By Barb Pillsbury <Megats1776@yahoo.com>
Submitted: October 2002
Summary: In this sequel to the author's "Smallville Players," we learn that every main character has a motive for murder. But who's the real murderer?
This story is the sequel to Smallville Players (posted on archives 8/18), an elsewhere fanfic that puts a host of Metropolis characters into Smallville of 1993. Lois and Clark are high school teachers who have a passion for social justice and community theatre as well as each other.
I want to especially thank Anne for BRing this story and for being there for me each and every day. When I faltered, she was always there to pick me up and push me onward. I also want to thank Raquel, Doug, and Meredith for the special information I needed and to those who constantly nagged me to get this sequel out. I need to also thank the "evil ones" without whose inspiration I couldn't have developed a slightly evil bent to the cliffhangers. As always I need to thank Erin, Bethy, Tricia, and LabRat whose help and encouragement when I was just starting, got me to where I am now.
Citations regarding specialized material utilized will be found at the end of the story, as will the usual disclaimers.
The detective, a rather short man in his early fifties wearing a three- piece striped suit, whose odd figure could only be described as somewhat pear-shaped, twisted his thickly waxed moustache and paced up and down the dining car of the train, keenly looking at the variety of suspects who sat skeptically in front of him.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," he said with a slight French accent. "You are all aware that the repulsive murderer has *himself* been repulsively and perhaps deservedly murdered. How and why?" he asked, placing several pieces of evidence on the table to his left. "Here is the simple answer," he continued, once again facing the retinue of suspects.
Barb Friskin held her head up and looked the detective in the eye, apparently daring him to make an accusation. Jimmy Olsen put his arm around Cindy Brady, whose face showed her apprehension as she looked up at Jimmy, anxiously craving his support. Keith Haley laced and unlaced his fingers, keeping his head down, afraid of what the detective was going to say. Beatrice Drake looked across the room at her friend, Martha Kent, while trying to be strong. Martha, her face partially covered by a veiled hat, was not letting her feelings be seen as she eyed Jonathan sitting next to the table displaying several articles yet to be explained. Donald Botts stood solidly against the door of the dining car, his face stoically denying that he had any emotions at all. Cat Grant glanced worriedly over at Dan Scardino and then back to Wayne Irig while Lois Lane and Clark Kent sitting close together with their hands linked tightly, looked cautiously at each other and then back to the detective awaiting his declarations.
The train whistle blew shrilly as it signaled the supposed arrival of the additional locomotive with the icebreaker attached securely and menacingly to its face. The metallic sound of the claw-like apparatus, whose job it would be to dislodge the train from its trapped position within a massively large snow drift, echoed loudly, causing the Calais Coach passengers to fidget uncomfortably in their seats.
The Belgium Detective paced up and down once again, dragging out his expository statement dramatically and interminably to those in wait.
Among those in wait was an audience of 120 people sitting around tables in the large banquet room on the second floor of Lex Luthor's Smallville Bank building on this fairly stormy November evening. The capacity crowd was watching very intently as the actors continued with their Agatha Christie classic. The whistle blew once more while the characters on the stage looked predictably from one to the other.
Bill Saxon, the actor who had been with the Smallville Players for all of its nineteen years and was tonight portraying the world-renown detective, Hercule Poirot, took up the dagger that he had recently placed on the table and fingered its sharpness. He then carefully and calculatingly looked back at the suspects one by one, attempting to, once again, draw out the suspense. The train whistle blew yet another time.
Bill, the retired high school drama teacher who looked much younger than his years—and who was Martha's favorite actor of the group—had not botched a line. It had been quite a long time since this sixty-eight year old man had taken on a role of such massive proportions. He had been sure that he would not be able to manage a part that required him to deliver what amounted to sixty percent of all the lines of this rather large-cast show. But he was succeeding and he was just about to get to the climax. His heart was beating rapidly as he thought about what lie ahead. What he had to do next was going to be hard, very hard; but there he was, just steps away from completing his part. It was during this next segment that he was required to hold fort and deliver a fifteen minute monologue with no other actor's input other than an occasional assent. He drew in a breath and stepped decisively toward the other actors.
The elegantly dressed spectators, who appeared to lean forward as they waited for the murderer to be exposed, had all been specially invited by Lex Luthor to this presentation of the Smallville Players as a major fundraiser. The dinner theatre production of "Murder on the Orient Express" had been running for almost two hours and was now moving inevitably along toward its intricate conclusion.
Lex Luthor, who was sitting at the table with the mayor, the mayor's wife, and Lex's companion, Mayson Drake, was also acting a part, even more so than those on the stage in front of him. He was portraying the role of the philanthropist who was incredibly interested in Smallville and in the play unfolding this evening. His face expressed appreciation but inwardly he couldn't wait for this tedious presentation to end, and was instead considering the steps he was to take to finally get all that he desired.
On stage, the tension was heightening as the detective started the explanation of the crime—the expected scene that was present in most murder mysteries but written so eloquently by everyone's favorite mystery writer, Agatha Christie.
The lights dimmed ever so slightly on the others while the special light aimed at the detective remained brighter to emphasize his speech, and he began.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: There is evidence supporting the theory that the murderer was a stranger to us all. (Places the dagger once more on the table.) Mrs. Hubbard (The detective points to Barb/Mrs. Hubbard.) was conscious of a man in her compartment soon after 1:15 a.m. She later found near her bedside the button of a conductor. (The detective eyes Keith/McQueen, the victim's secretary who was sitting next to the train's conductor.)
Keith/McQueen (Shows the strain on his face and nervously bites his fingernails as he watches and listens to the master detective render his view of the crime.)
Keith, as always, was really into his role. His characterization of the weak young male secretary whose tentativeness belied his part in the crime was right on the mark. Keith had recently come out to his friends, high- school classmates, and the community; but this was the first time that Keith was portraying a homosexual character on stage. He and Martha, as director, had spent a lot of time discussing that this character would not be over the top but would simply display an insecurity, a characterization that Keith could identify with but one that he had recently left behind.
Barb Friskin was concentrating on her role as the brash Mrs. Hubbard and attempting to react as Martha Kent had directed her. This was Barb's first venture into acting and she was pleased that Clark and Lois had talked her into it. As the high school counselor, she understood motivation, and found that this diversion was something that came easy to her and that served another purpose. She took the opportunity, as the detective held center stage, to look out into the audience briefly. Barb tried to make out where Lex Luthor was sitting. Although she couldn't see him because of the bank of lights aimed at the actors, she had a feeling where he was, as his evilness seemed to radiate outward. She took a step toward the front of the stage and turned back just slightly to regard the detective as he continued to speak.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Then we have Frauline Schmidt (The detective indicates Beatrice/Frauline Schmidt.) who discovered, planted in her suitcase, the uniform of a conductor which could not possibly have fitted Pierre; from which, in fact, there was a button missing.
Pierre/Wayne Irig: (Looks at Beatrice/Frauline Schmidt.)
Beatrice Drake, high school secretary, an eight-year member of the Smallville Players, was pleased that her daughter, Mayson, was at long last seeing her on stage albeit in the role of a maid and a possible murderer. Although Mayson had attempted to make it back to Smallville in time for the last performance of their previous play in October, once again Mayson had explained to her mother that she had found she was needed elsewhere. So now Mayson was watching her mother act for the first time.
Mayson was a lawyer who most recently had been employed by the Space and Aeronautical Museum. She had chosen that job even though it meant that she was relegated to negotiating contracts related to bequeaths, because it had placed her in Washington D.C. where she had hoped to move up the ladder to more important positions.
Mayson had gone back east to college and then law school, and therefore had not lived in Smallville for the last eight years. She did not see herself as a Kansas lawyer and was hopeful that she would quickly be placed into the governmental scene at the federal level.
It had not happened, however, and she had decided to return to Smallville when she had inadvertently discovered that her hometown was on the list of extra terrestrial activity that Bureau 39 had been investigating many years before and had reactivated because of Superman's appearance on the scene. Mayson had contacted Lex Luthor and passed on the information, knowing that having Lex on her side would help in making her way to the top.
The new investigation, which began less than one month ago, had gone awry. So what was keeping Mayson in Smallville? <Did Lex Luthor have something to do with it?> Beatrice wondered, even though she was glad to see her daughter. Knowing that she was out there with Lex Luthor infuriated her. Beatrice's husband had been a partner of Lex's and had been serving the eighth year of a twenty-year sentence for mail fraud, embezzlement, and extortion. Beatrice visited her husband consistently but during the last six months, she had found her husband's despair had finally eaten away at his soul and at who he had been. He was no longer the wonderful husband and father that she had remembered, and three months ago he had died alone in his jail cell.
Beatrice had never believed that her husband had been guilty. Instead, she lay the guilt right at the feet of Lex Luthor. Beatrice knew there were steps to take to seek revenge. Revenge was something that had never been in Beatrice's vocabulary until she had met Lex Luthor. <Revenge, vengeance, vendetta,> Beatrice pondered. They were almost to that part in the script.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: And, in the trouser pocket of the uniform, there was a conductor's pass key (The detective adds the key to the growing pile of evidence.)
Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott (Rises to look over the detective's shoulder at the array of incriminating pieces of evidence that the detective had placed on the table and then returns to stand beside Lois/Mary Debenham, putting his hand on her shoulder.)
Clark looked around at the actors. Once more he was enjoying being with this group, and especially with Lois. Although in this play, they carried minor parts, they again had the opportunity to play lovers. During the last play, "The Male Animal," Clark and Lois held the leads depicting a married couple who had had some decisions to face. The choices they had made allowed the couple both on and off stage to learn about love, trust, and support.
Enacting those parts had brought Lois and Clark to a very special place. They were in love. Their relationship had grown quickly as they supported Keith Haley, tackled the school board together, and used the play to make a statement to the community. They had found out that they shared so much; and even though Lois had a fear that she was incapable of being loved and Clark had a secret that he had not been ready to divulge, both had reached out to each other and their friendship flourished, as did their romance.
Clark looked down at Lois. She was so incredibly lovely and *he* was so incredibly lucky to have found her, to have discovered a woman that he could share everything with and that he could reveal…but the detective was revealing something. Clark shook off his thoughts, as wonderful as they were, and turned his attention back to the detective.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: (Turns to Barb/Mrs. Hubbard, saying the following.) Later still, Mrs. Hubbard discovered *this* blood stained dagger (The detective holds up the dagger and then once more places it gingerly on the table.) which Dr. Constantine (The detective glances at Jonathan/Dr. Constantine.) confirms could have been the murderer's weapon.
Lois/Mary Debenham: (Touches Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott's hand which is on her shoulder and smiles hopefully up at him.)
Lois Lane had begun to feel at home. She had found a place in what she had originally called Nowheresville. She had found people that respected her work, and she had found love. Lois Lane had found love—a love built on an ever- deepening friendship. Each and every day Clark Kent had proven himself a friend and the man that truly loved her. Someone loved her! Lois pictured Thoreau's quotation hanging on the wall of the small house that she rented. "Friends…they cherish one another's hopes. They are kind to one another's dreams." Clark was just that type of friend to her and here she was once more, enjoying a passion they shared—theatre.
Although Lois loved being in the play, she was angry that Lex Luthor was benefiting by the group's performance. She loathed and despised that man. He had raised a son who had physically attacked her and who had attempted to hurt others. Luthor had also tried to force a detestable policy down the throat of an unknowing and na‹ve school board—a policy that would have dire consequences. And, although she knew that Lex had been attracted to her when they first met, she had regretfully allowed herself to share a supposed business dinner with him in his apartment, where he had tried to molest her. Then, most heinous of all, Lex Luthor had masterminded that…that…dastardly scheme… But she had to step away from these thoughts and focus back to the detective who was about to reveal the murderer of an equally amoral and nefarious individual.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: The obvious implication is that the murderer, disguised as a conductor, boarded the train at Belgrade and made his way by means of the convenient pass key to Rachett's compartment, stabbed him to death, planted the dagger and the uniform, and departed, since the train was halted in the snow drift. Who was he? (Pauses looking around and slowly sits.) I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Fascarelli…
Dan/Fascarelli: Ha! (Nodding.)
Dan Scardino delivered his "Ha!" with gusto and, although continuing to apparently concentrate on the detective, allowed his mind to wander. He remembered when he first met Lois Lane in the teacher's lounge last September. Dan enjoyed his job as physical education teacher at the high school but he had never met someone as committed to teaching as Lois Lane, other than, of course, Mr. Goody- two-shoes, Clark Kent. He glanced over at her. He could make out Lois' beautiful face and see the brightness in her eyes, a brightness that was not there for him, but for Clark. He had once been a rival for her affections. Well, not really. He and Lois had dated but he knew right from the start that his role as suitor had been negligible and he could never be Clark's rival. But Dan couldn't dwell on what might have been and he placed attention back on the detective who was continuing by agreeing with Dan's character.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: …who believes that he was a rival member of the Mafia exacting private vengeance for a vendetta whose precise nature the Yugoslav police will undoubtedly identify.
<There was the line,> Beatrice thought. Vengeance!
<Vendetta,> Barb reminded herself, <a vendetta against evil.>
There was a silence among all the actors as they let the audience digest that tidbit. Martha had told the actors to take a count of three and she was pleased that they had remembered. This play had been such an interesting one to direct, especially as she had to play one of the roles. Martha noticed that the audience was breathlessly waiting for the next line.
In the audience, Mayson Drake placed her hand on Lex's. He turned and she could see from the reflected stage lights that he smiled at her. Lex had told her that he planned to announce to the community that he and Mayson had flown to Paris three nights ago where they were married. She was now Mrs. Lex Luthor. That had been the hard part. Now the next step would be easy and her plan would work.
On stage Martha smiled to herself; the dramatic pause had worked.
Jonathan/Dr. Constantine. Is…is…that all?
Jonathan breathed a sigh of relief as he delivered his last line in the play. He was not an actor and thankfully he only had a few lines to deliver. He had only agreed to take on the role simply because Martha had asked him to. He'd worked with his hands and enjoyed building the sets and setting up the lighting and sound systems. But he was needed on stage because the cast had such a large number of men, and as Martha had explained to him, men in community theatre were always hard to come by. His wife had done what many people thought would be impossible. She had created a very viable community theatre in a small town where talent and men would be at a premium. She had created a legacy.
He looked over at his wife with pride in his eyes. She was a remarkable woman whom he had loved for over thirty years. She was intelligent, creative, and committed to everything she had passion for. He believed that he was so fortunate to be one of the things she was passionate about. She cared so deeply for him and for their son.
Jonathan glanced over at Clark. He knew that his wife had only had one regret in her life—that she had been incapable of bearing children. Jonathan had been there for her, holding on to her desperately as her body was racked with sobs when they had found out. His tears had flowed unabashedly as well, but he knew he could never feel what his wife was feeling that day. But he had shared the joy she had felt when she first held Clark in her arms. That day in May, twenty-seven years ago, when the baby had entered their lives and made those lives complete. He looked over at his wife and saw the delight Martha exuded in her eyes as she glanced over at Clark and Lois. Jonathan understood that Martha was finally getting the response she craved to one unanswered concern in her life—would Clark, because he was so special, always be alone? Jonathan knew that Lois was, indeed, the one; and he was grateful for her existence and that she chose to come to Smallville and love his son.
Jonathan smiled to himself. His wife had created another legacy. Jonathan knew that his son was very special. He had known it for a long time. But it was not his powers that made him special, it was the fact that he had had Martha as a mother. And now that Clark had found someone, he would get married and have children of his own—and the legacy would continue. If Jonathan knew nothing else, he knew that.
Jonathan also knew that even though he had no more lines, he was required to react to the process on stage. He watched the other actors react to his line and then turn to the detective to hear his reply to the question about whether this was all there was to the crime; and he, too, turned to face the detective.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: No, no, no, no, no. No, it is not. I said here was the *simple* answer. There is also a more complex one. (Rises and paces in front of the suspects once more stopping to face them.) Remember my first solution after you have heard my second.
Martha was hoping that the audience was following the intricateness of the plot. The detective was providing the audience with a choice. A simple answer to the murder of the evil Mr. Ratchett—that of a mysterious intruder who had donned the uniform of a conductor and had sneaked into the victim's train compartment, stabbing him, and who had just as surreptitiously fled the train into the snow; or a more compelling, convoluted, apropos solution he was about to unravel.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Let us for the moment assume what is perfectly possible—that the mysterious stranger did *not* exist.
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard (Sits down next to Cindy/Elena Andrenyi and then returns her gaze to the detective, who obviously was smarter than Mrs. Hubbard's character suspected.)
Cindy had been through much the last two months. Her boyfriend Jaxon Luthor had tried to kill her and she had learned how vicious he was. Although he had faced the consequences of his actions and tried to get out from the clutches of his father, she realized that she didn't need him, even though he was the son of the richest man in town. She had grown up a lot and she now saw that living in a trailer with her mother in the poorest part of town was no longer the disgrace that she thought it was; and consorting with the son of the man who had caused her father's death and relegated Cindy and her mother to poverty, was not the answer to her dreams.
The answers were yet to come, as were the steps to gain those answers. Right now she and the rest of the cast were waiting for the detective to profess his more complicated answer.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: The murder must then have been committed by some person or persons in the Calais coach (The detective paces away from them and therefore is present in this dining car. (He turns to confront them.)
Cat/Greta (Takes out a handkerchief from her pocket and starts twisting it.)
Donald/Beddoes (Glances just briefly over at Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott, showing some concern before he quickly regains composure.)
Donald Botts found himself in a role that was very unique for him. His usual part called for blustering, arguing, yelling, or being the comic relief through sarcasm and obnoxious behavior. Tonight he was playing a refined, sedate butler. He smiled to himself. <The butler did it,> he thought. But Agatha Christie was far above cliches. She had penned a more unique murder plot than Donald could have written, and he put his attention on the detective who was moving them slowly but surely toward Christie's resolution.
Lois/Mary Debenham (Looks worriedly up at Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott.)
Jimmy/Count Andrenyi (Once again puts his arm around Cindy/Elena Andrenyi.)
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Let us not for the moment ask the question how; but the question why, which will tell us how and who the murderer is…
Suddenly, there was a blackout and all the stage lights went off, plunging the entire room into abject darkness. The audience started to laugh assuming this was part of the play they had been thoroughly enjoying. Applause erupted from the group of dinner theatre guests, but the applause died down as it began to appear that the blackout was not part of the act and that the lights were not coming on again too soon.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," Jonathan Kent's voice rang out. "There must be a problem with fuses. It may be the storm. Just sit tight and we will soon have it fixed."
"I'll help you, Dad," Clark suggested, moving quickly next to his father and guiding him off the darkened stage toward the fuse box that was located just behind the door leading to the stairwell.
"Guests," Lex Luther's voice was heard as he stood up by his table toward the front of the room. "This has been a wonderful production thus far and I'm sure that Mr. Kent will be able to…achh," he groaned and stumbled awkwardly toward the stage.
Clark heard Luther's moan and instantly, under the cover of the darkness, came to his side.
The lights came back on, and as everyone's eyes adjusted quickly to the brightness, they could see Lex Luthor lying dead in a pool of blood with Clark's hand on the play's dagger that protruded from his back.
"I've heard of being upstaged," Donald Botts yelled out. "But this is ridiculous."
Three weeks earlier:
Clark Kent, history teacher, walked down the long blue hallway of Smallville High School. He was at the school rather early, as usual, so he could reflect on what lie ahead for him. The sound of the high school marching band during early morning practice was ever present in the background as they attempted the music from "Phantom of the Opera." But this time there wasn't the lonely, solitary sound of Clark's footsteps echoing alone along the corridor, as there always had been during the three years that he had taught there. Another set of footsteps joined his, because walking next to him was the woman he knew to be the love of his life, Lois Lane.
Lois had come to Smallville High School as the new English teacher this year. She had been his mentee, which meant that he was supposed to show her around and acquaint her with school procedures. He was supposed to teach her, but she had taught him. She had taught him that as Lois' favorite author had written, "Don't just be good, be good for something." Henry David Thoreau had put it succinctly and Lois had taken it to heart. She was not only a good teacher but she stood up for what she believed in and had pushed Clark to do the same. As a result, he found that he was thriving. Thriving because he was looking at possibilities through her eyes.
Clark looked into her beautiful eyes as she glanced up at him. She had done so much for him. Lois had not only given him a way to be a better Clark Kent. She had also shown him how to use his powers by becoming Superman. Unbeknownst to her, she had created a second persona—one that used super powers for truth and justice yet allowed a sense of anonymity so that a high school teacher in Smallville Kansas could live a normal life. Not really quite normal anymore, though, because that Kansas high school teacher was in love.
His only regret was that he had to keep that second persona from her. He had to protect her. If she knew that he had become the Man of Steel, a description he remained uncomfortable with, she could get hurt. But just as he knew he loved her, he knew that one day, very soon, he had to tell her. Their relationship couldn't move onward based upon a lie.
Lois and Clark continued down the hallway currently devoid of students, toward the teacher's lounge. The hallway looked much as it did in September but the posters had changed. Instead of welcoming students back to school, they publicized this weekend's Corn Festival. There were several posters saying, 'Vote for Cindy Brady for Corn Queen,' and several that touted 'Michelle Richards for Queen.'
Lois felt like she was back in high school as she looked up at Clark and he smiled warmly down at her. He was wearing jeans and a denim shirt, and she was wearing a cotton flowered dress. The faculty and students were supposed to be wearing country attire as part of the Corn Festival. So, the two looked like young high school kids as they walked past all the school lockers, holding hands with their fingers intertwined.
<But no, this didn't feel like her high school,> Lois thought. High school wasn't this good. Lois knew that she had never had a friendship or a relationship like this. Clark was her best friend, as well as her boyfriend, and as such, their relationship had the one wonderful thing that none of her previous relationships had had—trust.
The two teachers had a lot to think about as they made their way to the Teachers' lounge at the end of the hall. Last night's opening of "The Male Animal" by the Smallville Players had given the community pause for thought just as Lois had predicted. The school board was meeting this morning, and from what the members had said after last evening's performance, they were going to vote down school board president Lex Luthor's abhorrent policy. The board had understood the message of the play and realized that academic freedom and the ability to allow students to learn to think and to appreciate and even celebrate differences was not something to shut down, but instead something to be encouraged.
Passing by a familiar door, Lois opened it.
"Lois," Clark said quizzically. "You know that this is the…"
"I sure do," Lois said teasingly and pulled him into the janitorial closet.
Lois put her arms around him and pulled him in for a kiss. Not protesting at all, Clark returned the kiss and deepened it when Lois parted her lips slightly to invite him in. He pulled back and looked at her through the dimness.
"If I knew this is what would have happened in the closet, I wouldn't have corrected your error last month," he said, laughing.
"Who would have thought," Lois said to him, "that just over a month after we met, we would be doing this," she said as she continued kissing him, pushing him up against the wall again.
"Hey, careful," he pleaded. "Remember we have a performance to give tonight, tomorrow, and Sunday. I'm not sure I can make it if you deplete my energy like this."
"Well, be glad that there's only a half-day of school because of the Corn Festival," Lois reminded him. "Maybe you could rest before the performance," Lois said, putting her head on his chest.
"Oh, no," Clark informed her. "We are going to the Corn Festival this afternoon and I'm going to show you what living in Nowheresville is really like." He drew her back into his arms and kissed her again.
"Clark," Lois whispered into his kiss. "I love you."
There, she had said it. Lois Lane had professed her love. She had taken the chance. It wasn't as she had dreamed—a sunset on a beautiful beach, a powerful financial wizard who had flown her off to Barbados, two glasses of champagne. There she was in Smallville, Kansas, in a closet off a high school hallway with a gentle, mild- mannered history teacher. But somehow she knew it was perfect.
"Lois," Clark whispered, cupping his hand on the side of her face and stroking her lips with his thumb. "There's something I want to tell you."
"Hmmm," Lois murmured, kissing his neck and starting to nibble up toward his ear. He was going to tell her loved her, too. She never felt so…
"But not here and not now," he said softly but firmly and pushed her gently away. "Tonight after the performance, can we get some time alone? Uh, but first I…I…forgot I have a barber's appointment," he said suddenly, pushing her even further away from him and opening the door to the closet. "I'll be back soon."
Lois watched him run off down the hallway and she leaned back against the wall of the closet. <No, not now! Not again!> she thought furiously as she straightened up.
Lois stormed angrily out of the closet, slamming the door, and walked down the hallway alone. She was in love, but love wasn't easy. It sometimes hurt and she was hurting now. Tears of anger welled up in her eyes. She marched up the stairs to the second floor. As she reached the door to her classroom, the anger was waning and was being replaced by sadness and pain. She opened the door and slowly walked into her classroom. On her desk was her dog-eared copy of "Walden."
Lois had always looked to Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" for strength and to "Walden" for solace and comfort. Lois opened the book to a random page and put her finger on a paragraph. "A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts," she read aloud.
She had to replace her skepticism, her fear, with better thoughts. As she hugged the book to her chest, Lois remembered another Thoreau quotation, one that she was beginning to feel she would have to keep close to her. "There is no remedy for love but to love more." And with that kind of love came trust. She had to trust her own feelings and trust that Clark really loved her.
<Did I say trust?> she mused, shutting the book, her feelings having a tug of war inside her. <How could she trust him?> Whenever they got close to any type of commitment, he ran off. This running off was becoming more than just annoying. She was going to have to confront Clark about it. She *was* sure that Clark loved her. And love meant trust, yet this trust was beginning to wear thin. Love also meant sharing, and there was something that Clark was holding back, something that he was not sharing with her. She could sense it. She was beginning to know Clark very well and there was something she couldn't put her finger on—something yet to be discovered about him, something that troubled him. Maybe that was what he was going to tell her?
Lois knew that their love had developed quickly, but at the same time she knew it was right—the most right thing she had ever done, and she wasn't going to let anything happen to it.
She had almost let it get away when she had turned from Clark to Dan, but being in the play together had thrown her and Clark back on track and she was beginning to feel she was moving toward something that she didn't want to stop. But maybe Clark was the one that wanted to stop it. Maybe that was why he kept running away whenever they got close to moving their relationship to the next step. But last night he had said he was *ready* for the next step.
"There is no remedy for love but to love more," she said aloud again.
She walked slowly toward the window. The autumn morning was beautiful. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the changing leaves of the maple tree by the window had turned to a glorious shade of gold that stood out against the sky's bright blue. She saw a flash of red and blue whoosh by. Superman was out there. But her mind was not on a superhero, although she cared about him and had at one point had fantasies about him. Her mind was on Clark.
