By IRC Round Robin
Submitted July 1999
Summary: Traditional RR with a twist. ;) A note from the editor (in the body of the text) explains how this story was created and what it's about. Surprisingly, the story fits pretty well into the Unintentional Season.
AN IRC ROUND ROBIN bycEraygun <Eraygun@aol.com>; Melisma <email@example.com>; Misha <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Missytoo <Missytoo@mindspring.com>; Moonsy <email@example.com>; zoomway <firstname.lastname@example.org>; chrispat <email@example.com>; CarmsFOLC <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Mackteach <Mackteach@aol.com>; Kasspur <email@example.com>
Editor's Note: All the writers would like to thank the many list members who sent in items to use in this story. It made it even more fun to know that so many of you were interested enough to get involved. There were over 60 things suggested, and almost all of them were used, so as you read, look for your contributions.
The method of assigning was to choose every third item in the list, to mix them up. As the numbers dwindled, sometimes I changed that system if the result was a group of things too similar, or too easy to connect. As Keeper of the List, I took the word 'challenge' very seriously. ;)
On all round robins, each writer has a maximum of 20 minutes to write, with 5 minutes to think before that, if they need it. The lucky ;) writer who ends up being last gets extra time. The three challenge items selected for the writer are put in the topic line of the channel at the beginning of that five minute thinking time, so that everyone would see the challenge at the same time. No one besides the List Keeper saw the list before the writing began.
We had a lot of netsplits that night, which meant a lot of sitting around waiting for people to come back on-line, and a writer who wanted to participate, but had no round robin experience, so there is also a section in the story that's not part of the challenge … a sort of 'time-out' :)
So now that you know *how* it was done, here it is …
[Abraham Lincoln; a crystal chandelier; a can of Static Guard]
"One hundred and eight, one hundred and nine, one hundred and ten … "
"Honey, what are you doing?" Clark whispered.
Lois yawned and turned to face Clark. "I'm counting the crystal thingamabobs on that chandelier," she whispered back.
Lois shrugged. "I've got to do *something*. We've been waiting for over forty minutes for that Rhutan of Bhunai to show up at this press reception and it's either count the crystals or start defacing some of the paintings on the walls."
Lois looked around at the elegantly furnished ballroom. "Do you think Abraham Lincoln would look good with a pair of glasses?" she asked teasingly.
Clark chuckled. "I don't think so, sweetheart."
"Darn. Well, do you think you could use your buzz-buzz to find out what the hold up is?"
"I was just about to suggest that."
Clark shut out the noise of the reception room and focused his supersenses on the upper section of the consulate, but his concentration was broken when a familiar voice called out across the room.
"Lois, CK! Man oh man, am I glad to see you guys!"
"What's the problem, Jimmy? Clark asked, as Jimmy joined them at the far side of the reception hall. "You forget to bring your film along again?"
"Actually, it's more of a personal problem," Jimmy said in a low voice.
"A personal problem?"
"Yeah, this is a new suit and it kind of keeps … well, it … " he began sheepishly.
"Well, do you happen to have one of those little cans of Static Guard on you? The pants keep riding up."
[nurse's uniform; Lois's first article framed under glass; ice cubes]
Lois tried to keep the smirk off her face. "Sorry, Jimmy, I don't have *any* Static Guard, or Bounce sheets, or anything like that." She thought for a moment. "But I bet I know what might work … "
"Lo-is … " Clark drawled in a warning tone. Not only was his wife bored silly with this reception, he could just see the wheels of her mischievous little brain working in overdrive.
She ignored him, stalking over to the refreshments table and seizing a glass of ice water. Fishing a couple of ice cubes out of the water, she bent down, pulled Jimmy's pant leg up, and rubbed the ice cubes against his leg.
"Hey!" he yelped, shocked at her actions.
"There you go, Jimmy. Now your suit won't ride up anymore," she grinned.
Clark looked daggers at Lois while Jimmy tentatively shook his leg. "Lois, this is amazing! How did you ever learn this trick?"
"I was working my first undercover assignment at the Planet — not a major story, mind you — but anyway … I had to wear this nurse's uniform, and it was *constantly* getting static electricity. Ice was the only thing that would work."
"Oh hey," Clark interjected. "*That* was your first assignment? I saw the article framed under glass in the Daily Planet lobby the first day I walked in there … "
[moped; Home Shopping Network; shoehorn]
"Hey, yeah!" Jimmy chimed in. "I remember Cat talking about … that." Jimmy swallowed the rest of the story. "I'll just go take some pictures over there."
