By Gerry Anklewicz <<firstname.lastname@example.org>>
Submitted: April 2004
Summary: While finding out why Mayson Drake feels so antagonistic towards Superman, Lois and Clark investigate a fire and run into a number of Blind Spots.
This fanfic took a long time to get to the boards. Many times, I felt that it would never see the outside of my computer hard- drive. I'd like to thank ML Thompson, Jude Williams and CCMalo for their cajoling and nagging, as well as their beta-reading. You had more confidence in me than I did. Thank you. Thank you also to my GE, Wendy Richards for her help in finding all the little errors that the others missed.
I'd also like to thank the readers on both message boards who commented so positively about the story. You let me know that I had accomplished what I set out to do.
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement is intended. I recognize that the characters are not mine. I am just borrowing them for a little fun and not for any profit.
Clark squirmed inside, knowing that Mayson was looking him up and down, staring at his bare chest. When he heard the knocking, he had been so intent on looking at the police uniform and hoping to try it on, that he'd rushed to the door, barely remembering to put on his glasses. He hadn't expected Mayson; actually, he hadn't expected anyone.
He really couldn't figure Mayson out. She was a good-looking woman, a very good- looking woman, and he knew from their first meeting in the police station a few days before that she was interested in him. Looking at her, he'd probably be interested in her too except for two very important facts. First, he was in love with Lois Lane, and second, Mayson really didn't like Superman. Now, if he told Mayson that he was Superman, she'd probably slap him and never speak to him again. If he told Lois he was Superman, she'd probably gush and fall all over him, and then slap him and never speak to him again.
Why did Mayson hate Superman so much? Just that morning in front of the courthouse, she had spoken to him in a brusque but business-like manner, not disguising her feelings about him. "Thanks for the statement. We'll be in touch if we need you."
Clark hadn't seen her like that before. Her flirtatious approach with the reporter made her icy attitude toward Superman so puzzling. Trying to be helpful, he had said, "I just want you to know, Ms. Drake, whatever I can do to help the DA's office…"
But she had brushed him off, something that Superman wasn't really used to. "Like I said, we'll be in touch."
But he understood his responsibilities. "I'd be more than willing to testify against Baby Rage."
"I don't think so."
Puzzled, he had decided to ask Mayson directly. "Ms. Drake, have I done something to offend you?"
"No, but I have to admit, I've never much liked the idea of you."
Clark could honestly say that he had been taken aback. "I don't follow…"
"Do you have a license to chase criminals?" But before he could answer, she plowed on. "Do you ever read them their rights? Are you insured if you hurt someone? You know how much paperwork you make for my office? And where am I supposed to get hold of you to come in for depositions? Where do you live? Do you work? Who are you?"
Clark, who had kept opening his mouth trying to answer the flood of questions, finally gave up and simply said, "I can't tell you that…"
"Exactly. You see, I hate secrets. And mystery men scare me almost as much as they bore me."
Mystery man, he thought. She should only know.
Even when she was confronted with Lois's obvious idolization of Superman, Mayson carried on. He had overheard her comment about his height. She had thought he would've been taller. When he had approached Mayson and Lois as Clark, Mayson stared at him longingly with her big blue eyes making him feel as if she could have drained the essence out of him. Then, as they talked about their suspicions of Intergang, Mayson had made sure that she was beside Clark and Lois was not.
And now, Mayson was at his apartment staring at him sensually. He could feel the heat emanating from her eyes, and he realized that he wasn't totally immune to it.
"Hi, I…was in the neighborhood and… thought we might go over some facts," she said as she crossed over the threshold into his apartment.
"Sure, come on in." Clark led her into the living room. He felt her look around the room taking it in. He moved, he hoped not too quickly or too obviously, to the box on his coffee table and put the cover back on.
"Let me just get a shirt on…" he said, not feeling comfortable standing there in his shorts. The morning Lois had come to get him in his hotel room, when he was wearing just a towel, came back to him. The present feeling of discomfort, being half-dressed in front of Mayson, hadn't been there with Lois. He had enjoyed her off-handed slip—"I thought you'd be naked." Then, even though he had felt her eyes following him into the other room, he'd also felt that she was nonchalant about the whole thing. He hadn't felt that she was eating him up alive with her eyes. He told himself that he was being silly about Mayson's gaze. He was a lot more exposed as Superman.
Mayson said, "No. I mean, not if it'd make you uncomfortable…it is sort of warm in here." To confirm her statement she took off her jacket, leaving her in a black silk camisole. "Isn't it? Yeah…mmm…hmm…definitely…this is much better."
Clark looked at her, not sure what to think. He led her over to the couch where she took out her note pad, ready to work. Still feeling underdressed, Clark went into his bedroom and put on a t-shirt. Then he was ready to sit down with Mayson.
When she finished taking his deposition a half an hour later, they were comfortably sitting in his living room, drinking tea and talking. Mayson looked over her notes and said, "You're going to make a great witness and I appreciate it. In my line of work, you don't see much bravery."
Clark was surprised. "I'm just telling the truth," he said, thinking that would be what his parents would expect of him, what he would expect of himself. "Nothing too brave about that…"
"Well, true, you're not flying around with a big 'S' on your chest, bragging about what a hero you are…"
Mayson's statement disturbed Clark. He didn't think that he was bragging about his exploits. He didn't think that he stuck around long enough to brag. When he did talk to the press, he just gave the facts as he saw them, trying to give credit to those around him.
"You heard Superman brag?" he asked.
"Not in so many words…" She began to put the papers back into her briefcase. "Look, I know he's a friend of yours," she said apologetically, "but you're ten times the man he is. An ordinary guy, about to stand up to what might be the biggest criminal organization in the world. That takes guts. I'd like to see Superman try that without his cape."
"Well, maybe you will," Clark said, wondering about the many ironies of his life. He watched as Mayson put on her jacket. Lois, not too long ago, had told Superman that she would marry him even if he were an ordinary man, but she had turned down Clark's overtures. Mayson seemed to be interested in Clark simply because he was an ordinary guy. Ironies!
What didn't make sense to him was why Mayson felt so hostile about Superman. What had he done to make her feel that way? It wasn't just that he was a mystery. He'd proven over the year that Superman had been in Metropolis that, even though he didn't have a job, he was dependable and honest. Why would she be so antagonistic towards him? Here was his chance to find out, and he decided that he would take it.
"Mayson, I don't get it. What do you have against Superman?"
"Let's see? Where should I begin?" she started sarcastically and she began to rhyme off the litany of errors which he'd heard earlier that day.
"That's a lot, Mayson, but I wonder if that's really why you're so hostile toward him? All of those concerns can be addressed, even the amount of paperwork he creates. No other assistant DA, or even the DA himself, has ever complained about what you've mentioned. So why the aversion?"
Mayson got up from the couch and walked toward the bookcase, examining Clark's books.
"People begin to depend on him. He gives them false hope," she said quietly, "but he can't do everything he says he can. He's not always there when you need him."
"He's only one man," Clark said, echoing his parents' words, Lois's words, even his own thoughts. He had enough trouble believing them himself. He resented Mayson a bit for reminding him of his limitations. Walking toward her, he stayed only an arm's distance away.
Mayson lingered over the books. She pulled out a volume of Emily Dickinson. "This was my mother's favourite. She used to read it whenever she felt frustrated or stressed. She said the words, although discouraging, really were uplifting. The poetry and imagery were so rich."
Suddenly, she faced him. "He just wasn't there when he was really needed. He wasn't there when I really needed him." Turning away from Clark, she placed the book back on the shelf. "He showed up for a number of weeks, he saved the space shuttle, he stopped car accidents, stopped robberies. He stopped people jumping off tall buildings. The man even saved stupid kittens who managed to climb up trees. "And then—" She sniffed. "And then when I needed him the most, he just disappeared. Three days without Superman. Three days." She cleared her throat and looked back at Clark. "What good is he, if he's not around at the most important time?"
Clark took Mayson's hand and led her back to the couch. He sat her down and poured her another cup of tea. "Tell me what happened, Mayson," he prodded gently.
"It was my parents' thirtieth-fifth anniversary…my brother's birthday, too. We celebrated Tom's birthday and my parents' anniversary at the same time. We went to L'Auberge Gavrouche for dinner and then Janice, my sister-in-law, and I planned to go back to the house for cake. But I didn't…and then…and Superman wasn't there…" Mayson gasped for air, trying to stop the tears.
Clark put his arm around Mayson. "Slowly, Mayson, you don't have to get it all out at once."
"We'd begun the evening," Mayson continued once she caught her breath, "over at my parents' house in Castlewood Park. My parents had put their wedding movies on video and thought that before we went for dinner we would all watch them. They were a hoot! We rolled on the floor laughing about the bridesmaids' dresses, the men's haircuts and the women's hairdos."
Clark looked at her questioningly.
She shrugged. "It was the sixties! The evening was shaping up to be a fun one. Whenever all of us got together, we had a good time.
"After dinner, we headed back to the house." Mayson picked at an invisible thread on her skirt. "Just before I got there, my pager went off. The office. Bill Church, my boss then, wanted me to come over and help him appease some client in Australia who was giving him a hard time. I explained that I was in the middle of this family celebration, but he just pleaded that this guy wouldn't listen to him, he had to listen to a lawyer, and since he'd dealt with me before, Bill felt that I was the person to speak to him. I promised my parents that I'd be back as soon as I could. I got into my car and headed for Bill's condo." She shook her head. "I shouldn't have left them," she whispered.
"What happened next?"
"I managed to calm the client down. He just needed to hear about the legal details of the particular acquisition from a lawyer. Unfortunately, it took quite a while. By the time we were finished it was one in the morning. Bill was in the living room, flipping channels, when he found a late breaking news bulletin. A house fire. In Castlewood Park. I was gathering my purse and coat to go when I heard the street name. The street where my parents lived. I wondered which neighbour the house belonged to. I walked over to the TV and stood in front of it. The images that I saw slapped me in the face. It was my parents' home. I think I just stood there with my mouth open, trying to understand what I was seeing." Mayson paused to take a deep breath. "Finally, I must've said, 'That's my parents' house' or something like that.
"Bill asked me if I was sure, if I hadn't made a mistake or anything, as a way to calm me. I was beginning to hyperventilate at that point, so he took charge. He helped me on with my coat and led me downstairs to his car. His driver was off for the night, so he drove me to the house.
"When we were about three miles from the house, I could see flames and the smoke rising. I just hoped that my family had escaped. The street was blocked by fire trucks, ambulances and police cars. Blue and red lights were flashing. People mingled around the barricades watching as the pieces of roof began to cave in. Bill led me to the police officer who was in charge, a Sergeant Zymack. When he learned that it was my parents' house, he began to ask me questions. I didn't hear what he asked. I just wanted to know where Mom and Dad, Tom and Janice were. He didn't have any answers. A neighbour had called 9-1-1. No one had seen people coming out of the house. Bill kept calling Tom's place, but there was no answer.
"The fire raged on for another hour before the firefighters had it under control. It wasn't until much later in the morning that I found out…The firefighters found four badly charred bodies in the house. My parents…Tom and Janice."
Mayson stopped talking. She had been talking as if she was on autopilot, but that hadn't stopped the tears from flowing. She used the tissues that Clark had handed to her to wipe the tears running down her cheeks while he left her side to bring her a glass of water.
When he placed the glass in her hand, he said, "You don't have to go on if you don't want to."
"No, I've started. I might as well get the rest out." She took a few sips of water, using those moments to calm herself. "The next day, Superman was flying around Metropolis again. Why wasn't he there when I needed him?"
"What did the police find out?" asked Clark, not ready to hear more about Superman's failings. He knew what had happened to Superman and he didn't want to accept that he might have been able to change the outcome to Mayson's story.
"The police put together a possible scenario to explain what happened. When my parents came home, they interrupted a burglary. The two burglars emptied their automatic guns into my…them. Then they set fire to the curtains on the main floor. The flames spread quickly. By the time the neighbour saw it, the flames had spread." Mayson closed her eyes as if she was trying to shut out the image. She chewed on her lips. "They found the four bodies fairly close to the front foyer. I had to identify them, but there wasn't much to identify… They had to rely on dental records."
"Did the police find the culprits?"
"The burglars took off in a 1972 Ford Pinto. It was found about fifteen miles from the house. It had spun out, hit something from the back, and the gas tank exploded. Two men died in the car. The fire department found two automatic rifles whose bullets matched the bullet casings in the house, some explosives and pieces of jewellery that belonged to my mother in the debris. There was no doubt that these men killed my family." She reached over to take some tissue from the box. She dabbed her eyes, then blew her nose.
"Oh, Mayson, I'm so sorry," Clark said, "I can't imagine how awful it must be to lose everyone in one moment like that."
"Pretty horrific, huh?" she lamented and then sat in silence.
Clark didn't know what to say, so he took her hand and held it. She entwined her fingers and squeezed his hand.
After a few moments, she added, "So, I'm infuriated. Where was Superman when I needed him? Why does he let us build hope, and he's not there when he's really needed?"
"It may seem irrational to you Clark, but I think that I'd rather deal with a real person than someone who just shows up without taking any responsibility."
"I'm not going to argue this with you or discuss it. I told you it's not rational. In the end, I'd rather deal with someone like you in court than Superman. You can be depended on; he can't."
"Clark, it's getting late." Mayson dried her eyes and then collected her purse, jacket and briefcase. "Walk me to the door, please."
"Mayson, are you all right? Do you want me to take you home?"
"No. I'll be fine."
At the door, Mayson turned to face Clark. "I haven't been very fair to you, ranting about my dislike of Superman. I know you and he are friends. I'm sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry about," Clark said.
Mayson stared at Clark. She opened her mouth as if to say something and then closed it. Looking at the door, she took a deep breath and turned to Clark. "Would you like to have lunch?" she asked.
"To talk about the case?"
"Oh," he said as he realized what she wanted.
"Try and cap that wild enthusiasm," she said, making light of her offer.
"No, it's not that, you just caught me a little off guard but… yeah, lunch sounds good."
"I'll call you."
As Clark reached to open the door, he felt Mayson lean toward him. He looked at her as she quickly kissed him. Before Clark could respond, Mayson ended the kiss and walked out the door, leaving him a bit bewildered. Mayson's reactions to him made him feel strange. She was interested in him, but knowing how she felt about Superman, a very important part of Clark, made a relationship between them impossible. Not only that, even if he found Mayson attractive, he wasn't interested in her romantically. She wasn't Lois.
Clark's thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Lois…" he said as he let her in.
Not waiting for any formal invitation, Lois opened her satchel and pulled out a picture. "I dug a little deeper and found out something else about Church."
"Come on in," Clark said when she was halfway into the living room.
"I can't stay. Just look."
Lois handed him a picture of Bill Church, Martin Snell and Mayson Drake, arm in arm at a formal banquet.
"Mayson Drake worked under Snell in Church's acquisitions division," she continued.
"Yeah, I know."
"You know?" she asked. "How?"
"Mayson just told me. Well, she told me that Church had been her boss. She didn't mention Snell or what she did for Church."
"Well, what does that tell you?"
Just then, Lois's beeper went off. "It's Uncle Mike. He's in trouble. I've got to go."
As soon as Lois left, Clark spun into his suit and flew over to the south side.
The next morning, Clark leaned back in his chair looking at his computer. He stared at the screen which displayed the article about the shooting of Della and Paul Drake, their son, Tom, and his wife, Janice. He ran a hand through his hair. Mayson was right. He hadn't been there when her parents needed him. He had allowed himself to be intimidated by Lex Luthor who had threatened the citizens of Metropolis. Instead of doing something about it, Clark had taken the cowardly route by hanging up his suit. It was another kind of running away. He had no idea how many people died or were injured because he wasn't around those three days. Up until this time, he hadn't thought about it. Even now, when he appeared at a catastrophe, there were often people whom he couldn't save, survivors who grieved. This time, unlike others, he had a peripheral relationship with the victims who now had names and the survivor had a face, Mayson's face. How could he live with that?
A breath on his neck and a whiff of perfume interrupted his thoughts.
"What are you looking at?"
"An old story. Mayson told me why she dislikes Superman so much."
Lois leaned over him, turning the screen so she could read it easily. After scanning the article, she moved around to face Clark.
"I don't get the connection with Superman."
"Look at the date."
"That's when Superman wasn't around for three days, not long after he came to Metropolis.
"So?" she asked again.
"Mayson's parents might not have been killed. Maybe Superman could have saved them."
"Or maybe Superman was somewhere else. Or maybe they didn't have time to call for help. Or maybe…Or maybe. She can't blame Superman for what might have been, and you definitely can't obsess about it. Superman isn't responsible for criminal behaviour…"
"But…" Clark tried to argue.
"In an ideal world, he should only have to help out with natural disasters and accidents, not have to deal with aberrant human behaviour." She shifted positions so that she was leaning against his desk and facing him. "Look, Clark, there's only so much that Superman can do. It's the idea of Superman, the idea that truth and justice are important. I told you that before. Now stop obsessing. We've got more important work to do." Lois patted Clark on the shoulder on her way back to her desk where she picked up a file.
Clark looked at his screen again. Paul and Della Drake's picture screamed out at him. Even though Lois made sense, it was hard to forgive himself for making such a selfish error because he had allowed himself to be threatened by Lex Luthor.
"I think that this picture…Clark, stop obsessing and pay attention…proves that Mayson is involved with Church and Snell. We have to get more information about Mayson. Clark, she's dirty."
"Show me the proof," he said, following Lois into the conference room. Once again she was jumping to conclusions without having a shred of evidence. Mayson was his friend and he believed that she was innocent.
"We don't have any proof on Snell, but you're willing to go after him," she challenged him, facing off across the conference table.
"That's different. I told you, I have a… a source," Clark said, hesitating because once again he was evading the truth by telling her that Superman was his source.
"I'll tell you what's different; when Snell bats his eyes, you don't get quite so giddy."
"Wait, wait. Are you jealous or something?" he asked, leaning forward on the table.
"Of what? We're friends. We're partners. What you do away from me is… is…"
"Yes?" Clark really wanted to know what Lois was thinking.
"… whatever you do," she said, waving her arms in the air. "I don't care —except when it affects our job."
"How is it affecting my job to say I disagree? To say you have no proof that Church is the head of Intergang and so no proof that just because Mayson worked for Church…she's part of Intergang? We've got to stay on track."
"You're not saying stay on track, you're saying stay away from your girlfriend."
"She's not my girlfriend," Clark pointed out.
"Whatever she is, she's got you finger-wrapped and blindfolded."
"If there's anybody blind here, it's you." Upset by Lois's lack of clarity on the Mayson issue, Clark stormed out of the conference room, grabbed his jacket and headed to the elevators.
He heard Lois ask what that was supposed to mean. He knew damn well what he meant. She was blind to him and how he felt about her. What did she see in his demeanor when he was with Mayson? Did he bring Mayson coffee and donuts in the morning? Did he stare at her whenever she wasn't looking? Did he put up with Mayson's temper tantrums? Did he fly by Mayson's apartment at night to make sure that she was all right?
No. He did all those things for Lois. She was the one who was blind because she was only interested in Clark as a friend. And once he got over this latest tiff, he would return to loving Lois from a distance. He definitely wasn't going to tell her. The last time he had let her know how he felt about her, she'd gone running into Lex Luthor's arms. He wasn't sure what she would do this time. So, he'd continue being her friend and continue to bury his feelings inside. He was getting good at keeping secrets.
Clark leaned back in his chair. Knowing that he and Lois had to prove a connection with Snell, Intergang, and Bill Church, he had shaken off his anger at Lois and returned to work, which had to be their priority. In the end, they hadn't been able to find a connection to Bill Church, but he and Lois, with Mayson's help, had proved that Snell had a major role in bribing police officers and tainting evidence for a trial. In the end, Snell was in custody, and Baby Rage was back in jail awaiting trial.
The tension between Lois and him had eased while they worked on the case. Lois begrudgingly accepted that Mayson wasn't involved with Snell, but she never apologized for her outburst in the conference room, and he never called her on it. Once again, he allowed work to help them gloss over their arguments so that they wouldn't have to deal with the real issues.
Now, Clark shut down his computer. Staring at Paul and Della Drake's picture over and over was not doing any good. Something was niggling at the back of his mind, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He put on his jacket and headed toward the elevators. He needed to get ready for the charity ball Perry had insisted that he attend.
Lois had an amazing time at the charity ball. Dancing with Clark was wonderful. She was glad that they had made up after their little spat. She knew that Clark was her friend, and deep down she knew that, no matter what happened, she wouldn't lose him. When they were dancing, she enjoyed the feel of his arms around her, the way their bodies moved together. It was almost comfortable except for the trace of electricity that passed through her when they touched, when he moved closer to whisper something to her. Just as her eyes kept looking around the dance floor for him, his eyes kept connecting with hers. Even when he was dancing with Mayson, she could still feel that electricity when their eyes met, when he smiled at her from across the room. He wasn't interested in Mayson, she told herself.
