By Carol Malo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Original Air Date: January 17, 1999
Summary: A face from Martha's past leads to surprising revelations about her youth. Episode 4 of S6.
Metropolis is a city of many cities. The daytime city swarms with workers chasing deadlines, tourists attacking "must see" lists, and cabs racing to appointments. The nighttime city, smelling of fast food and alive with club-goers, theatre-goers, and movie-goers, pulses with music and staccato energy. Night and day, the street city is always open for business, a place where rendezvous are kept, deals done, and desperate lives led. Isolated from all this is a remote sky city, inhabited by the wealthy, aloof in their penthouses and corner offices high above the ordinary Metropolite. And there is also a subterranean city of people who are lost or trying to escape. Sometimes these cities sprawl into each other and boundaries blur.
On a Thursday night in January, knife sharp with the cold, two men, one of them middle aged and grey and the other younger, bulky and tall, walked west along a darkened side street, its pavement dusted with a light cover of new snow. Both men huddled against the wind, the older one managing successfully to light a cigarette with the skill of one who has had years of practice outside. Neither spoke as they continued walking along the mostly deserted street. When they reached the intersection, they crossed into the bright lights and traffic of one of Metropolis's main streets, its sidewalks lined with not quite fashionable restaurants, movie theatres, clubs, and businesses of a more dubious nature. Slowing their pace, the two men turned and walked north, beginning a conversation in which they were soon absorbed.
In the section of town from which these men had just come, the darkness of one small part of the subterranean city had just been penetrated by an interloper on an errand of mercy, the brightness of the primary colors he wore incongruous in this dank, dark setting. In a blur, he raced towards a far corner in the cavernous tunnel where his extraordinary vision had spotted two people who were sleeping, huddled into the warmth of their bundled possessions. If not for his awareness of the danger of gas fumes in the area, he would have hesitated to disturb them. Carefully nudging them awake, he encircled each person in one arm, and half flew, half ran to the exit of the tunnel and then up to the crisp air on the surface. Gently, as though he were carrying something precious, he let each person go.
"Are you okay?" his soft voice revealed his concern as he looked at them, searching for signs of harm.
The reply was belligerent. "What did ya do that for? We was asleep."
"You might not have been for very long." A young paramedic, the stubble on his face an indicator of the long hours he'd put in, approached the trio. "There's been a gas leak and we're evacuating the area until it's fixed. Superman's making sure we haven't missed anyone." Calmly, he took the arm of one of the two people and escorted her to the nearby emergency vehicle. Her companion followed. "If you don't mind," the paramedic said, "we'll check to make sure all traces of fumes are gone from your lungs and then we'll find you a place to stay for the night."
Superman was already searching another part of the tunnel system.
Not far from the tunnels that Superman was searching, Martha and Jonathan Kent, accompanied by Perry and Alice White, sauntered out onto the sidewalk from "The Nostalgia", an old movie theatre specializing in film revivals. The foursome was clearly having a good time, laughing as they talked about the highlights of the old movie they had just seen. The film was "G.I. Blues", part of a retrospective screening of the films of Elvis Presley, a much under appreciated oeuvre according to Perry White.
"Oeuvre?" Alice raised her eyebrows at the word.
"That's right, darlin'. 'Oeuvre.' Been readin' the Arts section of the weekend edition." Perry swaggered a bit as he said this. "Must get them to do a piece on Elvis."
"Now, why are his films so unappreciated, Perry?" Martha asked, mischief in her blue eyes.
"Ah, well, you see, Elvis is what the South was like for us when we were kids," he drawled. "You know, small dusty towns, not much money, but good friends, great cars, all chrome and polish. And the music! Ah, the music. Great balls of fire! Nothin' like it since."
Martha had started to reply, when Jonathan suddenly pushed against her left shoulder as he was jarred by a big, shabbily dressed man, oblivious to his surroundings as he argued with his companion.
"Hey, man, watch where you're walkin'."
Martha turned to look at the speaker and then her eyes caught the face of his companion, the harsh incandescence of street lights highlighting the ascetic angularity of his face. For a moment, their eyes met, puzzled and half aware, neither of them hearing the large man. Martha was speechless and then the two men quickly vanished into the crowd of people on the sidewalk.
Shaken, Martha said, "That's not what I remember about the South."
Later, in a small bedroom in a townhouse many blocks north of the movie theatre, a sleepy Lois Lane was softly singing the lyrics of an old Stephen Foster melody which Perry White would have recognized. "For my darling, I love you and I always will." She made up some of the lyrics as she sang, her dark hair falling forward as she bent over the small bundle contentedly nursing at her breast. For that matter, Lois was contented too, absorbed in the very basic and pleasurable task which she was performing, fascinated by every small expression that fluttered across her baby's face. For a while, she babbled to her child, soft fragmented bits of nonsense about the wonders of the world, only stopping when Laura sputtered, her tiny mouth relaxing its determined grip on her mother's breast. Lois smiled; Laura had fallen asleep. Slowly rising from the old rocking chair in which she had been sitting, Lois carried her daughter to the crib and tucked her in for what she hoped would be a solid night's rest. Kissing her finger, she bent over the crib to touch Laura's cheek. "Good night, sweetie."
For a moment, Lois leaned against the doorframe, gazing at her sleeping baby. Then, as she reached for the light switch, she felt her husband's arm slip around her waist and she turned her head slightly, smiling a greeting. Neither spoke as they stood for a moment in the darkness, watching their child.
The next day, the Kent household was up early, the rhythm of the morning determined by Laura's routine and the fact that both her parents would be going in to work. In the upper hall, Clark Kent carried his freshly bathed, diapered, clothed, fed, and burped daughter, holding her against his shoulder as she gurgled her thoughts about the upcoming day. Grinning, Clark looked at her. "Okay, sweetheart, whatever you say. Come on. Let's go say hello to your Grandma and Grandpa."
Since returning from their travels, Martha and Jonathan Kent had once again, along with Ellen Lane, resumed their pattern of caring for Laura on those days when both Lois and Clark were at the Planet. Lately, the older couple had been at the townhouse more frequently, giving Ellen a chance to travel to Florida with three of her friends on a trip which had been planned back in the fall. Besides, after the stress of the court case, the very busy time that the Superman Foundation had faced over Christmas, and pressure from Sam Lane for a reconciliation, Ellen had needed the break.
Whenever Martha and Jonathan took care of Laura, they came early so that Martha could make breakfast. Give everyone a more relaxed start to the day, she'd said. This morning, as Clark walked downstairs, he caught sight of his father, looking worried, as he headed into the kitchen.
"Uh, morning, son." Jonathan stopped in the middle of the hall, brightening as he looked at his grandchild. "She sure is a little beauty."
"Yes, she is Dad," Clark said softly as he bounced Laura gently in his arms. Trailing his father into the kitchen, he noticed his mother pulling out all the stops to conjure up a regular farm breakfast. That confirmed it, he thought; something was wrong. His mother had his dad on a sensible, low fat diet which meant that the smell of bacon had been absent from the Kent household since the older couple had come to help with Laura after Lois's return to work.
"Morning, Mom," Clark said as he settled Laura into her carry-cot. Sitting down, he helped himself to one of the muffins that Martha had placed in the centre of the table and then turned to look at her. "How was the movie last night?"
"The movie was fun, Clark. It was what happened after that wasn't much fun."
Concerned, Clark stopped eating and looked at his mother again. "What was that?"
"My wallet was stolen," Jonathan replied, still upset by his loss. "I reached into my pocket to pay for the coffee we had after the movie. Nothing. I figure it happened when we were leaving the movie when a couple of men bumped into us. Thought it was an accident at the time. Pickpockets." Sighing, he added, "Lucky your mother had enough cash to pay the bill." Clark nodded, knowing his father would never have dreamed of using a credit card to pay for something like dessert and coffee. Sure way to run up debt.
"It's a real nuisance, Clark. Your father wasn't carrying much cash, but he's lost his driver's licence, his bank cards, his insurance cards … "
Clark looked at his father in sympathy, feeling a twinge of regret that he hadn't been around at the time. "I'm sorry, Dad."
"Thanks, son. It'll take a while to get replacements for the cards, but that's not the worst part." He sounded glum, his despondency reflected in the slump of his shoulders. "I thought I was pretty good at noticing what was going on around me."
At that moment, Lois, shoeless and jacketless, but otherwise neat in a white blouse and charcoal grey slacks, appeared in the doorway. "What happened?"
Martha repeated the story and then added. "So Jonathan's going to spend the morning on the phone to banks, insurance companies, and the Kansas Motor Vehicle Registry."
"That's awful, Jonathan. Did you get a good look at the two men? Maybe the police have their photos on file."
"No, I wasn't even looking at them when it happened. We were talking about the movie. All I remember is he was taller than me, big. I think Martha got a better look at them than I did."
"Did you notice anything else, Mom?" Clark asked.
Martha hesitated and then answered her son's question. "I was startled." Handing Lois a glass of milk, she changed the subject. "Here, Lois. How would you like your eggs?"
"Thanks, Martha. Scrambled, please. You spoil us, you know." She gave Martha a quick smile. "But I still think Jonathan should report this to the police." Lois was not one to let something go.
Martha murmured casually as she cooked Lois's breakfast, "I don't suppose there's much point. We won't see the wallet again."
Martha was wrong about that. Later that morning, some time after her son and daughter-in-law had left for work, she opened the front door to retrieve the morning mail. She was surprised to find, along with the usual mail, Jonathan's wallet. Everything was still there, even the cash.
"I don't get it, Martha," Jonathan sounded confused as he checked the wallet's contents. "Why go to the trouble of stealing my wallet and then returning it? And how would he know to bring it here? It doesn't make sense."
"I know, Jonathan." Puzzled, Martha frowned. "I wish I'd seen who brought this. I wonder if any of the neighbors noticed." She opened the hall closet to get her coat. "I think I'll just check."
"You're wasting your time, Martha. Even if someone did see him, the police aren't going to follow this up. It's small stuff and these guys disappear back into the woodwork."
"It'll satisfy my curiosity," Martha muttered as she opened the front door.
As she crossed the road, she thought again about what had happened last night. Now she was sure whom she had seen and she was shaken by the knowledge. The funny thing was, it was the movie they'd seen that had brought him back to her mind. The last time she'd seen Elvis in a movie, it had been with him, her friend of that incredible summer, and it had been the same movie that she, Jonathan, Perry, and Alice had gone to last night. When the movie had first been released, her friend had disapproved of it and what it had stood for; but Martha had wanted to see Elvis and so the two of them had gone to see it, arguing and laughing afterwards about what they'd seen on the screen. Last night, she had remembered all this with a sense of sadness for that passionate young man for whom she had cared so much and who she thought was dead, killed in a fire that had engulfed a small town sheriff's office in 1962.
She was shocked that she hadn't recognized him at first. But people change over the years and he was supposed to be dead. He must have recognized her too, at least later, when he'd seen Jonathan's name on the contents of the stolen wallet.
It wasn't until she had tried the fourth neighbor, Mrs. Sarrazin, that Martha had some luck. The elderly lady had been sipping her morning tea at a small table in the front bay window when she had noticed a thin, silver haired man deposit something in the Kent mailbox. Always worried about possible burglars, she had fretted as she watched the shabbily dressed man approach the Kent front door. However, he left quickly, not stopping at any of the other houses on the street, and she had returned to her morning paper.
For a while, the two women chatted about the Daily Planet and the latest article written by Martha's son and daughter-in-law, and then about the well being of the newest Kent. As she took her leave, Martha made up her mind. She was going to find him. She wanted to know what had happened. She was angry too; she had been deceived. Something that she had thought was finished, wasn't. But how was she going to find a man who didn't want to be found in a city the size of Metropolis?
Clark felt Lois's eyes on him as he worked at his computer on a follow up to the story of last night's gas leak. He tried to suppress a smile as he decided not to give her the satisfaction of knowing that he had picked up her signal, wondering how long she would keep her eye on him before speaking. He checked the time on his computer terminal. Thirty seconds exactly before he heard her voice. Swiveling in his chair, he grinned at her, stretching his hands up behind his neck.
"Yes, Ms. Lane? Need my help?"
"Not likely!" was the instant response.
"Ah," he said and turned back to his computer.
"So you do need my help." Placing his left elbow on his desk, he rested his chin between his thumb and index finger and, raising his eyebrows, gave her his full attention again.
"No. Be serious, Clark."
He sighed, "Okay. So?" He sat back in his chair and looked at her.
"Your mother. Didn't you think it was strange?"
"Pardon?" Now he was mystified. However, just as he was about to question her further, Perry stopped by his desk, half sitting on its edge for a moment.
"How's Jonathan this morning, Clark?"
"He's okay, I think. Still a bit upset."
"Damned nuisance. No way to wrap up a great evening." Perry's voice was gruff.
"Did you get a look at the men who did it, Perry?" Lois asked.
"No chance, Lois. Whole thing happened so quickly. Martha was real startled by it all — seemed to freeze for a moment, there. Nasty experience for your folks. Always hate it when people from out of town get mugged." Perry spoke with gruff sympathy, then got up and walked across the huge newsroom to the work station of the Planet's top financial reporter.
"See," Lois hissed across the space that separated their desks.
"Your mother. Something happened last night."
"Yeah, my dad got mugged."
"And that would be?"
"I don't know."
"Ah," he said, enlightenment suffusing his face. "That explains it."
"Clark, I think … " Lois didn't get a chance to finish as she noticed a familiar look cross his face.
"Uh, can we continue this later, Lois?" Clark stood up abruptly, tugging at his tie as he walked toward the stairwell.
Lois rolled her eyes and sighed.
Martha spent the rest of the morning occupied with the mundane tasks of domesticity. Over the years she had come to find a type of serenity from the repetition of familiar tasks, believing that it was possible to find a sense of calm in the simplicity of these actions. Besides, doing chores had always given her time to think about any challenges she was currently facing, plan a new sculpture or letters to the editor, or contemplate problems facing her friends and family. Usually, by the time the laundry was done or dinner prepared, she had formulated some plan of action. Sometimes, her plan was to do nothing, but that was not the case this morning.
She made a decision that she would pursue this on her own, without telling Jonathan. This decision troubled her somewhat; she and Jonathan didn't keep secrets from each other, at least, not things like this. But she was worried about his health, and this last year he hadn't seemed to handle stress as well as he had in the past. She pushed away the thought that she was rationalizing and that maybe, for now, she wanted to keep this from him. Anyway, after over thirty years of marriage, she knew Jonathan pretty well. Although usually supportive, he was also, in a quiet and stubborn way, very protective of his family. Clark was like that, too, she thought. She smiled. Maybe that was something Clark had learned from Jonathan. It was a nice thought. But, right now, it was also counterproductive.
Besides, there was still the discomfort of what had happened all those years ago. She and Jonathan had talked a little about it on their way back to Smallville that fall; but, after that, he would never talk about it again. Aware of her relationship with Cliff but not really understanding it, Jonathan had always regarded that summer as a time when she had rejected him. After it was all over, Jonathan had just taken her home and they had started from there to build their life together. Anyway, she thought, I just want to find out. When I do, it's done.
Early that afternoon, after Laura had gone to sleep under the watchful eye of her doting grandfather, Martha walked to the nearest subway station and caught a train going south to the district where the Nostalgia Theatre was located, not far from the Annex of the old market district south of Kingston. It was as good as anywhere to start, she thought.
As the subway car slowed, she noticed, for the first time, the dark narrow tunnels that radiated off the main line of the track into darkness. She wondered why they had been constructed and if, perhaps, this was where Clark had rescued people last night. Then the car came to a complete halt, its doors sliding open to discharge her onto the half empty platform. Walking quickly to the nearest exit, she climbed a flight of stairs, past two people sitting on the floor, their possessions bundled in green plastic garbage bags and their eyes watching her. She stopped, and gave them some spare cash.
The district was shabbier than she had thought last night when they had gone to the movie. Most things look better at night, the darkness rendering reality either romantic or mysterious, a time when all things are possible. In the daylight, Martha's first thought was that Metropolis ought to spend more money on trash collection and street sweepers. A few large containers planted with trees would help, too.
She crossed the road to the small movie theatre that they had attended last night. The very young and very orange-haired woman at the ticket booth was not busy. Martha explained what had happened last night and asked the girl a few questions. Not bothering to hide her disdain at the naivete of Martha's questions, she let Martha know that pickpockets were a fact of life in the big city, that you had to be careful, that the police were no help, and that anyone could disappear in Metropolis if they wanted to. She shrugged her thin, black clad shoulders and turned back to the latest copy of the National Whisper.
Martha's next stop was the small coffee and magazine shop next to the movie house. Business was slow and the man behind the counter was inclined to be talkative. As she sipped her coffee, Martha modified her story, leaving out the pickpockets, saying only that she was looking for a lost wallet. Sympathizing with her plight, the man listened, his dark eyes attentive.
"Don't think you'll find it now. A lot of people around here could use the cash, ya know?"
"I guess so." Martha looked out the window toward the street. "Times are tough here?"
"Yeah. We're just outside of the "village" so the money from the rehabs and renos in Kingston hasn't drifted this far yet."
"Maybe it will." Wanting to encourage him, she continued, "It seemed busy last night when I was here with my husband and friends."
"Yeah. We do most of our business at night. But look carefully at the crowd. We get a lot of hustlers at night, looking for cash. Your husband's wallet is probably in a dumpster somewhere, stripped of credit cards and bills. Easy to lift from someone distracted by his friends."
"So my husband was an easy mark?" she said, her tone light.
The man grinned briefly as he topped up her coffee. "Your words, not mine. Probably."
"Now that I think of it, maybe you're right. We were jostled last night as we came out of the movie. Two men. But I must say, neither of them looked like thieves. One was tall, a big man. I would think a pickpocket would be slight. The other was about my age, with grey hair." Martha watched him as she spoke and was rewarded. The smooth openness of his pleasant face closed like shutters on a window. His voice was noncommittal as he replied.
"Lotta people like that around." He walked towards the end of the counter and pulled out a sheaf of menus from a shelf below, then busied himself inserting a one page addition into each one.