Lois *had* to trust Clark. She knew he loved her. She had seen the look in his eyes, heard the passion in his voice. She would simply have to love him more and wait—wait for him to take the next step that he promised. But what was stopping him? If it wasn't fear of commitment, it had to be something else.
Barb Friskin sat in her office. She glanced out the window at the marching band that had moved from rehearsing "Phantom of the Opera" to "Cats." Barb opened her purse and took out the picture of her sister and herself. They were so young there, not a care in the world. They were just children with their whole lives ahead of them.
Opening her desk drawer, she took out a more recent picture. The worn photograph was of three women in front of the marquis at the Winter Garden Theatre in Metropolis. One older woman with two younger, almost identical images, flanking her on each side, smiled somewhat pathetically back at Barb. The marquis said "Cats." She looked out the window yet again and listened to the band playing "Memory." Then she glanced down at the latest picture and turned it over. December 21, 1983, it read—almost ten years ago. Barb looked closely at her sister's face. The extreme sadness was obvious in the shadows under her eyes and the hollowness of her cheeks. She had lost twenty pounds then and both Barb and their mother had drilled her about the weight loss because Ann had previously been a size six. There seemed to be nothing left of her. Ann had scoffed at her mother and sister since both Barb and her mom could best be described as ample, and hinted at something like sour grapes, which was not like Ann at all.
Barb and her mother knew that Ann was having problems with her marriage and with her son. But when, on New Year's eve, a mere ten days after the picture was taken, Ann had committed suicide, the two of them had been not only devastated but also shocked. They knew that no matter what, Ann was not the kind of a person who would have resorted to taking her own life as an answer to a problem—any problem.
The women believed that Ann's husband was at the bottom of this. They had never liked him, and Barb found his power hungry, sadistic tendencies hard to ignore. Ann had always disregarded the symptomentology, saying that as Barb was a counselor, she was forever finding paranoia, character disorders, and dysfunction in every one she met.
After Ann's death, Barb's brother-in-law had moved their son and himself to Smallville, Kansas. Barb's mother had died the following year and Barb herself was in the middle of a nasty divorce, so following up on her hunches was put on a back burner.
At her mom's funeral, Barb found herself to be the only relative there. Her mother had been an orphan and had grown up in foster care, which is what had originally interested Barb in becoming a social worker who counseled discarded and neglected children. Barb's father had deserted the family when she and her younger sister were just babies and she had not known his whereabouts to invite him to the funeral even if she had wanted him there.
Barb looked at her mother in the coffin. All of her teachers in graduate school had spoken about motivation. Why do people become counselors? she remembered them asking. Was it because they are involved in their own dysfunctional families? Was that true of her? Was she dysfunctional? Was she delusional? Did she see women as victims and men as perpetrators? She had had problems with a father, with a brother-in-law, and with her own husband, as well as the fathers and husbands on her caseloads. Did she see all men as predators? Was she falling prey to her own paranoia?
No! No, she wasn't, and she had a mission. She had an evil, sadistic murderer to bring to the surface. So in 1985, she relocated to Smallville, becoming counselor at the high school. She lost a lot of weight and changed her hair color, as well as altering her style of clothing. Although she had bumped into Ann's husband on many occasions, he had not associated her with his dead wife.
In actuality, Barb and her mother had had little contact with Ann's family over the years because that control freak husband of hers didn't want Ann to interact with them. Their last meeting in New York had been done on the sly and Ann's fear and anxiety was obvious. Barb had worked with several children who had suffered post traumatic stress syndrome after being kidnapped by a parent, and she was acquainted with the protective nature the child assumed in regard to their abductors. Ann had all the symptoms.
So because Barb had had little contact with Ann's husband during their marriage and because of the changes in the counselor's appearance, Barb's presence in Smallville went totally unnoticed by the man who was at the center of her mission.
The high school counselor kept a watch on Ann's son since arriving in Smallville and also kept Ann's husband under surveillance. Over the eight years she had been in this Kansas small town, Barb Friskin knew that her original diagnosis was accurate. Lex Luthor *was* a psychopath.
Barb put her hand in the drawer and stroked the gun that was lying there waiting, waiting for the right moment. Barb's head jerked up and her glazed over eyes readjusted to her surroundings as she heard a knock on her door.
Lex Luthor barreled out of the school board meeting that had been held in the third floor conference room of his own bank building and strode quickly into his corner office. He didn't like to be beaten and he had been beaten by a woman, and an insignificant, public servant of a woman at that. He made a mental note to see to it that Mrs. Platt, Mr. Stern, Dr. Klein, and above all, Mrs. Cox, receive his "gratitude" for their disloyalty. As for Lois Lane, schoolteacher—she would undergo something special.
Barb Friskin's door opened slightly and Lois stuck her head in. "Am I interrupting anything?" Lois asked.
"No," Barb said, looking down at the gun. She put away the picture and closed the drawer for now. "You're welcome any time, Lois."
Lex sat down at his desk and picked up the Smallville Press. There were two stories that drew his attention. The first was a follow up to the trial of his son Jaxon in Wichita. It dredged up again the beating of Keith Haley and the subsequent sentences imposed by Judge Deborah Joy LeVine. It stated that Craig Daniels and John Greene and their parents were to begin their hours of community service on November 1st, nine days hence. However, as the reporter had received a tip that Jaxon Luthor had fled the country to places unknown, the story hinted that there was an uncertainty as to whether the Luthor family had any attention of complying. It stated that Lex Luthor had been unavailable for comment.
Luthor looked up from the second article in the newspaper, praising Superman's latest rescue, with a scowl on his face. This had definitely not been a monumental day for him. But his scowl quickly turned to acute interest because standing in front of him was a beautiful woman.
"Sit down, Ms. Drake," Luthor said, indicating a chair. "If I had known you were this attractive, I wouldn't have protested this meeting as much. You were very persistent."
"I always am when I really want something," she explained as she crossed her long legs in a way that gathered the attention she wanted.
"And what is it you want?" he said, rising and crossing over behind her chair.
"To serve you," Mayson said, looking up at him without batting an eyelash.
Luthor leaned down and turned the swivel chair Mayson was sitting in so that it faced him directly.
"Continue," he demanded.
"I'm an incredible attorney and I can meet any and all of your needs," she retorted.
Lex fingered the top button on Mayson's gray silk blouse. "And what needs might those be, Ms. Drake?" he queried.
"Power, prestige, me."
Lex straightened up and walked over to his desk. He took a Cuban cigar from its humidor and lit it slowly. He took a long puff and sat on the edge of his desk as he regarded Mayson Drake carefully.
Mayson, not to be outdone, licked her lips seductively and looked right back at the man who had vilified her father.
"I know who you are, Ms. Drake," Luthor informed her. "You're Matthew Drake's daughter."
"I'm also the woman who sent you a fax about a possible substance that could kill Superman."
There was a knock on the screen door of the back porch of Martha and Jonathan Kent's home. Jonathan opened the door and yelled back into the kitchen. "Martha, it's Wayne Irig. How about pouring him a cup of coffee?"
"No," Wayne explained. "It's better to talk out here."
"Don't you have your UPS route to attend to?" Jonathan asked.
"I called in sick," Wayne explained, looking around furtively. "Last night after the performance…no wait. Let me start at the beginning."
"What is it, Wayne?" Jonathan asked, finally seeing a large lead box that Wayne had in his hand.
"I didn't tell you about this because we were into production week of the play and we were all so busy, but you know that big oak tree behind my house? Last Tuesday's storm blew it right out of the ground."
"Need some help chopping it up?"
"No, no, that's not it. I found something under the tree. It…it…was a big rock," he said, pausing. "I sent a piece of it off to the lab, and last night after the performance, I got federal agents showing up at my place, asking me lots of questions, and they came back this morning. That's all I know," he said. "I need you to keep this…" he continued, handing the box to Jonathan, "…until I can figure this all out."
"What do you think it is?" Jonathan asked.
"I don't know. Something I never seen before," Wayne replied, opening the box.
Jonathan stared down into the box.
"It's weird," Wayne said, looking at the green, glowing rock.
Lois came out of her third period class, the last one on this half-day, and walked down the stairs toward the teacher's lounge. She had not seen Clark since he had taken off so suddenly. Then, as she passed his first floor classroom, he came out, talking to one of his students.
Out of the corner of her eyes, Lois saw him smile at her; but still feeling the hurt, she ignored him she went on to the lounge.
Clark noticed her distancing herself, shook his head, and then ran his fingers through his hair. Scott Adams, one of Clark's best students, was asking about the assignment that was just given out in class. Clark focused back on the young man and answered his questions.
"Yes," Clark informed him. "Bringing in a guest speaker would fulfill the assignment."
"Thanks, Mr. Kent," Scott said. "That was really helpful," he informed the teacher, and joined the throng of students exiting the halls.
Clark took a deep breath and made his way to the teachers' lounge. Once again he was going to have to face Lois' wrath. He really felt guilty running out on her just after she had told him she loved him. He had wanted to hear those words from the moment he met her and yet he ran off. How could he have done that to her? Even the fact that he had saved a family by rescuing them from a burning farmhouse gave him only a minimal amount of consolation. He was tired of wanting to tear himself in two, and at this point he felt that he would rather face a dozen burning infernos than have to confront Lois, even if it was to let her in on the secret. But Clark realized that's exactly what he had to do. It wouldn't be fair to continue to keep this from her because there would only be more times when he would have to fly off to… He had reached the lounge and opened the door.
Lois looked up from the table where she was sitting, changing her shoes, as Clark entered the lounge. She got up and put the black pumps into her locker.
"Lois," Clark began. "I…"
"Yes, Clark, I know," she said, slamming her locker door. "You're sorry," she said, turning away from him, tears coming into her eyes once again.
"Look, I owe you an explanation," Clark said.
"Don't," Lois said, walking around the table. "I cannot listen to one more stupid explanation about your barber or your doctor or how you suddenly remembered you have to return a book to the library."
Lois thought about Thoreau, she thought about what Barb Friskin had told her, but she had to let her anger out. She couldn't be anyone other than herself and Lois Lane was mad. Yes, Thoreau had offered her solace and said to overlook the bad things by thinking only good thoughts. But those were just platitudes. Thoreau had probably never been in a situation like this. *She* had never been in a situation like this. She had let her defenses down and had told Clark that she loved him and he…he had run out again. Yes, Barb Friskin had let her vent and had allowed her to verbalize that Clark was wonderful and that he must have had his reasons; but Lois had never given her heart the way she had to Clark and this was hurting her too much.
Clark closed his eyes. He couldn't stand to look at her face. There was such a mixture of pain and anger and something more. He saw a resolve that scared him. She was going to break off the relationship.
"What you owe me is respect," she went on, her voice taking on an edge in a mixture of tears and frustration. "God, Clark. I told you I *loved* you. Do you realize how difficult that was for me to say? Do you realize what I needed *you* to say?"
"Lois," Clark said as he gently put his hands on her arms to stop her from moving away from him.
"No!" she exclaimed, pulling free. "Maybe professing my love in a closet wasn't the best thing to do and maybe it shouldn't have happened, at least not there and not then. But you just ran off!"
"Lois," Clark began again.
"I'm tired of the excuses, Clark. I'm tired of you running away. If you don't want this, if you can't love me, tell me now. How can we have a relationship unless you are honest with me?"
"Lois, I've always been honest with you. Always." Clark looked directly into her eyes and took a deep breath. "Except for one thing. And when I tell you what that one thing is, I hope you'll understand."
"Well?" she asked.
Sharon Brady was brushing her daughter's hair. "You'll be the perfect Queen," her mother said to Cindy. "Your hair is just the color of corn silk."
Cindy smiled at her mother as she straightened the soft green tulle dress that Martha Kent had made for her and stood up. "Keith will be here soon to drive me to the parade site," she explained to her mother.
Mrs. Brady eyed her daughter. "You've been seeing a lot of Keith Haley lately," her mother said. "Isn't he, I mean, he said he was…"
"Gay? Is that the word you're searching for?"
"Yes," her mother responded. "I guess so."
"We're good friends," Cindy explained. "He's been there for me since Jaxon…"
"I'm what, mom?" Cindy turned abruptly to face her.
"Wasting my time? Jaxon was the waste of time!" she lashed out. Then seeing her mother's face, Cindy softened her tone.
"Mom. I know things have been difficult since Dad died. I know you want only the best for me," she said kindly. "I even took up with Jaxon because he was so rich, even though it was his father who caused…"
"We don't know that!" Cindy's mother almost shouted.
The new Corn Queen stroked her mother's hair with the same loving feeling with which her mother had just brushed hers.
"I just don't want you to end up like I did," Mrs. Brady said through tears. "Your father was a wonderful man and I loved him. But when he died, there was nothing, nothing. He had taken our savings, cashed in his life insurance policy, and converted everything to cash to buy into the bank. He believed that with Lex Luthor coming into their partnership, he would make a fortune," she said, the tears starting to come.
"Hush, Mom," Cindy said soothingly. "That's behind us," she said, taking her mother into her arms. "That's behind us," she repeated, her eyes taking on a hard look, one that her mother could not see.
Sharon Brady hugged desperately onto her daughter. She had forced herself to not let Cindy know what she was thinking. She couldn't let her daughter realize that she had known all along that Lex Luthor was responsible for Henry's death and the relegation of the two of them to a life of just barely making ends meet.
Sharon's job at the restaurant was adequate, but it couldn't get Cindy the things she needed. Sharon took on additional jobs cleaning houses and waitressing at parties, but there never seemed to be enough.
Cindy would be graduating from high school in June and wanted to go on to college, so Mrs. Brady needed money. And as she stood there, hugging her daughter, she knew the steps she would have to take to get it.
At the deserted farm site, Trask was viciously interrogating Wayne Irig. Trask scrutinized the older, shaken man he had pinned up against the dilapidated barn door. The military man had discovered that it was Irig who had sent the sample of the alien rock that had wound up in Washington D. C. for testing, and was attempting to force him into revealing the location of the remainder of the rock.
Wayne had taken one look at the man in camouflage greens and had decided it was better if he played it dumb. No matter what, he wasn't going to let Trask know that it was Jonathan Kent who now had the green, glowing rock.
"The way I see it, we have two possibilities," Trask spat out. "Either you buried it somewhere or you gave it to someone."
Irig wasn't looking at the man interrogating him but at the last remark made eye contact with him. Wayne could see that Trask was not going to let this go away.
"Now which is it?" Trask said menacingly.
"There wasn't any more. That was it!" Wayne exclaimed.
"Wrong answer!" Trask yelled as he grabbed both of Irig's arms, compressing them with his hands.
Wayne winced at the pain but remained silent.
One of Trask's aides arrived at the interrogator's side.
"It's him," the aide said, handing Trask the military phone.
Trask pushed Wayne against the barn door again and took the phone.
"No, nothing at this end yet," he told the person at the other terminus of the phone. "But as an agent of Bureau 39, nothing will stop me until…"
Wayne took out a red handkerchief and mopped his brow. He had never counted on this. He was really panicky but something told him not to reveal anything to the sadistic- looking man glaring at him.
"…Yeah, okay. I'll put the pressure on," Trask said into the phone and hung up.
Irig mopped his brow again, his hand shaking.
"Your house in near Shuster's field, isn't it?" Trask insinuated. "You found the rock there?"
"What has Shuster's field got to do with it?" Wayne asked.
"That's on a need to know basis and *you* don't need to know. *You* just need to answer my questions."
"I have friends who expect me back," Wayne told the inquisitor.
"Call them!" Trask shot out, "and tell them that you are going away for a while." The military man thrust the phone at him.
"Jonathan," Wayne said into the phone after his friend had answered. "Listen, I can't get that additional lumber from the place we got it before, in order to fix the door on the set. Just keep my *box* of tools safe until I get back," he said, hesitating. "I'm…I'm gonna be busy for a while. Sorry, I got to hang up."
"Are you okay?" Jonathan asked.
"Yeah, yeah," Wayne responded.
Trask grabbed the phone from Wayne. "Now," he said. "You're going to tell me where you got that rock and what you did with the rest of it."
"Yes," Lois said expectantly.
"I'm…" Clark began again but was interrupted when Jimmy entered the teachers' lounge.
"CK," Jimmy sung out. "You've got a phone call from your father."
"Take a message, Jimmy, please," Clark insisted.
"Okay," Jimmy said. "But he said to tell you that it was about a rock that was found near Shuster's Field and that it was important.
"Lois," Clark said, looking back at her. "I have to take this call," he said with a catch in his voice and a strange look on his face.
"You're going to go take a call about a rock rather than finish this with me?" she said, not noticing Clark's anguish.
"You pick up that phone now and…" she said threateningly.
"Lois, I have to," Clark whispered regretfully and reached for the phone.
Lois glared at him and stormed out of the room.
Jimmy returned to the administrative offices and informed Beatrice that Clark was going to pick up the phone in the teacher's lounge.
"Thanks, Jimmy, Beatrice said. "I'm glad you found Clark. It sounded rather urgent."
"You bet," Jimmy responded, starting to walk away, but having seen Lois' face, he was not sure that a rock should have interrupted their discussion and he turned back, wanting to ask the secretary another question.
Beatrice looked at Jimmy. "They'll be all right," she said, anticipating his question.
"They will?" he asked.
"I've known from the very first day Lois arrived that she and Clark were meant for each other. They will work it out."
Dr. Perry White, Smallville High School's principal, walked out of his office. "Jimmy," he said. "I've known Beatrice for a long time. She knows her stuff."
"How did you know what we were talking about?" Jimmy asked.
"I didn't get this job because I know how to yodel," he responded. "Just mark my words, those two have something special just like Elvis and Priscilla, and they're gonna make it."
"I hope so," Jimmy replied. "But you and I sitting here on the sidelines cheering them on doesn't seem enough. I don't know what else to do to help."
"Be there for them when they need you," Beatrice said as her thoughts strayed to Mayson. The secretary began wondering if her little girl needed her.
Lex Luthor put down the phone and eyed Mayson Drake once again. "That was Trask" he informed her. "He hasn't been able to get anything out of Wayne Irig yet."
"Irig is a simpleton, but he is stubborn and loyal. I'll bet he is shielding someone else," Mayson explained. "And since I know the people here fairly well, I'm sure that Jonathan Kent has the rock that you want."
Lex crossed toward her. "You may be the advantage I need," he said, drawing her up to him.
Mayson gazed at Lex seductively from beneath long lashes. Mayson knew that she had him where she wanted him. She had learned rather quickly during her time in Washington D.C. that you only got where you wanted if you knew how to use people. She hadn't played the game before, but she was going to play this time; and this time she was going to play with the cards stacked in her favor.
"I'm *just* what you need," Mayson murmured and kissed him.
Jonathan heard a whoosh and went out on the back porch.
"What's going on Dad?" Clark asked worriedly, spinning from his spandex back into his jeans.
"I just got a strange call from Wayne Irig. He told me not to meet him as we planned, and not to fix the door on the set. But there's nothing wrong with the door and we had never planned to meet."
"I'm not following you. What's this got to do with Shuster's field and a rock?"
"Wayne said that we shouldn't go to the place where we got the wood for the lumber before. That was Shuster's field. He also told me to keep his box of tools safe. He didn't leave his toolbox with me, he left a different box." Jonathan Kent encouraged Clark to follow him.
"Wayne Irig found a rock on his property last week," Jonathan told his son as he opened the door to his tool shed, "and he sent it over to Wichita for analysis. Then the feds showed up," he explained as he entered the shed.
"That doesn't make any sense," Clark said, walking into the shed right behind his father and closing the door behind him. "Why go to all this trouble for a rock?
"Because the preliminary report said it was some kind of meteorite," Jonathan continued, going toward the back of the shed and picking up the large lead box that he had hidden there. "Wayne thought it might be worth some money so he gave it to me for safe keeping," he explained, setting it on a table. "I figured," Jonathan said, opening the box, "that since he found it a few miles from where we found you, it was related."
As soon as Jonathan Kent opened the lead-lined box, a pain shot through Clark. It was something he had never experienced before. He lifted his hand to his head and his knees began to buckle.
"Dad…Dad…I…I'm feeling strange," Clark groaned.
"My God," Jonathan said, unable to keep his eye off the glowing contents of the lead box. "Do you think it could be this?"
Clark keeled over.
"Clark!" his father yelled, kneeling down beside him. "What's happening, son?" he asked as Clark became unconscious. "Clark, Clark," he said fearfully as he turned his son over to look at his face. "Martha!!!" Jonathan shouted out.
Barb Friskin glanced up as she saw Lois opening the door once again. She smiled and took out some chocolate from the lower drawer of her desk. "This might help," she said.
Lois sat down on the small couch Barb had in her office. "I didn't listen to you," Lois chastised herself. "I blew up."
"You must have felt the need to do it," Barb explained. "Remember you are the best judge of what you need, if you don't cloud that need with impossible and irrational requirements. Don't color your desires with the baggage you carry from before. Clark is not your father. He is not the same as the previous men in your life. Believe me, I know."
"But he is hurting me just as the others…"
"I realize that." Barb came over to sit next to her, handing her a piece of chocolate. "I know it feels that way. But you've told me that you also feel that Clark is different. And *I* know Clark. He *is* different. But as I've mentioned before, he's scared. You both are."
"I thought we got beyond that," Lois said, mumbling over the chocolate in her mouth.
"There is something else," the counselor said. "I'm not sure what it is, but he'll tell you when he is ready. In the meantime, know this. He *loves* you. I've never seen a man so in love with a woman as I have him with you."
"Love him more," Lois said quietly.
"What?" Barb asked.
"It's a quotation I have hanging on my wall at home," she explained. "'The remedy for love is to love more.'"
Barb put her arm around the younger woman who was so obviously in pain. "I know this is supposed to be about you. But Lois, I have a feeling he needs you now more than ever. Cherish Clark's friendship, be kind to him while he is struggling with whatever demons are keeping you apart, and as you said, love…him…more."
The fax machine beeped as the expected information arrived. Mayson Drake sat up as she heard the machine beep again. Lex Luthor stroked her bare back. "Come here," he demanded softly.
Mayson grabbed at the nearest article of clothing and came up with Lex's shirt. She slipped into it and turned to kiss the man lying in the large, luxurious bed. "Be right back," she whispered.
The sounds of the Smallville Corn Festival parade wafted up to the fifth floor apartment. The high school marching band was playing "Point of No Return" from Phantom of the Opera. Mayson smiled as she recognized the melody.
She pulled the sheets of paper from the tray and perused them quickly. <This will do. This will do nicely,> she told herself. <Lex will be more than pleased,> she thought, smiling. And, by pleasing him, she would get what she wanted—his eventual demise.
The attorney took one of the sheets and placed it into the top tray and, looking at her notes, punched in a number and pushed the send button. The other pieces of information she would use later.
Mayson picked up her purse and walked into the bathroom. She took out her cell phone and dialed a number. "Hi, Mom," she said. "No. No, I'm not in Smallville yet," she lied, pausing to listen to her mother's responses. "Yes, I should be there in time to see your play on Sunday. Maybe even before… Yes, I know. But I have some things to wrap up. Then I have a new project that should take about a month to finish, But I will be able to handle it from Smallville," she said, pausing again. "Yes, Mom, the project will definitely be terminated in a month."
Down below, the queen's float was just passing the bank building. Cindy was waving to everyone in the obligatory manner. Cindy looked up toward Lex Luthor's apartment. She wondered what was going on behind the darkened windows. What was life like up there?
Cindy reflected back on her own short life. For a young woman about to turn eighteen, she had seen much—the death of her father, the despair of her mother, and their move from that large, sunny house on Maple Street to the dank trailer park on the "wrong" side of town.
She had sold herself to Jaxon Luthor so that she could change her life and get the things she wanted. He had bought her clothes, had taken her to places she would otherwise not have been able to go, and sported her around in that red Porsche of his. She had been popular at the high school, and unlike other kids who came from the trailer park, she had been asked to join the better clubs and be with the better class of kids.
In payment for these things, she had had to submit to Jaxon's cruelty. He had hit her many times, even before the events that led to his arrest and trial. Keith Haley wasn't the only person that had ever set him off. Jaxon's father also set him off. Lex Luthor was an evil man. Perhaps if Jaxon's father had been a better man, Jaxon would have…
Cindy was tired of her own ambiguities. She had only used Jaxon as he had used her. He was the rich man's son. She was the beautiful trinket he wore, but Cindy knew that deep down she had felt something for Jaxon. No! She shook that thought off. Her being with Jaxon was *only* a way to hurt Lex Luthor. Cindy knew how much Luthor had been upset over his son dating trailer trash. But she had not always been so-called trailer trash. Her father's death and the loss of all of his money had relegated her mother and herself to this life, and Cindy was going to get back what was taken away. She knew that no matter where Jaxon was, he would want her and she would continue to use that. If Lex Luthor was just out of the way…
Mrs. Cox, school board member, was sitting in the study of her home on Maple Street. Her husband, a local attorney, who was currently being considered for a judgeship on the circuit court, leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. "I enjoyed being home for lunch," he told her. "Nice change, but as Mayor I'm already late for the parade, so I have to go. Even a lame-duck mayor has to put in an appearance."
"Charles?" his wife asked. "Aren't you putting a lot of stock in getting that appointment? You chose not to run for reelection because you were sure you would get the judgeship," she said, looking up at him.
"Vivian," Charles said. "It's a done deal." He gave his wife another quick kiss and hurried out the door just as the fax machine was beeping. She crossed over to the machine and picked up the piece of paper just as it was being discharged from the printer. Vivian stared at the report and crumpled it in her hand. "Lex Luthor," she hissed. "If he thinks he can get even with me, well, he's in for a big surprise."
Smallville's town square was decorated with yellow and green streamers, similarly colored balloons, and corn stalks. On one end of the square, local musicians were playing country music. At the other end, several townspeople were busy barbecuing hot dogs and hamburgers. People were sitting at tables, on benches, and on the curbs, watching the parade go by. Jimmy Olsen, Cat Grant, and Dan Scardino were sitting at one table, and several community people stopped as they passed by to congratulate them on Thursday night's performance. Jimmy scoured the square for Lois and Clark, knowing that they had planned to be here. Not seeing them, he again began to worry that their earlier altercation had had some lasting affects.
At another table across the square, directly opposite the bank building, Linda and Donald Botts were eating hot dogs as Cindy's float passed them by. She waved at the couple, smiling. Donald, his mouth full, nodded at the new Corn Queen.
