By Jude Williams <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2003
Summary: Lois Lane has been murdered, and Perry White has hired a new reporter, Clark Kent, to write the story of her life and death. Who killed her, and has Clark found the woman of his dreams too late? There is a Spoiler.
FEEDBACK: Courteous constructive criticism is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
My thanks to my faithful beta reader, Gerry Anklewicz who encouraged me and kept me on track. She keeps my writing honest and prods and pokes me to finish what I start. Without her, I would probably have a hard drive full of incomplete stories and nothing in the Archive.
You will recognize some lines of dialogue that may seem familiar from Lois and Clark episodes. I make no claim to have created them, but use them as points for FOLCs to recognize and enjoy from a different perspective. Likewise I intend no infringement on the characters from the Lois and Clark series. They belong to D.C. Comics and to Warner Brothers. I have borrowed them for the purpose of my story.
I will acknowledge the film, screenwriters and novelist who provided the inspiration for this story in the Author's notes at the end.
AN EXPLANATION: Every once in a while someone on the Lois and Clark board asks the question, "What movies would you like to see Teri and Dean in if they were remade today?" What they really mean, I think, is, "In what movie would you like to see the Lois and Clark personas as created by Teri and Dean?" I always come back to the same answer when I think about it, so I don't reply to those posts anymore. But I started thinking, I'll never get to see them in that movie, but what if I wrote a variation of it as though it were a Lois and Clark episode? And that's what this is. If you are a lover of classic Hollywood films, you'll probably recognize it pretty quickly. There is a multitude of differences between my story and the film, and I would be very interested if anyone would want to do a comparative analysis between the two.
I will, of course, give proper credit where credit is due in my endnotes. I don't know if anyone's ever done this before, and I certainly am not trying to plagiarize anything. I was just interested in seeing how it would play out. It's an Elseworld story (I think. I'm never quite sure about the category definitions) so events and characters are not necessarily in sync with the LAC: TNAOS timeline.
Those who want to play the game and try to guess what film is the inspiration for the story, or who do not need to know the truth of the story, and who prefer to read without foreknowledge should go now to WARNING. For those who need to know, the following is a
* Lois Lane is not dead. The name of the film is Laura, a 1944 Twentieth Century Fox black and white film starring Gene Tierney Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Dame Judith Anderson. It's available at any video store that has a selection of Classic Hollywood films.
WARNING: This story contains a brief description of violence.
Perry White exhaled heavily and assessed the young man seated across the desk from him. He saw dark hair, brown eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses, and a straight gaze that met his own without any sign of hesitation or discomfort. The editor of the Daily Planet was about to hire a new reporter, a task that, ordinarily, would have been a pleasure. But the man upstairs hadn't suddenly done an about face, unlocked his pockets, increased the budget, and insisted that he add staff. No, he would never have done that on his own. He had agreed because Perry had persuaded him that it was necessary. The famous editor wished like hell it wasn't, but he knew that sometimes, we have to do what we'd rather not, no matter how painful. And painful it was.
Lois Lane was dead.
She was gone, and somebody had to replace her. No, strike that! No one could ever replace Lois Lane. How could he replace the best investigative reporter he had ever seen?
Her would-be replacement, young and fresh-faced, was a little na‹ve, maybe, and without much real experience. On paper, the man across the desk wasn't at all impressive — special correspondent for the Nairobi Guardian, reporter for the Borneo Times, associate editor of the Smallville, Kansas, Gazette. But Perry White had a gut feeling about him, the kind he got,
on occasion, that turned out to be fortuitous and infallible ,the kind that made him a great editor. The fellow had brought in a terrific story about the demise of an old theatre that was being torn down to make way for one of Lex Luthor's new projects. It showed a flare for just the kind of thing that Perry wanted to put '30' to the career of Lois Lane. Right now he was pretty sure that this young man was the one who could do the job the way he wanted it done. He just needed to probe a little further to nail it down.
"Well, now, Kent, you don't exactly have the kind of resume that plays like an Elvis top ten hit."
Clark Kent's natural optimism dropped twenty degrees. It was always the same with these editors of great newspapers. They wanted you to have had experience at other great newspapers, but how could you get that experience when they wouldn't hire you if you didn't already have it?
"I understand, Mr. White, and I appreciate you're giving me an interview. I haven't had any experience writing for a large newspaper, but I've certainly had a lot of experience interviewing with them. I'd hoped that the theatre piece might make a difference this time, but I guess not. So, thank you anyway. It's meant a lot to me personally to meet an editor I've admired for so long. And if you can use the story, it would make a great addition to my file, even if you aren't going to hire me." He rose to leave.
"Now just a darn minute," Perry snapped, stalling the young man's departure. "I didn't say I wasn't going to hire you. Don't you go jumpin' the gun on me, here. This is a good story, and I intend to use it. You showed initiative bringing this in, and you have good reporter's instincts. You know how to create something interesting out of what seems ordinary, but I haven't completely made up my mind yet. You knew to investigate carefully, check your facts, research the background; and then you had the sensitivity to center the piece on that aging actress who refused to give up the stage to the demolition crews until she finished her farewell scene. That's all first-rate. Now I need to tell you why I'm hiring someone, and what I expect from that person. Then I want to hear from you if you can do the job."
Clark lit up inside. He almost grinned, but he had seen the headlines about Lois Lane's death, and he had felt the sense of gloom in the newsroom when he first walked in. Jocularity didn't seem appropriate under the circumstances. Did the job he was interviewing for have anything to do with what had happened to her?
Perry looked out the window for a long moment, then cleared his throat and said, "I guess you know that Lois Lane is dead." He looked at Clark who nodded affirmatively.
"She would have called that theatre piece of yours, 'touchy-feely' and refused to write anything like it. If she had written it, she would have given it a much harder edge. But I don't want to say goodbye to her in a way she would have written it. She was a world-renowned reporter, but almost no one knew the person she really was. Do you understand?"
Clark wasn't sure, but he nodded again.
Perry continued. "Did you ever meet her?"
"No, I never did. I saw her at a press convention, once, but we didn't run in the same circles. I don't…didn't know her at all, personally, but I know her work inside and out. She was a great reporter, apparently fearless in her investigations."
"To say the least. I was always afraid she'd end up…" He stopped abruptly, looked down for a moment and then went on. "The Daily Planet can never replace Lois Lane. And no one here can really investigate her death and write her story. We're all too close to it. That's why I persuaded the publisher to let me hire someone completely different, unfamiliar with us, with her, and with the circumstances leading to her death. Someone who could begin investigating without any preconceived notions, carry through without sentimental attachment, and get the story of how and why she died and who killed her.
"Management agreed with me that to write the story of her death we needed someone objective, someone without the emotional baggage of having known her. We needed someone who could write about her without any prejudice from working with her day after day. Because, lord knows, the woman never met anyone without leaving a deep impression, too often negative. I need an unbiased reporter with an open mind to investigate and write the story of her murder."
He paused, caught in a memory, then spoke again. "The way she went after someone she'd targeted was unforgettable…and dangerous. Do you know the circumstances of her death?"
"Only what I read in the news releases: that she was shot when she opened the door of her apartment and died instantly."
"Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police Department is in charge of the case. He and Lois carried on kind of a feud. He always claimed she drove him crazy, and she probably did, but he's made it his personal business to get whoever did this, and he's holding back some details hoping he can trip up the killer."
Clark said nothing. He wasn't sure if he was supposed to respond. He sat waiting to find out just how he fit into all this.
The editor sized up the reporter one last time. He wanted someone who, untainted by previous contact with Lois Lane, could investigate her life and write about her death fairly and truthfully. Perry White, who never trusted anyone at first glance, unaccountably trusted Clark Kent without reservation. He made his decision.
"I think you're the man who can write the story and show us the real Lois Lane while you're doing it. What about it, Kent?"
Clark's sprits leaped. He was going to get a chance at what might be the biggest story of the year. He looked Perry straight on and said, "I think I can do the job."
"Think?" Perry roared. "Think isn't good enough. Can you do the job?"
Taken aback by Perry White's ferocity, but unflinching , Clark nodded, stood, and said firmly, "Yes sir, I can."
"Good. If you do it the way I think you can, you won't have any problem with the contract I'll offer you. Mess it up, and you'll be on your way back to the Borneo Gazette."
"Times," Clark muttered.
"Uh, just clearing my throat, sir."
Perry turned and gestured toward a large painting leaning against one wall. "There, looking as real as life, stands the best reporter the Planet has ever seen. Won three Kerth awards and not close to thirty yet. No one that young's ever done anything like it. Our publisher was so pleased when she won the last one that he commissioned this portrait of her. When you get to know what she was like, you'll know she didn't spend much time sitting for it. But the artist, Tristan Ganeymede — you've probably heard of him — did a terrific job of catching her likeness on canvas, I think.
Clark saw a woman in a trench coat facing into the wind, dark hair blown about, one strand across her face, lithe body almost revealed by the half open coat. One foot was slightly in front of the other, and she carried a small tape recorder in one hand; the other hand was clenched into a fist. But it was the face that drew the onlooker. Beautiful, with eyes defiant against whatever she saw in the distance. Like so many portraits of strangers, it was two-dimensional. The beauty was flat, the figure static. But the flash in the eyes intrigued. He was looking forward to knowing this woman, discovering what she had really been like.
Perry continued, "We tried to give it to Lois's family, but they're not ready to cope with it yet. I've got to get it out of here because it keeps reminding everybody…well, anyway we're gonna send it over to Lois's apartment for storage until her family decides what to do with it. We'll get you a key to her place so you can visit the scene of the crime after you check in with Bill Henderson.
"Now, to start you off, here's a list of people you'll want to interview. You'll probably add some names to the list as you go along." He handed him a computer printout.
Clark took a quick look at the page. Lex Luthor, Perry White, Tristan Ganeymede, Inspector William Henderson were names he recognized. He assumed that Lucy Lane, Ellen Lane and Samuel Lane were Lois Lane's family. Jimmy Olsen, Catherine Grant, Diane Goodman, Daniel Scardino, Ralph Potter, Carl Benson, and the single appellative, Star were unknown to him. Were they friends, colleagues, rivals?
Perry broke into Clark's silent speculation. "Now you come along with me. We'll get you a desk and some press credentials, and you can get started. You can fill out the payroll paperwork later." Perry opened his office door and strode onto the newsroom floor with The Daily Planet's newest reporter in tow.
Clark checked the top of his new desk again. *His* new desk…at The Daily Planet! He still wasn't completely certain that it was real. But that was his computer. Those were his in-out boxes, lined pads, pens, pencils, and most important, for the moment, his working telephone. Alongside the phone was a Rolodex. Not just any Rolodex but the one that had belonged to Lois Lane. It was Clark's Rosetta Stone for the woman he was about to decipher, the key to the secrets of her life and death.
He looked again at the list of names Perry had given him. He would start with those he recognized and identify the others later. First, Inspector William Henderson, who would be his window into the crime. Checking the Rolodex, he found the number and punched it into the phone. He should make that an auto-dial listing, but the instrument he had been given was too generic to have such an add-on. The Daily Planet appeared to be running on a pretty tight budget.
Someone at the other end of the line answered. Clark asked, "Inspector Henderson there?"
There was a pause at the other end, then Clark heard
"Inspector Henderson, my name is Clark Kent. I've just been hired by the Daily Planet to write about the Lois Lane murder. I was wondering if I could come over, introduce myself, and talk with you about the case."
"New in town, aren't you?" Henderson's tone was more sardonic than inquisitive.
"Well, yes. How did you know?"
"You're too polite to be a local reporter. Nothing like Lane, that's for sure. Okay, I'm willing to give a new guy a break. Besides, I promised Perry I'd keep the Planet informed. Come on over; I'll find out just how far I can trust you."
Clark hung up the phone, as he reflected on the different standards of courtesy in Metropolis and Kansas where he grew up. Grabbing a pad, pen and his newly acquired voice recorder, he strode toward the elevators, returning after a few steps to retrieve the list Perry had given him.
Fifteen minutes later, he pushed open the door to the 27th Precinct where Henderson was assigned. Approaching the Sergeant at the front desk, he asked for the Inspector and was sent up some nearby stairs to the homicide squad room. As he looked around, a saturnine, dark-haired man waved at him from the back of the room. "Kent?"
Clark nodded and made his way to the out-of-the-way desk. As he approached, the man stood up, and Clark thrust out his hand saying, "Thanks for seeing me, Inspector. I hope we'll be working together frequently."
Henderson ignored the hand, his response hinting at veiled hostility lurking beneath the stoic surface he presented.
"What makes you think we'll be working together?"
Clark answered quickly, smiling. "Because I'm such a trustworthy guy, as you'll soon find out."
Henderson relaxed, smiled, nodded and pointed to a chair. "All right. Everything I tell you is off the record until I say it isn't. Agreed?"
Clark nodded. "I can live with that."
Making note of Clark's easy manner, Henderson said, "Perry wasn't kidding when he said he was going to hire someone very different from Lois."
"Why do you say that? I may not be in her class, but I'm a good reporter."
"I'm sure you are. Perry White wouldn't have hired you otherwise. I'm talking about attitude. Lois didn't like to be told that someone else would control what she could write."
"I see," said Clark. "Tell me about her."
"Nosy, pushy, hard-edged. No crime scene was safe when she was around. Always picking up things, ignoring yellow tape. When I'd call her on it she'd be all innocence."
"She must have hindered a lot of your investigations."
"She wasn't always like that. When she first started, she was a sweet kid. Eager to learn Ambitious but not overly cynical. About average for a rich girl who grew up in Metropolis, I'd say. But something happened to her in her first year at the Planet. She was hell on wheels after that. Wouldn't take anyone's word for anything.
"You don't know what happened?"
"No. Whatever it was, it turned her into a pain in the butt, though. She was always challenging us about our methods and had her own ideas about police procedures. Expected us to photograph and dust for fingerprints at every crime she got onto, even a routine break-in or burglary. If it was important to her, then it had to be our top priority."
"Sounds like she was a real nuisance."
Henderson looked at him sadly. "She was the best crime reporter I've ever seen and was responsible for putting more crooks behind bars than a lot of cops in this city. Most of the guys on the force will miss her. I'm gonna get whoever killed her; you can bet on that."
It dawned on Clark that all of Henderson's complaining was subterfuge, hiding fondness for a woman he had respected and felt a kinship with.
"Tell me about her murder."
"Still off the record. We think she wasn't alone. We think there was someone else in the apartment with her besides the killer. A witness. There was an empty bottle of wine at the bottom of the trashcan under some rubbish, and glasses washed clean and innocently left to drain like they'd been there a while. Whoever that somebody was knew about DNA and fingerprints because they did a good job of eliminating both. I figure it was somebody she was in a relationship with; she was wearing a negligee. We haven't released any of that to the press. "
"You don't have any idea who it might have been?"
"No one's come forward, but from what we found out from her sister, she was seeing a couple of guys — Daniel Scardino, a federal agent, and Lex Luthor, everybody's favorite billionaire who just happens to be the Daily Planet's owner and publisher."
Clark mentally put those names higher on his interview list. "According to the news report, she answered the door and was shot."
"Yeah. She had a peephole, so she must have known who it was, and she must have known them well because she was willing to open the door wearing a flimsy nightdress. There's something else I didn't release to the news people. This was a particularly vicious crime. Somebody unloaded both barrels of a shotgun full of double ought buckshot directly into her face. There was nothing recognizable left, and the whole back of her head was gone."
Clark thought of the lovely woman in the portrait. "She must have made somebody really mad. Any idea who?"
"There's a long line. The guys she put behind bars probably hated her. And a lot of reporters resented her. When she was on a story, she didn't let anybody get in her way. She'd have run over them and left them for road kill. But was that enough for one of them to do this? It strikes me more like something personal. The perp wanted to do more than kill her. He wanted to blot out her existence."
"You think it was a man, then?"
"No, just using a general 'he'. But if a woman did it, she'd have to have a strong stomach and a knowledge of guns. It's pretty likely the shotgun was sawed off."
"You didn't find the weapon?"
Clark stood up. "Thanks, Inspector Henderson. You've given me a good start for my investigation. I'll be checking back with you. I'd like access to the crime scene, if that's okay. I have a key to the apartment, and the Planet wants to store a portrait of the victim there until her family is ready for it. As I said, I'll check with you before I print anything."
"I'm good with that. Since I've been up front with you, I expect you to keep me informed about what you find out while you're snooping around."
"You've got it Inspector," Clark replied. Then making his farewell, he headed back to the newspaper office to write up the details he had just learned.
A short time later, Clark exited from the elevator at the Daily Planet and made his way across the bullpen to his desk. Halfway there he saw Perry motion to him from the door of this office. Joining the editor, he followed him into his sanctuary.
"How's it going, Clark? I don't suppose you've got anything to print yet?" he asked with a wink and a smile.
Grinning, Clark replied, " Well, not quite yet, sir. But I've got some good leads. I spent an hour with Inspector Henderson. He seems like a good man. I know some of the details of the crime, and I'm beginning to get a sense of what the subject was like."
"Subject? You mean Lois? If you can call her 'the subject', you don't have a clue yet as to what she was like. Keep digging, son. Bill Henderson is a good man, but she was a complex woman, and it's gonna take a lot more than his viewpoint for you to figure her out. What's your next move?"
"I thought I'd write up my notes. Then I'd like to interview someone here at the Planet who was close to her. After that I need to talk with Lex Luthor and a Daniel Scardino. I'll visit the crime scene later this afternoon. I could take the portrait over there for you, if you like." He nodded his head in the direction of the painting. When he saw it, he thought it had changed. The 'subject's' eyes and mouth seemed harder, and the body seemed to have more aggressive tension in it. The raised fist had become an angry gesture.
"Sure thing, Clark. That would be a big help. Seems like you're out of the gate fast and on the inside track. You won't be able to talk with Lex Luthor today, though. He's tied up in a meeting with one of his companies. He only comes in here a couple of times a week. You ought to call his secretary and make an appointment. Now, if you want to talk with someone from the newsroom who was close to her, Jimmy Olsen's your guy. You can probably find him in the darkroom. You talked with any of Lois's family yet?
Clark shook his head. "Not yet. Maybe I'll try to see one of them after I talk to Olsen and Scardino."
Perry glanced at a message on his desk. "The reason I asked, her sister, Lucy, called a little while ago and said she was stopping by to drop off some files Lois had left at her place. You might as well take them and look them over. She should be here around 2:30."
"Good," said Clark. "That'll save me from having to track her down."
"Sounds like you'll have a busy day. Why don't you put the picture in the conference room until you're ready to take it." Perry turned back to the copy he was checking on his computer."
Clark returned to his desk. He had notes to write up and phone calls to make.
Clark scrolled through his computer notes, comparing them one more time with his notepad. It had been a productive hour. He had set up a lunch meeting with Daniel Scardino, made an appointment for the following day to speak with Lex Luthor, and organized his notes, transcribing them into his computer.
Satisfied, he stood and looked around hoping to see some hint about the location of the darkroom. As he did, he brushed his notepad off the desk. Bending over to retrieve it, he suddenly heard a long, low whistle followed by a slow sultry voice.
"Well, he-llo-o. Who's the new tight end, Marty?"
He looked up to see an auburn-haired femme fatale talking with a man at a nearby desk. She slithered close to him, extended a limp hand, and said, "I'm Catherine Grant.
'Cat!' " The expletive exploded with accented consonants. "I write Cat's Corner. And you are?"
Clark wasn't sure what he was supposed to do with the hand, so he shook it briefly as he replied, "Clark Kent. I'm new here at the Planet. I just started today."
"Oooh, don't I know that. You wouldn't have escaped my notice longer." Her heavily made-up eyes mapped him with the precision of a Lewis and Clark survey. "Mmmm, you are just what we've needed around here." She batted her eyelashes and smiled in welcome. Then her smile faltered. "Wait a minute. Clark Kent? You're the one they hired to write about Lois."
"Yes," said Clark. "I hope I can do justice to her life and death."
"Poor, dear Lois. Such an unexpected death, and there's so little to write about her life. She just didn't have much of one outside of work."
"You were close?"
"What can I say? You know, girls in the newsroom. I'd give her advice, but she didn't seem to get it. With all the men available, she couldn't catch on to how to take advantage of her assets. She just couldn't find the right touch. Her eye make-up and lipstick never worked. Sometimes not enough, other times too dark, too red. . And the clothes she wore! So dowdy and tacky."
Clark wondered if Cat really thought the strapless, sleeveless, backless bodice she was wearing ought to be standard uniform for a female reporter at the Daily Planet. He rather doubted that she would like all the competition.
"Uh, well, that seems like a shame. Is there anything you can tell me about her murder?"
"Not really, but if I think of anything I'll get back to you. Come to think of it, I'll get back to you anyway," and blowing a kiss, she undulated away.
Clark shook his head in amused astonishment as he mimicked, "Cat!!" under his breath. The Daily Planet certainly had some different reporters on its staff. He wondered if Jimmy Olsen would prove as out of the ordinary, and once again looked around for the darkroom. As he walked toward a nearby desk to ask for directions, he passed the conference room where he had deposited the portrait an hour earlier and found himself looking through the glass partition at a figure that now appeared to be, not professional in the face of a storm, but dowdy and rumpled, eyes desperately searching. The enigmatic woman of his initial impression was becoming a riddle with a continually changing answer to the question, 'Who was Lois Lane?'
Returning his attention to the desk, he introduced himself and asked the reporter if he had seen Olsen. The man pointed him toward the darkroom, and he wound his way past the coffee machine toward a corridor next to the fire stairs exit. He was about to turn into it when he was accosted by a small, weasel-faced man with thinning hair slicked back from his face. The face wore a toothsome grin.
"You must be the new guy, Kent, huh?" Without waiting for an answer he went on, a jerk of his thumb indicating himself, his self-congratulatory tone proclaiming his fondness for his own voice. "Ralph Potter, Investigative Reporter."
Clark heard the capital letters clearly in Ralph's intonation. He opened his mouth to reply, but Ralph still had importance to convey.
"So, you're gonna cover Lane's murder. Wow, what a shock that was. Don't know why Perry thought he needed to hire someone. I'm available right now. But Lane was one of his pets. He doesn't want any of us to write about her. Not that I couldn't have let everyone in on the real lowdown."
At last, Ralph paused to breathe, and Clark felt that, perhaps, it was his turn to speak. "Hi, Ralph, I'm Clark Kent. And yes, I'm on the story of Lois Lane's murder. I take it you knew her well?"
"Are you kidding? Nobody knew her well, but I probably knew her better than anyone. Tough chick, but a looker, you know? Thought she was too good for the guys around here, but a real babe, if you get my drift." His grin became a leer. "She was built like a-"
Clark interrupted him. "I was interested more in your impressions of her as a professional colleague."
Ralph looked disappointed for a minute. "Oh, that." He paused for a moment, then tossed off "Intense." He paused again, apparently examining the word, before continuing. "Yeah, that's what she was. Intense. I told her lighten up, let go, enjoy yourself, and spread it around a little. But would she? Nah, she just flaunted it every chance she got. A real tease."
Clark sensed that Ralph had returned to his personal interests. He prodded. "When she was on a story, she was totally focused?"
"Focused? Yeah, I'll say." His grin was completely gone now. "She got hold of something, she didn't let go. And competitive. She had to get there first, be first…with everything. She was ferocious. That's why everybody called her Mad Dog Lane."
Clark jotted on a pad. "Mad Dog Lane. Well that certainly gives me a picture of her. Did you ever work with her?"
"Her? Nobody worked with her. Nobody was good enough. Like I said. She was one of Perry's pets."
There was a yell across the newsroom. "Ralph! Call for you."
"Gotta go, Kent." The grin was back. "Probably one of my sources with a lead on a hot new story. Catch me later if there's anything else you want to know . Like I said, I know the lowdown." And with that, he bustled away cushioned in the force field of his self-importance.
Clark made a quick notation of the conversation on his pad, to be typed into his computer later, including his impression that whatever Ralph thought he knew about Lois Lane was almost certainly low down but not necessarily accurate.
Then turning, he walked down the adjacent hallway looking for the darkroom. Halfway down, on the left, he saw a glowing red bulb above the sill of a door marked, 'Darkroom'. Assuming that the light meant no intruders, he knocked and called out, "Jimmy Olsen? It's Clark Kent. I'd like to talk with you."
A voice answered, "Five more minutes. I'll meet you at your desk."