Lois attempted to ignore Clark's questioning gaze for all of five and a half seconds. "We got a tip that someone was stealing mopeds from the Home Shopping Network."
"Mopeds? Aren't those sort of large to be just disappearing?"
The corner of Lois' mouth threatened to quirk up into a smile. "It wasn't mopeds. The set director's shoes kept disappearing."
"They were having a special on shoes that week. The grips kept adding the director's Keds to the displays. I hadn't been there for five minutes before he realized it, and started chasing them around the set with a shoehorn."
"That doesn't sound particularly newsworthy."
Lois sighed. "Now, if Moe had actually managed to catch them, it would have been, but he just couldn't catch them barefoot."
[Commodore 64 computer; liquid paper; Beanie baby]
Clark put his arm around Lois, nuzzling her neck affectionately.
"Lo-is … " he whispered.
That tone in his voice set her nerve endings tingling. "Yes … Clark?"
He looked around the room casually, then lowered his glasses and made another quick sweep through the paneled walls. "I don't see any activity that would indicate the Rhutan is around. But I do see a storage room."
She giggled. "Oh?"
"Feel like doing a little … investigating?"
She grinned at the suggestive tone in his voice. "I don't suppose it would hurt."
He pulled her toward a doorway, half-hidden by a large potted palm. They looked around, then slipped into the room unnoticed.
At least, they thought they were unnoticed.
The security guard was intrigued, however, at the sight of the two reporters entering the storage room. He decided to wait a few minutes to see what happened. It wasn't like anything was happening out in the lobby, and they certainly weren't going to be leaving the storage room without him noticing it.
The door closed behind Clark, and he reached out to pull Lois into his arms, finding her effortlessly in the dark.
She grinned, and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Don't even need to turn on the light, do you?"
"Nuh-unh. I can find you anywhere." He kissed her, his hands running up and down her body lovingly.
"How long have we got before we need to be back at the Planet?" she asked.
"Who cares?" he whispered.
Even Superman wasn't immune to the 'Lois Lane' brand of intoxicant, and as they continued to kiss breathlessly, he found his balance a bit hard to keep track of. He pressed her against a shelf and her elbow knocked something off the shelf.
The small 'thunk' distracted her enough to look down, as if she could see in the dark. "What was that?"
He sighed, then glanced down impatiently. "It's a bottle of Liquid Paper, Lois."
He started to kiss her again, when she bumped her elbow on a box, turned, and half-tripped over something else.
Muttering under his breath, he picked her up. "Here, lemme help." He wrapped his arms underneath her, then sat down cross-legged in mid-air.
"What was that I tripped over?"
He sighed again. "It was … um … an old computer." He started to kiss her again.
"What kind of computer?"
"Lo-is. Sometimes you ask too many questions."
"Just answer my question, please."
He sighed, then took another look. "It's a … Commodore 64. I think."
She laughed. "64 … ? Not what I had in mind."
He coughed in surprise, half-laughing.
"Lois. We *are* in a public place, after all."
"Yes, but no one's around, we're in the dark, and I want you so mu — mmmmph." Lois was suddenly halted in her sentence when his hand was placed over her mouth.
"Shhhhhh … someone's coming."
She giggled, and Clark grinned, but said nothing.
He had regretted placing his hand over her mouth, but realized he'd removed it too soon. Her commentary was making it very difficult to consider being seen in public again anytime soon.
"Lois, if you're really quiet for a few minutes, I promise I'll get you that ridiculously priced little bean-bag … beanie bear … whatever … you've been wanting for the baby."
"It's a Superman Beanie baby, Clark."
"Whatever, but give me a second for us to get lost, okay?" He floated them up to the ceiling of the storage room, just before the door opened.
[cute puppy in a basket; Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies; tweezers]
From their vantage point, Lois and Clark saw a well-dressed lady enter the closet. They each held their breath, lest she turn on the light and expose them. She flipped the switch and … nothing.
"Ugh!" the woman said, clearly agitated. "This light never works!" She turned around and left the closet, closing the door behind her.
Clark x-rayed through the wall and watched her retreating form until she'd gone into another room. "She's gone. But she might be back. Should we continue this at home, you think?"
Lois was visibly disappointed. "I guess," she pouted. "But you still owe me that Superman Beanie baby."
Clark floated them effortlessly back to the floor. He kissed Lois one more time before opening the door and leading her out into the well-lit hall.
Jimmy came running up to them, flushed and excited. "Where've you two been? I just met the hottest girl!"