"Careful," Linda told her husband. "Don't eat too much. We have another performance tonight."
"Yes, we do," said Bill Saxon, sitting down to join them. "Speaking of which, where are our two leads? I haven't seen them. Clark would never miss this, and I'm sure he would be escorting Lois here." He winked at the older couple.
The queen's float moved down the street and Bill could now see the bank building previously obscured by the float. He saw a woman standing in front of the bank *not* watching the parade, but looking at the building itself. She turned back to the parade as a group of town dignitaries walked by, and she smiled as she saw the Mayor scurrying to take his place in line. Bill noticed that the woman had a beautiful smile but sadness lurked behind it. Barb Friskin, during her eight years of residence in Smallville, had helped so many kids, their parents, and even their teachers. <Why can't she help herself?> he thought.
"You know," Linda said, breaking into Bill's reverie. "Martha and Jonathan aren't here, either. I wonder if something is wrong."
Helping his son to the kitchen table, Jonathan eased him into a chair. Martha felt her son's face. "Oh, Clark, honey, you're burning up," his Mom said, reaching for a thermometer and putting it in her son's mouth.
"Don't get scared, Mom," Clark said, the thermometer still in his mouth. "My body doesn't work like other people's," he reminded her. He looked at his mother and hoped his words reassured her. He also hoped that saying them out loud would help him, as he was the one who was really scared.
"Well, how do you feel?" his father asked, filling a pitcher of water at the sink. "That's the important thing."
"Better," Clark responded. "I think I feel better." Suddenly, the thermometer blew up in his face, eliciting a screech from his mother.
"My, oh my," Martha remarked as Clark removed the remains of the thermometer.
"What do you mean, you *think* you feel better?" his father asked, placing the pitcher on the table. "Don't you know?"
"He's never been sick before. It's a new experience," his mother offered.
Clark tried to lift the pitcher of water. "I lifted a rocket into space," he said to his father wistfully, "and now I can't even lift this."
"Don't worry about it," Martha said, picking up the pitcher and pouring Clark a glass of water. "You'll bounce right back."
"I don't understand this," Jonathan said, shaking his head. "How can a rock that probably came from the same planet as Clark make him sick?"
"It's poison," Martha said, putting her hand on Clark's arm. "That's all we need to know and we are not going to let it near you again!"
There was a light knock at the screen door of the back porch. Clark looked up weakly and saw it was Lois. "She can't know about this," he warned his parents.
Martha answered the door. "Lois, honey," Martha said. "Come on in."
"Sit down, Lois," Jonathan said, pulling out a chair."
"Jonathan," Martha said. "We have to get over to the Town Square. Remember you are supposed to relieve Fred Haley at one of the barbecue Stations?" She hurriedly ushered Jonathan out the door. "Will you be alright?" she asked her son, looking back over her shoulder.
"Yeah, Mom," he responded. "I'll be fine."
The Kents walked out the door, leaving the young couple to deal with a great many issues.
"Clark," Lois said, touching his face. "You look horrible!"
"It's my allergies," he said quickly, sort of confused as to Lois' intent after their altercation this morning.
"Are you sure that's all it is?" Lois asked, wondering if Barb Friskin had been right about Clark being in some kind of trouble.
"What do you want me to say, Lois?" he asked her. He had earlier that day been on the verge of telling her that he loved her, as well as disclosing his secret to her when they had once again been interrupted. But now maybe there was no secret to tell. His powers were gone. He had no strength. His father had to practically carry him into the kitchen, so he doubted he could fly. He had not heard Lois coming and only had seen her on the porch because there was just the screen door separating them.
Lois looked into his eyes with a worried expression.
"I know you're hurt," Clark said. "And I know that I really have no excuse other than to tell you that there are some things going on right now that I have to deal with. And it's because I don't *want* you to get hurt that I need to get them straightened out. And after I do, we will have a talk and…"
"Clark," Lois put her hand on his. "I met with Barb Friskin. Yes, I needed to talk to someone and she really set me straight on this. She helped me realize and even accept that people have separate lives. And no matter how involved we are, sometimes it's appropriate to do things apart," she continued. "If you have something you have to do on your own, I will try to understand," she said, moving that stray lock of hair off his forehead. "I told you how I feel about you. And I have to believe that you feel the same way about me and will tell me when you are ready. I'll wait, and until then we won't say the 'L' word…just be best friends who are dating and who…" She leaned over to kiss him gently.
<Oh God,> he thought. He may not be Superman any more, not have those powers any more, but his other functions were still working. He wanted so much to kiss her passionately, to pick her up and carry her into his old bedroom—the room where he had had the dreams every young man has, the dreams of one day meeting that someone, someone who he could love and make love to.
Clark returned the kiss just as gently as she had bestowed it upon him. He put his hand on the side of her face and looked deeply into her eyes. Lois was looking up at him— trusting him. How could he not tell her how he felt? He wanted to open up to her. But it had to be perfect. *He* had to be… Was perfect the word he was looking for? Maybe just normal would be wonderful. He could be normal and have a normal relationship with the woman that he loved. He wouldn't have to be evasive. He wouldn't have to run off. He wouldn't have to hurt her anymore. But would he be Clark? Would he be the man he wanted to be?
"How about getting some fresh air?" he asked her. "I did promise to take you to the Corn Festival, and this pair of jeans needs to take your country dress out. We only have a few of hours left before we have to be at the auditorium to get ready for tonight's performance."
"Are you sure you're feeling up to it?" Lois asked, touching his head. "You *do* feel normal."
"I am normal," he replied, sighing slightly.
Bill Saxon looked up from the hot dog he had been eating to see Barb Friskin enter the Town Square. "Bill," Barb said, smiling as she came up to the three of them. "How are you?"
"Why don't you join us?" Bill asked.
"That would be great," she said, nodding at Linda and Donald. "How are the two of you?" she asked as she sat down.
"Great," Donald replied.
"I guess I haven't seen you, Bill, since the Labor Day picnic," she remarked, looking over at him. "I don't get to see as much of you now that you are retired."
Bill smiled at Barb. "I guess we will have to remedy that. I know," he said suddenly. "Why don't you get involved with the Smallville Players? Donald, Linda and I would love to have you be part of it."
"Whew," Barb responded. "I'm not sure about that. It's a big commitment and I don't know if I would be good at it."
"Oh, you'd be wonderful!" Linda exclaimed. "I've seen you up in front of a group before and you were terrific."
"You have?" Barb asked.
"Remember that talk you gave to the hospital auxiliary on eating disorders? You were not only informative, you were able to rally us all to the cause."
"I also heard," Bill added, "that you are going to be the guiding force behind the educational component on AIDS that Judge LeVine has mandated for our community as a result of Keith's beating."
"Yes, that's right," Barb said. "So, you see, I don't really have time for…"
"Make time," Bill interrupted, putting his hand on hers. "I'm saying this like an uncle. You need time to do something just for you. And trust me, community theatre is an incredible outlet and an incredible way to get to know people better. Ask them," he said, indicating Lois and Clark, who had entered the town square and had come up to their table.
"Ask us what?" Clark questioned.
"About how community theatre gets people together," Donald suggested.
Clark looked at Lois. "It does do that," he said.
"Yes it does," Lois repeated and smiled at Barb Friskin.
"I'm glad," Barb said, looking at the both of them.
"Why don't you come to the performance tonight as my guest?" Bill suggested, looking at Barb.
"Yes. You should come. This play has a lot to say," Lois explained, and looked up at Clark with admiration in her eyes. "And watching how amazing Clark is in this role is worth the price of admission alone."
"Especially when you get in free," Clark laughed, but Lois' look at him had not gone unnoticed. He smiled back at her. "We have to get something to eat," he explained, wanting to get Lois alone. "But here you go." He pulled out a ticket from his shirt pocket and handed it quickly to Barb. "Ow!" he exclaimed as he and Lois walked away. "I'm bleeding."
"Haven't you ever had a paper cut?" Lois asked.
Not that I can remember," he responded as they headed toward where Jonathan and Martha were working.
"I could kiss it and make it feel better." Lois smiled up at him.
Clark smiled back as he sucked on the bleeding finger, but his mind was thinking about the green rock's effect on him. He looked down at the paper cut. He had to determine if the loss of his powers was going to be permanent or not because he had to get on with his life. And, as he looked at the woman walking beside him, most importantly, he had to figure a way to make Lois a part of that life.
Mayson Drake exited the bank building and made her way across the town square. She glanced down at two documents she had in her hand and glimpsed the names on the top of each sheet. Deborah Joy LeVine, the first said. The second said Lois Lane. Mayson folded the sheets and put them in her purse while getting out the keys to her rental car.
The young, attractive attorney smiled to herself. She had been able to convince Lex, using both her feminine wiles and articulate logic, that she would be the ideal person to dispose of several of his pending matters since they concerned women. Lex agreed that having a woman attorney to handle these chores would be a plus, and he put her on retainer.
She made a beeline for her car, crossing through the throng of Corn Festival celebrants, as it was the most direct route for her. She had an appointment in Wichita and she didn't want to keep her contact waiting.
"Mayson," Clark yelled out as he and Lois crossed the square. He ran over to her and swung her around.
"Clark," Mayson responded, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. "Mom told me you moved back here three years ago."
"What about you?" he asked, holding her at arm's length with both hands to survey her. "I heard you were some big lawyer in Washington D.C."
"Yeah, well, your ex-girlfriend found that D.C. wasn't for *her*, so I'm back and I will be working as Lex Luthor's attorney."
Lois, somewhat upset by their familiarity, tried to gain the attention of one of them to garner an introduction, but Clark was apparently upset at what Mayson was saying and had forgotten that Lois was standing there.
Clark scowled, dropping her hands. "Are you sure this is what you want, Mayson?" he asked. "Luthor is…"
"Don't, Clark." Mayson held up her hand stopping him. "I'm gonna get enough flack from Mom."
"You both are gonna get flack from me unless I'm allowed into this conversation," Lois interrupted.
"Oh, sorry, Lois. This is Mayson Drake, Beatrice's daughter. We were in the senior play together. It was 'Wait Until Dark.' She played Suzie, the Audrey Hepburn part, and I played Sam, her husband."
"That's right," Mayson said. "And he took me to the senior prom. Lana was an exchange student that year, so I filled in for her. How about saving me a dance later for old times? You still… Did you say 'Lois,' Clark?" she asked, staring at the woman who had slipped her arm into Clark's.
"Yes, Mayson. This is Lois Lane, who's our new English teacher."
Mayson could not help but notice the fondness in his voice.
"Are you two…?" she started asking.
Across the square, Bill Saxon noticed Mayson Drake coming from Lex's building and her stopping to talk to Lois and Clark. <I wonder when she got into town?> Bill thought. He returned his attention to the people at his table. Donald was telling the group about a woman who had stopped him on the street to gush about how wonderful the play had been. Bill glanced away again during Donald's lengthy reenactment of the scene with this "fan," to see Mayson continuing to talk with Lois and Clark. He was happy to see Lois with her arm in Clark's as it sort of reendowed him with the possibility of love. Bill turned his head and frowned as he saw Sharon Brady coming out of the Luthor building. She had been crying. Bill worried about that family and about the Smallville Players' family. What went on off stage always affected what occurred on stage because they all shared each other's heartaches.
Lois looked up at Clark, waiting for him to respond.
Clark smiled at Lois and, putting his arm around Lois' shoulders, looked back at Mayson. "We're working on it."
"Congratulations," she said somewhat unenthusiastically. "Well, I've got to go see Mom. She doesn't know that I've arrived," Mayson explained. And Clark," she said, hugging him again. "It's been great seeing you."
"You, too," Clark said.
The attorney turned. "Lois, is it?" Mayson said, her voice changing just slightly, her hand fingering her purse. "I expect to see much more of you."
Keith lifted Cindy off the float. As he looked into her face, he noticed once again a mixture of feelings. He could sense that Cindy was experiencing a combination of sadness and anger that he blamed partially on himself. Keith knew that his friendship with Cindy had caused her problems. Jaxon Luthor had not been able to tolerate their being in the play together or their working together. Cindy's support of Keith had been an embarrassment to Jaxon, whose homophobia contributed to the violence that Lex Luthor had encouraged by demanding his son be in his image. Keith should have felt the same anger at the injury that Jaxon inflicted on Cindy, Ms. Lane, and himself, but all he could feel was pity.
Keith understood father/son relationship problems and knew that Jaxon had tried to live up to his father's expectations, but had fallen short. The buzz around school this morning was that Lex Luthor had banished his son to parts unknown. Keith realized that for quite some time his own father had had difficulty accepting Keith's homosexuality and that Fred Haley was looking forward to Keith's graduation and planned moved to Metropolis. But last night the Haleys had reconciled their differences. Keith knew that that had been a big step for his dad and was grateful that his father was different than Lex Luthor. The young man looked up at the apartment window that Cindy had speculated about only moments earlier and recognized that a lot of the town's problems could be laid at that doorstep.
Keith switched his gaze over to his own father, who was just being relieved of his cooking assignment by the Kents. "Let's get something to eat," he said, escorting Cindy toward the south end of town square. "Maybe my dad can join us."
"I need to change first," Cindy explained. "I don't want to ruin the dress Mrs. Kent made for me. Oh, Mrs. Kent," she called out, seeing her standing with her husband by the food station.
"You look beautiful," Martha said to the young woman as she and Keith approached.
"Thanks for making the dress," Cindy told her.
"My pleasure," Martha replied.
Lois and Clark watched Mayson maneuver quickly through the crowd of people. Clark found his reunion with Mayson a bit disconcerting. Her pleasure at seeing him could not hide the fact that she had changed a great deal. He did not remember the hardness that was evident in Mayson's face. He had always known that she was a determined young Woman, even in high school. But there was something different now — a more calculating look. It was obvious that she had been exposed to people and events that had affected her, and her alliance with Lex Luthor was unsettling.
Lois, not having any comparison, had found Mayson puzzling. Lois had taken an instant like to Beatrice and also knew that Clark was a good judge of character. Mayson just didn't fit into that picture.
Lois and Clark continued walking across the square and then, noticing the small group of people talking, walked up to where his parents were standing with Keith and Cindy.
"Hi, Mr. Kent, Ms. Lane," Keith said.
"I'll be right back," Cindy informed all of them. "I have to go take off this dress," she explained and scurried off, carefully holding up the dress so that the bottom didn't get dirty.
"Ms. Lane," Keith said. "Can I talk to you about an idea?"
"Sure," Lois replied, and the two walked over to a table and sat down.
Jonathan looked over at Lois talking to Keith and, making sure she was out of earshot, turned to his son. "How are you feeling?" he asked.
"We've got to get you to a doctor," Martha interrupted, looking critically at her son and putting her hand on his arm. "That's all there is to it."
"Mom, what's a doctor going to do? I'm fine now. I'm fine, but…but I'm normal."
"Normal for earth," his mother suggested.
"This is earth!" Clark insisted. "Normal can be good!"
"I think you're both jumping the gun," Jonathan interjected. "You can't go all your life with powers, and then *poof* they just disappear."
"Well, it's happened, Dad. Here, I'll show you," he said, heading over to the array of midway games along one side of town square.
"Ring the bell and win a prize," barked out Fred Haley, who had moved from cooking the barbecue to running the Striker Strength game.
"Here you go," said Clark, handing Fred a ticket.
Clark took the mallet and looked back at his parents. "Well, here goes," he said hopefully.
Clark swung the mallet and the small metal ball was forced up to the 44 level mark, 50 being the top.
"You want to try again?" Fred asked him.
"No," Clark told him, realizing that he had proven all he needed to prove.
"Keith, I think that's an excellent idea," Lois said. "If I can help, let me know."
"I just wanted to run it by you because you're the advisor of the school paper."
"Well, I think that a series of articles on AIDS would be beneficial and would go well with what Barb Friskin will be doing for the community."
"You don't think it's overkill, especially after the speech I gave? Won't some of the kids think we are hitting this too hard?" he asked.
"I guess we are making up for lost time," Lois explained. "For many years AIDS wasn't talked about at all. Then when it was, it was called the Gay Plague or Gay Cancer. There is a lot of misinformation out there and this could be the time to clear it up."
"Scott Adams has a cousin who lives in Metropolis and has AIDS," Keith sad sadly. "Michael, his cousin, is an actor who goes to schools all over the country to talk about AIDS—how you get it, living with it, precautions, everything. Scott has to do an assignment for Mr. Kent's class, and bringing his cousin here would be part of that assignment," Keith explained. And even though Scott is supposed to be just the sports writer, I told him that we could write these articles together. We could write about the problem, the speaker who was coming, and then interview Michael for the paper later."
"We could make it AIDS Awareness Week," Lois said, jumping into the pool as she always did. "We can have the articles, screen the film 'Philadelphia,' get the AIDS quilt to make a stop here, and have Michael speak."
"Those are great ideas," Keith said. "Do you think we can get it together in the next three weeks? That's when Scott said the projects are due."
"We can try. Maybe some others in Scott's class with Mr. Kent could work on this together for their assignment," she suggested. I'm sure there are some on-line sites that could give you some research and information for posters, flyers, and handouts. We could have all the students wear the red ribbons for one day," Lois went on, her eyes aglow—she was full-tilt Lois.
Keith just stood back and watched her operate.
"I think you should fly with it," Lois told him.
Cindy walked up to both of them, having changed into jeans and a plaid shirt.
"Thanks, Ms. Lane," Keith said. "We'll keep you informed about how this goes."
Cindy put her arm through Keith's and dragged him over to where the music was playing and they joined the dancers already engrossed in having a good time. "Come on, Ms. Lane," Keith yelled out. "Jump in, the water's fine."
Lois turned and looked around for Clark. She saw him over by the midway games and walked toward him just as the music began playing a particular lively country song.
She moved over next to Clark and swished her dress around. Getting the hint, Clark grabbed Lois' hand and led her to the dance floor. "I'll show you how to…" he began. But before he could, Lois was out there, tush pushing with the best of them. "You can really do this!" he said, dancing by her side.
"Last year I had a girl friend convince me that it was a great way to meet guys," she said, laughing.
"Was it?" he asked.
"Define guys," she said, looking up at him as they both did a grapevine and turned simultaneously.
Mayson pulled into the parking lot of the courthouse in Wichita. It was almost five o'clock in the afternoon, which gave her precious little time.
Judge LeVine was sitting at her desk.
"I have a proposition for you," Mayson explained.
Martha watched her son on the dance floor with the young woman she and Jonathan were already beginning to see as part of the family and smiled. "I'm really happy that he's found Lois," she told her husband.
"So am I," Jonathan replied. "She is somethin' special. "But what are we going to do with it?" he asked Martha.
"With what?" Martha asked, temporarily distracted as she watched her son's beaming smile.
"The rock!" Jonathan exclaimed. "We can't give it to anybody and we sure as heck don't want to keep it anywhere near Clark."
"Sometimes," Martha said, looking at her husband, "I don't understand why things happen. How all his life he talked about being normal, and now he is." She glanced over at her son dancing with Lois. "That's what he says it wants, but it doesn't seem to…"
"Oh, Martha," Jonathan interrupted. "This doesn't feel right. Clark is *not* normal. Normal for Clark is being super. Until I opened that box…"
After several rigorous dances, Lois and Clark left the dance floor arm in arm. "Okay, Clark. Let's make this a day to remember," she said, handing a ticket to Fred Haley, who was still running the Striker game.
"Okay," he said, shrugging. He took the mallet and, using all of his "normal" strength, he brought down a blow. The small metal ball hit 47 this time labeling him "Hercules."
Lois grinned at him.
"Can I try that again?" he asked curiously, handing Fred another ticket. He gave it a swing and the metal ball jumped up to 48.
"That was very close," Lois encouraged, giving Fred another ticket. "One more."
"All right," Clark said, and this time he used all the strength he could muster and a loud ding rewarded his efforts as the ball hit the mark sporting a picture of Superman. He raised his arms in victory and Lois jumped into them and they hugged each other.
"You did it!" she exclaimed.
"You get your choice," Fred said, pointing to the available prizes—a Superman doll or a teddy bear.
Lois paused for a moment.
Clark rolled his eyes, anticipating Lois' choice, and then smiled when she grabbed the teddy bear.
Beatrice Drake walked up to the group of people who were sitting at a Table, having an animated discussion. "Am I intruding?" she asked.
"No, not at all," Linda said, and the others agreed.
"I see Mayson's back in town," Bill said to her.
"She is?" Beatrice questioned, sitting down.
"I saw her coming out of the Smallville Bank Building," he said.
"Oh, yes. Yes, she is," Mayson's mother said, changing her tone. "She came in to see the play," Beatrice explained.
Bill noticed Beatrice's quick cover up and thought about his friends and their families. Beatrice, Mayson, Barb, Cindy, Sharon, Keith, Lois, and Clark were all dealing with pain. Pain was a part of life and had to be endured, but something appeared to be coming to a head. As an old man sitting on the sidelines, he could see it. He only wished he could be of some help.
"That's great, Beatrice," Bill told her. "I know you were looking forward to her coming home."
"Absolutely," Beatrice said out loud, but her mind was elsewhere. <So, Mayson had lied to her,> Beatrice thought. Her daughter must have a change in plans, but leaving Beatrice out of those plans was not what they had talked about.
Lois and Clark arrived at the high school auditorium to prepare for the second night's performance of "The Male Animal." Lois, clutching her teddy bear in her arms, sat down in front of her make-up mirror. She looked at her reflection. Her day had been a roller coaster ride from delight to despair and back up again. She felt drained and thought of how differently Clark had behaved today as well. He appeared at first to be less exuberant, less Pollyannaish, less Clark. But then, all of a sudden, he was more Clark, a different more relaxed Clark, but a Clark that still held something back. <Don't wallow,> she cautioned herself. "The remedy for love is to love more," she said aloud to her reflection.
On her make-up table, the yellow rose that Clark had given her last night had opened up beautifully. Lois re-read the card.
…Always listen to that music, Lois, as it makes you the incredible woman you are. — Love, Clark.
She would live up to what he thought of her. She would not only stand up for the injustices in the world, she would stand up and fight for the two of them—for their relationship.
Love, Clark, it had said. *Love* Clark. She had to hold on to that.
Mayson Drake opened the door to her rental car. The conversation with the Judge had been easier than she thought it would be. Okay, one down. Now only Vivian Cox and Lois Lane were left. Since she had gotten what she wanted from Judge LeVine faster than anticipated, and she was by the courthouse, maybe a visit to Judge Arthur Higgins would be beneficial.
The attorney waited patiently for the court clerk to get off the phone. "I'm sorry," the young, thin man said, "Judge Higgins is not available."
Mayson took the document with Vivian Cox's name on the top and asked for a large manila envelope. She slipped the material into the sleeve and wrote her name and phone number on the outside. "Would you make sure that he gets this?" Mayson asked.
"Yes." The clerk looked down to find her name. "Yes, Ms. Drake," he said.
Martha called them all together to talk to the cast and crew.
"Mrs. Kent," Keith said, concerned. "Wayne Irig isn't here."
"He must still be busy with that problem," Jonathan said, looking at Martha's worried face. "I can do double duty and handle the lights except for that one scene that I'm in," he offered.
"I can cover that part," Keith suggested, "as I'm not on stage then."
Linda came rushing in. "Wayne Irig called the auditorium office," she said, "and left a message on the machine. He said that he was fine but that he was stuck and wouldn't be here," she said, somewhat upset.
"It's okay, Linda, we've got it covered," Martha explained to Linda, who was already on her way back to the front of the auditorium to get the box office set up.
"Thanks, Jonathan. Thank you, Keith, for jumping in, and thank you everyone," Martha said. "Most of you have been in plays that I have directed before, so you know the speech that I'm going to give you now."
"The Mental Molasses speech," several of the cast members said together.
"Uh-huh, that's right," Martha said, looking at all of them intently. "Opening night was fantastic," she said. "And I'm extremely proud of each and every one of you. However, tonight's audience deserves the same performance. You cannot let yourself rest on your laurels. You have to keep the adrenaline going," she encouraged, looking over at her son and wondering how this packaged speech was affecting him now that his adrenaline was not super but normal.
"It is normal…" she said, somewhat angry with herself for her choice of words, but she went on. "…to allow mental molasses to set in. It is easy to become sluggish and not have the energy that was there last night because last night was the first time in front of an audience. So keep on your toes. Keep the lines tight. Be ready to say your line almost on top of the person before. I don't want to hear pauses between lines that you could drive a bulldozer through. Keep the tempo up," she insisted.
"I have loved working with all of you on this show. You made a statement last night, and today the town's reverberating with it. I heard people commenting at the Corn Festival. They are talking about us and passing the word on to their friends. So, there should be a lot of people out there tonight expecting the same excitement, the same spark, and the same play. Let's not disappoint them. Go out there and do it again!"
"Trask," Luthor said to the man on the phone. "Jonathan Kent is a friend of Irig's. Check that out."
Beatrice Drake was adjusting her costume. She hadn't heard from her daughter all day even though not only Bill Saxon, but also several other people at the Corn Festival, had mentioned how wonderful it must be for Beatrice to have her daughter back in town. Perhaps Mayson was out in the audience tonight as a surprise. That would be wonderful because Beatrice was looking forward to having her daughter see her on stage. Most likely, however, Mayson wasn't out there. Beatrice had sensed something in her daughter's voice when they spoke on the phone. She must've been planning something, something to get Lex Luthor. Beatrice was concerned that her daughter was not letting her in on what she was doing. They had agreed to work on this together, but for some reason Mayson had decided to leave her mother out of this.
Beatrice sat down at a make-up table next to Lois and stared at her own reflection. Perhaps Mayson didn't want her mother connected with the next steps. Mayson might be protecting her. But Beatrice didn't want to be protected; she wanted—no, she needed—to be right in the thick of things.
Trask was increasing the pressure on Irig, but the interrogation was still yielding no results.
On stage, Clark was beginning his monologue. Although Clark had been very good this evening, he wasn't in the zone he had been in the night before. The audience didn't realize it, but Lois knew that the spark, the energy, the commitment just wasn't there. Lois attributed it to the mental molasses condition Martha had explained. But somehow that didn't seem like Clark. He would never let down. He would always give his everything to whatever he did.
Tommy/Clark: I'm not intoning—I'm *yelling*! Don't you see this isn't about Vanzetti? This is about us! If I can't read this letter today, tomorrow none of us will be able to teach anything except what Mr. Ed Keller here and the legislature permit us to teach. Can't you see what that leads to—what it has led to in other places? We're holding the last fortress of free thought, and if we surrender to prejudice and dictation, we're cowards. (Crossing right.)