Clark, picking up a cup of coffee on the way, wandered into the conference room to take another look at the portrait. For the first time he noticed the body underneath the coat. The pose caught by the artist was sinuous and alluring, full breasts thrust forward, hips cocked, and a long leg outlined by the trousers she wore. Looking up at the face, he saw heavy-lidded eyes framed by lashes black with mascara. Combined with a bright red mouth, they gave the woman an expression that was more taunting than belligerent. Alice-like, Clark thought, <Curiouser and curiouser.>The more the riddle's answer changed, the more intrigued he became by the woman of the portrait.
"You Clark Kent?"
A young voice broke his reverie. Turning he saw a round faced youth with lanky brown hair and a pug nose. "Right. Jimmy Olsen?"
"That's me. You weren't at your desk so I took I chance when I saw somebody I didn't know in here. You want to talk to me?" He advanced into the room.
"Yes. Why don't we just sit here"? Clark motioned to a chair. Jimmy chose one that put his back to the portrait. They both sat down, and Clark began.
"You know who I am?"
"Sure. Everyone in the newsroom knows. You're here to write about Lois's mur…" He stopped, swallowed hard, and repeated, "You're here to write about Lois."
"Perry told me that you were close to her."
"We were friends, if that's what you mean. She was somebody special."
"Special? In what way."
"In the way she treated me. In the way she talked to me. In the way she acted around me. To everybody else around here, I'm just an errand boy. Invisible till they need something. She was never that way. She did more than talk to me. She listened. I'm working really hard to be a press photographer, and she helped me out, encouraged me. Sometimes she'd take me on assignments so I could get experience, and she'd give me advice. She showed me what made a good picture, and showed me how different angles and framing can tell different stories. She'd give me advice about my personal life too. Girls and stuff. She was…I can't believe…" He stopped and looked down.
Clark realized that, for the first time, he was interviewing someone who thought of Lois Lane as more than a reporter. It was a new answer to the riddle, and he wanted to explore it.
"She was somebody you really liked, then?"
Jimmy looked up. "I loved her!" He blushed, and stammered. "I mean, you know…I really liked her. Not that she'd ever look at a guy like me seriously. I had dreams about her, but I'd never tell her about any of them. She wouldn't want to hear it. I knew that, but she never made me feel like she couldn't stand the thought, you know?"
"You didn't think she led you on or flaunted her sexuality?"
Jimmy looked at him in astonishment. "Where would you get a crazy idea like that? Oh, I bet you've been talking to Ralph. Hey, listen, she wasn't like that. Not that I didn't appreciate all the things she had going for her. But she was warm and natural, and when we talked, I kinda forgot about the rest of it. At least, I tried to forget…most of the time. But she would never come on to me or anybody else around here. Especially that jerk, Ralph. She was a class act. I really miss seeing her every day."
'When was the last time you saw her?"
"The morning before she died. She'd just finished a big story and she said she was going to take some time off."
"Did she say what she was planning to do?"
"No, and she didn't look like somebody who was looking forward to a vacation. She was pretty preoccupied and didn't want to talk."
"So, she wasn't nice to you?"
"Who said? She was a great reporter and sometimes she could be abrupt, but I knew that it was when she was trying to figure things out.
"I thought you said she'd just finished a story."
"She had, but there was another one she'd been working on about a couple of deaths down in the Hobbs Bay reclamation project. I had some research on it for her and gave it to her before she left."
"Jimmy!" A bellow came from the direction of Perry White's office.
"Gotta go. My master calls. Maybe we can get together later. I really didn't tell you much about her."
"You told me a lot, Jimmy. You've made her seem more human. I'd like to talk with you some more."
Jimmy had been trying to avoid looking at the portrait. Standing, he turned and gestured toward it. "You know, you can't really tell what she was like from that. She wasn't only professional or beautiful. She was caring and terrific, and her smile made you feel like the sun was shining just for you."
"Not Mad Dog Lane, then?"
Jimmy laughed. "Sometimes that too. She could really get on your case when she was waiting for research." He sobered. "But that's not the way I'll remember her. Lois was the best, and she expected the same from everybody else. She wanted me to do my job the way it ought to be done. She could be really demanding and tough, but she pushed me to be better than I thought I could be, and I was better because of her. She inspired me."
Jimmy grinned. "Fear can be inspiring too. See you, C.K."
<'C.K.'> Clark liked that. It made him feel as though he belonged. He watched Jimmy almost run in the direction of the roar. Apparently Top Dog Perry barked when he wanted something, and his staff jumped to respond. He wondered what the editor's bite was like.
Glancing at his watch, he realized that it was noon. He had to meet Dan Scardino. As he turned to leave, his eyes fell once more on the portrait. Strange. The heavy make- up and the cold sexual allure were gone. Instead, he saw warm, natural sensuality. The face radiated a friendly glow, and the eyes shone with human interest. This newest answer to the riddle made him wish that he could have known her.
DEA Agent Daniel Scardino had suggested that he and Clark meet at Molinaro's, an Italian delicatessen not far from the Daily Planet. It nestled on the ground floor of an office high-rise whose dwellers crowded its tables or stood in a long line at the take out counter. Clark, having walked there through the grey November chill, welcomed the warmth and bustle and breathed in the mouth-watering, garlicky smells.
He glanced around, looking for the dark suit of a government agent in the jumble of colors and patterns currently popular as casual office dress. There was no suit. He looked down at his watch. He was late by five minutes. His previous experience with federal enforcement officers made him wonder if his man had left already, refusing to wait, even a short time, for a reporter. A finger poked him in the chest.
The man standing before him needed a haircut and shave. He was wearing jeans, a faded, plaid flannel shirt, and scuffed leather boots. Not Clark's idea of a drug enforcement agent.
"That's right. You're Agent Scardino?" He didn't completely manage to suppress his surprise.
"Not what you were expecting? That's the way I like to operate, catching people off guard by not living up to their expectations. Ever been here before?"
So far, Clark wasn't particularly impressed with Daniel Scardino. "No, I'm new in town."
"Best meatball sandwiches in Metropolis, and they make a veal and peppers that'll knock your socks off."
"Sounds great. How did you know who I was? "
Scardino stepped back and took in Clark's attire top to bottom. "I figured you *would* live up to expectations. You're the only suit in the room. Come on, I've got a place for us in the back. Nice tie." He flipped up the bottom of Clark's multi-colored neckpiece.
They wound their way through the crowd to a rear booth and sat across from each other, Scardino facing the occupied tables and front entrance of the restaurant. A dark pudgy waiter appeared to take their order. "Watcha want today, Daniel? The usual?"
"Yeah, Vito, with extra sauce and a side of macaroni salad."
"Same for your friend?"
"I think I'll try the veal and peppers," said Clark.
"A man of taste," said Vito to no one in particular. "Not like the bums you usually bring in here. Something to drink for you gentlemen?"
"Coffee, two creams, four sugars," Clark replied.
Scardino said, "The usual and bring it now, not when you feel like it."
"You insult me. It's on the way," retorted Vito and disappeared.
With an impish grin, Scardino said, "They love me here."
"You come here a lot," stated Clark.
"The Italian food makes me feel like I'm back in Mama Scardino's kitchen."
Vito re-appeared with Clark's coffee and a crŠme soda for Scardino. "Please make note of my promptness in your tip," he suggested and departed without further comment.
"What tip?" Scardino threw at the waiter's back. Then, turning to Clark, his grin faded. "What do you want to talk to me about?"
"Lois Lane. As I told you, I've been hired to write about her murder."
Waggling his eyebrows at Clark, Scardino said, "Don't they have obituary writers at the planet already?"
"Yes, they do," Clark replied, shortly. "That's not what they hired me for. What was your relationship with Lois Lane?" <Oh, smooth, Clark. You're gonna get a lot out of this guy with that attitude. What's the matter with you?>
"Maybe I don't want to tell you. It could be classified."
"Is it? Were you working on something with her?"
"What makes you think so?"
"Because she had another story in the works, and I can't think of any other reason she'd associate with you. How did you meet, anyway?"
"Thanks, I like you too," Scardino jabbed. I wouldn't say we were exactly working together. I was sent here on a special assignment, and she just happened to be looking into the same thing. She has a way of pushing herself into something when she smells a story. We decided to share information."
"I told you, Kent, it's classified."
"Was it dangerous? Did you get her mixed up in something that could have gotten her killed?" Clark realized his voice was rising. What was he getting upset about?
"What are you, her keeper? She wouldn't put up with that. You never met her did you?" Clark shook his head no. "Well, there's something you should know about Lois. She had incredible eyes you could drown in, but she wasn't just beautiful; she was a consummate professional. She went after a story without thinking about danger. I tried, but she refused my protection. I can hear her now. "Just what do the words, 'I do not need you to protect me' mean to you?" She was independent, bold, headstrong, and unpredictable."
"So you didn't get along?"
"What can I say? We were…close. It went beyond the work. She was feisty and liked spicy Thai food. A woman after my own heart which I tried to give to her, but she was only interested in the story…and being friends."
"It was all strictly business, then?" Clark was astonished to find that he felt relieved. He didn't like to think that this exciting woman <Exciting? Where had that come from?> that this woman was intimately involved with a jerk like Scardino. <Jerk?> Something he didn't understand was happening to his professional objectivity.
"It wasn't my call, but being friends is better than nothing." He smirked. "Who knows what that can eventually lead to?"
Their food came, and Clark saw that Scardino's 'usual' was a meatball grinder. They were silent for a few minutes while they took the edge off their hunger. Then after swallowing a mouthful of roasted peppers, Clark continued. "I learned at the Planet that Lois was taking some time off. Do you know why? What she was planning to do?"
"I don't know anything about it. I told the police that."
Clark leaned forward and asked forcefully, "Did you tell the police that you think she might have been killed because of the story she was working on? Did you give them any names?"
"Watch out, Kent. You'll drag your tie through the marinara sauce." The joke held a metaphoric warning.
"So you're not going to tell me anything to help me find out who did this?" The reasons Clark didn't like him were not completely clear, but Daniel Scardino's annoying personality was high on the list. "You claim to care for her, but you won't help find her killers. What kind of guy are you, Agent Scardino?"
"I helped the police. They'll find her killer. And maybe I'll do some investigating on my own. If we get to be friends, I'll share, and you can call me 'Daniel'…if we get to be friends."
"Where were you the night she was killed?
Scardino stood and downed the last of his crŠme soda. "Thanks for lunch, Kent. Gotta go. See you around." He left the booth and walked out of the restaurant without a backward glance.
<Well, that went well,> thought Clark. <He didn't seem to like me anymore than I liked him. And what's the reason for that?> Looking at his watch he saw that it was almost two o'clock. He needed to get back to the Planet to write up this interview before Lucy Lane arrived.
When Lucy Lane stepped off the elevator and into the Daily Planet newsroom, heads turned to observe her entrance. She was known by most of the news crew, who found her amiable manner refreshing. That she shared her sister's good looks met with universal male approval, especially since she good-naturedly responded to their obvious appreciation. Because of recent events, the mood on this occasion was a somber one so there were no whistles or remarks, and she smiled only faintly as she waived a general greeting and walked to Perry's office.
Clark, finishing his transcription of the Scardino interview, had been aware of her when she entered Perry's office. Just as he turned off his computer, he saw the two of them emerge and watched them walk toward him. He stood as they approached.
"Ah, Lucy, I want you to meet Clark Kent. Clark, this is Lucy Lane, Lois 'sister. Clark, here, is going to write about Lois and maybe, help find out who…what happened. I know it'll be hard, honey, but it'd be real helpful if you'd just talk with him about your sister. He didn't have the good fortune to know her, so he really needs to find out what she was like."
Perry had his arm around Lucy as he finished, and when she nodded affirmatively, he squeezed her shoulders. "Clark, why don't you take Lucy into the conference room so you two can have a little privacy. Lucy, when you're finished, you come say goodbye, now, you hear." And he turned to walk back to his office.
Clark saw that the girl in front of him was working hard to control her emotions. As a diversion, he asked, "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
Looking up gratefully, she replied, "Yes, that would be great."
He didn't want to send Lucy into the conference room alone, where she would confront the portrait, so Clark took her with him to the coffee machine. "How do you take your coffee?" he asked.
"Cream and sugar," she replied. And then followed in an undertone, "Not like Lois."
"Lois liked her coffee black?"
"No, she used artificial cream and fake sugar. She worked out a lot, but she still worried about calories anyway…except for chocolate." Lucy's answers were low and subdued.
"She liked to stay fit?"
"Yeah. She was in the gym almost every day. And she studied Tae Kwan Do. All the messes that she seemed to get into, she needed to be able to take care of herself."
Without her realizing it, Clark had ushered Lucy into the conference room and seated her at the table where she toyed with her coffee cup. Deflecting her attention from the painting, he sat next to her, continuing to ask questions and making notes on a pad.
"What kind of messes did she get into?"
"It was always about some story she was after. I didn't pay a lot of attention except when she'd get herself almost killed."
"You worried about her?"
"I loved her; of course, I worried about her." For the first time Lucy became animated in her response. "She was my big sister. When our parents' marriage started coming apart, she looked after me. After they divorced, all we had was each other. But lately, I felt like I needed to look after her."
"You thought she was in danger?"
"Not in the way you think. She wouldn't have let me get involved in her work. But I did think she was in danger of throwing away her personal life."
"She was having problems in her personal life?"
"She didn't have a personal life. It was all about working, following a story, getting the scoop. She had her eyes set on winning a Pulitzer Prize and nothing else mattered. She never just relaxed or had a little fun."
"Was she dating anyone?"
"She didn't have dates; she had interviews. Not that she didn't wish she could find someone special. I kept telling her there was a super guy out there who'd make her happy, but she always said she didn't have time for it."
"Someone said she was involved with two men, Dan Scardino and Lex Luthor."
"Work, it was all work. She and Scardino were investigating something together, and Lex Luthor is the third richest man in the world. I don't care how many times she went out with him, he was just another interview."
"A lot of women would have been excited to be asked out by the third richest man in the world."
"Money didn't interest her, but what makes him tick did. She said he resonates power, and I think she found that fascinating."
"Some would call it an aphrodisiac."
"I don't think Lois was interested in him that way."
Lucy had confirmed Scardino's story, and Lois Lane was not involved in a relationship with Lex Luthor. Clark was pleased, almost elated…except that these emotions he was feeling were about a dead woman. He avoided looking at the portrait even though he very much wanted to.
"When she left the Planet the day…that day, she was planning to take some time off. Do you know what she was going to do, if she was going away anywhere?"
"She told me she had some thinking to do, a decision to make, but she didn't say what it was about or if she was going away."
"Perry said you were bringing over some files she left at your apartment?"
"Yes. I don't know what they were. She said not to let anybody but Perry see them."
"Do you know what was in them?"
"No, she warned me not to look at them. That it could be dangerous for me to know. Like I said, I stay…stayed out of her investigations. I didn't look."
Clark covered her hand with his. "I'm sorry to have to ask these questions. I can only imagine how hard it is for you, but do you have any idea who might have wanted to kill her?"
Tears filled Lucy's eyes, but she answered. "I wish I did so it would help find that…whoever did it. But I don't. It had to be somebody from her investigations. Anybody who knew her personally…well, she could be prickly, but underneath she was loyal and loving. You had to love her in spite of her prickles."
"Thank you, Lucy; I'm so sorry for your loss. If there had been a way to avoid putting you through this…" There was a moment of silence. "Thank you. You've been very helpful."
Lucy stood and looked at the portrait. "That doesn't show what she was like underneath, you know. It doesn't show her vulnerable side or her caring side. It's all about work. That's not the way I want to remember her."
Clark walked her out of the conference room, and she went off to say goodbye to Perry. Unable to avoid it longer, he let the portrait draw him. Funny that Lucy couldn't see the wistful sadness that he saw, the longing for personal intimacy that softened her eyes giving them shadowed depths. He jerked his gaze away. This was crazy! It was the portrait of a dead woman. He was reading too much into the flat canvas. He turned to his desk to write up the interview with Lois's sister.
A few minutes later, Lucy re-appeared, making her way to the elevator with a slight wave of goodbye to the many eyes that followed her. Perry stood in the door of his office watching until she disappeared into the elevator; then, he motioned to Clark to join him.
The two men entered the editor's office where Perry retrieved some files from his desk and gave them to Clark. "This is what Lois left with Lucy. They look like they're about one of her investigations. I don't know what; she didn't always tell me what she was onto. I'm entrusting these to you because they could have something to do with her murder. Read them tonight and bring them back in the morning. Depending on what's in there, we may decide to turn them over to Henderson. If we do, you'll pick up some points with him."
"Thank you, Mr. White. From what I learned today, it could well be that this investigation is what got her killed."
"You want to tell me about it?"
"No, sir. I don't have anything definite yet. It's just a hunch that I have to follow up on."
"But you'll fill me in when you have something concrete?"
"Yes, sir. I will."
"You getting to know her any better?"
"I know she wasn't afraid of looking under rocks. That seems to be one thing that everyone agrees on. But I'm getting a lot of conflicting opinions about her. It's hard to pin her down."
"She was a woman, Clark. How much experience have you had with them?"
Clark flushed. "I've dated. I've had girlfriends."
"I'm not talking about girls. I'm talking about women. Women are not easy to figure out; they like to keep you guessing, surprise you. Lois was always a surprise. You never knew what she was up to. Not only was she a woman, but she was special, unique. You're not ever gonna know everything there was to know about her."
"I know. She's a riddle, and just when I think I've found an answer, the question changes, but that just makes her more intriguing."
"Now, you're finally getting it, son. Go to it."
Clark stood in front of apartment 105, juggling the key and several file folders while trying to steady a large, flat, wrapped package. He had covered the portrait with unused newsprint to provide protection for it while in transit. Apprehension was making it difficult for him to fit the key into the lock, an exercise he would normally perform readily. Why did he feel this way? He'd visited crime scenes before. He'd never been bothered by them. Why should it make a difference that this was the scene of Lois Lane's death? He didn't even know her. <Not true, Kent. You're getting to know her only too well, and it's bothering you, isn't it? You don't want her to be dead.> <Shut up, I'm not listening to you.> Clark succeeded in turning the lock and pushed open the door of the apartment. <You can't ignore me for long. Sooner or later->. A distant voice interrupted Clark's thoughts, "Help, I'm being robbed!"
Clark quickly leaned the portrait against the wall and dropped the folders on a coffee table set between two loveseats. He started toward a closed window, then stopped. It was still light outside. He couldn't go flying off in broad daylight to rescue someone. Much as he wanted to help, he couldn't risk revealing to the world that Clark Kent had unusual powers. Being dissected in a laboratory like a frog was not one of his career goals. He was going to have to figure out some way to use his powers to help without exposing his identity, but for now, he would have to choose, carefully, the moments when he could respond. This moment simply wasn't one of them.
He looked around for the telephone and called 911 to report what he had heard. After completing the call, he went over to a window and opened it. The air in the apartment felt stale and heavy. When he had entered the apartment building at 1050 Carter Avenue, he had stopped to let the superintendent, Mr. Tracewski, know who he was and what he was doing there. The super had told him that, although the electricity and telephone were still working, the apartment had been closed and the heat turned off He wanted to freshen the room for a few minutes, even though the cold November damp would also seep in. He would turn on the radiator later.
Clark let his eyes wander around what had been Lois Lane's home. A complete, though small, kitchen, some unusual wall decorations, two facing loveseats with a coffee table in between, an antique collector's cabinet near the entryway. It was small with a paneled base; above were glass doors guarding polished wood shelves that held three gold and acrylic objects. He walked over to examine them; they were Kerth awards.
Resuming his survey of the apartment, he noted two vases containing what were probably fresh flowers a couple of days ago, and several small green plants on a table near the window. Lois liked plants and flowers. <Lois! You're on a first name basis, now, are you?> <Quiet. I told you I'm not listening to you.> Near the kitchen was a large tank with a few brightly-colored fish swimming frantically in all directions. Clark looked for a shaker of food, which he found next to the tank, and sprinkled some in the water. The occupants gratefully converged on it with mouths open. Lois had plants and fish to talk to, but no roommate.
Looking back into the sitting area, he observed that the loveseats didn't look very comfortable. He tried one. They weren't. She must not use them very much. Torture couches to hurry the departure of unwanted visitors? A deterrent for over-enthusiastic suitors? Decorator pieces in a place where she spent as little time as possible? Inspector Henderson had said that someone was with her when she was killed. Was she entertaining him on those couches? She, in her negligee, and he in…what? Slacks and sport shirt? T-shirt and boxers? Pajamas and robe? Just a robe? A towel? Nothing? <You don't like that idea, do you? Maybe they were in the bedroom instead of on the couch? Did you think of that? Or do you want to think of that?> Clark said aloud, "Stop it. This woman is nothing to me. It's just a story," and he went in search of the bedroom.
He found nothing unusual there. A large bed (he didn't want to dwell on why it was so large), a bedside stand, a mirrored dressing table topped with bottles and jars, a small chair, a chest of drawers, and a closet with double doors. In one corner stood Lois's luggage, packed and waiting for a trip never taken. The adjacent bathroom held a clothes hamper as well as the usual fixtures.
These were the two most intimate rooms inhabited by Lois Lane, and, in spite of the stale air in the living room, they felt cool and fresh. Clark breathed deeply and thought of cucumbers just picked for his mother's cucumber and tomato salad. It was Lois Lane's scent, the essence within her aura. Her Self. Suddenly Clark felt like an intruder. He shouldn't be here. <Why are you rushing back to the other room? This woman is dead! Privacy doesn't mean anything to her anymore.> He turned his mind off. He would not get caught up in a ridiculous argument with himself. Time to get back to business.
He looked dubiously at the couches, but saw no alternative. He piled the loose cushions from one sofa onto the other and sat with his back to the kitchen. It wasn't too bad this way. He picked up a file folder and opened it.
Inside, on top, was a Daily Planet article about a drowning victim found washing around an anchor stanchion of the Hobbs Bay Bridge. The police were asking for help in identifying him. The next article identified him as a chemist who had worked for STAR Labs until recently. Lois had written questions to be investigated and answered. Why was he fired? What had he been working on? Friends, coworkers? Suicide? Why? How long had he been dead? Witnesses? There were notes from some interviews, but there was nothing that stood out as anything but routine.
The second file had information about a dead body that had been thrown into a construction dumpster at a building being restored in the Hobbs Bay reclamation project. The police were trying to identify it. Subsequent articles identified the victim, as a promising high school athlete who had died elsewhere and been brought to the site. The coroner's report gave the cause of death as an overdose of amphetamines. The body showed no signs of long-term drug abuse. Just another young man whose first mistake turned out to be his last. Another set of similar questions completed the report. Why had he taken drugs? Were his friends involved? Where did he get the drugs? Where did he die? Why was he brought to the construction site dumpster? Who would know about it and have access to it? There were, as yet, very few answers to the questions. As in the previous file, there was nothing that made this death extraordinary.
The third file contained data about amphetamines, steroids, designer Ecstasy, and insulin — apparently the research Jimmy had done. Was this just scattershot information gathering or had she put something together?
He sat back. It had been a long day, and he was tired. His mind was having a hard time keying on whatever it was she was investigating. He should have brought some food, or something to drink. Henderson had told him that forensics was finished with their work, so he could make himself at home if he wished. He wondered if she had any tea.
He went into the kitchen and looked through the cupboards. He found a box of orange pekoe, not his first choice, but apparently all that was available. There was a kettle on the stove, but he didn't need it. Filling a mug with tap water, he dropped in a tea bag and, lowering his glasses, concentrated his gaze on the cup. Seconds later, the water bubbled. He replaced his glasses, dunked the tea bag for a couple of minutes, dropped it into the trashcan and returned to the couch with cup in hand.
He sat back on the cushions and sipped the steaming brew, feeling the tension slowly drain from his body. What a day it had been. So many people, so many versions of Lois Lane. His brain careened from one to the next. Which one was the right one? Or were they all right? What kind of story had she been on to? How did those three files tie together?
He looked at the shrouded painting, rose, removed the wrappings, returned to the couch and studied the portrait.
He saw the woman Perry and the others had talked about. The maddening, pushy, nosy, curious, hard-edged professional who was also an inspiration, beautiful, caring, warm, naturally sensual, a good friend as well as being independent, bold, headstrong, and unpredictable. He thought Perry was right to say that he would never find out everything there was to know about Lois Lane. But he wished he could. The riddle had become a mystery that he would be willing to spend a lifetime solving. She was the most exciting, fascinating woman he had ever come across…and she was dead! He'd waited all his life to find her, looked for her all over the world…and he'd found her 36 hours too late.
Was this his fate? Was he meant to be nothing more than a deus ex machina, the god from the machine come to earth to save the day and then retreat to limbo until he was needed again; to defend and protect, , but never find personal happiness?