Lois rolled her eyes but tried to hide it behind Clark's shoulder. "We were just … um … looking around. Where'd you meet her, Jimmy?" Lois asked, though she was less than interested.
"She was out front selling Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies."
"Jimmy, you've got to be kidding! A Girl Scout?" Clark asked, eyebrows raised.
"Oh, no, she was just helping her sister. She's my age. Yeesh, Clark, what do you think I am?"
"Well … " Lois said, smiling but letting her comment drift off. "I don't guess this guy's ever going to show up, so Clark and I are going to head back to the Planet."
Clark noticed her quick change of subject and had to try not to laugh out loud. "Yeah, we'll see you there, Jimmy."
Lois and Clark walked out of the building, giving no further thought to their aborted assignment. Clark started for the Jeep, but Lois pulled at his hand, leading him down the sidewalk.
"Where are we going?" he asked, his curiosity piqued by the devilish gleam in her eyes.
"You promised me a Superman Beanie baby and I aim to get one. The store's right down here."
He just laughed and followed her down to a shop called Tweezer's Toy Store. As soon as they'd walked through the door, they were met by the cutest little puppy all curled up in a basket.
Lois sighed, "Children love puppies. Oy, what have we gotten ourselves into?"
[saddle; 9v battery; ticket to the new Star Wars movie]
Clark knelt down and scratched the puppy behind the ears. "Maybe we can get a puppy and take it to Smallville, then when we visit with our baby … that reminds me," Clark interrupted himself. "I wonder where I can buy a saddle in Metropolis?"
Lois pulled Clark back into a standing position. "A saddle!? How big is the dog you have in mind?"
Clark laughed. "No, honey. I mean Mom and Dad are thinking about getting a pony. They have lots of room, and — "
"And all the better to spoil a grandchild with?"
"Right." He smiled and put his arm around her shoulders. "But for now, a Superman Beanie baby."
They walked down one aisle of the store. Lois made a face. "I hate that toy stores always put girl's stuff on pink aisles."
Clark shrugged. "You told me once pink was a good color for me."
Lois smiled. "They'd run out of stock on you, sweetheart."
Clark sighed, his thoughts drifting back to the closet at the consulate. He dropped his hand down her back, and then a bit lower.
Lois reached behind her and raised his hand back up. "Security mirrors on the aisle," she whispered. "Let's not give the old shopkeeper a heart attack."
Clark sighed again and tipped his head toward the opposite shelves. "Beanie babies."
Lois glanced over the collection quickly, her eyes tuned to the blue and red like radar. "Here we go … oh wait, there's two kinds. One comes with a 9 volt battery included."
Clark looked at the box. "That's because this one talks, Lois."
She grinned. "Well," she said, "let's just see what Superman has to say." She pressed the 'Try Me' button on the box.
A rather tinny, mechanical voice spoke. "Up! Up! And Away!"
Clark looked appalled. "I would *never* say that!"
Lois nudged Clark with her shoulder. "Remember the honeymoon?"
Clark blushed. "That was different."
Lois, to Clark's dismay, took the talking Superman doll. She set it on the counter and fished in her purse for her credit card.
"You picked the right day to buy this doll," the clerk said. "It comes with two free passes to the new Star Wars movie."
Clark feigned innocence. "There's a new Star Wars movie?"
Lois shook her head and handed the clerk her card. "You know, that date on the calendar you have circled in red with Finally!! written next to it?"
[violin; egg timer; mouse pad]
They were about to walk out when Lois saw the window display. It had a little toy monkey that played the violin in it.
"Oh that is so cute Clark … I have to get it," Lois exclaimed as she headed back to the cashier to ask for it.
After a few minutes Lois and Clark managed to get into their car with the little monkey. They were driving home when they passed by a clock shop with an egg timer as a symbol.
"I wonder how they know how much sand to put into those little egg timers?" Lois mumbled to herself as they drove on.
They were just getting out of the car when the mailman came up the stairs and handed Lois a package.
Lois tore the wrapping of the package as soon as they got inside and smiled when she saw what was in it. It was a picture taken at their wedding that she'd sent to one of those mail order catalogs to be placed on a mouse pad. She thought it would be a good wedding anniversary gift for Clark.
[bowling ball; shower curtain; road atlas]
Lois hastily shut the box before Clark could see what was in it. "Oh, good. I've been waiting for this new shower curtain for the guest bathroom." She turned to go up the stairs as the phone rang. "Will you get that, sweetheart?"
Clark lifted the receiver and grimaced as his mother-in-law's voice came through the receiver.
"Oh, Clark. It's you. Isn't Lois there?