Lois continued to watch Clark, but something was obviously happening. She wasn't sure whether it was the words of the play or the way Clark was looking at her, wanting to gain some strength from her support of him, but the energy in his performance was coming back.
Ellen/Lois: (From her place on the settee) Tommy, no matter how deeply you feel about this, what can you do? What can any one man do? Except to lose everything—
Clark couldn't lose everything. He had to fight to get it back. He just had to. He dug deep down into some reserve, some inner place.
Tommy/Clark: I have very little more to lose. And I can't tell you what I hope to gain. I can't answer that. I only know I have to do it.
Clark looked down at his hands. He was feeling a strength there. He looked at the paper cut, and right in front of his eyes, it healed. He could hear his Dad back stage quietly counting down a cue. He was back!
Damon/Donald: May we hear the letter—in a slightly calmer mood, perhaps?
Tommy/Clark: Yes sir—(Crossing up to Ed) This may disappoint you a little, Mr. Keller. It isn't inflammatory, so it may make you feel a little silly. At least, I hope so. (He holds up the book.) Vanzetti wrote this in April 1927, after he was sentenced to die. It has been printed in many newspapers. It appears in this book. You could destroy every printed copy of it, but it would not die out of the language, because a great many people know it by heart. (He picks up the book and flips to the appropriate page.)
Clark was reveling in the words. The strength in the message of the play was restoring a strength in him. He looked over at Lois. Her eyes were shining and he was gaining energy from that as well. He could see how much she loved him, loved him as Clark. He felt ashamed of his actions today. It didn't matter if he were normal or super. She had professed her love and he had not even acknowledged it. He had pushed her away because of Superman. First because he was Superman and then because he had lost Superman. When he had first become the so- called Man of Steel, he had done so with the idea that he would still be Clark. Superman was only what he could do. Clark was who he was. Yet he, himself, had gone against that premise. He was letting Superman dictate who he was and that was hurting Lois.
Clark had to return his concentration to the play. He was once again going to read the powerful letter. A letter that spoke to what both Superman and Clark believed in and what they had to learn to balance.
(Tommy reads, hardly referring to the book, watching them.) "If it had not been for these thing, I might have live out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. Never in our full life could we hope to do so much work for tolerance, for Justice, for man's understanding of man, as now we do by accident. Our words—our lives— our pain—nothing! The taking of our lives—the lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish-peddler—all! That last moment belongs to us — that agony is our triumph!" (Tommy closes the book.)
The audience erupted in applause at the same spot they did the night before. Clark looked over at Lois as she reveled in his work and he made a decision.
Mayson pulled into town and entered Luthor's apartment. Lex looked up from the desk and rose to meet her, pulling her into his arms for another kiss.
"Well?" he asked.
"Mission number one accomplished," Mayson told him, handing him a sheet of paper. "Mission number two," she explained.
"I knew Lois Lane was a slut," he said, looking at the name of Claude Peugeot documented in front of him. So Mayson's information fit right in with the steps he had planned for the other person on his team. And although Mayson had completed her assignment and he would continue to use her in many different ways, he decided not to let her in on all the facets of the plan. Even his attorney and his new lover should not know everything about him.
"That's my girl," he said, and kissed her on the neck.
Mayson, her face not being able to be seen by Lex, stared directly off into space with no emotion.
Once again Lois and Clark were alone on stage.
Ellen/Lois: Make me turn. (Tommy/Clark does.) Don't be so rough—and take the hair off your forehead. (Ellen/Lois gently moves a lock of his hair while looking into his eyes.) You look terrible. (She lifts her face up to Tommy's/Clark's and they kiss.)
"I'm completely in love with you, Lois," Clark whispered in her ear. "I will always be in love with you," he said, kissing her again.
The curtain closed on the cast's final bow and Lois jumped into Clark's arms. "You were wonderful!" she exclaimed as Clark drew her to him and kissed her again, only the sound of the increasingly loud hubbub back stage pulling them apart. They stared into each other's eyes for a moment, but their gaze was broken by Martha's entrance into the back stage area to congratulate the cast and crew.
Clark ran up to his mother to give her a hug and whispered in her ear. "I'm back! Dad," he said as Jonathan came up to pat him on the back. "It's all right, now. Everything is super," he said, winking.
"That's great, son!" Jonathan exclaimed.
Lois came up to Martha and received a hug. "You were remarkable Lois," Martha said, smiling. "I'm not sure you really know how blessed I feel that you are part of this group, and that you and Clark…"
"Mom!" Clark interrupted her.
"What?" she asked, ignoring her son. "As if none of us know."
Several community members had wended their way back stage and were giving flowers and congratulations to the cast. Barb Friskin skirted her way around several small groups of people and found Lois and Clark and pulled them aside to talk. "That was incredible," she told them.
Bill Saxon came up to Barb's side. "Glad you could make it," he said, turning to look at the two leads. "Don't you think Barb would be a great addition to our group?" he asked Lois and Clark.
"You *should* join us," Lois told her. "It's better than chocolate," she said, smiling as she and Barb shared a secret look.
"Let me introduce you to some of the other members of the group," Bill said, dragging Barb away.
"Better than chocolate?" Clark asked, putting his arm around her waist.
"There are a *few* things better than chocolate," Lois told him. "Theatre and…this," she explained, turning to give him a kiss.
"Hmmm, especially from you," Clark said, deepening the kiss.
"Did I hear chocolate?" Martha asked after giving them a moment and then coming up to the pair once again. "How about joining us over at our house for brownies and ice cream? We have a lot to celebrate."
Trask had let Wayne Irig go, hoping that he would lead them to where the rock was hidden. Trask was right. Upon his release, Wayne headed straight for Martha and Jonathan's house.
The four members of the Smallville Players, fresh from another triumphant performance, drove toward the older Kent's home for dessert. Lois, not able to pass up chocolate—or being with the man she loved— had accepted their invitation to join them and Clark in celebration, although she had fantasies about she and Clark being alone. <Well, hopefully later,> she thought, looking up at Clark and snuggling back into his chest as they sat in the back seat of Jonathan and Martha's car.
Clark loved the way Lois felt as she leaned back against him. He nuzzled his cheek against the top of her head and took in her scent. He just couldn't get enough of her. He held one of Lois' hands in his and gently stoked her delicate fingers. He wanted to be with his parents to celebrate the play and he knew that they wanted to secretly acknowledge the return of his super powers, but all he could think of right now was finishing his mother's offerings as quickly as possible and getting Lois alone.
As the four alighted from the car in front of the house, Wayne stumbled toward them.
"My God, look at you. What did they do to you?" Jonathan asked.
"We're in trouble," Wayne told them.
"Are you okay?" Clark asked him, starting to help him into the house.
Wayne shook off Clark's help. "There are men," he said. "Men with guns. They want that green rock I gave you," he said, looking at Jonathan. We've got to…" Wayne began but was interrupted by the sound of a jeep pulling up.
Trask and his men jumped out of the jeep, leveling rifles at the five surprised people. "Move them in," Trask ordered his men. "Let them know who they are dealing with and that the government doesn't put up with alien sympathizers."
Martha and Lois were taken into one bedroom and locked in. Wayne and Jonathan were pushed into the kitchen and tied back to back in chairs. Clark was held at gunpoint and moved into the spare bedroom.
"Look," Clark said, "I don't know what it is you want. But you hurt my parents or my friends and you'll have to answer to me. And believe me, you don't want that to happen."
"Relax," Trask told him. "My business is with you. You and Superman," he said, punching in a number on the military phone. "We're in," he said to someone at the other end.
Clark looked around the room, trying to figure a way out of this. Although most of his powers were back, there was some residual weakness and he wasn't sure he could move fast enough to prevent his parents or Lois or Wayne from getting hurt.
The limo driver turned left into a side street as Lex Luthor clicked off the cell phone and then dialed another number. "Sheriff Harris," he said. "There seems to be some disturbance at the Kent home."
Lois tried the door to the bedroom. Locked. Martha was up on the bed checking the window. "There's a man posted right outside," she informed Lois.
"What are they doing, and what do they want with us?" Lois asked.
"They're looking for something," Martha explained, still watching out the window. "Uh…uh…it's about a rock that Wayne Irig found, a dangerous rock."
"That's what Jonathan called Clark about this morning," Lois said.
"Yes, dear. Wayne needed our help."
"I'll make a deal with you, Clark," Trask informed him. "You give up the alien, and I will let you and the others live."
"What makes you think I would do that even if I could?" Clark responded, glaring at the man in camouflage green.
"Because Superman came to Smallville about the same time you were born. There has to be a connection," Trask insisted. "Now tell me and live!"
"There's nothing to tell," Clark told him determinedly. "I'm learning all of this for the first time right now."
"I'm trying to save humanity from an alien invader!" Trask told him zealously.
"You have no proof of that," Clark informed him, staring at him steadily.
"All right," the federal agent said, calming down and circling Clark. "There's another possibility. Perhaps this alien has taken over your mind."
Clark looked critically at this man who supposedly worked for the government. <He is maniacal,> Clark thought.
"Perhaps he has infused you with his power?" Trask continued.
"Nobody has infused me with power and no one has taken over my mind," Clark responded adamantly.
"Colonel Trask!" a voice called from outside. "We've found something!"
Trask moved quickly out of the spare bedroom, through the living room, and out toward the shed.
Clark was left with only one man guarding him. The man turned slightly to watch both the door and Clark. Looking up quickly, Clark pulled down his glasses and two red rays shot up toward the ceiling fan hovering above the guard's head. Loosened from its moorings, the fan dropped on the guard, rendering him unconscious.
Clark quickly spun into the red and blue and dashed into the kitchen where he untied his father and Wayne and then, smashing down the bedroom door, moved Lois and his mother out. As they returned to the living room, Trask re-entered with the box of Kryptonite. Opening it, he focused it on Superman, who crumpled in a heap on the floor.
Lois, using a Tae Kwon Do move, kicked Trask in the chest, causing him to double over in pain. Trask's remaining two men rushed into the house but Martha and Jonathan were ready for them. Jonathan had grabbed a poker from the fireplace, while Martha had taken out a baseball bat from the corner closet. Both Martha and Jonathan struck their targets simultaneously, stopping them temporarily. Using what little power he had left, Superman channeled his breath toward the two soldiers, freezing them in their tracks.
Lois seized the lead box and closed its lid. She carried it outside and deposited in on the porch swing and returned to Superman's side and kneeled down beside him. "Are you all right?" she asked.
"Yes, thanks to you."
Trask, recovering, rose to his feet and ran out the door. He snatched up the Kryptonite and ran toward his jeep.
Two gunshots rang out. Lois looked around the room and into the spare bedroom. "Clark!" she called out fearfully. "Where's Clark?"
Lois and Wayne ran out into the yard to see the back of a dark car pulling away, and Trask's body lying in the middle of the street.
Superman, whose second exposure to Kryptonite had not been as lengthy, was beginning to gain his powers back. He dashed out the back door and spun once more into Clark, and as Clark, he came around the front of the house into Lois' waiting arms.
"Clark, Clark!" Lois called out. "You're okay!" she said, holding on tightly to him.
"Yes, Lois…Superman…I went for help," he explained as he heard the siren.
"Oh, Clark," Lois said again.
"You took a big chance in there," he said to her, cupping his hand alongside her face and looking deeply into her eyes. "I don't know what I would have done if…"
Sheriff Harris and two deputies arrived and took control. An ambulance pulled up just behind them. "What's going on?" Rachel asked as the body was placed in the ambulance and the two deputies escorted Trask's men to the patrol car.
"I'll come with you and explain," Wayne Irig told her.
Lois and Clark walked back toward the house, passing by the empty porch swing. "It's gone!" Lois said.
"What's gone?" Clark asked.
"The green, glowing rock."
Now safely several blocks from the Kent home, the limo driver put the gun down and passed the lead box to the occupants of the back seat. Lex Luthor opened the box and a green glow emanated from within. Mayson Drake, sitting next to him, closed her eyes and wished she were anywhere but there.
"Mom, Dad," Clark said as he and Lois entered the house. "Are you both all right?"
"Yes, dear, we're fine. What about you?"
"Where's Superman?" Lois asked, noticing that the Man of Steel was gone.
"He had to go," Jonathan explained. "He said that Sheriff Harris could take it from here."
Later that night, Lois and Clark spent a few minutes together sitting on Lois' couch in each other's arms, not saying anything. "You must be exhausted," Clark said gently, looking into her eyes. "I want to stay," he said, cupping his hand on the side of her face, "but I should go and let you get some sleep."
"I do need a shower and bed," Lois said, her mind playing with the idea of what it would be like to have Clark join her for both. But he was right. It had been an incredibly long and full day.
After Clark had kissed her and left her at her door, Lois walked into her bathroom. She stripped off her clothes and stepped into the shower, letting the water soothe her. Donning a robe, she came back out to her living room. She really was exhausted, but she had sort of gotten to that point where she was too tired to sleep. She walked toward her living room window and, opening it, breathed in the cool, crisp air and reflected on the day. She turned to look at her wall of Thoreau quotations. There were so many of them that meant so much to her and had always gotten her through. It was that quotation about love that had prevented her from giving up on Clark and now she and Clark were… She walked toward the wall to straighten one of the frames, when she heard a whoosh and turned to face Superman standing in her living room.
"Lois," he said. "I'm sorry that I had to leave before thanking you."
"That's all right," she said. "Jonathan explained that you had another emergency. I'm just glad that you're better. What *was* that rock?"
"It's part of a meteor that came to earth when I did."
"So, you're from another planet?" she asked.
"And that rock is…?"
"Kryptonite, I guess," he said.
"And it's dangerous to you," she said softly.
"Apparently so," he responded. "Your quick thinking really saved me. So I have a gift for you."
"You don't…" she began. "I mean, the rock is missing, so you don't…"
"I want to," he said. "You have been there for me several times and perhaps you don't even know how much of a friend you've turned out to be. And, as a friend I need to say…"
"I'd like to always be your friend," Lois interrupted.
Superman handed her a package and Lois opened it. Inside was a small, beautiful, almost iridescent pink stone.
"It's Brazilian Pink Quartz," Superman explained. "It's from the hills outside of Santa Rosa, Brazil, one of the loveliest places on earth."
"It's exquisite," Lois said. "Thank you."
"But it's not special enough yet," Superman said.
He took the stone from her hand and, using his heat vision, began etching some words into the quartz.
Lois watched entranced, when suddenly, Superman stopped. "I have to go," he said dejectedly.
"Another job for Superman, I imagine?" Lois asked.
"Yes, but keep this safe. I'll be back to finish it," he told her as he flew out the window.
Lois looked down at the stone in her hand. "Friends…they cherish one another's hopes. They are…" she read aloud and then walked over to her wall of quotations, searching for the rest.
"…kind to each other's dreams."
Sunday afternoon, the Smallville Players held their final performance of "The Male Animal." After the curtain calls and congratulatory visits, the cast changed into comfortable clothes and set about striking the set.
Theatre tradition holds that all of the actors participate along with the crew in dismantling the set, removing the furniture pieces, storing the costumes and props, refocusing lights, unplugging sound equipment, and general clean up of the area.
It was the director's job to set up work crews and make sure that all jobs are completed. Martha assigned Jimmy, Cindy, Keith, Lois, Clark, and Jonathan to take apart the set. She placed Beatrice and Cat on the costume crew, while Donald and Linda worked on props, lights, and sound needs. Martha took charge of moving the furniture pieces back to where they belonged, with Wayne and Bill's assistance.
Wayne was feeling better after his interrogation by Trask and his men, and had insisted that he was there to help even though he had a small cast on his hand due to several broken fingers. Martha was making sure that his assignments were minimal and that it involved no heavy lifting.
Jonathan was giving Lois a lesson in how to use the electric drill. He helped her put in the appropriate bit. Lois kissed Jonathan on the cheek as she walked over to the set. She looked over her shoulder back at Jonathan and smiled. He and Martha had come to mean so much to her.
"Watch out!" Lois shouted. "There's a woman with power tools coming through," she quipped as she plopped down on the stage floor with her electric drill and began taking apart brackets that were reinforcing the walls on stage left.
Clark noticed that a wall she was working on was ready to topple and he softly used his super breath to hold it until Lois stood up to hang on to the precariously perched piece.
After laying that first section of wall down, Lois walked over to the next wall piece and inadvertently tripped over an extension cord, landing herself in Clark's lap. "Couldn't have worked out better if I planned it myself," he said, beaming at her and giving her a quick kiss.
"Hey, you two," Jimmy called out. "Give the rest of us a break. We're never going to get this done and make it to the cast party if you two don't get down to work," he said, smiling at both of them.
"Yeah," Lois agreed, pushing Clark's shoulder. "It's four- thirty and the party starts at six o'clock.
"We also want to make the hayride that starts at eight, right Lois?" Clark reminded her.
"Do you think we can do all of this, Clark?" she asked.
"We can't miss the hayride!" he said enthusiastically. "It's the last event of the Corn Festival."
Lex Luthor sat in his study, holding open the lead lined box while the green, glowing rock radiated off his face, giving his features a macabre look.
Mayson paused in the doorway. Although she knew that to achieve what she wanted, she had to be prepared to play rough, she wasn't sure that she could continue to do what Lex wanted her to do. Someday she may have to draw the line and refuse. Or had all lines been erased?
Luthor looked up.
"Here's the final proposed changes on your sentence and probation requirements," Mayson said, walking toward him. "All signed, sealed, and…" she sat down on his lap, "…delivered."
The cast party at the Kent house had been fun. The potluck was wonderful. Clark had made a pasta salad to go along with his mom's fried chicken, while Lois brought chocolate eclairs from the bakery. Other cast members brought baked beans, sloppy joes, rolls, and other salads and beverages. Wayne had received the award for best back stage worker and Beatrice had received the award for the person who did the most with a small part. The cast gave Martha a two-box video set of Famous American Trials—the Sacco/Vanzetti case and the Scopes Monkey Trial were the two chronicled. Martha mentioned to the group that "Inherit the Wind" would probably have to be a play she considers next as it concerned the Scopes Monkey Trial. There were hugs and kisses going around as the group said their goodbyes. Martha reminded everyone that a meeting to decide the next play was to be held in November and that auditions for that play would be the end of January.
Clark gently pulled Lois out of his Mom and Dad's house and down along the street, as they quickly made their way to the high school parking lot where the three hay wagons were assembled. Clark lifted Lois up on to one of the wagons and climbed up beside her. They moved over to an unoccupied spot and sat down.
The hay wagon started off and Lois could hear the clip clop of the horses' hooves and smell the wonderful scent of the hay. She looked up at the sky full of stars and sighed.
"Hello," Martha Kent said as she picked up the phone.
"Mrs. Kent," the voice on the other end said. "This is Lex Luthor."
The passengers aboard the hay wagon began to sing.
Shine on, shine on harvest moon, Up in the sky. I ain't had no lovin' Since January, February, June, or July.
Lois curled up into the crook of Clark's arm as they lay amid the hay and the other couples, looking up at the stars. The October night was crisp and clear, even though earlier there had been a prediction of rain.
Clark kissed the top of her head as she grabbed a piece of hay and stuck it in her mouth. "Well, shucks, Mr. Kent, if this ain't the most purdy night I ever done seen," she said, giggling.
"Now Lois," Clark cautioned. "We don't talk like that."
"Maybe it's better if you don't talk at all," she retorted and turned her face to his to kiss him.
Snow time ain't no time To sit outdoors and spoon. So shine on, shine on harvest moon For me and my gal."
Lois heard several of the couples singing but she had more important things to do. She nibbled on Clark's ear and he cupped his hand on the side of her face, turning it once more toward him, and kissed her deeply and passionately, totally ignoring the other couples, a few of whom were engrossed in doing the same thing.
Clark drew back reluctantly and looked at the beautiful woman in his arms. He was astonished that such an amazing woman could be in love with him. She was the one person who he had hoped existed on this planet—a woman who was passionate about the same things he was, who wanted to stand up to the injustices of the world and who could love him for the man he truly was.
Lois put her hand up to Clark's face and traced his lips with her fingers.
"Lois," he whispered. "Tonight I feel so many things all at once— happy, kinda scared too, excited, lost, found."
"I'm the one who's been lost," Lois said to him. "And I'm so glad you found me."
"I love you, Lois," Clark said, kissing her again.
Lois melted into his arms. Who would have believed that the hard- boiled teacher/activist would be on a Kansas hayride with Mr. Greenjeans and loving every minute of it? Who would believe that Lois Lane would have found love in this remote corner of the mid-west?
Martha Kent looked around the luxurious d‚cor of the apartment on the fifth floor of the Smallville Bank Building. She was still unnerved by the phone call she had received earlier this evening just after the cast party. Martha knew what Lois and her son thought about Lex Luthor, and being there in his study was somewhat surreal and discomforting.
Martha turned as she heard someone enter and breathed a sign of relief to see Mayor Cox. "Charles," she said, smiling.
"Glad to see you here, Martha." The Mayor returned her smile. "I gather Lex Luthor has some plans for both of us."
"Three of us," Perry White declared, entering the study.
"Make that four," Barb Friskin said, following right on his heels.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Lex Luthor stated, entering from a door at the far end of the room. "Welcome. I'm sure you remember Mayson Drake," he acknowledged as the attorney joined the group.
The four visitors looked at each other.
"Please," Lex Luthor insisted. "Sit down. We have a proposition for you."
The hay wagon made its way back to the high school parking lot and discharged its passengers. Couples moved to their cars just as thunder was heard in the distance. Clark put his arm around Lois and he led her to the small garden behind the building that held the science classes. The high school botany club was very proud of the garden and a plaque dedicating it to a retired science teacher marked the entrance.
"Are you chilly?" he asked, smiling at her.
"No," she told him, basking in the warmth of his smile.
"I've been thinking about something for the last two days," Clark told her.
"Thinking about what?" Lois asked, almost afraid to break the mood of where this might be going.
"Sometimes you think you're immortal," he said as he turned her to look at him. "You start to think that the people around you are, too. It just takes a second to realize how wrong you are. What I'm trying to say, Lois, is that the thing with Trask—he could have killed everyone that meant something to me. Lois, I could have lost you. And I feel ashamed."
"Ashamed, why?" Lois asked, looking intently into his eyes.
"I kept pushing you away, even when I promised I would stop. If something had happened to you before you knew why, I'd never be able to forgive myself…because I love you."
Lois put her hand up to move the lock of hair off his forehead. She had done this so many times during the past weeks as part of Martha's direction for the play. But no one had to tell her to do it now. It had become a natural movement for her, as natural as breathing—this reaching out to Clark, this physical action that symbolized an emotional connection.
Clark put his hands gently on her arms and guided her over to the bench by the fountain just as the thunder crashed and the sky opened up.
He looked up toward the sky as the rain drenched his face. "Come on," he said. "Give me a break!"
"Do you want to go back?" Lois asked.
"If the earth opened up at my feet…" Clark began, but then had a better idea.
"Come with me," he said, smiling, as they raced into the auditorium in time to prevent them from getting soaking wet, and Clark ushered her onto the now empty stage. "It really began here," he explained. "I think the next step should be here."
"I have taken steps," Luthor informed them, "to meet the requirements of my sentence and probation levied by Judge LeVine. I have commissioned Mayson Drake as my attorney and she has been meeting with the Judge this weekend. As a result, we've come up with an acceptable solution."
"Mr. Luthor," Mayson continued, "is a valuable member of this community and the hours that he spends away from Smallville and his business enterprises hurts us all. The necessity of his putting in time at the Wichita AIDS hospice program, although beneficial for them, detracts from what he could do here."
"It is our plan to set up a…" Lex began, when he was interrupted by another invited member of the group who was arriving late.
Dr. Bernard Klein scurried into the room. "Accept my apologies," he said. "But I was working on evaluating Hemoglobinopathies and Thalassemias related to blood cells which if cultivated appropriately and transferred to…"
"Yes, yes, Dr. Klein," Luthor said, waving him in. "Have a seat. I was just getting to the good part."
Dr. Klein sat down quickly and attempted to put his attention on what Lex Luthor was announcing.
"As I was saying," Luthor explained. "It is our plan to set up a clinic at our hospital for the screening and treatment of AIDS. Once that project is up and running, it is my hope that we can expand it to house a research center wherein a cure for AIDS can be discovered."
The silence in the room was deafening.
Barb Friskin was the first to speak. "Your goal to cure HIV/AIDS is commendable," she said skeptically. "But I guess I'm going to have to be the first one in this group to ask *the* question," she said, pausing. "What's in it for you, Mr. Luthor?"
"I'm puzzled by your question, Ms. Friskin," Luthor said humbly.
Barb chuckled. "You're puzzled? I'm dumfounded!"
"Ms. Friskin," Mayson said quickly.
"No, no. Let me speak," Barb said, hoping she had the guts to continue. The eight years that she had been waiting to finally get him was forcing her to go on. With Jaxon no longer there, this was the time. "Most people in this community have been taken in by your supposed sincerity, your ingratiating guile, and your money," she said, taking another breath. "But several of us, including a few in this room, know otherwise."
The others stared at Barb, not knowing what to say.
"You can't fool everyone, Mr. Luthor," Barb spat out. "I repeat. What's in it for you?"
"Ms. Friskin," Mayson said again.
This time it was Lex who interrupted. "No, Mayson," he said. "Let me."
Barb looked back at Lex. What kind of a merry-go-round was he going to put them on now? What feeble excuse was he going to concoct out of his fiendish mind?
"You're right, Ms. Friskin," Luthor stated. "There is something in it for me. I get to comply with the court's order in a way that is more acceptable to me. I get to become more widely acclaimed for my philanthropic efforts. And, most understandable for you, is that if this center generates a cure, I can make millions," he informed her. "Is that satisfactory enough of an answer for you?"
Barb Friskin looked down. Lex had taken away her ammunition with a perfunctory strike.
Martha glanced over at Barb. "Any well intentioned act can be jaded by selfish motives," Martha informed the group.
"You may not like my motives, Ms. Friskin, Mrs. Kent…" he said, staring at both of the women. "…but the clinic and research center will be a benefit to our community and the field at large. Does it matter why it was created?"
"Barb, Martha," Charles said. "He's right. It doesn't matter. If those in this room sitting on *this* side of the desk are responsible for the center's services and survival, we can assure ourselves of a worthy project."