She wasn't willing to let go of the evening when she got home. She flipped on her stereo. Listening to strains of "Fly Me to the Moon", she closed her eyes and remembered being in Clark's arms. She began swaying to the music, letting it sweep her across the living room. As she moved she felt a presence in the room. Slowly, she opened her eyes. Standing in front of her was Superman. She looked at him a bit embarrassed being caught in the middle of her daydream of Clark. She felt disloyal, but she wasn't sure to whom the disloyalty was aimed.
"I just dropped in to say thanks for your advice the other night," he said, his eyes taking her in.
"You're welcome…Officer. My uncle keeps wanting me to find out who that cop was so he can bake him a cake."
"Well, tell him I retired from the force, but I'll still be looking out for him… and you, too." He took a step closer to her.
"I know," she said. He always managed to look out for her. He had in the last year saved her from falling out of a plane, into a vat of acid, off a building, out her window…Yes, he was there when her life was in danger, but not when her heart was in danger. They had a strange relationship. Several months ago, when she had tried to see if they had a future, he had brushed her off in a rather brusque and hurtful way. A few days ago, when she had waved to him on the court house steps, he'd barely acknowledged her before he flew off. And now, he was standing there, staring at her as if he couldn't yank his eyes away. She couldn't figure him out, but he was with her now and appeared to be interested. She watched him as he turned to leave. She liked it when he paid attention to her. She didn't want him to go. "Would you… like to dance?" she asked.
"That sounds nice."
His answer surprised her, but she moved closer to him, allowing him to take her in his arms. They danced, gazing at each other, neither sure what to say to the other, letting the music and their closeness wash over them.
"I like this song," he finally said.
"Do you? I've been thinking, I don't know very much about you. I don't know what kind of music you like, what your favourite colour is. I didn't even know you could dance."
"This isn't dancing."
Lois felt lighter than air. As she looked over Superman's shoulder, she realized that they were floating and hovering two feet off the floor. Yes, she thought, this is dancing. She allowed Superman to lead her in this very special kind of dance, feeling comfortable in his arms except for the trace of electricity that flowed through her when they touched.
The music ended too quickly for Lois. She had never had such an intimate moment with Superman before. It surprised her that she had felt the same way, special, tingly twice in one night. But thinking about Superman or Clark in a romantic way was ridiculous, she thought. Superman was this god in tights, not really a part of the earth. He belonged to the heavens.
Clark had found his own clouds—Mayson. He was involved at the moment with Mayson, or at least he was obsessed with Mayson. His mind seemed to be stuck on those days when Mayson's family was killed. That was all that Clark could talk about. Funny, that the groove in which he got locked had more to do with Superman than Clark.
But now with Superman in her apartment, she had the opportunity to ask some questions about where he was when Mayson's parents were killed. She could help her partner out. Superman was walking toward the window.
"Superman, before you go, I…uh…I would like to ask you something," she said.
Superman turned around. He had hoped to leave before he betrayed how wonderful it felt to hold and dance with Lois. Ever since he had learned ballroom dancing with the Nigerian Princess, he had wondered what it would be like to dance with someone in the air. Until he met Lois, he hadn't craved it. Now that he had experienced it, felt how good it was to be so near to Lois, he wanted more. He had to leave before he gave into the desire to kiss her. That would be a mistake. But she was calling him back.
"Of course, go ahead," he said nervously, hoping that she wouldn't ask him something he'd have to lie about. He could deal with his favourite colour or his favourite food.
"When you first came to Metropolis," she began, "you disappeared for several days. Why?"
Superman just stared at Lois.
"Why? Why are you asking?" he countered.
"Clark's been obsessing about something that happened while you were away. I think he needs to understand why you weren't here."
"Oh, I could…uh…talk to Clark about that."
"Well, now that I've asked, I'm curious to know as well. Why did you leave?"
Could he tell her the truth? Would she understand? And would it make any difference to his reactions to Mayson's family's deaths? He stared at her for a few moments. He had prevaricated with her enough. He could at least tell a partial truth here.
"I was around. I just stopped helping for a while."
"You were around, but you stopped helping? I don't understand."
He should have known that Lois would probe deeper, would not let him get away with a half truth.
"I was being threatened."
"Nobody can threaten you; you're Superman."
"Yes, they can. I was told that if I interfered, the people of Metropolis would get hurt. I couldn't let that happen. When the bomb went off in the lobby of the Carlin Building, the explosion could have hurt other people." He stepped closer to her and traced the small scar on her forehead. "Look, you could have been hurt a lot worse than you were. That explosion was directed at me."
"How do you know it was directed at you?"
"When I first arrived in Metropolis, someone set up a series of tests to find out how strong and how fast I was. He also found out my weakness."
"Yes. Two people jumped off tall buildings across town almost at the same time. I saved them both. That showed my speed. Then there was the explosion at the Carlin Building. He found out that I was invulnerable. When he realized that human lives were my weakness, he used it."
"Who is this 'he' you're talking about?" Lois was getting frustrated with Superman's evasions.
"I don't think you want to know."
"Trust me, I want to know," she said curtly.
Clark hesitated for a moment. Luthor was dead, after all. "Lex Luthor."
"Lex Luthor," she repeated, "was testing and threatening you?"
"And you didn't tell me?"
"What could you have done?"
"Find out more about him…Wait a second…You…you…knew that Lex Luthor threatened you, so you must have known that he was into a lot of illegal dealings."
"I had strong suspicions, but nothing concrete. It was all based on circumstantial evidence."
"And you didn't tell me?"
"I didn't have anything for a court of law or for a newspaper to publish."
Lois shook her head, not believing how incredibly dense Superman was being at the moment. "That's not what I mean. You didn't tell *me*." She paused, staring at him. "I was engaged to that man, and you, who I thought was my friend, didn't tell me. You would have let me marry him."
Superman stood with his mouth open. She had backed him into a trap that he never saw coming. How was he ever going to get out of this one?
"I…I…had hoped that you'd find out before the wedding. I…Clark told you his suspicions about Luthor and you didn't believe him." He felt flustered. How could he explain why he hadn't told Lois about his suspicions? For himself, the division between Clark and Superman was not that clear. He had believed that if he told Lois to be wary of Luthor, in whatever guise he wore, she would trust what he said. Clark was becoming her friend. She should have trusted him. Not having told her had angered and frustrated him when he was trapped in Luthor's kryptonite cage. If he hadn't been trapped and weakened, he would have come to save her even if he had to interrupt the wedding. He would not have let her marry him.
"I thought that if you didn't believe Clark then you wouldn't believe me," he said, but Lois still glared at him, letting him know that she expected more. "I had hoped that Clark and the others would unravel Luthor's deeds and let you know. That should have happened before the wedding."
"You delegated the task of warning me to Clark?"
Superman stared at her, open-mouthed.
Lois took a step toward him. "And so, in the end, you…" she jabbed her finger into his chest "…let me walk down the aisle into the arms of a…" she paused looking for the correct word "…psychopath…because you were hoping that I… wouldn't? That's not what friends do."
"Lois, it's not as simple as that."
"It's very simple," she said slowly, enunciating each word as if she were explaining a difficult concept to a child. "Let me explain in very elementary terms: When a friend has information about someone…no, not just anyone, a sociopathic criminal…that friend tells her of his suspicions so she can make a knowledgeable decision. Simple enough for me."
"Lois," he started, but he could see that she was just beginning.
"Instead, I end up making the biggest mistake of my life because, for some reasons that I don't understand and that you for sure aren't making clear, you found it necessary to deliver your messages to me through Clark…And speaking of Clark, why can you tell him your suspicions and not me?"
"No matter what Clark said, you were still running into Luthor's waiting arms. Why would what I say make a difference?"
"But I asked you if there was any hope for us. I told you how I felt about you," she whispered, more to herself than to him.
"Lois, this is so complicated… " he said before the sounds of sirens invaded his hearing.
"Complicated?" she asked as she continued on with her rant unaware of the crisis that was lurking in the streets of Metropolis.
Superman kept signaling that he needed to go, but his hand motions didn't register on her.
"Lois, there's a fire. It sounds pretty bad. I've got to go."
"Convenient, isn't it?" she asked sarcastically as he darted out her window. "You manage to hear a fire at the most opportune times."
Lois walked over to her stereo system and turned it off. She didn't feel like dancing anymore.
The fire burned late into the night. When he arrived, Superman found a number of people trapped on the upper floors. The fire escapes had been long neglected so there were gaps between floors. The stairways were cluttered with garbage, toys and prams. He used the first few minutes rescuing the people from the burning building. Then, while the police officers were evacuating nearby apartments, he worked with the fire fighters to contain the fire that was quickly spreading. By the time he wasn't needed anymore, it was early morning. He went home, showered and headed into the office.
Clark didn't feel like going into work, but he didn't have a choice. He had to write up the story for the paper, and he also wanted to do some research on the owners of the building. It had been so neglected that it was the waiting accident that had finally happened.
On the other hand, he didn't want to go into work because he knew that Lois was incensed. Well, not with him, but with Superman, and he wasn't sure how he was going to react to that. In some ways, she had every right to be furious. Superman knew the kind of person Luthor was, and he knew that Lois would respect what he had to say. At least she would have done some investigating into Luthor's past and his business dealings before she made any kind of commitment to him. Instead, he had behaved childishly. Had he wanted Lois to suffer? Yes, the rogue side of him had to admit. He had let his own exasperation with Lois's attitude to Clark's confession of love dictate his behaviour. Basically, he had let her find out for herself. Learn from experience. But experience might have happened too late and Lois would have been married to Luthor. He knew that Lois was right. Friends didn't do that to each other.
But, as Clark, he had warned her against Luthor several times. Granted, he never told her what he suspected. He just cautioned her, hoping that her instincts would make her question Luthor's motives. But instead of listening to him, she had only taken his words of warning as signs of his jealousy. Yes, he was jealous, but he also was being honest with her. How could she have been so blind to what was staring her directly in her face? She didn't have to love him, but she could have trusted him to tell her the truth.
So, who was right here? He wanted to believe that he was, but he wasn't sure.
"Whatcha working on, Clark?" Lois asked as she came up to his desk. This time it was Lois who was holding two mugs of coffee in her hands.
"Just writing up the fire on Bayside Avenue."
"I hear it was a pretty bad one."
"Yeah, it was. Luckily, no one got hurt." He took the coffee that she handed him and sipped it. It was perfect-just the right amount of cream and sugar. Exactly what he needed at that moment.
"What started it?" she asked.
"Neglect. Mismanagement. The place was really a mess. People lived there, but the management company ignored basic safety features."
"What do you mean?"
"For example, they had fire alarms in the hall, but the batteries were dead."
"Do you think the management company did it for the insurance?"
"That's what I'm looking into it."
"Who owned the building?"
"So far all I have is that it was run by Abbott Management, located in an office building a few blocks from the apartment."
"Any other information on this Abbott Management."
"Not yet," Clark said. "I've got Jimmy digging deeper."
"What else have you got?"
"I've written up the story with quotes from the fire chief and Superman. Right now, it looks like a straight news story, but I 'd like to do more with it. How can faceless companies manage these buildings while ignoring and neglecting the safety of the people living there? One hundred and forty-eight people lived in that building. Any one of them could have been killed because the fire escape was broken. Railings were loose on the balconies." Clark got up and began pacing around his desk. "I don't get it. What is this Abbott Management getting paid for? Don't they have any sense of responsibility?"
"You're really passionate about this one, aren't you?"
Clark just shrugged, running his hands through his hair. "When I got to the site, after the fire was put out, I watched the people who lived in that building. One teen-aged girl was sitting on the sidewalk across from the apartment. She was stroking her dog and crying. I heard her ask her mother, 'Where do we go now?' That same scene repeated itself over and over again." Clark stopped talking, remembering what he saw at the fire. Finally, he turned to Lois and said, "I think I could do something about this, maybe help make some changes."
"So, go into Perry and ask him if you can run a series about this. I'll back you up."
"Thanks," he said, appreciating her ability to understand what was important to him.
Before they were able to go into speak to Perry, Clark fielded a phone call. He jotted down notes as he listened. Lois stared at him, her curiosity piqued.
"That was my contact at the fire department," he said in answer to Lois's gaze. "Apparently his men found two bodies in what they assume is the basement of the apartment. The coroner's got the bodies now. I'm going over as soon as I send this article to Perry. Wanna come?" He surprised himself when he asked Lois that question considering that he was wary about the argument she had with Superman the previous night, but it seemed so natural to ask.
In Lois's Jeep, an hour and a half later, Clark sat recapping what they had learned.
"There are no people who were living in the apartment building unaccounted for. So who do those two bodies belong to?
"Vagrants? Squatters?" Lois offered.
"Don't be silly, Clark. Vagrants or squatters make more sense to me."
"They were two men with bullets in them. The coroner hasn't done a complete autopsy yet, but she felt that they 'd been shot before the fire. So why couldn't it be some gangland killing?"
"Because, Clark, you can't go looking for answers in illogical places."
"You're just saying that because a criminal connection is my idea, not yours."
"But there is no evidence."
"So, let's go find some."
"Where?" she challenged him.
"I don't know yet." Clark sat back in the car ."But we'll find something, I'm sure."
They drove the next few blocks in what was, for Clark, an uncomfortable silence. Instead of focussing on their investigation, he was more curious to know what was on Lois's mind. Looking over at her, he saw that she was preoccupied with more than her driving. Normally, he would ask her what she was thinking about, and normally she would let him know. This time, he had a suspicion that she was thinking about Superman. He didn't want to deal with the discussion.
"Superman came over last night after the Charity Ball," Lois said as she kept her eyes on the road ahead of her. "He's a jerk."
Clark sat up. He had known she wanted to talk about last night, but he wasn't ready to deal with his other personality, especially when he knew that he was in the wrong, wasn't he?
"Aren't you going to ask why?"
"Why?" he asked flatly.
"I'm glad you asked. I wanted to know why he didn't warn me before I accepted Lex's proposal. Did you know that Superman didn't trust him because Lex had tested Superman soon after he got to Metropolis?"
"Why didn't he tell me?"
"Superman. Why hadn't he warned me about the kind of monster Lex was? He made me go through the engagement, the wedding, Lex's awful death, and all the personal issues afterwards. I thought Superman was my friend."
"I told you," Clark said in a hushed voice, "You didn't believe me."
"That was you, Clark. You didn't tell me that Lex was a criminal. You just told me to watch out for him; he wasn't what he seemed to be."
"And you didn't believe me."
"You didn't offer me any evidence."
"So why would you believe Superman?"
"Because Superman didn't have a vested interest."
"And I did?"
"Yes, you did. You said that you loved me, remember, that day in the park…I…I thought you were jealous."
"I didn't want you to get hurt. And I warned you before that day in the park."
"That's not the point. Superman didn't think it was important enough to tell me."
"He was helping us dig up the dirt on Luthor," Clark said, knowing that it wasn't exactly the truth.
"I don't think I can ever forgive him for this, Clark."
Clark watched Lois lift her hand from the steering wheel to wipe away a single tear running down her cheek. He'd done it again; he'd hurt Lois. How did he manage to trip over himself so often? So now Superman was in the doghouse, and Clark was Lois's friend. But that wasn't right either.
In a sense, he was glad that Superman had fallen a notch or two in Lois's estimation. He was no longer a perfect man. In most cases, there were no consequences in his having a dual identity. He was fairly safe helping people, working with Henderson, even dealing with Jimmy and Perry. His only stumbling block was Lois. And that block was there because she didn't know the truth. But now wasn't the right time to tell her. As she said, she could never forgive Superman. How did he manage to get himself into these binds?
Lois and Clark remained lost in their own thoughts the rest of the way back to the Planet. When they walked into the newsroom, Jimmy, who was grinning from ear to ear, accosted them with the information that they had asked for.
"Okay, CK, this is what I found out. Abbott Management is a company run by two brothers, Stanley and Alvin Rossi. They've had a number of businesses over the years that they've basically run into the ground. At this time, they are managing quite a number of properties owned by Bennett Realty Limited which has land and buildings all over the city parceled out to various management companies. They don't have any hands-on connections to the buildings at all. Interestingly, over the last six months, four of Abbott's buildings have burned down or, in one case, a wall actually collapsed."
"I remember that one," Clark muttered. Jimmy and Lois looked at him questioningly. "I passed it when I was out one day."
"Okay? Anyway, all the properties are managed by Abbott. And just in case you're wondering if Abbott is mismanaging all its holdings, they're not. They have several expensive, well-cared for condo buildings in the city. They're managing some new ones in your neck of the woods, CK."
"Strange," mused Lois. "Why would they take care of some buildings and let others deteriorate and be destroyed?"
"Where are the four buildings that have been destroyed located, Jimmy?" Clark asked.
Jimmy called up a map of the city on his computer and pointed out the areas. "I've looked here already, CK, but I can't see any connection to the sites."
"Neither can I," Clark said, staring at the computer screen in front of him.
"Where do you want me to look now?" Jimmy asked.
"Keep looking at what else you can find about Abbott and Bennett, Jimmy," Lois said, giving him an encouraging pat on the shoulders. "You've really got a knack for digging up information on the computer."
Jimmy grinned like a child who had been given a gold star by his favourite teacher. "Thanks, Lois," he beamed.
Clark moved over to his desk and sifted through the paperwork he'd accumulated on this story so far. "I thought computers would cut down on the amount of paper that we use, but it hasn't. I think we create even more," he said to no one in particular.
"Probably." Lois walked over to her desk ready to turn her mind to another task when an idea struck her.
"Clark," she said, "I'm going over to the building and check it out. Whaddya say? Do you wanna come along, partner?"
"Lois, it's dangerous going through a burnt building. You don't know what's stable and what's not."
"Well, I'm going. You can come along or not."
"Like that?" asked Clark looking down at Lois's crisp burgundy business suit and her high-heeled pumps. Lois followed Clark's gaze and understood his question.
"No, I've got some grubby clothes in my locker. I'm going to change and then I'll go." She looked Clark up and down before she added, "I don't think that suit will survive this outing, either."
It didn't take the reporters long. Dressed in more appropriate clothing, they drove to the site of the fire.
Police tape, cautioning residents of the danger, surrounded the structure. Lois ignored the tape and pushed her way to the entrance of the building. The front door was off its hinges and much of the shattered glass lay surrounding the entrance. Lois, without checking what was in front of her, quickly moved through the opening and went towards what used to be the stairwell.
"Be careful, Lois. That could be dangerous."
"I know that Clark, but I want to go down to the basement and look around, and the elevator isn't working."
"Lane!" yelled Fire Inspector Jeremy Lyons. "Where do you think you're going?"
"To the basement, of course."
"You can't go down there. This is an investigation and I can't have you tampering with the evidence."
"Give me a break, Jeremy. When have I ever tampered with the evidence? As a matter of fact…" She bulldozed through any answer that Lyons could give her. "…how many times has my so- called tampering led to information for you to work with." And once again before Lyons could interject she plowed on, "And I share with you, but do you always share with me?"
Lyons looked helplessly at Clark. "Help me out here, Kent."
"You know she's right. Let her look around. I'll keep an eye on her."
"What do you mean by that, Kent?" Lois asked, not happy with what her partner was implying.
"I mean that if you seem to be in some kind of danger, I'll call Jeremy for help. That's all."
"All right. I can accept that."
"The stairs are fairly safe," said Lyons, once again giving up the battle with Lois. If he were twenty-five years younger and single, he would definitely go after Lane. She was quite a woman. "Here, you'll need a powerful flashlight."
Clark took the flashlight from Lyons and followed Lois, who had already made a head start, down the stairs. It was dark. The stairs and the walls were covered with wet, slimy soot. Lois's running-shoe-clad foot lightly slipped, but Clark caught her elbow and prevented any fall.
"Careful, Lois," he whispered.
"Why are you whispering?" she asked, "Jeremy knows we're here."
Clark kept his hand on Lois's elbow as they continued down the stairs. At the foot of the stairs, they were facing the laundry room with the charcoaled washers and dryers. In the centre of the floor, police tape marked where the first of the two bodies was found. Clark shone the light on the floor outlining the path that they should follow, avoiding pot holes and places where plaster and wood had fallen in.
"The body was buried under the rubble. Looks like a lot of stuff fell through the ceiling," Clark remarked when he shone the light up above their heads. "But the coroner said that most likely the men were dead before the smoke could asphyxiate them."
As Clark spoke, Lois kept walking around looking closely at the floor beneath her feet.
"Clark, shine the flashlight over here for a minute."
Clark did as he was told, shining the light back at the entranceway. Lois crouched and began to scrape away some of the debris. She picked up a round, shiny object.
"Look at this."
"This. It looks like a coin…no…it's a button that looks like a coin…like a quarter. See here's the post on the back."
"It could be a clue."
"A button in a laundry room? I don't think so."
