in here. It would be great if you could hurr…"
"Don't you *dare* to come in here, Superman!" Ellen Lane suddenly squeaked.
Lois turned around. "Mother? Have you lost your mind?"
Ellen crouched behind the radiator. "I'm *naked*!" she hissed accusingly.
Lois stared at her. "And?"
"Lois, this is *Superman*"! I mean, *you* are still young and good looking but I'm an old frump and I definitely won't meet that …that *hunk* of a man like *this*!" Ellen whispered agitatedly.
"Oh, this really can't be true!" Lois exclaimed. "What do you want to do instead? Die!?"
"Ehm… Lois, maybe I should… you know go…" they heard Superman stammer hastily behind the door, unmistakable panic in his voice. Obviously her boy scout of a husband found the thought of meeting his mother-in-law in the altogether as frightening as she did.
"Come on, Mother!" Lois, ignoring him, tried to cheer Ellen up. "You know, Superman has x-ray vision. He's looking through other people's clothing all the time."
"No, I'm *not*," Superman shouted, clearly insulted. "You know that I'd never do that!"
'Jeesh, Clark, I'm going to kill you later at home," Lois thought and cast her eyes heavenwards. He really was a great help. She was slowly roasting in here, and just because her husband and her mother were behaving like prim children!
"And? What do you suggest we do instead?" she asked annoyed.
"I could fly and get some towels," Superman suggested.
"Oh, that would be so nice, Superman," Ellen Lane chimed in while sending her daughter a glance that had a clear 'See!' written all over it.
Superman didn't wait for another comment and before Lois could direct his attention to the fact that there were towels lying in the dressing room only a few feet away, she heard the familiar whooshing sound as her husband took off in superspeed.
"Well, great!" she muttered sarcastically. "He forgot to tell us not to move! Couldn't he at least open the door before he left?!"
Roger Beauville was locking the door to his office when he suddenly felt a strong hand on his shoulder.
"Well, where are we going so fast?" a low and calm voice asked.
He turned around and felt the blood rush out of his face. Superman was standing in front of him, arms crossed at his chest and next to him, clad in bathrobes and looking very flushed, were the two women that he had thought dead by now.
For a short moment wild thoughts of running away, or of paying Superman off, crossed his mind, but one glance at the superhero's serious face killed the words that had begun forming on Roger Beauville's lips. He knew when he was defeated.
Superman watched the struggle of emotions in the eyes of the man in front of him knowingly. A slow smiled played around the corners of his mouth. "Good boy," he praised and pushed him back into the office. Then he nodded towards Lois. "Call the police," he said. "And then, I'm sure, you want to call the Planet, right? To give them the top story of the month?" He winked at her.
"Yessss!" Lois was ecstatic when she put down the receiver. It would be a heady feeling to once again see her byline beneath a headline and not an editorial. She was still smiling when a soft 'whoosh' announced the arrival of her husband.
"Are you satisfied now?" he asked, noticing her smug expression.
"Yeah, I'm quite happy with everything right now," she announced, observing the police officers who were still collecting evidence. "Have you managed to extinguish the fire?" Shortly after the police's arrival he'd had to fly away for a rescue. True to his promise to be back as soon as possible, he was now once again at the beauty farm.
"Yes, everything went without a hitch. Are you done here?"
"As far as I'm concerned, I am. We've given our statements to the police and an officer was so kind to give Mother a ride home. She wants me to thank you… Adonis!" She winked at him.
Superman blushed profoundly. "Oh, well… Thanks, I think." He looked at the floor in embarrassment. He was still not used to the adoration people showed him wherever he went and now even his own mother-in-law… He shuddered. That was something he could easily have done without. He tried to change their topic of conversation. "So, Lois …" He ignored the grin that was threatening to split Lois' face at his blatant attempt. "Are you ready to go home? I would gladly give you a lift. I'm sure Clark and your children are dying to see you."
"Why, what a kind thing to offer, Superman. I really miss them and I'd appreciate it a lot. The sooner I see them again the better."
He scooped her up and slowly floated up, heading for their home. They were barely out of everybody's sight when Lois started to plant kisses all over Clark's face.
"I've missed you so badly," she murmured. Distracted, Clark had to make a great effort to concentrate on bringing them home safely but, thankfully, he managed.
As soon as they entered the townhouse their children were all over Lois. "Mommy! Mommy! I'm so glad you're here!" they shouted excitedly, throwing their arms around her. Even CJ forgot that kissing was disgusting and didn't let go of her for a while.
"Did you miss me, sweeties?" Lois wanted to know, although the question did seem moot considering their welcome.
"We did! A lot," her son responded nonetheless.
In her hurry to tell Lois everything that had happened while she was away, Kathy interrupted him. "Daddy forgot me! He was too late!" She looked at him disapprovingly.
Lois picked her up. "And what did you do?"
"I waited till he came. Just like you taught me," her little daughter proudly announced.
"It wasn't too long, just a few minutes. I was held up at the Planet," he explained, seeing Lois' anxious expression. "And I had to read two additional bedtime stories to her until she eventually forgave me." He ruffled Kathy's hair. She giggled, thinking about that night. That had been fun, making her dad read more stories to her!