"Right, Barb," Perry interjected. "You were asked by Judge LeVine to supervise the educational component this town was to originate. Why not join the two projects and have you lead it?"
"I concur," the Mayor said. "Now what's the next step?"
<Yes, the next step,> thought Barb.
"Next step?" Lois asked and then held her breath.
Clark stared at her. She was so incredible. <Please,> he said to himself. <Don't let me mess this up this time, don't let anything interrupt.>
Lois looked at Clark. <Was this happening?> she thought. <Were all the federal disasters over? Had she finally found the one man who could love her?> Tears welled up in her eyes. The pain she had endured because of a bad childhood, because of the one-sided college and work relationships, and because of the running away from Metropolis flashed before her. Maybe she had to endure them to serendipitously bring her to this one wonderful moment and many more moments she would share with this extraordinary man. This man, who was looking at her with so much love in his eyes.
Clark moved her into the center of the stage and easily picked up a stone bench and brought it out to her. Lois, knowing that the bench was a stage prop and only painted to look like stone, smiled at the ease with which he lifted it and sat down on it, looking up at him.
"Let me just set the rest of the stage," he said, smiling that wonderful smile of his.
Clark went up to the control booth and pushed a button and pulled several switches. The lights hit the cyclorama, an extremely taught backdrop of specially made material to reflect light, and as a result, a sunset on a beach was created. Lois felt a gentle breeze waft through her hair and heard the sound of the surf in the background.
Lois looked toward the control booth. How had he known what was in her dreams, her secret yearnings? But then he was Clark, her best friend, the one who understood her—really understood her, and most of all, loved her.
Clark emerged from the control booth and rummaged in the prop room and brought out two glasses of faux champagne. He had never been so scared in his life. Since becoming Superman, he had faced criminals, bombs, and natural disasters. None of these scared him as much as the possible reactions of the beautiful, caring woman sitting there, looking up at him, loving him. He was afraid of losing her — of losing her warmth, her touch, her sustenance, her love. Without her he would be nothing. But he couldn't be *with* her unless she knew.
"Lois," he said, handing her a glass and setting his on the bench beside her. "I have been in love with you from the moment we met," he explained, joining her on the bench. "And on this stage," he said, looking around, "that love has grown as I have watched you dedicate yourself to what was right. I know that you know I love you, but before we go on, I need to be able to tell you something."
Lois put down her glass of champagne and took his hand. "Clark, I love you," she said. "That's all that matters."
"I know," he responded, touching her cheek. "And I am completely in love with you…"
Lois sighed deeply, smiled at him, and leaned up to kiss him, but he pulled back.
"I just hope you will continue to love me when I tell you…"
"Tell me what?" Lois asked, beginning to feel a knot growing in her stomach.
Clark looked at her reaction and realized that he had to keep going and he had to make it as gentle and caring as possible.
"Can I see the stone that Superman gave you?"
"Stone?" Lois asked incredulously.
"Yes," Clark said. "The stone that's in your pocket."
Lois had promised Superman that she would keep it safe, and there it rested in the pocket of her favorite sweater. She removed the unique piece of Brazilian quartz, whose color under the cyc lights seemed to radiate an even more beautiful pink glow than it had when Superman had first given it to her, and handed it quietly to Clark.
"This stone symbolizes love," he said to her.
"Clark, you don't think that I'm in love with…"
"No," Clark responded softly. He smiled at her and looked down at the stone. "Friends…they cherish one another's hopes. They are…" he read aloud.
"It's not finished," Lois told him. "Superman…"
Clark lowered his glasses and two red beams emerged etching the stone. He handed it silently back to Lois.
"…kind to each other's dreams," she read.
"Lois, I'm…" he started.
"Superman…" Lois whispered, staring at him.
Clark paused, looking at her as she took all of this in. "How mad are you?" he asked.
Lois felt the knot in her stomach intensifying as she thought of how Clark had lied to her—the made up excuses when he ran off, the not being there when she needed him to be, and how he should have trusted her enough to have told her. <The remedy for love is to love more,> she thought.
Lois looked down at the stone. "Friends…they cherish one another's hopes and are kind to each other's dreams," she read again and then paused.
Clark closed his eyes, hoping against hope.
After what seemed to Clark like an interminable amount of time, Lois bit her lower lip and looked into his chocolate- colored eyes, then slowly smiled up at him.
"I'm not mad," she said, taking his hands. "I now more fully understand your hopes and dreams and I never thought I could say this, Clark, but I love you more. Not because," she hurriedly explained, "you're Superman with powers and look great in the blue suit." She smiled. "But because you want to be and *are* Clark; and you are a good, kind, and gentle human being who happens to have some super powers and who uses those powers to stand up for what he believes in."
Clark took Lois in his arms and kissed her. Then, standing up, he moved in front of the bench and kneeled, looking up at her. He removed a box from his jacket pocket and opened it.
All of a sudden everything seemed to go in slow motion. Thank God, she thought, because she needed some time—time to think. The ring in the box glittered under the lights reflected off the cyc. He was going to propose! He was going to ask her to become his wife! Lois looked into his eyes and saw the hope and prayer that was in them. He wanted her! Someone wanted her to share in a lifelong commitment—someone who, up to this evening, she really knew—knew so well. But tonight had changed that, because kneeling in front of her was a different someone.
"Lois Lane," he said. "Will you marry me?"
"Clark…" Lois whispered.
Barb Friskin tossed and turned, trying to get to sleep. This weekend had been incredibly hectic and worrisome. She was deeply concerned about the meeting with Lex Luthor and his so-called commitment to the AIDS project. She knew that he didn't have a philanthropic bone in his body, and although he had fessed up to a somewhat ulterior motive, she knew there must be something else he had in mind. Something more sinister, she was convinced of that. But what? The rest of the group believed that his Machiavellian approach was nothing to worry about and were pushing her to take the helm of the project that had been mandated by Judge LeVine.
Barb shook her head slowly. She knew that she shouldn't be drawn into this, but they were all counting on her. She began ticking off in her mind the necessary steps. She could provide the counseling expertise, Dr. Klein the medical supervision, Perry White the educational piece, and Mayor Cox the legal portion. But more people would have to be eventually rounded up to be hired or volunteer their services. There would have to be…
Something wasn't right. She sat up in bed as she realized that she had heard a foreign sound. She turned to look at the clock. It was a little before midnight.
The counselor crept out of her bedroom and down the stairs. She carefully looked around the living room of her house— nothing. She slowly opened up the closet that was by the front door and removed a golf club. Armed with the club over her shoulder, she tiptoed toward the kitchen. Barb reached her hand out and cautiously flipped on the light switch.
The refrigerator door was opened and a hand could be seen gripping it in order to prop in open while the intruder rummaged around in its contents.
"If you're hungry," Barb, ever the social worker, asked, "take what you need and leave."
"It's just me," a voice said as a head popped up from behind the refrigerator door. "Hi, Aunt Barb," Jaxon Luthor mumbled with a chicken leg in his mouth. "I'm here to help you get him."
Back on the stage of the Smallville High School auditorium, Lois looked at Clark as he kneeled in front of her with the ring outstretched in front of him.
"Lois, I love you and I need you. Please say you'll marry me."
"Clark, wait," she said, getting up and moving away. "Just give me a moment here," Lois requested.
Clark stood up and turned toward her.
"I know", Lois continued, "that the standard line is 'this is so sudden,'" she said, biting her lower lip once again in thought. "But I'm not that trite. And it's not really that sudden, Clark," she said, turning back to look at him. "Because I've been wishing and dreaming about this for weeks. But you're…you're…Superman. I love you, Clark, but you're Superman!" she exclaimed, watching him carefully to see how he was taking this. "I'm not saying no. Just give me a chance to breathe."
"Lois," he said, going to her. He wanted to take her in his arms but refrained, as he didn't want to push her. "If you need more time, I'll wait as long as it takes."
Lois looked into his eyes. He was so different from any man she had known. Control was not even a word in his vocabulary. He wasn't pressuring her. He would wait. She reached out and once again moved the lock of hair that had fallen onto his forehead and saw the love he reflected back at her. Clark loved her so much and she knew he would wait forever if she wanted him to.
This was just so Clark. It was so like him to… Yes! It hit her. Of course! He was *so* Clark. How stupid could she be? It didn't matter that he was also Superman. It didn't matter that he could lift rockets or move mountains. He was *Clark* and he could lift her spirits with his smile and move her with his gentle words. She loved and needed Clark in her life. He had become so much a part of her existence, how could she have doubted this next step even for a moment. She felt the smooth surface of the stone she still had clutched in her hand. She didn't need to look at it to know what it said.
"Clark," Lois began, fingering the beautiful words he had etched on the stone. "I cherish you, too. I love you because of your kindness, because of your concern for truth and justice, and because of the hopes and dreams we share," she told him, praying that it didn't sound stilted because it really came from her heart—a heart that finally had been opened up to let this extraordinary man in. "I never thought that I could deserve someone as incredibly wonderful as you," she said, moving into his arms.
Clark closed his eyes. Was she going to say what he hoped to hear? He was finding that this was one of the hardest things he had had to do. Carrying a shuttle into space was no comparison to holding back and letting Lois come to a decision on her own. He wanted so much to say something, do something, anything to make her say yes.
"Lois, you're the wonderful…" he started but Lois stopped him by putting her fingers on his lips.
"Just listen, Clark," she said, looking into his eyes once again. "I don't need any more time. I don't care if you told me you were really Casper the friendly ghost," she said, smiling.
Then, realizing that he was holding his breath, she kissed him softly. "My answer is yes, oh yes," she whispered, as their kisses became deeper and deeper.
Monday morning Martha was unloading a carton of books at the Cabbages and Kings bookstore when the phone rang.
"Clark, honey," she said when she heard the voice at the other end. "Lunch? Sure I can…and you'll bring Chinese? Okay… Of course, I'll call your Dad and make sure he's here, too. See you then," she said as she hung up.
Martha hurriedly dialed the phone. "Jonathan," she said excitedly. "Clark wants to meet us at the bookstore at noon. He has something to tell us. Can you make it?… Well, get someone to cover for you. I'm sure this is it," she gushed, waiting for his comment. "It…you know, it! They're engaged… Because I know. I just know."
"Well?" Beatrice asked Lois as the English teacher entered the administrative offices. "Let me see it."
"See what?" Lois asked.
"The ring!" Beatrice exclaimed. "You know that nothing happens around here without my knowing it."
"Well, don't say anything yet," Lois told her as she held her hand out for Beatrice to admire. "Clark hasn't told his folks yet."
"Oh, Martha knows," Beatrice responded. "She and I both have a feel for things like this. But I don't think either one of us won the pool."
"Pool? What pool?" Clark asked, coming into the office with Jimmy at his side.
"The engagement pool," Beatrice responded, pulling out a legal sized paper with a matrix of squares on it and an accompanying envelope which housed some green bills.
Jimmy moved around the counter to peer over her shoulder.
"Let's see," she said. "Hmmm, no, no. Sorry, Jimmy, Dr. White won."
"Of course I did," the principal said, joining the group at the counter and picking up his winnings. "I didn't get this job because I know how to yodel," he said, winking at Jimmy. "I'm buying donuts for everyone."
Barb hung up the phone and looked up. Her nephew had just come down to the kitchen. "Sleep okay?" Barb asked him, pouring herself a cup of coffee and sitting down at the table.
"Yeah, Aunt Barb," he said. "Or do you want me to call you something else?"
"No, that's fine," she told him. "How did you find out? How did you get back here? Why are you here?"
"Hold on," Jaxon told her. "That's a lot of questions for the morning. By the way, don't you have to be at work?"
"I just called in sick," she explained. "Now I need some answers. I didn't ask any last night, but in the light of day, I want an explanation."
The congratulatory group crowded around Lois, and Clark began to move toward their classrooms and other duties. Beatrice looked up from admiring the ring on Lois' finger once again to see her daughter enter the administrative offices. "Lois," she said. "This is my daughter, Mayson."
"We've met," Lois responded, looking at Mayson's hard face and remembering why she had taken an instant dislike to the woman.
"Mayson, Lois and Clark are engaged," Beatrice told her daughter.
Ignoring the two, Mayson crossed quickly to stand beside her mother. "Can we go somewhere and talk?" Mayson said.
"Okay," Jaxon responded. "I guess we're both entitled to some explanations. I'll go first." He sat down at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee he had poured for himself. "Dad put me on his jet and sent me to Cuba. He has connections there and I couldn't be extradited back," he explained. "I didn't want to go. I didn't want to run away," he said, hoping she would believe him. "I know that it may sound unreal after everything I did and have done in the past, but I wanted to change it all. I really did." He got up and looked for some sugar to put in his coffee.
"On the counter," his aunt told him. "By the toaster."
"Thanks," he said, getting the sugar and returning to the table. "You probably don't believe me."
"I want to," Barb told him. "I've always had hopes for you. I…I…hoped you'd be more like your mother."
"I really don't remember her very much," Jaxon said sadly. "I know I was nine when she died, but I never got to see her a lot. Dad took care of that," he explained. "I always thought that she just didn't want to be with me."
Barb moved her chair closer to his and put her hand on his shoulder. "I wish you could have known her better. She was a most remarkable person and she loved you so much."
Jaxon looked at his Aunt. "You loved her a whole lot, didn't you?"
"Yes, she was really special and so are you. Special enough to have found me and to be here right now," Barb told him. "How *did* you figure it out?"
"Well, I had my laptop computer with me. I'm a whiz at computers, really I am. I wanted to try to find a way out of this, a way back once I had landed, something like that. I also needed to find someplace to go," he went on.
Barb watched with curiosity as Jaxon ticked off the steps he had taken. She had spoken to Jaxon many times before, but only as a result of problems he had managed to get into. Looking at him now as he explained how he worked things through, she hoped she saw a different young man, one who had more potential than she had realized.
"I got into my Dad's bank account and transferred money so I could pay off the pilot to return me to the states. Then I entered my mother's maiden name, hoping to find some relatives. I don't know why I had never tried that before. I guess I thought that, like my mom, they wouldn't have cared."
Barb put her hand on his. "I cared," she told him. "But your father…"
"I know," Jaxon sighed.
"Anyway, up popped the information that my Mom had a sister. It did take some hacking to get into the Social Security files to find your current name and where you were working, but I did."
"You must have been surprised."
"Shocked was more like it, Aunt Barb," he said. "At first I was angry that you never told me. But then I figured out why. You're out to get him for what he did to Mom, aren't you? You don't believe she killed herself."
Barb looked at her nephew. "No, I know she didn't."
"Your turn," Jaxon said to his newfound aunt. "What are your plans and how can I help?"
Beatrice walked Mayson down to the teacher's lounge. Checking to see that it was unoccupied, they walked inside. "Just trust me," Mayson said to her mother. "What I have planned will get us even with Lex Luthor. You *will* help, won't you?"
The clock in the auditorium read 6:00 p.m. as Martha Kent set up the chairs for the audition. Had it been only six weeks ago that she had been doing the same chore? <Chore,> she thought. She didn't remember ever connecting any theatre process with the word "chore" before. She sighed and slumped down in one of the chairs.
She had never produced a play so hot on the heels of a previous one. Nor one that had such a short rehearsal period. There was usually at least a month or two between the end of one play and the auditions for the next and usually a six to seven week rehearsal span. But Lex Luthor had been insistent; and although she shared her son's distaste for the man, she had acquiesced to his suggestion of a special performance of the Smallville Players as a fund raising venture.
The dinner theatre concept was really a good idea and the money raised being split 25/75 between the Smallville Players and the AIDS clinic project encouraged Martha to say yes. But putting on such a presentation with only three weeks of rehearsal time was going to be a difficult task indeed.
The hardest part had been to convince the members of the group to do this because it was only yesterday that they had struck the previous set, held a cast party and congratulated themselves on a job well done. The members of the Smallville Players had been hesitant when she had phoned each of them to explain the venture, but had agreed with some reservation. It took a good performance on her part. She had succeeded, but she knew that they had noticed her own lack of enthusiasm.
"How did the auditions go?" Jonathan asked his wife as she came in the back door of their house at 10:15 p.m. "Not enough men," she replied half-heartedly. "Nothing new. Wayne tried out for a role and Barb Friskin showed up on pain of death from Lois and Clark."
Jonathan smiled. "I know you're not really into this, but it is a good cause, and once you start rehearsing, I'm sure the spark will be there. It always is," he said, smiling at her.
"Because of the short rehearsal time, I not only held the auditions, but I cast the show and we blocked the last scene as well," Martha told him. "That's the scene with the entire cast on stage. I did it since I had all of them there except two men," she said, putting her materials down on the kitchen table.
"My plan is to set up four-hour rehearsals instead of three, seven days a week," she explained. "Only Bill and I would have to be there the entire time. He has the majority of lines and is in every scene. The others all have small parts and we can block each of their scenes and run them in segments so that they won't have such a grueling rehearsal schedule."
Martha looked at her husband. "It does mean, however, that I won't have any spare time at all, dear."
"I know, Martha. But since I'll be working on the sound, lights, and set, we'll be together."
Martha smiled at her husband and sat down at kitchen table.
"I'll be right back," Jonathan told his wife as he headed out to the shed. "I want to show you my mock up of the set I constructed while you were out."
Martha looked at her sheets of notes and several copies of the scripts that had gone unclaimed. Once again she would have to make some telephone calls to entice a couple of men into the play. Well, there was always Jonathan, she smiled, knowing how he continuously supported her, and she thanked God that he was the man he was.
She got up and put the teakettle on the stove, turned up the flame, and then returned to the table. Martha looked at the budget that Lex Luthor had given her regarding allocation of funds for props, set, lights, and sound. Since this was going to be a presentation away from the high school, additional monies had to be ear marked for the renting of lighting and sound equipment.
The kettle whistled, and Martha got up to shut off the gas. She picked up the kettle and placed it on the kitchen table. Just as she was about to sit down, she heard an explosion. "Jonathan!" she yelled.
Superman heard two horrible sounds—an explosion and his mother's frightened voice. He and Lois were sitting on the couch in his house, working on their lines when Clark got that strange look on his face that Lois was going to get used to. "It's Dad," he said anxiously as he spun around and took off.
Martha got to the rubble that was once the Kent's storage shed just as her son arrived in a streak of red and blue.
Instantly, he was diving into the rubble and throwing pieces of broken and charred wood in various directions. Reaching his father, he felt for a heartbeat and breathed a sigh of relief. "He's alive, Mom," he yelled out.
"Thank God," his mother whispered.
Jonathan Kent opened his eyes. "I…I…think I'm okay, son," he gulped.
"Your arm's bleeding badly," Clark said, applying pressure to the wound and gathering his father into his arms. "I'm taking him to the hospital, Mom. I'll be right back for you."
Superman flew Jonathan Kent to the emergency room of the Smallville Hospital and the staff took instant charge of the injured man. Superman then returned to the Kent home and, picking his mother up, flew her quickly but gently to the hospital.
Martha rushed to Jonathan's side. "How is he?" she asked the doctor.
"It's the brachial artery. If there is vascular damage, he may need surgery. We'll know in a few minutes," the doctor explained. "Do you need someone to be with you while you're waiting?"
"My son and his fianc‚e should be arriving momentarily. Oh, here they are!" she exclaimed.
"Mom, what did the doctor say?" Clark asked anxiously, running up to her.
"They don't know yet," she said, looking at her son through tears.
A figure clad all in black hovered in the bushes behind the Kent's home. He had watched with amusement as the bomb he had planted, exploded precisely on time and with the planned force. He turned to go. He needed to get out of there before help would arrive. At the sound of the whoosh, however, he turned back.
"Superman," he smiled. "Just as the boss predicted."
The man took out a cell phone and punched a preset number. "It's done," he said. "Superman got here and is flying the old man to the hospital."
"Perfect," said the voice on the other end. Lex Luthor clicked off and then punched in a set of numbers. "Okay," Luthor said into the phone. "The next step's yours."
Mrs. Cox put down the phone. She realized that this might be the only way to help her husband, but Vivian had promised herself not to go down that road ever again. But she might have to.
Sharon Brady hung up the phone. She looked over at her daughter. "Cindy," she said. "I've gotten another job to do and the money is really good."
"Mom," Cindy said. "You don't have to do all these extra jobs just for me."
"This one is special," her mom explained.
Jaxon clicked off his cell phone. "Aunt Barb," he called out. "I've gotten it!" he said to her, smiling.
Beatrice Drake softly set the receiver back in its cradle. She looked over toward the piano and gazed at the array of pictures in their gold and silver frames—pictures of a little girl with blond curls sitting on a pony, an older girl playing softball, and a beautiful young woman standing with Clark, ready to go to the senior prom. Now her little girl was involved with that man—that terrible man. She looked back at the phone.
Dr. Antoinette Baines walked out of her office and down the corridor of the hospital, holding a clipboard. Over at the end of the hallway, she saw Martha, Clark, and Lois huddled together. She took a deep breath.
"Mrs. Kent," she said, approaching the group. "I'm Dr. Baines."
"Is my husband…?" Martha asked fearfully.
"Mrs. Kent, I'm not aware of what's going on in the trauma room right now. I can check for you as soon as we finish this."
"Finish what?" Clark asked.
"Whenever a trauma is brought into the hospital with massive bleeding, we ask that one member of the family donate a pint a blood to the blood bank. Now your husband," she said, seeing the concern on their faces, "may not even need a blood transfusion, but if one of you will consider this, it helps the blood bank keep a steady supply of what it needs."
"I…I…can't," Clark said, looking at the doctor. "I…I'm anemic."
"That surprises me," Dr. Baines said, surveying Clark.
Lois looked at Martha, whose mind was obviously not on what Dr. Baines was saying, and then back at the doctor. "I'd be glad to donate blood," she said.
Clark smiled a thank you at her as he held his arm around his mother.
"You can help by being with your mother," Lois said. "Giving blood is how I can help," she explained, getting up and following the doctor down the hall.
Dr. Baines took Lois to another room where a lab technician prepared her. "I have some paperwork to do and I'll bring you back some orange juice. You'll have to rest after the procedure, but this shouldn't take more than half an hour."
Lois took off her jacket and lay down on the examining table.
The next week went by quickly. Jonathan didn't require surgery nor a blood transfusion. He was sent home to recuperate after only one day in the hospital and he was bouncing back quickly. Rachel Harris had determined that the explosion had been related to a can of paint thinner being left open near a space heater, although Jonathan didn't seem to remember being that careless.
The week was filled with rehearsals that Jonathan had urged his wife to continue with. Jonathan, himself, was even able to make one of them since he had insisted that he fill a small role that was lacking an actor. Martha had also gotten rid of an extraneous male role by dividing his lines up, therefore not needing another actor.
Lois found the week extremely busy. Besides participating in rehearsals, she was engrossed in helping Keith with the plans for AIDS Awareness week, monitoring articles for the high school paper, and then there was Clark.
She and Clark spent the time truly being an engaged couple who were learning even more about each other than they already knew. Clark cooked, Lois watched, Lois exercised, Clark watched, and they talked, and talked, and talked.
And they made some decisions. They decided on a June wedding, although Lois confessed that she thought June was sort of corny, but this was Kansas, after all. But in actuality, June really would work out best, as both of them were teachers, and somehow having the entire summer for a honeymoon sounded wonderful. They talked about finding a new place that was neither his nor hers but theirs. They talked about the kind of wedding they wanted and they decided to wait for their wedding night, before they would…
"It *is* eight months off," she said to him, smiling in a demure, un- Lois-like way. "I'm not sure I could last, but I think waiting would be…"
"Perfect," Clark finished, taking her in his arms and kissing her.
Dr. Bernard Klein looked through his microscope. He was excited about the opportunity to work on this new project, but he knew that if having to share the results of his tests with others was part of it, it was going to be difficult.
Lois' telephone rang at 4:30 p.m. on the Friday of the second week of rehearsals. "Hello, Clark," she said, expecting her fianc‚e to call as they had an extended rehearsal planned for this evening.
"This is not Clark, Ms. Lane," Dr. Klein explained. "Uh, do you remember you donated blood a week ago Monday?" he began.
"Yes, I remember," Lois stated, wondering what was going on.
"That blood has to be screened for a variety of things if it is to be used as donor blood," he went on. "Ms. Lane," he said pausing. "I'm sorry…I'm sorry to inform you," he said, stopping again. "Uh…that you are HIV positive."
Lois put her hand over her mouth and just stood there.
"Are you okay, Ms. Lane?" she heard Dr. Klein ask through the phone she held loosely in her hands.
"Yes," she replied automatically. "I…I don't know…uh, thanks for calling, doctor," she said softly as she hung up the phone. "HIV positive," she murmured again.
Suddenly, it hit her… HIV could lead to AIDS…and once you have AIDS…
"Oh no!" she whimpered. "No, no, no…it…it can't be true…Clark…" she cried out as she dropped the receiver and sank to the floor. There was a tightening grip in the pit of her stomach. "No, no," she sobbed and put her hands over her face as she began rocking back and forth.
The sound of the phone ringing seemed to come from somewhere beyond her very existence. Its shrill resonance shook her out of her anguish and pulled her attention to the monstrous machine. That machine had brought her the horrific news—that telephone had brought torment into her life. She pulled herself to her feet and clenched her fists.
The persistent peal echoed again. It had to be Clark, Lois realized, and he would not give up. She reached out to pick up the phone and then drew her hand back. As she did, she stared down at her finger, the beautiful ring holding her focus. Lois almost had it, the life she had dreamed about— someone loving her, someone caring about her and he was the most wonderful man in the world. Now…now…it was all gone. In a few short seconds, the time it took to hear the words HIV positive, she had lost everything that had become so precious to her.
The phone rang yet again. She couldn't talk to him. She couldn't face him. But where could she hide from the overprotective eyes of her fianc‚? She knew that Clark would be worried when she didn't answer the phone and he would be flying to her side. She didn't want to be there when he came to walk her to rehearsal. She had to get out of there. She had to find somewhere…
Then an idea formed. She knew where she could find solace, and Clark wouldn't think to seek her out there. She picked up her coat and purse and walked quickly out the door, tears stinging her eyes.
Jonathan Kent looked up at the clock. It was 5:00 p.m. on Friday. Normally, on Friday, the Smallville hardware store stayed open until 7:00 p.m., but Martha had insisted that Jonathan close early because of his recent injury. She wanted him to take it easy and not overexert himself. So Jonathan was locking up the back door when he heard the bell tinkle out front. He was surprised, because he had placed a big sign in the window informing the public that he was closing early this evening.