"Don't be in such a hurry, Clark. Think about it. This is an expensive button that would be on a coat or a suit. Most coats and suits are not washed; they're dry cleaned, so…"
"Whoever lost the button was wearing the coat or suit could have lost it while either putting in or taking clothes out of the washing machine."
"I don't do laundry in good clothes, do you?"
"Sometimes, if I'm in a hurry."
"That's not the point and you know it. This is probably a clue, Clark. We can't ignore it," Lois said as she slipped the button into her pocket.
"You can't put that button in your pocket."
"Because if you're right, then it's evidence, and you know that you have to give it to Jeremy."
"It's just a button, Clark."
"Lo-is," he emphasized each syllable as a parent would to a child who knows she's misbehaved. "Give me your notebook."
Lois, with a big smile plastered on her face, rifled through her purse until she pulled out her notebook and a pen. She handed them to Clark, who opened the book to a clean page and sketched the button on it and then put the button under the page to make a tracing of it.
Lois looked over his shoulder, impressed by the accuracy with which he had captured the button. "Okay, I'll give it to Jeremy, but only because you admitted that I'm right and that it is probably a clue," she said smugly.
They kept walking around the room looking at the ground for any other clues that they could find. Clark pointed the flashlight out into the hallway. Together they followed the light. They maneuvered around the debris that was in their path, coming to the tenants' storage space where the second body was found. Their eyes swept the area looking for more clues, but there was nothing that stood out. Clark swung the flashlight up to the ceiling and peered into another level.
"I'm going up to the second floor above the laundry room," said Lois.
"Cla-ark," she mimicked, "What?"
"It's dangerous up there."
"You could get hurt. I don't want you taking any unnecessary risks."
"Don't get macho on me, Kent. You know what Perry says. You can't get to know Elvis without getting to know the Colonel, and I'm not going to get this next story without taking any risks."
"Wait for me," he answered, without enthusiasm, and followed her.
With so very little natural light getting into the building, it was harder to see on the second floor. Clark kept close behind Lois to make sure she didn't slip or fall on the sloppy soot that was underfoot. He was surprised that Jeremy Lyons had allowed them to wander freely through the burnt-out building. It was dangerous. On the other hand, it was difficult to stop Lois if she had her mind set on exploring the premises. And, she was right; she did manage to find evidence that others couldn't find. She had an unexplainable sixth sense for these kinds of things. She could have been a detective instead of a journalist.
Clark followed her into an apartment that appeared to be directly on top of the laundry room.
"Careful, Lois. Part of the floor has already fallen in."
"I know. I'm careful." She walked away from Clark toward the edge of the hole in the floor and kneeled, peering into the laundry room below. "I just want to look at what 's below this…"
Within a fraction of a second, a piece of floor had broken off and Lois, who had been peering over the hole, was falling. Without stopping to think, Clark rushed over, grabbing her by the wrists. Her body pulled back as if she had come to the end of a bungee rope. Her scream pounded in his ears.
"I've got you, Lois. Don't squirm."
His next problem was to lift her up, back onto the second floor, without her body scraping the ragged edges of the floor. She was facing away from him, but he worried that she might realize that he had abilities beyond that of a normal man. And then, within a fraction of a second, he knew that he would do anything to ensure that Lois did not get hurt, even if it meant risking his secret.
He levitated, and as he moved higher, Lois's body began to rise up above the floor line. Slowly, he moved his hands down her arms until he grasped her under her arms. He lowered himself and stepped back from the edge to haul her towards him, finally able to set her on her feet, but just as he did that, her legs gave way beneath her. Clark caught her in his arms and held onto her.
Lois began to shiver. In her mind, she was still falling face first into the debris below. Her heart was thumping in her chest, but she was trying to tell herself that she was safe now, being held in Clark's strong arms. She hadn't realized how much power he had in his arms. Lifting her up could not have been easy. Yet he did it, so easily, as if she was nothing more than a feather. Thank goodness for his quick reflexes. She could have been lying two floors below in the mucky soot. Instead, she was here in Clark's arms.
"Clark," she muttered over and over.
"It's okay, Lois. You're okay." He wrapped his arms around her, stroking her back and neck.
They stood there for several minutes, each clutching onto the other.
"What's going on here?" Jeremy Lyon's voice boomed.
Lois jumped at the intrusion. She didn't want to leave the safety of Clark's arms just yet.
"Nothing. I had a…fright…yes, a fright…it's dark," Lois explained. "Come on, Clark." Lois stepped back from the comfort of his arms. "Let's get out of here."
Lois took Clark's hand and led him back to the stairs where Lyons, who was worried about Lois, was climbing the stairs to meet them. He guided them back to the main floor, out of the building. When Clark urged Lois with his eyes, she reluctantly handed Lyons the button, explaining her theory about the relevance of the button. Lyons took it from her and placed it in an evidence bag. There was nothing left for the reporters to do but go back to the newsroom to write up the story.
The following day, Lois, Clark and Jimmy sat in the lunch room, coffee and sandwiches in front of them, discussing the phone call they had received from Jeremy Lyons earlier that day.
"The two men shot in the basement were Stanley and Alvin Rossi, the managers of the building," Lois said. "Why would someone want to kill them?" She stared at Clark.
"I don't have the answer," he replied. "All we can do is make some guesses and see where they lead us."
Lois looked over at Clark's lunch. "Do you want that pickle?" she asked.
"No, take it." He took a bite of his turkey sandwich. "We could guess that the tenants would have liked to see them dead since they did such a lousy job managing the building…"
"But they wouldn't do it at the expense of their own homes," Lois said as she nibbled on the dill pickle.
"Unless the fire was unrelated."
"But it wasn't, according to the fire investigator," added Jimmy.
"I never did understand how they could figure out where a fire starts," Lois remarked.
"Well…" Clark began.
"Don't bother," she said as she reached for his coleslaw. "Do you mind?"
"Go ahead." He slid the container of coleslaw across the table to her.
"It could have been a drug deal gone bad," Jimmy suggested munching on his apple.
"Or they knew something that someone else didn't want known." Lois placed a forkful of coleslaw in her mouth. "Mmm, Moe's makes the best coleslaw."
"I don't get it, Clark," said Jimmy.
"Why you order a pickle and coleslaw when Lois always takes it before you can eat it?"
Clark looked at Lois enjoying the coleslaw. "It comes with the sandwich."
"No, it doesn't," Jimmy corrected.
"Oh!" he said, watching Lois finish the remains of the coleslaw. He just shrugged his shoulders and continued with the earlier discussion. "What would the Rossis have known to get them killed?"
"I think that's what we need to learn," said Lois. "I think we need to dig into their business dealings. I'm sure we'll find something shady there."
"We also need to talk to some of the tenants. They may have heard or seen something," Clark suggested.
"Looks like we have our afternoon cut out for us, partner."
As Lois and Clark got up to leave the lunch room, Jimmy glanced at the sports section of the newspaper.
"That's really cool that you managed to snag tickets to tonight's football game."
"Um-I didn't get them. Someone else got them and invited me," said Clark watching Lois hovering at the lunch room door. He wished that she would move toward her desk.
"Yeah? Boy, I'd like to have a friend like that. Who is he?"
"Wow! It's a date. That's really cool, CK."
Clark watched as Lois moved to her desk with greater purpose. Was she being huffy, he wondered.
"Come on, Jimmy. We've got work to do."
Clark went to his own work station, wishing that Jimmy would stop muttering about how lucky he was going to the game. He could see Lois's lips form into two thin as toothpicks lines. He sat down at his desk and decided that business was the easiest way to distract her from his evening with Mayson. He suggested that they spend the next part of the afternoon on the phone trying to contact the tenants of the burnt building while Jimmy did some more in-depth research on Abbott Management and the Rossi brothers.
Lois kept her thoughts to herself except for work related issues. Hearing that Clark was going out with Mayson bothered her more than she expected, but then she thought that there was no reason for him not to date the pushy assistant district attorney. As far as she knew, Clark hadn't signed up for the priesthood, and it was more than obvious that Mayson had very strong feelings for him. She, on the other hand, knew that Clark was her friend and that was all she expected from him.
She thought about the day in Centennial Park when he told her that he loved her, and then the day of her almost wedding to Lex when she could only think of Clark. She was confused at that time, and probably wasn't ready to marry Lex. That was why she had thought about Clark. But when he retracted his admission of love, she too realized that his friendship was what she valued. That was all. So why was she so upset over a stupid football game? She didn't even understand the game.
She managed to get hold of the Juarez family who, unlike other residents of the building, left the make-shift shelter at the local church and moved in with Mrs. Juarez's sister. Lois took Clark along with her when she went to the apartment building six blocks from the Juarez former home. Lois and Clark sat down in the overcrowded living room with Carlos and Inez Juarez while their two younger children played with their three cousins. Their fourteen year old daughter sat in the kitchen listening to her CD player, doing her homework.
Lois had hoped for more than a touchy-feely story about a hard- working family who were now homeless and possessionless, but that seemed like what she was hearing. She'd let Clark write up the initial draft.
Inez and Carlos explained that they had called Stan or Al about the condition of the building and their specific apartment many times over the last two years, after the brothers had taken over the management of the building. Neither man was sympathetic to the needs of the tenants, or the building, and both tried to slough the callers off. Only when they were threatened with phone calls to city authorities did they adjust the heat or the water, everyday necessities, but when it came time to making repairs, they fabricated excuses such as they had called a company to look after the fire escapes, but they wouldn't be available for a few weeks which turned into months and the months turned into years. Once, the residents had gotten together collecting money for the repairs themselves. When they tried to get the money back from the Rossis, the tenants were stalled. Although they never got their money back, they felt better having the building safer. It didn't take long for the families who were financially able to start moving out and a more transient type of occupant began moving in. The Juarez's themselves had placed a deposit for a new apartment that wouldn't be available for another two months.
According to Inez, Al was a nasty piece of work. He was a stocky man, about five feet eight inches. His long, dark, bedraggled hair and his straggly goatee, which was surrounded by stubble, made him appear as if he had just walked out of the jungle. Whenever he came to collect the rent, he stood at the door demanding the money especially when a tenant would try to ask for some work to be done. He'd repeat, waving his greasy hand in the direction of the speaker, "Just give me the money. The money. Money. Money. I've got work to do." Rather than deal with him, most of the tenants ignored him, walking in the other direction when he approached, hoping his brother would come and collect the rent.
His brother, Stan, was not as obnoxious. He was the same height as Al, but he was thinner and dressed fairly well. He politely told the tenants that he'd look into the problem and then he'd ignore their requests. At least he wasn't rude or repulsive.
Inez had seen Al a few weeks prior to the fire when he had come to collect the rent, but she hadn't seen either of the brothers the night of the fire. She didn't think that they would have been responsible for setting the fire because, since they weren't the owners, they probably didn't have insurance. And given the fact that they did very little work for their money, she doubted they would have gained anything by burning down the building. She didn't know anything about any insurance policies, but she guessed that the owners of the building, Bennett Realty, would have held some kind of policy, but most of the other tenants had their own personal home insurance. Carlos bemoaned the fact that their policy would not come close to covering what they lost. Inez agreed, telling the reporters about the family pictures and some family mementos that didn't mean anything to anyone else but them. She had kept her mother's wedding dress, which she had worn at her own wedding, for her daughter, Carla. It was at that point that Inez broke down crying.
Before they left, Lois asked the children if they had seen anything suspicious or different on the day of the fire. The younger two boys shook their heads, each having been at a friend's house. Fourteen-year-old Carla unplugged from her CD player for a moment, looked up at the two reporters and said that she hadn't seen anything.
As Lois and Clark left the apartment building, Lois felt that at least they had a sense of who Stan and Al Rossi were, even though, she realized that they still had a long way to go with the investigation. On the street, Clark, looking at his watch, informed her that he had to get ready for the game or he'd miss the opening kick off. She offered to drive him home, but he chose to walk.
She opened the door of her Cherokee, ready to get in, when she saw Carla hovering around the entrance of the building. Sensing that the girl wanted to talk to her, Lois stepped out of the SUV and walked toward Carla.
"Hi again," Lois said.
"Hi," Carla answered, looking around. "That's a nice car you've got."
Carla walked across the street to the Cherokee and walked around the vehicle. "Nice colour."
"Thanks." Lois waited.
"What's it like being a reporter?"
"Interesting. I meet different people, solve mysteries, write about what's happening in the city."
"Do a lot of people tell you things but ask you not to write about them?" Carla asked avoiding Lois's intense stare. Instead, she fidgeted with the earphones of her CD player.
"Yes," Lois said, more interested now that she realized that this girl had something to tell her. She didn't want to scare her off. "It's called 'off-the-record' which means that I can use it to help me solve the problem or give me background information, but I can't write about it directly or about who told me."
"Have you ever told someone that their talk is off-the-record and then printed it?"
"No. Never. If I did, and it got out, no one would trust me enough to tell me anything. For me to be successful, people have to trust me."
"Are you successful?"
"Yes." Lois smiled, ready to rhyme off her investigative triumphs. "I think I'm very successful. I've won a few awards for my stories." She paused to look at the girl who had stopped squirming. "You saw something yesterday, didn't you?"
"Yeah, but my dad would kill me and banish me to my room forever if he found out."
"Why?" Lois began walking the girl down the street where there were some tables in front of a donut shop.
"You've got to promise on your life not to tell anyone about this."
"I promise." Lois just hoped that the girl would believe her.
Before Carla could begin telling Lois what she knew, a waitress came out and took their orders for a cup of coffee, a juice and two donuts. While they were waiting, Lois found out that Carla was a ninth grader at the local high school, and an A student. When the waitress left after serving them their snack, Lois began her questioning.
"Why are you worried about anyone knowing what happened two days ago?"
"I was across the road from the apartment in the alleyway leading to the back of the building. I was meeting my…boyfriend…please, Miss Lane, you can't tell my parents about him. They'd kill him and me."
"He's nineteen. He's not in school anymore. I was supposed to be with my brothers, but I told them I was just going out to get some notes from a friend from school…but I was really meeting Kevin. They don't think I should be dating and they would kill me."
"So you've said. He is a little too old for you…"
"But he loves me and I love him, and you're not my mother."
"You're right, I'm not your mother, but I have a feeling that sometimes mothers can be on the right track."
Carla grimaced. Lois realized that a lecture on her part would not get her the information she needed. Surprised at this new nurturing tendency, she let Carla continue.
"Kevin and I were standing in the alley across the road…in the dark where no one could see us. We were talking and…stuff…when I heard someone speaking loudly. We moved further into the shadows and then looked out to see who was there. We wanted to make sure that it was no one who would tell my parents. In front of my apartment building, I saw Stan and Al Rossi, I knew them because sometimes I had to give them the rent money. They were with two men I'd never seen before. One was really big; the other was tall and really skinny. They kept pushing Stan and Al around.
"I heard one of them say something like you've f…um, you know the 'f'' word, up one too many times. Then Stan said that they wouldn't make the same mistake again and that they hadn't told anyone."
"What?" Lois asked, hoping to hear what they hadn't told anyone.
"What? Oh! I don't know. No one ever said because then these guys pushed Stan and Al into the entrance of the building and that was the last I saw of them."
"Then what did you do?"
"Well…uh…Kevin and me, we went back to the driveway where his car was parked and well…we…uh…you know."
Lois was tempted to advise Carla on male/female relationships when she thought better of it. Who was she to dole out advice? And why should Carla listen to her. She decided to continue with her own questions. "Carla, let's get back to the men. What did they look like?"
"One of the men was tall and heavy. A white guy. Taller than Stan. He was bald."
"What was he wearing?"
"He was wearing a short jacket; it looked like it was leather or something."
"What about the other guy?" Lois asked.
"He was a tall, skinny guy wearing a trenchcoat. It was a light colour, like tan or beige. A little darker than beige." Carla was silent for a moment, sipping at her juice. "You know what?"
"Both of them were wearing gloves."
"No fingerprints. Doesn't surprise me," Lois mumbled. "You're doing a fantastic job remembering what happened. Can you think of anything else?"
"Replay what you saw one more time concentrating on the details. Maybe something will turn up."
Carla did as she was told, but she repeated the same story to Lois. At the end of the retelling, Lois and Carla headed back to the Cherokee. Lois thanked Carla, promising her that she would not name her as her source. She also gave the girl her card and told her to call her or Clark Kent if she remembered anything else.
Lois looked at her watch. Since it was getting late, she decided she would go directly home and write up her notes. In the Jeep, she pulled out her cell phone to tell Clark what she had learned. Remembering that he had a date with Mayson, she decided to wash her windows instead.
"I'm surprised that you're so interested in football," Clark said to Mayson in the stands at Metropolis stadium.
"Not really surprising," Mayson said, taking a sip of the hot chocolate Clark had bought for her. "I dated a tight end when I was in college so I spent a lot of time on the football field waiting for him to finish practice or watching him play. I learned about football, and I actually got to like the game."
"I used to play football in school. I wasn't bad."
"No. Academic scholarship. I gave up football in college because I had to keep my grades up and work part-time." That was the excuse he told people. He really didn't have to work too hard to keep up his grades, but he felt that his natural abilities made playing competitive football unfair. Having to work part-time was true because he didn't want to burden his parents financially.
"I had an academic scholarship, too."
"I played basketball and softball, but once I got into college, other than for fun, I didn't play. I knew I had to work hard if I wanted to be a lawyer. I believed that I could make a difference. I believed in justice." She thought about what she had said. "Humpf. I wasn't as cynical back then as I am now."
"Something happens to our ideals when they confront real life. I guess the important thing is to look at life realistically, but maintain our own personal ideals, making sure that we, as individuals at least, live up to them. We can't control other people, only ourselves. So we have to lead our lives as if we were setting an example for others."
"Easier for you to say, working at a newspaper. In the DA's office, I deal with the scum of the earth who have the money to be represented by smart lawyers who can get them off. For me, everyday is an uphill battle."
"So why do you do it?"
"Because." She took another sip of the hot drink mulling over Clark's question. "In the end, I still believe in justice, and I believe that our legal system, even with its problems, basically works. If one person is treated justly, then I know that I've done a good job, whether I've won or lost the court battle." She paused looking out at the field and groaned. "I don't know why Kelly calls that play. Every time he does, the ball slips through Anderson's fingers as if he's greased his hands."
Clark laughed. She loved to hear his laugh; it was so wholesome. "What?"
"You really do know this game," he said, suddenly realizing how attractive he found this woman. Not only was she beautiful, but she cared about justice the way he did. And then, like the cherry on the sundae, she enjoyed football!
"Of course I do," she responded.
They watched the players on the field line up at the thirty- yard line. "You know," Mayson continued as if she hadn't interrupted the conversation, "I don't think that I would like to do anything else for a living. I enjoy most aspects of criminal law much more than civil and corporate law."
He saw her shiver. On impulse, and without exactly thinking it through, Clark put his arm around her, bringing her closer to him. "You are passionate about your career," he said looking into her eyes.
"Yes, I am." She drew her face nearer to his. "Very passionate," she whispered.
"I find that very attractive," Clark responded, leaning closer.
Mayson gasped as he placed his lips on hers. They were so soft and he was so sweet tasting. The roaring of the crowd ended the moment. She grudgingly turned away from Clark who was now looking at the field and cheering on the Tigers. Milohvic had intercepted the ball at the Tiger ten yard line. They watched as Milohvic ran until Bloomsbury tackled him at the forty-yard line.
Lois stared at the windows. Managing to stand on the ledge and using a long-handled squeegee, she had cleaned the summer grime off her windows. The world looked clearer to her now. As she had worked, she felt the air get colder. Winter was approaching much faster than she expected.
Once the windows were clean, she went inside to shower. The warm water felt good against her skin. Afterwards, smelling of her favourite peach bodywash, she put on her flannel nighty, made herself a cup of hot chocolate and went to check out the news. Satisfied that nothing momentous had occurred in the world in the last few hours, she began flipping channels. 'When Harry Met Sally' was on but just going to a commercial. There was another re-run of 'The Brady Bunch' and then she caught the tail-end of Rick Rogers, sports commentator for LNN, saying that on a night like this Metropolis really needed a domed stadium. His colleague, Jim Halston, agreed as the camera zoomed in on the fans sitting in the stands cuddled up in warm blankets.
Lois gasped. There, in the stands, huddled under a blanket were…Clark and Mayson. She'd recognize Clark anywhere. Mayson was leaning in to kiss him, that pushy hussy.
"I don't know, Rick. It looks like some guys know how to take advantage of the cold weather," Halston commented.
Snapping off the TV, Lois stomped to her laptop and got back to work.
After the game, even though the weather had turned colder, Mayson suggested that they take a walk to a cafe near her apartment. They spent a long time sitting at a quiet table at the back drinking coffee, replaying the highlights of the game, and just talking. Once they had warmed up, they felt prepared to walk to Mayson's apartment. They continued talking about their jobs, about the way the media shaped the public's opinion, how the justice system helped make the world a better place. It was at that time, while Clark held her hand, that he offered that Superman also tried to make the world a better place.