Martha was positive her description had rung a bell with him, but she was unsure what to do next. What would Lois or Clark do in this situation, she wondered. It must happen all the time. "I'm not interested in going to the police about this and I know the money's gone. But it would make our lives easier to get back the personal things in the wallet."
"Why you? Why not your husband? It's his stuff."
Martha flashed him a smile, part mischievous. "He thinks it's hopeless."
He put the menus down on the counter and looked at her. "You wanna be careful, lady. This isn't smalltown, USA. Some people out there will do anything for their next meal, next drink, next hit. And they don't care who they do it to."
"Most people aren't like that. I don't think these men were like that."
He sighed. "Let it go, lady."
Martha took his comment as a sign. She paid her bill and walked toward the door. As she did, she noticed for the first time a small poster advertising an exhibition of work done by a cooperative of fringe artists, its stark design a strong contrast to the collage of small posters and ads clustered by the front door of the coffee shop. That gave Martha her next idea.
Late that afternoon, Lois Lane pushed through the massive front door of the Planet, her long legs striding energetically toward the elevator. Checking her watch, she thought she'd just have time to finish the article she was writing and then head home. Since returning to work after her maternity leave, she had kept a regular schedule on those days she went in to the Planet, taking unfinished stories and research home with her, to be worked on after Laura was settled for the night. She missed Laura; it seemed she changed every day and Lois was surprised at the small lurch of her heart each time she left her baby in the morning. She did not doubt that returning to work was the right thing for a lot of reasons, but still it was hard, harder than she'd ever thought it would be. Did Clark feel this way, she wondered? If she ever got any time alone with him, she'd ask.
The Daily Planet could not get that on-site day care facility set up fast enough for her. But the plan had got bogged down somewhere between Financial's costing report, Personnel's check on the state requirements for preschool caregivers, and Legal's investigation of any potential liabilities that the Planet might face. As she entered the elevator, Lois thought she'd better get on their collective cases again or Laura would be starting high school before that day care centre ever opened.
"Lois, hold it." The voice came from a balding man in his late thirties, gym fit and health food thin, with the blunt features of a prize fighter. He quickened his step toward the dark panelled elevator in which Lois was standing.
"Hi, Bentley. Read your critique of the design for the new Bronson Tower." Lois pressed the button for the newsroom floor as the heavy elevator door slid shut.
"And?" Bentley J. Hoolihan, the Daily Planet arts critic, grinned at the woman beside him.
"It was good." Lois's voice was sincere. She liked his comments on the use of urban spaces. She hadn't thought about that sort of thing in any systematic way before and his columns had increased her awareness of the city that she loved so passionately and thought she understood so well. "Bet you got some flack on it."
"Some. Public relations guy at Bronson thinks I'm a subversive because I wrote the building is a bloody hulking battleship sinking the poor and the homeless. Nicely written flack though. Guy must've taken an English course before the MBA."
"The site's not too far from where that gas leak occurred last night, is it? You think someone might be trying to sabotage the project?"
"Someone should, but who knows. Your friend Superman was there. What does he have to say?"
"Now, how would I know, Bentley?"
"I thought Superman told you everything," he kidded. "Kent must get pissed off sometimes."
Lois kept her cool. "It was Clark he talked to about the gas leak last night."
"Seriously, Lois, you might be on to something about the sabotage. It wouldn't surprise me, although it kind of backfired last night. I know there's an activist group in that area. But they've been more proactive. Radical art, street theatre, that kind of stuff. Remember that homeless nativity at City Hall just before Christmas? They organized that. By the way, I was down in the gas leak area this afternoon. You know, in the Annex, just east of the Bronson construction site." As he said this, the elevator door slid open and he followed her as she walked down the few steps into the newsroom.
Lois was interested. Dumping her purse on her desk, she leaned against its edge, her arms folded and her slender legs crossed at the ankles. "Did you hear anything?"
"No. Just concern about the after effects of the gas. Superman got rid of it pretty quickly. How does he do that anyway?" He looked at her, expecting an answer.
"How should I know, Bentley?" She shrugged her shoulders. Spotting Clark coming towards them from Perry's office, she added, "Maybe Clark knows."
"Knows what?" Clark took up a position beside Lois and smiled at her, a brief private greeting that, for a moment, excluded Bentley.
"How Superman got rid of the gas last night," Bentley said.
"Read my article, Ben, not just the headline."
"Oops." Bentley laughed and changed the subject. "I was telling Lois I was down there this afternoon. Doing a tour of the studios. Interesting stuff, by the way. Raw and powerful. Oh, yeah," he got back on track. "I think I saw your mom, Clark. She didn't see me though. She was looking at a small painting."
"I don't think it could have been her, Ben. She's home with Laura." Clark slid his hands into his pockets as he spoke.
"Sure looked a lot like her. Same hair color, glasses, that energy when she walks. I'm positive it was her. I tried to catch up with her, but she didn't see me and then I got into a discussion with a new sculptor who's joined the atelier. Vigorous stuff, by the way. You should check it out."
Lois laughed. "If we ever get time."
Bentley grinned. "Be careful, Lane. This domestic role. I'm just glad I knew you when." He gave a mock sigh. "Mad Dog Lane. Awesome."
Clark put his arm around his wife's shoulder. "Still is, Ben. She still is."
Bentley shrugged his broad shoulders. "Gotta go. Column to write."
Lois was quiet as he left, barely aware of Clark's solicitous "What is it, honey?"
She didn't reply for a moment, but instead walked behind her desk. Refocusing, she glanced at her husband. "I'm glad Martha was able to get out this afternoon, Clark. I've always kind of admired her interest in art."
"That's not what was on your mind, Lois." Clark turned to look at her, meeting her dark eyes as he called her bluff. "Don't take Ben seriously. He was just kidding."
"Yeah," she buried Ben's comment in her mind, right beside her fear that she couldn't manage both career and motherhood. "Maybe Martha bought that painting."
"Lois, I think Ben was mistaken. Mom never said she was going out today."
"Oh, so she checks with you and Jonathan whenever she wants out, does she?" Lois teased. "I never knew that."
Clark grinned. "We Kent men keep a close eye on our women."
Lois's eyes lit up. "Clark, I'm gonna tell Martha you said that."
"You think?" She narrowed her eyes and swept her gaze appraisingly over his body, its power not completely hidden by the dark fabric of his trousers and cotton shirt. "Of course, I could be persuaded, for a price, to keep quiet," she drawled.
Clark bent forward, placing his hands on her desk so that he was leaning over her, his face close to hers, and said slowly, his voice low, "Baby, for you, I'm prepared to pay any price you name as soon as you want."
"If we ever get the time, " Lois sighed as she touched the smooth hard knot of his tie and then lightly slid her fingers along its silky length.
Jimmy interrupted them, his excited voice a reminder that they were still, after all, at work. "C.K. I heard there was a bomb threat at the Bronson construction site on 23rd and Hamilton. That's not too far from where I live. What happened?"
"Clark?" Lois was surprised.
"Nothing happened." Clark grimaced in disgust. "Not much of a story. It was a practical joke. The emergency crew evacuated the workers and when the demolition guy started to defuse the bomb, it exploded, all right." Clark's fingers made quotation marks as he spoke. "The bomb released a batch of paper snakes."
Jimmy laughed. "Cool. Wonder who did it."
"There was a note, a banner actually. The City Environment Protection League. CEPL. Protesting the construction of the Bronson Tower on land they want to be a park."
"You gotta admit, C.K., it's a cool way to make a point."
Clark smiled. "Maybe, but the police don't think so. They take even fake bombs pretty seriously. It's not just the waste of their time, but the panic over the bomb."
"They charge anyone?" Lois asked.
"No, but they're investigating."
Jimmy's face became more serious. "I still think whoever did plant the bomb has a point, though. Once it's built, that tower's gonna wreck the whole feel of the area. I hope they win."
Clark walked behind his desk and sat down. "I dunno, Jimmy. After all, the court did throw out the case that the Metropolis Urban League brought to stop construction. CEPL doesn't have much chance of stopping it now they've started excavating the foundation."
"Clark, I've never heard of CEPL before. Why don't we do a little digging? Could be a story there." Lois looked interested and moved into command mode. "I'll start with Bentley. Maybe he's heard of these guys. Jimmy, you do a data search and Clark, you … " she stopped speaking as she noticed that faraway look in his eye. "I'll see you later, after you've returned that video."
Martha was preparing dinner on automatic pilot, her mind planning what to do next in her search for her old friend. That afternoon, in a small spartan studio-gallery, she had spotted, in a far corner at the back, a painting that she knew was his. It had not been difficult to recognize his work with its distinctive mix of soft realism and harsh edged abstraction. Besides, it contained, in the lower right corner, hidden in the darkness of the paint like a shadow image, a tiny broken egg, something that he always managed to incorporate into his sketches and paintings in the days she had known him. No signature, just the initials: CGM. He had never signed his full name. Clifford Gilbert Moran.
Although the gallery manager had been friendly when Martha had entered the studio, he turned noncommittal when she asked about the painting, saying only that he often exhibited a few works by other artists along with his own. He'd liked this painting and so had agreed to display it. He wasn't even sure if the man who had brought it to him was the artist or a friend of the artist. As far as he knew, no one else in the Annex was showing anything by this artist. Who was he, Martha had asked. John Marshall. The gallery owner would not give Martha an address or even a phone number, saying that Marshall had left neither. End of conversation.
Martha had looked at the painting again for a few moments, wishing she could afford to buy it. He must need the money more than she did. Besides, she thought it was a good painting. Lost in thought, she had left the studio.
Now, standing in the kitchen thinking about all this, Martha decided to return to the studio district tomorrow. Her decision coincided with the buzzer of the oven timer, pulling her back to the task of putting the finishing touches on an apple crisp. As she was sliding it into the oven, she heard Lois in the front hall. Martha left the kitchen in time to see Lois's eyes light up as she took her baby daughter in her arms, a beaming Jonathan standing beside mother and child. As Martha watched, she gave a silent thank you to whatever force had made it possible for her son and this woman to find each other.
"How's she been today, Jonathan? Do you think she missed me?" Lois asked, a touch of anxiety in her tone.
"She's been an angel and I know she missed you."
Lois glanced at him, her eyes flashing with humor. "And just how do you know that, Jonathan?"
Jonathan smiled at his daughter-in-law indulgently. "My granddaughter tells me everything. Doesn't she, Martha?"
Martha laughed, "Of course she does."
As they were standing on the landing, Clark came in, looking a little rushed. "Just made it. Not as late as I thought." He visibly relaxed, smiling a greeting at Lois and kissing her cheek as he took Laura from her. "How's my baby girl? You know, you're even more beautiful than when your mamma and I left you this morning." He bounced her gently as he talked to her, responding to her gurgles as though Laura were holding up her end of the conversation. "So tell me what you did today. Did you tell your grandma and grandpa about your new fuzzy toy?"
Amused, Lois watched for a moment and then teased, "So Clark are you going to take off your coat or is this a short visit?"
Grinning, he gave Laura to her again, took off his coat, and then followed his family into the dining room.
During dinner, Jonathan told Lois and Clark that his wallet had been returned, contents intact. That led into desultory talk of the day's events, including Martha's shopping expedition in search of a wedding present for a nephew being married next month. When Lois mentioned that the Planet's art critic thought he had seen her in a studio-gallery in the Annex of the old market district south of Kingston, Jonathan interrupted, sounding concerned. Wasn't that area a little dangerous? Reassuring him, Martha only said that she thought Bentley must have been mistaken. She had been at LaFayette's, one of Metropolis's oldest and largest department stores. Then, feeling a twinge of guilt at misleading her family, she escaped into the kitchen to retrieve the apple crisp.
Clark took off just as Martha was serving dessert, flying to the rescue of a major derailment of a passenger train caught in a blizzard in central Canada. With temperatures of -30 degrees centigrade, "faster than a speeding bullet" help was essential. Thus it was Martha, rather than Clark, who gave Lois a hand as she bathed Laura and got her ready for bed. As she drizzled warm water over her daughter's plump shoulders, Lois commented on how much Clark enjoyed being part of his child's bedtime routine. She giggled as Laura squealed in delight, splashing her tiny fists in the water.
Lois looked sideways at Martha for a moment and laughed, "You know, if someone had told me five years ago that I'd be doing this, and *loving* doing this, I'd have thought he was a taco short of a combo." Laura splattered water happily as Lois continued. "But then I met your son and some kind of primitive programming seemed to take over."
"I think that worked both ways, Lois."
"Oh yeah, I know that. You know the funny thing is, I always knew that Clark would be a good father; he's always been so good with kids. Not me. Little kids kinda spooked me. But now … " Her words trailed off as she lifted Laura out of the water and wrapped her in a soft towel, rubbing noses with her as she did. "When Dr. Klein said we couldn't have children, and then, when the adoption agency rejected us, I felt empty, like part of my soul had been destroyed."
There was a silence in the tiny room for a moment and then Martha spoke with the remembered pain of her youth. "I know, Lois, I know."
Distressed, Lois looked at the older women. "Martha, I'm sorry, I forgot." As if trying to console her mother-in-law, she handed the terry wrapped Laura into her grandmother's arms. "It's just that I can't imagine better, more natural parents, than you and Jonathan are for Clark. I know how much he loves you."
Martha smiled at Laura as she started to walk to her bedroom. "It's okay, honey," she said to Lois. "It was such a long time ago. And now there's Laura."
"Why didn't you adopt, Martha? You and Jonathan had been married for a few years before Clark came. I mean, they rejected Clark and me because of me." She snickered. "Clark, Mr. Cornfield Wholesome of the Midwest, got a five star rating while I got a negative five."
"I didn't know it was because of you." Martha's tone registered both astonishment and outrage. "Why would they reject you, Lois?"
"Said I was disaster prone, that I sought excitement, that I was prone to falling out of buildings. Not motherhood material. *Gross* exaggeration. I couldn't believe it. How do those people get their jobs anyway?"
Smiling, Martha said, "You know, Lois, Jonathan and I did try to adopt when it became clear we weren't going to have a child. We both had tests done and the doctors told us there was no hope. I think that was the hardest time in our marriage. But we were so sure we would be able to adopt. Then the Child Placement Agency of the State of Kansas," Martha said with some bitterness still evident in her tone, "turned us down."
"What? I can't believe that Martha. Why would they do that?"
"Oh, they approved of Jonathan. He was well thought of by the people of Smallville and he had a solid record during his two years of military service. I was the one they rejected."
"Martha, how could that be? You've been a great mother. I can't imagine them turning you down."
"Oh, it was because I'd been arrested and spent a few days in jail," Martha said calmly as she finished diapering Laura. "There you go, sweetheart. All ready for your mommy."
"What?" Lois's voice was nearly a squeak. "Arrested? Martha, what for?"
"Nothing really very much, dear. Disturbing the peace, obstruction of justice, and assault on a police officer." She made a face at her granddaughter along with a throaty cooing sound and then placed her in Lois's arms. "She's just so gorgeous."
"Martha, can we focus for a minute, here?"
"Whatever do you mean, Lois?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Well, for one thing, how could that happen? For another, how come I've never heard about this before? I mean, Clark's never mentioned anything."
"I was involved in a civil rights demonstration. You know, I don't think Clark knows about it." Martha's voice was thoughtful. "He would only be aware that his father and I participated in the civil rights movement later, after we were married. By the time we had Clark, what happened in Alabama seemed far in the past. It's not something Jonathan was comfortable discussing, I think because that summer was a time when things were not going so well between us. So I never talked about it."
Lois settled in the rocking chair and began to nurse Laura. "So tell me about it, Martha."
Martha sat in the worn wicker chair opposite Lois. It was one that Clark had rescued from the attic in Smallville, a favorite from his childhood. Martha sat back in the chair and watched Lois for a moment before speaking. "It really was a long time ago. I was taking an art course at the University of Kansas and got involved in civil rights. I joined the campus branch of SNCC, a radical group, and went to Washington that summer to join the Freedom Rides south. Lois, it was the most exhilarating time." Martha's blue eyes sparkled at the memory. "We were so committed to what we were doing and we really felt that we could make a difference."
"And then what happened?"
"We got a bad reception in one of the towns we stopped in. We'd entered the bus terminal quietly in pairs but we were met by an angry mob. Lois, I'll never forget the hatred in their eyes. For a moment everyone was dead silent and then they started calling us names, spitting at us, and hitting us while the police stood by doing nothing. A friend of mine struck back, and then one of the cops hit him with his club. I stepped on the cop's foot and then I punched him."
Lois started to laugh. "Martha, I can't believe you did that."
"Well, I did. The judge sentenced me to two weeks in jail and then I went home."
"Where was Jonathan through all this?"
As Lois was asking this question, they could hear Jonathan's heavy footsteps coming down the hall toward the nursery and then his big cheerful voice. "Did I just hear my name?"
Martha turned to smile with affection at her husband. "Yes, you did, Jonathan. We were just talking about the past."
"Well, here's some news from the present. CNN just made a brief mention of the train derailment. Said that Superman is on the scene. No pictures yet, they haven't been able to get a camera crew there."
"How serious is it, Jonathan? Did they say?" Lois asked.
"Pretty bad," Jonathan's voice was grim. "One passenger dead and a lot of people trapped in the wreckage. The blizzard is still so strong that the Canadian Search and Rescue guys haven't reached them yet."
"I guess Clark won't be home for awhile," Lois sighed.
Lois was right. Clark didn't get home until shortly after two in the morning. Silently, he slipped into his daughter's bedroom and stood in the darkness watching her as she slept. There was a time when he had given up all hope that he would be able to have a family and he had despaired that it would be his fate to live his adult life in isolation, without love. Tonight had been hard. He had been too late to save the life of one woman and several other people had been badly hurt. Now, as he looked at his daughter, he renewed his vow to always protect her. Nothing would ever threaten her. Then he gently kissed her forehead and left the room, drifting slightly above the creaky wooden floor in the hall so as not to awaken his sleeping child.
When he got to the room at the end of the hallway, he stood at the foot of the bed for a moment. This time, it was his sleeping wife whom he watched and, as he did, he felt the pain of this night's carnage begin to heal. He slipped into bed, and slid his arm across her waist. Lois, still asleep, drowsily murmured his name and curled her body into his. It wasn't long before he too fell into a deep sleep.