He walked toward the front counter to see Lois entering. Her eyes were red rimmed and her face was ashen. "Lois, honey," Jonathan said.
"Oh Jonathan," Lois sobbed walking toward his outstretched arms. "I love him so much," she said.
"I know," Jonathan said, holding her and letting her cry against his chest. "My boy loves you more than life itself. You are what his mother and I wished for, for so long," he told her, wondering what in the world was causing her to suffer like this.
"I don't want to cause him pain. I never wanted to hurt him, but my life…my life is so…messed up."
"What is it, Lois?" he asked anxiously.
"I can't tell you. I can't tell anybody, at least not yet. I need to deal with this myself," she explained, looking at him intently. "Can you promise me that you won't tell Clark I was here? I just needed someplace to be—someplace Clark wouldn't find me."
Jonathan walked over to the phone. "Martha," he said after dialing the familiar number. "I won't be home for supper. I…I have a customer that needs attention. I probably won't be there until after you leave for rehearsal," he told her. "Yeah, I'll warm it up. I love you, too."
Lois hugged her father-in-law to be and they sat down on a porch swing that Jonathan had on display. Lois, feeling very much the little girl, put her head on Jonathan's shoulder as tears once again fell down her cheeks and then subsided as Jonathan put his arm around the young woman he had begun to see as a daughter and then he fell silent. He knew that Lois needed the quiet, yet the warmth of someone near.
Martha looked at the clock. It was 6:20 p.m. but Lois was not at rehearsal yet. She looked at her son, who was pacing over in the corner. He had told her that Lois hadn't answered her phone nor her doorbell and he was worried. He had scanned the area and had come up empty.
Martha decided to begin, as Lois was sure to show up soon. As usual, they were rehearsing in a classroom near the auditorium. Only Bill, Lois, Clark, Cat, and Keith were scheduled at six. Jimmy and Cindy weren't expected until seven, while Barb and Donald would join them at eight. "Let's start on page seventeen," the director said. It was a scene that Lois was not in, so they could work around her until she arrived.
Clark walked out of the classroom, looking for Lois. He scanned the area and finally saw her coming slowly toward their rehearsal space.
"Is something wrong, Lois?" he asked once she arrived.
Lois didn't respond. She entered the rehearsal room and sat down in the corner.
"Don't," Lois said to Clark as he approached her. "I just need to be left alone," she explained.
"But… Is there something I did? I don't understand," he said, noticing the look on her face.
Martha finished working with Cat and Keith and sent them home. "Lois, Clark, Bill," she called, signaling them to come forward.
Clark moved to the center of the room. Lois remained seated.
"Lois, honey," Martha said again.
"Uh, yes," Lois said haltingly as she walked toward Martha.
"Okay, let's remind ourselves about the characterization here," Martha said, noticing that Lois wasn't really paying attention. "You and Clark, that is, Mary Debenham and Colonel Arbuthnott, are in love with each other, but you are not free to show that love yet. He is married, but his marriage is a federal disaster and the divorce is pending."
Lois' head snapped up at the sound of those words. <Federal disaster,> she thought. Her life was a federal disaster.
"Even though the two of you are trying to be very careful," Martha explained, "in this scene you sneak a passionate kiss without anyone else seeing. Okay, let's try it. Lines only first, then action."
<Careful!> Lois though. What an odd word that seemed to her now. She had always attacked everything with a vengeance— her studies, her work, her social conscience awareness, her entire life. She had never been careful. She had always jumped into the water without checking its depth. Now her entire life was in shambles. Lois took a deep breath and began the scene.
Lois/Mary Debenham: Not now. Not now. When it is all over. When it is behind us.
<It *is* all over,> Lois thought.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: (Sneezes.)
"Your next line," Martha said to Lois when Lois didn't respond.
"What? Oh," Lois said.
Lois/Mary Debenham: What a funny little man!"
Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott: Obviously a frog.
"Mom," Clark began.
"Yes, Clark I know. Let's make it 'obviously French.' Poirot's from Belgium anyway, so the remark still works without having to resort to some name-calling. I don't think it adds or detracts from the character, so let's change it," she decided. "Alright," Martha said. "Let's go back and do the lines together with the blocking this time."
During this discussion, Lois' mind was elsewhere. Frog or French, what the hell did it matter? What did anything matter anymore? Why was she even standing there? She looked over at the two of them as they talked about the lines. Martha had a glow about her and a brightness in her eyes as she looked at her son. Clark evidently was enjoying the give and take with his mother, yet he glanced Lois' way every so often to smile nervously at her.
What an incredible family the Kents were. Martha and Jonathan had found a baby, had taken him in, gave him love and understanding, and he had grown up to be Clark. They must be very special people to have raised such a special man and to have taken her into their hearts.
Lois hadn't thought much about her own family lately and had only recently talked to Clark about them. Maybe it was her having to grapple with her own mortality that made her think about them now. Her father and mother had divorced when she and her sister were young. Her mother began drinking heavily and Lois was responsible for raising her sister who was now off, who knows where, going from boyfriend to boyfriend. Clark had wanted Lois to try to reach out to them, especially since he had suggested that they invite them to the wedding, but Lois had resisted.
She looked at Martha and the man she was to marry. She thought about Jonathan and realized that the three of them loved her and she was now going to bring them all so much pain.
Lois watched Clark and could see a concern in his eyes when he looked at her. She could feel, even across the room, the heat radiating from his body. She remembered the touch of his hands and softness of his lips as he… No! She had to stop torturing herself. She had to think of them.
Clark was worried as he walked closer to Lois. He had seen her in many moods, but this was so unlike her. Normally, she would have been incensed by the language in the play, but it appeared as if she didn't care. His mother directed him to kiss her. Whatever was wrong, maybe this would help. He moved even closer and pulled her into his arms.
"No!" Lois yelled, and pushed him fiercely away as she ran out of the room.
"What is it, Lois?" Clark called out as he followed her from the rehearsal room to the empty stage.
"I can't marry you," she cried, and taking the ring off her finger while standing in the exact same spot where Clark had first put it on, she threw it down and ran out the door.
Later that night, Clark listened to the ringing of Lois' phone and the answering machine picking up, requesting that a message be left. He *had* left a message. At least ten messages. Not being able to stand it any longer, he spun into his suit and flew to her window. Using his x-ray vision, he saw her lying on the bed, crying. What was it? What was wrong?
He thought of going to her even if she didn't want him. But he couldn't force himself on her. He had to trust that she would explain when she was able. But what could it be? They had been so fantastically happy. They had made plans. They had sat right there on Lois' living room couch, holding each other, kissing…
He had to get away. He flew off into the night sky and began patrolling a larger and larger area. After performing several rescues and stopping a couple of crimes, he returned to his house and tried to sleep, but Lois' face— her beautiful face that had appeared so tortured—kept haunting him.
AIDS awareness week was an extraordinary experience for the whole student body. Monday, the students had been issued red ribbons and each class was relating their work to information about AIDS. Barb Friskin attended several classes to discuss issues of concern. Tuesday, they had screened the film Philadelphia, today, the speaker was expected, and on Thursday, the AIDS quilt would arrive for a two day showing.
Scott Adams stood at the podium of the auditorium on that Wednesday afternoon. He introduced his cousin and the students applauded cautiously.
Michael Wilson was an excellent speaker. He drew the audience in immediately as he shared his experiences and told several anecdotes about AIDS victims.
Clark looked over at Lois. They had been to rehearsals together but did not have to repeat the scene where they kissed as yet. They had relatively small parts, so it hadn't taken a large commitment of time, and they could have been spending their spare time together, but Lois refused to be with him.
Lois was so busy with the AIDS awareness week that no one at school noticed that she had distanced herself from Clark, nor that anything was wrong. Clark knew that his mother and father realized there was a problem, and he sensed that they were ready to be understanding, but he was not ready to seek their advice. He was hoping that Lois would just talk to him.
But no matter how much he tried to get her to speak to him, they hadn't really talked to one another except for their lines in the rehearsal room. It had been a terrible four days. He had sought out Barb Friskin and had used her as a sounding board about his feelings. She had encouraged him to hold on, and to wait; and most of all, to believe that Lois would open up to him when she was ready.
Clark couldn't keep his eyes off Lois as she sat in the auditorium, listening to Michael Wilson. There were tears in her eyes. It was obvious that Lois' heart reached out to this young man who was speaking to the gathered student body. Clark knew that Lois was the kind of person who would be upset due to the injustice of our country's lack in dealing with the problem of AIDS because of its link with homosexuality. But there had to be something else. Her face didn't show frustration, or anger, or contempt with the system. There was something in her eyes that was different, uniquely not Lois. Clark stared at her and finally realized that she was scared.
Lois stood up and quickly and quietly exited the auditorium. Clark watched her go and, although he knew she didn't want to see him, followed her out the door, looking for her. He found her in the garden behind the science building. She was sitting on the bench by the fountain and his heart went out to her. She looked so small and fragile. Clark sat down next to Lois, expecting her to run off, but instead she looked up at him. Tentatively, he put his arm around her and she collapsed against him, sobbing. Clark put his other arm around her and drew her to him.
Being in his arms again felt so reassuring. Lois felt safe for the first time in days. She almost believed that nothing could ever go wrong, that nothing could hurt them. But yet it was still there under the surface—that gnawing fear. She was lost again—their future together was lost.
Clark lifted her head and looked into her eyes, still red from crying. "Lois, please tell me," he begged. "What's wrong? You've got to tell me! I can't bear to see you like this."
Lois looked down and then hesitantly, she looked up into his eyes that were so concerned, so caring, and now so scared.
"Clark, I found out Friday that I'm HIV positive," she said quietly.
"Oh my God, Lois," he said, feeling as if the wind were knocked out of him. "And you've been carrying this knowledge around by yourself since then?"
"I…I…" she whispered.
"You should have told me so that I could be there for you," he said, taking her into his arms again.
"Oh, Clark," Lois said against his chest. "Everything is ruined. I can't let you…"
"Hush," Clark said gently. Then, looking around and seeing no one there, he spun into Superman. Taking her in his arms, he flew her straight up into the clouds. He put his cape around her and held her close.
"Lois, none of this matters," he said, stroking her hair. "I fell in love with you because you are a fighter. You won't let this get to you. I know you," he said, lifting her face up to look her in the eyes. "You get this great, determined look on your face and then the seas part and incredible things happen," he told her, wiping the tears from her cheeks. "*I* won't let this get to you. I need you to be with me. Our being together is stronger than me alone. And, because of that, we can face anything as long as it *is* together," he told her determinedly. I love you and you're going to be my wife."
Charles Cox hung up the phone and looked at Vivian. "Judge Higgins just informed me that I didn't get the appointment to replace Judge Salazar," he told her.
"Charles," his wife said. "I've got something to tell you."
Wednesday evening, Mayson Drake looked over the notes spread out in front of her. She had successfully negotiated a change of sentence for Lex, and would be assisting him in devastating the lives of two other people.
Mayson had been grateful that she had not had to coerce the judge to change the sentence by using the information she had unearthed about her. Judge LeVine had found the proposition offered by Mayson Drake to be a reasonable one, and of her own accord, agreed to alter the court order. That had made the first assignment easier, but the next two were more difficult.
Mayson had felt qualms about delivering the data on Vivian Cox, but she had done it. She talked herself into believing that it was the best thing for the community to not have a judge whose wife had had a shady past. Mrs. Cox's ties to organized crime might prove a hindrance to her husband's ability to render impartial verdicts. And, since Charles Cox did not receive the appointment, his wife's past was obviously a problem for those who made the decisions.
Lois Lane was another story, however. Telling Clark Kent that Lois had slept her way into a job was something that was just hurtful, and it meant Mayson was going to have to resort to tactics that only a hardened, spiteful, vindictive woman could use.
<Had she become that?> she thought. <Had her life been relegated to such actions?> Her purpose was to bring Luthor down. The steps to achieve that meant getting on his good side and becoming necessary to him both professionally and personally. Mayson reasoned out that it meant participating in this mudslinging. At least, she kept telling herself, that's all it was—mudslinging. She collected the papers and walked into Lex's office.
Lex smiled as he read the sheets she handed him. "I always knew Mrs. Cox had a secret past. I'm glad we were able to *save* our community from that type of undo influence," he said sarcastically. "And apparently, little Miss High and Mighty," he said, thinking back to the night Lois had rejected him, "should not be wearing virginal white at her wedding, *if* there's going to be a wedding," he told Mayson.
Mayson sat down on the edge of his desk.
"You've done well," he said, standing up and pulling Mayson into his arms. "And tonight I'm going to prove how well."
Thursday night, two days before the performance, Lois found she couldn't sleep. She had not really slept much during the past week. All she could do was think—think about the future and think back on her past. She was glad that she had told Clark about Claude. It had only been that one night, but apparently that one night was enough for her to have become infected. God! Why had she let him…and even if she had, why hadn't they practiced safe sex?
Lois had never shared so much with anyone as she had shared with Clark. He knew about her fantasies and her dreams. But he also knew about her discretions—the discretions that had come back to haunt her, yet Clark remained in love with her and he still wanted her to be his wife.
Lois could feel his arms about her as she sat up in bed, hugging her knees, even though he had left an hour ago. For a man with super powers, he had such a gentle touch—such quiet strength. They had been curled up together on her couch when he had placed the ring back on her finger and then had to leave. He hadn't wanted to go, and she had hated moving out of his arms, but she insisted that he go.
She looked over at the nightstand to the bottles of pills that were sitting there. Dr. Klein had gone over the side effects of AZT, and insomnia was one of them. She got up and, taking the teddy bear from the pillow beside her, walked into the living room. She went to the window and looked up into the sky. He was out there somewhere on a job. "Be careful," she whispered, hugging the bear. She looked at the Brazilian Quartz rock now sheltered in a special case on her coffee table and smiled.
Lois turned and walked toward the kitchen. <Maybe some hot milk,> she thought.
Superman tapped at Lois' window. "You need some sleep," he said to her lovingly after she had let him in. He spun into some casual clothes and took her in his arms.
"How was the…" she asked, indicating a flying signal. "You know."
"Ferry sinking," he told her. "I got everyone off safely."
She smiled at him. "You must be exhausted," she said.
"You, too," he said, picking her up into his arms and carrying her to the bedroom. "Have you decided to talk to Barb about all of this?" he asked her as he lowered her into the bed. "She is…"
"Yes, I know, Clark. I will. Right now I just want you to hold me."
Clark covered her up and then lay down next to her. Lois curled up into his arms and almost immediately fell asleep.
Clark gazed at her and looked down at the ring that he had put back on her finger earlier that evening. He stroked her cheek and wished that there were something he could do. All of his strength, all of his powers, and he couldn't help the woman he loved.
The evening before the dinner theatre presentation, Mayson Drake was going over last minute details. She had assisted Lex in preparing for the dinner theatre event. She had generated a list of influential and wealthy citizens from Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City, who would be invited to be wined, dined, and entertained, in return for donating large sums of money for the clinic.
She had made sure that Vivian Cox and her husband had accepted their invitation and were seated at the Luthor table as Lex intended to rub salt into their wound. She was also preparing some information that would go to Clark Kent to let him know about his intended's background. At least helping Lex by dredging up information to embarrass the two women wasn't as devastating as helping him with the murder of Colonel Trask.
Mayson had tried to distance herself from that event, pushing herself to remember that she had known nothing about that trip to the Kent house, which she hadn't, and that Colonel Trask was someone who deserved to die.
Mayson looked down at the diamond-encrusted wedding ring on her finger. She was now Mrs. Lex Luthor and she had a role to fulfill. Again, Mayson tried to convince herself that Charles Cox and Clark Kent needed to know what kind of women they were involved with, and Mayson desperately needed to justify what she was doing.
The attorney picked up several folders that highlighted the hefty corporate funding she had obtained for the proposed clinic in Smallville. Mayson realized that Lex wasn't really interested in any philanthropic endeavor, but since she had convinced him it was good PR, and good business sense to do this, he had acquiesced. This part of her plan was in place. The other part she would take care of during intermission at the play the following night. Mayson's mother had prepared her, and now at least something good would come out of all of this evil.
Mayson walked over to the balcony doors. All was ready. Luthor was going to come down and he was going to come down hard; and what was ironic was that his philanthropic adventure was going to be the beneficiary.
The phone rang and Mayson picked up the study extension at the same time that Lex Luthor had grabbed it in his private office. She was about to put it down when something perked her interest. Her eyes widened as she heard the conversation between Lex Luthor and the person at the other end.
Twenty minutes later, there was a knock on the door of Lois' small house. Clark had just arrived a few minutes before and they were preparing to go to dress rehearsal. Lois was in her bedroom getting her coat.
"I'll get it," Clark called out to Lois.
"Mayson," Clark exclaimed as he opened Lois' door. "Come in."
Already at rehearsal, Bill Saxon was practicing the use of the remote control device that he would have to utilize to work the lights. Since all the members of the group were required to be on stage as actors—even Wayne Irig—an electronic mechanism that would manipulate the lights from on stage had been constructed.
Martha arrived. "You look nervous, Bill," she said.
"Yeah," he answered. "It's been a long time since I had this big of a part, and having to work this gadget from the stage just adds another layer to all of this."
"You'll be fine," Martha insisted, looking at the control device. "Why three buttons?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," Bill told her. "I only have to use two of them, thank goodness. But I'm a little unsure about all of it," he said, not looking at her.
"You'll be wonderful," Barb Friskin added as she entered the rehearsal room. "I've been watching you for three weeks and you're fantastic," she smiled.
Bill looked back at Barb. That was high praise, indeed, coming from someone who meant so much to him.
Lois entered the living room with her coat draped over her arm.
Mayson could see the shadows under her eyes and it looked as though she had lost some weight. Lois had cut her hair for the part she was playing and her face looked gaunt and pale. She was definitely not the young woman that Mayson had met at the Corn Festival three weeks earlier.
"Please sit down," Lois said to Mayson, looking back quizzically at Clark.
"Lois, I need to talk to you alone," Mayson explained, watching Clark's reaction. "It's extremely personal."
"We have nothing to hide from one another," Lois said as she and Clark sat down on the couch across from the chair that Mayson had taken.
"I know about your diagnosis, Lois," Mayson informed her.
Lois closed her eyes and held onto Clark.
"And I'm here to…" she began.
"That's really nice of you to want to help," Lois told her.
"No, no," Mayson interrupted her. "I need to tell you that it's not true."
Lois' face drained of what minimal color was left.
"What?" Clark asked.
"Lex Luthor had the results of your blood test altered. You aren't HIV positive."
'You aren't HIV positive,' Mayson had said. The words circled inside her head, but somehow they didn't sink in. What did she mean, not HIV positive? Doctor Klein had told her so. How could Mayson know that it was not true? How could Lex Luthor have…?
"How…? Why…? Why should I trust you?" she asked Mayson, not sure what to believe.
"I know you have no reason to trust me," Mayson told her. "I've done some things lately that I'm ashamed of, but I have my reasons. Yet even I have my limits. Lex asked me to dig up some dirt on you. I did," she said, tossing the folder on the coffee table. "But I would never have agreed to…"
Lois was shaking her head.
"Lois," Clark insisted, pulling her into his arms. "Believe her! Somehow I know she…"
"Who can I trust?" Lois interrupted him, jumping up. "I just don't know what to believe," Lois said, moving away as the tears flowed unabated down her cheeks.
Clark crossed to her and turned her around. "We *have* to trust her, Lois," he said, tears coming into his eyes. "*I* trust her." Clark looked over at Mayson. "Please, Mayson," Clark begged her. "Tell us the truth."
"You are not HIV positive," Mayson repeated carefully and hurriedly ran out the door.
Lois fell into Clark's arms.
"God, Lois, this is astonishing news," Clark said, reveling in what Mayson had told them. "You're not…" he gasped, the tears beginning to fall from his eyes.
He looked at Lois, who had become frighteningly still.
<Luthor, that fiend,> she thought. He had wanted her to suffer. He had set this all up. He had…oh…her heart stopped. He had even caused Jonathan to be hurt. He had done it all!
Clark felt Lois begin to tremble with rage as he hung on to her.
She, unlike Clark, wasn't thinking about how wonderful the news was. She was only thinking of one thing. "I'll kill him. I'll kill him!" she sobbed as she sank to her knees, pulling Clark down with her.
"Okay, okay," Clark said, holding on to her tightly.
Suddenly, there was a blackout and all the stage lights went off, plunging the entire room into abject darkness. The audience started to laugh, assuming this was part of the play they had been thoroughly enjoying. Applause erupted from the group of dinner theatre guests, but the applause died down as it began to appear that the blackout was not part of the act and that the lights were not coming on again too soon.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Jonathan Kent's voice rang out. "There must be a problem with fuses. It may be the storm. Just sit tight and we will soon have it fixed."
"I'll help you, Dad," Clark suggested, moving quickly next to his father and guiding him off the darkened stage toward the fuse box that was located just behind the door leading to the stairwell.
"Guests," Lex Luther's voice was heard as he stood up by his table toward the front of the room. "This has been a wonderful production thus far and I'm sure that Mr. Kent will be able to…achh," he groaned and stumbled awkwardly toward the stage.
Clark heard Luther's moan and instantly, under the cover of the darkness, came to his side.
The lights came back on and as everyone's eyes adjusted to the brightness, they could see Lex Luthor lying dead in a pool of blood with Clark's hand on the play's dagger that protruded from his back.
"I've heard of being upstaged," Donald Botts yelled out. "But this is ridiculous."
"Nobody move," a voice yelled out from the crowd and a man unknown to most of those in the room, rose and crossed over to Clark and the lifeless body of Lex Luthor.
The man drew a gun from a shoulder holster and pointed it at Clark. "Now, slowly with your hands in full view, move away from the body," he said firmly.
The man, with his drawn gun still on Clark, leaned down and with his other hand, felt Luthor's neck for a pulse although it was obvious to all that Lex Luthor was dead.
"I…I…didn't do this," Clark insisted, backing away with his arms raised.
"Of course he didn't," Lois injected forcefully, jumping down from the makeshift stage to join Clark at his side. "He's Su…uh…not capable of doing such a thing!"
"And who are you?" the man with the gun asked.
"She's Lois Lane, a high school teacher. And the person you have your gun on is Clark Kent, another high school teacher and they're engaged," Rachel Harris informed the man as she approached the group. "Lois, Clark. This is William Henderson, homicide detective from Metropolis and a friend of mine."
"Ladies and gentlemen," Detective Henderson shouted out. "Please, everyone, take your seats," he said as two deputies arrived on the scene as a result of the call from Sheriff Harris. They stationed themselves at the doors of the bank building's meeting room as the large crowd watched nervously.
"And," the Inspector added, shouldering his gun. "Will the kitchen staff join us out here?"
Two employees came out and stood against the wall, one of whom positioned himself behind the other at an attempt to stay inconspicuous. This last act did not go unnoticed by the inspector.
"Sheriff Harris," Detective Henderson said. "We need to clear the room of superfluous people."
"Who would you suggest?" Rachel asked.
"We want to keep all the actors, the audience members who were at Mr. Luthor's table and at the tables on either side of him, and the kitchen staff. That should put us down to a manageable size. But inform anyone that we dismiss not to leave town, and that we might be calling them in at a later time."
Over one hundred members of the audience filed out of the large meeting room. While they were exiting, the inspector turned to the kitchen staff. "We need a couple of table cloths," he told them.
Sharon Brady went to the kitchen.
"You help her," William Henderson insisted somewhat loudly, pointing to the young man standing just behind her.
As the eyes of the remaining suspects turned towards the young man that William Henderson was indicating, Cindy Brady let out a strangled exclamation and then instantly quieted down.
"You were going to say something, young lady," the detective eyed her.
"No…no," Cindy responded.
"You might as well tell me," he said. "I'm going to find out sooner or later."
The young man stepped forward. "She was just surprised to see me," the waiter said. "I'm Jaxon Luthor. That's my father lying there," he said, pointing to the corpse without a flicker of emotion.
"It's obvious," Detective Henderson submitted, "that you are really broken up by his death."
"Yeah," Jaxon said sarcastically. "Really broken up."
"Okay," the Inspector told Jaxon. "You sit down. She can bring in the tablecloths," he said, pointing to Sharon Brady.
"Knowing the averages," Detective Henderson said, glancing around. "I'm sure there is a doctor in the house."
Dr. Klein and Dr. Baines raised their hands.
"Good," he said. "Can you please check the body to confirm my suspicions?"
"I will bow to your expertise," Dr. Klein said to Dr. Baines. "I prefer the research lab."
"Well, obviously he has been stabbed," she informed the detective.
"Can you look more closely, doctor?"
Dr. Baines eyed the detective, and shrugging, moved closer and examined the body in more detail.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "There's a gunshot wound and I also smell almonds which could signify the presence of Cyanide."
"Hmmm," the inspector voiced. "Strange."
"Stabbed, shot, *and* poisoned? Well, that was overkill," Donald Botts interjected.
Clark moved his glasses down and stared at the body. He noticed that the lighting remote that controlled the cues off stage by someone on stage was in Lex's front pocket.
"Inspector," Clark said. "When I grabbed on to Lex's body, I felt something in his front pocket," he informed him, knowing that he probably made himself look more guilty, but he had to help even if it meant implicating someone he cared about.
The detective removed the piece of evidence and set it on the table. As he bent down to check the body for himself, he also found, under a nearby table, a gun and silencer. The detective looked closely at the gun and silencer and then he added those to the table.
"Cripes," Keith sang out. "Is this d‚j… vu or what? Isn't this what we just went through—the collecting of evidence and displaying them on a table?"
Rachel Harris took the tablecloths from Sharon Brady, who joined Jaxon at a table, and the sheriff covered the victim.
"Folks," Inspector Henderson told the remaining group. "This may be a long and tedious process, but as a major storm is whipping up out there, it looks like we have no place to go anyway."
Everyone's eyes turned toward the windows, whose curtains had been drawn aside by Rachel Harris. The snow was coming down very heavily now. It appeared they were all in for a long night.
"All we need is for the train whistle to blow now," Donald Botts inserted.
Lois looked at Clark, who had his arm tightly around her. "What if…" and she lowered her voice to a whisper. "…Superman is needed?"
Clark looked away and then back at his fianc‚e. "We'll have to cross that bridge if and when we come to it," he replied softly.
"This is all my fault," Vivian Cox whispered to her husband. "If I hadn't voted against Lex, if I hadn't tried to get my old friend to insure your appointment even if Lex had gotten to the judge first, then we might not be suspects."