"Superman flew in and he offered us hope," she said calmly, "that he would save the day whether it was a natural disaster or a man-made one. Then, all of a sudden, he was gone, and when he left, the hope that he represented left with him. He said that he had come to help, to fight for truth and justice, but once he came back, we realized that we couldn't depend on him. He promised things that were beyond his capabilities."
"But Superman is only one man. He can only be in one place at a time, and as a result, there will always be people who won't be helped."
"You're missing the point, Clark. Once we know that Superman isn't dependable, then he can't be the tower of virtue that he pretends to be. We have to be realistic and take him down from the pedestal on which we've placed him." Mayson had put her cold hands into Clark's, who rubbed them with his own. It didn't surprise him that he wasn't tempted to use his heat vision to warm them up.
"Let's not talk about Superman," Mayson suggested. "He's not my favourite topic of conversation while I'm out on a date."
Clark felt comfortable with that because he found that, on this one topic, Mayson was myopic. And if she felt so much antipathy toward his other self, he wasn't sure that he could or even wanted to change her mind. She had left the logic that she normally showed behind, using emotion instead to govern her ideas.
"I read the newspaper clippings about your family," he said instead. "I hope you don't mind."
"No." Mayson said. "There isn't too much in the paper because it was an open and shut case."
"Were you close to your parents?" he asked.
"Yes, as close as parents and kids get. When I was a little girl, I doted on my father. I thought he was the most wonderful person. He used to take me to work and show off his bright-eyed daughter to his associates at LexComm where he worked as a computer engineer. He'd make up all these programs for me to play with, and his co-workers used to try to trick me with computerized chess and scrabble games. When I got older, a teenager, I thought that my father wasn't as perfect as I thought. He had faults, made some bad decisions. You know the regular things. Sometimes I felt that he wouldn't let me live my own life. But, I loved him a lot."
Clark looked over at Mayson. She talked freely about her parents as if she had been longing to do so for quite a while but didn't have anyone to listen.
"Tell me about your mother."
"She was great. I loved my mom a lot, especially when I got past those difficult teen years. She worked as an accountant for a large law firm. I resented that when I was younger because I was a latch-key kid, but I later realized that being at home with only Tom made me more independent, made me the person I am now. Before I hadn't been assertive enough, I had let them make decisions. When I went away to college, I realized that my father and mother were okay. The problem was mine. I had been a strong-willed, rebellious teenager making their lives more difficult. After I came home, we found a comfortable middle road to live on."
"They must have been proud of you."
"Yes, they were." She smiled. "It was nice that they had told me many times before they were killed that they were proud of me and Tom." Mayson walked in silence for a few minutes. The traffic rushed past them; the occasional horn broke the tranquility. "I miss them," she whispered more to herself than to Clark.
The wind picked up, blowing some leaves and some paper in the air. Clark put his arm around Mayson and drew her closer to him. "It's getting colder. Let me take you home."
At her door, Mayson invited Clark for coffee. He apologized that it was getting late and he had an early start the next morning.
"I guess I spent the whole evening jabbering at you."
"I enjoyed tonight, Mayson. The Tigers won the football game, the company was witty and interesting, and beautiful, and you weren't jabbering." He watched Mayson smile and blush. She had a beautiful smile. She moved nearer, put her hands on his shoulders and leaned in for a kiss.
"Are you sure you don't want to come in?" she asked breathlessly when they had broken the kiss.
"Not tonight, Mayson. I really have to go." He squeezed her hand and slowly walked away from her apartment door. "Good- night, Mayson."
At home, getting ready for bed, Clark wanted to kick himself. Why was he leading Mayson on? What was the point? But when he had kissed her, twice, he was surprised that he had liked it. Although, he admitted to himself, it was not like kissing Lois. It wasn't even like holding Lois. He remembered holding after she had fallen in the Bayside apartment. He could still feel her arms clutching him, her hair under his chin, her heart beat slowing down as she became calmer. But Lois had made it very clear to him, over and over again, that she was happy being his best friend. She was not the only woman in the world. At least, Mayson wanted to be with him romantically. He didn't feel as if he were foisting himself on her or waiting on the sidelines like a panting puppy. Yes, going out with Mayson had been very pleasant…as long as she didn't know that he was Superman.
He had been surprised to learn that her father worked for LexComm. That organization, now with Franklin Stern at the helm and renamed Metrotek, was in charge of the computer technology that linked business and banking interests in Metropolis and other parts of the eastern United States. It also pioneered a lot of the wide area network systems that held big corporations and institutions together. Even the Daily Planet's computer system had been developed by LexComm.
On hearing that Paul Drake had worked for Luthor, Clark's internal suspicion meter went soaring. He remembered that at the time of Drake's death, Luthor was building Space Station Luthor to replace the Prometheus Station. LexComm computers were ubiquitous in all aspects of industry and business in the city. If Clark was correct and Luthor had been responsible for tampering with the coolant devices on the Messenger, then perhaps, his computer engineers at LexComm might have had a hand in sabotaging the Messenger. Perhaps Drake knew about that giving Luthor a reason to murder him.
Clark shook his head. That suspicion meter, he decided, was out of control. Mayson had said that the murderers were found, dead, with the stolen goods in their burnt out car. Would it make a difference? Luthor couldn't be tried for it and the case would open wounds for both Mayson and Lois. Proving that Luthor was responsible for four more deaths was overkill. The case was closed. Why was he looking for another nail to hammer into Luthor's coffin? Like the thugs who had killed the Drakes, Luthor's case and his coffin were closed.
And even if he was right about Luthor being involved in the Drake deaths, that was irrelevant as far as Lois being angry with him, well Superman, for not sharing with her what he knew about Luthor, for not telling her the whole truth. He had told her several times, as himself, to be wary of Lex Luthor. She had chosen to ignore him.
He hadn't seen Lois in his Superman guise since the night of the charity ball, but he wasn't looking forward to the moment when he would. It was probably better to be invisible than to have Lois openly mad at him. But, if he wanted to have any kind of relationship with Lois, then she would have to forgive Superman for his error of omission, his big error of omission. And why was he thinking about a relationship with Lois if he was dating Mayson?
Clark decided that he did want to look into LexComm and Paul Drake's role in it. Perhaps Perry would consider a story about the legal transition of Luthor's companies after his death. Clark would suggest starting with Metrotek. That would give him time to look into the Drake murders.
Lois stomped off the elevator the next morning. It had definitely not started well. After finally falling asleep in the early hours of the morning, she woke up late for work, and then, while putting water into the coffee pot, she accidentally knocked it against the faucet and cracked it. She then spent her precious time picking up the broken glass from the sink. As if that wasn't enough, she was delayed because of an unusual build up of traffic en route to work. Apparently, an older man had a seizure and his car went out of control. Sitting in the resultant back up, she saw Superman fly in and take control of the situation. For the first time in her career, she remained in her Jeep and avoided the superhero, in the end, losing out on an interview with him. His save would go unheeded by the Daily Planet.
The problem was that she knew exactly why she hadn't approached Superman to get an interview. She was mad at him, and she wasn't sure that she wanted to speak to him. Once more she thought about his attitude toward her. The same argument went through her head: he suspected that Lex was not what he appeared to be, and even though Superman knew that Lois was going to marry him, and that she would be upset to learn that he was a criminal, Superman failed to tell her. He was wrong not to tell her. Saying that Clark had told her shouldn't let him off the hook. She might admit that she was wrong in not trusting Clark's motives for telling her, but Superman left her in the position where she made a bad decision about marrying Lex because she didn't know all the background. She wouldn't have accepted Lex's proposal if she had known that he was a crook… Lois gasped. Did that mean that Superman thought so little of her that he thought that she would marry Lex even if she knew about his criminal activities? No. That wasn't important: that Superman had hurt her was. She was definitely mad at the superhero. And she knew that she did mad well. Nonetheless, she realized that she had to look at her relationship with the Man of Steel realistically. She couldn't let good stories fly by her just because of her personal resentment. She would act like a professional next time she saw him in a newsworthy situation.
And then there was Clark…
Lois sat at her desk reviewing her notes from the evening before. She had to find the identity of the men who were pushing Stan and Al around, and she had to find the kind of business in which they were involved. That would take time and…
"Whaaat?" she asked, throwing her arms in the air and knocking the coffee out of Clark's hands. Hot coffee trickled down her arm, running under the sleeves of her blouse. She pulled wads of tissue from the box on her desk and began wiping her arm. "What the heck do you think you're doing?" she asked. "That stuff is hot! And my blouse…"She turned around to look at a wide-eyed Clark who was standing behind her, holding a coffee mug in each hand, his jacket, tie and shirt covered in the remainder of the coffee.
"Sorry," she said, grabbing another fistful of tissues and dabbing at his wet clothing. But her mood suddenly changed and she turned on her partner. "Kent, why are you sneaking up behind me?"
"Sneaking? I usually bring you coffee in the morning."
"You're supposed to announce your arrival, not scare me half to death." She stood up and faced him. "What were you thinking?" But before he could say anything, Lois plowed on. "Oh! Thinking. No. You haven't been thinking with your head lately, have you? Nope. Didn't look like it last night when you couldn't keep your hands off Mayson Drake on national television. Nope. Your mind must be totally elsewhere, that's for sure…"
"Lois, what are you talking about?" Clark asked, lowering Lois's flailing arms to her side.
"Last night. On television. For the whole world to see. Get a grip, Kent. The world doesn't have to know about your private life."
Clark, still trying to figure out what she was talking about, watched Lois. She pushed her finger at his damp jacket and explained. "I was flipping channels after the news and watched you kissing Mayson at the football game."
"Oh," Clark said thoughtfully, "And that was something bad?"
"Yes…No. It just wasn't appropriate. You're not horny little teenagers."
"No, I'm not. Get a life, Kent."
"I've got a life, Lois. I'm the one who was out on a date last night. You're the one who was flipping channels."
"Right. If you call going out with Mayson Drake a life." Turning around, she sat back at her desk. "We have work to do, and I have to tell you what I learned after you left yesterday."
Clark glared at Lois. Whatever else was going on, it was obvious to him that Lois was upset about his date with Mayson and the fact that she had seen them kissing on television. She wouldn't admit it, but she was jealous. Clark decided that he liked that. Maybe Lois saw him as more than just the friend she claimed he was. He'd think about that later; now they had a mystery to solve.
After Lois shared what Carla had told her the previous evening, the two reporters realized that they now needed to find out what Stan and Al Rossi knew that had gotten them killed and who the two men were who probably killed them. Clark thought that discussion lacked their usual comfortable volleying of ideas and he was relieved when Jimmy approached them grinning.
"Do you guys want to know what I found out?
"Of course," answered Lois, having no patience for Jimmy's guessing game. "Spill."
"Well, Abbott was the management company that Stan and Al Rossi owned."
"We knew that, Jimmy."
"Okay. Did you know that Bennett Realty owned the properties that the Rossis managed."
"Yes, we knew that yesterday. Get to the point."
"Bennett was selling a lot of property to Campbell-Thompson Development which is a construction company building mega- stores and mega-malls as well as office complexes all over the city. I did a land-title search for some of their properties and many of the properties were managed by Abbott before Campbell-Thompson bought them."
"Were they owned by Bennett first?" asked Clark.
"No. There're a variety of owners. But somehow the Rossi brothers have managed about fifty per cent of the properties."
"Don't you get it, Lois?" Clark asked. "There must be some connection between the Rossi brothers and Campbell-Thompson."
"Were all the properties in poor condition?"
"Hard to tell on a land-title search. There were some properties with liens on them, but the prices were low compared to other properties in the area sold at the same time."
"Are you saying that the Rossis neglected the properties to drive down the value for Campbell-Thompson to buy at bargain basement prices?" asked Lois.
"That's what it seems like to me," said Jimmy.
"Our next step…" Clark stated.
"…is to visit Abbott Management's office and look at their files. We can do that today, and then tonight we can check out Campbell-Thompson."
"We can't do that, Lois."
"Because it's breaking and entering."
"We won't break anything. Come on, Clark. We have work to do."
Clark reluctantly followed Lois to Abbott Management where they found a young woman who looked like a recent high school graduate on the phone, filing her nails.
"No, Mom, I don't know what I'm supposed to do…I finished up my regular work, and now I haven't heard from anyone…I guess I'll stay here until five and then I'll lock up and go home… Mom, I gotta go. Some people just came in…See ya."
Lois nudged Clark, whispering, "Play along."
"Hi," she said, raising her voice as if she was expected to say the girl's name but couldn't remember it.
"Right. Jeannie. My partner and I are from Bennett Realty and we're supposed to organize the files before they get moved over to our head office." Lois pushed Clark's hand away. She knew that he wanted to stop her lying to get to the files, but she also knew that there was no other way.
Jeannie looked uncertain. "I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do. I'm new here. Stan never told me what do if him and Al got killed."
Lois elbowed Clark in the ribs. He leaned forward and smiled as he said, "Hi," venting charm toward Jeannie.
"Don't worry," Lois consoled her. "Where's the person who worked here before you."
"She got a better paying job with J.A. Macdonald Associates as a section manager. I'm alone here now."
"That's all right, dear. We know exactly what to do. Since Abbott managed Bennett properties, the files belong to the company. We're not going to move them, we're only going to categorize them. Just show us where."
Jeannie hadn't removed her eyes from Clark, who kept smiling at her. She quickly glanced at Lois, shook her head nervously, then returned her gaze to Clark. She smiled back at him.
"I guess it's all right." She stood. "Follow me. I'll take you into Mr. Rossi's office." She led them into a large room which contained two desks, some office chairs and a row of filing cabinets.
"Thank you," Clark said, as he put his hand on Jeannie's back and led her toward the door they had just entered. "We'll take care of everything from this end."
Jeannie beamed as she looked up at his face. "No problem. If you need anything else, just shout." She kept staring as he gently closed the door between them.
"Wow!" she said.
"I'm not happy with what we just did there, Lois."
"We're in, aren't we?" Lois saw Clark staring at the door that he had closed. "It's not illegal, and we didn't break in. Come on. We've got work to do."
"Semantics," Clark muttered.
Lois and Clark took their time examining the room. Clark started with what he soon learned was Al's desk. The top drawer contained racing forms with horses circled in different races. Al's desk calendar listed the horses the he had bet on or that he planned to bet on. Although Al had accumulated a stack of complaint letters, it was obvious from searching his desk that Al's first interest wasn't the management business at all.
Stan's desk was a little more interesting. He had several ledger books in his bottom drawer. While Lois's back was to him, Clark skimmed through them very quickly. The first few showed accounts receivable and payable for the various properties that Abbott managed. The fourth ledger that he found was more interesting. It contained a listing of addresses, dates and cash figures. When he pointed it out to Lois, she reached in her satchel and handed him her camera. Clark snapped photographs of the pages in the ledger. Back at the Planet, he and Lois would find the significance of the amounts and the dates.
Meanwhile, Lois found that many of the files were organized by address. She looked up the one for 2047 Bayside Avenue. She photographed the file and then found the folder for another apartment complex. She photographed that one so that she could compare the differences.
They managed to work for about an hour when Clark heard voices other than Jeannie's prattling on the phone with her friends. "Lois, shh," he warned, signalling her to put the camera away.
"What?" she whispered back, instinctively following his non- verbal instruction.
Before Clark could answer, the door opened and Inspector Henderson walked in. He eyed the occupants of the room and guffawed.
"Lane and Kent. Why am I not surprised?"
"Inspector," said Clark.
"Henderson," said Lois. "It's about time you got here."
"Lane, this is a murder investigation. I could have the two of you up before a judge for tampering with the evidence and…"
"Yes, you could Inspector," Clark interrupted, "but you know us. We're after the same thing."
"I know, but I wish you would do your real jobs, so that I could do mine." He looked around the room. At least whatever they did was done neatly. "Do you have anything to share?"
Lois stared at Clark, raising her eyebrows. "No nothing. Looks like it's all business to me. What do you say, Clark?"
"Al's heavy into gambling on the horses. No indication if he's a loser or a winner. Stan looks like he's the one with the business sense. You'll find ledgers in the bottom drawer, but you'll probably need an accountant to go over them."
"Thank you, Clark. That was helpful. Now, I'd like the two of you to get out of here, or I'll be talking to the DA."
"Thanks, Bill. Let us know what you find."
"And you two let me know what you learn from today's little escapade. If that child who calls herself a receptionist hadn't let you in, I would call this a B and E."
Not more than an hour later, Perry joined Lois, Clark and Jimmy in the conference room where the reporters were looking over the pictures that Jimmy had developed. The editor examined the copies of the Abbott files, then spread them out on the table.
"Tell me what you see here," he ordered.
"It looks like Stan and Al profited personally from the money they saved by not attending to the buildings, but there's no evidence that the people at Bennett were aware of what was going on," explained Lois.
"What is most interesting is that after we had Jimmy pull together his research from land- titles, we figured out that Stan and Al were neglecting the buildings so that Bennett had to sell them off at a lower price. Repairs and renovations would be too costly for them, or for anyone else," Clark added. "The most revealing part is that the day after a Bennett property was sold, Abbott got a hefty pay cheque."
"When we compared that to other dates in the ledger, it seemed that with each property sold, whether it was owned by Bennett or not, Abbott got a pay cheque."
"Obviously some kind of kickback," said Jimmy.
"That's what it looks like, son," said Perry. "So do you know where the kickbacks are coming from?"
"We can only guess at this time," said Clark. "Campbell- Thompson Development bought up the land and has started some building projects on them or is waiting for zoning by- laws to change in order to build."
"That's a mighty big company. You think that they're in cahoots with the Rossis?" Perry asked.
"Very likely," Lois answered. "CTD has been putting up a lot of Costmarts all over the country, as well as here in Metropolis. That's a big expenditure."
"And," added Clark, "we believe that Costmart is linked to Intergang."
"That's ridiculous. I've known Bill Church for years, and he's an honest man."
"That's what people believed about Lex Luthor, too," Lois muttered under her breath. She wasn't surprised when she felt Clark's hand lightly touch her shoulder.
"Okay, boys and girls, what's your next move then?"
Clark gathered the papers on the desk. "I think an interview with Bill Church is in order."
"Under what pretext?"
Clark looked at Lois for guidance. She was flipping through some pages that he hadn't collected. "Chief, I think that Clark and I should be investigating a series on how big business, like Costmart, benefits the city."
"You've got it."
When Lois returned from making an appointment with Church for early the next morning, she pulled Clark aside, whispering to him, "I think we should check out Campbell-Thompson's offices and see what we can find."
"It won't be as easy getting in there as it was getting past Jeannie. We were lucky that she was so young and naive."
"Clark, how else are we going to find out what's really going on? Do you think that Church will tell us?"
"It's dangerous, and it's illegal."
"Has that ever stopped us?"
"But it won't. Are you coming with me or do you have a hot date tonight?"
"I'll have to forego any hot date just in case I have to protect you from yourself."
Lois scowled at Clark. He always had a ready comeback for her snide remarks. Lois, herself, was relieved that Clark was coming with her. Although she was prepared to do some midnight research on her own, she was getting used to having her partner tag along.
Clark scrutinized his apartment and the streets leading to it before he landed on his balcony He had a few minutes before Lois was scheduled to pick him up to go to CTD's site. He had surveyed the construction area on his routine flight over the city. Unlike most corporations, the office was not in a permanent building, but in a mobile structure on a construction site in the middle of LeVine, a northern suburb of Metropolis. The area included subdivisions and a large open area that would eventually house box stores, including a Costmart. There was a single night watchman on a golf-cart driving through the site. Breaking in, once they got the watchman's schedule, would not be hard.
He wondered for a moment what Lois would think if she knew that he had reconnoitered the area already. Well, it didn't matter, he thought. He pulled out a pair of black jeans and a black sweater and spun into them. As usual, Lois was right on time. He ran up the three steps, locked his front door and went out to meet her.
She too was dressed in black clothing, her hair tied back in a pony-tail. Without make-up, she looked fresh, younger than usual. She had a healthy glow. The excitement of the chase, he thought. He wished he could make her look that happy.
He hopped into the car and they drove off to the construction site. Without daytime traffic causing snarls and hold-ups, it was a relatively fast trip. She parked the car, as they had planned, in a housing subdivision a half a mile south of the site. They walked, Lois setting the pace.
Closer to the construction, they hid behind a stack of bricks and planned their strategy. Skeletons of residential houses spread out behind them on plotted lots. The steel frame of a large warehouse-type edifice stood in front of them. The north wall of the structure was standing. To their right was one large trailer while on the other side of the open, dug up field was a second one with a light on.
"That's probably where a night watchman is," whispered Lois.
They waited for a few minutes, but saw no movement. Clark lowered his glasses and scanned the trailer. Lois was right. The night watchman was in the trailer drinking from a mug and filling out what looked like a check-list. Clark looked into a cabinet where two semi-automatic guns lay. The watchman put down the mug, picked up a cell phone, and exited the trailer. Clark tapped Lois on the shoulder and pointed to the guard who was making his way to the housing development.