He stared, sadly, at the painting for along time, his heart a stone in his chest. After a while, his eyes gradually closed, his head fell back, and he dropped into restless sleep.
Some time later, he roused when he heard a key in the lock, and the door open. In the dim light of the single lamp, a disembodied face, familiar and lovely, floated toward him. It was the woman of the portrait, wearing the same trench coat and slacks, stepping from the painting to join him.
"Lois?" he murmured.
"Clark, I'm here. Just as you wished."
"I thought you were dead."
"How could I be dead? You've been looking for me; I had to come to you."
"You're really here? You know me?"
"Of course. I've been waiting for you all my life." She leaned over and kissed him softly.
Gently touching her face, he gathered her to him so that they could kiss again. She was warm and pliant in his arms, and her kiss, sweet and loving. When they finally broke apart, he said, "I love you, Lois. I want us to be together always."
"I want that, too, Clark." She kissed him, longingly. "But we don't know what tomorrow will bring. Please, let's make the most of tonight," and she kissed him again, her sweetness sparking into passion. How could he resist? But he would not make love to her on this loveseat.
Breathing kisses on her mouth, her throat her neck, he lifted her and floated them into the bedroom.
"Shhhh. No questions. I'll explain later. Just be with me now." He laid her gently on the bed. Somehow, their clothes were on the floor, and he was kissing her everywhere. He paused to look at her. She was glorious, as he had known she would be.
He sought her again and again, and each time she received his overtures eagerly. For him, the night was paradise, a portent of their future together. As they fell, jumbled together, into an exhausted sleep, he whispered, "I will love you, always."
The first thing he noticed when he woke was how uncomfortable the bed felt. He shifted to find a softer spot and reached for Lois. She wasn't there. Extending his arm, he swept the mattress searching for her. His elbow bumped into something unyielding. Definitely not Lois. Opening his eyes, he saw that he was lying, fully clothed, on the abominable settee. How did he get back here? Where was Lois? He called out her name. There was no answer. What was going on? He hurried to the bedroom. Everything was as he had found it the night before. The bed had not been slept in; there were no signs of passion in the night. He went into the bathroom and splashed water on his face. He felt scruffy. He needed a shower, and his underclothes needed a laundromat.
He returned reluctantly to the living room, forcing himself to face what he was unwilling to acknowledge. It had been a dream. She was not alive. His incredible night of nights had been a fantasy. He looked at the portrait; her eyes mocked him. ("Did you really think I was that easy?" she jeered. "Did you really think I was alive? What kind of sick person makes love to a dead woman?")
He couldn't stay here. He gathered the folders and rushed to the door. He would go back to the Apollo hotel, shower, put on fresh clothing, and return to the Daily Planet where he could put everything into perspective. He would concentrate on his investigation of the crime and forget Lois Lane lying beside him doing things that he could never, ever experience with her.
When he reached the Daily Planet, he went directly to Perry's office and laid the folders on his desk. "I'm sure she was on to something, sir, but I don't have enough to figure out what. I'll have to follow up her leads."
"Good mornin' to you too, Clark. You look like you had a rough night. You want to be careful about too much carousing when you're not used to it."
Clark flushed. "Sorry, sir. Good morning. I wasn't carousing, Mr. White, just lost trying to figure out Ms. Lane's files. I can't seem to get on her wave length as far as her investigation goes."
"Lois didn't like to write down things that other eyes could borrow. She got burned once by a reporter she shared ideas with, and she vowed to never let it happen again. 'Course it never occurred to her that she might not be around to use her own files."
"Look, Clark, It's great, you wanting to show me respect and all, but everyone around here calls me 'Chief' or 'Perry', all right?"
"Yes sir, I mean, Chief. Thank you. I appreciate being included with everyone else."
"Now that we've got that straight, what do you think about showing these files to Henderson?"
"I think we should give him copies of what's in them. It will show him that I can be trusted, and who knows, maybe he can see something that I can't.
"Good idea. What do you have planned for today?"
"This morning, I have an interview with Lex Luthor in his penthouse at the Lexor Hotel, and I'm going to track down Dan Scardino again to get his take on what's in Lois's files."
"Sounds good. You can drop the file copies by for Henderson on your way," and he turned his attention to the ubiquitous copy waiting to be blue-penciled.
Inspector Henderson was interrogating a robbery suspect when Clark arrived at the 27th precinct, so Clark left a manila envelope containing the copies of Lois's material and an explanatory note with the desk sergeant. Then he left to go to the Lexor Hotel.
Clark had printed a biography of Lex Luthor from the Daily Planet archives, and he read it as his cab alternately waited and moved through the usual Metropolis traffic jam.
By the time he arrived at the Lexor, Clark knew that Luthor was the third richest man in the world and was moving up on number two. He owned a lot of Metropolis real estate on which he had constructed state-of-the-art buildings of great size and which commanded expensive rents. He controlled corporations of various sizes in various areas of commerce and was a generous benefactor to charities and the arts through his Luthor Foundation. He was the most sought-after bachelor among the Metropolis socially elite, and his name was mentioned frequently in Cat Grant's column as squiring this or that prominent woman to the opera or ballet or even sporting events at LexMet Square Garden.
Clark noticed that he liked to stamp his name on whatever he owned or controlled. The list was so long Clark could only remember a few: the Lexor Hotel, Luthor Foundation, LexMet Square Garden, Lexco Construction, Lexlab Scientific Research, Luthor Energy Exchange, LexMed HealthCenter, Luthor Organ Donor Index, Luthor Startrip Enterprises. There seemed to be no end to Lex Luthor's interests or his ability to make money. A Metropolis Midas, he touched and turned a profit.
There was a lot in the bio about what Luthor was currently involved with, but very little about his past. What there was sounded like sausage from a PR factory: poor family, orphaned by an unsolved arson fire, sold newspapers, self- educated, began by using leverage to buy and sell anything and everything, made some lucky investments and he was on his way with his first million.
Clark was dubious. He wanted to see the man for himself.
Arriving at the Lexor, he gave his name at the desk and was shown to a chair to wait. A short time later, a tall, distinguished older man approached him. His erect bearing hinted at a lifetime of military service somewhere. When the man spoke, his very precise and elegant English accent identified the somewhere.
"You are Mr. Kent? Allow me to introduce myself. Nigel St. John, Lex Luthor's executive assistant. If you would follow me, please."
Skirting the main elevator bays, Nigel St. John led Clark around a corner to a separate elevator operated with a card key.
"After you, Mr. Kent," said St. John, gesturing with his arm.
Clark went ahead, Nigel St. John followed, and again using a card key, closed the door and sent the elevator skyward.
St. John led Clark into an opulent study that had a wall of floor to ceiling books — some leather bound, many others with ancient bindings that Clark guessed to be first editions. Another wall held a display of four French Impressionist paintings, originals by C‚zanne, Van Gogh, Monet, and Vlaminck.
A third wall showcased a collection of weapons — guns, swords, knives — ready for lethal use. Underneath the weapons was a paneled credenza, similar to the trophy case in Lois's apartment but without the upper shelving. On the flat plane of the top lay an antique crossbow, cocked and ready to fire.
An oversized desk, which sat in front of a large glass sliding door, was free of any appurtenance except for a mahogany box inlaid with ivory, a cigar lighter, and an ashtray centered in a row along the room-side edge. On the other side of the desk, beyond the glass was an expansive terrace with a panoramic view of Metropolis.
Standing in front of the desk, dominating a room that was impossible to dominate, was a sharp-faced man with curly dark hair. He wore a suit whose fabric and impeccable tailoring said 'money', as did everything about him from head to toe.
Nigel St. John spoke softly. "Mr. Luthor, may I present Clark Kent of the Daily Planet. Mr. Kent, this is…Lex Luthor."
Clark felt as though he had stepped into some stage setting for a play in which he was to act a part he did not yet comprehend. He half expected trumpets to blare as Chorus Nigel introduced Rex Lex. It was an elaborate production designed to impress anyone who entered there. But Clark Kent was not 'anyone'.
The man before him, exhibiting his charm,, smiled and gestured effusively with a hand holding a cigar. " Mr. Kent. Welcome!" His voice was sharp, crisp, and slightly nasal. A voice accustomed to being heard and heeded. It was the voice of a man who would, of necessity, stamp his brand on everything he owned. It was the voice of power. Clark didn't like him already.
"Mr. Luthor, thank you for agreeing to see me. I believe you know why I'm here."
"Yes, Mr. Kent. Perry White persuaded me that I should hire someone like you to write 'finish' to the career of Lois Lane. May I offer you a cigar?" He opened the wood and ivory box and proffered it to Clark.
"Uh, No thank you."
"No? You're sure? These are the finest in the world. My own personal blend and roll."
Clark shifted his shoulders in annoyance at the subtle assertion of control. "I'm sure I would enjoy one immensely, if I smoked, but right now I'd like to ask you about Lois Lane."
Accepting a temporary standoff, Luther returned the box to the desk and responded, "What can I tell you about her?"
"Did you have a relationship with her other than that of employer-employee?"
"Come, come, Mr. Kent. Let's not play games. You must have learned that Lois and I were seeing each other, that we were close. It was a dreadful blow when she was killed." He snapped out the words emotionlessly.
"You say you were close to her. How close?"
"It was no secret that I had asked her to marry me. I very much wanted to make her my wife, for her to become Lois Luthor. Mrs. Lex. Luthor."
Clark could imagine Lois Lane's reaction to that scenario.
"And her answer was…?"
"She wanted some time to think about it. She promised to give me her answer when she returned from a long weekend upstate."
"So she was planning to go away. Do you know where?"
"No," Luthor barked. She wouldn't tell me. She said she didn't want anyone to know where she was." Her refusal had not pleased him.
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"Saturday afternoon. She had just kicked me in the jaw."
Clark suppressed a smile. Now that sounded like Lois. He pressed forward. "Why?"
"It was a little Tae Kwan Do practice. She liked the challenge of working out with a master. I became distracted by…" he paused. He ran his tongue around the edges of his mouth, his eyes glittering lecherously for a moment. Then he went on, "it doesn't matter what. She took advantage of it. She was amazing; unlike any other woman I've ever met. She never missed a chance to move in for the kill, yet when she was sad, she cried. Just two of the many reasons I wanted to marry her. With guidance, she would have become the perfect mate for me. I will be hard pressed to replace her."
Clark felt his dislike growing. It wasn't enough for Luthor to brand Lois with his name. He planned complete control over her life, re-forming her to an image of his warped fantasy. Stamp.
"When did you expect to see her again?"
"She told me that she would probably return late tonight and that she would see me some time tomorrow."
"So she was supposed to get back in town tonight and give you her answer on Wednesday? And you were satisfied with that?" Clark thought that if he were waiting to find out if Lois Lane would marry him, he'd be on her doorstep when she arrived.
"Yes, I was certain that her answer would be 'yes'. I can be very understanding, Mr. Kent, when it means getting what I want."
"You were that sure of her?"
"Of course. What reason could she have for saying no?"
Clark had no answer for that rhetorical question, but he would bet Lois's Rolodex that there was a reason and that Lois had gone away to decide what to do about it.
"Do you know anyone who would want to kill her?"
"Certainly not. I presume it had something to do with a story she was pursuing."
"Do you have any idea what that story was?"
Again came the short, "No! But she was fearless about poking her nose into places where she shouldn't, sometimes stupidly so. I tried to caution her about it, but she wouldn't listen. Such a needless waste."
Clark had reached the end of his tolerance for the ego that was Lex Luthor. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Luthor. I know you're a busy man, so I'll be on my way. If I find out anything pertaining to you, would it be all right if I get in touch with you again?"
"Certainly, Mr. Kent. Just contact my secretary for an appointment. I'll be pleased to help in any way I can. After all, Lois was my special lady."
Clark departed as quickly as he could, Nigel again accompanying him to the lobby of the hotel. There, he telephoned Dan Scardino's office and was told that the DEA agent was having lunch at Molinaro's. Clark grabbed a taxi and set off across town.
When St. John, returned to the penthouse suite, Lex was staring pensively through the glass at the city of Metropolis spread out before him.
"He's gone, sir."
"Would that were true, Nigel. Would that were true." Lex turned back into the room. "No, I think Mr. Kent could become a thorn in my side, a very painful nuisance."
"How so, sir?"
"You heard his questions. He was neither impressed nor intimidated by our little theatrical. I may have made a mistake in allowing Perry to hire him. He's intelligent, he's curious and he's unafraid. Not a welcome combination if he should happen to turn his curiosity on our enterprises. We must keep an eye on Clark Kent, Nigel."
"Do I need to bring in one of our Hobbs Bay associates?"
"Not yet, Nigel. We need not act precipitously. Watch. Just watch."
"I'll make arrangements."
Molinaro's was in mid-lunch hour frenzy as Clark stood near the doorway, scanning the throng for Dan Scardino. A passing Vito stopped to greet him, "Ah, the man with good taste. Looking for Daniel?"
"Yes. Is he here?"
"In the back booth. I believe he's entertaining one of his usuals," he added scornfully. "No food, just coffee."
As Clark approached, he saw that Inspector Henderson was in pressing conversation with an insouciant Scardino.
"Are you going to tell me what this investigation was about or not, Scardino?"
"Not, Inspector. At this critical stage, I can't take a chance that what I know won't get back to the wrong people."
"I'm the police, Scardino. We're on the same side."
"That doesn't mean you don't have a leak in your squad room. I can't tell you."
"That sounds familiar," said Clark, looking down at the two men.
"Well, if it isn't the man from the Daily Planet. Come to fill me in on your latest hot lead?" replied Scardino.
Henderson looked up. "Don't tell me you're working with this guy?"
"No, I'm here for the same reason you are, Inspector. To find out what he knows about the material in Lois Lane's files."
"Well, he isn't talking. I've a good mind to run him in for obstructing justice."
"But you won't," interposed Scardino. "First, you'll go to my superior and see if you can use an end run to get what you want. Meanwhile, either stay and have some food, or get out of here and let me enjoy my lunch."
Henderson rose and left with a parting shot. "Don't leave town. This isn't over."
Insisting on the last word, as always, the federal agent shot back, "I'll be around."
Clark remained where he was. Scardino, looking up at him, said, "Don't waste your breath, Kent. I'm not talking to anyone."
"Sooner or later, you'll talk, Scardino. We'll be sharing information, yet."
"Only when Lois Lane comes back from the dead. Now get outta here and let me eat my lunch in peace. All this bickering is giving me indigestion."
Clark caught up with Henderson outside and said, "I take it you found her files as mysterious as I did, Inspector?"
"Right. I have a lot of questions about them, but no answers yet. My men will be following up on some of the suggested leads. And, by the way, thanks for giving me access, Kent. You're proving to be a man of your word."
Clark shrugged. "I always have been, Inspector."
"Yes, I'm beginning to see that. Why don't you call me Bill? And keep filling me in as you dig deeper."
"I will, but I wanted to ask. What do you have on Lex Luthor?"
Henderson laughed shortly. "Which Lex Luthor would that be? The Mr. Perfect Butter-Wouldn't-Melt-in-my-Mouth Billionaire? Or that slimy under-rock-shadow, Mr. Big that I suspect but can't quite pin anything on? That's off the record, by the way."
This was new information for Clark. "Mr. Big? Who is that?"
"It's a name that crops up when we pick up some penny ante grifter who's escalated his M.O. into a big time operation. It's Mr. Big who's behind it all, but nobody's ever met him, and nobody knows who he is. At least that's the story. If it isn't the truth, they're too scared to squeal."
An alerted Clark now understood his antipathy toward Luthor: an invisible aura of evil repelled him. Had Lois found out something about Luthor? Was it Luthor who had killed her?
"Could he be responsible for Lois's death?"
"Not according to him. He says he loved her. But what's that saying? 'Each man kills the thing he loves.' In my opinion, Luthor would sure be capable of it. But it would take a lot of legwork and a lot of luck to prove it, beginning with tying him to those corpses in the Hobbs' Bay district."
"I'm already on it," said Clark, as he turned and strode down the sidewalk toward the Daily Planet.
The first thing he did when he stepped off the elevator was look for Jimmy. He found him at the coffee station, conversing with an attractive redhead.
"Hi, Jimmy. Are you available for doing some research?"
"Oh, hi, C.K. This is Angela, an intern from Metropolis U. Sorry, Angel. As you can see, I'm needed for some important work. Catch you later." And taking Clark by the arm, he moved him back into the center of the newsroom.
"Thanks, C.K. That was perfect. Angela will really be impressed!"
"Making a move on her, were you?"
"Hey, I'm young. A guy's gotta take advantage of every opportunity."
"She's very attractive."
"Yeah, I noticed." Jimmy paused to watch Angela saunter back to the archives. Clark grinned at his obvious appreciation of Angela's attractions.
"So, Clark, what do you need?" Break time was over.
Clark went over to his desk and pulled out copies of Lois's files. "I need to know everything you can find out about these dead men, and also about the building where one of them was found. Lois has some questions here. See how many answers you can find."
"You got it," said Jimmy enthusiastically, as he headed for his computer. He stopped suddenly and returned to Clark. "This is stuff is from files that Lois left with Lucy, right? Have you looked at her laptop? She kept a lot on it that she didn't have anyplace else."
This was the first Clark had heard about a laptop. "I haven't seen it. Is it here? Do you know how to get into the files?"
"She took it with her when she left Saturday morning. It should be at her apartment. To get into the files, all you need is her password. I figured that out one day when she'd pulled a Mad Dog Lane, and I was kinda mad at her. It was pretty easy, if you know Lois."
"So what is it?"
Jimmy, leaning over, whispered, "Pulitzer," and went on his way.
Smiling over the characteristically Loisian password, Clark thought about what Jimmy had said. Unless it was hidden somewhere, there had not been a laptop computer in Lois's apartment. Maybe the police had it. Flipping the Rolodex, he found Henderson's' number and punched it into the phone. As it rang, he speculated on how he could finagle an upgrade to an instrument with auto-dial.
A few seconds later, he was speaking with Inspector Henderson. "Bill, Clark Kent. Did your forensics team take a laptop computer from Lois Lane's apartment?:"
He listened for a moment. "No? Well, apparently she had one, and it isn't here at the Daily Planet, either."
He paused again, then, "You bet. I'll keep you posted." He hung up. Where was the computer? Did it have something incriminating on it? Did the mysterious visitor who was with her when she died take it away? Always more questions; he needed answers.
Opening a desk drawer, Clark took out his interview list and reviewed it. The first two names were Perry White and Lex Luthor. The chief checked with him frequently and often gave him fresh ideas for his investigation. Luthor had revealed little, and there were many questions about him still to be answered. Clark didn't think Tristan Ganeymede would have anything to add. He was probably half in love with Lois; at least, the portrait would indicate that. The last thing Clark wanted was to hear another guy saying how wonderful she was and how much he loved her. Bill Henderson was next , and Clark was confident that if he found out anything, he would pass it along. After talking with Lucy, he had decided that Lois's parents would not be able to tell him anything, and he didn't see any need to intrude on their grief. Jimmy, Cat Grant, Dan Scardino, Ralph Potter — he had talked with them all. Only Jimmy had offered anything of value, and he was still helping. That left three names unidentified: Diane Goodman, Carl Benson and Star. Clark decided to ask Jimmy about them.
He suddenly realized he was hungry. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was almost four o'clock. He should have picked up something when he was at Molinaro's. The thought of a stale sandwich from the office vending machine didn't appeal either. Maybe a bottle of juice would help. He got up from his desk and went to the drink machine located against a wall next to the coffee station. He picked up a bottle of orange juice, chug-a-lugged it and dropped the empty container into the recycle bin. When he returned to his desk, Jimmy was there holding a stacked printout.
"Hey, C.K. this is what I could find, right away. There's probably more, but it'll take some time. I figured you'd like to have something to start off with."
"Thanks, Jimmy. You're right. Maybe this will send me in some new directions. I'll take it with me over to Lois's. I'm going to see if I can find her laptop. You can call me there if you find anything that looks promising."
"Okay. I'll keep digging."
As Jimmy started to leave, Clark said, "Oh, Jimmy. Can you tell me who Star, Diane Goodman and Carl Benson are?"
"Sure. Star is this far out friend of Lois's, and I mean really far out. She's into horoscopes and trances and stuff. Anything about the occult, she can help you with. She lives in Lois's building. Diane is a reporter here. She and Lois got along pretty well. In fact, Diane did some legwork and found a source that helped Lois crack her last story. She's not here now, though, 'cause she had some vacation time coming. I think she was going to Hawaii or somewhere. Carl Benson is the travel editor. Lois used to like to talk to him about all the places around the world that she wanted to visit but didn't have time for. I think he left on Sunday for a free Travel Editors' tour of Ecuador. Does that help?"
"Yeah, that helps a lot. Thanks, Jimmy."
Jimmy left, and Clark's stomach growled. Flipping through Lois's Rolodex, he found 'Pizza'. There were several names, and she had rated each one. Apparently she chose her pie according to her mood. One said "A too much chocolate day. Thin crust, lots of veggies. No worries." Another had "A to hell with it day. Great Chicago style kitchen sink. Fat city." Then there was, "A day to celebrate. California designer. Artichokes, oysters, crab, shrimp olive oil and herbs. Add champagne. Expect heartburn." Even ordering takeout was an exciting adventure with Lois Lane. Finally, he found what he was looking for. "Comfort food day. Pepperoni and cheese classic. Relax with a video." He dialed the number and ordered.
There was no laptop computer in Lois's apartment. Clark had known it was a long shot that, maybe, the crime scene investigators had not been as thorough as they should have been and had somehow overlooked something the size of a breadbox. Fat chance. He looked in cupboards and closets, behind, under and on top of furniture. He used his X-ray vision anticipating secret compartments in the walls or under the floorboards. Nothing. So if it wasn't here, and it wasn't at the Daily Planet, where was it? Lois hadn't left it with her sister. Lucy would have given it to Perry. He had to conclude that someone had taken it, and that meant it had something important on it. He had no idea where to continue the search.
He finished eating the last slice of pizza, and poured another cup of tea from the pot he had brought, along with an assortment of teas. It was impossible to work at the Apollo Hotel, and he had decided he would use Lois's apartment as a base of operations until he got a place of his own. If he was going to spend some time here, he wasn't going to be forced to drink orange pekoe, and tea brewed in a pot was much superior to tap water colored by a few dunks of a tea bag. After all, no one objected to his being here. <I object! Didn't you learn anything from that dream last night? You've fallen in love with a dead woman, and that's sick, sick, sick!> <Be quiet. I have work to do. I'm not thinking about her.>
He collected the trash, putting it in a plastic bag next to the door to take away with him when he left. Then he sat on the Procrustean couch to read Jimmy's printout.
The drowned man, Clayton Kimball, had been a chemist at STAR Labs. He had worked on synthesizing hormones. STAR Labs would not disclose why he was fired. The medical examiner's report showed the presence of water in the lungs. Cause of death: drowning. He was unmarried and had no family living in Metropolis. His medical card gave the name, Silas Trent, to be notified in case of death.
Clark wrote a note to himself on his pad: 'Can we subpoena STAR Labs records and force them to reveal why he was fired? Consult Henderson.'
The body found in the dumpster was that of Robert Nolan. He had a father, mother, and sister, all of whom were heartbroken over his death and mystified that there were amphetamines in his body since he had been obsessed with keeping his physique honed and in shape for athletics. His nutrition habits were excellent, and he worked out daily. Big and fast, he was a running back for the Roosevelt High School Rough Riders football team; college scouts from all over the country came to watch him play every week. He had a great future, and no reason to O.D. on drugs.
He wrote on the pad again: 'any connection with STAR Labs? Athlete — unusual behaviour- steroids?'
The remodel on the building where the body was found and, in fact, the entire Hobbs Bay reclamation project were funded by Lex Luthor through LexBank; another of his companies, Lexco, was doing the construction. At last, a connection to Luthor. It was far-fetched, but it was there. Lois's conundrum was beginning to resemble one of those puzzles made up of dots that formed a picture when they were connected properly. Clark needed to figure out the connection sequence. It would be a lot easier if Jimmy could come up with more dots.
It had begun to rain, a hard November downpour sounding like pellets of sleet when the wind blew drops against the windows. He laid his head against the back of the couch and looked at the painting. He hadn't wanted to look at her. He knew he would just think about last night. His other self was right. The self he didn't want to listen to. He was in love with a dead woman. Not only was it futile, it was sick. Working at the Daily Planet had been the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Now he just wanted to find Lois's killer and run as far as he could away from her memory. He closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to look at her.
