By Kathy Brown <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Season 6, Episode 7
Air Date: April 11, 1999
Summary: Lois and Clark begin to expose Lex Luthor's secrets. But has Clark been hiding another one of his own? Episode 7 of S6.
(Feedback welcome and appreciated.)
"Yes, mother … No, mother … Uh huh … Well, I think— … Yes, but— … But I— … "
Lois Lane cradled the phone to her ear as she paced in her living room. Every few moments, she raised her eyes hopefully up the stairs towards the bedrooms, straining to hear if there was any noise coming from the nursery. It had taken Lois 47 minutes (she had counted every single one) to get Laura to finally stop crying and settle down for her afternoon nap, and Lois had collapsed on the living room couch afterwards, relishing the peace and quiet. But now she almost wished Laura would wake up and give her an excuse to get off the phone.
"Well, have you *talked* to Daddy about this? … So then you should— … Yes, mother … Fine … OK, that's fine … No, I don't mind. I'll talk to you another time. Good-bye."
Lois hung up the phone and walked further into the living room. Picking up a pillow from the couch, she hugged it tightly to her face … and screamed.
Clark Kent walked through the dining room door, watching his wife warily. "Uh oh, what did I miss?"
Lois removed the pillow and scowled. "My mother drives me CRAZY!"
Clark couldn't help but smile. "And this is news?"
"Don't push me," Lois warned. "And where have you been anyway?"
"Uh … ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Recreation Center on the north side. I told you about it."
"A three hour ribbon cutting. Lovely." Her voice was sarcastic.
"Well, an hour; then I did some patrolling and came back. Geez."
"I'm sorry, Clark." Lois sighed heavily. "I'm just having a bad day and I could have used the break, that's all. Laura has this cold and she can't breathe very well, which makes her cry … then the more she cries, the more stuffed she gets, and the more she can't breathe. She's in a bad mood, and now *I'm* in a bad mood. I feel sorry for her being sick, but when she's screaming at me for an hour straight … I just want to drop-kick her out the back door!"
Lois rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't really DO it; I'm just venting. You've been gone all day and now you get to hear me vent. If you can't be home to help around the house, you can at least be appreciative of what I—" Lois stopped abruptly and clamped a hand over her mouth, her eyes huge. "Ohmigod," she exclaimed in a muffled tone. "I can't believe I just said that." Throwing her arms in the air, Lois looked at Clark pleadingly. "I sound just like my mother!!"
Clark raised his hands in a placating motion as he led his wife to the couch. "Come on, sit down and rest. It sounds like you had a bad day with Laura, and then the phone call with your mother just put you over the edge."
Lois rested her head on Clark's shoulder, feeling the worst of her bad mood begin to dissipate. "I'm sorry, Clark; I didn't mean to harp on you. I know how awful that sounded, not trusting where you were. I do trust you; it's just that I spent the last fifteen minutes on the phone with my mother and she makes me so CRAZY."
Clark chuckled. "You said that already, about the time you were screaming into the pillow. What happened this time?"
Lois snorted. "History repeating itself. The same old arguments … I don't know why I let myself start to believe that they could work things out. Oh sure, at first they were on their best behavior, but now that the 'honeymoon' is over, they are falling back into their old patterns. My dad is working late again, and my mom is suspicious."
"Daddy was always working late—and he did spend a lot of time in his office—but there were also times that he said he had to go into work on the weekends or in the evenings, when what he was really doing was meeting another woman. When he'd get home, they'd start fighting almost as soon as he was in the door, and mother would grill him about where he'd been and how he wasn't home to help out enough." Lois wrapped her arms around her husband. "So I'm sorry for starting that with you. I trust you, and know that you wouldn't be gone if you didn't have to be."
Clark pulled her close. "And I'm sorry for not getting back sooner. If I had thought about it, I might have cut my patrol shorter. I should have realized Laura would be tough to deal with when she's sick."
They sat in silence for a few moments, just enjoying the peace and quiet, when Lois suddenly began to laugh. "Boy, Mother thought she had it bad with Daddy working at odd hours. If she only knew how many times you've had to fly out in the middle of the night, for calls that only you can hear. She'd never believe you weren't sleeping around."
Clark pulled back slightly and lifted Lois's chin with his finger until their eyes met. "Lois," he said sincerely, "I would *never* cheat on you."
Lois smiled and placed her mouth over his. "I know," she murmured.
Clark hugged her tight. "Mmm, this is nice," he said as they kissed. "The baby is asleep. Is there anything you'd like to … do?"
Lois lifted her head. "Actually," she said with a smile, "there's been something I've been wanting to do all day."
"Yeah … " Lois sat back on the couch. "Can you hand me that magazine over there? I've been trying to finish this one article all day long, but I keep getting interrupted!"
Clark laughed. "That wasn't exactly what I had in mind," he told her honestly. "But if that's what you really want to do … "
At her apologetic nod, he sat up and reached for the magazine she'd indicated. Choosing one of the other magazines for himself, he leaned back against Lois, content to sit with her and read quietly.
A few minutes later, however, Clark suddenly stood up with a smile. "I'll tell you what, how about I run out to the bakery and pick us up a snack? I've been craving banana muffins since I interrupted a robbery at a Kingston bakery at lunch-time. I'll try my best to be back before Laura wakes up."
Since Lois was never one to argue with food being brought to her, she waved him on with a smile and went back to reading her magazine.
Clark hadn't been gone more than twenty minutes when the doorbell rang. Lois set down her magazine with a sigh. Long gone were the days when she could read a magazine from cover to cover!
Looking through the peephole at the delivery person, Lois opened the door with a surprised smile. "Flowers!"
"Kent residence?" the bored teenager asked. "Sign here."
"Thank you very much!" Lois exclaimed, stunned by the large bouquet that she had just traded the pen for. 'Muffins, my foot!' she laughed as she closed the door. She knew where her husband had flown off to in such a hurry—the flower shop.
Lois placed the beautiful bouquet in water and set the vase on the coffee table before opening the card. She smiled as she read it. The wording was a bit over-dramatic, even for her husband, but she still appreciated the sentiment. Given their recent conversation, it was a very touching way to show that he thought about her when he had to leave, not any other woman.
It wasn't long before she heard a familiar swoosh, followed by the whir of her husband spinning back into his casual clothes. A few seconds later, Clark walked in from the kitchen, a bag of pastries in his mouth and a cup of tea in each hand. He set a cup down on the coffee table in front of Lois, then settled himself in next to her.
"They had just made a fresh batch of sourdough-banana scones and they smelled so good I had to get them instead of the muffins," he said, opening the bag. Clark then noticed the flowers. "Hey, these are new … we didn't have these here before I left, did we?"
"Oh, listen to you, Mr. Innocent," she grinned. Lois kissed her husband soundly. "They were delivered just as you left. Thank you; they're beautiful."
Clark accepted the kiss, but when they separated, he looked doubtful. "Lois, I didn't send these flowers. Are you sure they were meant for us? Maybe the delivery person got the wrong address."
"He said 'Kent residence' … and the delivery card had our address … " Lois reached for the index card she had tossed on the table. "See, right here, it says from Clark— wait a minute, it doesn't say *from* Clark Kent. It says—"
"*To* Clark Kent."
Lois and Clark stared at each other, confused. Lois's expression quickly turned to shock, however, as she remembered the note that was also included with the delivery. As she opened the envelope and held the note for her husband to read, she saw her husband squirm. Suddenly, Clark Kent looked very uncomfortable.
I long for you every moment that we're apart. My love for you
will overcome any obstacle in our path. I miss feeling your lips
against mine, and I ache to feel our bodies pressed close once
again. Soon, my darling, we will be together for all time.
Lex Luthor sat in his study, staring at a computer screen and pecking away at a keyboard. The more he clicked, the tighter his jaw clenched and the harder he hit the keys.
His wife, Beth, approached him cautiously. "Lex, darling, the chef is getting ready to serve lunch in the dining room … won't you join me today? You've been working with that spreadsheet all morning. You should take a break."
Lex just waved her off silently, and continued to study the numbers before him.
Beth hesitated, then tried again. "You know, I could help you with that. I'm quite a good typist and I could enter any data you needed me to," she offered helpfully. "I could go a lot faster than you can with that two finger approach, and then we could both have lunch."
Lex turned quickly to offer a biting retort, but stopped himself as he looked into his wife's earnest expression. Relaxing slightly, he sat back in his chair. "I never saw a reason to learn to type. I've always paid people to do it for me. I've never regretted it—there were much more valuable ways I could spend my time—but I do admit there are times when the skill would come in handy. Like now, when I no longer have the finances to employ such a large staff."
Beth pondered this surprising hint of vulnerability from her husband. "I know how difficult it has been," she finally responded, "to start from nothing again. Five years ago, you were the fourth richest man in the world—"
"—then everything was auctioned off. Still, in the last year since you've been back in Metropolis, you've done a marvelous job of rebuilding your empire. I know you don't have nearly the resources you had before, but you are still a remarkable businessman, Lex, to have come as far as you have. You make it look so easy."
Lex took her hand and kissed it. "Thank you, my dear. I only wish that it were as easy as that, with this bit of bad luck I've been having lately. True, I have considerable wealth, but I fear I am a bit too leveraged for my tastes." After a brief reflective moment, however, Lex smiled confidently. "That situation will be remedied very soon, however."
"Leveraged?" Beth asked slowly, carefully wrapping her mouth around the unfamiliar word.
Lex simply smiled indulgently. "Nothing to worry your pretty little head about, my dear. Just business talk. Now, why don't you be a good girl and go down to the dining room and wait for me there. I'll finish up here in a moment, and meet you shortly."
"All right, Lex. Don't work too hard though … I want you to eat today. You have to keep up your strength."
Lex had already turned his back on her, however, and had gone back to studying the spreadsheet, lost in his own world.
Beth Luthor looked regretfully at her husband before shutting the study door. "Leverage," she said quietly as she walked down the hall. "Borrowing money to make investments or purchases, hoping to sell at a higher price that you bought for, thereby making a substantial profit."
Lois Lane exited police headquarters and walked down the stone steps to the sidewalk. She squinted into the mid-day sun as she waited for her husband to catch up with her after holding open the door. "What a waste of a Monday morning," she muttered. When Clark joined her, she directed her comments to him. "People in Metropolis have been turning up dead for months now, and the police still have no suspects!"
Clark sighed in frustration. "I know. I thought by coming down here today we might be able to get Henderson to spill, but he's not talking."
"How can he not be talking? Bodies are turning up left and right. There might be a serial killer on the loose."
Clark shook his head. "I don't know, Lois. Several of the M.O.'s are the same, but they don't all match up. And the police can't find any links between the victims; they just think random violence is on the upturn. I studied the files of the early victims a few months ago and nothing struck me as suspicious.
"Except for that woman who drugged my mother," Lois pointed out. "She was an early victim and she was *very* suspicious!"
"I can't argue there, but I couldn't find a connection between her and the previous victims. Nothing to prove these killings are all related. Besides, the police ruled that death a suicide so they don't even include her in the official body count."
Lois stopped next to their car and unlocked the driver's side door. "There's something going on here, Clark; I can feel it. We've been so distracted lately we haven't had time to look into these most recent victims. I think we should do that next."
Clark chuckled as he entered the passenger seat. "You mean you found fighting for custody of Laura, my mother getting involved with a protest movement, and having our daughter turned into a teenager overnight distracting?" He winked at his wife. "Gee, we're slipping."
Lois smiled at him from behind the steering wheel. "Hey, don't forget someone making a pass at my husband. You think I wasn't watching all those police women in there, seeing if any of them were making eyes at you?"
"You're still thinking about that note and the flowers? Lois, I told you, I would *never*—"
At the anxious expression that flickered across Clark's face, Lois raised a hand quickly to reassure him. "Yes, I'm thinking about them, but no, I don't think you are cheating on me." She smiled tenderly as she brushed his chin with her fingers. "I trust you, remember?"
Clark caught her hand and pressed a gentle kiss into her palm. "I remember, and I trust you, too," he concurred softly. "I still think someone's just playing a joke."
"Easy for you to say. You didn't get three hang-up calls yesterday," Lois said pointedly as she retrieved her hand and started the car.
"Well, maybe they're taking the joke too far. Let's grab a quick lunch and get back to the newsroom. We'll keep our ears open at the Planet and see if we can learn anything."
"Fine with me." Suddenly Lois turned to her husband with a mischievous grin. "Hey, maybe Ralph has given up his crush on me, and has turned his attentions to you instead."
At Clark's horrified look, Lois laughed out loud and pulled the car into traffic.
"The Daily Planet newsroom is divided into sections, just like the newspaper itself … "
Jimmy Olsen walked through the newsroom gesturing expressively, an attractive young woman following closely behind him. "Sports and Classifieds are down on the second floor, while Lifestyle, Entertainment and the City beat are up here on three. We pull a fair bit of our International news off the wire—either from the Planet's overseas offices or from other news agencies—though sometimes our City reporters are able to get some directly. Like when they run into Superman after an international rescue and he gives them an interview about it."
"Where's the Lifestyle department again?" the young woman asked, looking more than a little overwhelmed by the huge office space.
"That's where we just came from," Jimmy explained. "Through that door back there, take a left … " The two stopped as Jimmy pointed out directions. "Once they get a desk for you, you're going to sit in the Lifestyle area, but with Mrs. Lawrence, the Lifestyle Section Editor, out until this afternoon for a doctor's appointment, they're not sure where to put you yet. Personnel said you could fill out your employment papers here in the City section. We have an extra desk since one of our reporters just left on an overseas assignment."
The woman nodded as Jimmy led her to her desk. "Thanks, Jimmy. I appreciate you helping me. I don't think I could have found my way here without getting lost. A couple people from the department took me out to lunch, but I'm kind of on my own now until Mrs. Lawrence gets back."
Jimmy smiled. "No problem … Kate, right?" At her nod, he continued. "I got lost a few times my first few days at the Planet, too. But you'll get used to it quickly." Jimmy looked at his watch. "Uh oh, I gotta go … I was supposed to collect some files for Lois and she should be back any minute. When she calls on her cell phone from the car, you know she's anxious to get the information! Talk to you later, Kate."
"I hope Jimmy has those files for me when we get in," Lois said, fidgeting as she watched the numbers light up in the Daily Planet elevator. "There has to be something connecting these murders, and I'm going to find out what."
Clark grinned. "That's what I love about you. You never give up on anything easily."
Lois smiled at Clark over her shoulder. "That's not the only thing you love about me, is it?" she teased.
Clark laughed. "Nope, that's just one of the many."
"Good." Lois turned with a grin, standing on tiptoes to give him a quick kiss. "Just checking."
The change in her demeanor was swift, however, as the ding of the elevator announced the arrival of the Daily Planet's top reporting team in the newsroom. Lois had barely started down the stairs into the City section before she'd spotted her quarry.
"Jimmy! Do you have those files I asked you for?"
Jimmy set the armful of files on Lois's desk. "Ask and you shall receive, oh, brilliant investigative reporter."
Lois couldn't help but smile at Jimmy's exhalation. "My, aren't we in a good mood?" Lois looked around the newsroom, then back at Jimmy knowingly. "Let me guess, the cute new employee at six o'clock?"
Jimmy turned to look behind him, and saw the young woman he had just given the tour to sitting at her desk, several yards away. When he turned back to Lois, he had a look of pretend hurt. "Lois, I'm shocked. You know I have a girlfriend."
Lois snickered. "Uh huh … and I also know you still like to window shop, even if you have no intention of buying anything."
"Wha—? I—I … I don't … " He cringed. "Am I that obvious?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Men! Don't worry, I won't tell Penny, though I'd bet a hundred dollars I wouldn't be telling her anything she doesn't already know." Lois elbowed Jimmy. "Just keep your eyes and hands to yourself, lover boy, and you'll be fine."
"I'll remember that," Jimmy quipped with a grin, suddenly back to his easy-going self. "Now I'd better get back to work, before Perry has my hide. Let me know if you need any more research." He started to back away from her desk.
Lois smiled gratefully at him. "Thanks, Jimmy." When he'd gone, Lois settled into her chair and opened the first folder in the large stack.
As Clark checked his voice mail, he was unaware of a female set of eyes watching him as he scribbled notes at his desk. An awed smile broke out on the young woman's face as she watched him work, and she quickly pushed aside her papers and pulled a compact mirror from her purse. After checking her hair and reapplying her lipstick, she stood up and crossed the room to his desk.
The woman stood nervously in front of Clark's desk, her smile wavering a bit when he failed to notice her. Finally, no longer able to contain herself, she spoke. "Hi, Clark."
Clark looked up at the breathless young woman standing before him. Her dark eyes were bright as she eagerly waited for his response. He stared at her for a moment, trying to place her. She looked somewhat familiar and she was acting like she knew him …
Soon Clark's face lit up in recognition. "Kate? Kate Martin! I don't believe it; how long has it been?!" Clark stood up to shake Kate's hand, but she pulled him into a quick hug instead.
"Why didn't you let me know you were in town?" Clark asked when they stepped apart.
"Well, actually," she responded happily, "I—"
Lois looked up from her files at the sudden conversation, and noted the young woman she had pointed out to Jimmy earlier. Since the woman was standing in the aisle between Lois and Clark's desks, Lois decided to stand and introduce herself. "Hi," she said, interrupting Kate's explanation. "I'm Lois Lane, Clark's … partner." At the last word, she winked at her husband.
Kate seemed surprised to see another person standing with her and Clark, but she soon recovered. "Nice to meet you, Lois," she said. "I've seen your name next to Clark's on some articles."
Clark quickly made the more detailed introductions. "Lois, this is Kate Martin. Kate and I used to work together in Smallville. She did a summer internship at the Smallville Press while I was the Editor there. That was … gosh, eight years ago now? Nine?"
Kate nodded. "I know, I can't believe it." She turned and stared into Clark's eyes. "It seems like only yesterday … "
Lois raised an eyebrow. The look on Kate's face was unmistakable. The young woman had a definite crush on her husband. Curious about this woman, Lois offered, "Clark, I think Kate is working here now. Wasn't that you sitting over at Frank's old desk, Kate?"
Kate nodded. "Uh huh; they're supposed to find me my own desk tomorrow, but they told me to use one over here this afternoon."
Clark was surprised but visibly pleased. "You've got a job with the Planet? That's wonderful. What are you going to be doing?"
"Well, I'm kind of starting at the bottom—I'm working as an assistant to Mrs. Lawrence in the Lifestyle section. I'm going to be doing a lot of copy-editing and rewrites in the beginning, but if I work hard, I know I can be an editor myself someday. That's been my goal for a long time—working for a big city newspaper. So, I decided to just go for it! I moved to Metropolis, set up an interview with Mrs. Lawrence, and here I am."
Clark smiled at Kate's earnest, cheerful demeanor. "Well, good for you. And welcome to Metropolis. We'll have to have you over for dinner sometime." Clark looked at Lois, who smiled and nodded politely in agreement.
Kate glanced at Lois for a moment, then back to Clark. "We?" she asked, confused.