"And he fixed us hot dogs with onions and didn't burn them," CJ chimed in. His sister had hogged their mother long enough now, he thought.
Lois only grinned. Her kids had learned early in their childhood that Clark was the better cook of the two of them. "Is there anything else I should know?"
"Daddy slept on the wrong side of the bed! I had a bad dream and wanted to sneak into bed with him, but he wasn't on the side he usually sleeps on," Kathy complained.
Lois quizzically looked at Clark, surprised to see him blush once again. Kathy framed Lois' face with her hands and seriously asked: "He slept on your side. Was he allowed to do that?"
"Of course he was, pumpkin. You do too, from time to time, don't you?"
Clark was hoping that the topic in question was over now and went to the kitchen, taking CJ with him. They went about preparing a welcome home dinner, giving Lois the opportunity to play with Kathy for a while. CJ was adamant about helping Clark and had proven to be quite skillful around the kitchen. This definitely was a trait he didn't have Lois to thank for.
Some time later Lois stepped into the kitchen and sneaked her arms around Clark's waist. "Mmmmh, smells heavenly," she praised and put one finger into the pan to sample the contents.
"Mom, you're not supposed to do that," CJ reprimanded her.
Clark winked at him. "Right! That's the thing to do! Come in and nibble on everything! Tsk, tsk, tsk. Where are your manners, Lois?"
Lois raised her arms in defeat. "Sorry! I'm truly sorry! I'll never do it again!"
"Says who?" CJ snorted before turning towards his father. "Do you want me to set the table, Dad?"
"You can do that. Oh, and make sure to get the soda from the pantry."
Lois once again snuggled up to Clark and kissed him between his shoulders. "Okay, shoot. Why did you sleep on my side of the bed?" Clark hesitated. "Come on, sweetheart." Lois turned him around and made him look at her.
He sighed and slowly began to caress her arms. "It'll sound incredibly stupid," he complained.
"Tell me all the same." She gently kissed his neck, right beneath his Adam's apple. God, how much she had wanted to do this ever since they were home again.
"I missed you and your side of the bed just smelled like you, like your perfume …" He stopped talking when he saw Lois smile. "I said it would be stu…"
Lois stopped him with a kiss. She laid a hand on his cheek and looked at him tenderly. "That's one of the most endearing things you could have said to me, honey. You're so cute and I love you so much!"
CJ's sudden re-entrance prevented Clark from saying anything. "Daddy, I've set the table and … Yiiiiiiikes! You're necking again!"
Laughing, Lois slipped out of Clark's arms and chased CJ around the kitchen table. "Just you wait and see, Mister-I'll-Never-Do-That-In-A-Million-Years. Just for that, I'll smother you in kisses!"
"So, is that how you imagined it?" Lois asked, stopping in the doorway to their bedroom. Clark turned around and realized she was showing off her new bikini. "I realized I didn't model it when you first gave it to me. How could I fail to do something so important?" She slowly turned around so he could examine her from all angles.
Clark was taking a deep breath. "I'm sorry, honey, but we'll have to cancel our trip to Hawaii."
Lois looked at him disappointedly. "Why? I was so looking forward to having you to myself for a whole week…"
With two strides he was by her side, silencing her effectively with a passionate kiss. "There's no way I could dare to let you walk down the beach in this bikini. We won't have a minute to ourselves because every man in a twenty-mile-radius will try to snatch you away from me. They'll be attracted to you like bees to honey, honey!"
Lois had to smile at that. For an instant, she really had thought Clark was serious. "They will, won't they? And what makes you say that?" She looked at him coyly.
He hugged her. "I know for sure you'll be the most breathtaking woman there. I can't imagine anyone being able to hold a candle to you. Have I already mentioned that you're getting more and more beautiful by the minute?" His lips slowly traced a path to her ear that he began to nibble as soon as he'd reached it.
Lois looked at him. She saw the naked adoration on his face and knew he was serious. He wasn't just placating her, he really meant it. He kissed another sensitive spot on her neck. "So the beauty farm did serve its purpose," she giggled.
Clark lifted his head, for a moment letting go of her ear. "You have been the most beautiful woman in the world for years for me. But did the stay there serve your purpose? Was it what you needed?" he asked, carrying her to their bed.
"Yeah, it was exactly what I needed." She snuggled into Clark's side and put her hand on his chest, gently caressing the soft skin there. "It was fun writing a story again, investigating. But I realized that I no longer thrive on these things. The thrill, the excitement, and most of all, the contentment I need in my life are provided by you and our two sweeties.
"But you know what was the most important experience?" she mused. "Mother. I've always thought she'd never really understood what it meant for me to do the work I do. That she was disappointed because she felt I could have a better job. I was horrified when I saw her at the farm." Clark chuckled. He could well imagine Lois' face seeing her mother in front of her. "But the time in the sauna forced us to really talk to each other for once. And I can't tell you what it meant to hear her say how proud she is of me and how much she loves me."
Clark squeezed her. "Have I mentioned lately how proud *I* am of you and how much *I* love you?" he whispered and, being close to her mouth, kissing her right there.
"Mmmh. You have. Earlier. But don't hesitate to do it again or better yet, how about you don't tell but show me instead?"
His hands roamed over her body. "Your wish is my command, my lady…"