Some time later, he roused when he heard a key in the lock, and the door open. In the dim light of the single lamp, a disembodied face, familiar and lovely, floated toward him. It was the woman of the portrait, wearing the same trench coat and slacks, stepping from the painting to join him.
"Lois?" he murmured. "I thought you were dead."
"Do I look dead? Who are you and what are you doing in my apartment?"
A bright, overhead light came on.
Clark blinked. "What?"
"You heard me, buster. Don't move. I'm calling the police."
"Lois, it's you! You're not dead."
"No, but you will be in about another minute, if you don't explain who you are and why you're here." Her face was angry, as she put down the cases she was carrying, picked up and collapsed an umbrella she had set down next to the door, and brandished it as a weapon.
He wasn't sure she was real. This could be a bizarre version of last night's dream, Mad Dog Lane come to torment him. Oh, god, he hoped it was real. "It's okay. My name is Clark Kent. I'm from the Daily Planet…and you're not dead!"
"From the Daily Planet? I've never seen you before. And you tell me I'm not dead one more time, and you get the point of this umbrella right in the middle of your solar plexus. You just sit there and don't move while I call 911."
He picked up the phone and handed it to her. "You don't need to call the police, honest. I'm here legally, and I'm not going to hurt you. I'm so glad you're…" He almost said the fatal words again, and she pointed the umbrella tip ready to thrust. Catching himself, he continued, "…here; I'm glad you're here. Just give me a chance, and I'll explain everything to you. I'm working for the Planet because everyone thinks you're dead. Why didn't you let people know you were alive?"
"Why would I let anyone know I was alive? I didn't know I was supposed to be dead."
"It's been in every newspaper and newscast for days. How could you not know?"
"I've been…out of touch," she said, her eyes sliding evasively sideways.
"Where could you be that out of touch? The Gobi Desert? Mars?"
"Wait a minute. I'm the one asking the questions here. Why would my being dead prove that you're working at the Planet? Don't tell me they hired you to replace me?"
"Not replace you, write about you. Everyone's been pretty shaken up by your murder."
He expected a reaction to the word 'murder', but she came at him from another direction.
Glaring, she demanded, "Why should I believe anything you tell me? You talk good, but for all I know you're some kind of gentlemen thief who uses his charm to seduce and then rob women."
She thought he was charming! He couldn't help himself. His face broke into a great big smile.
She was not diverted. "Do you see 'stupid' written on my forehead? That may be a really…terrific…smile," She seemed to drift off for a moment, but hurriedly regained focus. "But, I'm still calling the cops." She started to punch in 911.
"Wait! Don't call the police; call Perry White. He'll tell you who I am." His deep brown eyes pleaded with her, and to her dismay, she couldn't resist them.
"Okay, we'll just see about that." She coded Perry's home number into the phone and waited, keeping a steady eye on Clark.
"I hope Perry has a strong heart," Clark murmured.
Startled by the idea, Lois handed Clark the phone and said, "Here, maybe you should prepare him."
When Perry answered, Clark said, "Chief, it's Clark. Are you sitting down?"
The reply was loud and irritated. "Clark, do you know what time it is? And why in Sam Hill should I be sitting down?'
"Hold on tight, Perry. Lois is alive."
"She wasn't killed after all."
"Now, son, it's been pretty easy to see that you've kind of fallen under Lois's spell, the more you found out about her. It's understandable, but Clark, much as I'd like to believe it isn't so, she's dead."
"No, she isn't. She's standing right here. Why don't you talk to her?"
He handed the phone to Lois who said, "Perry? It's me."
"Great shades of Elvis! Lois, honey, is that really you? You're not dead?"
"Why does everybody keep saying that," she muttered. "Yes, Perry, it's really me. I've been…out of town and didn't realize that everyone thought I'd been murdered. I know you have a million questions, and I'll answer them all tomorrow. But just for now, let's keep my resurrection between us, okay?"
"All right, darlin', but I probably won't sleep a wink wondering where you've been. Let me talk to Kent, again."
"You do know him, then? You trust him?"
"I do, honey, and so can you."
"If you don't mind, I'll decide that for myself. Here he is," and she handed the phone to Clark.
"Chief, I'll call you at the Planet in the morning. I don't know where Lois will stay tonight, but I agree with her. I think it's best, for now, that everyone still thinks that she's dead."
"Wherever she is, you stay close and protect her, you hear."
Clark's enthusiasm for the task reassured Perry, who went on. "You know, we can't keep this a secret for long, Clark. This is a big story."
"We'd better find out what Lois knows before we make it public, don't you think? There are still questions to be answered."
"You're right, and now you and Lois can work together to find those answers. You should make a good team."
Clark looked at Lois who was still bristling and holding the umbrella. She was also dripping all over the carpet from having come in from the rain, and suddenly she sneezed.
"I think we'd better wait and tell her about that in the morning."
"You're right. She's not used to working with a partner. Don't worry. I'll handle it, and you two can get on with finding out who tried to kill her."
"Aren't you forgetting something, Chief? There's a more urgent question we need to answer first."
"If Lois is alive, then who's dead?"
Perry chuckled in approval. "I knew you were right for this job. You two are going to make a great team! Talk to you tomorrow, son," and he hung up the phone.
Clark smiled at Lois. She regarded him warily. Then she sneezed again.
"Lois, you need to get out of those wet clothes." He realized he'd forgotten to turn on the radiator.'" You're probably freezing. Why don't you take a hot shower and put on something dry."
"You expect me to get into the shower with you hanging around? I'm nobody's fool. I saw 'Psycho'. I'll shower after you're gone, and the door is locked."
"Lois, I understand you need to get to know me, but Perry vouched for me, didn't he? Would he have done that if I were Norman Bates? Anyway, he told me to stay with you to protect you."
"I do not need you to protect me. I just want to take a shower and go to bed."
Clark was beginning to understood what Scardino had been talking about. "Alone in an apartment where somebody tried to kill you? If you're nobody's fool, then get used to the idea that you're in danger, and Perry told me to stay with you. Look, you're wet and cold and probably hungry. . I'm sorry. I ate all of the pizza, but while you're showering, I'll go get some takeout and make another pot of tea. You can lock the door when I leave and I can let myself in when I get back."
"You have a key to my apartment?" she said, horrified.
"We didn't think you'd mind since you were dead. Now go get in a hot shower."
"Not until I lock the door behind you."
First, he turned the radiator on and then he stepped into the hallway. He heard the lock snap as he moved toward the stairs. Literally walking on air, he grinned and remembered that Lois Lane likes spicy Thai food. He knew just the place.
After locking the door behind Clark, Lois hung up her dripping raincoat, and turned toward the bedroom. As she did, she saw the painting for the first time. She grimaced and continued on, going immediately to the telephone in her bedroom. Later, after entering the bathroom, she stripped off her sodden clothing and stepped into a steaming shower. Soon she stopped shivering and simply stood relaxing under the water as it ran over her head and shoulders and down her body, warming her through and through.
Finally, she soaped her hair and the rest of her, completing her ablutions as she turned her mind to Clark Kent. She was furious with the thought that he had been snooping around her apartment getting into who knew what. Perry might trust him, but Perry didn't know how he conducted himself privately, and Perry didn't have a drawer full of lacy lingerie that some miscreant might want to paw through. Clark Kent really didn't look like a pervert, but could you always tell by looking? If she went by looks, Kent was a really attractive guy who could be worth getting to know in all kinds of ways, but she wasn't about to render favorable judgment on so little information.
She stepped out of the shower stall and began toweling herself dry. So what if he was good looking, she thought. She didn't have time for that right now. If she kept on thinking like that, she could get distracted from what she had to do. He could become a problem, if he wasn't already. Why on earth did Perry have to assign him to stick with her like a watchdog? He was definitely going to get in the way.
She went back into the bedroom and looked around carefully, opening drawers and the closet. Nothing appeared to be out of place. Maybe he wasn't a pervert, after all. She thought of the men she'd known, knew now. How many of them, given the circumstances, could have resisted the temptation to invade her private domain and fondle her most intimate possessions? The answer was depressing. Lucy was right. She had rotten taste in men. Clark Kent gave promise to being a different sort.
After combing out her hair and leaving it to dry in a curly mass, she threw on a pair of sweats and was returning to the living room when Clark let himself into the apartment carrying containers of steaming — she breathed deeply and spontaneously smiled with pleasure — Thai food!
"How did you know I like Thai food?"
"Good evening, Ms Lane. It's a pleasure to see you all dry and comfortable. And I know you like Thai food because I've spent the last two days finding out everything I could about you."
He *was* going to be a problem. "Sorry. Hi, and thanks for the food. Shall I make the tea?"
"No, you sit and eat while I make a pot. Where do you want…?"
"At the kitchen table. I can watch you make the tea while I eat. You want some too?"
"No, thanks, I've already eaten." It hadn't occurred to him that she would want to watch. That complicated things. Now where had he seen that kettle?
She began opening cartons and eating from them with the accompanying chopsticks. "Mmmmm. This is great! I didn't know there was any place in Metropolis that had Thai food this good. Where did you get it?"
He had found the kettle, and the water was heating as he 'hotted' the pot and took several teabags from a box. "At a little place I know." He looked at her sitting on the edge of her chair — no make-up, hair curling wildly, oversized sweats drooping — stuffing her mouth and moaning her approval. He saw not the woman of the portrait, not the person he had learned about for two days, but still another Lois Lane. He thought this one was adorable, but then, he was hopelessly besotted by her. "Maybe I'll take you there sometime."
She stopped shoveling noodles into her mouth. "You mean like a date?" she asked indignantly.
"No, as a friend. We can talk about dating later."
She snorted. "In your dreams. What makes you think we're even going to be friends?"
"We'll get to my dreams, someday, but let's be friends for now. After you're around me for a while, I'll grow on you. You'll get used to me, and you won't be able to resist finding out where this little Thai place is."
"Why keep it a secret? Why don't you just tell me?"
"Someday I'm going to tell you all my secrets, but not yet."
"Ha! As if I'm interested in any big secrets you might have."
"We'll see. Back in Kansas, we know how to play our cards close to the vest until it's time to lay them down."
She half choked. "You're a poker player from Kansas? Is that why Perry hired you? Because he figured you'd be easy pickings in his poker games?"
"No, he hired me because of my experience and because I could write the kind of story he wanted written about you."
She laughed again. "Sure you can. Where did you get all this experience, the Kansas City Star?"
"No, the Smallville Gazette and the Borneo Times among other papers." The tea was ready and he poured some in a mug for her.
She shook her head in disbelief. "Smallville and Borneo. I couldn't make that up. Perry must have been out of his mind with grief over my death, " she said smugly.
He poured some tea for himself and sat down opposite her, grinning. "Actually he was quite composed and businesslike. Said everybody else was too busy to follow up on the story of your death, so he was willing to give me a chance at it."
He watched the fun disappear from her face, and she looked down, started to eat another bite, then returned it and pushed the carton away. "Sure," she said, face stricken. "What was I thinking?"
"Hey, I'm kidding. Everybody was devastated about your death. The place was full of gloom when I walked in. Perry hired me because everyone else was too upset and too close to it. I didn't know you, so I could be objective, and that's what he wanted. A story about the real Lois Lane."
"And did you find her?" she asked quietly.
He answered in kind. "I'm on the trail, but it may take me the rest of my life to get the whole story."
She looked up at him in surprise. "You're a nice guy, Clark. At least, so far."
They smiled at each other, the air heavy with curiosity and anticipation. Then she broke the moment. "Just don't fall for me, Kansas. I don't have time for it."
Ignoring him, she picked up her mug and drank. A surprised look crossed her face as she swallowed and looked down. "What is this? I thought you were making tea?"
"It is tea."
"This isn't my tea."
"It isn't orange pekoe, if that's what you mean. There are lots of better varieties, Lois. I discovered some wonderful ones when I was traveling. Lapsang Souchong, Darjeeling and Oolong, Keemon, Jasmine. I found this one in South Africa. There's no caffeine, and it will actually help you sleep."
"You decided I need to get some sleep?"
He realized his faux pas. "Uh, no, of course not. That's up to you. I just thought you were probably tired. Didn't you say all you wanted to do was have a shower and go to bed?" He paused and asked innocently, "Did you want to do something else besides sleep?"
She looked up at him sharply but saw the twinkle in his eyes. She grinned and shrugged, saying, "Yes, sleep is what I want. What's this stuff called anyway?"
"Rooibos. Means 'red bush'. It has all kinds of health and nutritional benefits. South Africans use it for a lot of things. I had a friend whose grandmother used it to color her hair."
"Well, I wouldn't use orange pekoe for that." She looked at him speculatively. "You've had some interesting experiences for a guy from Kansas. I've always wanted to travel, but I never seemed to have the time."
"Maybe I can help you change that."
She looked at him in surprise, again. "You're a strange guy, Clark Kent. You show me something different every minute. I like that."
"You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that."
She had finished eating, and he saw that she looked weary. Placing the containers with the leftovers in the refrigerator, he poured another cup of tea for her and said, "Look, why don't you take this with you. You can finish it in bed. We have a lot to talk about in the morning, and I have a feeling that Perry will be ringing my pager very early."
This time she didn't object to his directions, but nodded and said, "I'll just lock the door behind you."
"Lois," he said gently. "I'm not going anywhere. If you can spare an extra blanket and pillow, I'll bunk out here."
She looked skeptically at his big frame and her tiny couches. "I don't think you'll fit on those."
"Don't worry, I'll manage." He smiled. "I've slept many times in rush huts with dirt floors."
She nodded, left and returned with a blanket and pillow. As she started back to her bedroom, she saw the portrait again. "What's that thing doing here?" she asked, gesturing toward it.
"Your family couldn't cope with it yet, and it was upsetting the newsroom. Perry had me bring it here for temporary storage."
"Oh. Well, I'll put it somewhere out of the way tomorrow. I can't stand the thing."
"I kind of like it," Clark retorted. It helped me get to know you."
"Sheesh!" she said disgustedly and resumed her way to the bedroom. At the door, she paused and looked back for a moment, at the painting and at him, gauging his character. Then she nodded her head slightly and went into the bedroom, closing but not locking the door.
He was making progress! He delightedly punched the air with his fist and mouthed 'yes'. Then he stretched out on the floor with his pillow and blanket and wished he had a toothbrush.
As though she had read his thoughts, Lois opened her door and held out the desired object along with an almost empty tube of toothpaste. "I had an extra one. I don't know about you, but I can't stand not brushing before I go to sleep."
He took the brush and paste, said thanks, and completed his bedtime ritual at the kitchen sink.
Later, as he lay under the blanket atop the airfoil he had created for a mattress, he thought back over the conversations they'd had since she'd walked through her apartment door and into his life. He knew he was past any hope of letting his feelings for her go, but that didn't mean she didn't have a lot of explaining to do. She hadn't even blinked when he had said she had been murdered. Now, why was that? The only answer he could come up with was that she hadn't been out of touch at all. She had seen the newspapers and heard the newscasts. Then why had she let everyone believe she was dead? And why was she lying? He fell asleep gazing at the portrait.
Early the next morning, Clark put on a pot of coffee, and as the aroma permeated the apartment, he heard Lois stirring in the bedroom. He wished that he had brought back eggs and bread with the Thai food last night. He should have gone by the Apollo Hotel, too, for fresh clothes. He would have to pick up everything, later, but he didn't want to go out until he and Lois had a chance to talk, and she had heard from Perry that they were going to be partners on this story. He had begun to make a list of things he needed to get when he heard a knock at the door.
Immediately alert, he silently slipped to the door and looked through the peephole. It was Scardino! What was he doing here? Clark was deciding whether or not to ignore the knock, when Lois, pushing him aside, checked the visitor's identity, and opened the door.
Clark was dumbfounded. "Lois! What's the matter with you? You can't just open the door to anyone. You're supposed to be dead, remember? Don't tempt fate. It can still happen."
"Don't worry, Clark. It's only Scardino. Come in, Dan. Do you two know each other?"
Scardino came in, thrusting a huge bouquet of flowers at Lois. "Welcome back, beautiful," he said, kissing her on the cheek. "Yeah, we've met. Hello, Kent. Looks like you may get to call me 'Daniel', yet. What's for breakfast?"
"Are you crazy?" Lois exclaimed. "I told you I was still supposed to be dead. How many people saw you come in here with these flowers?"
"Don't worry. I'm a federal agent. I know how to be discreet."
"Well, let's go into the kitchen. I think Clark made some coffee. We have a lot to talk about."
Clark stared slack-jawed at the co-conspirators.
"Coffee is good." Scardino spotted the folded blanket and pillow that Clark had left on the coffee table. "You've made yourself right at home here, haven't you, Kent?" He followed Lois into the kitchen. "What, no eggs?"
"There aren't any," Clark snapped, his temper beginning to rise. "What's going on? How did you know Lois was here?"
"I told him," said Lois. "I called him last night, while you were out for food, and told him to come over this morning."
"Lois, what were you thinking? He could be the one who tried to kill you."
"Don't be silly. Why would Daniel want to kill me? We're working together."
"Well, you and I are working together, and right now, I'd like to kill you."
"You and I are not working together. Just because Perry made you my watchdog, temporarily, doesn't mean we're working together."
"Lois, listen to me. You are in danger! You can't go around telling everybody you're alive. We need to use that to surprise the killer and maybe get him to give himself away. You didn't call anybody else last night did you?"
"No, of course, not. Just Daniel."
"Why would you call him, of all people? Don't you think Lucy or your parents might like to know you're alive? And why didn't you tell me about the call?" As he listed her transgressions, his voice rose to a shout. "How do you know he's not the one who tried to kill you? You're behaving irresponsibly."
"Uh-oh. Dad's mad," interposed Scardino, smirking at Lois. She, in turn, glared at Clark and pointedly poured only two cups of coffee, one of which she handed to Scardino.
"You can leave, now, Clark. Dan can guard me while we discuss our investigation. I'll call Perry later and tell him everything is okay."
"No way!" His voice was loud and demanding. "I'm not leaving until I get an explanation of what's going on between you two."
Deciding to put an end to his interference, Lois exclaimed, "Just because Perry hired you and told you to keep an eye on me does not give you the right to hang around, now that it's not necessary, and pry into what I'm doing. This is none of your business, so just go back to Kansas and leave me alone."
"I'm not leaving you alone until Perry says it's all right, and I'm sure not leaving you alone with a guy who could have tried to kill you."
"That's the second, or is it the third, time you've said that, Kent. You're starting to make me mad. I wouldn't try to kill Lois. I told you we're friends." Scardino put his arm around her shoulder, and they smiled fondly at each other.
The assurance did not make Clark feel any better. His face was now a thundercloud, as he searched for the words to reply. Lois saw his momentary hesitation and prepared to move in for the kill.
Releasing herself from Dan's grasp, Lois reached out to touch Clark's arm. "Clark, I'm sorry. You were so helpful and reassuring last night. Somehow we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot this morning. Why don't we all sit down and have a cup of coffee, and I'll try to explain to you." She kicked herself inwardly. She couldn't believe she'd just said that. It was anything but a coup de grace. Was she getting soft…or was there something about this guy?
Clark allowed her to guide him to the kitchen table and give him some coffee. When they were all seated, she began.
"It was Diane Goodman who was murdered in my apartment Saturday night. She asked if she could use my place for a few hours before she caught the redeye to L.A. She had some vacation time coming and decided to get away from the November cold and sit on a beach in Fiji for a few days. I don't usually do something like that, but I was going away myself, and she'd given me a source that tied my last story together; I decided to thank her by saying yes. I gave her the spare apartment key I keep in my desk, and told her she could leave it on the kitchen counter when she left."
Scardino took up the tale. "Diane invited me to stop by for a drink. When I got here, she was dressed in a negligee and seemed to want to spend her waiting hours…uh, dallying. She was good looking and interesting and I thought, 'Why not?' It's not like I had anything going with anyone else."
"Sure, why not?" Clark mimicked and looked at Lois who appeared unmoved by Scardino's words. He paused, briefly, then asked, "Lois, why were you going away?"
"Lex Luthor had asked me to marry him, and I needed to think it over. I went home, packed a bag, and stopped to see him again before I left town. I'd discovered some very suspicious things about him in the investigation that Dan and I were on. I had to decide if I love him and would be willing to ignore what I'd found out, or if I was going to pursue the story to wherever it might end."
So she had suspected Lex was not what he seemed on the surface. Had that kick in the jaw been more than just her enthusiasm in a Tae Kwan Do challenge? Had it been a little payback for the billionaire's deception? There were startling revelations in what she'd said, but, ultimately, Clark found himself transfixed by the last. What had she decided about Luthor? But he couldn't ask. He didn't want to reveal his feelings yet. He reluctantly returned to the explanation in progress.
"What happened that night?" he asked Scardino.
"We put on some appropriate music and drank a bottle of wine. It turned out she wanted to talk more than anything else. She told me she'd just left a long time relationship that had gone sour, and that's why she was going all the way to Fiji. She wanted to get away from everybody and just sit on one of those isolated islands for a while. We were playfully arguing about whether to open another bottle of wine and let the evening turn romantic, when somebody knocked at the door. She wasn't expecting anyone, but since it was Lois's apartment, I thought she should answer it. She walked to the door and looked through the peephole. She must have recognized whoever was on the other side because she turned the knob and swung the door open. She didn't have time to say anything before I heard the sound of the gun's blast. The only light we had came from some candles, and all I saw was Diane falling and a shadow in the doorway. I hit the floor behind the couch so whoever it was wouldn't see me and give me the same treatment. There were some clicking sounds, and then the door closed. Diane was…" he paused for a beat and continued, "unrecognizable. I didn't want to compromise my investigation with Lois, and I hadn't seen anything that would help the police, so I covered up the evidence leading to me, grabbed her purse and the key from the kitchen counter, and went down the fire escape."
Clark regarded Scardino with contempt. "Henderson *should* arrest you and not just for obstructing justice. I think he could nail you as an accessory after the fact."
Lois jumped in. "Now just a minute."
Clark turned to her. "As for you. You're not much better than he is. When did you find out, and why did you let everyone think you were dead?"
She paled slightly at the scorn in his words but answered without hesitation. "I heard it on the news as soon as the story broke. I called Dan, right away."
"Why Dan? Why not Perry or your family, or Inspector Henderson?"
"I knew he had been with her, and I needed to find out what had really happened. Diane and I had a heart to heart about Dan when I gave her the key. She wanted to know if he was a stand up guy and asked me if it would be okay if she invited him in for a drink. I assured her we were just friends."
Well, she and Dan agreed on their relationship. That put him out of the emotional game. There was still Lex, but for the moment, Clark didn't think about her relationship with Luthor. He was disappointed with what Lois had done, and he could feel his regard for her eroding.
"After Dan filled me in, we both agreed that it would be safer for me if I stayed dead. I still needed some time to think about Lex, and Daniel wanted some time to ask around and see if he could come up with anything about who could have done it."
"Is that all you care about — a story? Don't people mean anything to you? Lucy, your parents, Perry, everybody at the Planet, even Bill Henderson have been devastated by what they thought was your violent death. And what about Diane Goodman's family? Don't they deserve to know what happened to her? How could you have even considered doing this?"
"Wait a minute, Kent. You're not being fair to Lois. She thought of all of those things, but I talked her into hiding. I believed I might be able to come up with some idea of who did the killing. We would have told everyone as soon as I did."
"But you didn't, did you? Did you do anything besides eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at Molinaro's?"
"Sarcasm isn't your style, newsboy. If you knew anything, which you don't, you'd know that Molinaro's is where I meet with my snitches. They get a meal, and I get information."
"And the information you got was…?"
"Unfortunately, not much. One or two mentioned Mr. Big, but they were all afraid to drop the dime on him."
Lois cut in. "They talked about Lex?"
Before Scardino could say anything, Clark asked, "You know Luthor is Mr. Big?"
Lois shrugged. "I don't have any definite proof, but everything I've found out points that way. That's why I had to go away and think about his proposal."
"Why would you even hesitate?" snapped Clark. "Are you going to tell me you could protect a criminal, or, god forbid, marry one?"
"I didn't want to convict him until I could prove he was guilty. He loves me, and he asked me to marry him. That has to count for something."
"Only if you love him. Do you?" At that moment, there was no one else in the room. Scardino had disappeared, and Clark and Lois were the only two people in a world on hold while he waited for her answer.
Short and definitive, it came quickly. "No."
"Then you're not going to marry him," he stated with relief.
"I didn't say that."
"How could you possibly think of marrying him if you don't love him, and you think he's a criminal?'
"Dan and I are on the trail of something important, and Lex is almost certainly at the bottom of it. I need to stay close to him to find out the truth."