"Shush, honey," Charles told her. "I knew about your past when we were married. I also knew that all that had changed. I love who you are, and who you were makes no difference to me," he explained. "The appointment didn't mean that much to me. Neither of us were involved in what happened here this evening. We have nothing to fear."
"We might as well start with you, young lady," the inspector said, beginning to usher Cindy Brady into a room off the large banquet hall.
"Inspector," Sharon Brady said, standing up. "Wherever she goes, I go. She's under age, and I'm her mother."
Mayson Drake also stood up. "Inspector Henderson," she said. "I'm an attorney and I urge each of you," she said, looking around, "to refrain from speaking without an attorney present. I can't represent any of you since I'm on retainer by the victim and because," she paused. "Because I'm Mrs. Lex Luthor. We were married three days ago."
A gasp arose from several people, including Beatrice Drake. Martha Kent, who was sitting next to her long time friend, put her arm around the secretary.
Mayor Cox rose from his chair. "Ms., uh, Mrs. Luthor is correct," he said. "This is not an Agatha Christie mystery. These people have rights. I'm an attorney and I can, at least for the purposes of this questioning process, advise all of you. And the advice I offer is to caution each and every one of you again. You can refuse to answer questions until an attorney of your choice has been retained. Perhaps I'm *not* the one to represent you since apparently I'm a suspect myself," he said, looking at his wife and squeezing her hand.
"Thank you, sir," the detective said. "I will give them their Miranda rights before I question them. And yes, I know this is not a 1930's murder mystery where after the artful questioning by the unusual detective, one of the suspects leaps to their feet and proclaims 'I did it.' Believe me, I realize this and yes, you all have rights. I'm just hoping that since the majority of you have nothing to hide, you will voluntarily answer questions so that we can learn what happened and we can move to an ending that will satisfy everyone out there."
Rachel Harris looked at all of the suspects gathered in the room. "Look," she said. "This is a small town and you all know me. I will guarantee that anything you say will *not* be used against you at a later date. We are just gathering information to screen out suspects. All of you are witnesses to my pledge."
Cindy Brady looked at her mother. "Okay," she said, turning back to the detective. "I'll help you."
At rehearsal, the Sunday afternoon before. Bill Saxon was sitting with Jonathan Kent on chairs, portraying a seat in the Calais Coach. "I think it will help if we did it again," Bill said to the director.
"Okay, again," Martha said.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: The scrap of paper burned at the bedside of the victim, when treated with wax showed what letters?
Jonathan/Dr. Constantine: D…a…i…s… Oh, no!
Bill/Hercule Poirot: y… A…r…m
Jonathan/Dr. Constantine: Daisy Armstrong!
Bill/Hercule Poirot: The little girl that was kidnapped and later found dead. The victim we thought of as Ratchett is none other than Casetti the mastermind behind the death of Daisy Armstrong.
"Rachel," Detective Henderson said as the two headed toward the small room they were going to use to interrogate the suspects. "What about Luthor? Who was he?"
Sheriff Harris looked at her friend. "No one really knows much about his past. He came out of nowhere to take over the bank and rose to eminence. Many people believed there was something shady and underhanded about him and that he was not who he pretended to be."
"Okay, Rachel," he said, sitting down at a table in what was designated as Conference Room 2. "I'm ready for Cindy Brandy, bring her in."
"Let's try your scene," Martha said to Cindy and Jimmy on Monday evening. "Take it from your entrance into the dining car."
Cindy and Jimmy entered and sat down on the two chairs that were once again simulating a seat on the Calais Coach. Bill Saxon was sitting opposite the two young people, leaning towards them.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Your maiden name is Gruenwald?
Cindy/Elena Andrenyi: That is correct. I'm of German extraction. But I now hold Hungarian Citizenship.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Your signature on your passport is smudged. Would you please duplicate it for us now?
Cindy/Elena Andrenyi: (Writes her name.) Elena…Andrenyi, …nee…Gruenwald.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: (Compares signatures.) Allowing for the difference in pens, the duplicate appears exact. There would be little point in asking whether this handkerchief is yours. (Holds up a delicate lace handkerchief with the embroidered letter H.)
Cindy/Elena Andrenyi: Since it contains neither of my initials, no.
"I guess there would be no point in asking whether you were in charge of this remote," the Metropolis Homicide Inspector asked Cindy, showing the lighting remote found in Lex Luthor's pocket.
"No," Cindy responded. "Since I don't know anything about lights and my cues weren't visual ones…"
"Pardon?" Henderson asked,
"Cues are either auditory or visual," she explained. "If I say something, and that is your cue to say something or do something, that's an auditory cue. On the other hand, if I do something like sit down or stand up, which is a cue for you to say something or do something, then that's a visual cue," she informed him. "Now if a person is off stage and has to wait for an entrance or has to turn lights on or off and his cue is a visual one, sometimes they can't see it from where they are. If the cue was auditory they could always hear it. Are you following me?"
"I think so."
"So if the off stage person is waiting for a visual cue and can't see it, the director sometimes figures a way for the on stage person to actually do what has to be done. Still with me?"
"Yes," the detective informed her.
"The lighting remote was a device to be used by onstage people to shut off the lights because the cue was visual and an off stage person couldn't do it," she explained.
"You never had a visual cue for your lights, so you had no need to use the remote. Is that what you're telling me?" he asked.
"Yes!' Cindy exclaimed. "You got it."
"You got it," Martha said during Monday's rehearsal. "Try it again so it stays ingrained."
Bill/Hercule Poirot: (Looks at the Count and Countess Andrenyi.) Have you or your husband ever visited America?
Cindy/Elena Andrenyi: No, we met in Wiesbaden much later.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Later than what?
Jimmy/Count Andrenyi: Later than when I was stationed in Washington D.C. (He yawns.)
Bill/Hercule Poirot: You didn't sleep well?
Jimmy/Count Andrenyi: I slept very soundly.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: And you Countess?
Cindy/Elena Andrenyi: I slept very well after I took my customary Trienol.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Trienol!!
Cindy/Elena Andrenyi: You react as if it were a poison.
Jonathan/Dr. Constantine: It is poison if taken in sufficient amounts.
"I know nothing about poison," Sharon Brady said, "and I didn't see anyone tamper with Mr. Luthor's food or drink."
"Why are you working here tonight?" the inspector asked Mrs. Brady.
"We need the money and this job was paying a lot," she explained.
"Did you wait on Luthor's table?"
"No. I was assigned the tables at the back of the room. "His table was handled by some of the cast members. I think it was Barb Friskin, Lois Lane, and Bill Saxon, at different times.
"Now the more tricky question," the detective stated, looking at both mother and daughter. "Did you have any reason to want Lex Luthor dead?"
Mrs. Brady looked at her daughter and then looked at Rachel Harris. "I've known your family for a long time, Rachel. You can believe me when I tell you that I didn't kill Lex Luthor and neither did my daughter. But did we want him dead? Yes!"
Cindy looked up at her mother. This was going to be the first time Sharon Brady put the feelings she held deep inside her into words— words that Cindy had been saying for a long time.
"Lex Luthor coerced my husband into investing in a shady deal and then lost him all his money. My husband loved us, Inspector Henderson. He couldn't stand to live with what he had done to Cindy and to me. He went to talk to Lex Luthor, and while he was in his office, suffered a massive heart attack. Dr. Baines was the attending physician."
"I think he was murdered, Detective Henderson," Cindy informed him.
Mrs. Brady looked over at her daughter. "I…I…know he was."
Cindy put her arms around her mother.
"What about this Jaxon Luthor?" the detective asked.
"I was dating Jaxon to sort of get back at his father, and honestly, because he was rich. But Jaxon was cruel. He beat up Keith and hit me often. Before he left, though, it looked like maybe he figured out there was a better way to be. I know his father didn't treat him well."
"Okay, Keith," Martha said to him. Shall we try rehearsing this again?
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Ah! Mr. McQueen.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: You were right when you said earlier that you thought your employer had a secret past. Did you know that he was not Rachett but Casetti, the murderer of the Armstrong baby?
Keith/McQueen: (Sinks into the seat.) I didn't know. If I would have known, I would have killed him myself. That really incriminates me doesn't it? My father was the district attorney on the Armstrong case. Colonel and Mrs. Armstrong came to our house. Mrs. Armstrong took pity on a young man who wanted to be an actor. She was like a mother to me.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Excuse a Freudian question. Did you love your mother?
Keith/McQueen: My mother died when I was eight years old, a very impressionable age.
Inspector Henderson looked at Keith. "Did you know that Luthor was responsible for the death of Cindy's father?" he asked.
"No, I didn't know," Keith said. "If I would have known, I would have…"
"Would have what?" Henderson asked.
"I'm not sure. Cindy is a friend and I just don't want her to be hurt. Lex Luthor also hurt Ms. Lane, who has been a mentor to me. He hurt her a lot. Luthor's hurt so many people."
"Did you want him dead?"
"No. I don't want anyone to be dead. My mother died four years ago. I wouldn't want anyone to go through that."
"What about Jaxon Luthor?
"Jaxon and two of his friends attacked me and Ms. Lane. They confessed to the crime and were sentenced to community service." "I understood that you wrote a letter to the judge requesting leniency. Why did you do that? Didn't he deserve harsher punishment?"
"No one deserves pain or death. We may all do something wrong from time to time and we need to try to be better. But no one *deserves* punishment. We *deserve* help, we *deserve* guidance, we *deserve* second chances."
Beatrice Drake looked at Martha Kent during Tuesday's rehearsal. "How was it?" she asked.
"Fine," Martha said.
"Do we have time for me to have a another chance at it?" Beatrice asked Martha.
"Sure," said the director. "That's what rehearsals are for."
Bill/Hercule Poirot: (Shows photograph to Beatrice/Frauline Schmidt.) This beautiful young girl threw herself out the window and…
Beatrice/Frauline Schmidt: (Starts to weep.)
Bill/Hercule Poirot: (Hands her the handkerchief.) Use this, Frauline. I found it in the corridor and thought it must be yours because it bears the initial H.
Beatrice/Frauline Schmidt: H for Hildegarde. But, no, no, no, no. That is not the handkerchief of maid, but a fine lady.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Like your mistress.
Beatrice/Frauline Schmidt: It is her style, yah, but not her handkerchief. I know all her linen. Besides the initial is wrong.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: What is the Princess' first name?"
Beatrice/Frauline Schmidt: Natalia, mein herr. It is a Russian name.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: You are quite loyal to your mistress.
Beatrice/Frauline Schmidt: Yah, but of course.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: As loyal as you are good—a good maid and a good cook. You are a good cook, are you not?
Beatrice/Frauline Schmidt: Yah, all of my ladies have thought so. (She looks at the detective as she was obviously caught in a lie.)
"I don't lie, Inspector Henderson," Beatrice Drake informed him. "And I won't lie now. I'm here to tell you all that I know."
"Careful, Mom," her daughter warned her. "Remember, I'm an attorney and I…"
"*His* attorney," Mrs. Drake spat out. "And *his* wife."
"Mom," Mayson began.
"What is it you want to know?" Beatrice asked Henderson, ignoring her daughter.
The detective held up the remote. "Did you have the opportunity to use this during the course of the play?" he asked.
"No, it was not my job," she said.
"Where were you when the lights went out?"
"I was sitting stage right," Beatrice said.
"Stage right?" the detective asked.
"Yes, that's the actor's right side when facing the audience."
"I see," he replied. "And how far away was that from the so-called evidence table where the dagger was?"
"About fifteen feet, I guess."
"And I gather you have a *history* with Lex Luthor."
"Yes, Luthor was involved in this crooked deal," Beatrice began.
"I've heard about that."
"Well," Mrs. Drake continued. "The financial scheme was blamed on my husband, who was a na‹ve, trusting man. Believe me!" she said emphatically to the detective. "He had nothing to do with it. Luthor was exonerated and he made sure that my husband would be found guilty. My husband was sentenced to twenty years. Being in prison devastated him and he died," she explained, tears coming to her eyes.
Mayson went up to her mother and put her arm around her to console her. Beatrice shook it off. She couldn't let her daughter touch her, after all, she had been with *him*.
"Ms. Drake," Detective Henderson said. "You are Lex Luthor's attorney *and* his wife. In wake of what your mother just said, don't you find that a little odd?"
"Of course," Mayson answered and turned to look at her mother and then directly at the Inspector. "This was a scheme. I planned to marry Lex Luthor so that I could destroy him."
Beatrice looked back at her daughter through tears. How could she have doubted her? She had mistrusted Mayson, and Mayson had put herself in harm's way to get back at Luthor. Beatrice moved closer to her daughter and took her hand.
"Destroy him for the money?" he asked.
"No!" she responded adamantly. "Naturally, money is important, but important to Lex, not to me. This may seem strange, but as Lex's attorney, I urged him to sign a pre- nuptial agreement with his fianc‚e, me. I don't get anything if we divorce or if he dies by some means other than natural, and *especially* if he dies within the first year of our marriage. Inspector, I didn't want to see him dead, I wanted to see him ruined."
Beatrice smiled at her daughter in support.
"Death was too good for him. I needed to see him squirm," she said, her eyes becoming distant for a moment as she thought about her father. She slipped her arm around her mother and smiled.
Clark had his arm around Lois and she was leaning her head on his shoulder. "Tell me that this is going to be over soon," she said.
"Soon," Clark told her. He looked at his parents, who were sitting by them. "Mom, you must be exhausted."
"Yes, honey. I guess we all are—especially, you, Lois dear. This has been a difficult few weeks for you."
"When this is all over," Lois said, "I wish I could just fly away and…" She stopped ,noticing a look in Clark's face. "A job for…?"
"Yes," he said. "Major pile up on the interstate because of the storm." He looked around and walked quickly to the bathroom.
The two deputies at the door eyed him as he left.
Jonathan, knowing one of the deputies well, ambled over to talk to him.
Martha watched as first Donald and Linda, then Dr. White, Wayne Irig, Cat Grant, Dan Scardino, Jimmy Olsen, The Cox's, and Dr. Baines took their turns being interrogated. She looked around and realized that only Barb Friskin, Bill Saxon, Jonathan, Lois, Clark, and herself were left. No, there was one other, she realized—Jaxon Luthor.
The deputy not being kept busy by Jonathan was beginning to glance at his watch and at the door of the bathroom. Becoming anxious, he started toward the bathroom door. Jonathan stopped him to ask a question but that only delayed him for a moment and now even more determinedly, he moved quickly toward where Clark had vanished some twenty minutes before. Just as the deputy reached for the door handle, it opened and Clark came out, adjusting his tie.
"That was a long time," the deputy said, looking at Clark suspiciously.
"Yeah," Clark said. "Nervous stomach."
The deputy watched as Clark made his way back and then he entered the bathroom and looked around. Not finding anything out of sorts, the deputy returned to his post.
"What's going on?" Clark asked his mother and Lois as Jonathan returned.
"Dr. Baines has been in there the longest," Martha replied. "I believe she has a lot to answer for." Rachel Harris escorted Dr. Baines out of the small room they were using to interrogate the suspects and took her to a table away from where the others were sitting.
"I trust you have nowhere to run to," Rachel told her. "Although you will probably not be charged with murder or accomplice to the murder of Lex Luthor, you will be held for further investigation regarding your complicity in several other acts perpetrated by him."
Wednesday's rehearsal found Bill Saxon dwelling on what lie ahead. He was becoming more concerned as the necessity to remember a great many lines was beginning to hit home.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: It is possible that the murder was committed by a Woman, or by a man and a woman in collaboration? (Looks at Colonel Arbuthnott.) From your acquaintanceship with Mary Debenham, would you have thought her capable of physically and emotionally of…?
Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott: (He rises angrily.) That's a bloody irregular question.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: I know, but I ask it.
Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott: (Sits.)
Bill/Hercule Poirot: You feel warmly in the matter?
Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott: I don't know what you're driving at.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Colonel, Rachett was responsible for five deaths. The suicide of the falsely accused maid, the murder of the Armstrong child, the death of Mrs. Armstrong while giving premature birth to a stillborn baby, and the ultimate suicide of Colonel Armstrong in the face of multiple and intolerable bereavement.
Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott: Then in my opinion Rachett got what he deserved. Though I'd sooner have seen him properly tried. Trial by jury, by twelve good men and true—it's a sound system.
Martha, Jonathan, Lois, and Clark were ushered into Conference Room 2.
"Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent," the Metropolis detective said, watching both of them carefully. "Did you either separately or conjointly plot to and then kill Lex Luthor?"
"Of course they didn't," Martha and Jonathan Kent said simultaneously, looking directly at Inspector Henderson.
"I need to hear it from them," he said expectantly.
Clark took Lois' hand and squeezed it and then looked back at the detective.
"Lex Luthor," Clark said slowly and resolutely, "is…was…a ruthless, amoral, evil man. He abused his son, corrupted those that worked for him, and attempted to destroy the lives of the good people of this community. He attacked Lois physically and emotionally simply because she stood up for what she believed in. His tainting of the blood test to alter its results was unfathomable. No human being could be that vile. We, along with others in this room, had every reason in the world to kill him."
Lois took a deep breath. She knew that Clark couldn't lie and that he was angry about how much pain she had suffered as a result of Lex Luthor. She closed her eyes and prayed that he wasn't going to tell the inspector the whole truth.
Rehearsals between Lois and Clark hadn't been going well, and this scene coming up was a difficult one. Martha hoped that the two of them, whatever they were facing together, would soon resolve itself. She knew that they understood that she and Jonathan were there for them, but she wasn't going to force them to tell her what was going on.
"Clark, let's try the revelation scene," she told him.
Clark looked over at Lois and smiled. After she had told him about her diagnosis, they had both agreed to keep it secret from everyone else. They had decided that the two of them needed some time to deal with it. He looked down at the ring that she once more wore on her finger. He knew that they would get through this as long as they had each other.
Clark/Colonel Arthbutnott: (Looks at the detective.) Can you give me your solemn oath, as a foreigner, that if the answer has nothing to do with the murder, you'll treat it confidentially?"
Bill/Hercule Poirot: (Nods.)
Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott: (Leans over to Lois/Mary Debenham and whispers in her ear.)
Lois/Mary Debenham: (Looks up at Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott and encourages him to tell all.)
Clark looked over at Lois and his parents. If he let the inspector in on who he was, he was sure that Henderson would take his word for what he was about to tell him. He realized that those he loved would support him if he decided that, for the sake of truth, he had to reveal all. At the same time, he also knew that such a revelation could destroy all.
"Well," Inspector Henderson stated. "Did you…"
"No, Inspector," Clark interrupted him. "We didn't. I value human life, as do Lois and my parents. And although, if there was ever a person I would want to kill, he'd be the one, I couldn't do it and neither could they."
"No, Mr. Kent," the detective said, eyeing Clark. "Somehow I get the feeling *you* couldn't kill anyone," he replied. "But you *are* an intelligent man. Why in *hell* did you grab the dagger? And why—and more importantly, *how*—did you get to Luthor's side so quickly?"
The four targets of Inspector Henderson's questions looked at each other.
Lois and Martha both opened their mouths to explain, but nothing came out. The two women in Superman's life, who were quickly learning how to cover for him, could think of nothing in response.
"I'm…" Clark began.
"Clark had come over to help me with the fuse box," Jonathan interceded quickly before his son could answer truthfully. "And when we couldn't get it opened, he went toward Luthor's voice to get the key from him and should have been pretty close to him by the time Luthor started to collapse," Jonathan explained, looking at the others.
Lois, Martha, and Clark stared at Jonathan, trying to hide the incredulity in their faces. Jonathan's explanation was absolutely perfect.
"And you grabbed him?" the detective asked Clark.
"Yes, it was just a natural response," Clark admitted.
"But if you didn't get the key from Luthor, how did the lights come back on?" the inspector asked Jonathan.
"They came back on of their own accord. It must not have been the fuses here but a downed line or something because of the storm. The wires must have been fixed on the outside," he explained.
Inspector Henderson paused and regarded the elder Kent. "One more explanation, sir. Can you demonstrate this?" the detective asked Jonathan, holding up the remote device.
"Of course," Jonathan replied, taking the remote. "It is a special control to cause the lights to go up and down as needed. It is used by a person on stage when someone off stage cannot," he explained, showing the detective how it worked.
"Were any of you required to use it?" the detective asked.
"Yes, I was," Jonathan informed him and then looked at Martha. "Uh…uh…"
"That's okay, Jonathan," she said, smiling at her husband. "I was assigned to use it at one point as well."
Wednesday's rehearsal continued with the Belgium detective asking a series of questions. Martha asked Clark to take notes as her scene was the next up.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Was there not a chauffeur?
Martha/Princess Dragomiroff: There was, Monsieur, but I had my own. I never used him.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: What was the name of Mrs. Armstrong's personal maid?
Martha/Princess Dragomiroff: I always travel with my own personal maid. There was no need to speak to Mrs. Armstrong's.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: And the name of Mrs. Armstrong's younger sister?
Martha/Princess Dragomiroff: I do not recall the name.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Do you recall the name of Mrs. Armstrong's secretary?
Martha/Princess Dragomiroff: (Tries to answer something.) Yes, a Miss Freebody.
"As director of the play, Mrs. Kent," Henderson said. "Can you give me the names of the people who *did* have access to the remote?"
"Given the fact that the regular back stage people were all playing roles on stage, the remote had to be used several times by different people. Besides Jonathan and myself," she informed him, "Donald Botts, Bill Saxon, and Lois were responsible for changing lights during the show."
In the rehearsal room, Martha looked at the cast. "It's Thursday, and yes, I know it's already ten o'clock. But we only have two days left. Let's use our rehearsal time to its fullest. Okay, let's do it once again."
Bill/Hercule Poirot: I overheard a plot on the ferryboat… So tell me, what did it mean when you asked him to not kiss you and to wait until *what* was over and *what* was behind you? Was it some task that had to be performed? Some ordeal that had to be endured? Some dark deed that had to be dispatched?
Lois/Mary Debenham: Mr. Poirot, I'm not at liberty to answer those questions.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Not here on this train, perhaps. But when the Yugoslav police arrive, you will be no longer at liberty at all.
Lois/Mary Debenham: This is a private matter between Colonel Arbuthnott and myself.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: There are no private matters during a murder investigation. You will answer my questions! (He yells and hits the table with the passport he has in his hand.)
"Miss Lane," Inspector Henderson said. "You *will* answer my question."
"We already did," Clark told him.
"Miss Lane. Did you kill Lex Luthor?" the detective asked again, looking warningly in Clark's direction.
"I really wanted to," she said in a barely audible tone. "I don't think I ever wanted to hurt anyone as much as I wanted to hurt him. I thought about it, and being in this play, I found myself dwelling on all of the possibilities, all of the means, as you called it. But as much as I wanted to kill Lex Luthor, I knew I couldn't because of these three people," she said, looking at Martha, Jonathan, and Clark. "I love them too much to ever put them at risk or to wind up hurting them simply to satisfy my desire to see a world without Lex Luthor."
During Friday's rehearsal, the cast finally was able to do a run through on-site at the bank building.
Mrs. Harriet Belinda Hubbard, as acted by Barb Friskin, stormed into the interrogation room set up by Hercule Poirot aboard the Calais Coach of the Orient Express.
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: It's about time you got to me.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Yes, time is precious to me as well. So I will make my questions brief and I ask you to confine yourself to short and simple answers. Your full name is Harriet Belinda Hubbard?
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: Yes, I was called Harriet after…
Bill/Hercule Poirot: By now Mr. McQueen has doubtless informed you of the true identity of Mr. Ratchett.
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: Yes, that low down sneak…
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Were you acquainted with the Armstrongs?
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: No, of course not. They were a very social family and traveled in different circles…
Bill/Hercule Poirot: I see.
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: But I found something in my compartment. (She dumps out an array of items onto the table. They go through the items.)
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Is this yours? (Gives her a handkerchief.)
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: H for Hubbard, H for Harriet. But, no, it's not, not practical enough. (Picks up a button and shows it to Poirot.)
Bill/Hercule Poirot: A conductor's button.
"Ms. Friskin," the detective began after she had been brought into the conference room for questioning, replacing the departing Kents and Lois Lane. "You were acquainted with Lex Luthor?"
"Yes," she answered. "He was president of the school board and I was an employee of the public school system." "Did you know him in any other way?" Henderson asked.
Barb paused and looked at the inspector.
"Lex Luthor was my brother-in-law," Barb told a surprised detective and sheriff. "My sister, Ann, was married to Lex for nine years before she died ten years ago. The police called it suicide. It wasn't. Lex Luthor murdered her."
"So you have a reason to hate him and want him dead," the detective said firmly.
"Didn't we all?" Barb said adamantly.
"So I gather," Henderson stated. "I even purchased a gun, but it wasn't the type that was used and mine is still in my desk drawer at school. I don't know why I bought it, but I never used it."
"Did you have reason to use this during the play?" the inspector asked, showing her the remote.
"No. I'm the new kid on the block in this group. I had enough to learn without getting into the mechanics of lighting," she answered.
"Where were you when the lights went off?"
"I was standing at the edge of the stage."
"You were not close to the table of evidence?"
"One more question, Ms. Friskin," he said, looking at her carefully. "It now appears that Jaxon Luthor's your nephew?"
"May I ask what he was doing bussing tables?"
"He did that at my request," she responded.
"The purpose of which was…?"
"Just a minute," Bill Saxon interrupted, entering the small conference room. "I think I can be of help. I've directed other murder mysteries, maybe I can come up with some ideas."
"That's all right, Bill," Barb said to the older man. "I can handle this."
"I have some information that will help," Bill said, looking from one to the other.
"Bill," Barb said to him. "You don't need to look out for me."
"Yes, I do. I'm your father."
The Saturday morning of the final dress rehearsal, the cast and crew were beginning to feel more comfortable. They were on the set and were in costume, using all the necessary props. Martha watched the show, jotting down notes except for the scenes she had to hurriedly join the cast on stage.
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: (Stands in the door of the compartment holding a dagger in her hands.)
Bill/Hercule Poirot: (Walks to her.) Where did you find this?
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: In my make-up bag.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: When did you last open you make-up bag?
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: Last night when I took everything out.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: If you took everything out, why did you need to open it again now?
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: To put something back in.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: You may set your mind at rest, Mrs. Hubbard. (He shows her the tunic found in Frauline Schmidt's compartment.)
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: (Looks at the empty space on the tunic.) The missing button.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Precisely, and I may assure you that the owner of the tunic is not now on the train. (He pauses.) Are you going back to the dining car?