"It'll probably take him at least a half an hour to get back. Now's the time to go," he whispered.
"I'll take the trailer on my right; you go for the night watchman's." She indicated the two trailers.
Knowing where the guns were and having checked the area out earlier, Clark nodded his head in agreement. Starting to move to his left, he stopped for a moment to make sure that Lois wasn't having any problems. She moved deftly toward the office trailer. He stepped quickly toward his objective, stopping frequently to listen for Lois's even breathing and for any danger. On reaching the trailer, Clark could see that Lois was almost at hers. He opened the door, using the lock-picking tools that Lois had bought for his last birthday, and went in. He moved directly to the cupboard where he took out the weapons and jammed the pins, just in case someone would try to use them. He then began to look around. In front of him, on a coat tree, near the night watchmen's desk, was a tan trenchcoat. He looked through its pockets only to find a restaurant receipt, a gum wrapper, and a pair of hardened gloves. When he put the contents back into the pockets he noticed that it had a button missing from its cuff. He examined the other buttons carefully. They were similar to the one from 2047 Bayside Avenue's laundry room. He retrieved the gloves, slipping them in his pocket.
He forced his excitement down and continued to look around in a systematic fashion until he was interrupted by an abrupt inhalation of breath and then the rapid beating of a heart—Lois's heart. He lowered his glasses and peered into the second trailer. Lois was standing inside, her back against the wall, very slowly inching her way toward the door. In front of her was a snarling Doberman Pinscher about to leap. Knowing that Clark Kent couldn't get to her fast enough, he spun and, within a second, Superman was in the trailer shielding Lois from her attacker. Keeping himself between Lois and the dog, he slowly walked her out of the trailer, then flew her back to the Jeep.
Lois looked at Superman. As thankful as she was to him for getting her out of what could have been a very tense situation with an unfriendly dog, she couldn't forget that he had betrayed her. But she also remembered that she promised herself that she would be professional with him.
"That dog was scary," she said, trying very hard to keep the quiver out of her voice. "Thanks." She stepped back from the superhero.
"You seem to get me out of a lot of scrapes."
"Just being of service," he said. "But I wish you wouldn't get into these scrapes. You have to be more careful."
"I'm just doing my job the best way I know."
"There are other ways, less dangerous."
"And who are you to tell me how to do my job?" Was the irony lost on Superman? He seemed to be around when she was in physical danger but missed the emotional danger altogether.
"I don't want you to get hurt."
"Right!" Lois said, not even trying to hold back the sarcasm.
Superman raised his eyebrows. Lois realized that he just didn't get it. She forced herself not to allow his confused expression to sway her. She was angry, and for a very good reason. Her mind skipped back to the snooping she and Clark…
"Clark!" she said, remembering her partner.
"What about him?"
"He's at the other trailer. He'll be looking for me."
"Don't worry. I'll go back and send him over here," he said before taking off in the air.
No matter how she felt about Superman, no matter how angry, he still managed to save her. And yet, when her whole life was about to fall off the precipice of reason, he was nowhere to be seen. He just assumed that being told by Clark to be wary of Lex was enough. But this wasn't just a matter of respecting her decision. Superman knew Lex's capabilities and treachery. No, she had a right to be angry with him, and yet he was such an important part of her life. That dog could have done considerable damage and there was no way that Clark could have reached her in time. She wondered at times if she'd still be alive if it hadn't been for Superman.
Her thoughts were interrupted when Clark arrived at the Jeep. He was both concerned and excited. After Lois told him about the attack dog, and that she didn't have time to find anything in the trailer other than the computer which she hadn't managed to start, he told her that Superman had closed up the trailer, leaving the confused dog in it. He, on the other hand, had lucked out. He had found the trenchcoat with the missing button and a pair of very stiff gloves that he would turn over to Henderson.
They decided that they would pay a daytime visit to the construction site, but first Lois allowed Clark to drive her home. She was more shaken up than she expected after her confrontation with the guard dog. She didn't argue with Clark when he escorted her to her apartment. Instead, after he had asked her a half a dozen times if she was all right and she told him emphatically that she was, he gave her a reassuring hug and left.
At home, getting ready for bed, she admitted to herself that she was more shaken than she let Clark know. It wasn't only the dog that upset her, it was also Superman. She didn't know how she would get over her feelings of betrayal. Why had she put this man on a pedestal, this god in tights, when he proved himself to be as unfeeling and unthinking as any other man? Like other men, he tried to tell her what to do, how to do her job, how to lead her life. At least Clark cared enough to warn her over and over again about Lex. She, in her most stubborn guise, failed to listen to him. It served her right in some ways, and she considered herself lucky that it was Clark, or at least her memories of him, who came back to her on the day of her aborted wedding and saved her from saying the shackling "I do".
Clark had become a very important part of her life. Yes, he was her partner and her best friend, but she realized that he was more. When she first knew him, he was a hindrance, a country yokel trying to make it in the big city. But, she knew almost immediately, although she wouldn't admit it to him, that he was bright, witty and worldly. He wouldn't get eaten up in the big city. Later on, he became her indispensable partner. She didn't know exactly when that happened, perhaps in Smallville. Watching Trask aim his revolver at Clark scared her. The relief she felt when Trask sank into the pond was palpable. From that time on, she felt that her relationship with Clark had changed until she had brushed off his admission of love for her and accepted Lex's proposal. What a mistake! To make matters worse, he withdrew his disclosure, before she could tell him that she also cared for him, that she loved him.
What would she do without Clark, whose apartment she ran to when she needed someone to talk to, whose strong arms were available whenever she needed them, whose voice of reason calmly kept many of her off-the-wall impulses down, whose mind and imagination kept up with her, and she had to admit, even surpassed her at times, and whose heart had drawn hers in. Too late, she thought. Just as she finally admitted that she saw her partner in a different light, he was involved with another woman. Lois could kick herself for being so stupid.
She lay down in her bed, taking her teddy bear that Clark had won at the Smallville Corn Festival. "Good night, Clark," she whispered to the small stuffed toy as she hugged it closer to her.
After Clark dropped Lois off at home, he flew a patrol around the city and, seeing that it was a quiet night, made his way to back to his desk at the Daily Planet. He decided to research Paul Drake's role at LexComm. After hours of reading reports, Clark was disappointed. Mayson's father seemed to be a straight arrow. He was a sharp engineer coming up with some very innovative ways of expanding telecommunications from which LexComm had profited. But Clark couldn't find anything illegal. He realized that Luthor was very smart, covering up his illegitimate activities with legitimate ones, but he knew that if he traced the right threads he could make the necessary connections that would show how Drake was Luthor's pawn. On the other hand, perhaps Drake was one of the legitimate workers, but had uncovered nefarious activities. Clark did a little more digging about other projects coming out of LexComm. Nothing satisfied his curiosity. The only explanation, then, was that Drake had knowledge that was outside the ken of Clark's area of expertise.
Frustrated, Clark left the Planet building by the roof and took off into the cool night air.
Lois was right. Who was he to tell her how to do her job, if he wasn't fulfilling his role as a friend. He could have gone to Lois, as Superman, and told her his suspicions. She would have believed Superman. He could have told her that night when she asked him if they had a future. He could have said the same "No" while at the same time warning her about Luthor.
He knew exactly why he hadn't. That night, he had been hurt and angry. He could have spoken to Lois as the wedding date drew nearer…but Clark had challenged her to investigate. Lois hadn't taken up the challenge; instead, she blindly went ahead with her wedding plans. That was in the past. Now, he just had to figure out what to do next.
He circled the city one more time before heading for bed.
Lois was frustrated. Traffic was almost at a stand-still. The reporter on the local radio station announced that a jack-knifed tractor-trailer on the I-83 necessitated the rerouting of traffic through the city's core. "Tell me something I don't know," Lois muttered. She sat behind the wheel, having given up trying to weave her way ahead, grumbling about how futile the day had been so far. Her interview with Bill Church had revealed nothing new at all. Church, brazenly sitting back in his Brooks Brothers gray suit playing with a Cuban cigar between his manicured fingernails, happily explained the working of land acquisitions, the treachery of making one's way through the labyrinth created by city bureaucracy, zoning by-laws and the committee of adjustments, and the up and downs of dealing with a variety of tradesmen and unions. But, in the end, the man had said nothing new or illuminating. She was no further ahead than when she had entered his office.
Meanwhile, Clark hadn't said anything. Instead, he had played with his glasses and wandered around the office, gazing at the paintings on the wall, peering out the window to the city below them, picking up the sculptures on the desk, browsing through the well stocked bar in one corner, and glancing through magazines on the coffee table in the centre of the office. When they had finally left Church's office, Clark had ambled over to the secretary who was typing something on her computer, and thanked her profusely for giving them access to Mr. Church. He had then flashed his prize-winning, full white- tooth smile at her. Lois could see the bimbo melt under his gaze. In the elevator, she told him that she might as well be working on her own, all the help he was during the interview. He just smiled that irritating all-knowing smile and shrugged his shoulders. When they were back in her Jeep, she asked him why he was sucking up to Miss Bimbo. He surprised her by saying that he had a chance to look at what she had been typing. A letter addressed to William Turner asking him to begin the acquisition of land around 2047 Bayside Avenue and to expedite the rezoning of the area.
Reluctantly, Lois admitted that she was impressed with what Clark had accomplished. It was more than she had in her interview with Church.
Afterwards, she had dropped Clark off at the courthouse where he said that he was meeting the assistant D.A. for lunch. She realized that it was not a business meeting that he was attending there, and she wondered, not for the first time, exactly what Clark's relationship with Mayson Drake was. And she realized that she was not happy with his going on a luncheon date with her. They had work to do, after all.
No. That wasn't the reason, and she knew it. She didn't want Clark to see Mayson on a social basis, on a dating basis. Although she had told Perry that she knew she wouldn't lose Clark's friendship, she was worried that if he got involved with Mayson, her relationship with her partner would drastically change. And she liked their relationship exactly the way it was, didn't she?
But now she had more important work to do. She entered a number on her cell phone. When she got a positive reply, she pulled a quick right into one of the side streets and threaded her way to the Metropolis Central Police Station parking lot. She needed to learn what more Henderson had found out about Stan and Al.
Watching the next couple in line, the hostess of the Roma Cafe knew that, even though the man and woman were dressed in business suits, they were not at the restaurant for a professional meeting. The attractive woman peered into the handsome man's eyes as if she never wanted to let go. The man's soft smile answered her unwavering gaze. The hostess led them to a table in a secluded corner of the restaurant where they could have some privacy. She knew a date when she saw one.
"I don't have a lot of time for lunch today," Mayson said when the hostess left them with the menus. "I have to be back in court at two."
"That's all right. I'll get you there on time," Clark reassured her. "Can you handle a glass of wine if you're going into court?"
They looked at the menu, quickly deciding on what to order. When the waiter came around, Clark ordered two glasses of white wine for them, a Greek salad for Mayson, and a cajun chicken sandwich with fries for himself.
"Fries," Mayson said. "I'm jealous."
"I usually order them so Lois can nibble…" Clark let the sentence trail off while he examined the pedigree of the cutlery. "Uh. I've been looking into LexComm."
"LexComm? Why? It's been taken over by Metrotek."
"I know, but I was wondering if your father's death could be related somehow to his having worked for Lex Luthor."
"Are you implying that my father was doing something illegal?"
"Uh…No. Not at all. But we know that whatever Luthor did, no matter if it had a bright, shiny surface, the deeper one would dig the darker it would get."
Glaring at Clark, Mayson leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms over her chest and tried to control her breathing. "Why are you doing this?"
"Mayson, after you told me about what happened to your parents, I looked up the story and saw the police files. Something in me is screaming that this wasn't an accidental shooting, a burglary gone bad."
"The case is closed. The murderers are dead."
"Mayson," Clark said, keeping his voice steady, "I looked up the records of the two men in the car. They were petty criminals with a long record of burglaries. They got caught fencing merchandise and were in jail several times. They weren't too smart."
"They never used weapons of any kind."
"They could have started carrying guns. MOs can change, you know."
"But your father worked for Luthor. He might have known something."
"My father, I'll have you know, was a good, honest man. He was a talented engineer who helped create some of the high tech communication systems that we have in this city today. He happened to have worked for the major communication system corporation in the state. The only game in town, as it were." She sat up straighter taking the glass of wine that the waiter had brought while they were talking. "I expected better of you," she whispered after she had drained the glass. "My father would not have stood for anything illegal going on."
"Mayson…" Clark pleaded.
When the waiter approached with their lunches, she ordered another glass of white wine.
They ate in relative silence, commenting only on the food. Mayson was merely dabbling with her salad, picking at random lettuce leaves, moving them around on her plate before eating them. By the time Clark finished his sandwich and fries, Mayson had eaten less than half of her salad.
"Mayson, I'm sorry," Clark said after the waiter had brought her a third glass of wine. "I didn't mean to imply that your father was crooked. It just doesn't make sense why four people would end up killed in what seemed to be a simple robbery. I can't seem to get this out of my head. Something doesn't feel right."
Mayson picked up the glass of wine. Clark put his hand on hers before she could drink it. "You have to be in court soon," he said quietly as he waved the waiter over to bring them coffee.
"Would you like some chocolate cake?" he asked Mayson while he was ordering coffee.
"No," she said. "I don't like chocolate."
The hostess watched the couple at the secluded table. The man was sitting forward in his seat, slowly sipping his coffee. The woman was leaning back in her chair looking at her hands which were playing with the coffee cup in front of her. She didn't look at the man. After a few minutes, the woman glanced at her watch, got up and walked away from the table. The man leaned back, motioned to the waiter for his bill, and sighed. This had not turned out to be the romantic lunch that the hostess had envisioned for these two.
Lois marched up to Detective Inspector William Henderson's desk. When the detective looked up, he smirked and announced to his fellow officers, "Batten down the hatches, men; Lane is here."
"Very funny, Henderson."
"How can I help you?" he asked in his usual non-committal monotone.
Lois, pulling up a chair to his desk, leaned forward and said, "I need to know what you've found out about Stan and Al Rossi's deaths."
"Not for public consumption yet."
"Come on, Henderson, this is me, Lois."
"Right. Ms prize-winning investigative reporter. That's the same as public knowledge."
"Henderson," Lois whispered conspiratorially, "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
"I have some information that might help you find the killers."
"If you don't tell me, Lois, I can have you charged with withholding evidence," he whispered, mimicking her tone.
"If you don't tell me, I can make you the most disliked man in Metropolis, where even your family…even your mother won't like you."
"They don't like me already."
Lois stared at the taciturn detective. Somehow he always seemed to win a face-off against her, but she also knew that he could be trusted. Well, maybe not completely, but she would get some information here.
"All right. You know the button I found in the laundry room?"
"Well, Clark found the trenchcoat that was missing the same button. It was hanging in the security trailer at a CTD construction site."
"How did he find that?"
"Well, uh…mmm…we were looking…uh…for the night watchman when he saw it hanging in the trailer."
It amazed Lois that the man's face remained poker straight even though she knew that he knew that she was giving him an edited version of the truth.
"Now, remember that I told you that I spoke to someone who saw two men in trenchcoats threatening Stan and Al."
"Pretty circumstantial and flimsy at that."
"I know, Henderson, but it does link CTD to the murders and fire. It's a beginning."
"Yes, it is." Henderson pulled out a file from his on-going tray and opened it. "I had an officer go through Stan and Al's papers. They weren't very organized, but on a rough pad of paper, Stan had the draft of a letter. It wasn't addressed to anyone in particular, but it did have some interesting information. It looks like he was trying to coerce someone."
Henderson passed the letter over to Lois, who glanced at it. "Interesting," she said. "So Stan knew that whoever the letter was for was planning to evict all the tenants and then sell off the building and that 'whoever' was going to change the zoning by-laws for commercial structures. He was looking for a larger cut. I wonder if he sent the letter?"
"That's what we're trying to find out, but there's no record of it on his computer."
"Thanks, Henderson." Lois turned to leave. "Oh, by the way, Clark found these gloves in the pocket of the trenchcoat with the missing button. He suggests that you send them to your lab to have them analyzed." She reached into her purse and pulled out a baggy with the gloves in it. "Clark was careful when he picked them up." She handed him the baggy.
"Good to see that you weren't planning on withholding any evidence from me, Lois," he said, taking the gloves from her. "I'll let you know what the results are after I get them."
Lois was busy staring at her computer, using the mouse to scroll down the page that she was reading intently. She didn't hear Clark approach, but felt him standing behind her peering over her shoulder.
"How was lunch?" she asked, not looking at him.
He grimaced. "Good food, but I think I put my foot in my mouth several times during the meal." He walked around to face her. "Here, I brought you a sandwich. I figured you wouldn't have stopped for lunch."
"Thanks," she said, not really surprised that he had thought of her. She unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite. "Mmm, this is good. What is it?"
"Cajun chicken…from Roma's."
"Finish eating and then tell me what you've been doing."
"I'll talk in between bites because this is too good to gulp down. I've been trying to figure out why Stan and Al got killed, so I went to see Henderson at lunch time…"
Their next assignment pulled Lois and Clark away from investigating the Bayside Fire, as they were beginning to call it. Perry had scheduled the reporters, along with Jimmy Olsen, to go to Fort Truman to observe a PR demonstration of the Automated Tactical Assault Soldier. Instead of a straight promotional story, Lois and Clark ended up looking for Ryan Wiley, the fiance of Lois's college roommate. They believed that Wiley, who was supposed to be dead, was responsible for General Marshall's death by the ATAS. In the end, Superman managed to save the city from the brink of destruction, and Wiley and his fiancee, Molly Flynn, had to face the justice system.
Lois was pleased that her reaction to Superman, each time she saw him, was professional. She had thanked him politely, once for saving the people in the stands from being sprayed by ATAS fire, and once for saving the city from Wiley's treachery as well as releasing her and Molly who were tied up in the computer room of Fort Truman.
Once they returned to the newsroom, Lois and Clark wrote up the unbelievable story and sent it to Perry. It was late, too late to visit the CTD construction site, and feeling too edgy to go home, Clark decided to use some of his down time to look at the file that he had started on the Drake murders and Paul Drake's relationship with Lex Luthor. As he was reading the file for the umpteenth time, looking for some piece of missing information, he heard a cry for help. He left the office to answer it. When he returned, Lois was sitting at his desk, with a cup of coffee in her hand, reading over the file. He felt like kicking himself for leaving it on his desk. He really didn't want to talk to her about Mayson and perhaps start another tiff; yet, he knew that the file would pique her curiosity.
When he walked up to his partner, she looked up at him and said, "You know, Clark, if I were a shrewd crook, this would be a perfect crime."
"What do you mean?"
"I was looking at the Drake file…" She lifted some pages in the air.
"You were snooping…I should have known…" he said, scooping up the pages and closing the folder.
"We're partners, and…it was in the open, Kent." She glared at him, trying to figure out, he was sure, why he had made the comment about snooping. "Do you want to hear what I was thinking?"
"Sure, go ahead," he said, knowing full well that she was going to say what she was thinking with or without his consent.
"Okay." She patted the edge of his desk, indicating that he should sit down. "If I wanted to kill someone, this would be the perfect set up."
"So you said." This was exactly what he loved most about Lois. Her enthusiasm. The excitement of the chase made her eyes sparkle. He dreamed of the day when her eyes would sparkle for him in that same way.
"I would hire a person who specializes in breaking and entering and tell him that he's going to rob a place—tell him there's valuable stuff there. Then I'd make sure I arm him. I'd know when the victim was expected to be home, and I'd make sure that the robber would be there at the same time. Then when the victim arrives, B&E guy is surprised and shoots the owners. He then sets fire to the house."
"But what if the police get B&E guy? He could rat on you."
"Ah, there's the brilliance of my plan."
Clark raised his eyebrows, nodding his head to encourage Lois to go on.
"I'd get rid of B&E guy."
"In some kind of accident."
"Like a car accident?" Clark stared at Lois.
"Ford Pintos were notorious for exploding on impact. If I remember correctly, the gas tank was in the trunk."
"But how could B&E guy kill all four people who walked in?"
"Maybe he didn't," she suggested, looking for a reason. "Maybe he had an accomplice."
"Then he was killed, too?"
"Possibly…or, in this case there were two B&E guys who were accompanied by a third guy who was sent to oversee the plan. Make sure it was carried out. Then his job was to get rid of the other two."
"That's a lot of people knowing the plan." Clark paused. Something still wasn't right. "But the two B&E guys weren't known to carry guns, and automatic weapons are pretty sophisticated for these guys."
"How did you know that?"
"The rap sheet. Here, look." Clark passed the rap sheets over to Lois. "They just pulled off small scale robberies, home invasions when no one was around. The convenience stores that they robbed were closed."
Lois read the files as Clark looked over and pointed out certain lines as he spoke to her.
"As you can see, neither of them ever carried guns. In fact, there's no indication of any violence at all."