"Is this the story in the files you left with Lucy?" At her nod, he went on. "Fine, then fill me in and we'll finish it without your having to do anything as sordid as marrying Lex Luthor."
"Clark, I can't. I'm sorry, but the investigation is Dan's and mine, and we have to decide what we think we should do. You're not a part of it."
It was the final encroachment in her assault on his opinion of her. "You know what? You're right. I'm out of here. I'll tell Perry that Dan is looking after you, and that he can call you here to get whatever explanation you deign to give him. As far as I'm concerned, you and Dan deserve each other." With that, he flung open the door, strode through it, and slammed it behind him, rattling the windows.
Lex Luthor was humming "I've Got The World on a String", as he briskly entered the dining room of his Lexor Hotel penthouse. All was well in his world, and he was looking forward to whatever challenges he would be overcoming in this new day. Sometimes he regretted that getting his way proved so easy. He wished that a formidable foe would appear to make winning a bit more difficult. Throughout his career, there had been many pebbles in his path, but they had provided no greater hazard than a brief stumble. Perhaps the world held no equal who could excite his Machiavellian genius. What a pity. He would have to make do with the humdrum.
Good morning, sir." Nigel greeted Lex and held a chair for him at the long table. "I trust you had a pleasant night."
"Good morning, Nigel. Yes, indeed, it was most pleasant. Miss Technology World was an enlightening and stimulating companion. I congratulate you on your taste."
"Thank you, sir. I take it you were pleased with her endeavors, then."
"But of course. She is blessed with an abundance of unusual talents and exhausted herself in displaying them. She should sleep for some time. When she wakes, see that she has breakfast and transportation, and, of course, appropriate remuneration."
"You were not disturbed by the brief power outage, then?"
" A small hazard of her methodology, Nigel. Fortunately Miss World is not completely dependent upon technology. She displayed remarkable versatility at the moment of crisis. You deserve a reward for finding such a fascinating creature."
"Thank you, sir. I always appreciate your displays of gratitude."
"What shall it be? I'm feeling particularly generous this morning."
"Perhaps, the usual, doubled, sir?"
"Nigel, you're in a rut. How much gold do you need in that Swiss bank vault of yours? Have a little fun for a change. How about a yacht and a sports car? I could even be persuaded to give you some time off to enjoy them."
"Thank you, no, sir. Perhaps when I feel that my future has been comfortably provided for."
"You only go around once, Nigel. Don't forget to live a little."
"Spoken like a paradigmatic hedonist billionaire, sir."
"True, true." Luthor smiled, ruminating briefly upon the many privileges accompanying the accumulation of fortune. "Well, let's to business. That's where the real fun lies."
"I couldn't agree more, sir. I have always found the greatest pleasure in my work."
"What's happening on the Clark Kent front?"
"There has been a rather unexpected development."
"All right, you have my attention. What is it?"
"Mr. Kent spent last night in Ms. Lane's apartment. Late in the evening, a young woman arrived, and she, too, spent the night there. Then, this morning, the DEA agent, Daniel Scardino, also entered the apartment carrying a bouquet of flowers."
"Now I'm intrigued. Who was the young woman."
"It was difficult for our contact to see her. It was dark and raining. However, he took this photograph. I believe you'll have no difficulty in identifying the subject."
Lex took the photograph and drew in his breath sharply as he recognized "Lois Lane! She's come back from the dead?"
"Apparently so. It also appears that she, Mr. Kent and Agent Scardino could be working together on a certain matter."
"This is disastrous, Nigel. We must somehow divert them from our enterprise. Perhaps a little sleight of hand can focus their attention elsewhere. Obviously, the continuation of her faux death is a ploy to apprehend the culprit who attempted to murder her. We must keep them pre- occupied with following that line of thought."
"May I suggest a welcome home celebration, sir?"
"Perfect. I can announce our engagement at the same time. Make all the arrangements for a surprise party at Lois's apartment. Telephone invitations to everyone we can think of. It must take place immediately, of course. A chic soiree, I think."
"I'll see to it, sir."
Clark slammed the door of Lois's apartment behind him and ran down the stairs, angry and disappointed. She was not at all the person he had imagined. And that's just what he had done. Imagined a wonderful being who fulfilled every hope he'd ever had for a woman to love and love him, someone to spend his life with. This is what happens when you let your imagination run away with you he thought, and all because of that portrait. He had endowed it with all his fancies, but it was nothing more than the flat canvas he had seen on that first day in Perry's office. He had been a fool, but it was over, and he would put it behind him. He set a course for the Apollo Hotel to shower and change. He was going to see Perry, and then spend the afternoon looking for an apartment. Working at the Planet was the job he'd always wanted, and Lois Lane wasn't going to drive him away.
"Clark, please don't…" It was too late. The door was emphatically closed, and he was gone. She stared at it, feeling a surprising sense of loss.
"I thought he'd never leave." Scardino's patented irony was not funny.
Lois regarded him guiltily. "He's right, you know. What we did was unfeeling and terribly wrong."
"Forget him. He's nothing. Let's talk Operation Big Fake. What have you got for me?"
Casting a glance at the closed door, Lois reluctantly picked up her laptop from where she had set it when she came in last night. Placing it on the coffee table, she fired it up and opened her file on Lex Luthor.
"Well, there's a lot of innuendo about Lex's alleged association with lower criminal types in Metropolis, but no hard evidence. There is also a tenuous link between the two corpses found in the Hobbs Bay district. When Clayton Kimball was fired from STAR Labs, he was immediately hired by Lexlab Scientific Research. His work there was top secret. Jimmy hadn't been able to break into their computer before I left. Robert Nolan had volunteered for an experimental strength training study at the physiotherapy unit at LexMed. So they were both involved with one of Lex's enterprises, but not the same one. It's remote, and there's no proof that points directly to Lex knowing them or about them. What did you find out?"
"Mr. Big has been sweeping Hobbs Bay for the dregs, guys on the bottom willing to do anything to get a fix. A black van picks them up, and they disappear, ten or twelve of them, so far. Rumor is that he's promising some kind of new super drug if they'll 'volunteer'. Only the most desperate are going along with it. Word on the street says once they get in that van, they don't come back. It's all just coincidence, so far, though. What do you think?"
"I think we have too many coincidences. I think I need to get close enough to Lex to see what he has in his files and his computer, so I guess we'll be announcing our engagement as soon as I come back from the dead. Any thought as to how we're going to pull that one off?"
Clark went straight to Perry's office when he arrived at the Planet. As he walked in, Ralph was leaving, Perry yelling behind him, "Don't come in here again with one of your preposterous leads. We're not printing a bunch of accusations without absolute proof that they're true, and that means more than some sleazy source you've found crawling around." Ralph almost ran to the elevator.
Perry turned his ire on Clark. "What are you doing here? I told you not to leave Lois."
"Hold on, Chief. Lois kicked me out, but I didn't leave until Scardino showed up. I think you can give up any idea of our working together."
"So she sent you packing? That sounds like Lois. You just have to learn how to handle her. And what was Scardino doing there?"
"She called him. Can you believe that? She doesn't call you or her family. She calls Mr. DEA. I had almost bought into your delusion that she cares about something other than her next big story."
Perry heard anger, but he also heard disillusionment. He sighed. Young folks had a hard time learning that there were no perfect human beings. He suspected that Clark had fallen more than just a little in love with Lois. He wasn't the first, and he wouldn't be the last.
"Well, you're both just going to have to be professional and put your differences aside until we get this story."
"I don't see how that's going to happen if she won't let me in on what she's doing."
"So she locked you out? I've seen her that way before. When she makes up her mind, she hauls up the drawbridge and nobody gets in. Leave it to me, son. I'll threaten to take the story away from her, and she'll come around. Right now, we need to figure out how we're going to let the world know she isn't dead. Where's she been anyway, and why didn't she let us know she was alive?"
"I have no idea where she was, and you can thank Scardino for the deception. He talked her into it. I can't imagine how her family's going to feel when they find out about it."
"They'll probably be relieved that she's alive and mad that she didn't tell them. Isn't that kinda the way you felt?'
Clark thought about that, saying hesitantly, "Yes…I guess so."
"And then, because they love her, they'll forgive her, and it'll just be one more of Lois's crazy stunts in pursuit of a story. Like that time when Elvis was young and just breaking into movies. One of those Hollywood types persuaded him that he needed to be seen out on the town for the publicity and took him to a strip joint where he was photographed with some floozy on his lap. As you would expect, Priscilla didn't like that one bit, but, see, she understood that The King wasn't being unfaithful to her and didn't mean to hurt her so she let that hound dog come crawling back. When you really love someone, you forgive them when they make mistakes. It's kind of a rule."
Clark regarded Perry with new respect. Here was a very wise man. The key words had not been lost on the reporter, " When you love someone, you forgive…" He exhaled his anger and felt the stone in his chest dissolve. He would go check out the apartment he had circled in the Want Ads, and then, even though she was wrong and he was right, crawl back to Lois and apologize. He must remember to ask Perry, some time, if this was the way things usually worked between men and women.
"Perry, I have to find a place to live. I have an appointment to see an apartment in about half an hour. When I'm through, I'll go back to Lois's."
"Better call me first, son. You could walk into a buzz saw, if she doesn't take to having you as a partner. You might want to wait a few hours, give her a chance to calm down before you go back."
"Right. I'll come back here first. See you later." He left Perry's office, his heart light as clouds.
The apartment he looked at was dirty and in disrepair, but it was close to Lois's, and it had an outside entrance that was not visible from the street or any adjacent building, a most necessary feature. The rent was only slightly outrageous, and he and the landlord came to an agreement that, for a bit of a reduction, he would do his own repairs and painting. It took only a few minutes after the building superintendent left for Clark to turn the place into a clean and comfortable flat. Tomorrow, he would buy some furniture.
Clark got back to the Daily Planet about 3:00 p.m. to find Perry smiling. "You must have worked some kind of magic on Lois, son. She seemed almost happy that you two were going to be working together. She said for you to come right back over there."
Clark regarded him with suspicion. This didn't sound like the Lois he had left a few hours ago. "Why? Why would she say that?"
"Well, I don't know Clark, but I wouldn't hesitate. When a high strung filly invites you into the pasture, you'd better get over there while she's still in an agreeable mood."
Attraction overcame suspicion, and Clark trotted back to a, he hoped, receptive Lois.
Lois was almost relieved by Perry's call. She hadn't liked the way Clark had left things between them. It had buoyed her self-esteem that he'd thought so much of her after his investigation, and she didn't want to lose his good opinion of her. However, even though she would admit to herself that he'd been right about her deception, she didn't know him well enough to admit it to him. That would be out of the question. They would have to have a much closer relationship before that happened. Relationship? What relationship? She barely knew him. She would just wait to see how things went between them.
Reluctant to retract her prickles yet, when he knocked on the door, she let him in, saying, "So, you're back. I guess we're stuck with you."
Clark, immediately rejecting crawling and apologizing retorted, "That cuts both ways."
Scardino was equally cordial. "I don't like it, but Perry says we either work with you, or Lois is off the story. Since she's my spy in the Luthor camp, I have to let you be tag-along."
"I can do more than tag along, Scardino, so why don't you just wait and see who pulls his weight here."
Lois stepped between them. "All right, we've established that nobody's thrilled about this. Let's just try to get along. Sit down Clark. I'll tell you where we are."
"First, I want to know where you've been for the three and a half days you were gone."
"What difference does it make?"
"Let's just call it a little show of faith, proof that you're willing to include me in everything and tell the truth."
She looked hurt. "Why wouldn't I be truthful? What do you think I am?"
"I think you're a devious reporter who wants to get a big story no matter what the cost. Quit trying to change the subject. Where were you?"
"Oh, all right. It's not that big a deal. Carl Benson has a summer cottage up on Lake Ogopogo, and when I found out he was going to Ecuador, I asked him if I could use it for a few days. It's well stocked with everything, and I took additional food with me. I didn't have to go out or anything."
"And I assume it, at least, has a radio?"
"Why didn't anybody see you?"
"It's November. Nobody else was up there."
Why didn't the highway patrol spot your car on the way back? There was an APB out for it."
"How do I know? I used the back roads instead of the highway. Maybe they're lousy at their jobs."
"So you were deliberately trying to avoid being found out?"
"I guess so."
"And you wonder why I think you won't tell the truth."
One part of her admired his questioning technique. He knew how to bore in to the essential truth. He would make a good partner to work with, and she wasn't immune to that great smile. She suspected that under the suit was a physique worth getting to know, too, but she wasn't going to let him get the upper hand. If they did get close, Lois Lane would be in charge. She had a lot of experience using her prickles to keep guys where they belonged.
"Okay, that's it. I don't have to defend what I did to you. I don't even know you. Do you want in on the story or not?"
"You're right. You don't. What I think doesn't matter. Let's forget it. Just give me the background."
Lois was bringing Clark up to speed with the story when there was another knock at the door. Without thinking, Lois started toward it. Scardino grabbed her and hustled her into the bedroom. After looking through the peephole, Clark, a shocked look on his face, turned the knob to reveal Nigel St. John and Lex Luthor.
"Ah, Mr. Kent. Surprised to see me? But of course you are." Luthor and St. John pushed past Clark into the apartment. "Lois, come out, come out, wherever you are. I know you're here."
Clark gasped. "Luthor, what are you doing here? How did you know-?"
Lois and Scardino came back into the sitting room, puzzled confusion in their faces.
"Lois, my dear!" Lex grasped her upper arms and kissed her cheek. "I was so relieved when I learned that a mistake had been made in identifying your body. You can't imagine how I grieved when I thought you were no longer with us."
An appalled Clark wondered how Lois could believe this barnyard waste.
Lois, astonished to find the billionaire in her apartment, exclaimed, "How did you know I was here, Lex?" She looked pointedly at Clark who shook his head indignantly. "How did you find out I wasn't dead?"
"I have informants everywhere, my dear. You did not escape their notice when you returned last night, nor did Agent Scardino, this morning, when he turned up at your door with flowers. I expected you to call me, and when you didn't, I decided to surprise you. Nigel, inform the caterers that they can come in now."
"Caterers? What caterers?" Clark yelped.
"Why, the ones Nigel hired for our little welcome home party for Lois. They have just enough time to set up before the guests begin arriving. We've invited everyone you care about, my dear."
Suddenly, bustling domestics were everywhere, filling the room with flowers, setting up a portable bar, removing canap‚s from boxes and arranging them on silver trays. One placed a large crystal bowl filled with caviar in the center of a tray layered with small toast bits and crackers and set the whole thing at one end of the bar. Bottles of champagne icing in tubs magically appeared along with various wines, whiskeys and soft drinks. Clark and Scardino stood helplessly watching as the room transformed into party central.
While Clark and Dan were distracted, Luthor took Lois aside for a quick conversation. When they parted, he was smiling broadly.
The guests arrived almost as soon as the room was ready. Perry was scowling when he entered and, after giving Lois a big hug and a kiss, took Clark aside for a heated discussion. The mayor was there, along with sundry notable characters and celebrities who had been peripherally in and out of Lois's life. Only Lucy, Ralph, Cat Grant and Jimmy could be considered close to her. No other news people had been invited so the Daily Planet still had an exclusive, if only for a short time.
Lucy was hardly speaking to Lois except to inform her that their parents were furious and had refused to come. Everyone was busy talking with each other and ignoring Lois, so she dragged Lucy into the bedroom, and a short time later they emerged, all smiles, arms around each other. Clark, observing the reconciliation, once again mentally acknowledged Perry's sagacity.
When the noise level had reached its loudest, Lex Luthor tapped a glass and demanded everyone's attention. "It's a happy day for all of us who love and respect Lois Lane. She has come back to us, and although we are saddened that another has died, we celebrate the miracle that has returned Lois to us. A toast to our beloved Lois Lane!" All raised their glasses and drank. Lex held out his hand and drew Lois closer to him.
"To add to my personal joy, I am delighted to announce that Lois has consented to be my wife." There was scattered applause as he took her hand a placed a small ring with a very large diamond on her finger. And then they kissed.
Shocked and paralyzed, Clark was unable to move from where he stood. How could she? He looked at Scardino who, like almost everyone else in the room, was smiling and congratulating the couple. Only Perry and Jimmy seemed to be unenthusiastic. Gradually the crowd broke into small groups again, with Lois and Lex making their separate ways around the room chatting and smiling. Clark stood out of the way next to the fireplace. Someone had taken the portrait and placed it on the mantle. How fitting, he thought, that the flat canvas depiction should preside over this farcical deception, fantasy blessing hypocrisy.
As he expected, Lois eventually found her way to him. "Aren't you going to congratulate me, Clark?"
"For what? Selling yourself for a story? I thought we agreed that you weren't going to do this."
"No, you wanted me to agree. Dan and I decided this was the best way to get to Lex."
"You and Dan. When are you going to learn that he's just no good for you? He has no scruples; I thought you were better than that. I hope Henderson takes him into custody when he finds out what he persuaded you to do."
She pressed a placating hand on his arm. "Clark, I know you're upset, but you're supposed to be working with us. We can be a good team. Can't you try to go along instead of getting in the way?"
Before Clark could reply, Luthor, with Nigel hovering behind, joined them, putting an arm around Lois and saying, "This is certainly a reversal of fortune since we spoke yesterday, Mr. Kent. I'm the world's luckiest man. If my persuasive powers are in working order, it won't be long until Lois is Mrs. Lex. Luthor." STAMP. He pulled her against him and kissed her cheek.
Clark flinched inwardly. Lois feigned an imitation of a happy bride-to-be. Scardino, who had wandered over to join them, said, "What a special day. Don't you agree, Kent?"
Inspector William Henderson of the Metropolis police department chose that moment to arrive at the party. He stopped to speak briefly with Perry, and made his way to the group at the center of everyone's attention.
"Welcome back, Lane. I'm sorry to be late for the party, but we discovered some new information about your death. We found out you're alive. Like good police detectives, we've been busy looking into it. You're just a basket full of surprises, aren't you? I understand congratulations are in order for you and Luthor." He was exhibiting an unnatural joviality with what Clark supposed was intended to be a smile but which more resembled a death grin.
Luthor responded, pre-empting any reply from Lois. "Thank you, Inspector. It's a great day for all of us."
"There's a dead woman who might disagree with you," shot back Henderson. He went on, "I'm sorry to rain on your parade, but I'm here to take someone into custody."
The room was suddenly hushed. Henderson looked at each of them in turn: Nigel St. John, Luthor, Lois, Scardino and Clark. Then he said, "Daniel Scardino, I'm taking you in for questioning concerning your actions in obstructing justice and as an accessory after the fact to the crime of murder."
Lois gasped, and turned angrily to Clark. "You rat! We trusted you, and you squealed."
"Lois, I didn't…"
Henderson had not finished. "Lois Lane, You are required to accompany me to the station and answer questions regarding conspiracy to obstruct justice and conceal evidence in the crime of murder."
Pandemonium took over the room.
Lois's mouth dropped open and she yelled, "What?"
Lex Luthor said, "Now see here, Inspector, you're making a ridiculous mistake."
Perry howled, "Bill, are you crazy?"
Jimmy said, "Wow!" and began taking pictures.
Clark called out, "Henderson, you can't do this."
Everyone in the room was talking at once.
Henderson calmly opened the door for the officers he had brought with him. They handcuffed the detainees, and hustled them downstairs to the waiting squad cars. Clark followed close behind, and when they would not let him ride along, he found an alley and took to the sky. He was at the police station before they were and was forced to hover out of sight until he could arrive properly.
When he could finally go in, Scardino and Lois had disappeared. Clark started up the stairs to the squad room, but a uniformed officer stopped him. "I'm sorry sir, but unless you have proper authorization, you can't go upstairs right now."
"I have to see Inspector Henderson. Tell him Clark Kent is here."
The officer went up to the squad room and returned moments later. "Inspector Henderson is not available right now. You can wait in the hallway, if you want."
Of course, he would wait. There was nothing else he could do. Sitting down in one of the chairs opposite the Sergeant's desk, he tried to listen to what was happening upstairs, but there was too much intervening noise, as the members of the precinct went about their daily routines. Plain-clothes detectives brought in suspects for interrogation. Uniformed officers booked prisoners and wrote up reports. The Sergeant listened to complaints from neighborhood citizens and dispatched patrol cars. His assistant paired lawyers with clients and routed phone calls.
An anguishing Clark noticed very little of the bustle around him. Why had Henderson arrested her? Scardino deserved it, but not Lois. Well, maybe she did, but what did the cop have to gain? He was just going to make her mad, and she would stubbornly refuse to cooperate. He wouldn't get anything out of her. Clark didn't like the idea of her spending the night in a holding cell with criminals and riff-raff. On the other hand, maybe a little scare would be good for her. This whole strategy of getting engaged to Luthor so she could get evidence against him was dangerous, not to mention insane. She didn't have enough fear.
Fifteen minutes passed, and there was still no summons to climb the stairs. Henderson continued to ignore him. Suddenly, Clark's pager went off. It was Perry. He went to the pay phone and dialed the Planet.
"Perry, it's Clark."
"Where the dickens are you? We need to get a paper on the street. This news isn't going to be our exclusive for very long."
"I followed Lois to the police station. I thought maybe I could help."
"Lois doesn't need your help right now. She's with Henderson, and he's not gonna do any serious damage to her, except, maybe teach her a lesson or two."
"What kind of lesson?"
"You can find out later. Now get yourself back here and write me that story."
The sound of the telephone slamming in his ear informed Clark that further argument was useless. Leaving a message for Henderson, he departed the precinct house. As he walked in the direction of the Daily Planet, he saw Lex Luthor arrive with an entourage of what could only be lawyers. It would be Luthor who rescued Lois and lent her support, not Clark Kent. With an unhappy and dispirited heart, he stepped into a nearby alley and hit the skies in the direction of the world's greatest newspaper.
When they reached the precinct station, Henderson took Lois and Scardino upstairs to an interrogation room. Lois had been complaining almost constantly during the ride from her apartment, and when he pushed her down onto a straight- backed wooden chair she yelled, "What now, Henderson? The third degree? Go ahead, turn on the hot lights; deny me food and water; smack me around a little. You'll get nothing outta me, copper."
"You've been watching too much television, Lois. Calm down. We don't do that kind of thing anymore except with incorrigibles. What do you think, Scardino? Is she incorrigible yet?"
Scardino, who had been enjoying Lois's histrionics the whole way to the station house, grinned and agreed. "Yeah, I think she's getting close to rubber hose time. Got any?"
"May be some still in the basement. We'll have to take her down there to use 'em."
Lois's breathing had slowed as she listened to their repartee, but she was still enraged and retorted, "Yeah, you and what army, you side-winding son of a-."
"Shut up and hold your temper, Lois. It'll save you a lot of apologizing later. I know it's hard for you, but every once in a while, you should try listening instead of talking. It wasn't much fun being handcuffed and dragged down here was it? I can guarantee you that spending the night in the lock-up will be even less fun, but you can avoid that if you'll just tell me what's been going on and what you know about the death of the woman in your apartment.
"We'd assumed it was you, but it was tough for your sister to confirm that definitely, so the lab was running a DNA sample to be sure. When we found out it wasn't you, my detectives went back over their notes to see if there might be a clue to your whereabouts. The assistant travel editor at the Planet had mentioned that you and Carl Benson had talked about your using his lake house. We hadn't checked it out before because we thought you were dead. When the local police investigated, you'd been there, all right; and, according to the phone records, you'd made several calls to Scardino. We were about to come looking for the two of you when St. John called to invite me to your party. So who *was* the dead woman in your apartment?"
Lois regarded him scornfully. "I don't have to tell you anything."
Scardino suppressed a guffaw. Henderson looked pained. "Lois, I'm trying to proceed reasonably here. I don't plan to charge either of you with anything, but if you don't tell me what you know, I'll throw you in the slammer overnight and arraign you tomorrow morning. I don't want to do that, but I will if you don't cooperate. I've got you dead to rights, and there's no way you can claim to be not guilty on these charges. You could end up spending a couple of years upstate. Now stop acting like somebody's gun moll and tell me what I need to know."
"Choke on it, Henderson!"
Scardino, as much as he relished Lois's defiant spirit, decided to step in. "Lois, the Inspector is right. It's time for us to talk."
"Not for me. Haven't you ever heard of the first amendment?"
Henderson regarded her sardonically. "You'd better check with a lawyer, Lois. The first amendment doesn't apply here. Even the 'free' press" isn't immune if they commit a crime, and technically, you and Scardino did."
Lois looked uncertainly at Scardino, who nodded his head in agreement with their interrogator. "We have to tell him everything?" she asked.