"Hello, Ellen. Yes. Lois is here, but she's busy at the moment. Can I take a message?"
Lois smiled gratefully at him from where she had paused halfway up the stairs.
"No, Ellen. We didn't find a bowling ball when we cleaned out the spare room for the nursery." He listened for a moment. "Um, I don't think you'll find it if you come over and look for yourself, but if you really want to … " He ignored his wife's frantic signaling and continued listening. "Okay. We'll see you this evening, and I'll look for that road atlas too. Bye."
[gargoyle; banana skin; Eiffel Tower]
Clark hung up the phone and shrugged. "I'm sorry, honey … "
Lois rolled her eyes. "Sheesh, just what I need, a visit from Dragon Lady Lane," she said dejectedly as she flopped down on the couch.
"Honey, I thought we were going to invite your mother over more so she'd stop feeling that we were excluding her."
"I know, Clark, but it sort of spoils my plans for tonight."
"What plans?" Clark asked suggestively.
"Well, I figured since we were playing hooky from the Planet, it would be a good idea to get out of Metropolis for the evening. I thought we'd go somewhere romantic like Rome or Paris. After all you promised to take me there, remember?"
Clark smiled. "That's right, I did. Well, we can always pop over there after she leaves. Superman Express has nonscheduled flights, you know. Where do you want to go first? The top of the Eiffel Tower?"
"Notre Dame Cathedral to see the gargoyles?"
Lois shook her head. "Wrong again."
"I want to go to that little French bakery where you got those croissants."
Clark laughed. "Don't tell me you're hungry again?"
"Okay, I'll make you a smoothie," Clark replied as he headed for the kitchen. "I hope a banana one is all right?" he asked as he quickly peeled one and tossed the skin into the garbage disposal.
"Clark, you know how I feel about bananas."
"They're good for you and the baby, Lois, they have lots of potassium and other nutrients … "
"Okay, okay, but could you toss in a few strawberries, too?"
"Your wish is my command."
[The Orient Express; a Jewish holiday; a coffeepot]
As Clark prepared the smoothie, Lois leaned against the kitchen counter, her hand lightly stroking her stomach. "Clark?"
"Let's take a vacation."
Clark began mixing the smoothie at superspeed. He looked at Lois, his eyebrow raised. "A vacation? Honey, we can go anywhere anytime you want."
Lois shook her head. "No. I mean, a *vacation* Y'know, where we sit down and look a travel brochures, plan it, and save up our money to go. A *normal* vacation."
"What about Superman?"
"He can come along, too."
Clark smiled. As he poured the smoothie into a glass, he thought about what Lois had said. "It sounds great, honey. You know me, I live for normal. But … "
Lois sighed. "I know. Normal for you and me isn't normal for everyone else. But I'm serious, Clark. We really should at least try and be as normal as possible … " She put her hand over her stomach once again. "Before and after the baby gets here."
Clark pulled Lois into his arms as much as he could. He kissed her forehead as she sipped the smoothie. "So, what's a normal vacation for you?"
Lois shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. A trip on the Orient Express maybe? I've never been to that part of the world."
Clark smiled indulgently. "Okay. The Orient Express it is. When should we go on this trip?"
Lois looked at Clark as she walked toward the sink to rinse out the now empty glass. "Do I have to come up with everything? You pick a time of year."
Clark thought. "Summer? No, too hot. Winter? I've got it, how about during the holidays?"
Lois frowned. "During Christmas?"
"Actually, I was thinking more like … Hanukkah."
"Oh?" Lois thought about it. "Sure, why not. That way we can still spend Christmas with your parents."
Clark smiled. "So, The Orient Express during Hanukkah. How do we pay for this vacation?"
Lois grinned. "We could always have a garage sale. There's at least four or five coffee pots from our wedding presents that we can sell."
"Lo-is! Those were gifts!"
"And they'll keep on giving by paying for part of our vacation, just in a different way. Honestly, Clark, how many coffeepots *do* we need?"
Clark thought. "I guess just one coffeepot is all we need. Especially since you have to cut down on your caffeine intake while you're pregnant."
Lois grimaced. "Don't remind me."
Clark moved toward the living room. "So … shall we sit down and really plan this vacation?"
[jelly beans; Post-It notes; beach umbrella]
Halfway into the living room Clark realized that Lois was still in the kitchen. His superhearing detected the cupboards being opened, items being rattled around, and his wife muttering to herself, "Now where did I put those?" in a low undertone.
"Whatcha lookin' for, Lois?" he called.