Clark picked up the picture frame on his desk. He turned it so Kate could see. "Lois is my wife," he explained with a smile. "And this beautiful little thing," he continued proudly, pointing to an inset picture, "is our daughter, Laura."
Kate stared at the pictures. "You're married?" She looked at Lois, who nodded and smiled. "Oh … I … well … " The girl seemed at a loss for words. She finally settled on a weak, "Congratulations."
There was a brief, awkward moment as the three of them stood there staring at each other, and Lois couldn't help feeling relieved when Jimmy rushed over to them.
"Lois," he exclaimed, his voice sounding slightly deeper than normal. "I found one more file from that information you asked me to get. I thought it might be helpful."
Lois smiled at him and reached for the folder he was holding out to her. She couldn't help noticing that his eyes weren't on hers, though, but on Kate. Lois chuckled to herself and shook her head slightly. "Thanks, Jimmy."
Clark seemed grateful for the interruption, too, and flashed Kate a quick smile before turning to Lois. "Well, Lois, should we get to work?"
Lois nodded. "Yeah, we'd better. Nice to meet you, Kate."
Kate smiled, but Lois couldn't help noticing that it seemed a bit forced. "It was nice meeting you, too."
As they returned to their chairs, Lois glanced back at Kate, who was settling herself in at her desk and talking with Jimmy. "Did something about Kate's reaction seem strange to you, Clark?"
Clark looked confused. "What do you mean? Don't you like Kate?"
"Oh, no, that's not it. She seems very nice. It's just—" Lois thought for a minute, then shrugged. "No, never mind. I'm sure she's just nervous about starting a new job and everything." Deciding it best to change the subject, Lois held up the folder. "I hope there's more useful information in here than we were able to get this morning at police headquarters."
The afternoon passed swiftly, but by the end of the day, Lois and Clark were no less frustrated than they had been at the police station. The background checks Jimmy had assembled on the various victims offered a wide range of information. There were people from all walks of life—art collectors and trash collectors, business men and homeless men, people with long criminal records and those with not even a traffic ticket.
Discouraged, Lois and Clark decided to call it a night, and retrieved their daughter from the daycare center downstairs.
When they got home from work, Lois fed Laura while Clark put together the fixings for a quick dinner. He came back into the living room just as Lois was buttoning up her shirt.
"Come on, sweetheart," Clark cooed at his little girl. "Let's get you into a dry diaper so Mommy and Daddy can eat their own dinner." He turned to his wife. "Lois, dinner is almost ready. Just stir the sauce a little so it doesn't burn, OK?" At Lois's nod, Clark and Laura headed up the stairs.
Lois entered the kitchen and smiled as she breathed in the heavenly aromas. It wasn't anything fancy—just some sweet and sour chicken Clark had made over the weekend and was now heating up—but she was hungry! Noticing the sauce was bubbling, Lois turned down the heat and pulled out two plates. Placing a generous spoon of rice in the center of each dish, she was in the process of covering the plates with sauce when the phone rang.
"Clark?" Lois called out. "Can you get that?"
"I can't, honey," he called back. "I'm in the middle of changing Laura."
Lois awkwardly set the pan and plate down and reached for the phone. "Hello?"
She was surprised when nobody responded on the other end. She felt her skin prickle. "Hello?" she asked again, this time her tone reflecting her anger. Feeling her temper flaring, she snapped into the phone, "Whoever this is, quit calling us!"
Clark walked in carrying Laura, just in time to see Lois slam the phone down angrily. "What was that all about?"
Lois shook her head, trying to calm herself down. "Just our not-so-friendly neighborhood stalker," she answered through gritted teeth. "I wish whoever this is would quit calling and just leave us alone. It's getting a little old."
"Are you okay?" Clark asked, putting a hand gently on her shoulder. "You look a little shaken."
Lois shrugged his hand off her shoulder and walked over to get the plates. "No, I'm fine. I'm just mad, that's all."
Clark looked at his wife in concern for a moment, then quickly put Laura in the baby swing next to the table, trying to make his voice sound happy. "Here you go, baby girl … you can swing while Mommy and Daddy eat."
Dinner went quickly, though Lois continued to feel somewhat distracted by the disturbing series of hang ups she'd gotten over the past few days. But she did her best to put aside her thoughts and enjoy the opportunity that she, Clark and Laura had for a little family time.
After an enjoyable evening playing with Laura and talking, Lois felt more relaxed by the time Laura's bedtime came. Clark offered to put Laura in bed, and told Lois to go ahead and take some time for herself. Lois didn't need any more encouragement. By the time Clark came into the bedroom an hour later, Lois was already in bed, reading an article in a magazine.
"Well, Laura's sound asleep," Clark reported as he untied his robe and slipped out of it. He laid it across the back of the chair and then climbed under the covers. "It looks like we finally have some time to ourselves."
Lois put the magazine down on her lap and smiled tiredly at him. "Those times seem to be getting fewer and farther between lately."
"Very true." He gestured to the magazine on her lap. "What are you reading?"
"Oh, I was reading an article about some historic homes in Metropolis. Metropolis Today did a feature on them this month and I thought it might be interesting."
"Sounds interesting. I'd like to take a look when you're done."
"Go ahead," Lois told him, tossing it onto his lap. "I'm worn out. I think I'm just going to lie here for a while."
Clark took his time reading the article, for once enjoying not having to speed through something. He was startled out of his relaxed state, however, when the phone on the bedside table suddenly rang. Lois groaned.
"Who could be calling at this time of night?" Clark wondered aloud. "It's nearly eleven."
Lois sighed. "I don't know, but I'll get it." She rolled over and reached for the phone. "Hello?"
As soon as she'd finished the word, the phone suddenly clicked in her ear and the line went dead. Frustrated, Lois set the phone back it its cradle loudly.
Clark looked concerned. "*Another* hang up?"
"Yes," Lois grumbled. She rolled over to look at Clark. "Clark, we've got to find out who's doing this. It's all getting way out of hand. I'd be willing to say the flowers were a joke, but all these hang-up calls are getting creepy. Isn't there something we can do about this?"
Clark ran a hand through his hair. "Maybe we should just turn the ringer off for awhile. Whoever is doing this might get tired of getting the machine and stop calling. It might just be some kids being obnoxious; the flowers could be totally unrelated." At Lois skeptical look, he sighed. "I know; I don't believe that either," he admitted.
"Even assuming the phone calls are just a prank, someone sent you flowers with a romantic note." Lois's eyes narrowed. "And there's only one person we know of who has displayed a romantic obsession with you—and a strong distaste for me."
"*Who*?" It was Clark's turn to look skeptical.
"Ms. Bailey, from Social Services. Remember what Constance Hunter's private detective turned up during the custody hearing? That Bailey had developed a crush on you while evaluating us as adoptive parents—and that she'd been so aggressive in proving me an unfit mother because she was jealous of our relationship?"
Clark didn't disagree but he still looked doubtful. "I think we're getting a bit paranoid here."
Lois snorted and laid her head back on the pillow. "Fine. Just don't say I didn't warn you when we find a dead rabbit cooking on our stove."
Clark chuckled and went back to his magazine. "Deal."
He continued to browse through the magazine for another few minutes. Suddenly he sat up straighter. "Speaking of being paranoid … " he began, leaning forward to study a picture in the magazine in more detail.
Lois recognized his tone and looked over at him. "What?"
Clark turned the magazine pages toward her so she could see the large picture. "Take a look at this picture. You recognize anything?"
Lois took the magazine out of his hand. "'Mrs. Beth Luthor has given so much to Metropolis. Now she takes us on a tour of her lovely home,'" Lois read aloud from the page. She made a fake retching noise. "Oh, God, I'm going to throw up."
"Look at the picture of Luthor's study. What's mounted on the wall behind the desk?"
Lois straightened in bed and studied the picture more intently. "It looks like a sword … the sword of Alexander the Great that he used to have?"
At Clark's nod, she turned back to study the rest of the picture. She pointed to various items. "Lex used to love telling me about his antiquities. This frieze over the fireplace, he told me it came from ancient Egypt. And this vase was from the Ming Dynasty." Lois looked up at Clark. "But all those things were auctioned off five years ago when Lex—or his clone or whoever it was—committed suicide by jumping off of Lex Towers. Even the things that he left to Arianna Carlin were auctioned when she needed the money to pay her legal bills."
"Makes you wonder how he got them all back so quickly, doesn't it? It's only been, what, a year and a half since he showed back up in Metropolis, claiming he'd been kidnapped and replaced by his clone right before he bought the Daily Planet building?"
"Right after he proposed to me, but before I answered him."
"So what happened? People just gave him back his antiques out of the goodness of their hearts?" Clark's voice was sarcastic.
"He may have bought them," Lois countered reasonably. Normally it was Clark who was the voice of reason, but when it came to Lex Luthor, their roles frequently seemed to reverse. "But still—if he's acquiring his old 'treasures', it makes me wonder what other parts of his old life he's trying to get back. When Lex wanted something, he never gave up until he possessed it."
As these words hung in the air, Lois and Clark stared at each other. Intuitively, they knew what the other was thinking—memories of Lex kidnapping Lois after her and Clark's first wedding came crashing into their minds. They each shuddered slightly, despite their best efforts to resist.
They sat in silence for a long moment, each lost in their own thoughts, until finally Clark spoke quietly. "What if Luthor's clone story is a lie?"
Lois swallowed. "We thought that right from the beginning, when he first came back. But the police and courts decided he was telling the truth."
Clark shook his head slightly. "No, they said they couldn't prove the story was false. That's not the same thing as finding proof it was true."
"I want it to be true," Lois admitted quietly. "I want to believe that the monster who did all those terrible things is dead. I want to know that the person who kidnapped me and tried to kill you will never be able to hurt us again. The alternative—"
"—is too scary to think about."
"Yeah," she whispered.
Clark pulled Lois into his arms. "It's scary for me, too. I don't trust Luthor—even if his story is true, he was a criminal long before he claimed he was replaced. But if he did orchestrate the whole thing, we have a larger problem."
"Because then he knows you're Superman."
"And he could use it against me—or you."
Clark took a shuddering breath and held Lois closer. "I think," he said quietly after a long pause, "whether Luthor is lying or telling the truth about the clone, he's still very dangerous, and nothing will ever convince me otherwise. We've let our guard down this last year. We were so busy—first with the pregnancy, then Laura herself—and we let ourselves believe that everything was going to be OK. And it might be. But I don't want to let myself get distracted anymore. You and Laura are too important to me to put you at risk, just because I wasn't proactive enough. I couldn't live with myself if anything happened."
Lois buried her head deeper into Clark's chest, needing to feel him strong next to her. She knew Clark was right—they'd let themselves believe they were safe because the alternative was too scary to think about. But where Lex Luthor was involved, they could never let their guard down.
"Don't worry, honey," Clark murmured. "I won't let him hurt you—not ever again."
"Hurry up, Clark, or we're going to be late." Lois's voice carried up the stairs.
"We're almost done," he called back as he struggled to put a wobbly baby arm into a clean shirt. In a quieter voice, he addressed the little girl in front of him on the changing table. "And you, little miss, shouldn't spit up just as we are running out the door!"
Laura just gurgled up at him with a happy smile, which made Clark laugh. "You just love running us in circles, don't you?" he baby-talked. "Don't you?"
"Coming!" Satisfied that Laura was presentable again, Clark picked her up and whooshed her down the stairs, coming to a windy halt next to Lois, who was standing with one hand already on the door knob. "Come on, honey, what are we waiting for?" he said with a grin.
Lois smiled despite herself as she led them out into the foyer, locking the front door behind her. She looked at her happy daughter, wiggling excitedly in Clark's arms. "Eight months old and she already likes to fly; she's definitely your daughter."
Clark pulled Lois into a close embrace with his free arm. "And yours," he grinned as he kissed her sweetly on the lips.
Loading Laura into her car-seat and packing the back with their many bags, Lois marveled at the fact that they even got out of the house in the morning. When the elder Kents were staying with them, things had been so much easier—breakfast was waiting on the table when they came downstairs in the morning and Laura was changed and dressed while Lois and Clark ate in peace. And of course, the only bags the reporters carried to the car contained any work they had brought home the night before.
As wonderful as it was to have live-in baby-sitters, however, space had been getting tight in the townhouse. So when Martha and Jonathan saw an ad for a relatively inexpensive sub-let only a few blocks away, they quickly signed up. Lois and Clark had been surprised—they hadn't thought the Kents would want the extra expense of an apartment, even a small one, especially since Lois and Clark were planning to start Laura in the Daily Planet Daycare Center as soon as it opened. But the price and the location of the apartment were right, and it gave the elder Kents a convenient base of operations in Metropolis, a place where they could store their belongings when traveling, while at the same time helping out a young college professor who needed a house-sitter while he was on overseas sabbatical from the University of Metropolis. And of course—just as Lois had predicted—the more they got to know their granddaughter, the less alluring those extended trips had become.
Of course, Jonathan and Martha were currently on just such a trip. But this time, they planned to be gone no more than a few weeks—and they'd already extracted a promise from their son that they could baby-sit when they returned. But for now, the Daily Planet Daycare Center had Laura registered for three to four days a week.
It had taken Lois and Clark a couple of weeks to settle into their own morning routine. By working together and planning ahead, they usually managed to get themselves and Laura out of the house at a fairly respectable time — except when Laura threw them a curve ball as they were walking out the door, of course.
Behind the wheel of the Jeep, Lois expertly navigated the city streets, driving only a little more aggressively than usual to make up the minutes lost this morning. She figured she had done pretty well to get them here safely—Clark had only grabbed the dashboard twice in their fifteen minute commute as Lois deftly swerved in and out of traffic.
Yet they had arrived safe and sound—at least if "sound" included lugging several overstuffed bags and a 15 pound baby into the lobby of the Daily Planet building.
"Here we are," Lois said brightly as they arrived at the brightly painted door of the daycare center. The director of the center, Mrs. Ruth Wilson, opened the door for them with a cheerful "good morning" and helped Lois with the bags.
"This green bag has a few changes of clothes for Laura, just in case," Lois explained, handing the bag to Ruth. "And this insulated one has three bottles of breast milk. Can we just put those in the refrigerator?" At the woman's nod, Lois continued, "Laura is still a little sniffly, but the worst of the cold seems to have passed … "
The two women organized Laura's possessions while Lois continued to update the director on Laura's condition. As they wound up their conversation, however, Lois looked around in surprise. "Now where's Clark?" she wondered aloud. "He must still be out in the hall."
As Mrs. Wilson carried Laura's bottles into the kitchen, Lois turned and headed back through the Center's door and into the lobby of the Planet building. She didn't see Clark immediately, but as she glanced around the lobby, the sound of familiar laughter caught her attention. Lois focused her gaze on the area in front of the coffee shop and found her husband — sharing a cappuccino with Kate Martin.
Lois watched as Clark handed Laura to Kate while he dug a few dollars out of his wallet to pay for two coffees. Kate made funny faces and tickled the girl until Laura laughed with delight. Taking a sip of her coffee, Kate then turned her attention to Clark, saying something that made him smile proudly. Lois stood up a bit straighter as she noticed the way Kate kept touching Clark's arm, and the way Clark was soaking up the attention, leaning in to listen to Kate, his eyes dancing at some shared joke.
As Lois watched this other woman hold her daughter and flirt with her husband, she felt a momentary pang of jealousy. Words her mother said repeatedly while Lois was growing up echoed somewhere in the most insecure parts of her mind … 'he'll cheat on you, you can't trust him.'
Watching Clark coo at their daughter, however, Lois banished the voices of the past. She trusted Clark implicitly—and nothing anyone else could say or do would make her doubt his love for her.
With renewed confidence, Lois made her way across the lobby towards the couple. "Hi," she said brightly to Kate, not allowing even the hint of her earlier doubt to enter her voice. She was not going to give this young women the satisfaction of knowing Lois had ever considered her a threat.
Clark fixed his wife with a pleased smile. Lois noticed that Kate seemed disappointed, but Clark didn't look the least bit guilty.
"Hi, honey!" he said as he took Laura back from Kate. "Are we all set inside? Laura and I were just about to follow you in when Kate flagged us down to say hello." Clark shot Kate a smile, which the young woman returned in spades.
Lois just smiled knowingly. "She did, did she? Well, it's nice you two got some time to catch up. But now," she turned her smile to Clark, "we better drop Laura off and get upstairs, or Perry is going to make *us* catch up by staying late tonight."
"Very true. See you later, Kate."
"OK, Clark! See you later," the girl enthused. "And bye-bye, baby Laura … I really enjoyed holding you."
It wasn't until they walked back into the nursery that Lois realized Kate hadn't acknowledged her presence at all. 'Very interesting,' she mused. The young woman's crush on Clark was so obvious it was almost embarrassing. This idea—coupled with the fact that Clark seemed almost completely oblivious to it—made Lois laugh out loud.
"What?" Clark inquired with a cock of his head.
Lois waved him off as they carried Laura to her room and hung up her coat. "Nothing; really, it's nothing." Then she spied the covered cup of coffee in his hand. "Say, were you going to buy me one of those or just Kate?"
Clark looked lost for a moment until he noticed what she was looking at. "Oh … Oh!" Lois thought she had 'caught' him until Clark proved once again that he was always full of surprises. He handed her the cup. "Actually, this is for you. I already drank mine." The way Lois stared at him made him shift his weight. "What?" he asked again, a little self-consciously.
Lois just shook her head and smiled warmly. "You," she said simply, "never cease to amaze me." Lois looked as if she was going to say more, but just then Mrs. Wilson walked up to them and held out her hands for Laura.
"Hi Clark; hi again, Lois. Laura's bottles are all packed away in the fridge and I've stored her clothes and diapers in her basket … I think we are all set."
Clark gave his young daughter a hug and a kiss, and held her up so Lois could do the same. They handed the smiling child to Ruth Wilson, who greeted the baby warmly. As Lois and Clark turned to leave, however, they were drawn back by the sound of their baby's wails.
"Oh, Laura, honey, don't cry!" Lois begged. She looked helplessly at Ruth. "She was so good the first month we brought her here. I don't understand why she's been doing this lately."
Mrs. Wilson rubbed Laura's back and spoke soothingly—to both child and parents. "I know it's hard, Lois. But believe me, she stops crying almost as soon as you go. It's just seeing you leave that's hard for her. Within a few minutes, she always remembers how much fun she has here and is excited to join in with the other kids."
After a few more moments of trying to calm Laura, Lois and Clark admitted they were just making it harder by staying—both for themselves and Laura. They gave their daughter one final kiss and forced themselves to wave cheerfully as they headed for the elevator.
"I just hate leaving her when she cries like that," Clark said emotionally as soon as the door closed.
Lois rubbed her hand sympathetically over his arm. "I know; me too. Ruth says eight months is a big 'separation anxiety' age and it's completely normal for Laura to cry. We're supposed to act confident and show Laura there's nothing to fear."
Clark still looked upset, however, and kept casting longing glances back at the daycare center door as they walked through the lobby. "It's hard for me," he admitted. He tugged on his earlobe, indicating his super-hearing. "It's not like I automatically pick it up every time she cries, but once I do tune her in, it's really hard for me to tune her back out."