"Lois, I've got some info for you on CEPL." Jimmy dodged around the clutter of the newsroom, waving a sheet of paper which he handed to her as soon as he reached her desk.
Lois skimmed it quickly and smiled at him. "Great, Jimmy! Good background material. I wonder if they're planning something as a follow up to yesterday."
"They just might be, Lois." Bentley J. Hoolihan joined the two reporters. "I heard some talk last night when I was at the Fringe theatre. CEPL's planning a street demonstration at the Bronson construction site today."
"You're kidding!" Lois's voice was excited. "When?"
Reaching for her bag, Lois stood up quickly and then headed for the elevator, pausing to grab the last chocolate donut by the coffee machine. Resuming her path, she called out, "Grab your camera, Jimmy. We'll need shots."
Following her into the elevator, Jimmy asked, "Where's C.K. this morning?"
"Um, not sure. Didn't get a chance to talk to him before I left." Lois took another mouthful of chocolate junk food.
"He leave early on a story?"
Lois laughed. "The reverse. He worked late last night. Last I saw him, he was fast asleep." She ate her donut in silence for a moment. "Mmmm. This is sooo good. Do you know how long it's been since I've had chocolate?" Bemused, Jimmy looked at her as she explained, her mouth full. "Fattening and the caffeine, too. Not good for Laura. Of course, I gave it up. Well, mostly gave it up. But you can't live without chocolate. Did you know that, Jimmy?" Trying to suppress a grin, Jimmy nodded solemnly at her as the elevator opened onto the main lobby of the Planet just as Lois was taking another bite of donut. Completely absorbed in the semi-orgasmic taste of chocolate, she collided with a broad chest as she walked out of the elevator.
"Good morning, Lois." Clark's eyes were laughing, taking in the traces of junk food on her upper lip. "You look good in chocolate." He bent forward and lightly kissed her cheek.
"Morning." Lois wiped the traces of chocolate from her face, searching his as she did. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Looks like I'll see you later, though."
"Uh huh. CEPL is planning a demonstration at that Bronson tower construction site. Jimmy and I are going over there now. See you later."
Clark watched her go, the smile vanishing from his face. Lois, he thought, we've got to stop meeting like this. It'd been a while since they had any real time alone together. He missed her. Maybe tonight would be different.
Martha picked up the plain brown envelope from the front porch of the brownstone shortly after Clark left for work. As she was clearing up in the kitchen, she'd heard the doorbell but by the time she opened the door, no one was there. The envelope had her name on it. Once inside the townhouse, she opened it and let out a gasp when she saw its contents. On a blank piece of paper was printed a simple message: <STOP SEARCHING >.
The second sheet was good quality cartridge paper bearing a sensuously sketched pastel portrait of a nude woman, beautiful, young, with long strawberry blonde hair. The initials CGM were in the corner. The model was Martha Clark. Shaken, Martha quickly stuffed both message and sketch back into the envelope. There was no way she was going to let Jonathan see this.
The last time he'd come across a nude portrait of her, they'd had a huge fight and he'd leapt to all the wrong conclusions. Besides, she hadn't really been nude in that painting he'd found in the barn a few years ago. A sheet had been artfully draped across the more interesting parts of her body. Nevertheless, it had been enough to send Jonathan off to seek refuge with Clark in Metropolis. In the old sketch in her hand, however, the more interesting parts of her body were fully, and not too badly, Martha thought, on display.
Jonathan came out of the kitchen, carrying Laura. "What was it, Martha?"
"Nothing, Jonathan. Just junk mail." She started to climb the stairs. "I'll go get an extra blanket for Laura. It's chilly this morning."
Lois and Jimmy spent the rest of the morning taking pictures and interviewing or semi-interviewing people who lived in the old market Annex, just east of the construction site, towards Hobbs Bay. The site manager had let slip that he had heard that the developer of the Bronson Tower complex also had plans to redevelop the east side as soon as he could get his hands on the real estate. Lois thought that development would be a godsend for this area until he told her that Bronson's plan was for massive office towers and an expensive condominium but no plan for any other type of facility, let alone green space.
As she and Jimmy talked to the locals, Lois realized that there was another problem if redevelopment went ahead. Where would these people go? They lacked the money to pay even an average Metropolis rent. A surprising number appeared to be homeless. Some were squatters, living in derelict warehouses and abandoned apartment buildings, banding together to survive as best they could. Their living arrangements were illegal, in violation of trespassing laws and numerous city bylaws governing heat and electricity, not to mention fire regulations. But nobody cared and they were surviving: a motley crew of half well indigents released by health care institutions too soon, adolescents fleeing the horrors of family abuse, petty criminals, and drug users. The only help out there came from two volunteer shelters run by church groups.
CEPL's demonstration started shortly after twelve and attracted many of the residents of the east side as well as a large number of passersby on their lunch hour. The day was milder than usual for January, damp with the promise of an evening snowfall. The demonstrators were shabby, dressed in jeans and thick jackets, mostly black or dark khaki in color. They looked like an army that had come out of the bowels of the earth. They wore large, oversized masks, fashioned to resemble mythological creatures, jesters, and jokers, their features twisted grotesquely so that the images were both surreal and bizarre and in some inner primal sense, disturbing. They chanted their slogans like a Greek chorus of doom, their voices accompanied by the staccato beating of a drum, its frenzy increasing as the voices got louder with anger, ending with the chanted, "We declare war on the developers, destroyers of the city!"
When they finished, several of them dramatically lit grenades and then flung them in unison toward the building. The grenades were dummies, releasing dry ice for dramatic effect, but it was too late. Several of the construction workers charged the demonstrators and the whole scene deteriorated into what looked like a barroom brawl. Like ants, people seeped out of adjacent buildings and swarmed around the fighters, shouting encouragement to both sides.
As Lois was watching this, her eyes swept the crowd and then stopped. Over at the opposite end of the melee she saw Martha Kent in the middle of what looked like an intense discussion with a tall, slender, grey-haired man. Both gestured dramatically and Lois could tell, even from this distance, that Martha was deeply involved in the argument. Assuming her mother-in-law was in trouble, Lois forced her way through the shouting crowd, not an easy thing to do when it was focused on events in the opposite direction.
"Lady, watch who you're pushin'. Get outta here."
"You're in my way. Move!"
Lois dodged to the man's left and wove around him, adroitly charging into the next empty patch of pavement on her trek through the crowd. By the time she got to the spot where Martha had been, her mother-in-law had vanished. Lois looked around and couldn't see her anywhere. All she saw was Martha's opponent, striding quickly away from the tangled crowd. Worried, Lois jogged over to a small coffee shop, hoping that Martha would be there. She wasn't. Quickly scanning the area, Lois noticed a subway stop about half a block away. Maybe Martha had headed home. Sprinting the short distance, she paid her fare and then raced down the steps to the subway platform just in time to see Martha getting into the car at the far end seconds before its doors closed. Then the track was empty.
Lois took a deep breath and walked back up the subway steps to the street.
"Clark, we have to talk." Lois, still in her coat, stood in front of Clark's desk.
Surprised by the firmness of her tone, Clark stopped what he was doing. One more unidentified body had shown up and he was trying to link it to the unsolved murders that had occurred over the last couple of months. It bothered him that Superman had not been able to prevent these random killings. Now he turned away from a map plotting the sites of the bodies to give his full attention to his partner. "Okay. What's up?"
"Not here." Turning to look in the direction of the empty conference room, she nodded towards it. "The conference room," she said as she stalked towards it.
Clark followed her, closing the door behind them after he entered the room. He grinned at her, distracted by the way her dark hair curved along the line of her cheek. "You know, this is the first time we've been alone together and *both* awake at the same time in two days." He pushed the wayward strand of dark hair that had fallen across her forehead back into its proper place, a gentle involuntary touch.
Lois's eyes softened and she touched his hand. "I guess it is. Maybe this weekend will be different." Her voice was wistful but then she came back to her original purpose in getting him alone. "But first we have to find out what's going on with Martha."
"What?" He looked confused. "What are you talking about, Lois?"
"There's something she's not telling us, Clark. I know it. I just saw her in the crowd at the CEPL protest arguing with a man I think was a participant in it."
"Are you sure, Lois? Before I left for work, Mom told me she was going out today to look for that wedding present. No mention of anything else. Besides, why would she want to go to that part of town?"
"I don't know, Clark, but she was in the Annex yesterday, and something happened after the movie on Thursday, and she's not telling us about it." Lois was emphatic.
Clark's body language betrayed his skepticism, his right hand gesturing as he spoke. "Come on, Lois. This is my Mom we're talking about here. She wouldn't hide anything from us."
Lois narrowed her eyes. "She's an open book, is she?"
"Well, yeah. She would have told us if she were going to that demonstration. It was probably someone who looked like her."
Lois rolled her eyes. "Okay. We'll ask her tonight."
Lois did. She waited until they had finished dinner and were drinking tea to ask Martha the question. At least, she worked up to asking her the question. "Any luck in finding a wedding present today, Martha?"
"Yes. I found just the thing. And they were willing to ship it to Kansas."
"Do anything else?"
"No, shopping for the perfect gift takes time."
"What did you get, Mom?"
Lois thought, like that takes time, and forged ahead. "You know, I saw someone who looked a lot like you at the CEPL protest I was covering today. I could have sworn it was you."
"I don't think so, dear. Must have been someone who looks like me. More tea, Jonathan?"
Lois let the issue go but resolved to talk again to Clark. She was sure she'd seen Martha and she was worried. She spoke to him later as they were bathing Laura but Clark, absorbed in his child, continued to shrug off her concern. For him, it was simple. Martha was his mom and she wouldn't lie. Clark picked up his daughter and began to gently dry her as he spoke. "Come on, Lois, you're imagining things. Why would Mom be there?" He picked Laura up, planted a big, noisy kiss on her cheek, and grinned when she squealed back at him.
Later, after Laura had settled down to sleep, and Lois, Clark, and Jonathan were in the living room, Martha came downstairs, distress evident in her face. "Jonathan, did you happen to find that envelope that came this morning?"
"What? Oh, yes. I put it in the recycle box."
"You didn't happen to look in it before you did?"
"No, not much interested in junk mail, Martha."
"It had some coupons inside. I'll fish it out." She walked to the kitchen and soon returned with the envelope in her hand. "I'll take it back to the apartment with us."
Lois turned to Clark and raised one eyebrow. Coupons, she thought, don't come in plain brown envelopes.
A bomb exploded early the next morning in the excavation for the foundation of the Bronson building. The magnesium flash of the explosion seared the dark sky, alerting Superman as he was returning to the city. He streaked downwards but wasn't in time to save the night watchman whose bloodied body lay just outside the blast area. The girders and scaffolding that had been erected earlier in the week now had collapsed inward like scattered match sticks. Using his x-ray vision, Clark scanned the debris to make sure that there were no other victims and no one was trapped. Then, bowing his head, he knelt down on one knee beside the body of the guard and was silent. He couldn't be everywhere at once; he knew that; but still he mourned whenever he did not make it in time.
By the time the Kent household was up Sunday morning, LNN was broadcasting coverage of the explosion. The police had ascertained that a bomb had caused it and that the victim was a retired police officer working part time in security. Interviews with his former colleagues and neighbors all confirmed that he was a decent man, a good friend, and devoted to his family. A spokesperson for Bronson said that the corporation would continue with the project; they would not bow to terrorism. The police, who were still searching for evidence and interviewing people in the area, were noncommittal in attributing blame for the explosion.
Watching the small T.V. in the kitchen, Lois thought that told her nothing. Then, just as she was walking over to the kitchen counter, LNN interrupted its regular broadcast with news that it had just received a note from CEPL claiming responsibility for the act.
Lois turned to Clark, his hair still damp from his morning shower. "What do you think?" she asked as she handed him a cup of coffee.
He looked thoughtful. "I don't know. I located what evidence I could last night so the police should be able to start their analysis this morning. I didn't see anyone around the area of the explosion. What do you think, Lois? You know more about CEPL than I do."
"It doesn't seem consistent with what our research has shown. They're anarchists, but I would also have said they were pacifists." Her voice was thoughtful. "Still, the final act of their street drama yesterday seemed like a threat of violence to me. I guess I don't know either." She shrugged her shoulders, took a sip of her coffee, and then looked across at him. "Clark, why don't we go down there this morning and see what we can dig up?"
He shook his head. "We both can't go and right now it could be dangerous down there, Lois."
She smiled and patted him on the chest. "That's all right. I can take care of myself."
"Not always, Lois." His voice was soft as he folded his arms across his chest and tilted his head slightly to one side.
Lois was silent for a moment; then she spoke, her voice indignant. "Oh, so I need my big, strong husband to protect me whenever I go out?"
"That's not fair. You know that's not what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?" A tornado warning flashed in her dark eyes.
Clark ignored the weather watch and blundered on, driven by that one dark fear inside his gut and the immediacy of the security guard's death. "It's not just me, it's Laura too. You're a mother now, Lois. We've been through such a lot. You take too many risks. You … "
The tornado swirled down, sucking up the rest of his argument. "I'm still Lois Lane, Clark Kent. I'm still the Planet's best investigative reporter. And I do *not* take risks. And I'm a good mother to Laura, too. I can do this."
Oh, Clark thought, there's more here than just this story. He took her hands in his, absently noticing how small they seemed in his much larger ones. "I know that, Lois. Believe me, honey, I know that. But you have to understand me, too. You and Laura are everything I've ever wanted, more than I ever thought I'd have. If anything ever happened … " He couldn't finish as the fear that sometimes awakened him in the night resurfaced. "I want to protect you both, to take care of you. I need to do that." Raising one hand, he touched the side of her cheek as he looked into her dark eyes, watching for the tornado to downgrade.
Lois let out a sigh, but her tone was disgruntled. "Okay, I know that." The trace of a crooked smile crossed her face, as though she were aware of how contradictory her emotions were. "And I love that, Clark. And I need to protect you and Laura, too, but it's not so easy. What if I can't do it all? What if I lose my edge?" Her eyes were honest as she looked at him, letting him know how torn she felt.
"Don't you think I worry about these things, too? My reputation as a reporter is just as important, maybe more important to me than my reputation as Superman. And our daughter and our marriage are more important than either of those two." He stopped for a moment, searching for the words to tell her how fragile he sometimes feared their happiness was and then he shook his head. "But lately, it seems that our marriage is the last thing that gets any time." He smiled ruefully at her. "Lois, this is the first time we've been alone together in three days. Laura's sleeping, Mom and Dad are at their place, and *you* want to go check out some story." His right hand slid under the yoke of her flannel shirt, touching the smooth skin of her shoulder, his thumb slowly tracing the ridge of her collar bone. "Mom and Dad will be here after lunch and then Lane and Kent can go look for the bad guys." Lowering his head, he kissed her, a lingering, soft kiss, an invitation. "Come back to bed with me, Lois."
Lois softened, stepping more closely to him. Sliding her arms around his neck, her mouth close to his, she whispered, "Deal, partner."
His arms went around as he felt her lips cover his. "Lois," his voice was a husky sigh from the back of his throat. Picking her up in one smooth action, he carried her upstairs, laughing as she bit lightly at his ear, whispering, teasing him with her words, her hands, her mouth.
Yes, he thought, things are definitely looking up.
The mood was tense around the roped off Bronson construction site that afternoon. CEPL was out in force, dressed in dark earth tones, many of them wearing masks from yesterday's drama. Marching defiantly in the falling snow, their pickets denounced not just the construction but also what the group claimed was corporate America's attempt to destroy free speech. Their signs were large and colorful, the slogans ideologically diverse:
<CEPL INNOCENT OF BOMB BLAST,
SCAPEGOATS for BRONSON,
FASCIST AMERIKA SUCKS,
THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE>. An LNN camera crew was filming the whole thing.
Looking at the protesters, Lois said, "Let's talk to the guy with the "innocent" sign. She charged ahead of Clark toward the person carrying the sign to find that the bearer was a woman, more accurately, a girl, her red hair hacked short in a near buzz cut and small zodiac earrings dangling from each ear. Her thin face was partially obscured by a dark scarf which she had wound around her neck and chin against the cold. Clark noticed that she was shorter than Lois and in spite of the bulk of her oversized padded coat, she seemed frail. Her anger was obvious as she answered their questions.
"Bronson is trying to destroy this city. They're building a concrete fortress. They've got the police on their side. They're trying to blame us but we didn't do it. It's not right. Can't you see that?"
Keeping her voice low-key, Lois asked the girl for her name so they could attribute their quote in the article. Her dark eyes widened and her voice turned shrill.
"You're setting me up. You want to arrest me."
"No, no. We just want to get the truth out. We're from the Daily Planet." Lois tried to calm her.
"You've been sent by them, I know it, I know it." She was panicking, fear in her voice.
Clark spoke to her, his voice soothing, at least he hoped it was. "It's O.K. We don't need your name." Smiling at her, he said, "We'll call you a reliable source."
The girl's agitation dissipated. "Reliable source. I like that." She picked up her sign and continued her walk.
Clark could hear her muttering, "Reliable source", like a mantra, and he thought, with a pang of sadness, that the real story here was more than a bombing and more than the construction site.
A short, stocky man in a long dark winter coat, followed by two police officers, approached the picketers, scanning their numbers for a moment, hesitating, as though he were uncertain what to do next. Then, pulling a piece of paper from his breast pocket, he spoke loudly and with surprising firmness. "That's it, folks. Break it up. The Bronson corporation and the City of Metropolis have secured an injunction prohibiting picketing within a hundred yards of any evidence from this morning's explosion. Time to go home." Behind him, the two cops had adopted the military "at ease" stance, their bodies alert, their hands behind their backs and their faces impassive.
"No!" A defiant, prolonged yell came from one of the picketers. Others picked up the "no", their shouts growing hot with anger, as some of the protesters marched toward the city official. Clark watched and listened, noticing that one of the cops was pulling out his radio as the two of them split up and moved to either end of the demonstrators. He felt he could touch the tension in the atmosphere. Still, he hesitated to bring Superman into the situation. Much better if the people here could resolve the situation.