"These guys stayed away from people. So why did they change their MO?" Lois asked, trying to make sense of the information.
"That's what's been bugging me all along. Their deaths made it easy for the cops to close the case. No motive other than robbery. Why did they have guns in this particular robbery?"
"That's what we have to find out, partner," she said, slapping his knee.
Clark thought about Lois's story. It was far-fetched, and yet it worked. "The two men who were killed in the accident were patsies, framed. Luthor always made sure that the trail led away from him."
"Are you suggesting…?"
"Sorry, Lois…" Clark worried that Lois was still sensitive about her near marriage to Lex Luthor.
"No. Don't be sorry. You might be right. I know who Lex Luthor was. And if Paul Drake knew something that he should not have or that he was involved in some way, then it could very well have been Lex who sent someone to kill Drake. Killing the family may have been used as a blind, to obscure who the real target was."
"But why do you suspect Lex?"
"Did you know that Mayson's father worked for one of Luthor's companies?"
"I've looked into Drake's work record and even talked to Mayson about it, but I can't seem to find a connection."
"You talked to Mayson about it?"
"Well, yeah. She might have known what her father was doing."
"Right. So what did she say?"
"She wasn't too happy about the implications. She shut me out."
Clark leaned back in his chair. Lois's theory made sense. It even sounded similar to what happened at the Bayside fire. Two bodies were left in the building, and if it wasn't for the bullets and the fact that the two men didn't live in the building, it could have appeared as a result of the fire.
Lois had enough experience with police investigations that her theory could be plausible. She was brilliant in that way, her intuitive powers finding the track that usually led them to the right answers. And, having nothing better than a suspicion himself, that not all was what it seemed, made Lois's hypothesis a viable one. He loved to watch Lois solve a problem. There was a certain grace to it.
Mayson, on the other hand, was more of a linear thinker. As he thought over the events of the Drake murders, he was bothered thinking that Mayson could have been killed that day as well. She was planning to go back to the house with her family. They were going to continue the celebration. Luckily, she had been called away. Luckily…but if the robbery and murders were premeditated then Bill Church's phoning her to help out a client might have been planned so that she would not get hurt.
"Lois!" he exclaimed. She had already risen from his chair and had walked over to her own desk where she shut down her computer. She turned around at her partner's outcry.
"What if I'm…we're…looking in the wrong place? What if I'm so keen on getting Luthor one more time that I'm not seeing clearly?"
"What are you getting at?"
"The night of the fire, Mayson was with her family, but as they were driving back to the house, she received a phone call from Bill Church asking her to come to his condo to speak to a client. What if that call was a diversion to keep her away from the house…"
"…Because Bill Church wanted her to live. Then there's a different reason to pursue this case because Church is still a threat." Lois walked back to Clark's desk. "But how can we find a link to the Drakes? And what was the motivation behind the killings? Was he trying to scare Mayson?"
"I don't think so. At least, Mayson doesn't seem scared of Church. She acts as if he's a father figure."
"So, then, if he is involved in this, she has no idea."
Lois thought about that for a moment.
"Have you found any connection between Mayson's father and Church?" When Clark shook his head, she continued. "What about her brother? Or maybe her mother? Did Mayson have a stay at home mom or did her mother have a job?"
"A job. Mayson mentioned that she was a latch-key kid. You think I've been assuming that the Drakes were killed because of the wrong parent?"
Lois shrugged. "It's a thought."
She's brilliant, he thought again as he watched her walk back to her desk. She would take hold of a situation and look at it in a way that he would consider illogical, but then she'd make the impossible, possible by seeing something that he totally missed. Yet, once he thought about it, her conclusions made sense.
He watched Lois clean up the scattered papers on her desk.
Mayson, he thought, was willing to accept the obvious answers, not probing deeply beneath the surface. She was bright and efficient, but he'd never seen the spark of excitement that Lois had when she got an idea into her head. She never set off the sparks in Clark the way Lois did.
He wondered, not for the first time, why he was leading Mayson on, dating her, having lunch with her. If he was honest with himself, he knew exactly who he wanted, and he knew that it was time that he did something…
Clark blinked. "I didn't say anything."
"You're smiling at me."
"Sor…" He stopped himself from completing the word. He wasn't sorry that he was staring at her. He loved watching her move, but he couldn't tell her that. "I was just thinking."
"How incredibly brilliant you are. I love the way you face a problem head on and come up with a solution."
Lois opened her mouth, but she was unsure of what kind of answer that statement deserved. Smiling, she turned to switch off her computer. And I love the way you smile at me, she thought.
"It's time to call it a day, Clark. Come, I'll give you a ride home."
Still smiling, Clark followed Lois to the elevators.
The following morning, Lois began searching Al and Stan Rossi's business background. As she was already aware, some of the buildings that they had managed were in good condition, so she began a search into their seedier properties. Her search revealed that, in each case, Al and Stan were using William Turner, a sole practitioner, to handle many of the complaints, suits and liens that were against them.
Following the trail that opened up, she saw that Turner was directly responsible for appealing to the municipality to change the zoning on many of Al and Stan's properties.
Lois called Amy Chester, an old acquaintance who had recently been made head of the Zoning Commission at City Hall. The women decided to meet for coffee in the City Hall cafeteria which was relatively empty at that time of the morning.
"Sure I've heard of Turner," Amy said when she and Lois sat down with their coffees. "He represents a lot of clients who want changes made to zoning by-laws. He has a fairly sophisticated business going."
"What does someone have to do to get land rezoned?"
"The usual process is to…"
"'The usual process'? Are you saying that he uses unusual methods?"
"That's right. In the last six cases handled by Turner, the process has taken less than the expected six to eight months."
"How can that happen?"
"Well, this has to be off the record, Lois, since I'm investigating this, as a matter of fact."
"Off the record. No problem."
"Then turn off the tape recorder and stop taking notes."
"Amy, I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize your position." To reassure her source, she turned off her tape recorder and put her pen down.
"Okay. There were some complaints that the rezoning process was moving faster than it should have. So, I was brought into find out why. It looks like there was a great deal of cash moving between Turner and someone in the rezoning office. What I'm trying to find out is how much money and who it's going to."
"Why would someone want the zoning changed so much that they would resort to bribery?"
"What kinds of changes do they want made?"
"Recently, there've been requests for changes from residential zoning to commercial. In the past two years, four areas have been rezoned for those big box plazas."
"Like where Costmarts go up?"
"Bang on, Lois. In each area that Turner has lobbied for a zoning change, a new Costmart has gone up."
"So you think that Costmart is behind the bribes?" She took a sip of her coffee. "Why would a large company like Costmart need to bribe the city? It doesn't make sense."
"That's why this last part of our talk has been off the record, Lois. I'm still trying to find out and I don't want to jump the gun. There has been a lot of community opposition to box stores like Costmart which destroy all kinds of small, independent businesses, create large parking and traffic issues among other problems."
"So who were they bribing?"
"That's what I'd like to know. But if you wanted me to guess, I'd say some councillors so that the rezoning vote would pass or someone in the planning department so that they would only present data that supported the rezoning."
When the bill came, Lois picked up the tab, muttering about her expense account. But before she left she asked Amy one more question. "Was the new CTD development up in LeVine represented by Turner?"
"What about 2047 Bayside Avenue?"
"That too. What's the connection, Lois?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm definitely going to find out." They got up from the table ready to go. "By the way, how far back are you looking?"
"Turner got involved in this rezoning about five years ago."
"Does Turner represent Costmart?"
"From what I've seen, Costmart uses either in-house attorneys or J.A. Macdonald and Associates."
Both Lois and Clark were unable to pursue their investigations of the Bayside Fire and the Drake Murders because they were pulled into Johnny Corbin's story. When Lois finally got back to her desk, it didn't take her long to put an article together that described the events that culminated in Clark being kidnapped and Superman stopping Johnny Corbin.
She had tried to keep her distance from Superman, and that lasted for quite a few weeks, but when she saw him pummelled by Johnny, saw him confused because Johnny could down him so easily, she couldn't stop herself from wanting to help. She had gone towards him, offering her support, but he refused, taking off into the sky. His standard way of avoiding situations, she realized. And she was right, of course. When she spoke to Clark the next day, he sheepishly stated that Superman was embarrassed by what had happened.
But that was ridiculous. Why should Superman be embarrassed because some cyborg could throw him off balance and knock him out? That had happened before in the boxing ring when he was fighting Tommy Garrett, but Superman was able to come back and put Garrett in his place with a flick of a finger. So why did Superman fly away from Johnny? Was he humiliated because she was watching? But the next day, she had seen Rollie Vale remove a piece of kryptonite from Johnny's metallic chest. That explained Superman's reaction to Johnny. He shouldn't have been embarrassed in front her or anyone else.
Why should Superman be ashamed because she had seen her so- called hero at a physically weak moment? Didn't he realize that he wasn't all about the physical strength?
Perhaps, he did realize that, but Superman placed himself on a pedestal beyond human frailty. When Superman had been blinded by Dr. Light, he had told her that if he had to be blind then he would be the best blind person that he could be. Didn't he see that he could show weakness and embarrassment and still be Superman? Didn't he realize that he could show human weakness?
And yet she, herself, had tried her best to keep him so righteously above them. She had once told Clark that it was the idea of Superman that was important. If she looked carefully at the articles she had written over the time that Superman had been in Metropolis, she kept reminding the readers of his integrity and strong sense of morality, of his high standards. She wanted, perhaps needed, Superman to be better than his physical abilities and better than an ordinary guy. But that didn't mean that she didn't respect him when he showed human weakness.
Look at Clark. He was intelligent, caring, had an innate sense of goodness. He was like Superman in that way, having strong moral values and ideals that he worked hard to live up to, but he stumbled once in a while. She winced when she thought about Clark resorting to some underhanded spying when he was on the trail of an important story. Nonetheless, she respected him for his weaknesses as well as his strengths.
How would she have felt if Clark had known about Lex's perfidy and hadn't warned her against him? Could she have forgiven Clark, her best friend, from keeping her in the dark? Yes. She might have been angry, but she would have eventually forgiven him for an error in judgement.
"Lois, that article, I needed it five minutes ago," Perry bellowed across the newsroom.
"Sending it right now, Chief," Lois said, snapping out of her thoughts. As she pressed the send key on her computer, she knew that she had come to some important understanding about Superman. Maybe he had trouble standing on the pedestal where Lois had placed him. He made mistakes, just like other people. He readily accepted that he was the cause of the heat wave and was ready to leave Metropolis without giving her a chance to find the truth.
When, by his actions, he floated a little closer to Earth, he looked at the world in a more human way. Maybe that was why, when she asked him if there was any future for them, he was resentful, hurt. Both very human emotions. But, if that was the case, why hadn't he told her his suspicions about Lex Luthor?
And if she was to be honest with herself, she had to wonder if it was time for her to allow Superman to step down from the pedestal.
Clark sauntered into the lunch room where he poured himself a cup of coffee. He was pleased that he was early enough for the daily story meeting to enjoy a cup of coffee with Lois.
"You're here early this morning," Lois stated when Clark sat down beside her.
"Here's your bear claw." She pushed the large sweet bun over to her partner.
"Thanks, I really appreciate it when you save them for me."
"No problem," said Lois as she pushed a napkin full of raisins she had pulled out of her cinnamon bun to Clark.
"I found out some more about our Bayside Fire story," Clark said as he nibbled on the raisins. "Do you know who spends a lot of time working out of a trailer at the construction site?"
"I'm sure you're dying to tell me, so go ahead."
"Bill Church, Jr." Clark watched Lois's eyes go wide.
"But our search of the company didn't come up with his name in the list of owners."
"No, it didn't, but what I saw told me that he was very much in charge."
"So CTD is a shell company?"
"Or the list of owners is phoney."
"Wow! Bill Church, Jr. It can't get much better than this." She leaned closer to Clark. "How did you find out?"
"Do you remember Charlie King?" he asked.
Lois's gaze went blank for a moment. Clark could see when she finally made the connection.
"That sailor who managed to get a job as a bartender at the Metro Club because he came on to the boss?"
"He did not come on to her."
"Do you always talk about yourself in the third person?" she asked, surprised by the confused look on Clark's face. When he didn't answer her, she continued. "Yeah, I remember Charlie. So, what about him?"
"He's out of a job again, so he went over to the construction site yesterday and asked for some work. They let him fill in an application form, but told him that he had to wait until the boss showed up. So, I asked him who the boss was, and he said, 'Bill Church, Jr.'"
"Oh, Clark, that's our link to Intergang. Charlie didn't happen to find out if Bill owns a trenchcoat with missing buttons."
"No. He doesn't, but you'd also never guess who does own a trenchcoat that was hanging in the trailer."
"Bill Church, Sr.?"
"Good guess, but no. Try Baby Rage."
"Uncle Mike's arsonist? Oh Clark, this is getting better and better. How did you find that out?"
"Charlie kinda begged for a day job," he said, grinning. "He's pretty down and out at the moment. As he worked hauling loads of bricks to various sites, he kept an eye on the trailer. At one point during the day, Baby Rage, wearing the trenchcoat, came to talk to Church."
"That was considerate of him."
"And here, Lois…" he added, ignoring her comment. He handed her a piece of paper with a sketch on it. "…is the other man who left the trailer wearing a short black leather jacket."
"Who is he?"
"Well, Charlie did some eavesdropping." He winked at her. "Apparently, Charlie has a partner who's taught him some underhanded tricks."
"Glad to see that Charlie has good sense." Lois patted Clark's hand and then let hers linger on his.
"Anyway, I found out that the man's name is Darryl Simkins. He's worked as muscle before on a free-lance basis, has a rap sheet that dates back to the 1960s. He was released from prison five years ago and then there's been nothing."
"So, he's been working for Church all this time?" Lois moved to the counter, where she poured Clark a mug of coffee, adding cream and two packages of sugar. She then put non-fat milk and sweetener in her own coffee. While bringing both mugs to the table, she asked, "Did you check the payroll?"
"As a matter of fact, I did check with a friend at the IRS and, surprisingly he files his tax returns religiously every year." Clark took a sip of coffee and muttered, "Mmm, perfect, thanks."
"That surprises me."
"That the coffee is perfect?"
"No, that Simkins files a tax return."
"I didn't expect it either, but when I thought about it, it made sense. He works for Campbell-Thompson which is a legitimate construction company. By filing tax returns, he stays out of trouble with his parole officer and the government. That doesn't have to mean that the work he does is legal."
"Clark, this is great."
"I'm going over to the construction site to put in a few hours of work."
"Good idea." Lois carried her mug over to the sink. As she surveyed the newsroom, she saw Mayson come out of the elevator. "Listen, why don't we put together everything we've got and work on this over a pizza at my place tonight?"
"I just hope I have some useful information by then."
"Hi, Clark," Mayson said as she entered the lunch room. "Lois." She added with a nod.
"Hi, Mayson," Clark said, a friendly smile on his face.
Lois watched the interaction carefully. Clark had told her that Mayson had been upset when she left him at lunch a few days earlier, but now she was clinging to him, wrapping her arm around his while leading him away from the lunchroom. Lois followed on their heels.
"I came to apologize," she said, leaning into Clark. "At lunch, the other day, I got angry. It wasn't very rational of me. I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry, Mayson."
"I was hoping that I could make it up to you with a homemade dinner tonight."
Lois held her breath.
"Sorry, Mayson, but I have plans tonight." Clark smiled at Lois. "With Lois. We've got to work on the Bayside Fire story."
"Yes, we've got a lot of work to do." Lois chimed in, but she wondered why she felt disappointed that Clark made it sound like work rather than something more social. Nonetheless, she was pleased that Mayson was let down.
"But you've got to eat, Clark. Maybe afterwards?" Mayson said.
Clark looked at Lois again, then at Mayson.
"We're having dinner as well," said Lois very badly wanting to grab onto Clark's arm and pull him away from the clingy blonde. "By the way, Mayson, we've been throwing some ideas around and we were wondering what your brother did for a living?"
Mayson stared wide-eyed at Lois. "Tom was a sociology professor at Met U. Why?"
Clark led Mayson over to his desk where he pulled his chair out for her, then dragged Lois's over for her. He leaned against his desk.
"What about Janice?" Clark asked.
"She managed a children's clothing store. What's this game of twenty questions all about?" She turned and faced Clark, her lips stretching tighter across her teeth.
"Maybe I made a mistake about your father and Lex Luthor…fixating on Luthor and not seeing the full picture because of my personal prejudices," Clark explained.
Mayson sat taller in her chair. "But you're still trying to make some nefarious connection between someone in my family and Luthor."
"No. It's not like that. Mayson," he said, putting his hand on her arm. "I just can't believe that your family's deaths were an accident. And now that we're looking at these Bayside Fires and we see two men killed and their bodies left in a burning building, I wonder if there's some kind of connection."
Mayson shrugged Clark's hand off her arm, stood up and faced Clark. "Just for the record, my mother worked for J.A. Macdonald's, a very reputable law firm, I might add. So there's the story. Now drop it, Clark."
Lois watched Mayson stalk out of the newsroom. She was surprised when Clark didn't rush after her. Instead, she heard Clark sigh, and then open his e-mail and perused his messages.
Charlie King returned to the CTD construction site prepared to do whatever menial jobs were available. Pleased with his work the previous day, the site foreman gladly handed over some of the heavier and dirtier work to Charlie. The man was strong and didn't complain.
Charlie worked quickly and quietly, keeping his hearing trained on the activities around the office trailers.
Charlie's efforts were rewarded toward the end of the day when he saw Baby Rage, dressed in a tan trenchcoat, swagger up to the trailer where Bill Church Jr had arrived several hours earlier. Church had been in the trailer most of the day on the phone ordering equipment or giving the foremen orders. Clark was impressed that Church had such a good handle on the construction business and seemed to have the ability to succeed in legitimate enterprises.
"Yo, Mr. C. I heard ya wanted to see me," Baby Rage said after he closed the door to the trailer.
Charlie stood up straighter, wiped his brow, took a swig out of his water bottle and lowered his glasses.
"Yeah. I have another assignment for you, but this time I need you to be more discreet."
"Hey, boss, discreet is my middle name."
"Right." Church took his cigar out of the ashtray, knocked off the ashes at its end and took a deep puff. "There are two reporters who have been snooping around. I need you to do your stuff on them."
"Who are they?"
"Lois Lane and Clark Kent."
"With pleasure. That Kent guy will have me serving time if he isn't wiped out as a witness."
"When is the trial set for?"
"Couple of months."
"Just don't do it the usual way. I need you to make it look like a real accident so that nothing can be tied to us. For some reason they're prying, which means that they know something. I want them out of the picture."
"I know exactly what I'll do with Lane; Kent will just have to wait a while. I owe him big."
Pushing his glasses in place, Charlie stooped down to pick up a small block of concrete and move it to the dumpster. Impatiently, he waited for the work day to end so that he could get to Lois and warn her.
But he knew that warning her was one thing, and getting her to comply was another.
Lois looked down at the blouse she was wearing. There was a small stain just above her right breast. How could she have missed it? She went back to her bedroom and rummaged through her drawer. She pulled out a beige sweater that she slipped over her head. Preening in the mirror, she decided she was pleased with the overall look.
She glanced at her reflection, wondering why she was so concerned about her appearance. After all, it was only Clark who was coming over. It hardly mattered what she looked like. As a matter of fact, he saw her every day in all kinds of dress.
She looked at herself hard in the mirror for a long moment. Who was she kidding? It did matter. In fact, it mattered a lot to her that Clark find her attractive.
She remembered the way he looked at her when she had come to the office wearing the red suit that she hoped to entice Dr. Wininger with. She could feel Clark's eyes on her. He hadn't glared at her or undressed her with his eyes, he just made her feel that he appreciated what he saw. She'd seen that expression when he picked her up for the Kerth ceremonies and other times when she'd taken extra care to dress.
She wasn't surprised that when she saw Mayson approaching the lunch room, she had suggested the work evening. By committing Clark to work with her, she saved him from an evening with Mayson…with her home cooking…as if a pizza wouldn't make him happy. Mayson didn't know Clark the way she did. Clark was a fast food junkie. Just give him some fries, a couple of Ho- Hos and a chocolate bar and he was a happy man. Pizza was his favourite take-out.
And she admitted, she was playing games with Clark. She had been lying to herself when she said that it didn't bother her that Clark was dating Mayson. Her behaviour over the last few days, her anger at Clark, her clean windows and grouts, were all signals that she wasn't happy with Clark spending time with Mayson and being interested in her family's history, researching it.
So she deftly blocked the date, and Clark was coming over with dinner. Except it wasn't a date either. It was business.
She reached for her lipstick, applying it smoothly. Then blotting her lips, she headed for the living room just in time to answer the door bell.
Clark entered, balancing a stack of file folders, a pizza box, a six pack of soda and a bag with the Fudge Castle logo. Taking the cans from his hands, she noticed that half of the six pack was made up of her favourite diet cream soda.