"Just a sec, Clark, I'll be right out there. I have a surprise for you," she replied, sounding slightly furtive.
Obediently he sat down on the sofa and waited until she joined him, a paper bag in one hand and some brochures in the other.
"What's in the bag, honey?" he asked.
"Ah, some sweets for my sweetie of a husband," she grinned coquettishly, reaching into the bag.
His eyes grew wide as she pulled a container of jelly beans out. "Jelly Bellys, my favorites," he sighed. "You *know* how they turn me on … "
"I thought pasta turned you on," Lois giggled.
"Yeah, but these have simple sugars in them, so they give me extra energy quicker … " Pulling out a handful of beans, he began nuzzling her neck, as if to prove his point.
"Drat … ," Lois said after a minute. She stood quickly, walked over to her purse, and pulled out some Post-It notes. "There, honey. Now we just need to look at these travel brochures and put notes on the tours we like best."
For several minutes they were silent as they looked at the slick magazines with their bright pictures of happy vacationers and colorful beach umbrellas.
Finally Lois looked up. "I dunno, Clark, these packaged vacations seem so … boring, I guess. I think I would much rather have a SuperVacation after all."
[3-liter Diet Coke bottle full of pennies; a bible; a Delta rocket]
"French bakery it is." Clark grinned. "You think we have any francs swimming around in the jar?"
"Um … " Lois began studying her shoes intently.
"Is that all?"
"And I returned the bottle."
"You returned the bottle? How? I got that in India seven years ago!"
"Oh." Lois' shoes seemed to gain fascination by the second.
Clark sighed. "So where did you put the pennies?"
"Oh, I dumped out the last of the Diet Coke. You left it out to go handle that runaway rocket, and it started turning green."
"The three liter? Lois, that wasn't Diet Coke. Don't you remember? Dr. Klein left it over here when he came by last time."
Lois' face blanched and swiftly began to rival the color of the now absent liquid. "No, Clark, I remember now. He brought it over in the Diet Pepsi bottle." She sat suddenly. "Oh, god."
Clark snatched the phone off the hook and was dialing before Lois' hands could cover her face.
Several tense moments later, a number of 'uh-huh's and 'you're sure's' later, Clark hung up.
He came over to Lois and wrapped his arms around her. "Dr. Klein swore on a stack of bibles that it wasn't going to hurt you or the baby." He kissed her on the forehead. "I'm sorry I let that Delta rocket distract me."
Lois sighed. "It's not your fault. I should have remembered which one held the gunk. Just next time, tell him to bring it over in a Diet Gunk bottle instead?"
[a Pez candy dispenser; the Brady Bunch theme song; a chair with a hidden compartment in the seat]
Lois sighed, the thought of drinking gunk of unknown, but apparently harmless origin, left a bad taste in her mouth. "I need to brush my teeth."
Clark laughed and kissed her. "You taste okay to me, honey."
"I'm serious, I feel … tainted."
Clark shrugged and reached into his pocket. "I have just the thing," he said, and removed a Pez dispenser with a rather hideous figure's head on top. He tipped the head back, and a candy popped out.
Lois recoiled. "What *is* that … thing?"
"It's Jar Jar Binks. He's from the new Star Wars movie. You know, the one we got free passes to, the movie marked on the calendar, the — "
Lois took the candy. "I remember," she said, popping the pale pink confection in her mouth. She ran it around in her mouth and smiled. "I used to have a Pez dispenser I kept in my Brady Bu … in my lunch box."
Clark raised his eyebrows. "The Brady Bunch, Lois?"
"Well … "
"Did you sing along with the theme?"
"I … don't remember."
Clark moved his mouth next to her ear. "Here's the story, of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls … "
"I *said* I don't remember, Clark," she insisted.
"They all had hair of brown like their mother … "
Lois pushed Clark away playfully. "I hate it when you get in prosecuting attorney mode."
Clark took her hand. "Come on. I unpacked that chair with the secret compartment your mother sent."
Lois stopped in mid-stride. "A chair with a secret compartment?"
He winked and tugged her up the stairs.
Lois shook her head, but dutifully accompanied Clark up the stairs. He pushed open the door to the vacant nursery … well, nearly vacant. A small, white stool-like object sat in the center.
Lois looked at Clark, who maintained his innocent demeanor, and then approached the chair. She lifted the 'secret compartment' and laughed. "It's a potty chair."
Clark shrugged, "Well, yeah, but I couldn't bring myself to say it."
"Get used to it, daddy."
Clark smiled warmly. He loved when she called him that, and couldn't wait for their child to do the same.