At that moment, a tall thin man emerged from the crowd. His face and hair were covered by a mask, made from an old navy bandanna tied at the back of his head. Reaching out his hand, he took the injunction and skimmed it while the crowd behind him waited in silence. Then he raised his head and spoke, his voice deep, with a smooth resonance that was almost hypnotic.
"CEPL would like to make a statement to LNN." He paused as two LNN crew members approached, one with a camcorder. "CEPL is not responsible for the Bronson bombing. CEPL has always used peaceful methods to achieve its goals and will continue to fight Bronson's destruction of the city. We seek a more creative use of the city for the benefit of all its citizens. This injunction is an attack on the freedom and the rights of the people. Bronson has declared war on the people." As he spoke, his cadence reminded Clark of some of the speeches he'd read from the 1960's when he was in college.
Lois started to jog over to the CEPL spokesman as he turned away from the LNN news crew. Calling over her shoulder, she shouted, "Clark, we have to find out who he is. We can't let LNN get this story."
She was restrained by a strong grip just above her elbow. "Wait, Lois. There's something wrong. I hear something." His face focused in concentration, Clark shifted his eyes toward the derelict building next to the construction site. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he said, "*You* stay here," and ran into an alley behind them. A moment later, Superman shot into the sky and landed in front of the building. He raced into its front lobby toward the ticking noise that he heard in the corner farthest from him. He got to the bomb just as it was about to detonate. No time to defuse it, let alone time to figure out the mechanism. He blasted upwards through one of the broken windows and then hurled the bomb towards the clouds. Seconds later it exploded with a sharp crack and a flash of light against the dullness of the grey sky above the protesters.
When Clark got back to the spot where he had left Lois, she wasn't there. Maybe if I told her to do the most reckless thing she could imagine, that might work, he thought. He spotted her on the far side of the protesters and to his amazement, she was standing still. Then she turned and walked toward him. He looked at her with raised eyebrows, his face a silent question.
"What?" Without waiting for his answer, Lois continued, "Clark, I lost him. He must know this area like the back of his hand." Without pausing, she added, "Where did you find the bomb?"
"Over there. In that abandoned apartment building." He raised his hand toward the dark brown brick structure to the right of them.
By this time, there were murmurs throughout the crowd. Some of them had seen Superman and it didn't require much imagination to figure out what the fireworks display had been. The two police officers were running across to the old building, followed by a few of the crowd and, of course, the LNN crew. The protesters had scattered.
Just before dinner, the Kent family, (with the exception of Lois who, astonishingly, was in the kitchen), sat in the living room as they watched the evening news. The program did not give much time to the CEPL story; compared to big national and international stories, this one was minor. However, LNN had pieced together a brief clip of that afternoon's events, followed by a quick montage of the threat made during Saturday's demonstration, a shot of the damage done by the first bomb blast, and a picture of the security guard who had been its victim. The clip concluded with the CEPL spokesman's statement following the announcement of the injunction. The implication in the way LNN constructed the story was that CEPL was a group of dangerous radicals responsible for both bombs. LNN concluded by saying that the police were looking for the spokesman, whom they were calling the masked leader, for questioning.
Martha watched it all in silence. As soon as she had heard the masked leader speak, she had recognized him. She would recognize his voice anywhere; it had been a kind of joke among their group all those years ago: Cliff's sexy voice, soft and deeply rich in tone, a magician's voice. She had nearly fallen under its spell again yesterday when she had accidently spotted him on the fringes of the crowd in front of the Bronson construction site. She had been waiting for the bus that would take her from the subway to the Annex where she planned to revisit the gallery with Cliff's painting, when her curiosity had pulled her across the street toward the demonstration. After a few moments, her eyes had drifted over the faces of the people in the crowd and she had spotted him about twenty feet away from her, standing on the fringe of the crowd.
Without hesitating, she had circled briskly around the backs of the spectators to stand beside him, her thoughts a jumble of relief, excitement, and hostility. At first, she'd thought he'd been happy to see her, but he soon turned guarded, warning her away. Her resentment had flared up and she'd given him a piece of her mind. They hadn't been talking for more than ten minutes before they were arguing, angry words slicing the cold air between them.
Still, she believed Cliff couldn't possibly be responsible for the construction site bombing. When they were young, he had been so idealistic and he had always opposed the use of violence. But, a small voice reminded her, he hadn't been opposed to illegal action; all those years ago, he had been involved in that bank robbery and a man had died in that robbery.
Jonathan was the first to speak, pulling her mind back to the reality of the living room. His voice was strong in its condemnation of CEPL. "I hope they find that guy. As long as he and that group are out there, who knows what can happen? Why don't they work within the system, if they want change?"
"Jonathan, have you forgotten? Sometimes the system won't change when it should. You have to get its attention." Martha wasn't sure why she felt so defensive.
"They're just kids, Martha, by the look of most of them. What are they doing on the streets like that?"
"I don't know, Jonathan. But I do know you can't give up your ideals. Maybe those kids have no choice."
"Martha, there's always a choice. When we marched for civil rights, we were peaceful. It looks like this group is prepared to use violence. Actions like that endanger everyone. Remember what happened to you in that riot in Alabama?" Jonathan's face betrayed his disapproval and some tension that Clark did not understand.
"Jonathan, we didn't start the violence. Are you saying I did the wrong thing that summer?" Martha was angry now, her voice challenging him.
Clark watched, amazed at the sudden flare up between his parents. He had no idea what they were fighting about. He had few memories of his parents fighting. They had always been so close. And what was the Alabama comment all about?
"No. No, Martha. But what you did back then was impulsive." Jonathan was tight-lipped as he spoke, his usual easy going demeanor nowhere in evidence.
"What are you guys talking about?" Clark's question interrupted them.
Martha suddenly seemed conscious of where she was and she took a deep breath. "Oh, nothing, Clark. It all happened before you were born. We ought to forget about it." She shot her husband a warning glance as she said this.
Jonathan calmed down a little. "I'd like to Martha, but what am I supposed to think about that sketch?"
Martha's eyes widened. "Jonathan, you opened that envelope. How could you?"
"It was an accident," he said, tight-lipped. "This morning, I was looking for the medical receipts for the treatment for that rash you developed on our trip so I could submit them to the insurance company. You were out so I couldn't ask you where they were. I checked the top drawer of your dresser and saw the envelope. I thought maybe it had the receipts so I opened it." He took a deep breath. As Jonathan spoke, Clark was surprised by the hurt he saw in his father's eyes. "You never told me, Martha. I thought, when you came back with me that fall, it was what you wanted."
Stricken, Martha stepped closer and touched her husband's hand. "Oh, Jonathan, it was. It was. When I came back to Smallville with you, it was because I knew that we belonged together."
At that moment, Lois entered the living room and stood there quietly, responding to the distress she saw in all three faces in the room. Since no one was speaking, she did. "Supper, it's uh, ready."
The first part of dinner was carried out in uncomfortable silence as neither Martha nor Jonathan seemed to want to talk. Clark was nonplussed, unsure of what to say. Lois, having learned a lesson or two from her mother-in-law over the last few years about how to deal with awkward situations, opened the conversation by asking Clark what he thought of how she had cooked the roast.
Clark, who'd never been asked a question like that by Lois before, looked at her like she was one of the Stepford wives. "Swell, honey."
"Good, good. It's a new recipe. I found it in a book Alice gave me when we got engaged. The Journalist's Cookbook. This is Walter Cronkite's recipe."
Through the rest of the meal, the conversation was limited to recipes, what Laura had done that day, and the weather. Jonathan said little, glumly attacking his food while Clark tried to figure what there was about the news item that had triggered all this, what had happened in Alabama, and what the sketch showed. This was between his parents, he thought. It would not be right to interfere. Then he thought, Mom interferes when Lois and I get into trouble. He remembered back to the time when he'd broken up with Lois, fearing for her safety. Both his parents had lost little time letting him know that he'd made a big mistake, which, he admitted, he had. The memory pleased him. It gave him the right to run interference now. So he did.
"What sketch?" He thought that was the most harmless item on his list to start with.
Saying nothing, Jonathan pushed away from the table and, with a grim look on his face, walked over to the hall closet, returning with the envelope. Avoiding the surprised look on Martha's face, he gave the envelope to Lois. "I brought it with me."
Lois pulled out the sketch and smiled. "Martha, this is you, isn't it? It's lovely."
"Thank you, Lois. It was done the summer before Jonathan and I were married. I was taking an art course at the University of Kansas."
"It looks like you *were* the art course." Jonathan was not happy.
Clark asked, "Do I get to see it?"
"Your mother is not wearing any clothes, son."
Lois handed the sketch to Clark who looked away. "Uh, thanks. I don't think I need to see it."
"Clark, there's nothing wrong with it," Lois said.
Shrugging his shoulders, Clark laughed self-consciously, aware of how ridiculous he was being. "I know that and I *still* don't want to see it. So what else happened that summer?"
Martha told him then about the art course she had taken. "I needed to get away from Smallville." She darted a quick glance across the table at her husband after she said that but his stolid face remained unreadable. "Everything was happening so fast between Jonathan and me and I felt like I was losing control of my life. I needed time to think about things. I was only twenty years old, Clark. But, it wasn't just the art course. When I got to the campus, I got involved in a student civil rights organization and we joined the Freedom Rides going south from Washington."
"What? How come I never knew that?" Surprised, Clark looked at his mother. She had always been passionate about causes that she believed important and he knew that his passion for justice was as much learned from her as an innate reaction to the wrongs he saw around him.
Martha made light of it, not sure how much she wanted to reveal about what had happened that spring and summer. Not until she'd talked to Jonathan first. She figured it was safe to talk about her political involvement, so she did, finishing with her arrest. "Lois didn't tell you? We talked about it the other night."
"No, Martha. I figured it was your story and you should tell Clark."
"So, Mom, who did the sketch?" Clark grinned at his mother.
"Oh, a classmate. We all posed for the life drawing classes. It saved model fees. I ran into him the other day and he sent this sketch. He thought I'd like to have it."
Clark was aware of the disapproval on his father's face.
"O.K., Lois, you were right. There *was* something going on with my Mom." Clark looked at his wife, lounging on her side in bed, her head propped up on her hand, a small smile on her face. He let his gaze travel over the silk covered curve of her waist and hip, remembering their morning lovemaking. Amazing how her body curved like that, he thought.
"So you admit that you were taking her for granted."
"What?" Clark pulled his mind back from where it had been wandering. "No." His voice was firm but then he shrugged his shoulders. "O.K., so there were some things I didn't know." She stared at him pointedly. "Important things," he added. "Cool, though." He smiled.
"There's still a couple things she isn't telling us, Clark."
His face was skeptical. "For instance?"
"Who was she arguing with yesterday?"
"Lois, you were mistaken about seeing her there."
Lois let that go. "And why didn't she tell you about her involvement in the Freedom Rides? Don't you think that's a little odd, Mr. Award Winning Investigative Reporter?"
"Not so odd, Lois. Dad's uncomfortable with that, so I can see her not bringing it up."
"Uh huh," Lois matched his skepticism. "Pretty hard to imagine that Martha had a life before she became your mother."
He grinned. "All right, so there're a couple of gaps. But, you know, I can see why Dad would be upset with the sketch."
Lois's eyes widened. "Why, Clark? It's beautiful."
"Maybe the idea of his wife posing nude, for a start."
"But they weren't married at the time. Anyway, it wasn't sexual. It was part of an art class."
Lois laughed delightedly, "Clark, you're a prude!"
"Not true, Lois." His eyes glinted and a wicked smile flashed across his face. Very gently, controlling his power, he blew the thin shoulder strap of her nightgown down across her arm. Slipping into bed, he stretched his body out beside her and lightly kissed her bare shoulder, his hand sliding over the silken contour of her hip. "Guess I'll have to prove you're wrong, Ms. Lane." His voice had lowered to a husky softness.
"Guess you'll have to. But you should know," she said as her fingers traced the strong muscle of his arm, "I require a *lot* of evidence."
"I think you'll find that I have a lot of evidence to give you," he murmured as he slowly kissed the side of her neck, smiling as he felt her hand slide along his chest and then shift lower.
"Ummm, impressive, Kent."
He loved her giggle. He loved her.
Monday was the last day of Lois and Clark's weekend. For them, at least for one of them since Lois's return to work, Saturday was part of the work week, the day the paper pulled together the massive, nationally read Sunday edition of the Daily Planet. This particular Monday, they stayed home, spending a rare morning absorbed in the routine of caring for their child, minor household tasks, talking, reading, and enjoying a few moments of lust and tenderness. Whenever he thought Lois was busy elsewhere, Clark worked on his special project, which was to teach Laura to say "Daddy". This was to be his daughter's first spoken word. All in all, it was a lazy, luxurious day.
Part of the reason why they had decided to spend the day at home was so that Martha and Jonathan could spend the day by themselves. Both Lois and Clark were hoping that, whatever was bothering the older couple, they would confide in each other. Thus, the big event, (well, the second big event), of the day for Lois and Clark was a trip to the local bar and grill for dinner. The snow had stopped, leaving a crisp, clear evening that made their walk to Charlie's a pleasant stroll.
Charlie's, in operation since the 1920's when it had operated as a speakeasy, was small by the standards of the knock off franchise equivalents. Its walls were half panelled in dark wood above which was plaster streaked by a few cracks and in need of painting. The room was dimly lit, its old brass light fixtures reflected in the mirror behind the bar, making its long polished oak counter the centre of the room. The only visible concession to modern times was a small television located at one end of the bar. Tuned eighty percent of the time to the sports channel, it was religiously switched to the news at six and eleven. According to the bartender, it was everyone's civic duty to be well informed.
As Lois slid into her chair at their regular table and Clark unbundled Laura, they half listened to the evening news which was just wrapping up its local coverage. Just as they were picking up their menus, the news anchor shifted to a story connected to the demonstration.
"Late this afternoon, CEPL, citing squatters' rights, occupied the old Daly apartment building from which Superman removed a bomb yesterday. The building, abandoned for the last ten years, lacks electricity, heat, and water. Outside the building, the group has erected barricades in an attempt to reinforce their claim. Slated for demolition next week, Daly Apartments is part of the Bronson Renewal Plan. A spokesman for the company said they are consulting their lawyers. Meanwhile, the police are continuing to search for the group's leader, who they advise is considered dangerous."
The story was accompanied by shots of the Daly facade, a brief, vaguely incoherent interview with one of its very young occupants who was bundled against the cold in a dull, shapeless jacket and a large black scarf; a second interview with a well dressed, articulate spokeswoman for Bronson; and a final dramatic shot of CEPL's masked leader denouncing the system.
"Of course, they select the one thing he said that makes it sound like he would blow up the building," Lois said as she averted her attention from the screen to look at her husband.
"Maybe he would, Lois. Somebody's responsible for those bombs and CEPL has been the most vocal opponent of the project. So there's motive."
"That's conjecture, Clark. It just seems out of character with what the group has done before and the type of people they are. There's a core of committed people, mostly young and mostly on the fringes of the art and theatre world. They're anarchists but it's their craft they use as a means of trying to get change."
"This guy's older though, Lois. He could have a different agenda. Maybe once the construction started, he decided to up the ante and some of the kids in the squats followed. This is a dangerous thing they've done, moving into the old Daly Apartments."
"I know. Nobody much cared when they moved into those derelict textile warehouses in the Market Annex. But this move challenges Bronson. We have to find this guy, Clark."
Late the next afternoon, Lois got word from a friend at the Metropolis Court House that Bronson had just been granted an injunction against the occupiers, giving the corporation the power to evict them. Grabbing her coat, she was in the elevator with a speed that would have put her husband to shame. If he had been there. He had disappeared about thirty minutes before, with a quickly murmured and imaginative, "uh, Lois, um" followed by that look that she knew meant there was a good chance there might be leftovers that night.
She got to the site just as a dark blue Chrysler sedan purred up to the curb and disgorged three passengers in overcoats matching the color of the car. They were followed by an MPD vehicle, riding shotgun. Lois provided the official reception committee as she stepped into the path of the first Bronson representative.
"Lois Lane, Daily Planet. Is it true that Bronson plans to evict the squatters?"
"These people are in a state of illegal trespass, Ms. Lane. The building poses a safety hazard. Bronson feels it's in their best interest to be elsewhere."
"Where might that be?"
"Surely they have homes that are more comfortable than this." His disdain was evident in the tone of his voice and the dismissive gesture of his hand.
"Most of these people are homeless. Where do you think they should sleep tonight?"
"Ms. Lane, the corporation is not heartless, but these people have no right to be here." He stepped around her, followed by his two associates, with the cops a discrete but ominous presence several feet behind them.
Lois watched as they approached the flimsy wooden barricades that surrounded the perimeter of the site. Outside the building, small groups of people were standing with their hands outstretched over the warmth provided by fires burning in large metal drums, makeshift hearths in the snow. They watched the small procession as it came closer, but no one moved to meet it. Stony faced, the kids listened as they were informed of the injunction. No one spoke for a moment and then one of them shouted, "We're not leaving." And then swore.
By this time, a few more reporters had arrived, among them an LNN camera crew. Just as the woman with the camcorder came closer, one of the protesters hurled a snowball at the Bronson trio, catching the tallest one in the left shoulder. He was not amused. Red faced, he turned to the two cops. "Do something." That triggered a barrage of snowballs and Lois started to laugh. Clearly, the kids were armed and dangerous. The blue-jeaned woman with the camera equipment caught her eye and grinned as she moved closer to the kids. She was now facing the two cops and the Bronson reps, giving her a perfect angle from which to catch their reactions. Lois walked over to the three men, curious to see what they would do next.
What they did was have a short meeting, apparently convened by one of the cops. "Look, you got the courtorder, but it looks like we'll have to get rough to enforce it. There's just another hour of daylight." He gestured toward the LNN crew. "It's not gonna look great to have us bust up a bunch of kids and send them back to the streets right now. It's your call, but I'd sleep on it tonight."
Lois was impressed. Cop training had improved, she thought, as she watched them all beat a dignified retreat to the warmth of their cars.