She placed the cans on the kitchen table and liberated the pizza from Clark's hands. The aroma radiating from the box made her realize how hungry she was, but first she had to inspect the contents of the bag.
When she opened the half gallon container of ice-cream she saw that it was divided in two: mocha almond fudge and choco-choco monster chip. He definitely knew her favourites.
"Some wine, Clark?" she asked after he had placed his folders on the coffee table in the living room.
"Thanks. That would be nice. Let me help you."
While Lois put the plates on the table, Clark opened and poured the wine into glasses. When they both sat down at the table, Clark lifted his glass. "Cheers," he said as they clinked their glasses. Their eyes met and held for a second before they each shyly looked at their glasses and took a drink.
Maybe, Lois thought, this could be a working date.
They cleaned up from dinner quickly. They took their coffees over to the couch and started sorting out their notes.
"Let's summarize what we've found so far," Clark said. Lois picked up a pad of paper and began taking notes as her partner listed off the information that they had already collected.
"According to the fire department, the apartment at 2047 Bayside Avenue burned down as a result of arson. Inside were two bodies, one in the laundry room and the other on the second floor. The bodies, which the coroner said were dead before the fire, belonged to Al and Stan Rossi, two brothers who ran Abbott Management Company. Al was into the horses, but he hadn't made much money on them."
"And there was no information that he was in debt as a result of his gambling."
"Right. The building itself was owned by Bennett Realty, but we haven't been able to find out who actually owns the company. Bennett has experienced similar fires or accidents to the one at Bayside Avenue, and coincidentally, the zoning for many of these buildings changed very quickly and Costmart stores have popped up in their places."
"And remember, these so-called accidents drove the selling price of the buildings down."
"Furthermore, Stan, who was the businessman, had a letter that alleged some shady dealings and was looking for some kind of pay-off."
"Don't forget that Campbell-Thompson is also the developer that puts up Costmart stores."
Lois glanced down at the notes that she was taking. "In short, what we need to do is connect Church to the fire at 2047 Bayside."
"I think I may have done that," said Clark.
Lois looked at him expectantly. "What do you know that you haven't told me?" she asked.
"I told you I was doing undercover work at the construction site. Well, I overheard Bill Junior lambasting Baby Rage for messing up the Bayside fires leaving the bodies exposed. Junior is worried that we're getting too close. He wants us 'taken care of'."
"That's great, Clark," Lois said, the excitement of her voice evident. "That means we can just put more evidence together and…"
"No, Lois. You don't get it. Church wants Baby Rage to get rid of us in the same way he got rid of Al and Stan. He wants us dead."
Lois waved her hands at the nonsense that Clark was spouting.
"He's coming after you, Lois. He wants you dead. You have to hide or leave town or something."
"I'm not going anywhere. This is my story…all right, our story. Whatever. I'm going to be around when it breaks."
"No, Lois. Please. You have to get out of town. You have to be careful. At least let me stick around you."
"Clark, I don't need a bodyguard. If I know that he's coming to get me, I'll be careful. I'll carry a cell phone and call you."
"Lois, I might not get there fast enough."
"That's foolish. Anyway, you've told me that Baby Rage is out to get you, too. So you're in just as much danger as I am."
"But he said that he'll take care of me later. You're first on his list." He ran his fingers through his hair. "At least let Superman hover around, keep an eye on you. Then we'll worry about me."
"I'm angry at him. I don't want to be indebted to him any more."
"Unless you get out of town and stay out of town until Baby Rage is caught, and Church, I might add, Superman is the only one fast enough to help you out if Baby Rage tries anything."
"I can take care of myself."
"Why do you always do that?"
"Add four extra syllables to my name. Never mind, don't answer that." She stared at Clark. He was right: Superman was the only one who could stop a speeding bullet or get to her quickly if Baby Rage tried anything. But the idea of having him hovering around, watching her every move made her uneasy.
"Why are you so stubborn about this?" he asked.
"Because…I'm disappointed in him. In the end, he let me down. Turned his back on me." Lois paused trying to explain how betrayed she felt by Superman's actions. He wasn't the god-in- a-cape that she had wanted him to be. "He's just like an ordinary man," she whispered. "No different than any other man I've known."
She glanced at Clark who was staring at her open mouthed.
"He let me down," Lois continued, "just when I really needed him, he let me down."
"Did he? Or was it that he turned you down?"
Lois glared at Clark. The note of sarcasm in his voice disturbed her. Yes, she was upset that Superman had turned down her …proposal…because that's what it was, but no matter, Superman was in the wrong. "That's beside the point. He should have told me what he knew."
All right, suspected. At least I could have investigated Lex ."
"I told you over and over again. I challenged you to investigate, but you didn't. Why should Superman telling you make a difference?"
"Because…because…he's Superman. He's supposed to save me." She pouted and lowered her eyes.
"Maybe you're expecting too much from him," Clark said.
"It's ironic. I once told him that I'd love him even if he was an ordinary man…"she said quietly.
"Would you now?"
"I don't know. I'm angry. It's too complicated." Lois stood up and walked to the fish tank. "He said he's my friend, but he didn't warn me about Lex. Why would I want him to protect me now?" she asked the fish, the fight having totally left her voice.
Clark walked over to the fish tank. He turned Lois to face him. With his hands rubbing her shoulders, he said quietly, "The situations aren't the same. Baby Rage is a physical threat. There's a real contract out on you."
"You're right…about Baby Rage." Baby Rage was out there. And if Clark was right, he was after her. She knew that she had to be professional about the whole thing. She was definitely in mortal danger, and she would be stupid not to accept Superman's help. She didn't have to talk to him. She could be sensible.
She would look at the whole situation as if it was an undercover operation. Both she and Superman had their own parts to play.
"All right," she said, not quite sure if that meant she had forgiven Superman or not.
Two nights later, Lois lay in her bed. She had spent the evening going to her Tae Kwon Do class and grocery shopping, constantly aware that overhead Superman was watching her every move. She wondered how much privacy she really had, if he would invade that privacy. She shook her head. No. He wouldn't because as she knew so well he had standards that he wouldn't violate. She'd realized it before: he created principles and values for himself from which he wouldn't budge—the pedestal that she put him on. So, she could trust him watching her from above because she knew that he would treat her with the most respect and courtesy that he could.
So why hadn't he warned her about Lex Luthor? He had a good idea who the man was even if he didn't have concrete evidence. Was he afraid to influence her? Wasn't that what she needed at that time? Was he angry that she wouldn't listen to Clark? The two were close friends who even had the same suspicions about Lex. Was he upset by her obtuseness? She shrugged her shoulders, fluffed up her pillow and rolled over.
Funny how Superman and Clark shared the same ideals. Not so funny, really. She shared some of those same ideals herself; it was just that she was more cynical, more pragmatic when it came to working in the real world. Clark didn't see it because he came from Smallville; Superman didn't see it because he came from Krypton. Maybe people were nicer, more honest there.
For the fourth time that week, Clark perched on a rooftop that afforded him a clear view of Lois's apartment. He was glad that Lois had allowed Superman to keep an eye out for her. Although Charlie King had returned to the construction site over the last three days, nothing more had happened that could shed light on gathering concrete evidence linking Bill Church, the Bayside fires and the murders of Stan and Al Rossi. Clark got comfortable as he hoped for another quiet night watching the Carter Avenue apartment building. He listened and heard Lois's heart beat and her even breathing. She was asleep.
Baby Rage looked at his watch. It was still too early to head toward Carter Avenue. He didn't want anyone to see him enter Lois Lane's apartment building. He turned up the volume of the CD he was listening to and let the words and music of Salt-N-Pepa's Whattta Man draw him in.
Clark let the rhythm of Lois's soft breathing relax him as he sat on the roof of her apartment. Their relationship had changed over the last few days, he thought. Although they hadn't said the words to each other, there was an understanding that their relationship had gone a step beyond friendship.
Now, he decided, was the time to come forward and talk to Lois about the obstacles that stood in the way of their future relationship. But it left him in the middle of a conundrum. He had to be honest with her about Superman so that she could get over her anger at him, but if he did that, she'd be angry at him for having lied about his other identity. Either way, she'd be angry at him, but they couldn't get any closer without Lois knowing the truth.
And, he admonished himself, he had to speak to Mayson. He wasn't fair to her, he knew. She believed that they could have a relationship, but there was no way…
Clark was wrenched from his reflections when he heard a woman's cry for help. Scanning the area around Lois's building and finding nothing unusual, he took off to help the woman whose car was out of control. He stopped the vehicle from swerving into a store front window and moved the hysterical woman to the sidewalk. Shaking, she explained that as she was driving home late and must have allowed the quiet and lonely drive to hypnotize her. She hadn't been aware of a raccoon crossing the road until the very last minute. She swerved to miss it and her car spun out.
Calming her down with soothing words, Superman waited for the paramedics to come and examine her. When he saw that she was in good hands, he took off into the air and flew back to his perch outside of Lois's building.
Baby Rage realized that he had heard the same song for the third time. Two hours had passed. Turning the ignition, he shifted into gear and drove toward Carter Avenue while he inventoried his equipment for the fourth time, nodding his head when he was satisfied that he had everything he needed. With his mind at ease, he repeated the words of the last rap he had listened to.
Just as Clark made himself comfortable on the rooftop across from Lois's apartment, the wail of police sirens disturbed the neighbourhood's silence. He thought for a moment that he would let the police handle whatever emergency there was, but then he overhead the police band mention a jumper on the Hobb's River Bridge. He knew that sometimes his presence was enough to stop someone from impulsively taking their life. He glanced at Lois's window and at the street around her building before taking off into the air.
Baby Rage parked behind the Carter Avenue building. Chuckling at how easy it was to break into the building's back door, he hefted his knapsack on his back and tiptoed into the empty hallway toward the back stairs. It didn't take him long to reach the fifth floor.
The fire began in a flash when a match ignited the burning oil in the frying pan. It took a matter of seconds for the flames to lick out beyond the confines of the aluminium pan and follow the trails left by the spilled oil. The flames quickly whipped out toward the neat pile of tea towels and then enveloped the curtains and the table cloth.
Lois rolled over in bed. She felt her nose fill with the smell of acrid smoke as it moved down to the back of her throat. Her mind thought "fire", but she was too tired to move, her body comfortable in the warmth of her bed. "It's just a dream." She scrunched up her pillow, hugging it to herself. But the bitter taste clung to her throat irritating the soft tissue. She cleared her throat and took a deep breath, but more smoke entered her mouth and filled her lungs.
The smoke alarm wailed in her ears.
Lois sat up with a start. The smoke was real. It was in her bedroom. And there at the entrance was the blaze. She wanted to scream, to get up, to run out, but her body was stuck to the bed. <It has to be a dream. This is a dream. Help.> She wanted to scream louder but no sound came out. And then, through the looming blaze, she saw the familiar red cape fluttering and felt herself being scooped up.
Clark placed Lois on the sidewalk outside her apartment building. "I'll be right back," he said to her before he flew back into the inferno. She heard the hiss of air and saw the flames disappear in a cloud of gray smoke. Then Superman flew out of her window. She saw him look around and lost sight of him when he dashed towards the back of the apartment.
Baby Rage put his foot on the gas, driving away from the Carter Avenue apartment. He had no doubt that within minutes Lois Lane would be toast. He chuckled at his own pun. When he looked up, Superman was standing directly in front of him, his arms crossed, his legs astride. Baby Rage heard his tires screech as he made a sharp U-turn, heading in the other direction. When he looked into his rearview mirror, he didn't see anyone. He made a quick right turn and headed up an alleyway. When he saw Superman standing in front of him again, he slammed on the brakes and ran out of the car, heading in the opposite direction. In seconds, Superman swooped down and lifted Baby Rage by the shoulders.
"I've never dropped anyone yet, but there can always be a first time," Superman said in a voice which was low and calm.
Baby Rage looked down at the city below him. The street lights blurred. He pictured himself falling face first toward the sidewalk below him.
"Why? I didn' do nothin' wrong," he spluttered as he kicked his legs.
"Then why were you running away from Lois Lane's apartment building?" Superman asked, loosening his grip on Baby Rage's shoulders.
"No. Don' drop me," Baby Rage screamed. He felt the tacos he'd eaten for dinner rise to his throat. "Put me down and I'll talk. Just don' drop me."
Superman circled Metropolis one more time ignoring his passenger's kicking and whimpering before he landed on the sidewalk in front of Lois's apartment, where Bill Henderson was just getting out of the car.
"What are you doing here, Henderson?" Lois asked.
"Heard the call for the fire department at your address. What kind of trouble are you in now, Lane?"
Instead of answering, Lois turned her attention to Superman, who was smirking.
"I hear confession is good for the soul,'' the Superhero said as he placed Baby Rage in front of the police detective.
"Superman, what hap?…Baby Rage?"
"Lois, Baby Rage is going to explain everything."
"I know that you want to find out what happened," said Henderson, "but there is the right way and the wrong way to go about this. I want to make sure that there are no loop-holes in the collecting of evidence—I don't want Baby Rage to get off on a technicality—so I'd like to move this to police headquarters. And Lois, I'll need a statement from you and from Superman."
Several hours later, at the Daily Planet, Clark leaned over Lois's shoulder, watching her fingers fly over the keyboard as she put the story together. Baby Rage, on being offered another flight with Superman, had confessed that he had indeed been hired a few months ago by Bill Church and his son to do odd jobs including setting fire to a number of establishments on the South Side including Uncle Mike's restaurant, that he and Dave Simkins had set fire to 2047 Bayside Avenue, and that he had tried to set fire to Lois's apartment. When Church Junior felt that Lois and Clark were getting too close to him, he told Baby Rage to get rid of them. Baby Rage admitted that Dave Simkins suggested that they burn the building down to make it look like the fire killed Al and Stan.
Lois pressed the return button and scanned their article one more time. "Looks good to me," she said tilting the screen so that Clark could read the complete article.
He nudged her out of her seat so that he could do a spell check. He was waiting for some comment from her about how obsessive he could be and that was the job of editors. When he finished reading and making some minor changes without any comments from Lois, he sent the article to Perry.
"Lois, what's the matter?"
"What?" She focussed in on Clark. "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention."
"What were you thinking about?"
"That I don't have anywhere to live. Where am I supposed to go now?"
"You can stay at my place until yours is cleaned up."
"Yours? But this could take a few weeks or more. No, I better find a hotel or something."
"It's all right, Lois. You can stay at my place. You can use my bedroom and I'll make something up in the loft." He gazed into Lois's eyes. He could see the indecision in her eyes, and it suddenly dawned on him that if she stayed with him, he'd have trouble getting away as Superman, but it didn't matter. He would deal with the inconvenience as long as he could help Lois out.
Lois blinked her eyes and nodded her head. "Thank you, Clark. I'll take you up on your offer, at least for tonight." She took his hand. "Come on. Jeremy Lyons said that he'd let me into the apartment to take out some personal items. I wonder if my toothbrush will taste smoky?"
Mayson Drake was surprised when she saw Clark Kent walking into the bullpen of the Daily Planet his hand touching the small of Lois Lane's back. It was too intimate a gesture, but Mayson was too tired to read any deeper meaning into it. She had woken up in the middle of the night, and had spent the following hours in the police station listening to Baby Rage's confession, making sure that the interrogation would be held up in court.
"Morning, Mayson," Clark said when he and Lois entered the conference room where Mayson was sitting and drinking a cup of coffee.
"Feels more like afternoon, I've been up too long." She had been reluctant to come to the Daily Planet to fill Clark in on what she'd learned, but she felt that she owed him the information, and she had to admit to herself, that she wanted to see him again.
"What can we do to help you?" he asked.
"More what I can do to help you."
"Did Baby Rage say anything else after we left?" Lois asked.
"Not so much what he said than what Bill Henderson found out. Baby Rage did admit that he was at the Bayside Fire. Simkins took him along as extra muscle. He thought that they were just going to strong arm Al and Stan, to scare them. He didn't really know what it was all about."
"Does he know where to find Simkins?"
"He gave us an address, but by the time Henderson got there, the place was empty, cleared out as if no one lived there. He looked around, but didn't find anything."
"Nothing at the moment."
"What about Bill Church Junior?" Lois asked.
"According to gossip on the street, the Churches have taken a vacation to Brazil."
"So you can extradite him."
"Not if he's related to a Brazilian citizen."
"And is he?"
"I'm sure he can arrange it."
Perry White poked his head in the door. "Sorry to interrupt you folks, but I need that follow up on the fire in your apartment, now, Lois."
"I'll get it to you as soon as we're finished here, Chief."
"Now, Lois, means now. Git."
"I'll be back in a minute," she said, shrugging sheepishly at Mayson.
"Mayson, are you all right?" Clark asked.
"Sure, other than being tired…Why shouldn't I be?"
She could feel his eyes boring into her, understanding something that she didn't want to say out loud.
"Senior," he said, as if she didn't know who he was talking about.
"Yeah, I know." She let out a quiet breath. "I worked for him. I did his legal work and it all looked above board to me."
"He only let you see the legitimate part."
"I feel like a fool. How could I have allowed myself to be such a dupe?"
"We all want to see the best in people…"
Mayson got up. She didn't want to leave this man whose calm words soothed her, whose caring glances warmed her.
"I've got to go back to the office now, but Clark," she said, taking a deep breath to steady herself, "would you have dinner with me tonight?"
She couldn't help but notice his quick glance out the conference room window toward his partner's desk.
And she knew. There was no hope.
"It's Lois, isn't it?"
"She's staying at my place…because of the smoke damage…and…"
"The truth, Clark."
Once again he looked out the window. This time his gaze settled on Lois who had returned to her desk. There was a barely perceptible smile on his lips, but Mayson clearly saw the warmth in his gaze.
"Yes, it is."
"You love her, don't you?"
She wondered if she was actually reading the relief on his face or if it was just her imagination.
"I better be going now." She replaced her papers in her briefcase, and as she walked to the conference room door, she leaned over to Clark and kissed him on the cheek.
Walking passed Lois, she murmured, "You're a lucky woman."
"Mmm, Clark, that was the best beef stew I ever had," said Lois, sitting back in her chair. "You'll make some woman a fine husband one day." She lifted her wine glass to toast him.
Clark stared at Lois's glass. "Is making a good meal all I'm good for?"
"No. No. I didn't mean that. I just meant…It was just…something to say." She glanced away from Clark's intense stare, studying her glass instead.
Clark realized that making her uncomfortable was the last thing that he wanted to do. He had hoped that with Lois staying at his place, perhaps, if he was lucky, they could talk. He no longer felt that his relationship with Mayson was a burden. At least he didn't have to tell her the old killer cliche that they could be friends. Now, he would work on his relationship with Lois.
Clark got up from the table, mumbling something about cleaning up. Lois's eyes followed him as he collected the used plates from the table and walked into the kitchen. She admired his grace of movement. He had a good body. When had she started watching him and just enjoying what she saw? There were so many sides to Clark that she appreciated, and yet, every time she spoke to him on a more personal level, she seemed to have the knack of saying the wrong thing, to push him away. Yet, he never went far. After a cooling off period, their relationship came back to where it had left off.
"Let me clean up," Lois said, getting up and following him into the kitchen area. "You made dinner, at least I can clean up."
"I made dinner because I like to eat. I was afraid that if I left dinner up to you, I might not get to eat."
"Get over it, Kent. I can dial up the best take-out places in town. You won't starve when I'm in charge of dinner. Now move over and let me clean."
"How about if we work together?"
"Sounds like a good idea to me, partner."
Lois leaned against the kitchen counter as Clark placed the glasses in the cupboard. "All done," he said, and they both moved toward the living room sofa.
"We work well together, don't we?" Lois asked.
"I've always thought so."
"Thanks for letting me stay here." Lois placed a kiss on Clark's cheek.
"The pleasure is mine." Clark put his arm around Lois as she cuddled in beside him on the couch. He picked up the remote and began to change channels.
Lois rushed up the stairs to Clark's front door. Ever since Amy Chester had phoned her that morning filling her in on the illegal workings of William Turner, Lois couldn't contain herself. She had to tell Clark, but he had gone out earlier muttering something about needing to go somewhere. At the time, Lois ignored his quick exit, but now, having this information was too much to keep to herself and the only other person she wanted to share it with was Clark.
She placed the spare key he had given her into the lock and turned it. Stepping inside the apartment, she called out his name, but there was no reply. Looking around, she noticed the red cape on the sofa. As she moved closer, she saw that Superman was in the cape, hunched over and studying the news on TV. She watched him as he ran his hand through his hair, sigh and then flip to another news broadcast.
"Superman?" she called.
Before he acknowledged her, he stood up. He looked down at himself, shaking his head. "Lois," he said. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm staying here while my apartment is being cleaned up."
He rolled his eyes in bewilderment. "Right. I knew that. I…I…must've forgotten. Sorry."
Lois heard something in his tone of voice that didn't sound right to her. She couldn't put her finger on it, but she knew that something was bothering him.
"What are you doing here?"