[album of wedding pictures of someone in the family; piano; seashells]
Lois looked up from the potty seat her mother sent and then around her. "Clark, we really need to get some furniture for the nursery. I mean, the baby will be here in less than three months."
Clark wrapped his arms around Lois. "Tell you what, why don't you go get ready and we'll head out to the baby store and get some stuff today. We have some time before your mother arrives."
Lois and Clark drove to the local baby store called "Precious Gifts." When they walked in the doors Lois saw the display of wallpapers.
"Oh, look, Clark. Seashells … aren't they cute?!"
"They look great, Lois, but how about this one?" Clark said as he pointed out one that had pianos all over it.
But Lois had already wandered away to the section with the whole room samples.
"Hey, Clark, doesn't this display remind you of the picture in Martha's cousin's wedding album?"
Clark walked over to Lois. "Yes, it sure does. Do you like it?"
"No, not really, but I like this one," Lois said as she approached another display.
[fire drill; horse; dog leash]
"Oh, look, Clark, these all have horses on them. Aren't they cute? She held up some diminutive overalls and a matching top.
Clark grinned. "If you like pink and green horses. Shouldn't we be buying things like cribs and diapers?"
Lois replaced the clothing reluctantly. "I guess so. We can look at clothes later."
As they neared the furniture section, an announcement suddenly blared over the store speakers and a store employee hustled them toward the exit. "I'm afraid you will have to leave. That's the fire announcement."
As they reached the door, Clark turned and x-rayed the premises. He turned back to Lois with a puzzled expression. "I don't see a fire. Maybe it was just a drill."
Lois sighed. "Why the heck did they do that while the store was open? Well, I'm not going to hang around waiting for them to announce it. Let's go. My mother will be at our house soon. If we're lucky maybe she won't stay long."
Clark put his arm around her. "Let's give your mother a chance, Lois. She means well, you know."
Lois leaned her head against his shoulder. "I know … '
Suddenly they were almost bowled over by a huge dog, followed by a sweating man waving a broken dog leash.
Clark whispered in Lois' ear. "Go on ahead to the car. I'll catch up in a minute." With a spin and a whoosh, he was gone after the dog.
[a carousel; a homeless person; To Kill a Mockingbird]
Clark in his Superman uniform grabbed the huge dog by its collar just as it was about to dash into traffic.
"Easy there, big guy," he said as the friendly hound stood up on its hind paws and began licking Clark's face enthusiastically.
"Thanks, Superman," the sweating man said as he joined them on the sidewalk. "I don't know what I would have done if I'd lost Tiny. He's just about all I have left in the world."
"If you don't mind me asking, what happened?" Clark said with concern.
"It's the same old story, Superman, I lost my job, which means I lost my home." The sweating man shrugged. "But hey, it's not so bad living on the street. At least it's warm this time of year."
"What did you used to do?"
"I ran the carousel in the park until I was laid off." Clark grimaced. "I know there's not much of a demand for that kind of work around here," the sweating man said sheepishly.
Clark nodded. "Well, can you do anything else?"
"I worked as a short order cook once … "
Clark smiled. "I know just the place for you. Have you ever been to the Ace O' Clubs?"
The man shook his head.
"It's down in Suicide Slum. The owner is Bibbo Bibbowski. Tell him I sent you there. You'll get a job. Trust me."
The man grinned. "I don't know how to thank you, Superman."
"You don't have to, Mr …?"
"My name is Carson, Atticus Carson."
"Yeah, you know, like that guy in — "
"'To Kill a Mockingbird.' It's one of my favorite books and movies."
Carson smiled. "My mom's, too. "
Clark smiled back. "Your mom has great taste."
As Superman nodded, confirming the location to the man, he took off in a burst of sound.
On 7th Avenue, Lois and Clark met up again. Lois groaned as she turned the corner onto Hyperion and saw Ellen waiting for them in full babble mode.
"Well, Lois, I really expected you to be a better host ,you invite me over, then don't even bother to wander back home to meet me. After all, I'm just your mother, so what does it matter? And the way you treat your father — "
"Ellen, would you like to see the new baby ultrasounds from our last doctor's visit?"
Lois sighed in relief as Ellen's fuse was successfully cut off.
Clark realized it would be a long evening with two Lane women in stress mode. They went into the townhouse after Lois fished the key out of her pocket.
Lois went to get the ultrasounds while Clark listened to Ellen's running commentary on her favorite topic of put-down — Sam. Lois came back into the room to find Clark desperately signaling her to divert Ellen.