Lois phoned the Planet to let them know she would LAN the story in time for the morning edition. As she rode the subway home, she wondered what Laura had done today, what she had missed.
While Lois was riding the subway, Superman was searching the Atlantic Ocean for survivors of a freighter which had run into a storm off New England. Registered under a foreign flag, and hence less seaworthy than it should have been, the freighter had taken on more water than its pumps could remove as it tossed like a fragile ornament on the remorseless waves of the icy grey Atlantic. The ship's distress signals had been received by the American Coast Guard but the weather conditions had been too rough to send rescue ships. Clark had picked this information up from CNN, its broadcast always a part of the background buzz in the newsroom of the Planet.
As Superman reached the approximate area where the ship should be, he willed his hearing to pick up the higher frequencies of its radio, using his eardrums like radar. He located the vessel, just as it was about to go under. Hovering in the air immediately above, he scanned the deck, looking for signs of life, then checked the surrounding water for any lifeboats. It looked like none had been launched; the sea was too rough for there to be any hope that a life boat would survive the hundred foot swells of the Atlantic. Landing quickly on the deck so that his presence was clearly visible, Superman raced to the captain's bridge.
"Alert your crew. I'll go beneath the ship and raise it enough to take it to safety."
He dove into the ocean, a red speck against the white foam of crashing waves, a torpedo seeking its target. Positioning himself below the center of gravity of the ship's massive hull and balancing his gigantic load with care, his powerful arms pushed the freighter up so that it skimmed the top of the waves. As the ship rose above the sea, salt water poured from its rusting hull. Aware that flying the dilapidated freighter at supersonic speeds would do the crew no good, Superman took care not to go much faster than the normal speed of the ship. As he flew with his cargo, Clark was awestruck by the fearful majesty of the ocean in full turmoil.
While Lois was upstairs nursing Laura, Martha was pulling the dry ingredients for muffins from the kitchen shelves, hoping that activity would be a cure for the restlessness that charged her body like a cat's before a storm. Jonathan was not the issue. Yesterday, they'd talked about the past and Martha had reassured her husband that she and Cliff had never been lovers, that Jonathan had not been her second choice but always and forever her first. Of course, he knew that. His usual good sense had returned and they had spent a wonderful day together, exploring parts of Metropolis like kids on an unexpected holiday. She sighed with pleasure at the memory as she measured flour into a large glass mixing bowl.
In a way, though, Jonathan was still the problem, or perhaps she was. Although she had mentioned that she had seen Cliff the other day, she hadn't told Jonathan the whole story because she was afraid he would urge her to go to the police and she wasn't sure that she wanted to do that. Jonathan had always dug in his heels when it came to anything which he thought threatened his family. In the past this attitude had either amused her or given her the strength she, too, had often needed. Now, it might prevent her from doing what was right.
That was her dilemma; should she go to the police? What she did know was that she could not betray a friend, particularly one with whom she had experienced so much, even if those experiences had receded in time. Some things stay with you forever; some people stay with you forever.
Cliff had made it pretty clear the other day when they had argued. He didn't want to be found. It was too dangerous for him. In that beautiful voice that hardened into steel, he had insulted her, accusing her of selling out. She remembered his biting words. "Go back to your farmer, Martha. To your cozy kitchen, to your 2.4 kids, and your apple pies."
She should turn him in for that alone, she thought. Well, she had exploded when he'd said that, shouting at him that it was easy to retreat into his little revolution, that he knew nothing about real responsibility, about the strength and compassion of Jonathan Kent. They'd parted in anger.
Maybe she should talk it over with Clark and Lois. Maybe. If she did, wasn't she admitting that she would follow their advice? Clark would worry about her safety, get all protective the way his father did. Lately, it seemed to her that Clark was getting more like that. He would advise her to go to the police, unless she began by saying she would not go to the police, but if that were the case why would she talk to him about this in the first place? I'm beginning to sound like Lois, she thought.
Her mind made up, she threw the muffins together with a speed that came from years of experience, and climbed the stairs to the nursery. "Got a minute, honey? I'd like to talk something over with you."
"Sure, Martha." Lois looked down at her nursing child and smiled. "I think I've got several minutes."
Martha's face was serious. "First, I want you to promise, Lois, that you won't tell Clark or Jonathan what I'm about to tell you. It may be that I will tell them, but that's my decision. You also have to know that it may involve something illegal."
Lois recognized the flint in her mother-in-law's tone and nodded her head. "I promise, Martha."
Martha sighed and sat in the old wicker chair across from Lois, unsure where to begin.
Lois made it easier. "It was you who Bentley saw and who I saw the next day wasn't it, Martha? Who was the man you were arguing with? Did he do your portrait?"
"Yes. I met him that spring. His name is Cliff. Clifford Moran. Oh my, it was 1961." Martha sounded astonished. "Jonathan wanted to marry me. Lois, I was so young. Jonathan was three years older than me. You know, he was the first man I ever kissed." She smiled at the memory. "That was before he went into the army. I'd just met him a month before he left for Asia as part of his two years of military service. When he came back he was ready to settle down but I wasn't so sure. Anyway, he first proposed that autumn and then in late winter, and again in early spring."
"In between plowing fields." Lois remembered Martha's comment three years earlier.
Martha laughed. "Yes. I was beginning to feel so much pressure. My folks thought he was terrific. And of course he was, he is. That made it even worse. I thought I was in love with him but … but I kept thinking there was more to the world than Smallville and I wanted to find out.
When I saw the description of the art curriculum at Kansas State, I knew I had to go. I loved it! Losing yourself in what you are trying to create! And the discussions and arguments we had!"
"Did you fall in love with Cliff?" Lois's voice was gentle as she asked the question, her eyes sympathetic as she listened to Martha talk about her youth.
"In a way. I think I was in love with everything. I went out with Cliff a few times, but mostly we all hung out together."
"Was he the friend you attacked the cop over?"
"Yes." Martha laughed again at the memory. "Cliff was very idealistic, not prepared to compromise with the system. I admired that. He was pretty intense about what he thought was right. And persuasive. He grew more radical over the five months I knew him, the more he got involved in the movement."
"What about you?"
"Oh, my idealism is pretty pragmatic." Martha laughed and then her eyes flashed for a moment. "And to tell you the truth, I really missed Jonathan, although it was a little undignified having him meet me at that jailhouse. I wrote him not to come, but that had no effect."
"Martha, I wish I could have seen that."
"Honey, I'm glad you didn't."
"So what became of Cliff?"
"He died. In a fire in a sheriff's office in Alabama after he'd been charged with murder in the shooting of a police officer while escaping after a bank robbery."
"Oh, no." Lois was shocked. "Martha!"
"I thought he was dead, Lois, until last Thursday night. You know, it was either him or the man he was with who stole Jonathan's wallet. At first, I didn't recognize him. He's so much older and his hair is grey. Well, I'm a little older, too. Anyway, it was he who returned it. I checked with the neighbors. Mrs. Sarrazin saw him."
"And so you decided to track him down. Good for you, Martha."
"Thank you, dear. Cliff didn't want to be found though. The sketch was accompanied by a note to stop my search."
"But you couldn't do that."
"Of course I couldn't. When you saw us the next day, he told me that he had to stay underground. He has no intention of facing a murder charge. By the way, he did not shoot that police officer, Lois."
"He's the man the police are looking for in connection with the bombing, isn't he Martha?"
"Yes." She looked at Lois, and waited.
"Why don't you want to go to the police?"
"I think he's innocent, Lois. And because I want to talk to him again to make sure I'm absolutely right about that."
"So that means we have to find him. And we have to find who did plant those two bombs." Lois was decisive.
Pleased, Martha offered a suggestion. "There's an old work of his for sale in a gallery in the Annex. I couldn't get anything out of the owner but it's worth another try."
"And the people occupying the old Daly Apartment building. First thing tomorrow." Lois looked down at Laura who had fallen asleep in her mother's arms. "But right now, it's time to put you to bed, sweetheart."
Superman hovered high above the row of townhouses on Hyperion surveying the ground below, looking for signs of anyone who might be able to spot an extraterrestial landing in the narrow backyard belonging to Lois and Clark Kent. The coast was clear so he slipped to earth, drifting downward in the dark night between the tall evergreens bordering the fence between the townhouses and then opened the back patio door to step into the coziness of his kitchen.
A quick spin and he was in the dark blue suit that he had started the day in. But not for long. The jacket and tie were off in a flash, tossed over a kitchen chair, as he headed for the living room where he saw his dad sitting alone, reading a book, the T.V. on in the background.
"You and Mom O.K., Dad?" Clark paused at the foot of the stairs for a moment.
"Sure, son, we had a great day yesterday. Talked about a few things. I know whatever happened between her and Cliff wasn't serious." He smiled at his son. "Crazy isn't? We've been married for over thirty years and I know how your mother feels. But I still can't think of him without that feeling I had that summer coming back."
"Not so crazy, Dad. Every once in awhile I run into Dan Scardino." Clark's expression was rueful. "Don't like the guy."
Jonathan chuckled, then his expression grew pensive. "Your Mom's still holding something back, though."
"Doesn't that upset you?" Clark knew his concern was childish, but there was a part of him that felt unsettled when things were off balance between his parents.
"Some, because I know she's worried. But she'll tell me when she's ready."
Clark grinned at his dad. "You got her figured out have you?"
"Nearly. She can still surprise me sometimes."
Shortly after one o'clock Wednesday morning, the Daly apartment building caught fire, venomous flames flicking out through broken windows, illuminating the moonless night. The building burned quickly, orange whips of fire arching across rotting floorboards to the cracked timber of joists and supports and into the exposed lathe of old plaster walls. Worse was the smoke coiling and hissing along corridors and slithering under doors. The building's residents grabbed their few possessions and fled into the freezing cold.
They stood huddled together, checking their numbers, afraid that someone might still be in the building. The fire department seemed to be slow in arriving and a few of them wondered if the MFD didn't respond to fires in derelict buildings. They were wrong. It did, although Superman arrived first, his billowing red cape blending into the flames as he ran into the building to rescue two people who had been trapped behind the debris of a collapsed wall. How did he know where to find them? His voice was so calm as he asked them if anyone else might still be in the building. Yeah, maybe. Hadn't old Mick joined them tonight, half drunk and lost in an old injustice. Superman shot back into the building and then they saw him again, carrying the old man to the ambulance that had accompanied the fire trucks.
Then Superman was gone, leaving the MFD to do its job.
Clark told Lois about the fire the next morning as they were getting dressed for work.
"Oh, no, Clark. Is everyone all right?"
"I hope so. Everyone got out of the burning building safely but who knows where they spent the rest of the night."
"Maybe we should find out this morning. Any idea what caused the fire?"
"No and that concerns me. There've been a couple of unexplained fires in that area. That one at Christmas, during the Planet's Christmas party, still has me baffled. I know the MFD called it "accidental", but something about it seemed odd to me." He gave her a brief puzzled look as he spoke. "Anyway, I couldn't find anything obvious to explain last night's fire and so I left as soon as I was sure everyone was O.K." He stopped buttoning his shirt and glanced her way. "All I wanted to do was crawl back into bed."
"I don't even remember you coming back."
"I know." He laughed. "The first time I got back last night, my daughter's asleep. The second time, my wife's asleep."
Lois patted his chest. "But we did have a great weekend."
He leaned over to kiss her. "Yeah. I guess the memory will have to hold 'til next weekend."
Lois phoned Inspector Henderson at the MPD as soon as they got to work. "Any further info on the Bronson bombing?"
"Isn't that story a little old for you, Lane?"
"Guess that means you've run into a dead end."
"We'll bring him in. Just a matter of time."
"Following any other leads on who the bomber might be?"
"No reason to. Why, you got something?"
"No, just figured with so little evidence you wouldn't be chasing just one suspect. You know, keep an open mind." Her tone sounded both innocent and helpful.
Henderson's voice was sardonic. "Thanks for the help, Lane. We always value the objectivity of the press. Now, if you're finished, I'd like to get back to my paperwork. Check the grammar and punctuation before I hand it in."
Lois grinned at his sarcasm as she put down the receiver. She loved Henderson. Looking across to Clark, she asked "Got anything on the fire?"
"Not much. The MFD is still checking but the bet is it was accidental. Those open oil drum fires and the old building. It was a matter of time."
"Lucky Superman was passing by."
"Lucky." Standing up, he said, "Come on, Ms. Lane. Let's go do some checking. I'm not convinced that it was accidental. It's just a little too convenient."
A short time later, they stood looking at the charred brick ruin that had been the Daly Apartments. The water used to extinguish the fire had draped the building with large jagged icicles that posed a safety hazard for anyone walking beneath. A few employees of the MFD were systematically combing the site in a search for evidence that would pinpoint the cause of the fire; however, a quick interview with them ascertained that they hadn't found much and didn't expect to. This fire appeared pretty routine.
The next step was to track down a few of the people who had been there last night. It took some time to do this; they had scattered, seeking warmth wherever they could find it. No one was very interested in talking to reporters. Lois and Clark picked up that chilly sense of distrust from several of the people they talked to. A few just seemed disoriented, unsure about any of the events connected to the fire. One person fervently argued that an alien voice from outer space had warned them that danger was near. For some reason, he kept saluting Clark. A few of the kids they talked to were scared. They shut down, their faces turning blank as both reporters tried to get information from them.
"Well, this has been productive," Clark said with a touch of sarcasm.
"I know, and I'm cold." Lois stamped her feet in attempt to get them warm.
Lifting his glasses, Clark shot a quick ray of red warmth at her boots. "Better?"
"Thanks." She smiled and tucked her arm around his. "Let's head back to the Planet, spaceman."
Clifford Moran was frightened, not for himself, but the others. The newspapers had called the fire an accident, to be expected given the squalid circumstances in which the squatters were living. He knew this wasn't true; they had been careful. Having grown up camping in the winter with his brother and father, he knew a lot about outdoor survival. He also knew a lot about camping in abandoned buildings.
He understood only too well that some of the people in the group were unstable psychiatric patients released too early from state institutions forced to cut spending. He knew who those people were and he had set things up so that they would be with others who were both experienced and who would care for them, and so that everyone could contribute something to the group. Although he had done this often in the last thirty years, he still felt satisfaction seeing the pride his friends could take in learning to create a shelter. There was no way that carelessness had caused that fire. Whoever had planted the bombs must also have been responsible for the fire. Whoever they were, they would strike again. And he was convinced that the homeless were the target.
Cliff decided he needed help but he couldn't go to the police. There was no statute of limitations on a murder charge and now they were looking for him in connection with the bombings. There was no way he could afford a lawyer. He would be processed through the court system slowly and then found guilty, to spend the rest of his life in a prison system riddled with drugs, HIV, and hepatitis C. So he decided to take a long shot.
He phoned Martha Kent. When he had discovered that the wallet he and Billy had lifted belonged to Jonathan Kent it had meant nothing until he went through the contents, which had included a small snapshot taken on the owner's wedding day. Cliff had recognized Martha Clark immediately, confirming that flash of awareness at the movie theatre. The next of kin card identified Martha and a son, Clark, living here in Metropolis. That too had struck a chord. Clark Kent was a reporter for the Daily Planet. An avid reader of newspapers, Cliff had concluded some time ago that Clark Kent and his partner, Lois Lane, were pretty solid. Under his own byline, Kent had recently written a couple of articles on street kids that Cliff had liked. Maybe Kent could be trusted. Cliff put a call through to Martha and asked her to arrange a meeting with her son.
Martha was surprised when her caller identified himself as Clifford Moran. Telephone calls could be so absurd sometimes, she thought as he began by asking her how she was. "What do you want, Cliff?"
"I need help, Martha, and I trust you. I'm hoping that I can trust your son, too, and that he and that partner of his might be interested in this. Can you set up a meeting with him?"
"Yes. When and where?"
"At the Fringe Gallery. In an hour."
"That might not be possible. They could be out on a story."
"You can leave a message for me at the gallery. I'll be there whenever they can make it."
When Lois and Clark got back to the Planet after an inconclusive morning tracking an elusive story, Lois accessed her voice mail to find that the story had come to them. She listened to Martha's calm voice. "Lois, an old friend of mine has called. He's an admirer of yours and Clark's work and was wondering if he could meet you, maybe for lunch?"
Lois's eyes widened as she listened to Martha's brief message. Immediately, she punched in her home phone number and got Martha. Too excited to identify herself she said, "Do you mean who I think you mean?"
"Yes. He called about two hours ago. Can you make it?"
"Of course. Would you like to be there too?"
"Are you kidding, honey? I wouldn't miss it. I decided to tell Jonathan everything and he says he'll be fine with Laura. Good thing he's had all that experience changing diapers." Lois smiled as she heard her mother-in-law chuckle. Then Martha continued. "But he's not too happy that I'm going although he does understand. And he feels better knowing that you and Clark will be there."
"Where shall we meet?" Martha gave her the details.
"Clark," Lois hissed across the small space that separated their desks. "We're going out."
"We are?" By this time she was over at the lounge area, pulling on her overcoat.
"I'll tell you about it on the way."
Lois did. "I can't believe this, Lois. What's my mom doing hanging around with an anarchist bomber?" They were walking out of the main lobby of the Planet.
"Clark, that's a gross exaggeration."
"You've been a bad influence on her, you know?"
"I wasn't even born in 1961, Kent. Try again."
"We'd better get down there quick, before Mom does. How about we uh, " he made a quick flying motion with his hand.
Lois rolled her eyes. "I don't think Martha's in any danger, Clark."
"Fine. You take a cab, and I'll fly." He walked briskly into a side alley, reappeared in the suit, swooped over to where Lois was standing, scooped her into his arms, gave her a look that telegraphed, 'I'm in charge here', and landed a few seconds later in a grubby alley dotted with trash cans. "O.K., let's go check this guy out before Mom gets there."
Lois kicked a rusty tin can out of her path and followed him into the sunshine. Clark paused for a moment, looking up and down the length of the street. He took her hand, "This way. Preston Street is three blocks down, on the other side."
"Overshot it a bit, did you?" Lois teased.
He flashed her a smile. "A good dark alley is hard to find."