As they entered the elevator, Lois wrapped her arms around her husband's neck and snuggled up to him. "You're a good daddy," she told him with a smile. "Next year, she'll probably run into the center without even looking back, and then you'll be miserable because you think she doesn't need you anymore."
"Probably. I just—" Feeling his emotions build again, he stopped himself and gave his head a warning shake. He then fixed his wife with a tender smile and lowered his forehead until it rested against Lois's. His voice dropped to a tender whisper. "I'm just so happy we made a baby together. I love you both so much."
Lois's smile twisted a bit. "And we love you, too. So much."
They were still kissing when the elevator opened in the newsroom.
Later that morning, Lois found Clark at his desk, papers and folders nearly covering its work surface. "Any luck?" she asked him, noting that he was working through the list of recent murders in Metropolis.
Clark crossed another name off a long list and ran a hand through his hair. "Maybe … I'm not sure yet. I've found a few things that might be considered unusual—but then I look further and it turns out to look more like a coincidence."
Lois pulled up her chair. "Well, let's both work on it. I just finished my story on the city's redevelopment plan for 44th Street. So I've got some time to help you go through these files."
The two reporters worked for some time, checking and cross-checking the list of victims, trying to find the common element they must have missed before. They were about to admit defeat when Lois suddenly sat up a bit straighter. "Clark, hand me that stack I just looked through … I might be on to something."
As Clark waited expectantly, Lois double-checked her information, looking first surprised, then thoughtful. Finally, she handed Clark a list with four names circled. "Do those four names ring any bells for you?"
Clark looked at the list, and furrowed his brow. "Well, Arthur Coogan was an art dealer on the Upper East Side … and wasn't Karl Heinz in the import/export business? Kind of shady? But I don't recognize these other two names … Anne Maxwell and Robert Turner."
Lois took the list back. "Anne Maxwell is—was—an expert in antiques and Robert Turner supposedly dealt in the black market for rare coins."
Clark shrugged. "OK, so they all dealt in valuable items, some legitimately, some less so. But that's only four people out of what? Twenty suspicious murders in the last six months? What's the connection?"
"What if I told you that all four of them … " Lois turned around in her chair, reached across the aisle, and pulled an open copy of this month's Metropolis Today magazine from the corner of her desk. She tossed the open magazine in front of Clark dramatically. "Attended the auction of Lex Luthor's estate five yeas ago."
Clark let out a low whistle as he gazed at the same magazine spread he and Lois had pondered the night before. He looked closely at the items shown in the photograph. "And they purchased some of these items?"
Lois hesitated. "Well, I'm not sure … yet. But I know they were there. I followed the auction at the time. I got a certain sense of closure that summer from seeing all of Lex's possessions scattered hither and yon." Lois shook off the memory and continued determinedly. "I have a funny feeling that if we get a list of everything the estate auctioned off and who bought them, and compare that with a list of our murder victims, we might find something interesting."
Clark and Lois stared at each other, their eyes gleaming with the excitement only a hot story could provide. They turned in unison to the center of the newsroom. "JIMMY!"
No sooner were the word out of their mouths than a loud explosion shook the newsroom. Shocked staffers ducked for cover as the entire Daily Planet building vibrated. It wasn't long before people were flocking to the windows to see what had happened. Excited shouts rang out. "A building blew up! I can see the dust … it looks like it's over on 43rd or 44th Street!"
Lois turned to face her husband and found his eyes as wide as hers. "Go. I'll check on Laura and meet you down there."
Clark nodded quickly and simply disappeared from his chair, leaving Lois blinking in surprise. Rare was the time that Clark would risk flying out in a crowded newsroom, not even trying to make an excuse that would give a reason for "Clark's" disappearance. Whatever had exploded obviously required his immediate attention.
Perry's loud timbre resonated from his office door, drawing everyone's attention. "Listen up, people! The old Dexter building on 44th Street just exploded. The police are already evacuating a one block radius around the building. It looks like another natural gas leak. Robertson! Get on the phone to the Metropolis Gas & Electric; find out what they're doing to address the situation. Kruller and Jones, I want you to … "
Perry continued to organize his troops but Lois was no longer listening. She had already grabbed her bag and her coat, and was halfway to the staircase. She would check on Laura, first, of course, and make sure everything was under control in the daycare center. But as long as everything was fine with her daughter, she was anxious to get to the scene of the explosion.
She had just been writing about the old Dexter building this morning—it was part of the block scheduled for demolition to make way for the city's new redevelopment plan. She was sure she could come up with some fresh angle to join the two stories.
Lois didn't have to wait long to find her angle.
After canvassing the gathering crowd for witness accounts of what had happened and asking some tough questions during an impromptu press conference held by the Mayor, police lieutenant and Superman, Lois had more than enough notes to piece together a story about the explosion itself. What caught her interest, however, were the vague answers she had received from a few city officials.
Interestingly, although the Dexter building was in the redevelopment zone declared by the city and was expected to be condemned any day now, the City Planner—whom Lois had cornered two blocks away from the explosion — reluctantly admitted the city didn't yet have actual ownership of the building. Even more strange, the man refused to name the building's current owner.
Her curiosity piqued, Lois spent the next several hours keeping her ear to the ground and visiting some of her more reliable informants. When she finally returned to the newsroom later that afternoon, she had a notebook full of scribbles and a request placed for Research to pull several old files from the morgue.
After stopping in at the daycare center to check once more on her daughter—and to feed her, for Lois's comfort as well as Laura's—Lois was back in the newsroom to type up her story and summarize her notes. She was pleased to note that Clark had beat her back to work, and he was typing furiously at his computer.
Lois stopped to look over his shoulder as he typed. "Nice … " she offered, after reading a few paragraphs. Clark stopped typing and silently used his mouse to scroll to the top to let her see the rest. The more Lois read, the more she nodded. "Very nice, Clark … this is really good." She pointed to a particular section. "Are you serious? Twenty injuries reported, but no deaths?"
Clark adjusted his glasses. "Yeah, we got really lucky. Most of the block had been cordoned off since last week to make way for the building next door to be demolished. And get this—the workers on the crew, who would have been right in the line of fire, were called off the project before they even started this morning due to some malfunctioning equipment. They all would have been killed had they been on the job—the explosion started in the Dexter building, but it also took out the two condemned buildings on either side of it."
"So the city saves the expense of knocking down the three remaining buildings on that site," Lois observed. "And doesn't lose a life in the process. Quite a big coincidence."
"Or a very moral saboteur," Clark murmured.
Lois lowered her voice to match his. "Does Superman think it was sabotage?"
"I'm not sure yet," Clark responded, "but there were a few things that didn't look right. I didn't put any of it in the story, not yet. But Superman is going to be following the city's investigation closely over the next several weeks. I'm sure he'll give me an interview if I ask nicely." The last statement was accompanied by a wink, which made Lois smile.
"Well, I've got some angles to follow, too. Nothing concrete yet, but some rumors that I wanted to check out. I think we're both going to be busy this week."
"Let's get to it, then."
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly, and Lois and Clark were able to write up their preliminary findings into a story and get it to Perry before 6 o'clock. After assuring Perry that they would be doing some more research at home that night, they picked up Laura and were on the road home by 6:30.
Lois collapsed on the couch with an exhausted sigh as Clark returned to the car to bring in all of their bags. Laura had fallen asleep in the car on the way home and they had simply carried the entire car-seat into the foyer to let her continue to nap. Of course, this meant she wasn't going to sleep until later than usual this evening, but at this point Lois was too tired to care. She would deal with that after she'd had a chance to unwind and eat some of the Chinese carry-out they had picked up on the way home.
Clark deposited the last of the bags in the front hall and dropped the mail in Lois's lap as he continued on into the kitchen.
After resting for several minutes in the living room, the smell of Hunan Chicken drew Lois into the kitchen to join him.
"Mmm, that smells great," she offered as she filled their water glasses and waited while Clark dished out two plates of food. "I can't remember the last time Laura slept through dinner, but it will be nice to eat in peace and quiet for once. Poor thing, this cold must really have knocked her out."
"It's too bad she's sick, but it is kind of interesting," Clark offered, swallowing some rice. "I mean, I never caught colds, even when I was little, but Laura obviously can. Yet we know from our run-in with Mxyzptlk last month that Laura will develop powers as she gets older."
"True," Lois agreed. "Unless Mix-master did something to her to make her have powers. Maybe it was all his doing."
Clark considered this as he bit into an eggroll. "I suppose," he said with a smile, "that we'll just have to wait until she grows up to find out."
Lois leaned over and opened her mouth, indicating for him to let her share his appetizer. "Just the way it should be," she grinned as he complied.
After some more chit-chat, Clark noticed that Lois had brought the mail in with her from the living room. "Anything good in the mail?" he asked, reaching for it.
"I dunno; I haven't gone through it yet."
Clark sorted by name and handed Lois her stack. Lois shuffled through the envelopes … bill, bill, magazine … "What's this one?" she wondered out loud, holding a plain white envelope up for him to see. "There's no return address."
"Open it and find out," Clark suggested as he stood to refill his plate.
Lois pushed her plate to one side as she tore open the envelope. The address on the front side was typewritten and there was a Metropolis postmark, but no other indications of where it had come from. As she opened the folded paper inside and began to read it with only passing curiosity, Lois felt the blood drain from her face.
At her audible gasp, Clark turned from the sink. "What's wrong? What is it, honey?"
With a shaking hand, Lois held out the letter for him to see.
He doesn't love you, Lois. He wants to leave you.
You're trying to hold onto him, but you can't.
Let him go so he can be happy. He loves only me.
— You know who
Clark finished reading it and looked up at Lois, his expression filled with concern and anxiety. "Lois, you know none of this is true—"
Lois quickly nodded, though still visibly shaken. "I know. But someone is going to a lot of trouble to try to drive a stake between us. Why? Why are they doing this to us?"
"I don't know," Clark admitted, sighing deeply. He leaned forward and gathered his wife into his arms, holding her tightly. "But you can count on one thing—no matter what this person tries, *no one* is going to come between us."
Lois and Clark did their best to put the unnerving piece of mail out of their minds as they got themselves and Laura ready to go to the Planet the next morning. With all the stories and investigations they had going at work, they knew they couldn't afford to let themselves get too distracted. Still, there was a tension in the air they couldn't manage to shake.
After getting Laura situated in the daycare center, Lois and Clark headed up to the newsroom. They decided their best plan of attack was to split up the work, so Clark spent much of the morning trying to track down a list of the people who had attended the 1994 auction of Lex Luthor's possessions, while Lois continued her investigation into the previous day's explosion.
It was nearly lunch time when Lois motioned for Clark to join her in the conference room. "Any luck with the auction list?"
"Some," Clark responded. "I obtained a copy of the sign-in sheet from the day of the auction, but it's been slow going trying to make out some of the handwriting. The harder part has been getting the list of what was purchased by whom. The auction house admits they have a list; but they are being slow getting it to me. I'll head over there this afternoon if it looks like they're just jerking me around."
Lois smiled. "You'll just have to *look through* their files yourself, huh?"
Clark shrugged. "Where Luthor is involved, I'll do what I have to."
Lois made a derisive sound at the mention of Lex's name. "Speaking of which, I've found some interesting stuff in here."
Clark cocked his head as he noted the numerous stacks of papers covering the conference room table. "Is this everything on the Dexter building?"
"Yeah, you got a minute for me to fill you in?"
Clark sat down. "Go for it."
"Well, since the city manager was so elusive about just who owned the Dexter, I started digging there. It turns out that up until last week, it was owned by a developer who was hoping to renovate the building back to its 1930's glory and run a casino inside."
"Why didn't he?"
"He couldn't get the permits from the city—they wanted the land for the 44th Street redevelopment and wouldn't change the zoning to allow gambling. The city assumed they could pressure the guy into selling by denying him his permits. In fact, the city had gone one step further and filed the paperwork to have the building condemned, figuring they'd have the property by this week. But the developer did an end run around them and sold it to someone else last week—for a lot more money than the city was offering, let me tell you. Two million dollars! The city was only offering $500,000."
Clark laughed in disbelief. "Who would pay two million dollars for a building that was going to be condemned by the city in only a matter of days?"
Lois handed him the top piece of paper from the pile in front of her. "LBL Real Estate."
"That's what I said. They aren't registered with the Metropolis Real Estate Association, the trade group that most companies in the business belong to. The Chamber of Commerce has never heard of them; they didn't even have a listing with the Better Business Bureau. Turns out they didn't even exist until about three weeks ago. Brand new company, run by unnamed trustees. And they don't have a single employee."
"You've got it. And would you care to offer a guess as to just what this shell company is a subsidiary of?"
Clark smiled at the grin on Lois's face. "You look like the cat that swallowed the canary—let me take a wild guess … Lex Luthor?"
Lois waggled her eyebrows. "Give the man a cigar. LBL Real Estate is a recently created subsidiary of LexCorp."
Clark looked speculative. "So, Luthor buys a condemned building for a seemingly ridiculously expensive price … then it blows up a few days later." He snorted. "Sounds like the Daily Planet buyout from five years ago. I bet he insured it for a ton of money, then had it blown up to collect. Insurance fraud seems a bit simplistic for Luthor, but I guess the guy is desperate to regain his fortune."
Lois smirked as she dropped the final bombshell. "More desperate than you might think. There was no insurance."
Lois Lane grinned at her husband. "That's what I said. No insurance. But I think I found why Lex bought the building in the first place. The word on the street—and I had it confirmed by two different sources—is that there was something hidden in the walls of the old building. The building was one of a string of buildings in Metropolis that had ties to organized crime sixty years ago."
Clark sat up straighter. "That's right! I remember reading about the Dexter now. Remember when that group of terrorists took us all hostage in the newsroom about five years ago? When they were after a safe that had been hidden in the walls since the Planet building was a speak-easy? After hearing about the history of the Daily Planet building, I decided to research some of the other buildings in town. The Dexter held its own underground casino—a competing one—in those days. Apparently the two crime lords were bitter rivals."
"Well, apparently they had one thing in common—they both liked to hide their money in case they were raided. The rumor going around on the street is that there were eight million dollars in bearer bonds hidden in the walls of the building, but no one knew exactly where."
Clark nodded thoughtfully. "You think Luthor got the money out, then blew up the building to hide the evidence? Not having insurance would be a sure way to get the investigators off your back—you know they are going to be looking hard at him when another building he owns is blown up 'accidentally'."
"That's just it—the purchase was only made official a few hours before the explosion. He wouldn't have had time to get in there to search for the bonds. *And*, according to Bobby Bigmouth, Lex is very upset about the whole thing."
Clark looked skeptical. "It could all be an act … you know as well as I do that the man is an expert liar."
Lois shrugged. "Could be, but I don't think so in this case. I don't know why, but I have a feeling that Lex Luthor is one unhappy camper right now!" she finished, a bit gleefully.
Lex Luthor pounded his fist onto his desk so hard that his wedding picture toppled over. "No insurance?!?!" he roared.
The small bespectacled man standing in front of the desk cowered and mopped the sweat from his brow. "I'm sorry, Mr. Luthor, I don't know what happened! I hand-delivered the paperwork to the insurance company myself two weeks ago, but when they pulled it out of their files today to start the claim process, they said that the paperwork was incomplete. I have a copy with me." The man nervously handed a file folder to Lex. "It looks like your handwriting—though you would be the best judge of that—but the paperwork is only partly filled out and it isn't signed. So they are refusing to process the claim!"
Lex lowered his voice into a barely contained growl. "I don't care what excuses they come up with. You get back there *now* and get this straightened out. Or you'll be the one wishing you had insurance!"
"Y- yes, sir … of course, sir … I will."
Lex Luthor angrily paced in his office after sending his so-called attorney scurrying from the office in fear of his life. Lex had half a mind to send Enrico O'Reilly after the man, killing him out of spite. But for some reason, he believed the man's story—that the paperwork was complete when he took it to the insurance office.
Lex remembered completing and signing the forms—and giving them to his attorney to deliver. It was inconceivable that someone could have switched paperwork, especially since Lex had only produced the one copy of the forms. Yes, it had taken him a day or two to fill out all the forms that were required but the papers never left his office while he was working on them. So unless someone at the insurance company had a device that made ink disappear without a trace, there was no way his signature could have vanished.
Yet this latest catastrophe, Lex had to admit, was starting to feel familiar. Strange things had been happening for weeks now. Deals that were considered sure bets suddenly fell through. Employees that had been considered loyal suddenly skipped town as if someone had lured them away. Numbers were transposed in LexCorp's financial records which caused larger resulting accounting errors before they were caught.
Mistakes like this didn't just happen—not to him, and certainly not *by* him.
Lex stood looking out of his picture window, high above Metropolis. Normally, this view made him gloat over the city. Everyone who wanted to see him had to look up. But today, Lex only seethed. For it was becoming increasingly clear to him that his 'bad luck' was being engineered. There was simply no other excuse.
Someone was daring to stalk Lex Luthor.
Clark Kent grinned as he watched his wife type up her notes. Mad Dog Lane was definitely on the trail, and she smelled victory. Clark knew his partner well enough by now to know that once she picked up a scent as strong as this one, no one on Earth could hide the truth from her.
Waiting until Lois paused in her typing to save the file, Clark crouched next to her while she sat at her desk. "Glad to see you are feeling better," he murmured.
"Feeling better?" she asked distractedly.
"About the letters."
Lois wrinkled her nose and stopped typing all together. "Oh, those. Watch, it'll all be a trick by Lex Luthor to distract me from tracking him down." Her words were challenging as well as sarcastic. "I bet this whole stalker thing is fake, just to divert my attention."
Her sneer was interrupted by the loud jangling of the phone beside her. Lois and Clark both jumped, and stared at the phone uneasily.
"Or maybe not … " Lois said, her bravado all but gone.
"Let me get it," Clark offered as he reached for the phone. "Daily Planet, Clark Kent speaking."
Lois watched his face as he listened, and relaxed as he smiled and covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "It's just the daycare center downstairs," he whispered.
Soon, however, his face grew serious. "No, I absolutely did not," he said into the phone. "Well, who was it? What did she look like? No, you did the right thing. We'll be right down."
Lois gripped her husband's shirt sleeve as Clark hung up the phone. "Oh my God, what's wrong? Is Laura OK?"
Clark put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Laura is fine. She's taking a nap."
"Then what happened?? Your hand clenched so tight I thought you were going to crush the phone."
Clark stood up and pulled his suit jacket off the back of his chair. "Laura is fine. But someone—a woman—just tried to claim her, telling the staffers that I told her to bring her upstairs to me. When they wouldn't let her in, she got angry and left."
Lois jumped up and grabbed her purse. "I'm right behind you."
Lois and Clark walked as fast as they could across the lobby and into the daycare center. What they encountered were three very shaken child care providers, including Ruth Wilson, the director.
"Oh, Lois, Clark, I'm so glad you're here," Ruth told them as soon as they met in the hall. "Laura is fine—she never even woke up from her nap — but we are all pretty upset, as you can imagine."
"Ruth, what happened?" Lois was still trembling somewhat, but had calmed significantly after checking the crib to ensure that Laura was indeed sleeping peacefully.