Superman opened his eyes wide and shrugged his shoulders. When Lois continued to stare at him, he indicated the TV set.
"What?" she asked as she focussed on the broadcast of a ferryboat that was lying on its side. Coast guard vessels were hovering around the boat, but other than that there was very little action.
"I wasn't there. I knew about it. I should have gone." He paused for a moment, absorbed by the screen. "Ten people died because of me. I could've saved them. But I wasn't there." He ran his hand through his hair again.
"Where were you?"
As if he hadn't heard her question, Superman sat down and flipped the channel again to LNN. The screen showed a mountainous landscape covered in snow. In front, stood a school bus, the children standing around Superman and cheering. As the picture took on more meaning, Lois heard the bus driver say, "It was like a white wall moving. Real fast like. I'd never seen anythin' like it before. I knew we were in its path, but I didn't know which way to turn. It happened so quick. I didn't know which way to turn."
"What happened next?" asked an off-camera voice.
"I think I signalled to the teacher to keep the kids calm. I didn't know what else to do. Before I knew it the wall was on us. The bus tipped over and we were movin'. There was a loud roar and the kids screamin'. Maybe I was screamin' too. Then I didn't hear nothin'. I thought we were dead."
"What was it like being in the middle of an avalanche?"
"Like I said, I thought we were dead. And then, after a few minutes, I guess, the roar stopped but the kids were screamin'. I looked out and all I could see was black all around the bus. I tried to open the door, but I couldn't. We were trapped."
"How long were you inside the bus?"
"About half an hour, I think. But all of a sudden, I felt like I was on an elevator or somethin'…going up. We broke through the darkness to see the blue sky."
"You rescued the school bus?" Lois asked as an image of Superman standing with some of the children flashed on the screen.
Lois stared at the superhero. She couldn't understand why he still sounded so dejected if he had saved all those children from suffocating under tonnes of snow. Lois followed his eyes back to the TV screen.
The avalanche story ended and the anchor continued to drone on. "Meanwhile the Long Island ferry heading to Orient Point capsized earlier today leaving ten people dead…"
Superman's face darkened as he listened to the anchor.
"Where were you when the ferry capsized?"
"In Metropolis," he whispered.
"Why didn't you try to save the people?"
"I made a mistake. Maybe if I would have gone to the ferry first, I could have saved those people."
"First? Superman, what exactly happened?"
"I heard about the avalanche and that a bus filled with children were in the area so I headed out toward Colorado, but as I took off I also heard about the ferry. I didn't think. Or maybe I did, but I made the wrong choice. Maybe I could have saved the people on the ferry and then flown off to Colorado. The children could have survived another half an hour in the bus…"
"Or maybe not."
"I made a mistake, a big mistake, and it cost people their lives, people I could've saved."
"You can't do that to yourself, Superman. You saved those children. Isn't that enough?"
"If I would have gone to the ferry first…"
"And what if you did and it took longer than you expected…what if you didn't get to the bus on time and some of the children died? Then what? You'd be mourning over the children instead of the ferry passengers. You can't second guess yourself on this one. You did your best…which by the way, is more than good enough."
"But I have all these powers…"
"Yes, you do."
Sitting down beside Superman, Lois put her hand on his arm. The depth of his despair surprised her and touched her. In his grief over people he didn't know, he wasn't seeing what was so obvious to her.
"Superman, you may have all those powers, but you are one man. You can only be in one place at a time, no matter how fast you can move." She looked at Superman to see if her words were sinking in, but his eyes, once more were focussed on the image of the ferryboat. She continued speaking to him, the inflection in her voice more determined than before. "You made a decision. There was no right or wrong answer. You can't second guess yourself. The important thing is that you're here, and that you do help. You saved those children. That's all that you can do."
Superman still remained quiet.
"Are you listening to me?" she demanded.
Slowly, Superman turned and looked at her. She didn't know at what precise moment she saw or felt it, but she knew that the cloud that was hanging over him was beginning to lift, the heaviness left his eyes and some of the old twinkle was back. There was even a hint of a smile on his lips.
He placed his hand under her chin and let his thumb rub her cheek.
"Thanks, Lois. I guess I needed someone to tell me that." And then he looked around, seeing his surroundings for the first time. "I better go now." He leaned over and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. "Thank you…and…uh…thank Clark for the use of his home." He got up and headed to the kitchen door.
Lois watched him lift off into the sky and then heard the boom as he moved faster. Once there was no sign that Superman was in the area, Lois made a pot of coffee and sat down at the table, letting the last few minutes replay itself.
That was the way Clark found her when he returned to his apartment. He placed a bag on the table.
"Does Superman always hang out at your place?" Lois asked as she looked into the bag. "These are hot. Omygoodness, they're chocolate croissants." She pulled one out and took a bite. "Oh Clark, these are scrumptious. Mmmmm…delicious." She closed her eyes to savour the taste. "What did I do to deserve these?"
"Just being you is enough," he said.
Lois heard the warmth in his voice and let it fill her the way the buttery chocolate did.
"Clark, I've been thinking."
"Maybe I've been too hard on Superman."
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe I was expecting too much of him, and that's why I was mad at him. I had hoped that he was above other people, and so he would think in a godly way."
"I'm following you here."
"I knew he was invulnerable so I expected him to be infallible as well, but he's not. He makes choices just like the rest of us. Sometimes they're good choices, and sometimes there are just no right choices." Lois took another bite of her croissant, using the time to appreciate the taste and to think about what she had just said. "Maybe he just made the wrong choice when he didn't tell me what he knew about Lex.
"I was disappointed," she continued, "because I wanted him to be that god in a cape, but he's not. He's more than just those fancy powers. Underneath that suit, he's got a human heart, and that makes him fallible."
Clark watched Lois carefully. She picked up her coffee cup and took it to the sink, washed and dried it. Placing it in the cupboard, she faced Clark.
"Do you forgive him?" he asked.
"I wondered if I would've forgiven you if you knew about Lex and didn't tell me, but you knew that Superman did tell me. And yes, I would forgive you, because, after all, you're only human. So, yes, I do forgive him. I'm still disappointed, but I forgive him."
"Are you still in love with him?"
"No. I got over that a while ago."
"Because he came down a few notches in your esteem?" Clark couldn't decide if he was happy with Lois's new insight.
"No. He was right when he said that I didn't really know him."
Clark smiled as he watched Lois head toward the bedroom. At least she wasn't angry at Superman anymore. Now that she no longer had a crush on the superhero, he wondered if she'd be able to see the potential in her best friend. Maybe it was his turn to take the relationship up a notch.
Lois returned to the living room. "I just remembered that when I came back here originally I was excited about a phone call I got from Amy Chester."
"She was looking for a link between her department and William Turner to explain how he was able to get zoning changed so quickly. She tracked down one zoning department worker…let me get my notes…" Lois went over to her satchel that she left hanging on the banister. She opened her notebook skimming it quickly. "A worker named Irina Buklova who foolishly began spending way more than she was earning. Amy, through the city's legal department and the police department, was able to get a warrant to look at Buklova's bank records which showed…"
"Let me guess…hefty payments around the time zoning was changed on certain properties being developed by Campbell- Thompson…"
"Exactly but before you get more excited, there's more."
"Turner had a more than tenuous connection to J. A. Macdonald and Associates, you know, the big law firm that handles CTD and Costmart."
"And you have some link between them?"
"Clark, don't interrupt. I have to unravel this story at my own pace."
Clark motioned for Lois to continue, enjoying her excitement in telling the story.
"William Turner was the lawyer, but, according to Amy, the cheques went through J.A. Macdonald's business office that was headed, up until a year ago, by their accountant named…are you ready for this?"
"Okay, okay. Della Drake."
"Della Drake. As in Mayson's mother?"
"That's right. Up until her death, Della Drake authorized the cheques that Turner paid out to Irina Buklova."
"This is going to kill Mayson."
Mayson Drake sat in her office. It had been a long day, but she was too restless to go home to sleep.
She had fallen in love with Clark Kent, not out of desperation as she had in the past, but because Clark was a gentle, caring man. She liked his Kansas shyness that made him fidgety when he kissed her that first time. She remembered how surprised he was when she told him that she admired his courage in testifying against Baby Rage in court. His smile drew her in and his intense dark eyes captured her in a way that she didn't want to be released. And it didn't hurt that he was gorgeous. How could Lois Lane be distracted by Superman when she had Clark Kent around?
But Mayson knew that she had to forget Clark Kent now. As far as he was concerned, she was never in the running, never had a chance. She wiped away a tear.
She would deal with this. She survived the real tragedy, the deaths of her parents, Tom and Janice. She could definitely deal with disappointment in love.
She pulled out her copy of Emily Dickinson's poetry. Della Drake must have had some kind of premonition of the horrible night because, a few days earlier, she'd met Mayson for lunch.
"Take this, Mayson," her mother had said. "Someday you'll open it and it'll all make sense."
As if a dead poet could make sense out of her world, Mayson thought at the time. But now, as she sat at her desk, feeling another loss in her life, she opened the book.
"To my darling daughter," her mother had written. No other words were needed. She blinked her eyes trying to wash away the blurred words. She took a deep breath and began, randomly, reading poems…
THEY say that "time assuages",—
Time never did assuage;
An actual suffering strengthens,
As sinews do, with age.
Time is a test of trouble,
But not a remedy.
If such it prove, it prove too
There was no malady.
and she remembered her family, not their horrible deaths, but their wonderful lives.
As she was reading, feeling the texture of the book, as the images sank in, she noticed that the back felt thicker than the front. She ran her fingers over the inside of the cover. Taking the scissors from her desk, she carefully cut away the cover. There, glued to the hard back of the book was a letter addressed to her in her mother's handwriting. A missive from the other world, she thought.
But any sense of nostalgia vanished as she read through the letter. She sat back in astonishment. Her mother. They all died because of what Della Drake knew. They all died except her.
She couldn't see the page because of the tears in her eyes. She dried her eyes and forced herself to read the letter for a second time.
Her mother had worked for J.A. Macdonald and Associates for twenty years as the accountant for the law firm. As part of her work in the last few years, she also did the accounts for William Turner, an associate that Macdonald's wanted kept separate from the rest of the firm. And then, in the letter, her mother uncovered the link between Turner, the felonious rezoning of property and Bill Church. Millions of dollars were involved.
Church must have found out. That was why she put the letter in the book. He could control Mayson, she worked for him and trusted him, but he wasn't sure about the rest of the family. He knew about their dinner plans on that fateful night. He arranged to call her away at the opportune time.
She dried her tears, picked up the phone and dialed Clark. He had shown a lot of concern about her parents' deaths and he deserved to learn the truth.
"Clark…it's Mayson…no, I'm all right. I'd appreciate it if you could come to my office. I have some information related to the Bayside Fire story. I'll wait here."
The evening was clear and mild. Their decision to walk to Mayson's office seemed natural just as their holding hands was now. Clark had been slightly surprised when Lois had slipped her hand into his. She'd often taken his arm in the past, but this felt good. Clark entwined his fingers in Lois's. As they walked, he listened to the even beating of her heart. Music, he thought. My song.
"Why did Mayson leave the office in a huff?" Lois asked after they'd walked two blocks.
"Not exactly a huff…" He wasn't sure how to describe Mayson's mood. He realized that she must have been disappointed, but at least he had been honest with her.
"Let down, maybe."
Clark raised their hands. How did he explain this to Lois without scaring her off. So he just looked at their hands, their fingers laced together.
They walked a few steps together.
"What did you say to her?" she asked.
"Not exactly what I said. More what I didn't say." At least, he thought that he was telling her the truth. It was Mayson who made sense out of his obfuscation and silence.
"Sounds like you."
"What do you mean by that?" Although he did know.
"It's the famous Kent method of getting out of jams by not saying anything but letting the other person assume. I've seen you use it many times."
"Like the other day when you rushed out of the office saying you had to go. When I asked where, you shrugged your shoulders and looked at the stairwell. No answer. I had to figure out that you'd forgotten to return a video or pick up your cheese of the month delivery. By the way, let me know when it's real camembert from France. It's my favourite."
He could tell by the dripping sarcasm that she didn't believe him, but was playing along with his idiosyncrasies.
"So why was she let down?"
"Oh. We're still on that topic."
"She invited me to dinner, but she figured out that I wasn't interested."
"When she walked by me she mumbled something about me being a lucky woman." Lois stopped in her tracks. She turned to face him. She hadn't let go of his hand.
"Am I a lucky woman?" she asked, raising her free hand to his face.
Her touch made him feel like a lucky man, that was for sure. He only hoped that they were thinking about the same thing, if not he'd be a foolish man, again. He wanted to tell her the truth about his feelings for her, his love for her, but he was afraid of the friendship curse. He couldn't lie to her, but the truth…He shrugged his shoulders.
"Did you lie to me that day in the park?"
Here it was. The question that only took a yes or no answer. Simple enough. Anyone could say yes or no. It was the results that could ruin his life. The statement after that would make all the difference. He didn't want to be Lois's partner at work and Lois's friend. He wanted more. Much more. But if he said the wrong word then he knew that he'd be neither.
Mayson Drake picked up the phone and listened to the anonymous voice. She wrote the address on a piece of paper and hung up the phone. She checked her watch and realized that if she waited any longer for Clark and Lois, she would miss this opportunity.
Picking up her briefcase, she left her office.
"No. I lied afterwards. It was more important to repair our friendship than to make you feel uncomfortable."
"Too bad," Lois said looking up into his eyes. "I was going to tell you that I thought I was in love with you."
"Oh," Clark said, surprised and rather pleased. He took a step closer to Lois, deciding that this was a risk worth taking. "And now?"
"Now, I know that I'm in love with you. You're my partner, Clark, and my best friend, but I want more."
Mayson Drake rushed out of the courthouse. Glancing once again at her watch, she muttered, "Come on, Kent. It's late. I can't wait any more. This is too important."
She dashed down the stairs to her car. She was amazed how this time she had managed to get a parking space in front of the courthouse. She placed her key in the car, turned it and opened the door.
Clark leaned closer to Lois. Her lips, full and red, invited him, and he bent toward her face to reply.
The street noises along with the comments of passers-by faded far into the background. All he could hear was the loud beating of his own heart intermingled with the sound of Lois's. He could feel the softness of her lips and then he felt engulfed by her sweet taste.
He moved his lips a breath away. "I love you, Lois Lane." Then he returned to a place he never wanted to leave—in her arms, her hands caressing his neck and shoulders.
Mayson sat down in her car and turned on the ignition. She looked around to see if Clark had arrived. He really would want to see her mother's letter. Perhaps she should have brought it with her.
At first, Clark wondered where the steady rhythm was coming from. It wasn't Lois's heart beat or his own. It was more like a ticking…a countdown . Reluctantly, he took a step away, and looked around. The noise of the street resumed. He could make out the sound. It was like a clock, like a bomb.
He eased away from Lois, racing towards the sound.
In front of him a ball of fire leaped out, followed by a thunderous explosion. He raced to the burning car and ripped off the driver's door. He lifted the victim out.
"No. Mayson," he cried as he carried her away from the burning wreckage to the sidewalk. Gently, he lowered her to the ground, but did not take her out of his arms.
"Mayson?" he begged.
She coughed, but he could see how difficult it was for her.
"Don't worry, Mayson. You'll be all right. Help is on the way. Please Mayson?"
He smiled at her when she opened her eyes. "You'll be all right." He repeated.
She put her hand on his chest to steady herself. She coughed again. And then her hand brushed a smudge on his shirt.
"So that's what you've been hiding," she said, her voice lower, raspier than before.
Clark didn't know how to respond. His shirt must have torn as he ripped the door from the car's body. He was exposed to her, and once more, for Mayson he was too late. And she knew.
As he tried to comfort her, she leaned forward and whispered in his ear. "Resurrection." And then she had no breath left. No sound came out of her mouth.
Lois stood behind Clark for several minutes before he realized she was there. She felt his attention shift when the ambulances approached, and a paramedic placed his hand on Clark's shoulder. He stood up slowly, turned around seeing her for the first time since their kiss, since the explosion.
She hesitantly stepped towards him, opening her arms. He enveloped her in his arms, pulling her tightly, closer to him. She felt the wetness of his tears on her cheeks before she felt his chest heaving. She didn't know what to say to him, how to make the horror of the moment, of seeing a close friend die in your arms, go away. So she just held him and placed soft kisses on his neck and cheek.
They stood there unaware of the paramedics working quickly behind them, unaware of the police's arrival.
His breathing became quieter, more even..
"She died in my arms." They were the first words he'd said to her.
"She was with a friend. She wasn't alone."
"I couldn't save her…couldn't help her."
Lois began to shiver. The night had grown colder and the jacket she was wearing didn't warm her enough. She moved her hands from around Clark's neck and placed them underneath his jacket. She caressed his back while he pulled her in closer to him. He was so warm.
She placed her head against his chest, but the material of his shirt felt creased, out of place. She smoothed it out. Clark stiffened. He placed his hand on hers, then with a sigh, he let go. Looking down at his shirt, she saw the rip and tried to cover it up. The blue underneath seemed out of place. Her hands reversed their movement and opened the torn material. There, under his shirt, was blue spandex, and as she separated the white material more she saw the yellow shield.
"Su…" Her voice trailed off as he put his index finger against her lip. Of course, there were people around and this was a big secret, a very big secret. She raised her wide open eyes to his, letting her eyes say what her mouth couldn't.
He nodded his head.
"That's what you meant when you said you couldn't save her," she whispered.
He nodded again.
"She knew," he said.
"Same way you found out. I'm sorry. Are you mad?"
"I was afraid you'd be mad."
"Mad? Maybe later."
"I feel like I've been on my feet for twenty-four hours," Lois said when they returned to Clark's apartment. "I thought the police would never finish with us. Asking questions that there was no way we could answer about who would want to kill Mayson, and why we were going to see her, and where she was going. They just didn't know when to stop." She paced his living room. "At least Henderson brought out the letter he found on her desk and we know why her mother was killed. Which means that Mayson knows what happened to her parents and that it wasn't Superman's fault and she wouldn't blame Superman because she knows it's you and she really liked you, Clark."
"Stop. You're in babble mode."
"Babble mode. No. I'm not because I'm just sort of summing up the evening in my mind and a lot really happened and I feel really bad for Mayson and…" She stopped pacing.
"What's really bothering you?"
"No. I'm Clark. Superman is what I can do. Superman exists so that I can live a normal life."
He paused for a moment, Lois guessed, so that it would sink in. She'd realized that she hadn't allowed herself to think about this new piece of information she'd learned about Clark…Superman.
"How do you feel about me being Superman?"
Exactly what she had been wondering herself. She resumed her pacing. It was only a few days ago that she'd been angry at Superman because he hadn't warned her about Lex Luthor. He had, but he'd done it as Clark. She'd also realized that even though Superman was Kryptonian, he still had a human heart, Clark's heart. And that was the heart dressed in Clark's clothing, that she'd fallen in love with. But he had played games with her.
"Why didn't Superman tell me about Lex?"
"Could you sit down for a minute. I'm getting dizzy watching you."
When Lois sat down beside him on the sofa, he began talking. "Luthor was very smooth. I have to give him credit for that. He made sure that he didn't say anything concrete or give me evidence that I could give you or take to the police. All I had were conversations where he circled the truth, denying that he was testing me, but threatening me with 'what ifs'. Warning me that people would be in danger.
"So, I cautioned you about Lex many times as Clark. But you thought I was jealous…which I was to a certain extent, but I was more afraid that you would be blind to his true self. You kept on dating him even after I warned you, and then you were going to marry him."
"That's why you warned me, Clark, but why didn't you come to me as Superman? I would have believed him."
"Exactly. You would have believed Superman, but not your friend and partner. I guess I was also jealous of Superman and angry at you that you wouldn't listen to my warnings."
"I could have ended up marrying him," she said quietly.
"No. Lois, I wouldn't have let that happen. Perry, Jimmy, Jack and I were looking for evidence that would at least prove some of what I suspected."
"They almost came too late. Luckily for me, I couldn't say 'I do'. But where were you? Where was Superman?"
Clark reached over to take Lois's hand. He took it to his lips and kissed it.
"What was that for?"
"You understand. You really understand," he said. His grin lit up his whole face.
"The difference between Clark and Superman."
"Okay. But where were you?"
"Lex lured Superman into the wine cellar of Lex Tower. There was a cage made of kryptonite bars…"
Clark nodded. "I was trapped and couldn't get out. Lois, you have to believe me, I had every intention of stopping the wedding even if I had to fly in and kidnap you. I believed that I had time."
So there it was, Lois thought. Superman hadn't abandoned her and neither had Clark. And she had forgiven him already.
"I love you, Clark Kent."
"Does that mean we're okay?"
"It means that I've decided that I can live with being angry with you, but I can't live without you. So now we just have to work on this relationship."
"There's a lot we need to talk about, but not now. Tomorrow we'll figure out what Mayson meant by 'Resurrection'. Now I just want you to hold me and kiss me. "