They walked quickly along Hobbs Street, unimpeded by other pedestrians. At this time of day, the street was quiet. Some of the businesses that they passed were boarded up, victims of a declining neighborhood and of a retailing revolution that stressed massive suburban warehouse marketing. Dingy facades faced onto a wide street where traffic was mostly going somewhere else.
Preston Street was different. Narrower, with a few winter bare trees standing like sentinels on either side, the street seemed less empty, although few people were outside. Those who were, hurried, their shoulders hunched against the cold wind. The two reporters passed a couple of places being renovated — carpenters and painters visible through the large windows. The shops, restaurants, and businesses that lined the street were interspersed with a few studio-galleries, one of which was the Fringe Gallery.
Clark opened the old, half-windowed door, triggering a bell that announced their presence. The gallery was plain, its dark stained wooden floor contrasting the stark white walls hung with boldly colored paintings. Randomly placed metal sculptures broke the tunnel of the room. Towards the back, two young men and a woman, barely out of their teens, were looking at a twisted metal sculpture with an intensity that their peers might reserve for Baywatch. No one emerged who appeared to be a manager or owner of the gallery.
Lois looked along the east wall of the gallery. "Martha told me Cliff's painting is near the back of this wall." She paused for a second and then touched Clark's sleeve. "I think that's it."
Together, they walked back to look at the painting that had been created by Clifford Moran decades ago. Clark furrowed his brows and narrowed his eyes as he tried to make sense of its abstract shapes while Lois said, "Interesting use of symbolism."
Clark turned a sceptical eye her way. "Care to explain it to me, Ms. Lane," he challenged.
"It's obvious, Clark."
What was obvious about it was not going to be revealed at that moment. A comfortably rumpled middle aged man with a thickening waist line came to stand beside them. "If you're interested in this artist, I have more of his work in the back room."
Clark's voice was firm. "We're interested."
"Back here, if you'll follow me." He walked toward a dark wooden door at the opposite end of the gallery and stood to one side so they could precede him into the room.
This room was also long and narrow, lined with canvases resting on the floor and propped against the wall, three and four deep. Natural light in the room was limited to the afternoon sun coming through the one window at the back. In that corner, a man sat at a small wooden table, drinking tea. For a second, Lois was reminded of a monk whom she had encountered in an old Irish monastery. The man looked up as the trio entered the room and came forward to meet them. He was wearing jeans and an old sweater, his gray hair neatly secured in a pony tail.
"Clark Kent and Lois Lane? You're here sooner than I expected. Martha said you'd be about half an hour."
"Fast cab." Lois sometimes wondered if she was better or worse than Clark in coming up with reasonable explanations for inexplicable occurrences.
"I expected Martha to be with you."
"She's coming. Why did you want to talk to us, Mr. Moran?" Clark asked.
"Why don't I make another pot of tea and then I'll tell you." He carried the teapot over to a small sink on the other side of the room and plugged in the kettle. Then he turned to scrutinize the couple in front of him. "You don't look much like Martha, Mr. Kent."
"He's more like his father," Lois said.
"I'd feel better if I thought you were Martha's son. But I've read your work, both of you, and I trust it. You two have guts and I think you have compassion. What I have to say to you now I want to go no further."
"You can trust us, Mr. Moran. The Daily Planet does not reveal its sources." Lois's voice was firm.
Moran shifted his gaze to her partner looking for his agreement. Clark nodded.
"I can't take a chance on going to the police. I expect Martha's told you. Once they run a check on me, they'll find an old charge and I'm done."
Clark crossed his arms. "Did you kill that police officer?"
"No!" Moran's voice was vehement. "I don't know how he died. I think he got caught by a bullet from one of the bank's security guards."
"So you did rob that bank."
"Yeah. Tried to anyway. We'd run out of money. Three of our guys were in jail on phoney charges and we couldn't even raise bail for them, let alone get a decent lawyer. We had to rob that bank. We had no other choice."
Clark said nothing but Lois forged ahead. "So what did happen at that jail?"
Moran shrugged his shoulders ironically. "It was a small jail." He paused for a moment as he reached for two mugs from the shelf above the sink. "Do you know, I watched the whole thing from my cell. The deputy lit a cigarette and then came over to give me and my cell mate, a local drunk he'd brought in about a half hour earlier, some supper. The drunk took a lucky swipe at him and connected. I was outta there real fast. I read the next day that the jail had burned and they figured the drunk's body was mine. That was fine by me."
Clark's narrowed eyes still were disapproving. "What about his family?"
"Not many street drunks have families."
Clark lowered his head for a moment, acknowledging Moran's point. "Okay, so why do you want to see us?" His voice was soft, serious.
"That fire last night wasn't an accident. Someone is trying to get rid of us. Now that I think about it, I think it started over a month ago. Small things. Different each time. At first, just to discredit us. Make it look like we were behind a lot of crime." Clark, recalling his father's wallet, raised his eyebrows. "Okay, maybe some of that was valid. There've been other things, too, but I don't know if they're connected. A couple of murders. That body that was dumped on the steps of the local precinct office." Clark looked up when Cliff said that, thinking of the string of unsolved killings that he had been following for the last couple of months as Cliff continued speaking. "Then the gas leak last week. Maybe an accident. But those two bombs weren't. CEPL did not plant them."
Moran looked at them both directly, his blue eyes blazing and his deep rich voice passionate. "I love this city. We love it. But business is destroying it. Not the small guys. They make it happen here. But Bronson and others like them. Concrete everywhere. Forget the parks, the people, the families and the kids. How much money can you make? That's the question. The kids on the street. Who cares? Not the families who molested them, abused them. The old guys with nowhere to go. We staked out part of this city; the part no one else wanted. So now they want it back. So they'll get rid of us. Send us to jail, kill us. Who cares?"
"How can we help?" Lois asked. Listening to him, Lois could understand why Martha had never really forgotten him.
"Find out who the real bomber is. It's not me. Bronson would like to discredit CEPL and they can do that if they get me."
Clark's tone was at last sympathetic. "Where do you suggest we start? No one on the street wants to talk, assuming they know anything."
"They'll talk if I say. I'm not sure what they know, but I think the two of you can piece it together if they do. I do know they're convinced another bomb's out there and they're frightened."
"Okay," Clark let a breath escape that he hadn't been aware that he was holding. "Let's start with you. Were you at the Daly Apartments last night?"
"Of course. We were pretty careful about everything, especially the fires. Believe me, I know what I'm doing when it comes to these things. If the MFD says we started the fire there, you want to check into that."
"The MFD's still sifting through the evidence. Was there anyone there last night that you didn't know personally?" Lois asked.
"No. No one."
"Anything unexpected?" Clark realized his question was strange, given that life on the streets was mostly unpredictable.
"Yeah, in a way. An old drunk, Mick, came by late, looking for a place to sleep. I'd talked to him a few times on the street but he's a loner. This was the first time he'd ever been willing to stay with us."
"Could he have started the fire? Smoking, maybe?" Lois asked.
"No, he didn't smoke. He was proud of that. He would have died in the fire if it hadn't been for Superman. Maybe that's who I should try to contact." He stopped speaking and looked at Lois and Clark. "Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent, they say that Superman is a special friend of yours. Is there any way you could convince him to help us?"
Lois tucked her hair behind her ear. "Rumors of our connection with Superman are greatly exaggerated. We have no influence over him." She laughed. "You'll just have to make do with two ordinary reporters."
As she finished speaking, the gallery owner reentered the room, this time bringing Martha Kent with him. She said hello to her son and daughter-in-law and then gave a more cautious greeting to Clifford Moran.
Moran's reply was more friendly. "I'm glad you've come, Martha. I want to apologize for last Saturday. I said some things I shouldn't have." His soft voice was sincere as he looked at Martha with a sadness that surprised her. For a moment she saw the boy who had been her close friend so many years ago. Wanting to comfort him, she smiled and stepped closer, touching his arm.
Moran encircled her in his arms and Martha returned his hug. "It's so good to see you again, Martha."
Lois looked on, amused, as she noticed Clark cross his arms again and narrow his eyes in disapproval as he watched the two embrace. She tapped his shoulder, whispering, "Relax, Clark."
Her husband gave her a half smile, shrugged, and slid his hands in his pockets but nearly choked at Moran's next words.
"You're still beautiful, Martha Clark." He looked over at Clark. "Do you know how beautiful your mother was when we were back at Kansas State?"
Lois replied, her eyes laughing, "We have some idea."
"Let's get started, shall we?" Clark's voice was very polite.
"There're a couple of people you should talk to but I can't go with you. Alex will take you to them. After you've talked to them, the word will be out and you won't need him. Be careful, the police could be watching Alex, too. He's only been part of CEPL for a year and I don't think they've tagged him for anything. He's pretty clean. By the way, I haven't used my real name since I *died*. People here know me as John Marshall."
He walked over to the door and opened it, stepping out into the gallery for a second. Turning to the two reporters, he said, "You can trust Alex." Then Moran looked past them. "Will you stay and have some lunch with me, Martha? It would be good to talk."
"Of course, Cliff. I'd like that, too." Picking up her son's look of concern, Martha waved him away with a small but mischievous smile. "See you two, later."
Outside in the gallery, a tall young man dressed in black with a small backpack slung across his shoulders approached them, his long legs quickly covering the distance from the back of the gallery. Though he was probably in his early twenties, he had not lost the gawkiness of adolescence. Lois thought he looked like a punk Abraham Lincoln, minus the beard. She recognized him as one of the trio who had been studying the sculpture when she and Clark had come into the gallery.
He reached out a long arm to shake their hands and smiled politely, a boy on his best behavior. "Hi, I'm Alex. Just follow me."
As they were following him out of the store, Clark leaned toward Lois and whispered urgently. "Lois, we can't leave my mom here alone."
"She's not alone; she's with Cliff."
"That's my point."
"Clark, he's not going to hurt her."
"I know that."
"Are you two coming?" Alex waited for the two reporters who had stopped behind him.
"Yes. Let's go, Clark." When he did not move, she rolled her eyes in exasperation and tugged at his hand. "Clark!" He relented but she could tell that he wasn't happy.
Lois and Clark followed Alex down a couple of side streets and then along a narrow alley that opened onto a small square, lightly covered in snow and surrounded on three sides by deserted buildings, their foundations ringed with brick and concrete rubble. One of the buildings had been partly demolished, leaving it an architectural amputee, its east wall scarred with pale plaster and multi colored brick. But the square itself was neat, with all fragments of rubble removed. Several young trees lined its boundaries, staked to help them through the first couple of growing seasons. Benches had been added, as well as a play area for children, the empty swings now waiting for spring. An old apartment building and a church built of grey limestone completed the west side of the square.
"Over here," Alex said as they crossed the square toward the church. "CEPL got this project going." He stood for a moment in front of a young tree that was not much taller than him. "This is my tree." He touched the trunk with affection. "I planted it last spring. It's a maple tree." He blushed, as if realizing that affection for a tree might sound a little odd to the two reporters.
Clark looked at the tree with a careful eye. "Trunk is pretty straight and the branches have good separation. It'll do fine."
Surrounded by farmers, Lois thought. However, what she said was, "Did John help with this?"
"It wouldn't have happened without him. He got everyone organized, made us realize we could do it." Alex's admiration for the older man was evident as he spoke of some of the small projects that CEPL had completed.
"Were you there last night, Alex?" Clark asked.
"Yes. Wouldn't have missed it. I live with friends in an apartment a couple of blocks from here but I had to be there in that building to let them know that they can't destroy this city. Look what we've done here. This apartment building had been abandoned. So we took it over. Well, CEPL did. They scrounged material and rehabbed it and now it's a decent home for people who couldn't afford anything else."
"Did the church help?" Lois was curious about how they had raised the necessary resources.
"Some. The church was empty too and the diocese sold it to CEPL for the cost of the paperwork. A couple of the sisters and one of the priests help run the shelter which operates out of the church now. A couple of the guys wound up here last night after the fire."
They entered the church vestibule, its tall ceiling soaring into darkness above them. But the room was warm, and Lois unbuttoned her overcoat and loosened her scarf as they crossed the worn slate floor to the nave of the church. Part of it had been transformed into a dining hall, filled with several long tables which were now unoccupied. Beyond the tables, the room had been partitioned by a large screen decorated with a colorful mural. Behind the partition was a dormitory with cots lining the wall. There were only a few people in the room.
"Even when it's cold, many of the guys who come here prefer to be on the streets. They're always afraid that the authorities will take away their freedom. Make them follow rules," Alex said as he led them over to an old man whose face was partially obscured by an unruly grey beard. The man looked at the newcomers with suspicion and reached for the dark bundle beside him, as though fearful that they would take it from him.
"It's okay, Andy. This is Lois Lane and Clark Kent. They're friends of John's. They're going to help find out who set the fire last night."
"And where the next bomb's gonna be. They gotta find that out, too." His voice was excited. "Someone's trying to kill us. They wanna get rid of us."
"Who does?" Lois's voice was gentle as she sat beside him on his cot.
The man looked startled and backed away from her, watching her carefully. "The outsiders. Snakes. They want to get rid of us."
"How do you know they want to get rid of you?" Clark's voice was calm.
"Something bad happens after they come."
"What happens?" Lois continued.
"Gas. Explosions. Somebody's not there the next day."
"Who's not there?"
Andy looked at Alex before he answered Lois. "Janie wasn't there."
"Where do you think the outsiders come from, Andy?" Lois's voice was gentle as she continued questioning the old man.
"They're not like you. They come from a dark van."
"What do they look like?"
"They're like him, big, same age, only one had brown hair." Andy's eye shifted to Clark. "Black jackets and thick warm shoes. Cost money." He was becoming increasingly agitated as he spoke. "Don't know who they are. They'll blow us up."
Clark spoke with firmness. "Not if we can stop it, Andy. You've helped us get started."
The old man looked at him. "You helped Mick last night. Ask him. He knows." He sank back onto the cot and closed his eyes.
"Thanks, Andy. I'll see you later." Alex led the two reporters back toward the front of the church. "There's someone else I'd like you to see if we can find her today."
"How long has Andy been on the streets?" Lois asked.
"I'm not sure. He's been around as long as I've been down here. He was released from one of the state psychiatric hospitals. They stamped him fit and normal. But he had nowhere to go and he gets confused real easy. It was Superman who saved Mick last night."
"Maybe he's confused about the outsiders, too. He thought they were like Clark."
"I don't think so. A couple of others have said the same thing. John hasn't had any luck tracking them and now that the cops are looking for him he's got to stay under."
"John didn't mention anything about the outsiders to Lois and me."
"He probably wanted you to discover that on your own. You have to admit, it sounds paranoid and John needed for you to take him seriously."
"I don't suppose you've seen these guys?"
"No, that's the problem. I think they're pretty careful whenever someone's around unless it's someone who's homeless. Ever notice how some people don't see street people?"
They followed him through an uninhabited block of the city, several of its buildings now shells reduced to their outer walls. Where only the deep excavation of a structure's foundation remained, the area was surrounded by chain link fencing, with red 'keep out' signs. Alex's long legs climbed nimbly over some of this debris as he took what appeared to be a short cut through a narrow alley between two brick hulks, stranded amid the grey rubble like shipwrecks on a rocky beach. He circled around behind a boarded up gas station, its pumps ripped away from their concrete pads, and crossed a short side street to come to a stop in front of an old warehouse that had probably been a garment factory at one time.
"It's not that we're against big business, you know. We can't take on this," Alex's eyes shifted from his companions to the ruins around him, "without money. But we believe we have the right to have some input on their agenda." He stepped through the doorless entry of the warehouse and paused for a second to get his bearings in the dimmer light. "Some guys are squatting here. You should talk to them."
Remembering their lack of success earlier in the day, Lois thought this was going to be a waste of time. Nevertheless, they followed Alex up a narrow stairway on their right into a large room ringed with tall windows. The room was squalid, its floors bare and the walls a grimy grey. In the far corner, a litter of kids, bundled in sweaters and old jackets sprawled among piles of sleeping bags and makeshift furniture. Two of them were sleeping.
Alex introduced Lois and Clark, briefly explaining why they were there. For a moment no one spoke as each person sized up the two reporters. Finally, one of the group motioned for the three of them to sit down on one of the vacant mattresses on the floor. He then turned to a young girl beside him. She was too thin, with the exception of her swollen belly which indicated that she was about six months pregnant. Her eyes were glazed and she didn't seem to be completely awake.
"Sarah, tell them what you saw."
"I don't know what I saw. Maybe it was nothing. Sometimes I pick up some money working nights, ya know. Not so much now." She patted her stomach. "Most guys aren't so interested. Last Thursday night I was heading over to the strip. I pass by that old entry into the subway tunnels. I don't know if it's still used. I've never seen anyone there. But last Thursday I saw two guys come out of that gate at the front of the tunnel. I figured they were working there. They looked like that. I was walking toward them and they didn't see me at first. I thought they might be business so I stopped in front of them." She stopped speaking for a moment and looked at Lois. "I'm doing it for my baby. I'll get enough money so we'll be O.K."
Lois tried to suppress the sadness that was welling up in her for this child in front of her. "What happened next, Sarah?"
"They laughed at me. Not mean, though. One of them gave me ten bucks."
"Do you remember anything about them?"
"They were tall, not as tall as Alex. Bigger builds though. One of them had a cool earring, a silver coiled snake. He had a snake tattoo on his hand too. I noticed it when he gave me the money. The other guy was carrying a gym bag."
"Where's this tunnel exactly?" Clark asked.
"Over at Levine and 22nd."
"That's were the gas leak was last Thursday," Clark said. "What time did you run into these guys?"
"About nine o'clock. That's all that happened. I told Mick about it when we were at the apartment last night and he said he saw the same two guys. I don't know if he did. Sometimes he's off."
"They've been trying to get us out of here. Say this is private property. Not any more. Nobody's used this building in years. So it's ours and we're not leaving." This comment came form the pale young man who had given Sarah permission to speak.
"Who are they?" Lois asked.
"Don't know for sure. They had the police with them the first time. Said they represent the owners of this building. They've been back a couple of times but we're not going. We know there's gonna be another bomb but we're not afraid."