Ruth swallowed and took them over to another young woman. "Susan was in the infant room when the woman came in. I'll let her fill you in on the first part."
Susan spoke very quickly, obviously still excited. "I was across the room, giving a bottle to one of the other babies, when she came in. She didn't give a name, but she said she was here to pick up Laura Kent. I told her that she wasn't on our authorized list to pick up Laura, and asked why neither of you was doing it. She was really nice at first, telling me that you, Mr. Kent, had asked her to pick up the baby and take her to you. She said you were working really hard and needed her help. When she started to come into the room, I got nervous—I'm not sure why, but I just didn't believe her. I told her that unless Mr. Kent contacted us directly authorizing it, we wouldn't release Laura to her."
Ruth Wilson interrupted. "This is where I walked in. Like Susan said, the woman was very nice at first, but kept insisting that Clark wanted her to have the baby. When I told her that only Mr. and Mrs. Kent were allowed to remove Laura from the center and I suggested that we go into my office to call upstairs, she got upset and left."
Clark exhaled a shaky breath. "Have you ever seen her before? What did she look like?"
"She seemed young, but it was hard to tell because she had on dark glasses and a silk scarf over her head, covering her hair," Ruth offered.
"How young?" Clark pressed.
"In her twenties, probably. Pretty. She was dressed professionally."
"I could see some dark hair sticking out from the scarf," Susan piped up, trying to be helpful.
Lois and Clark knitted their brows. That description was more than they had before, but it was still too vague to be really helpful.
"Oh, I wish we had a security camera," Ruth fretted. "Neither of us had ever seen her before, but maybe if we had a picture, one of you might recognize her. She was so nice at first, but when she got upset, she made me nervous. And she said the strangest thing."
"What did she say—exactly?"
Ruth paused, collecting her thoughts. "She said … let me make sure I say it exactly the way she said it … Oh, I know. When I told her that only Mr. and Mrs. Kent were allowed to take the baby, she snapped that she 'was the future Mrs. Kent'. And then she stormed out. The future Mrs. Kent! What in the world could that mean??"
Lois and Clark just looked at each other. They knew exactly what it meant. Their stalker wasn't giving up—and was definitely getting more aggressive.
At 11 o'clock Thursday morning, Lois Lane was lying on the floor of her living room, looking up at an overhead play gym with her daughter.
"So this is what things look like from down here, huh?" she mused. Laura squealed with laughter as Lois batted toys with her. It wasn't every day Mommy stuck her head under the play gym!
Lois and Clark had worried all night about taking Laura back to daycare this morning. They trusted Ruth Wilson and the rest of the staff—if they didn't, they never would have left Laura there in the first place—but this latest encounter with their 'stalker' had them both really spooked.
They had left for home a couple hours after it happened yesterday, as soon as Laura woke up from her afternoon nap and Lois and Clark could wrap up a few small stories they needed to get done by deadline. The only way Lois could go back to the newsroom at all was because Clark assured her he would keep his super-hearing tuned to the Center for the rest of the afternoon.
Laura, fortunately, was the only one not shaken by the experience. The staffers were stressed, Lois and Clark were stressed—heck, the stalker was probably stressed because she hadn't gotten the baby—but Laura was as happy as a lark.
Clark had convinced Ruth and Susan to meet with one of the Daily Planet artists to come up with a composite drawing, but the resulting picture wasn't tremendously helpful. Not trained to remember details—and still being upset about the entire incident—about all Ruth and Susan could agree on was that the woman was of average height and build, was somewhere between 20 and 35, and had either brown or black hair. Not much to go on.
In the end, Lois had decided to use this as her day off for the week. Clark had wanted to stay home, too, but they decided one of them should be at work in case anything developed further. Tomorrow, depending on how things went today, Clark would stay home while Lois went to work. They hadn't alerted Perry or anyone else in the newsroom about the incident yet—it seemed half the newsroom was out sick yesterday with the bad flu virus that had been going around, including Perry. Besides, they knew the news would spread like wildfire once the Center alerted the other parents to the fact that a suspicious person tried to claim one of the children.
As Laura started to fuss, finally growing bored with the colorful hanging toys that were swinging above her, Lois pushed the gym away and moved Laura to a sitting position in the middle of the floor. "Here you go, sweetie," she said as she scattered some of Laura's favorite toys around her. "Now you play while Mommy gets some work done."
Laura protested the loss of her mother briefly, but was soon engrossed in gumming the ear of a large plastic teddy bear.
Lois took the opportunity to straighten up the room a bit, then settled down at the coffee table with the files she had brought from work. Clark had left her the sign-in sheet he obtained, and she'd been making some progress cross-checking the list of murder victims against the list of 1994 Luthor auction goers. She had already found two more names that were on both lists, and was hopeful that she could eventually establish a pattern.
It was tedious work—hundreds and hundreds of people had turned out in 1994 for the auction and they didn't always sign in with full names and addresses. It wasn't necessarily unheard of that a few of them would meet with random violence, but Lois felt there was more to be learned. Of course, there were still many murder victims that hadn't been anywhere near the Luthor auction in 1994, which contradicted her theory of a connection, but Lois knew she had to keep looking.
The phone rang on the desk and Lois tensed as she looked at it. They had already turned the ringer off in their bedroom to avoid the late-night prank calls, but it was getting so every time her phone rang, she dreaded answering it. "How about we just let the machine get it, OK?" she asked Laura with mock cheerfulness.
Laura didn't disagree.
After waiting through the series of clicks that signaled the answering machine picking up, Lois rose quickly as she heard Clark voice on the line. "Hi, honey, it's me. Just calling to check up on my girls … are you there?"
"It's Daddy, Laura!" Lois picked up the phone. "Hi, Clark, I'm here."
"Were you busy with something?"
"No," Lois sighed. "Just making sure who it was before picking up, that's all."
"Well, that sounds like a good idea," Clark concurred. "So, how's it going over there. Any problems?"
"No," Lois said, this time with real cheerfulness. "We've been having a nice morning. Laura took a short morning nap, so we've been playing a lot. She's in a great mood." Suddenly Lois laughed out loud. "Oh, Clark! I wish you could see her right now. She's got herself on all fours and is trying to crawl. But she can't quite get her legs and arms to work in tandem. Oh, this is so funny!"
Clark laughed heartily. "She was doing that this weekend, too. She's so close though. Any day now she's going to take off, I just know it!" They chatted for a few more minutes about Laura's morning, then Clark grew more serious. "So, everything has been fine over there? No more letters or deliveries?"
Lois grew more sober as well. "No, not that I know of. I checked the mail a little while ago but it hadn't come yet. I didn't see any packages or anything."
"But you're keeping the doors locked, right?"
Something about the way he asked the question caught Lois's attention. "Yes, of course. What's going on, Clark? Did you get something?" At Clark's hesitation, Lois's heart sunk. "Oh no, what now?"
Clark lowered his voice, and Lois could picture him at his desk, trying to keep the conversation private. "There was a cassette tape in the Jeep this morning."
Lois's voice, in contrast, went up. "What do you mean, *in* the Jeep??"
"Now, calm down, honey. I must have forgotten to lock the door when we got home yesterday. Nothing was damaged. But there was a cassette tape of love songs waiting for me. It was already in the player and started up as soon as I started the car."
Lois growled. "What kind of love songs?"
"A whole bunch of them … ten all together. I wrote down all the titles and artists and I'm trying to come up with a pattern, if there even is one. Some are new songs, some are old. I even looked for anagrams based on the letters, hoping maybe there was a clue to this woman's identity. Nothing," he finished, a little disheartened.
"Were their any fingerprints on the cassette?"
"Yeah, and I took it down to Henderson a little while ago. He's adding the information to the complaint we filed yesterday after she tried to take Laura, but he said their computer didn't have the fingerprints on file. Whoever she is, she doesn't have a criminal record."
"Oh, that's a relief," Lois said sarcastically. "A rookie stalker; that makes me feel so much better."
Clark chuckled a bit despite himself. "Hey, at least we can rule out Mrs. Bailey from Social Services. Last I checked, she was older than 30 and doesn't look anything like that picture."
"Yeah," Lois said reluctantly, "I guess that's something. But it doesn't get us any closer to finding out who is doing this." Suddenly, she thought of something else. "Clark, are you *sure* you left the Jeep door unlocked last night?"
"No, I usually lock it when we park on the street. But there were no signs of forced entry, so how else could she have gotten in?"
Lois forced herself not to shudder—it was bad enough this woman knew where they lived and had obviously been right outside last night—but the next possibility was terrifying. "What if she has a copy of our keys? She obviously knows where we work. Maybe she borrowed our keys when we weren't around. She could have gone through my purse or through your jacket pocket, made copies of our keys and returned them before we even noticed they were gone." Lois swallowed hard and looked at her daughter playing happily on the floor. Maybe keeping Laura at home wasn't the safest idea after all …
Clark took a deep breath. "Or maybe I just left the car door unlocked … but you're right, it's better to be safe than sorry. I think someone in the newsroom would notice a stranger going through your purse, but I do sometimes leave my keys in my pocket when my suit jacket is on the back of my chair—" Clark cut off abruptly, then continued in a hurried voice. "Look, honey, I've gotta fly … put the chain on the door as soon as you hang up, OK? And if you need help, just yell for Superman. We'll both be there right away. Love you! Bye!"
Lois smiled weakly into the phone. "Love you too. Be careful." As she hung up the phone, she turned to her daughter. "Well, Laura, it's just you and me again. Daddy had to go save the world." She turned her attention to the front door. "Now, about that chain … "
Lois walked over to the door and looked out the peephole almost fearfully before sliding the chain into place. It wasn't a heavy chain—just your standard run of the mill door chain. Would it keep out someone who was intent on getting in? Probably not, but it would give Lois enough of a warning to yell for Superman. That is, if this woman was even violent … she hadn't been so up until now. Sure, she tried to take Laura, but maybe she really was going to take her to Clark …
Lois snorted. "Yeah, right," she answered herself.
Lois crossed the room, intent on returning to her files, when suddenly she heard a noise in the foyer. She froze.
She quickly looked to the front door and listened. Silence. Curious and apprehensive, Lois walked carefully to the front windows. She slowly drew back the curtains and peered out. The mailman was walking past their house, and Lois realized that the sound she'd heard was the mail being dropped through their mail slot.
Lois let her breath out in a rush and smiled. "Laura, your Mommy is *way* too on-edge. I really need to relax."
Now, of course, Lois had a dilemma. With the flower delivery and the letter that had been delivered in the mail this week, Lois wasn't exactly looking forward to seeing if there was another. Not to mention the fact that she would have to unchain the door to get the mail.
Finally, however, her curiosity—and her refusal to let this woman win—made up Lois's mind. She carefully unchained the door and looked around the foyer. Satisfied that no one was around, Lois scooped up the mail from where the mail carrier had deposited it and ran back into the house. Once inside, Lois slammed the door and quickly locked and chained it. Her heart was pounding like she had just run a marathon, and Laura was watching her, decidedly amused at her mother's antics.
"Oh, you think that's funny, do you?" she clucked at her baby. At Laura's gurgle, Lois smiled too, albeit more nervously. "I know, I know … I'm being silly … but having you around makes me more cautious. Good thing Daddy didn't know that—he probably would have insisted we start trying to have you on our honeymoon!" Lois laughed for real that time, her mind flooding with the memory of just how many babies they might have made in those early months, had they not been using birth control!
Still chuckling, Lois sorted through the mail. She was relieved to see none of the typewritten envelopes they had received before. Just bills, magazines and junk mail. Lois never thought she'd be so happy to see junk mail!
A sudden noise in the street caught her attention, however, and she was quickly back to feeling uneasy. She looked at the chain, confirming it was still there, but still not convinced about how strong it would be.
Considering her options, Lois started to move a near-by bench to the area in front of the door. Quickly thinking better of it, though, she dashed into the dining room, and emerged with a solid looking high-backed chair in her hands. "This oughta do the trick!" she explained to Laura.
Laura just rolled over to her back, took her socks off, and worked intently on getting her toes into her mouth. "Glad you agree," Lois responded.
Lois angled the chair in front of the door, trying to wedge the high back under the doorknob. She had no idea if this actually worked, but she'd seen it in the movies lots of times! It was harder than it looked, however, and she struggled with it for several moments before she got the chair to stay in place.
She had just bent over to make some final adjustments to the set-up when a loud knock on the door rang out next to her ear. Lois yelped—loudly.
"Lois? Lois, is that you?! Is everything OK?"
With a look of disbelief on her face, Lois collected herself and looked through the peephole. "MOTHER??"
She struggled with the chair once again—this time to remove it—then fumbled with the chain and the locks. As she worked, she muttered to herself, "Too bad the stalker isn't locked in here—it's harder to get out than in!"
Finally she flung open the door, trying to act nonchalant as she leaned on the dining room chair. "Mother! What are you doing here?" she asked weakly.
Ellen Lane pushed her way past her daughter into the entryway. "What do you mean 'what am I doing here'?" she asked, sounding miffed. "Can't I stop by to see my own granddaughter?" She offered Lois a quick kiss on the cheek as she took off her coat and shoved it into Lois's arms. "Lois, dear, I'm not one to criticize, but why do you have a dining room chair in your entryway?"
Lois opened her mouth to respond, but Ellen had already made a bee-line for the living room. With a dramatic change in her tone of voice, Ellen started chattering happily to her granddaughter as she picked her up off the floor.
Lois closed the door once more, locking the deadbolt and reattaching the chain. She whimpered quietly, "Help, Superman!"
Lois moved around her kitchen, making sandwiches for herself and her mother. Ellen, for her part, was trying to spoon some rice cereal into Laura's mouth. "Open up for Grandma, my precious girl," she cooed, then caught the cereal on Laura's chin with the spoon as it ran down.
As Ellen mopped up Laura's cheeks for the umpteenth time, she set down the spoon. "I swear, Lois, by eight months, you were gobbling up everything in sight! Are you sure Laura isn't sick? She acts like she's never had solid foods before."
Lois spread the mustard on the bread more roughly. Why was it that Martha could make a statement and it would sound conversational, but when her mother said the same thing, it sounded like an attack on her parenting skills? "That's because doctors 30 years ago started babies on cereal at four weeks old, Mother! Now they advise waiting until four to six months. Laura has been getting all she needs from me. We only started her on solids a month and a half ago, and she's not wild about that cereal unless it has fruit in it. I think Clark bought some baby food jars of carrots at the store this weekend … do you want me to get you some of those?"
Ellen waved her off. "No, no, don't go to any trouble on my account. I wasn't criticizing, Lois, my goodness! Why are you always so defensive? I'm starting to think you don't trust me to baby-sit Laura anymore. Heavens knows you haven't invited me over in weeks!"
Lois closed her eyes and counted to ten. She plastered a smile on her face and delivered the food to the table. "Mother," she explained, mustering as much patience as she could. "It's not that we don't trust you to baby-sit Laura. It's just that we worked hard to get the daycare center open at the Planet. They do a wonderful job with her, and with it right downstairs, we can visit whenever we have time." Lois flashed on the incident yesterday, but she knew that this definitely was not the time to mention it. There was no sense in upsetting her already upset mother. She decided to change the subject. "So what's new with you?"
That was all the encouragement her mother needed. "Maybe you should ask your father that," Ellen retorted, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Or maybe a better question for him would be, 'Who' is new for you? With all the late hours he's been working recently, I'm sure he's working late on his new young secretary."
"Well, have you talked to Daddy about it? What does he say?"
"Oh, he denies it; he says I'm being paranoid. But then he doesn't call when he says he will or stands me up altogether. Then he claims he was just 'lost in his work'. Like I believe that!"
Lois sighed. "Maybe he really is working late. It doesn't necessarily mean—"
"Well, what else could it mean?" Ellen interrupted. "That's what it meant all those years when you were growing up." She waved her hands in exasperation. "I was crazy to think that we could get back together. Men are all the same."
"Please, Mother, let's not start this again," Lois groaned.
Ellen went on as if she hadn't even heard her. "You should keep a tight leash on that husband of yours, Lois. Clark may seem like a saint now, but I'll tell you, they definitely don't stay that way. Someday a younger woman will fawn all over him while all you do is ask him to take out the garbage. It's when the spark is gone that you see what a man is really made of!"
Lex Luthor sat at his desk, brooding. Sheets of paper filled with columns of numbers lay spread out in front of him, and he stared at them, his brow furrowed, reflecting his obvious disapproval.
A quiet knock on the door announced his wife's arrival into the room. "Hello, darling," Beth called softly. Seeing Lex crouched over his desk, she wrapped her arms around his neck from behind. With her cheek pressed against his, she could clearly see the bold figures at the bottom of each column. They didn't look good.
"Lex, you've been in here almost all day. I know you're upset, but sitting in here alone isn't going to help. Sometimes taking some time away from home clears a person's mind. How about we go away together?"
Lex dismissed the suggestion out of hand. "Impossible. I have far too much work to do."
"Well, maybe I can help you with it. Sometimes bouncing a problem off of someone else can lead to greater insight."
Lex narrowed his eyes. "Darling, don't take this the wrong way," he said caustically, "but you're a librarian. What insight could you possibly shed on my work?" Lex waved a hand towards the door derisively. "Why don't you go … read a book or something."
Beth stiffened at this cruel jab. She reminded herself for the millionth time that she knew what she was getting into when she married him. The happy moments she had with Lex were in some ways the most dangerous—they enticed her to let her guard down, make her dream about a safe and loving partnership. But the more she learned about him, the more she knew that it was never to be.
She set her jaw. "Lex, about last night … " Beth let her voice trail off, as if unsure of whether or not to continue. "You shouldn't feel bad. It happens to all men sometimes."
Beth was about to say more, but the look on Lex's face told her she was already too far into dangerous territory. She instantly backed off, quickly removing her arms from his neck. She straightened and moved towards the door. "If you need me, I'll be in the bedroom … reading a book."
Beth closed the door quickly behind her, her heart pounding. She knew the last comment came out a little too sarcastically for safety, but it couldn't be helped now. As she passed the library, she decided to pick up the book she had begun reading a few weeks ago. It was outside of her normal area of interest, but it was proving quite fascinating. "Ah, here we are," she whispered to herself as she combed the shelves. "The Art of War … "
Lois Lane sat on the couch, enjoying a few moments of peace and quiet. After lunch, her mother had insisted on being the one to put Laura down for her afternoon nap, and Lois didn't protest. The best side of Ellen Lane came out when she was with her granddaughter, and Lois was only too happy to encourage *that* Ellen when her mother was visiting.
Lois turned as she heard her mother's quiet footsteps on the stairs. "Did she go down OK?" Lois asked softly.
"Oh, yes," Ellen responded with a tender smile. "Like a little angel. She reminds me so much of you when you were a baby, Lois. With that dark hair and those bright, curious eyes. She's definitely your daughter."
Lois smiled. "Martha says she looks like Clark. I think grandparents delight in looking for those similarities as much as parents do."
"Well, Laura is a lucky girl to have both sets of grandparents so involved in her life. I hope you keep that good relationship with the Kents. I know after your father and I split up, it was difficult to see your grandparents on that side of the family. Things were just so awkward."