"And that new bimbo of his — "
"Look, Mother, the baby ultrasounds. The doctor thinks it might be twins!"
Clark's eyes widened as he digested what Lois had said. She answered him with her eyes. Anything to shut her up!
The door bell sounded and Clark ran at almost superspeed to get it. Thankfully it wasn't Sam. Doctor Klein stepped into the room.
Lois jumped up and almost pushed Ellen out the door and invited Dr. Klein to discuss the newest Superman problem. Since they were friends, she explained to her mother, Dr. Klein used them as a message service.
" … and the vaccination should work on any Earth woman, except after eating pasta — that type of starch nullifies it."
"Thanks, Dr. Klein, we'll give him the message," Clark said as Klein went out the door.
Clark realized that Lois had drunk the vaccination about the same time she did, and they both burst out laughing.
Lois finally gained enough composure to get out, "I wonder if it works when you swallow it?" And she dissolved into giggles.
They both sobered when the phone rang, but not enough for Clark to keep the smile out of his voice. "Kent residence. I see. We'll be right there."
Lois noticed the grim expression on his face. "What is it?"
[a bundle of old love letters; a book of trivia; a clock made of a cypress cross section with a piece broken off]
Clark looked at Lois, his smile gone. "That was the police, honey."
Lois reached for his arm. "The police? Clark, what is it?"
Clark sighed. "Remember that man at the baby store? The one chasing the huge dog?"
Lois nodded. "Yes … "
"Superman sent him over to Bibbo's for a job."
"And … he's in the hospital now, honey. Hit and run."
"The police said that he keeps mentioning Superman. They want me to try and contact him."
Lois put her arms around Clark, holding him for a moment. "Go," she whispered. "I can take care of Mother."
Clark pulled away from her, his eyes bright. "Are you sure?"
Lois nodded. "I'm sure. Hanging around you, I've developed some invulnerability … at least to Mother's endless chatter."
Clark smiled shakily. He leaned forward and kissed her quickly. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
He began to spin, but stopped when he felt Lois' hand on his arm. He looked at her questioningly.
"Take as much time as you need, Clark. I'll be here."
Clark smiled softly, his hand reaching out to cup the side of her face for a moment. Then, with a spin and a swoosh, he was gone, heading toward the hospital.
As he flew across town, his superhearing tuned in on the Ace O' Clubs. Frowning, he dropped lower and heard Bibbo talking with several men.
"I'm tellin' ya … all I saw wuz the car hit yer pal and take off. I called 9-1-1 and they got here as soon as they could."
"What are we gonna do with this stuff? Atticus told us to bring it here … "
At the sound of a swoosh, Bibbo's face brightened. "Maybe my pal Sooperman can help."
Superman walked toward Bibbo. "Can help with what?"
Bibbo gestured to the two homeless men. "Dese guys here are pals o' … what's his name again?"
Superman answered. "Atticus. Atticus Carson." He looked at the bag the one man held. "Are those his things?"
"Yeah. Besides his big ol' dog, these are the only things that Atticus had." He placed the bag on the counter and pulled out its contents.
Bibbo looked at the bundled envelopes. "What're dese? Love letters?"
The second homeless man nodded. "Yup. From Atticus' wife. She left him when he got laid off."
"And this?" Superman held up a small paperback. Leafing through it, he smiled. "Trivia?"
The two men grinned. "Yeah. Whenever we were in the soup kitchen, Atticus would ask to watch Jeopardy. He was pretty good."
Bibbo looked in the bag. "What's dis last thing?"
The smiles faded on the two men's faces. "That was to remind Atticus that time was special and shouldn't be wasted."
As Bibbo pulled out the broken clock, the men moved forward.
"See? It's made of cypress wood, but it's got a piece missing … " They fell silent, thinking about their friend.
Superman cleared his throat. "Well, maybe having his things will help him get better. If it's all right with you two, I'll take these over to the hospital."
"Yeah, yeah. Sure thing, Superman. We'd go ourselves, but … " They looked down at their clothes. "We ain't exactly in the best shape."
Bibbo spoke up. "Clean up in the back room here. Once I give ya some food you can head on over to visit with yer pal. Right, Sooperman?"
Superman smiled gratefully at Bibbo. "Absolutely. I'll make sure that the nurses' station knows to expect them."
The two men brightened, gladdened at the thought of food in their stomach and the opportunity to see their friend. "Thanks, Superman."
"You're welcome. Bibbo? Thanks to you, too."
"Anytime, Sooperman. Anytime."