"How do you know that?"
"Everyone says so. You gotta stop it."
"Why not go to the police?" Lois asked.
The kids looked at her as though she were nuts. "Sure, lady. Like they're gonna take us seriously."
Another one of the group said, "The cops been down here. Lookin' for John. Nothin' else on their mind. Too bad we never seen him." He shrugged and turned back to the magazine he'd been reading.
They talked for a few minutes, but the kids knew nothing more. They hadn't had that much information to begin with.
Half running across the subway platform, Martha caught the last car of the train seconds before its heavy doors clamped shut. Spotting an empty seat, she sat down and looked around at the other passengers in the crowded car. One of the things that she loved about Metropolis was that its population reflected all parts of the world. She thought if she talked to each person on this car she would know more about the world outside the United States than if she went on a vacation to some foreign land. Of course, if she talked to everyone on this car they would think she was crazy. One of the unspoken rules of subway transportation is that you pretend that the person whose thigh is jammed intimately against yours on a too narrow seat, is not really there. Coming from a small town, Martha found this rule hard to obey and every once in awhile, she broke it and had been pleased to note that she had been neither arrested nor netted as a result.
However, this afternoon she sat quietly, thinking about her time with Cliff. It had been good to see him again and the talk had flowed easily between them, like they were kids again, excited about some new artist or cause. Even so, there had remained a distance between them, part of it her fault as she had found it difficult to hide her concern about the rootlessness of his life and some of it his as he could not resist a few digs at her seemingly very conventional life-style. She had no illusions about the recipe for his survival: one part odd jobs and one part charm, seasoned with a pinch of petty crime. He was a strange mix of arrogance, ego, and edgy selflessness, as committed as he'd ever been to causes that she too thought were important.
When she got back to the townhouse, she hugged Jonathan tightly. She could tell by the way he held her that he had been very worried about her and that now he felt a strong sense of relief that she was home. His voice was gruff as he asked her about the man he'd never met. Martha told him about Cliff and what they had talked about, letting Jonathan know how much his understanding meant to her, how much it had always meant to her. Then the two of them climbed the stairs to the nursery.
Laura was just beginning to wake up from her afternoon nap and Martha picked her up, succumbing to the lovely warmth of a baby snuggling into her arms. Cliff had accused her of taking the easy way out when she had returned to Smallville after her short time in jail. He had been wrong. Although she had never doubted that her decision to marry Jonathan was the right one, it had not been easy, especially in the early years as they had worked together to make a go of the run-down farm that he'd inherited from his grandfather. They'd had to fight just as surely as Cliff had. Then had come the pain of not being able to have children, the emptiness that was like a cold dark hand around her heart. And the guilt that she had felt when the adoption agency rejected them because of her background.
Laura burbled and stretched a tiny arm as she completed the complex task of waking up. Martha fell under her granddaughter's spell, suddenly remembering what it had been like when she and Jonathan had found Clark. Martha had scooped him up out of his small ship, making sure that he was covered in his dark blue blanket. She had gazed at him in wonder, only dimly hearing Jonathan say that they had better contact the authorities. She hadn't bothered looking up at him; she'd just shaken her head, knowing that the baby was theirs and that she loved him and that she would not give him up, her brown eyed, dark haired baby boy, sent to them, by parents far away, in a tiny ark to be found among the flags of Shuster's Field.
Jonathan knew, too, because the next thing she heard was his gentle voice saying "Let's go home, Martha. We'll keep him safe. I'll make sure they never find this capsule."
Lois and Clark walked out of Metropolis General Hospital, trying to make sense out of what Mick had said to them. Mick was sure the devil was trying to kill them, kill all of them. He made the ground shake and the air hard to breathe and people disappear. You have to hide from the devil. The devil has helpers. The devil has snakes. They'll find you wherever you go. They nearly found him last night but he hid from them and they went away. But they left something and they'll come back for it. The devil and his helper. They'll kill you. You have to stay by yourself. You have to hide from the devil. As he talked, his agitation increased until the duty nurse called a doctor who sedated him, staying until the old man was calm.
"So we look for someone with a snake tattoo. That's just about every second guy with a tattoo in the bars of Metropolis." Lois looked at her husband for a second. "Although we know he's your size. So that limits it to every fourth guy." She brightened for a moment. "Maybe I can get Jimmy to do it."
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Come on, Lois. Think how it'd be, going to all the bars in town and asking to see a guy's tattoo. Jimmy would be dead by morning."
Lois sighed. "I hadn't thought about that."
"You, on the other hand, could get a guy to show you his tattoos real fast." Clark raised his eyebrows at her suggestively.
"Clark!" Lois sounded shocked.
"I could watch. Come to your rescue if you needed." His tone was helpful.
"I can take care of myself, Clark Kent."
His eyes sparkled and he flashed her a grin. "O.K. You check the bars on your own and I'll check out a few other things."
"I'll try the MFD again."
"I'll call Henderson and ask him for a run down on guys with explosives experience who look like our man."
"Let's talk to Bobby Bigmouth, too. He might be faster than checking the bars. And after that, Ms. Lane, I think we head home." Clark slid his arm around her shoulders as he spoke.
The MFD had found traces of a delayed reaction incendiary bomb in the Daly building. This information altered the police take on the identity of the bomber since it was difficult to argue that their only suspect was the masked spokesman for CEPL when he had been among those spending the night there. That he was prepared to risk his own life seemed unlikely, although Henderson still thought there was a possibility that the group's leader might have thought that he could get everyone out of the building before the bomb detonated, thus making CEPL look like victims and thereby gaining public sympathy.
Lois rolled her eyes while Henderson was telling her this but had the good sense to stifle her reply. She wanted Henderson to do her a favor and ticking him off didn't seem like a wise move. She made her request for a list of known illicit explosives talent and then listened to the pause at the other end of theline. Henderson was thinking, always a good sign, she thought.
"What makes you and Kent so sure that our guy is not the one?"
"We've been talking to a few of the people down in the Annex."
"So have our guys. Nothing. They clam up. No one knows this masked guy. You got a lead on him?"
"Henderson, can you do that search for me? There's a fear down here that there's going to be another bomb."
"Yeah, wouldn't surprise me. We got word this morning that last Thursday's gas leak was no accident. I'll have Liz put your description through the computer and see what we get."
"Thanks, Henderson. I owe you." Lois could be gracious when the occasion warranted. She hung up the receiver and stepped away from the protection of the phone cubicle. "He'll do it. Now let's go find Bobby."
They found Bobby Bigmouth at the cafeteria where he sometimes worked but, for once, he didn't know any more than they did. He'd picked up the edginess on the streets, all right, and he knew it was caused by the fear of the bombings, the fires, and the unsolved murders which Bobby knew Clark had been investigating. His grizzled face was apologetic as he told them what little he knew.
That night, Superman searched the Old Market and Annex area. Slowing his speed as much as possible and swooping low, he scanned the area. Entering the tunnels under that part of the city, he did a whirlwind inspection of crevices and dark corners. Some of the tunnels were in use— part of the subway system that crossed beneath the city, but most were now abandoned. Some of them had been built almost a century ago as the subway system was completed, while others had been built to provide access to the sewer system and to underground steam pipes and gas lines. As he blitzed through these low narrow burrows he noticed a few shapeless men and women, moles settled in for the night. In some cases, their cardboard packing crates told him that these tunnels provided permanent residences, giving them some protection against the cold of winter. His search turned up no sign of a bomb.
When he got home, the house was in darkness except for one light upstairs. After stopping in Laura's nursery for a few moments, he walked down the hall to the master bedroom. It was empty. Noticing the light coming through the open door on the far side of the room, he smiled, spun into his terry robe, and then entered the bathroom. Lois, her dark hair tied up in a pony tail, was lolling back in the bubble-filled tub, sponging water over her shoulders. She smiled at him as he leaned against the sink counter.
"No. I checked pretty carefully. No bomb anywhere. The place is safe."
"Good." She was aware that his eyes had left her face as he spoke and were now wandering over the rest of her body. She smiled and arched her back provocatively, silently flirting with him as she dribbled foamy water over her shoulder again. "So, you're home for awhile?" As their eyes met again, she smiled as she saw the mix of laughter and passion in his. What she wanted to do, she thought with a sigh, was to let her hands roam over every inch of him. Rivulets of water trailing over her body, she rose from the tub, and reached for a towel.
He beat her to it. "Yeah, I'm home for awhile. So, is there anything I can do for you?" His voice was both teasing and hopeful as he began to rub her gently with the towel.
"Hmmm. That feels so nice." She half closed her eyes as she spoke, leaning in to his touch as he massaged her shoulders and then bent forward to cover her mouth with his in a slow sweet caress. She put her hands on his chest and then slid them up to his shoulders as she deepened their kiss. "There might be one or two things you could do for me, Mr. Kent."
"Glad to be of service, Mrs. Kent." He reached back and undid the ribbon holding her hair.
"I might have your man," Henderson's voice was low key as he spoke to Lois on the phone late the next morning giving Lois the feeling that he was doing something else at the same time he was talking to her. "Jeff Saracini. Black hair, hazel eyes, six two, snake tattoo on his right hand and left forearm, released a year ago from New Troy Penn. Clean parole record. Convictions for arson, assault. Skilled in the production of explosive devices, it says here. How'd you know, Lane?"
"We talked to a lot of people yesterday. The snake thing kept coming up, not always in lucid conversation, but too often to ignore."
"Anyone we should talk to?"
"Yeah, I think so, but I'm not sure she'll talk to you. Let me talk to her again. I'll try to get her to agree to see you away from the station."
"Lois, this guy is not a gentleman. I trust Kent will keep you out of trouble.
Eyes veiled, Lois stared at the receiver for a moment. "Look Henderson, I don't need a keeper."
"No? Motherhood reformed you?"
"No, it has not." The indignation in Lois's reply heightened as Henderson laughed and hung up the phone. Why did everyone think that motherhood should slow her down? She'd had a baby, not a personality transplant. After quickly scribbling a note, she placed it on Clark's empty desk. Moments later, she was jabbing the lobby button in the elevator.
Half an hour later, she'd navigated a few alleys and climbed through rubble to find the squat that she, Clark and Alex had visited yesterday. She tried to convince Sarah to talk to Henderson. The girl was reluctant; she feared being charged with soliciting and most of all she was terrified that they would hold her until her baby was born and then take the baby from her.
"You don't get it, do you? I can't lose my baby. Nobody's ever loved me. My baby will be someone to love me."
Lois felt close to tears. Part of her felt that the best thing in the world for the child would be to be taken from this girl-woman and yet she understood how Sarah might never get over that loss. "Sarah, no one will take your baby away. I promise you that. But you have to trust us and you have to let us help you."
Sarah agreed finally to go with Lois to the shelter. She would talk to Henderson there but she would not go downtown. Pulling her black ski jacket over her bulky sweater, she got to her feet and followed Lois out onto the street. She led Lois to the shelter, taking a longer route, but one that involved less climbing and no back alleys. Sarah was reaching a stage in her pregnancy that discouraged back street scrambling.
Once at the shelter, Lois entrusted Sarah to a nun who was helping out that morning. As Lois put through a call to police headquarters, she hoped that Sister Joan would make it her business to take long term care of Sarah. When she got through to Henderson, he said he'd be there as soon as possible. Lois returned to the long trestle table to have coffee while Sarah dug into the beginning of a sensible lunch that the sister was preparing. Lois smiled at the nun in relief, sending her a silent request to take care of the girl.
While the three women were chatting over lunch, Alex showed up at the church, slightly out of breath. Catching sight of Lois, he walked quickly over to the table. "Lois, I was about to phone you. I've just seen the two guys that Sarah was talking about."
"Where? Let's go, Alex. We've got to follow them."
"Where's your partner?" Alex sounded doubtful. "I'd feel better if he were here too."
"He's, ah, on another story." The truth was that Clark had picked up a news bulletin about a major storm in the North Sea that was threatening to wipe out the oil platforms there, endangering the lives of the workers who lived on them. "He'll be here later, if he gets time. Sarah can let Henderson know where we've gone," Lois said as she and Alex rushed out of the church. Of course, since neither of them had left any specific information about their destination, this would be difficult. Lois Lane, on the trail of a big story, was not always logical about details.
"I saw these guys getting out of a van a couple of blocks from here. I went over to get a closer look, and I spotted the snake tattoo on one guy's hand." Alex was excited and he rushed his words. "I figured I'd better call you and the shelter was just around the corner."
They jogged the two blocks to where Alex had seen the men and spotted them turning into a side street not far from the squats. "O.K., Alex, let's take it easy here." They slowed down, keeping far enough back so they wouldn't be noticed, but close enough to see their quarry stop in the middle of the sidewalk up ahead. Lois pulled Alex into the doorway of a boarded up store on their right.
The two men halted in front of an iron grate in the sidewalk and then looked up and down the deserted street. Seeing no one, the taller of the two men pried the grate open and they both lowered themselves into it, disappearing from sight.
"Alex, I'm going down there. You go back to the shelter and tell Henderson when he gets there," Lois whispered as she peered around the store's doorframe.
"You can't do that." Alex's voice had risen a decibel. "I'm coming with you."
"It's O.K., Alex, I've done this before. I'll be careful. What I need you to do is tell Henderson." She looked at him as she spoke, her voice confident, willing him to go.
Alex hesitated and then made up his mind. Briefly, he touched her shoulder. "All right, but I'm back here as soon as I'm done." Turning, he ran back in the direction from which they'd come, his long legs stretching like an ostrich in flight.
Lois pried the grate away from its metal frame and climbed down the iron ladder attached to the side of the shaft which led below the street surface. Jumping down the last two feet, she landed on the dirt floor of a small cave-like area with tunnels going off in two directions. Great, she thought. Which way? Then she noticed the damp earth scuffed in the tunnel to her left and proceeded down it, careful to keep to the wall in case she should be close to her quarry.
After several interminable minutes treading cautiously in the dark, Lois finally heard their voices up ahead although she could not make out what they were saying. Clark, you have it too easy, she told her absent partner. It was difficult walking in the dark and so she kept her right hand on the damp tunnel wall to help her sense where she was going. She wondered if there were rats down here. There were.
Suddenly, she could hear clearly what the two men were saying. They had come to a halt and Lois could see the perimeter of a small circle of light cast by a flashlight against the dark ground.
"This will do. I figure we're under the squats here. This'll clear everyone outta there for awhile. Hand me the box."
Slight sounds of movement but no talk. Lois wished she could see what they were doing. Then the voice again. "O.K., the timer's set."
"How long we got to get outta here?"
"More than enough time. This'll blow at rush hour, make a greater impression then. No more problem down here for the boss and we get our bonus."
"Yeah. His man'll contact us at the airport as soon as the six o'clock news broadcasts the explosion. He gives us the cash and we're on the next flight to the beach."
At this point, Lois made her mistake. In an effort to try to see the two men, she stepped away from the shadows of the wall; a decision that placed her within range of the flashlight which now turned toward her as the two men began to retrace their path back to the grate.
"Well, we have a complication." The hazel eyes that stared at her glittered.
Lois turned and ran. God, she couldn't see in this darkness. Her foot hit a puddle, throwing her off balance for a second as she slid in the muck. That second was all they needed to gain distance on her. Instinctively, she turned and aimed a quick kick that caught the first of her pursuers in the groin. He sank to the ground, roaring his pain in a string of curses that echoed off the tunnel walls. His partner ignored him and kept running toward her. Not realizing she'd made the decision, Lois stood her ground. With luck, she could take out two guys this way. She knew she couldn't outrun him.
He stopped about three yards away from her and she saw that he had a gun in his hand. "It's over, lady." His partner rose to his feet, walked over to her and looked at her for a moment without speaking. Then he struck her hard across the face. Lois reeled back in pain and then tried to aim a second kick but only managed to deliver a harmless blow to the side of his hip. He hit her again, shoving her against the hard wall of the tunnel. The pain of the blow seared like a white flash through her consciousness just before everything went dark.
"Is she dead?" the man with the gun asked.
His partner dropped to one knee to look at Lois carefully. "I don't think so but she's out cold. Who knows how long she'll be out. Finish her off, Jeff. We don't want any witnesses."
"Not with this," Jeff put the gun back in his jacket. "No sense leaving more evidence than we have to." He grabbed Lois's arms roughly and dragged her body through the greasy puddles part way down the tunnel while his partner followed. "This'll do. She's close enough to the bomb here so that when it blows, she does too. There's some rope in my bag. Give it to me." The other man tossed him the rope and Jeff bound her wrists behind her and then strung the rope down to her ankles. Next he used her scarf to gag her. "Okay, let's get out of here. By the time they figure she was here, we're in South America." He stood up and the two men ran quickly along the tunnel and climbed up into the street.
Lois lay there unconscious for about ten minutes and then had a bit of luck. She was robbed. Two old men, bundled in shabby clothes and half drunk had entered the tunnel looking for warmth. An old mongrel dog shambled beside them. The two men were squabbling over the remaining dregs in a cheap bottle of whiskey when the dog wandered away from them to nudge at the trussed shape that was Lois's body.
"Walt, look what we got here." The older of the two men bent over Lois. He lit a match and looked at her. "I think she's dead." He looked at his companion in shock.
"Maybe she's got some cash," Walt said as he started to go through the pockets of her coat. He found a twenty dollar bill, and grinned. Pulling out his knife, he cut the ropes around her wrists. "Help me get her coat off. She won't need it no more and it's better'n what old Mary has." When he'd removed her coat, he looked at her for a moment. "Poor kid. No place to die."
"Let's get out of here, Joe. That twenty'll get us a couple bottles and then we'll tell someone she's here."
"Not much we can do for her now.
When Alex got back to the shelter, Sarah had gone. Sister Joan reported that the girl had lost her nerve but she had hopes that the girl would come back later that day. "I'm concerned about her health, Alex. She's too thin. We've got to get proper care for her."
"Never mind that, Sister, is the cop here?"
"No. We got a call just after you left. He's been delayed for another hour."