"Unless you want to go to jail," said Henderson.
"I don't believe you. I demand to see a lawyer."
"Okay, Lois, you said the dirty words. It's out of my hands now. I'll have you booked, taken downstairs to a cell for the night, and before a judge for arraignment tomorrow."
"Take the deal, Lois," Scardino said. "I'm going to."
"What? How could you?"
"Think about it. You need to get close to Luthor. How are you going to do that from jail? He needs to think the police don't have anything on you. When you've been charged and let out on bail, he's going to be on his guard. You can't afford that if you want your plan to work."
"What plan?" asked Henderson, suspiciously.
Lois looked at Scardino then Henderson, considering Dan's words. Her antagonism deflated. "Okay, what do you want to know?"
For the next half hour, Lois and Scardino explained what had happened to an increasingly angry detective. When they identified the body as Diane Goodman and said that her luggage was still in Lois's bedroom, he immediately sent a squad car over to retrieve it and take it to the lab. When Scardino admitted to taking Diane's purse, he almost lost his impassive demeanor. Another car was dispatched to get the pocketbook from Dan's apartment.
Finally, when he heard the scheme just underway, Lois's fake betrothal to Luthor so she could get evidence against him, he sat, incredulous, in an uncomfortable envelope of silence, just looking at them.
At last, he said, "You're actually going along with this, Scardino? I'd expect some kind of hare-brained scheme from Lois, but you're a federal agent. How can you agree to it?"
"It was her plan. Have you ever tried to stop her when she has a plan? If I didn't help, she'd do it anyway. At least, maybe I can keep her from getting into too much danger."
"Too much danger? What's 'too much'? If she gets hurt or killed it doesn't matter if it was a little or a lot."
"Excuse me, but would you mind not talking about me like I'm not here. I can decide for myself how much danger I'm in. I'll decide for myself if I want to go after Lex, and I don't need permission from either of you to do it."
"Nailing Luthor as Mr. Big is important. How do I know you two won't botch it up?"
"Look, Henderson, Daniel said it. I'm the only one who can do this, so back off and let us finish what we started. You can keep an eye on us, and if anything goes wrong, you can take over. But I don't think Lex will like having you around nearly as much as me."
"You think you've got me over a barrel, don't you, Lane? What if I just shut down your whole operation?"
"Henderson, I've told you everything I know. Now, either keep your word and let me go, or put me in a cell."
At that moment, a detective informed them that Lex Luthor was downstairs with a battery of lawyers demanding to see the man in charge. Henderson threw up his hands, saying "Go! But keep me informed. If you get proof that Luthor is Mr. Big, get it to me as fast as you can so we can arrest him. Somebody's trying to kill you, and it could be Luthor, or it could be somebody we don't even know about. Either way, you're taking a helluva chance. I wouldn't want to see you turn up dead because you did something stupid."
Lois smiled sweetly. "Why thank you, Inspector. It's nice to know you care." And having had the last word, she strolled out of the room and down the stairs to Lex.
To write the story of Lois's resurrection and subsequent arrest for the Daily Planet special edition, Clark needed to talk with Henderson to get the official police position on her miraculous return. After three calls with no response, he realized that the detective was retaliating for being kept in the dark. He went looking for help.
Poking his head into Perry's office, Clark said, "Chief, Henderson isn't returning my calls. I can't write this story without knowing what he's found out, or at least what Lois told him."
"All right, son. I'll give him a call. He's probably thinking you should have told him Lois was alive. He'll talk to me."
After a few minutes on the phone, Perry reported, "Henderson's let Lois and Scardino go. They told him the dead woman was Diane Goodman, but they haven't notified her family yet, so we can't print that. Looks like the story is that load of feathers she gave you in the beginning. Nothing substantial in it whatever, but that's the way you'll have to write it. We can't let on that we know more than the police. Do what you can with it, Clark."
The reporter went back to his desk and wrote up the preposterous tale Lois had first told him, even though he wondered how many people would actually believe that she had been so out of touch that she hadn't read, seen or heard the news that she was dead. The complete fabrication wasn't easy for him to write, but he wrote it as objectively as he could, reporting only what she had said and what Henderson had said without any hint that he didn't believe heir statements. Even though he hadn't been a part of the lie, he still didn't like it, but he understood the reason for the deception, and supposed that, eventually, when the killer was caught and Luthor was exposed as Mr. Big, the truth would be printed.
Just about the time the Daily Planet special edition hit the street, Henderson was holding a news conference announcing to the rest of the press the fiction that was temporarily passing for fact. Knowing that Lois and Scardino had been released, Clark had been trying to reach her by phone. All he got was her machine. Calling her pager produced no better results.
Clark decided to go to her apartment in case Lois was there and just not picking up. When he arrived, he saw a long black limousine waiting in the street. A knock at her door produced Lois herself.
"What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to talk to you. You wouldn't answer your phone or your pager."
"We don't really have anything to talk about, and I'm in a hurry right now." She went into the bedroom. He followed.
"Lois, I just want to be sure that you know that I didn't tell Henderson anything. In fact he's shutting me out because of it." On the bed, he saw luggage that she was apparently packing.
"I know, Clark. Henderson found out everything by using old-fashioned police work. He told Dan and me at the station house. You've been completely straight with me since I've known you, and I shouldn't have jumped to the wrong conclusion. We'll talk about it later, okay?" She closed a suitcase. "Right now, I have to go."
"Go where? What are you doing?" Suddenly it struck him. "Is that Lex's limo outside? Are you moving in with him now that you're engaged?"
"Yes, that's Lex's limo, and no, I'm not 'moving in' moving in with him. He thinks it would be a good idea for me to stay in his penthouse for a few days, until the police find out who tried to kill me."
"You don't call that moving in with him?"
"Why don't you ever believe what I say?"
"You don't exactly have a great track record in that department."
"We're working together now; I'm telling you the truth."
A brief cloud of hurt misted her eyes; then she lowered her lashes and raised her prickles. "Never mind. Think what you like; I don't have time to argue. I have to get going."
He shook his head. Her morality was not his business, but he didn't want her to get hurt. "Do you know how dangerous this plan of yours is? If Lex is Mr. Big, do you think he'd let a little thing like your being engaged stop him from getting rid of you? He'd have a perfect out; he could blame it on whoever killed Diane. Don't do it, Lois. There's got to be another way."
"This is what I do, Kent. I go after the story any way I can, so don't try to stop me. A hack from nowheresville like you wouldn't understand, but I'm a professional. Danger is my business." She picked up the bags from the bed and strode toward the door.
"Go ahead, then, get in bed with the devil! I hope you can live with the consequences."
She was gone. He looked around for something to put his fist through. He saw the portrait still on the mantle above the fireplace and was tempted, but he couldn't do it. It was her likeness, and he wouldn't hurt her in any form. He would have to figure out a way to protect her, even if she didn't want him to.
Lois spent a comfortable night in the guest room of Lex's penthouse suite. He had made overtures about something more intimate, but she spun him a tale of waiting to make their wedding night special, and he had acquiesced.
She didn't think she would have gone that far anyway, and she couldn't get Clark's words out of her head. She had wanted to keep his good opinion of her; his leap to judgment had hurt. Now, she felt powerful and sure of herself, certain that she could roam at will, discover what she would, and arouse no suspicion.
After breakfast, when Luthor announced that he had to attend a LexMed Board meeting, she decided to take a look in his study for files or a computer to break into.
She'd been there before. He'd very proudly shown her the walls with their rarities, pointing out particular favorites and explaining their histories. She'd shown proper appreciation for his expensive collections. Now she wanted to look into his desk for something that had to be hidden not displayed. When she entered, something about one wall seemed out of kilter, but she had no time to think about it. Nigel had not accompanied Lex, and she knew she wouldn't have long before he would be looking for her. She had always felt that he didn't like or trust her, and she was certain he would be watching her closely.
That same morning at the Daily Planet, Jimmy brought more research to Clark. It included an article about Lex Luthor and some photographs taken in his study. There was a particular shot of Lex leaning against the credenza in front of the wall of weapons. Clark glanced at it, put it aside and read the article, which emphasized Luthor's charitable beneficence, the writer drawing a contrast between his concern for humanity and his interest in weapons of destruction.
Clark looked at the photograph, again and suddenly realized that it was different from his recollection of what he had seen when he was interviewing Luthor. The weapons on the wall were arranged with precise symmetry, as was everything else in the room. The paintings, the cigar box and lighter on the desk, the crossbow, the books neatly categorized and alphabetized by author, all spoke of a man who demanded order and symmetry. Yet the wall of weapons he had seen during the interview had not been symmetrical. Something had been missing from it.
Clark looked at each weapon in turn, comparing it with his photographic memory of what he had seen on the day of his visit. When he reached an unusual gun at the bottom corner of the photo, he realized that it hadn't been there when he had seen the wall.
Lowering his glasses, he zoomed in on the firearm in the photograph. It was a small double-barreled shotgun, breech loading with twin triggers and a manual hammer behind each barrel. Unlike anything he had ever seen before, the weapon with its short barrels would be particularly vicious at close range. He was certain he was looking at the gun that had killed Diane Goodman. He started. Lois! She had willingly walked into the murderer's lair.
Lois could find nothing in Lex's desk. The drawers opened easily but held no interesting or unusual items. She found a laptop computer on a pull-up shelf in the desk well, but she couldn't access anything without a password. Where was Jimmy? There was one locked drawer, large enough to hold files, but she couldn't find the key. Where would Lex keep it?
She began to investigate the room, methodically looking for the key. She looked under the accessible desk drawers to see if it was affixed to the bottom of one of them. She examined the cigar humidor, inside and out, turned the lighter upside-down and around. She found nothing. She surveyed each of the weapons to see if the key was fastened to it in some way. Nothing. She tried to look at the back of the credenza to see if the key was taped there, but it was too heavy for her to move. She had a fleeting thought that it would be nice if someone like Clark were here to help before she went on to peer behind each of the paintings. Nothing.
She had resorted to removing books from the shelves, hoping that one of them might be false with a hollowed out interior, when she became aware that there was someone else in the room. Looking over her shoulder she saw Nigel standing in the doorway.
"May I help you find something, Ms. Lane?" he enquired in the creepily menacing manner he reserved for her.
"Oh, hi, Nigel. N-o-o-o. I've just been admiring Lex's collections," she replied coolly. "He has such wonderful taste. I just love this room. Was there something you wanted?"
"Mr. Kent is here to see you. He says he has no appointment. Shall I send him away?"
Might as well get things clear right away. She wasn't going to let Nigel, or anyone else in this household, bully her. "No, show him in here, please."
A few moments later, Nigel ushered Clark into the room and lingered in the doorway. "Thank you, Nigel. I'll call you if I need anything. Close the door behind you as you go." Nigel silently melted away, and Lois and Clark were alone.
"What are you doing here? You'll blow everything."
"You should thank me for being here. I came to keep you from getting blown away. Look at this."
He held out a file folder, which she took and opened. Inside was the news photo of Lex in front of the weapons.
"I see it. I can also see the real thing right here. I don't feel like thanking you yet."
"Look carefully at the picture and then at the wall. There's something missing."
She looked at the wall and remembered her earlier feeling that there was something odd about it. Then she looked back and forth from the wall to the photograph. It only took her a few seconds to see it.
"There's a shotgun missing," she acknowledged.
"A shotgun, Lois. A shotgun with a short barrel. It's the kind of weapon the police believe someone used to kill Diane."
"You're saying Lex tried to murder me with a shotgun from his own collection? He isn't that stupid."
"It isn't so stupid. Nobody's thought to look for something missing from his collection. And I'll bet you it'll be back up on that wall before long with some plausible explanation as to why it's been gone. The question is, where is he hiding it now?"
She regarded him with admiration. "Nice work, Kent. This could turn into a good partnership. Tell you what. Why don't I ask Lex where the gun is when he gets back? He should be here soon."
"You're crazy! I thought you were to try this stunt in the first place, and now I know it. How long do you think you'll last once he knows you know the shotgun's missing?"
"You said he'd have a plausible explanation. Let's see what it is, and we can check it out."
Befuddled, he stared at her. She made it sound so reasonable, that he found himself almost agreeing with the logic and falling in with her suggestion. Did she have some kind of magic spell that clouded men's minds and made them unable to stay focused? Or was he just particularly susceptible. She was certain to get herself killed; he had to stop her.
"Lois, I came to get you out of here. You can't stay with your murderer!"
Prickles engaged, she regarded him with hostility. "Look, I said you did some good work, and I may be…glad…" She said the word reluctantly. "You're here, but that doesn't give you the right to tell me what to do. Henderson knows what I'm doing and he's ready to step in as soon as I get something on Lex, so don't push it. Help if you can and save the big hero man posturing for one of your corn country sweeties. I've got a job to do."
A frontal approach wasn't getting him anywhere. Maybe he should be a little more subtle. "Have you found anything incriminating yet?"
"No, he's too clever. I can't get into his computer without the password, and I can't find the key to the locked desk drawer. I've been looking, but it's almost time for Lex to come back from his board meeting, so I can't poke around much longer."
"Where's the computer? Maybe I can figure something out. If we have to stop what we're doing, we can always come back later."
"We? When did you sign on? I thought you were against this whole thing?"
"Lois, if you won't be reasonable and get out of here, then I'm going to hang around to help and maybe keep you from getting hurt. Now show me the computer."
He expected to hear the usual litany, 'I do not need you to protect me', but all she said was "Oh," forgetting her prickles for the moment. She took him behind the desk to point at the pull-up shelf in the well. He maneuvered the computer up to desk level and turned it on. It immediately asked for a password.
"See. You can't get anything until you know that damn password."
"Okay, what do you think Lex might use for his password?"
"How should I know? It could be anything. Jimmy might be able to figure it out, but I can't."
"Come on, think about it. What's important to Lex? What would it please him to type every time he turned on his computer?"
"A lot of things are important to him. How would I know what he'd like most?"
"And you're about to marry him!"
"People can get engaged without knowing everything about the other person. Anyway, you know why I'm engaged to him. That doesn't mean I'm about to marry him."
"Right. You're just willing to live with him."
"You listen to me, Clark Kent. I am *not* living with him. I'm his guest until the police catch my murderer…Diane's murderer."
"Yeah, and I can just imagine how Luthor expects you to show your gratitude for his hospitality."
His distrust and disregard for her word really hurt this time, and her prickles bristled. "You are a low-minded, insensitive pig. I'm not going to explain anything more to you or apologize for something I'm not doing. Just concentrate on getting into that computer or get out and let me do what I have to do."
He cringed at her description of him. It wasn't the impression he wanted to make, and it certainly didn't fit the way he thought of himself. She could really bring out the worst in him with her stubbornness. They would never become close at this rate. He vowed to control his reactions and, he admitted to himself, his jealousy of Lex.
He returned his attention to the computer.
"Sorry. Let's just move on. How about this? Does he love you so much he'd use your name for the password?"
He typed it into the space. "Password not accepted," the computer blinked back.
"Well, so much for his feelings about you."
"Very funny. How about 'the third richest man in the world'? He likes that description a lot. It infuriates him if people get it wrong."
Clark dutifully typed. The result was the same. "How about just 'money'. That's something he likes to flaunt."
That didn't work either.
Clark said, "Have you ever noticed how he likes to put his name on everything?"
She nodded. "Yeah, I get a little sick every time I hear 'Mrs. Lex. Luthor.' But what name would he apply to his personal computer?"
"Lextech," said Clark, pinging to Lois, who ponged back,
"This is ridiculous," howled Lois, laughing.
"Anything is possible," said Clark, and tried them all, but they didn't work. Lex's 'Open, Sesame' continued to elude them.
"Maybe we're making this too hard", said Lois. Pointing to the weapons wall, she went on. "Lex loves to feel superior by hiding the obvious right under everyone's noses."
"And too specific," said Clark, gesturing around the room. "He thinks in much grander terms."
They looked at each other silently for a moment. Enlightenment passed over their features as they shouted simultaneously.
"Power!" said Clark.
"Control!" said Lois.
Clark tried 'power'. Refused. Then he tried 'control'. Refused. He looked at her. "Well, together, we came up with these, so let's try them together. He typed in "Power and Control".
They had found it. They were in.
"Hey, we make a pretty good team," Lois noted. "I guess Perry was right after all."
Clark smiled up at her and nodded his agreement. "See, I told you I'd grow on you."
For a brief moment, she regarded him with thoughtful surprise. He *was* beginning to grow on her. Then she urged, "Come on, Let's see what's in those files."
Just as he was about to access the directory, Clark heard the door of the penthouse open and Lex speaking in low tones to Nigel.
"The problems remaining at LexMed have been removed, Nigel. What has the lovely Lois been entertaining herself with? Snooping, I presume."
Clark quickly turned off the computer. Lois shrieked. "What are you doing?"
He pushed the computer shelf back under the desk. "Lois, I heard something. I think Lex is back"
"How could you hear anything?" she said looking around. "This room is soundproof."
"Then call it a hunch. I'm sure Lex is back. He'll be in this room any minute. Come on; show me the first editions." And he dragged her to the book wall.
"A hunch! Now you're a paranormal?"
He answered, with a strange smile on his face. "Yes, Lois, I guess you could say that. I'm a paranormal."
"Okay, I'll introduce you to Star. She says she has unusual powers, too."
He looked uncomfortable. "Paranormals have different kinds of powers, Lois." He added, dryly, "I doubt if hers are the same as mine."
"I don't believe a word of it. What are you up to?"
"Ms. Lane is entertaining an unexpected guest, sir. Clark Kent arrived about half an hour ago."
"You left them alone in my study?"
"I had no choice. Ms. Lane is not amenable to suggestion. She ordered me to leave them alone."
"Yes I've noticed that she prefers to follow her own inclinations. That will have to change once we're married."
"It will not be easy, sir."
"Yes, but the sport is in the challenge, is it not? Now, you say they've been in there for half an hour?"
"I believe that is accurate, sir."
"This does not bode well, Nigel. It's one thing for Lois to go poking around alone, but the two of them together just might find something we don't want them to know. I'll be going to LexLab to complete expunging the evidence of our foray into experimental drugs. I'll tell Lois and Clark that you are accompanying me, but you'll actually remain here. Watch them closely and don't let them leave. Lock them in, if necessary."
"I understand, sir."
"Now. Let's go see what my lovely Lois and Clark Kent are up to."
"What are you up to?"
As she asked the question, the door opened and Lex stepped in. "Lois, my dear. I see you have a visitor. I'm so pleased you found something to occupy yourself with while I was away." He crossed to her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. She smiled up at him. He turned to Clark.
"Mr. Kent. Just what *are* you up to?"
"Uh, why, uh…" Clark stuttered.
To cover his distress, Lois quickly answered. "He was just telling me that he's been re-reading all of Charles Dickens, and I was asking how far along he is."
"Is that so," asked Luthor. "And what is the answer, Mr. Kent?"
"Oliver Twist," replied Clark, thanking Lois with his eyes.
"Ah, yes. I've always liked that one. Orphan boy caught up in a web of crime." He paused, for a moment, lost in a thought that brought a faint smile to his face. "So inspirational. 'The law, sir, is a ass.' I heartily agree, don't you?"
Clark regarded him steadily. "I've always respected the law."
Luthor looked back, his eyes a steely glint. "Yes. You would. But don't you think there's a certain excitement, danger if you will, in being a scofflaw?"
Refusing to be stared down, Clark replied, "I would call that kind of attitude perverse."
Lois interceded once again. "We were enjoying your collections, Lex. I told Clark about some of the background you gave me on the paintings. But you know, we found something odd when we were looking at the weapons. One of them seems to be missing. I hope nothing happened to it?" Her innocence as she spoke would have done justice to a Carmelite nun.
Clark was horrified. Did she have a death wish? To his surprise, Lex showed little concern.
"Oh, really? Which one?" he said, his eyes roaming the weapons.
"It's that cute little shotgun you told me about. What was it called? Lupo…, Lupa…?"
His eyes immediately sought the bottom corner. "Oh, yes, of course. You mean the Lupara. I'd forgotten all about that. Some time ago, Nigel mentioned that one of the maids had knocked it off the wall when she was dusting. It was damaged, and he had to send it to the gun maker for repair. The maid is no longer with us, of course."
"Oh, you have a special gun-maker?" asked Clark. "Maybe I could get my dad a new shotgun for his birthday."
"I take it you're not familiar with the Lupara, Mr. Kent. It's of Sicilian origin. For a time, it was the popular choice of the Mafia there and in this country. Mine is an antique made by the great-grandfather of the gun-maker from whom I purchased it. His name is Giovanni Corleone, and his shop is in Palermo. If you're still interested, I'll have Nigel get the address for you."
"Thank you. I'd like to look into what Signor Corleone has available."
At that moment, Nigel entered the room to announce that luncheon was served. Lex instructed him to give the address to Clark, and added, "Mr. Kent, would you join us for lunch?" Without waiting for an answer, he turned to Lois, as he went on. "I'm sorry darling, but there's some sort of emergency at LexLab. I'm going to have to run out there, and I'm afraid Nigel will need to accompany me, so no one will be here to entertain you. Perhaps Mr. Kent would be kind enough to stay on for a while. You can discuss Dickens at length."
As they moved to the dining room, Clark mentioned that he needed to check in at the Planet, and Nigel led him to a telephone in the sitting room. Clark thanked him and waited for him to leave before making a call to Jimmy.
"Jimmy, it's Clark. I have to talk fast. Lois and I are in Luthor's penthouse at the Lexor Hotel. We're on the track of something big. Get hold of Bill Henderson and tell him I was right about the shotgun."
"I phoned Henderson about it before I came over here; I'll tell you later. Now let me finish. I don't have much time. Tell Henderson that Lex admitted that the gun should be on the wall but isn't. The Metropolis police should ask Interpol to check with a gun-maker named Giovanni Corleone in Palermo, Italy, to see if he's repairing a Lupara for Lex Luthor. If he isn't, then a shotgun that meets the forensic description of the murder weapon is missing from Luthor's collection, and that should be good enough for a warrant to search for it here. Okay?"
"Is that l.u.p.a.r.a?"
"Yes. Get that to Henderson fast."
"I'm on it. Take it easy, C.K., and don't let anything happen to Lois either."
"Don't worry, Jimmy. We've had one miracle. I'm not going to count on another." After he hung up, he went in search of the dining room
Lunch was a delicious salmon chowder followed by steak tartare with the usual toast points and condiments, and concluded with a simple lemon ice. Lex devoured the steak tartare with gusto while assuring his guests that the uncooked beef was from his personal livestock, and, therefore, carefully handled to prevent bacterial contamination of any kind. Lois ate toast piled high with chopped egg, tomato, and capers while moving the bloody ground meat, topped with a raw egg yolk, around on her plate.
The meal was accompanied by a lot of polite small talk, and when they had finished, Lex and Nigel took themselves away to LexLab. As soon as they were gone, the two reporters hurried to the study.
"Clark, get that computer going. I want to see what Lex has in his files."
Clark followed her into the room and started to close the door.
"No, don't close the door! We won't be able to hear when they come back."
"Lois, I heard before."
"No, you didn't. You had a hunch. You couldn't get that lucky again. Leave it open. There's no one around to see what we're doing."
"I don't know. It just seems strange to me that Lex wouldn't leave Nigel here to keep an eye on us. I have a bad feeling about this."
"Enough with the hunches and the bad feelings! Let's get into that computer."
He pulled the computer up to the desktop, typed in the password, found the directory, and they began looking for a filename that might be incriminating.
Almost all of the files were about Lex's corporations and were quite dull. Even LexLab and LexMed produced nothing interesting. There was no sign of experiments on vagrant men or a clue to what Clayton Kimball's research might have been. There were various project names representing Lex's charitable enterprises. There was no smoking gun.
"You might as well turn it off, Clark. However he keeps track of his Mr. Big enterprises, it isn't with that computer."
She was turning away from the screen, and he was about to close the directory when she saw it. Right in plain sight in the middle of a long list of projects, she saw "Project Dragon's Teeth."
"Clark, wait a minute! What's that?" She pointed to the file name.
He opened it, and there was the whole dirty scheme: Kimball's research data on synthesizing a drug combining the properties of steroids and amphetamines and the reports on his progress; the experimental trials on vagrant men and on Robert Nolan; the unforeseen side effects and deaths.
"Lois, do you know what this is? Do you understand what he's trying to do?" asked Clark angrily.
"I can see what he's done and that's pretty awful, but what's the point of it all?"
"He's trying to make super-strong, super-charged men. It's the Greek myth of the Dragon's Teeth."
"The myth of the what?"