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: I'll say I am. Do you think I can go back to my compartment so soon after finding that…? (She looks at the dagger.)
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Would you kindly locate the chief attendant and have him arrange the tables and chairs so that Dr. Constantine and I can confront the passengers with the solution to the murder?
"Just one last person," Henderson said. "Ask Jaxon Luthor to come in."
Jaxon entered the small conference room now being used as the interrogation center and sat down.
"I just have one question," the detective told him. "Did you kill your father?"
"What I would give to be a fly on the wall in that room now," Lois said to Clark. "Hey Clark?" she said suddenly. "How about using that hearing gizmo of yours?"
"Lo-is," Clark said, grimacing. "I don't think they heard you in Wichita…and 'hearing gizmo'?"
"Yeah," Lois said, lowering her voice. "You know," she implied, pulling at her ear lobe.
"People are entitled to privacy, Lois," Clark informed her. "Especially when they are being interrogated by the police."
"I know," Lois said sulkingly. "But I'm dying to know. I'm sure he did it," she said to Clark.
"We don't know that," he responded.
"Well, look around," Lois suggested. "It couldn't be any of the rest of us. I know that I have some unresolved issues with Jaxon, but he's the most likely one. Luthor pushed him too hard."
"Lois, Luthor pushed us all. I realize now how close both of us were to…"
"All of us," Bill Saxon said, overhearing Lois and Clark's conversation from where he was sitting. "And any of us could have done it."
"I have the solution to the murder," Detective Inspector William Henderson said. "Rachel, please tell the suspects that I will be addressing them shortly."
The anxious members of the Smallville Players and their remaining audience held their collective breaths after hearing from Rachel that the detective was ready.
"Martha," Donald Botts said. "You don't have to try to explain the motivation of the passengers of the Calais Coach ever again. We all *know* how they feel."
"But none of us did it, right?" Cat asked.
"Someone must have," Dan Scardino responded.
"But who?" Jimmy asked, formulating the question on everyone's mind— everyone's mind but the one or ones who did it.
Although shaky, the rehearsal that Saturday morning was moving along toward the solution without a hitch. Martha was pleased because she had been hoping that the show was in good enough shape to dismiss the cast at noon so that they could go home and rest before being back at 6:00 p.m., ready to go.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: The murder must then have been committed by some person or persons in the Calais coach (The detective paces away from them.) and therefore is present in this dining car. (He turns to confront them.)
Cat/Greta (Takes out a handkerchief from her pocket and starts twisting it.)
Donald/Beddoes (Glances just briefly over at Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott showing some concern before he quickly regains composure.)
Lois/Mary Debenham (Looks worriedly up at Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott.)
Jimmy/Count Andrenyi (Once again puts his arm around Cindy/Elena Andrenyi.)
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Let us not for the moment ask the question how, but the question why, which will tell us how and who the murderer is…
…I was not surprised that every single one of you should have heard about the notorious Armstrong murder case. It did surprise me when the first passenger I interrogated, Mr. McQueen (Takes a step toward Keith/McQueen.) admitted that he had known Mrs. Armstrong, albeit slightly. Had he lied about not knowing that Rachett and Casetti were one? Or had he become Rachett's secretary as part of a deliberate plan to avenge Mrs. Armstrong's death? It was only after questioning the others that I would be able see if there *was* an intrigue. Were they all related to the Armstrongs? But all I heard was lies, denials, half-truths, and evasions…
…Even *I* knew more about the Armstrong household than the Princess Dragomiroff (Eyes Martha/Princess Dragomiroff.) who I knew to be the godmother of Mrs. Armstrong and who had visited the Armstrong home frequently. She evaded or lied in regard to all the names I sought… The one name provided was a Miss Freebody, a psychological game of free association. There is a department store in London with the name of Freebody and Debenham. (Looks as Lois/Mary Debenham.) Miss Debenham, who says she teaches shorthand, but in reality was the secretary to Mrs. Armstrong…
…Princess Dragomiroff also told me the maiden name of her goddaughter…something she wasn't able to profess not to know…Greenwood. Gruenwald is German for Greenwood. The Countess Andrenyi (Regards Cindy/Elena Andrenyi.) is Mrs. Armstrong's surviving daughter and her name is Helena not Elena. …Why was she hiding that? For fear, I believe that the handkerchief found in the dead man's compartment would be linked to her…
…No, no. It does not belong to Helena Andrenyi, nor Harriet Hubbard, nor Hiledegarde Schmidt who is a cook, not a maid…the cook of the Armstrong household. No, it belongs to Princess Dragomiroff whose first initial for Natalia when using the Russian Cyrillic alphabet is written like our Capital H. (Writes it on the frosted up window.)…
…I have to thank Colonel Arbuthnott (Bows to Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott.) for the remark which finally resolved my confusions about this extraordinary case…a trial by his peers. …The hour of midnight started to toll in my head. Dr. Constantine. How many stab wounds in the body?
Jonathan/Dr. Constantine: Twelve.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Pierre, how many passengers in the Calais Coach?
Pierre/Wayne Irig: Twelve.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Colonel Arbuthnott, how many men in a jury box?
Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott: Twelve
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Twelve, all of whom…have lied so terribly, why?
Jonathan/Dr. Constantine: Because they didn't know you were to be on board and had to concoct their stories quickly.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Yes…it took some acting skills. But no one performed her part with as much panache as the great actress, Harriet Belinda Hubbard, or should I say, Linda Arden, the great tragic American actress.
Barb/Mrs. Hubbard: My husband thought I should play comedy parts.
Bill/Hercule Poirot: Which husband? Was it your second husband, Mr. Hubbard or your first husband, Mr. Gruenwald? …Thus becoming the mother of Mrs. Armstrong and the grandmother of little Daisy Armstrong and the organizer of this plot.
…The hour of twelve tolls and each one of you enter the compartment to revenge the five deaths…
…I repeat a repulsive murderer has *himself* been repulsively and perhaps deservedly murdered.
Saturday night's performance date had arrived and the play had been forging ahead. Bill Saxon had command of the stage and the characters were performing at the top of their game. There was electricity in the air and the adrenaline was high. Nothing could stop the actors now— nothing that is, except a real murder.
Inspector Henderson paced up and down in front of the group gathered in front of him. "Lex Luthor was a depraved, degenerate, and corrupt man. I have talked to all of you and that is the one thing upon which you all agree. He abused, in one way or another, everyone in this room. So, from all I've heard, this Luthor deserved to die."
The suspects predictably looked at each other.
"He was responsible for the death of his own wife," the detective said, looking at Barb, Bill, and Jaxon. "Not only his wife, but Henry Brady, and Matthew Drake as well, not to mention his complicity in the misdiagnosis of Lois Lane and the scurrilous attack on Vivian Cox. So as Rachett in the play we have just witnessed, Luthor directly damaged five lives and hurt an additional dozen lives.
"So did they all do it together? Or did several of them do it together? Just like the play," Rachel asked. "Is that it?"
"Or is that what the perpetrator wanted us to think?" the Metropolis detective asked somewhat rhetorically. "Put yourself in the killer's shoes. You want to carry off the perfect murder," he said, pacing up and down in front of the suspects just as Hercule Poirot had done less than two hours before. "You are involved through participation or association with a participant, in a production of a classic murder mystery. Why not use that? Why not make it appear that the murder is life, imitating art. Why not *make* it look like a conspiracy which would then shift the focus away from the real killer?"
The actors and their friends looked at each other once again. They didn't need a director to tell them how to react. They were all perplexed, confused, and fearful. Who among them would have been capable enough to pull off something like this? Although each of them could empathize on different levels as to the motivation to kill Lex Luthor, who would have put that desire into action?
Detective Henderson pulled up a chair and straddled it, eyeing all of them. "Look, everyone," he began. "I'm not Hercule Poirot and I'm not Superman, and believe me, in this instance I don't even want to be a homicide detective. This is not my jurisdiction but I promised Rachel that I would help. We have been stuck here together for the last two hours during which time I have talked to each of you and have learned a great deal," he said, looking at the anxious group. "You are all decent people who have been abused in one way or another by a particularly evil man. But unlike Hercule Poirot in your play tonight, the police cannot come up with an easy solution that allows the revenge, deserved or not, to go unpunished. We cannot allow someone to take the law into their own hands, and so the murderer must pay," he said, standing up.
"Rachel," Detective Henderson said firmly. "Please arrest…Bill Saxon."
"No!" Barb Friskin yelled out and moved quickly toward him. "We just found you, Jaxon and I," she exclaimed. For the past three weeks she had grown to respect and admire this man and she didn't want to lose him now.
"It's all right, daughter," her father said, putting his arm around her. "He's right."
"What? But…how?" she exclaimed, her mind full of questions.
The others in the room silently echoed her verbalizations as they looked at each other, and then surprisingly at Bill for an explanation.
"I did it for my daughter, Annie, Jaxon's mother," Bill explained. "And for my grandson," the elderly man said, looking for the first time all of his sixty-eight years as he turned his eyes to Jaxon and paused. "And also for all of you," he continued, looking at his friends assembled there.
"I guess I was really getting into my role," Bill said, smiling, glancing at Martha. "I have been sort of playing detective," he explained as he took the floor from the real detective and faced his audience. Bill Saxon, who had depicted Hercule Poirot so eloquently, was now in his element. He was an actor and he was portraying the role of a lifetime.
"And what I found," he continued, "was a whole lot of wonderful, courageous people whom I loved, and who had been pushed to the brink of doing something incredibly stupid." His voice was emotional as tears welled up in his eyes. "So," he sighed. "I decided to take matters into my own hands and do it first as a way of stopping all of you.
"Lex Luthor was a depraved and corrupt man. He was responsible for our pain and for the deaths of people we all loved. His destruction is a blessing for our community and for each of the lives he attempted to defile."
Rachel Harris took a pair of handcuffs from one of the deputies at the door and, gently putting the retired drama teacher's hands behind his back, snapped the cuffs into place. "The storm's let up," she informed everyone, "so I'll have the deputies take him in."
The three started out the doors as Barb sank back into a chair next to her nephew.
"Jaxon," Bill Saxon said, stopping and looking back. "Take this opportunity to turn your life around. You are *not* your father. I really didn't get to know your mother, but if she is anything like her sister…" he said, smiling at Barb. "Well, I just hope you have enough of your mother in you to become what she would have wanted you to become."
The people remaining in the banquet hall watched as Bill Saxon was taken out of the large room, and then turned their eyes as if directed to, toward William Henderson.
"I guess all of you deserve an explanation," the Metropolis detective said. "And perhaps the script calls for it. Right, Mrs. Kent?" he asked rhetorically.
"Motive, means, and opportunity. That's what we look for," Henderson informed them. "I'm sure all of you know that from the murder mysteries you've read, seen, and acted out. Well, each and every one of you had a motive. In fact, the motives were bouncing off the walls *and* they were obscuring what I had to concentrate on," he explained, pulling up a chair again.
"So, instead I had to direct my energy toward means and opportunity," he said, sitting down. "Each and every one of you had the opportunity. All of you were within steps of the murder victim when the lights went out. Any one of you could have done it, if you had planned it well. So that left me with means," he said. "And this is where Bill Saxon was very smart. He attempted to cloud the issue by creating three different means of murder—poison, gunshot, and stabbing—trying to create the impression that more than one of you *had* to be involved."
Those assembled were hanging on every word.
"Unlike the play," he told them. "None of you lied to me. In fact, you were all forthright with your hatred of Lex Luthor, so I could have easily been sucked into the plot that Bill was concocting. But something didn't add up," the real detective informed them. "To have a conspiracy, you have to have conspirators, and as blatantly horrific as this man was and your anger was, none of you, including Bill, could have participated in such a collusion. That was not your style. You care too much for each other to have created an intrigue that required endangering someone other than yourself," he explained.
Clark smiled down at Lois and put his arm around her. They had been through so much, but he saw in Lois' face a release of the tension and animosity previously there.
Beatrice looked over at Mayson, who took her mother's hand, knowing that all had been forgiven. Sharon felt her daughter lean against her and breathed a sign of relief. Maybe now they can get beyond the pain and their lives could be better.
Barb Friskin reached out to put her hand on Jaxon's, hoping that her father's sacrifice had not been in vain. "So, if it wasn't collusion, which *one* person could have rigged it so that the three methods of murder were perpetrated simultaneously? It had to be done quickly, it had to be done effortlessly, and it had to be done with knowledge of misdirection," he concluded. "The word misdirection kept, as Poirot would have put it, circling in my head. It would take a director, someone who was familiar with plot, motivation, props, blocking, and timing."
There was silence in the group as several heads turned to look at Martha Kent. Jonathan squeezed Martha's hand.
"No, no, of course not," Henderson declared. "Martha could never have done this, as talented as she appears to be. Of the three means of murder, only the knife successfully achieved its result and, excuse me Martha, you are neither tall enough nor strong enough to have been able to accomplish it."
Martha smiled slightly at all the cast members as Henderson continued his revelations.
"As soon as I figured out…" the detective went on, standing once more and beginning to pace, "…that the gunshot and the poison were ruses, it began to fall into place."
He turned to face them once again.
"All of you during the intermission were helping to serve the dinners and drinks. But the intermission only took place ten minutes before the murder. Cyanide when ingested, takes about thirty minutes to kill its victim. Therefore, the poison which was obviously placed in Luthor's glass during intermission, was never intended to be the means of murder," he informed them, continuing to pace.
"The gun and silencer, conveniently tossed aside, had an interesting mark on its barrel that indicated it was attached to some kind of mechanical device. And, from the angle of the entry wound, I would imagine that somewhere along here…" he said, kneeling close to center stage.
Clark pulled his glasses down and using his x-ray vision, spied the device. He blew very gently to create a slight movement in the curtains that fronted the bottom of the stage. The inspector's attention was attracted to the correct spot where, fingering a bullet hole, he moved aside the curtain to reveal a vice-like apparatus attached to an electrical switch. "Ah-ha," Henderson smiled. "As I said, here is where the gun with its silencer were held, the bullet fired, and then the gun and silencer were ejaculated into the murder scene."
The inspector stood up and then hoisted himself up so that he was sitting on the edge of the stage.
"Like the poison," Henderson explained, "the gun could not be depended upon to actually do the killing. And, when I discovered that the gunshot wound indicated that the bullet had penetrated the lower outside quadrant of his stomach and could not have possibly been lethal, then I knew that it, too, was a ruse. Of course the discovery, with Clark's help," he said, taking the device from his pocket, "of this remote control which only one of four people operated, was very helpful."
Inspector Henderson held up the remote.
"This control did three things. It caused the blackout, fired the gun, and then propelled the gun and silencer onto the floor. Who could have constructed such a device? Someone who was knowledgeable about electric wiring and mechanical devices that have been utilized in plays. When I had heard that the last mystery play that Bill directed for the high school was "Wait Until Dark," I remembered that just such a device is used in that play to propel a knife."
He smiled at their astonishment. "Yes," he explained, "I love theatre, especially a good mystery. One day I may write one."
The remaining people in the room smiled. Obviously, many of them were beginning to feel more relaxed.
"So, only the stab wound to the back was capable of killing Lex Luthor and its wielder *alone* was the murderer. Armed with the knowledge of Bill's opportunity to plant poison in Lex's drink, as he was responsible for the Luthor table, and with his ability to construct the remote device, I knew that he had fabricated the ruses. I just needed to insure that he, and he alone, took the dagger off the evidence table and thrust it into Lex Luthor."
The detective stood up on the stage. "In order to clear this up I suggest that we reenact the crime. Will all of you get to your places — the places you were when the lights went off?"
The actors moved to their appropriate spots while the audience members altered their seats to be in their previous places. Sharon Brady and Jaxon Luthor took their spots at the back of the room.
"I'll take Bill Saxon's role," Henderson stated. "But I need someone to be Lex Luthor," the detective said looking around at the spectators.
"I'll do it," came a voice from the back and Jaxon walked up to the Luthor table.
The detective moved toward center stage, turned his back to the audience, fiddled with something, then turned and held up the remote. "Okay, Bill gave his last line. He pushed button number one on the remote and black out. Jaxon, stand up at your chair, please, and count out loud," he told Luthor's son.
Jaxon rose and began counting. "One, two… " he began.
"Buckle your shoe," Donald yelled out.
"Shush, Donald," his wife reproached him.
"Jonathan and Clark, please go toward the fuse box," the Inspector instructed.
The others watched as Inspector Henderson pretended to pick up the dagger from the evidence table, walked down the three small steps toward Luthor's table, which was right in front of him, supposedly using Luthor's voice as a beacon.
"…three, four, five…"
"Jonathan, you and Clark have now reached the fuse box and, finding it locked, Clark heads over toward Luthor's voice."
Clark followed instructions.
"…six, seven, eight, nine…"
"I reach Luthor, stab him," he explained, using his empty hand. "Click the remote to shoot off the silenced gun and eject it, and stick the remote into his pocket," Henderson explains, moving quickly back toward the stairs of the stage.
"…achhhhh," Jaxon fakes.
"Clark arrives and grabs Lex," the inspector directs as he moves back to Bill Saxon's position on stage. "And the lights go up, finding me back in place and Clark with the knife in his hand."
Clark had his arm around Jaxon, easing him slowly down to the floor and then offering Jaxon his arm, helped him back up. Jaxon walked back to his position behind all of the others.
"I see that it all works," Mayor Cox stated. "But how does it show that Bill did it? He was the closest to the dagger, but the same could have been said for Donald Botts, who was almost as close as Bill was to the table."
"Hey!" Donald stated.
"I examined the murder weapon and found no appropriate fingerprints on the dagger," Henderson clarified. "The character of Hercule Poirot is known for his fastidiousness. And thanks to Martha Kent, whose attention to detail is the sign of a good director, Bill Saxon wore gloves as Poirot did," he explained, holding up his own hands and showing the gloves he had donned. "There was just not enough time for any other character to have put on gloves or used any kind of cloaking material to stab Lex without leaving finger prints. So *not* leaving fingerprints was a fingerprint in and of itself."
"What about Clark's fingerprints?" Scardino asked suggestively.
Lois turned to scowl at Scardino. What had she seen in that sleazy, flashback to the 70s? "I'm glad someone asked about that," Henderson acknowledged. "The knife wound was made with an upward thrust of the dagger. Clark's fingerprints showed his thumb on the bottom of the dagger. Such an imprint would have been made as he grasped on to it when he grabbed hold of Luthor. The killer on the other hand would have left a thumbprint on the top of the dagger's handle. But there were no other prints but Clark's."
"That's it?" Jimmy asked. "No fingerprints showing that the person was holding the knife the right way? Would that have been enough to convict?"
"Perhaps not," the inspector said. "But after talking to all of you, I knew that if I simply confronted him, he would admit the truth. He wouldn't want to implicate any of you because he cared so much for all of you. He was hoping that the possibility of collusion would keep everyone guessing and no one would be charged at all. Maybe he longed for that Agatha Christie ending."
The actors and audience members were silent. All of them were dwelling on their own thoughts.
"What's the next step?" Lois asked.
A solitary figure chose that moment to slip away from the rest of the group and quietly opened the doorway to the stairwell. Quickly moving up the stairs to the fifth floor, the intruder entered Lex Luthor's apartment.
Knowing exactly where to go, the heir apparent sat down at Lex's desk and ran his fingers over the mahogany surface. Jaxon spun in the swivel chair and stopped to face the computer. He turned on the power and when asked for the password paused, chuckled and typed in 'Alexander the Great.' The screen lit up and a menu appeared, directing him toward bank business, personal finances, special projects, personnel, and rare oddities.
Stopping briefly on personal finances, Jaxon perused Lex Luthor's holdings and smiled. "I have to remember to send Grandpa a present for getting all this for me," he said aloud. "I had had other plans, but it is so nice that Gramps beat me to the punch."
Smiling, Jaxon thought back to the night when his aunt and he had planned what they were going to do. It was his aunt's idea for Jaxon to sneak into the office and, using the computer, confiscate some records that would prove his father's participation in nefarious schemes. But now that that wasn't necessary, Jaxon had ideas of his own.
Moving on to special projects, Jaxon began browsing through several sections and stopped abruptly on a link that brought him to a interesting program—a program that appeared to be set to automatically move funds from his father's major personal finance account to the Smallville AIDS clinic. Jaxon roamed around and discovered that a large percentage of his Dad's fortune would be siphoned off each week beginning on the following Monday. Jaxon smiled and quickly moved into the commands and canceled the program. <So,> he thought, <his perky, pretty step-mother, probably with aid of Mrs. Drake, who knew computers, had planned to ruin his father financially. So that was their plan!> Well, he had put a stop to that.
Jaxon then clicked onto rare oddities and got a secondary menu listing treasures that Lex Luthor possessed. Strangely, one button read "Superman." Curious, Jaxon clicked on that button and was stopped by the request for another password. After trying several combinations, Jaxon paused and then typed "higround." Again, Jaxon was rewarded for his ingenuity with a series of numbers flashing on the screen. Realizing that these numbers were the combination to the special safe that his father had installed in the floor under the Oriental rug in back of the desk, Jaxon pulled the rug aside and opened the small safe.
Inside was a lead box. Jaxon lifted it out and opened it. A green glow radiated outward.
"Next step?" asked Dan.
"What can we do to show Bill that we are standing by him?" Lois asked.
"I don't know if this is appropriate or incredibly shallow of us," Keith responded. "But Bill loved the theatre. Why don't we do the last scene of the play as a show of our support?"
"I think he would love knowing that the show went on," Martha informed the group.
Just as the cast began to take their places on the stage, the double doors to the banquet room opened and two men pushed a gurney into the room. Rachel Harris pointed out the body to the coroner's assistants. Entering behind them was Smallville's new coroner, who had only been on the job about two weeks. The attractive, thirty-something-aged woman came up to Rachel Harris.
"You must be Sheriff Harris," the coroner stated efficiently. "I'm here to take charge of the body." She leaned over and pulled the tablecloth down and made a cursory examination. She then signaled the two men to place the body on the gurney and remove it to the coroner's wagon.
"I will begin the autopsy tomorrow morning," the new coroner informed Rachel. "If you need anything, just call me. Here is my card," she said, following the gurney out.
Rachel looked at the card. It read Dr. Gretchen Kelly.
The cast had reached their places and was ready to begin the last scene.
The remaining audience members took their seats. Mr. and Mrs. Cox, Mayson Drake, Dr. Klein, Perry White, Sharon Drake, and William Henderson sat down at the three front tables.
Barb Friskin as Mrs. Harriet Belinda Hubbard, the supposed leader of the play's conspiracy plot, took her place at the head of a reception line with her daughter Cindy/Elena Andrenyi at her side. Pierre/Wayne poured them all champagne, and one by one the conspirators moved past the mother and daughter, saluting them.
Jimmy/Count Andrenyi kissed his wife, Cindy/Elena Andrenyi, on her cheek and clinked her glass along with that of his mother-in-law as he filed by. Then, slowly, the other cast members walked by each, saluting the leader of their conspiracy. Lastly, Lois/Mary Debenham and Clark/Colonel Arbuthnott kissed each other and then they, too, clinked their glasses with the mother and daughter in tribute and moved off stage.
As soon as they were off stage, Clark grabbed Lois' coat from the rack in the corner and pulled her onto the balcony that overlooked Smallville's town square. The storm had abated to a gentle fall of intermittent snowflakes. Clark helped her on with her coat and then gathered the woman he loved into his arms and stroked her hair as Lois leaned against his chest.
Had it only been a little over two months that she, a hard fighting activist and English teacher, had come to Smallville and had had her entire life turned around? She snuggled closer into Clark's arms and knew that she belonged there. His arms drew her in even tighter and she felt so much a part of him. A lot had happened in those few weeks. She felt exhausted but incredibly happy at last. She had found a true friend, someone who cherished her thoughts, feelings, and dreams. Henry David Thoreau had said, 'Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.' Clark had given her the chance to sing that song. Her life was now complete.
"I'm so glad this is all over. Now we can get on with our lives," she said as she let out a long sigh.
She began to imagine the life that lay ahead for both of them—a Kansas couple who shared ideals, compassion for others, and their own love. Of course, there was Superman and his ideals, his compassion, and his love of truth and justice that would always be a part of their lives as well. Lois looked up into Clark's eyes. "We will make it, Clark. I know now that I love you more than I thought I could ever love anyone. You are my life."
"I'm completely in love with you, Lois…" he began as he lifted her chin with his hand, looking deeply into her eyes, and seeing the love shining back, "…Lane," he finished. He kissed her gently and drew her back into his arms. He knew they had to go back in, but he just didn't want this moment to end.
Clark thought back on how his life had changed, beginning with the day he had met this remarkable woman. He had fulfilled his destiny and he had found a love that would last forever. Forever. What a wonderful word when it involved Lois.
He looked over Lois' head through the glass doors at the theatre group packing up their stuff. He and his father had already arranged to come back the next day to strike the set. Tonight everyone else just wanted to go home. <Theatre,> he thought. <It was like his mother had always told him: It's drama and passion, mystery and comedy…and life. And theatre had given him a new life—a life with Lois.> He looked gratefully at his wife-to-be.
Several snowflakes had fallen onto her eyelashes. Clark kissed each of her eyes and then placed a gentle kiss on her lips. His tongue slowly caressed her lips and searched out her mouth as Lois parted her lips and…
Detective Inspector William Henderson watched the cast exit the stage, begin to gather their things, and move toward the glass doors which led to the elevators. He looked around the now almost-deserted area and smiled as he saw Jonathan scooting Martha out the door, and noticed Clark on the balcony with Lois. The room now was silent, where earlier there had been the activity of a play, and a murder to be solved. He walked up onto the set and looked around at the site of Hercule Poirot's conquest. The detective from Metropolis reached out to touch the table where all the props of the crime scene had been displayed. He loved a good mystery, and Agatha Christie's were the best. Sometimes life did imitate art, he realized, as tonight he had had the opportunity to be Agatha's master sleuth. Henderson chuckled over his own sentimentality and started walking down the steps to the meeting room floor. He thrust his hands into his pockets as he walked slowly toward the doors and only then realized that he still had the remote. With one final glance at the stage, he took the device out of his pocket and pushed the button.
Portions of the play, "The Male Animal" were used with permission of Samuel French, Inc., New York City, New York. "Murder on the Orient Express" was written by Agatha Christie and the song "Shine On, Shine On, Harvest Moon" (1903) is by Nora Bayes and Jack Norworth