"What?" Alex raced to the phone. To be safe, he put a call through to police headquarters as well as to Clark Kent at the Daily Planet letting them know the location of the grate. Alex got Kent's voice mail and left a message identical to the one he'd left the police. Great, he thought, everyone's got more important things to do. He got the sister to lend him a couple of flashlights and then he left the shelter.
Lois moaned, raising her hand to touch the back of her throbbing head. For a moment she wasn't sure where she was. Looking down at her feet, she realized they'd tied her up but how had she been cut loose? Reaching forward, she unwound the rope from around her ankles. Where was her coat? She had to get moving but all she wanted to do was to lie down and go to sleep. She had to stand up. Slowly, her hand on the wall of the tunnel, she pulled herself up, dimly aware there was something she had to do. Then she remembered. There was a bomb somewhere. She had to tell someone; she had to get out of here. She felt like she'd been drugged. Pushing herself, she staggered the short distance to the ladder that would take her up to the street.
For a moment, the fresh air invigorated her, like cold water on a hot day. She could make it. She started to walk toward the church shelter, shivering and fighting the dizziness that was making her mind and her body numb. I have to get home. Laura needs me. Clark, where are you? Laura! There's a bomb. She wasn't sure where she was going. Was this the alley that Alex had taken? She didn't know. There was no one around. Everything was getting dark and her head hurt. She stumbled over some brick rubble and fell. Damn, no! Her head throbbed and she fought the nausea rising in her throat. Why did she take these risks? What was she trying to prove? Who was she kidding? She had to get up. If only this weight that was pressing down on her would disappear. She couldn't see clearly, the street faded in a blur of white static, and then the blackness claimed her again. She didn't get up.
When Alex left the shelter, he ran back toward the squats, nabbing the first three guys he knew and then racing back toward the street where he had left Lois Lane. The four men skittered down the ladder into the shaft and split up, two going down each tunnel.
It was Alex who found Lois's bag. He called to the others and all four searched the tunnel but found no sign of the reporter. Giving up the search, they returned to the street. "They must have taken her," Alex said. "I've gotta get the police." That comment had the effect of making his three companions vanish quickly back into the security of the back alleys that they knew so well.
Clark Kent was pleased with the rescue of the workers on the oil rig this morning. Everyone was safe and he'd managed to re-anchor the giant rig so that it was secure against the force of the storm. It had been easy. Now he could put in a few hours at the job that paid, he thought ruefully as he entered the Daily Planet. Although he wasn't consciously aware of it, the first thing that he always did when he got off the elevator alone was to look across the newsroom floor for Lois. He'd been doing that since his first day at the Planet and he was always a little disappointed when she wasn't there.
"Hey, Jim, seen Lois?" he asked as he passed the younger man on his way to his desk.
"Not since about noon, C.K. I think she went out on an interview."
"Say where she was going?"
"No idea. I didn't get a chance to ask her. Perry had a rush on for some shots of that taxi pile up on Main and 2nd. Think she left you a note, though."
Clark sifted through the paper and mail that had been piled on his desk in the last few hours and found the note. Reading it, he thought that she should have been back by now. Then he flicked on his voice mail and got Alex's message. Lois, no, why do you do these things? The most recent message was Henderson's: "Kent, an Alex Jefferson just called in a report of Lois being missing. Is he on the level? Is Lois there? I'm heading over to Lexington and 27th to check it out."
Clark ran past Jimmy toward the elevator. "What's up, C.K.?"
"No time to talk now, Jim. Tell ya later." The elevator doors slid shut as he finished his comment. Seconds later he was airborne, arriving at Lexington and 27th just as Henderson pulled up in an MPD cruiser. Alex was with him. In a matter of seconds, the two men were out of the car and standing on the pavement beside him.
"Gosh! Superman!" Alex had never seen him before and was as speechless as if he'd encountered the ghost of Kurt Cobain.
"What happened?" Superman asked. As Alex explained, his mounting panic obvious in the rapid jabs his long arms made in the air as he talked, Superman felt a rising sense of panic. He rose into the air, searching the alleys and streets below. When he first saw the body spread-eagled in an alley below him, he prayed that it was not Lois but even as he did he knew that it was. Landing beside her, he crouched over her, grateful that he could hear her heartbeat.
"Lois," his voice was a soft cry, half fear, half plea, but her eyes did not open. Very gently, he turned her over and touched the small trickle of blood that had coagulated on her forehead. "Lois," he whispered as he wrapped her in his cape, lifted her into his arms and flew her to the emergency ward of Metropolis General Hospital.
He strode into the reception area and was immediately met by a nurse. "Do you know what happened to her? How long has she been unconscious?"
"No. I found her in an alley."
One of the doctors rushed over and took a quick look at her. "Let's get her into a room immediately. Looks like a concussion and probably exposure. Face swollen. I'd say someone has hit her pretty hard. With luck, nothing more. It depends how long she was out."
By this time, the duty nurse and an orderly had placed Lois on a gurney and were wheeling her toward one of the rooms in the ER. Superman followed.
"Uh, Superman. We can take it from here." The doctor, an efficient young woman, nodded at Superman. "We'll see if we can contact a family member. Avoid the husband or boyfriend, though, Elaine," the doctor said to the older woman. "Eight times out of ten, he's the guy with the fists."
The nurse observed, "There's no handbag. I'll check her clothes for any I.D. Don't suppose you have any idea who she is, Superman?"
Superman had been feeling pretty irrelevant by this point. Standing quietly on the sidelines was a strain when what he wanted to do was shout, "I'm going in there with her. She's my wife and I'm not leaving her." Instead, he said, with as much calm as he could manage, "Her name is Lois Lane Kent. She's a friend of mine. I'll stay with her until I know she'll be all right." His voice was firm. He was not going anywhere.
"She's a reporter for the Daily Planet, isn't she? I haven't been in Metropolis long, but I've read some of her stuff. Not bad. So I guess this isn't one of the eight times out of ten." The doctor said as they walked behind the gurney into the ER.
"No, it is not." Superman's words were brusque as he followed the woman. He thought to himself: but it is her husband's fault.
He paced in the waiting room while Lois was examined. Even a superman could not convince a nurse that he ought to be able to break the rules when it came to medical procedure. That the two other people in the waiting room were surprised by his presence there did not even dawn on him. It wasn't long before the doctor reappeared.
"Superman, your friend has a severe concussion but no fracture to her skull. The concussion came from a blow to the back of her head. She's also suffering mild hyperthermia from lying outside but nothing serious. Her face has been hit pretty hard, I'd say, but that's her least serious problem. We hope she'll come around pretty soon."
"I'll call her husband. He'll be here as soon as possible. May I see her for a minute before I go?"
The doctor seemed to sense his mood and smiled. "Of course. Don't worry, Superman. I've seen a lot worse cases than this. But you might try to talk your friend into taking a few less risks."
I wish, Superman thought, as he walked behind the doctor into Lois's room. He stood for a moment looking at his wife and felt his chest constrict. What if it had been worse? Stooping beside her bed, he stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers, the only gesture that he felt would be safe given the other people in the room.
"Thanks, Doctor. I'll call her husband. He'll be here as soon as he can." Then he walked out into the corridor, looking for a convenient stairwell in which to do a quick change act.
Clark called his parents first and then Perry White to let them know what had happened.
"Jeez, Kent, can't you keep better tabs on that girl?"
"No, Chief, I can't. I'd like to, but I can't," he snapped, his sense of frustration mounting. As powerful as he was, he'd never been able to control her. Why was he even thinking that? He didn't want to control her. He just wanted to keep her safe, to keep his family safe. She knew I wasn't around. What's she trying to prove? But he didn't voice these final thoughts.
"Clark, stay there until she comes to. It'll take more 'n a tap on the head to keep that young woman on the sidelines, son."
"Thanks, Perry." He hung up the phone and put a call through to Henderson and told him that Superman had found Lois.
It said something about Henderson's respect for Clark Kent that he gave Clark the next bit of information. "Kent, Lois was on the right track. We found a bomb farther down the tunnel where the kid found her bag. That's off the record, by the way. I don't want whoever planted the bomb to know we found it. And I want to talk to Lois as soon as she wakes up."
Clark spent the next hour sitting beside his unconscious wife, watching her, talking to her. As he sat there, he began to construct in his mind a large cabin, more like a fortress. Isolated and remote. He would take Lois and Laura there and he would keep them safe. There would be no plots to take his child from him, no temptations to distract Lois. As he planned the details of this cabin, he began to relax. He would build it the way she liked, with rooms that let the sun in. He looked at her bruised face and the bandage on her forehead and it seemed as though she were talking to him. "It's beautiful, Clark, but now we're your prisoners."
He reached over and touched her face, cupping her cheek in the palm of his large hand. "O.K., baby, so I won't build it," he said to her, "but you gotta promise that you're gonna be more careful."
Lois opened her eyes as he was speaking. "Won't build it?" Her voice was thick, slurred and she looked at him, her eyes confused. Then she was alert. "Clark, there's a bomb. You've got to get it."
Clark's intentions were different. He had pressed the button signalling the nurse and was now out in the hall ensuring that someone was on the way. Then he returned to her bedside. "I know, sweetheart. Henderson's already found it." He grinned at her, his relief at her regaining consciousness freeing him and making him giddy. "You know, I've never seen anything as beautiful as you are," he said as he slid his finger through a strand of hair.
Lois managed a weak smile. "Thanks, Clark. I appreciate that. Now, if you could make my head stop hurting, I'd be really grateful."
He kissed her cheek very gently, respectful of the massive bruise that was forming along the side of her face. "Lois, you've got to stop hanging around dark tunnels, burning buildings, exploding warehouses, flagpoles … "
Her voice was still slurred, "No fair. Right now, I think you've got a point."
"You do?" Clark sounded surprised and felt another small ripple of light pass through his soul.
"Clark," Lois's voice was urgent now. "There's more. What time is it? The guys who planted the bomb. They're going to meet someone with a payoff at the airport as soon as the news breaks about the explosion. Is there still time? You've gotta go."
"Sush. It's O.K., there's still time.
Just. He put through a call to Henderson, telling him that Clark Kent would meet him at the airport as soon as possible.
It was easy for Superman to get to Metropolis International Airport; it was more difficult for him to find two men, about whose appearance he had only the sketchiest details, out of all the thousands of passengers milling about the exit gates. Henderson had his team distribute a mug shot of Jeff Saracini as well as a description of the two suspects to airport personnel at the departure gates. His men, as well as airport security, were stationed throughout the terminal. The inspector had asked both radio and T.V. news to announce the explosion as a late breaking news bulletin. He was hoping by then he would have spotted his quarry and could wait until they were approached with the pay off. They had over an hour to go. He was only too pleased to have Clark Kent along as an extra observer. They could use everybit of help they could get.
"Just keep out of the way if these guys put up a fight, Kent." Henderson gave Clark a copy of the mug shot.
"Don't worry, I can handle myself pretty well."
"It's not you I'm worried about. I don't want to have any screw ups caused by avenging husbands."
They narrowed the exit gates down to those for flights leaving no earlier than seven o'clock, knowing that the two fugitives would have arranged to take payment at the last possible moment before they had to go through the final luggage security check. The police also had a lucky break. One of the stewards at the check-in counter recalled processing the two men. She remembered seeing the snake tattoo as the man had handed her his ticket and she had also thought it unusual that the two men were taking only carry on luggage on a flight out of the country. That, combined with an inept attempt by his companion to flirt with her had made them stick in her mind.
That narrowed the search down to gate twelve from which a flight for Buenos Aires was leaving at seven thirty. It was Clark who spotted the two men first, seated at a bar watching T.V. some distance from where he was standing. As he looked at them, he felt remote from the crowds around him, isolated by the anger welling inside him. One of those men had attacked Lois. He put a call through to Henderson and was joined almost immediately by an undercover cop. Henderson was there moments later.
"You got great eyesight, Kent. I can't tell a thing from here," Henderson spoke quietly as he continued walking past Clark toward the bar. He took a seat at the opposite end of the counter and waited.
At the end of the newscast, the anchor interrupted the weather barbie with a bulletin announcing a massive explosion in the old Market Annex. That was the signal. A well dressed woman in a tailored suit took the seat next to the two men and ordered a spritzer. She reached into her purse, pulled out an envelope and placed it beside the man with the tattoos. When the bartender brought her the drink, she got up without speaking and took it over to one of the small round tables circling the bar. Henderson's man followed her.
The tattooed man picked up the envelope and put it in his inner pocket. Henderson made his move. "Jeff Saracini, you're under arrest." As he began to read him his rights, his companion took off.
Clark had been watching all this carefully. At the first sign of flight, he and two other undercover cops galvanized into action, chasing the man through the crowds toward the escalator. Clark had a head start on them, and got to the man first. Grabbing his shoulder, he forced the man to stop. The man took a swing at him, Clark ducked, and his opponent lost his balance as the momentum of his swing had no destination. With a grip like an iron vise, Clark clamped his hands on his opponent's shoulders. "That's it. Your flight's grounded."
"Hey, easy man. You don't know your own strength."
"Thanks, Kent. We got him." The undercover cop took over and Clark felt the breath go out of him. He'd wanted more. He wanted to push these guys around, let them know what it felt like to be hit by someone stronger than them. He was shocked by how powerful this feeling was and he stood, uncertain what to do next, fighting for control. He was aware of his fists clenching and unclenching as he watched, but did not listen, to the police officer reading the man his rights.
Much later and much calmer, Clark returned to the hospital, carrying a small bouquet of roses which he added to the flowers Perry and Jimmy had brought. The doctor had told him that Lois appeared to have no problems but that they would like her to stay overnight for observation. When Clark got there, Lois was fighting sleep. Her face was still swollen, but had changed color so now it was a subtle blending of blue-grey and green. Clark thought maybe there was a bit of purple, too. Then he noticed that the room was nearly full. The whole gang was there, including Laura. Lois was on the phonewith her mother in Florida.
"Yes, I was being careful. No, I didn't tell Clark I was going." She listened in silence for a moment. "No, Mom, I'm fine, fine." Silence again, then, "No, no you don't need to cut your vacation short." Lois handed the phone to Clark and hissed, "Tell her I'm fine, Clark."
Clark raised his eyebrows and gave her a look that was a cross between a smile and a grimace. "You're right, Ellen, she takes far too many chances." He grinned as he listened to her. "I agree. She never thinks about the consequences." Another pause, "Yeah, acts without thinking." He listened intently, keeping his eyes fixed on his wife who was rolling her eyes as he replied to Ellen. "Uh huh, acts impulsively."
"Clark! Tell her I'm fine."
"Yeah. I'll tell her, Ellen. Enjoy the rest of your vacation. Bye." He hung up the phone and leaned over to kiss his wife's cheek, meeting her smoldering eyes. "That purple color looks good on you."
"Thanks, Clark." Her tone was sarcastic.
Clark grinned at her and then turned to lift Laura out of Martha's arms. "Thanks, Mom."
Both Martha and Lois spoke almost simultaneously. "So what happened at the airport?"
"Henderson got them and their contact. I went down to the station with them and waited while they put a trace on her. No priors, but guess what? She works for Metropolis Fidelity which is a holding company for several construction and development companies, including Bronson Corporation." Clark turned to Jimmy. "So, Jim, tomorrow we start doing some digging on Metropolis Fidelity and find out who's behind it and what else it controls."
"Hey, what about me?" Lois demanded.
"You, darlin', are stayin' home for the rest of the week." Perry's voice was firm. "Come on, Jimmy, let's head home."
"Us too, Jonathan. Clark, we'll take Laura. Lois fed her just before everyone arrived and there's a couple of bottles in the fridge for her." Martha lifted her granddaughter from Clark's arms, turning to smile reassuringly at Lois as she did. "Now, Lois, don't you worry about Laura; she'll be fine. See you later." Martha walked to the door and stood there for a moment. "Thank you, both of you, for all you've done to help Cliff." Her eyes blurred for a moment and Clark encircled her in an affectionate hug.
"Any time, Mom. You're pretty amazing, you know." His voice was gruff and then he let his dad rescue her.
"Come on, Martha. It's getting late."
Lois sighed and sank back into her pillow as they all left. "Do you think Laura will be all right? I should be going home, too. What if she gets upset? What if … "
"She'll be fine, honey." He grinned as he interrupted her. "Remember, thanks to not so modern technology there's milk for her and I hear her dad's pretty super." His face turned serious and he gently stroked her hair. "Lois," he began.
Lois met Clark's eyes and touched his hand in response to the concern she saw in them. "I know, Clark. I know. Don't think I didn't think all that when I was trying to get back to the shelter."
"You don't have to prove anything, Lois. You don't have to do everything. Even Superman can't do that."
"How did you know, Clark? That I felt that way, I mean."
He caressed her cheek. "Because I love you. And because sometimes it gets like that for me too, and whenever it does, you always tell me that what I do is enough."
She kissed the palm of his hand and let her shoulders relax. Then she grinned. "But you gotta admit, it's a pretty clever way to get two extra days off work. And my edge, Clark. I've still got it!" Her eyes sparkled.
A week later the Kent household was back to normal. The television was on, tuned as usual to the news channel. One item got the attention of all four Kents. They looked in astonishment at the screen as the camera panned slowly over the headquarters of Metropolis Fidelity, which had been spray painted in the early hours of the morning. Twisting green vines, leafy trees, and large fanciful scarlet flowers covered the grey concrete. Oddly, a large outline of a broken egg had been painted by the entrance door. It was beautiful. The spokesperson for Fidelity was outraged and spoke strongly about vandalism and the desecration of private property.
Martha laughed. "Well, there's more than one way to get a park."
When the news item ended, Jonathan handed Lois a large envelope. "Oh, here, I forgot this. It was on the front doorstep as we came in this morning."
Lois opened the envelope, looked at the single sheet of paper which she had pulled out, and then smiled as she showed it to Clark. It was a charcoal sketch of the two of them, humor and affection evident in the way in which they looked at each other. At the bottom was written, "Thank you". It was signed with the initials CGM.
Characters in this episode are copyrighted by DC Comics, December 3rd Production and Warner Brothers. No infringement is intended in any part by the author or the Season 6 group, however, the ideas expressed within this episode are copyrighted (c) 1999 to the author(s).