Lois sighed in exasperation. "Mother, for the last time, Clark and I are not going to split up!"
Ellen looked at her daughter in shock. "I never said you were! All I was saying is—"
"I *know* what you're saying. I just don't share your opinion. Not all men cheat." Lois poured two cups of tea from the teapot waiting on the coffee table. "I know that some men are unfaithful, but Clark's not like that. He never will be."
Her mom sighed. "I hope so, Lois. I hope what you're saying is true. I'd just hate to see what happened to me and your father happen to you and Clark."
For the briefest of moments, the sight of Clark joking with Kate Martin in the Daily Planet's lobby flashed into Lois's mind. As quickly as they came, however, she dismissed the images. Smiling reassuringly, Lois handed her mother a cup of tea.
"Mother, with all the problems we've had—our dating troubles, my being kidnapped on our wedding day, being framed for murder—most people wouldn't have blamed Clark for running in the opposite direction. But he stuck by me through everything. And he always will. I think if you'd open yourself to that possibility, you would know that every time you see us look at each other. I trust Clark implicitly. He would never betray me."
Lex slammed down the phone in his office. The insurance company was "opening an investigation" into the incomplete paperwork, but so far their lawyers were claiming that at most the company was only minimally liable because they hadn't noticed the paperwork was incomplete when they'd accepted it. The insurance company would be making a settlement offer to keep things out of court, but the offer would be but a fraction of what Lex had lost on the deal.
Of course, he could fight it, and would do so, but it would be months, if not years before he would see any cash.
"Ten million dollars," he muttered in disgust. "Ten million dollars."
"Lois?" Clark called out as soon as he returned home from work. "Are you here?"
"I'm in Laura's room," Lois called back. "I didn't hear you come home."
A whirring noise caught her attention, and within seconds, her husband was standing in the doorway. "I flew in the window," he grinned. "You had the chain on the door."
Lois gave him a kiss hello from where she stood, her hands occupied with keeping a squirming baby on the changing table. "You're lucky you weren't here earlier—I was considering erecting a furniture barricade around the door."
Clark leaned over to give Laura a kiss on the forehead, distracting her long enough for Lois to finish snapping the baby's pants. When he raised his head, he looked concerned. "Did something happen? Why didn't you call—"
Lois shook her head quickly, stopping him. "No, nothing more happened … I was just feeling paranoid after you told me about the tape, that's all. Did you hear anymore from the police?"
Clark picked up Laura and blew a raspberry on her cotton-covered tummy. As they played, Clark filled Lois in. "No, but I talked to the daycare center. They're still pretty upset, but I'm impressed by how proactive they're being. I guess Ruth was concerned that parents might pull their kids out of the center, so she was all prepared this morning with a plan for increasing security. They're tightening up their access restrictions, and talking with building security about getting a camera installed inside their front door."
It was Lois's turn to look alarmed. "They're really worried parents might pull their kids out? Clark, after all I went through to get that center started, I can't believe it could close!"
"I think it's going to be all right," he reassured her. "I talked to a few of the parents today, and they all told me they still support the center and aren't planning to leave. You know, I was going to take tomorrow off, but now I'm wondering if maybe we should take her in, just to show that we trust the center. Don't get me wrong—I wouldn't leave Laura there for one second if I thought she would be in danger—but with the increased security and the staff on alert, I feel pretty confident Laura will be safe there."
"I'm glad to hear you say that. I think we should both go in tomorrow, too. I really want to find out who is doing this so we can stop it. And as much as I love being home with Laura, I can't get much investigating done during the day while I'm here."
"Then it's settled. All three of us will go the Planet tomorrow."
"I like the idea of us all being in the same building," Lois admitted. "But I still plan on keeping an extra close eye on her just in case."
Clark took her hand and squeezed it. "That makes two of us."
"Hey, Chief, can we talk to you?" Clark knocked on the open door to his editor's office Friday morning, announcing his presence.
Perry looked up. "Yeah, Clark, Lois, come on in. I'm just trying to catch up with what's been going on around here this week. I swear, I can't remember the last time I was sick enough to take two days off in a row."
"How are you feeling, Perry?" Lois inquired, sitting down on the couch.
"I've been better, darlin' … I've got three reporters out with this bug in the city section alone, and the other section editors are dealing with the same problem." He sighed. "So, I take it you're here to fill me in on your stories?"
Clark shook his head. "Actually, we're not. We've had a little situation come up this week and we need to make you aware of it."
Perry raised his eyebrows and sat back in his chair expectantly. "I'm all ears … "
Just then Jimmy Olsen rushed through the door. "Hey, Chief, you'll never guess what—"
"Jimmy!" the older man thundered. "Can't you see I'm talking with Lois and Clark?"
Jimmy shifted his feet awkwardly. "I'm sorry, guys. I'll come back."
Clark put up a hand to stop him. "No, Jimmy, I'd like you to hear this, too."
Lois spoke up, directing her words at both Perry and Jimmy. "We've been having some disturbing things happen the last several days. At first, we thought it was just a prank, but it's become clear to us that someone is targeting us directly. Or more accurately, targeting Clark."
"At first it was just a lot of phone hang-ups, but over the weekend, we started getting deliveries," Clark continued.
"One of the guys you put in jail harassing you again?" Jimmy asked.
Clark hesitated and looked at Lois. "I hadn't thought of that … you think someone is making all of this up, just to harass us?"
Lois looked doubtful. "Anything is possible, but it doesn't feel like that." She turned back to Perry. "It started this weekend. Clark got flowers delivered to him at our house, along with a romantic note. Then I got an anonymous letter, telling me Clark didn't love me and that he was planning to leave me. And yesterday morning, someone left a cassette tape of love songs in our car for Clark to find when he went to work. But the most disturbing thing happened Wednesday afternoon. A woman tried to claim Laura from the daycare center downstairs, telling the staff that she was 'the future Mrs. Kent' and Clark wanted her to have the baby."
Perry and Jimmy's jaws dropped open as Lois summarized their harassment. "You've gotta be kidding! That's awful!" Jimmy exclaimed.
Perry's brow furrowed. "Do you have any idea who's doing this?"
Clark shook his head. "No, I wish we did. Until Wednesday, we just figured someone was harassing us by trying to make it look like I was having an affair. But after she—whoever she is—tried to take Laura, we filed a police report. This obviously is more serious than someone just trying to play mind games."
"Where is Laura now?" Perry asked, concerned.
"She's downstairs in the Center," Lois admitted. "You were out sick, Perry, or you would have heard. I stayed home with Laura yesterday, but Clark talked with Ruth Wilson and we're confident they are being alert to any problems. Security is keeping an extra tight watch on the lobby and the Center in particular."
"And *we're* keeping close tabs on things, too," Clark added, putting a supportive hand on Lois's shoulder. "But unfortunately, we haven't been able to come up with anyone who might be doing this. There were finger prints left on the cassette tape, but no matches in the police computer. And all we have is a general description of the person who tried to claim Laura."
"And whoever it is knows where we live and where we work," Lois added.
Jimmy's eyes opened wide. "Do you think it's someone here?" he asked, looking behind him to scan the newsroom.
Clark shook his head. "No, I don't think—"
"Well, actually … " Lois started.
Just then Jimmy turned back to the room. "Hey, I almost forgot what I came in here to tell you!" he exclaimed. "If it is someone here, this would make perfect sense!"
"Jimmy, you're talking in riddles," Perry said gruffly. "Spit it out."
"I was just down in research pulling some files when Dick Cooper comes barreling out of the room where the archived papers are kept. He was about to call you himself but since I was coming this way anyway, I told him I'd let you know. Someone got into the morgue last night and damaged a whole bunch of old newspapers. Articles had been cut out all over the place."
Clark, Lois and Perry all exchanged looks. "Um, and exactly what does this have to do with us?" Lois asked him, a little impatiently.
Jimmy gave her a look right back. "I'm getting to that! When Dick and his staff started to catalog exactly what was missing, they discovered a pattern." Jimmy paused for effect, knowing he had everyone's attention now. "They were almost all articles that Clark had written."
"That *I* had written?" Clark exclaimed, incredulous. "This person cut out every single article I've written in six years?!?"
"No, not everything," Jimmy detailed. "It seemed to be mostly the big feature stories. They also took stories by other writers that were about you, like when you were shot by those gangsters and Superman brought you back to life, or when Lex Luthor kidnapped Lois when you guys were supposed to be getting married."
"My God!" Lois exclaimed. "Whoever is doing this is really serious about their obsession for you, Clark!"
Clark stared at the floor for a long moment, lost in thought. Finally he looked up, his face determined. "Jimmy, will you please call around to the libraries and the other papers in town and ask if they've had any similar problems? Let's get a better idea of what we're dealing with here."
Jimmy reported back to Lois and Clark later that morning. He found them in their usual spots in the newsroom. "Well, I've got some news," he said, leaning against the corner of Clark's desk with a notepad in his hand. "I talked to the Metropolis Star, the New Troy Herald, and even the Metropolis County Weekly Journal. None have had reports of any problems. However, three of the six branches of the Metropolis Public Library *have*. They were very surprised when I called. Turns out they hadn't even looked for a pattern to the missing articles when I contacted them, but they took a closer look and cross-referenced with micro-filmed copies, and sure enough, they all involved either Lois or Clark."
Clark looked alarmed. "Lois? Why Lois?"
Jimmy looked back and forth between them, looking suddenly uncomfortable. "Um, those were the tabloid articles that were missing. All that stuff about Lois when she had amnesia? When she was with Lex Luthor, and then that Doctor Deter?"
"Oh, wonderful," Lois snapped sarcastically. "She's probably trying to amass evidence that I'm not good enough for you."
"Well, she's not ever going to prove that," Clark countered emphatically.
Lois turned to Jimmy. "Out of curiosity, which three branches of the library were affected?"
Jimmy gave a little smile. "The three closest to the Daily Planet."
"Why am I not surprised?" Lois shook her head in disgust, then looked thoughtful.
Clark sat up a bit straighter. "You look like you suspect someone here, too, like Jimmy does."
Lois looked at her husband. "Well, there is one person that you haven't considered. She showed up in town last week, just as all this started. And shematches the description Ruth gave us."
Lois lowered her voice, looking around to see who was in earshot. "Kate."
"Kate Martin?" Clark looked stunned. "I can't believe that. She's just a kid."
Jimmy raised an eyebrow to his friend. "That's not exactly the impression I got."
"Why, did she say something to you?"
"No, no … just, you know, look at her!" Jimmy made some general motions with his hands. "She's no kid."
Clark defended himself. "I didn't mean that exactly, but she and I were friends. She was like my little sister or something."
Lois turned to Clark. "Trust me, Clark. I've seen the way she looks at you. Her thoughts are far from that of an adoring sibling."
Clark sat back in his chair, his mind working overtime. Kate would match the general description the daycare workers provided. But so would Lois, or any number of women in the building. "Is Kate here today? Maybe we can bring Ruth Wilson up here to see if she recognizes her."
Jimmy pulled a piece of paper from the notepad he was carrying. "I have the list of who called in sick from all the departments. I need to give it to Perry." He consulted it, then showed it to his two colleagues. "Kate Martin … left at 2:00 Wednesday afternoon saying she didn't feel well, then called in sick the last two mornings.
Kate Martin sat on the floor in the middle of her living room surrounded by several large overfilled albums. Her eyes were bloodshot and her face was pale. She'd been working hard to update her scrapbooks for the last two days, and the lack of sleep was evident in her appearance and movements.
With a tired but satisfied sigh, Kate leaned back against the couch and picked up the album closest to her. She fingered the gold embossing on the cover before opening it. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth and she gave a happy sigh. The long hours had been worth it. It wouldn't be so hard from now on … they would subscribe to the paper and she wouldn't have to find back issues anymore.
Kate reached out to trace an index finger along the jawline of the man in the photograph on the first page. He looked so handsome in the photo, dressed in a black tuxedo, holding his Kerth Award. He was so talented, but she had known that all along. Others may have doubted it—he even doubted himself sometimes—but she had always known.
With a soft smile, Kate picked up a framed photograph lying on the floor next to her. This one was of the two of them. It was taken nearly nine years ago, but he was just as handsome and talented then. They were smiling broadly in the photo, him at his desk, her in the chair in front of it. They were obviously in love. She could see it in his eyes.
Kate leafed through the pages of the books she had created, studying the articles. She hoped he would forgive her for missing so much of his life, but she knew in her heart he couldn't really be angry with her. He loved her! It was in his voice, and in the hug he gave her when he saw her again in the newsroom. He had bought her coffee and told her how good she was with his daughter.
He knew what a good wife and mother she'd make.
Her face clouding somewhat, Kate picked up another album. Opening it, she skimmed the articles until she found the one she was looking for. She sighed heavily, tears coming into her eyes. His face in this photograph was angry, hurt. The headline and article explained why—the woman he agreed to marry had run off with another man.
Kate turned the pages of the book, her face wet from her now flowing tears. Names of men, many men, leapt from the pages. Lex Luthor, Maxwell Deter, Superman … *she* had been with them all, all when she was supposed to be loyal to him. She didn't love him, not the way he deserved to be loved. All she did was hurt him.
A sob escaped Kate's lips. Her poor darling. He married another woman because Kate had left him. It was a terrible mistake. How horrible his life must have been these many years without her. She knew her life was incredibly painful without him. Love is like that.
And now here he was, trapped in a marriage to a woman who didn't deserve him, didn't respect him with her fidelity. Oh, he might claim he was loyal to the marriage. He was so honorable, and he would want to do the right thing. But Kate knew what was in his heart.
She smiled through her tears. Ultimately, he would do the right thing, do what was right for their love. The bond they had was unbreakable, even after all these years. She knew he'd been thinking about her, wondering about her. She felt it.
It might take some time, time to break it to his wife, time to secure a divorce. Getting custody of his daughter for the two of them might prove difficult, but they would persevere, as long as they had each other. And she could give him other children.
It was so hard not to pick up the phone to call him. She'd tried many times, but his wife always answered the phone. The first few times, Kate had hung up because she was startled. Later, she decided it would be cruel to rub his wife's nose in the fact that her husband loved someone else. Ultimately, however, Kate knew she had to be told. That's when she sent the letter.
Now that his wife was informed, certainly things would be easier. Kate had spent hours creating a tape that communicated everything the two of them meant to each other. Several of the songs were current, but others were from nine years ago, "their songs". Songs that were playing the night they went out to eat and he poured his heart out to her, telling her all his hopes and dreams and worries. The song they had danced to when the staff went out to celebrate some forgettable accomplishment. The song that was playing on the radio the afternoon he had kissed her.
Surely now, after hearing the tape, he would come to her. Kate would wait for him to break it to his wife, and then he would come to her.
She looked at the photograph of the two of them again. "I love you, Clark," she whispered.
The weekend passed quickly in the Kent household. Laura was over her cold and was ready to make up for lost playing time. She was also eating more than usual, maybe to make up for her diminished appetite last week. Regardless, Lois and Clark were kept busy caring for their daughter and enjoying some family time.
The elder Kents were still out of town, but had called to update Lois and Clark on their current travels and itinerary. Lois and Clark mentioned a little about what was going on with their 'stalker' but they downplayed how serious they were taking it, and didn't mention the daycare center incident at all.
Clark did manage to casually bring up Kate Martin in conversation with his parents. Not mentioning his and Lois's concern that she might be his pursuer, Clark tried to find out if Martha and Jonathan had heard anything about her over the last nine years. Unfortunately, they didn't know much more than he did. They remembered her—her late grandparents had owned a farm north of town, and Kate used to summer in Smallville as a child. That was how Kate came to get a summer job with the Smallville Press following her freshman year at the University of Kansas. Back then, she lived with her parents in Topeka when she wasn't in school, but Martha had lost track of the family several years ago after her grandparents died.
Lois listened with interest as Clark reminisced with his parents about his brief stint as Managing Editor of the Smallville Press. Clark was all of 24 years old—no older than Jimmy—when he took the job. He had been traveling for two years overseas, trying to launch his freelance writing career. The only reliable source of income he'd been able to obtain—small as it was—was from the Smallville Press, which would publish his travel pieces. Thus, when Jonah Simons, the elderly long-term editor of the Press, went out on disability following a heart attack, Clark felt an obligation to return to Smallville and fill in.
The job came at a perfect time—Clark had run out of money and had no other immediate prospects for a paycheck. Still, it was a difficult time for him. Clark returned home to take the job, claiming all the while it was temporary and he was just helping out the paper while saving some money. But he couldn't shake the feeling that he was coming back to Smallville with his tail between his legs, a failure. Several of his high school friends were married with children by then, working to support their families. Yet after two years working as a professional writer, two years after graduating from college, Clark still couldn't even support himself.
It was at the newspaper that Clark had met Kate Martin. The age difference between them—six years—and the limited time she spent in Smallville had kept their paths from crossing before. Clark vaguely remembered seeing her play as a child while he was in high school, but he hadn't seen her in years, and certainly wasn't expecting the pretty, smart 18 year old that entered his office early that summer, reporting for the job Mr. Simons had promised her before his illness.
Clark had put her to work, and was impressed by her writing skills and her self-confidence. Taking her under his wing, he tried to expose her to many different areas of journalism, including what went into being an editor. When Kate left to begin her sophomore year that fall, Clark felt that she would be an asset to any paper.
On the phone with his parents, Clark smiled wanly as his father wondered out loud if Kate's experiences in Smallville made her decide to work towards being an editor herself.
Over the weekend, Clark added more personal details about that summer to Lois, things he hadn't wanted to mention while talking with his parents. He admitted that Kate probably had a crush on him back then, but that he hadn't pursued it, even though they got along quite well. Still, though, acting as her mentor hadn't been completely altruistic on his part.
Although Clark could see now that coming home for six months had been good for him, at the time he'd been feeling very ambivalent. His ego was bruised, and he had started to doubt his own writing abilities. He began to wonder if he would ever leave Smallville again. Through Kate, however, Clark rediscovered how much he loved writing for the sake of writing, not just as a means to a paycheck.
She had been an eager pupil, and as the summer wore on, Clark became her mentor. They spent long hours talking about writing and editing, and about their common dream of working for a major newspaper. Kate was pretty and smart and talented—and ate up everything Clark said, which was a nice ego boost for him at a time when he was doubting himself and his talent. In some way, this was just the stroking he needed to gather his confidence and head back out into the "real world" again.
Lois sat quietly on the couch Sunday evening, cuddled in her husband's arms as they discussed this period of Clark's life. She had never heard this much detail from him before about those six months in Smallville, and it made her feel like she knew him even better. Ironically, the year coincided with a difficult period in her own life—the year that Claude, the French journalist, seduced her, stole her story and skipped town. Where Lois's bruised ego made her retreat further into herself and her work, Clark's similar self-doubts made him seek out someone to encourage him. Lois felt this was very telling of their personalities, now and then.
"So, do you think Kate could be trying to rekindle the old romance?" she finally asked, after Clark concluded his story.