With a final nod, Superman once more took to the skies, the bag of possessions in his hand. As he flew, he thought about Atticus Carson and his friends. Atticus was right, he realized. Time was very special and shouldn't be wasted.
He landed softly at the emergency room entrance.
[a chipper; a Mickey Mantle autographed baseball; a pipe organ]
"Hi, I'm here to visit Atticus Carson," he told the admitting clerk.
"Oh, of course," the clerk started to reply, but her words were drowned by the roar of machinery outside. He could barely make out what she was saying, even with superhearing. She shrugged and raised her voice.
"Sorry!" she yelled, "They're doing some yard work out there, and really disturbing the patients!"
He held up his finger, signaling her to wait, and zoomed out to the source of the noise. Out on the hospital lawn was a work crew feeding tree branches into a wood chipper.
"Gentlemen," Superman said, "can I take care of that for you, so there is less noise?"
They smiled approval, and he set to work at superspeed. Soon all the branches were chipped up, and the crew took off for their next work detail.
Heading back into the hospital, he asked the clerk for Atticus' location again. She told him, and added that he was now out of danger. Glad to know that the homeless man was going to be all right, Superman headed up to the ward she had given him directions to.
On the way, he passed by a glassed-in case filled with mementos, and stopped to have a look.
The labeling told him that these items had all been given to the hospital by grateful former patients, and he marveled at all the now-famous people represented.
"Hmmm … a baseball autographed by Mickey Mantle, a movie poster of Doris Day, even a picture of the pipe organ Dr. Albert Schweitzer took lessons on when he was a boy!" Superman mused.
[a photo album; a knish (a kosher snack sold by street vendors in NY); Dr.Seuss]
Clark hurried up the hallway and rapped softly on the door. He stepped in and smiled at Mr. Carson. "I heard you met the business end of an old Ford Galaxy."
Atticus, freshly bandaged and hooked to an IV, smiled weakly. "It was a Galaxy, Superman?" he asked, a tone of admiration in his voice. "They built tough cars back then. I must have a guardian angel."
Clark nodded and approached the bed. He held up the sack of mementos he'd been given by Bibbo. "I thought these might help you get better a little quicker," he said and set the sack next to the bed. "They tell me you're pretty good at Jeopardy," he smiled.
Atticus nodded. "I heard that final Jeopardy music in my head in the ambulance. The ER doc said my first words were 'what is Antarctica?' I think I scared him a little."
Clark laughed and pulled up a chair. He reached into the sack and removed the old clock and set it on the night table.
"My clock," the man grinned. "Can you open the pendulum cabinet, Superman?"
"Sure," Clark said, lifting the latch and opening the fragile door. He frowned. "No pendulum." He reached inside and removed a photo album.
Clark handed the album to the man, and noted the anxious, trembling hands. "Thank you," Atticus sighed with relief as he opened the album. "This here is me and my brother Doug."
Clark stood and looked at the photo. "A knish stand?"
"The *best* knish stand on 7th Avenue."
"I don't think I've ever had a really good knish in Metropolis," Clark said thoughtfully.
"Oh, Superman, when I get back to the Ace 'o Clubs, I'll ask Bibbo to let me make some up for you." Atticus smiled. "I think he'll let me, he says you're his fav'rite."
Clark blushed. "I know. I like Bibbo, too."
A doctor leaned in the door. "I hate to interrupt, but we have to change one of Mr. Carson's dressings."
Clark nodded and then patted Atticus' shoulder gently. "Get well soon so you can make those good knishes for me."
"I will," Atticus laughed. "I want to get out of here ASAP. I had to slug an intern for trying to put a thermometer in my — "
"I understand," Clark said quickly, nodded to the doctor, and was gone.
When Clark re-entered the townhouse, he was surprised, but relieved to see Lois alone on the sofa. He approached her from behind, bent over and gave her an upside down kiss. He noticed a colorfully illustrated children's book in her lap.
"Given up murder mysteries?" he teased, and by the time he had walked around the sofa, he was dressed as Clark again.
"A present from my mother," she said and opened the book. "It's Dr. Seuss. You can't get more high class than that."
Clark leaned against her shoulder. "Are we gonna take turns reading to our kids, do it at the same time … kind of act it out?"
Lois shook her head as she thumbed through the pages. "There's only one kind of story I want to act out with you, but not in front of children."
Clark's chuckle turned into a yawn, and Lois felt his head grow heavier on her shoulder.
She began to read aloud. "We found him in the park. We found him in the dark. We took him home. We named him Clark."
Lois turned and kissed the top of her dozing husband's head. "I love happy endings," she whispered, and closed the book.