"The Dragon's Teeth. You know. The story of Jason and the Argonauts and their mission to bring back the Golden Fleece."
"I don't think I ever read that one."
"What kind of reading did you do as a kid? It's a great story all about quests and tests, love and betrayal, and unexpected dangers. It even has fire-breathing bulls and monstrous dragons."
"I was more into Harriet The Spy. What were the Dragon's Teeth?"
"They were one of the last obstacles put in the way of Jason's getting the Golden Fleece. He had to plant the teeth of a dragon and reap the crop all in one day."
"Oh, now I see. It was research for you farm boys."
"That's a good one, Lois, but this is serious. Do you want to know the rest or not?"
She nodded, and he continued. "Wherever one of the teeth fell, a fully armed warrior immediately sprang up. All together, they were an army eager to kill Jason and the Argonauts. Imagine if the ambitious leader of a small country or any country could create a super army overnight. Enhance the abilities of an army and you can conquer anything you want. A drug that would do that would be worth a fortune."
"Lex doesn't need money, but if he held the formula and was the only supplier, he'd have power and control beyond anything imaginable."
"Exactly." Clark continued to read through the file.
"Somehow we have to get his file to the police. Couldn't we send it to Perry?"
"Chain of evidence, Lois. The police have to have possession of the original and the computer from the start. Otherwise there's no way to prove that it wasn't tampered with.
"We have to stop them!"
"It looks like they've stopped themselves. Kimball wasn't able to get rid of the side effects from massive doses of steroids. The experimental subjects continued to have uncontrollable rages, and attacked and killed each other. That's ironic because that's how Jason defeated the army from the Dragon's Teeth. He threw a rock and hit one who thought another had done it, and they started fighting among themselves and killed each other off.
"Sounds like the influence of the myth was greater than Lex intended. Did all the experiments end that way?"
"No. Some of them got hooked on the amphetamines and required such high dosages that when those combined with the steroid rages, they just sort of blew themselves up with cerebral hemorrhages and heart attacks. It looks like Lex poured millions into this. He wasn't happy with Kimball's continued failure."
"I'd say. Do you suppose that's how Lex punishes everyone who fails him? He kills them?"
"I think that's what Mr. Big would do."
"We have to get this information to Henderson," she repeated.
"First we need to get out of here. I alerted Henderson to the mystery of the shotgun. When he finds out that it's not being repaired in Italy, and he may already have that information, he'll get a search warrant for this place. Then, because of what we've seen, he can seize the computer and use it for evidence."
"Clark, we still haven't found any direct proof that Lex is Mr. Big."
"No, but this should put him away for quite a while. Come on, let's go."
He tucked the computer back under the desk and started for the door. As he did, Nigel materialized in the doorway holding a gun.
"I'm afraid that won't be possible now. Lex very wisely left me here to keep an eye on you two. He would be very disappointed if you left before he had a chance to congratulate you on your ingenuity in discovering the Dragon's Teeth project. Since you like this room so much, you won't mind enjoying it a little longer." And he closed the door and locked them in.
Clark immediately went over and tried the handle. "It's locked all right. What do we do now?"
Lois began circling the room. "Look for another way out of here."
"The only other door leads to the terrace, Lois. Unless you know how to drop 50 stories without being killed, I think we can pretty much rule that out."
"Maybe there's a hidden panel to a secret escape route."
He just looked at her in tolerant amusement.
"Okay, so it's a little far out. At least look. Stranger things have happened."
He sighed and walked around the room ostensibly looking for a hidden door while actually using his X-ray vision to scan everything in the room. He discovered a couple of things. One was that the cigar lighter had a false bottom containing a key, probably to the locked drawer. The other was that the credenza had a secret compartment behind the center panel, which appeared to be solid but could be opened. A clever hiding place, but it was empty at the moment.
"Lois, this credenza has the same carving on the panel as that trophy case in your apartment."
She looked at it briefly. "Yep. They're a pair. Lex gave me the trophy case after I won my second Kerth. He said I needed a place to display all of the awards I was going to win. And what difference does that make. Keep looking for a way to get out of here."
"Lois, this is getting us nowhere. You said yourself the room is soundproofed, so it's not likely to have a secret passageway that would break the seal."
She smacked her hand against several books. "All right! There's no way out. So let's plan our strategy for when they come to get us. If it's just the two of them, you distract Nigel and I'll sweet talk Lex into taking me into the hallway. Then I'll-."
"Lois, don't you think you're overestimating your allure and underestimating Lex's criminal designs. He might be willing to take you out of here, but you might wind up in the bedroom where things could get infinitely worse. We can't let them separate us. Our best chance is to stay together and stall. Henderson could be here at any minute." He hoped that was true because if Henderson didn't show up, he would have to reveal his powers, and the only thing he could think of that would be worse than that would be if Lois was badly hurt or killed.
'You're just going to give up without a fight?" The word 'wimp' hung in the air, unspoken.
"I'm going to resist, Lois, and stall until Henderson comes."
"You don't even know if he's coming."
"If things get dicey, then I'll take appropriate action."
"What? You'll bore them to death with stories about your escapades with Lulu Belle and lost cows?"
"Is this the way you handle frustration? By striking out at your friends?"
She looked up at him hesitating, softening, retracting her prickles. "That is what we're becoming, isn't it? Friends, I mean. I'm sorry, Clark. You didn't deserve that. I just get so mad at not being able to do something in situations like this."
"You've been in this kind of situation before?"
"Oh, sure. It's kind of like a signature thing for me. Getting into hopeless situations, being locked up by bad guys. It's a good thing the Planet's benefits include medical and disability insurance. I'd probably be a very bad risk for individual coverage." She smiled wryly.
"So how do you get out of those scrapes?"
"So far, I've managed to talk my way out, or the cavalry arrived just in the nick of time. I've never gotten somebody else in hot water with me before, though. Sorry about that."
"Any time." He looked deep into her eyes and smiled. Then he looked around the room. "Did you notice that there's only one chair in here? Looks like Lex didn't want anyone lingering after the museum tour. Here, I'll move the desk chair out so you can sit down."
"What about you?"
"I noticed some cushions out on the terrace. I'll bring one in and sit against the wall."
"Make it two. It'll be friendlier that way."
She smiled at him, and his heart felt light as a butterfly. Her bravery and droll humor in the face of danger were new to him. None of the people he'd interviewed had mentioned that side of her. He knew from experience that the way earthlings conduct themselves in times of stress was the key to their true character, and he did not find her wanting. Any thoughts he'd had of walking away from her because of her career driven willfulness went floating out the door and across the terrace, dissipating in the November haze.
"See," he said. "I told you, you'd get used to me and we'd be friends."
She considered a prickly retort but thought better of it. They might be dead in a few hours. Why not enjoy the time they had left? She watched him retrieve the cushions, and they sat next to each other, leaning against the rare books and first editions, talking quietly about past experiences and unfulfilled expectations.
Immediately after he locked the door to the study, Nigel called Lex to tell him what happened.
"Ms. Lane and Mr. Kent have stumbled upon the Dragon's Teeth file. They were about to leave when I intercepted them and locked them in the study."
"I shall return to you immediately, Nigel. I've taken care of the records at LexLab. All that remains to be done is to eliminate the file in my computer and deal with Lois and Kent. I'm bringing a laptop identical to the one at my desk except that it contains no Dragon's Teeth file. When I arrive, we'll substitute one for the other and destroy the incriminating one. I should be there before too long. Be sure that our guests are not too uncomfortable. Once we've destroyed the last bit of damaging data, they will be unable to prove anything. And with no evidence, they have no case."
Lois had sat as long as she could, and then she was up pacing back and forth across the study. Finally she said, "Come on Clark, let's get some air," and opened the door to the terrace. It was cold but invigorating and waked both of them from the lethargy that had overtaken them while they were sitting on the floor. Lois proceeded to pace from one end of the terrace to the other while Clark watched in admiration.
The cold air brought color to her cheeks and a snap to her eyes. She walked with determination, her head up and hands gesturing as she said rapidly, "You can't tell what a gorgeous view this is because of the overcast, but you can see all of Metropolis from Hobbs Bay to the University. On a clear sunny day you can see the snowcaps on the Poweechin Mountains. How could somebody look at this every day and not love Metropolis and the people in it? ? Do you think that some people are just intrinsically evil and misanthropic, incapable of any kind of decency or humanity? Do you think Lex is one of them? And if he is, how could I not have seen it before?"
Clark could see that her agitation was beginning to cloud her thinking, making her doubt her abilities. If she continued on that path, she would mistrust her instincts and judgment. He had no intention of letting that happen. She needed complete self-confidence for what was coming.
"Is that a trick question? Because you, better than anyone I've ever met, can sense right and wrong in other people."
"But not in Lex," she wailed. "Why?"
"Sometimes all of us get blind spots about people we're close too. We want to think the best of them. He's a pretty dazzling guy, and I can imagine it's very flattering to have the third richest man in the world tell you he loves you and wants to marry you."
"But I'm supposed to be a reporter, and I always expect the worst from people. I'm supposed to look at things objectively and not be fooled by smoke and mirrors. I'm supposed to sniff out the criminal and go for the jugular; that's why they call me Mad Dog Lane. Why couldn't I see the truth about Lex?"
"You're being too hard on yourself. You did begin to suspect him eventually, and you followed through in spite of his attentions to you. You should be proud of yourself. I know I am."
They were standing by the stone railing and she looked up at him, her eyes pleading like a little girl's. "You are? Really? You don't think I'm losing my edge, then?"
"Not in a million years," he said softly, bending his forehead to touch hers.
They stood together for a long moment, and then, unexpectedly, she shivered.
"It's freezing out here," he said. "What was I thinking? Here." He took off his jacket and draped it around her. "Come on, let's go back inside and get you warm."
As he led her back to their cushions, she said, "Right. I wouldn't want to catch cold just before I was murdered."
Sitting next to her, he put his hands on her arms and gazed directly at her. "Lois, I would not let that happen. Trust me. I will not let anyone hurt you, ever."
She returned his gaze, believing that he meant what he said and knowing, on some primitive level, that come human mischief or cosmic catastrophe, he would do just that.
He leaned forward and kissed her forehead, then pulled her against his shoulder and held her in his arms. She nestled against him, feeling warm and comfortable and absolutely safe.
Inspector William Henderson was waiting for a phone call from Interpol, and his bland exterior was beginning to show signs of irritation. The detectives in his squad busied themselves as far away from him as possible and prayed the call would come soon.
When it came, they heard the Inspector speaking tersely to the person on the other end.
"Henderson, here." Pause. "Yes." Another pause. "Yes… "Yes… Yes…" "Would you fax that verification to me right away? Thank you, and thanks for your help." He slammed down the phone and shouted. "Tibbs, call Judge Hawthorne's clerk. Tell him we need a search warrant for Lex Luthor's penthouse, and that you'll be over to show cause, but for him to get it started. Sergeant Velie, take some uniforms and get on over to the Lexor and wait for us to show up with the warrant. If you see anything suspicious that could be considered probable cause, go in without us."
"Have we got him, Bill?"
Yes, George, I think we've got him."
When they heard the sound of the door being unlocked, Lois and Clark jumped up from their cushions to face whoever crossed the threshold. To their disappointment it was Lex not Inspector Henderson.
"Lois, my dear. Mr. Kent. So sorry for the inconvenience." He saw the cushions where they had been sitting and spread his hands in apology. "How uncomfortable this must have been for you. Come; let us go into the sitting room. Perhaps you'd like a cool drink or to visit the powder room before we talk?" He herded them out of the study and down the hallway to the other room as Nigel, a laptop computer in one hand, slipped, unseen into the space they had just vacated.
Lois, declining the offers of hospitality, sat defiantly on a sofa facing Lex. Clark stood behind her, one hand touching her shoulder.
"What now, Lex?" Lois asked abrasively.
"That doesn't sound like my sweet and loving fianc‚e. I fear you have misjudged one of my projects, and I feel compelled to explain the true circumstances to you."
"Maybe you're right, Luthor," said Clark agreeably. "We wouldn't want to accuse you of anything unjustly. Why don't you tell us about Project Dragon's Teeth?"
When she heard Clark's words, Lois gasped and jerked forward, but he pinned her to the back of the couch with the hand resting on her shoulder. He continued to speak softly, obsequiously. "After all, you are the world's third richest man. I'm sure you wouldn't knowingly be involved in anything criminal."
Lois turned to glare at Clark, anger building as she tried to elude his grip. Why was he saying these things? What happened to the guy she'd come to know while they were locked in that study, the one who vowed he would not let anyone hurt her? He had disappeared, and the wimp was back. She twisted and squirmed, but his hand remained firm. The fingers on the hand squeezed gently, persistently, imperceptibly conveying reassurance. Then she remembered the strategy he had posed. Resist and stall. This must be the stall part. She relaxed against the sofa back, and the pressure from his hand disappeared.
"Very wise of you, Mr. Kent. Lois, does not, however, seem to share your view. Did you wish to voice a different opinion, my dear?"
"No, Lex. Whatever Clark said. I'm with him, all the way."
Lex's eyes narrowed and he re-assessed the couple before him. "That is not the reaction I've come to expect from you, Lois. You don't want to contradict him?"
"No, Clark and I agree on almost everything. I really should thank you for locking us in this afternoon. It gave us an opportunity to…share…that we haven't had time for before. I learned what a real man he is.
"Clark isn't an ordinary person. He has wonderful qualities that no amount of money can buy. He gives and expects nothing in return. That's why I'm all his." She smiled sultrily at the man behind her.
Clark was spellbound as Lois plunged a figurative gaff into Lex's chest and set the hook. Even he, who knew it was only a ploy, could believe she meant what she was saying. <Be careful,> he thought. <Don't go too far. We don't want him to kill us yet.> But he was watching a wily angler at work. Lex had taken the bait and she had played him perfectly.
"So," said Lex, furious and fuming. "I take it our engagement is over. I knew your little charade concerning our wedding night was fiction. Fortunately, possessing you was not that important to me."
"No hard feelings then," said Clark cheerfully. "You were going to tell us about Dragon's Teeth?"
Nigel slipped into the room behind Clark and nodded to Lex who said, "Yes, of course," and assumed control of the conversation. "Operation Dragon's Teeth was an innocent attempt to create a drug that would enable stroke victims to regain their full physical capacities. Some in my employ saw an evil opportunity beyond what I had envisioned and attempted to create a powerful and dangerous narcotic that could be sold for billions. Without my knowledge, they took advantage of poor derelicts and used them for guinea pigs. As soon as I became aware of what was happening, I shut down the project and destroyed all the data."
"Isn't Dragon's Teeth a rather bellicose title for such a noble project?" Clark asked.
"It was the beginning of my war on the great levelers — stroke, arteriosclerosis, heart disease, cancer — that are the scourges of mankind."
At that pronouncement the doorbell rang, and Henderson and his squad took over the room. "Lex Luthor, I have a warrant to search these premises for any evidence concerning the death of Diane Goodman."
"Welcome, Inspector. I don't know why you think I might have been involved in Ms. Goodman's death, but you may certainly search anywhere you like. Nigel will give you access to whatever you require."
Clark said, "Inspector, I'll show you the weapons wall, and something else very interesting." They went off toward the study.
"Wait for me," said Lois who hurried behind them.
Clark showed Henderson the empty space on the wall as he explained, "This is where the Lupara should be. Since you're here, I assume it's not in Italy being repaired either."
"That's right. Corleone said Nigel called and told him he was sending it, but it never arrived. My boys will turn this apartment upside down. If it's here, we'll find it."
"We found something even more interesting in Lex's computer," said Lois. "We found a file called Project Dragon's Teeth that connects the deaths of Clayton Kimball, Robert Nolan and the missing drug addicts from Hobbs Bay. Show him, Clark."
Once again, Clark raised the computer to desk level, accessed the directory and prepared to open the file in question. It wasn't there.
"Lois, I can't find the file. Wasn't it in the middle of all the Projects?"
"What do you mean you can't find it? It was right there." She pushed him aside so she could see better. "Where is it? It couldn't just disappear." She began to scroll frantically up and down the screen. "What could have happened?" Abruptly she stopped scrolling and straightened.
"I get it. Nigel must have erased the file while we were talking to Lex. Clark, how could we have fallen for that? Our evidence is gone!"
"We'll send the computer to the lab," said Henderson. "Our computer forensics people tell us that nothing is ever completely erased. I'm sure they'll be able to find something."
"They'd better because Lex was already putting a completely innocent spin on his involvement, and I'm sure he's got a patsy to pin the whole thing on."
"There's a locked file drawer here in the desk, Inspector." Clark pointed. "There might be something in there. The key is in the false bottom of the cigar lighter."
Lois gasped. "How did you know that?"
"Uh, I, uh, I saw a lighter just like that one in a shop in London when I was traveling." He smiled disarmingly.
"Then why did you let me waste my time looking for the key?"
"Lois, if you remember, we started with the computer when I got here. I guess you forgot about the key."
She looked doubtful but dropped the subject as Henderson retrieved the key and opened the drawer. He directed an officer to load the contents into a file box and take it outside.
"Hey, wait a minute," said Lois. Don't we get a chance to see what's in there?"
"Have you ever heard of 'chain of evidence', Lois? We preserve the integrity of what we find and don't let nosy reporters paw through things."
"All right! I might as well not be here."
"That's what I was thinking."
Lois stamped off in the direction of the sitting room; Clark followed grinning.
The Lupara was not anywhere in the penthouse. The phone call to Corleone and Lex's revelation that it was Nigel who had reported the damage to the weapon made St. John a prime suspect, and when the police left, they took him along for questioning.
As Lois and Clark started to leave, Lois said, to Henderson, "What about Project Dragon's Teeth?"
Overhearing her question, Lex volunteered to go down to the precinct and make a statement about what he knew concerning that affair.
Taking the Inspector aside, Clark said, "Let us know, as soon as you find out what's on that computer. We want to see Lex go down, but we're sitting on the biggest story of the year."
"Okay, Kent. I'll keep you in the loop. But if I find out you're holding out on me again, you're gonna be poison down at my station house. Don't let Lane's bad habits rub off on you."
"Ill keep that in mind, Bill."
As soon as she walked into her apartment, Lois shouted triumphantly, "MY PLAN WORKED! I love it when that happens." She turned to face Clark and spread her arms wide. "We did it, Partner. We got the goods on Lex Luthor. Clark, we're terrific together!" She elatedly threw her arms around him and, to his amazement, kissed him, lightly, on the lips.
He reacted without thinking, clasping her closer to him and returning the kiss fervently. He held her firmly but lightly; she could back away whenever she chose, but to his delight, she lingered, testing and tasting this new and hitherto untried curiosity.
When she finally drew her head away, she still did not step back, but stood looking up at him, wonder in her gaze. She murmured, "Careful, Farm boy. I warned you. I don't have time for it." But she continued to stand in his embrace, looking at him, her eyes querying.
"Then you'll have to make time," he said softly. "It's too late to warn me." He lowered his lips to hers and kissed her with short, sweet kisses, gentle, loving, undemanding.
At first, unsure, her lips tense, she held her breath waiting for whatever developed. Slowly her mouth relaxed and she began to kiss back softly. She breathed steadily between kisses, but her heartbeat accelerated slightly and then more, as their mouths melded together, extending time, seeking to learn what lay just beyond conscious thought. One kiss at a time, they began encroaching into that unknown abyss of hunger and desire, into the place where there is no control, no consequence, no responsibility.
Her breathing was shallow and fast now, and she parted her lips at the pressure of his tongue, lightly persistent, still allowing for her to refuse if she chose. But she welcomed this part of him that probed so carefully, tasting her as she tasted him, mingling their juices in a blend so erotic that she felt faint, and she fantasized exchanging an even greater intimacy.
Fighting himself through the roaring in his ears, Clark resisted a craving so tempting that, if he succumbed, would take them both over the brink into short-lived ecstasy and ensuing disaster. He wanted her too much to let it happen. When it did happen it would be because they decided together that it was right, not because they got carried away. His brain told him this, but his body told him something very different, and he was sure Lois was more than aware of how he was reacting to her. Even as he ordered himself to stop, his hands were roaming, caressing the yielding flesh forbidden to sight and touch but so accessible at this moment in the emotional tempest that possessed them.
She knew what he was doing, but she wanted it, wanted him in every way, wanted to yield to him and dominate him, push him to the farthest extension of his resistance and pull him into the dark, warm world where no one was allowed, had been allowed for so long. He was driving her beyond her past into unexplored territory, an emotional maelstrom she had never known but had longed for, searched for, despaired of finding. Without volition, her body expressed her wishes sending him teetering on the edge of the irredeemable fall.
And then the phone rang.
Slowly, through the hot, red mist, she made her way back to reality, to the time, the place, the day it was…now. Her phone was ringing; she had to answer it. She moved toward the sound, confused, dazed, mechanically answering as she was programmed to do.
Was that her voice, so faint, so unsteady?
"Lois, is that you? It's Henderson. Are you all right?"
Clark stood motionless where she had left him, eyes closed, willing his body to re-adjust, to return to normal, to forget. They had been rescued from the worst mistake of their lives, but not because of anything he did. No, he had let his hormones and the sheer physical magnetism of Lois lane entice him to the point of disaster. All of his powers were useless when pitted against her slight, well- endowed frame. If she chose she could skewer him, as she had done Lex Luthor, then, roast him on a spit, and he'd smile happily because it was her hand operating the rotor.
"Clark?" He opened his eyes, and she looked away, a slight flush rising on her cheeks. "That was Henderson. They didn't find anything on the computer. They had to let Lex go."
"Oh. I guess he's outsmarted us for the moment." He was trying to make eye contact with her, but she turned away, her back to him. She was brushing her fingers over her mouth trying to rub something away.
"Lex told Henderson that he had only just discovered the Dragon's Teeth conspiracy and was about to call in the police. Lex said that when he proposed to me, Nigel objected vigorously and wanted to get me out of the way. Lex said Nigel thought I was too lucky at finding out secrets and that made me dangerous. Lex said Nigel was involved with Dragon's Teeth and tried to kill me when I started nosing into the deaths and disappearances down in the Hobbs Bay area." Her low voice held sarcasm…and a slight touch of embarrassment.
"Lex is good at saying things, Lois, but we'll get him. You said we're terrific together, and we'll uncover the truth about him sooner or later. But right now we have to talk about what just happened."
Finally she looked at him. "Nothing. Nothing just happened. The phone rang. Let's just forget the rest of it."
"No! This is too important to both of us. We have to talk this through. You're right, nothing happened, but it wasn't because either of us didn't want it to. Admit it, Lois. We can be terrific together as more than just partners."
"What makes you so sure? We hardly know each other. Just because we had a momentary…whatever…doesn't make us the couple of the century."
"I'm sure because we've connected on some level that goes way beyond anything we expected, and you felt it too. We're great when we work together; we're becoming good friends; and you can't deny that we just set off a lot of fireworks. Take a chance with me. Take a chance on us."
"You mean just go ahead and hop in the sack and see how it works out? I thought you might be different from all the other guys."
"No, that's not what I mean. I won't deny I want to go to bed with you. I dreamed about it before I even met you, but I want more from you than a cheap affair or a forgotten weekend. I'm in love with you, and I want you in my life for the rest of my life. I don't want to do anything until you say you want to. Then I want to marry you and have children with you and be with you until one of us dies. And if I could still be with you after that, I would."
He saw fright flash in her eyes and watched as she crossed her arms, hunched her shoulders, and turned her back to him, body language blocking him out.
"If that idea scares you, get used to it, because I'm not going away." He desperately laid siege to the fortress. "I'm going to be your partner and your friend no matter what you do or say, and I'm going to keep on loving you until you can't fight it any longer, and you have to love me back. I can be very patient, and I expect to live a long time."
She didn't want to hear this. She wasn't ready for anything like this; didn't know if she'd ever be. She shouldn't have kissed him. It was all her fault, but it seemed so right, to hold each other and celebrate their success. She could have stepped away, but she didn't. She'd wanted to find out what it would be like, and she'd found herself lost in a place she didn't recognize and had no compass for.
Silence was beginning to resound between them, and she needed to quell its disturbance, to control it before he did. She realized she was looking at the portrait, that lifeless depiction of a stranger, a woman who passed herself off as Lois Lane, world-renowned investigative reporter. She didn't know who that was anymore. She had lived centuries and become a different person since Tristan Ganeymede had painted her, and all because of this intruder who stood waiting in the searing silence. She spoke the thought as it came to her.
"Oh, god, I hate this thing. Lex loved it. He thought it was me. I'd like to burn it."