"There wasn't any romance to rekindle, Lois," Clark defended. "I mean, we used to go out for ice cream sometimes, or coffee and apple pie at the diner, but it wasn't like we were dating. I think we went to a movie together once the entire summer, and that was with a few other people. Mostly we would just hang out in the office and talk."
Lois shook her head. "I'm not saying you led her on, Clark. And even if you did, what's been going on is way more than a remembered crush from nearly 10 years ago. If it is Kate who's doing this, something else is involved here."
"You think someone is putting her up to it?" Clark asked, remembering Lois's half-joking comment about Lex Luthor trying to distract them from their investigation.
"That," Lois replied, "or she's seriously deranged. The letters and the tape … you'd think you'd been involved nine days ago, not nine years ago!"
"Well, it's been quiet all weekend, so maybe whoever it is has stopped. We haven't had one hang up call, I don't think. No flowers, no tapes." Clark winked at Lois. "Not even any chocolates."
Lois sat up a bit straighter. "Hey, that's right … she never sent chocolates. What kind of stalker is she?" Lois joked. "Gee, too bad she isn't calling right now. You could tell her to add chocolates to the list, but only the good kind—"
Lois was cut off by the ringing of the phone. She and Clark stared at each other, their eyes widening.
"I was just kidding," Lois whimpered.
"I know," Clark reassured her with a smile. "It's probably not even her. I'll get it."
Clark stood up and walked over to the desk where the phone sat. Taking a deep breath, he answered the phone on the third ring. "Hello?"
There was no answer immediately on the other end of the line, but Clark could hear breathing, so he repeated himself a little louder. "Hello?"
Lois looked up at him questioningly. Clark shook his head in frustration and was about to hang up when a feminine voice reached his ear.
"Clark? Is that you?"
"Yes, this is Clark … who's this?"
"Oh, Clark, thank God I found you. I was getting worried!"
Clark looked puzzled. "Worried about what?" he asked hesitantly.
"So, how did it go when you told her?" the voice said with concern. "Are you almost done? When are you coming over? I thought you might have been here by now."
Clark closed his eyes for a brief moment as his heart sunk. He recognized the voice now, and it was exactly as he had feared. "Kate? Is that you?"
"Well, of course, it's me, silly!" she laughed. "Who else would know about the conversation you are having with Lois right now? So, are you going to bring the baby when you come or not? I don't have a lot of room here, but we can go out tomorrow and buy some baby things, or maybe we can get a hotel room for tonight—"
Clark's head was spinning. "What?" he asked, bewildered. "What are you talking about? And what conversation am I having with Lois?" At the sound of her name, Lois stood up in alarm and walked over to the phone. She stood at his elbow as he tilted the phone so she could listen.
The woman on the other end of the line also sounded confused. "Didn't you get the tape? And didn't she get the letter?" Her voice softened. "I know I should have let you tell her about us, darling, but I just couldn't wait anymore! I miss you so much. I know how loyal you are, and how you don't want to hurt her, but she just had to know. I figured once she knew the truth about us, then you could let her down easier."
Lois drew in an outraged breath, but Clark silenced her by raising his finger. "So you've been the one sending the letters … and the flowers?"
"Well, of course, sweetheart!" Kate giggled. Her voice suddenly got more anxious. "And the tape, you got the tape, right? I spent so long getting it just right … it had all our songs in it. Did you like the last one? It's my favorite … the one playing when we kissed the last time." The final statement was said almost dreamily.
Clark was perplexed. "Kissed?" he said helplessly. "Kate, we didn't kiss. We didn't date. We were just friends. I don't know why you're doing this, but it has to stop." His voice grew firm. "It has to stop."
"But we love each other! I know once Lois understands that, she won't stand in our way. If she doesn't contest the divorce, then we can be married in six months! Did you discuss little Laura with her? Do you think she'll let us keep her? She's such a wonderful baby; I love her so much. I really—"
Clark cut her off, this time getting angry. "You stay away from Laura," he ordered. "How dare you try to pick her up at daycare?! What were you going to do with her, anyway?"
Kate sounded hurt, helpless over his outburst. "I'm sorry, darling. Please don't be mad. I knew you were working hard and would need me to get her. I was going take her home and wait for you. I figured once Lois got the letter, you'd be able to explain things before leaving her, and this way we could have Laura with us!"
Clark raised his voice as he got upset. "Kate! Listen to me! There is no us! I am happily married to Lois. I *love* Lois. Only Lois."
"How can you say that?" the woman responded tearfully. "You know we love each other. You're only saying that because Lois is there. She's there, isn't she? Listening?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other, momentarily startled and concerned that Kate might be able to see them. It took them a second to realize Kate had continued her outburst.
"Clark, please listen to me. I know you feel you owe Lois something, but you don't! She doesn't deserve you. She's hurt you terribly, I know. She's gone off with other men, over and over again. Lex Luthor and Maxwell Deter and Superman … she's never been faithful to you, Clark, but I will be. She'll do it again, hurt you again, just like she's done before. But I'll never hurt you, sweetheart! I love you!"
"Why that little—" Lois muttered under her breath.
Clark found himself at a loss. This wasn't the Kate Martin that he remembered. "Kate, listen to me," he said with less anger than before, trying to placate her. "You need help. I don't know why are you doing this but—"
"I just want us to be together, that's all," the woman pleaded. "I've missed you so much, and it's been so awful without you. I just know that once we're together, everything will be OK again, for both of us."
"Kate, I'm *married*!" he repeated. "I love my wife and I have no intention of leaving her for you or anyone else. *Ever*."
Lois and Clark could hear the young woman sniffle, and they relaxed slightly, thinking they finally got through to her. But after a moment, her voice came through more clearly, as if she had pulled herself together and developed a new resolve. "It's OK, Clark," she said calmly. "I know she's there and you can't say what you really feel. But we both know the truth. Once Lois is out of the picture, you and I can raise Laura ourselves. I'll be a good wife and mother. You'll see that soon. Good night, Clark. I love you."
Clark's blood ran cold. Talk of getting Lois "out of the picture" was alarming, and even if Kate wasn't predicting violence, it was clear that the harassment was not over. "Kate! Wait!" he called out. "Where are you calling from?"
The only response, however, was a click on the other end of the line, then the dial tone.
Clark quickly set the phone down and before Lois knew what was happening, he had spun into his Superman outfit. "I've got to see if I can find her. I'll be back," he explained quickly.
Kissing his wife apologetically, Superman rocketed through the window and into the sky in a blur of color.
Clark returned a half hour later, frustrated. Nothing. Not knowing where to look, he flew circles out from the townhouse, hoping that fate would guide him to Kate Martin. But he'd had no luck. He was fairly confident, however, that she wasn't near the townhouse, which made him a little more secure that Lois wasn't in immediate danger.
Lois was in their bedroom, already in her robe. "Anything?" she asked.
Clark shook his head and sat down on the bed. "Nothing. It doesn't look like she's in the neighborhood, though, so hopefully she won't try anything more tonight."
"Do you want to keep looking?" Lois sat down on the edge of the bed next to him.
Clark pulled his wife close and hugged her. "No, honey, I want to be here with you. Barring a major emergency, I'm sticking close to home until we can get this sorted out."
Lois hugged him back, then offered, "I called Information. There's no listing for a Kate Martin. There were two K. Martins, but I called them both and men answered, saying I had the wrong number. I'm assuming that she wouldn't have a man there to lie for her, if she's really doing this for the reasons she said."
Clark sighed. "I just don't understand! She was a normal, bright person. What happened to her?"
"I don't know," Lois whispered. "But I'm sorry this is so upsetting to you. I'm glad we know who is doing this now, but I wish it wasn't someone you had fond memories of."
Clark was silent for a long moment, looking down sadly. "I guess the only thing we can do is wait until tomorrow and try to track her down. Maybe she'll even show up at work. If not, Personnel should have some contact information for her, an address or phone number. I'd like to see if we can resolve this, to get her some help without involving the police, but I don't want to take chances with your safety."
"I can take care of myself," Lois murmured supportively. "Do what you have to do."
Clark turned into her arms. "I know you can, and you take care of me, too. I don't know what I would do without you. The idea that we might have never met, or would break up … that I would have to go through my life without having you in it—" His voice cracked.
Lois kissed him tenderly, running a hand soothingly through his hair. "Shh, it's OK. I'm here. I love you and I'm not going anywhere."
Clark slowly lowered his wife to the bed, turning the tender kiss passionate. "I love you, Lois," he whispered huskily, emotionally.
"I love you, too, Clark."
They made love with an urgency they hadn't felt in a long time, each needing to reassure themselves and each other that there was no threat to their love. For them, there could be no one else.
Still, they couldn't manage to shake the feeling that this was far from over.
Jimmy hadn't been in the newsroom ten minutes on Monday morning before Clark collared him with a determined look on his face.
"Hey, CK, what's up?"
"Jimmy, I need everything you can get from Personnel on Kate Martin."
Jimmy's eyes bugged. "You mean it *was* her? Oh, geez, I can't believe this! She seemed so nice!"
Clark didn't look too happy. "I know; I'm not wild about it myself, but I need to find her. Get me a photocopy of her contact forms if you can. I need everything—address, phone number, emergency contact information … "
"All right, CK, but I'm not sure what I can get. Sometimes those things are confidential."
"Get Perry involved if you have to; I've already explained everything to him. But, Jimmy? Don't tell anyone why you need the information. I'd like to see if we can resolve this without too much public humiliation, OK?"
Jimmy grinned. "Humiliation for her—or you?"
Clark stilled, then looked at Jimmy seriously. "I haven't done anything wrong, Jimmy. There is no affair, and Lois knows that. I hope you do, too."
Jimmy sobered quickly. "I know; I was just ribbing you. Where will you be when I get back?"
Clark had already turned. "If I'm not at my desk, look for me in Peggy Lawrence's office, in the Lifestyle section. I need to talk to her, see if she's heard from Kate."
Clark spent the next hour being jumpy and distracted. Every time the elevator opened, he looked carefully to see who was getting off of it. Lois had an interview appointment this morning that she couldn't reschedule, and he knew he'd feel better when she finally arrived back in the newsroom safe and sound. His super-hearing had been tuned into the daycare center downstairs for any signs of unusual activity, but he took frequent breaks to scan the air for Lois calling for help. He heard none, which made him feel a little better, but he knew he would get little done until he could get this resolved.
His talk with Peggy Lawrence, the Lifestyle Section Editor, hadn't provided Clark with much insight. Kate had seemed like a good worker, but she'd only put in two and a half days in last week before calling in sick. Mrs. Lawrence didn't think this too unusual, even though it was Kate's first week on the job, because so many of her staff members had come down with this terrible flu that had been going around. Mrs. Lawrence had had it herself last week, and so was being very understanding about sick days.
There was one piece of unexpected news, however.
"Actually, Clark," Peggy said as soon as he asked about Kate, "she left a message on my voice mail this morning. Kate quit. She didn't give a reason, just that she wouldn't be coming back."
"She quit?" Clark repeated. "Oh, man."
Mrs. Lawrence shook her head. "I know; I hate to lose her. She was only here a few days, but she had real talent. She seemed like she was really going to work out." At Clark's disconcerted expression, she raised an eyebrow. "Was there something going on with you two? Kate mentioned that you were good friends … and she did seem awfully interested in your opinion."
Clark blew out a deep breath. "We knew each other—she used to work for me several years ago—but it's not what you think, or what she seemed to think. We have been having a … situation … though and I really need to find her. Do you have a phone number or address for her?"
Peggy opened her desk drawer. "Well, let me see, I think I may have something … yes, here it is. She filled out this contact information for the staff list on Monday."
Clark looked at the index card and frowned. "She listed a post office box as her mailing address. She didn't mention where she was living?"
Peggy shook her head. "She said that she was going to be moving into a nicer place soon, and would just be changing her address anyway, so she was using the post office to collect her mail. The phone number has been disconnected—I tried calling her back as soon as I got the message that she quit. But no luck."
Clark clenched and unclenched his fists in frustration. He was hitting brick walls left and right. "Thanks, Peggy, I appreciate the information. If I find out anything more, I'll let you know, all right?"
"Fine, Clark, good luck."
Lois was back at her desk by the time Clark returned to the City section, and he breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of her. "How did it go?" he asked, giving her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "The interview with the City Planner?"
Lois shrugged. "Not much help. He was pretty surprised when I confronted him with the fact that a subsidiary of LexCorp owned the Dexter Building, but he recovered quickly. He just said that the city was entering negotiations to purchase the land now that there was no more building on it, and that they expected the process to go smoothly and cause no delays on the Redevelopment Project. He annoyed the hell out of me, though, because every time I tried to ask him about Luthor, he just said 'no comment'. I was not amused."
"I'm sorry I couldn't go with you. But I figured I'd better get back here and start investigating our other problem."
Lois tensed. "Yeah, how did that go? Is she here? Did you find out anything?"
"I've got Jimmy trying to see if she listed anyone as an emergency contact. I struck out with the phone number and mailing address she gave. The phone is disconnected and she picks up her mail at the post office."
Lois fumed. "Just wait till she tries to come back in here. I'll give her what for."
"I don't think we'll have to worry about that. Peggy Lawrence said that Kate quit this morning. Didn't talk to anyone, just left a message. Didn't say why."
"Maybe we scared her off," Lois offered hopefully.
Clark's face was grim. "Maybe, but I'm not counting on it. Something is wrong here. You heard her reaction when I told her I wasn't interested—it was like she wouldn't believe that, no matter what I said. I'm worried she's going to get desperate and do something stupid."
Clark was about to say more when Jimmy walked up quickly, holding a form. "I think I have something for you, Clark," the younger man said. "The phone number and address she gave to Personnel is the same as she gave to Mrs. Lawrence, but she did put down an emergency contact." Jimmy read from the paper before handing it to Clark. "A Mrs. Kathryn Martin, in Topeka, Kansas. There's a phone number."
Clark took the page. "That's where Kate's mom used to live. Let's hope the number is still good." He stood up and looked at Lois. "Care to join me for a phone call in the conference room?"
Lois jumped up. "I wouldn't miss this for the world!"
Mrs. Martin answered on the second ring. "Hello?"
"Hello," Clark responded politely. "Is this Mrs. Kathryn Martin?"
"Yes," the woman answered, a little suspiciously. "Who is this?"
"Mrs. Martin, my name is Clark Kent. I'm a reporter with the Daily Planet in Metropolis."
The woman on the other end of the line gasped audibly. "Did you say Clark Kent?"
Lois and Clark looked at each other, eyebrows raised. "Yes, I did. I'm calling about your daughter Kate … "
"Oh, God," the woman cried. "Is she OK? Is she hurt? Oh, please let her be all right. Is she in Metropolis with you?"
Clark leaned a little closer to the speaker phone. "She's fine as far as I know, Ma'am. I take it you didn't know she was coming to Metropolis? She got a job as an Assistant Editor here last week."
"No," Mrs. Martin answered, "she disappeared two months ago and we haven't heard from her since. We've been frantic."
The woman sounded so relieved that Clark decided not to mention that Kate had seemingly disappeared again. "Mrs. Martin, I'm worried about Kate, too. She's been acting … strangely, and I'm hoping we can find out why and get her some help. I work in a different department at the Daily Planet from Kate, but I also used to be the Managing Editor of the Smallville Press, in Kansas, where Kate did an internship after her freshman year—"
"I know exactly who you are, Mr. Kent," the woman interrupted. "And I should have known Kate would go to find you. I guess I was hoping she was just trying to start over in a new city and that's why she didn't call us."
This took Clark by surprise. "Ma'am?"
Mrs. Martin sighed. "Kate's been in and out of institutions since her sophomore year of college. We had to pull her out of the University of Kansas halfway through the spring semester. Her roommates called us in January, worried about her. Apparently she'd started acting unusually in the fall, but after Christmas, she really went downhill. She'd always been a straight A student, so we couldn't figure out what was wrong. She wasn't going to class, wasn't doing her homework. Instead, she'd just sit at her desk, looking at pictures and writing in her journal. My husband and I got her some counseling over spring break, thinking she was just depressed, but within a couple weeks, it was clear she wasn't going to go back that semester. We went up to her apartment at school and packed up all her stuff. We had to put her in a hospital not long after."
Clark sat back, stunned. "I had no idea," he murmured. "That summer we worked together, I never saw any signs of this."
"Kate was eventually diagnosed as having a delusional disorder," her mother continued quietly. "She's not schizophrenic, but her condition falls in the same family. There's no cure for her disease, but with medication and counseling, she's been able to function fairly normally since then. It took awhile, but eventually she graduated from a University of Kansas extension program closer to our home. She's been working hard, and we were starting to let ourselves believe she might be getting better." The woman sniffled. "Then she disappeared. I should have known to look in Metropolis, though."
Lois took the opportunity to introduce herself. "Mrs. Martin, my name is Lois Lane and I'm Clark's partner here at the Planet. Why aren't you surprised that Kate came to Metropolis?"
Mrs. Martin took a deep breath. "Part of Kate's delusion was that Mr. Kent was in love with her, and she with him. We knew they'd become friends in Smallville that summer because she used to talk about him. But after she returned to school, things got out of control. When we cleaned out her room, we found hundreds ofletters she had written but never mailed. At first, they were normal, friendly letters, but as the months went on, we could almost see her sliding from reality. Soon, the letters became love letters where Kate would describe encounters between the two of them that either never happened or were so embellished that they were barely recognizable. Her journals were the same way. We also found copies of articles that you had written, Mr. Kent. They'd been cut from the Smallville Press, or from other papers that you'd been published in."
"Well, that sounds familiar … " Lois murmured.
"Excuse me? What was that?"
Clark explained. "Apparently Kate has revived that hobby. The Planet archives were gone through as well as the newspaper files at several local libraries. She seems to be collecting articles again."
Mrs. Martin was dismayed. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Mr. Kent. I hope she hasn't been bothering you."
Clark hesitated, trying to pick his words carefully. "Well, actually … we've had some incidents. She's been sending gifts and letters to my home, and calling frequently. At first we didn't know who was doing it, because she wasn't signing her name, but last night, I finally talked to her on the phone."
"Are the police involved?"
"No, I was hoping we could take care of this without involving the authorities because I can see that Kate needs help. But to keep it that way, I need to know … has Kate ever shown signs of being violent? She made comments last night about getting my wife out of the picture. Needless to say, I'm concerned about my family's safety."
Kate's mother gasped. "Violent? Oh, dear God, I hope not. She hasn't done anything confrontational has she?"
Lois interjected quietly. "She tried to pick up our daughter from daycare, Mrs. Martin, telling them Clark wanted her to have the baby."
Clark explained further. "Lois isn't just my partner here at work; she's also my wife. We have a eight month old daughter, and Kate seems to believe that I am going to leave Lois and raise the baby with her. At first, the letters and gifts were just annoying, but when she tried to take the baby … In any case, I told her last night that I had no romantic interest in her, but I'm not sure it sank in. I'm worried she's going to do something to Lois, or to herself."
Mrs. Martin sighed. "Oh, I am so, so sorry for both of you and for your little girl. I appreciate you letting us know. Rest assured, Mr. Kent, my husband and I will be on the next plane to Metropolis. Where exactly is Kate staying? Wait, let me get a pencil … "
Lois swallowed, feeling strong sympathy for this woman who obviously loved her daughter very much. She looked at Clark, gathering resolve. "Actually, we're not sure where Kate is staying now. She quit her job this morning, and her phone has been disconnected."
Lois thought for a moment, then asked, "Mrs. Martin, does Kate have a doctor we could speak with? We'd really like to make sure she doesn't pose any sort of danger."
Mrs. Martin agreed and gave Lois the name and phone number of Kate's last doctor in Topeka. She obtained airport information from Clark, then began to say her final good-byes.
"Mr. Kent? Can I ask one last favor of you?"
Kate's mother's voice was thick with emotion. "If Kate does show up, can you please have her arrested?"
Lois and Clark both blinked in surprise. "Excuse me? You *want* me to involve the authorities?"
The woman explained. "Since Kate is an adult, we can't have her committed unless she shows strong signs of being a danger to herself or others. Except for this one delusion, she comes across in the hospitals as being entirely normal, so it's difficult to keep her in for long enough to get her the kind of care she needs. They've—the police and the doctors—told us the only way they can get her admitted as a patient is if she is arrested and the courts mandate she be evaluated." The woman stifled a sob. "We're so afraid she's going to get hurt … we keep hoping she'll be arrested on some relatively minor charge, like trespassing or loitering, and we'll be able to get her transferred to a hospital here in Kansas."
Clark sighed heavily. "I understand. And I am sorry. If we find her, we'll try to get her some help until you get here."
As they hung up the phone, Lois and Clark stared at each other, amazed by what they'd learned.
An hour later, they emerged from the conference room, looking weary but determined. Jimmy motioned to them from Perry's office and, after a quick phone call downstairs to make sure Laura was all right, they went to fill their friends in on what they had found.
Perry and Jimmy were as stunned as Lois and Clark when the reporters explained their phone call with Mrs. Martin.
"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry exclaimed.
"She seemed so *normal*," Jimmy offered.
Clark shrugged. "Apparently, that's not unusual, from what the doctor said. He wouldn't give us any specifics about Kate, citing doctor-patient confidentiality, but we convinced him to give us some general background on her disorder."
Lois consulted her notes. "Her condition is called a "Non-bizarre Delusional Disorder". There are various subtypes within the disorder, like the "Jealous Type", where the patient is convinced their partner is unfaithful or the "Somatic Type", where the person believes they have some type of medical condition. Kate's disorder seems to fall in the "Erotomanic Type", where the patient is convinced someone—often unattainable—is in love with them. The person can be directly confronted with evidence that their delusion is false—that the person they love doesn't love them in return, or in some cases, has never even met them—but it is nearly impossible to convince them of it."
"This would fit with our phone conversation last night," Clark interjected. "I told Kate very clearly that I loved Lois and had no intentions of ever leaving her, yet Kate still insisted she and I were in love."
Jimmy tried to stifle a grin. "*Eroto* manic?" he clarified. "Geez, I couldn't make that up."
Clark couldn't help but smile a little in return. "I know, it's pretty fitting, I guess. In any case, the doctor confirmed that there is no cure. One positive thing, though—while male patients with this disorder can turn violent; in women, this is more uncommon. In fact, in many cases, the woman leads a normal life, and no one ever knows they have the condition, unless the object of their obsession comes up in conversation."
Lois smiled ruefully. "Apparently, this was the case with Kate up until a couple months ago. Her family wasn't even aware that Clark had moved to Metropolis until they searched Kate's room after she disappeared, and found several copies of the Daily Planet. Apparently Kate came across Clark's picture recently, and it set her off again."
The four of them sat in silence for a moment, trying to absorb everything. Finally, Perry spoke. "So, what do we do now?"
Lois and Clark just looked at each other.
"I don't know, Chief," Clark responded grimly, "but we need to find her before she hurts herself—or someone else. The doctors may say she's not prone to violence, but I'm not going to risk the safety of my family on the chance they could be wrong."
Difficult as it was to work while Kate Martin could be out there anywhere, Lois and Clark had to pull out their other story files. They would have preferred to ignore them, but they still had their suspicions of Lex Luthor to address.
By early that afternoon, they had done as much as they could with the sign-in sheet from the auction, and had come up with a list of six names. These six people had all attended the auction of Lex Luthor's estate in 1994—and were now listed among the 20 unsolved murders that had occurred in Metropolis in the last six months. Six out of twenty wasn't proof of anything, but it was enough to convince Lois and Clark they were on the right track with their investigation.
A visit to the auction house after lunch helped their investigation gather speed. As Clark suspected, the manager had been dragging his feet in providing the official list of purchasers. A visit by Lane and Kent, however—in person and giving thinly veiled threats of camping out in the man's office until the document was produced—amazingly seemed to jog the man's memory of where that particular list was located.
It was exactly the information they were looking for.
"OK, looks like we got something," Clark called from his desk as he read through the list back in the newsroom.
Lois looked up from her keyboard. "What?"
Clark tapped the paper. "Of the six people on our list of dead attendees, three of them made purchases at the auction itself."
"What about the other three?"
"They weren't the high bidder on anything that day, but I've found two more murder victims who were. They must not have signed in for some reason."
"Or we couldn't read their handwriting."
Clark nodded in agreement. "One is that doctor over at Metropolis General who was killed last month, and the other is an artist from London." Clark put the paper down and gave a humorless laugh. "This is just too much coincidence for me. A collector from England makes two trips to the US in the last five years. The first one, he buys a painting from the Luthor estate, and the second, he's killed? It's almost too obvious. Is Luthor getting sloppy?"
"Or desperate," Lois suggested. "You think he could be so anxious to get his wealth back that he starts leaving bodies around?" She looked doubtful. "I don't know, it just doesn't seem to be his style."
"Maybe he's just having trouble getting good help these days." Clark shook his head. "I'm positive that Luthor is somehow connected to these five purchasers, so we just need to find a connection with the other victims. We have three that attended the auction but didn't buy anything—"
"But we have twelve more with no connection to Lex Luthor whatsoever," Lois pointed out. "We need more than this to go to Henderson, Clark."
Clark looked grim. "Well, we better keep looking then."
Lois nodded and turned to her phone. "I'm going to call the families of these other three, the ones who attended the auction but didn't buy anything. Maybe we can find out something they didn't tell the police." When Clark didn't answer her right away, she turned back. "Clark? Did you hear what I said?"
Her husband was staring at the paper on his desk, obviously lost in deep thought. "What? Oh, sorry, honey, I was just thinking."
"I could see that … care to share?"
Clark looked around their immediate area to see if anyone was in earshot. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I was just thinking about Luthor's whole clone story. What if he is lying? Why hasn't he tried to expose me?"
Lois matched his quiet tone. "Maybe he thinks he can use it to blackmail us later on."
Clark set his jaw. "Like if we try to expose his story … or connect him to a string of murders."
They stared at each other for a long moment, then Clark stood abruptly and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair.
"Where are you going?"
Clark walked over to Lois's desk. "I'll be back soon. I have to go see a scientist about a computer file." Cupping her cheek, Clark leaned down and gave his wife a deep kiss. He whispered a vow to her as their lips separated. "I won't allow Lex Luthor to control our destiny."
In a swirl of red and blue, Superman landed in the courtyard of STAR Labs. Nodding his hello to the surprised guards, he made his way through the nearest door to Dr. Bernard Klein's office.
Dr. Klein turned around at Clark's knock on the open office door. "Well, hello, *Superman*," he said, glancing at the young lab assistant at the next desk.
The new employee's head whipped up from the test tubes he was checking and he almost dropped his notepad. "Superman!" he gasped.
Clark smiled slightly. He was no longer surprised by this response when meeting a new person, and although it wasn't necessary, he appreciated Dr. Klein's heads-up that there was someone else present in the room.
Dr. Klein made introductions. "Superman, this is Paul Howard, my new lab assistant. Paul, meet Superman."
"Pleased to meet you, Paul," Clark said, extending his hand.
Wide-eyed, the young man held his hand out. "Pleased to meet *you*!" When the handshake ended, Paul looked at his hand in awe, like he had never seen it before.
Clark forced himself to take on an overly serious tone of voice. "Dr. Klein, may I speak to you … alone?" Clark shot a quick look at the lab assistant, who was now staring at them in rapt attention. "I, uh, I'd like to get your input on a matter."
Dr. Klein smiled. "My *input*? Oh, yes, Superman, certainly. Paul, would you excuse us, please? I need to help my friend Superman for a moment."
Clark's eyes twinkled and he had to stifle a grin as the younger man turned his gaze away from the super-hero and now fixed his boss with the same awe-filled expression. The look on his face was positively reverent. "What? Oh, yes, Dr. Klein … I'll be in Lab 3 … thank you, sir."
Paul backed out of the door, closing it behind him while Klein and Superman waited. As soon as the door was securely shut, the two remaining men allowed themselves to laugh.
Dr. Klein chuckled and slapped the super-hero on the back in a friendly gesture. "Gee, thanks, Clark," he said. "That little boost in reputation should get me at least 15 hours of unpaid overtime out of that young man."
Clark chuckled, too. "Glad I could be of help."
"So, what brings you to STAR Labs? No problems with the baby, again, I hope?"
"No, she's doing just fine. She's so close to crawling, but she hasn't quite figured it out yet. She just kind of rocks back and forth on her hands and knees, not understanding why she's not moving forward!" Clark answered, laughing.
Dr. Klein smiled at the proud look on Clark's face. It was obvious how enthralled the young man was with his little girl. As he did every time he and Superman shared a personal moment, Bernard counted himself lucky to be one of the very few people in the world able to get to know the "real person" behind the brightly colored costume.
"What can I do for you, today, then?"
Clark sobered quickly as he remembered why he had come. "I wanted to see what kind of progress you were making on the computer files that I gave you a few months ago."
Dr. Klein stared at him blankly for a moment, causing Clark to look concerned. Then the cloud lifted. "Ah, yes! The encoding! I have all that information locked in my personal safe … let me get it out. As you know, I haven't been able to work on it during regular business hours—not that we ever keep any regular hours around here—but I have managed to make some progress … now, let me find that … "
Clark shifted his weight back and forth as the scientist dug out the information he had locked away. Clark had brought Dr. Klein these computer files four months ago, not long after he had "obtained" them from Lex Luthor's computer banks. Clark was not normally prone to hacking into private computers, but as he had told Tempus nearly two years ago, where his wife's—and now daughter's—safety was concerned, villains could 'watch his ethics disappear.'
After it became clear this fall that someone had tried to manipulate the custody hearing he and Lois were forced to undergo over baby Laura, Clark had become more and more suspicious of Lex Luthor and his clone story. Just as with the string of murders he and Lois were now investigating, Clark had no proof of Luthor's involvement in anything. But there had been too many coincidences in the last several months to allow Clark to sleep well knowing that Luthor was walking free and that he was capable of almost anything.
It hadn't been easy to break into LexLabs's old computer files—he could never have done it without Jimmy Olsen's help—but once inside, Clark had downloaded every file he could find that might have to do with Lex Luthor's cloning projects. There were files dated from the late 1980's, with activity seeming to pick up in late 1993. This by itself seemed to support Lex's claim that he'd produced a clone of himself in spring of 1994. But Clark wanted more.
Clark had held onto the files for weeks, unsure about what to do with them. He had attempted to break the codes himself a few times, but had given up fairly quickly. He had never seen codes as intricate as these before. Between his job at the Planet, being Superman, and spending time with Lois and Laura, he simply did not have the time to devote to cracking them, not without sacrificing other parts of his life. So he had turned to Dr. Klein.
Dr. Klein had agreed to set his computers to work on cracking the files but both men knew it would be a time-consuming project. Due to Clark's concerns that his secret identity might be revealed in the encoded documents—perhaps as a safeguard against just this kind of attempt—they could not allow this to be an official STAR Labs project. The work had to be completed in Klein's spare time, and kept under lock and key. It would take much longer this way, but it could not be avoided. At least not until they knew how much sensitive information was in the files.
Dr. Klein laid out reams of paper on an empty lab table. "Let me show you what I've done so far, Superman." Bernard began pointing out various sections in the paperwork. "The reason these files have been so difficult to decode—besides there being so many of them—is that different codes were used, not just for each document, but *within* each document." He picked up one short stack of paper. "I've been able to identify sixteen different codes in this one four page document alone!" He set it back down. "Unfortunately, the computer has only been able to crack a few of them."
Clark studied the jumble of letters, numbers and symbols on the page. "It looks like there are small sections here and there that are in English, while the rest is just gibberish."
Klein nodded. "Exactly. Scattered throughout each document are single paragraphs that have been decoded. Does anything look familiar or important to you?"
With super-speed, Clark read through the vast quantities of paper Klein had laid out. When he finished, Clark's jaw was set. "There are still too many holes, but what I see here does suggest that we're on the right track. Hopefully the computer can crack some more soon, and the puzzle pieces will start fitting together." Clark singled out one file in particular and lifted it up for Klein to see. "This one is dated early 1994 and seems to talk about a specific cloning project. Could this be proof that Lex Luthor was telling the truth that he cloned himself around then?"
Klein took the file from Clark and studied it for a long moment. Then, his brow knitted in concentration, he quickly turned to a different computer in the room and pulled up some information on the screen. Finally, he nodded to himself as he compared the data. "I don't see anything about a Lex Luthor clone, but there are some bits and pieces here that imply he may have been working on a clone of you."
"Of *me*?" Clark shuddered. All of his fears of Lex Luthor trying to kidnap Laura to clone his own super-hero came flooding into his mind. He hadn't expected to find proof—or maybe he'd been in denial.
"Yes, yes … " Bernard mused. "This string of what looks like gibberish actually was already decoded—it's a representation of a DNA sequence—your DNA sequence. It looks like they may have had some success, too … though it was short-lived."
"What are you saying, Dr. Klein?"
Bernard looked up. "What? Oh, I'm sorry … I was just saying this is your DNA in this file, and from these further sections, it looks like they produced a clone from it. That clone only lived two weeks, however. Based on what we learned about the Lois clone in 1996, this short life-span fits." Dr. Klein looked nostalgic. "That poor Lois clone .. she was such a nice girl … remember, that was back before you and Lois got married, and Lex Luthor had kidnapped—"
"I *remember*, Dr. Klein, believe me," Clark said, a little more sharply than he intended.
Klein came back to reality, looking apologetic. "Of course you do, sorry. Didn't mean to bring up bad memories … "
"Is there anything more about this Superman clone?" Clark interrupted, trying to get the doctor back on track.
"The Superman clone? Oh, yes! The Superman clone … well, the last entry on the file was made in March of 1994. It says "project failed, sample gone." Unfortunately, the rest of the information is still encoded."
Meanwhile, in Clark's mind, puzzle pieces were quickly coming together. March 1994 … "Of course!" he exclaimed. "There was a Superman clone in 1994, but he never told me who had made him. He kept referring to 'his father'. His 'father' taught him that 'might makes right' and that he should kill me … but he wouldn't do it." Clark sat down, stunned. "Lex Luthor created that Superman clone. Why didn't I see that before?!"
Klein nodded, still comparing the computer screen to the print-out. "That was before I came to Metropolis, but it certainly sounds likely from what little we've been able to recover. There is still so much more to decode."
Clark sighed, resigned. "I just wish there was something more we could use to prove that Luthor never cloned himself, only others. But I do appreciate your help, Dr. Klein. If you find out anything more— Dr. Klein?"
Klein wasn't listening, however. His eyes had opened wide and his jaw had dropped. "Well, this is interesting!"
Clark stepped quickly to the computer screen. "What?"
Klein was excited. "I hadn't thought to look for DNA sequences in the codes before! This might be it!"
Clark just looked at him, perplexed.
Klein explained further, pointing to the screen. "Lois's clone … this was her DNA sequence. And this," he added, pulling up another file, "is your wife's DNA. Don't you see??"
Clark furrowed his brow, trying to make sense of the mass of symbols on the screen. "Why don't you point it out to me."
Klein typed into his keyboard quickly, pulling up more files and dragging them to different areas of the screen. "Frogs!" he exclaimed. "Before this file, I had no way of knowing if the frog DNA used to clone Lois in 1996 was essential to the process, or just one of many attempts. According to what I have here, though, about the Superman clone of 1994, frog DNA *is* essential! Look—compare the strings of your and Lois's DNA to that of each clone. They've been manipulated in the same way. I think we have our smoking gun!"
Clark stood up straight, getting excited himself. "Because if Luthor did make a clone of himself," he added quickly, "there would have to be frog DNA involved."
"Yes! Because the frog DNA is what provides the maturation hormone. Without it, you could only produce infant clones that age normally, not the instant adult ones we've seen."
"So, if we could prove somehow that the Lex Luthor who jumped off the building to his death in 1994—or the one who was killed in the underground tunnel in 1996—had no frog DNA in him … "
"Then he wasn't a clone at all," Klein finished. "He was the real Lex Luthor all along."
Clark's eyes narrowed. "And Lex Luthor will be exposed for the liar and murderer that he is."
Lex Luthor closed the newspaper that he was reading and crumpled it into a ball. He squeezed it as tightly as he could, placed it on his desk … and smashed it with his fist.
"That's what I'd like to do to you, Mr. Kent," he seethed.
Lex had thought last week was intolerable, but this week was starting out to be just as unpleasant. Oh, he hadn't lost any money yet—he'd actually made a pretty penny on some illegal weapons trades this weekend—but he'd not been pleased by what he'd read in the newspapers today.
Lois Lane seemed to be poking her nose into his business again. He had no idea how she had found out about his unfortunate business deal so quickly, but there it was, in the morning edition—on the front page, no less. She had followed the steps from the Dexter Building to LBL Realty to LexCorp almost effortlessly, and printed the story of his humiliation for all to read. Fortunately, she made no mentions of the bonds in the walls—if she even knew about them—but it didn't matter. The article was written to make Lex look foolish and he didn't appreciate it.
It was a page 3 article that had really caught his attention, however. Though innocuous in itself, it confirmed his suspicions—Clark Kent was investigating several unsolved murders around town, and trying to connect them. The article didn't give anything away, not yet, but Lex's sources confirmed that Kent was poking around into Lex's recent acquisitions—acquisitions of his own property! Lex's contact at the auction house phoned as soon as Lane and Kent had left the building, purchasers list in hand. Lex knew better than to believe it was unrelated to Kent's story—Clark Kent was trying to connect Lex Luthor to a string of murders.
"Let him try," Lex sneered. He'd been in this business far too long to let himself be connected. He had people to take the fall, people who knew better than to open their mouths to try to cut a deal. Lex Luthor still had contacts everywhere, not the least of whom were in prisons all around the world. People on his payroll knew they wouldn't last long in jail should they cross Lex Luthor.
Yet, Lex mused as he picked up the crumpled paper and toyed with it, someone apparently was trying to cross him. He'd had too many accidents, too many leaks, for it all to be bad luck. So far, he wasn't sure who was betraying him, but it wouldn't be long before he found out. No one betrayed Lex Luthor and lived.