"Don't," he said urgently. "If you don't want it, give it to me."
"Because it's precious to me. I fell in love with you because of it." He spoke without artifice.
"That just proves you don't know me at all, and you can't be in love with *me*. " Her subdued voice gave sound to masked feelings and hidden thoughts.
"I do know you, and it's you I love, not somebody's idea of the person you want the world to see. When I first saw the portrait, I thought it was a lifeless image. It meant nothing to me. But when I began to talk with people who knew you, who loved you or disliked you, or respected you or envied you, I began to see all of the things they told me about you in the painting. I began to see you as cryptic and complex, a real person with shades of warmth and light, mysteries and unfathomable depths. You were the woman I'd been looking for as long as I can remember. I was in love with you…not the portrait, not some fictional being…you. And I thought you were dead. When you walked through that door, it was the happiest moment of my life. I could know the living you. I found out you weren't the perfect person I'd imagined; you weren't a dream; you weren't a figment, and I thanked my lucky stars for that. You were real, and I knew what I wanted no matter how long I had to wait."
She turned to regard him uncertainly as though he were some strange creature whose behaviour she didn't understand and couldn't predict.
"That's crazy, Clark. Things like that don't happen to people. People don't fall in love that way."
"Speak for yourself, Lois, because I know that's how I fell in love with you. And don't try to tell me you don't feel something for me. There've been times since we met when the old Lois Lane would have ground me up and fed me to the fish in that tank. You didn't. You didn't because you were beginning to feel something that you weren't sure of. Your ambivalence showed, Lois, and it gave me hope." He paused, took a long breath, and whispered huskily, "Take a chance, Lois."
"It's too fast," she argued. "You're too…overwhelming. I don't know how to handle this, and it scares me."
"The woman who can face down Lex Luthor without blinking is scared of me? No way. You're scared of yourself and how much you're beginning to feel for me. Let go, Lois. I won't hurt you."
He was hitting too close to home. She began to turn away but he stopped her.
"Don't shut me out. Please, Lois, don't shut me out. You don't want that anymore than I do. We'll take it slow; you'll call all the shots. I promise you I won't let us get into that situation again until you ask me to."
It was a promise she couldn't have imagined ever hearing from anyone until she met him. Now it just seemed a reasonable extension of what he was. Could she really believe him? Could she take this chance for the kind of love she had often ridiculed publicly and searched for privately in romance novels and damaged relationships? Should she take this chance for a passion that could either envelope her in its madness and claim her for life or hurt her to the core and forever take away her dream of love and happiness? Take a chance. Take a chance, Lois. You can gain heaven. What can you lose but everything you are and everything you hope to be? Take a chance.
She half turned toward him, uncrossing her arms, and said, wearing a lop sided smile, "I'd say I was pretty much asking you to do that this time."
Grinning in relief, he silently blessed her honesty and wry sense of humor. He'd managed to stay the execution. "Okay, then, I won't take you to bed until you ask me three times."
"You promise?" she questioned doubtfully.
"How do I know you were a Boy Scout?" she asked warily.
"I'll show you my merit badges."
She tipped over and capitulated, moving forward and placing a hand on his chest. "O-o-o-h, Kent, that sounds like a come-on if ever I heard one."
"I didn't say we wouldn't flirt or get close to each other or kiss or even explore a little. But I won't let us get carried away. You'll have to ask three times."
She looked up at him impishly. "Take me to bed, Clark."
"Don't do that, Lois."
'Now I only have to ask twice."
He grabbed her and held her against him. "I'm going to find something better for your mouth to do." He kissed her.
And there was a knock on the door.
"Give me a break" said Clark, as he went to answer it, leaving Lois chuckling behind him.
Still thinking about kissing her, he opened the door without checking through the peephole and found, to his surprise, that their visitor was…Lex Luthor!
"Lois. Kent. As you see, I'm a free man, exonerated from implication in the Dragon's Teeth affair. You judged me unfairly, and I felt you should have the opportunity to apologize."
"We know what we read," said Lois. You were neck deep in that scheme. You can expect an apology when there's a tidal wave in Hobbs Bay."
"I might be able to arrange that," said Lex intrigued at the thought. "Nevertheless, I will remind you that I own the Daily Planet and that you are, therefore, my employees. I would strongly consider apologizing if I were you."
"Lex, you can make all the veiled threats you want. Lois and I are going to bring you down whether we're working for the Planet or the Star or the Washington Post. You're through."
"Bravado is not much of an offense, Mr. Kent. Hot air is easily dispelled."
Lois attacked. "You might keep that in mind, yourself, Lex. How long do you think Nigel is going to keep quiet? You've blamed him for a lot of murders. I think he'll sing like a canary to avoid the needle."
"I've paid Nigel very well for what he does. He knows he will receive enough to complete his retirement fund."
"A lot of good that'll do him on death row. Nigel may have done your dirty work, but he's never been your toady. He's smart, and he'll see that dying for you isn't in his best interest no matter what you pay him."
"And to think that I once wanted to call you Mrs. Lex. Luthor. It seems so ridiculous now. You couldn't possibly meet the standard that title exemplifies. You are small and petty, Lois, incapable of thinking on a broad scale, or understanding the grand design. I hope you don't expect a lusty relationship, Kent. She's a tease, you know, a cold fish lacking any real physical passion. She only gets excited about the next headline."
"Get out of my house, Lex. I might feel insulted if anybody else said those words, but considering that it's you, I'll just take them as the garbage they are. Now leave, and don't ever come back. I never want to see you again. If you try anything at the Planet with me or my friends, I'll forget about winning a Pulitzer and put every reporter in the country on your trail."
"Such threats are inconsequential. You'll never touch me." He went to the door where he turned, bowed stiffly and said jauntily, "I believe this is goodbye."
Clark watched the door close and turned to Lois. "I think that went well, don't you?" He saw the doubt and pain in her eyes from Lex's personal taunts. "You know what he said isn't true. We were close to proving it just a few minutes ago."
"Close doesn't count except in horseshoes," she said ruefully. "You don't know how it might have turned out. You really will be taking a chance with me, Clark. My previous relationships have all been disasters."
"Then I'm volunteering for the Disaster Relief Corps," he said as he took her in his arms. "Now where were we?"
She buried her face in his shirt and mumbled, "I think I just said, 'Take me to bed, Clark'. Is that twice?"
"You're playing with fire, Lois."
I'm feeling reckless. Take-."
And then the phone rang.
She giggled. "Of course. What else?" and went to answer it.
He breathed raggedly. She was in a dangerous mood and was dead set on getting him to break the spirit of his promise if not the letter. It would doom their chance from the start. He had no doubt she'd eventually use the result as an excuse to terminate whatever relationship they tried to build. He would not let her destroy what they could have even if it killed him, and knowing how difficult it was going to be, he was sure he'd wish he were dead before it was over.
"Clark, that was Henderson, again. Nigel is talking non- stop and he's implicating Lex in everything. He's even identified him as Mr. Big, and he has records stashed to prove it. That computer they took to the lab is a substitute. Nigel was supposed to destroy the real one, but he tucked it away too. Lex is out of luck, out of business, and before you know it he'll be out of circulation. And we have the story of the century! Henderson's promised us first shot before he releases any thing. He'll let us know as soon as they pick up Lex. They have an APB out on him, and they've been watching this apartment, so they should pick him up any minute. I told him he'd just left here."
Smiling broadly, she launched herself into his arms. He twirled her around laughing.
"What do you mean you haven't picked him up?" As Lois and Clark were rejoicing, Henderson was on the phone with one of the men watching Lois's apartment.
"We're waiting for him to come out," replied Velie.
"He should have showed by now. He left the apartment five minutes ago."
"He didn't come this way. Maybe he went out the back. Ask Tibbs."
Henderson quickly punched in another number. "Tibbs, do you have him?"
"Haven't seen him, Bill."
"Something's wrong! You and Sergeant Velie, get up to that apartment. I'm two minutes away."
Lois kissed Clark and said, "I'll have to wait a while to finish what I was saying."
"Don't say it until it's right, Lois. Please?"
"I know. I was acting crazy before, wasn't I? I only have to say it one more time, but I know the package that comes with it. I'll be very sure when I do say it."
Clark was exuberant. She had said "when" not "if". "I love you, Lois Lane!" He lowered his head to kiss her again.
From behind him, in the shadows near the door, Lex Luthor said, "Very touching. You've disappointed me, Lois. You could have had so much more."
Clark whirled to find Luthor, holding the Lupara pointed straight at them. He pushed Lois behind him.
"What do you want, Luthor? The police know everything. Give yourself up; make a deal."
"Lex Luthor does not give up or make deals. What I want is to take care of the two of you; then I'll disappear. They'll never find me."
"Lex, why bother with us?" Lois entreated. "It was Nigel who betrayed you."
"Yes, I heard. He betrayed my business dealings, but you betrayed me personally. I wanted you to be the Empress of my domain. We would have ruled together in splendor." He gestured at the portrait. "I had your likeness painted to reveal your defiant magnificence in the face of winds that threaten those of us who are chosen to reign. You rejected that and turned your back on me for this insignificant giblet. No one walks away from Lex Luthor unless I say so. Diane learned that to her regret."
"We were lovers, but she wanted out. You and she had become close, and she objected to continuing as my mistress after you and I were married. She had to go."
"Diane was the target all along? No one was trying to kill me?"
"Spoken with your usual perception, Lois. Yes. On my orders, Nigel killed her with this shotgun and then was forced to leave it hidden here to prevent its discovery."
"Where? The police have been all over this place?" Clark was stalling again. <Hurry up Henderson. He's getting close.>
"You were unaware, weren't you Lois, that the trophy case which I gave you has a hidden compartment in the bottom behind the panel? It's a companion to the credenza in my study."
It was news to Lois, but Clark was not surprised. After he discovered the hidden compartment in Lex's credenza, he had suspected that there might be one in the similarly styled trophy case at Lois's apartment. He had intended to look when they came in but had forgotten about it in the emotional storm that had surrounded them.
"Very useful, hiding places. All I had to do was open the panel, take out the gun, and load the extra shells hidden with it. After I shoot you, I'll be gone, down the fire escape and away before anyone can get in here."
"How did *you* get in here? I saw you leave, and Lois has an automatic spring lock on that door."
"You saw the door close, but I prevented it from latching. When you turned away, I came back. I've been observing you from that dark corner. You were…preoccupied… and didn't notice."
Lois pleaded. "Lex, don't do this. They're watching the building. You can't get away." As if to shield Clark, she reached one arm around his waist and slid the other diagonally across his chest.
"I always get away, Lois. It's why I'm the third richest man in the world, moving up on number two."
There was a sudden pounding on the door. "Lois, it's Henderson. Are you all right?"
Clark said loudly. "Give it up, Luthor. It's too late. You can't get away now."
And then, as Lois later remembered it, the passage of time became a slow motion sequence, and several things seemed to happen at once.
The police broke down her door.
Lex aimed both barrels of the shotgun at Clark and fired at point blank range.
Clark, in a hopeless attempt to swat away the buckshot before it hit his chest, moved his hands so fast they were a blur.
Screaming "NO!", she tried to pull Clark out of the line of fire.
The police cut down Lex Luthor with a barrage of bullets.
Afterwards, when the forensic team had finished its work and Luthor's body had been taken away to the morgue, the squad of police and detectives trickled away until only Henderson was left with Lois and Clark. Still dazed by what had happened, they had, nevertheless managed to contact Perry and get the first part of their scoop to the Daily Planet.
"You're a very fortunate guy, Clark." Henderson said. "If Luthor hadn't been startled by the door crashing in, he would have taken you out for sure. Better get both a rabbit's foot and a four-leaf clover, and watch out for ladders and black cats. It's gonna take a while for you to get your luck back."
"That's for sure, Bill. Luthor must have been an incredibly bad shot. I guess that's why he had Nigel do all the killing." Clark laughed nervously to underline his attempt to joke away his close call. He looked at Lois to include her in his humor, but she just watched him gravely with enormous dark eyes.
"Well, whatever the reason, be careful about the chances you take for a while. Tomorrow we'll get together for your statements, although I'll probably be able to get most of what I need from the story you just sent to the Daily Planet."
"It's going to be a three-parter so we'll come by the precinct tomorrow to fill you in on what hasn't been printed yet. We trust you to keep it confidential until it's played out in the paper."
"Okay, I think we can agree on that."
"We should probably let Scardino know what's happening, too. He *was* working with Lois on this, and he did end up cooperating, finally."
Henderson grimaced a smile. "Why don't you let me handle that? It'll be a pleasure to be the one who knows everything; sort of like the shoe on the other foot, if you know what I mean."
"You mean like payback?" said Clark, grinning.
Henderson nodded. "Exactly. Well, I'll say good night to you two. Lane, you can learn a thing or two about cooperating with the police from this new partner of yours." He closed the apartment door behind him leaving Lois and Clark alone.
Lois had remained quiet and still while Clark and Henderson were talking. She was studying the pattern on the wall where the double ought shot had landed. When Clark approached her, she placed a hand on his chest and looked up at him with tear-filled eyes. "I thought you were dead."
"Well, as Bill said, I was pretty lucky that Luthor is the world's worst shot."
Lois just looked at him, an odd expression on her face. Then she said, "Clark, I've seen Lex shoot clay pigeons from that penthouse terrace. He doesn't miss. He was aiming at you from three feet away and didn't hit you. How do you explain that?"
He knew he was caught, and he couldn't lie, especially not to her, not now. He took her hand and led her to sit on the couch.
"Lois," he said, "there's something I have to tell you."
She didn't believe it.
"I don't believe it! First, you say you're a paranormal with hunches and bad feelings, and now you say you can move at lightning speeds and deflect bullets? What do you take me for? I thought you wanted to be straight with me; develop a relationship. How can we have a relationship if you're not going to be honest with me? If this is supposed to be a joke, it's not funny."
"Lois, I swear to you that everything I've told you is true. I am paranormal, in a way, because I have these special abilities…powers. I can do things that normal human beings can't."
"How can I believe you? It's too ridiculous. You're making all this up because you don't trust me enough to tell me the truth!"
"It is the truth, and I wouldn't have told you if I didn't trust you."
"So you're saying that you're not normal. How not normal? Like an alien from outer space not normal or some weird government experiment not normal?"
His eyes were haunted as he replied. "I could be. I don't know."
"You don't know? What about your parents? What do they say? Do they have super powers too?"
"My parents are just like everyone else, and they don't know why I'm different either." This was proving harder than he thought it would be. "They found me…in a…space ship…in a neighbor's field…and adopted me." Now that he'd said it, he thought that if he didn't know it was true, he probably wouldn't believe it either.
"A space ship? Now you're an orphan from outer space? Clark, if this is some pathetic attempt to get me to feel sorry for you-."
He couldn't think of any other way to prove it to her. He hoisted her in his arms, lifted off and flew out the window accompanied by her shrieks of surprise and terror. At first she clung to him, eyes closed, shouting for him to set her down. He continued to fly, holding her firmly but gently and speaking softly urging her to relax, open her eyes and enjoy the beauty of the night.
After a bit, she calmed down and did as he asked, immediately enthralled by what she saw. Her arms loosed their chokehold, and she snuggled against him letting the feeling of unencumbered flight take her.
They flew over Metropolis from uptown to downtown, from Hobbs Bay to Morningside while she lay quietly against him, not saying a word. When he finally took her back to her apartment and deposited her on the floor, she reached up and kissed him, saying, "Clark, thank you. That was incredible. I apologize. You were telling the truth; I was wrong. Savor that because you'll never hear it again. Now, do you have any other surprises for me?"
He held her close and said, "We have a lifetime to learn all the surprises about each other." Then he kissed her thoroughly.
Lois Lane hit the send key on her computer and LANed her story to the City Editor. It was the last of the wire service copy she had been handed to give a local spin after she had sent her front-page story to Perry earlier. She and Clark had completed an investigative piece concerning the Water Department's goof in releasing surplus water from the reservoir even though a drought had been predicted for the summer months. It was nothing sensational, just the kind of bread and butter piece that made the Daily Planet the chosen newspaper of the well-informed public. She was through for the day.
As she began to gather her belongings to leave, she saw her partner and best friend, Clark Kent, head for the pencil sharpener with a fistful of number 2's. She knew he, also, was finished with his assignments because it was his habit, at the end of the day, to leave his pencil cup filled with freshly sharpened writing implements. And he cleared his desk of folders and papers, leaving it pristine in anticipation of the new day. She had often watched in fascination as he carefully filed everything he had been working on so that he could find each item quickly the next morning.
She looked down at the folders and papers covering her own desk. Scooping them into her arms, she dropped everything into her bottom left drawer and snapped it shut. A fervent disciple of the bottom drawer management system, she reminded herself it was time to go through the bottom right drawer to discard those items that time had rendered unnecessary and obsolete. Then she turned to watch her partner complete his end-of-day ritual.
She was both appreciative of and amused by his compulsive routine, which, along with incredulous and astonished, pretty much summed up how she viewed everything she had come to know about this unique man in the past five months. The night he had told her about his incredible powers, that same night they had brought down Lex Luthor, she had thought it was some tall tale he was spinning to hide the real reason why Lex's shots hadn't killed him. But when she was pelting him with angry words about lack of trust and lying, and blasting him for destroying any chance they might have for a real relationship, he had lifted her in his arms and flown into the night sky, literally taking her breath away and leaving her speechless. It was the first of many flights to anywhere she expressed an interest in seeing. His generosity in taking her to the other side of the earth and back touched her somewhere deep inside. The joy she saw in his face at being able to please her unlocked feelings she had protected for too long. Finally, she retracted her prickles…at least, where he was concerned.
When Scardino went back to Washington, D.C., she had said good-bye without regret. Clark had kept his promise, even though there had been times when both of them seemed willing to break the barrier they had agreed on, and passion had taken possession of them. But he had backed away, and she would not utter the third request that she had vowed to withhold until she was ready to change her life and give it over to him completely.
Shaking her head, she mentally acknowledged that Clark had been right about so many things. She was used to having him around, and they had become best friends as well as partners, spending all their time together at work and afterwards, at her place or his. She could hardly remember when he wasn't there at her desk with a smile and a morning cup of coffee or cooking up one of his mother's hearty farm recipes in his apartment kitchen. It meant she had to spend an extra hour on the treadmill and bicycle at the gym for a few days afterwards, but sharing his delight and enthusiasm as he talked about his Mom's cooking and his life growing up on the farm made her feel happy and at home in a way she had never felt before.
"Penny for your thoughts."
He was standing in front of her desk smiling the smile that she couldn't not return no matter how much of a killer day it had been. "Hi. Just thinking about our first flight together, and how much has happened since then."
A shadow of doubt lurked in his eyes. "Happy thoughts, then?"
She smiled. "Very happy." She stood, placed a hand on his chest and kissed him lightly. "What's our agenda for tonight? Anything special, or shall we just get a pizza and watch a movie."
"You read my mind. Are you sure you're not a paranormal?"
"No, but I have high flown friends who are."
As they entered the elevator, he asked, "Since you're thinking about it, are you sure you don't want to go flying?"
"Maybe later. I was just trying to decide which time was best."
She laughed. "There have been so many good ones. Like the first time we went to that little Thai place in Bangkok or when we watched the sun come up over the Himalayas. You really know how to show a girl a good time."
"The pleasure's all mine, ma'am."
"I think the best time was that first trip to Kansas, when I met your folks, and you decided to become Superman. They were so proud of you. I have to admit I thought Martha's costume ideas were a little bizarre, but the suit turned out to be perfect. No one would ever guess that the flashy guy in the gaudy clothes was also Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter."
"Not even that suspicious investigative reporter, Lois Lane?"
"If I didn't already know, I'd probably be so smitten with the Super guy, I'd never figure it out."
"Are you trying to tell me something? Should I be jealous of my alter ego?"
The elevator had reached the ground floor. They exited as she took his arm and replied. "Don't worry. I'm crazy about both of you."
They walked out of the Planet building and down the street, where they picked up a pizza and the latest Mel Gibson video. Grabbing a cab, they headed for Clark's apartment and were soon gorging on pizza and facing danger with Mel.
They stopped the movie in the middle and made popcorn to munch until the film's end. Lois was content to lie back with Clark's arm around her, dozing and not quite following the action of cars chasing, thugs shooting, and Mel fighting. She thought he was really boring compared to Superman.
She had dozed again when she felt a bump against her, and popcorn pelting her face. She heard Clark roar, "No sleeping! Popcorn war!" and another handful of snowy kernels rained down on her.
She was instantly awake and throwing fistfuls of the snack back at her adversary. They were both ducking and laughing, scooping up fallen un-disintegrated ammunition from the floor, the couch, the table, scrambling over each other fighting for the white bullets, knocking each other down. She was having mindless fun, not stopping to think whether she should do this or that, but just reacting in the moment. And then it came to her with complete clarity.
This was how she wanted to spend the rest of her life: being with Clark, watching videos and having popcorn fights, sharing the laughter and the bad times, making him happy, living together, having children, being married. She was suddenly still, a surprised look on her face. She loved Clark. She loved Clark!
"Lois, are you all right? I didn't hurt you did I?"
"Clark, I love you."
"Yeah. So?" She'd said it many times at moments like this, varying expressions in her voice. She'd never said it when he wanted her to or the way he wanted her to, when they were kissing and he was pouring his heart from his mouth into hers and telling her how much he loved her. She never answered him with the passionate conviction he longed to hear.
"I love you." She didn't sound surprised anymore. She sounded happy. "I really love you!"
Then he got it. She was trying to distract him so she could get him with the last of the popcorn in the bowl and win the fight. "It won't work, Lois. I'm not letting you get the last shot."
She commandeered the bowl, and upended it, pouring the contents over the top of her head. "There. You win the popcorn fight, Clark. I don't care. I love you." And she threw her arms around him and kissed him.
He instinctively put his arms around her and held her, looking down into her face, which shone with joy. "What are you up to?" he asked.
"I'm up to making the most important decision of my life, and I want you to be the first to know."
"I've just decided that I'm in love with Clark Kent, and I thought you ought to know."
"Lois, are you playing some kind of game, because I don't want to play."
She was suddenly very serious. "I'm not playing Clark. Do you love me?"
"You know I do. I tall you about a hundred times a day."
"Do you still want to spend the rest of your life with me?"
"Now he was equally serious. "Of course, I do."
"Well, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I love you, Clark Kent, and I want it all, everything you promised: love marriage, children, everything."
His heart was thundering. "Lois," he murmured, lowering his head to kiss her.
The kiss was long and full of commitments asked and promises given. When they finally broke apart, Clark asked, "You'll marry me?"
"Clark, I love you in every way and more than I ever thought I could love anyone. I want to make love with you, marry you, live with you. Take me to bed, Clark. I'll marry you before or after, it doesn't matter. I'm committed to you forever."
"You really mean it?"
"Every word. There's one condition, though. You have to promise to get rid of that awful portrait in your bedroom."
"We'll talk about it," he said and kissed her, again, until she was breathless.
She gasped, "Oh, my… Talk…yes, we can…talk later. Right now…oh, yes…" Then she whispered meekly, "Isn't that three times?"
He nodded and crushed her against him, laughing happily. As his heart completed a joyous somersault, his lips met hers in a kiss that sealed their intentions.
He didn't need the portrait anymore because he had her, but he would put it away and someday tell their children the story of how it brought their parents together. For now, all that mattered was that she was in his arms, and their life together was just beginning.
1. Did you know the name of the movie that inspired this story? It is the 1944 black and white film, 'Laura', which Twentieth Century Fox calls a film noir. The screenplay, written by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Betty Reinhardt, was adapted from the novel of the same name by Vera Caspary. Produced and directed by Otto Preminger, it starred Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price and Dame Judith Anderson. It won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Webb was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Preminger for Best Director, although the film itself was out of the running for Best Picture. It was a tough year that included 'Double Indemnity', a genuine film noir and 'Gaslight', a thriller like 'Laura'.
2. Many people who have never seen or heard of the film know the song, a pop standard. Johnny Mercer wrote lyrics for the film's musical theme by David Raksin, and the result, 'Laura', has been frequently played and recorded ever since.
3. Rooibos is one of my favorite teas. It is South African, and I know someone whose grandmother uses it to color her hair.
4. The Elvis story Perry told is fictional. The tale of the Dragon's Teeth is a story from Greek Mythology.
5. The Lupara is a real shotgun and, for a number of years, was the favorite weapon of assassination by both the Sicilian and American Mafia.
6. If you like to do that kind of thing, I would be most interested in seeing a comparative analysis of the film and the story. The film is available in both videotape and DVD from any rental place with a good classics section.
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