For a fleeting moment, Lex considered the possibility that Clark Kent was using his … talents … in ways that were less than scrupulous. Would the boy scout relax his ethics in order to bring down his arch rival? He had, after all, broken into LexLabs computer banks several months ago and stolen a large number of cloning files.
Lex laughed. No, the fact that Kent was trying to prove that Lex was a criminal by good old-fashioned investigative work meant that the man still lived by his do-gooder morals. And that was all Lex needed to know.
"You two have been a thorn in my side for far too long," Lex said as he tossed the crumpled newspaper into the fireplace, and watched it burn. "But it won't be long before I win. And you, Mr. Kent, will find your secret splashed across headlines from here to eternity."
Beth Luthor sat in the library, surrounded by her books. The bitter irony of the situation haunted her constantly. That is exactly what she sold her soul for when she saved Lex Luthor, nursed him back to health, and helped him invent the story that would allow him to return to society and rebuild his empire.
She had been foolish, she knew now, thinking she could change him, thinking he would come to love her and keep her safe. But now she knew better. He had been so talented, so brilliant. That is what drew her to him in the first place, made her want to help him. If she could only re-channel that mind and heart into something worthwhile … she could save him, and herself in the process.
In the beginning, she stupidly believed she could direct him. She orchestrated his return to polite society, insisting that independent accountants review his books to show the law that he had nothing to hide. She had even hired a slew of private investigators to try to keep tabs on him. But it wasn't long before she had to admit that she'd been out of her league.
It was discovering his plot to steal Lois Lane and Clark Kent's child away from them that had finally opened her eyes. As her blindness lifted, she realized how misplaced her trust had been. Oh, she still loved her husband. But she no longer trusted him. And that made all the difference in the world.
In a moment of foolish love, she had given him her 'insurance policy', the letter she had written explaining how she came to find Lex Luthor, battered and beaten in a run down apartment—and how she suggested the plan that would return him to his previous glory, while clearing him of all his past wrong-doings. This letter was to have saved her life; the knowledge that he would be exposed upon her death was her husband's incentive to keep her alive and safe.
But it didn't matter. She now knew that only she could save herself. It was a dangerous game she was playing; if he found out her plan, there would be no mercy. But there was no turning back now, and nowhere to run. Even if she did run, there was nowhere for her to go.
Superman landed in a deserted alley behind the Daily Planet building, and within seconds, Clark Kent turned the corner onto the sidewalk, adjusting his tie as he walked. He'd been gone from the newsroom for only an hour, but it was a worth-while hour. He now had a way to expose Lex Luthor's story. He didn't know exactly how he would accomplish that yet, but the knowledge that he finally had a tool was empowering. Lex Luthor had been responsible for so much pain in his life—not to mention to many others in the city—and Clark could not allow that to continue.
"Seize the high ground … " Clark murmured to himself as he opened the door to the lobby. That was exactly what he intended to do—somehow.
Clark made his way through the lobby towards the elevators. He'd been distracted several times over the course of his trip, worrying about Kate Martin's whereabouts. He'd even done a few patrols around the city on his way back from STAR Labs in hopes of locating her. But his beeper hadn't gone off, and his hearing hadn't picked up any "help Superman" calls—from Lois or anyone else—so he could only believe that everything was fine. Maybe Lois was right, maybe he had scared Kate off with his refusal.
As Clark passed by the daycare center door, he heard something else that demanded his attention. His daughter was fussing inside. Making a quick detour, he back-tracked and went inside to check on Laura.
Susan was once again working in the infant room, and smiled when she saw him. "You're just in time," she chirped. "Look Laura! Daddy's here!"
The little girl just looked at her father through her tears and held her arms out. Clark felt his heart melt. "Well, come here, my little bundle. What's the matter?" he cooed as he took her into his arms.
"Laura just woke up a little cranky from her afternoon nap, that's all," Susan explained, "and I'm sure she'd love to cuddle with you for a few minutes while I change the rest of the babies' diapers."
Clark gladly accepted. "Oh, honey, don't cry. Come on, sit down with me." Clark sat down in a rocking chair in the far corner of the room, and rocked with Laura. It wasn't long before she calmed, snuggling into her daddy's warm chest.
Twenty minutes later, Susan was done changing the remaining three babies and was back in the room. Clark reluctantly stood, knowing his own break was over, too.
As soon as Clark handed Laura back to Susan, however, the baby began to cry. "Oh, Laura, not again," he said, fighting the urge to take her back into his arms. He felt terrible leaving her like this, but he remembered the conversation with Ruth just the week before—that Laura always stopped crying within a few minutes of being dropped off. He looked at Susan for support. "I guess the longer I stay, the longer she'll cry, huh?"
Susan nodded. "She'll be fine, Mr. Kent, I promise."
Clark steeled himself and kissed his daughter on the forehead. "I'll be back soon, Laura. Mommy and I will pick you up in just two short hours, and we'll all go home, OK?"
A few minutes later, Laura was still crying, and Clark was back in the lobby, feeling guilty. Walking towards the elevator and trying to distract himself out of listening, Clark wondered what had been going on in the newsroom while he was gone. While waiting for the elevator to arrive in the lobby, he tried to focus his hearing upstairs, but to no avail. Once again, he found it nearly impossible to get Laura's cries out of his mind, and it was difficult to shift his focus.
Distracted, he almost missed Ralph stepping out of the elevator doors. Upon seeing Clark, however, the man instantly jumped back in just as the doors closed.
Clark blinked in surprise. "Ralph, what are you doing?" he said, annoyed.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa … " Ralph said excitedly, hitting the emergency stop button. "Clark, hold on, you may not want to go up there unprepared."
"What are you talking about Ralph?" Clark snapped, reaching around him to release the brake. Clark was anxious to talk to Lois about what he had learned at STAR Labs, and the last thing he had time for right now was playing stupid games with his annoying co-worker.
"Hey, don't bite my head off. You should be thanking me for warning you … your girlfriend was here looking for you earlier. I figured you'd want to keep her away from your *wife*."
Clark blanched as the elevator jerked and continued to rise. "Kate? She was here?!? When?"
"Is that her name? I don't know, about 15 minutes ago, I guess. I was on my way into the archives. I told her you weren't in the newsroom, but I'm not sure she believed me. You better hope you get up there before Lois finds her. I can't imagine what kind of fireworks would happen if they got together." Almost gleefully, Ralph slapped Clark on the back. "You old dog, Kent! I don't know how you do it, keeping up with a spitfire like Lois Lane and still finding time to keep a pretty young thing on the side."
Clark angrily shrugged off Ralph's arm around his shoulder. "Shut up, Ralph," he hissed, trying to stop the man's incessant babbling. Having a very bad feeling about things, Clark was desperately trying to get a lock on the newsroom with his super-hearing, but with Ralph jabbering excitedly in his ear, all he was getting was a splitting headache.
"Hey, don't worry about me; I'm not going to tell Lois! So, is your girlfriend as hot as she looks? She—urgh!" Ralph made a straggled noise as Clark gripped him around the throat and pushed him up against the wall of the elevator.
"I said, shut UP!" Clark roared. There was still a half a floor to go until the newsroom, and he was almost frantic to make sure Lois was safe. Convinced that Ralph wouldn't continue his offensive monologue—the man's eyes were bugged out as he looked at Clark like he'd lost his mind—Clark finally tuned his hearing to the newsroom. It was quiet … too quiet.
As the elevator dinged to announce its arrival on the third floor, Clark released Ralph, who sank against the wall, rubbing his neck. "Geez, Kent, remind me never to do you a favor again."
Clark shot him a warning look before stepping quickly through the open doors. Ralph followed slowly, mumbling insults under his breath.
The scene that greeted them was exactly what Clark had dreaded. Lois stood in the middle of the newsroom, about five feet from Kate Martin. Other staff members in the area were frozen to their desks, watching the two women with great apprehension.
The bell of the elevator had caught Lois's attention and when she saw Clark exit, she looked visibly relieved. "Clark, thank God," she said.
Kate, too, looked relieved. "Oh, Clark, I'm so glad you're here." She turned back to Lois. "Now you'll see!" she exclaimed defiantly.
Clark approached them carefully, slowly. "Maybe someone needs to tell me what's going on here," he said, trying to keep his voice calm. He looked at Lois, communicating with his eyes that it was going to be OK. "Lois? Kate?"
Before either could answer him, Jimmy called out from where he stood frozen near Clark's desk. "Careful, CK, she has a gun."
Behind Clark, Ralph paled visibly and backed away. "Oh, great!" he whined. "Just great … I should have kept walking when I hit the lobby, but *noooo*. I had to come up to see the fireworks … " This time Clark ignored him, too intent on making sure his wife did not get in the way of the gun he now saw in Kate Martin's hand. Other staffers took up the task, however, silencing Ralph with withering stares.
Clark put his hands out in front of him, placating his stalker. "Kate? Give me the gun … "
The young woman gave a choked sob, and turned away from Lois, pointing the gun in Clark's general direction. Staffers gasped, and Clark stopped.
"I don't want to hurt anyone," the woman said in a quavering voice. "But I will if I have to. I just want us to be together."
"OK," soothed Clark. "I understand."
"Yes, you do," agreed Kate. "You're the only one who does. Everyone else, they say I'm crazy, that you don't love me. The doctors, my family … no one understands except us. I know you've been waiting for me. And you only married Lois because I wasn't here." Kate began pacing, agitated. She waved the gun as she walked.
As Kate became distracted, Lois took the opportunity to step closer to Clark. "Kate came up here about 15 minutes ago, looking for you," she explained quickly. "She asked me to do the honorable thing and let you go with her. When I tried to call security, she pulled this gun."
"So much for not being violent," Clark murmured.
Kate noticed the two of them standing there. "Don't talk to him!" she screamed at Lois, nearly hysterical. Clark quickly used one arm to get Lois behind him, inserting himself between his wife and the gun still in Kate's hand. Kate started to cry. "I love you, Clark. Why are you still with her? She can't love you the way I do."
More confident now that Lois was safely behind him, Clark took another stop towards Kate. "Kate, give me the gun," he ordered.
Kate lifted the gun to her temple. "Don't come any closer, or I swear, I'll pull the trigger."
Clark froze. "You don't want to do that."
"Why shouldn't I? If you won't leave her, what's the point? I thought that it didn't matter, that it would be enough just to know the truth about how we felt about each other. But it wasn't … it's been awful without you. I can't live this way anymore. It's so hard," she sobbed.
"Listen to me, Kate," he pleaded. "You've been sick, very sick. You need help. I can get you that help."
She didn't seem to be listening anymore, however. She closed her eyes, and her finger started to squeeze the trigger. Several people in the newsroom gasped in horror, while others turned away, unable to watch.
His mind racing, Clark calculated the time it would take him to get to her— but it wouldn't be enough, not even at super-speed. The gun was simply too close to her head.
Desperate, he tried one last time. "Kate, wait!" he called. "Don't do this … please. I would never forgive myself if you did. Do you want to hurt me like that?"
That gave her pause. She opened her eyes again and her finger loosened slightly. "No … " she answered slowly, confused.
Clark saw his opening. He kept talking, keeping her attention as he moved closer. "It would hurt me … terribly. You and I were friends, Kate. Friends don't hurt each other, do they?"
"No … "
Clark took another step. "You were so important to me that summer, Kate. Did I ever tell you that? How much you helped me? All those talks we had? But I never knew how you felt. You never told me … but now I know."
Kate hesitated and started to lower the gun. "You do?"
"Yes, now I know … and I can help you."
Clark was standing directly in front of her now, and everyone in the newsroom, including Lois, held their breath in fear and anticipation. Clark was watching the gun barrel closely, waiting until he could reach it. When, distracted by Clark's closeness, Kate finally lowered it an inch more, he reached forward and grabbed it. Kate let out a squeal of protest, but quickly collapsed into his arms, sobbing.
The newsroom let our their collective breaths, and gave a prayer of thanks. They watched as Clark handed the gun to Lois, and wrapped his arms around the sobbing Kate. Almost immediately, two security officers appeared at his side, waiting to take her away. Clark whispered something to Kate, and she looked up at him with tears in her eyes. She allowed herself to be led away, still sobbing.
The officers took the gun from Lois and unloaded it. "You'll be pressing charges, I take it?" they inquired.
Lois and Clark looked at each other and nodded. "Yes," Clark said quietly. "We will … at least until I talk to her parents. They should be coming into Metropolis soon to be with her. She needs help, but she's not going to get it in jail."
As the officers left, Lois put her hand on Clark's arm. "It's OK," she said quietly. "You did the right thing. She'll get help now."
Clark pulled his wife into his arms and held her tightly. "Are *you* OK? I'm so sorry I didn't get back sooner. I never meant to put you in danger."
Lois shook her head. "She never pointed it directly at me. I think she was using it more to make people take her seriously. I'm fine. Just a bit shaken."
He cupped her cheek. "The whole time, I kept thinking of what I could say to gain her trust, but not betray yours."
Lois put her hand over his. "Clark … you didn't have to—"
"Yes, I did, Lois … yes, I did."
As the elevators closed on the police and their charge, the newsroom slowly returned to normal. People had divided into small groups, talking with nervous laughter about what had just happened.
Soon, Perry White's booming voice rang out over the newsroom. "OK, people, you all behaved admirably, but it's time to get back to work. We have deadline in 90 minutes, so let's get cracking!"
Staffers scattered in all directions, leaving only Lois Lane and Clark Kent holding each other in the middle of the newsroom, oblivious to anything but each other.
Only Ralph's very shocked voice could be heard over the din. "You mean she *wasn't* really his girlfriend?!?"
Lois Lane sat on the edge of her bed, talking on the phone. "OK, mother … I'm glad to hear that … Well, have fun … uh huh … give Daddy a kiss for me. Bye."
Clark, already in bed, smiled and looked up from his magazine as she hung up. "Well, it sounds like your parents patched things up."
Lois pulled back the covers and climbed in to join him. "Yeah, I guess."
Clark set his magazine on the night stand. "What's wrong, honey? I thought you'd be happy."
Lois curled up next to him, resting her head on his bare chest. "Oh, I am, in a way … I guess I'm just starting to wonder if them getting back together will make either of them happy for long. There's just so much history there. My father gets a new secretary and starts working late, so my mother assumes he's having an affair. And my father, instead of reassuring my mother, just tells her she's crazy and storms out of the house. They say they've changed in the last twenty years, yet they keep falling into these old patterns."
"They have changed somewhat—your father doesn't work as much as he did when you were a kid, and your mother has the Superman Foundation now—she's not just sitting home waiting for him anymore, building up resentment."
Lois had to agree. "You're right. Mother is happier now than she was when I was a kid."
"I didn't know them twenty years ago, but it does sound like they were in love once … maybe they can be again."
Lois smiled. "You're such an optimist." Then she sobered somewhat. "I believe that they love each other," Lois said slowly. "But I don't think they trust each other. And without trust … "
" … what kind of relationship can they have?"
"Exactly." Lois looked up into her husband's eyes. "That's why what we have is so special, so strong. Because we trust each other."
Clark cupped Lois's cheek with his palm. "You never once doubted me, even when the flowers and the letters started."
Lois put her hand over his. "You're not that kind of man."
"And I never will be." He leaned down to kiss her softly.
"Even when the spark is gone?" Lois gave him a little smile, but it was obvious there was a little bit of insecurity behind it. "Even when some not-insane Kate Martin makes a pass at you, at a time when all I ask you to do is take out the garbage?"
Clark grinned. "Honey, trust me, the sparks fly every time I look at you. They aren't going *anywhere*. He then looked at her speculatively. "You've been spending time with your mother."
Lois laughed. "That obvious, huh?"
Clark chuckled with her, then softened. "Lois, I would never … I could never … " Clark paused, then continued sincerely. "There has only been one woman in my heart and my bed … and she's here with me right now. There will never be anyone else. No matter what troubles we go through in the future."
"I feel the same way," Lois said softly. "I know we'll have difficulties—all couples do—but I know we'll work through without betraying the other's trust. Like we did today."
Clark sobered. "It was rough … going down to the police station tonight to press charges. I appreciated you going down there with me, being so supportive. I felt sorry for Kate's parents, though."
"It was nice of them to thank us for keeping her safe. They were concerned about her, but they acknowledged the trouble she had caused for us. I thought that showed class."
"They seem like good people … they are getting her transferred back to a Kansas State Hospital tomorrow." Clark sighed. "I hope she can get the help she needs. It's such a sad situation."
Lois smiled ruefully. "And to think I was wondering if Lex Luthor had put her up to it to distract us from nailing him … I almost wish he had, then I wouldn't feel sorry for her."
Clark made a sound of disgust. "I wouldn't put it past him, after all the torture he's put us through over the years. But it didn't work, regardless. I am now completely convinced that his clone story was a lie. There is no way that in March 1994 they could have labeled the clone project a failure, yet not six weeks later have produced a successful clone."
"Not just a successful clone, but one that had time to learn enough about Lex's business and personal life to pass for him without anyone suspecting anything!" Lois pointed out. "Every other clone we've run across has had maturing to do, mentally. The Lex that blew up the Daily Planet, that rushed through his wedding to me … that was no child."
"No, it was him, that day in May." Clark's eyes narrowed angrily. "The way he tormented me in the Kryptonite cage … there was history there. He wasn't just trying to get me out of the way for the future; he was seeking revenge for what I'd done to him in the past."
Lois shivered a bit at the memory. The idea that Clark might not have been able to escape … to lose him before they had ever fallen in love … before they'd been married …
Suddenly Lois looked up at her husband, troubled. "I just thought of something, Clark. If Lex has been lying all along, then Beth is lying for him." Lois furrowed her brow. "She's still a wild card … she seems to love him, yet … there's something … "
"Maybe he's blackmailing her into supporting his story," Clark suggested. "Remember last year, she told us there was some secret in her past."
"Yes, but she didn't want Lex to know that secret."
Clark shrugged. "If she lied about Lex being a clone, she could have lied about that."
Lois sighed heavily. "So trust no one. We're back to that."
Clark rolled over and turned out the light, pulling his wife closer to him as the darkness enveloped them. "We'll get to the bottom of this, honey. I don't know how yet, but we will. Luthor has had the advantage this past year, but no longer. Dr. Klein is still working on decoding those files. The more information we get, the more we can level this playing field. I will bring Lex Luthor down," he vowed.
Lois put her head on the pillow next to Clark's and ran her hand up his chest. "*We* will bring Lex Luthor down," she clarified.
Clark's eyes closed at his wife's gentle touch. "I'd never be able to do it without you," he said sincerely. "The two of us together … "
" … are stronger than either of us alone."
Clark smiled softly as he kissed her mouth, first softly, then with more urgency. "And together we can do anything," he murmured as he trailed his lips down her neck. "Together … we are incredible."
"Incredible … " Lois moaned softly.
"Incredible … "
FADE TO BLACK
Author's Note: I'd like to thank my good friend and fellow FoLC, Erin Klingler, for her help on this story. Ideas, dialogue and encouragement, she does it all. <g>
Feedback welcome and appreciated: Kathy Brown <email@example.com>
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.